Vintage Shabby Chic meets Cross-Cultural Tension: A Review of The Dress by Sophie Nicholls

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Cover courtesy of Amazon.com

Rather than attempt to write something clever, I want to start with a short excerpt from Nicholl’s book to show you just how gorgeous her prose is: (scene is daughter, Ella, thinking about her mother Fabbia’s singing)

“Sometimes Ella would surprise Mamma singing to herself in the kitchen, the soft upper notes that seemed to shimmer in the air and the harder sounds that came from somewhere deep in her throat in a way that Ella couldn’t imitate, no matter how much she practiced in front of the mirror. Fat, blurred words and long words with drawn out sounds that mingled with the steam from the saucepans so that, when Ella swallowed Mamma’s thick stew, the one with beans and garlic, she liked to imagine she was eating the stories of her ancestors.”

Incredible. That’s all I have to say about that.

The Dress is a story batting low at 211 pages but full of lyrical goodness. The plot is simple: a mother and daughter move from England to New York to start a new life. Fabbia, the mother, loves vintage clothing and opens a shop where she can work her everyday magic in sewing and alterations. Her daughter, Ella, struggles to fit in as she deals with the new surroundings, puberty, and her mother’s fanciful personality.

I’d compare this book’s feel to that of Sandra Cisnero’s House on Mango Street, though The Dress deserves even more props. It creates a magical, melt-in-your-mouth feel that’s lightly sugared with the cultures of Tehran and New York. I love how Fabbia has an Iranian background that subtly colors her perceptions of the world around her. Fabbia’s perceptions clash with her daughter Ella’s impressions in the big city world of New York and her attempts to fit in with the other teens.

Fabbia’s and Ella’s struggles to adjust to life in America and the social mores of the affluent elite paint a brilliant picture of coming of age for both mother and daughter. They move beyond petty and sometimes even ugly human behavior directed at them by neighbors and so-called friends and learn to let others in.

Honestly, this is the first self-published novel that without reservation I give five bright, gold stars. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

“No More Ramen” For This Metathesiophobic: A Review of Drew Hayes’ Digital Novel

Meet Seth, the most unlikely millionaire to grace your computer screen. He’s the kind of wacky, off-the-cuff kind of guy that so many frat boys wish they could be. He’s got a self-deprecating sense of humor hiding a surprising layer of depth in this quirky little tale by Drew Hayes.

The story begins with Seth winning the largest jackpot lottery in Texas’ history. Only, Seth won it on a lark. He had no intention of actually spending the money. He tries desperately to keep his life as low-key and interesting as it was before. Life, however, seems determined to make sure that he doesn’t squander his new gift.

Despite the frequent spelling mistakes, I really liked this story. Seth is such a lovable character and he is surprisingly perceptive (with a little help from his friends). His friends don’t feel like carbon-copies of each other; they each have their own perspective and motives.

On the other hand, the situations and the characters were often highly improbable. The story had me snickering because the whole thing was so absurd  That, I think, is actually a major part of the story’s charm. And unlike a lot of humorous pieces, there is actual character development for several of the characters.

Warnings for language, including the f-bomb. There might have been a barroom brawl, but if so, it wasn’t serious. There’s also an openly lesbian character in the story (*le gasp!*). Lastly, alcohol is consumed in vast quantities. If any of these things doth offend, give this story a miss. If not, welcome to No More Ramen. I hope you enjoy!

X-Men vs. Magneto: A Review for THE MIND READERS by Lori Brighton

Cover image courtesy of Amazon.com

Cameron is in her last year of high school and desperate to move on, though not for the typical reasons. While she has her own share of teen angst, what she can’t wait to escape is the deluge of petty thoughts spilling from everyone’s heads. She’s been able to read minds since she was five and as far as she’s concerned, it’s the bane of her existence.

When a new student approaches Cameron and invites her to join him at a Xavier-esque mansion for other talented mind readers, she accepts. The prospect of learning to control her ability is too tempting to pass up. However, she soon finds that the leader of this group of mind readers is more of a Magneto than Xavier. Cameron must ultimately decide where her morals and her loyalties lie.

I am a sucker for super hero stories, so this whole concept intrigues me. Brighton does a good job identifying the decisions that separate a hero from a villain and the ethical questions that arise from those decisions. I also appreciate the dynamics of the super powers. They are all grounded in mind reading but take a unique twist for each individual.

For the most part the writing is clean. There are a few typos but they would be quick fixes. The errors I found most disruptive were the character inconsistencies. Cameron tells us she’s one way, but behaves contrary to it. For the way she thinks and behaves, I don’t understand why she would be friends with a snobby rich girl. Also, her motives as she explains them don’t make sense to me. Cameron’s relationship with her grandma also lacks conviction.

Cameron’s attraction to the new kid at school bases primarily on his physique, which is annoying, but I am happy to say there is a satisfactory answer for it. The end of the novel is the most interesting part. The characters are more vibrant and Cameron finally acts decisively. I am mildly interested in reading the sequel.

Overall, THE MIND READERS is a good read, despite its flaws. I give it three stars.

Writers Should Stick Together like Velcro: Why You Need an Editing Group

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Yes, it feels like this sometimes.

Most humans are naturally wired to avoid pain and stressful experiences. I say most humans because writers are human, but they’re different: they do not avoid pain.

Writers compose a curious part of the human population.  They’re prone to share the precious artistry of their souls and ask for constructive criticism in hopes of getting better.  As a writer myself, I went this route early in my career and found that the helpful advice I hoped to receive felt more like a literary slap in the face. In one of my first experiences, I tried to smile and jot down notes as a friend proceeded to (as I saw it at the time) rip my heart out and stomp on it.

“How could you do this to me?” I wanted to say. “Isn’t this one of the best things you’ve ever read??”

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Writing groups are tough love but totally worth it, I promise!

This experience only temporarily gave the boot to my dreams, however, because I was–and still am–determined to become a great writer (as you might also, or at least a great reader!). Understandably, I was upset with my friend (as well as delusional about the quality of my story), but upon later reflection her words became more clear and helpful than she may have ever intended. I got the feedback I needed to honestly assess my writing.

As my astute colleague Doc so aptly put it, writers who want to self-publish need to work on their craft. The best way to do this is by getting honest feedback. The best way to get honest as well as informed feedback is by utilizing the time of fellow writers. This is because fellow writers have most likely taken classes, had similar experiences, and read helpful books on writing. You just don’t have the time to take every class on novel composition, character development, and literature that’s out there, and neither do you have time to read everything by Anne Lamott, Stephen King, and Robert McKee. You also don’t have time to make all the mistakes novice writers make. Let someone else bump you ahead on the learning curve–believe me, it’ll save you a ton of time and heartache!

If someone is a “serious” writer, they must endure constructive slapping on a regular basis. This is because good writers want to improve their writing and not just get empty praise (though a compelling case can be made for the necessity of praise, no matter how undeserved–I know I need it now and then!). Decide today to find at least one other person who wants greatness as much as you do, because we writers need to stick together.

Note: I’ve credited writers for their helpfulness, and I think it’s also fair to point out the extreme benefits of beta-readers within your editing group.  That, however, is a topic for another time.