Review of Noah Hawley’s “Before the Fall.”

Before the FallBefore the Fall by Noah Hawley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a very special book. The author does 11 or 12 very fine character studies, weaving 2-3 plot lines into the story of ordinary people living their lives. Well, maybe some not so ordinary, like the two billionaires and the psychotic co-pilot.

But it’s the ordinary folks who turn out to be most interesting. Here’s a thought from one of the mothers: “Mothers exist to blunt the existence of loneliness of being a person. If that were true then her biggest maternal responsibility was simply companionship. You bring a child into this fractious chaotic world out of the heat of your womb and then spend the next 10 years working beside them while they figure out how to be a person.”

One plot revolves around the crash investigation: A mystery on par with the best cliff-hangers. The other follows the life of the main character, an unmarried forty-something painter. You drop into his life at a pivotal time for him and jump right into the angst thanks to Hawley’s excellent writing.

Definitely, read this book.

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Review of Swan Huntley’s “We Could Be Beautiful.”

We Could Be BeautifulWe Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book almost hit my Goodreads “abandoned” shelf in the first fifty pages, but I was intrigued enough to stick with it and I’m glad I did. The first person narrator is an early-forties, Manhattan woman living off $80,000 per month (not a typo) from her father’s trust fund. She’s lost and thinks she’s miserable. Then she meets her Mr. Right who turns out to be Mr. Wrong. She grows a bit through the turmoil of discovering he is Mr. Wrong.

The writing is witty and it’s a quick read. I’m torn between 3 stars and 4. I think I’m going with 3 because I don’t like the protagonist, but we’re not supposed to like the protagonist so perhaps that’s an achievement deserving a four-star rating. The other characters are also well done. For example, the depiction of the mother with Alzheimer’s disease seems perfect to me. Been there, done that.

Overall, I’d say read this book.

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More Summer Reading: Review of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale

The NightingaleThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where is the ten-star rating option? This is an excellent book. True to historical context (as far as I can tell) and presents a beautiful family story that could have been set elsewhere but fits very dramatically in WW II France. I recommend this to lovers of historical fiction and also to thriller readers.

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Review of The Summer Before The War

I’ve been vacationing a bit this summer and doing more reading than writing. So, here’s another book review:

The Summer Before the War: A NovelThe Summer Before the War: A Novel by Helen Simonson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I haven’t read Helen Simonson’s first novel, “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand,” but will add it to my list after having read “The Summer Before the War.” The book begins with a quotation from Henry James, which seems so fitting because all the action involves careful strolling about drawing rooms and gardens, at least in the beginning. The setting is incredibly important to the book: The stifling world of the early 20th Century, most fittingly represented by women bound in corsets. But these women, at least the main characters, are fighting to get out. By the end of the Great War, they have at least been relieved of the corsets. The war shatters the setting of the Summer Before the War forever. Beautifully written with characters you’ll love – I did anyway.

This book is classified as historical fiction.  For those not familiar with the period, there is much to learn about women’s history and the status of gay lives. (I won’t mention lesbians, bisexuals, or transgendered lives because they were beyond imagination.)

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Review of Warner’s Green-Light

Green-Light Your Book: How Writers Can Succeed in the New Era of PublishingGreen-Light Your Book: How Writers Can Succeed in the New Era of Publishing by Brooke Warner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another very useful book from Brooke Warner. When I read her “What’s Your Book,” I entered a new world. Since then, I’ve done a lot of reading about publishing, yet I learned a few new things in “Green-Light.”

“Green-Light” would be a great book for someone who knew nothing about the business of publishing. For someone looking for “how to do it,” this is not the book; this book tells you what you need to know about publishing without filling in all the nitty-gritty details of what those things actually are.

Well worth reading for anyone who is hesitating to publish, for people looking to understand the current state of the publishing industry, and for those who may need a little push to get their manuscripts into print.

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Update on the Work: Back from the Beta-Readers

I’m working on revisions to my novel (again). Several non-writer friends have asked me, “Isn’t it frustrating to do all those revisions?” No, really, I like it. I truly believe revisions, or self-editing if you prefer that term, are part of the creative process. To quote C.J. Cherryh (as I have elsewhere in this blog): “It is perfectly ok to write garbage – as long as you edit brilliantly.” I’m not claiming brilliance; I’m just saying the writing and the revisions are parts of a whole.

In my past life (as a lawyer), much of my writing was done as what most people would call editing. I’d take a draft from another lawyer and rework it. And, send that out for comment and then rework based on the comments. This part of the novel writing is much like that.

At Master Classthe same time, I’m reading Adam Sexton’s Master Class in Fiction Writing. Parts of that are brilliant and most of the rest of it is useful. Incidentally, many of the books that Sexton uses to illustrate his teachings are well-worth reading.

The comments that I got from my Beta-Readers did not conform to my suggested notations. See Beta-Readers and Publishing Options, published a few weeks ago. But my readers are the epitome of non-conformists, so what should I have expected?  Instead, my readers made their own lists, and they did indeed see things that I hadn’t seen. All of it was very useful. One comment reinforced a concern that I had about a character, so I am working hard on that character’s development. Another comment spoke to language choices I’d made that were simply too modern for the time period that I’m writing about (I had gotten more careful about that later in the manuscript, but committed error in the early chapters.)

One comment that I’ll take to heart: “Pay attention to only about 10% of what people tell you about your work.” I don’t think the comment is correct, but I appreciate the spirit in which it was made. I am “paying attention” to all of what I’ve so generously been told. After due consideration, I may choose to go with my original writing or I may find adjustments that aren’t quite what the commentators may have been implying. Nonetheless, I think each of the comments is worth cherishing.

Thank you, Beta-Readers. You know who you are!