Recommended Reads: This Is Not A Writing Manual

writing reference; This Is Not A Writing Manual; Kerri Majors
Book cover image from Goodreads.com.

Despite the title and the text on the back cover, I fully expected Kerri Majors’ This Is Not a Writing Manual to have a few lessons on how to write. Instead, Majors offers advice on how to be a writer. Even when she directly addresses the teenaged writers she expects to pick up her book, her insight is a soothing breath of fresh air to those of us out of our teens, but still reaching for publication. As a writing reference and as unlikely source of support, this book is invaluable to any writer.

Majors clearly states in the introduction just what kind of writing book this is: “This book is just you and me, in writing therapy together, so we can talk about what it means to be a writer and why the writing life is worth living.” That statement hardly does the book justice. With the tone of a friend paddling in the same canoe as the reader and her years of experience as a writer, as well as Editor and Founder of the Young Adult Review Network, Majors expertly delivers the message so many other writing reference books muddle: Being a writer is hard, but we can do it.

That sounds like an obvious takeaway. Many established writers make the same point in speeches and lectures. Majors doesn’t make the point and move on; every page reinforces it. Right after reading the chapter on bosom writing buddies, it’s clear that the entire book is meant to be the reader’s writing buddy. Maybe the book doesn’t comment on or edit our work, but it certainly commiserates and captains our personal cheerleaders. If only every other writing reference could do that.

While some of her advice might induce a few sighs because of how often they are repeated by others — such as the importance of disciplining yourself to write every day — Majors’ take on the information is more forgiving. Other writers momentarily acknowledge the conflicts with a daily writing schedule before sternly telling you to do it anyway. Majors highly recommends a schedule, but doesn’t shame the reader into it. It may be the same advice we’ve been hearing and reading for years, but the delivery is key. Some people need to be shamed into good habits. Others need a ray of sunshine like Majors to coax them into removing their coat and getting to work.

Consider adding This Is Not A Writing Manual to your list of writing references to read. The combination of writing advice and memoir makes it a welcome break from sometimes drier content. Writing is a craft that can often feel lonely and isolated. Majors cannot receive enough credit for how this book eases that loneliness.

Recommended Reads: Blood in the Paint

blood-in-the-paint-coverI know it’s long overdue, but my review of Jordanna East’s second book is finally here! I wanted my hands on this ever since I finished Blood in the Past, and it did not disappoint.

In the first book, we watched Lyla Kyle go from a semi-normal (albeit eerie) woman to a revenge-crazed psychopath. Now we have the joy of watching her commit one murder after the other — and we’re secretly dancing with glee every time she doesn’t get caught. As the body count rises to a number Sweeney Todd would commend, a sick feeling sets in. Oh yeah, we’ve been rooting for the bad guy. Someone needs to get in there and stop her.

How about Officer Brighthouse? He’s smart, plucky and looking to prove himself. His boyish charm brings in some much needed levity at just the right times to keep the drama and anxiety from feeling overbearing. And his problems with his wife keep him from feeling like just another paperback detective. He has more going on than just his pursuit of a beautiful murderess. And if we’ve learned anything from the last book, bad things are on the way if someone’s marriage is in a rocky place.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of this thriller is the tension between Jillian and Lyla. If you read the last book, you know their relationship could go up in flames at any second. For new readers, don’t worry. You’ll catch up right away.

This would not be a Jordanna East novel without some punches to the gut — and Ms. East does not pull her punches. It’s one delightfully maddening twist after another, and you won’t want to put it down.

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Note: In the original post, the cover of Blood in the Paint did not feature the Switzy Thoughts Recommended Reads stamp. Once I was able to access Photoshop, that was quickly updated.

Recommended Reads: The Spinning Heart

I don’t typically read literary fiction unless a class requires it. The stakes never seem high enough, the characters don’t interest me, and I get to the end of each page wondering why I should go on to the next.

You’d think I’d be just as unfazed by The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan–I don’t know anything about contemporary Ireland, or the financial collapse of the country. I’m also not familiar with Irish vernacular. How could I possibly read this book?

Each chapter puts us into the mind of a different character, slowly widening our view of how each person contributed to each other’s misery. A mother loves one child more than the other; that child grows into the most detestable boss; that boss hires the man everyone wishes they were; it never ends. And that’s what sets it apart from others in the genre. It reads more like a thriller.

Plenty of characters think about killing those who have sleighted them, and their violent daydreams are chilling. One moment Trevor talks about painting a woman’s window sills, the next he’s envisioning plunging his screwdriver into her eye. And then he wants the public to believe his mother is a witch so they won’t arrest him for murdering her.

Each chapter is full of wonderful things like that–things you might consider too exciting to exist in literary fiction. Maybe this book is too exciting for the genre. Or maybe I just haven’t read much literary fiction that I’ve enjoyed. Whatever the case may be, this book is well worth the read. It’s also the first book to bear my official stamp of approval!

RR Seal

 

Recommended Reads: Blood in the Past

Here is a book I’ve been dying to see released for the past few months. Author Jordanna East delayed the original spring release, but it was worth the wait. (For those of you interested in getting your hands on this book, it’s available on Amazon for the Kindle.) And this novella is just a prelude to the main event, Blood in the Paint.

As a fan of murder mysteries, Blood in the Past completely satisfies my taste for the macabre. It’s also a refreshing break from the usual stories that follow those investigating the murders. For the first time, we’re rooting for the killers—and there’s more than one. It’s deliciously dark and twisted, and you can’t help but enjoy every aspect of it.

It was really fascinating to start out with characters so normal they could almost be someone I know, then watch their realistic spiral into obsessive and murderous behavior. It’s a different kind of adventure, one I definitely recommend everyone take the time to read. As Ms. East’s first book, I look forward to reading what she comes out with next.

Recommended Reads: The Emperor’s Soul

The Emperor's SoulIt’s no secret that I’m a fan of Brandon Sanderson‘s work. While randomly looking up his latest projects, I discovered this book was due to release soon. I honestly forgot about it until I happened to go to Barnes & Noble.

(This happened while I was at my dorm in Savannah. The nearest B&N is in the mall. For those of us without a car, this means at least a two hour bus ride. It was two and a half hours that day. I feel it’s important that my readers know I endured that–plus the two hour ride back–all for the sake of a book that’s maybe half an inch thick.)

I’m not sure exactly what I expected when I opened the book, but I was impressed. It’s not often I find a book where magic and art are combined. I also haven’t read much fiction with ties to Asian culture, so this was a wonderful new experience.

This short book takes place over 100 days–that’s how much time the main character has to forge a new soul for the emperor. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the action and the emotions. I read it twice in one day because I couldn’t get enough.

As a writer, this is definitely one of those books that helps take the pressure off trying to write some massive novel. As an artist, this reminded me that my family had given me a Chinese calligraphy and painting set. I’d never used it, so I decided to give it a try. For your enjoyment, here are the first two paintings I’ve ever done with a Chinese painting kit: Hush Mountains, Mountain Path

Recommended Reads: The Janus Affair: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel

The second installment of this series from Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris flabbergasted me. I was so blown away, I could not write the review simply because it left me speechless. Now that I’ve regained my composure, I know exactly how to describe The Janus Affair.

(I would like to take a moment to inform my readers this book will be available at the end of May; my review is based on an advanced review copy.)

The Janus Affair is a maddening delight that proves impossible to set aside, even when the plot twists knock the wind from you. Agents Books and Braun are even more addictive this time around as we delve into each of their secrets. The new mysteries that arise are as delicious as the ones we receive answers to. Once again, the authors have created an infuriating pleasure that makes me want to beg on hands and knees for the next book.

It breaks my heart to imagine waiting several months–perhaps even a year–for the next installment, but wait I shall. In the meantime, I await the print release so I may purchase my own copy.

Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris are greatly responsible for my own interest (sometimes borderline obsession) with steampunk. When I endeavor to write steampunk, I look to them for guidance. Without them, I probably would have remained mostly ignorant of such a wonderous genre, subculture, fashion, and everything else that steampunk is. I will always be grateful to them, and I hope one day I can meet them and express my thanks in person.

You can read my review for the first book, Phoenix Rising, or head over to the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences website.

Recommended Reads: The Alloy of Law

This is the only series I’ve seen where a fantasy world is created, and then is revisited 300 years later as technology evolves. But it’s not just railroads and electricity advancing in the Mistborn world–Allomancy has changed, as well.

Those familiar with the series know about Mistings (those born with the ability to use one Allomantic power) and Mistborn (those born with the ability to use all Allomantic powers). The Alloy of Law introduces two new kinds of people: Ferrings (those born with the ability to use one Feruchemic power) and Twinborn (those born with one Feruchemic power and one Allomantic power). The world of Mistborn has taken on an old-west and steampunk feel, making the story even more irresistable.

Those unfamiliar with the series will want to pick up the first book and get started.

Waxillium Ladrian uses his Twinborn powers as a lawman in the Roughs. After twenty years of that life, he is forced to return to the city of Elendel and assume his responsibility as the lord of his noble house. He puts away his guns for good and reluctantly settles in the life of a nobleman until havoc strikes the city on a major scale. Wax balances the line between rough and refined, immediately becoming another of my favorite characters.

Helping Wax with his investigations are Wayne, an old friend from the Roughs, and Lady Marasi, a young woman studying law. Wayne is another wonderful character, making me laugh with the usual sharp dialogue one can expect from Sanderson. Marasi is a joy to follow, as well. I greatly look forward to these characters returning in the next novel. (With an ending like this one, there has to be another one!)

Brandon Sanderson delivers another inspiring work of genius with this book. I will never be able to get over his characters, the intwined stories, and the insane surprises that will keep me reading for hours and hours. I eagerly await any information on the next book.

One of McSweeney's illustrations from The Alloy of Law

I would also like to extend my approval to Mr. Ben McSweeney, one of two illustraters who contributed to this book. Without following Mr. McSweeney on deviantART, I probably would not have known about this book until after it was released. Many thanks to you!

Recommended Reads: Mistborn

I came across Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn a year or two ago when an accquaintance literally threw it at me. My friend had been reading the chapters of my novel that I e-mailed him, and he threw Mistborn into my lap, saying my character reminded him of the one in this book. It sat on my shelf for a time until I randomly picked it up and read the first page.

I can’t remember how long it took me to put it down, but only the necessity of eating stopped me from continuing.

This book has amazing twists in it, the kind that make you jump up and down and shout (as if the author could hear you) “How could you do this?!” and yet still be in love. One of the best parts of this book is that it is followed by two others.

The back of the book tells you a hero tried to save the world, but failed and allowed the world to become “a wasteland of ash and mist ruled by the immortal emperor known as the Lord Ruler.” The horrid, depressing world is described so wonderfully, I look out my window and am surprised to find it is not raining ash.

Inside that world are incredible characters, from the brave street urchin Vin (the novel’s protagonist), to the charming and powerful Kelsier, and the mysterious Lord Ruler himself. These people really drive the story, and there is no way to quit reading before the last page.

The system of magic Sanderson sets up is completely new, and the way it influences the political atmosphere of the Final Empire is incredible. I’m so happy I own a copy, because I can’t wait to start reading it again. The story is strong enough for the first book to stand alone, but you will not want to ignore the others of the trilogy (The Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages).

Mistborn will blow your mind no matter how many times you read it, and you will not be able to resist turning the pages.

Recommended Reads: Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel

Here is a book I happened upon, read a few pages, then bought and thoroughly enjoyed. This is the first steampunk novel I’ve ever read, so I’m not sure how it compares in its field, but it has been nominated for Steamcon’s 2011 Airship Awards, according to the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences webpage.

This has easily become one of my favorite books, and as soon as I’d finished it, I wanted to start all over again.

Agent Eliza D. Braun is lovely, witty, and prefers dynamite to reinforcements as she works as a field agent for Her Majesty’s Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. Once being assigned to assist Archivist Agent Wellington Thornhill Books in the Ministry’s vast archives, she finds herself itching to return to the field.

Wellington, on the other hand, is a reserved gentleman who previously organized all the cold case files in the archives single handedly. When Eliza’s curiosity and restlessness prompts her to investigate an unresolved case that belonged to her former partner, Wellington finds himself joining her dangerous investigation–without the rest of the Ministry knowing.

I fell in love with each of the characters, and I can’t wait for the next book and the next mystery. The story pulled me along and I could not stop turning the pages. (I even brought it to work with me to read on break.) Aside from telling a spectacular story, this book made me think of some areas of my own writing that could use some refining.

I would definitly say go to your local bookstore or library and pick up a copy. If you read it, I’d love to know what you think!