Monthly Archives: March 2015

Book Review: Inside the O’Briens

insideobriensTitle: Inside the O’Briens
Author: Lisa Genova
Release Date: April 7, 2015
Rating: 4.5/5

Inside the O’Briens¬† is a family drama that explores the horrors of Huntington’s disease. Joe O’Brien is a 44-year-old Boston Police officer, living in an Irish Catholic neighborhood with his wife and four adult children. Over time, he begins to experience convoluted thoughts, outbursts of anger, and involuntary movements that start rumors that he might have a drug or alcohol problem. Offended by the accusations, Joe reluctantly sees a doctor and is diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, a rare and fatal neurodegenerative disease that has no treatment and no cure. The disease is genetic and Joe feels the overwhelming guilt of knowing that each of his children has a 50/50 chance of inheriting the disease.

Inside the O’Briens is written from two different perspectives, Joe’s and his daughter, Katie’s. Joe’s perspective is exactly what I had pictured from a Boston Police officer and I think Genova does an incredible job creating Joe as a character. As I read the chapters from his point of view, I could hear the Boston accent every time he spoke. As the disease progresses, Joe struggles with the public shame of the disease, reliving memories of his mother with the disease, and being stripped of his police badge. The second perspective is from Joe’s daughter, Katie. Katie is almost the exact opposite of Joe and I think it was very easy to distinguish between the two points of view. Katie is a yoga teacher, a big believer in inspirational quotes and the teachings of Buddhism, and feels like she lives in her older sister’s shadow. When Joe reveals his diagnosis to his family, Katie spends the rest of the novel obsessing over her at risk status and does not decide to get her test results until the very end of the novel. Although some of Katie’s thoughts were slightly repetitive, it’s understandable given her circumstances. I thought the saddest moments from Katie’s point of view came from when she interacted with her father. The relationship between her and Joe is incredibly endearing, but it’s sad to see the picture she paints of Joe’s deteriorating condition.

Joe and Katie were excellently crafted characters and I thought Genova did a wonderful job bringing the rest of the characters to life as well. Rosie, Joe’s wife, is a devout Catholic whose faith is truly tested as she faces the reality of losing her husband and possibly her children to a disease that is foreign to her. Meghan, Katie’s older sister, is a ballerina in the Boston Ballet and exudes the confidence that Katie lacks, creating tension between the two of them. JJ is Joe’s oldest son and he is incredibly similar to him, with the exception that he is a fireman instead of a police officer. Patrick, Joe’s other son, is a bartender and lives a nocturnal lifestyle that makes Joe and Rosie fearful. Although his actions are negative, Patrick is very kind and obviously cares for his family.

Overall, I thought that Inside the O’Briens was great. I thought that the characters were incredibly lifelike and authentic and the family dynamic was very interesting and real. Genova did a great job of creating unique characters and I really enjoyed that. I thought that Joe’s internal struggle as his disease progresses was agonizing but very well written. I thought that his resolution to be an example to his children and show them how to live and die with Huntington’s disease very much fit his character as a loving father. I really liked how the ending brought all of the characters together and although I wanted to know what would happen next, I thought it was a good way to end the story.

I would recommend Inside the O’Briens to anyone who is interested in a family drama or to anyone interested in learning more about Huntington’s disease. If you enjoyed Genova’s Still Alice, you will enjoy Inside the O’Briens as well.

If you have read Inside the O’Briens, I would love to hear your thoughts as well. To view Inside the O’Briens on Amazon, please click here.

I received an advanced copy of Inside the O’Briens courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Get Ready for Camp NaNoWriMo!

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, occurs every November and challenges writers to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Millions of writers take up this challenge every year and although not everyone is able to complete the challenge, NaNoWriMo is an excellent way to get motivated to write. However, there are some writers who may not feel comfortable making the commitment to writing 50,000 words in 30 days, or for those who would rather work at their own pace. Because of these reasonable hesitations, Camp NaNoWriMo was created.

Camp NaNoWriMo is a writing challenge similar to NaNoWriMo, but it allows writers to work at their own pace and set their own writing goals. There are two different “camp sessions” of Camp NaNoWriMo and writers can either participate in April, July, or both. Writers can set their goals anywhere between 10,000 words to 1,000,000 words and the project does not necessarily have to be novel related. This gives writers the freedom to write anything, such as a novel, short story, graphic novel, screenplay, or any other type literary work. It’s a great alternative to NaNoWriMo or a great supplement to the writers who crave the motivation of NaNoWriMo but don’t want to wait for November.

A unique aspect of Camp NaNoWriMo is that you get placed into “cabins” or writing groups. Each cabin is made up of twelve writers and you are able to set your own preferences for the writing group that you are placed in. One of the determining factors in the placement into a writing group is the genre in which your work will be classified. Based on what you will be writing, Camp NaNoWriMo will attempt to place you in a group of like-minded writers. This is a great feature and because the writers in your writing group will be interested in and writing in the same genre, it will be easier to lean on one another for support.

If you are a part of a writing group or if you have a group friends who all enjoy writing, Camp NaNoWriMo also has private cabins. With this feature, a writer is able to invite up to eleven friends into their private writing group. If you have less than eleven friends in your writing group, you can open up your group and make it public if you’d like. I think this is a great new idea to get your friends involved and it’s a excellent way to support each other throughout April.

NaNoWriMo offers discounts and prizes to the writers who participate and complete the event and Camp NaNoWriMo is no different. Although the prize list is not as extensive as the one in November, a participant of Camp NaNoWriMo could win anything from discounts on writing software to specials on self publishing services. There are a number of sponsors for this year’s Camp NaNoWriMo and many of them are offering giveaways to those writers who participate and complete their personal word count goal.

I completed NaNoWriMo this past November and I found that my motivation was incredibly high. I was able to reach my 50,000 word goal and I’m not sure if I would have written that many words in November if it wasn’t for NaNoWriMo. I think that Camp NaNoWriMo is a great alternative and I will be using April to finish up the second half of a novel that has been sitting on my computer, untouched.

Last October, I wrote a series of NaNoWriMo prep blogs in preparation for NaNoWriMo in November. Although you may not need as much prep time for Camp NaNoWriMo, I have left the links to the prep blogs below.

NaNoWriMo Prep: Time Management
NaNoWriMo Prep: Research Now, Not in November
NaNoWriMo Prep: Let People Know Your Goal
NaNoWriMo Prep: Give Yourself Positive Reinforcement

If you are participating in Camp NaNoWriMo and have any tips or thoughts on the event, please share them in the comments! If you are interested in signing up for Camp NaNoWriMo, click here.

Camp NaNoWriMo begins on April 1! If you are planning on participating, good luck!

Until next week,

Debbie

Book Review: The Girl on the Train

girlontrainTitle: The Girl on the Train
Author: Paula Hawkins
Release Date: January 13, 2015
Rating: 4/5

The Girl on the Train is an intense, psychological thriller that follows Rachel, an unemployed alcoholic with voyeuristic tendencies. Although she lost her job months ago, Rachel still takes the same commuter train into the city in an attempt to fool her roommate.¬† Along her daily commute, Rachel passes the house of a married couple that she grows a strong attachment to. She gives them names and envisions their lives together even though she has never met them. One day on her commute, Rachel witnesses something shocking from the train and becomes consumed with the possibility that the couple may not have the perfect marriage that she had hoped for. After a night of heavy drinking, Rachel blacks out and wakes up with unexplainable wounds. She soon learns that Megan, the woman she watches from the train, has gone missing and that she was in the area at the time of Megan’s disappearance. Rachel throws herself into the police investigation, desperate to find Megan and to recover memories from that night that may lead to answers.

The story is told from three different points of view. The first and major perspective that Hawkins uses is Rachel’s. Rachel’s point of view is sad and hopeless as she attempts to sober up in order to assist in the police investigation. Hawkins contrasts Rachel’s point of view with Anna’s. Anna is Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife and she absolutely hates Rachel. Anna attempts to turn Rachel’s ex-husband and the police against her and continues to lament how dangerous Rachel is capable of being. The third point of view is of Megan, but it is from the year prior, not from present day. As Megan’s point of view begins to get closer to present day, the reader sees the events that lead to her disappearance.

Throughout the novel, I never really liked any of the characters. Rachel has been an alcoholic for years and hasn’t tried to end the suffering in her situation. She is reckless and she puts herself in a few dangerous situations throughout the novel. Although I started to feel sorry for Rachel at the end of the novel, I never liked her. Megan is a restless young woman who seems to have grown more neurotic ever since losing her job at an art gallery. She harbors a big secret and as the story progresses, it becomes clear that she has some inner demons. Still, even though she becomes a victim, I still didn’t like her. Anna, Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife, is incredibly paranoid and mean. Throughout the novel, these women became hard to distinguish between and they all become mentally unstable caricatures. I wish Hawkins would have made these women unique individuals instead of three women with almost the same personalities.

I never grew attached to any of the supporting characters in the book either. Scott is Megan’s husband and although he seems distraught by his wife’s disappearance, there’s something about him that’s hard to like. He is described as controlling and exhibits a temper that makes it hard to sympathize with. Tom, Rachel’s ex-husband, seem harmless enough at first, but morphs into an unlikeable character as well. The police officers in the story didn’t really make an impression on me and I thought they were very forgettable. Rachel’s roommate is equally forgettable.

Overall, I thought this was a good book. I thought that the voyeuristic concept was interesting and the story kept me engaged even when the characters did not. I thought that the ending had a surprising and intriguing twist. This novel has been compared to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, but I’m not sure if this book lives up to the hype. The Girl on the Train is not as good as Gone Girl or as fast paced, but it is still a really good story. I would recommend this novel to anyone who is interested in a suspense novel that will keep you guessing.

If you have read The Girl on the Train, I would love to hear your thoughts as well. To view The Girl on the Train on Amazon, please click here.

Why I Prefer Pen and Paper Over Writing Apps

pen againI enjoy taking notes. Whether it’s a note about something I need to get done or ideas that I have for a novel, I enjoy getting my thoughts out of my head and onto paper.

Writing ideas down on paper used to be commonplace before the emergence of smartphones and tablets. Now, with these new devices, there are applications that help users with any number of tasks. There are apps for nearly everything, including writing apps. I know many people find these apps to be helpful and I think that it’s great that people are benefiting from these new tools. However, there are several reasons why I will always prefer pen and paper over writing apps when it comes to taking notes.

It’s Personal
I think that there’s something incredibly personal about writing down thoughts on paper. Everyone has their own handwriting style that is unique to them. The words may appear scratchy if you are writing in a rush or they may appear bigger if you are trying to make a point. Your handwriting is completely customizable and changeable. There is no default font. You can write in the margin, scribble words out, or doodle on the side of the page. There are no limits on how to express yourself on paper.

Retaining Information is Easier
There have been many studies conducted that compare people who take notes with an electronic device, such as a laptop, and those who take notes with paper and pen. Overall, most of the people who take their notes with paper and pen are able to remember more of what they have written and process the information better. Granted, most of these studies are done in an academic setting, but I still think it holds true for notes outside the classroom. Because I’m physically writing down the words that I need to remember, I find it easier to recall them later on in the day. I tend to forget about information that I store in my phone until I go searching for it again.

No Battery Charge Required
When taking notes with pen and paper, I never have to worry about the last time I plugged in my device and if it’ll have enough charge to last the day. That’s because there is no battery in paper and pen and as long as you have clean paper, you can write for as long as you like. The problem with writing apps is that they function on a smartphone or a tablet, and all of these electronics run off of a battery charge. Although some phones and tablets may have a substantial battery life, they do run out. The more you use your phone, the quicker it loses power. I don’t want to have to stop myself from taking notes because I’m afraid that I won’t have enough battery life to make a phone call if I need to.

No Distractions
When writing my ideas on paper, it feels like an escape. The only thing I can do is record my thoughts and all that is in front of me are the words that I’ve already written. There is nothing I can do with that paper but write. This is not the case with writing apps. After recording notes in a writing app, I feel tempted to click on other apps, play games, scroll through the Internet, and get distracted. I find myself getting much more done when I write with paper and pen because I’m not giving myself the opportunity to be tempted by the many distractions that come with technology.

I don’t think that writing apps are necessarily a bad choice and I know a lot of people who favor them over pen and paper. They offer a lot of great functions that can aid in recording information and I think they can be very useful. However, when it comes to notes and brainstorming, I will always be a paper and pen type of person.

If you have any thoughts or preferences when it comes to pen and paper or writing apps, please share them in the comments.

Until next week,

Debbie

My Five Favorite Genres

I think that any reader or writer appreciates a beautifully crafted story with complex characters and engaging plot lines, regardless of genre. However, we all have our preferences.

In no particular order, here is a list of my Five Favorite Genres:

Young Adult Fiction
Young adult fiction, or YA, targets adolescents and young adults and the main characters in these novels are normally in their teenage years. I really enjoy YA because I think that it’s incredibly easy to read and relate to. Struggles with identity, independence, and relationships are common themes in YA fiction and I think they are topics that teenagers, young adults, and adults can all relate to. Whether it’s a dystopian or contemporary YA novel, the main character almost always goes through some type of personal transformation and I enjoy watching that type of growth in characters.

Historical Fiction
Historical fiction is a fictitious story that occurs during a time period that actually happened in the past. I have always been fascinated by history and I think that the events in history provide incredible material for a novel. History provides countless unique settings, plots, and characters and I love reading a novel that is affected by a time period or event that actually took place. If an author can successfully incorporate authentic speech patterns, settings, and events in a piece of historical fiction, I think that these books can easily submerge a reader into a different time and place.

Thriller
Thrillers are generally fast-paced, adrenaline-pumping stories that keep the reader on the edge of their seats. The protagonist seems to always be on the run and the threat of danger can be present in any scene. I enjoy thrillers because there is so much suspense and anticipation throughout the novel. The pacing of thrillers makes them hard to put down and because there are so many variations of thrillers, it’s a very dynamic genre.

Mystery
A mystery novel normally features a main character who is investigating a crime and is attempting to solve the case. The protagonist must utilize clues found along the way in order to solve the mystery and the pacing is usually a bit slower than that of a thriller. I think my favorite part of mysteries is the thought and logic behind them. Mysteries are puzzles and I like trying to figure out who committed the crime. I think that the best mysteries can keep a reader guessing until the end of the novel.

Memoirs
Memoirs depict a small period of time in a person’s life. Memoirs are often compared to autobiographies, but a memoir depicts only a series of events, not an entire lifetime. I find memoirs to be more fascinating than autobiographies because while an autobiography is a factual account of someone’s life, a memoir flows more like a story. I think that it’s interesting to read about a real person’s life and experiences and it’s even more interesting when the story is told from their perspective.

Honorable mentions go out to the science fiction and fantasy genres. Although I enjoy reading certain books from these genres, I find myself favoring the above five just a little bit more.

If you have any thoughts on genres or would like to discuss your favorite genres, please share them in the comments.

Until next week,

Debbie


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