Category Archives: Books

Why You Should Be Reading More

readmoreThere are countless studies that discuss the numerous benefits that reading has on a person. Whether you’re looking to improve your intelligence or for a pure form of entertainment, reading a book will positively affect the brain. When writing, your creativity and brainpower are invaluable resources that can be increased when you read. There are several benefits of reading that pertain specifically to writers and if you are able to regularly dedicate your time, you will be able to reap the rewards of reading.

Expand Your Vocabulary
Reading books regularly is an incredible way to expand your vocabulary. Books of all genres can expose you to words that you may not hear in everyday conversation. When you are introduced to new words, you may find yourself incorporating them into your vocabulary, whether it’s when you speak or when you write. By adding to your personal vocabulary, you become a more articulate person and a much better writer.

Expand Your Imagination
Whether you’re interested in reading a historical fiction piece about the French Revolution or a contemporary novel about teenage love, reading a book will expand your imagination. When you let yourself get lost in a story, your mind wanders to places that it might not normally. You may begin to play the “what if” game and the book you’re reading may inspire you to learn more about the subject matter. If you are a writer, this is an incredible benefit because when you expand your imagination, you become more open to inspiration.

Improve Your Writing
By reading well written works of literature, you may see improvements in your own writing. It takes time and effort to master certain writing techniques, such as writing engaging dialogue or setting a scene. When you read, you are consistently introduced to great examples of these techniques, making it easier for you to adopt them in your own writing. If you enjoy a certain genre of writing, you should read books from that genre. Different genres have different genre expectations and when you make yourself familiar with these expectations, you will be able to write for that genre more effectively. Reading also exposes you to different types of plots and this exposure can help you learn what works and what doesn’t work in writing.

Reduce Your Stress and Relax
In today’s society, the constant stresses of the day make it difficult for a person to completely relax. If you attempt to relax by watching some television, it’s easy to glance at your phone and flip through emails during a commercial break. If you’re giving yourself some relaxing time on the computer, there’s a chance that you won’t be totally unplugged from the stresses of work. Modern entertainment doesn’t really allow you to totally unwind like reading a book does. By picking up a book, you are completely losing yourself to the world within the pages. When you lose yourself in the story, you are allowing yourself to relax and this reduces your stress levels. In fact, a 2009 study by the University of Sussex found that reading for just six minutes can reduce stress levels by up to 68%. When you reduce your stress levels, your brain benefits immensely. You will find that you feel refreshed, more focused, and happier. You may also notice that your creativity soars and it becomes easier to write when you are relaxed.

There are some great books that are slated to come out this summer, so it’s a great time to pick up a book and start reading. Reading will help you become a more educated and interesting writer and it will help you reduce stress and relax.

If you have any thoughts on the benefits of reading, please share them in the comments.

Until next week,

Debbie

Advertisements

Book Review: Church of Marvels

church of marvelsTitle: Church of Marvels
Author: Leslie Parry
Release Date: May 5, 2015
Rating: 3.5/5

Church of Marvels is a turn-of-the-century novel that unites four unlikely characters after a shocking discovery. Sylvan Threadgill is a night soiler in Manhattan who finds an abandoned infant in the privies in the middle of the night. Despite what others tell him, he rescues the child and brings her to a safe place, determined to find out who abandoned her. Odile Church was a part of an act with her sister, Isabelle, at the Church of Marvels, the Coney Island sideshow that their mother built. A tragic fire destroys the Church of Marvels and kills Odile’s mother and a few other members of the show. Isabelle disappears shortly after the fire and Odile fears something might have happened to her in the gritty city of Manhattan. Alphie worked on the docks before she fell in love with Anthony, the local undertaker. Despite the disapproval of Anthony’s mother, the two married and Alphie has been desperate to impress her. After a violent evening that is all but a blur, Alphie ends up in the lunatic asylum, where she meets an unusual girl without a tongue. The paths of these characters soon collide as they all attempt to solve the mysteries that have been presented to them.

This novel is told from the points of view of Sylvan, Odile, and Alphie. Each of the characters had a very intriguing story and I enjoyed learning about them. I thought that the stereotypes that Sylvan faced were authentic to the era and I found myself hoping that he could find acceptance. Odile is desperate to find her sister and although she always felt inferior to her, I loved her dedication to Isabelle. Alphie lives in a world that doesn’t quite understand her and she spends the novel attempting figure out how she ended up in the lunatic asylum and how she can escape. Alphie’s character is nice and genuine but as she discovers how she ended up in the asylum, I couldn’t help but sympathize with her.

Although I did enjoy learning the different stories of these characters, I thought that there was almost too much background information in the first half of the novel. Since we must learn the stories of these three characters, the book seems to drag out and it doesn’t really pick up speed until the last half of the book. It was obvious that Parry spent a lot of time developing these characters, but there were almost too many details that slowed down the action.

I think my favorite thing about this novel was the incredibly rich and detailed setting. Parry does an excellent job of building an authentic 1895 Manhattan and I could easily picture everything throughout the story. Parry adds small details throughout the novel that add to the authenticity of the era and I really appreciated it. The amount of research that was done for the setting is apparent and the world was incredibly vivid.

I thought that the ending of the novel was well written. I really liked Alphie’s ending and she seemed to finally be at peace by the end of the novel. I felt like Sylvan found the acceptance that he needed. I think that Odile’s ending was a little disappointing after all that she went through, but it did make sense. The epilogue was a little long, but I enjoyed reading from a perspective that Parry did not explore during the novel.

I would have enjoyed this novel more if it hadn’t been so slow in the beginning. The characters were all interesting and the setting was fantastic, but I just felt like the story didn’t pick up until the ending. I will caution any potential readers and say that Church of Marvels is a dark novel and deals with many mature themes, such as illicit drug use and gender identity. I would recommend this novel to a more adult audience who can properly appreciate these topics.

If you have read Church of Marvels, I would love to hear your thoughts as well. To view Church of Marvels on Amazon, please click here.

I received a free copy of Church of Marvels courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Hidden

hiddenTitle: Hidden
Author: Catherine McKenzie
Release Date: April 7, 2015 (originally published June 18, 2013)
Rating: 3.5/5

Hidden is a family drama that unfolds when Jeff Manning gets hit by a car and tragically loses his life on his way home from work. Among family and friends, two women are particularly devastated about Jeff’s death. Claire is Jeff’s wife and she must cope with the loss of her husband while raising their son, Seth. Claire’s older sister, Beth, and Jeff’s older brother, Tim, come to her aid, but this only adds to her confusion because of the past that they share. Five hundred miles away, the woman that Jeff was having an affair with, Tish, feels the same anguish. She must keep her feelings hidden from her husband, Brian, and their daughter, Zoey. When Tish volunteers to go to Jeff’s funeral as a company representative, she steps into Jeff and Claire’s world and the past quickly comes to  the surface. Hidden delves into infidelity, regret, and consequences as each character reflects on past events that led them to their present situation.

The novel is told from the perspectives of Jeff, Claire, and Tish. The majority of Jeff’s point of view is in the past because the accident that claims his life happens so early in the book. I could never decide whether I liked Jeff’s character or not. He seemed like a good guy outside of his infidelities, but he didn’t seem to really help Claire during her depression. I definitely sympathized with him in terms of his relationship with his brother and felt that their dynamic was intriguing. Claire’s perspective is pretty heartbreaking and seemed authentic throughout the novel. Claire goes through a small tragedy after Seth is born and because of this, Jeff and Claire begin to drift apart. When they finally start to mend their relationship, Jeff is killed and Claire must cope with the loss and then the eventual suspicions of Jeff’s infidelity. I definitely found myself rooting for Claire throughout the novel. I did not like Tish’s character. She has a brilliant daughter and a doting husband, yet because she is bored, she begins to form a relationship with Jeff. She is selfish throughout the novel and I never was able to sympathize with her. Even if the infidelity wasn’t a factor, I don’t think I would have liked her character.

I did not like the ending to this book. Beth’s mentality towards infidelity seems twisted and she almost suggests that she would have been fine with her husband cheating on her as long as she didn’t know about it. She tells Claire this to dissuade her from any further investigation into Jeff’s past and I just found it to be a very odd message for the novel to send to the reader. I really didn’t like the epilogue either. Although I didn’t like the ending, I thought that it ended in a good place. Then, after reading the epilogue, I really disliked a couple of the main characters. I really wish the epilogue wasn’t a part of the novel.

Although I have never enjoyed reading novels about relationships born out of infidelity, I thought that Hidden was well written. I think that the three alternating perspectives complemented each other well. Aside from the accident that ends Jeff’s life, there really isn’t any action or suspense in this novel. It’s a lot of thinking and recollecting the past, not much present day action. Hidden was a very easy read and I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a drama and doesn’t mind the infidelity.

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

I received a free copy of Hidden courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Sycamore Row

sycamoreTitle: Sycamore Row
Author: John Grisham
Release Date: August 19, 2014
Rating: 5/5

Sycamore Row centers around the courtroom drama that ensues after the sudden and tragic death of self-made millionaire, Seth Hubbard. Seth lives in rural Mississippi and in ten years, was able to amass a fortune of over twenty million dollars. When he dies, he mails his last will and testament to Jake Brigance, a lawyer who gained the town’s respect after winning a racially charged murder trial three years earlier. Seth deliberately leaves his children, ex-wives, and grandchildren out of his will and instructs Jake to do everything he can to uphold his handwritten will. Jake knows that this will not be an easy task when he sees that Seth has left five percent of his fortune to the church, five percent to his long lost brother, and ninety percent to his black housekeeper, Lettie Lang. When the news spreads, Seth’s adult children swoop in with a swarm of lawyers as they attempt to take back the money that they think is rightfully theirs. In a brilliant legal thriller, the Hubbard children attempt to prove that Lettie forced Seth to write her into the will and Jake must find the answer as to why Seth Hubbard would leave his fortune to Lettie.

The novel is told mainly from the point of view of Jake. Jake had never met Seth Hubbard, but he vows to protect the will at all costs. At the beginning of the novel, Jake seems a little money hungry, but this could be a result of his own financial instabilities. Once he meets Lettie Lang and begins to learn more about Seth’s past, he seems to be genuinely invested in the case and I found myself rooting for him as the novel progressed. Along with a few other supporting characters, the novel also explores the perspective of Lettie Lang, the black housekeeper. Lettie is a middle aged, career housekeeper who is stuck in a bad marriage. She is dissatisfied with her current situation and when the news of her impending inheritance spreads, she must deal with the stress of gossip and rumors, as well as greedy family members. Lettie handled these obstacles well and I thought that she was a very likeable character, much more deserving of the fortune than the very unlikeable Hubbard children.

There are a number of characters that are introduced throughout the novel and I think that Grisham does a great job of distinguishing the characters apart from one another. There are a lot of lawyers in the novel and I think that Grisham gave them all their own personalities and I never found myself confusing them. I really liked Lucien Wilbanks, who was disbarred and left his legal practice to Jake. I enjoyed reading the interactions between Lucien and Jake and I found their relationship to be interesting. I also liked Lettie’s daughter, Portia, who Jake ends up hiring as a paralegal. Portia is interested in becoming a lawyer and she quickly becomes the perfect liaison between Jake and Lettie.

I think that the last hundred pages are what really makes this a fantastic novel. The majority of the novel is building up to the eventual jury trial that will determine if Seth Hubbard’s will is valid and if he had testamentary capacity to write it. I enjoyed the build up, but the ending was incredibly powerful. The final deposition is what decides the case and I was absolutely stunned at what the deposition revealed. I thought that the ending was excellent and it was one of the best written endings that I’ve read in a long time.

Overall, I thought that this was a great novel. The character development and progression of the plot were very well done. I think that Grisham has a wonderful writing style and he was really able to bring this legal thriller to life. I would recommend Sycamore Row to anyone who enjoys a good courtroom drama. Sycamore Row was inspired by an earlier Grisham novel, A Time to Kill. If you have enjoyed any of Grisham’s other novels, you will definitely enjoy Sycamore Row.

If you have read Sycamore Row, I would love to hear your thoughts as well. To view Sycamore Row on Amazon, please click here.

Book Review: Playing Mrs. Kingston

kingstonTitle: Playing Mrs. Kingston
Author: Tony Lee Moral
Release Date: December 4, 2014
Rating: 3/5

Playing Mrs. Kingston is a 1950’s thriller that follows Catriona Benedict as she takes on the biggest acting role of her lifetime. Catriona is a struggling actress and on the night that her show is cancelled, she is offered a new role that is almost too good to be true. The very wealthy Miles Kingston offers Catriona a large sum of money to play the role of his wife so that he can come into an inheritance that is promised to him if he gets married. Catriona agrees, despite the anger of her boyfriend, and enters into the world of the rich and powerful. However, at their fake wedding reception, Miles is murdered and Catriona is left behind to play his widow. Catriona must attempt to figure out who murdered Miles and claim the money that belongs to her.

The point of view shifts between several of the characters in the book, although it was mainly from the perspective of Catriona. I liked Catriona, but I never felt like I knew much about her. Moral mentions that she is from Minnesota and speaks briefly of her family life, but much of her life in New York seemed to be a mystery. I didn’t like Mario’s perspective because he was always angry and his temper with Catriona made him unlikeable. Besides the fact that he’s from Italy and plays in a band at a local club, not much is ever revealed about Mario either.

The supporting characters were relatively similar to each other. Leiobesky, the Polish man who forges the marriage certificate, seems very similar to Louis Ferraro, the casino owner. There isn’t much revealed about Miles until after his death, but his past reveals why he would hire an actress as his wife. I think of all of the supporting characters, I liked Freddie Swann the most. Freddie is a photographer from Harper’s Bazaar and he takes a quick liking to Catriona, bumping into her throughout the novel. I actually felt like the reader learned more about Freddie than Catriona. Grace, Catriona’s fake cousin-in-law, is exactly how I would picture a pampered socialite and I thought Moral described her well.

Playing Mrs. Kingston was definitely plot driven and there was never a lack of impending action. Catriona was constantly on the move. Although the plot was always moving, I didn’t see much character development through this story. Most of the characters seemed to be static and one dimensional. I would have almost preferred for there to be less action if it meant more unique characters.

I thought that Moral’s world building was great and I appreciated all of the details he provided. Moral did a good job of describing each scene in order to immerse the reader into the story. The setting was very 1950’s and I am glad that everything seemed true to the era. The descriptions of the artwork and clothing in the novel were especially detailed and it was easy to picture what the characters were seeing.

I was surprised to see a few typos throughout the novel and the wrong name being used during a scene. There were only a few of these errors but it was enough to jar me out of the scene. I think this is more of the fault of the editor, not the author, but it was still displeasing.

Overall, I think that Playing Mrs. Kingston would be an enjoyable read for someone who enjoys the noir style of writing. The author has written three books about Alfred Hitchcock cinema and it’s obvious that Hitchcock’s works were a source of inspiration. The plot moves quickly and although there is little character development, there is always something new happening. I prefer a story that is a bit more focused on the characters, but I would recommend this to a reader who loves a fast-paced story with lots of twists and turns in the plot.

If you have read Playing Mrs. Kingston, I would love to hear your thoughts as well. To view Playing Mrs. Kingston on Amazon, please click here.

I received a free copy of Playing Mrs. Kingston courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review.