If I was ever to have an addiction, it would be books. My husband likes to tease me that I could give Barnes and Noble a run for their money. I like to think of myself as a personal library for all my loved ones. I’ve got a wide range of both fiction and non-fiction books that cover from true crime to history, romance to classics. Thus for the final post of the month I’ve decided to throw open my library doors and talk about some of my favorite books.
Not all of them will be about writing. At least one will be, but I wanted to do something beyond just improving your craft through how-to books. One of the simplest ways to improve your craft is by reading. When you read as a writer, you start to look at the mechanics of the story. Where the character’s well developed? Did the author throw way too much backstory? A whole new side of reading opens up to a writer. So I’m also going to cover books that I found expanded my craft through these avenues. So let’s begin!
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Boy that title is a mouthful. Regardless, this book snuck up on me. I found it through the recommendation section on Goodreads. After reading the blurb I went in expecting to find a light read set in old Hollywood. Maybe a few twists here and there, nothing too big. Instead I was sucked into an emotional roller coaster right alongside the characters. I even teared up a bit at the end, it was that good!
I’ll give you a quick overview. Although normally elusive with the press, Evelyn Hugo agrees to tell it all, but only to Monique Grant. From the moment Monique is told this by her editor, she and the reader have one burning question: Why? As the interviews begins Evelyn keeps Monique on her toes, challenging and yet encouraging her at the same time. The two women are connected by something buried in Evelyn’s past and when it is all laid bare Monique will find herself at a crossroads.
That’s all I’m going to give away for the plot, because everything else you need to experience while it is happening. This book is so good, so powerful that I found myself tearing up at the end of it. And most of that is down to the fact that author Taylor Jenkins Reid does an incredible job making these characters feel like real people. As you read you feel for the characters because they feel like real choices and emotions that people go through. It was easy I could imagine Evelyn Hugo waltzing through old Hollywood. Easily I could imagine seeing her on movie posters or magazines. Monique Grant felt like a normal journalist, trying to balance the demands of work with her personal life. Even the side characters, particularly those from Evelyn’s past, ring a note of truth that blends into what we know of old Hollywood.
As a writer I saw many wonderful character development as I read through the books. There is a lot of debate about how much backstory to include and when. Not only is this book created a great way to get Evelyn’s back story, in obvious memoir style, but treats Monique just as well. Through her reactions to the things she learns from Evelyn we learn about what has brought Monique to her current situation.
This book also reveals an interesting story style. Similar to The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the title character is not the main protagonist. Much like Nick Carraway, Monique Grant begins the story in a position of naive bliss that is challenged by the introduction of the tragic title character. They both find their world views challenged and have choices to make in order to move forward. I highly recommend check the book out, as it was definitely a favorite of mine!
My Sweet Angel by John Glatt
Switching from fiction to nonfiction, I just finished this book. By the way, My Sweet Angel is the shortened title. The actual title is My Sweet Angel: The True Story of Lacey Spears, the Seemingly Perfect Mother Who Murdered Her Child in Cold Blood. Yeah, that’s another mouthful, so forgive me but I’m going to only refer to it by the shortened title.
The book covers Lacey Spears, a mother diagnosed with Munchausen by Proxy syndrome (MSBP), who ended up killing her son. It is a true crime novel that looks deeply into Lacey Spears from a young age all the way through her trial and conviction. It even includes an interview with Lacey Spears from jail. I would definitely say this falls into the category of “hindsight is 20/20”. As I listened to the audiobook I could see dozens of examples of red flags in this woman’s life from an early stage.
The one thing that I love about this story, is its commitment to telling the whole story, but also being grounded in being enthralling. A lot of people have problems with nonfiction, because even when it tries to keep reader’s attention, it can become dry and difficult to read. My Sweet Angel not only informs but it is an easy read that keeps the reader turning the page just like a good fiction story.
Beyond that I love learning about new topics. As a writer I don’t always know when a story is going to pop into my head. So when it does I have to sit and piece together different things, such as an understanding of a character’s back story. Maybe I’ll have a protagonist who suffered a terrible childhood because of their mother. Learning about MSBP and how it affects those involved gives me a new avenue. While My Sweet Angel only briefly covers it in relation to Lacey Spears, it still made me aware of it for the first time. Like many of my fellow writers, my curiosity is peaked and I’ll find more books or articles on the subject. If you like true crime I would recommend checking this book out.
Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland
If you’ve checked out my post on outlining, you’ve heard me talk about K.M. Weiland. This woman is one of my writing heroes. This book, which Weiland uses to explain her own outlining style, changed the way I write. She takes you through step-by-step, all the while offering encouragement and a personal narrative. This is no mere how-to book, but rather a published author taking the time to explain how she applied this to her own novels. In addition at the end of each chapter is a short interview with different authors opinions of outlining.
This book caused a revolution in my pre-novel writing style. When I was younger I never outlined, and hated the idea in general. But I didn’t realize that this could be why I burned out on my stories when I was faced with obstacles. Now I use a personalized version that works best for me, and I’ve seen my writing capabilities grow.
This book, above all the others, I cannot recommend highly enough for writers. You may not use every part of the process, but most can find at least one part to help you with story planning. Even if it is only the scene list, or the what if question, it is still something that will help.
I Am Livia by Phyllis T. Smith
Taking a turn back into fiction, I Am Livia is a historical fiction set in ancient Rome. Specifically during the fall of the republic after Julius Caesar’s death and the rise of the empire under Augustus. This is one of my favorite time periods of history. And this book only adds to my love.
The book follows Livia, future wife of Augustus, starting in her early life through her marriage to Augustus. Although historically not much is known about Livia Smith breathes life into the character. As the book goes on you feel Livia’s need to survive and her ups and downs trying to do so. Her course is set, her loyalties tested, and Livia is thrown from the background into the spotlight during one of the most tumultuous times in Roman history.
This is one of my favorite historical fiction novels. The way the everyday life is shown in the time of the Romans, it is so seamlessly woven in that you feel like you’re following the characters through the city. If you’re a fan of historical fiction you know that one of the biggest parts of these type of novels, is setting everything up right. Nothing is worse than reading a novel set in 14th century France and having a woman demand that her husband make her coffee. Bleh! No! I plan to cover historical fiction in more detail later in the year but for now let’s just leave it at that.
Now some may think that it can be difficult to create a strong female character in these time periods. However, I think I Am Livia crushes that idea. In reality, what we do know about Livia, she was a strong and intelligent woman. Smith shows us throughout the book that Livia uses this strength and intelligence to work within her society’s expectations of women, but still influence the men around her. She works hard to keep her family safe, without drawing unnecessary attention. Just because she works behind the scenes does not mean that she is not a powerful woman. It is a great book that I highly recommend you check out!
The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata
This is my all time favorite author. Mariana Zapata is a bad ass indie author whose slow burn romances are to die for! Seriously, there is not a single book of hers that I don’t love. The Wall of Winnipeg and Me is hands down the best of the novels so far. Mariana gives us two great characters in Aiden Graves and Vanessa Mazur. The story is simple, yet provides ample amounts of tension and the building of their relationship.
After years of putting up with professional footballer Aiden’s attitude, Vanessa finally quits. But not long after Aiden approaches Vanessa with an offer she can’t refuse: Marry him so he can keep his green card for enough money to make her debt free.
The way Mariana Zapata uses the slow burn type romance and deep POV to plunge the reader into the story is masterful! It was through her books that I learned both of these techniques. This book is a big page turner, I read it in one sitting simply because I couldn’t put it down. If you’re interested in understanding how to build a good slow burn romance between characters that still sizzles throughout the book, this is definitely one to check out. I cannot recommend her highly enough. She has a new book coming out in February, along with enough books to keep you coming back for more!
Bonus Tv show!
I can’t apologize enough that this post was not up on Friday! My daughter and I caught a flu bug in the beginning of the week, so Tuesday and Wednesday were spent either helping her through it or in bed. After that I had two jam packed days of work and school. None of that is an excuse but it’s what ended up happening, which pushed my blogging back. So as a little bonus round as an apology, I’m going to share about a TV show I highly recommend because I’m HOOKED on it.
This new show on Fox focusing on first responders. I wasn’t sure on this one at first, because this isn’t my type of show typically. The closest I like would be Criminal Minds. But man, was I wrong! From the first episode I couldn’t turn away from the show. The characters are enthralling, complex, and moving. I found myself wanting to know what happens, and it is almost painful to wait for each weeks new episode! I keep wanting more, and more, and more! But the good news is, every week so far, the show has delivered. The show keeps proving week after week that it is going to keep my attention. If you have not checked this out I recommend that you do. It’s a great look at how to balance character development and tense story line.
Here is the link to Amazon
Alright ya’ll, the library is officially closed for the week! Next week is jam packed with lots of stuff for the Fox den my foxes! Up first will be the short story based on your votes on Facebook! You voted, so the story will be about a character whose emotions control time. After that will be the February announcement, followed up by the first post of the new month! Stay tuned my foxes, the den will be more like a hive next week!
The library may be closed, but that just means it’s time for some discussion! I’d love to hear if any of you have read these books or seen the show, and how did you feel about them? Or let me know about a book you’ve read or a show you’ve seen lately! Until next week!