Review: Wonderbook: An Illustrated Guide To Creating Imaginative Fiction

July 3, 2018 in Book Reviews, Non-Fiction

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Wonderbook: An Illustrated Guide To Creating Imaginative FictionWonderbook: An Illustrated Guide To Creating Imaginative Fiction Published by Abrams on 3rd July 2018 (revised edition)
Genres: Non-Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Since its release in 2013, Wonderbook has become the definitive guide to writing imaginative fiction by offering an accessible, example-rich approach that emphasises the importance of playfulness as well as pragmatism. It also exploits the visual nature of genre culture and employs bold, full-colour drawings, maps, renderings and visualisations by Jeremy Zerfoss to stimulate creative thinking. On top of that, the book features sidebars and essays from some of the biggest names working in the field today, including George R. R. Martin, Lev Grossman, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock and Karen Joy Fowler.

Writers such as the wonderful V.E. Schwab have ignited in me an interest in the craft of writing (Schwab’s YouTube and Instagram accounts are definitely worth watching).

With this new flame of interest, I came across the revised and expanded, 5th-anniversary edition of Wonderbook: An Illustrated Guide To Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer that is published today by Abrams.

It truly is a Wonderbook – packed full of advice, stunning illustrations and easy to digest chapters.

Let me first say that I haven’t read many books about writing, so I can’t compare Wonderbook to other books on the market. However, I can share my thoughts and experience with the book.

Content

Jeff VanderMeer has incorporated so much into the pages of this book (including an additional 50 pages of diagrams, illustrations and writing exercises in this anniversary edition), with chapters on:

  • Inspiration and the Creative Life
  • The Ecosystem of Story
  • Beginnings and Endings
  • Narrative Design
  • Characterisation
  • World Building
  • Revision

Wonderbook has an interactive feel with ‘guides’ Myster Odd, the Little Aliens, the Devil’s Advocate, the All-Seeing Pen-Eye and the Webinator popping up throughout its pages. These guides expand upon the text, highlight important sections, suggesting counterpoint views, challenging you to a writing exercise, or referring you to the Wonderbook website for further information.

For me, I loved this quirky, informal style. I’m all about having fun while learning so this was right up my street.

A book describing how to create imaginative fiction may seem intimidating, but VanderMeer breaks everything down for us. It’s a book that is possible to dip into for fifteen minutes a day, or lose yourself in for several hours.

Illustrations

The illustrations in this book are stunning as well as thought-provoking. For me, they helped to reaffirm that which I’d read in the text. I’m quite a visual person so the colourful diagrams and illustrations are a much-appreciated addition.

I can’t tell you how much this book has taught me. As a reader, I find myself paying far more attention to writers’ styles, choices, and structures now. Wonderbook has provided me with the tools to identify these aspects of craft and start to analyse why and how they have been used.

Contributions & Appendices

I must mention the sidebar essays that have been contributed by such authors as Neil Gaiman, Ursula K. Le Guin, and George R. R. Martin (his interview on the craft of writing is very interesting). These are fascinating interludes offering different perspectives and some insight into the writing of such accomplished authors.

Finally, I must mention the Workshop Appendix, which has a plethora of resources and challenges.

It just so happened that I have been reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie while simultaneously working my way through Wonderbook. So, the appendix analysing Americanah and Adichie’s creative decisions such as Point of View switched in the novel has been fascinating to me. I’m still working through this appendix, but this is just an example of the gems that are included within Wonderbook.

Conclusions

This book is not only educational and enlightening, but it’s entertaining too. VanderMeer has packed SO much into this book. He’s evidently spent considerable time and thought on not only the content itself, but its delivery and structure. It’s a beautifully produced book.

This is an incredibly useful and insightful book that you don’t need to be a writer to enjoy. As a reader, I’ve learned so much and will take it with me into every piece of fiction that I read.

four-half-stars

Refugee Week & The Displaced Review

June 18, 2018 in Biography, Memoir, Book Reviews, Non-Fiction, Other Books

This week is the 20th anniversary of Refugee Week. With World Refugee Day occurring on Wednesday 20th June 2018, it feels that this week is the perfect time to share with you one of my most recent reads, The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives.

The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Refugee Week & The Displaced ReviewThe Displaced: Refugee Writers On Refugee Lives by Various
Published by Abrams on 10th April 2018
Genres: Essays, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Anthology
Format: Hardback
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
four-half-stars

In January 2017, Donald Trump signed an executive order stopping entry to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries and dramatically cutting the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the United States each year. The American people spoke up, with protests, marches, donations, and lawsuits that quickly overturned the order. But the refugee caps remained.

In The Displaced, Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Viet Thanh Nguyen, himself a refugee, brings together a host of prominent refugee writers to explore and illuminate the refugee experience. Featuring original essays by a collection of writers from around the world, The Displaced is an indictment of closing our doors, and a powerful look at what it means to be forced to leave home and find a place of refuge.

Abrams published this anthology of essays back in April and were kind enough to send me a copy. With contributions from 19 prominent refugee writers from around the world, each with their own stories to tell, this is a timely, thought-provoking book that everyone should be reading.

These stories are insightful and emotional. The writers share their lives and experiences – from leaving family behind, to being reunited with parents that they don’t recognise. From finding their identity to carving out a new life in an unknown country.

As one would expect, these essays are all beautifully written. Edited by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Viet Thanh Nguyen, himself a refugee, all of these pieces pack a punch, in many different ways.

This book is a sadly all-too-needed reminder of the humans who are at the heart of the hideous, fear-inciting stories we see in the mass media.

These stories need to be read. As the world faces an enormous refugee crisis, I have no doubt that these essays will raise awareness of the real-life experiences of refugees and their families. If only we could get copies of this book into the hands of those who need educating most!

For every purchase of this book, Abrams will donate 10% of the cover price (a minimum of $25000 annually) to the International Rescue Committee (IRC) who are a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing humanitarian aid, relief and resettlement to refugees and other victims of oppression and violent conduct.

This is a collection that will stay with you long after you close the back page – and well it should!

Refugee Week 2018

 

 

As part of the 20th anniversary of Refugee Week, we are being invited to partake in at least one of 20 simple acts.

 

You can find the full list of Simple Acts here. Might I encourage you to participate in number 9, read a book about exile.

 

Obviously, The Displaced fits this description perfectly and I urge you all to read it.

If you are interested in further books on this subject, check out the links provided on the Refugee Week website. Of course, please also feel free to share any title suggestions below.

Remember to share your read online using the hashtag #SimpleActs.

 

four-half-stars

Review: The Accidental Bad Girl

May 14, 2018 in Book Reviews, YA

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Accidental Bad GirlThe Accidental Bad Girl by Maxine Kaplan
Published by Abrams, Amulet on 15th May 2018
Genres: YA
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
four-stars

After getting caught hooking up with her best friend’s ex on the last day of junior year, Kendall starts senior year friendless and ostracized. She plans to keep her head down until she graduates. But after discovering her online identity has been hacked and she’s being framed for stealing from a dealer, Kendall is drawn into a tenuous partnership with the mastermind of a drug ring lurking in the shadows of her Brooklyn private school. If she wants to repair her tattered reputation and save her neck, she’ll have to decide who she really is—and own it. The longer she plays the role of “bad girl,” the more she becomes her new reputation. Friends and enemies, detectives and drug dealers—no one is who they appear to be. Least of all Kendall.

 

The blurb for The Accidental Bad Girl really intrigued me and I had high hopes for this novel – it did not let me down.

17-year-old Kendall is starting her senior year at Howell Preparatory School. She’s an intelligent girl, a scholar and has always been in the popular crowd at school. The thing is, on the last day of junior year she was caught with her then best friend Andrea’s ex, Grant. She’s now facing her senior year friendless and the talk of the school. No-one will look at her. When she can’t quite imagine how everything could get worse, she discovers that her Facebook account has been hacked and that a drug dealer called Mason is after her for supposedly stealing from him.

With none of her old friends to lean on, Kendall finds herself wandering deeper into Mason’s world as he blackmails her, threatening to ensure she loses her place on the Young Astronomers Talent Search program – the one good thing she has in her life right now.

The deeper she gets, the more she learns about Mason and the drugs he is dealing.

I really enjoyed this book. I was drawn in from the start and found it hard to put down. Kendall is an interesting character, a capable young lady who finds herself in increasingly difficult and dangerous situations.

It’s a gritty read that doesn’t shy away from detail. It tackles a plethora of issues, from modern day problems associated with technology and social media, to older issues such as drugs. (View Spoiler »)

It’s a multilayered book. We have the mystery of who is framing Kendall and why, the blackmailing by Mason and how Kendall deals with it, as well as seeing Kendall reach out to trust new friends, all the while uncovering who she really is.

I don’t want to risk any spoilers so I’ll just end by saying that I really enjoyed this book. It’s hard to believe that it’s a debut novel and I’m looking forward to reading more of Kaplan’s work in the future. If she carries on as she has begun, I foresee her being a strong, unflinching voice in YA literature.

four-stars

Review: Valley Girls

May 8, 2018 in Book Reviews, YA

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Valley GirlsValley Girls by Sarah Nicole Lemon
Published by Abrams on 8th May 2018
Genres: YA
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
two-stars

When 17-year-old Rilla is busted for partying 24 hours into arriving in Yosemite National Park to live with her park ranger sister, it’s a come-to-Jesus moment.
Determined to make up for her screw-up and create a stable new home for herself, Rilla charms her way into a tight-knit group of climbers. But Rilla can’t help but be seduced by experiences she couldn’t have imagined back home. She sets her sights on climbing El Capitan, one of the most challenging routes in Yosemite, and her summer becomes one harrowing and ecstatic experience after another: first climb, first fall two thousand feet in the air, first love. But becoming the person Rilla feels she was meant to be jeopardises the reasons why she came to Yosemite—a bright new future and a second chance at sisterhood. When her family and her future are at odds, what will Rilla choose?

Following an incident at home in Rainelle, West Virginia, 17 year old Rilla is sent to stay with her elder sister, Thea, a Ranger in Yosemite, California. She has schoolwork to catch up on over the summer if she wants to graduate high school and Thea is determined to see her achieve it.

It seems she is the only person in Yosemite who doesn’t climb or hike. So when she makes friends with a group of climbers, she gets some lessons and catches the climbing bug.

This is probably best described as a ‘coming of age’ tale. Rilla arrives in Yosemite at the start of summer and is lost and low, but we see her progress as the story evolves.

I wanted to enjoy this book and there were parts I did get caught up in but overall I found it pretty lacklustre. For the first 80 pages or so I was pretty bored, to be honest.

Evidently, the author has a love of climbing and this shines through, but at times I found all the technical jargon a bit too much. Don’t get me wrong, I did learn along with Rilla, but at times I couldn’t process, or want to process, all the climbing lingo.

I felt that most of this book trundled along, then at the end, when there was finally some action, it was rushed. I’d have liked more of the action at the end and less preamble.

Also, I didn’t really care that much about the characters. I wasn’t particularly rooting for any of them and I find books like that hard to get into.

This wasn’t really the book for me. I learned about Yosemite and (when I wasn’t overwhelmed) about climbing but I was left pretty disappointed by this read.

two-stars

Review: Done Dirt Cheap

March 6, 2017 in Book Reviews, YA

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Done Dirt CheapDone Dirt Cheap by Sarah Nicole Lemon
Published by Amulet on 7th March 2017
Genres: YA
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
four-stars

Tourmaline Harris’s life hit pause at fifteen, when her mom went to prison because of Tourmaline’s unintentionally damning testimony. But at eighteen, her home life is stable, and she has a strong relationship with her father, the president of a local biker club known as the Wardens.

Virginia Campbell’s life hit fast-forward at fifteen, when her mom “sold” her into the services of a local lawyer: a man for whom the law is merely a suggestion. When Hazard sets his sights on dismantling the Wardens, he sends in Virginia, who has every intention of selling out the club—and Tourmaline.

I went into Done Dirt Cheap not really knowing what to expect. Two teenagers, motorbikes and a biker club – really that’s all I knew, but I ended up getting very caught up in the story.

Tourmaline is the 18-year-old daughter of the President of the biker club, the Wardens. Her Mum is in prison, and she has grown up in the Wardens’ world, without every truly knowing its detail.

Virginia was in Tourmaline’s year in school but they didn’t ever really know each other. Virginia competed in pageants and, from the age of 15, she’s been working for a corrupt attorney, Hazard, in order to pay off her alcoholic mother’s debts.

Hazard sets Virginia the assignment of uncovering the Warden’s secret and so she negotiates her way into Tourmaline’s life. However, it turns out that getting information on the Wardens isn’t easy, and by the time she has the chance, she and Tourmaline have formed quite a friendship.

This novel started slowly for me. I wasn’t really feeling it, yet at some point I was suddenly hooked – I just had to keep reading!

There’s danger, motorbikes, forbidden love, fear, plotting, attraction, secrets and loyalty in this novel. There are many intriguing relationships in this story and the evolution of them all is fascinating.

The writing itself surpassed my expectations. There’s some fantastic prose, imagery and turn of phrase in this book.

Although it took me a while to get into, I found myself gripped and genuinely disappointed when the end came – not disappointment in the ending itself, I just felt I wanted more: it felt rather rushed. I definitely could’ve handled an extra chapter or two.

For all that there’s action, tension and secrets in this book, I found it to be the relationships, their rules, development and intertwining that I found the most captivating.

I kind of want some biker boots myself now!

four-stars