Recent Reads: June 2013

It’s been a while since I’ve written a Recent Reads article. I’ve gone through several books in the past few months, and they’re all worth reviewing for one reason or another. So instead of writing five in-depth reviews, I’ll (try my best to) keep it to one paragraph per book.

 27book  /// "The News from Spain" by Joan Wickersham

The News From Spain: Seven Variations On A Love Story
Joan Wickersham
Fiction / short stories
3.5 / 5

All of the short stories in Joan Wickersham’s latest collection are connected by two common threads: love as a focal point, and the use of the phrase “the news from Spain.” From there, the stories diverge into tales of familial dysfunction, friendship, physical and psychological love affairs, and dissolving marriages. Equally as impressive as the variety of examples is Wickersham’s penchant for details. She uses the subtlest gestures or unassuming objects to help tell her stories. However, I had difficulty connecting with some characters – and a couple stories as a whole – because of Wickersham’s literary writing style. It lessened the emotional impact of an otherwise beautifully crafted collage of tales that explore every possible angle of love.


Divergent cover

Veronica Roth
YA / Dystopian fiction
3.5 / 5

After I finished the Hunger Games trilogy, a couple friends recommended that I read this best-selling dystopian YA novel about a teenage girl who switches factions after receiving inconclusive – and potentially dangerous – test results about her character. (It’s impossible to sum up the plot in one sentence, so click here to read a more substantial one at While I enjoyed Divergent, certain aspects of the story bothered me. First, the violence described in Divergent is shocking at times, more so than any fight scene in The Hunger Games. Second, I didn’t find Tris and Four’s relationship believable enough. I could tell that Four admires Tris for her audacity and self-respect, and that they’re physically attracted to one another. Why else does Tris gravitate to Four? Unless I missed something, I honestly don’t see other reasons. That said, Roth really draws you into the novel. Her active, vivid storytelling injects thrills and suspense at the right moments and is a treat for readers with cinematic imaginations (i.e., picturing scenes as they happen). So by the two-thirds mark (around the final stages of the Dauntless initiation), I didn’t want to put the book down. I plan to read Insurgent in the near future, with the hope that it will satisfy me more than Divergent did.


Black Star Bright Dawn cover

Black Star, Bright Dawn
Scott O’Dell
Historical fiction
4.5 / 5

Recently I found a box of books that I’d forgotten to open after moving two years ago. Several of these books were by Scott O’Dell, my most cherished author when I was in elementary school. So I decided to revisit O’Dell’s books as an adult, starting with one of my favorites: Black Star, Bright Dawn. This novel follows Bright Dawn, a teenage Eskimo girl, as she takes her father’s place in the Iditarod sled race across Alaska. It also shows the many sides of Bright Dawn’s bond with the lead dog, Black Star. I won’t comment on O’Dell’s portrayal of Eskimos; I’m no expert on the people and their culture, but I’ve read in numerous places that O’Dell mixed up certain facts and traditions or got them completely wrong. Story-wise, however, this is a quick read that builds momentum as the race carries on. O’Dell’s narration style for Bright Dawn is simple and succinct, which is appropriate due to her cultural background and personality but limits how well the reader can connect with her emotionally. Regardless, he creates a resilient, admirable lead character who confronts her fears and stands up for herself. Maybe that’s why I loved Black Star, Bright Dawn when I was younger: Bright Dawn is an excellent role model for young readers.


Gratitude And Beyond cover

Gratitude And Beyond: Five Insights For a Fulfilled Life
Allan G. Hunter
Self-help / spirituality
5 / 5

I may be biased about this book, since Allan Hunter is one of my former college professors. But as soon as I read the title for his latest self-help / spirituality book, I knew I’d appreciate what Hunter would have to say. Gratitude And Beyond explores how people can learn from traumatic events and near-death experiences through reflection and develop five key concepts of self-awareness: gratitude, humility, beauty, innocence, and a sense of place in nature. Hunter approaches these and other ideas with great care, using in-depth examples, easy-to-follow diagrams, and a gentle yet informative tone. This allows readers to easily grasp the complex concepts and realize how they apply to their own lives. That’s where the impact of Gratitude And Beyond transcends expectations. The book offers suggestions for practicing and achieving the five concepts of self-awareness, and helped me realize other ways in which I can live a more fulfilling life and be the best person I can possibly be. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in or is actively soul-searching and looking for hints on how to move in a direction that’s right for them.

Parts of the above review were taken from my review of Gratitude And Beyond. Click here to read it.


7 Secrets cover

7 Secrets Of The Prolific: The Definitive Guide To Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, And Writer’s Block
Hillary Rettig
Self-help / writing & publishing
4.5 / 5

I took Hillary Rettig’s “The Time Of Your Life” (a one-day time management course for writers) at Grub Street last summer and absolutely loved it. There’s nothing more inspiring than spending several hours with someone who shares your ideals and gives you strategies that can help you optimize your writing time. So when I ran into Rettig at the AWP Conference in Boston a few months ago, I made sure to buy a copy of her book The 7 Secrets Of The Prolific, a guide that tackles several common obstacles faced by writers, including procrastination, perfectionism, and writer’s block.

As I read The 7 Secrets Of The Prolific, I noted the positive and negative habits I’ve developed as a writer. (Good news: There were more positives than negatives!) Now that I’ve recognized which areas are weaknesses for me, I can use Rettig’s advice to make the most of my writing time. I also enjoyed Barry Deutsch’s illustrations. From diagrams explaining some of Rettig’s points to scenes that make you chuckle or bring a smile to your face, they fit the book’s purpose like a glove while adding a fun visual touch. Rettig’s candid writing style also makes 7 Secrets refreshing and thought-provoking. Not everyone will agree with her opinions about MFA programs, certain time constraints that keep us away from writing, and other related topics. But if you think about it, your comfort level (or lack thereof) with some of Rettig’s ideas may be an indication of the obstacles you may have to overcome to be a more productive writer.

Parts of the above review were taken from my review of The 7 Secrets Of The Prolific. Click here to read it.


Coming Soon: My review of Edenbridge’s The Bonding should be live at Sonic Cathedral sometime next week. I’ll also post another “Chronicling The Craft” when I hit the 10,000-word mark.

6 thoughts on “Recent Reads: June 2013

  1. Thanks for all these reviews. I was particularly interested in your review of Rettig’s book. There’s so many books in writing and I can’t afford to buy all of them. Your endorsement makes me want to buy this one 🙂


    • You’re welcome, Marie! And thanks for liking and commenting.

      Hillary’s book is wonderful. Definitely check into that one. You can buy it on Amazon either as paperback (about $25) or e-book ($3.99, I think?).


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