Saturday, 23 December 2017

Book Review: Room of Marvels

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On one of our pastor's first Sundays at our old church, he said he and his wife wanted to reclaim the word and notion of "imagination". As a fiction writer, I was inspired and encouraged by his bold statement from the pulpit. I often felt my dabblings in creative writing were something to be slightly ashamed of.

Sometime afterward, I considered imagining heaven would be a worthy pursuit. I was excited to try, but once I began I came up with almost nothing. Golden streets, a big city, angels. I wanted to imagine, but I couldn't get far. I gave up. Unlike James Bryan Smith in Room of Marvels, I didn't consider meeting the people there. Smith does and in doing so, has written a poignant book. While his book is fiction and doesn't claim to be fact, it is a fascinating imagining of what heaven will be like.

The story behind Room of Marvels makes the novel even more important. Smith himself experienced the deaths of a close friend, his young daughter and his mother within two years. Understandably, he was left with deep grief and unanswered questions. This book became his therapy.

In the book, Tim, the main character, attends a silent spiritual retreat to help him cope with the deaths of his best friend, daughter and mother. He struggles with the stillness and silence but is encouraged by his spiritual director to rest and meditate on a passage in Luke. After a couple of days, Tim is still feeling desperate. He prays that God will speak to him and falls asleep. Then he dreams of a cottage where he meets his old barber, a kind and friendly man who died several years ago. The story continues with him being led through different exercises by various important people in his life which strip away guilt, shame, his mask of perfection and tendencies to control. These people and experiences help prepare him for entrance into the room of marvels.

I enjoyed this book much more than I expected. It reminded me of other books including Paul Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis and Henri Nouwen The Genesee Diary. It's a little bit raw in places, but it is heartfelt and deeply moving. I recommend it as a kind of friend to someone walking in grief or as a guide to someone wishing to better understand the process. 

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Write Brain Workbook Prompt Post #2

I posted yesterday about using prompts from The Write-Brain Workbook. Here's another. I've use italics to show the prompt provided.

Very Touching
From The Write-Brain Workbook
by Bonnie Neubauer


Late night city streets were the perfect backdrop
For ice skating across the smooth pond.
Sharp edges threatened to trip my companion,
But I sailed across the frozen surface
In circuitous formation,
Winding past pitted marks.
My mind flowing with memories
Scratchy scarves and mittens,
Pebbled lakes and rivers.
I choked on tears.
My partner noticed nothing,
Stumbling across the pond,
Staring at his feet.

I recently learned at a workshop on Critical Creativity with Amy Burvall that writing prompts work because "Creativity works better with parameters.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Writing Prompts from The Write-Brain Workbook

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I am so grateful my artist-friend Sylvia finds so many ways to encourage and spark my writing endeavours. For my fortieth birthday, she gave me The Write-Brain Workbook by Bonnie Neubauer. My Right-Brain wanted to tuck in and complete one a day right away, but work and other writing projects stymied my initial efforts and I shelved the book after February. Yesterday my poet-friend Susan suggested some small writing prompts over the holidays might be better than taking a total break. "I know just the thing," I said.

In true writer style, I feel the need to share even these small attempts. Here's one for today. I plan to share a few more.

"Describe the ideal place to write"

The post card arrived. I sat in the cafe along a cobbled street. The strains of a violin drifted from the window above, just a hind of Debussy. My tiny cappuccino cup clinked when I lifted it to sip the fragrant blend. I set it down and read the short inscription. "Dear Sam, We were overjoyed to see your latest book at the stand in Bath. We plan to join you soon. Am now delving into After His Heart." I flip the card, studying the photo of my mentor's former residence and return to my pen. I quickly disappear into my imaginary world of suspense.

Wishing you creativity over the holidays.




Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Book Review - The City of Ember

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This is one of those books I wish I had written. How does someone write a book that is as interesting to adults as it is to children? DuPrau has created empathetic characters in Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow that are both innocent and mature.

Her imagined post-apocalyptic world is both ingenious, depressing and sweet. The science is present without dominating the story-line. I think it is her strong plot, however, that made it impossible to put this book down. The elements of suspense and mystery are strong. This is the perfect book for a child and parent book club. 

Monday, 20 November 2017

Book Review: The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron

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What I've really enjoyed about Claire Cameron's books so far (see my review of The Bear here), are her ideas. I can imagine her  wondering about something interesting and suddenly it grows into a story. In The Last Neanderthal, Cameron begins wondering about the fact that Neanderthals and modern day humans share a small percentage of DNA. So how did that first meeting go? 

Cameron tells the story through two lenses, first through Rose, an archaeologist who makes an incredible discovery in France and then through Girl, the very Neanderthal Rose uncovers. Cameron's writing style is fresh and clear. She creates empathetic characters and her stories are never predictable. I get the feeling she really cares about her characters.

My one question, as a fellow mom who has watched the movie The Croods countless times, is if this movie inspired her in any way. The opening scene, Girl, Big Mother and Him really reminded me of the Croods. I could be wrong. 
Maybe it was just settled there in her subconscious. Haha. My book Taking Comfort was partially inspired by Veggie Tales. Can't help wondering if this happens to other parent-authors!

Friday, 22 September 2017

Book Review: The Long Way Home

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This is book ten in Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache series. I enjoyed how this book returned to the world of art. Clara Morrow takes a central role when her husband Peter goes missing. Penny is brilliant in recreating her series with each book. No book follows a formula.

In The Long Way Home the characters research and travel from Three Pines to Montreal to Quebec City to Baie-Saint-Paul to Tabaquen. I wonder if Penny writes about these places just so she has an excuse to visit them. It certainly feels as though the reader is travelling along with the characters. It's fascinating to have the story lighting the way.

I can't recommend these books highly enough. It was another satisfying read, although I missed having the grumpy Jean-Guy from earlier books. I'm sure he'll be back. I'm glad he got to be relatively happy for one book!

I especially enjoyed this description on p. 76. "The bar was, in fact, a library. . . Where Jane Austen could sit and read. And get drunk, if she wanted." :)

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Pastors' Wives Book Review

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I found this book by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen while looking for an agent for my book After His Heart, a novel imagining King David as a modern day worship pastor in a megachurch told from the point of view of three of his wives. I was charmed by Lisa's blog and her description of Pastors' Wives. The setting is megachurch Greenleaf in Atlanta. The book begins with Ruthie and her husband moving to Atlanta to work at Greenleaf Church. The story is told from three points of view, Ruthie, Candace Green, wife of the senior pastor and Ginger, wife of Timothy Green, pastor of Newleaf Church.

The most interesting aspect to me was that Ruthie does not share her husband's faith. It was fascinating to see the inner workings of Greenleaf through her eyes. From Lisa's blog, it seems that Ruthie's perceptions are similar to the author's. Lisa discovered the lives of pastors' wives while on assignment with Time magazine. She was so intrigued that after writing her article, she says "the women (she) interviewed kept bothering (her)." She was inspired to create a TV series about Pastors' Wives which turned into this novel.

I was also drawn to this novel because I am a pastor's wife. However, I would have to say the experiences in this novel are almost entirely foreign to me. I think this if for three reasons. Number 1, we have never belonged to a megachurch. Number 2, we have always lived in Canada. And number 3, this is a work of fiction so there is way more drama. Thank goodness my life is not like theirs!

Lisa is an excellent writer and especially skilled at creating layered, realistic characters. She creates brilliant twists and turns in her plot. While this novel features a plethora of Christian characters, it is not a Christian novel. Rather than trying to bring the reader to Christ, this novel uses Christian characters and setting to tell a great story. I recommend it and look forward to reading more by this clever author.