Friday, 29 April 2016

Book Review: Vienna Prelude

I was slightly embarrassed by my answer at a recent book club meeting to the question "What was
your favourite book as a teenager"?  This is a great question, but all I could remember reading was Sweet Valley High and Flowers in the Attic.  Of course, I read the books assigned to us in English class, but none of them were favourites.  But when I returned home, I looked over my bookshelf and remembered another favourite series that I think redeems my teenage reading choices.  I was inspired to reread the first and my favourite in the series to see if it was as good as I remembered.

Vienna Prelude is the first book of The Zion Covenant series.  It is set mainly in 1936 Vienna and tells the story of Elisa Lindheim, a violinist with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.  Elisa is beautiful, talented, Jewish and largely unaware of the Nazi threat in Europe.  When she returns to Berlin at Christmas, she is shocked and disturbed by the changes to her home and the devastating threat to the Jewish people.  When she tries to escape with her father to the Tyrolean Alps, he is taken by the Nazis and she is left to travel alone with no way of finding him.

As a teenager, this book developed a great interest in World War II and its causes.  I believe it was my first introduction to Historical Fiction and I was inspired by the fictional stories to learn a great deal about the historical world around them.  As an adult, the writing holds up and I was once again swept up into the romance, intrigue and daring situations.  The story is told from many points of view which gives a realistic picture of the complexity of war and what caused the Nazi party to come to power.

I recommend this to any fan of historical fiction or to readers who just enjoy a really great story.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

The Right to Write Book Review

If you are a writer and only ever read one book on writing, this should definitely be it.  Julia
Cameron's book is full of encouragement and great writing prompts.  It is unpretentious and full of things I have thought but never put into words.  Although I didn't complete all of the writing prompts, it is the kind of book I plan to return to again and again for ideas and reassurance.

I took my time reading the book, savouring what was inside.  I didn't want it to end; it was like I had Julia's voice in my head, telling me I could do it, that my ideas were worth something and that writing is not just about publishing and writing to the market.  I love how she writes about the mysteriously spiritual side of writing, how good it is for the writer simply to write.

Two of my favourite chapters were Bad Writing and Containment.  While Bad Writing debunks the myth of having to write perfectly, Containment describes the importance of protecting your work and yourself from those who want to derail you along the way.  If I taught a writing class, I would make these prerequisite readings for all my students.

I was also excited to find that Cameron self-published and is a champion for self-publishing.  So many published authors and their publishers put down those of us who publish on our own.  It is great to have someone say self-publishing is good!

Here are a few of my favourite quotes, which I couldn't help pasting all over Twitter and Facebook:

"We are far larger, far more marvelous, far more deeply and consistently creative than we can recognize or know."

"We do not see ourselves with accuracy."

"If only we could give ourselves permission to write 'badly', so many of us would write very well indeed."

"First drafts that are allowed to find their own shape and form very often do find the best trail or something very close to it."

"When I am writing often enough, I find myself interested by what I am saying. Interested myself, it is easier for me to believe that others might be interested. Conversely, as I empty myself onto the page, there is more room for other people's thoughts, other people's ideas. There is, in short, more room for companionship. Less room for loneliness."

I can't tell you how good this book is.  You just need to read it yourself!

Saturday, 2 April 2016

The Forest Lover: Book Review

I am so glad this book came up in my book club.  I'd never heard of it before.  It is the fictionalized
account of Emily Carr's life, many of her travels and her paintings.  As someone who has recently moved to her neck of the woods, I luxuriated in the author's descriptions of British Columbia.

I was also greatly impressed by the quality of Susan Vreeland's writing and research.  I think it would be easy to get stuck in relaying the many facts of Carr's history, especially given the amount of writing and artwork Carr left behind.  However, Vreeland does not get bogged down in giving a fact-by-fact description of Carr's life, but is instead free to create and imagine what it was like to be Carr and to see and feel her life.

Vreeland also weaves incredible relationships between Carr and others.  Some of these relationships are real while others are based on fragments of real relationships.  I was especially impressed by the way these bonds grow and change over time.  This is real writing skill; to make human connections in fiction seem entirely believable.

I really enjoyed this peek into Carr's world.  Vreeland has create a book to be applauded.