What I’m Reading & Writing
What I'm Reading
I average one book a week with a goal to read wildly and eclectically across various genres, particularly mysteries, historical fiction, and women's fiction. I also occasionally dip into a thriller and take a cruise through a spot of science fiction and fantasy (although rarely). The only genre I avoid is horror.
On this page are a selection of the books I've read and reviewed over the past few years. I update this page frequently, so check back to see my recommendations and reviews.
Your Son is Alive - James Scott Bell
I love James Scott Bell’s books on how to write compelling fiction. My copy of his classic Revision & Self-Editing is well-thumbed and frequently revisited. And Write Your Novel From the Middle is one of the most useful books on plotting I’ve ever read. A full list of Bell’s writing books is available on his website.
But although I’ve been reading Bell’s books on writing for many years, I have never read any of his fiction. That changed on New Year’s Day, 2019, when I downloaded his newest thriller Your Son is Alive to start off my Year of Reading Dangerously. After the flurry of holiday cooking and gift giving and flaking out by the fire, I craved something I could jump into and not put down. Your Son is Alive turned out to be the perfect winter read.
I read the novel on two levels. First, I tore through it as an eager reader wanting to know—needing to know—what was going to happen next. Bell writes very short chapters from multiple points of view to ram home a plot that just won’t quit. I defy anyone to stretch out the reading of this novel, and recommend clearing a block of time to spare before picking it up. I downloaded the novel to both my phone and my tablet so that in off moments while I was out, I could read a few pages on my phone while waiting for the ferry or for my husband to pick up a case of beer at the local store.
Second, I read the novel as a writer intent on learning which parts of Bell’s craft I can apply to my own writing. I was gratified to see how well Bell “practiced what he preached” with his use of most of the techniques in Revision & Self-Editing to shape and hone every short chapter. He particularly nailed the central premise of Write Your Novel From the Middle, which is to find the point at which the rest of the action is inevitable and then to plot forward and backward from there. The action he chose for his pivotal point was satisfying in its inevitability—and subtle enough not to hit the reader over the head.
I admire Bell’s attention to detail, his sense of humor, and his ability to keep the reader turning pages. All authors, no matter what genres they work in, would be wise to study how Bell puts together a novel.
I had a few minor quibbles about the final dust-up at the end of the novel, along with Bell’s over-use of contemporary references that could quickly date the novel. But overall, Bell delivers a solid reading experience without resorting to excessive violence or graphic sex. His focus on the emotional journeys of the two main characters makes the novel a more satisfying read than many similar novels in the thriller genre.
Starting 2019 by reading Your Son is Alive may bode well. Now that I’ve reacquainted myself with the fun of a well-plotted thriller, I’m eager to get back to work on my own half-written one that I put aside last year to focus on completing my fourth historical novel (The Merchant of Siena, pub. date TBD). Perhaps if I’m really disciplined, I can work on both novels at the same time – historical fiction in the morning, thriller in the afternoon. Can it be done?
As someone wise once said, the only person standing between me and my writing is me.
Still Life with Bread Crumbs - Anna Quindlen
Splinter the Silence - Val McDermid
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - Alan Bradley
Perfume River - Robert Olen Butler
Dangerous Minds - Janet Evanovich
Glass Houses - Louise Penny
The Weird Sisters - Eleanor Brown
The Stars Are Fire - Anita Shreve