Book Reviews

Summary of Best Writing Books

Whoever Said Books about Writing have to be Boring? Murder Your Darlings by Roy Peter Clark

Writers, do you want to read a book that contains summaries of the best books on writing? Look no further than Roy Peter Clark’s Murder Your Darlings and other gentle writing advice from Aristotle to Zinsser.  I found this book on the ACES website (The ACES: The Society for Editing). Clark is a senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, which is a world-famous school for journalists. Having taught writing for over forty years, Clark shares the advice of famous writers throughout history. This is his latest book and now I plan to search for his earlier works, which include The Art of X-Ray Reading, How to Write Short, The Glamour of Grammar, and Writing Tools. I felt an instant kinship to Clark for two reasons: He writes in the beginning that he did not get accepted into his first-choice school (Princeton) and he graduated from Providence College.  I also did not get into my first-choice school, Brown University, and I happen to be a native of Providence, Rhode Island, so I felt an affinity to this author right from the start.

To give readers a sample of Murder Your Darlings, I will summarize the advice of a few of the most noteworthy authors and their writing tips:

On the Art of Writing by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch

Sir Quiller Couch, or Professor Q as he was affectionally known, told his students to “Murder Your Darlings.” He did not mean they should actually kill people, but rather if they come up with sentences they think are particularly witty or exceptional, they should by all means write them down. However, he cautioned they should not be so enamored with them that they refuse to delete them when editing.  Professor Q wrote that “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole heartedly, and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” (p. 15)

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Stephen King really needs no introduction. In his book King shares his writing strategies as well as his own daily writing habits. The following are a few strategies in a nutshell:

  1. The story is more important than the plot. A good way to move the action is to ask “what-if” questions. For instance, “What if vampires invaded a small New England village, as in Salem’s Lot?(p. 143)
  2. When King thinks of the story’s pacing, he reminds himself of writer Elmore Leonard’s advice to cut out the boring parts. Even if you crafted some sentences that you are extremely proud of, if it slows down the story’s pacing, take it out (murder your darlings).
  3. Kings tells writers to use their imagination in their description, but make sure the readers can actually envision that description in their imagination. Description should not be exhaustively excessive but rather insert a few “well-chosen details” so they can imagine the rest.

Language in Thought and Action by S. I. Hayakawa

Everyone has bias but journalists should make every effort to not allow theirs to creep into their work. S. I. Hayakawa emphasized that news reports must contain only verifiable facts with no propaganda to influence readers’ opinions. To ensure a sustainable democracy, the media have the responsibility to report provable information free of bias and their own subjectivity. How can they achieve this? The following is some of Hayakawa’s advice:

1. Avoid judgments. The writer should not express their approval or disapproval of the individuals they are writing about.

2. Avoid inferences. Hayakawa writes that there should be “. . . no guesses as to what is going on in other people’s minds.” (262) In other words, show actions such as “she hugged and kissed her sister” rather than “she was relieved to find her sister unharmed.”

3. Slant both ways at once. In other words, describe details that demonstrates impartiality. For example, if a writer is describing a rally, they may mention it was well-attended but they can also include unflattering details, such as the attendees were speaking among themselves instead of focusing their attention on the rally. Hayakawa’s point is to paint an accurate and objective portrait of the events being described.

How I wish more journalists today would heed his advice!

Writers, eager to read more? Get a copy of Murder Your Darlings.

Idelle Kursman is the author of the novels True Mercy and The Book of Revelations.

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Cover of book reviewed

The Paris Hours: Great Writing but Ending Disappoints

I found Alex George’s The Paris Hours a beautifully-written story. Here is just a sample: “Every morning the piano rescues Souren Balakian from his dreams. The same low notes gently tug him away from everything that he has left behind. The ghosts that haunt his sleep are chased away by the music floating up through the floor from the studio below. He opens his eyes” (p.13).

The Paris Hours was published this year and is the first book of this author that I have read. Two of George’s earlier books have received widespread attention: A Good American was the #1 Indie Next Pick, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and a Library Journal Best Book of the Year. Setting Free The Kites was also an Indie Next Pick, A Library Reads Choice, and a Midwest Connection Pick. In addition, it won the Missouri Prize for Fiction in 2018. Wow!

While reading The Paris Hours, I appreciated the diligence and care George took in creating each of the four central characters, ordinary people who have suffered greatly during the First World War in France. He elicits readers’ empathy as he draws them into their lives: a refugee from the Armenian genocide who made his way into the country after losing his entire family, a French journalist who also lost his family during the war, a struggling painter desperately needing love and luck, and a former housekeeper of Marcel Proust desperately searching for a notebook belonging to the late artist because it could ruin her life. The author weaves in other famous artists besides Proust, the rest being American expatriates living in France: Ernest Hemingway, Josephine Baker, and Gertrude Stein, among others. But the story concentrates mainly on the four central characters and their quest for redemption.

However, as much as I enjoyed reading The Paris Hours, I was disappointed by the ending, which critics promised would be spellbinding. The lives of these characters are individualized and intricate, but for the conclusion they all come together in one setting. I do not want to give too much away other than stating I found it unsatisfying. Nevertheless, for readers who enjoy an author who produces beautifully crafted writing and unforgettable characters, The Paris Hours delivers.

Idelle Kursman is the author of the novels True Mercy and The Book of Revelations

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Book Review: The Friendship List — The Power of Good Friends

During this highly unusual time of COVID-19, I believe it is beneficial to read books with a happy ending because all of us need to feel hopeful when we are under stress. The news is filled with people catching the virus, losing their jobs, and feeling depressed because they cannot socialize. We are all hoping for an end of this novel virus, but in the meantime, why not read an engaging novel with a happy ending?

Therefore, I wrote my book review about such a book. The Friendship List by Susan Mallery takes us back into the world before COVID-19. People can get together, go to other people’s houses without fear, eat in restaurants, etc. Two lifelong friends find they are in a rut and need to try new things and actually live. One of the women is 34-year-old Ellen Fox, who accidentally became pregnant at 17 and was abandoned by her boyfriend before the baby’s birth. She has been raising her son and supporting him while never venturing into the dating world. Her friend, Unity Leandre, also 34, married her husband at 18 and became a widow at 31. She keeps her late husband in her heart and has never dated since. These ladies make a pact: Each writes a list of things she wants to do and whoever actually accomplishes the most on her list will pay for the two of them to go to a luxury spa for a weekend. A few of their goals include having a serious relationship with a man, getting a tattoo, and skydiving.

Both women have issues that are holding them back, but I am not going to give the whole plot away. Although I winced when people hugged and kissed because I am now conditioned to not do those things during COVID-19, I eventually got into the rhythm of the story and forgot about our bizarre times. By the time I finished The Friendship List, I found the ending so heartening that I had to write a book review. We cannot hug and kiss our friends or have get-togethers now but it is still a joy to have them in our lives.

As for Ellen and Unity’s boyfriends, there was hugging and kissing in greater detail than I am normally comfortable with reading. Personally, when I write, I think these things are better kept to the reader’s imagination. Of course, for those who do not share my opinion, I shall say there is no lack of bed scenes in this story.

The Friendship List is about overcoming challenges and the highs and lows of taking chances in the quest to live a full, satisfying life. It is also about the power of a great friendship that gives us not only love and support but also many happy times. Susan Mallery is an extremely gifted writer, and reading her book was such a delight that I had to write a book review on my blog to recommend it to others battling the COVID-19 blues.

Idelle Kursman is the author of two novels, True Mercy and The Book of Revelations. Both can be found on Amazon.

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Look Forward, Not Back!

Two Reviews for The Book of Revelations

I am proud to receive two reviews for my new novel!

One is from Amy Shannon, a noted book reviewer who runs the website Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews. I highly recommend her site for reviews on a wide variety of books. Amy wrote the following:

“Kursman pens a magnificent story in The Book of Revelations. I have read work from this author before, and I really enjoyed it. The characters were intense and very intriguing. This book deserves a second read! (and maybe more). The thrills and intrigue is written clearly and the characterizations are engrossing. It’s a powerful read, and so intense, with both heart break and heart fulfillment. This definitely kept this reader turning the pages. It’s a great story to follow and try to figure out what will happen next. This author’s characters develop and interacts well with the other characters. I have fast become a big fan of (this author). I look forward to reading more by this author. This book is a definite recommendation by Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews.”

The second is from Diane Donovan, an editor who runs Donovan’s Literary Services. Diane also writes reviews for Midwest Book Review, a highly regarded as well as affordable book review site. Diane herself offers an array of services for writers seeking help to improve their writing. She wrote the following about The Book of Revelations:

“In The Book of Revelations, Christine Goldberg has struggled for a large part of her life to get to the successful point she enjoys today, with a family, a good job, and security. All this is threatened by the emergence of an ex-boyfriend who is in search of the apex role in his acting career, the only thing that thus far has remained elusive to him. 

Ryan Monti is fixated on his goal, shallow, self-centered, and a part of her past that Christine didn’t want exposed. He’s also successful. His success hasn’t led to contentment, but to an obsession which has led him to being considered one of Hollywood’s shining stars. 

When blackmail enters the picture to complicate Ryan’s life, his uncertain relationship with girlfriend Megan, and his reconnection with Christine, it throws them both together despite their feelings about the past, and everything begins to change. 

Idelle Kursman builds a fine story where the past intersects with the present in two very different lives and personas. She paints a fine portrait of Christine, who faces life with the professional demeanor of a businesswoman with more savvy and independence than her younger self; and Ryan, whose personality hasn’t veered much from his obsessions and uncertainties even as he’s cultivated uncommon success in his life. 

Ryan’s feelings about reporters mirrors his casual use-them-and-drop-them attitude about everything in his life, from his girlfriends to his colleagues: ‘Ryan had no real relationships with other journalists or anyone else in the media. He considered them a nuisance and always tried to avoid them by wearing a hat, sunglasses, and nondescript clothing in public.‘ 

At first, it’s hard to see the connections between these two disparate individuals aside from their early encounter. The surprise lies in their evolution and shared revelation over a closely-held secret that holds the power to change Ryan’s life like nothing else. Ryan grows and changes throughout the story, finally developing into the man he should have been all along. 

The Book of Revelations explores different kinds of revelations, confrontations, and changes. It considers how one door opens as another is still closing, and explores changed concepts of family connections, trust, and truth. 

Readers interested in a chronicle of lies, truths, and revised lives will find The Book of Revelations an emotional ride into the choices and consequences of two disparate individuals who find their lives coming full circle in unexpected ways. It’s highly recommended reading for those who like to see their characters evolve later in life, and for readers who know that no story is set in stone until the end of life.”  

I would like to thank Amy Shannon and Diane Donovan for their wonderful reviews and support! Readers, don’t forget to check out Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews and writers, please consider using Donovan’s Literary Services. I highly recommend both of their work!

The Book of Revelations is available on Amazon in print and ebook.

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New Review of True Mercy

I am very excited to post Amy Shannon’s recent review of my first novel, True Mercy:

Kursman pens a magnificent story in True Mercy. I haven’t read anything from this author before, and I really enjoyed this story. The characters were intense and very real. The author’s writing style is perfect for this story. Reader, enter the despicable world of the sex-slave trade. It’s an intense story about survival and caring, and the addition of an autistic character, makes this story both poignant, and interesting. This book deserves a second read! (and maybe more). The author’s technique of intense characters and great plotlines is a gift. It’s a great story to follow and try to figure out what will happen next. This author’s characters develop and interacts well with the other characters. I look forward to reading more by this author. This book is definitely highly recommended by Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews. A very powerful, raw and gritty read, with high emotions and aptly placed humor and reality.

I received this book free in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. ~Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews

Thank you, Amy!

http://writeramyshannon.wixsite.com/bookshelfreviews/top10

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