A Review: The Darkhouse

The Darkhouse, Barbara Redecki

“Fifteen-year-old Gemma’s life on a small New Brunswick island with her father, Jonah, is not an exciting one. Her mother ran off when she was an infant, and Jonah, an amateur scientist, spends most of his time conducting experiments he thinks will one day bring him fame. But when a woman arrives on the island, Gemma tries to play matchmaker—only to discover Jonah’s secret journals, which hold terrifying secrets about both their lives.”

Truth #1: I just noticed now that this is listed as a young adult novel. Other than the protagonist being a young adult, I would not have pegged it. There are some adult themes, but, introspect, they were dealt with in non-confrontational ways.

Truth #2: Barbara is my instructor at UofT and I love her and her class.

Truth #3: I would recommend this book for anyone even given truth #1 and #2.

I read this book at lightning speed. I was supposed to be writing my own manuscript (spoiler alert) and doing homework for Barbara’s class, but I could not put this one down. Yes, that is cliche, but sometimes cliches are the right words. It has elements of horror, thriller, mystery, and coming of age. It is also set in Canada, which is exciting for us Canucks.

Gemma is a wonderful protagonist. She’s the only child on a remote island, immersed in a world of adults, but still finds a way to be a kid. She has crushes, an imaginary friend, seeks out school where there is none, and helps her father who does not provide warmth or connection. Even with her unconventional upbringing, Gemma manages to be a likeable well-rounded and smart girl. Her ingenuity, athleticism, curiousity, and capacity for love hurl her into an accidental world of intrigue that threatens to destroy her future and her past.

YA be damned. This is a great read not to be reserved for the young. You read Harry Potter, didn’t you? Time to pick up another YA page-turner and feel young at heart.

Barbara’s words are carefully selected and you can feel the hard edits worth every agonizing minute. Warning: Do not pick up this book if you have something urgent to do. Sit with a tea, prepare for the ride, and thank me later.


What Inspires Me #2

I recently did the Neil Gaiman Masterclass. Although a lot of what he spoke about didn’t help with personal essays or even memoirs, I did take several lessons away for writing, and life, in general.

  1. Tell readers something you hope will stay with them.
  2. Dragons can be defeated.
  3. Being brave doesn’t mean you aren’t scared. It means you do it anyway even though it is scary.
  4. Be honest. Care about characters and make them real for everyone.
  5. Give yourself the license to ask questions.
  6. “The moment that you feel, just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind, and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself… That is the moment, you might be starting to get it right.”
  7. The more you write about feeling like you are seven, the more those memories flood back.
  8. Use the truth. Being specific in what you say that is true and then it will apply to others.
  9. See the bits that just don’t make sense and reinvent it.
  10. Write what keeps you turning the pages and doesn’t make you feel cheated at the end.
  11. AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED? Hear at the end of each chapter and then give more.
  12. Why should I care? The book must mean something.
  13. Stories begin with ideas. Do a brain dump on everything you know.
  14. Let the reader get the idea of what is going on and maybe it will be about something else for them.
  15. Don’t avoid difficult conflict–write it.
  16. Who are your characters and what do they want? Characters always get what they need. They do NOT get what they want.
  17. Plot is driven by characters wanting or needing something. Story happens when two characters wants and needs collide.

A Review: The Getaway Car

Working on my current manuscript, I have been reading a lot! Writing is reading. You can’t do one without the other. Although I have enjoyed plenty of fiction, I have also been researching with some great reads on writing. I have a pile of books on the topic that will be absorbed at some point, but for now I’ll talk about the ones I have completed since isolation. First is:

The Getaway Car, Ann Patchett

You will not find it on Ann Patchett’s website, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble. But you can download it here for free. It is a 75-page essay on her biggest lessons in writing. I can summarize them here, but do yourself a favour and download it for inspiration later. I am not nearly as inspiring.

  1. Write ideas down.
  2. The journey from head to hand is perilous and lined with bodies. Many get lost.
  3. Get others to review your work and be critical.
  4. Get on a course of hard work.
  5. The ability to set yourself free from being perfect. Write the book you are capable of writing instead of the book you want to write.
  6. Have something to say. Being a part of life gives you something interesting to say. Have wide-ranging experiences–they will make their way into your writing as they come or be morphed into something.
  7. Be vigilant about finding the places in your own work where you are phoning it in.
  8. Tune your ear to the usefulness and uselessness of other people’s opinions.
  9. Finish something first. The next idea will not save you from drowning. (UGH! This is my biggest problem but after reading this, I closed all but one manuscript and, believe it or not, it is going much better than usual!)
  10. Write the book you want to read.
  11. Write in the order it will be read. (I didn’t think this was important, but it is sure making a difference for my work.)
  12. Sit for two hours a day at a blank page if you really want to write.
  13. Read your work aloud.
  14. Don’t be afraid of serious research.
  15. There are times to write, times to think, and times to live your life. Commit to one lousy hour every day for a month. Keep sitting there.

Many of these I already do, pat on back administered. Namely 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 13, and 14 but that is it. Apparently I have a lot to learn! I half-ass a lot of the others, but I’ll work on making improvements with those too.

What are your strengths from this list? What are you working on?

Murder at St Margaret

If you have never heard of or read a cozy mystery, you are in for a treat. They are quick beach reads that features an amateur sleuth, no gore, a hint of romance, a steady pace as the protagonist investigates, and it is all set in a lovely place–in this case Oxford.

I had never read a cozy mystery before but my friend Lynn wrote this so I jumped at the chance to be one of her first readers and reviewers. Even though she is my friend, I don’t recommend books to friends that I didn’t fully enjoy myself. This book, I recommend!

Murder At St Margaret is an engaging and fun read! I thought all the characters complimented each other very well, and it was a spritely whodunit. H was hysterical; Harry was charming and sweet; Edward a complex and exciting addition to the crime-fighting team. But not nearly the MOST interesting. That, you will have to discover for yourself! It is the strength of the protagonist and her naively charming approach to larger-than-life problems that make you want her to succeed. Anyone who loves her Wellies as much as Nat does is welcome in my home anytime. I can’t wait for the next book in the series.

5 stars!