Book Reviews and Writing Tips

Book Reviews and Writing Tips

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Warning – Changing it up for April

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This blog will probably contain random posts during the month of April because I am doing the A to Z blog challenge on my other blog here:

Due to this, I’m not sure if I will be posting about writing all month or not – it could be anything that crosses my mind. I decided to use Surviving Life for the challenge because the posts are all across the board and actually have very little to with writing. I thought that was more appropriate.

I will try to keep up with this blog and also visiting the rest of the blogs participating in the challenge the best I can, although we are having out-of-state company, and also will be traveling, exploring places to move, as well as clearing out and packing. I am not sure how much computer time I will get.

I just wanted to give everyone a heads up. I sincerely appreciate all of you that bother to read all the drivel I post. I know you think I must be crazy to attempt such a thing as this right now. I guess you would be right about that. I’m sure I need my head examined. The good thing is it is all writing – however crazy these posts may be at times.

I hope you will visit Surviving Life during the challenge. I will try to reciprocate. There is a wide variety of subjects coming.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Garden Work is a Killer

Since the weather has warmed up, we’ve been taking advantage of sprucing up the yard before it gets too hot around here. In the desert, you never know. Sometimes it’s like flipping a switch and there is no in-between period from heat to A/C.

The yard is in bad shape this year due to the harsh winter. So much needs cutting back that it makes you tired to look at it. It took me over a week to recover from the last episode of yard work. We mainly trimmed back bushes. The palm trees still need it. That takes the chainsaw. The fronds are huge, tough and have sharp spikes on them.

I was back at it again yesterday. First, I helped my husband stake up some vines that had fallen over in all the winter wind. Then I got all my flowers planted. Even though we are moving, they will still make the yard look nice. It’s better than looking at dead things in pots anyway.

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I threw all this stuff, potting soil, garden tools, gloves, a fold-up stool, and the flats of flowers in a wheel barrow to push it around the house. Of course, after I finished all that stuff, there was watering and the cleanup. We had cobwebs all over because of winter, so after crawling around on the concrete patio for a few hours with a whiskbroom to get it all out of the cracks and corners, I was beat. That and bending over the wheelbarrow to mix up soil and fill my pots, my back had had it.

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Today I can hardly move again. All this reminds me how everything seems to hurt, as you get older. Of course, I hate that but I can’t do anything about it. I ended up falling asleep on the couch. I wish my husband would have left me there because I was awake by the time I crawled in bed at 1 AM and then I hurt too bad to sleep.

So I have not been reading or writing lately, which would sure be saving my body. Today it is back to what we still have left to do.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Review for the Movie “The Help”

Picture From the Movie Review Page

A couple of nights ago, I had a neighbor over and we watched this movie together. She was a bit lost at times. I had to explain what was going on in places in the movie, which is not near as detailed as the book, although you do get the picture of the segregation of the south in the 1960’s. The movie leaves out a lot, which is the way movies are. As it is, this is a two and one half hour movie. If it followed everything in the book, it would probably be six hours long. The actors and actresses do a good job of portraying the times.

My neighbor was also shocked that this kind of stuff really happened all over the South.  She knew of segregation but rained in the North, didn't really realize how prevalent this was in the 1960's.

As you know, I have read and reviewed the book not long ago. I will recap the story here, but would suggest reading the book, which is wonderful, yet quite sad to think that we can treat other human beings differently just because of their color.

Skeeter and her "friends" from the movie website

Skeeter, a would-be writer, slowly starts to see her friends for the bigots they are. Not everyone in the south raises their children with this kind of attitude, but many do and so values are passed on to the next generation. Peers also put the pressure on to make sure you walk the right line, or you face ostracizing yourself.

When Skeeter returns home, after graduating from the University of MS, she finds the maid that raised her is gone and she can’t get answers out of anyone as to what has happened to Constantine. She begins to sleuth around on her own, eventually getting answers she seeks.

To pursue her writing career, much to the chagrin of her mother who thinks she should get married like any decent white girl, Skeeter lands a job at the local newspaper office in order to gain experience, so she can pursue her ambition of becoming a journalist. The job is writing a cleaning column. She knows nothing about this subject and enlists the help of Aibileen, her friend Elizabeth’s maid, in answering the cleaning questions. Elizabeth agrees, as long as it doesn’t interrupt Aibileen’s cleaning and cooking schedule. Of all the maids, Skeeter is the closest to Aibileen, who is happy to help, since Constantine is no longer in the picture.

Minny, Aibileen, and Skeeter from the movie's website
As time goes on, Skeeter realizes how bad things are when one of her other friends, Hilly, introduces the “sanitation initiative,” which would force all white people to have separate toilets for the black help. Things are already bad enough when the maids have to eat in the kitchen and to keep their dishes and silverware separate from the white peoples. She decides to write a book about how it is to work for the white families. She wants to interview the black maids and put down on paper all the hardships they endure on a daily basis. It takes a lot of coaxing, but eventually Skeeter gets Aibileen to agree. They meet secretly at the shack that Aibileen calls home on the black side of town.

Other maids, who are appalled at first that Aibileen is even doing such a thing, begin to jump onboard the writing project after Hilly fires her maid and has her imprisoned for stealing. Soon after, the killing of a black activist in front of his own home is another factor that pushes them into helping with the book that Skeeter and Aibileen started.

The Help is an inspirational, courageous story about segregation the South in the 1960’s. Strong, women form unlikely friendships over a writing project that they hope will eventually change lives for the better. They are breaking all the rules by meeting in secret over the book project, but they think it is worth the risk. The story is poignant, humorous, and hopeful. You want to root for the black women who work hard and tolerate abuse to earn $100 a month to support their own families.

I highly recommend the book and the movie. I gave the book five stars. I give the movie three stars because of many of the details are lost.

I want to close by giving you a few trivia facts about this story.

The director of the movie, Tate Taylor, and the author, Kathryn Stockett, were childhood friends in Jackson, MS.

Kathryn Stockett’s book, the Help, received sixty rejections before it was published.

Jessica Chastain, who played Celia Foote in the movie, ate soy ice cream melted in the microwave to gain weight for the role.

Find more trivia here:

The Help (2011) - Trivia - IMDb

I also thought this was interesting. I found it on the movie website. Here are two short snippets.

Aibileen Clark: I was born 1911, Chicksaw County, Piedmont Plantation.

Skeeter Phelan: And did you know as a girl growing up that one day you'd be a maid?

Aibileen Clark: Yes ma'am, I did.

Skeeter Phelan: And you knew that because...

Aibileen Clark: My mama was a maid. My grandmama was a house slave.

Skeeter Phelan: [whispering as she writes down] “house slave...” Did you ever dream of being something else?

Aibileen Clark: [nods yes]

Skeeter Phelan: What does it feel like to raise a white child when your own child's at home being looked after by somebody else?

Aibileen Clark: [silence as she looks over to the wall to see a picture of her son]

And here’s another short snippet:

Hilly Holbrook: They carry different diseases than we do. That's why I've drafted the Home Health Sanitation Initiative.

Skeeter Phelan: The what?

Hilly Holbrook: A disease-preventative bill that requires every white home to have a separate bathroom for the colored help. It’s been endorsed by the White Citizen’s Council.

Skeeter Phelan: Maybe we should just build you a bathroom outside, Hilly.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Time to Celebrate the Return of Spring

Bradford Pear tree - Sunni's Photo's

Spring is the time for new beginnings. Trees and flowers begin to sprout and bloom and show signs of new life. Animals pair up and begin their mating rituals. The desert behind us is green with sagebrushes, and the cactus back there have buds. Next month they will open for a glorious April full of flowers.

The rabbits are hopping around in the desert as if they got into the juniper berries, jumping three feet high straight in the air. This is very comical to watch. Chipmunks are scurrying about stealing things to use for their nests. Those critters eat everything in sight. I haven’t planted new flowers yet this year. Last year, they ate them to the ground. I’m not sure I’ll plant as many this year because it’s a lot of work, and we are planning a move anyway.

It is nice to see the ground warming up. We’ve been killing ourselves chopping away at dead limbs. All the hours we’ve put in and it doesn’t even look like we have made a dent yet. The winter was rough on everything. I don’t know how all the animals back in the desert manage to survive. My allergies have kicked in now, and my asthma is a mess because of working on all the plants, but this is worth it to see winter go away, far, far away, I hope.

Spring arrives on March 20 this year. The birds are chirping happily at the warmer days. The squirrels will probably be emerging from their winter dens soon. I saw the first lizards this week and the cats are going crazy watching all the activities from the windows, which are finally open.


I usually go and walk the labyrinth on the solstices and equinoxes. We have three where I live. The closest one is only about two miles from my house. Labyrinths have been around for years, considered a place of magic and introspection. It’s a good meditation place, quiet and peaceful. They are found all over the world and are like a maze in that there is only one way in and one way out. Here are a few pictures of the one near me.

Labyrinth in Winter - Sunni's Photo's

Labyrinth in Spring - Sunni's Photo's

Lastly, I want to share some spring quotes, which seem to capture the mood perfectly.

Life stands before me like an eternal spring with new and brilliant clothes
___ Carl Friedrich Gauss

Spring is nature’s way of saying, “Let’s party!” ___Robin Williams

What does spring mean to you? Have you started any new book projects?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Still Working on that A to Z Challenge

Badge from A to Z challenge

Well I still have four more posts to write. Somehow, I’m finding it hard to get those last four done with everything else going on around here. I may have to resort to the dictionary for help with U, V, X, and Y. We’ll see.

The weather has finally turned spring-like here, so getting the yard in shape is necessary as well finishing the taxes. Two jobs I’m not really gung–ho for. I’m also working on the rewrite of my book and trying to organize myself to get into move mode.

I’m one to collect a lot of stuff. Sometimes it would be easier to run away from home. What to keep, what to sell, what to donate, all issues I’d rather not deal with. But, if I left it up to my husband, he would get rid of everything most likely. Somehow, I have to handle all this over the next couple of months, as well as out traveling to look over different locations for the move, since we can’t decide on anything except we aren’t going through another winter here.

There will also be two sets of friends coming to visit as well. Making all of this stuff mesh together is the challenge.

I am totally off the track with writing this time, but I will get back on it next post. I’ll be posting for the A to Z Challenge on my other blog here:

For those of you on Blogger, who will participate in the challenge, please disable the CAPTCHA, if you haven’t already done so. You will get more visitors and comments that way. I will visit as many as I can, but I will be traveling part of that time.

To disable CAPTCHA, please see this post for step-by-step instructions:

To sign up for the A to Z Challenge, please visit Lee’s blog here:

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

ABNA 2013 Contest Update

From Contest Website

The announcement for the quarterfinalist’s selections posted yesterday for this yearly contest. Five hundred lucky people are moving on to the next round. This is indeed a good feeling to get this far when you are up against so many to start with. Congratulations to these people.

There are five categories this time, the first ever:

Photo's from Contest Website

I will post again next month when the contest is down to the final twenty-five and nail-biting time.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

My Common Writing Pitfalls

Passive Voice

We all know this list of to be words: is, am, are, was, were, has, has been, were, will, be, being, been and the ing words. I think using a little passive speech is okay, but I try to avoid most of it. You can add action if you avoid the passive verbs. An example is writing Roger headed over to Tommy’s house to play instead of writing Roger was headed over to Tommy’s house to play.

Until you learn to spot these verbs on my own, it will help to set your Word program to tell you when you’ve used passive words in your writing. This is what I did, and now I can see most of them as I write, so I can reword the sentence as I go.

Adverbs ending in ly

I’m guilty on the ly adverbs and try to remove some of them on the rewrite, but not all. I know some people take all of them out, and you would probably be encouraged to do so, but I think a little of something is okay, and not that distracting to the reader.

Overusing Adjectives

Okay, this one can get annoying fast, if you use them in every sentence. I have to watch myself here because I tend to describe things too much at times. The reader doesn’t need know that Sandy has long, silky, black hair, the kind that shines in the sun like a raven’s feather. This is overkill, and the kind of writing I started out doing because I love adjectives. Today I try to watch this better, and use one adjective instead of a string of them to describe something, or somebody.

Using clear and specific words when writing sentences

I am guilty of this one too, but I have learned to watch it closer. I have learned over the years that you can’t write it, or things, or even he, or she, or they in places because how will the reader know what you are talking about, and who you are referring to unless it is stated in the previous sentence? Most of the time, I do a decent job avoiding this pitfall.

Showing versus telling

Showing, not telling, is probably the biggest thing I still have to work on. Along with this are the POV shifts, especially since I got the bright idea to write a novel in first person instead of the usual third person I am accustomed to.

I have to remind myself to write as if I am painting a picture for the reader to see. So instead of saying Jill loves hamburgers, it would be better to say Jill picked up the hamburger, juice running down her hand, as the smell of onions and roasted meat wafted to her face, urging her to dig in.

How many of you find that you do all these things when writing? I probably do two or three of these on a consistent basis. I always have to watch myself. I do think it’s best to stay aware as you go, but not let any of this get in the way when you’re in create mode. I let most of it go, and take care of all this stuff in the rewrite stage. I feel better when I have the basic story down on paper.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Book Review for The Help by Kathryn Stockett

WOW! What a book!
 5 stars

This book is one of the best I’ve read in a long time. I knew right from the start that I was going to be sad when I came to the end. The characters are wonderful, although there is a couple I’d like to knock on the head. This is writing at its best. I can picture everyone in the book, from the black maids talking in the kitchen, or the privileged white ladies at their benefits.

This book is about diversity and segregation in the south in the 1960’s, particularly Mississippi. The reader gets a look into the daily lives of the colored ladies who keep house and raise the kids for the white people. Although this is a serious story and there are some awful moments in this book, there is enough humor to keep the reader chuckling throughout. It was definitely hard to put this book down each night and go to bed.

I grew up in the South during this time, and can relate to all the issues in the book. The dialogue is wonderful and the author accurately portrays the food and the weather, bringing back many memories for me.

I was interested in the lives of all the maids in the book and the awful conditions they had to endure in that time of great civil unrest. The maids are desperate as they tolerate abuse from the white ladies they work for, who ultimately hold their fate in their hands. I wanted to cry when I see them wrongly accused for stealing, and then fired because if it. There are times when false rumors are spread too, making it impossible for the maid to find other work.

Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny are the main characters in this book. I loved each of these unique women, who had enough guts to stand up and try to change the terrible conditions that existed in those days.

Ambitious Skeeter wants to become a writer, much to her mother’s disgust. Her mother wants to see her married and taking her place in white society when she comes home from college. Skeeter befriends the maids, kind-hearted Aibilene and sassy Minny, who gradually begin to trust her, after she has planted the idea of a book project to shed light on the working conditions for maids in Mississippi. More maids jump onboard the book project, as black people are beaten and killed in their town. They all take a risk and that risk comes with a price.

Hilly, the white Queen Bee you love to hate adds fuel to the fire by constantly spreading her message that colored folks carry diseases. She questions their hygiene, although she allows her own maid in the kitchen to cook all the food, take care of the kids, and clean the house. Hilly goes on a toilet campaign to make sure every white household in Jackson has a toilet for the colored help. This crusade only spurs Skeeter and the maids on to tell their story, hoping the book will be published and that they will remain anonymous, so as not to bring anymore ill will down on themselves. At the same time, they are hoping that conditions will change and people will look deeper than the color of someone’s skin.

Not all the white people treated the maids badly, although most did. We see how strange it was growing up in the south in those days when Minny goes to work for Celia Foote, the “white trash,” who allows her to sit at the table, drink coffee, and eat with her. They really begin to care for each other when Minny sees she is different from the many employers she’s had in the past.

There was never a dull moment. I really LOVED this book and want to read it again. I checked this copy out of the library, but I will now buy my own copy. What a great debut novel. I hope Kathryn Stockett writes a sequel.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Ever Wish You Could Read With Your Eyes Closed?

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Of course, I know this can’t happen, but my eyes are so tired from staring at the monitor all day. If I’m not busy working on my book and doing blog posts, then I’m reading blogs and email, etc.

The last few nights I’ve been reading a great book that I can’t put down. Thank you for suggesting it, Lisa Fender. It is sitting here right now calling out to me, “Pick me up. I know you want to.” So tonight, this is what I’ll be doing again, reading until I can’t see straight.

In a few days, I’ll be posting a review for this book.

Keep writing everybody.