Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher

Whale TalkWhale Talk by Chris Crutcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s something really wrong with me, because every time I pick up a Chris Crutcher book, I love it and really connect with it, yet I’m always hesitating to read his stories. He writes really raw, honest characters who have messy lives, and his stories are both unique and unexpected, while still being easy to relate to.

This gem with an ugly cover is about a teen boy who starts up a ragtag swim team full of unlikely athletes, in order to prove a point to the overreaching athletics committee that tries to rule the school. The story is full of diversity and unexpected friendships, and there’s a lot going on here, which I personally enjoyed. It makes a few big points, and it makes them loud, which is a strategy that I don’t always like. I’m usually a big fan of subtlety and letting the reader take away what they choose to take away. However, they are things that not enough teen novels speak to and that are so good for struggling or at-risk teens to hear and think about, so I can’t help but appreciate that.

I wish I head read this book while still teaching, because I can think of several kids right now that I could and would have handed this to. It would have been both a book they really needed but also one that I think they would have really loved.

Let’s hope I don’t wait another year or two to pick up my next Chris Crutcher book. Also, as an aside, I sat in a session with the author at a lit festival, and he’s really a great guy. After hearing him talk so openly and honestly about kids, his work, and his writing, I basically wanted to go out and buy all of his books, which is how I ended up with Whale Talk in the first place. Why I didn’t immediately read it probably has more to do with the cover than anything else, and I’m slightly ashamed to admit that.

Book 110 read in 2018

Pages: 223

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Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder

Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever NeedSave the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t write screenplays, but a lot of this information is still applicable to writing a good novel. I especially appreciated how he broke down all the different components, or beats, of a good story and explained how to successfully portray (or not) those segments.

Some of the examples felt obscure and meant nothing to me, but there was a lot here that was applicable. I was less interested in the end of the book, which is more about selling yourself and your ideas, but the whole stretch in the middle on story structure was helpful and appealing.

I’ll take some of the comments about selling with a grain of salt, since I don’t currently write for that purpose, but even despite that, many of his best ways to sell a story are tied to having a decent story in the first place, which is something that is relevant to anyone who wants to write a good story.

I’m currently editing/rewriting one of my previous sci-fi novels, so I think I’m going to compare my story to his structure and double check for all the beats, as well as an emotional change and conflict in every scene, as those suggestions all resonated with me. We will see how it goes. I am sure it definitely can’t hurt, and I suspect it will actually help.

Book 111 read in 2018

Pages: 195

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Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis

Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a TreeEmma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is an okay middle grade read about another socially awkward child. I think stories like that used to be pretty rare, but not so much anymore, which means in light of other options, this one just isn’t my favorite. Still, it’s a decent story that will appeal to some kiddos.

There’s something about the storytelling that is a bit stilted and does too much telling and too much “making of points” to really connect with me. I prefer a story that can make good points without spelling them out in such an obvious way. I know that approach is more common in MG literature, but I still think kids are super smart. You don’t have to always state the obvious. If you write a good story, they will get it, and more writers should trust their young readers to find the takeaways on their own, without harping on them so much.

Also, some aspects of the storyline are left hanging and not resolved, or even addressed, at the end of the story, which is highly unsatisfying.

Book 113 read in 2018

Pages: 199

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Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer

Bloody Jack (Bloody Jack, #1)Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up at random to earn pirate points for our work challenge, and I ended up really enjoying this adventure story. It’s about Jack, a plucky orphan girl, and how she survives in the world on her own, which includes how she ends up serving as a deck boy on a naval ship that fights pirates.

So yeah, fun times were had by all, or at least me. This has some of my favorite tropes from childhood, including the whole girl pretends to be a boy gem.

It bridges the gap between MG and YA by starting out with a strong MG feel and ending up more in the upper MG to YA realm. I thought the author did a great job of showing how Jack changes as she starts to grow up.

Also, the audiobook is narrated by Katherine Kellgrin, who is amazing. She narrated over 200 audiobooks and won many awards, including being inducted into the Narrator Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, she passed away in January of 2018, so there will be no new books narrated by her. However, I still will try to listen to as much of her body of work as possible, as she has such a good sense for the dramatic and really pulls a reader into the story.

Book 107 read in 2018

Pages: 304

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