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Rest assured that this is not just a rant, though it is a personal opinion post. There are plenty of writing-related things that annoy me, so I’ve restricted myself to those. I’ve also limited my list to things I noticed in traditionally published books, so some agents and editors apparently weren’t bothered by the things that made me cringe.

 

1.  Quirks.

I keep reading about the necessity to make our main characters recognizable, identifiable, etc., and having a personal habit or quirk is touted as one way to go about that. But please. Use those quirks in moderation or you will annoy your readers and make them hate your characters rather than identify with them. Here are a few quirks I’ve encountered that have been used enough to become cliché:

Rolling the eyes . Some characters do it so often that I end up rolling MY eyes. Even worse is when more than one character does it. In a book I read recently, it seemed that someone rolled their eyes in every scene. I still enjoyed the story, but it was distracting enough that it inspired this post.

Raising one eyebrow. That may be a unique talent, but it has been overused in books. And every time I read it, I feel challenged to attempt raising a brow of my own. I can’t actually do it, and I know I can’t, so it’s really annoying to read about characters doing it so easily.

Twirling her hair around her finger. Lots of people do that, so how original is it?

 

2.  Deus Ex Machina.

God directly intervening to solve a problem the protagonist couldn’t possibly have figured out, especially when the protagonist doesn’t show any signs of a close relationship with God, is cheating. I want to be able to figure out what happened based on clues in the story, not witness a miracle (actually, I would like to witness a real miracle), but unless the story involves miracles as an integral part of the action, don’t end with one.

 

 3.  Explaining the ending.

Ending with page after page of people talking about what happened earlier in the book, even explaining things to minor characters who appear out of nowhere asking personal questions they are not entitled by manners or relationship to ask, is unbelievable. It is obviously a means for the author to reveal what happened in the book—in case the readers didn’t, or couldn’t, figure it out. This is a violation of the basic writing mantra of “show, don’t tell.” A good resolution will tie up loose ends, but shouldn’t have to explain the story.

 

4.  Stupid protagonists.

If the main character repeatedly makes bad decisions, doesn’t use common sense, or behaves like an idiot for no apparent reason, in my opinion she/he is stupid. (A time or two is excusable, as no one likes perfect characters.) We all do dumb things occasionally, but unless it’s a comedy I want protagonists to be people I can respect—even if I don’t like them. When stupidity is the basis for the story conflict, it feels weak and contrived. A good plot won’t need contrived behavior to keep it going.

 

5.  Poor editing.

I love words. I adore sentences that flow smoothly through my mind, leaving a vivid picture behind. But when words are misspelled, or the sentence structure makes it difficult to understand, I’m drawn out of the story and into reality. If I wanted reality, I wouldn’t be reading. So let me enjoy the world you’ve created—edit your work carefully. If you need help editing, get it.

 

What type of things pull you out of a story? What is your number 1 reading-related annoyance? What type of character quirks do you think are effective, and which ones do you consider annoying? Can you think of any “stupid” protagonists that are not annoying? Do you have any quirks?

 

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My birthday was Saturday, and we celebrated all weekend. While having my family with me was the best present, I have to admit that the Nook Color they gave me is wonderful! I’ve gotten very little done this week besides figuring out how to work it and reading book reviews.

Having never used an e-reader, I wisely read the Quick Start guide online before I turned on my Nook Color. It was easy to understand, so I had no problems getting registered and ready to read.

B&N pre-loaded my Nook Color with Little Women, Dracula, and Pride and Prejudice, along with some sample chapters from a couple of modern books. None of those interest me, so I’ve spent hours scrolling through the Nook Store looking for books I might actually want to read. With so many to choose from, you’d think I could have loaded up my e-reader within minutes—but so far I have picked out 8 full books and a few samples. All but 4 were free.

There are lots of reviews on the Web covering the pros and cons of buying the Color Nook, and as a non-techie I can’t add to or dispute any of their claims. For those who want a reader’s opinion, however, here are a few things I like about it and a few I don’t:

AWESOME:

  • It’s beautiful!
  • The colors make my shopping easier because I’m attracted (or not) by the book covers. Several of my purchases were books whose covers caught my attention as I scrolled through the store.
  • The buttons are easy to figure out and I’ve not had any problems navigating the screens. This really doesn’t require much skill to use.
  • The Search screen makes it easy to find books by author or title, or I can browse by categories.
  • Each book has sample chapters I can download before making up my mind whether or not to buy a book. This lets me see if I like the writer’s style, gives me a better idea of what the book is about, and also lets me see if there are major problems with the formatting or navigation. This is especially helpful on the nonfiction books where I want to be able to go directly to certain chapters rather than read the whole thing from beginning to end.
  • Most books have customer reviews that let me know when there are big problems with editing, or if the book is a reprint rather than a new release. (Some books show a published date for 2011 or 2010 but don’t show that the original copyright was much earlier.) This is helpful as some of my favorite authors have written so many books I can’t remember which ones I’ve already read. I would have purchased several thinking they were new releases except for the comments in the reviews alerting me to the fact they were older books.
  • I can adjust the brightness of the screen to read in low light without distracting the people around me. This is perfect for times other family members are watching movies I’m not interested in, or for reading my e-Bible at church.

NOT SO AWESOME:

  • The screen is really, really touchy. When scrolling through lists, I often touch the titles in such a way that a book I’m not interested in pops up. I have to tap the x in the corner to close it out, and that’s so close to the Buy button that a few times I’ve hit it by accident.  If you double click on the Buy button, you’ve bought the book as it switches from Buy to Confirm after the first click. The second click downloads it and charges your account for the book.
  • It didn’t come loaded with the recent major program upgrade. The B&N site said the upgrade would be automatic, but after 3 days I still didn’t have it. I was able to follow the instructions for manually upgrading by loading the program on my laptop and sending it to my Nook Color via a USB cable, but I was nervous I might mess up something. (I didn’t, though, so it’s unlikely anyone would have a problem doing it.)
  • It’s time consuming, and addictive. Browsing for books is much easier on a computer but I find myself scrolling through random categories on my Nook Color anyway. It’s so easy to download them once I locate one I want to read that I keep looking, and looking, and looking for just one more…
  • It is so thin, and the screen is so large, that I’m afraid I’ll damage it if I carry it in my purse. I’ve ordered a case for it, but that’s going to make it too bulky to fit in most of my purses.

I haven’t downloaded any apps yet. The upgrade made some interesting ones available, and I have a couple picked out to download later. One is supposed to let me view pdfs and Word documents, but since I don’t know how to get them transferred to my Nook Color there isn’t much point in buying it until I figure out the basics. The apps seem cheap to me, but I don’t know how the prices compare to those for other e-readers.

As I learn more about this, I’ll update this post to include any additional features or problems I encounter that I think might be helpful to know about. If you’re considering an e-reader, I suggest you compare this one to others on the market first. You might even prefer a tablet instead as they offer a lot more features, if price isn’t a consideration. However, I highly recommend the Nook Color for anyone primarily interested in reading books.

Here are some sites I found helpful when researching e-readers:

http://reviews.cnet.com/ebook-readers/?tag=mncol;srt&sort=popularity+asc  Reviews on CNet

http://www.the-ebook-reader.com/ebook-reader-comparison.html  Comparison Chart and Reviews

http://www.the-ebook-reader.com/nook-color.html Review of Nook Color

.EDIT JULY 11, 2011: I still love my Nook Color, but I’m disappointed that the battery doesn’t hold a charge nearly as long as I had expected. I read, at most, 4 or 5 hours a day and have to leave it plugged in or recharge it within 3 days. (Edited to add that I’ve been reading for longer periods, and have to charge it daily. Oh, well. It’s still my favorite toy!)

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Do you have an e-reader? If so, which one do you use, and are you happy with it? Do you have any tips to share regarding buying or using an e-reader? If you’ve used the Nook Color, what did you like best/least about it? Do you know how to transfer pictures from a computer to Nook Color (I don’t!)?

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A light-hearted romance story with a message of hope for a better life, A Suitor for Jenny, by Margaret Brownley, wins a 5-star rating from me. This is a book I read straight through, without noticing the hours passing as I waited for a good place to stop reading. I loved the characters, and the plot was full of interesting twists that made me want to find out what happened next.

After reading an article saying that Rocky Creek, Texas is full of rich bachelors, Jenny Higgins brings her two younger sisters to town to find suitable husbands.  With a guide book called The Compleat and Authoritative Manual for Attracting and Procuring a Husband, Jenny thinks she’ll be able to quickly match her sisters up with men who’ll take good care of them, relieving her of the responsibility of supporting them herself. She wants them to be happy, but tries to make her sisters and the men in town behave according to the strict rules she read about in her manual. No one cooperates.

Marshal Rhett Armstrong has his hands full trying to appease the outraged citizens of Rocky Creek, who expect him to do something about the bossy young woman who’s taken over their town. While Jenny’s conduct isn’t criminal, the men definitely feel they need to be protected from her. As she stole his heart as soon as she arrived, Rhett understands their concerns.

This is an inspirational romance, but it isn’t preachy. It deals with real issues, including poverty, abuse, jealousy, and lack of self-esteem, but isn’t depressing. I enjoyed the book and highly recommend it.

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A Suitor for Jenny 

 

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This book was given to me by Thomas Nelson Publishers for review purposes.

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Life Without Limits, by Nick Vujicic, is one of the best nonfiction books I’ve read in a long time. It left me feeling inspired and motivated to work harder to achieve my own goals in life.

Nick Vujicic had to overcome physical challenges that few people face, but his emotional struggles are ones most of us can relate to. Born without arms or legs, he desperately wanted to fit in and experience the same things other kids did. His parents helped him achieve a certain amount of independence, and he taught himself how to perform many tasks that I’d never have thought possible for a person without arms or legs. An adept swimmer, he also learned to surf. He even defended himself against a bully on the school playground. Yet his physical achievements aren’t as amazing as his emotional strength.

During his youth, Nick faced and overcame serious depression. He began reaching out to others facing tough circumstances and helped them find hope for the future. His own sense of purpose grew stronger as he became acquainted with people all over the world that needed someone to encourage them not to give up their dreams.

Still in his twenties, Nick is already an accomplished motivational speaker, Christian evangelist, and businessman. His positive attitude and insightful suggestions for overcoming life’s trials have made an impact on people wherever he’s travelled. One of the many comments he made in his book that had an impact on me is this: “You may not control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond.”(p.33)

I highly recommend Life Without Limits.

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“I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.”

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Nick Vujicic also has a website called Life Without Limbs

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This is a sequel to Broken Angel, which I read months ago and thoroughly enjoyed. Flight of Shadows continues the story of Caitlyn Brown, a genetically altered young woman who escaped from a vicious bounty hunter in the territory called Appalachia, only to find herself in greater danger in the society Outside. The government, the bounty hunter, and the scientists who created her all want Caitlyn—dead or alive.

Caitlyn becomes friends with an elusive, crafty man named Razor. The two of them escape from the agents pursuing her and look for the man Caitlyn’s father told her would help her start a new life. The government agent, Carson Pierce, is forced to work with Razor after being betrayed by someone in his agency, and they unravel the mystery behind Caitlyn’s birth.

There are so many twists and important characters in this book that I think I would have been confused about what was happening if I hadn’t read Broken Angel first. The author does a good job of explaining the backstory, but the setting and structure of the society is a bit hard to understand.

I was disappointed in the ending, but overall thought this was an interesting story. The society it portrayed was depressing but believable. I’d recommend this book to friends, but it isn’t an easy or pleasant read.

 

Flight of Shadows - Sigmund Brouwer

I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

 

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Women’s fiction is a term that refers to stories where the female protagonist deals with situations and relationships that challenge her and affect her emotional growth.

The subjects and themes of these books can cover a wide range of issues that women face. Relationships with other people are important, and are an integral part of the story. Though there is often a love interest, it isn’t the central focus.

What’s most important is the woman’s emotional development as she pursues her dreams, fights her fears, or overcomes obstacles life throws her way. These stories touch the emotions, and don’t necessarily have a happy ending. Like any book, though, women’s fiction does need an ending that satisfies readers.

Women’s fiction tends to be more commercial than literary, but doesn’t fit the narrower restrictions of genre fiction. It appeals to a wide, mainstream audience and generally will be shelved with general fiction in a bookstore.

Examples of books considered women’s fiction (per Barnes & Noble) are:

Picture Perfect, by Jodi Picoult

Fly Away Home, by Jennifer Weiner (this one is also listed under Literary on Amazon, and Commercial Fiction on Free Book Friday)

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

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What other books can you think of that would be considered women’s fiction?  What, if anything, appeals to you about this type of book?

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The builders in the next county had a Parade of Homes last week, showcasing some of the new houses they’ve built this year. My husband and I went to 15 of them hoping to find the perfect place for our family. After seeing them all, we agreed to keep the home we have now. However, I did discover ways to make our house look more modern.

Every house had beige walls and dark wood floors. The hardware on the cabinets and doors, as well as the bathroom fixtures, was brushed chrome or antique bronze. The stairs were all carpeted, and the railings were dark brown wood with metal spindles. Most rooms had mahogany ceiling fans and wood trim that was painted white.

I must have a great sense of style because the ceiling fans and light fixtures I bought earlier this year are identical to the ones in some of the new houses, and I already switched from bright brass to brushed chrome fixtures in my kitchen. I just need to get some beige paint and you won’t be able to tell that my house was built in 1984 instead of 2010.

Personal taste doesn’t have to be sacrificed to fit the current trends, but adjusting to the changes in what’s fashionable can make our homes, and our writing, appear fresh and interesting rather than old and boring. We can update without completely changing what we have or like.

In order to recognize current trends in writing, however, we have to be familiar with what’s selling now and understand how it compares to earlier books. With that knowledge, we can apply a fresh twist to an old story, or write about a topic that’s been neglected. We’ll recognize story lines that have already been overdone, and subjects that are so common that readers are probably tired of reading about them.

Reading is a writer’s research, and the more we know about the books others have written, the easier it will be to see where there is a niche that our writing can fill.

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EDIT 6/15/10: Bookends, LLC blog has a guest post by author Christie Craig on writing advice that  really made sense to me. Her first tip dealt with trends, and it fits with what I’m trying to say in today’s post. Her other comments are also very helpful, so take a look .  🙂

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About how much time do you spend reading each day? What type of material do you read most? Do you think it’s important to read the classics, or just contemporary authors? What’s the last book you read, or the next one you plan to read?

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