BOOK REVIEW: Congo by Michael Crichton


Review by Ryder Islington

 Congo. Just the title stirs up images of deep jungle and wild animals. A perfect title for this fast-paced thriller. I love the imagery. And of course, I love Amy, the sweet gorilla who knows sign language and loves Peter Elliot, the primatologist who has worked with her for six years.

 When Amy starts painting pictures that are eerily similar to a print dating back to the 1600’s, Peter is drawn into a dangerous expedition of the jungle of the Congo, in search of a lost city. This is a page-turner, with so much happening that every word counts. The characters are people, some of them likeable, others, not so much. Just like in real life, these characters all have their own agendas. Whether it be fame, fortune, power, or love, everyone is out to get something. And some get more than they bargained for.

This is on my keeper shelf. I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it, except for those prone to nightmares. Michael Crichton knows what nightmares are made of and he doesn’t disappoint.

Arg! What’s Up With The Colons: Already?


 

I’ve been reading a long list of new books by authors who have asked for reviews. I think every book so far has had tons of colons and semi-colons. It wouldn’t be quite so bad if anyone knew how to use them. I find sentences with comas and semi-colons. Or semi-colons instead of a period. Or colons between two statements that are barely related to each other.

I’m of the school that says colons and semi-colons should be left for scientific papers and instruction manuals. Okay, I know everyone is free to use their own judgment when it comes to their own writing. But really…if you’re going to use punctuation, could you at least learn how to do it correctly?

 I will be judging entries in the Daphne writing contest soon. I hope the entrants aren’t in love with colons and semi-colons. Or, at least, if they use them, they know how to do it correctly. I never mark down an entry for doing things I don’t do. But I do mark down if the writer isn’t using punctuation correctly.

 C’mon, ladies and gentlemen, if you’re writing fiction, in any POV except omniscient, you are deep in the minds of the characters. Do your characters really think in language that needs colons and semi-colons? Every time you use any word, punctuation, or writing technique that is unfamiliar to your readers, we stop and try to figure it out. Why is there a colon here? Why is this sentence in question form, but without a question mark? Why is there a semi-colon in the middle of this sentence?

Try this exercise. Grab a paper and pen, and just sit around and listen to people talk. Don’t copy down what they say, but put the punctuation on the paper. If someone hesitates during a sentence put an ellipsis on your paper… or a comma,

Are you hearing anything that sounds like it needs colons and semi-colons to make you understand the relationship between the statements?

Sure, a hundred years ago, colons and semi-colons were everywhere. In fiction, as well as every other kind of writing. But then writing changed. We learned about using shorter paragraphs, showing more white space and making chapters shorter to encourage the reader to read one more page, or one more chapter. We learned that deep POV helps the reader connect with the character, to feel what the character feels. We learned to write in a different voice for each character, so the reader could really see the difference in the way characters, think, talk and act. Now could we please make the leap from the use of fancy punctuation to the use of punctuation that allows the reader to stay in the character’s head, and not get caught up in possible meanings of simple sentences?

It’s crazy making to be reading along, enjoying a story, when suddenly something pops up and you say to yourself, “Why did the author do that?”  And it’s even crazier making when the author didn’t know how to it correctly. Which is why I’m CRAZY! Okay, I’m just slightly off. But if I have to read one more fiction book filled with colons and semi-colons, I may go right off the deep end. And you wouldn’t want to be responsible for that, would you?

 

#BOOK REVIEW: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison


Review by Ryder Islington

This story shows more than the pain and sorrow of life for African-Americans in the 1940’s. There is more to it than the backstory of characters who committed unspeakable acts, and the results of those acts on their victims.

 Little Pecola, a twelve-year-old Black girl, has lived a sorted life, a life full of pain, abuse, neglect, and loneliness. She is called ugly, bullied and ignored. Ultimately, the story is about how those uneducated and untaught, create excuses for their actions. It is about two little girls, Claudia and Frieda, trying to figure out how to help an innocent, broken child that no one wants. And how to save the life of an unborn baby no one wants.

It is about the pain of being treated as less than. Of not only being the wrong color, but the wrong shade, for Pecola is black. Very black. And those in her neighborhood and her school who have lighter skin treat her just as badly as white people do. Beauty is so highly esteemed, and plain is so deeply abhorred. And in a time when life was full of doubt for everyone, there is no one to lift little Pecola up. No one takes the time to give her as much as a smile, unless they want something from her, want to use her. And her little self is so hungry for approval and love that she will do anything for a crumb of attention.

 My heart breaks for her, and for all the little girls in the world, back then, and now, who are told they are fat, or ugly, or stupid, or the wrong color, who are made to feel unlovable because of how they look on the outside. If this story does not stir your emotions, if it does not reach your heart, then you need to go to the hospital and have removed the series of pumps and pulleys that keep you walking on this earth and have them replaced by a heart made of flesh.

 And then there is the other story. The story of Toni Morrison, the author of the story. Can you believe that she didn’t feel she accomplished what she wanted in this story? Her prose is beautiful, her turn of phrase heart-wrenching. This story made me cry, not just for a moment, about a little character in a book, but for a long time, for the pain that is put upon those who are called less than. Ms. Morrison touched me in a way no other author has. She brought to life a time and a culture full of anger and pain, and connected it to me, to my life in this time and this culture.  Ms. Morrison, I salute you and only hope that someday I will have a hundredth of your skill and your passion.

Creating a Schedule for the Blog


I’m trying to get my act together and make this blog a useable tool for readers and writers. To that end I’m creating a schedule that I hope will work. Here’s the plan:

Monday: Author interviews or Guest Posts.  If you need an interview or would like to do a guest post, related to a blog tour or just to boost traffic or sales, please contact me by comment here, or by email at ryderislington@yahoo.com

Tuesday/Thursday: Book Reviews.  I generally review mystery, suspense, thriller, historicals, and the occasional inspirational, sci-fi and paranormal. Each review is according to my schedule and what I think I can offer in the way of positive reviews. So I receive a book to review and find that I just don’t like the book even though the writing is very good, I usually contact the author and let them know. That rarely happens. I’m pretty open, and my library is pretty eclectic.

Friday: Memories of Me. You all may be bored silly with my little rants of  my past, but I’m having a blast remembering things that happened during my childhood and putting the words on paper…er…screen.

I’m hoping I can maintain this schedule, make my readers happy, and help out other writers. Wish me luck!

The Artist’s Way


Just a short note to let all you writers out there know that I just started a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s about breaking through blocks and getting words on the page, or for those who aren’t writers, getting the paint on the canvas, the glue on the model airplane, etc.

I’ve only read a few pages but feel like the book was written solely for me. Ms. Cameron is speaking directly to me as she talks about ways we are blocked, and how we can free our creativity.

The book is a 12 week course in self help for freeing creativity and allowing artistry to inhabit our lives. Hope to do an article here and there to update you on how it has helped (or not) me.

MEMORIES OF ME: Fishing On The Rocks


When I was a kid, we spent a lot of winters in California and Florida. One year in the fall, we moved to California but, Dad being unemployed, we lived in one of the state parks along the coast.

There’s this place where there are jagged rocks that stick up out of the water. They are forty or fifty feet out from the shore, but when the tide is low, there’s a path on the sand that goes right out to them.

You can see where this is going.

During low tide we would haul the ice chest, fishing tackle, and everything else we needed out onto the rocks. It was a tough climb to the top, and once there it was hard to find a comfortable place to sit. The rocks are always damp, and during the high tide, waves send white foam up over everything. There isn’t a single flat spot, so we would take boat cushions to sit on or lean against. You’d think we’d have been smart enough to wear some kind of waterproof gear, but no, not even a rain coat, or hat.

The wind was usually blowing, and it was cold, maybe in the high forties or low fifties, but with a fine water spray as the tide rose. I weighed about sixty pounds and had to be careful not to get blown or washed away. At full tide there was no way to get back to shore. The water rushed around each side of the rocks and splashed up high as they clapped together. And none of us could swim. So we had to stay on the rocks until the next low tide.

The good news was, the fishing was always excellent, and when we finally made our way back across the wet sand, up the side of the cliff, and back to the state park, we always had a mess of fish for supper.

This story reminds me of the comedian who said, “You know why they put a sticker on the emergency exit of the airplane that says, DO NOT OPEN DOOR DURING FLIGHT? Cause some time in the past…”

Surely, we can’t be the only ones. So the next time you see a show on TV where a helicopter is flying along the Southern California coast, check out those rocks standing up in the water. You just might see some idiot out there with a big fishing rig and a cooler. Or, maybe there’s a sign…