What Henry James Taught Me about Writing Suspense

What Henry James Taught Me about Writing Suspense

If you’ve read any works by Henry James, American-born British author (1843-1916), great suspense probably isn’t the first thought that leaps to your mind. Consider the all-important first sentence of his famous novella The Turn of the Screw. The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as, on Christmas Eve in an old house, a strange tale should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered till somebody happened to say that it was the only case he had met in which such a visitation had fallen on a child. That’s sixty-two words in the first sentence alone. By today’s standards, such writing is “wordy” at best and “frankly hard to read” at worst. But writing styles come and go just like the bell-bottoms of the seventies, and during James’s day, this was cutting-edge stuff. Perhaps the economical writing so popular today…

Read more

Book Review: The Giver

I finally found time over vacation to read The Giver by Lois Lowry. She’s also the author of Number the Stars, one of my all-time favorite YA novels. The Giver also won the Newberry Award, and I was eager to read it (certainly no small amount of buzz over it, since the release of the movie, which I haven’t yet seen). But overall I’d have to admit that I wish I’d liked the novel more than I did. It didn’t live up to its hype for me. Though the novel is well written and offers a lot of interesting social commentary in the context of an imagined future world, I struggled to get through it. Jonas’s world is certainly not one where I would like to live, and perhaps that’s one reason why I didn’t enjoy the novel. It certainly isn’t a “happy” story. Here is Publisher’s Weekly summary: In the “ideal”…

Read more

Book Review: Ends of the Earth by Tim Downs

Book Review: Ends of the Earth by Tim Downs

Book Summary Nick Polchak must stop a terrorist from causing a global ecological nightmare. Two beautiful women from Nick’s past are competing for his heart. He’s not sure which impending disaster makes him more nervous. When forensic entomologist Nick Polchak is called to the scene of a murder on a small organic farm in North Carolina he is astonished to find that the victim’s estranged wife is an old friend, a woman he once worked with, a woman he once had feelings for. When she asks Nick to investigate her husband’s drug-related murder, Nick seeks the assistance of Alena Savard, the reclusive dog trainer known to the people of northern Virginia as the Witch of Endor.Alena jumps at the chance to renew her relationship with Nick, but when she arrives in North Carolina she discovers that she’s not the only woman who has her eye on the Bug Man. Soon Nick…

Read more

Book Review: The Johnstown Flood

Book Review: The Johnstown Flood

Why do I like stories about disasters and tragedy? The Titanic. The Galveston Hurricane. The Holocaust. These are all topics I find myself interested in, mainly because, though some people certainly die, I like the stories of everyday people who overcome incredible odds. That’s the crux of every good novel, if you think about it. Plus these are real people—nobody made them up—and their stories of courage and tragedy haunt me. The Johnstown Flood of May 31, 1889, is one of those stories that grabbed ahold of me and wouldn’t let go until I’d finished reading David McCullough’s fine, engaging book. I wanted to know how two thousand people could just die because of a broken dam. And how could a dam fall into such disrepair and fail? Didn’t the people in the valley below realize they were living in a major flood zone? Didn’t anyone warn them? Why would anyone…

Read more