[Thanks so much to Random House and Women on Writing for sending me a copy of Save the Cat! Writes a Novel for review. After you read the review, take a look at the author’s website, buy a copy, or check out the Save the Cat! website and other blog tour stops.]
About Save the Cat! Writes a Novel
An Amazon #1 best seller with over 500 reviews, it’s the first novel-writing guide from the best-selling Save the Cat! story-structure series, reveals the 15 essential plot points needed to make any novel a success.
In this revolutionary novel-writing guide from the best-selling Save the Cat! series, novelist Jessica Brody demystifies each beat, making it simple to learn the complexities of storytelling. The best-seller also reveals the ten universal story genres to help you drill down into what makes your type of story work. Featuring sample “beat sheets” for hits from the likes of J. K. Rowling, Khaled Hosseini, and Stephen King, this practical guide also includes real-world advice on pitching your novel, plus the quirky, original insights (like the eponymous tip to “Save the Cat”) that make this series unique. By the end of this book, your own imaginative beats will combine to create a story that thrills readers from start to finish.
Print Length: 320 Pages
Genre: Writing References
Publisher: Ten Speed Press/Random House Publishing LLC
Save the Cat! Writes the Novel is available as a print and e-book at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.
Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody is a book that explores plot, genre, and storytelling for writers who need a little help putting the pieces together. Jessica Brody explains the Save the Cat structure (originally detailed in the screenwriting book Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder) and adapts it to novel writing. The novel edition includes a detailed explanation of the 3-act structure with the 15 Save the Cat “beats” as well as a breakdown of the 10 basic story genres, a guide to writing a synopsis and pitching, and a FAQs section that I found really helpful.
Both newbie writers and experienced writers could benefit from Jessica Brody’s insights into novel writing and the expert way she adapts the Save the Cat structure to novels.
Let me be straight with you for a minute:
Before this book, I didn’t understand how to plot a novel. Not even a little bit. I can write characters I love all day long, but when it comes time to send them on their adventure, I lose steam. This is probably the reason literary fiction has always appealed to my tastes, but even an amazing character-driven novel still needs a plot.
That’s why I was so excited when I came across Save the Cat! Writes a Novel. Reading this book was the confidence boost I needed to believe I could actually finish writing my book. Some of you know that I’m primarily a poet, but I’m working on my first YA novel, so my timing for reading Save the Cat was perfect.
Reading about the beat structure…
As I read about each story beat, I tried to imagine my characters and what plot points I could dream up for them to fit the Save the Cat structure. There were times when I was stuck, so reading this book helped me realize how much character development and plotting I still have left, and I appreciated that.
Throughout the book there are references to well-known novels that help you get an idea of how the beats look in action. Brody also includes “Beat Sheets” which are basically a synopsis of a popular book broken down to show what happens in each beat of that book so the reader can gain a deeper understanding of how the beats might appear in a story. Personally, I really enjoyed the references to The Hunger Games because my novel has similar themes.
Knowing that Save the Cat preaches a specific structure (the 15 beats), you might worry that following the structure will make your book formulaic. Brody does a great job of addressing this fear at the beginning of the book by showing all the amazing novels (from centuries ago to modern best-sellers) that follow the structure while remaining fresh and interesting to read. So if you’re worried that Save the Cat might make your writing too formulaic, I urge you to at least pick up the book so you can see all the variations that Brody pulls in to illustrate her point.
The 10 basic genres that Jessica Brody explains in Save the Cat! Writes a Novel are probably not what you’d expect. They don’t fall under the same labels that we would use to describe books we’re reading, like “fantasy,” “young adult,” or “thriller,” for example, but each of those genres do fall into a Save the Cat genre like “rites of passage” or “monster in the house.”
I found that thinking of my story in this context was a little difficult at first. I just wasn’t sure which genre I should plot my story in since I’m still in the early stages of writing and planning. Thinking outside the genre-boxes that we’re used to can be helpful, though, as it gives us another vantage point to see our story and potentially plot a better path to make it enjoyable for the reader.
It was a lot of information to take in, but overall, I think the genres outlined in Save the Cat! Writes a Novel are useful tools for any fiction writer.
Some things to keep in mind
Like I said, there is a ton of great information in this book. I realized early on that I wasn’t going to be able to absorb everything in one go. If you decide to use this book to help you plan your novel, just know that it may take several reads to really work out your story's details, and you’ll probably want to refer back to the structure section and the genre section that applies to your book even during revision.
If you’re a very experienced writer (like you’ve already written several books that you were happy with), I can imagine that it might be a little frustrating trying to fit the Save the Cat structure into the way you think about your own stories. That being said, I still think it can help you quite a bit if you’re open minded. You might even find that you’ve learned some of the Save the Cat principles through your own reading and writing. This book could help you flesh out your story even further.
If you hate spoilers, you might not enjoy reading Save the Cat! Writes a Novel. Brody tries to stay general enough that I wouldn’t consider every detail she includes a spoiler, but there are some. She notes what books she’ll be discussing at the beginning of each chapter, so you can use that as a reference if you really hate spoilers, but most of the books have been around for a while already, so I urge you to read Save the Cat anyway.
Overall, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel is a book I know I’ll come back to and learn even more from in the future. I recommend it to any writer who wants to connect the pieces of their story a little better and improve their draft, or anyone like me who loves reading and writing but struggles to articulate the plot of their own novel and plan it out properly. It’s definitely a worthwhile book and one you should keep on your shelf for reference!
Do you find it hard to focus at work?
Would you like to say goodbye to feeling overwhelmed and eighty-plus hour working weeks? And just how can you earn more money without giving up your personal life?
Discover the secrets, tricks and routines of dozens of entrepreneurs who've found success in their business or at work.
They’re earning six and seven figures a year.
Now in this easy-to-read book, they reveal what’s working for them right now.
It's easier than you think to find the success you deserve in business
This is Working sets out that path.
If you want to finally succeed at work without putting in eighty-plus hour weeks, you'll absolutely love this practical book.
* How to pick your priorities for the working week and actually follow through with them
* Why successful entrepreneurs don't set goals and what they do instead
* How to focus on what’s important to you or your business just like an effective president or CEO
* How to get help from your team and from freelancers without wasting your time or spending a fortune
* The three different mindsets every successful entrepreneur and executive embraces
This Is Working by Brian Collins is a self-development book about productivity, personal goals, and work habits. This is a great read for those feeling stuck or unmotivated at work, those hoping to develop a side hustle through better productivity, and entrepreneurs who feel they need more structure in their day. I recommend this book because it has practical day-to-day advice for personal and professional growth.
This book is well written. The chapters are short and flow nicely from one to the next. The writing is clear and concise, and the author's advice is direct. He cites stories and quotes that were interesting to read and provided new information I hadn't learned before (which is pretty cool since I read a lot of self-development books and see many of the same citations used over and over). Every claim the author makes is backed up with a quote from an expert which is really important in a nonfiction book.
My main critique for this book is that there is so much information from one chapter to the next that it can get a little overwhelming for the reader. This is a book you'll want to take notes for so you can try out the author's techniques when you're done reading. If I could change anything, I would include summaries every few chapters with an outline of the techniques mentioned. A summary would have helped me feel a little less overwhelmed while reading and would be an easy outline to refer back to when I was ready to try out one of the time management techniques, for instance.
Overall, This Is Working is an information packed book with actionable advice that anyone can put into practice. I recommend it if you feel you could have more potential at work or with your business but need a little guidance to get there.
[This review first appeared on Reedsy Discovery.]
Are you ready to take the plunge into entrepreneurship and want to create an awesome brand?
You’ll feel nervous, overwhelmed and a mixture of other emotions as you hurry to get your business off the ground.
You have tons of ideas yet are unsure how to implement them.
Personal Branding For Entrepreneurs by Leo Ye has been written to solve your problem.
This book will show you the importance of branding and why your business name shouldn’t be drawn from a hat. You will absolutely hate it if you do.
There is a section about the reasons behind consumer buying—emotion and rationality. The big named brands cash in on these two elements as they know they work.
To be successful social media marketing is vital to your business without it nobody will know about your magnificent product.
Personal Branding For Entrepreneurs talks you through any doubts you have about creating a service-based business.
There is no need to be afraid about starting your business when you read Personal Branding For Entrepreneurs. The ideas on each page are guaranteed to ease your mind as you implement them and make a splash into the commercial world...
Personal Branding for Entrepreneurs: Proven Personal Branding Strategy and Why Social Media Marketing is Crucial for Your Business is a great book for those who need an introduction to personal branding and marketing with specific steps for success. This book is ideal for those who don't have much experience with social media or print branding/marketing as it provides an overview and focuses on branding for print materials and social media. For those who are interested in digital marketing, this book may not be the right fit as it mostly focuses on branding for print outlets.
The writing style is clear and easy to follow. My favorite chapter was #4 "Create Personal Branding" because it list specific steps to develop a creative and unique brand. The author offers plenty of advice about branding strategies such as how to use brochures, direct mail, logos, and billboards to establish your brand's presence. I enjoyed reading the advice for direct mail and brochures as those are tools I plan to use for my own business. I feel confident that I know what the purpose of those tools are and how to use them properly in the future.
My main critique of this book is that it doesn't offer enough information about establishing your brand in the digital space. It touches on social media and gives an overview of each platform, but I don't think that's enough. I feel I would have gained more from reading this if the author had explored how to establish your brand from a digital marketing perspective. Digital marketing will be important to any reader marketing to Millennials or Gen Z, so it seems too important to leave out.
Overall, I think this book could be great for someone who is interested in starting a business with no experience, for students who may be considering a marketing degree, or experienced entrepreneurs who need a refresher on the basics of branding or who are shifting their marketing to print outlets.
Hey, guys! The #EndOfTheYearTag is going around, and I want to participate!
I first heard about the tag from Ariel Bissett (you can watch her do the tag here). I love Ariel's videos, so if you aren't already subscribed, I recommend you do!
Let's jump into the questions!
Are there any books you started this year that you need to finish?
Probably a bunch. Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson, for sure. I started TD in the spring, but I wasn't the biggest fan of the characters. I also compared it to the Charlotte Holmes series too closely which made it kind of a letdown. But I have hope that the series will be good overall, and I would like to finish reading TD before the end of the year.
Also, I am Sorry to Think I have Raised a Timid Son by Kent Russell which I've been talking about for months at this point. It's truly a well written book full of essays on topics I've never read about before (like Juggalos and people who are developing a resistance to snake venom?) As well as vulnerable looks at his family and childhood which I find so relatable.
Do you have an autumnal book to transition into the end of the year?
Little Women has been that book for me recently. It's funny, heart warming, and pretty long so it's the perfect book to get me through the cloudy evenings of autumn. I can't wait for the movie coming out at Christmas!
Is there a new release you're still waiting for?
I don't think so! I was excited for Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, but it came out in October. Now, I'm researching 2020 releases to see what I might want to pick up for next year. I know Brittany Cavallaro has a book called Muse coming out next year, so I'm definitely keeping my eyes peeled for a release date on that! I'd love to read more recent-releases in 2020.
What are three books you want to read before the end of the year?
Not counting the books that I'm already in the middle of, I'd love to read Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, Fantasyland by Kurt Andersen, and A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. That's ambitious since I'm already in the middle of so many books, but maybe it'll happen!
Is there a book you think could still shock you and become your favorite book of the year?
I think A Little Life is going to blow me away. I like all the books it is compared to, and I've heard it's poetic, dark, and haunting which is right up my alley. I also did not expect to like Little Women as much as I have, but so far I adore the characters. Who Knows what other favorites might fall into my lap before the end of the year.
Have you already started making reading plans for 2018?
It's crossed my mind, but I don't have a concrete plan yet! I didn't do a GoodReads challenger this year, and I don't want to do one next year either. But maybe I could create a challenge for myself or borrow someone else's? I'm thinking maybe a classic every other month or reading more children's books since that's something I missed out on as a kid? I know Gretchen Rubin has a list of children's books she recommends, so maybe I'll tackle that!
That's it, that's the tag! If any of you have done the End of the Year Tag, I'd love for you to link it below! Blog posts, youtube channels, or instagrams, whatever you've got, drop the link!
#QOTD: What are you reading and is it a physical book or an eBook?
I spent the yesterday hiding in the bookstore, doing freelance work, and trying to decide which book to buy myself as a pick-me-up. I settled on Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, and I’m very happy with it. I also got THE COOLEST journal (pictured above)! It’s going to be my positive-thoughts journal.
Basically, it’ll be a place for me to write down my outlandish, happy, crazy life dreams and goals. It’s something I need right now. Shout out to you Law of Attraction people who use “scripting” all the time. I learned this habit from you.
Using scripting as a way to break down negative thoughts is my favorite way to get my motivation back. Writing down your wild dreams – fleshing them out with details and letting yourself feel the positive, uplifting excitement that you know you’ll feel when you make them real – helps you gain focus on your goals and gives you the motivation to work on making them happen.
Yesterday’s post was about how I’ve been in a funk, how I’m trying to do more happy activities to help me get out of a negative headspace. The funny thing is, by the time I went to bed yesterday, not long after I posted, I felt amazing. Better than I have for the last 6 weeks, maybe the last 6 months since going freelance.
I hadn’t slept in 36 hours. Had been in a funk for WEEKS. Felt in general like nothing in my life was moving forward. Butting my head against the wall. But somehow, I felt better.
And I don’t know if it was the fact that I got out of the house yesterday just for fun, or because I was meditating on my dreams, or because I’ve had a few good cries lately that got the bad stuff out of my system for a while. I don’t know what exactly did it, but something lifted my funk yesterday.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I know that good times come and go. But if you’re like me, you feel like you’re always in some bad predicament or getting ready for the next one. There’s a certain amount of realism that comes with that negativity. I’m okay with the fact that bad things are just a part of life, and by not resisting that, it helps me feel more connected to everything. The thing is, knowing that hard times are a part of life, kind of lifts the pressure to be happy, which helps me… be happier.
Isn’t that weird?
Right now, I want to focus on having more happy days. Everyday won’t be perfect. But life is short, too short to NOT cultivate happiness when you can. This mentality wouldn’t work for me at all if I thought of happiness as something to aim for, but just trying to give it more space in my life is an idea that works for me.
You can read yesterday’s post here.
Speaking of things I wrote, I have a few recent publications that I haven’t put on my about page yet, so I wanted to drop them here in case any of them sound interesting to you.
Her Culture Blog:
Mindfulness in Everyday Life
What it’s like growing up hyper-religious
What Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Taught me about Womanhood
Noise (brief essay about anxiety)
If you made it this far, comment and tell me what you did today (even if it was nothing productive or fun, I want to learn about you guys!)
Question of the day: What helps you feel positive? What things light you up? What are your just-for-you passions?
I’m having a slow reading month. Some of you know that my life has just been weird the last couple of weeks. But that’s okay! I want to take joy in where I’m at in life and bring more passion and mindfulness into my everyday life. That begins with taking a few days to recharge and do things that light me up.
The funny thing is… if you wait until a time of stress to figure out what makes you happy, it can feel impossible. You get this sense that nothing makes you happy because the stress turns your brain to mud. You might not be able to remember which pass times really help you feel better. If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that a moment of stress is not the time to rely on your memory!
So, take time this week to think about where your passions truly lie and what you can do to make them a more intentional part of your days.
What does that look like for me? Well, for starters, I’m participating in @BooksLikeWhoa’s Dracula Read-Along which just started today. Being able to chat about a classic with other people will make my heart happy. Reading classics gives me this sense of accomplishment (hopefully that’s not just me). It gives my English major brain this sense that I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing (even though, obviously, being an English major is irrelevant. We can read whatever we want!) But regardless, it’s a nice feeling to immerse yourself in a classic you’ve heard so much about and find out for yourself what you think of the story. They’re also a great opportunity to learn about history and the societies present during the time period you’re reading from.
Next, I’m going to try to wrap up I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son by Kent Russell. It’s really great and gets me thinking – this month just hasn’t afforded much time for reading, unfortunately. I love that in the essays, Russell is purposefully choosing provoking experiences just to learn and write about them. His journalistic but personal approach offers an intriguing perspective on the memoir/essay genre. Plus, I’ll feel proud once it’s finally on my read-shelf considering how long I’ve owned it!
Other than that, I’ll be spending time on bookstagram because it makes me happy and hanging out with my family because they help me to do things I normally wouldn’t. We watched the Goosebumps movie last night, and I liked it way more than I thought I would, for instance. Taking time for activities outside my normal ones can get me out of my funk and help me feel refreshed. Thankful for moments like that, and hoping to have a few more of them this week.
I’d love to hear what you’re up to this week. What lights you up?
It’s already October, y’all! This year is flying past. The older I get the quicker time goes, but nevertheless, I’ll be spending the rest of the year the way I always do – reading and writing. I have a couple books already on my radar for the month of October, so I figured I’d post a TBR list.
1. I am Sorry to Think I have Raised a Timid Son by Kent Russell
I slept on this book too long. I can say that with confidence even though I’ve only read the first 3 chapters so far this month. My mom got me this book for Christmas a few years ago, but I never cracked it open past the first page. I came across it on Amazon when I was looking for essay collections and memoirs, and I liked that it had themes of masculinity and family. The reason I never picked it up was because I thought it’d be dense and hard to get through (due to Russel’s journalistic style), but that’s really not the case. At this point, I Am Sorry to Think I have Raised a Timid Son is one of the oldest books on my unread-shelf, so I’ll feel accomplished once it moves to my read-shelf.
2. @HalfwayToItBlog Instagram Pick (TBD)
I want HalfwayToItBlog Instagram followers to pick one of my books this month. I got this idea because I realized it takes me so long to pick my next read unless I’m already in the middle of multiple books. Since I plan on finishing the books I’m currently reading pretty fast, I thought it’d be cool (and maybe more efficient) to get my Instagram follows pick one. I’ll be posting about this on Insta soon, possibly before I even post this blog, so if you want to vote head over there now.
3. Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker
I started the audiobook for Why We Sleep, and so far, it’s fascinating. It’s basically a case study on sleep, and I feel like I learn something new each time I pick it up. Walker looks at the biological and evolutionary evidence for why we sleep in the first part of the book, and I’m excited to see what the rest comes next. I love a well-researched book on a useful topic like this one. Since the audiobook is due back to the library in 4 days as of my writing this, I need to hustle and finish reading asap!
4. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
I started the audiobook for An Absolutely Remarkable Thing as well while on a long car ride at the end of September, and I’d like to wrap up my reading of it this month. I held off on picking this up because I just wasn’t sure I’d like the story (robots, 20-somethings in New York, a lot of internet culture references), but so far, I’m liking the main character’s narration and humor. This one is also due back to the library very soon, so I need to finish reading it.
5. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
This is basically a reread. I read most of Steal Like an Artist more than a year ago (and have recommended it several time), but it was my boyfriend’s scratch-and-dent copy so it basically fell apart while we were reading it. Now I have a brand new copy, so I’m stoked to read it cover to cover this month.
6. If My Body Could Speak by Blythe Baird
Blythe Baird is one of my favorite contemporary poets. A handful of the poems from this collection have appeared in spoken word form on the Button Poetry Youtube channel and racked up more than 8 million views collectively. She’s an amazing poet, so I felt like picking up this collection was a safe bet. Plus, I haven’t read any poetry in a few weeks, and it’s always nice when I come back to it.
Those are the books I’m hoping to get to in October! I’ve got freelance work on my radar for October, but I’m planning on limiting my social media so my free time doesn’t get sucked up by too much social media or Youtube.
What’s on your radar for October? Are there any books you're looking forward to reading? Let me know!
There’s an adage that says, “A writer is someone who puts their ass in the chair and writes.”
A writer isn’t someone who publishes, talks about their novel, pitches to agents, or what have you. Those are all things writers may choose to do, but the defining characteristic of a writer is that they sit down and gets their words on the page. End of story.
You’d think this would go without saying. You’d thinkI would have learned this by now considering how much I preach the “ass in the chair” idea! But you’d be wrong. Recently, I’ve gotten off track when it comes to writing.
Of course, everyone knows that you have to write to be a writer, but I’ve noticed something funny. It’s really easy to forget that writing is the main prerogative sometimes. It’s easy to start out your writing practice with goals that will simply make writing more stressful. I won’t call them “the wrong goals” – because you get to decide what you want out of writing – but I believe there are plenty of things that can at the very least hinder our writing.
Worrying that you won’t ever get your book published
Getting ahead of yourself
Spending all of your time worrying about how you’ll publish your book before you’ve even written it
Overthinking the writing process
Trying to take every famous author’s writing advice without getting to know your own writing style first
Forgetting to stay humble/acting pretentious
None of these are inherently wrong, but they’re distracting. They’ll keep us in our head instead of on the page. They’ll get us focused on our ego instead of our manuscript.
My biggest hang up in my writing practice lately has been my focus on publishing. Yes, I’m giving these warnings from experience! I’ve been really lucky to have a few poems published in literary journals and a few articles published online. When everything’s going well and I’ve got pieces in the pipeline, I feel motivated, like I’m doing everything within my power to further my writing career. That’s a nice feeling and always having something in the pipeline is a good publishing strategy, but when all your efforts are geared toward getting an acceptance letter, writing isn’t the main priority anymore, publishing is.
I was spending way more time thinking about how to get my work published than I was spending thinking about how to make my writing better. It bothered me that my focus had shifted so dramatically without me even realizing it.
Of course, prior to my realization, I didn’t worry what my focus was on. I was simply okay with explicitly pursuing publication. There was no way I could publish without writing first, so I reasoned that writing truly was the main goal. Somewhere along the line that reasoning became faulty. All I cared about was getting my next piece of writing published. Since I’ve realized my focus was off, I’ve changed a few of my habits to begin cultivating my passion for writing again.
“This is how you do it, you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It’s that easy and that hard.” – Neil Gaiman
The first thing I did was stop submitting my work. I’ve spent the last four months either writing, reading, or goofing off. Not searching Submittable and Twitter for places to send my work.
Once I stopped spending every weekend compiling the right pieces, editing them, writing cover letters, sending them off, and anxiously checking my email every ten minutes, I realize how burned out I was on the process and how obsessive it’d made me. I wasn’t even as obsessed with writing as I was with sending my work out to editors! I wanted a break. Luckily, life got busy with other things quickly which helped me stay off Submittable and semi-cured my addiction to checking email.
I’ve only recently let myself entertain the idea of submitting again, but to be honest, I’m not interested. I have different priorities when it comes to my writing practice now, like developing a writing routine, reading more, and maybe drafting a novel. I allowed myself to apply to one writing opportunity since then, but I applied because it genuinely seemed like the right opportunity for me and I felt comfortable breaking my own rule this once. I was then accepted as a 2019 Her Culture blogger! I wanted this opportunity because it would be a chill way for me to gain experience working with an editor by writing blog posts. No stress. Writing is still the main goal.
Thinking about this now, I can see how the whole idea of “stressing out” about publishing can be laughable to some people. Those are probably people that have tried and true writing habits or people who simple don’t care about being traditionally published. That’s cool, but I’m not there yet. I’m still young and learning and (mostly) unpublished. I’m the kind of person who stresses about writing things. So, this post is for me and people like me.
My focus moving forward is going to be redesigning my writing practice. I have a habit of writing several times a week, but it feels sporadic. This week I’m setting the goal to write every night between 6pm and 7pm. This seems doable since I have some flexibility in my schedule right now. I’m going to keep notes on how each session goes – word count, what I wrote that day, etc.— and reassess at the end of the week. Maybe I’ll blog about how my practice evolves.
So, these hour-long sessions are going to be good for me in terms of the amount of writing I can get done and with a whole hour at my disposal, I can take my time and keep my desire to realign with my passion for writing at the front of my mind.
I feel like this is the start of something rewarding for me, and I’m ready to get to work.
How would you describe your writing practice? Whether yes or no, I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments. Happy writing!
I picked up The Day is Ready for You in April at a Books-A-Million because I’d flipped open to the first poem, “Never”, and it resonated with me straight off. It’s one of those poems that makes you jerk back your neck and think, “Wow, that’s the phrase that describes what I’m feeling. Who knew!” This simple encounter with Malee’s poetry promised a collection that would explore love and loss using vivid and delightful imagery. While the poems are lovely and immersive, the collection also explores complicated interpersonal relationships in a way that was unique but echoes scenarios that every woman has been through at some point.
Poems like “Right” and “Exhales”, explore the ups and downs of a relationship. The poet doesn’t turn away from tension or toxic love, and she gives the reader a close up of the push and pull of entering and leaving a relationship. It was nice to be reminded that art provides a space to think deeply about the nuances of our experiences. Malee showcases the intricacies of love especially well.
In some ways, reading Alison Malee’s poems felt like reading a memoir. Her life is seamlessly woven into the beauty of each line. Most poets draw on their life experiences to write, but Malee’s vulnerability on the page made me feel as if a new friend was sat across from me, rehashing old stories, pointing out her scars. This collection unravels slowly and immersed me like a novel or a good conversation would. Pieces I especially liked were “Never”, “Something Like”, and “Caught”.
In way of critique, I felt that the author, at times, over-explained the scenarios or thought processes in the poems. I crossed through a fair number of lines that stole the mystery. In poems like “Morning” and “Mistaken”, I wanted to wonder at the meaning instead of having it handed to me over the page. I wanted to observe and draw my own conclusions. The writer did not leave the story behind each poem vague, which I was grateful for, but she also pushed the reader’s interpretation to the margins in some cases by explaining its meaning in the very next verse.
“Mountains” and “Learn” seemed only to provide information of the poets overall narrative or promote an ideology rather that set a scene or create an image. Over use of what I would call “outline driven” or “filler” poems is common in contemporary poetry publications and could just be a product of the poet needing to extend the manuscript to a certain page count. While there’s nothing wrong with including works in order to extend a collection, there were a few from The Day is Ready for You that could have been left out. Those pieces only bored me and caused my mind to wander.
I mentioned earlier that the collection as a whole was immersive and that’s true. Filler poems didn’t ruin the reading experience all together, but in my opinion, the pieces certainly did not add to the positive aspects of the collection and seemed to only serve the purpose of meeting a word count for the publisher. Obviously, I don’t know what the publishing process was like for Alison Malee, so take these critiques with a grain of salt.
Poetry can be a very personal act, and I’m so glad to see more poets entering the industry and expanding our ideas of what poetry can be. Do line breaks make a poem? No, and the first critique you here of modern or “tumblr” poetry today is that the poems consist of simple phrases cut up by line breaks.
My gut impulse is to say, “Yes, of course line breaks don’t make a poem a poem!” But we forget to look at the rest of the poem when we critique in this finite way. Is the narrative of the poem nuanced? Does it use cerebral images that make us forget we were reading a book? Do the words seem to curl off the page with a rhythm and cadence? Then, in essence, it is poetry.
If you’ve read The Day is Ready for You, please let me know the thoughts you’re left thinking and your views on modern poetry!
This isn’t going to be one of my normal reviews. It won’t be balanced or critical. I had an overwhelming emotional response when I finished reading. This has been your fair warning: below there may be gushing.
The Charlotte Holmes books have quickly become my favorite series, and I’m not someone who claims favorites. I don’t even like series, but I like Charlotte, Watson, and their story. I could never fit everything that I want to say in this blog post, so I’m going to take a stab at defining the aspects of the book that I find most compelling at this moment. Maybe there will be more Charlotte Holmes blog posts from me in the future, but for now, here it goes.
If you’ve read the books – and you shouldn’t read past here if you haven’t because, damn it, would you be missing out on a gem of a series if you let me spoil you - you know that there is much to unpack as the fourth (and most likely final) book in the series draws to a close.
My heart splintered when I read the last few chapters of A Question of Holmes. The fact that Jamie and Charlotte have had to give each other up so many times actually puts a pain in my chest. It seems like they’re always waiting for each other, which is beautiful in its own right but it leaves me wondering when they will be together for good? When will moving and finding themselves come to fruition and they are able to grow together without being pulled apart again? God, what a heart-wrenching story.
The thing I like the most about Charlotte and Jamie’s relationship is how much it reminds me of my own relationship – which I know sounds utterly conceited, but it reminds me to be grateful. Charlotte and Jamie’s story reminds me how much I’ve been through. It makes me stop and actually feel the pain that I would feel if I had to part with my boyfriend in the same way that Charlotte does (several times) in the series. That sounds a little sadistic, but it keeps things in perspective. Books are supposed to make you empathetic, but Brittany Cavallaro didn’t just make me feel sympathy for Charlotte and Jamie. She makes me feel like I am in Charlotte's body. Reading her prose was an immersion exercise. Books don’t make me feel that often. Despite my belief that reading is an act of empathy. Charlotte’s story did that for me.
I can’t get the image of Jamie crying out of my head. Him wiping the tears away with his knuckles. How he said, you know I’ll wait for you, but I can’t make you feel like this is okay right now.
Are they even together by the end of the book? We know that when Holmes and Watson are healthy, they make the best couple. We know that when they’re living in the same place and healthy, things can only go in a positive direction. Somewhere past the epilogue, Charlotte and Jamie will get back to the happiness they felt that summer in Oxford, but god, I wanted to see the fullness of that joy in the final pages. Not a whole epilogue that lead up to them hinting at being back together. I mean, I know the assumption is “all will be well as long as they’re in the same place”, but the framing of the epilogue leaves a little more doubt in my mind than I want. But again, that’s an aspect of the story that reminds me of my real life. If you focus on the wrong thing - that hint of doubt - you’re going to drown out the joy of the story’s cycle. A happy ending isn’t a permanent ending. People change. In the story that I like to think exists on the other side of the epilogue, Charlotte and Jamie could make the choice not to wait for each other. They could forget how happy they were. So maybe allowing that doubt to linger instead of neatly tidying it up was Cavallaro’s way of letting it be real. Even though that was tough for me to stomach in the first moments after finishing the book, I do think it is the best ending she could have given us. It shows us that Charlotte is building better habits and putting herself first so she can best care for girls like her. It shows us that Jamie is balancing his romanticism with reality. He’s not planning his life unrealistically into the future and getting his heart broken when he finds out Charlotte doesn’t want to fit that mold. They’re healthy. They’re always growing towards each other - even when they’re apart and growing into their own lives.
The weight of these books is so much on me. I know, I sound dramatic. I’ve just finished reading five minutes ago, so of course, the emotions are raw and on full display.
I want to write this so I’ll have something to look back on. I have dark periods sometimes in which it is so hard to remember anything that made me feel something. I hope I look back at this and remember that Charlotte and Jamie mean the world to me. They’ve made me joyful. They've made me cackle, sob, throw things around, get angry. They’ve confused me. They're a little bit mine now that the story is over.
When I was a teenager, this is a book that would have saved my life. It would have pulled me up out of my pit. Despite the sad moments.
Isn’t it weird that something that brought me grief can also bring me so much comfort and raise me up out of my hole? How on earth do books do that? And who would I be without them?
Poet. Reader. Lifelong Student.