Book Review: Triple Threat Sunday

What do you look for in a book?

A certain writing style, work of art or just a good story that drives you to another place.

I discovered all of those things and more rolled into one giant bundle in Douglas Perry’s The Girls of Murder City, Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay and Joshilyn Jackson’s a grown-up kind of pretty.

The Girls of Murder City

4 cappuccinos

“Both went for the gun!” W.W. O’Brien called out … They (the defense) would present their client as a “virtuous working girl” caught up in a crazy age.

Douglas Perry reveals the inspiration behind journalist and playwright, Maurine Watkins‘, famous Chicago. What was true and what was false in the Broadway—turned movie—version?

Perry put storytelling and description together with quality research to bring to life the women of Cook County Jail’s Murderess Row. He also goes inside the newspaper world and how women writers were lucky to cover courtroom or crime stories. Maurine Watkins, a pastor’s daughter, became a front page journalist during a time when a reporter was considered lucky to have his or her name with a story.

Go get it now and read about battles inside the newspaper business, in cars, apartments and courtrooms.

It will tell you, like the song, “He had it coming.”


Mockingjay

3.5 cappuccinos

“‘I still stand by what I said. Do you want me to lie about it?'” he (Gale) said. “‘No, I want you to rethink it and come up with the right opinion,'” I tell him.

Katniss Everdeen must do more than recover. She must deal with the fact District 12 is no more, Peeta Mellark has been taken by the Capitol, and District 13 does exist. While she is upheld as the Mockingjay, she remains uncertain as to whether District 13’s President Coin is any better than President Snow.

The book kept me wanting more. Unlike the other two books, I needed to stop because there were very emotional and disturbing scenes. Suzanne Collins does a great job of making the reader think about causes of war. She makes you think of reasons for war and how far is too far.

Katniss faces emotional scars that will never fully heal. In that respect, Collins does a good job exposing YA readers to what war is like for veterans.

The ending leaves a few loose ends. There are a few unanswered questions. One of the problems I had throughout the trilogy was: Who is Katniss’ mother? Her father, who was dead, was more fully developed. I realize that is because Katniss lacked respect for her mother. But, I expected a little something.

a grown-up kind of pretty

4 cappuccinos

My daughter, Liza, put her heart in a silver box and buried it under the willow tree in our backyard.

If you read my posts, you’ve seen mention of Joshilyn Jackson. A grown-up kind of pretty blows all of Jackson’s other books out of the water. This is her masterpiece thus far. She gives a voice to three characters instead of just one: a grandmother, a rebellious mother and a teenage girl coming of age.

Every 15 years something bad happens to the Slocumb family. Forty-five-year-old Ginny hopes her granddaughter, Mosey, will be spared the family curse. But, when an old grave is discovered beneath Liza’s—Ginny’s daughter—beloved tree, questions arise. Ginny tries to keep Mosey protected. Mosey wants to discover the past, and Liza suffers a stroke keeping the secrets locked inside her.

Mystery, murder, betrayal, family and romance are all in the book. None of the voices were as vivid and heart-breaking as Liza. Jackson writes her in third person. When I attended Jackson’s book signing months earlier, she said she felt too close to Liza to have written her in first person.

All three narrators blend well together, and the reader wants to keep turning the page. You’ll read until Jackson’s words knock the breath out of you.

By Rebecca T. Dickinson


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What are 5 Reasons why I never made it in Girl World?


Courtesy of http://hiox.org/4241-tomboy–meaning.php.

A friend said she pictured me as the future mother of four girls.

“I don’t know about that,” I replied.

I knew I did not cut it when it came to the girl world. It was plagued with too many rules that I, as a writer, could not navigate.

During college, I got along great with guys. I watched Gameday on ESPN, talked college football and threw back Tequila. I talked about Hitler, World War II and weapons.

And, I’ll admit, I like to read books where someone is killed or something is set on fire.

Most of my writing reflects the same. Much of my fiction is written from a young man or boy’s perspective.

As a child, my friends were backyard boys with sling shots, and I looked up to my cousin who was the ultimate Boy Scout and outdoorsman. All of my students are boys. My husband and I also take our son into the great outdoors.

When my grandmother told me to remember what the professor told Jo March in Little Women: to write what you know, I am certain she never thought I would write most—not all—of my work from a young man’s point-of-view.

Growing up, I felt like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. I adored my father, lacked the best manners and I preferred the company of a trail or a river rather than a woman giving me a manicure.


A picture of me on an adventure on the Blue Ridge Parkway in September 2009.

Five Reasons I didn’t make the cut:

Lesson 1 – Read up on becoming a maid-of-honor:

I was asked to step down from being a maid-of-honor.

Apparently, maid-of-honor is more than just showing up in a dress. You plan this party, send out invites, and organize this and that.

Someone might as well have poured a bucket of ice water on my face because I had no clue.

In 2008, I lost contact with college friends as soon as I began working as a journalist. My then-editor said, “This job will make you grow up quick.”

She was right. I lost time. I forgot everything about being a maid-of-honor.

Lesson 2 — “You can’t buy friends like this.”

I joined a sorority in 2005. When fall rush came around, I was blackballed after the first night from talking to potential sisters because I voted for an African American girl and because I chose what I considered to be real, down-to-earth women.

The line thrown to girls looking into sororities is, “You can’t buy friends like this.”

When I chose to leave the sorority, our adult leader asked, “Did anyone in the sorority make you feel uncomfortable?”

I smiled the perfect grin I’d learned and said, “Absolutely not.”

Lesson 3 – Court wedding

I am twenty-seven and in my second marriage.

I know. I did not plan it that way either.

But, I cancelled the ceremony for my first marriage. What was wrong with going to the court house? There was a park and a garden nearby. That could’ve counted as flowers.

My ex-husband, mom, dad, former father-in-law and I got in line behind a teenage girl in a green dress. She had a small bump, and she stood next to who we guessed was her boyfriend. He looked like a scared wet cat with the girl’s father right behind him.

“This will do fine,” I said and I meant it.

Too many people debated about where and how I should have my wedding.

Screw the complications. Let’s just get it done.

Lesson 4 — Books over boys

I was deep in Tudor history during high school and figured I was too much of a nerd for boys to notice anyways. I stuck it out with books, and it worked out well. I went to the South Carolina summer Creative Writing program, took a writing course under author, Scarlett Thomas; worked as a journalist, became an author and met Joshilyn Jackson.

But, I also learned the hard way that romance could wait for the future. There was no need to rush something that was not there.

Books were always there.

Lesson 5 — Can’t we all be friends?

I cannot complain too much. Since three former college friends quit talking to me in 2009, I’ve been reminded of who my true friends are.

But, I once admired how guys remained close with their friends. They would argue and get over it. They were still friends.

As a teen and in college I found friendship with women more complicated than they needed to be, and I could not understand them. I thought for a long time something was wrong with me.

I learned I was just someone who was not afraid to speak out; a woman who was just discovering her voice. I was a girl becoming a woman who would not let herself be bullied or walked over anymore.

Friendship is more prominent in my writing than romance. I believe it is more important to explore. Some young adult books focus so much on the romance they forget the friendship.

It was my own childhood and high school friendships that reminded me, yes, we are friends.

There was no special code or rules. We were just friends.

By Rebecca T. Dickinson

Book Review: Catching Fire

The first book in any series must spark a fire.

The sequel should make it bigger.

Author Suzanne Collins’ second book in The Hunger Games series, Catching Fire, takes victors Katniss Everdeen and Peta Mellark on the road. They travel through all twelve districts in Panem plus the Capitol.

But, President Snow warns Katniss to “convince him” her love for Peta is real and her act in the Hunger Games was not an act of rebellion.

When life grows darker in District 12, Katniss and Peta, and other former victors are forced to compete to the death again in the cruel seventy-fifth Hunger Games.

The book is darker than the first. The Capitol’s evil is unleashed. Katniss and Peta first witness the cruelty in District 11 and then at home.

Any Thoughts?

At times, when Katniss goes back and forth between Gale and Peta, it became a little annoying. That said, the book is written for the Young Adult audience. Teenagers relate to not knowing what or who they want.

I thought the best part about the book was the layout of the arena in Catching Fire. Collins displayed much creativity in the design of the place. Since I don’t want to ruin the book, I’ll let you read it to find out exactly what she does.

The second book delves into the question on when to depend on others more than the first book. Katniss learned to rely on Peta in their first Hunger Games. Now the two must learn to rely on more than just themselves.

The best part about the book is it leaves you with a super cliffhanger. The last line will leave you thinking: OMG, I got to read the book now.

By Rebecca T. Dickinson

That was the Place

The doorway of Mizpah.

Go to a place almost forgotten.

It could be anywhere.

I take a walk in the world surrounding my book, Sons of the EdistoAt the end of a path sits a one-room, meeting house. Mizpah was a church created by Methodists in the nineteenth century.

The town around it, Buford’s Bridge, was burned by General Sherman’s troops during the American Civil War. According to legend, Mizpah was used as a stable for the Union Army’s horses.

The historic white church—surrounded by graves and trees with Spanish moss—first captured my imagination when I was ten. I went with my parents and grandparents to a family reunion at Mizpah Church. The five families are the descendents of those who originally lived in Buford’s Bridge.

I won the South Carolina Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Creative Writing in the fifth grade. I wrote an essay about Mizpah.

All I remember about that essay is the award, and how  I described the autumn air as smelling like bacon.

I confess I have no idea where I came up with that description, but Mizpah’s inspiration remained with me long after my much-loved paternal grandparents died.

 

“A white wooden sign reads Mizpah Methodist Church. The black iron gate is closed. Groves of oaks hide the church.” ~ Description from Sons of the Edisto, by R.T. Dickinson.

Sons of the Edisto is a small part in a world made up of research, interviews, true stories, news stories, politics, photography and art. That world began with Mizpah.

I was hesitant to tell any of my father’s relatives about Sons of the Edisto and related projects, such as From Red Loam—a short story collection– or  my photography collection. Six years after I began research, I hardly talk about Mizpah, Sons of the Edisto, or the work I’ve accomplished with relatives or close friends.

I talk or write about that world with other writers, authors and professionals. When I was first inspired by that little church in the middle of nowhere, I was a kid in a Little Mermaid t-shirt.

Writing for Sons of the Edisto commenced when I was 21. I knew then my book and its research would most likely take me a decade, and I am more than halfway there.

All it took to start that commitment was a place almost forgotten; a place remembered by descendents of five families once a year and a little known writer.

By Rebecca T. Dickinson

© 2006-2012 by R.T. Dickinson. All rights reserved. No part of Sons of the Edisto, From Red Loam, or material related to the manuscripts may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of R.T. Dickinson.

Six Sentence Sunday

I am happy to share.

Sharing is good, I am told. The action leads to good character.

Today, I will share the beginning of a story in my Red Loam collection. The manuscript, From Red Loam, features ten short stories connected to my novel, Sons of the Edisto. Two of the stories have been published.

For today’s Six Sentence Sunday, I invite you to read a passage from The Unclaimed. The pastor is gazing at the son he claims as his own.

You may also read posts from The Bannister Histories or visit the Sons of the Edisto page to learn more.

~*~

He was no one’s child. He was everyone’s child. Wrapped in his first blanket, the baby lay in a crib carved by the pastor. The man smiled. Eyes—the color of ashen storm clouds at dawn—stared at him.

“Can he see me?” the pastor asked his wife.

By Rebecca T. Dickinson

© 2006-2012 by R.T. Dickinson. All rights reserved. No part of this manuscript or material related to it may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of R.T. Dickinson.


The Unfortunate Cycle: What is the Affect of Sports Worship in Writing?

Courtesy of http://www.momsteam.com/sports/honest-self-reporting-concussions-symptoms-critical-for-athletes

I am a die-hard college football fan.

I cheered as loud as the college kids on television when ESPN’s College Gameday came to the home of my team, the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Before the big game, I prep a football-worthy meal, and on Sunday I go to church for my 2 year old son’s baptism.

Everything I have written waves a red flag and says, “Southern stereotype.” But, what if I told you my son will never play football.

Stories from the News

Last Monday, the national news covered a story about coaches of a national middle school football league, who paid their players  for injuring good players on other teams.

A similar story appeared on the news the next day.

On Friday, I substitute taught at a school where I learned a student died one week after he suffered a concussion in a flag football game.

A family friend asked on Saturday if my father had heard about a boy—from his hometown—who dropped dead on the high school football field.

“There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel’s, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus.” ~ gods in Alabama, Joshilyn Jackson.

Yes, there are football gods in the South whether in literature, on the front page of the newspaper or in your hometown where you see kids cry because their friend is gone; they saw what happened; or try to understand death.

Last week I was reminded—as a person and writer—how death can affect writing. I remembered how something, like football, is sometimes over-glorified in stories or in the minds of fans.

Fans want to pull for something beyond themselves; something that can go all the way to the top. Writers want to tell a good story, and mothers want healthy sons.

The Cycle: Celebration

Photo by Rebecca T. Dickinson

As in life, writers understand or throw themes of cycles into their work. Where there is tragedy, celebration is born.

Two days after one child died, another was baptized. It does not soften the blow.

But, something powerful rushed through me when my son, husband and I kneeled together.

Maybe it was because we were recognized as a family after everything we’d been through in the last four years.

Perhaps it was the fact we had members from both of our families together for the first time.

Or, I knew I had a healthy, smart son that I would never surrender to the whims of a football coach, sports writer or even myself.

There are gods where you are, too.

When your pen gets going, only you decide what they are. You decide the rhythm, the words and the cycle.

By Rebecca T. Dickinson

Book Review: The Hunger Games

Thanks to http://books.google.com

Thoughts

Five, seventh grade students waited for their turn to the leave the classroom last spring. The Hunger Games was scheduled to open that Friday night.

“So, what do you guys think of The Hunger Games?” I asked my kids.

Never in my life have middle school students surrounded me. You would’ve thought I was a teenager in the Hunger Games surrounded by what Katniss Everdeen refers to as the “Career Tributes” instead of a substitute teacher.

“Oh, my gosh, you have to read it,” one kid said.

“It’s the best book I’ve ever read.”

“I’m going to the midnight movie,” the last one said.

I waited, nervous – in my soft-hearted way – to read about children dying. I am a teacher. I am a mother, and I had a dream my son was called into the Hunger Games. I knew at that point I could not read it.

But, I did read it.

It was good. Really good.

 What I Took Away

The Hunger Games is a well-crafted novel that succeeds in reaching beyond the YA genre. The plot takes off quickly, and the reader learns about Katniss and her family through flashbacks. The flashbacks are rich in the way they add to Katniss Everdeen. The reader learns how she loved and admired her father.

Katniss remembers her father’s singing voice.

Peeta – District 12’s boy tribute – remembers Katniss singing at their school when they were much younger.

After her father’s death, she does not believe in the need for music until she meets a 12 year old tribute, Rue. The child, who is strong in her own right, says music is a big part of her life. She sings a song or signal that a bird, called a mockingjay, later copies.

Katniss is hesitant to sing until she is once again faced with unexpected grief. She lost her father, and finally sang again when she faced the death of a friend inside the The Hunger Games arena.

The beautiful singing voice of Katniss’ father and Rue’s enjoyment of music is a small factor in the book. Yet, it reminds Katniss of the humanity that still exists in a country controlled by the Capitol. The people in District 12, as Rue tells Katniss, sing when the work day is finished.

 

“ … There’s a special little song I do,” says Rue. She opens her mouth and sings a little four-note run in a sweet, clear voice. “and the mockingjays spread it around the orchard …” (p.212)

In a world where there is little to no freedom, author, Suzanne Collins, reminds the reader that her characters still live or discover life in a country where life is not highly valued by those of the Capitol.

People are starving.

Twenty-four tributes fight once a year in a Hunger Games until only one is left.

Freedom does not exist.

Katniss, Rue, Peeta and even the back story of Katniss’ father demonstrates there are those who will continue to value life.

For a full summary, visit http://www.scholastic.com/thehungergames/about-the-book.htm

By Rebecca T. Dickinson