Mini Reviews: The Shack, The Help, Logic to the Rescue, Writing the Breakout Novel

I’ve squeezed in a few books lately thanks to my Kindle and a few vacations. I’m still reading The Wise Man’s Fear so a mini-review is in the works in the future. Anyways, on to the reviews.

THE SHACK

The Shack by William Paul Young seemed to be the trendy thing to read among my friends back in January, so I gave it a go. This purports to be a book about a man’s experience with God in a shack. Is it fiction? Well, it’s categorized as so. But then you’ve got an author’s forward, explaining this is something he wrote after hearing his friend Mack’s experience because he, the author, was considered to be the better writer. Having known nothing about it before reading it, I was thinking based on a true story.

Nope, 100% made up. Although the author then tries to say, well, but some of the conversations happened to me. Maybe so, I just thought it was a little weird they were trying to be a bit deceptive. Anyways, it’s definitely an out of the mainstream perspective on Christianity and God. Interesting, but some of it gets a little bizarre. I guess that’s the point of the book though, to shake up your perceptions. Some of it I agreed with, some of it I thought was just plain bizarre. Toward the end the conversations the MC was having with God got a bit overdone, maybe posturing to the audience a little bit.

It’s hard to say whether I’d recommend it. But I guess knowing better than I did that it’s not based on anything but imagination you can look at it from a more analytical standpoint.

My grade for this book: B-

THE HELP

This was one of the first books I read on my shiny new Kindle. It’s a rare thing anymore that a book sucks me in so completely, especially when nothing fantastical is happening. This book accomplished all of that and then some. I’d heard all about how good it was, but hadn’t even seen the movie. Kathryn Stockett certainly knows her craft. She made even menial tasks seem exhilarating in some way.

I’m not big on multi-protagonist stories necessarily, but I think if they’re going to be done, Stockett certainly did it well. She made me change my mind about them. I think part of it was you knew whose head you were in and each character had a strongly unique voice. Plus she could use it to leave us on cliffhangers, waiting until we got back to Minny’s or Aibileen’s parts.

Something else I enjoyed about reading it was being able to understand a little more about what it might have been like working as a black woman in the 1960s in Mississippi. It also made me very glad I was born in an era where, at least in my experience, the majority of us judge people based on character, not skin color. Some of the things the white characters did I could hardly believe was possible from another human being. I guess it goes to show you that society can be taught to think anything and to never fully put your trust in what society thinks is right or wrong.

Anyway, if you haven’t read it, definitely do. Especially those of you thinking of doing multi-protagonist plots. Even if you’re writing epic fantasy or sci-fi, there’s a lot to be learned from this book.

My grade for this novel: A+

LOGIC TO THE RESCUE

Logic to the Rescue by Kris Langman was a free Amazon Kindle book I downloaded after a discussion with a friend. She asked if I ever remembered learning logic in high school and lamented that they don’t teach it as much as they should. I couldn’t ever remember having a logic lesson, and wanting to know more about the specifics did a search to see what books were available.

This is more a middle grade approach to explaining logic, and while it gets a bit hoaky at times, I think it does a great job of illustrating the points with story. It shows you why it’s important to teach kids about logic and how to think so they can judge for themselves what society may present them.

The only nitpicks I have on the book is a couple of situations where they were a bit deceptive in helping people to see they’d been fooled by a couple logical fallacies. I couldn’t see how essentially lying to teach a principle would be preferable. I may be making a bigger deal out of it than I should, but I guess since this is a book for kids, I’m a bit more sensitive.

Anyways, since it’s free, I recommend you take a look.

My grade for this book: A-

WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL

I know, I’ve been talking up Donald Maass’ book for months, but since I officially finished it a few weeks ago I thought it deserved a review.

I read Story by Robert McKee first, which honestly has a lot of the same principles included, though more for screenplays than novels. Mr. Maass even mentions Story in his book, but I kind of got the feeling he hadn’t read it or read it begrudgingly. He can’t see how any of it applies to novel writing, but to be honest it’s like having two different perspectives explaining the same sorts of tools. He thinks the book is the cause for the movies all looking the same, but again I would say he didn’t really read the book or understand its point—because it’s trying to say the same thing as him.

That being said, I do recommend reading both. Mr. Maass’ gives you examples from novels vs. screenplays so you can see what he means. You’ll better understand tension and story, there’s even checklists for you to use on your own novel to get it in better shape.

If you’re serious about getting your story to the best possible version you want to read this book.

My grade for it: A+

CONCLUSION

They say it’s good to read outside of your genre, and boy were they right. I really, really enjoyed The Help and I feel like it has contributed to my writing already. And it never hurts to read good books on how to write better.

What do you guys think? Have you read any of these books? Would you recommend them? Would you recommend anything similar? Do you have a book you’ve read, out of genre, like The Help, that you would recommend others pick up? Let us know below!

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13 thoughts on “Mini Reviews: The Shack, The Help, Logic to the Rescue, Writing the Breakout Novel

  1. I like the way you give books grades. 🙂 Good post, sensitive reviews. Logic is something Philosophy teaches, but implicitly, so I have to read around *cough* Wikipedia *cough* to discover more. I doubt the book you’ve mentioned would be that helpful to me (“This is more a middle grade approach to explaining logic”), but it’s good to see you yourself looking at logic stuff. 🙂
    PS. Will get an email to you hopefully tonight. If not, it will have to be at the weekend.

    • It might be helpful if you ever felt like you wanted to teach it/explain it to people because the author uses more real-life examples to explain the concept. But yeah, it’s more of a primer.

  2. Excellent reviews- and I can say that easily, since I agree with them. 🙂

    Haven’t read the logic one, but I’ll have to check it out. The Shack was definitely an interesting take on the ideas you mentioned, though I found the beginning really hard to get through. I loved The Help, can’t wait to read it again, and I blame Donald Maass for making me want to give my “finished” novel one more go-over. Very helpful book, easy to understand.

    • Now that you mention it, yeah, the beginning was a bit hum drum or something. And know exactly what you mean about Donald Maass causing book re-writes to happen. I spent the whole summer doing a major overhaul of my “finished” WIP too. Then I got into this contest where I had a mentor and did another rewrite (though not quite as major). And now I’m all battle-hardened, perfectly fine with fixing it up. Ugh, a writer’s work is never done, right?

  3. Great reviews. I’ve been tossing around reading The Help, so maybe…?
    I’m on my way to buy the Maass book, anything to help improve writing.

    Also might think about giving The Shack a chance.
    Thanks for doing this.

  4. Nice reviews on very diverse books. Did you know the woman who wrote The Help got something near or more than 40 rejections before it was published? She knew she’d written a good book so each time she was rejected, she tweaked it some more and continued seeking publication. It’s inspiring to me because it shows that believing in myself as a writer is the most important thing.

    • This is the best rejection story I’ve ever heard, hands down. I can’t imagine publishers passing on this. It really is some parts subjective and definitely believing in yourself as a writer. Thanks for sharing. 😀

  5. I loved The Help! It’s also not the kind of book I normally read, but totally sucked me in.

    Recently I read/listened to “The Orphan Master’s Son” which was something really outside the realms of the books I normally read. It was really good, but not something I would ever read again. While The Help dealt with some difficult situations, it felt quite a bit more enjoyable than Orphan Master. Both made me think about the world differently, but after one I felt hopeful, and after the other I felt a bit traumatic, I think. Still, I think it’s good to read outside your normal genre once in a while. Thanks for the reviews!

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