Saturday, August 29, 2015

Writing a Book Review

Back in the "good old days" there was a weekly spelling assignment I dreaded. From our list of twenty or so assigned spelling words, we had to craft a story using at least half of them. Every week. And one year, the teacher required every word on the list to be in the story. Every word!

Spelling text books back then grouped words by phonetics not by word definitions or themes, so connecting the words required a great deal of creativity. Pity the poor teachers who read our stilted stories week after week, and we're talking upwards of thirty-five students per class.

When I became a teacher I vowed I would never give that assignment.

But I did, not often, but still, I did.

And I learned a lot about the students and their abilities to adapt and stretch their imaginations and work within structures.

Yesterday I caught myself going through this same process. Oh. My. Goodness. This is how I write now...well, sometimes, especially when I want to set a tone. I write a list of words ahead of time, words that I want to include. I've done it that way for years, back in my high school essays and later in my college research papers. I would write the list in the margins next to the crossword puzzle or on a sticky note to post on the wall in front of me or on a napkin from McDonald's that I had on reserve in the console of my car. Words often came to me at the most inopportune time!

All this lead-up to say that yesterday I went through this process as I wrote a review of a book I just finished reading. It's an excellent (that word was on the list, but not used) newly released book by one of the gals in my SOUP critique group, Sandra Warren.
Fantastic (another great word to set a tone) nonfiction 
I had read bits and pieces of it that she submitted to our SOUP group as she went along, so I thought I had some idea of what it would be like. But WOW (another great tone setting word that I didn't use). Holding it in my hands, seeing the photographs that enhanced the story, reading it word for word, what a joy! And what a story. I couldn't put the book down. It's that good.

Reviews on Amazon mean as much to an author who checks in daily as to a reader who is depending on the review for honesty, so I knew I had my work cut out for me. I wanted to express my feelings and support for the book, emphasizing the extensive research that went into this project, all in a short paragraph.

I made a list of words, ended up using perhaps a third of them. If you read through what I've posted below, you can sort of figure out which words were on my list. Click on the title and go to Amazon and read the other reviews. While you are there, you can always purchase it...available on Kindle, too.
  • This extraordinary narrative, We Bought a WWII Bomber, isn’t just about a school accomplishing unbelievable heights in the government sponsored “Buy a Bomber” campaign. True, by the time I completed the book, I felt a little jealous that I didn’t attend this remarkable school. While author Sandra Warren gives the reader a glimpse into the reality of life during war times, her research takes us beyond the halls of Grand Rapids, Michigan’s South High into the bomber itself during its final hours and into the community it impacted. This is a not-to-be-missed story of determination and possibilities.
And I meant every word!

Catch of the day,



  1. Oh my goodness, Gretchen. Thank you for the wonderful blog and the hint as to how you write. In all the years I've known you I NEVER KNEW that you listed words you want to use before starting to write. What a clever and interesting technique. But then, I never knew you as a teacher. I can only guess that you were the kind of teacher I wished my girls had had.

    1. The word list comes in handy for the "snick." You know, snick, that sound you hear when you insert the final piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes all it takes is that one word.