Happy Books: A Comparison

I’ve been reading several self-help books lately to help me through some tough times, and I’ve reached a decision. Actually, multiple decisions. One: job hunts are not fun. (Fortunately, mine just ended. Yay!) Two: talking things out with close family, friends, and good therapists helps me a lot. Three: all self-help books are different from each other. No one should go to any one self-help book and expect a definitive answer or answers to all of their challenges. That being said, every self-help book that I’ve read has offered a piece of what I’ve needed. To help you find whatever help you might need, I provide a short description of seven self-help books and a comparison of how they rank on a few important features, which I’ll explain.

The Value(s) of a Self-Help Book

In this context, a self-help book is any nonfiction book that deals primarily with the improvement of self-perception in the reader. This could be for the purpose of helping that reader have a better marriage, career, or family life. The list I’ve compiled here is no more a representation of all the self-help books on the market than I am a representation of all humanity, or even of all book reviewers. But this list is comprised of books that focus on self-improvement for the sake of improving happiness.

I rank them on these metrics:

Credibility

Some of the best general how-to books I’ve read were by people who weren’t PhDs but had lots of personal experience and had done a lot of research. Conversely, some of the worst how-to books I’ve read have been by people with PhDs. So the credibility of a self-help book’s author(s) isn’t necessarily their education level in the subject matter, although that is a factor. It’s also determined, in my mind, by their personal experience with the topic, the amount of research they’ve done on it, and the types of source material they draw from for that research. If an author quotes several Huffington Post articles as their main documentation, if you will, for humanity’s depravity, they aren’t as credible as one who pulls from multiple academic studies, original pieces discussing patterns of depravity over time, and from current events as related by people who were present at those events.

Personal Examples

Personal examples from the author’s own life or from those with those he or she has interacted go a long way in convincing me that what they are saying is true or that they truly understand me and why I’m reading their book. Those examples also have value if they show how someone successfully applied a principle from the book

Application/”Workbookiness”

some self-help books offer nugget after nugget of golden wisdom, and while they have value just for that, they’re much better and more valuable if they provide workbook pages, quizzes, call-outs with questions that make you think (and better yet write down) of ways you can implement what they’re saying in your life the very next day. Others are more workbook than they are wisdom.

Humor

Especially on the subject of improving one’s outlook on life, a little bit of humor can go a long way.

Motivation

Some self-help books can leave you more overwhelmed than when you began. The most effective ones are the ones that break things down into manageable chunks, and encourage you from wherever you are.

The Books and Their Rankings

Without further ado, then, I provide rankings between 1 and 5 (with 1 being the highest or best and 5 the lowest or worst) on the above metrics for the following self-help books:

The Self-Esteem Workbook by Glenn R. Schiraldi, Phd

 

 

 

 

 

You Are a BadA* by Jen Sincero

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns, MD

 

 

 

 

 

 

What to Say When You Talk to Yourself by Shad Helmstetter, PhD

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

 

 

 

 

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW

 

 

 

Strengths Finder by Tom Rath

 

 

 

 

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW

 

 

 

I don’t rank them in comparison to one other, but rather on a scale of how much value they’ve been to me and how much I think they’ll offer to you. They’re not in any particular order, and I leave it up to you to determine which one is the best for you.

I’ve also looked at the website of five different book retailers to find the best deal on each of these books for you. Those retailers were:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

ThriftBooks

BetterWorldBooks

BooksAMillion

You’ll find the links to those deals if you click on the titles of the books in the table below. They are affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click through and buy a book, but it doesn’t change the price of the book for you.

 

 
Credibility
Personal Examples
Application
Humor
Motivation
Self-Esteem Workbook ($5.92) 1 (recommended by my therapist) 4 1 5 1
You Are a BadA* ($8) 2 1 5 1 (warning: guffaws are possible) 2
Feeling Good ($3.79) 1 1 3 5 3
What to Say When You Talk to Yourself ($3.79) 4 5 4 5 2
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People ($1.99 Kindle) 1 1 1 (especially if you get a Franklin Day Planner) 4 2
The Gifts of Imperfection ($10.99) 1 1 (so good) 4 2 3
Strengths Finder ($25.63) 1 2 2 4 1
Braving the Wilderness ($14.95) 1 1 5 2 3

 

What books would you add to this list, and why?

Book Review: When We Wake is a Refreshing YA Sci-Fi Read for $3.47

Sometimes, you need a fresh perspective on old subject matter, whether it be in life or in books. When We Wake provides a new perspective on what many would consider a very tired genre: dystopian. But this is a refreshing, unique perspective on life after governmental collapse. Why should you read it? Well…

What Is When We Wake About?

From Goodreads:

Sixteen-year-old Tegan is just like every other girl living in 2027. She’s happiest when playing the guitar. She’s falling in love for the first time. And she’s joining her friends to protest the wrongs of the world: environmental collapse, social discrimination, and political injustice. But on what should be the best day of Tegan’s life, she dies—and wakes up a hundred years later, locked in a government facility with no idea what happened. The future isn’t all she had hoped it would be, and when appalling secrets come to light, Tegan must make a choice: Does she keep her head down and survive, or fight for a better world?

Who Should Read When We Wake, And Why?

It’s only loosely “dystopian” because it straddles two time periods and focuses more on the personal side of things than the political. Maybe because I write in this genre (sci-fi, pre-apocalyptic), I was fascinated by Karen Healey’s take on our future. I thought it particularly interesting that she set the book in Australia. She ties the setting in really well with the plot, using both the country’s actual history and its imagined future to provide impetus for the conflict the main character strives unknowingly against. Tegan is a well-drawn character, and I love the diversity and scope of characters Karen includes. I loved the sequel too. Both were refreshing, compelling reads!

So, if you like dystopian books like Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Glimmer by Phoebe Katanadis, or Whisper by Lynette Noni, you’ll like When We Wake.

What’s The Deal?

You can get When We Wake for $3.46 on BetterWorldBooks, with free shipping!

 

 

What Writers Say Is Hard About Writing, And Some Suggestions For Them

Recently, in a couple of writers’ groups in Facebook, I asked what some of the hardest parts of writing are. Mind you, I’m familiar with many of them, having been on my writer’s journey in earnest for five years now. But I wanted to capture common writing trials. This is so that I could present a few helpful suggestions to you, things I’ve found helpful or that other writers farther along in their journey have recommended to me. Writing, of all pursuits, is best done “organically,” I believe. We’re all better–and our books are better–when we help each other out.

So, in no particular order, I present to you:

Three Writing Trials and What To Do About Them

Writing Trial #1: Perfectionism

Rachel Virginia White, a member of the Storymakers Conference Facebook Tribe, says she struggles with “not focusing on making every single word perfect.” I struggle with this too; I want every word I write to be perfect even in the first draft. Unfortunately, I’ve learned that that’s unrealistic. Even Shannon Hale, one of my favorite authors, says that when she’s “writing a first draft [she’s] reminding [her]self that [she’s] simply shoveling sand into a box so that later [she] can build castles.”

Suggestion #1: Big Magic

To combat that trial, Whitney Owens Hemsath, a fellow Tribe member and an author featured in a flash fiction anthology, recommended Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. “It speaks to perfectionism,” she says, “rekindling passion, finding joy and wonder in the creative pursuit of inspiration, when to publish in spite of mistakes, how to handle criticism, how to deal with burnout, the proper mental attitude to have towards your creative projects, etc. It was inspiring, yet realistically refreshing.” Kindle or hardback copies on Amazon sell for more than $14; I found a deal for $12. Also, you can get a used copy from Thriftbooks.com for $5.27.

Whitney also says: “Don’t compare your books to ones you’ve read that you think are great. Comparison is the thief of joy. Those books [that make you wish you could write like that]? They probably still have one-star reviews you could go read. You gotta write what feels authentic to you, what you would enjoy, and know that some will love it and some will hate it. Guaranteed. You have to write your best, not someone else’s best, or [the reader] can feel the lack of authenticity. And you have to write your current best, not the best version of your writing you hope to obtain in 20 years, or else you’ll never move on from a project and get to the 20-years-better version of you.” Good words, Whitney.

 

Writing Trial #2: Editing/Rewriting

For some, writing the first draft is the easy part. Jamie D. Greening, a member of the Great Thoughts Great Readers Facebook Group, says: “For me, the hardest part is editing.” Cleaning and improving the first draft, or even revisions after that, can be daunting, tedious, and confusing.

Luckily, there are a lot of resources to help writers in that process. Here, I name only a few that have helped me:

Solution #2: Read These Books

If you’re having trouble with plotting or structure, read Save the Cat, which I reviewed here. It will help you spot ways to simplify or restructure that you may not have thought of before. Also, Jack M. Bickman’s Scene and Structure provides a great explanation of why and how scenes and chapters (scenes and sequels) need to be  written so that the story flows effectively. It also provides a list of common errors in scenes and how to fix them. Thriftbooks has it for $5.11.

If you’re having trouble with your characters not feeling real enough, I recommend Orson Scott Card’s Characters & Viewpoint. I can’t tell you how many times it’s been recommended to me. You can get it on Thriftbooks for $7.27.

If you’re having trouble uniting a character’s growth with the things you want to have happen in your story, read Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland. Almost every paragraph of my copy of that book is highlighted. You can get a Kindle copy on Amazon for $3.99, and the accompanying workbook for $1.99. That’s a steal!

Writing Trial #3: Sitting Down and Writing

Maybe you don’t struggle with writing or revising, but with just finding the time or motivation to sit down and write! This was the struggle cited by Marilynn Simon Rothstein, author of Lift and Separate and Husbands and Other Sharp Objects. Life can be a bit anti-writing at times.

Solution #3: Persistence

In those moments, I recommend A Writer’s Guide to Persistence by Jordan Rosenfeld. She says: “If your burning reason to write is because it makes you happy or releases the wild voices from your head or helps you analyze the world around you, you are exactly where you are supposed to be. You must learn to please yourself in the process of your practice or you will become vulnerable to discouragement, despair, and giving up” (p. 13). Amen. Thriftbooks has it for $4.35.

No matter where you’re at in your writer’s journey, or what questions you have, there is a book, tribe, or group to help you. Good luck!

Everneath, a YA Retelling of the Persephone Myth: Book Review and Deal

According to myth, the ancient Greek god Hades abducted the goddess Persephone. He took her to the Underworld and forced her to marry him. Hermes rescued her, but Hades tricked her before she could return to the surface. He fed her pomegranate seeds, and by so doing, ensured that she would have to return to him every six months. This is the how the Greeks explained the seasons: Winter was Persephone’s Underworld time, and Summer was not.

There have been almost 140 retellings of that myth, according to GoodReadsKaitlin Bevis identifies eight that are young adult re-tellings. One of those is Everneath by Brodi Ashton. It’s the first book in a trilogy, followed by Everbound and Evertrue. Overall, I enjoyed the whole series, although the second book not as much as the first. For those of you who like YA romances, this is a series to get, especially with the deal I’m going to tell you about.

What Is Everneath About?

From GoodReads:

Last spring, Nikki Beckett vanished. She was sucked into an underworld known as the Everneath. Now her captor has allowed to return to her old life…before she’s banished back to the underworld forever. She has six months before then for good-byes she can’t find the words for. She has six months to find redemption, if it exists.

Nikki longs to spend these precious months forgetting the Everneath and trying to reconnect with her boyfriend, Jack. He was the person most devastated by her disappearance, and the one she loves more than anything. But there’s just one problem: Cole, the smoldering immortal who enticed her to the Everneath in the first place, has followed Nikki home. Cole wants to take over the throne in the underworld and is convinced Nikki is the key to making it happen. And he’ll do whatever it takes to bring her back, this time as his queen.

As Nikki’s time on the Surface draws to a close, she is forced to make the hardest decision of her life. She has to decide between cheating fate to remain on the Surface with Jack or returning to the Everneath and becoming Cole’s queen.

Why I Liked Everneath, Everbound, and Evertrue, And You Might Too

I absolutely LOVED Everneath; ten stars all the way. It was good in part because Ashton switched deftly between flashbacks and present day, while still moving the plot along. And the main characters of Nikki and Cole are wonderful and HUGELY complex, Jack a little less so. I really liked Everbound too, but it felt like a slightly different book. Because it had less love triangle and more action and took place in a very different setting, it took a little getting used to.  There is a good amount of teenage angst in all three books. The reader’s suspension of disbelief might be stretched sometimes. But all in all, these are enjoyable books for fans of the YA genre.

What’s The Deal?

On Amazon, you can get the first book for $3.75, the second for $4.99, and the third for $5.24, all on Kindle. There is a novella between books one and two, called Neverfall. Goodreads refers to it as the actual book 2, but it’s not necessary to follow the main plot.

THE ULTIMATE JOB SEARCH GUIDE in white letters over a blue background.

Top Ten Job Search Tips From The Ultimate Job Search Guide

In my months-long job search, I’ve learned a lot of things. I knew job searches could be hard because I’ve experienced that, but I’d forgotten how hard they could be.  I’ve learned that these days, it’s all about getting past the resume database, making yourself stand out, which can be difficult in a crowded field. Everything’s done online. You upload your resume, submit an application, and then check your email and your phone every five minutes for an invitation to interview. In this environment, you’ve got to work hard to stand out, and every tool you can use to help you do that matters. One tool I highly recommend is Martin Yate’s Ultimate Job Search Guide. To demonstrate why, I share ten of the top tips Yate shares, and a deal you can’t afford to pass up if you’re looking for a job.

Top 10 Quotes/Job Search Tips From The Ultimate Job Search Guide

  • a resume clip artMake a discoverable resume:

“When recruiters are searching for talent in resume databases or on social networking sites, they invariably do so with a specific job description in mind. [Their] software scours the database and builds a list of all the resumes that contain any of [the] descriptors or keywords [found in that job description.] It then weighs the list. Those resumes with the most frequent use and greatest total number of keywords rise to the top of the list. Mentioning keywords in a Professional Skills/Core Competencies section at the front of your resume, and then repeating them within the context of the jobs in which they were used, will increase your ranking in recruiters’ database searches.”

  • Consider the 70% Guideline:

“In your search for jobs, don’t throw out opportunities because one line in the job description speaks of skills you lack. If you meet [at least 70% of them], you are a good candidate.”

  • Target resumes for different jobs:

“The one-size-fits-all resume…doesn’t work anymore; you have to have a resume focused on a single target job.”

  • Compile a Targeted Job Description:

“Collect a half-dozen job postings for your chosen primary target job…then review [them] and find one requirement that is common to all six. Of these six, choose the most complete description of that particular experience/responsibility/skill/deliverable, paste it [to a document as your main heading], and put the number 6 in front of it to signify that it is common to all six job postings. Underneath this, list additional keywords used in the other five job postings to describe this same requirement.”

  • two stick figures seated at a table facing each other, with empty speech bubbles above both their headsShow your potential employer that you can think from their side of the desk by going through the PSRV Process:

“At some level, every job exists for four major reasons:

1. Problem identification

2. Solution envisioning, including strategy and tactics

3. Results projections

4. Value understanding (usually in earnings or productivity enhancements)”

Your resume should show how you solved problems for past employers.

  • Save your resume under a name that is more descriptive than “resume.doc.”

Show that you understand that it becomes part of your messaging when you submit it by naming it something like “Sales Manager/ABC Corp.doc.”

  • cubes of popular social media platforms' iconsSeek recommendations:

“LinkedIn doesn’t recognize your profile as complete until you have three recommendations, and the more you have, the more discoverable your profile will become. The easiest way to get recommendations is to do them for your colleagues and then ask them to reciprocate.”

  • Like and follow company pages:

“A recent study of corporate recruiters found that 87 percent of those who used social media as a recruitment tool said that the best way to get on [the] company radar is to ‘Like’ the company’s page.”

  • a golden hashtagSearch by hashtags:

“You can use hashtag terms to find job opportunities and profession-relevant information. [This] increase[s] your visibility with recruiters who are looking for people like you with hasthtags like:

#resume

#[yourjobtitle]

#[akeyskill)

A Google search of popular job search hashtags also revealed these:

#jobsearch

#jobhunt

#jobopening

#hiring

#nowhiring

#resume

#job

#jobs

#careers

#employment

#HR

#humanresources

  • Follow experts:

“Following experts prominent in your profession gives you content to retweet that adds to your credibility and puts you in good company. By consistently sharing intelligent commentary on your profession and its issues, you might not become an overnight industry expert, but you will be taken that much more seriously by those who could hire you. Here are some good sites for finding those experts:

Twellow

Wthashtag.com

Muck Rack

Twiangulate

Moz.com

Who Would Benefit Most From Reading The Ultimate Job Search Guide, And Why?

The tips above are just a few of those provided in the first 90 pages of this almost 400-page book. What I like most about The Ultimate Job Search Guide is that it lists hundreds of actual interview questions, and goes through how you should answer them and why. Anyone who’s looking for a job can benefit greatly from reading this book. Make sure you get the one published in 2017; it has the most current information.

What’s the Deal?

On Amazon, you can get a new paperback copy for $11.22. It’s very much worth it, my friend.

 

"5 sci-fi or fantasy books that non-sci-fi or fantasy fans will enjoy," over the covers of those books.

Five Science Fiction/Fantasy Books for Non-Science Fiction/Fantasy Fans to Enjoy

Since I founded a blog that focuses on science fiction/fantasy books, you might think I’m biased towards them. From that, you might conclude that I don’t understand non-science fiction/fantasy fans (let’s call them NSFFFs). You might even think that I couldn’t–or even shouldn’t–recommend books to them. I have, however, been a member of multiple NSFFF book clubs, and reviewed a long list of NSFF books. I unite with book fans everywhere who love good writing and want to support the unique medium of books. In that spirit, might I recommend five books that even the staunchest NSFFF will like, for those universal reasons.

The Giver, by Lois Lowry

an old man staring into the distance, with a Newbery medal under the titleThe Giver is the kind of book you read when you need something quick but thought-provoking. It’s the original dystopian novel, the book that came way before The Hunger Games and Matched.  Because it’s told from a twelve-year-old’s perspective, it’s refreshing while still illuminating the darker corners of human nature. It’s now available on ThriftBooks.com for $3.79.

 

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal

A woman in a regency ball gown cloaked with lights, behind the words "Shades of Milk and Honey"This is a beautiful historical fantasy romance, kind of like Jane Austen or Josi Kilpack meets Harry Potter. And you can get it on BetterWorldBooks.com for $3.98 with free shipping.

 

 

The Cost of All Things, by Maggie Lehrman

Four people walking along a beach, silhouetted by a setting sun, under the words "the cost of all things"Goodreads says it’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets We Were Liars.”  It’s  $3.95 in BetterWorldBooks.com with free shipping.

 

 

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein: The painting of a naked man, twisted so that only his back, right knee, and anguished face show.Most of my NSFFF friends who read contemporary or historical say they do so to immerse themselves in the here-and-now or the past, to learn, to understand people better. In that sense, Frankenstein is an excellent read, one that provokes plenty of ruminations on human nature. And it’s free on Kindle.

A Thousand Pieces of You, by Claudia Gray

A black-and-white city skyline, then a different city skyline upside down beneath it, in front of a swath of color. On top of it all, the words: "A Thousand Pieces of You"Romance, lest you think that all science fiction/fantasy books are without it. Good romance, and, as I said here, a compelling, fast-paced plot. Like The Cost of All Things, it’s $3.95 on BetterWorldBooks.com with free shipping.

 

 

 

 

A small glass crown, upside down, with blood dripping from it, dripping over the words "Red Queen"

Book Review & Deal: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, a Powerful Read

I went to St. Louis, Missouri over the weekend to visit my brother and his wife and their two kids, and I had long layovers going to and coming from, so guess what I did? I read. Three books. One of them was Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. I’d heard how good this book was for years, but it had honestly sat on my bookshelf for a good while. I’m super glad I finally took the time to read it, and that I was able to find you a deal on it so that you can read it too!

What is Red Queen About?

From Goodreads:

Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood – red or silver. The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change. That is until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power. Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime. But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart.

Who Would Like Red Queen And Why?

Because it deals with monarchical power structures and has magic in it, it’s similar to Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson, Traitorborn by Amy A. Bartol, and its sequel Secondborn. Anyone who liked those books would like Red Queen. I’m definitely seeing a motif in all of these books, one that seems to extend into reality a little bit these days: it’s not good to bestow too much power on one person or group of people, because it’s hard for anyone to handle too much power without becoming greedy or hungry for more, and because that always makes everyone else feel disenfranchised. What do you think?

The writing is crystalline, meaning that it’s clear and multi-faceted and sharp. The emotion is tense throughout without being overwrought. The plot is big and far-reaching but still personal. Trust me, it’s a good read. Also, you’ll probably have the buy the sequel, Glass Sword.

What’s the Deal?

Get Red Queen for $4.66 on ThriftBooks.com.

Visual?

via GIPHY

A quote from Red Queen: "The sun begins to rise behind Cal's head, framing him against the dawn. It's too bright, too sharp, and too soon; I have to shut my eyes."

 

"The Fifth Wave" in big letters, with a human figure silhouetted against a setting sun, walking toward that sun through a grove of trees.

Book Review and Deal: The Fifth Wave, a Beyond-Intense Read

I’ve called books “intense” before, like Genesis by Brendan Reichs and Glimmer by Phoebe Kitanidis, but The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey takes the cake.  It is about the end of the world, so…how could it not be really intense? If you saw the movie, you’d know what I mean. The book is more intense than the movie, if that’s possible, despite its picture-less medium, because of the world-building, character, style, and plot construction. Basically, it’s a really well written book, and definitely one for an adrenaline-junkie reader like me. And I found it for $3.98 with free shipping!

What is The Fifth Wave About?

 

From Amazon:

After the 1st wave [of alien invasion], only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one. Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother–or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

What’s The Deal?

On BetterWorldBooks.com, you can get a used paperback copy in very good condition for $3.98 with free shipping!

Who Would Like The Fifth Wave, And Why?

As I said, the “world building,” or Yancey’s ability to make such a wild, destitute state seem real, is thorough and vivid. Cassie is a fully flawed but vibrant character, so it’s not hard to follow her through her really rough journey. The story is told with style, and every scene contributes tightly and succinctly to the advancement of the plot. It takes real skill for a writer to be able to do all of those things AND make a book as intense as The Fifth Wave, so my hat goes off to Yancey. Anyone who likes nail-biting, heart-pounding reads will like The Fifth Wave.

That being said, there is a fair amount of the depiction of death, as you can imagine, so the faint of heart should not read this book.  I can’t provide you with exact “nutrition fact” numbers of that or the swearing, positive themes, or negative themes because I only have a physical copy of this book and didn’t underline all of those things when I read it. I’d have to go back and read it again, underlining as I go, which I’m willing to do…when I get more time.

 

Writerly Advice: Save the Cat…No Seriously: Save It!

If you’ve been writing  fiction for any length of time, you’ve probably heard about Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat series of books. They’re books that were originally written to help screenwriters improve their craft, but became quite popular among writers of many creative disciplines because they provide a very accurate, concise, and some would even say easy plot model. As you know, constructing a plot from nothing can be difficult. These books, especially the first one, provide a way to do so without inducing paralyzing anxiety. I dare say that they’re a necessity for every writer who wants to get published.

What’s In Save the Cat?

A tabby cat dangling from a rope, with the words "Save the Cat: the Last Book on Screenwriting That You'll Ever Need" above it.In Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need, Snyder describes 15 “beats” or benchmarks that every plot needs to have, no matter the medium it’s displayed in. Whether words or moving pictures are used to tell a story, it should always start with an opening image and progress through

  • Theme Stated
  • Set-up
  • Catalyst
  • Debate
  • Break Into Two
  • B Story
  • Fun and Games
  • Midpoint
  • Bad Guys Close In
  • All is Lost
  • Dark Night of the Soul
  • Break Into Three
  • Finale
  • Final Image

All of these benchmarks—aptly described in the book—should lend themselves towards showing the main character doing something, being proactive. This could mean saving a cat, going with Hagrid to Hogwarts and leaving a known life behind, or undergoing a makeover to become an undercover beauty queen. It’s the essence that defines who the hero is and makes the reader like him or her.

What’s the Deal?

On Amazon, a paperback copy is $16.05. If you go through Thriftbooks however, you can get it for $8.97! You have to get the paperback version so that you can mark it up and make notes. Mine has notes in most the margins and lines connecting paragraphs with other ones.

For that, you get not only wonderfully practical descriptions of each of those beats, but also:

  • the four elements of every winning logline
  • why your hero must serve your idea
  • how to use a plot board
  • how to get back on track with proven rules for plot repair
  • a checklist to see if your main character needs more “oomph.”

Who Would Like Save the Cat, And Why?

As mentioned, anyone who’s serious about writing The Greatest Book of All Time. It’s designed, Snyder says, primarily for writers who intend to pitch/query agents in  mainstream movie-making and publishing. I think that’s because it’s based on the premise that you’ll use one- to two-sentence descriptions of each of those beats to pitch to agents. Although there are many, many plot models out there—three-act structure, hero’s journey, dramatica, etc.—this is the one I’ve found to be the easiest and smoothest. It’s a compromise between totally outlining and just “pantsing” it: enough structure (and the right kind of it) to get your story started, but not so much that it overwhelms your creativity before you even start writing a book. It’s also very helpful in showing the main character proactively progressing through the book’s plot, not just reacting to various crises.

Book Review and Deal: The Knife of Never Letting Go, a Powerful Read

Oh, so much to say about The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness! Anyone who loves really intense reads with lots of voice will love this book.  Let’s start with first things first:

What Is The Knife of Never Letting Go About?

From Goodreads:

Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee — whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not — stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden — a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives. But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?

Who Would Like The Knife, And Why

As mentioned, anyone who likes really intense books with lots of style and strong characters. This book has some tremendous strengths. The characterization of Todd Hewitt, the main character, is so skillfully accomplished, for one thing. We’re are able to understand a lot about him and his world simply by the way he speaks, his flashbacks, and his reactions to the few other characters that make up his existence during this book. There are so few books with good characterization these days that to find this was a treat.

And the plot is nail-bitingly intense, kind of like Glimmer, yet well-paced,  like Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall. It can be really tricky to portray a realistic, relatable main character without slowing down the plot. It can also be really tempting to construct the plot entirely out of life-and-death situations to keep up the breakneck speed. But there are calmer, more philosophical moments that balance the intensity.

Unfortunately, there were a couple of things that I really didn’t like about The Knife that kept me from giving it a resounding 10 out of 10 stars. There was one point in the book that felt a little unrealistic to me, but I won’t specify which for spoilers’ sake. Most of all, though, the ending did not work for me. Though it did resolve the central conflict, it was completely unexpected and unsatisfactory. It was a total cliffhanger. Of course, I did fall for it, and immediately went out and bought the second book. Thankfully, I really enjoyed both the second and third books in this trilogy.

What’s The Deal?

You can get a used copy in very good condition for $3.99 in Thriftbooks.com.

Nutrition Facts, Anyone?

Swear words (d*, f*, sh*, g*d*, h*): 9 + 1 + 1 + 10

Sex: none

Violence (from CommonSenseMedia.org): “Lots, and quite grim and gruesome, including a man who has part of his face torn off, a man who beats and stabs a boy, a dog killed by breaking its back, children killing, and a girl shot in the belly. There are many injuries with realistic consequences, and many deaths. One especially gruesome climactic fight involves breaking of bones, snapping of gristle, crushing of eyeballs, and lots of blood.”

Positive themes: 0

Negative themes (sexism, violence is the way to solve everything): 2

Visual:

via GIPHY

"A knife is...a choice."