SPELLBINDING SENTENCES: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO ACHIEVING EXCELLENCE & CAPTIVATING READERS

By Barbara Baig

Writer’s Digest Books, 2015

295 pages, $19.99

Anybody can be a writer, but very few are any good at it. The writing shortcuts seen in social media and texting, and the general decline of English language education in schools mean that the complete sentence is nearly extinct. Writing instructor Barbara Baig hopes to change that.

“Spellbinding Sentences” is Baig’s second book on writing, following “How To Be A Writer.” She lives in Washington County, and teaches writing at Leslie University.

Self-help books like this one don’t often appear in this column, but Baig is passionate about helping people learn to write clearly, comfortably and effectively, creating “a book about the power of words” and “how to make that power your own.” Those are good things.

This is not a grammar book (although she discusses grammar). Rather, it is a guide and workbook to help aspiring writers improve their written communication skills, whether for money or fun, for business or just the pleasure of writing well.

As expected, Baig describes how to construct lucid, focused sentences, emphasizing the importance of vocabulary, how to create your own “word hoard” (crossword puzzles are good for this), and why a writer’s best friend is Roget’s Thesaurus. She also astutely explains the types of sentences and the parts of speech — nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs — as well as the correct use of pronouns, prepositions and conjunctions. And she solves the mysteries of those pesky dangling modifiers and curious colons, and answers the question of when a noun is not a noun.

Best, however, is her strong advice to learn the business of writing by reading and by writing, writing and more writing. Learn, too, why a “kernel” is not a corn, and why the semicolon really does have a real use.

AZALEA UNSCHOOLED

By Liza Kleinman

Islandport Press, 2015

135 pages, $16.95

ISBN 978-1-939017-58-1.

When 11-year-old Azalea and her family move to Portland, Maine, they begin a family adventure in an unfamiliar city, and Azalea solves a mystery.

“Azalea Unschooled” is the debut middle-grade (ages 8-12) novel by Portland author Liza Kleinman, a clever, fun story containing well-crafted life lessons about family and friend relationships, parents and children, and the things they learn when faced with unexpected challenges.

Kleinman is a talented writer with a good eye for middle-grade storytelling. This is a tale that kids and adults will enjoy — the humor, the suspense, the mystery and a precocious girl trying to figure it all out.

Azalea’s family moves a lot, from one failed business to another, her well-intended but unlucky father always trying to find just the right job to provide for his family. Now, they are in Portland where he tries to start a tour-bus business. She and her older sister, Zenith, have always been homeschooled, but now their parents decide to try “unschooling,” an unstructured form of self-education where kids’ natural curiosity is their guide to learning.

Azalea and Zenith make friends and try to help their father establish his summertime business, but his newly purchased tour bus is vandalized twice — someone wants them to leave town. While Zenith tries out a summer school math class in a real school, Azalea works to solve the mystery of the tour bus. Her investigative suspicion leads directly to another girl, causing several uncomfortable scenes with her best friend, Gabby, and her own father.

Unschooling helps Azalea identify the vandal, but her discovery is a surprise to everyone, and the family does some satisfying soul-searching, making positive, healthy decisions and revealing a family’s strength and love for one another.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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