The cover art for The Story Within ~ New Insights and Inspiration for Writers by Laura Oliver convinced me to pick it up, and I thought it was a pretty interesting read. It has a bit of a rocky start, but once you get past that there's much info to peruse. The author has a solid teaching voice but never drones on and on or gets too boring; I actually read the whole thing cover to cover. Few of the problems I find specific to writing genre were addressed, but I never once felt like the author was spitting on me, so it may be of use to someone who likes the lit stuff. And yes, she definitely has a literary attitude, but she's not obnoxious about it. If you're looking to beautify your writing, get more down-in-the-dirt honest, or explore your secret memoirist/creative nonfic/literary side, then this is could be the right how-to book for you.
Bonnie Neubauer's Take Ten for Writers has my vote for the book you should give that writer friend (or yourself) when they're/you're stuck for ideas, strangled by writer's block or otherwise not producing. I test-drove this one by working through a couple of the exercises, and they do take only ten minutes, and you do come up with some new ideas. The instructions on how to use the book are a little overly-complicated -- the user blindly picks a number between 1 and 10 and that choice decides the subject of the exercise -- which may initially discourage, but it's worth plowing through to get to the writing challenges. As with her Write-Brain Workbook the author incorporates lots of interesting photos, graphics and other visual special effects to keep the content lively. The thing I like best about this author's how-to books is that they're fun and serious at the same time, and this one is as entertaining as it is useful, so you don't feel like you're exercising the muse.
I'd like to pass my copies along to another writer (both have been read once but are in pristine condition), so if you're interested in comments to this post name which book you'd like to win, along with another writing how-to book you find useful (or if you can't think of one, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST tonight, March 30th, 2012. I'll draw two name from everyone who participates, and send the winners their choice of either Laura Oliver's The Story Within or Bonnie Neubauer's Take Ten for Writers, along with a surprise. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.