I am somewhat remiss in getting my blog post for this week completed and fascinating. Well, I can remedy the first issue. But fascinating? We'll see.
Anyway, I've had it in mind to get some book reviews done, so let me share what I've been reading with a thumbs up or thumbs down, plus a short observation about what it is about the writing that worked or didn't work for me. You can take it as a quick and dirty look at what readers think when they read somebody's writing. This is a great tool for figuring out what's working and what isn't in your own writing, as well as what you might want to try adding to your stories. This may not be pretty, but it will be informative, I promise.
A Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare
OK, I fess up. I have not read this book yet. But I keep stopping to pull it off the shelves at the bookstore, because it's got a terrific cover. In fact, the covers for all of Clare's books are compelling, which goes to show that your book cover art matters in a big way. Because I like the artwork so much, I've started reading through Clare's work. Which brings me to:
City of Bones and the rest of the Mortal Instruments series
by Cassandra Clare
This series is Clare's young adult urban fantasy set in New York and a fictional realm called Idris. It takes a lot for me to get excited about a series these days, partly because it takes so long for most authors to finish writing their series, and then it takes the publishers so long to publish them. I feel like I'm on the Long March with George R.R. Martin, for example. But Clare makes it a pleasure to read her books, and I suppose it's partly because it has romance, lighthearted characters, terrific fight scenes, and a mix of darkness, light, and grey areas so that the story maintains its flow without getting overly depressing. Clare is especially good at working with her ensemble cast of characters, so if you like to read (or write) about groups of people working together, you'll probably enjoy the Mortal Instruments series. I should also add that she's worked out a schedule with her publisher so that she's publishing novels once a year, to keep feeding her fan base. And she is very active in communicating with fans on her website and Twitter, so she keeps things lively for her readers, which is key if you're writing a series and expect readers to wait on your production schedule.
From Victim to Hero: The Untold Story of Steven Stayner by Jim Laughter
At the polar opposite of Clare is this book, a non-fiction retelling of the life of Steven Stayner, a young victim of a pedophile who manages to save another victim from abuse. I think Laughter does best with recreating the tension and sadness of Steven's life, as well as his confusion when he has to deal with coming home to parents and siblings after a life that has changed him. The story itself is compelling and sad, but I also give Laughter credit for managing the story in such a way that I didn't get depressed reading it. What the author could have done better is to have made sure the book was professionally proofread before it went to print. There are a lot of errors that a pro would have caught. In this case, the story is strong enough to keep a reader reading, but it's also discouraging to see so many obvious errors left uncorrected. It makes the book look unprofessional, and when you consider that this book could easily be marketed as a textbook for preventing abductions and integrating recovered victims into their homes again, this is a case where errors may prevent the book from being used as the tool it is meant to be.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
This is a case of not judging a book by what you hear. My first impression, before I read the book, was that it was hyper-violent and all about kids killing other kids. So it took me a long time to commit to reading it. But when I learned that teachers were teaching the book, I became curious. (I'm a teacher too, and I wanted to know why it was becoming a textbook for English classes.) Now that I've read it, I have to say I was highly impressed and can see exactly why it's being taught. It raises so many issues for a class of students to discuss, think about, and then write about. That's probably the book's biggest strength: its ability to raise questions about how we live. It's an idea book, no doubt about it. If you like reading (or writing) books that are focused most on existential themes, satire, and a challenging of the status quo, you'll want to read The Hunger Games. The other elements of writing, like characterization and description, are there, but I wouldn't say they are Collins' strong point. She's not horrible at it, but there are others who are better. But the ideas in the book and of course, the race to survive, will keep you turning pages.
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
I loved this book! Actually, I loved this book specifically because of the two main characters, Katsa and her lover Po. Man, they make a great couple, and they are both intriguing in their own rights. They're opposites in some ways, but Cashore doesn't overplay that to excess or hyper-comedy. She simply makes it realistic, so that I felt sucked into the actual development of a real relationship. Katsa's developmental arc from a girl who feels controlled by others to a woman knowing her own freedom and power was wonderfully executed. For that reason, this book should be mandatory reading for all teenaged girls. If you have a daughter, you might want her to read this book. It's liberating without a loss of femininity, which I like very much. The book's writing style is not typical of what you'll read elsewhere, but it works for this story. I'm not so sure it works for Cashore's other books. I put down Fire, but I'm going to give Bitterblue a try. Cashore's other books are told in the same world as Graceling but with other characters. Publishers are always asking for this: standalone novels with series potential. But I think Cashore's books may be an example of how this philosophy can fail. Fire takes a character I hate and focuses on him, while not mentioning Katsa and Po at all, so I was disappointed. I'll bet other readers felt that way as well.
Well, I'll leave it at that for today. Just some food for thought, and hopefully some suggestions for reading that you'll take and enjoy.
Next week, I'll have an interview with a fellow author who just published an international thriller. He'll be sharing tips on the writing process, finding your genre, and marketing. And following that, I'll be kicking off a series on religion in fiction: Does it belong? How do you do it right? Can you overdo it? I'll talk about it, and so will several guests who come at that issue from different backgrounds and different points of view. It's going to be great, so stay tuned.
In the meantime, happy writing!
Copyright (c) 2012 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.