October Reads Flash Reviews

Here are quick reviews of seven novels I read in October, along with their individual “awards.”

Written by Possibly My New Favorite Author – Before I Fall (Lauren Oliver)

I loved everything about Before I Fall. Lauren Oliver might just be my new favorite writer, and she recently posted on Twitter that Before I Fall is being made into a movie, yay! 5 stars out of 5

Most in Need of Better Editing  and the Whoah, What’s Up with that Cover Award – The Truth About Forever (Sarah Dessen)

The Truth About Forever could have been thirty pages shorter and wouldn’t have missed a thing. The older sister was a really good character, but I’m a bit miffed that one of the key plot questions was never answered. I’m not usually too picky about covers but this one looks like Grandma’s needlework pattern. 4 stars out of 5

Set in the Place I’d Most Like to Visit (Sort Of) – Exodus (Julie Bertagna)

Writer Julie Bertagna hails from Scotland (the #1 country I’d like to visit), and her story is set in post-apocalyptic Glasgow. Exodus poses important questions that I’m not sure I was prepared to think about. 4 stars out of 5

Most Adorable Love Interest – Fangirl (Rainbow Rowell)

Levi is the sweetest. I love his confidence, loyalty, and passion for life. Before reading Fangirl I had no idea the main character Cath was a twin—I always like a good story about twins. In my humble opinion, the Simon and Baz excerpts didn’t add much to Fangirl, but I am curious about their full-length novel, Carry On. 4 stars out of 5

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Most Controversial – The Man in the High Castle (Philip K. Dick)

This book was recommended to me by a work associate who knows about my connection to Japanese culture. The Man in the High Castle is an alt history exploring what might have happened if Germany and Japan had won World War II and ended up occupying the United States. There is genius in this story (and it gave me an idea for something I’d like to use in novel I’m currently writing), but the characters exhibit a lot of racism, which was tough to get through. 3.5 out of 5

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Backstory Extravaganza – The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender (Leslye Walton)

Set-up is important; I get it, but the first third of this book reads like backstory. Also, one of the dangers of writing magical realism is that it can easily veer into ludicrousness, which this book only did a couple of times, and only early on. When the real story begins around page 80, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a highly imaginative, compelling, and emotional read. Whoever designed this gorgeous cover deserves an award (Do they give out awards for book covers? If so, I’d love to see the winning work.). 4 stars out of 5

Best Ending – Six of Crows (Leigh Bardugo)

Yes, I like the characters (the Grisha! The Wraith!), and the world building was incredible, but maybe because I’m not a big fan of caper stories, this book felt like it took a really long time to read. That being said, the ending BLEW ME AWAY. 4 stars out of 5

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Basking in the Bounty of the Book Gods


The book gods have been good to me this week. I’m suddenly basking in books that are at the top of my TBR list.

Currently Reading
Julie Bertagna’s Exodus. If you ever read this book, rest assured it gets really good after the first couple of chapters. It’s so imaginative and, as for social commentary, whoah.

Library Holds
Two holds also came through from the happiest place on Earth, my local library:

  • At last, my first Rainbow Rowell book, Fangirl.
  • Leslye Walton’s debut novel, with its simple yet very beautiful cover, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. (I’d like to randomly add that I am mad at the word lavender because it refuses to be spelled — as I perpetually want to write it — like the word calendar.)

   

Contest Prize
And here’s where I saved the best for last. Along with a nice handwritten note, literary agent Janet “The Shark” Reid mailed me Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows ARC as a prize for winning her recent flash fiction contest. I’m not gonna lie, I worked HARD to win because I REALLY wanted to read Six of Crows, but I had no idea that….

THIS ARC COMES WITH WINGS!!!

Six of Crows book wings

Fellow book lovers, surely you understand how happy this makes me.

Happy reading!

— Eve Messenger

What Makes a Character Likable?

Lately, I’ve run across way too many YA book reviews that decry the extreme unlikability of main characters. Are writers making their protagonists too unlikable? Sure, writing an engaging main character is a complex process–we like our protagonists flawed and thus more interesting, but isn’t it also important for them to be likable enough to root for through an entire novel?

With fictional characters–as with real people–“engaging” and “likable” are subjective, to be sure. In Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, for example, some readers find the protagonist Rachel so incredibly flawed that she’s just too pitiful to root for; others, like me, find her compelling and sympathetic in her way. The truth is, no characters in The Girl on the Train are heroic in a classic sense, but the story still works. That’s just good writing, so kudos to Paula Hawkins.

So…what makes a character likable? Here’s my list. Tell me if I missed anything.

What Makes a Character Likable?

1. Must feel extremely passionate about something.
2. Has at least one person she’s willing to fight for.
3. Isn’t too perfect.
4. Has a troubled life.
5. Isn’t overly whiny about her troubled life.
6. Has a special talent, skill, or exceptional personality trait.
7. Sees the world in a unique way.
8. Is aware of her own flaws and grows or changes in some way. (added by blogger eclecticscribblings)
9. BONUS: Has a sense of humor, especially about herself. (added by blogger Aedifice)

In other news, I’m falling madly in love with my latest work in progress, a contemporary YA with time travel and a ghost. Had to share. 🙂

— Eve

YA Reader, I Could Really Use Your Suggestions

wordle 2

I’m planning a YA book that I’m REALLY looking forward to writing, but I’m having a hard time classifying the genre. It’s about a modern girl fantasizing her way through major life changes and social awkwardness. There’s an integral paranormal aspect, but it’s subtle – no werewolves, witches, vampires — and a sprinkling of chapters set in an earlier period of history.  There’s a little romance, but I’d say it’s more about family and relationships.

What would you call that genre?

Josie’s Book Corner, I’m looking at you.

My Name is Eve, and I am a Recovering ‘Pantser’

pantsing

I’m one of those writers you might call a ‘pantser,’ you know, the kind who writes a novel with reckless abandon — sans plot outline — until I reach the semblance of an ending.

It’s fun! It’s exciting! It’s FRESH.  And I’m afraid if I don’t write like that I’ll overcensor myself , or worse, get bored because I already know what’s going to happen.

But.

Revising a pants-style, mutant pit first draft of a novel takes a really, really, really, really long time.  I’m not saying I’ll never pants a novel again, but I’ve done it twice now, and the first novel was such a complicated mess I had to stick it in a drawer until I became “a good enough writer to tackle such a complicated plot.”

This second full-length novel, a YA fantasy, I’ve been revising for dozens and dozens and dozens of hours…reordering scenes, consolidating bits I had epiphanies about later in the writing, just, you know … Clean-up on aisle seven…and twelve…and one…and fourteen.  Clean up the whole damn store.

But hey, writing and revising a novel should take as long as it needs to, right?  And who’s to say I would ever have been able to come up with the cool, out-there things that happen in this story (don’t mean to brag, just sayin’) if I had NOT let my imagination flow 100% unhindered, not even by a plot outline?

But.

I’m not as young as I used to be (I’ll admit) and have a lot of stories I want to write. So many.

Yet here I am, dozens and dozens and dozens of hours into revising and fleshing out this first draft into a flow, a scene order, that tells a cohesive story.  Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel — I’m three-quarters of the way through — but I’m not even talking about all the fun edit-y things like crisping up dialogue, bringing out sensory details, polishing prose.  I’m talking about just getting the first draft into an order that makes sense.

Outlining would have been so much easier.  More importantly, it would have been FASTER.

Then this morning a lovely thing happened.  A brand new character, with a brand new story, in a brand new genre (still YA), danced herself right onto my computer screen.  And she brought a LOT of her story’s plot with her.  God bless her.  When I’m done with this YA fantasy, I might just be able to write a novel using a proper outline.

HALLELULAH.

Now if I just knew the best way to outline a novel.  Any suggestions?

–Eve Messenger

Reading While Writing – Is it a Bad Thing?

NTSNBN

There’s this YA dystopian thriller I’ve been dying to read.  Very hyped, mentioned in lots of blogs, highly ranked on Goodreads. I won’t mention the title because — call me superstitious, or maybe respectful or polite — I won’t publicly write negative things about another writer’s published work. Who knows, maybe you’ll guess it from the references I’m about to make. Anyway, I was excited to read this book, but I stopped myself.  I stopped myself from reading any fiction.  Why? Because I’ve heard from other writers that reading while you write can be detrimental.

But reading is the shizzle!

So two days ago I picked up this hyped novel-that-shall-not-be-named (henceforth known as NTSNBN), and I began to read.   Even though I’m working on my own novel.

And it’s been really helpful!  Possibly because NTSNBN is in a different enough genre from my own YA fantasy adventure. Or maybe because it’s a good book but not so brilliant that I’m utterly intimidated. Or maybe (and probably most significantly) because the plot and characters of my own novel are well-formed enough that reading someone else’s novel — both as a positive and negative example — gives me ideas on how to enhance what I already have.

Back when I was tapping and scribbling out the nucleus of a plot in coffee houses, libraries, and all the other free places writers and homeless people hang out, reading someone else’s novel might have been detrimental to my process. Consciously or subconsciously, another writer’s plots and characters could have crept their way into my own writing.   (Though I probably will take the chance and try it while writing the next novel.)

After two days of reading NTSNBN — while working on the 2nd/3rd major revision of my own — here’s how reading someone else’s novel has been beneficial. Throughout the narrative, NTSNBN gives a very clear sense of the main character’s emotional state. It contains too much a lot of internal self-talk. With a keener awareness of this, the next time I sat down to work on my own book, my characters started spilling their emotional guts a lot more.

I like that.

The author of NTSNBN also employs several quirky stylistic devices, such as replacing number words with the alphanumeric, as in ‘2’ instead of ‘two.’  Also, there are long passages that deliberately avoid commas. Thirdly, there is a lot lot lot of  too much  striking out of lines and words, which signify the MC censoring his/her own thoughts.   Though I probably won’t use those devices in my own writing, the stylistic experiments definitely inspire me to try new things.

Lastly, NTSNBN reads really fast. All the chapters flow really well, each with its own grabber that takes you right into the heart of the scene and an ending that propels you further into the story. All wonderful things to keep in mind while revising and polishing my own work.

E.B.M.