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Early on in my time management study I became interested in discipline, how becoming disciplined can help us manage time. (It probably would help us manage just about everything else in our lives, but I only discuss time management at this blog.) What I didn't do when I was mulling over discipline was carefully define it. That is always a mistake in my experience. Discipline, as it turns out, involves training and maintaining behavior through control. That is a disturbing idea if you're applying it to others. Personally, I love it when applying it to myself. I love the whole idea of training. I'm shakier on the control part, as in self-control, but, hey, that's something I can train for, right?
Which brings us to The Willpower Instinct: How Self-control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More Of It by Kelly McGonigal. I mentioned McGonigal's name so frequently in the Situational Time Management Workshop I led earlier this month that I finally suggested we could use the name as the basis of a drinking game. The fact that I would even think of such a thing indicates that I need a whole lot more discipline and self-control.
McGonigal never actually writes about time management. She writes about goals of all kinds, especially those involving changing behavior, and using willpower to achieve them. Well, managing time is both goal and behavior. There are a number of things she has to say that can apply to managing time, particularly for writers.
A few examples:
- People who are distracted have poor impulse control and are less likely to be able to stay on long-term goals. Many writers work out of their homes and have trouble maintaining a strong barrier between their professional and personal lives. Personal life distractions undermine our ability to stay on task.
- Thinking in terms of being "good" or "bad" relating to a goal undermines willpower. For instance, having been "good" and accomplishing a great deal this morning can be used as justification for being "bad" and not working this afternoon.
- We tend to think of the future as a wonderful place where we will accomplish great things. Thus, believing we'll feel more like working tomorrow or will get a lot done tomorrow justifies taking today off.
- Willpower failures and successes are contagious. A strong argument for writers' groups and group writing projects like NaNoWriMo.
- Giving in to the What-the-Hell-Effect when experiencing setbacks. We actually lose valuable work time when that happens.
McGonigal even explains why meditating helps with self-control and attention, something I've been hearing about for years, though no one felt a need to explain why it would work. Meditating, it appears, develops the prefrontal cortex, the portion of the brain that deals with impulse control. Good impulse control helps people stay on task with goals. Find meditation difficult because your mind keeps wandering and you have to keep bringing it back to the breath? That's actually good, according to McGonigal. The effort to do that develops the brain just as physical effort develops muscles.
This book has masses of material that can be applied to managing writing time, even though it's not about managing writing time at all. It's a marvelous aid for those of us who are interested in training for self-control.
I've had a very up-and-down relationship with the Artemis Fowl books
. I was enthusiastic about the first book
. Though I loved Holly Short in book two, I thought there were issues with point of view
. Third book...disappointing
. Evidently I didn't even want to write anything here about the fourth book
. With the fifth book, I was happy again
. Happier, anyway. It appears that I missed book six and wasn't crazy about book seven.
Was there a book in which Artemis went into space?
Oh, well, the series/serial is done now, and the wrap up, The Last Guardian
, is quite good. We do have the choppy story line in which we swing back and forth between worlds/characters, which has appeared in earlier books. The side trip regarding Foaly's wife seemed totally unnecessary, for instance. It did give us a chance to be with Foaly, though, and who doesn't like Foaly? I also liked Artie's little brothers. Does anyone else see potential for an early reader series about criminal genius preschoolers?
The Artemis Fowl books are fantasy thrillers with humor, and with this concluding volume we are provided with a big thrilling threat for Artie to overcome. I think the actual ending of the book gives readers a chance to have their cake and eat it, too, which I'm not complaining about.
World Book Night is a week from tomorrow, and a couple of days ago I finished reading The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, the book I'll be giving. I chose this book on the recommendation of a family member. As it turns out, the protagonist, Victoria, is a young woman in her late teens who has just left the foster care system. We follow two story lines in alternating chapters, one about Victoria's childhood involvement with Elizabeth, the foster mother who teaches her the language of flowers, and the second about her experience as she tries (or I should say, is almost forced) to make a life for herself. The young character makes this a book of particular interest to me, because I like to ponder the differences between a children's/YA book with a child/YA character and an adult book with a child/YA character.
Flowers is a good book in which Diffenbaugh, a first-time novelist, shows a lot of control. For instance, in places she teeters on the edge of what I like to call the Magical Mommy, treating motherhood as some kind of mystical experience that has the potential to cure all. But she juuuust pulls back. Victoria is also only able to maintain herself because she happens to run into people who take to her and offer significant help. Coincidence is never good in fiction, but I was able to accept it here because the people who help her are outsiders. (And maybe because my experience of the world suggests that many young people like Victoria only succeed at all because someone helped them help.)
Diffenbaugh also does a good job showing why Victoria is filled with anger and does ugly things. In lots of books with characters like that the behavior is just there without enough development to make what they're doing make sense. Readers are expected to accept it and move on with the story.
What readers of this blog might find particularly interesting about this book is that while it's an adult book, I thought it seemed very much like a YA problem novel--a teenager, usually a girl, has a specific problem that, after much struggle, she overcomes. If you removed the Victorian language of flowers from The Language of Flowers, I think it would have seemed even more like a bare bones YA problem novel.
I think this is a novel that could end up on library book lists for teenagers, just as I thought Alice Bliss would.
by A.C. Gaughen
was a fascinating experience. The book is the Robin Hood story from the point of view of Will Scarlet, one of Robin's band of so-called merry men. Except in this rendition, he's a cross-dressing young woman.
First, I was caught by the voice. Voice can be tricky in historical novels. Characters from the past shouldn't sound twenty-first century, but at the same time, making them sound non
twenty-first centuryish can also mean making them sound contrived or stilted. And while we know how people--particularly educated people--wrote in days of old, we can never really know how they sounded. The key to Scarlet's voice is that she's very ungrammatical. She appears to be unaware of the third person singular of the verb "to be," throwing "were" in everywhere. "That were Rob's version of a greeting." "'First, Freddy Cooper were arrested,'" I said, looking around. It weren't good news." Also, she uses the word "lads" for the other band members. I like the word "lad."
So I liked Scarlet's voice right away. What I didn't like was when she said things like, "Rob looked at me, and as were fair usual, I felt my heart jump." I thought, Oh, no. A romance. Why must there always be a romance? I don't know if I'm going to be able to take this for long.
I switched between reading Scarlet
and another YA historical novel, figuring I'd stay with the one that hooked me first. As it turned out, it was Scarlet
Because I realized I would have loved Scarlet
when I was a teenager. I...mean...loved
The girl who dresses up like a boy so she can escape the restrictions of her society and be tough and strong and do exciting things? Teenage Gail loved those characters.
The girl-who-is-torn-between-two-lovers scenario, as Scarlet is with Rob and someone who will remain nameless? As an adult, I find that a tedious cliche. As a teenager? Loved it.
The star-crossed lovers who are always misunderstanding cues and take forever to get together? As an adult, I want to slap those characters and tell them to get on with it. But teenage Gail couldn't get enough of that Elizabeth Bennett/Mr. Darcy vibe.
As I was reading this book, I felt as if I was being transported back in time. Not back into the time of the story, but back into my past. I don't think I have ever read a book that took me back to my teenage reading experience the way Scarlet
Also, there is a great reveal in Scarlet
that I never saw coming but realized immediately made sense.Plot Project
: The whole Robin Hood mythology is one of those cultural things everyone seems to know about even if we can't remember why. (Maybe even more so than King Arthur, probably because Robin Hood is a much more democratic and contemporary sounding figure. He's all about redistribution of wealth, after all.) I suspect that Gaughen tweaks much of the basic Robin Hood narrative for her plot. Good story, but what is even more impressive is the situation/world she came up with to put the storyline within. There's more going on here than just making Will Scarlet a female.Scarlet
is a Cybils nominee in the YA category
My big Retreat Week professional read this year was One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers
by Gail Sher
. I've got to tell you, I just do not know what to make of this book. I can imagine myself quoting from it. I can imagine myself referring to it for bits I recall and want to check out again. But I can't say that I got tremendous amounts from it and don't know who I would necessarily recommend it to.
For one thing, I think you have to have some knowledge of Zen and writing to make heads or tails of this thing. For instance, it begins with an exercise called "Writing Zazen
: Write on the same subject every day for two weeks. Revisiting the same subject day after day will force you to exhaust stale, inauthentic, spurious thought patterns and dare you to enter places of subtler more "fringe" knowing."
Now, I happen to know that zazen
is meditation. I have even thought that freewriting or morning pages
might serve as a form of meditation. But how many people picking up this book know what zazen
is? And there wasn't anything in this short exercise description that tells readers that Sher is suggesting meditation. I was so freaked out by that, that I looked up zazen
to make sure that I did, indeed, know what it was.
There was another section called "Not Knowing," which seemed similar to what I learned of as beginner's mind
. I actually do try to maintain the mind of a beginner. The concept, as I know of it, isn't all that difficult to understand. But Sher's "Not Knowing" is a little different. "For a writer, "not knowing" means giving over the part of you that knows to the writing. The writing tells you
what it is." Okay, I had trouble with this section of the book because it did
remind me of something I already knew about, and I'm trying to superimpose my knowing onto it. Which would mean that I'm not maintaining the mind of a beginner at all.
Wow. I'm not getting a lot out of that and blowing my mind while doing it.
I wonder if these pieces couldn't be considered meditations or something like dharma talks
, except, of course, about writing. They're too mystical for beginning writers and too simple for experienced ones. You'll only like these kinds of things if you like these kinds of things
The title One Continuous Mistake
doesn't refer to the book's whole concept. It's just the title of one of these essays and refers to a Zen teacher's statement that "Zen practice is one continuous mistake." I think I would enjoy reading someone's meditation/writing talk about writing practice being one continuous mistake, but that wasn't what Sher's One Continuous Mistake essaylet was about. At least, I don't think it was. The book's subtitle Four Noble Truths for Writers
, was also the title of an essay. The title refers to the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism.
There was a great deal in this book that attracted me but then didn't go anywhere...for me. What does that mean? It could mean something. While reading One Continuous Mistake
, I began to think that I'd like to be part of a writers' book group that read and discussed nothing but books about
writing, which is something I'm quite certain I'd never considered before.
I didn't learn much from reading this book. I didn't take a lot from it that I can use in my writing or my life. I merely had an experience while reading it. And I probably shouldn't use the word "merely" when saying that.
I recently finished reading my niece's copy of Dark Days
by Derek Landy
, Book 4 in the Skulduggery Pleasant
series. What's that? You're wondering where my niece got Dark Days
, since she is an all American girl and this book isn't published in the U.S. of A.? Why, she got it from her favorite aunt, who ordered it for her from England for Christmas. Yes, I know. All young people should have aunts like me.
When we last saw Skulduggery here at Original Content
, over two years ago
, he was in dire straits. I will not get into how dire, because you can get that particular book in this country, and I don't want to spoil it for you. Since this is a series (that is becoming a little more serial
like) I don't think I'm giving too much away to say that he's functioning in this book.
I have to admit that this time around I had trouble keeping all the bad guys straight. Since many of them had appeared in earlier books, if some American publisher had seen fit to publish this one, that might not have happened because I would have read it closer to the last book. I am also going to quibble with the red shirt moment
that occurs around the halfway point in which two brand new characters appear so that they can be killed off right away. I wasn't enthralled with the ending.
The book is still filled with the wit this series is known for, though. And I'm very much liking the suggestion that Skulduggery may be quite a bad guy. For those two reasons, and because I think it will make my niece happy, last night I ordered the next two books in the series, from England
, for her birthday. They should be here just before Easter, when I'm hoping RJ will be here to eat my holiday bread and cake, though I am not sure exactly what form they will take this year.
My Easter cake is up in the air, but I'm certain I'll be able to read the next two Skulduggery books in rapid order.
When you're not changing points of view, you're just changing bodies. That's what's happening in David Levithan'
s pretty fine book Every Day
. A, the mysterious protagonist who doesn't know who or even what he is, wakes up every morning in a new body and has to live that person's life for him or her for the next twenty-four hours. So though every chapter is the story of A being a new person and dealing with that new life, he is always A. We're not really getting a point of view switch at all.
I'm still reading Wired for Story
by Lisa Cron. One of the points that author makes is that humans are drawn to story because we evolved using it to help us survive, to help us determine and plan what we should do in various situations. Nowadays when reading fiction, the protagonists are stand ins for us, trying out different scenarios so we don't have to.
If that is the case, Every Day
is a treat for the brain, giving readers an opportunity to try out a large number of situations--being diabetic, beautiful, gay, depressed, obese, nasty, and kind, just for starters.The New York Time
's review of the book
made a big point about Every Day
being a love story. Now that that's been pointed out to me, I guess it is. But A's basic situation and humanity are so engrossing that I didn't give that aspect of the book much thought.
A appears to be aging along with the bodies he inhabits, meaning that at some point he always woke up in a five-year-old's body and then a six-year-old's and now he's in his teens. I believe he's supposed to be in tenth or eleventh grade. I do feel he is a little too mature sometimes, a little too much like the only adult in the room.
But over all, the basic story is marvelous and the book is beautifully written. I had heard some talk of it last year, but I'm surprised I didn't hear more. I know it's been nominated for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.
For the first time, I read a Louise Rennison
book that I felt was pretty much like the one I read before. I suspect her Georgia Nicholson
books are a lot alike, but I happened to read them far enough apart that I didn't care. With A Midsummer Tights Dream
, I felt that it really was pretty much Withering Tights
Of course, that's not going to be a bad thing for many young readers.
I still think these Tallulah Casey books have a little more depth than the Georgia Nicholson books. There's the parody of artistic types, for one thing. It's the same parody from the first book, but, still, good stuff. Plus there is the casual acceptance that young people read classics and make jokes with literary references. (Yeah. Maybe in England.) And, by the end of the book, I was feeling a little compassion for poor Lulahloo's experiences with good boys and bad. There is a sort of mystery of life that she's trying to solve, pretty much by herself.
Here's something I found to be a hoot. I've been reading How to Be a Woman
by Caitlin Moran
, and while reading A Midsummer Tights Dream
, I thought, Why, with all her talk of corkers and snogging (though while not necessarily using those words) Caitlin Moran sounds for all the world like a Louise Rennison protagonist. Louise Rennison may have created Caitlin Moran.
In his Author's Acknowledgments
at the end of Dodger
, Terry Pratchett
calls the book historical fantasy
, not historical fiction
, because he's tweaked some historical material. He moved some people who actually existed in the nineteenth century to a different point in the nineteenth century, for instance, and put the offices of a real newspaper on Fleet Street because he couldn't determine where it actually was located. I suspect there are many historical novelists who've done far worse without flinching and got nowhere near as good a result as Pratchett gets here.Dodger
is an amazing combination of character and setting. The plot, maybe, is a little simple. To me, the most fantastical element in the book is the way the wonderful Dodger makes his way up the ladder in life. However, that may be a play on the work of Charles Dickens, whose books I have very little knowledge of. Dickens appears as a character in Dodger
, and I'm making an assumption that Dodger was inspired by Dickens' own Artful Dodger. Though that's a stretch for me because I haven't read the book in which he appears. Dodger's success in life, as a result of his own resourcefulness, innate talent, and goodness, may also be something that occurs in nineteenth century English fiction. Just guessing.
You often read about world building in science fiction and fantasy. But every book has an imaginary world, even if it's set in 2013 America. Historical novels, in particular, have worlds that require intense work. Dodger
's is incredible. You have place, you have sociology, you have language, you have clothing, you have attitude. You have everything you require for a world.
I rarely think to comment on covers. But I've noticed that Tanita Davis
and Sarah Stevenson
do at Finding Wonderland
, and I do have some thoughts about Dodger
's. While the American cover (see above) makes for a beautiful book object, I think it's misleading. The character looks very young. He's around seventeen in the book, and while he seems inexperienced in terms of not knowing the ways of the moneyed classes, he is, in his own way, a man of the world. That's why he's able to do the things he does.
The British cover may be less attractive, but I think it gives a better feeling of the character.
I have finally read some Shaun Tan
, and I do like his work. Tales From Outer Suburbia
, in particular, reminded me of the Ray Bradbury
short stories I read in my early teen years. My uncle Mickey, a college graduate who married into the Gauthier family, had an enormous trunk filled with paperback books. Once when my parents, sisters, and I were visiting him and my aunt in the old house their were living in up in the mountains, he opened that treasure chest and pulled out a couple of Bradbury books to give me. They, along with To Kill a Mockingbird
, were among the first adult books I read.
My recollection of the Bradbury short stories, and his book Dandelion Wine
, a particular favorite of young Gail's, is that they were small town stories about things that just weren't quite every day. And that's how I read Tales From Outer Suburbia
and Lost & Found
, too, though in this day the action shifts to suburban towns rather than whatever small towns used to be back when Bradbury was writing.
Tan tells his tales in part with visuals, making his books picture books and seemingly for the very young. I see them more for older readers, older children, as I was when I first read Ray Bradbury, and adults.
Check out Shaun Tan's essay PICTURE BOOKS: Who Are They For?
, in which he addresses the question "Who do you write and illustrate for?" Among the things he has to say while trying to come up with an answer: "I suspect that much art in any medium is produced without a primary concern for how it will be received, or by whom. It often doesn’t set out to appeal to a predefined audience but rather build one for itself. The artists’ responsibility lies first and foremost with the work itself, trusting that it will invite the attention of others by the force of its conviction." He also says, "What makes art and literature so interesting is that it presents us with unusual things that encourage us to ask questions about what we already know. It’s about returning us, especially we older readers, to a state of unfamiliarity, offering an opportunity to rediscover some new insight through things we don’t quite recognise (as it was for all of us in the very beginning)."
I think that's a very good explanation for why adults like picture books, in general, and Tan's books, in particular. The strangeness of both Tales From Outer Suburbia
and Lost & Found
do make the familiar unfamiliar, much as Ray Bradbury's short stories did years ago.
My very second blog post
back in March, 2002 related to Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging.
I am a serious Georgia Nicholson
fan. If I'm going to read a book about boyfriends and shopping, Georgia better be in it.
Georgia's creator, Louise Rennison
, has an excellent new series out, about Georgia's younger cousin, Tallulah. Tallulah could be said to have a little more depth than Georgia. Her interests involve more than boys but not to the point that it ruins her sense of humor.
In Withering Tights
Tallulah is off to Yorkshire, home of the Brontes and the school for performing arts where she's putting in a summer session rather than do an Outward Bound course with her brother. What, exactly, is Tallulah's performing talent? Ah...well. She and her friends have read Wuthering Heights
and Jane Eyre
, though, and are capable of some really clever Heathcliff and Mrs. Rochester jokes. In the Glossary at the back of the book, Tallulah defines Heathcliff as "The 'hero' of Wuthering Heights
. Although no one knows why."
I found the boy interests in this book a little more touching than I recall feeling about Georgia's many, many, many
interactions with boys. Everything's still funny, but there's also an underlying feeling that these are more realistic young people moving on in life.
Happy Day! I am coming late to Tallulah. She already has a book of second artistic adventures, A Midsummer Tights Dream
: Hey, this book starts with a disturbance to Tallulah's world--she's off to a performing arts college where she must board with a local family she's never met and meet all new people. The artistic types at the school...the Brontes... This is a plot that definitely seems to me to have evolved from its original situation.
I am definitely a fan of Maryrose Wood
's books, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place
. The serial plays off a number of my favorite types of childhood reading.
My favorite book in the series is the second, which I never blogged about, though I've just finished Book 3, The Unseen Guest
. These are very sophisticated books with historical and literary references that will be as entertaining for readers who get them as pop culture references are for those who stay on top of that.
Notice I called The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place
a serial. Each book has a separate thing going for it--Book 1 introduced the situation, Book 2 took the wolfie children and their intrepid governess to London, and Book 3 deals with the Victorian fascination with the dead and contacting them. But there definitely is an overall story we're dealing with. Who are the three Incorrigible children? Were they brought up by wolves? If so, what kind of wolves would take in children? Did a human help them out in the wild? If so, who was it? What's with Lord Fredrick who took them in and pays for Miss Penelope Lumley to care for them? What happen to Miss Penelope Lumley's parents?
I could go on and on.
These books illustrate a frustration with even the best serials--readers have to wait for the next installment and by the time it comes, how much can they recall of earlier books? The best way to read a serial, I suspect, is after the entire story is done. Years from now, I see some young Gailish person going to the library to pick up another Incorrigible
book. Or perhaps s/he will wait for the e-book to become available for download to an e-reader.
There are a lot of misfit-boy stories out there. There are a lot of misfit-boy-who-likes-comics-or-some-other-formerly-outsider-interest out there. It's a scenario that I probably liked the first few times I saw it, but, you know me. My tolerance for familiarity isn't all that great. The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep And Never Had To
by D.C. Pierson
is very well done, but I almost gave up on it early on, because even though it is funny and poignant, lots of those misfit-boy stories are funny and poignant. I felt I'd read it before.
I stuck with it, though, and the payoff was that Pierson has mashed up that well known misfit-boy story with a science fiction tale. The science fiction aspect actually comes right out of the comic book world the main character, Darren, and his friend, Eric (the boy who couldn't sleep), have been creating. This is what gives The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep And Never Had To
a feel of the new. That's what kept me reading.
Pierson is a subtle and impressive writer. An example: Darren, our main character, has an older brother who is like something out of A Clockwork Orange
, which is mentioned at one point. (The brother is probably modeling himself on Fight Club
, but I haven't seen that, so I can't be sure.) Big Bro' really is repugnant. Yet, he goes to Outback with his father and younger brother every week. The three of them take off at Christmas time. In what passes as a generous act, he gives his younger brother drugs and doesn't make him pay for them. In this chilling guy is something rather family oriented. A reader can feel that if he doesn't get killed or imprisoned, he could turn out okay.
I found The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep And Never Had To
in the YA section of my local library. Yet it appears to have been published as an adult book
. It seems a YA book to me. Yes, Darren is telling his story after it occurs--a couple of years after it occurs, when he's a freshman in college. We're hardly talking a whole lot of adult perspective on the experience here. Yes, there's a lot of rank language and drug use and some real sex, not just the thinking about it kind. I can't recall having read a YA with drug use, but certainly rank language and sex appears in the genre. I can't think of a real reason why this couldn't have been published as YA. I do think it can be viewed as coming-of-age--"Oh, I had a life-changing, grown-up experience." Personally, I think adult readers like that kind of thing more than teenagers do, so maybe these kinds of books get published as adult because that's where their biggest fans may be.Plot Project
: I don't think Darren's story is about something he wants
and struggles to get. It's much more about a disturbance to his world--he finds out that his new friend never sleeps, is sort of a living and breathing science fiction character. What possibilities does that open?
I've been hearing about the Montmaray books
by Michelle Cooper
for a while now, mainly through Horn Book
reviews. The 1930's setting was a draw for me, and I finally got hold of A Brief History of Montmaray
through Interlibrary Loan. It's an odd and attractive work, and I'll be ordering the next volume in the series, probably later today.
First off, I've seen this book compared to I Capture the Castle
, a book that seems to have a cult following. If I've read it, it made no impression on me. I know I saw the movie
. All I remember thinking is that it was a stereotypical eccentric British family story. The book I kept thinking of with Montmaray
was The Book of Ebenezer LePage
, another story of a character living a very confined life on an island. My recollection of that was that it was primarily character and setting, and for a lot of Montmaray
, I felt the same way.
The opening of the book required a little determination from me, in that it begins with a couple of stereotypes I don't enjoy very much. It's written in journal form by a young woman who tells us right away about the young man she's smitten with. Fortunately, given that Sophia is a princess in a royal family that has fallen on very
hard times living in a tiny island kingdom somewhere off from England, France, and Spain (can you tell geography isn't one of my strengths?), I didn't have to put up with any accounts of shopping. (I'm sorry, journal stories about girls smitten with boys and shopping at malls are just more than I can tolerate.)
What finally attracted me was the way the royal FitzOsbornes can trace their fictional history (because they're fictional characters) into all sorts of real historical events. I was also interested because Sophia is the least interesting and colorful of the FitzOsbornes. Her cousin, Princess Veronica, is personally powerful and intelligent and busy writing a Brief History of Montmaray
, while Sophia plods away at her journal. Her older brother, Toby, the heir to the throne Veronica's mad father presently holds, is one of those 1930's era boarding school guys you might see in an Evelyn Waugh or Dorothy Sayers novel. Or on Masterpiece Theater. Sophia's younger sister, Princess Henrietta, prefers to be called Henry. She's such a hardcore tomboy that I wondered if she didn't have some gender identity issues. King John is mad, as I believe I mentioned. Other relatives are dead or missing.
Now that I think of it, I guess a lot of the characters are a little stereotypical. However, putting them in their strange, impoverished imaginary kingdom makes them more interesting. This is a royal family that really is considered royal. But they are in such serious financial straits that the princesses have to do their own cooking and cleaning and outgrowing their clothes is a serious issue. Their aunt, the Princess Royal, married well and appears to be sitting on a load of money in London. She provides for her nephew's education and is willing to treat her nieces to a London season, with the hope of finding them wealthy husbands in the market for princesses.
In terms of plot, the actual story here, the something that happened to somebody, involves how the family ends up...well, I can't exactly tell you that without slapping you with a huge spoiler. I will say, though, that that story line didn't really get started until halfway through the book. The disturbance to the characters' world, the initiating act that everything else is a response to, doesn't come until that point. We are teased with some possible disturbances prior to that. The invitation to Sophia and Veronica. The arrival of an airplane. But I'd have to say that the real story doesn't begin until close to the middle of the book.
It's hard to describe what this book is and why it's attractive because everything I've written here doesn't sound that flattering. Is it a historical novel when the country/kingdom involved is clearly made up? The Fascists, Communists, and Nazis in the book really existed, though. The Mitford sister referred to at one point was a real person. In many ways, I felt that with some tweaks to the setting, this could have been a fantasy. All it would have taken would have been to switch the greater world in which the made-up world of Montmaray exists to a made-up world, too, with slightly different groups filling in for the Fascists, Communists, and Nazis. Or would that have made it alternative history? Is it alternative history now?
I think, ultimately, that's what I like about this book. I don't see it fitting into any narrow category.
Oh, and in addition, there are two relationship surprises at the end of the book that I didn't see coming. Loved them. One, in particular, does a number on the Sophia of the beginning of the book. Loved that.
Well, well, well. I requested I Hunt Killers
by Barry Lyga
a while back, and by the time I got hold of it, it was a Cybils nominee for YA fiction
.I Hunt Killers
is a serial murderer story with a tormented lead who is both hunting for the killer and fearful that he could become one. It includes a quirky, much weaker, sidekick and a spunky girlfriend. It made me think of Dexter,
if Dexter had made any attempt to control himself when he was young. And had friends.
It also reminded me of Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick
in that both books seem like YA book versions of adult movies. With some changes to details, all the main characters could easily be ten years older and pretty much maintain the same plot and end up with the same story. And it seems as if it wouldn't take a whole lot to adapt them into movies because they seem so much like movies already.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. This thriller scenario may be new to YA, which is different than doing the same thing in YA over and over again simply because new readers are coming up who haven't seen it before
This idea of using adult film as inspiration for YA novels may be really taking off right now. I'm reading The FitzOsbornes in Exile
, and though I'm enjoying it, I have to say it seems a lot like a Masterpiece series.
Minutes before I started reading Ungifted
by Gordon Korman,
I gave up reading a book that was told from alternating points of view. Several of them. None of the characters were particularly interesting, some of them were terribly cliched, and the point of view switches meant having to keep readjusting myself to a different person telling a story I didn't like very much, anyway.
Imagine my surprise when I found that Ungifted
was told the same way. The basic story is more interesting in Ungifted
, though, and the characters are all more likable and more accessible.Ungifted
is the story of a run-of-the-mill kid who has a history of stumbling into disruptive rather than criminal trouble. After accidentally causing expensive damage to the middle school gym, he takes advantage of a paperwork error so he can hide out in the district's school for the academically gifted.
I found the basic premise for the book believable. Donovan had legitimate reasons for being concerned about the financial trouble he was going to make for his family if he was fingered for the gym job. I found the slip-up that got him into the gifted program believable. I found his family's response to his sudden identification as gifted believable. For the past thirty years, at least, it has been a rare parent who hasn't spent their children's entire school careers waiting for someone besides themselves to recognize their offsprings' splendor.
I did feel the point of view switches weakened the story, though. The basic idea is that Donovan's presence at the school makes life better for the gifted students. I buy that idea
, too. But I would have enjoyed getting deeper into one point of view in order to see what's so great about Donovan.
This is a contemporary, realistic school story with a lot of humor. I see so much fantasy, paranormal, teen girl group stuff that a realistic story seems unique by comparison. A lot of kids would be happy to find this book.Ungifted
is a Cybils nominee
in the middle grade fiction category.
again, and I am pleased that things have fallen into place so that I can write about a book that began in NaNoWriMo, 2008
by Marissa Meyer
is proof that NaNoWriMo can turn out a good book.
First off, I should tell you that my knowledge of Cinderella is limited to the Little Golden Book version of the Disney movie. I'm no expert on the origins of the story. I can tell you, though, that I'm not a fan of the "Some day my prince will come" attitude that I associate with the whole Cinderella concept, even if it is Disney's fault.
Ya get none of that in Cinder
. Au contraire
, the prince is damn lucky he stumbled upon Cinder, or it looks as if he will be at some point because I don't think I'm giving anything away to say that Cinder
is book one in The Lunar Chronicles
Okay, so with this book you get Cinderella in a cyberpunk
world. It's a world set far in the future, with royalty ruling a section of the Far East that includes China and the rest of the planet divied up differently with royal or elected rulers. Yeah, it's a post godawful world war situation, but not one that's particularly dire. This isn't The Hunger Games
. There is a creepy group of people on the moon, though.
In terms of the Cinderella thing that's going on here, Cinder doesn't leave her shoes anywhere. Instead, she struggles with her artificial foot because she's a cyborg. The prince doesn't see her across a crowded ballroom. He brings his android to her to be fixed because she's a mechanic. She has a wicked stepmother and two stepsisters, but they all have a lot more depth than you usually see in Cinderella variations. Yes, you will actually feel for poor old mom. Occasionally. At least I did.
There's a cool standin for the coach, and a couple of days after I finished reading the book I realized there's probably a character who is functioning as the fairy godmother.
A third-person story, people. You don't see a lot of that. My only quibble with this story is that Cinder is the point-of-view character, yet a few times the point of view shifts to the prince. But, remember, I am a writer who obsesses on things like point of view.
And guess what? No annoying blurbs on the cover!
I'm going to see my thirteen-year-old niece at Thanksgiving. I will ask her if she's familiar with cyberpunk. If she says, "No," I can assure her that Aunt Gail will take care of that hole in her reading. Cinder
is a Cinderella story you can actually feel good about giving to a family member.
Cinder is a Cybils nominee in the Fantasy and Science Fiction category
An argument could be made that Friends With Boys
by Faith Erin Hicks
is just another outsider trying to make it in high school story. Maggie and her three older brothers were all homeschooled by their mother who, like so many mothers in children's lit/YA, is gone, gone, gone. Each one of them had to transition to public school at ninth grade. Now it's Maggie's turn. Her brothers are quite marvelous, though not particularly attentive, and Maggie is left to experience not just the terrors of high school on her own, but the whole separation from family that most kids do somewhere between the ages of 3 and 5.
Yes, the homeschooling thing is the only unusual element here in the basic story. Nonetheless, Friends With Boys
is very well done. Partly this is because those older brothers, while not particularly helpful at first, have made their way through an assortment of adolescent problems and are still standing, so there is every reason for us to trust Maggie to do the same. And partly this is because Friends With Boys
is a graphic novel and a really good one.
I am able to whip through what I consider to be a well-done graphic novel, one that uses image to communicate setting and action. Hicks does even more here. Her wonderful artwork conveys character. When Maggie's older brothers appear, our understanding of them is almost instantaneous. There are no what I call "narrative boxes" in these frames--spots where the graphic novelist has had to tell us some info in words. Absolutely everything here is in dialogue and images. You can just suck this story in, absorb it. Be one with the story.
Okay, I will admit I don't totally get the ghost. But for you people who like that sort of thing, hey, there's a ghost.Friends With Boys
is a Cybils nominee in the Teen Graphic Novels category
The One and Only Ivan
by Katherine Applegate
is one of those books that is saved by a really great character. Ivan is a gorilla, and he tells his own story in short chapters laid out in short paragraphs. They aren't indented and are spaced in such a way that the material on the pages could pass for lists. This all seems to me to suggest the way a nonhuman would tell a story.
Ivan's is a hard core outsider story, because, though he describes himself as having had a life as a human at one point ("My life as a human was a glamorous one, although my parents, traditional sorts, would not have approved."), he clearly has not. He lived in a human family only as long as the human family could tolerate him. He observes humans from inside a cage.
He may not quite get that his understanding is often just a little bit off. So all his observations and philosophical sounding statements are from the point of view of someone who is watching humans but not always totally getting beyond the surface of what he observes. This is not to say that he's superficial. He does the best he can with what he's got to work with.
Applegate was inspired by a true story
of a gorilla who lived much like Ivan did. Since this included spending decades in a cage, you might think this is one of those evil people doing animals bad stories. But the entire human race isn't written off here. Even Mack, who could be described as the heavy, is portrayed as more unenlightened and maybe confused than wicked.The One and Only Ivan
is a clever, often very readable story. But it also often doesn't have a lot of narrative drive. Which brings us to an opportunity to do a Plot Project piece.Plot Project:
You could describe The One and Only Ivan
plot as being built around a character wanting something and having to overcome obstacles to get it. Ivan wants to save a young elephant. But that young elephant doesn't enter the story until about a quarter of the way through the book, and Ivan's mission to save her doesn't become clear until close to the halfway point. You could also describe The One and Only Ivan
plot as beginning with a disturbance to his world--the arrival of the young elephant. But, again, that doesn't come until a quarter of the way in. The real story here, the something that happens to somebody and so what, doesn't begin for quite a while. Until then, you're talking world building and characterization.
Ivan is a wonderful character, but it wasn't until the last third of the book that I became interested in what might happen next.
There's a discussion of The One and Only Ivan
in the comments to this review
at the Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
. The One and Only Ivan
is also a Cybils nominee in the Fantasy/Science Fiction
category. That seems an odd place for it, given what we think of as fantasy these days. But it is about a gorilla who can write a book, so...
I have been a fan of the Ivy + Bean books by Annie Barrows for years. As I said back in 2007:
"Bean could be described as a Junie B. and Clementine type of child in that she tends to go her own way. Her creator describes her as "loud and wild." The difference between Bean and the other leads in the big, girl series is that Bean is comfortable with who she is. She isn't always anxiously interacting with adult characters who reassure her in some way or are involved in helping her learn a reassuring lesson. Most of Bean's interaction is with another child and not adults. She interacts with Ivy, her co-lead, who, superficially, is your stereotypical quiet little girl.
Yeah, your quiet little girl who is into magic and potions, and who is sharp as a tack. Talk about still waters running deep."
Their eighth book, No News Is Good News,
is more of the same, and the same is very good. Ivy and Bean want to take part in a school fad that requires money. Their first plan to make some involves selling potions that Ivy would make. Surprisingly, that doesn't work. So they fall back on creating a neighborhood newspaper, as Bean's father did when he was young. They grasp the concept of selling subscriptions right away. That they will have to provide something to the people who paid up comes as something of a surprise to them. They also struggle with the concept of "news."
Yes, stories about child-run newspapers have been done before. But not with Ivy and Bean.Ivy + Bean No News Is Good News
is a Cybils nominee in the Easy Readers/Short Chapter Books category.
I have "known" Melissa Wiley
of Here in the Bonny Glen
for years. She's written five books
, three of which came out this year. Fox and Crow Are Not Friends
is the first that I've read.
This clever Step into Reading
book uses three tidy chapters to show Fox and Crow interacting in nonfriendly ways. At the same time, the book is a complete story with a climax and surprise reveal. The images don't just illustrate text but really do carry part of the storyline. The reveal makes sense in terms of the illustration. At the end of the story, we suddenly ask ourselves, Ah, yes. Where did the cheese come from?
And this little volume is full of literary references, starting with its title. Fox and Crow Are Not Friends
calls to mind Frog and Toad Are Friends
the first of the Frog and Toad I Can Read
books by Arnold Lobel
. I once saw this series referred to as the best I Can Read
books ever written. The chapter title A Good Smell Is Hard to Find
has to make adult readers think of Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard to Find
, a short story I've never understood. Another chapter title, Revenge Is a Dish Best Served with Cheese
is a play on "revenge is a dish best served cold," which is not a Klingon proverb
, people! And the reveal at the end, which I don't want to give away--did it not make anyone else think of the Berenstain Bears
I hope we'll see more Fox and Crow books in the future.Fox and Crow Are Not Friends
is a Cybils nominee in the Easy Readers/Early Chapter Books
If you're looking for Day Five of the Minette's Feast Blog Tour, you're in the right spot.
by Susanna Reich
, illustrated by Amy Bates
, is a lovely picture book with a Parisian setting and a charming story. A woman living in Paris and studying French cuisine
adopts a cat, Minette, that far prefers the results of her own food prep—hunting for birds and mice—to the cassoulets
, and pates
her owner makes. She is finally won over, at least temporarily, by the leftovers from a dish that had taken three days to marinate.
The descriptions and illustrations of home, cooking, and food, food, food give Minette’s Feast
the potential to become a comfort book, so it doesn’t matter that many young readers won’t know who the woman referred to in the book’s subtitle —“The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat”—is. Furthermore, Minette holds her own as a character. She does, after all, turn up her nose at meals prepared by a student at “Le Cordon Bleu, the famous cooking school.” Whether or not she will be won over to fine human food provides the narrative drive for this sweet piece of creative nonfiction.
That is what Minette’s Feast
seems to be to me—creative nonfiction
for kids. Creative nonfiction, as I first saw it defined years ago, is nonfiction that reads like fiction. It is written using “elements
borrowed from fiction to tell true stories,” as nonfiction children’s writer Melissa Stewart
wrote earlier this year
. Descriptive language (“Julia and Paul were charmed by Minette’s delicate whiskers, her superior nose, and her quick little paws.”), dialogue (“Une maison sans chat, c’est la vie sans soleil
!”), and the use of scenes (“And every time they went out for a walk, they enjoyed a fine, fine meal. They nibbled croissants in cafes where cats curled on chairs…”) are all examples of writing elements usually associated with fiction that a writer of creative nonfiction may choose to use.
In fact, in Lee Gutkind'
s collection of essays by writers of creative nonfiction, Keep It Real
, scenes are described as the building blocks of creative nonfiction. They then need to be placed in some kind of order, or frame. In the case of Minette's Feast,
Susannah Reich uses a traditional story frame to organize her scenes. A story
is an account or retelling of something that happened told in a way that expresses meaning. That's why a beginning, middle, and end are so important to stories. We see the world of the
Before Christmas I went into a Barnes & Noble hoping to score a copy of War Horse
by Michael Morpurgo
for my niece. I figured the movie adaptation was being advertised to death, a Christmas Day opening was planned, I should find a case of the books right by the front door. Nope. While checking out the situation with a sales clerk, I said, "Gee, I thought you'd have this out in a rack because of the movie." She was looking the book up on her computer screen and in that bored or tired way that sales clerks have when they're doing that sort of thing said, "We had it. I can order you a copy."
I don't recall how I got Rebecca her book. But for the next few months, I kept thinking, Wow. What an opportunity missed. That's an older book that should have sold by the truckload with all the attention it has gotten not just because of the movie, but it's a Broadway show
. Come on.
Well, I didn't need to worry about War Horse
's sales. According to the book's author
, they've gone from a couple of thousand a year to over a million copies total, and it has now been translated into over 40 languages, up from 4 or 5. It looks as if here in the U.S. Scholastic is promoting it for its book fairs
It may be an odd book in terms of audience, though. The main character is Joey, the war horse, himself. He has a lovely, elegant voice, but the humans around him tend to sound alike. They also often speak in an intense...er...I hate to say it about a fairly grim war story...but, sort of sappy way. Maybe it's because Morpurgo is trying to recreate the speech patterns of another era. Or maybe it's because these people are often talking to or about animals. I have some family members who can be quite cloying when they're talking to or about my mother-in-law's cat. At any rate, the age group that's most interested in animal main characters may not be as interested in war experiences and battle scenes. And the age group that appreciates war narratives may not be crazy about having one told by a horse.
Of course, the fact that a million books have sold probably suggests I'm talking about a nonissue.
World War I was the forgotten twentieth century war for a long time, always existing in World War II's shadow. War Horse
's renewed popularity is part of an upswing of interest in the earlier war and the era surrounding it. A lot of what is portrayed in the book seems historically accurate as far as my knowledge of WWI is concerned. It could be argued that the outdated tactic of sending cavalry and single soldiers across battle fields into machine guns is handled in a pedantic, instructive way, but it did happen. An article on a horse that actually "served" in the war
supports the end of Morpurgo's book, which shows the British army selling off its horses in France rather than bringing them back to Britain. I've seen some talk on-line about the book and the movie being sentimental, but at least with the book I think enough characters are killed off to avoid a claim that it glorifies war.
As with a number of ch
Daughter of Smoke & Bone
by Laini Taylor
could be described as both a romance and a fantasy, neither of which I enjoy reading. I did like it, though, and I think it might be because this story also has elements of mystery. What happened? Who is the main character, Karou? Why is the guy with the wings always hanging around her?
Recently I read about story secrets
, and this story has three good ones that I'm aware of. Two I wasn't even thinking about, they just hit me, and a third I realized was a secret but I was wrong about what the secret was.
Karou is a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague. She, a human, was raised in an alternative world by four creatures who physically would be considered monsters. She moves back and forth between the human world and her "family's" magical one, often called by Brimstone, a father figure, who sends her on errands to collect teeth. Soon after being attacked by a beautiful stranger with wings, she's cut off from Brimstone and her other loved ones. Her plan is to get back into her old world and find her family.
A couple of factors make this more than a traditional boy-meets-girl story. For one thing, Karou has a journey thing going apart from the romance. For another, she's a person whose identity is unknown to herself and us and slowly revealed to both character and reader.
This was one of those books that became distressing as I approached the end because I realized that it was going "to be continued," as it says on the last page. It's the first in a projected trilogy. Quite honestly, though, I would have been fine with the ending of this book being all we get.Plot Project:
I most definitely think this is a disturbance story rather than a think-up-a-problem-to-lay-on-a-character story. Karou straddles two worlds--one of them is then shut off to her. That is a first-class disturbance. It gives an author all kinds of opportunities to ask and answer questions. Then you've got the business about the mysterious flying stranger showing up. Again, classic disturbance. It is at the point where these two things happen that the story action actually begins.
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One for the Murphys
by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
(whom I have known for over ten years
) is a touching, sweet-natured story of a toughened girl from a rough background who falls in with the right crowd. After living what sounds like a day-to-day life in Vegas with her single mom, Carley Connors ends up in suburban Connecticut with her mother and an abusive stepfather. Stepdad becomes violent, and Mom and Carley end up hospitalized. Mom, who hasn't been nominated for Mother of the Year, ever, lands in rehab because of her injuries. Carley lands in foster care with the Murphy family, who she finds oppressively good, particularly the mom.
I happened to start reading One for the Murphys
as I was finishing up one of those mysteries set in the nineteenth century with a clever upper class female lead and an outsider male (who is still a gentleman, of sorts, of course) counterpart who are clearly attracted to one another but always taking one step toward a relationship and then experiencing misunderstandings that keep them apart. (Yeah. I read those, but I'm not bragging.) As a result, I saw parallels
in One for the Murphys
. It appears to me to be what I'll call a "family romance," a story in which an outsider child does the one-step-forward-bump-into-misunderstandings dance with a truly good family that has the potential to save her/him if child and family can only get together.
All the time I was reading about Carley in Murphys
, I was thinking about Dan in Little Men
.When I was a child, Little Men
Alcott book as far as I was concerned, not Little Women
, which I liked well enough but even then probably found a little holier than thou. Carley is so much like Dan, craving mother Julia Murphy as Dan craves mother Jo Bhaer. There is an actual love interest in these stories, a mother/child love interest between real mothers and children they have no biological connection to. Both child characters in the relationships have redemptive scenes with their mother figures' biological children. It's clear that Carley's personal story will continue past the end of One for the Murphys
. Dan's personal story continues in another actual book, Jo's Boys
.One for the Murphys
will be a good read for adults who hope they could save a child if they had to and for children who hope there is an adult out there who could save them if they needed it.
I have met many other writers, but I don't think I've known one as long as I've known Lynda or known one before she started publishing. Reading the early chapters of this book was a bizarre experience because I could often hear Lynda's voice speaking Carley's dialogue and visualize her facial expressions and body language.
Oops. I almost forgot to mention that I purchased my copy of the book. It was not a gift from the author or an arc