Tag: literature

Book Review: Circe, by Madeline Miller

Circe
Image belongs to Little, Brown, and Company.

Title:   Circe
Author:   Madeline Miller
Genre:   Fiction, literary fiction, mythology
Rating:   4.5/5

Circe is the daughter of Helios, god of the sun and the mightiest Titan. Her mother is both cruel and alluring. Circe is not like either of them. Nor is she like her three siblings, striving for power and fame.

Circe prefers the company of fragile mortals to that of the powerful—and cruel—gods. In her search for companionship, Circe discovers she does have power:  that of witchcraft. Her power to transform her rivals into monsters makes the gods fear her, and she is banished by Zeus himself to a deserted island.

There, Circe learns her craft, growing in power and knowledge as she comes to know some of the most famous individuals in mythology:  The Minotaur, Medea, Daedalus, and especially the mighty Odysseus. But Circe draws the anger of one of the most powerful god in existence, and it will take all of skills and cunning to survive—and to decide if she will be a god, or a mortal.

I’ve always loved mythology, and I knew a tiny bit about Circe from a year spent studying mythology in high school (Thank you, Mrs. Skidmore!), but this novel is a riveting and personal journey into Circe’s life. Her treatment at the hands of the gods made me sad—kind of like the behavior of a lot of society these days—and her fumbling attempts to find friends and figure out her own truths drew my sympathy.

I loved reading about mythology from an insiders’ view—I truly felt I was part of the tale, experiencing Circe’s pain, grief, horror, and happiness right along with her. Well-written and engrossing, this book is a journey readers will love to take!

Madeline Miller is the award-winning author of The Song of Achilles. Her newest novel is Circe.

(Galley provided by Little, Brown, and Company in exchange for an honest review.)

Advertisements

Book Review: The Coincidence Makers, by Yoav Blum

thecoincidencemakers
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:  The Coincidence Makers
Author:  Yoav Blum
Genre:  A mix of several:  mystery, romance, literary fiction-ish.
Rating:  3.5/5

We’ve all had something happen “by coincidence,” like running into your childhood best friend on the side of the street when you have a flat tire. Or meeting someone new in a coffee shop after you knock your drink off the table onto their shoes. But what if those things don’t just happen by chance?

Guy, Emily, and Eric are Coincidence Makers:  they work for a secret organization, creating the coincidences they are assigned through complex manipulations and machinations. Sometimes, they create a love match. Sometimes, they just give someone the push they need to live their dreams.

Guy used to be an Imaginary Friend, and he fell in love with another Imaginary Friend. He’s never forgotten her, and thoughts of her haunt every day, so he tries his best to ignore Emily’s overtures. But when Guy is assigned a coincidence that’s higher than anything he’s done before, he realizes even his hidden world has deeper secrets.

I liked this book. The concept is unique and fascinating—even if the “science” is sometimes a bit over my head. Guy, Emily, and Eric are characters I liked, and they would be fun to hang out with. The book is dreamy, and reading it felt like floating…or I probably would have enjoyed it more (not the right type of book for my mindset at the time), but it was a good, creative read.

Yoav Blum is an Israeli author and software developer whose novels have become international bestsellers. The Coincidence Makers is his newest novel.

(Galley provided by St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Whose Line is it Anyway?

(This show used to crack me up. I just don’t think fast enough on my feet to be able hold my own on a show like that, but it was hilarious.)

I’m not sure if the first line of a story causes me more fear and second-guessing, or the last line, but I’m leaning towards the first line. Think about it:  you’re trying to set the tone for an entire novel (or novella or short story or essay or paper…), and you want to capture your audience’s attention as well as the feel of the entire novel. In that one sentence. That’s a lot of pressure for one measly sentence, a mere handful of words.

So which tone do you take?

Iconic? “In the beginning…”

Fantastical? “Once upon a time…”

Historical? “It was the best of times…”

Character-driven? “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful…”

(True story:  I actually know the entire first half-page or so of Gone with the Wind by heart. It’s my favorite book ever, and while stylistically it’s not something I can emulate, it certainly paints a vivid picture of Scarlett right off the bat.)

I mean, if we were watching a movie, that opening shot would be—comparatively speaking—much easier to establish setting, world, character, and plot. You’ve got visuals. You could use Johnny Depp against the ocean, or bright words rolling up against a backdrop of stars. There’s an immediate feeling of place.

But what’s the literary equivalent of that opening shot?

My advice is not to worry too much over it when you’re writing your fist draft. (Are you listening, self?) If you have a brilliant idea for the perfect first line, use it. But write the entire piece or novel, and when you go back to revise, get your story in the best possible shape you can, then take a look at your first line. Chances are good that your story will have changed so much that that “perfect” first line is no longer even relevant.

But you’ll have a much better feel for the story and what you’re trying to say, and I’m betting that crafting that elusive perfect first line won’t be quite so hard with that in mind.

Local Writers’ Event and Reader’s Indecision

This week was fairly productive, considering it was the first week of grad school (Eep!). I did a tiny bit of writing—1,000 words or so—in The Fall, plus outlining 10 scenes in it as well. Having an outline made the writing flow pretty well. Something I know, yet I still started writing this story with no outline. Smart move, there.

I did a little outlining in the Witches revision, also. I’m sort of feeling my way with that, since I’ve revised the story several times, and this is more of a re-write than a revision, but I’m using the current draft as a guideline. We’ll see how that works out. My voice and style have changed significantly since I originally plotted the story.

Yesterday I attended a local authors’ event with a friend. It’s part of the library’s Year of the Book promotion. Each author had a table, and they each spoke for 10 minutes.

yotb
Lineup of authors.

My friend and I went because we both love Rachel Caine’s work. (I’ve read The Morganville Vampires series, the Weather Warden series, the Outcast Season spin-offs, and her re-telling of Romeo and Juliet. I’ve been wanting to read her The Great Library series as well.)

Somehow, by sheer luck, we arrived about 15 minutes before Rachel’s talk, just in time to hear Sarah MacTavish. (I feel like I’ve heard of her, but can’t swear to it. I read SO MUCH that authors sometimes get a little bit mixed up in my mind sometimes.) I enjoyed her talk, and the short chat I had with her afterwards, and bought her book, Firebrand. Young adult fiction about the Civil War from an author who carries her supply of books in an R2D2 suitcase? I’m sold! I’m looking forward to the read, just as soon as I wrangle enough time from my schedule for it.

My purchases for the day:

books

It’s been quite a while since I purchased physical copies of fiction. The bottom two books I bought at the event, the top three at B & N beforehand. I was so excited when I got home, but I had serious reader’s indecision:  What to read first?

Answer:  Firstlife, by Gena Showalter, because I’m hoping to get approved to review the second book in the series, and because I’ve been interested in this one for a while. Isn’t the cover gorgeous?

Confession:  I read the entire thing last night. Loved it! The concept is so unique, and the characters compelled me from the first page. You should definitely read this!

The Tea Planter’s Wife, by Dinah Jeffries

tpw
I do not own this image. Image belongs to Crown Publishing.

Dinah Jeffries was born in Malaysia but moved to England at age nine. Her newest novel is The Tea Planter’s Wife.

Gwen arrives in Ceylon full of anticipation and fear:  newly married after a whirlwind courtship, now she joins her husband, Laurence, on his tea plantation. Ceylon is so much more than Gwen ever imagined:  a lush, other-worldly paradise filled with racial conflict and secrets. Lots of secrets.

Like the hidden grave she finds near the house. And the trunk of old baby clothes. Laurence won’t talk about these secrets, and soon Gwen is wrapped up in her pregnancy and a secret of her own. These secrets put up a wall between Gwen and Laurence, one that leads to more secrets, lies and manipulation, and a tragedy of the worst sort.

Some books leave you speechless and emotionally reeling. This was one of those books. Ceylon is so vivid and brimming with life I could almost smell the flowers and the tea. Gwen and Laurence are flawed and frightened, but love each other so much and so deeply as their relationship grows. Their secrets haunt them both through every page of the book. This book is a phenomenal, emotional rollercoaster!

(Galley provided by Crown Publishing.)

The Summer that Melted Everything, by Tiffany McDaniel

 

the summer that melted everything
(I do not own this image. Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.)

 

Tiffany McDaniel is a poet, playwright, screenwriter, and artist, as well as an author. Her first published novel is The Summer that Melted Everything.

In 1984, a summer heat wave swept over Breathed, Ohio and changed everything. Or was it the devil that did the changing? Fielding Bliss is just a kid, a kid whose dad issued the devil’s invitation. No one thought he’d actually show up…

Sal is bruised and battered, but he looks like a normal 13-year-old kid. Except for his claim to be the devil. But Fielding takes him home, where he’s accepted into the family. The rest of Breathed isn’t quite so accepting. As the heat wave continues, strange things start happening, and soon everyone starts believing the fanatic who urges the devil’s destruction. The Bliss family is dealing with their own personal demons, but soon their crisis and the town’s become one, as the fate of Sal hangs in the balance.

The Summer that Melted Everything is an evocative, descriptive novel that will have the reader sweltering along with the characters—and wondering, too. Is Sal really the devil? What’s causing the unfortunate accidents sweeping through Breathed? And when will the madness—and the heat—end? This is a gripping novel that floats along like a lazy summer’s day, then explodes into action like fireworks across a night sky.

(Galley provided by St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley.)

Community

Holly Lisle is looking for readers and writers to build a community that fosters the growth of new writers.  The readers will have the opportunity to help writers they support to grow and learn, the writers will gain support and assistance where they need it.  Holly does wonderful things for other writers, and this is a fantastic new idea of hers that is still in beta development.  If you’re interested, check it out here.

The Girl with the Windup Heart (Steampunk Chronicles) by Kady Cross

The Girl with the Windup Heart, by Kady Cross (Harlequin Teen)
The Girl with the Windup Heart, by Kady Cross (Harlequin Teen)

Kady Cross is the best-selling author of the Steampunk Chronicles, a series set in London in the late 1890s. She combines magic and technology with the urban English culture to produce an intriguing and well-detailed world. The Girl with the Windup Heart is the final installment in the series.

Mila was a childlike part-automaton girl when she first came to live at Jack Dandy’s house. Now she’s developed a fierce personality and desires and interests of her own. When Jack refuses to see her as she is—a woman in love with him–her heart is broken and she runs away to create a life for herself. She ends up in the West End, amidst the flamboyant characters of a dazzling circus. But danger straight out of Jack Dandy’s past haunts her even there, and she will need Jack’s help if she is to survive.

Griffin King is hot on the trail of London’s latest serial killer, but he never expected his search for the murderer to lead him where it does: to the Aether, and the lair of his nemesis, The Machinist. Soon Griffin is trapped and being tortured for control of the Aether itself. If he breaks, everyone will suffer, especially Finley Jane and their ragtag group of friends.

The world of the Steampunk Chronicles is the most fascinating aspect of this series, filled with magic and technology that has never existed in our world, but set in the English culture that is ruled by manners and class-consciousness. Ms Cross’s characters are distinctive and intriguing, without being unbelievable or unrealistic, despite their unique backgrounds and abilities. The camaraderie between the group offers a solid support against the dangers of their world and the powers of their enemies, both human and other. The Girl with the Windup Heart is well-written and flows between wildly different settings with ease and grace.

(Galley provided by Harlequin Teen via NetGalley)

Out of curiosity, I always check out Goodreads to see what other people think of a book. I may not agree with their opinions, but they have a right to them. However, this time….I found one of the first reviews was overwhelmingly negative, with the reviewer not liking the world, the writing, the relationships, the characters, basically everything about this series. Nothing positive to say whatsoever. Now, this is the ONLY book of this series I’ve read. I enjoyed it. But you can bet that if I had disliked the first book in a series as much as the reviewer claims to, I would not have read farther. So tell me why, at the end of this scathing review, does the reviewer make it clear that he/she has read EVERY SINGLE BOOK in the series? Just a question: if you hated something this much, why did you continue reading it?

The Girl with the Windup Heart, by Kady Cross (Harlequin Teen)
The Girl with the Windup Heart, by Kady Cross (Harlequin Teen)

The (Changing) Habits of Readers

Okay, I admit it.  I love to read fiction.  Especially fantasy.  Bonus enjoyability points if it’s YA fantasy.  I’ve read predominantly fantasy for years now, with a few forays out into mysteries, forensic thrillers, and humor (Stephanie Plum, anyone?).  I normally read several books at a time, with one “main” book that I pick up whenever I have a spare moment.  Normally, these are all fiction.

But lately, my TBR pile has moved into uncharted territory for me:  non-fiction.  Exclusively non-fiction.  What?  That’s what I thought, too.  Now, instead of the latest fantasy gem to catch my eye, I’m reading–and eagerly awaiting reading–books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, Pandora’s Seed, and The First Human.  Granted, The First Human is reading for my anthropology class, but I’m really enjoying it and am finding it quite interesting.  Pandora’s Seed also started off as reading for my evolution and ecology class–last semester–but it’s pretty interesting as well, and ties into my latest personal research into environmental issues.  The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food are both about topics that I find very relevant of late, as I focus more on my health and eating healthier in general.  Both gave me a lot of–excuse the pun–food for thought, and gave me more focus on how I spend my food dollars, and the statement I want to make with them.

I’ve also been doing more spirit-based reading, including The Blessed Life, by Pastor Robert Morris (pastor at my church, Gateway Church, and a phenomenally gifted speaker).  Up next are the Divine Revelation books, and some more spirit-based reading.

Basically, I’ve found that my reading habits have changed lately, more closely tying in to the personal growth areas I’m working on.  Instead of reading for sheer entertainment, now I seem to be drawn to books that will help me grow.

Does anyone else find that their reading habits change over time, or in certain situations?

The Habits of Readers

What makes you want to read a book? For me, there’s one sure way to guarantee I’ll read a book: if it’s by an author I’ve read and enjoyed before. That’s a safe bet. But for a new (or new-to-me) author, what’s a good way to get me to pick up the book–and then make an even bigger investment of time and money–and buy it?

The cover of the book is one way. It’s hard to place too much importance on the book cover. Honestly, I can’t even tell you the number of book covers that have intrigued me enough to actually buy the book. Here are three book covers that intrigued me enough to buy the book:

Before I Wake, by Rachel Vincent
Before I Wake, by Rachel Vincent
Flirting with Forty, by Jane Porter
Flirting with Forty, by Jane Porter
Alice in Zombieland, by Gena Showalter
Alice in Zombieland, by Gena Showalter

There aren’t really any common elements between. They are all just really well-done covers. If it catches my eye on a bookshelf, at the very least I’ll pick it up, flip it over, and read the back cover copy.

Cover copy is another way to attract readers. Last week, I saw the blurb for Coleen Patrick’s new book Come Back to Me:

Whitney Denison can’t wait to start over.

 She thought she had everything under control, that her future would always include her best friend Katie… Until everything changed.

Now her life in Bloom is one big morning-after hangover, filled with regret, grief, and tiny pinpricks of reminders that she was once happy. A happy she ruined. A happy she can’t fix.

So, she is counting down the days until she leaves home for Colson University, cramming her summer with busywork she didn’t finish her senior year, and taking on new hobbies that involve glue and glitter, and dodging anyone who reminds her of her old life.

When she runs into the stranger who drove her home on graduation night, after she’d passed out next to a ditch, she feels herself sinking again. The key to surviving the summer in Bloom is unraveling whatever good memories she can from that night.

But in searching for answers, she’ll have to ask for help and that means turning to Evan, the stranger, and Kyle, Katie’s ex-boyfriend. Suddenly, life flips again, and Whitney finds herself on not only the precipice of happy but love, too, causing her to question whether she can trust her feelings, or if she is falling into her old patterns of extremes.

As she uncovers the truth about her memories, Whitney sees that life isn’t all or nothing, and that happy isn’t something to wait for, that instead, happy might just be a choice.

I was so intrigued by the description of the book, I clicked on the link and bought it immediately (Great read, btw!)  Again, there’s no list of ingredients for how to write great cover copy, but using active descriptions instead of boring passive-voice is a must, as is giving the reader just enough details to whet their appetite (and have them chasing the carrot).

A great title is also a way to get me to commit to a book.  Gena Showalter’s Alice in Zombieland is a fantastic example of this.  I would have bought this for the title alone (even without the great cover and fantastic cover copy).  As a writer, coming up with the perfect title is something I tend to obsess about, so I love to check out other authors’ titles, hoping to find something that will give my own Muse a nudge in the right direction.

What about you?  What gets you reading?