Monthly Archives: December 2014

Book Review on California; a fully-developed, post-apocalyptic world that will keep your heart close to home.

California: a novelcalifornia novel

This debut novel by Edan Lepucki is a brilliant, thought-provoking story set in a post-apocalyptic world that is not so far from reality.

Cal and Frida, a young married couple, are forced to leave the world–and everyone in it–behind once Los Angeles becomes too dirty and dangerous to live in. Struggling to survive on their own in the forests of California, Frida becomes pregnant. Do they dare bring a child into this world where they can barely take care of themselves? Unable to contain their curiosity and stifle their loneliness, Cal and Frida venture away from their home in the woods and find themselves immersed in an unpredictable, complicated world they never could have imagined.

The World

Lepucki not only imagines a fully-developed world, but shares every aspect of it to the reader. The focus on this post-apocalyptic world, how it works, its flaws, its dangers, and its secrets highlight the things that will never change; love, companionship, community. Lepucki shows the reader multiple lifestyles of this world but beneath their varied surfaces, everyone is insecure and incomplete. As a reader, this novel made me appreciate the world of privilege I live in and often take for granted.

Imagine living in a world where your only neighbors are trees.

The Writing

Thought-provoking. Seamless. Creative. Full. Interesting. These are all words that describe Lepucki’s writing.

The transitions in California were mind blowing. At one point early on in the novel (pages 67-75 of the hardcover), the prose was juggling current action, intense emotion, multiple backstories, and future secrets all in the same 8-page section. The most impressive part was that I didn’t get confused for a second. The transitions in this section were non-stop; jumping from present time, to a backstory, to present time, to a different backstory and all of it was relevant and interesting.

spike

Point of View

Although always 3rd person, the point of view changes every chapter between the two main characters’ perspectives. This method was executed with perfection. Always keeping it in 3rd person, as well as using the chapters as natural switching points, kept confusion at bay. The two main characters, one male and one female, offered different perspectives and opinions on this crazy world that the reader is introduced to. It also allowed the characters to keep secrets from one another while the reader saw the whole pictures, adding suspense to the plot.

I deeply enjoyed the POV changes, feeling that it gave me a complete, personal picture of each character as well as their motives. I found myself in happy inspection of different scenes throughout the book, trying to decipher why Lepucki chose to write specific scenes from the chosen point of view. A true testament to her writing ability is that not once did I wish a scene was written from the other character’s POV. It was obvious a lot of thought (and likely revision) went into deciding what scenes would be most interesting/revealing in what character’s POV.

Overall

I’m tempted to put this book on my “Favorite Books of 2014” list (COMING SOON!) and therefore award it FIVE STARS!! The writing and the story affected me in a personal way and I am certainly excited for Edan Lepucki second novel!

uproot

20 Opening Lines from Christmas and Winter-Themed Books

Here is a fun article from Stylist.co.uk

20 OF THE GREATEST OPENING LINES FROM OUR FAVOURITE CHRISTMAS AND WINTER-THEMED BOOKS

I think the title explains it all. All I have to add is…..

HAVE A VERY
MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!

christmas

In Dean Koontz’s own words, the theme of Odd Thomas

Theme is not something I try to put into words after I read a novel. Of course there are books when a theme is so central it can’t be ignored, but even then, I prefer to focus on things such as characterization and structure. Its the combination of small scenes, character traits and character’s actions that make the theme something larger than a lesson to be learned. When done to the highest standard, the theme of the book will haunt you for a long time. Contradicting myself, I regularly think about theme when I’m writing my own work. Focusing on the bigger picture I want to get across helps me focus the tone and decipher the characters actions vs. intentions.

Picking out the theme of a book can be tricky. Often there are multiple angles one can look at a single book from, causing the theme to adjust to each reader’s opinion. That is why getting an author’s quick answer on what a book is really about is true magic. And when that account matches your own, you feel like the best reader to ever walk the library’s halls. At least that’s how I felt when I stumbled upon this synopsis about the theme of one of my favorite books, Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz.

Photo taken from goodreads.com

Photo taken from goodreads.com

Odd Thomas is a novel about perseverance in the face of terrible loss, about holding fast to rational hope in a world of pain, about finding peace–not bitterness–in the memory of love taken by untimely death. 

This quote came from Dean Koontz’s memoir of his golden retriever, a big little life, which is another great read!

Have you had such a moment with one of your favorite books/authors? 

A must-read short story with the best tone I’ve ever read!

creep

The short story “Tall Tales From the Mekong Delta” by Kate Braverman has one of the most authentic and complete tones I have ever encountered. It plants a creepy, dangerous, addictive feel. That feeling becomes palpable; so real I could slice it with a wire-thin cheese slicer.

The story is filled with short, quick sentences that are jarring at first. As the story goes on, those short sentences zipped through my mind like secrets I was never suppose to overhear. They quickened the pace of the read, which matched the quick pace of the plot, a plot that gives you no time to think about its plausibility. My heart beat quickened as I read this story, as I worried for the character’s safety.

The story begins when our main female character, who is 5 months sober, meets a curious man outside her AA meeting. This guy, Lenny, is instantly suspicious. He knows details about the girl’s life even though he just met her. Acting like he is on drugs, he can’t stop talking and reveals things he shouldn’t. He talks in very quick, short sentences, often using filler words like “yeah” and “okay?” and rarely lets the woman speak. The plot and the tone compliment each other, both giving credibility to the other and intensifying that feeling of being on the edge of disaster. 

“Tall Tales From the Mekong Delta” is a great read and at a mere 19 pages, you have no reason not to read it! Writers specifically should read this story (probably multiple times) and absorb as much as they can. The tone is encompassing, and the increasing creepiness of Lenny throughout the story only intensifies the tone.

The story can be read in full on Kate Braverman’s website.

Agree or disagree? Please let me know what you think! 

creep2

The Art of Cover Design

Below is the link to a fascinating video from Random House about the process of cover design. Check it out!

Inside Random House:
“The Art of Cover Design”

 

I was surprised to see one of my favorite book covers of the year featured in the video. Check out my previous book review, with a special section about the cover, on The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus here! 

flame alphabet leaving the sea

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

A great story with unique writing, We Were Liars keeps the eyes of the reader zipping along with short paragraphs, mid-sentence line breaks, and a compelling mystery rivaled by few.

Characterization “Taglines”we were liars

My favorite tidbit of Lockhart’s writing in this book were the “taglines” she gave each of her main character’s best friends. They are as follows:

Johnny, he is bounce, effort, and snark.

Mirren, she is sugar, curiosity, and rain.

Gat, he was contemplation and enthusiasm. Ambition and strong coffee.

Don’t miss that Lockhart decided to use nouns, not adjectives, to describe her characters. Gat is ambition, not ambitious. Although this play on words could be looked at in many different ways, I see it as a way to emphasize the importance of the statements. Gat does not only possess ambition, he encompasses the thing itself.

What do you think of Lockhart choosing these nouns where adjectives would normally be used?

These taglines provided a unique, fun way to introduce the characters but also helped me understand the basic truth of the characters later on. These taglines were stated more than once throughout the book, and the truth of them really struck home once I’d gotten to know the characters more. They gave me something solid and definitive to understand the characters’ personalities while being unique and memorable. 

Strong Language

Although the book is clearly a young adult story in realistic fiction, Lockhart did not let the genre limit her writing. Some metaphors were stated with so much authority that the images (often violent) sharply portrayed what the character was feeling. Examples:

My father ran off with some woman he loved more than us…He had hired moving vans already. He’d rented a house, too. My father put a last suitcase into the backseat of the Mercedes and started the engine.
Then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed. Blood gushed rhythmically from my open wound,
then from my eyes,
my ears,
my mouth.

That first night, I cried and bit my gingers and drank wine I snuck from the Clairmont pantry. I spun violently into the sky, raging and banging stars from their moorings, swirling and vomiting.

wewereliars

The Big Mystery **Spoilers ahead**

The entire plot revolves around a big mystery that everyone seems to be keeping from the first-person narrator, Cadence. She spends the entire novel trying to figure out what happened and the mystery kept me very intrigued as a reader. It was fun to guess what the mystery was and Lockhart did a good job at laying down clues along the way. (Possibly too good of clues because I realized what the big mystery was about 50 pages before I was told.)

Overall

FOUR STARS! I enjoyed the story as well as the fresh writing style. Although I’m not eager to read more of Lockhart’s work, I wouldn’t shy away from it either! I have to thank my friend Tom for the recommendation and let him know I struggled to keep myself from scribbling notes in the margins of his book.

Write every day…

bradbury quote1

10 Things I Learned During NaNoWriMo

  1. characterization1. Our characters are not inherently interesting.

    Just because I give my character a name and a hair color and let them loose in my novel does not mean readers are going to connect to them. It takes hard work and careful consideration to make a character unique and memorable.

    2. I love writing dialogue.

    Maybe too much…

    3. My plot has a secret plan of its own.

    Some days I really struggled with my plot. I have never been able to plan more than a chapter ahead of time and it became very frustrating on days when I didn’t know what was going to happen in the next sentence. I would stare at the blinking cursor, trying to think of a creative yet realistic turn for my plot to take. When I would be on the verge of giving up, inspiration would strike and my story would take off with my fingers flying faster than ever before. Even as I make these plot twists up by the seat of my pants, they all tied into the story and led to an ending I never could have planned from the beginning. Sometimes I think my novel is someone else’s story that has already played out and I’m just trying to get in on paper for them. 

    main thing4. If you make it a priority, you can set aside the time to do anything.

    I always hear people saying things like “I don’t have time to work out” or “I don’t have time to read books” but over the past few years, its become clear to me that the ONLY things we have time for are the things we MAKE time for. Even at the start of November I didn’t think I had time to write 50,000 words in one month but once I set aside a regular time for it, writing became my #1 priority during those few hours.

    5. I use reading as a lazy excuse to avoid writing.

    I love reading and I approach books knowing they are filled with lessons I can learn about writing. I view reading as a way to improve my writing but during NaNo (when I didn’t read a single book) I realized there really is no replacement for writing. No matter how I approach reading, it will never teach me the same things that my writing can. I still find it very valuable and necessary but I need to avoid sitting in my oversized leather reading chair just because it’s easier than pumping out words of my own. 

    6. Turning off my car radio is a good time to think about my writing. 

    writer window7. “A writer is working when he’s staring out of the window.”

    I found this quote by Burton Rascoe to be very true throughout November. Pondering my story, my plot, and my characters was just as important to my process as actually writing. Not only did I find myself thinking about my plot and my characters as I studied the scene out my office window, but also when I stared at the computer at work, when I went for a walk, when I was driving, when I read the news, and when I saw a stranger make an interesting gesture.

    8. I use writing to approach my soul’s nagging questions.

    The questions I’m afraid to ask. The questions that have no clear answers. The questions that are not questions at all, but desires waiting to be unleashed. Writing fiction is my way of fleshing out my thoughts without having to claim them as my own.

    9. My dog will refuse to settle on the cold hardwood floor of my office unless I lay down blankets for her. 

    Even this is too simplified...10. Getting the story down is only the first, small step. 

    Especially since I don’t plan out my novel before I begin, a lot of changes occur that will change previous scenes drastically. Halfway through my novel, I changed one character from male to female which changed her entire personality. Not only do the obvious things need to be changed but, one of my main editing priorities is making sure the characters personality are consistent with their actions throughout the entire novel. My plans for this novel are much bigger than they were a month ago. Editing, here we come!

Wow! I am a NaNoWriMo winner!

Winner-2014-Web-Banner

I am proud of myself! In the 30 days of November (aka National Novel Writing Month) I wrote every single day, averaged 1,843 words per day, and wrote a total of 55,296 words! In the last weeks of October, I set a writing plan for myself and accepted the fact that 50,000 words might not be possible while working a full-time job plus other social obligations but I certainly surprised myself! Check out all of my personal NaNoWriMo Goals here! 

My Goals for NaNoWriMo:

  1. Finish the very-rough first draft of my novel
  2. Create a habit of spending more time writing
  3. Improve my ability to keep writing and letting go of the need to double check and edit my work so often 

Check, Check, CHECK!!

My novel took me places (plot wise) and taught me things (writing wise) I never could have learned from short stories. Although writing 50,000 words in a single month is a huge undertaking, I could not be more pleased that I decided to take on the challenge.

Some days the words flowed faster than I could type and other days I struggled with every sentence but the determination and perseverance it took to write every single day for the past 30 days is an accomplishment I will carry with me forever! I’ve heard the first novel is the hardest but overall, once I set aside daily writing time, I didn’t find the 50,000-word goal that difficult.

possible

Although I never plan my plot more than a chapter ahead of time, it continued to build and expand. Fleshing out the characters and really getting to know their true desires and fears was a great experience that will forever help me with future character building. I don’t want to bore you with the enormous amount of things I’ve learned but I seriously could. And you know what? I just decided I’m going to do just that…tomorrow. I will post a list of Things I Learned During NaNoWriMo. Come back tomorrow to check it out and share what you learned as well!

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