Monday, August 14, 2017

A Few Titles for Grown Ups

Ah, summer! Whether I'm stuck inside with the air conditioner or enjoying iced tea on the back porch, I’m often enjoying time with a good book. What better way to celebrate summer than to read outside my usual genre, kidlit.

Here are a few of my favorites for grown ups that I've read lately.


I  hadn’t read any Amy Tan before I read this book, although I did see The Joy Luck Club. What I loved about this book is that it is part memoir, part writing advice. The book is not a narrative, but a series of essays, some for other publications about her life and her writing. The essay where she describes finding a Cliff Notes about her book is not to be missed--especially if you need a laugh. Her thoughts on being a multicultural author were interesting. Despite the fact that she writes what she knows, she’s constantly criticized for not portraying Chinese culture in a good light, for not providing good Chinese male role models, etc. I loved her response. Her purpose, as a writer is not to educate or to remake Chinese culture or people’s perceptions of it. Her purpose is to write what is true. May we all have the courage to do the same. 


I tend not to like most best-sellers, but this one astounded me. It has all the things I love: the backdrop of the Russian revolution, nods to some of my favorite classic literature, and a hero who loves manners and is a true gentleman. This was a book I savored for its lovely turns of phrase, wide scope (though it takes place in one location), well-drawn characters, and wit. Not to be missed!

THE AWAKENING OF MISS PRIM by Natalia Sanmartin Fenorella

This is a translation of a Spanish novel. I first heard about it on Faith's blog, Life is Art, and knew I would love it. It's sort of a modern Jane Eyre-esque novel with a librarian meeting a curmudgeon, who is a cross between Darcy and C.S. Lewis. I loved all the literary allusions, but also the frank discussions of philosophy and Christian thought I rarely see in fiction. I also loved this idyllic town where feminists support women working less hours (yay to that!) so that they can focus on their children and their gifts and passions. And the portrayal of homeschooling as a suitable alternative to regular education spoke to me as well. It's a very different novel--if you like philosophy and Jane Eyre, it might be your cup of tea.

Have you read any interesting books for grown ups lately?

P.S. I'll be taking a break from blogging for the rest of the month and the first week of September. I will be back on September 11th with a post about MARI'S HOPE--the final installment in Sandy Brehl's trilogy about a girl surviving the Nazi occupation of Germany. See you then!

Monday, August 7, 2017

MMGM: The Unbreakable Code

This is a book I got from the library, but I can’t remember what inspired me to get it. I think it was probably the fun title and the promise of a mystery. But little did I know that this book had some parallels with a book I’m currently revising. So win, win for me. A book to enjoy, and to learn from!

If you like mysteries about codes with historical themes and treasure hunts, you’re in luck!

Here’s the synopsis (from Amazon):

A New York Times-Bestseller!

Could books hidden through Book Scavenger be linked to an arsonist's web of destruction? Find out in Book 2 of Jennifer Chambliss' The Book Scavenger series.

Mr. Quisling is definitely up to something mysterious, and Emily and James are on high alert. First, there’s the coded note he drops at a book event. Then they uncover a trail of encrypted messages in Mark Twain-penned books hidden through Book Scavenger. What’s most suspicious is that each hidden book triggers a fire.

As the sleuthing friends dig deeper, they discover Mr. Quisling has been hunting a legendary historical puzzle: the Unbreakable Code. This new mystery is irresistible, but Emily and James can’t ignore the signs that Mr. Quisling might be the arsonist. The clock is ticking as the fires multiply, and Emily and James race to crack the code of a lifetime.

This title has Common Core connections.

What I loved about Unbreakable Code:

1.  The mystery was tied to history: I loved how the mystery didn’t happen in a vacuum but was based on real, historical events. This historical background—Angel Island, the San Fransisco Gold Rush, and Mark Twain—gave the book a lot of depth.

2.  A boy-girl friendship where they are just friends: I love that there was no hint of romance between James and Emily. It was nice to see them drawn together by common interests—a shared love of reading and clues.

3.  Codes! I recommended this to my son, who loved the Winston Breen series. Kids who love to solve the codes along with the main characters will love this.

4. A fast-paced, intricate plot: As plotting is something I struggle with, I’m going to be studying this one. I found the chapters by the anonymous villain quite brilliant. And I loved how all the various elements in this book came together for a very satisfying climax—like who knew a dance committee could be important?

5. Interesting and reliable adults: The adults usually get a bad rap in kidlit, but I loved how most of the adult characters were honorable people who seemed to really get these kids (except for the antagonist, of course).

Caveat: While I loved a lot about this book, I have a few tiny nitpicks. There were some mixed metaphors that were a bit jarring. And the entire cast of characters, some of whom had similar names, was often hard to keep track of.

But, all in all, a fun read. Perfect for summer when you want to escape and use your brain! By the way, this is the sequel to the BOOK SCAVENGER, which I haven’t read yet. So, you don’t have to read the first in the series to enjoy the sequel.

This book has been compared to the WESTING GAME and MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY, both of which are apt comparisons. Puzzles and smart kids—what a great combination!

Have you read any interesting mysteries with codes lately?


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

ISWG: Should a Hero or Heroine be Heroic?

This month’s question is:  What is your pet peeve when writing/editing/reading?

I don’t know how many times I’ve been told that a character needed to change by the end of the story—the bigger the change, the better. If you ever read Anatomy of a Story (John Truby), one of my favorite books on writing, he says the key to a satisfying story is starting with a character with a deep moral flaw.

However, lately I’ve given some thought to this, and I’m not sure I agree. Every time I’ve tried to craft a character with a major change, I have to make that character really detestable at the beginning. And there’s the problem: the reader must put up with this nasty character for quite awhile before the “change.”

In one of my novels like this, a CP told me she hated that character, but I persevered, sure that if I could make the character arc big enough, I could make this character’s story satisfying. But then I put the book aside for awhile and upon rereading it, realized I hated this character too. It doesn’t matter how much she changes at the end—I still don’t like her. Needless to say, that novel is trunked.

I’ve put down two kidlit books recently where the main character made a bad choice that didn’t feel justified. (For the record: If the main character is like Jean Valjean and stealing bread to feed his sister’s children, that is one thing. But if a character is stealing to impress the mean girl clique, you've lost me as a reader.)

I’m currently writing and revising a novel where I thought the main character would be unlikeable. He has a lot of issues. He’s “rough around the edges.” He gets in fights. But the reason why he does these things (like Valjean’s bread) is morally upright. I think Prince Jaron in THE FALSE PRINCE is like this.
He’s tough and reckless, but he’d willingly lay down his life to save the girl he loves and his kingdom. Call me old-fashioned, but I think there needs to be at least a kernel of goodness (or a large kernel preferably) in our main characters.

Now I focus less on making sure my character changes in a big way. I’m not advocating perfect characters, but if there’s nothing heroic, nothing that makes me admire this character for being particularly kind or brave, I’m not going to keep reading.

That is why I no longer create characters that are unlikeable for most of the book. Now if there were more authors who did the same…

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