Monday, April 19, 2021

MMGM/#IMWAYR: On the Other Side of the Island

I’ve sort of been on a dystopian reading binge lately. But honestly, I’ve started many books in this genre and have not been able to finish them because they are just too dark.

On the Other Side of the Island was different. And even if you’re not usually a fan of dystopian, I think you might still like this book. It raises interesting questions about control, individuality, and family loyalty.

*While I’ve seen this title listed as YA in some places, the main character is 10 when the story starts and the voice is decidedly MG.

Synopsis from Amazon:

In the eighteenth glorious year of Enclosure, long after The Flood, a young girl named Honor moves with her parents to Island 365 in the Tranquil Sea. Life on the tropical island is peaceful—there is no sadness and no visible violence in this world. Earth Mother and her Corporation have created New Weather. The sky is always blue and it almost never rains. Every family fits into its rightful, orderly, and predictable place…
Except Honors. Her family does not follow the rules. They ignore curfew, sing songs, and do not pray to Earth Mother.  Honor doesn’t fit in with the other children at the Old Colony School. Then she meets Helix, a boy with a big heart who slowly helps her uncover a terrible secret about the Island:  Sooner or later, those who do not fit disappear, and they don’t ever come back.  

Honor knows her family could be next, and when the unthinkable happens, she must make the dangerous journey to the Other Side of the Island—before Earth Mother comes for her too…

What I liked:

1.Lyrical prose. One of my pet peeves with dystopians is that they often have lots of action, but little attention to the actual writing. Goodman’s writing is beautiful, and she creates such a rich mood and atmosphere. I felt like I was there on this island.

2.The importance of names. One of the major plot points of this book is about Honor’s name. In this society, kids from the same birth year are named with the same letter. While Honor’s name does start with H, the h is silent. I loved how her name showed so much about her parents and later was instrumental in the story’s conclusion.

3.Conformity vs. being unique. This theme is often common in dystopians, but I liked Honor’s character arc of how she grew from wanting to be like everyone else, which tweens will relate to, to fighting the system.

4.Awesome parents. You know how much I love good parents. These parents are nonconformists, even when Honor urges them not to be. They embrace originality and art and are working hard to remember the real past—and trying to get Honor to remember too.

5.Nods to class literature. It’s very unusual to find classics in dystopian books. One of my favorite parts of this book was when Honor discovers that the real Wizard of Oz really has a tornado in it. (In a world where bad weather has been eliminated, books about storms are banned.)

6.Open Ending. This book has gotten some complaints about its ending. I don’t mind an open ending as long as it works for the book. Not every plot question is answered at the end, but that made it all the more believable.

For my writer friends:

This is not a MG, but I just finished the most amazing craft book, Story Genuis by Lisa Cron. If you ever struggle like I do with crafting your protagonist’s misbelief, this book is genius (couldn’t help myself with that pun)! It’s a great step-by-step guide on how to build your plot from the inside out with an emphasis on the character’s internal struggle and character arc.

Highly recommended.

What books have you loved lately?

If you'd like to read more middle grade reviews or join in the MMGM fun, go to Greg Pattridge's Always in the Middle blog.

Monday, April 12, 2021

MMGM: Death Cloud




We’re a huge fan of mysteries at our house. When we have a long car trip (which admittedly doesn’t happen as often now), we usually listen to Sherlock Holmes on Librovox. Monk is a family favorite. My 16 year old son (reader extraordinaire) got the Complete Tales of Sherlock Holmes for his last birthday and has read it cover to cover multiple times. I was really drawn to the idea of a young Sherlock Holmes.

If you like a plot-driven tale with lots of nods to Holmes, you will love this book! And it’s the first of a series, so you could be busy for a long time.

Synopsis from Amazon:

It is the summer of 1868, and Sherlock Holmes is fourteen. On break from boarding school, he is staying with eccentric strangers―his uncle and aunt―in their vast house in Hampshire. When two local people die from symptoms that resemble the plague, Holmes begins to investigate what really killed them, helped by his new tutor, an American named Amyus Crowe. So begins Sherlock's true education in detection, as he discovers the dastardly crimes of a brilliantly sinister villain of exquisitely malign intent.

What I liked:

1.   Great sidekicks! I really enjoyed Matty, a street-smart orphan. Sherlock treated him as his equal, and Matty was important to the plot and solving the crime. In Conan Doyle’s books, Sherlock takes the lead in detection, but I liked how Sherlock needed his friends in this book. Victoria, a sort-of sidekick and love interest, was an equal partner in facing down the villain as well.

2.   An interesting villain. The villain’s backstory, his particular weaknesses, and the why behind his actions were some of the most interesting parts of the book. Behind every good plot is strong villain!

3.  A large canvas. It was fun that the plot took place in lots of locations—London, the countryside, a boarding school, France, a water boat, a tunnel under London.

4.   High stakes. The bad guys are really bad and do not shrink from trying to harm a child. This makes this book a little on the violent side for MG, but the high stakes led to a fast paced read.

5.  Great fun for Holmes fans! It’s always fun to imagine your favorite character in another setting. Although at times he was less eccentric than the original Holmes, I really enjoyed reading about Sherlock at 14. Mycroft makes a few appearances as well!

Minor Quibbles: Due to the multiple murders and attempted murders, I would classify this as upper MG and not for sensitive readers.

What mysteries have you loved lately?

If you'd like to read more middle grade reviews or join in the MMGM fun, go to Greg Pattridge's Always in the Middle blog.


Wednesday, April 7, 2021

ISWG: What I Learned About Writing From Atomic Habits

Every few years I pick up a time management book. I'm always hoping that it’s going to help me be more organized, write more, and well, do all the things. Like New Year’s resolutions, my new habits generally only last for a short while. But reading these books, which tend to say the same things in different ways, always prods me to get writing.

Recently, I read Atomic Habits. I guess it’s quite popular, but I’m not one to really pay much attention to bestseller lists.

I thought he had a lot of great points and good reminders—like good habits are not about will power, but about making the good habit more attractive and easier. 

So true. I write better when I have a cup of Earl Gray and listen to the La La Land Song Track. “The Fools Who Dream” song inspires me every time.

But my biggest takeaway from Atomic Habits was: “The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom.”

His point was that we often think that people are successful because they “really want it” or “have a lot of passion,” so when we get bored or don’t feel passionate about our dreams, we feel like we aren’t passionate enough. But the truth is, those people who are successful don’t always feel passionate or excited about their work either. The difference is that they keep showing up, even on the boring days.

Perhaps this is another way to say BIC (Butt in Chair), but what I liked about is that I often beat myself up because I feel so-so about writing. Sometimes I wonder why I’m even writing or maybe if I was more passionate, more driven, or more (fill in the blank), I would be farther along by now.

But it’s not true. I have a very busy life. But I am plugging away one word at a time. And that’s what I’ve learned is important. I am doing the other things he suggested too. Making writing easier for me—putting my laptop  where it’s easy for me to access. Having an accountability partner.

But even more important (and this is not in the book) is giving yourself grace when writing doesn’t go as planned. When you’re not super excited about your plot. When you’re stuck. It’s still showing up or maybe giving yourself permission to step away or do “research” instead.

Because passion will wane, but if you can keep working even when it’s boring, you will finish that book, story, poem, or article.

Do you think passion or conquering boredom is more important to writing success?

 To read more ISWG posts or to sign up, go Insecure Writer's Support Group.

The awesome co-hosts for the April 7 posting of the IWSG are 

PK Hrezo, Pat Garcia, SE White, Lisa Buie Collard, and Diane Burton!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.