Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Latest Three: Creep-tastic Takeover (Even Though We're Half Way Through Novemberry)

It's here! Another Latest Three!
And I am pleased to inform you that all three books were ones I greatly enjoyed, which isn't necessarily rare, but something I'm always glad to admit when it comes to these posts.
For Halloween this year, I tried to stick with a creepier set of books. And yes, I understand we're half way through Novemberry already, but I knew what books I was going to read before hand for this post and of course I couldn't talk about them until I finished them.
But now I have finished them, and here they are.
The Latest Three!

A Darkness Strange and Lovely, Susan Dennard
To sum it up in a sentence, the book is a bit dark, a bit strange, and very lovely. One of the biggest things I admire about Dennard's writing is that she takes a sub-genre of YA fiction (one I admittedly don't read much of: paranormal with minor or major romance) and gives it this quality of purely classic storytelling. The point here is mostly about adventure, about zombies and exotic history, about opulence and underground secrets, about friendship, romance, and the ever important internal struggle of a young girl in a conservative era, dealing with magnificent power. I also love it when authors are smart enough to spice things up and also pump up the drama by setting the next book in a far off place. Immediately, there's intrigue in that alone, and I wish writers would take that route more often. Overall, I think Dennard did a tre magnifique job at writing the daunting sequel to her first Something Strange and Deadly, which I also loved, and that's something that, as an avid reader of YA, is a bit hard to come by. Well done Dennard! Can't wait for book three, Strange and Ever After, Egypt here we come. Oh, and love the cover!

City of the Beasts, Isabelle Allende
I haven't yet read any of Allende's books. (She mostly writes for adult audiences.) But I've heard many good things about her, mostly from my mom, who's read several of them and badgers me to read them as well. Well when I saw Allende had a YA book out, I immediately jumped at the chance. Not only would it make my mom happy, but it sounded like an awesome read. Basic plot: young boy goes on grand adventure with Grandma into the heart of the amazon to hunt down what they are calling the Beast, basically the Big Foot of the Amazon. Only the Beast they're looking for, might not be the Beast they need most fear. In general, I love this kind of plot. Many times, it means edge of your seat adventure in far off places, but also a slew of characters who's arc is unraveled in a way that eventually makes you question every thought you first had about them and, often, about other broader ideas when you first started the book. This was definitely one of those books. It was so believable, not only because of the research that was so obviously done, but because of the world-building, which I found not only in the tribal influence that becomes a very critical part of the book, but the beautiful way in which the two main characters become--and I don't use that word lightly--a part of that world. A gripping read, and, yes!, there's a sequel, Kingdom of the Golden Dragon. I'll be working on that one next and then it's off to The House of the Spirits, her most highly recommended book I've encountered.

Throat, R. A. Nelson
I have this book in hard back because, even though it came out in 2011, I bought it but just never managed to get to it until now...though, admittedly, there are a good handful of books on my shelves that hide the same story. I'll start out by saying there is nothing to this cover that deceives your imagination. Yes, this book is about vampires. I personally do not read many books about vampires. I had my Twilight days and I am not shameful of them in the least. But those books were out for a while, and I knew it, too, before a good friend of mine insisted I read them. So in general, and not in an "on my book taste superiority high horse" sort of way, I don't read a lot of vampire centered fiction, nor do I read a lot of zombie fiction either. But! In the circumstance that a hook can draw me in, like a zombie book with a female heroine in the heart and heat of late 1800's Philadelphia with dashing Spirit Hunters--thanks Susan Dennard, I'm more than willing to tread into unfamiliar water. Here the protagonist is also female, but she starts out with a pretty extreme disability--epilepsy, or, as she calls it, the curse. The drama gets started when a monstrous vampire attacks her and she goes into a grand mal seizure at the same time, which not only saves her life but gives her super-powers, turning her into a kind of fantastical half-vampire. This notion of a very real disease being a young girl's saving grace in the deadly clutches of classic such evil folk lore as a vampire was a major genius idea in mixture of realism and magic, and so of course I had to give it a try. Oh! And did I mention it mainly takes place on the base of NASA? All the lore that Nelson created around his version of good and bad vampires, the detailed world-building that is the NASA base, swoony, lovable Sadan, and my absolute favorite character of the book, Papi, all make for a great YA paranormal read with a romantic element I'd categorize somewhere between minor and major! I've been looking into Nelson's other books and both Breathe My Name and Days of Little Texas sound like excellent reads. Check 'em out!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Bye-bye Button: And How I Relate That to Writing

Photo courtesy of the fact that I figured people wouldn't want to see a picture of a mole in their blog feed today...and Google images.

Now for the meat and potatoes of our blog post.
So I have a Button,
though, literally speaking, it is a birthmark.
Or...OK...a mole.
But I've always called it a birthmark...
And I've always referred to it as my Button.
(More on this later.)
Her is a picture of said Button:

As you can see by the picture, my Button is larger than a pencil eraser, which means it is far more susceptible to becoming cancerous than any average mole, and so must at last be removed. You might even be able to see, if you look towards the top left of the button, that it is what they call "bleeding," which means it's color is spreading into other parts of my skin, which is, technically speaking, a medical ruh-roh.
So my Button is going bye-bye. For good.
"Now," says my internal, imaginary therapist, "How does this make you feel?"
Well, to be honest, I don't like it. Not one bit.
And this has very little to do with the surgery itself. Ever since I had a fainting spell from watching a gory scene in a movie in school, which is another story on its own, I've noticed I've been a bit more squeamish with blood-stuff, but I generally take pain pretty well, especially when I know it's coming.
No, I'm not happy about this because, well, I like my Button.
It's a part of me. It's not too ugly. It doesn't complain about being stuck to me all the time...
But then again, a mole of this category is, medically speaking, at risk for melanoma, and as much as I like my Button, I don't like it that much.
So bye-bye Button. You will be missed, but, unfortunately, you're execution is necessary.

Like many things in my life, a little reflection on this allowed me to relate it to writing.
How so?
Well, I've lately been doing some thought on character.
On a slight side note--but I guess not really that much of a side note, I've found that when I have a problem with plot I can look to character development to perhaps help me out a little.
For example, this Button of mine, I will tell you how it came to be called my Button.
When I was a little girl I had a Button. It was small and brown and round, and, somehow perfectly, it was the size of a pointer finger.
Now, when you are a little girl
and you have a birthmark that is perfectly the size of a pointer finger
and you have a mother who loves to make you giggle in the bathtub,
you're mother will likely press her pointer finger to your birthmark and call it your Button
because it is, somehow, just too perfect of a phenomenon to pass up,
and it makes your two year old self giggle
a lot.
But when the Button is pressed...what must happen then?
Surely, it is a Button, so something must happen.
Somehow your two year old self decides that this means you must stick out your tongue. So every time your mother presses your Button with her pointer finger, you stick your tongue out and you giggle like crazy.
Or let me rephrase that.
Your mother sits on the edge of the bathtub, tucked away between sunshine yellow tiles. She's wearing her fluffy green bathrobe, the one you always take when its cold in the winter because you can't find your own because your room is still too messy. She leans over with a scrunchy smile and pokes your Button with her pointer finger. Her standard dark red nail polish on her long, rounded fingernails is slightly chipped cause she rubs her fingernails over each other when she thinks her husband's not looking. "Bad habit," he would always say.
She pokes your Button and you jut out your chin, squint your eyes, and stick out your tongue. She releases your Button and your tongue slides back in.
But now the game has begun.
Poke, poke, poke!
Goes your mother.
Thrice you stick out your tongue in rapid fire, not missing a beat.
One long, drawn out poke from your mother this time.
You hold your tongue out and pull it back in, just in time.
You both erupt in giggles.
You get so excited you start to splash.
You mother shrieks, but still she's laughing...

And then you realize that the sight of the birthmark on your left leg, the one you're so used to living with it's almost as if it's not there sometimes, just made you think of all that, just that little old mole.

We all have our own "Buttons," whether they're a part of our body or not, and so should our characters. And who knows, you might create a "Button" for your own character that opens up a possibility in plot you hadn't thought of.
And if you're not sure where to start, look to you're own "Button" first. If you can't find it, look for it. It's there. Discovering that about ourselves can only make us better writers at the end of the day.