Good morning, book people! I’m wrapping up a big writing project today & Mir & I are properly recovered now (thanks to a series of naps), so I’ll be back to some semblance of normality on the interwebs this week.
Sad news this morning–children’s novelist Diana Wynne Jones died early Saturday morning (UK time). If you haven’t read one of her novels, you need to get out your kindle/nook, or head down to the bookstore today. My favorites (so far)–How’s Moving Castle (different, and better than, the movie), and the Chrestomanci series, particularly The Charmed Lives of Christopher Chant.) There aren’t really words to describe this post about Diana (and if you have ever read her, you know that she is Diana, because reading her is like reading an old friend) by Neil Gaiman, except to say it made me cry.
Emma Bull over at Tor.com also remembers Diana, a woman who,
“told stories the way some people eat ice cream: eagerly, with delight and no self-consciousness. She told them about her family in a way that made them familiar characters in my imaginary world, and she talked about her characters as if they were family.” (via Neil Gaiman)
Here’s a full obituary about Diana from The Guardian, with all the concrete details that entails. It’s a marvelous and detailed essay by Christopher Priest, though, so go here rather than Wikipedia if you’ve never read Diana/want to know more.
Sometime soon–perhaps this week, perhaps next–I’ll post about Diana’s books, and why I love them. She has a new book coming out, Earwig and the Witch, in the UK and Japan, later this year.
The Rejectionist has a short post (as in 100 words sort of short) on qualities that do not a strong female character make. It’s a blitzingly short read, but an essential one.
“Amanda has created such a fresh, unique, fabulous world, and I am absolutely dead set on bringing it to the screen without compromising any of that,” Ms. Tatchell said by telephone from Vancouver, Canada.
The three novels — “Switched,” “Torn” and “Ascend” — follow an emotionally damaged high school girl, Wendy Everly, who realizes that she may not be human. With the help of a boy, Finn Holmes, she discovers the mysterious world of Trylle, which is populated by beautiful trolls.
I’ve heard a bit of griping about Amanda Hocking’s success, so here are a couple of things to remember about her–yes, she’s sold a million copies over nine novels. And yes, she’s made around two million dollars. But she has put in a lot of work, and has hired freelance editors for her books. So while she may’ve been on-trend with her novels, there’s definitely more to her success than that.
And finally, an interview with Diana, and a study project. I love the opening to this first one–the way she says, “Do come in,” makes me feel like I’m cracking a new novel.
On the Miyazaki adaptation of Howl’s Moving Castle (spoilers)
Diana Wynne Jones author study, by Raarbecca, part of a school project. See if you catch the snippet of Howl’s Moving Castle soundtrack a couple of minutes in.
ETA 9:58am: US details for Earwig & the WitchRead More
Reading Beautiful Creatures is like spending an afternoon strolling through a lemon grove, digging up a cemetery, and hanging around a Southern gothic mansion. It’s vibrant and thoughtful storytelling, with real depth of character, the sort of YA novel I wish I’d read as a teen.
Ethan is haunted by dreams of a girl he’s never met, a girl who’s falling, whom he can’t save; Lena is a girl who’s falling, a girl with a choice, a secret, and the power to end a family curse. So when Lena moves to sleepy, southern Gatlin county, sparks fly–literally.
Written in (mostly) simple, unaffected prose, Beautiful Creatures is a fast read–Ethan’s voice is immediately captivating, his observations wry. Characters are sketched with a careful hand; the atmosphere and tension are tangible.
Gothic novels are full of ghosts–real, imagined, and emotional. And Beautiful Creatures is full of not just ghosts, but tropes–the forbidding father figure, the narrow-minded townspeople, even the sidelined librarian and helper who is more than she seems (Chiron in Rick Riordan’s The Lost Hero is another great example of this one). These, surprisingly, are one of the novel’s great strengths–rather than sticking to the easy, Garcia and Stohl move beyond it, building their world seven or eight degrees away from our own.
But much as I love this book, Beautiful Creatures is not perfect. At almost 600 pages, it drags in places, and Ethan’s voice isn’t consistently Teen Guy.Even in the presence of a hot girl, Ethan is thoughtful, considering; when he finds out the hot girl is Lena’s cousin, he worries more about the guys watching him rather than Lena and the oddness surrounding her family.
She walked right up to me, sucking on her lollipop. “Which one of you lucky boys is Ethan Wate?” Link shoved me forward.
“Ethan!” She flung her arms around my neck. Her hands felt surprisingly cold, like she’d been holding a bag of ice. I shivered and backed away.
“Do I know you?”
“Not a bit. I’m Ridley, Lena’s cousin. But don’t I wish you’d met me first–”
At the mention of Lena, the guys shot me some weird looks, and reluctantly drifted off toward their cars. In the wake of my talk with Earl, we had come to a mutual understanding about Lena, the only kind guys ever come to. Meaning, I hadn’t brought it up, and they hadn’t brought it up, and between us, we somehow all agreed to go on like this indefinitely. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Which wasn’t going to be much longer, especially if Lena’s odd relatives started showing up in town.
Perhaps more frustrating is the book’s long, slow lead up to Ethan’s discovering Lena’s power: So much about Lena is immediately obvious, but Ethan, despite being the smart kid of ridiculously smart parents, doesn’t see any of it. Sure, there are hints here and there, as if he’s being deliberately obtuse, but the hints never get beyond a half-hearted writerly excuse for “Yes, he’s smart, but he’s dense when it comes to her, really, he is, because the whole story will fall apart if he learns her secret truth too early, because we need to establish their relationship credentials.” And while this is certainly some understandable, if irritating, hand-waving, it’s all the more annoying because it’s completely unnecessary.
You see, Beautiful Creatures has two female leads–Lena, and Ethan’s dead mother, Lila. For all Ethan’s time worrying about Lena, reassuring her she won’t be claimed by the dark, he’s haunted by the shadow of his mother’s death. And not just minor haunting–every other page haunting. Ethan sees Lila in the library, on his way to school, in the parking lot. Despite her absence–or perhaps because of it, she’s as real as any secondary character in the book, even Ethan’s surrogate mother and resident voodoo expert, Amma. And the first 150-200 pages of the book are dedicated to Lila more than they are Lena; the Boy-Girl Relationship Building is more about recognition and awkwardness than forging an emotional connection (though this does change in the second half of the novel).
As the end approaches, there’s certainly some obviousness of plot, though not all the threads (and there are many) are easy to grasp. And Lena and Ethan’s dynamic becomes so Lena focused that I didn’t immediately notice the brief shift to her point of view. But for all its faults, Garcia and Stohl have written a gorgeous novel, and I am glad I read it.
Paranormal romance, despite its popularity, carries a certain stigma, within and without YA circles. So give Beautiful Creatures, in all its lovely, gooey gothic glory, to PR detractors–it might help them see beyond the Twilight craze. Just like it did for me.
Have you read Beautiful Creatures? What did you think? Or is it on your TBR shelf?
Quick note: today is International Women’s Day! Check out my list of YA novels with strong female leads for a great book to celebrate.
image credit: 185Queens, via Flickr.Read More
Beautiful Creatures is a marvelous, challenging book, completely outside my regular taste–and I love it.
Generally speaking, I don’t read romance. I’m not against the idea of it, but I prefer stories where love isn’t the driving force solely for love’s sake. But every now and then, a book hits me–really hits me–and I find myself questioning everything.
Beautiful Creatures is one of those books.
Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.
Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.
In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.
Actually, it’s more than a feel. Here are just some of the ways Beautiful Creatures strikes gothic chords:
- Exploring entrapment – Lena isn’t a woman trapped in a domestic setting (a la Jane or Cathy) but she is trapped between her power and the curse. And in this world, the curse setting is almost domestic.
- Forbidding mansion and gloomy villain. I can’t reveal more without significant spoilerage, but you’ll see what I mean if you grab the book (which you should!).
- The madwoman in the attic trope – Lena definitely isn’t Bertha, but there are clear elements of Bertha (Rochester’s wife in Jane Eyre) in the story.
- Questioning social structures – this may be a reach, but the exploration of the town of Gatlin and the theme of belonging vs. other fit the bill to me. It also has a bit of a Frankenstein vibe, which I love. (If you haven’t read Shelley’s Frankenstein, grab it from Project Gutenberg now!)
Right now, Beautiful Creatures is fresh in my mind–I finished it this morning, in public, and did the staring at something trick Ethan mentions in later chapters to keep myself from blubbering like an idiot in a room full of old ladies drinking coffee, eating doughnuts, and gossiping louder than crows. (It may sound bad, but it’s actually a really fun place to read, with lots of setting and character swirling around.) But here are my briefest, most important thoughts about the book, mostly from a craft perspective; a proper review will follow next Tuesday, when I’ve had time to process.
- Beautiful Creatures is a duet, something I rarely see done well (Warriors series, I’m looking at you).
- The missing people–Ethan’s mom is dead, Lena’s parents are dead–hang over the text, giving poignancy to the story without crossing into the melodramatic.
- The dialogue of the South is readable, understandable. I can’t testify to how people in the South actually speak, as I’ve only met one person, and not been farther from the Northeast than California, Utah, Arizona, and Florida. But there are distinct speech patterns in this book, with unique voices, that make sense and are easy to hear. Most attempts at regional dialect (including my own) fall flat. These do not.
- Geekiness. Before I knew @MargaretStohl wrote video games, I’d spotted the Zelda reference, and giggled. That sort of call back always draws me in.
- Trope tipping – having read a fair few classics and yet more fairy tales, I’m pretty attuned to tropes. And while Beautiful Creatures does have quite a few, and I did half-predict the ending, the tropes weren’t bland stereotypes, but rather explorations. Nothing, truly, is as it seems in this book, and that’s a good chunk of what makes it beautiful.
- Research – again, I can’t speak to knowledge of the South, but there are parts of this book that reek of research. Not in an onion breath way, but rather in a well-rounded, knowledgeable way that gives the story more depth.
- Prose. There are many things to love about this book, but I wouldn’t have continued reading if the prose hadn’t grabbed me.
- Book-love. It’s clear throughout this book that the characters and the authors value books, and that makes me happy. (Read @KamiGarcia’s list of favorite classic science fiction & fantasy novels – we have pretty much all the YA & kidlit books in common! (I’m not really a fan of The Giver.))
Next week, a real review, with all the stops, commas, semi-colons, and apostrophes this book deserves. ‘Til then, Happy Friday, Folks!
Have you read Beautiful Creatures? What did you think? Who was your favorite character? Will you read the next book, Beautiful Darkness?
Update: this post was meant to publish at 2pm EST on Friday, but I forgot my WP settings are on 24 hour time, so it pre-pubbed for 2am Friday. I’ve corrected it now to reflect the real time it was supposed to drop.Read More
In 2006, posts about a new reading network starting popping up. Goodreads, a place where readers could go to catalog their reading habits, seemed like a fancy, web 2.0 version of a reading journal. And since I’ve never been good with recording my reads, I gave it a miss.
But Goodreads has stuck around–and flourished. I’m now a member, along with over 4,400,000 other people. That’s almost as many people as the entire country of Norway (4, 827,038), Ireland (4,450,446). True, it’s less than 1% of the Facebook users out there–.88% to be exact–but it’s still an impressive number. And in terms of book buyers, it’s way over NYT bestseller territory (100,000 copies or so).
So far, publishers haven’t really gone after Goodreads members. There are some small presses around, giving away copies of their books and getting active in group discussions, but the big houses haven’t so much missed the bandwagon as forgotten it exists. Here’s the breakdown of some of the bigger names on Goodreads:
- Scholastic – 32 friends, 33 books.
- HarperCollins – no presence I can find.
- Simon & Schuster – no presence I can find.
- Hachette – 1 person, no photo, 16 books. Most likely a personal profile.
- Macmillan – “Macmillan Publishers,” 0 friends, 0 books.
- Penguin – “Penguin Press,” 218 friends, 33 books.
- Random House – 0 friends, 0 books.
But Scholastic, the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books, seems to be paying attention to the masses of readers eager to get into social networking. Earlier this month, they launched You Are What You Read,
…a unique opportunity for readers all over the world to connect with each other through their shared “Bookprints,” as we celebrate the books that bind us together and make us who we are today.
And the publishing powerhouse is pulling out all the stops–Names You Know, a section of the site featuring, well, names you know, lists Bookprints for the big names, such as Oprah, Alice Walker, Hillary Clinton, Ellen DeGeneres, Daniel Radcliffe, and Kathryn Lasky. Sections for authors, librarians, and educators are also built into the system.Read More