Cover Notes is a new series I’ll be running every Monday. Rather than focusing on covers of books I’ve read, I’ll be writing about books I’ve never read and recording my first impressions of their covers. Each book will also have an Embarrassment Factor of between zero & five, with zero meaning “a totally awesome cover I want to write fan mail about” and five meaning “I’m ashamed to be seen with this in public.”
This week, I was actually on my way to the young reader section to look for a cover–and then the spine (yes, just the spine!) David Macinnis Gill’s Black Hole Sun grabbed me. Also, a little bit of fan girliness here–from his bio:
David Macinnis Gill is an associate professor of English education at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, specializing in young adult literature…
I love seeing “professor” and “specializing in young adult literature” in the same sentence. It’s very validating. And now…
Things I love about the cover: Can I say everything? I love the outlining of the font and how it accentuates the blackness–and how that blackness is doubly accentuated by the stars/comets/space debris streaking past and the red lights in the background.
Also, the spine on this book is stunning, from the under-outlined O to the shadowing of what? A rocket perhaps? And the colors! I love the colors!
Things I’m not so hot on: The other text. Getting a Suzanne Collins blurb is a huge deal, but I feel like the quote was tacked on after the cover design had been finished, so it doesn’t quite fit. Something about the author’s name looks off, too, but I can’t tell what.
What I think it’s about: This screams science fiction to me–and I desperately want it to be science fiction, a kind of Sunshine without the intense horror elements (I loved the premise of that movie, but the horror was too much for me by the end).
Between the blurb and the cover itself, I’m thinking dystopic world where the sun is ending its red giant phase and about to collapse into a blackhole. And our hero’s journey? A boy and a girl (for some love interest), and a race to get onto a seed ship. There has to be a sequel.
Cover art by: unknown. Google only turns up details for the album of the same name.
Embarrassment factor: 0.
The Jacket Blurb
The synopsis isn’t quite enough here, so I’m posting the PW blurb too.
Durango is playing the cards he was dealt. And it’s not a good hand.
He’s lost his family.
He’s lost his crew.
And he’s got the scars to prove it.
You don’t want to mess with Durango.
Gill (Soul Enchilada) shifts literary gears, delivering an exciting and brutal science fiction tale about teenage mercenaries on Mars. Durango is a disgraced Regulator who, roninlike, did not kill himself when his previous master (his father) was arrested. Along with his gorgeous second, Vienne, and the snarky AI of his former commander, Mimi, which has been “flash-cloned” to his brain, he now takes jobs that most other Regulators would refuse, using the money to try to make his father’s life in prison more bearable. When they get called to protect a group of miners from the cannibalistic monstrosities called Dræu, they discover secrets that could cast new light on the entire history of Mars, as well Durango’s own past. Gill fills his story with well-crafted action sequences and witty dialogue, and the fast pace more than makes up for the predictability of the plot. Everything from the inevitable betrayals and the heroic sacrifices to the dark secrets is by the numbers, though the character development, banter between Durango and Mimi, and solid action will entertain most readers. Ages 14 up. (Sept.)
Overall: So, so wrong. And I should have seen something mercenary was involved–the target is a (dead) giveaway. Two things, though–
- I love this premise–it reads a little like YA William Gibson to me, and I need to read it. Soon.
- This is the first time I’ve been sad about being wrong! I’d love a novel along the lines I described, a cross between Sunshine and Titan A.E. and the boy-girl part.
Have you read Black Hole Sun? Would you?
Sometimes, when I’m between books–i.e., I have too many projects and don’t trust myself to not be sucked into a new story to the exclusion of all else–I re-read snippets of my favorite series.
One of the things I love about long series is how they grow with the reader. It’s not just that Percy or Harry, or Alanna, or any of the others grow up. It’s that their voices, and their authors’ tone grows up, too.
Consider the Percy Jackson books. At the beginning of the series, Percy is twelve. He’s dyslexic, has ADHD, and has been kicked out of six schools in six years. His voice is delinquent, defensive, even slightly sad–and immediately gripping.
The Lightning Thief, chapter one
Look, I didn’t want to be a half blood.
If you’re reading this because you think you might be one, my advice is: close this book right now. Believe whatever like your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to lead a normal life.
Being a half-blood is dangerous. It’s scary. Most of the time, it gets you killed in painful, nasty ways.
If you’re a normal kid, reading this because you think it’s fiction, great. Read on. I envy you for being able to believe that none of this ever happened.
But if you recognize yourself in these pages–if you feel something stirring inside–stop reading immediately. You might be one of us. And once you know that, it’s only a matter of time before they sense it too, and they’ll come for you.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Come the fifth book, The Last Olympian, Percy is sixteen. His dyslexia and ADHD, while still occasionally mentioned, are no longer key parts of his character. And while he still has a Percy-voice, he’s grown up: not only does Percy worry about his relationship with Annabeth, his sense of mortality is (realistically) greater than in the previous novels (with the possible exception of book four, The Battle of the Labyrinth).
The Last Olympian, chapter one
The end of the world started when a pegasus landed on the hood of my car.
Up until then, I was having a great afternoon. Technically I wasn’t supposed to be driving because I wouldn’t turn sixteen for another week, but my mom and my stepdad, Paul, took my friend Rachel and me to this private stretch of bead on the South Shore, and Paul let us borrow his Prius for a short spin.
Now, I know you’re thinking, Wow, that was really irresponsible of him, blah, blah, blah, but Paul knows me pretty well. He’s seen me slice up demons and leap out of exploding school buildings, so he probably figured taking a car a few hundred yards wasn’t exactly the most dangerous thing I’d ever done.
Hear the difference? They’re clearly still the same character, but there’s a distance between the two, a distance that’s less about age-related details (driving a car) than word choice and focal points. Would twelve year old Percy be as cool about Paul? Would he use “technically” in a sentence? Most importantly, though, is the sense of comfort in sixteen year old Percy’s voice: sure, he’s talking about the end of the world, but he’s not defensive, not hiding behind a tough persona. This Percy, for the most part, is strong, confident, and in charge.
Behind Percy’s voice is Riordan’s–also strong and immediately recognizable–with a tone that’s more YA than middle grade. It’s less “wow, this is cool, and I get to save the world while looking totally awesome,” less peppy and pun-filled. There are still moments of lightness (a satyr wearing a “Got Hooves” shirt in book four, a hellhound gnawing on a giant pink plastic yak and a hundred-eyed monster getting bloodshot in book five), but they’re fewer, and used to good effect to not just illustrate character traits (as in the earlier books) but to break up tension (and thereby highlight key scenes and interactions).
While these may seem like the natural outgrowth of writing a series–and to some extent, they are–they’re actually not that common. Not all series grow with their readers (Harry Potter is probably the most famous to do so): the Michael Buckley Sisters Grimm series attempts to, but fails; the Nancy Drew books remain the same, story after story; even Dianna Wynne Jones’ Castle in the Air, a sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle, doesn’t quite capture necessary changes in tone and voice.
Oftentimes, that’s okay. Some authors want to stay within a certain genre or age-range, because that’s what speaks to them. But it’s still impressive–incredibly so–when a character demonstrates such clear growth over the course of a series. (The Protector of the Small (Kel) books by Tamora Pierce are another great example, as are J.K. Rowling’s HP books.)
Have you read any age-spanning series lately? Did you like them? Hate them? Why?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
Bricks-and-mortar bookstores will continue to decline—which puts further pressure, as noted above, on commercial publishers to show their value to an author beyond distribution. Mike Shatzkin boldly predicted: “We’re looking for a reduction in shelf space of 50% in the next five years, 90% in the next ten years.”
One caveat: the e-book industry growth is primarily driven by Big Six publishers, rather than independent publishers. National Book Network president Rich Freese, whose company distributes 200 independent publishers, said: “Ebooks aren’t even 5% of our sales, and they won’t be 50% in two years.”
Anyone who’s walked into a Borders lately knows about the decline of the brick-and-mortar bookstore. But I think the caveat can be extended to niche stores, too. Children’s bookstores, science fiction stores, crime and mystery stores–these specialty markets hold potential as a brick-and-mortar store because they depend on hand-selling. In a Borders or a Barnes & Noble, it’s easy to get lost, and it’s common for the folks at the information desk to not know much about any given genre. In a specialty store, like the Grolier Poetry Bookshop in Cambridge, MA, or The Elephant’s Trunk in Lexington, MA, the staff know their titles, and can guide readers to the right books. (Some big stores also have well-informed, caring staff, but it’s rarely the case.)Read More
Vampires. Zombies. Sea monsters with an unfettered love of double java chip frappuccinos. In the book world, trends appear to come and go quickly–the Twilight vampire boom is already coming to an end, just five years after Meyer’s book hit shelves the world over. Fie years? Although that may seem a long time, it’s really only 2-3 publication cycles. But where do trends come from? Do authors band together to write books of the same ilk? Or are they the result of a rare and spectacular cosmic boom?
The short answer: it depends. Few trends appear fully formed from the cosmic ether (or Zeus’ head). Most come from a combination of cross-media pollination, cycling, and what I think of as the trickle-down effect.
This is exactly what it sounds like: cinema influencing books influencing music influencing cinema. But the lines of influence are rarely so direct. In actuality, they’re closer to the zigzag path a bee takes as it flits from flower to flower, revisiting some, entirely skipping others.
Musicals are an excellent example of cross-media pollination, particularly Les Miserables. A books first, it’s spawned a host of new media–Les Miserables, an 1862 novel by Victor Hugo (also of The Hunchback of Notre Dame fame, though the less said about the Disney adaptation, the better), was adapted for cinema audiences as early as 1907, and continues to influence music, stage, and, of course cinema. Countless novels–including Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (and, to a lesser extent, Anna Karenina), a classic in its own right, can be traced back to themes of redemption, rebirth, spirituality and exploration of the psyche in Les Mis.
Although “what goes around comes around” might seem like an oversimplified version of karma, it’s a pretty apt description of the cycling–and recycling–of trends in the book world. In the pre-Twilight era (yes, there really was one), Anne Rice was the Queen of the Elegant Undead, and LeStat her hunky Brad Pitt lookalike king.
Vampire fiction has been around since the 18th century, and had a regular sort of resurgence every few decades. Until Rice, the most well-known (modern) vampires in the world was Bela Lugosi’s Dracula (1931) and Max Schreck’s Nosferatu (1922) (if you haven’t seen Nosferatu, get thee to Netflix right now)–both of which were based on books (cross-pollination, people!). But sometime in the mid-1930s, vampire fiction slinked back into its coffin, keeping largely out of the limelight until the 1976 publication of Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. (The first two of John Matheson’s influential I Am Legend series predate Rice.)
Vampire fic remained mostly dormant until the 90s, when the world hit another boom. Can’t remember back that far? Here’s a quick rundown (or check out a fairly comprehensive lit list here):
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie
- Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer series and its later counterpart, Angel
- Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter
- More Anne Rice; the Brad Pitt Interview with the Vampire film adaptation
- Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls
- Orson Scott Card’s Lost Boys
- P.N. Elrod’s I, Strahd
- Dan Simmon’s The Child of the Night
- Marvel’s Blade franchise
The 1990s vampire boom is, so far, the longest lasting–partially because film and television caught the trend early and kept it alive. Despite the success of Joss Whedon’s Buffy, the downturn came in the late 90s, as readers moved on to boy wizards and magic.
And then Stephanie Meyer’s first novel, Twilight, hit shelves in 2005, and reached Harry Potter/worldwide phenom status around 2007-2008–and the cycle began anew.
The Trickle-Down Effect
Much like cross-media pollination, trickle down is one thing influencing another–in this case a particular audience, YA and adult literature. The book world is sort of like a giant pyramid, with YA and kid lit at the bottom, then other demographics like 18-25 (new adult/crossover), 25-35 (singles, newlyweds) etc. above those all the way to the top. Trends start anywhere on the pyramid, then trickle down to the next level and the next until saturation.
Most often, because I’m a YA writer, I think about the pyramid in reverse–I look at the trends in YA (like the current vampire cycle) and see how they feed into adult literature. I’m not trying to predict trends so much as work out why some things work and others don’t, and, more importantly, help non YA folk understand the importance of teen and kid lit. If I wanted to do some magic YA hand waving trend prediction though–the kind agents and editors have to do–I’d be keeping my pyramid right side up and checking out what’s hot in adult literature.
One example of an adult trend influencing YA is chick lit. Chick lit became a Big Deal in 1996, with Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary. In the 90s, though, most YA was too serious to fit the chick lit genre. This isn’t to say there weren’t fun and funny books, but rather that the focus was, for the most elsewhere–solving a mystery (Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, James Patterson’s Maximum Ride) winning a competition, following a calling/proving girls are as capable as boys (almost everything Tamora Pierce has ever written), and princess wish fulfillment (don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it, people)–rather than the slice of life relationship stock most chick lit depends on.
Sometime around 2000-2001, YA chick lit started to pop up in bookstores. It wasn’t as light and all round humorous as its adult counterpart, but it was about being a girl, fitting in, balancing school/work/books and, in many cases, an abiding love of a given thing–shoes or cupcakes or politics or soccer or a dozen other things. It’s a more realistic version of the girl-meets-boy/girl/vocation, with a funny-because-it’s-true feel. And for the most part, YA chick lit has kept its serious core (and I much prefer it over the adult version)–some of it even tends to the literary. A few examples of YA chick lit:
- Sarah Dessen’s Just Listen, This Lullaby
- Ann Brashares’ The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series
- Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series (but only just)
So what trends might be trickling down into YA just now? I’m not an analyst, agent, or editor–and trends could come from anywhere–but from a purely trickle down point of view, my money’s on Phillipa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl)-meets-YA style historical fiction (separate to historical fantasy). How about yours?
Where do you think trends come from? What influences them?
Image Credit: Book…in blue by NKZS