Dear Paranormal Fiction (and you too, Urban Fantasy),
There is a place and time for your heroine to volley smart-ass remarks. There is a place and time for your hero to be an insufferable bastard. Everywhere else, please make your characters act like human beings (even if they aren’t).
View our other grumbles here.
Incidentally, both the best and the worst books I’ve read were courtesy of the same professor. One was an unassigned, personal recommendation, and the other required for class. One of these books I’ve read so many times in the intervening three years that I’ve inadvertently memorized the first chapter. The other I will never, ever forgive my dear professor for implanting in my memory.
Best: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Once again, I return to my original Lolita, with its ailing spine, peeling cover, and well-thumbed through pages. It’s the 50th Anniversary Vintage Edition, with fleshy pink lips gracing a cover that I know Nabokov would abhor. The précis, which I am fairly sure Nabokov would decry as a clumsy, cliché, and cursory sketch of his most complex novel, reads:
Awe and exhilaration – along with heartbreak and mordant wit – abound in Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov’s most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humbert’s obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Most of all, it is a meditation on love – love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.
When I learned that half my task was to write about my best read, it took less than a millisecond for Lolita to burst to the forefront of my prefrontal cortex. It was instantaneous, reflexive. I’m not even sure it came from my memory, but rather my spine. However, it took only another half a second for me to say to myself, “No, Whitney, you cannot write about Lolita. I forbid it.” Continue reading
When 11-year-old Kahlo Smith saw that the rules of NPR’s Three Minute Fiction contest excluded minors, she had two options. One, and the one of least resistance, was to let out a deep breath of disappointment and close the browser. Instead, she sent the contest organizers a letter to them know about her interest, ask why they had the 18-and-over-only rule, and tell them about her 600-word story.
Today, All Things Considered featured her question and her short piece of fiction on their program. The age rule stays, but Smith will be receiving an autographed copy of Luis Alberto Urrea’s most recent historic novel, Queen of America, and some NPR-related items for her story. You can read her entry and the full story at the NPR article, Minor Details: Three-Minute Fiction’s Age Rules.
For every thousands of young (and adult) writers who look at the rules (or at the impenetrable design of a publisher site, or the distracted and busy life of an agent), there are one or two individuals who will be willing to put themselves out there and write that letter or ask that question. And in the end, that will set them apart.
So this Saint Patrick’s Day, make the resolution to make your own luck.
Every Tuesday we’ll spotlight a current television show–and the books that you just might like if you watch it. Here are this week’s reading suggestions based on one of my favorites:
I saw the second season premier a week before it hits USA Network Friday, and what can I say, the show just keeps getting better. The quirky, witty female lead, complicated family and relationship drama, a pseudo-detective element, and fast pacing has me hooked. Kate Reed quit her job as a lawyer to become a mediator a the San Francisco law firm her late father started. Now she’s fighting the system (and her stepmother) one mediation at a time.
When it comes to books, Fairly Legal speaks to the part of me that wants to be entertained, particularly when reading to unwind into the wee hours of the morning.
Here are some of my favorite drama rom-com novels with strong female leads: Continue reading
Meg’s Review: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
Audiobook read by Joshua Swanson
At a recent trip to Barnes and Noble, I found a themed display table that proudly declared “IF YOU LIKE HUNGER GAMES.” And I do indeed like Hunger Games, so I moseyed on over to peruse the selection. Most of the books I had read–the I Am Number Four series, Divergent, Variant–and there, in the corner, was Ship Breaker.
“That’s the one that was billed as sci-fi dystopia. I kept expecting aliens to show up,” I told my shopping partner.
“Looks like it was a National Book Award Finalist,” she said, tracing the embossed award announcement on the cover.
I just sort of blinked at her for a moment before blurting, “But God, that book was so boring.”
And it was. Ship Breaker is written in beautiful prose–no less should be expected from the uber-talented Paolo Bacigalupi. But I almost think it was a case of being too beautiful. I actually listened to the book and found myself phasing out of the narrative for ten minutes at a time only to phase back in and realize that the character hadn’t actually moved at all. The past ten minutes of audio had been scenery description, observation of other character’s actions that had little to do with plot, or a lengthy internal debate. It made for great multi-tasking, but it did not make the text particularly engaging–or memorable.
Ship Breaker follows Nailer, a young-ish boy in a world set in the distant-ish future. His life revolves around stripping the old oil tankers that dot his Gulf of Mexico beach village of all their usable parts. In the aftermath of a hurricane, Nailer finds the boat of a rich girl smashed upon the rocks. Instead of the lucky strike of wealth he is imagining, the discovery of the boat propels him on an adventure that sets him at odds with the greatest villain he knows: his own father. Continue reading
Meg’s Review: Variant by Robison Wells
Audiobook read by Michael Goldstrom
When we made the tagline for The Canary Review, I had thought it was just sort of a fun phrase. After all, we were still selecting books that had a lot of promise, ones that we would most likely love and be excited to pass on to all of you.
But let me tell you, Canaries: I took a bullet for you on this one.
When I was about halfway through Variant, I shambled out to the web to see what others were saying about it. One review on BN.com opens as thus: “No matter what anyone tells you, it is unique and original and fresh and omg and thrilling, but it is not dystopian.”
That quote is approximately 1/6th correct. I’ll let you guess which part that is at the end of the review.
Variant opens with Benson Fisher happily on his way to a new boarding school. He is an orphan who has long been caught up in the foster care system and is excited to find a place that was geared towards helping out those in similar situations. But when he reaches Maxfield Academy, he finds out the truth: something is terribly, terribly wrong with the school. Besides the subtle tension between cliques and the lack of any adult supervision (besides the security cameras everywhere), there is the constant threat of Detention for rule breaking. And it’s implied early on that it’s not the fluffy, go-write-some-lines sort of Detention. Continue reading
Seeing my swashbuckling self now, you wouldn’t believe it, but I was a huge scaredy-pants when I was a fledgling. My friends read the Goosebumps series; I couldn’t read the summary on the backs without glancing nervously behind me, sure that something was creeping up on me. Most of the year, I stuck to stories free from ghosts, monsters, and unhappy endings.
Every October, though, when the librarians put out the Halloween displays, everything changed. I was drawn to the collections of scary stories–and always ended up checking one out. I could handle most of what I read, but there was invariably that one story that scared the daylights out of me, reducing me to a sweating, whimpering mess when it came time to climb the dark stairs to my room.
One year, it was the story of the Wendigo, a wind spirit that made people run until their feet caught fire. In it, a trail guide returned to camp swaddled in a blanket. When the others, angered by his silence, pulled the blanket away, all that was left underneath was a pile of ash.
One year, it was a story of a demon scarecrow that killed the farmers one by one and laid their skins on the roof to dry in the sun (I still say that story had no business in a book for kids).
My mother tried to discourage me sometimes. Several years of early-November nightmares were enough to convince her that the scary books should stay on the shelf.
“Are you sure about that one?” she’d say in the check-out line, staring at the skull on the cover. But I would not be denied. Continue reading