Review of “City of Bones” by Cassandra Clare

Genre: YA fantasyCity of Bones cover

Synopsis: When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder — much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Clary knows she should call the police, but it’s hard to explain a murder when the body disappears into thin air and the murderers are invisible to everyone but Clary.

Equally startled by her ability to see them, the murderers explain themselves as Shadowhunters: a secret tribe of warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. Within twenty-four hours, Clary’s mother disappears and Clary herself is almost killed by a grotesque demon.

But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know….

Review: I read this book, and its sequel, in the hazy wee hours of the night during freshman year. When I decided to start the series over, partly because the movie is coming out in August ERMAGAHD, I remembered loving it, and I remembered an adorable gay guy, but that was about it. So I started reading with a fair bit of optimism, and I wasn’t let down.

Cassandra Clare has a writing style that could satisfy the vast majority of age groups, though it is geared toward a teenage audience. She has characters and plotlines that most YA writers wouldn’t dare to attempt: a (very adorable) gay relationship between a closeted Shadowhunter boy and an 800-year-old flamboyant warlock, a *SPOILERS* not-really-but-it-seems-like-it incestuous couple, disturbingly creative methods of murdering people, etc… As a writer and as someone who maintains the motto “as long as you’re happy and your actions aren’t hurting anyone (including yourself), it’s your life”, I really appreciate Ms. Clare’s fearlessness and sensitivity toward more controversial issues (although I have to eyeroll at the thought that who someone loves and/or sleeps with is something people feel the need to argue about, because frankly, it’s none of your damn business, but that’s another issue).

I did have a few problems with this book however. For one, the main character Clary gets on my nerves constantly. Her character doesn’t flow very well, she’s childish, she can’t open her damn mouth without saying something thoughtless, and she is completely unaware of her own looks. The last bit irks me because it’s so ridiculously overused, and her lack of confidence sometimes makes me want to drown her in pickle juice. But she does have great moments, and she’s a fairly dynamic character, although I would’ve liked to see a bit more character development (ie, I want her to freaking GROW UP and act like an intelligent life form once in a while).

Also, I would’ve liked Valentine (the oh-so-dreadful villain) to be a little more original and less like a blond, better-dressed version of Voldemort. While I understand how he became who he is in the book, his backstory didn’t really grab me, and he still felt pretty one-dimensional to me by the end.

But, flaws aside, I enjoyed this book a lot and I recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of this genre. While Clary doesn’t grab me, most of the other characters do (especially Jace *swoon*) and I’m willing to look past her shortcomings in hopes that the following books in the series will spice her up and make her more likable.

Rating: 4 stars

 

Review of The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

**Warning: One or two spoilers**

So I read this novel, The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, on Tuesday in one sitting, which I honestly haven’t done in a long time. I’ve seen the movie twice already, and I’ll be pre-ordering it on Amazon in the next few days (if you’ve been reading my blog, you probably know that I fell harder than diamonds for that movie).

What’s interesting about the book/movie relationship is that Stephen Chbosky wrote the book with a film in mind, and he produced, directed, and wrote the script for the movie version, which is a secret, far-away dream of mine. So I was really excited about reading Perks and seeing if it was as good as/better than/worse than the film, only to discover that any comparison is pointless. They are both incredible in different ways, and trying to pick one over the other is like trying to pick a favorite snowflake.

The novel, short at just over 200 pages, is written in a letter format, and I quickly grew to love the way Charlie, the main character, expresses himself on the page. For such an age, he is remarkably thoughtful and observant, and the way he sees the world and life around him is so refreshing. He made  me laugh one minute and cry the next, and I don’t do either easily when reading.

I was also very happy to see Patrick included and given a significant role in the story; I’m a huge support of LGBT rights, and to know that Perks has been a YA bestseller despite having a leading character who is gay (flamboyantly so) warmed my heart. Patrick is, I must say, one of my favorite characters, both in the movie and the book. Not only is he an incredible friend to those he cares about, but he has issues that many people can relate to and sympathize with. I teared up several times during a few of his scenes, especially the one in the cafeteria.

Sam was everything I hoped she’d be, strong and flawed and beautiful, far from perfect but still someone I can’t help but admire. She’s been through so much and she’s still standing, keeping her heart and mind open and never giving up.

This novel is so powerful because it is fearless. There is suicide, drug and tobacco use, sex, teen drinking, homosexuality,  physical and sexual  abuse, and dangerous amounts of good music, good books, and good advice. I can imagine many parents would find faults in its content, would protest their children reading such a scandalous book, but even though I personally don’t agree with many of the things the characters do, this novel merits not only respect, but appreciation. It is a coming-of-age story, an honest, fresh look of that crazy time between adolescence and adulthood, and it does it with a style that’s both whimsical and somber.

If you are willing to take a chance, try this novel. You may or may not love it, but you will certainly be affected by it.

As for me, it is and will remain among my list of favorites. Thank you, Stephen Chbosky, for giving us your words.

Books books books!

So, with holiday money racking up (always lovely) I’ve had the chance to purchase a few goodies for my bookshelf. At the moment, I’m in the middle of a wonderful book called The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray and Bret Norris. While reading it for the past week or so whenever I caught a free moment, I’ve had several epiphanies about my own novel series that I’m both excited and irritated about. I’m sure most if not all writers have experienced the moments when, completely out of the blue, an idea hits you that will pulverize both your plot and your sanity which, while not necessarily a bad thing, tends to be a bit like pulling the rug out from under you. That’s what’s happened to me. Three times. In five days. I’m hanging on by a coffee-soaked thread.

For one, I found out that my leading character, whom I originally thought was unknowingly adopted as a baby and never told his true parents’ identities, was in fact raised by his father. In the woods.

I also found out that the novel does not take off with the death of the MC‘s adopted mother, but with the capture and kidnapping of his biological father. Naturally and unsurprisingly, I have yet to be informed of exactly how said father is captured and ‘napped.

And the quaint forest village where he was originally raised turned into a city fortress built into the side of a mountain.

Lovely.

However, I think, despite my exasperation with this strange new direction the story is taking me, I quite like the idea of writing it.

But back to the book. I highly recommend it to any writer, especially those who have trouble finding time to write. I do have some warnings about it, though not everyone may necessarily be bothered by the same things I am. The style and structure of the book can be restricting in some ways; it reads like a week-by-week lesson plan, with specific exercises and lots of plotting and character work. Each chapter is intended for a certain number of weekends, and while you can skip certain sections that aren’t interesting or valid to you personally, you would do well to read all of the chapters so that you can understand the book thoroughly. I enjoy the plotting exercises especially because I happen to be a bit of a plotter and I enjoy working out the kinks in a story and fleshing out ideas. Using this book’s suggestions and an old sketch book I found lying around the house, I’ve been having quite a time exploring the ideas of Ray and Norris and it’s really benefited both me and my novel. They both seem to be very seasoned writers and it shows in the way they approach writing. One thing that they focus heavily on which I’m not crazy about is “objects”. A good number of lessons focus on developing objects to associate with characters and situations, which in itself is a great thing to mention; however, 40+ pages are spent on this topic and after a while it gets tedious. I found myself skimming a lot of it.

This book has been really handy for plotting and character work, but I’m more than halfway through it and they haven’t even begun approaching the actual writing of the novel, which seems a bit odd to me considering they claimed in the introduction that, using the book’s methods, the reader is supposed to have a completed rough draft. I’m not particularly trying for a completed draft in 52 weekends, but it would be nice if the book didn’t seem to stray so much from its original purpose.

Having spewed out that mini-rant, I would still definitely recommend it as an addition to your bookshelf. There are many exercises in it which have helped to get me out of a tight spot, and it’s very easy to follow, with examples from both published books and samples from the authors’ own writing.

I hope everyone has had a wonderful holiday season surrounded by those you love and those who love you, and fingers crossed that this coming year is a great one!

 

The Writer’s Memoirs 4-6-2012

So in the past week I’ve been getting quite a bit done as far as outlining. The plot has definitely grown and filled out, and thanks to one of my new favorite techniques, the characters have come a long way as well. The technique I’m talking about is interviewing my characters.

I first found out about this technique (though really, it’s not exactly unheard of) in the book Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success by K. M. Weiland, which you can read more about in https://thenighttimenovelist.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/what-im-reading-4-3-2012/. I started out with the basic “What is your name?” and look what happened:

Name?

Anna. Anna Clark.

Do you like your name?

I suppose so.

What does your name mean to you?

I don’t know. My mother chose it; it was her sister’s name. She died as a young girl.

Really? How?

I’m not sure. Mum mentioned something about a disease of some kind. Cancer perhaps.

How did this affect her?

She was my mother’s only family other than her grandmother. I know from her stories that they were very close, so I imagine it was very hard for her. Whenever she talked about Anna, Mum grew very…She seemed far away, as though she were with her sister instead of me.

So when did Anna die?

Well, I know my mother was sent away to boarding school when she was thirteen, and Anna was a few years younger than her. I think Anna died while my mother was away.

That must have been very difficult for your mother to deal with.

It was, I think. She was always very protective of me, and I’ve always thought that had something to do with the guilt of being away when Anna died.

What was her relationship with her grandmother like?

Mum rarely talked about her. I don’t think they got along very well. I know her grandmother died a few years after I was born, and I’ve never seen her. I think Mum cut off contact with her after she left school.

Where did she go to school?

A Catholic school in Spain, I believe. She hated it there.

Why?

Well, she didn’t really believe in God to begin with. I wouldn’t either if I were in her place. And she sometimes spoke about the corruption of the church; the nuns and priests must not have treated her kindly.

So what happened after she left school?

She didn’t go to university. I think she started working at a bookshop in London. She stayed there for a few years and then quit to work at a flower nursery. It was always her dream to be a florist.

Originally, I’d planned out all the questions I was going to ask, but after the first three, I was too intrigued to stick to them. Anna was opening a whole new treasure chest that I never even knew existed. Her mother’s past, which I’d never really considered before, brought on a slew of explanations for why Anna is the way she is, and the impact her mother had on her.

I’m still not done interviewing Anna. Each question I ask fills in another plot hole, another blank, and I’m really loving how connected I feel to her now. I’m beginning to understand her on a far deeper level, and the effect it’s having on the story is truly amazing.

Writing Tidbits 3-31-2012

Naming Your Characters

So recently I’ve been getting back in the swing of heavy writing/outlining/character-sketching, and one of the issues that has come up multiple times involves names. Sometimes you don’t realize how hard it is to actually sit down and find that perfect name for your character until you actually do it.

When I first came up with the basic idea of my novel a few years ago, I had everyone’s names ready to go. Now, after a bit of time and distance, I’ve come back to the story with a new way of thinking and an evolved plotline and new characters. New characters that need new names. Sigh…

One of my all-time favorite methods of name-finding is simply checking out a site like http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/, entering my character’s birth year, and seeing what comes up. Oftentimes the results are just what I’m looking for.

But then there are those blasted other times, when for the life of me I can’t think of a single name on the planet that could properly fit this character. And unfortunately, there is no tried-and-true method of naming your characters. It’s sort of a YOYO (You’re-On-Your-Own) thing.

Sites like http://babynames.com/ can be very helpful if you’re looking for names based on something like ethnicity or meaning (though I’d be very careful with naming characters based on meaning, as the name should still be memorable and not too off-the-beaten-path unless there’s a valid reason for it). This website actually has a page linked on the home page just for writers (http://www.babynames.com/character-names.php), with some great advice on it.

Make sure, as you continue your search, to jot down any and all possible names that you come across, even if you’re not sure about them. Gather them together and see if anything sticks out to you. If so, great; if not, keep looking. You’ll find one eventually.