Stick Figures

What Makes a Book “Good”: Complete Opinion from an Omnivorous Reader

imageThere is a lot of wiggle room when it comes to saying what makes a book “good.”  For me, it’s not just what the story is about but how it’s told.  I’ll do my best to explain that by unraveling two very different though equally incredible books I’m reading right now.

READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline is a masterpiece of 80s and video game geek nostalgia that takes place in a dystopian future where the only escape from reality can be found via the OASIS–a massive online video game that constantly references popular video games, movies, TV shows, and bands that were important to the game’s designer–a child of the 1980s.  This world-building makes the book really fun to read, but that is not the story.

The heart of the tale is the development of our ultra-introverted main character Wade, a boy from a futuristic trailer park who’s absorbed as much 80s culture as possible in order to win a contest created by the OASIS’s designer.  Wade, unlike the evil cooperation racing against him, loves everything about the 80s and will use both his brain and his heart to win the contest.  He is the underdog, smart, and openly flawed–it’s hard not to like him.

The writing itself including tone, voice, structure, ect. hold together well, and the book has its moments of “deep-reaching” with enough existential reflections about playing a game within a game to keep me satisfied.  It’s important for all this to come together in order for me to classify the book as “good.”  Otherwise, it would just be an excuse for a string of random pop-culture references a la Family Guy.

That said…the best parts of the story in my opinion are Cline’s clever combinations of 80s culture and science fiction.  I had typed some examples here then erased them for fear of ruining the book.  Read it.

Another excellent book I’m currently reading is LANDLINE by Rainbow Rowell.  It’s my third Rowell book in a row, and it makes me feel like I could read anything she’s written and love it.  I tried explaining the plot to one of my coworkers but gave up because this book is less concept and more character–the kind of character that must be experienced.  Georgie’s marriage is thrown against the rocks right around Christmas time, but when she plugs in an old landline phone in her bedroom, she’s “magically” able to communicate with her husband before he was her husband–her Neil from the past.  Through their conversations and Georgie’s surfacing memories, we learn more and more about these characters, growing closer to them as we read.

Rowell’s power in writing is in her ability to create intimacy.  Her dialogue is so on–her descriptions of the body so perfectly imperfect–I’m at a loss for words.  I don’t want to use the cliché “She brings the characters to life” because I think that descriptor is overused.  Until you read a book like this–that is as grounding as its title–you might not know what it means for characters to be real.  And if you haven’t read a book like this in a while–if you’re only choosing books based on their concepts–you may have forgotten.

So, I am happy right now to flip back and forth between Cline, a master of concept, and Rowell, a master of character.  Both of their books are “good,” well-written and whole, but what makes me ultimately say they’re good is completely different.  That’s based on the book itself…kind of like falling in love.  It’s sort of fitting how READY PLAYER ONE is the book I’m listening to at high speeds–rushing through the world, and LANDLINE is the book waiting for me when I come home.

What makes a book “good” in your opinion?  Shout out below!

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

Passenger Seat Boom Box Blasts Books on Disc: Yes I Am That Ghetto

imageThe shifty used car salesman who demanded cash for my “clean as a button” Civic must have know that, sooner or later, the car would try to kill me.  The Button, as I came to call it, would pull such stunts as stalling on the entrance ramp to a highway and spinning merrily in the middle of a downpour to face oncoming traffic.

I’ve spent a stupid amount of money trying to fix the broken air-conditioning in this thing (which still isn’t working–grr!), but forcing me to sweat while the idiot lights flash on the dashboard–announcing the cars own slow, oncoming death–wasn’t enough for Button.  On Monday, my CD player decided it was time to go off to that laser disc dance party in the sky–leaving me in silence.

No CD player, no CD books.

I am cheap as hell.  Almost all my physical and audio books come from ye olde library.  I could borrow audio books in an MP3 format (and listen to them with one of those snazzy tape converters in my car–high tech, I know), but I might need to wait longer for certain books to be available…and some I can only get in CD format.

So I took my old boom box, slapped some over-priced batteries inside, and voila!  Ghetto books deluxe.

As I’m rolling to work with Ready Player One blasting in the cab (windows down), I am struck by how much of a nerd I am.  Not necessarily a smart nerd–a terribly awkward nerd who’s desperate enough to hear the rest of a book that she will drive around with a boom box like an idiot and doesn’t care if the teenagers in the expensive SUV next to her are staring.  It makes me feel this…sick sense of pride.  Because screw the rest–the book is all that matters.

What desperate measures have you taken to finish a book?  Tell all below!

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

Sudden Obsession With Writer Syndrome

imageHave you ever read a book by an author that immediately made you want to read everything he or she had ever written?  If so, who is your obsession?  Tell me about it below!

Rainbow Rowell is a literary goddess.  I must possess all that she has written, take it in through my eye sockets, and absorb it into my imperfect being.  Alright, maybe that’s a teensy bit over the top, but in all seriousness, her writing makes something inside me sing. 🙂

So far, I’ve read Fangirl and Eleanor & Park.  They were both incredibly humorous and smart with walk-off-the-page characters and quirky details that brought everything to life.  Landline is next, but I’m spacing it with other books because I’m afraid I’ll read through everything she’s written without grounding myself in other books so that I can appreciate hers properly.  Must…gain…control.

Read on, book junkies!

Michelle Joyce Bond

 

Stick Figures

End of Summer Reading Spree

imageDo forgive–lack of posts due to continuous unabashed reading.

Books of note include:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky — A classic not to be missed!

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins — Humorous, adorable, and romantic.  Seriously, why is this not yet a movie?   

And my favorite of the week that made me laugh out loud in an airport and totally freak out the family next to me: Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella

Happy end-of-the-summer reading,

Michelle Joyce Bond

YA Romance Reviews

Read Like a Writer: FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell

FangirlStrong, flawed, excessively introverted female protagonist + adorable, affectionate, extroverted male = I love this book! 

Top Five Things I Loved About This Book (in no particular order):

1. snappy, fun dialogue
2. self-aware narration including humorous jabs and writers and readers
3. cool parallels between the embedded fan fiction and the actual narrative
4. realistic problems that are pushed over the top to the point that the characters become parodies of themselves…extremes that they are aware of and even COMMENT about
5. Levi 🙂

Michelle Joyce Bond

Photo credit: goodreads.com

Stick Figures

Stand Alones vs. Series

imageOften, I feel the first book of a series would’ve been a pretty good stand alone.

I will read either as long as they’re well-written, but I’m partial to stand alones because the narratives are tighter. Consider the shape of a story. We have a character who struggles to achieve a goal, passing through numerous obstacles that force that character to change (though not always–there are great literary examples that break the mold). We enjoy watching that character struggle because we are sick, sick monkeys.  But our characters reach the climax, their goal (or not) and there’s a quick race to the finish.

With a series, the author needs to set new goals and challenges before the character, forcing them to change EVEN MORE. This is difficult, especially when we’re talking about young adult literature. These stories are often (though not always) coming of age narratives. By the end of the book, a character has proven him or herself to be older, wiser–more of an adult. It is difficult to sustain that effect again and again over the course of several books. How much more does said character have to learn that he or she didn’t learn in the first book?

That said, there are several series books that have compelling enough characters, story worlds, etc. that most readers are comfortable–even excited–to follow them a little longer.

But let me ask you this: Are you usually satisfied with the ending of a series? Does it leave you disappointed because maybe it got to be like fast food and you just wanted more (not necessarily a bad thing, lol). Or do the endings to these extended narratives fail to live up to your expectations because you wanted something more for the characters? Did you really need to see every bit of their “happily ever after” or would it have been more satisfying to leave some of that up to the imagination?

Or maybe you like the way they end. 🙂 Would love to hear from you!!

Michelle Joyce Bond

YA Romance Reviews

Read Like a Writer: THROUGH TO YOU by Emily Hainsworth

Through to You HC_FinalIf you’re looking for a writer whose work typifies the phrase, “Leave space for the reader to inhabit,” Hainsworth is your girl.

It’s difficult for me to allow myself the luxury of reading for long, long stretches, but once I slipped into this book, it was difficult to escape.  The prose of this YA novel is so eloquently written, each detail so carefully selected as to–at times–be almost sparse, that I glided through it in just a few hours.  Everything from the protagonist’s voice to the description of the setting feels authentic, giving the reader just enough detail to enjoy, picture, and relate to what occurs in a given scene–allowing them plenty of latitude to fill in pieces for themselves.  It’s fitting that, in this novel which plays with the concept of moving through a portal to another reality, Hainsworth has left the perfect about of space for the reader to inhabit.  She draws us into her world by making room for us.

The story question, deceptively simple, raises all kinds of problems for Camden PIke: What if he were able to see his dead girlfriend, still alive in an alternate reality?  The setting, despite Camden’s ability to move between realities, is closed and simple, and the book’s cast of characters–limited.  By doing this, Hainsworth funnels the reader’s attention more toward the internal story–Cam’s struggle as he compares what he thought he knew about his girlfriend’s basic nature to her possessive, reckless behavior under the conditions of this alternate universe.  This is while Cam, at the same time, confronts another version of his own story where a positive attitude and different choices lead to greater success.  The blame for how his life turned out in his own reality rests squarely on his shoulders…with one small caveat.  Cam will learn that the people who enter his life–and those he makes an effort to keep close to him–ultimately help to make him a different person.

Hainsworth is one of those authors who makes it look easy but whose work, upon close examination, can be appreciated down tot he sentence level for exactly how much effort was put into it.  And this is only her first novel.  An immediate fan–I can’t wait to plunge into her next book.

Michelle Joyce Bond

 

 

Stick Figures

Why I Want to Be Published: A Somewhat Meta Review of Reviews

imageI don’t write negative book reviews.  My reasons for this are mostly selfish.  Perhaps one day I’ll be lucky enough to get published and a hypothetical bunch of people will write somewhat flattering reviews of my book…though I suppose scathingly harsh reviews wouldn’t be so bad (because, as the cliché goes, there’s no such thing as bad publicity).  But writers hope for good reviews since they’ve struggled to send that over-edited block of textual thought (which is, in the end, a rather solid abstraction of the fluid, unattainable work of the imagination) out into the universe…and they’re hoping to see ripples come back.

My husband once asked me, “Why is it so important to you that you get published?” The question stumped me.  I had plenty of reasons for writing–some selfish, some not– but publishing is more an issue of connectedness.  I don’t want fame.  I want people to have read my words, empathize with the characters, lose themselves a little bit in their lives, and be haunted by the ghost of the book even after they turned the last page.  I want them to think about it later.  That would mean something in the essence of the book moved from short-term enjoyment to long-term effect.  I want to–as corny as it sounds–move someone.

They say art is a mirror to life–that we react to books and paintings and music and other abstractions with the essence of the human element in them because we see something of ourselves.  So…if I make art, does it count as art if nobody is there to experience it?  (Insert tree falling in the woods metaphor here!)  Well, I suppose, I am reading it.  I see surprising bits of myself in my writing and react to them, so I guess there’s that.  But how much more cool is it to know that someone else read your human bits and are approximating the same thing that you are–that they are also human and their humanness is reacting to your humanness.  Fire catching fire.

And what if someone who read my book was kind enough to write a review?  That review would be another block of textual, abstracted, thoughty bits, but in it, I might see evidence of the fire I set.  And I guess that would make me feel…warm. 🙂

Michelle Joyce Bond

Writing

Hey Jersey Writers–Check Out the NJRW 2014 Put Your Heart In A Book Conference!

NJRW 2014 Put Your Heart in a Book Conference — “30 Years of Happily Ever Afters!”

 

http://www.njromancewriters.org/conference.html

 

October 17-18, 2014
Renaissance Woodbridge Hotel 

Iselin, NJ

Early Bird Pricing: June 1-July 31st


NJRW Member $215 – Non-member $240

Prices go up August 1st, so get in early.

Don’t miss this opportunity to take your writing to the next level. This year’s Put Your Heart in a Book Conference is shaping up to be the best ever.

Susan Mallery: Keynote Speaker
Stella Cameron: Luncheon Speaker
Jennifer Probst: Special Presentation*
Roxanne St Claire: 3-hour Pre-Conference Workshop ($45)

* For first 100 registrants

Some things to expect:

  • Workshops for writers of all levels 
  • Editor/Agent Appointments
  • Literacy Book Fair/Author Signings (a portion of proceeds will go to Literacy Volunteers of NJ)
  • Opportunities for Networking 

Here is a partial list of agents and editors scheduled to attend:


Agents:

  • Louis Fury, The Bent Agency 
  • Jita Fumich, Folio Literary Management 
  • Lisa Rodgers, JABberwocky Literary Agency 
  • Annelise Robey, Jane Rotrosen Agency 
  • Lori Perkins, LPerkins Agency 
  • Sarah E. Younger, Nancy Yost Literary Agency 
  • Stephany Evans, FinePrint Literary Management


Editors:

  • Nicole Fisher, Avon Books 
  • Sarah Murphy, Bantam Dell 
  • Angela James, Carina Press 
  • Treva Harte, Loose Id 
  • Lauren McKenna, Pocket Books 
  • Mary Altman, Sourcebooks Inc. 
  • Cat Clyne, Sourcebooks Inc. 
  • Eileen Rothschild, St. Martin’s Press 
  • Melissa Ann Singer, Tor/Forge 
  • Julie Mianecki, Berkley 
  • Kristine Swartz, Berkley

… … and more to come

Workshop presenters:

  • Madeline Hunter, PAN/PUB Retreat Kickoff Speaker 
  • Susan Mallery, Screw The Muse, I’m on a Deadline 
  • Stella Cameron, People Make Your Story 
  • Jennifer Probst and Jen Talty, Sweet, Snarky, or Sexpot: What Makes a Good Heroine? 
  • Christine Bush, First Timer’s Workshop 
  • Anne Walradt, Writing the “Can’t Put It Down” Novel 
  • Laura Curtis, Personal Branding for Authors 
  • Nancy Herness, Sell Your Book, Not Your Soul 
  • Julie Ann Walker, The Hard and Fast Rules for a Kickass Query & How to Make Your Characters THUNDER 
  • Beth Ciotta, Derring-Do, The Passionate Writer’s Guide to Success 
  • Julie Rowe, Taming Twitter 2-hour block 
  • Mary Burton, Novel Write 
  • Joanna Shupe, Tech Tips for Writers 
  • Judi Fennell, How to Self Publish & Novel In A Nutshell 
  • Tina Gallagher and Pattie Giordani, Pitch Perfect 
  • Nisha Sharma, GMC in the YA Novel & Score! Game plans, Strategies, and Plays 
  • Sandra Pesso, Work Your Social Media Platform like a Rockstar 
  • Shiloh Walker, Draw Me A Story 
  • Jen Talty, Building Your Author Brand 
  • Bob Mayer, Write It Forward 
  • Jen Talty and Bob Mayer, E-pub, POD, and the Future of Publishing 
  • Laura Kaye, The Secrets Behind Becoming a Bestseller 
  • Kristen Painter, Worldbuilding Through a Series 
  • Diana Cosby, Marketing for Impact 2-hour block 
  • Donna MacMeans, Grab Your Reader on Page 1 
  • Mallory Braus and Elizabeth London, Top Ten Ways You’re Showing Rather Than Telling 
  • Laurie Cooper, This Bridge Looks REALLY High 
  • K.M. Fawcett and Cathy Tully, Looking for Action? Writing Believable Fight Scenes 
  • Leigh Duncan, A Walk In The Plot 
  • Victoria Pinder, Be Your Own Agent 
  • Judith Roth, The Art of Self-Editing 
  • Sarah Younger 
  • Jeanette Grey, Domains and Graphics 
  • Vicky Sue Dreiling, Make Them Laugh, Make Them Cry 
  • Maria Snyder, Classic Writing Mistakes 
  • Susan Wall, Book Trailer Boot Camp 
  • Louisa Edwards, How to Give and Get Better Critiques 
  • Peter Andrews, How to Write Fast 
  • Laurie Bevin Cooper, How to Make Opportunities Happen 
  • Paula Scardamalia, How to Use the Tarot To Write

 

To register, click here!

 

If you have questions, please contact: DC “Desi” Stone, NJRW’s 2014 Conference Chair, at confchair@njromancewriters.org or, Jackson D’Lynne, Assistant Chair, at jacksondlynne@yahoo.com

For registration questions, please contact: Jenny Baskwell Registrar, at registrar@njromancewriters.org.

We will be adding to the list of agents and editors, so please check our web site www.njromancewriters.org frequently for updates!

Stick Figures

A Book So Good You…Have To Put It Down?

imageThere is a book in the other room that wants to eat my brain.  I’ve shut the door, I’ve turned the key…but I can still hear its voice in my head…

Reeeeeeead meeeeee…

Tension keeps the reader hooked.  Masters of tension know how to manipulate us because they know what makes us tick.  They use our own psychology against us, keeping our eyes glued to the screen or the page–twisting us all up into ball of contradiction and unanswered questions, spinning us so we’re never sure where to look, leading us on a merry uphill chase, and allowing us to think we may have reached the answer right before kicking us back down the street and into a stranger’s yard where everything blows apart and we’re left to try and make sense of the pieces.

There are few books that have made me this tense in my life–probably a result of the fact that I’m not big on suspense novels.  I don’t think a book necessarily has to fit into that genre to make my heart feel like it’s about to rip out of my chest and do the Can-can across the floor.  In fact, the last book that did this to me was Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop which is a fantasy novel.  But suspense novels are written with the express purpose of doing just that–they are wonderfully intricate machines of thought that turn you inside out.

What book is causing such delicious frustration that I’ve purposely left it in the other room because I really, really want to find out what happens next but am so twisted up, I can’t stand to turn the page?  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  It’s one of many on my long I’ve-saved-you-up-for-summer-and-now-here-it-finally-is-so-YAY!-let’s-do-this summer reading list.

What I’ve taken away from this experience is namely this: I need to go back in the other room and turn that page.  I need to read more books like these as articles or books on the craft of writing suspense because I WANT TO MAKE MY READERS FEEL LIKE THIS!

What are some books you’ve read–in any genre–that were so good you had to put them down?

Michelle Joyce Bond