The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I loved this book! The House of the Scorpion is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It is such a rich story that tackles all sorts of social issues.
Matt is a clone of El Patron, one of the most powerful drug cartel leaders in Opium, the land that lies between America and Mexico. Matt struggles with his identity, finding acceptance, and knowing who he can trust.
Opium is populated with corrupt politicians, drug lords, border guards, and eejits – zombified crop laborers with chips implanted in their heads.
Woven throughout is the history of how Opium came to be. El Patron tells Matt of his impoverished boyhood and his eventual rise to power. El Patron is a fascinating character, for one thing he is 146 years old but still ruling his drug empire through intimidation. Even his own children fear him, but he loves and is loved by Matt – a living representation of his own youth. However, their relationship is complex and ultimately the choices Matt makes about El Patron determine both their futures.
Matt develops a tender relationship with Tam Lim, one of El Patron’s bodyguards. Through their friendship, Matt is challenged to defy others’ expectations and create his own identity.
Nancy Farmer has done a stellar job creating a morally-complex dystopian world. I look forward to reading the sequel.
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Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In a world of red blooded commoners and silver blooded elites, Mare Barrow is an anomaly. When an accident at the Royal Court reveals that Mare has an ability of her own, she is thrown into the dangerous world of the Silvers. To survive, she must forge alliances with her most hated enemies and hide her true identity.
Mare’s hometown, an oppressed village called The Stilts, as well as the fight scene in the colosseum at the beginning reminded me a lot of the Hunger Games. The wide-array of powers that the Silvers possess was a Miss Peregrine’s/Grisha trilogy mash-up. But the strongest resemblance was to Kiera Cass’s Selection series, oddly enough. The overall feel of the palace, the fancy dresses and make-up, the guards, and Mare’s relationship with the king and the princes – all reminded me a lot of The Selection. Despite that, all together the story still felt pretty original.
My favorite part was Mare’s relationship between the two brothers. The sibling rivalry and developing love triangle kept me turning pages. Though I would have liked a little more time with the oldest brother, Cal. But, I imagine in future books we get to know him more.
I had a pretty good idea of the ending early on, but it was still enjoyable reading.
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Remember when I started a blog about writing a book? Yeah, I kind of forgot too. About the blog not the book. The book writing has continued on – sometimes making me a little crazy with all the restarts and writers block and ‘what the heck am I doing?’ moments. But still I wrote on.
When I got the wild and crazy idea to write a novel, I did the math. If I wrote XYZ amount of words a day, I’d be done on XX date. It seemed so logical. How could it go wrong? For starters, I didn’t anticipate starting no less than 5 novels – outlining, naming characters and places, getting approximately 10,000 to 15,000 words in and deciding I didn’t have a story. But still I wrote on.
But somewhere in the last six weeks, things finally seemed to start clicking on one particular story.
I’m about 30,000 words into my current work in progress. It is still YA fantasy, but much different than the novel I originally envisioned. I won’t say more about it just yet as I still have a ways to go before I finish the rough draft, but I am happy with where I’m headed so far.
What’s different this time? Maybe it was the writers conference I attended in Ft. Worth. Or the critique group I joined in April. Or the writer friends I’ve connected with over last couple months. Or maybe it’s that if you just keep going with something, by your 6th try, things are a little less cloudy.
My current goal is to have a rough draft completed by the end of the summer. I’m signed up for a revising workshop in August through SCBWI (The Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators) and would love to have a full manuscript completed to work on there.
The best laid plans of mice and men…
As for the blog, I’ve been reading some great YA books and books on writing lately and I plan to post some reviews here in the near future.
Years ago, the PR department I worked in watched a video called Don’t Worry Be Crappy with Guy Kawasaki, a key marketer during Apple’s early days. The gist of the video was don’t try so hard to have everything be perfect before you move forward. If you do, you’ll never get anything done. In order to be innovative you’ve got to take risks, do things you’re not familiar with, and yes, be crappy.
Perfectionism is paralyzing. Because really, when are we ever really 100% pleased with anything?
In the same vein, I recently read some writing advice from Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series. She recommended doing no editing at all on your first draft until you had the whole thing written out. Don’t even look back at what you’ve just written for consistency. Just barf it all out on the page. She writes that you should expect your first draft to stink. That’s the nature of a first draft.
Instead of worrying so much about making sure every word is a beautiful butterfly, just get it all out on the screen. Then go back and look for major things that need repair – like voice inconsistencies, a botched climax, etc. Then once those major things are fixed, you can worry about fixing grammar, tweaking metaphors, and other finer points.
I found her suggestions liberating. Perfectionism makes it hard to type anything because we want it all to be our best work. But the reality is, nobody’s first draft is perfect. Just spill it all out there – the good, the cliched, the ridiculous – then go back and delete the junk and save the good.
Keeping the big picture in mind has helped me not worry as much about wordsmithing at this stage. But it takes discipline to keep the editor in me from hacking away at things prematurely.
Do you struggle with perfectionism in your writing or other areas? What liberates you?
In January, I officially started writing my first novel – a young adult fantasy set in Iceland. In the past, I’ve tinkered around with novel ideas and journaled a few things here and there. But, this is my first time to really chart a story out and be disciplined about working on it everyday.
After getting my oldest son a book on trolls for Christmas and later that week watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (which features a jaunt to Iceland), my creative wheels started turning.
A few Google searches later, and I was completely enchanted with all things Iceland. I mean, look at these Icelandic horses…don’t they just make you want to drop everything and go on a Nordic adventure?
Then there’s the Scandinavian folklore. So many fascinating creatures there. Like frost giants, the fiddle playing Fossegrim, and Nokken, a shapeshifting water spirit (below).
Since then, I’ve been collecting books for my research. This past weekend, I visited the massive used bookstore in downtown Denton and found two coffee table books on Gnomes and Giants. They’re filled with daydream-inciting illustrations and tidbits of folklore.
I’m only a few chapters in at this point, but I’m really enjoying the writing process. Which I plan to share more about here. As well as interesting pieces of folklore, Iceland trivia, troll sightings and more!
I hope you’ll join me for the ride.