Saturday, April 18, 2015

DISCUSSION: Elements of an Excellent Story

I've been wondering lately what exactly it is that makes a story excellent. Is it the plot? The world? The characters? Finally, I settled on two elements:

COMPLEX CHARACTERS


Cookie-cutter characters are quite dull, and they show up all over the place. You know them when you see them. They have one or two relatable aspects to their characters, but they have no distinct qualities to make them memorable or interesting. 

Instead of cookie-cutter characters, I look for people. I look for the type of characters who have multiple defining qualities, who are not purely good or bad, but are a mixture. Real. Authentic. I look for a character I haven't read before. A voice that is distinct, honest, and opinionated. A voice that is or is not like my own. 


Examples:

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas (review): Celaena grows and changes throughout this book – she’s fierce, but still girly. An assassin who is still vulnerable. Brave but sometimes afraid. She’s not either / or, she’s a complicated, multifaceted person.

Vicious by V.E. Schwab (review): I don’t think there’s a single 100% good character in this novel, and I adore it for that reason. The bad guys have a good side, the good guys have a bad side, and it’s easy to find yourself rooting for the supposed villain.

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson (review): Narrated by Tinker Bell, Tink makes this story feel like a 3rd person narrative due to her focus on Tiger Lily. Yet, both Tiger Lily and Tink end up being developed as fascinating girls with messy personalities.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson: I kind of hated Elisa in the first novel. She was always whining, a bit dull, and difficult to like. But in the second novel? I adored her. Third novel? Loved her even more. If you want to see a character develop and change, Elisa is a good example.

A UNIQUE HOOK


By hook, I merely mean something that makes this book stand out from all the others. If it’s contemporary, what makes it unique from all the other contemporary stories? If it’s fantasy, what makes the world different?

It does not necessarily have to be never-been-done-before. It does not have to be entirely unique, even a slightly different hook will suffice. It just needs to have an element of interest and intrigue to the story or character. I need something to grasp, something different, something to make me eager to read, and curious to know more. A story with a unique hook is a story that makes readers pay attention by taking the familiar and giving it a twist. 

Examples:

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (review): A contemporary novel where the main characters’ love letters are accidentally mailed to the guys. It’s a simple, cute, awkward concept, and Han pulls it off wonderfully.

Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard (review): Traveling to Central America, plus the author’s artwork is included. Both act as excellent hooks, and they are the reason I picked this book up (and so glad I did because the words, the art, and the descriptions are wonderful).

The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson (review): While the princess / chosen one concept is popular, Elisa has something different about her that I hadn’t read before – Godstone. Very strange and peculiar, but it was enough to intrigue me.

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King (review): Lucky Linderman and his dreams - I'm not going to say anything more, but the magical realism of this story is well done. 


What do you think are the elements of a good story? What elements make you love your favorite stories? Let me know what you think in the comments! 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Mini-Review: THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER by Leslye J. Walton

Title: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
Author: Leslye J. Walton
Published: March 2014
Series: N/A
Genre: YA Fantasy
Pages: 301
Publisher: Candlewick
Format: Print ARC
Source: Vine Program
Rating: The Royal Library, Bottom Shelf

Magical realism, lyrical prose, and the pain and passion of human love haunt this hypnotic generational saga.

Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava—in all other ways a normal girl—is born with the wings of a bird.

In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naïve to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the Summer Solstice celebration.

That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo.

First-time author Leslye Walton has constructed a layered and unforgettable mythology of what it means to be born with hearts that are tragically, exquisitely human.
Entrancing and heartbreaking, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a lyrical, touching debut. The first 100 pages delve into the history of Ava's family, particularly the women. Beginning with her grandmother (Emilienne Roux) as a child, then her mother (Viviane Lavender), and finally settling on Ava Lavender's own life. The history of these women is one that is wondrously intriguing, slightly magical, and hopelessly tragic. There's something special about all of them, whether it's Emilienne's strange instinct and ability to interpret life, Viviane's ability to know the seasons by the scent of the rain, or the peculiar wings Ava was born having attached to her back. Very peculiar and haunting, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is an imaginative story. 

Highlights: Walton displays humanity in the best and worst possible ways imaginable, somehow maintaining realism with all of the magical qualities this story holds. The writing is truly lovely, and expresses emotion in wondrous ways. The characters are each their own person, with distinct personality traits. The romances are bittersweet, adorable, and heartbreaking. The conclusion was nicely done, and the last few lines make the entire story worthwhile.

Lowlights: I think I set my expectations too high. While I thought it was a good, enjoyable story, I didn't fall in love with it the way many others have. I would have liked to know more about Ava's brother, as he was an intriguing character. 

Note: Some horrible, terrible events occur within (especially at the end of) the story. Nothing is described in too much detail, but it is still a bit shocking to read. The intensity level may or may not be a bit high for younger YA readers. 


Rating: The Royal Library, Bottom Shelf: Really Liked, 3+ out of 5. While this story did not meet my expectations, I still enjoyed many aspects and believe The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a haunting story worth reading. 

I received an advanced copy of this novel  for review consideration. 
This is no way affected my opinion of the novel. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday (162): WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER

WOW is hosted by Breaking the Spine


September 22nd, 2015 from Greenwillow Books

The first book in a new trilogy from acclaimed New York Times–bestselling author Rae Carson. A young woman with the magical ability to sense the presence of gold must flee her home, taking her on a sweeping and dangerous journey across Gold Rush–era America. Walk on Earth a Stranger begins an epic saga from one of the finest writers of young adult literature.

Lee Westfall has a secret. She can sense the presence of gold in the world around her. Veins deep beneath the earth, pebbles in the river, nuggets dug up from the forest floor. The buzz of gold means warmth and life and home—until everything is ripped away by a man who wants to control her. Left with nothing, Lee disguises herself as a boy and takes to the trail across the country. Gold was discovered in California, and where else could such a magical girl find herself, find safety?

Rae Carson, author of the acclaimed Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy, dazzles with the first book in the Gold Seer trilogy, introducing a strong heroine, a perilous road, a fantastical twist, and a slow-burning romance, as only she can.

Rae Carson. Gold Rush. Magic. Disguises. Slow-burning romance. I AM SOLD. This book is going to be amazing. Why is September so far away?! 

What are you waiting on this week?