Genre is hot. Page-turning thrillers, mysteries and romances keep our pulse racing and underscore our hectic lives. These whirlwind escapes are enjoyable, but sometimes we need to slip away softly.
Jessica Keener’s Night Swim transports us into 16-year-old Sarah Kunitz’s life with the finesse of a classical composer. Sarah’s world wraps around us like the opening of The Moonlight Sonata. The family dynamic is so true, we see a bit of ourselves in every character. This is the mark of a seasoned writer. But amidst the familiar comfort an undercurrent of unrest gnaws and we commit to Sarah’s journey because we are anchored in truth.
Then Sarah’s world cracks open like the second half of Beethoven’s masterpiece, and we hang tight while she navigates through the debris of her disintegrating family to find salvation. Night Swim is filled with heartache, yet flows with love and poetic depth.
Plunge into Night Swim.
I love to read the book prior to seeing the movie it’s based on. I’m sorry to say this did not happen with Silence of the Lambs. The movie is powerful and I’ve probably enjoyed it at least a dozen times. The Oscar winning performances by Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins are so rich I could never bring myself to crack the spine to discover what they may have missed.
But curiosity won and I finally broke the self-imposed ban and removed the book from my To Be Read pile. Two weeks later I wished I’d never seen the movie. Not because the film was a poor adaptation—Harris’s world was recreated with great accuracy—but because I knew too much. Knowing how the events would play out removed a layer of suspense that was beautifully executed by Harris.
Fortunately, in the end my prior knowledge wasn’t a factor in my overall enjoyment of the novel because Silence is a must read for writers and actors. And the why has everything to do with how well Hannibal Lecter is portrayed.
Sure, we know Lecter is called Hannibal the Cannibal and he’s committed nine murders that the FBI know about, but it isn’t until he escapes 2/3 of the way through the book that we actually see who he is and what he’s capable of. By then we already have our emotional hooks into him. Although we know he belongs in maximum security, we secretly root for him to get the view he desires because we understand him as a human being, not a monster. And the fact that he cares about Starling, our hero, makes it hard to push him out of our hearts—even after we witness his savage side.
Harris also ensures our connection with Lecter by not revealing all. We don’t know how his killing nature developed or why he can’t or doesn’t care to stop. Yet, his admiration for Starling makes us hope—maybe even believe—he possesses the ability to be reformed even if the odds are against him.
We are drawn to Lecter because he is a human mystery.
Discovering the quirks and ticks of a character is essential if we want to build believable characters but, like backstory sometimes we need to let go of what we have worked so hard to uncover. By allowing the wealth of information to vibrate beneath the surface of the words we can dazzle readers and keep our writing fresh.
Click to explore the mystery of Hannibal Lecter.
Do-overs are not a part of life, but I imagine we all wonder from time to time what a do-over would mean for our lives. Cronin’s characters in Me Again have a chance to find out. Two young stroke victims meet in a hospital. His memory is gone. Her personality has changed. They don’t fit in. And they’ll never be the same. But now they’ve got to decide what matters most. Who they were. Or who they want to become (video trailer).
From the moment I crossed paths with Keith on Backspace, I knew he was a writer I would learn from again and again. His posts for Writer Unboxed are informative and inspirational. His feedback on the Backspace forum is a must read for any writer who hopes to cross the finish line to publication. Keith has helped me understand loglines, queries and now with Me Again, he has shown me how to improve me WIP.
He packs a punch on the page. His prose is lean. No excess backstory. Each chapter drops the reader into the midst of action. He avoids long segues and he trusts his readers. As a result, his readers have no problem using their imaginations to connect the dots between scenes because he goes for the jugular in each chapter.
I admit, I was baffled by the cover art, but the payoff was grand. Me Again encompasses the three H’s of exemplary fiction: humor, heart and honesty. A must read no matter what genre you normally hang your reading glasses on.
Read Me Again now.
Woolf’s novel is a drowsy read compared to the high stakes action found in today’s genre fiction. Yet, I’d pit her characters against the wickedest villain and the most courageous heroine without hesitation.
Although I’ve never fired a gun, I have no doubt about my own ability to kill an attacker that threatened either myself, or someone I loved. This is bravery. But it is brought on by external forces, which automatically triggers our fight or flight reflexes. I don’t wish to take anything away from such heroes, but it is a different kind of brave than the bravery found in To The Lighthouse.
The characters that populate Woolf’s novel discover their courage moment to moment as they face their darkest fears. From their incompetence in offering sympathy to their inability to accept beauty, they blatantly acknowledge their weaknesses. The inner strength required for such honesty is doubled by their willingness to endure the most uncomfortable situation, and by doing so, discover a better part of themselves.
To The Lighthouse is filled with extraordinary human beings who struggle with personal turmoil and triumph through simple perseverance. In my mind braver souls can not be found. If you are a writer and wish to master the complexity of simplicity, read Virginia Woolf. Awesome.
Click to study the mastery of Virginia Woolf.
Although I’ve been a book addict my entire life, I don’t ever remember reading fiction written specifically for young adults (12-18 years old). By the time I was ten, I’d entered the worlds of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and the Bronte sisters. I couldn’t get enough of tortured souls. But I may not have needed to dig into the past if A.S. King was writing when I was a teen. Everybody Sees the Ants has all anyone could ever want in the tortured soul category, but King also adds tons of humor and hope. Lucky Linderman is an unforgettable protagonist, who makes you want to not only examine how you behaved as a teen, but re-evaluate how you’re coping as an adult. If this is what YA fiction is about, I want more.
Discover Lucky Linderman’s world of Ants with one click.
Other than Stephen King’s The Dark Tower Series, I detour around books with recurring characters. There are simply too many books and too little time to get tied down with one character. This was my story until I was introduced to Chelsea Cain’s serial killer Gretchen Lowell.
If you’re a Hannibal fan brace yourself. Gretchen has taken Lecter’s game to a new level. She’s so deliciously evil I wish I’d thought her up. But her evil ways are only a small part of why I’m hooked. The brilliance of the series is how Cain has interconnected the killer with the protagonist. The love/hate rollercoaster between our hero, Archie and Gretchen is twisted and complex. In addition to destroying his marriage and the bond with his children, their relationship is literally ripping him apart emotionally and physically. But Archie refuses to let go and Gretchen continues to risk her freedom to be near him.
The why behind each character’s actions is not yet clear and after book two, Sweetheart, the reader still knows nothing of Gretchen’s history. This is another strength for Cain—no info dumps. She doles out information like a peanut M & M junkie, who only eats one M & M every twenty minutes. The tension between the protagonist and the killer coupled with the increasing unknown makes this series a must read.
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I’m excited to say, I came across the Help long before it became the rage. Makes me feel as if I discovered something special.
In the midst of struggling to find my own voice as a writer, I was immediately taken with this southern novel because the voices of the three point of view characters drive the story. As a reader I empathized with each character’s inner and external conflicts, and found myself fretting throughout the day over how the lives of these people would resolve. Would they find peace and happiness, or was there something waiting for them even bigger than their wildest imaginations could provide. This kind of reader angst stems only from great storytelling. the Help is a story that had to be told and must be read.
If I didn’t have a life, I would’ve read Guest’s debut novel in one sitting. She drags you underneath the skin of each character to feel their pain—even if you can’t understand it. But that’s the magic of drama. We don’t necessarily have to know all the whys or hows, we just need to believe that they exist. And the reader never doubts that Conrad, Calvin and Beth Jarret are driven in the present from what happened in their past.
We don’t know all the details, in fact, we only learn about one specific instance, yet there is a wealth of history behind each character. We feel it. This emotional connection is what propels us to turn the page. The other driving force is that none of the characters wish to wallow in their pain. They often sink, but they fight to remain buoyant—even when they recognize happiness may not arrive. Then, this inner conflict rubs up against external conflict and the characters ricochet off one another as if they lived in a pinball machine. No “woe is me”—A good lesson for every writer.
The Detroit Free Press said Ordinary People is, “A writer’s novel. A reader’s novel. A critic’s novel. A very important novel.” Read it. Feel the inspiration.
Mark this book as a First. The Surgeon is Tess Gerritsen’s first crime thriller, the debut for recurring character Detective Jane Rizzoli and my first experience with this author. The verdict:
Gerritsen has found another fan.
Her writing is without waste. Descriptions are vivid. Details flesh out character, or underscore the urgency of the situation. Another bonus is Gerritsen’s background as a physician. Her ability to translate complex medical procedures to the page with simple clarity is not only a joy for the reader, but also provides us with the knowledge necessary to deepen our empathy for the characters.
I chose The Surgeon as my first Gerritsen’s read because it was Rizzoli’s debut, so I was surprised to discover she was a secondary character. Rizzoli’s partner Detective Thomas Moore is the man that captures the reader’s heart. In fact, this reader was rooting so much for Moore, Rizzoli became a thorn in my side and I ended up disliking her as much as the other characters in the book. I couldn’t fathom how this character earned a strong enough following for the popular Rizzoli and Isles series. Then in the midst of the murder investigation Rizzoli’s inner turmoil was flushed out, and by the end of the book I couldn’t stop wondering what the future holds for this heroine. Applause for Gerritsen.
My only reservation with The Surgeon has to do with the antagonist. We become acquainted with the Surgeon through long monologues, which often explore behaviors of people from ancient lands, i.e. the Greeks, Vikings and Aztecs. Although this material revealed much about the Surgeon’s frame of mind these chapters often pulled me out of the story. Fortunately, Gerritsen’s follow through made the Surgeon real for me in the end, but oh, how I wish I had a stronger connection with him early on.
The Rizzoli and Isles series may never find their way into my TBR pile, but Gerritsen is definitely an author I will revisit.
Become a fan of Gerritsen with one click.
Whenever a book is made into a movie I do my best to read before I watch. Sometimes, a book will get passed me, but as soon as I saw the trailer for White Oleander—years back—I ran to the bookstore. The imagery and inner conflict of the characters were so riveting, I read the first third of the book without a break. Probably would’ve finished the book in one sitting except my family woke up. Astrid’s mother, Ingrid, is the most passive-aggressive evil villain I’ve ever come across. I believe she creeped me out more than Hannibal Lecter. If you haven’t indulged in Janet Fitch yet. Please do. I started a second read as soon as I finished the first.
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