Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray
In the aftermath of the sleeping sickness that nearly overtook New York, the Diviners are forced further into the open amidst increasing rumors of ghosts in the city. United, the Diviners pursue the secrets behind the origin of their powers. Their search takes them deep into the folds of demonic deals, government conspiracies, and the brutal truths of America’s past. But the tide of popularity is beginning to turn against them, and in a time of growing modernism and socio-economic turmoil, they may be under threat from both the living and the dead.
Compared to its sisters, the third installment of The Diviners is much, much darker. Its plot and characters are as winsome as ever. That said, don’t expect the same comedic breaks as the first two installments. With its engaging ghost-story narrative and poignant take on the bloody history of the “American Dream,” Before the Devil Breaks You is another poetic nail-biter, if a bit emotionally exhausting. I loved seeing the now fully-assembled Diviners came into their own as equals, friends, and rivals. The shifts in alliances and romantic interests were delightfully shocking, and the plot kept perfect pace. Bray has once again delivered with this energetic, suspenseful, and beautifully haunting novel. I recommend it for fans of YA supernatural stories and related genres.
(A note of warning: Although this book is YA, it includes some instances of domestic abuse and other graphic scenes that may not be suitable for younger readers or those who are triggered by related violence.)
Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray
In this electric second installment of The Diviners, Evie O’Neill has stolen the spotlight in New York City, dazzling audiences with her supernatural ability to read secrets held in personal objects. But Evie is not the only Diviner, and the others aren’t as keen on being made public–others like dream walkers Henry DuBois and Ling Chan. Meanwhile, an inexplicable sleeping sickness ravages the city. Dangerous nightmares are taking hold, and it’s going to take a lot more than a warm glass of milk to chase them away.
It’s not easy for a book to scare me in full daylight, but Lair of Dreams did it. Another beautifully voiced volume by Bray, this sequel kept a fast-paced balance of everything I loved about the first Diviners–ominous monsters, villains that are disconcertingly human, dramatic irony so thick I wanted to smack the characters with their own book, and heartbreakingly witty romance, all set against the backdrop of 1920s New York. The sequel definitely highlights more romantic subplots than its predecessor. Still, it nailed the mark in keeping to its dark, paranormal roots. I kept finding myself sitting in bed at night, knowing that if I read anymore I’d probably have nightmares, but still itching for one more chapter.
Timelines are tricky beasts. They are one of my personal downfalls as a writer when working on a story that spans longer than a year. Weaving in backstory can make tracking time-sensitive plot points even harder. So, what do we do? We get organized! Here are some tips for keeping tabs on time.
Choose the Details
How important is time to the story? Does the book span a day? A week? A lifetime? The longer the time frame the more difficult it can be to make sure plot points don’t overlap, but shorter time frames have their difficulties too. For example, if a major plot point is that a character breaks a femur, that character can’t be expected to be back in action after a few days rest. Likewise, the amount of characters in the book can effect the way the plot unfolds. If the reader has to follow several main characters with intersecting stories, it’s crucial the timelines match up. So it’s important to consider the details and to decide how relevant specific dates and times are to less impactful plot points or characters.
My bad habit for getting around timing issues is to simply not give enough information to the reader, letting the story float somewhere in the unknown reaches of the eternal. Not a suggested solution. An easy way to guide yourself as you go is to include headers at the start of or throughout chapters as time and location shift. Of course, it can’t stop there. You will still need to keep track of what happens when and will need to refer back to previous headers in order to make sure things are always in order. Which means that even with headers, it’s usually best to…
Make A Timeline
There are plenty of online tools you can google to help you along the timeline making process. Templates and programs are out there. However, some people prefer to make their own through Microsoft Word or other programs already on their computer. Other people are more hands-on organizers, meaning they prefer to have a physical paper in front of them (shoutout to my fellow traditional paperback book lovers out there). It can be a bit more tedious to make a timeline by hand, and mistakes are bound to happen, so I recommend writing in pencil. But, having a physical timeline is a handy tool to have if, like me, you’re the type that prefers to see the whole picture rather than bits and pieces as you scroll through your laptop. Either way, take the details you’ve decided are important and map them out on the timeline–character, plot point, day, year, time of day, etc.–and you’ve got yourself a workable way of tracking what happens when.
A common response to when someone makes a mistake is, “Nobody’s perfect!” Which is true. We live in an imperfect world which is why so many of us turn to the nearest escape hatch–books.
Who We Are
We read to go seeking a world that’s a little more magical, that feels a bit more like “the good old days” or a utopian future. But “the good old days” had problems too, and utopia is unlikely. (I know, it hurts my sunshine idealist heart too.) Imperfection is who we are…and it’s who our characters should be too.
What characters are you most drawn to reading? It’s pretty safe to bet it isn’t the cardboard ones that are perfect people that just have bad things happen to them. What we see in fiction are reflections of our world, and that hope for utopia comes from a hope of growth. Much like the plants in my brother’s tiny apartment, if your characters are rooted in a stagnant box then they have nowhere to grow.
What Perfection Does
In case you haven’t seen How I Met Your Mother, which you should, meet Patrice.
She is a happy-go-lucky office worker who has never done a thing wrong in her life (we know this, and we love you). Patrice is peppy, thoughtful, and genuinely wants nothing but to love everyone around her any way that she can, to which the general response is:
Because while we adore these kinds of people in real life, even they are not as perfect as Patrice, and if they were, we would be just as annoyed as Robin Scherbatsky. Imperfection is what makes characters relatable, and makes us root for them. It’s why the protagonists of HIMYM are the heavily flawed band of Robin and friends and not Patrice.
How to Handle Flaws
Make them real. Make them hurt. Make them redeemable. Clumsiness is not a character flaw. I repeat, NOT A CHARACTER FLAW. It’s relatable, but it’s not internal. The flaws I’m talking about come from our fears, our desires, and how we enact them. A glory-seeking hero underestimates the villain and consequently someone dies. The bookish girl wants the world to operate by her moral compass, which it doesn’t, prodding her to have a hellish temper. Two best friends share a pride streak, so neither one knows that the other is in danger because they both refuse to apologize first. These are the kinds of real flaws that readers can relate too, even when inflated by fiction. While flaws may show themselves in external action, it starts at the heart of the character.
The recent release of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi has left fans across generations dazed. Taking to social media, anyone can find a range of conflicting opinions, but there seem to be two dominate camps — the “this is groundbreaking” faction and the “they ruined everything” faction. This post goes out to all those fangirls and boys who have ever left their heart bleeding at the feet of their favorite storytellers, disappointed. (Disclaimer: The title of this post does not reflect my personal opinion of The Last Jedi. No spoilers will be listed in this post.)
A Moment of Validation
You’re right, they ruined it. Those evil writers have ruined your favorite book series, TV show, play, or movie franchise. In a culture of reboots and infinite sequels, it was bound to happen eventually. I am truly, deeply sorry. They had no right. No right at all. If your anger is directed toward the death of a particular character, please seek some therapy from my earlier post, the 7 Stages of (Fictional) Grief.
We Have T-Shirts
On the bright side, you’re not alone in your despair. There’s hundreds, maybe thousands of other members of Club Disappointed. I earned my punch card when I reached the end of the Hunger Games trilogy, furious at the sudden and uncharacteristic turn of events dropped at the end of the third book. Each of us has experienced that surreal moment of realization that what was understood to be true about a certain fictional world has been shattered. If you haven’t, prepare yourself. Your day is coming.
Where We Go From Here
We have a few options. There’s my father’s approach, which is to be initially vocal and then go on to quietly stew over the death of a fictional reality until, just when everyone thinks you’ve finally come to terms with it, burst open another floodgate of outrage. If you are this person, I hope you have someone as patient as my mother to listen…over…and over…and over. There’s my approach, which is to pretend large chunks of the story never happened and write over those grey areas with a false memory. Or, you can grieve, accept that nothing gold can stay, and try to rekindle the fiery fan inside of you.
So go forth, fellow fans. Tell the story of your pain, but do so in moderation, and maybe not to a random guy sitting next to you on the bus. He probably doesn’t care.
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
Fairytales may be old, but they are no less powerful for it. A bookish nobody plucked from the dust of Zosma’s great library, Lazlo Strange joins a party of delegates chosen by the legendary Godslayer of Weep. Weep, a city thats true name was stolen from the minds of the world. A city Lazlo continued to believe in even after it had become a fairytale to everyone else. Going on blind faith, the delegation aims to solve the dark mystery that has haunted Weep since the Godslayer earned his name during the Carnage. A shadow on Weep’s history that must be seen to be believed.
First and maybe most importantly, I would like to give this book the “shiniest cover I have ever experienced” award. The cover art is as lovely as its content. True to form, Taylor writes prose like poetry. The plot is a little slow to start, but Lazlo’s charm and his author’s narrative keeps it moving smoothly. It has the kind of finesse that can only be achieved by an avid lover of fairytales, and it was easy to image Taylor sitting beside me, telling the story as if she’d seen it first hand. My biggest critique of the book is it’s length, which resulted in a little bit of excessive repetition when there were shifts in the narrative point of view. Otherwise, Laini Taylor has once again solidified her place as one of my favorite fantasy writers. I recommend this book for admirers of myths, legends, and all other forms of literary fantasy. Long live the dreamers.
Other recommended series by Laini Taylor:
Having recently read S.E. Hinton’s classic novel The Outsiders, I decided to dedicate a post to writing about sibling love. The sibling bond is something strange, and I’m not sure there’s any other relationship like it. (Shout-out to my brother for permitting me use the banner images. Just so you know, bro, I probably would have done it anyway. Love you!)
Sometimes We Get Along…
There are many stories that feature siblings as a joint force to be reckoned with. We see it in classics like the Curtis brothers in The Outsiders or the March sisters in Little Women, but also in more recent pop culture such as The Avenger’s: Age of Ultron superhuman duo, Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, or the Elric brothers of Full Metal Alchemist.
The key to these relationships is they aren’t perfect. Even in their most loving moments, siblings may be looking for ways to make their family the butt of a joke. In other words, don’t over-romanticize the closeness of siblings, not even the ones who generally get along. I’d recommend avoiding grandiose speeches of brotherly love sometimes found in emotional or climatic moments of stories unless you’ve built a relationship with your readers so that they expect and respect dramatic effect. If not, keep it short, to the point, and in character. That is where the more powerful impact of sibling love lies–in subtle and sometimes imperfect gestures of support.
…Sometimes We Don’t
Of course, rivalry and personal differences can sometimes break the family bond and leave an emotional fissure. As readers, we often hope or expect these wounds will be mended, but we don’t always get our happy resolution. Siblings know each other’s weaknesses, even if they’re as small as pet peeves. Ill-willed siblings will often use these to their advantage. Hateful siblings definitely will. When reading about a protagonist and antagonist that are siblings, I usually find the villainous activity turned up to eleven. I live for that fictional drama. But again, don’t undersell the importance of the subtler emotional jabs that only someone with the insider knowledge of a brother or sister possesses.
I’d also like to mention that not all siblings fall in the “I love you” or “I hate you” camps. Sometimes siblings simply co-exist in independent neutrality. No two sibling relationships are alike, but I hope these tips will help to get you thinking.
For those of you wondering why my brother and I look like prom dates in the lefthand banner photo, it’s because we kind of were. My junior year of high school we became friends with another brother-sister set, and our moms thought it’d be fun for us to all go to prom together. Thus I came to understand the age old sentiment that no one knows awkward family situations like siblings.
Question of the week: Who are your favorite fictional siblings?
The Flats by Kate Birdsall
A dead boy. A cast of deadbeat suspects. A detective determined to root out the killer. Detective Liz Boyle’s hunt for a child murderer sends her reeling when someone she cares about becomes entangled in the web of confusion surrounding a little boy’s death. But just when the case seems synched, a faceless new player slips onto the scene, and Boyle must decide how hard she is willing to push herself and those around her to find justice.
Detective Liz Boyle and her partner Goran are the kind of crime-fighting team I’d want on my side. The Flats is full of solid characters, but Boyle and Goran were by far my favorite duo. Birdsall’s tight writing style and classic cop narrative easily ushers readers into Boyle’s world of crime. There are few times when the narrative slows the action, but nine times out of ten Birdsall balances action and dialogue with narrative beautifully. She swings smoothly between Detective Boyle’s personal and professional life as the line between the two become increasingly blurred over the course of the book. The plot itself is self-propelling as Boyle’s investigation leads her down a sinister rabbit hole. I enjoyed the twists and turns that Birdsall sprinkles throughout the book, and the subtle clues that all lead up to a suspenseful climax and satisfactory ending. I recommend The Flats for lovers of mystery, detective dramas, and realistic fiction. And good news — if you like The Flats, it’s only the first book in the Detective Liz Boyle series!