Should Books Have Ratings?

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Should books have guidance ratings?

After comments to a recent post I started thinking more seriously about this idea. This is a touchy subject as many have firm views on censorship and democracy in our freedom of choice in art. We continue to rate our films and electronic games, therefore shouldn’t we have guides on the content of a novel.

I know there have been times when I wish I were given a warning of content. I’m not a fan of graphic violence and particularly find rape scenes very disturbing. I have read many wonderful books that have scenes that make me put it back on the shelf; unfortunately once I have read it I can’t erase it from my mind.

I think this is why there is a growing trend in adults reading YA and the material becoming more explicit. A study last year found that 55% of YA (12-17 yr. old) fiction readers were over 18 and that 28% were aged 30 -44.

I read a YA novel where the 15 year old protagonist was a casual drug user and drank alcohol to excess with her friends, there were never any consequences to her actions and I would not be comfortable let my teen reading this. Was this content added because the publishers are aware of this growing shift in their YA audience?

Beth Yoke, executive director of the Young Adult Library Services Association, an offshoot of the American Library Association says”Books can be a safe way for young people to explore edgier, sensitive, or complicated topics, and they provide parents the opportunity to help their teens grow and understand these kinds of sensitive issues,” and. “ALA’s interpretation on any rating system for books is that it’s censorship.”

There is some merit to the associations comment, yet I feel that there is a difference in the quality of the vast amount of material on offer in the YA market. The book I mentioned above is popular fiction and in no way does it have literary merit exploring in-depth teenage issues with skill and talent.

Beside the contentious issue of censorship the obvious dilemma for a book rating system is practicality. Who would be responsible for this task? In films it is an independent body, which adheres to strict guidelines. The shear volume of books produced would make this impossible, so does the responsibility fall on the publishers or the individual for self –published novels. In the U.S there is a voluntary rating system available to the author, but most fear damage to sales if they add this. Shouldn’t information over profit be more important?

As you may have guessed I’d welcome a guideline that informs me if a novel contains, Drug use, offensive language, sex scenes etc.

The choice is still the consumers; it just empowers them to make a choice more suitable to their needs.

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Alex by Pierre Lemaitre

Alex

One of the fastest moving trends in the YA genre is the crime novel. John Grisham, Harlan Coben and James Patterson, usually write adult crime, are all producing novels aimed at a younger audience. Next week I will review Harlan Coben Shelter, but first, I thought I should indulge in an adult crime novel so I can compare the two. I chose Pierre Lemaitre’s Alex, it was translated into English and re-published last year, and since that time it has received a lot of praise and won the CWA’s International Dagger award for 2013, so I thought it was a good choice.

The first thing I will say about this novel is don’t read anyone else’s review. This might sound arrogant, but I’m giving this warning for your own well being as many of the reviews reveal too much and I found this tainted any mystery the plot may have held. Most of the reviewers have done this inadvertently, but my readers are an intelligent bunch and I know they can read between the lines.

With that in mind, I will give you a very brief plot blurb. The setting is France (mainly Paris), a girl is kidnapped and the police try to solve this and other evolving mysteries- there. I want to mention a couple of things that bugged me about the novel, I don’t usually do this as opinions can be subjective, but I have an uncontrollable compulsion today to put it out there.

First – the cop, he is the stereotype, white, middle aged, pig headed, flawed character we’ve seen time and again in many crime novels. This is a shame as Lemaitre has a talent for characterization. Secondly- the title, it really “had my goat up” as my mother would say. It did the crime genre, which is unpredictable by nature, no justice.

Now for the good- what I love about the novel is Lemaitre’s keen observations on human nature. He manages to create characters that are incredibly believable. His writing pulls out the subtleties and nuances of the everyday, that most of us are unaware. Lemaitre’s talent is in the detail. I’m not talking of the kind of detail that can bore you to tears, I once read a book that described a fob watch for eleven pages, it’s the kind of detail that forms clear pictures in your mind and allows the story to move along seamlessly. It is that talent that leaves me wondering whether Lemaitre should write in a different genre especially literary fiction.

NB: He did win the Prix Goncourt award for an epic novel Au revoir là-haut on WWII; the highest award for literary fiction in France.

In the end I recommend the book for adults who enjoy this genre, as it was enjoyable. I also recommend it to budding writers, as there is much to be learnt from his style, and its what I found to be the most enjoyable part.

 

Title: Alex

 Author: Pierre Lemaitre

 Published: French 2011, English 2013 Maclehose

 Genre: Crime

The Tragedy Paper

The Tragedy Paper

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan
Let me first start by saying; I love the cover of this book. It’s the perfect summation of the novel.
Blurb
“Every year at an exclusive private boarding school in New York State, the graduating students uphold a historic tradition – they must swear an oath of secrecy and leave behind a “treasure” for each incoming senior. When Duncan Meade inherits the room and the secrets of Tim Macbeth, he uncovers evidence of a clandestine romance, and unravels the truth behind one of the biggest mysteries in the school’s history”

This is a simplistic summary, and it is a simple story, but it has rich characters and a captivating setting (who doesn’t love a boarding school setting). The main character, Tim, is an Albino, LaBan uses this to emphasize the teenage struggles of ‘do I, don’t I, fit in’. I don’t feel Laban was exploitative or insensitive, I feel she used this condition as an effective tool to express the feelings of many young people.
The “treasure” Tim leaves Duncan, is a set of audio CD’s telling his story of the previous year. Duncan discovers their lives are taking similar and often parallel paths. As Duncan plays the CD’s the story unfolds and we hear how Tim deals with his social inadequacies  at a new school, and as a teenager in love. Tim’s insecurity and self doubt ultimately leads to “the tragedy’. Duncan learns from Tim’s mistakes and discovers insight to himself and his own doubts are reassured through the therapeutic effect of Tim’s CD’s.

What I enjoyed most about the book, is the suspense that LaBan creates. The rhythm of the novel is like a ticking clock. The characters and the reader are hyper aware of time passing. This creates tension and a sense of urgency. We are left waiting for Tim’s words to reveal the secret, and wondering what the tragedy will be. As Duncan is continually drawn back to Tim’s CD’s, so are we. We are given clues throughout the book and can piece together a vague idea of the coming tragedy, but this, in no way, detracts from the book.

I really enjoyed this book, and LaBan’s writing. I found I was grabbing the book at every moment.

Published: 2013
Publisher: Corgi Books
Pages: 308

THE Agatha Christie Mystery

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This post is a little bit of fun. There are so many interesting author stories out there I thought I’d delve into the 11 day disappearance of crime novelist, Agatha Christie. For those of you haven’t heard this before I hope you find it as intriguing as I do and for those of you who have heard it then –sorry.

It was a cold December night in 1926 when Agatha Christie kissed her daughter goodnight and stated she was going for a drive in her Morris Cowley. The following morning the car was found abandoned, by a lake with the hood up, inside, were her fur coat and a small suitcase.

Mrs Christie’s disappearance became the hot topic around dinner tables, bus stops and even parliament. Theories where coming left and right, some pointed to foul play at the hands of her unfaithful husband others at publicity stunt. If it happened to a crime writer today I would definitely say publicity.

Her disappearance had fellow writers Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) and Dorothy L. Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey) on the hunt. Sir Conan Doyle even consulting a psychic. 15,00 volunteers and 500 police scoured the land, waterways and searched by air.

 

Mrs Christie was found 11 days later, at a spa Hotel in Harrogate, when a musician at the hotel recognized her. She had been staying there under an assumed name (more on this in a minute) since the day after her disappearance. This created more speculation as Mrs Christie claimed she had lost her memory. This may be the case, as she was under a lot of stress at the time. Her mother had recently died and her husband was leaving her for his mistress. Prior to the night of her disappearance Agatha had told friends that she was going to take a break in Yorkshire (which happens to be where the Hydropathic Hotel is located). On the night of her disappearance though Archie Christie (Agatha’s husband) had already left to go to a friend’s house to meet up with his mistress miss Nancy Neele. This is the curious part, the name Agatha used to check into the hotel was Teresa Neele.

Doctors diagnosed amnesia, but journalists (suspicious bunch they are) and police weren’t convinced. Mrs Christie had plenty of money on her person and it appears to be a highly unlikely coincidence that she would choose to register under her husband’s mistress’ last name.

Over the years expert have come forward claiming, evidence of a nervous breakdown and a stress induced condition known as “Fugue “ state (stress amnesia) in 1999 author Jared Cade interviewed Agatha’s brother- in –law who pronounced that Agatha created the hoax to spite her adulterous husband Archie.

Whatever the real reason she sure created a stir. The today the Hydropathic Hotel in Harrogate is known as The Old Swan and is now the fitting meeting place for the annual crime writing festival.

 

 

 

 

Another Night, Another Day

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Another Night, Another Day is the new novel  by Sarah Rayner bestselling author of One Momnet, One Morning. The novel introduces us to the lives of three main characters; we follow their separate stories until they converge at a pivotal point. We see the effect mental illness has on them and their families, eventually bringing them together at the same treatment centre. Their lives are all different, as are their circumstances, yet they all need help.

What I enjoyed about Sarah Rayner’s book is how she handled this subject authentically. The characters are anyone and everyone. She demystifies mental illness and brings to light how it affects ordinary people living ordinary lives. She successfully strips away the fear that is often associated with mental illness. Rayner does not dwell on the tragedy, but explores the hope that understanding and support can bring.

This was a personal subject for me, and I have also written a short story on manic depression. Mental Illness is a large umbrella term, which I feel Rayner has opened out and let the reader see its many different facets.

Some of the characters in this book are being revisited from Sarah Rayner’s other books One Moment, One Morning and The Two Week Wait. I have not read either of these books and found Another Night, Another Day can standalone.

The official publication date for this book is 17 July, but Waterstones has it available to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week.

This review was based on a publisher’s copy in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, has influenced the review.

Publisher : Picador

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

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Neil Gaiman is mostly known for his wonderfully dark, Stephen Kingesq children’s novels, but he does dip his quill into the realm of adult fiction and it’s just as atmospheric and haunting. In his current novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, he delves into an adults’ recollection of his childhood. The narrator is a seven year old boy whose name we never learn, while reading the book I didn’t notice the absence of a name, it wasn’t until I finished that I went looking; maybe I missed it. Obviously this was deliberate and I wondered whether Gaiman was either trying to say it was insignificant or, more likely, that the character was unsure who he was.

Through a magically symbolic story, Gaiman explores how our memories of our childhood are perceived differently as an adult and how we are affected by them. The blend of fantasy and realism had me wondering if the boy’s imagination created an unreal world so he could deal with the real problems of his father’s infidelity and a family where he didn’t quite fit.

What I enjoyed most about this novel was Gaiman’s attention to the details of a child’s relationship and observations to the world around him and his interactions with his family. This excerpt shows his ability to capture a world through a child’s eye:

“Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences”

Plot, Plotter, Plotted

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What is the plot of a novel? According to the Macquarie Concise Dictionary the word Plot means:

  1. A secret plan or scheme to accomplish some purpose, esp. a hostile unlawful, or evil purpose. (oooh)
  2. The plan, scheme, or main story of a play, novel, poem, or the like. (I like no.1 better)

The plot is the synopsis you send to the publisher, it’s the blurb on the back of the book that makes you spend your hard earned cash. So, how do you create an award winning, unique plot? If you research the subject you will find countless theories and analogies on the number of possible plot themes from “The seven basic plots”, “Twenty Master plots” and of course the famous “The Thirty-six Dramatic Situations”.

Are these lists any use to the writer? or do they interfere with the creative process and develop fiction devoid of imagination. I believe they have a place in the writing process. For example, my writing starts with an inspiration, an idea, I then develop the characters that can move this idea along and get the story to its conclusion. I’ll start with the beginning and/or end and then flesh out the ups and down of the middle. If inspiration isn’t coming easily there are many exercises writers use to get a basic plot going, but if the task ahead is Herculean and you are a prolific Trollopian writer a list of themes can be a godsend. I have a series, which centres on the same characters, and at times I look to this list for the spark to get a new theme started.

In the interest in serving my fellow writer I have included the 36 plot themes here. These themes were included in the above mentioned book in the 19th century, by French writer Georges Polti, then translated to English in 1916, but the list is credited to Goethe, who credits them to Gozzi from the mid 1700’s.

 

  1. Supplication
  2. Deliverance
  3. Vengeance of a crime
  4. Vengeance taken for kindred upon kindred
  5. Pursuit
  6. Disaster
  7. Falling prey to cruelty or misfortune
  8. Revolt
  9. Daring enterprise
  10. Abduction
  11. Enigma
  12. Obtaining
  13. Enmity of kinsmen
  14. Rivalry of kinsmen
  15. Murderous adultery
  16. Madness
  17. Fatal imprudence
  18. Involuntary crimes of love
  19. Slaying of a kinsmen unrecognized
  20. Self-sacrificing for an ideal
  21. Self-sacrifice for kindred
  22. All sacrificed for a passion
  23. Necessity of sacrificing loved ones
  24. Rivalry of superior and inferior
  25. Adultery
  26. Crimes of love
  27. Discovery of the dishonor of a loved one
  28. Obstacles to love
  29. An enemy loved
  30. Ambition
  31. Conflict with a god
  32. Mistaken jealousy
  33. Erroneous judgment
  34. Remorse
  35. Recovery of a lost one
  36. Loss of loved ones

If the dreaded writers block is firmly wedged, I hope this list will be the jackhammer of inspiration –Happy writing.