Book Review: THE PARK SERVICE

So this one took me a while, but it was on the back burner for a bit. Now I’m finished and ready to share it with you! Here’s the pretty awesome cover:

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The Park Service by Ryan Winfield is the first of the Park Service trilogy. This book hooked me right away, but I ended up with some mixed feelings about it–though the end definitely left me wanting more.

The Jist: 16 year old Aubrey lives underground, believing that the surface of Earth is uninhabitable, until a train crash brings him above ground. He finds Earth is paradise, his life has been a lie, and someone is killing off the surviving humans on the surface.

The Good: The imagery and descriptions are very beautiful and detailed. There are some really exciting scenes as well. By the end of the prologue, I was hooked. Winfield has created a very thought-provoking, if disturbing, world. I am interested to see where he will take this next.

The Not-So-Good: I found the protagonist Aubrey a little flat. He’s not bad, just nothing to really give him life or make me attached to him–more of a plot drives character book. Also, I think this was stretched for a trilogy and there were parts where nothing interesting seemed to happen–pages of description of nature–and slow plot, and I found myself bored for most of the middle third. I pushed through though, and the end was worth it.

My Favorite Part: Aubrey’s slang-talking, wild native best friend Jimmy and their pet fox cub, Junior. I also enjoyed Hannah, the love interest, though I’d love to see her developed more.

The Verdict: There are some elements here that felt flat–another dystopian, the protagonist, and the romance–but Winfield has created an interesting, haunting post-apocalyptic Earth, and the end has me wanting the next book by yesterday.

Book Review: THE FEAR TRIALS

So my friend Lindsay Cummings just released the prequel novella to her book, The Murder Complex (which comes out tomorrow! So excited!) The Fear Trials is an ebook-only release, on Kindle, Nook, and iTunes for 1.99. Here it is, for those of you who haven’t seen it:

This is her debut novel, and has already reached the top 100 on Amazon. Though she is a good friend of mine, this review is as unbiased as possible. 🙂

The Jist: Meadow trains to survive, and kill, in order to provide for her family in a world where the murder rate is higher than the birth rate.

The Good: I love the world in this, as dark and twisted as it is. This is a perfect example of a dystopian done well. It is very raw, and vivid, and I love the little details that make it feel real. It is very fast-paced and exciting, but also emotional. I think she has created some interesting, complex characters here that I can’t wait to see more of.

The Not-So-Good: It is fast-paced, and I think it reads a lot like the Hunger Games, which (obviously) a lot of people will like. I just personally appreciate a little more variation in sentences and description.

Favorite Part: SPOILER – My favorite part is when Meadow is finally able to kill someone, in order to save her sister, thus winning the Fear Trials and proving herself. – END SPOILER – I think this is the point Meadow truly becomes herself, and I’ll be interested to see how she develops over the course of The Murder Complex.

The Verdict: This is a gripping, exciting introduction to The Murder Complex series. For fans of the Hunger Games, Legend, and the movie Hanna. I would definitely recommend reading this before The Murder Complex. I mean, for 1.99, why not? As a novella it is a quick read (I finished in one sitting, over a couple hours) so it’s a quick, easy way to try out her writing, and see if you’d want to read the Murder Complex. This is a great debut, and I think Lindsay has a bright future as an author 🙂

 

When Did Dystopian Become a Dirty Word?

Dystopian.

It used to be a genre, a category, a trend. It still is a trend among readers and the media. But in the publishing and agent world, it has become a negative, an insult. A dirty word.

Labeling a manuscript dystopian is like slapping it with a big red rejected stamp. Signing its death warrant. Condemning it a pariah that no one would touch with a 10-foot-pole.

In order to have any chance of being considered by an agent or publisher, a dystopian cannot be called as such. Instead of calling a pig a pig, there needs to be a spin–it’s a blood-soaked thriller, a story of futuristic war, an epic love story of star-crossed lovers. Which, I am not necessarily blaming the agents and publishers. It is a business for them. And right now, dystopians seem like bad investments (which I blame trendchasers for, and talk more about in this post)

Why am I so riled up about this? Big deal, dystopians are over. Get over it.

I am frustrated that because of the connotations dystopian brings with it, manuscripts are killed before they have a chance. Who cares about the characters, or the world, or the storytelling? If there’s anything that even remotely stinks like dystopian, it’s done.

This is especially frustrating to me because (surprise) I have dystopian elements in my book. There a thousand other elements to it, but because there is a rebellion against power, it is often labeled a dystopian. But as I talked about in my Hipster Dystopia post, it didn’t come from wanting to be a part of the cool dystopian club, it came from having something to say about society and power. I saw these characters, and this world, and this conflict, this struggle. I saw the story in it, and I explored it.

We live in an era of conflict, unrest, and change. A recent post on Distractify brought this sharply into view (check it out here) and summed it up well by ending with: “When students in the future look back, they will see us as one unified generation who overcame incredible obstacles and made swift social progress, despite little certainty of what lies ahead.”

If you don’t feel like scrolling through 100 of the “100 Iconic Photos That Forever Define the 21st Century So Far” (but it’s really worth the time) here are some particularly powerful photos:

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Especially this last one (Kiev, Ukraine before and after the revolution). All of these were photos taken during events that happened in the last decade. This is real. And this is powerful. There are stories here. Thousands, millions of stories that have the power to change things, change people. This is what I was writing for. A world in conflict, on the cusp of change. With thousands and millions of people rising up and crying out for justice, for a better world. People putting their lives in danger, sacrificing themselves for the greater good.

We live in dystopia. Arguably, we always will be. It is part of human flaws, and human nature. There will always be  corruption, abuse of power, greed, violence, casualties, war.

This is the story I am writing. About a world on the brink. About the catalyst, the snap, the break. About that ember turning into a spark and spreading like wildfire.

I am tired of dystopian being a dirty word. I am writing the world I see, in a pill easier to swallow.

Hipster Dystopia

The Hunger Games. Divergent. Uglies. Legend. Matched.

Name one thing these series all have in common–chances are it popped into your head just reading the titles (I know it’s in the post title but just go with me). You guessed it..Dystopia with a capital D! (You must be psychic, really)

Dystopians are “the new black” of the book world. They are the trendsetters, the it girl, the celebrities. I mean, who doesn’t wish they’d written the Hunger Games? (darn you, Suzanne Collins). There’s nothing wrong with dystopians. I personally love them when they’re done right. I also love the attention and celebrity they have gotten, reaching out to broader audiences through big budget Hollywood movies and media. Authors are some of the most under-appreciated workers, so I love when they get the recognition they deserve–plus all the hype makes loving books and fangirling cool. 

One thing I love about dystopians, besides the cool, creative, and vivid worlds, is (the ones that are done well) make a statement about society. They put our flaws and our issues into this alternate reality, and suddenly it’s shocking and exciting and awful. Think killing children on reality television awful. But I have noticed a downward trend in dystopians: they are losing this meaning, this purpose. More and more they are becoming just an exciting story or an unusual world for a 16-year-old girl to team up with Mr. Dreamy (who she probably used to hate) and bring down the bad guys who just want to make their lives suck.

That’s the problem with copying something: a copy is almost never as good as the original.

I’m in no way against dystopians–like I said I love reading them, even my own MS leans dystopian. But I think dystopians more than any other genre right now come off just plain canned.

My absolute favorites are the “hipster dystopians” (you know, dystopian before it was cool). Think The Giver, The City of Ember, or even Fahrenheit 451. These authors weren’t chasing a trend. They weren’t trying to become the next big thing or get a mega movie deal starring my soulmate JLaw or Theo James/Liam Hemsworth (but I’m not complaining about the eye candy). It was more than just a cool story, they were trying to say something. 

We are so easily desensitized to the world around us. When reading dystopians, it is easy to forget that they can be based on true events. They are not just stories. What seem so shocking and horrible when written in a book are atrocities that are still happening in our world TODAY. (If you don’t believe me, check out this article on Upworthy: http://www.upworthy.com/whats-it-actually-like-in-north-korea-a-million-times-worse-than-you-imagine?c=reccon1#)

As writers, we ride a dangerous line. In this hyper competitive industry, it is all-too-tempting to throw betrayals, love triangles, and tear-jerking deaths into the story in the hopes of making it exciting enough for our audience (who seems to have the attention span of a squirrel, and is often drawn to shiny things). But don’t forget, it’s not just about telling a story or trying to entertain people. Art should always speak in some way, or else there is no point other than “Oh, that’s a pretty picture.” And even though writing is full of words, sometimes we forget to speak.

What about your book? Is it just a cool story? Or is there something more?

Please do everyone a favor, and write a story that speaks. Don’t get caught up in the trend and the glamour, and lose sight of the art.

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(Hipster Cinna is not impressed by your hipster fangirling)