One of the main differences between me being in a doctoral program and me finishing a doctoral program is that, in the latter condition, I read more fiction. In fact, I've read 4 actual novels in the last few weeks, which is, well, quite a lot compared to my normal fiction habits. I selected the books I did for a purpose.
Three of them all revolve around my possible writing - that Halia bit you heard. I decided that if I'm going to pretend to write a book for kids, I should read some written for them. Halia is a science fiction novel with an 11-year-old heroine, and I eventually grabbed City of Ember by Jeanne Duprau as an example of middle grade scifi. I also ended up grabbing The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. It's perhaps not sci-fi, but it's speculative fiction and is considered a contemporary classic, so I went for it. I also picked up Impossible by Nancy Werlin. It's classified as Young Adult, but had a blend of fantasy and romance that I was intrigued by.
Finally, I got Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane, honestly just because I know Stacia as a blogger and it was about time. Unholy Ghosts is a dark urban fantasy and quite different from the top three.
So, what did I think?
Well, I ended up staying up late to finish all 4 of them. I won't publicly announce how late this was, mostly so N doesn't get mad at me, but let's just say it was unreasonably late. City of Ember I finished in a couple of sittings. The others I would read a couple chapters each day until I was quite into it, and then stay up forever to finish them, because I just had to know what happened.
Based upon this, I would have to recommend all 4. However, I will only go out and buy the sequels or other books by the same author for The Golden Compass and Unholy Ghosts. Going through each one:
The City of Ember remains perhaps the best model for my Halia book. It figures a hero and heroine who live in a City called, um, Ember. The sky is dark and impenetrable. There are no stars or moon, but the inhabitants are not aware there should be. The Builders had left supplies and homes for all the inhabitants to live in, but things are starting to run out or crumble. Our two protagonists wonder if there is any way to leave Ember, or even if there is any other place in existence. It's a fast, enjoyable read. I'm probably not going to pick up the sequel, not because I didn't like City of Ember, but because it appears the author has decided to set a whole series of adventures in this alternate world, and I don't really feel I need to hear about them all. One was sufficient. If someone sends me book 2 in a box, I will certainly read it, but not otherwise.
The Golden Compass, probably everyone knows. I had seen the movie before, and that surely changed how I read the novel. I thought the themes, and even more the language, particularly intriguing in the sense that they seemed particularly adult. City of Ember is a classic middle grade to young adult novel in which the kids are saving their world, but they also are discovering how to be adults, finding their place in society, etc. -- all that stuff YA novels are supposed to have. The Golden Compass, while starring an 11 or 12 year old, seemed to have bigger fish to fry than a coming of age novel. From that perspective, The Golden Compass, makes me want to aim higher in my writing. Say something more than a cute coming of age novel.
Impossible by Nancy Werlin- rather different. This is set in the contemporary world with a 17-18 year old heroine. Her age is important because it appears her family has been cursed so that mother to daughter and so on down the line all go insane at age 18. The old folk song Scarborough Fair is the inspiration for the entire novel. The heroine must complete a set of seemingly impossible (hence the novel's title) tasks set forth in the song in order to save herself from the curse and the one who cursed her. Here's what I found most interesting about this book and I hope it's not a spoiler: The protag has a best friend, a boyfriend, and parents who adopted her. All of them remain supportive and helpful and believing throughout the whole book. She's never betrayed, mistrusted, abused, or ignored by any of these people. Her school doesn't kick her out.... Instead they do everything they can to help her. That seems rare to me -- usually someone turns their back or doesn't believe. Not here. They all act like we hope our best friends, boy friends, and parents would act. So I stayed up again until an ungodly hour to finish this book. But now that it's done, I'm a little "meh" about running to find another by the author. Enjoyed it, but done.
Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane. This one is classified as Urban Fantasy, I think. I don't think I've ever read urban fantasy, so I'm a newbie. In this alternate world, ghosts come out to kill the living, or they would except that the Church of Truth knows how to control and combat ghosts. In return for running the entire world, they protect the living from the dead. The protagonist Chess Putnam works for the Church. Her job is to find out whether a reported haunting is real. If not, she reveals the liars as liars. If yes, she performs her magic to get rid of the ghost. It's a really rough world. Chess is addicted to drugs and spends most of the novel trying to stay away from going into withdrawal. Horribly painful things happen to everyone; good and bad alike. A drug lord's enforcer is one's most loyal friend, and one must ignore the kids being abused around the corner to keep oneself safe. Not usually my thing. But as the mystery deepened, I kept turning page after page, wanting to know the answers to the puzzles and how Chess would get through it all in the end. I recommend it and will go pick up the sequel Unholy Magic in a couple months once I have some book spending money again.
What are your thoughts on any of these books?