Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien

The set-up: Many years in the future, sixteen-year-old Gaia is a midwife to mothers in the sectors outside the Enclave, which is a city of privileged people. The first three babies delivered each month must be given to the Enclave, families of which adopt the babies.

Main character’s goals: Gaia’s parents are arrested by authorities in the Enclave. When they aren’t returned home, Gaia decides to rescue them.

My reaction: Do you really want to know? Probably not. This is a very personal reaction. Within the first few pages, I was quite upset. Sick feeling in my stomach, the whole works. Here’s what happened: O’Brien’s book begins with a birth. “Bummer,” I thought. “My manuscript begins with a birth. Not a big deal, though.” I kept reading. Then, the birth mother’s name is Agnes. “WTF?” I said. “My birth mother’s name is Agnes.” Seriously, what are the chances? And then, the baby gets taken away. SAME THING IN MY NEW MANUSCRIPT. Which is also a post-apocalyptic dystopian story. At this point I was beyond speech. The whole mood, along with those details, reminded me so strongly of my manuscript that I had to put the book down.

But only for an hour or so. Because the writing is excellent, and the story is too. On the bright side, the similarities between O’Brien’s and my stories end after the points I saw in the beginning, and hers is science fiction and mine’s fantasy. But for awhile there I was upset, and, I’ll admit it, pissed off. And I kinda needed to throw up.

Of interest to writers: Mood and tone! The beginning of this has so much mood you could siphon some off and distribute it to five other books, and it would still have this great mood. I mean, wow. If I hadn’t been so upset over my own issues with the beginning, I might have enjoyed it even more.

There’s a way-obvious sequel-begetting ending, BUT this is a complete novel. Writers everywhere, take note: you can end a book in a way that allows for sequels and keeps readers interested, without dangling your hero off a cliff.

Bottom Line: Fabulous book. You’ll enjoy it even more if you aren’t writing about a woman named Agnes giving birth and needing to say goodbye to her baby right away. (Or you could cut your prologue…which you should do anyway.) (Yes I’m talking to myself. I’ll stop now.)

If you want to find out more about Birthmarked, you can visit Caragh O’Brien’s page here.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

As I mentioned yesterday, I was reading The Hunger Games and LOVING it.

Scene at home on a lazy Sunday. Beth in sweats (like every day of the week) curled up reading (again, like every day of the week). Husband looking good as always, covered in toddler (like every minute that he is home and she’s awake–huge case of Daddy-worship).

Husband: Hey, Beth. (struggles to set Z down; unsuccessful)

Beth: (engrossed in book) Hmm?

Husband: There’s a huge pile of gourmet chocolate in the kitchen just waiting for you. (dances around room with Z)

Beth: Mmm-hmm.

Husband: An editor from a big-time publishing company called and wants to publish Savage Autumn. Million-dollar advance. (beckons parade of elephants through house for Z’s entertainment)

Beth: Mmm-hmm. I’m reading now, can we talk about this later?

Okay, so that’s not a real conversation. What Husband did say when he came in was, “Wow, it’s so weird to see you smile while you read.”

I usually scowl. It’s not on purpose, and usually not at all related to whatever I’m reading. Maybe I have bad eyesight, or my pensive face is more of a pissed-off look. Maybe the scowl is a defense mechanism developed over years of me wanting people to leave me alone while I read.  Whatever the reason for my usual scowl, The Hunger Games was so well-written, with such an intense and interesting plot, that I couldn’t help but smile.  I hope someday to write a novel that good–even if it never gets published, I would be thrilled. I would read it over and over again, applauding myself on an excellent selection of point-of-view character (Katniss is perfect), supporting cast, description (the sci-fi/future element isn’t in-your-face, but conveyed through very subtle clues in larger scenes). And the plot! Did Collins dream this up? It is so far out. Her imagination is incredible.

I don’t want to say more, because one of my friends hates spoilers, and I think she should be able to read it without any expectations (other than the expectation that it’s a freaky-amazing book).

Anyway, a thank-you to my friends Megan and Neda for suggesting I read it.