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    Author, writer, reader, dog-person 

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  1. With skill and passion, any subject can be done well! I recently realized that I've been running Audrey's Corner for more than a year now and I still haven't made a post about my strange but totally sincere love for World War Z. What an oversight! I know exactly what expression you're wearing, because I've seen it time and time again on the faces of whoever I'm recommending this to, accompanied by a litany of unspoken questions. A zombie book? Really? Aren't they done to death? Aren't they stupid? That all may be true, but Max Brook's epic and far-reaching masterpiece is neither stupid nor overdone. No, in World War Z Brooks takes the well-trod and cliche-to-the-point-of-silly subject of zombies and does what few authors have dared to do. He takes them seriously. Written in a documentary-type style, World War Z takes place after a theoretical (and fictional) zombie war, where a virus or pathogen hijacks human beings to create what we think of as zombies. Looking back on "the war," the journalist who puts together this "dossier" is recording the unbelievable rise of these creatures and then humanity's struggle to survive against such a monstrous and unstoppable force. Sounds like a pretty standard post-apocalyptic story, right? And true, World War Z plays a lot of those familiar notes (the fall of New York being a particularly notable section). But what sets this book apart from others in the genre is that Max Brooks really knows his stuff. He's thought long and hard about what would happen if something as wild as a zombie outbreak occurred. How would the various governments respond? How would the military try to fight back? What would people do when something out of nightmares stepped into reality? What would the effects of their reaction be? Brooks walks the reader through every detail, all the way down to how dogs and whales might be affected by this particular apocalypse. It's so prescient that the book was banned in China at the beginning COVID and the author hosted a viral Reddit AMA about how eerily accurate his predictions were. The book isn't for everyone, especially readers who dislike multi-POV narratives. For some it's too real; for others too ridiculous. But if you want an example of something done with so much passion and meticulous craft that it overcomes the initial "silliness" of it's core idea, then I highly recommend checking out World War Z. And if the zombie apocalypse ever does happen, you'll be that much better prepared!
  2. If your book is all concept, it's all boring! First of all, I will admit to having enjoyed this book when said and done. Even though I'm about to use it as an example of what not to do, it was still a heartwarming read about love and loss and how trust can conquer fear if we let it. But... This novel is a classic case of the concept getting way, way ahead of the plot. So first, the concept: How to Stop Time revolves around a man named Tom Hazard who ages slower than normal people. He's not immortal exactly, but his body takes so long to grow old that he might as well be. Born in the days of witch-burning and religious fanaticism, Tom has learned the hard way how hostile society can be to his condition. Nowadays, as part of The Albatross Society, he follows the command of an ancient man named Hendrich who does everything possible to keep their existence a secret. Including kill people. Now, the plot of the story is fairly straightforward. Tom meets a woman and breaks the most important rule of The Albatross Society: he falls in love. On the surface, this should lead to an exciting tale of him struggling to keep his love interest safe as the Society closes in on her. But it doesn't. That's because the majority of this book focuses on Tom's various jaunts through history, meeting Shakespeare and surviving the suspicious streets of London. We end up learning more about the mother of his only child, who died over two hundred years ago, than we do about the actual present-day person he's supposed to be interested in. There's a bit of danger and excitement toward the climax of the book, but it doesn't make up for the 330 pages of jarring flashbacks and nicely-written but ultimately pointless tangents. And the character of Tom doesn't help matters, spending most of the story aimless, goal-less, and feeling sorry for himself (one might even say that his lack of a goal is the reason the story has no plot to begin with). In short, Haig fell in love with his concept and didn't build a strong enough plot framework to support it. We at Algonkian teach the importance of a high concept. It is arguably the single biggest factor in a book's success. This novel, if anything, proves our rule! Despite its slow pace, plodding and uneven storytelling, and morose protagonist, How to Stop Time is an international bestseller, soon to be a movie with Benedict Cumberbatch. So clearly the hook is working. However, this book could have been much better if Haig had given his protagonist a proper goal or made him more active. If Tom had been driving the plot forward, acting with direction and purpose instead of letting others dictate his life, then the story could have been energetic, propulsive, and impossible to put down. Who knows if it would have made the novel more successful, but I sure think it certainly would have made it more fun. Look at your own novel and ask: have I lost my plot in favor of my concept? Is my main character interesting outside their circumstances? Or am I relying on the flash of cool ideas and settings to hook readers in rather than telling a proper, human story? Let us know in the comments!
  3. It's amazing what a great cast can do. Having already read some of Taylor Jenkins Reid's writing, I went into this audiobook with high expectations. I loved Evelyn Hugo and was excited by the prospect of a novelized documentary about a fictional band from the 70's. I've always been a fan of non-traditional novel formats, so this book was right up my alley. What I wasn't expecting was how much Daisy Jones and Billy Dunne got under my skin. Daisy Jones & The Six is more than just the story of a made-up band. On the surface, the plot itself if fairly mundane. It's built around a pretty straightforward romance between the married lead musician of The Six (Billy Dunne) and Daisy Jones herself. The story revolves around these two characters, dipping in and out of some minor drama in the rest of the band. It's light on plot and heavy on character, leaning hard on its two leads (much like the band's success) to carry the story. And the reason it works so phenomenally well is that those two leads are fantastic. The thing that propels this novel from mundane into bestseller category is that Jenkins Reid managed to capture the essence and charisma of rock stars. There's a reason we're drawn to certain people, a magnetism that some have more than others, and this book brings to the page that nameless, alluring something that keeps our eyes glued to the Brad Pitts and Scarlett Johanssons of the world. It's in Daisy's uncaring vulnerability, in Billy's restless and addictive personality, even in the quirky-but-lovable members of the band who stand in the shadow of their two superstars. The Six's story is a complex, addictive mess and I found myself unable to look away. Plot is important, don't get me wrong, and I think this novel could have done with a bit more of it. But the lesson to be gleaned from Daisy Jones & The Six is to think about what people are drawn to. What makes a Hollywood star or a successful movie or a big-hit reality TV show? What do people find themselves glued to, sometimes in spite of their better taste or interest? What do audiences find magnetic? Then try to replicate that in your stories. After all, fiction is a funhouse mirror meant to reflect the best and worst of life. So take the most alluring, addictive things you can find and make them as shiny and supersized as possible. If you're lucky, you too might have a blockbuster on your hands.
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