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5 Great Books to Read in 2016

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Neil Gaiman - Graveyard Book - Novel Conclusions - writing blog - literary blog

Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book via Amazon

2016 is looking like a pretty great year on the reading front, y’all. Although I may also reread the Outlander series for the third time (the time travel, the saga, the accents, oh my…), I plan on hitting up a few books that have either been sitting on my shelf for a while or I’ve had my eye on. Here is a very abbreviated version of my to-be-read list in the next couple months:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Why:  Everything by Neil Gaiman draws you in and builds a world around you.  My favorite of Gaiman’s that I’ve read so far is The Ocean at the End of the Lane, although I’ve loved every one of his books that I’ve read except American Gods – that one was a little too graphic for me.

The Diviners by Libba Bray
Why:  Her lush characters and stories swirl around you like mist.  They hang about in your mind and make you think, not to mention that main character Gemma in A Great and Terrible Beauty was sharp and involving.  Also, the second novel in this series came out, which means that as soon as I fall in love with The Diviners, I won’t have to wait to read the second book – a little silly, I know.

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Why:  I have heard so many amazing things about this book. People are talking about it even now, several years later, not to mention the fact that Nathan Bransford endorsed it.  Also, I met the manager of The Last Bookstore in Downtown LA at a birthday party last year, and she said Tahereh Mafi and Ransom Riggs (who were married at The Last Bookstore apparently, cool!) are pretty awesome people, which made me even more curious about their books.  (P.S. Ransom Riggs’ Peculiar Children series is fascinating — totally worth checking out.)

Split Second by Kasie West
Why:  I saw Pivot Point on my shelf recently and realized that I have to find out what happens to Addie, who did the noble but painful thing in the first book. Does it pay off for her?  If you haven’t read Pivot Point, I highly recommend it; it walks the line of contemporary and speculative fiction cleanly and concisely.

Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin
Why:  (A nonfiction pick, a little unusual for this blog, I know)  2016 is going to be a year of change.  I’d like to make some changes and work on making those changes into habits.  Gretchen Rubin wrote The Happiness Project, which I loved, and when I ran across Better than Before while perusing books at the airport, I had to pick it up.  Let’s all build some good habits together this year.

Have you read any of these books?  If so, what are your thoughts about them?  What are a few books you’re planning to read in 2016?

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The Dynamics of Time Travel in Fiction

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Back to the Future - Novel Conclusions Writing Blog - Literary Blog - Time Travel

Back to the Future Day via Google Images

Today is a red-letter date in the history of time travel stories – the day Marty and Doc went to the future!  In honor of Back to the Future Day, we are going to explore the basic dynamics of time travel in fiction.  What are the consequences for your characters of the possible rules of time travel?

Each fictional universe works with different time travel rules, but the basic rules fall into 3 categories:

  • Changeable Timeline
  • Resistant Timeline
  • Predetermined Timeline

Changeable

A changeable timeline gives the characters much more freedom – and much more ability to screw things up.  Examples of a changeable timeline include stories like Ken Grimwood’s Replay and, of course, the Back to the Future series.

Although the mechanics are different, both of these stories offer characters the chance to change the future.  In Replay, Jeff and Pamela play out their lives over and over and keep waking up after death at age 18 in 1963.  They make different choices in each lifetime to unravel a mystery they are trying to solve.  In Back to the Future, Marty and Doc are working to rectify their accidental changes to the timeline and change the future back to what it should have been.

Resistant

A resistant timeline, such as in Stephen King’s 11-22-63 or Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, offers the author a very interesting framework for the plot.  11-22-63’s narrator Jake Epping, in an effort to change history, tells us again and again, “The past is obdurate.”  Stephen King uses the obdurate past as an antagonist.  Diana Gabaldon in Outlander, meanwhile, uses the resistant past as sometimes good (e.g. I can’t do too much harm) and sometimes bad (e.g. what if I accidentally prevent someone important to me from being born?).

Predetermined

Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban both provide great examples of a predetermined timeline.  A predetermined timeline sneaks up on our characters; they may know what is coming and have no way to change it.  Or perhaps they know they have to do something but must figure out how to do it.

In the Time Traveler’s Wife, part of the sneakiness of the plot lies in how sometimes Claire knows what’s coming and sometimes Henry does.  In Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry and Hermione only realize just in time what they need to do to save their friends – and they have to figure out on the spot how to do it.

Each of these approaches comes with its own positives and pitfalls.  Which is your favorite?  Which dynamics of time travel did I leave out?  What are other examples of great time travel stories?

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