My Kind of Book Review: Fragments of the Lost

Hello all! If you’re wondering why I haven’t posted here in a month, I was busy working on my latest YA novel, A Light So Dim (I’m 7.5 chapters in) for Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve also been reading. After my sister-in-law/co-councilor at Inkwell, a different Megan than the one who wrote the book this review is about, attended BookExpo and we both attended BookCon, the two of us found ourselves drowning in ARCs and purchases books–to the point of not having space on my bookshelves. So, I eeny-meenied my way through the stack, and picked my next read. That read turned out to be Fragments of the Lost by Megan Miranda.

Now, I think I should start by saying that, while Fragments of the Lost has a great cover that immediately gives the book a spooky, mysterious vibe, I never would have purchased this book if it hadn’t been given to me for free at an event. It’s not that the story doesn’t sound cool, and while I love some good mystery in my reading choices, my tastes normally run a bit too weird to pick a straight YA Mystery. But seeing as how I had been given it for free and it was the selection made through my very professional eeny-meeny method, I went for it. I turned out very glad I did, and am now adding the rest of Miranda’s novels to my to be read pile.

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Book Summary: Jessa Whitworth knew she didn’t belong in her ex-boyfriend Caleb’s room. But she couldn’t deny that she was everywhere–in his photos, his neatly folded T-shirts, even the butterfly necklace in his jeans pocket . . . the one she gave him for safe keeping on that day.

His mother asked her to pack up his things–even though she blames Jessa for his accident. How could she say no? And maybe, just maybe, it will help her work through the guilt she feels about their final moments together.

But as Jessa begins to box up the pieces of Caleb’s life, they trigger memories that make Jessa realize their past relationship may not be exactly as she remembered. And she starts to question whether she really knew Caleb at all.

Each fragment of his life reveals a new clue that propels Jessa to search for the truth about Caleb’s accident. What really happened on the storm-swept bridge?

What I Enjoyed: The format of this story is what initially captured me. The fact that each chapter was titled according to something Jessa found in Caleb’s room and told the story of Jessa discovering it there, and a memory it triggered. As Jessa packs, another piece of the story is unwrapped, and we begin to build a picture of these characters, and the order of events that led to the accident. This structure-based release of information served the plot so well, and we got the opportunity to fully see the situation through Jessa’s eyes, and to solve the mystery yourself, or at least follow each step on Jessa’s journey to the truth.

This mystery was very well conceived and executed, and every piece of the puzzle slotted into place in a satisfactory manner, even if it sometimes took awhile for it to find its way there. The characters were each intriguingly flawed in their own way, and the message of the story was strong. We are not alone in this world, and each piece of a person’s life story is also a piece of those who loved them.

What I’d Avoid: There wasn’t much here that I was unhappy with. I really enjoyed this book from start to finish. When I glanced at other reviews, I found they had an issue with the pacing, but that never felt like a problem to me. It read smoothly, and the slower pace of the story was necessary to birth the frankly surprising turn in the mystery at the end. The build up to the twist was masterfully wrought.

Would I Recommend It: Absolutely. Anyone who loves a good mystery and doesn’t have an issue reading and loving YA (let’s face it, people who hate YA are out there) would enjoy this book.

What Can I Learn From It: This story was a master class in the slow unraveling of a mystery, and how to craft a mystery that makes sense and doesn’t feel like a total swerve when the ending is revealed. I don’t know if I could ever manage something similar, but I’m definitely motivated to now.

In the end, Fragments of the Lost was a mood piece that lived in the dark place of losing someone who was once so much a part of you. It was a great, touching read, with depth of feeling, interesting and complex characters, and a satisfying mystery. Check it out.

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Genre’s Bum Rap

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Allow me to set the stage for you.  Christmas time.  I’m unwrapping a gift from my brother and his wife.  It’s a book!  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  I’m happy.  I’ve wanted to read this one for a while. And then Jon says, “Yeah, I got it because I figured it was time for you to take a break from all that sci-fi crap you read.”  Am I mad at him?  No.  It’s a brother’s job to poke fun at his little sister.  Not even a job, but a sacred duty.  And I won’t even point out that he loves “The Vampire Diaries” (I have a similar duty unto him) or that he chose Gone Girl  (which was an incredible novel that I recommend) from my wishlist which means I obviously read more than just “that sci-fi crap”.  But the comment does point to another more real problem that needs addressing.

What is really wrong with reading genre work, anyway?  Nothing.

Yes, romance, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, etc. novels can be formulaic and cheesy, but then, isn’t that true for any kind of art when it’s done wrong?

A good romance novel pulls you along on what you already pretty much know will be a road to a happy ending and still manages to surprise you.  A good science fiction novel has a strong message about technology, the future, the other.  Fantasy, when done correctly, can deal with the meaning and implications of power.  A good horror novel can keep you jumping.  A good mystery or suspense novel still throws you for a loop no matter how many novels of its type you’ve read.

So what separates the good from the bad?

– Strong Characters.  A character with an interesting motivation.  Someone we want to follow, maybe not in a traditional way, but we have to root for them or against them with a force created by our love or hate for them.  Ho hum characters, formulaic characters just won’t do.  Plot is what draws people into a story – characters are what keep them there.

– An interesting plot.  You can have the best characters ever, but if all they do is sit and knit all day (no offense to all you knitters out there!) nobody is going to read past the first chapter. For a genre story to be good it has to have something interesting about it that makes the tale unique.  Without that, the story just becomes another one of those formula genre novels.  There is fun to be had in those as well, but if you’re looking to stand out or blaze your own trail, you need a good hook.

– A theme.  You need to have something to say and you have to want to say it loud.  Look at The Hunger Games and what it says about entertainment and excess.  Look at the Chaos Walking series (if you haven’t read this one, do it NOW) or Ender’s Game and what they say about the nature of war.  What Divergent says about the parts of us that come together to make us whole.  What the Otherworld series says about the deeper parts of our nature. I, Robot about the dangers of technology.  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? about the nature of humanity. Gone Girl has a lot to say about the pitfalls of marrying someone we only think we know and the ways people change under duress. They are great because they have something to say.  They weren’t merely created to fit a preordained mold.

And sometimes genre is more interesting, at least to me, for much more juvenile reasons.  Robots and monsters and cool gadgets and magic and sex and murder and badassness…and that’s kind of a fun thing to tap into.

I would like to wrap this blog up with one of the most ridiculous arguments I’ve heard against science fiction and fantasy – which is that they aren’t real.  They could never happen.  And that makes me wonder what that person is even reading fiction for?  In that case, they would probably better enjoy a biography.  Those are interesting, too, but they aren’t escapism.

For that?  Well, I’ll go back to reading my science fiction book right now.

What are your thoughts on this?  Let’s chat in the comments section below.