pop culture

We Can’t Have All Show And No Tell

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At the risk of sounding old: I remember when TV shows made sense.

I remember when the crime was committed on camera in the first scene, just without showing who-dun-it, and the director nicely found subtle ways to point out to the audience what clues the super-smart detective was finding. At the end of the episode, said detective would explain everything leading up to how he figured out who the criminal was, and the audience would either go, “I knew it!” or, “Wow, did not see that coming!”. Either way, it was satisfying.

Unfortunately, a while ago, TV went too far the other way, where the characters explained every single little detail, in painfully tedious and unrealistic dialogue, so that the audience wouldn’t be left behind. After we’d been yelling for a while that we were still perfectly capable of following along on our own, programs swung the pendulum too far the opposite direction. Now, so that they don’t tell us “too much,” we have television that’s visually stunning, but none of us knows what the hell is going on — nor do we care.

For me, this is the latest offender:

Netflix's 'The Umbrella Academy' carves new niche in superhero ...

After bingeing the first season of Umbrella Academy, I have SO MANY QUESTIONS. The big guy in the middle of this promo shot really sums up how I feel right now. Just confusion on top of bewilderment and stuffed with sides of why-should-I-give-a-damn. There’s a new season premering quite soon, but I fear for my sanity if I tune in.

The premise is that a rich eccentric inventor takes in children born under mysterious circumstances — who also have superpowers — and trains them to basically be the X-Men. On the surface, it sounds great. But, by episode 3, I had numerous questions, that were left unanswered as the season progressed.

Such as:

  • Why did Reginald Hargreeves decide these kids needed to become superheroes? No background is given on how this guy made his fortune or why he cared enough about the world is enlist random children to save it.
  • Why did the children’s biological families allow this? So Hargreeves paid them — even with unexpected births, many people don’t just hand over their baby to some weirdo stranger waving around a big check.
  • The public knew that Hargreeves was using kids to fight crime — serious crime, like bank robberies — and somehow no one ever raised the issue of ethics? Child labor laws? Something about the way these minors were treated? What the heck?!
  • Why did these kids have powers? How? Where did they come from? It’s never explored.
  • The kids are raised by Hargreeves and Grace, an android mother (yes, you read that right), and an ape butler, who walks upright and wears clothes and talks. A-hem. Doesn’t anybody have any concerns or curiosity about that? Animal cruelty, anyone?! Along with general what-in-the-world-ness?

The season 1 plot focuses mostly on what happens when these adoptive siblings join together again after years of separation. They end up trying to prevent the end of the world, but — predictably — stuff goes awry. Even with such a familiar approach, there are still plenty of ways to make it engaging; but Umbrella Academy just misses the mark.

There’s such a lack of character development, I never got invested in seeing the protagonists succeed. I actually found myself wishing the apocalypse would kick their butts, and not vice versa.

And I could not put aside my issues with the amorality. A big one was the inappropriate relationships (either on camera or implied), between pairs with an age difference of at least 30 years. Right behind that was the number of murders committed by Number Five, who’s portrayed as a 13-year-old boy. The fact the Commission is playing God and no one — except the incredibly outnumbered Hargreeves siblings — is trying to stop them. At first it’s just annoying; by the end of the season, it’s disturbing.

Even when the concept is farfetched, there still have to be some ground rules, so that the fictional world makes sense. Umbrella Academy just doesn’t.

It’s the little things, that add up to major head-scratchers. For starters, in a story set in 2019 (says one of the characters!), why are there no cell phones and computers?

How were the kids world famous, but then suddenly forgotten about? Where are their connections? Military? Police? The closest we get is Diego’s (“Number Two”) half-hearted attempt to get back together with his detective ex-girlfriend.

We aren’t given any information about why they all left home and went their separate ways for a decade. We get very few details about what they’ve been up to in those 10 years. There are so many gaps in their history. At some point, Ben (“Number Six”) died, but we’re never told how, or when. We assume they must have all gone to school somehow, but the logistics of that remain a mystery. Various “missions” are alluded to, and the details of what happened on them never divulged.

The characters’ motivations aren’t logical. Allison keeps saying she needs to leave, to get back to her estranged daughter, but…then never leaves. Number Five “came back to stop the apocalypse,” but spends much of the season only making the end of the world more likely to occur. The “bad guy” is a red herring. The Commission and their goons — obsessed with chasing down Number Five for reasons never made crystal clear — just infuriated me.

All of this combined to leave my poor brains scrambled, and my heart very sour indeed.

We can’t have all “show” and no “tell.” We don’t have telepathy, we can’t read the minds of the writers and directors. We need clues. We need explanations.

We aren’t superheroes; we’re human, and we like to be entertained. By something that doesn’t tie us up in knots. Or leave us wanting so much more.

Why is that too much to ask for?

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children's fiction, pop culture, Uncategorized

Harry Potter: The Invisible Moth’s Definitive Commentary

Harry Potter Art poster prints by Silvia Miceli | Displate

Okay, nothing like striking while the iron is hot! A few days ago, I posted on all the division that’s erupted in the Harry Potter fandom as a result of recent real world events regarding its author. As I was writing that post, I realized that, despite being a fan myself, I’ve never put together a comprehensive review of the series. But after touching on this topic during the weekend, the relevant points for this post started to come together.

I loved Harry Potter. Most of the plot, characters, humor, the more serious themes, and certainly the world-building. It takes all the familiar archetypes — the special orphan/chosen one, the wise mentor, the bumbling but loyal sidekick, the smart one, the pure evil villain with a Grand Scheme — and puts them into a world we recognize. Struggling with difficult teachers and classes, hanging out with your friends, playing a sport, fighting with your siblings, worrying you don’t really know loved ones, even sneaking out to do something you’re told not to do — take away the magic and fantastical creatures, and this is an ordinary child’s life. It’s why these books will live on, for quite a while, no matter the general public opinion of the author in Real Life.

Now, I will definitely admit there are certain plot holes, character arcs that could (should?) have gone in a different direction, and other aspects that bug me. Some of them can be shrugged off and don’t really impede my enjoyment of the particular novel or series itself; others start to irk me when I go back to them.

Get yourself a comfy sofa and a snack; this is going to be a long one.

Harry potter art harry potter poster hedwig decor owl | Etsy

One: The over-expansive world development that ultimately falls flat. 

Something downright amazing about books 1-3 is the world-building. We start with an orphan who has no idea of a magical legacy, and are taken on this incredible journey where we, along with Harry, learn about a whole world that’s as fantastic as it is dangerous. To begin with, most of the focus is on Hogwarts, but soon we get into Wizarding families, like the Weasleys; hear more about the divisions within this community and what allowed Voldemort’s rise to power; and some of the wonderful or worrisome mythical beasts and beings that also populate this realm.

In book 4, due to the Quidditch World Cup and TriWizard Tournament, this universe just explodes. What was already a pretty big premise gets rather enormous.

But this is also, sadly, where the series sets itself up to trip — and tumble down the stairs, landing in a heap of tangled hair and untied shoelaces. The fourth novel is when the page count significantly increases, when we get an idea of just how intense the conspiracy is to bring Voldemort back, and when the subplots begin to nearly overtake the main one. What was once primarily the tale of an unexpected boy wizard began switching to a world on the brink of civil war. It isn’t simply an ambitious shift; it’s almost impossible to pull off without any mistakes.

Many of us were beginning to miss the simplicity of the early books. Sure enough, The Order of the Phoenix confirms that the boy wizard is now being prepared to defend not only his own survival, but that of the entire community around him. And that’s where my enjoyment starts to fade.

Not completely. But The Half-Blood Prince hardly felt to me like the rest of the series. Too many new minor characters overshadowed the regular secondarys we’d grown attached to. Harry went from wanting to be a normal kid, despite his Chosen one status, to willingly spying for Dumbledore. And the twist ending that destroyed his mentor of the past several years — and set the whole series on a vastly alternate track — disappointed me, and made me slightly nervous about what awaited in The Deathly Hallows.

Here’s one of my most despised tropes in high fantasy: The meandering, long-lasting, booooooooorrrrrrrrrrring QUEST. It has very nearly ruined the entire genre of high fantasy for me, and I avoid it like the plague.

Cue Book 7 being 75% the above trope.

Is that me you hear screaming? Why, yes, yes, it is.

Not only was it disappointing, it felt like a copout. It made me wonder if Rowling was so tired of being badgered by fans that she was going to finish the series as quickly as possible, regardless of the fitting-ness — or not — of the ending.

All that incredible world-building from before just sort of drifted into oblivion. The fates of so many characters were thrown to the winds; we had literally no idea what happened to them during those 8 or so months Harry was in the woods.

It’s lame.

Harry Potter (House Urban Watercolor – Gryffindor) MightyPrint ...         MightyPrint Harry Potter - House Urban Watercolor - Hufflepuff ... Harry Potter - Slytherin Illustrated Poster Print - Item ...    Trend Setters Harry Potter - Ravenclaw House Urban Watercolor 17" x 24

Two: Deaths I will never get over.

  • SIRIUS BLACK.
  • CEDRIC DIGGORY.
  • Albus Dumbledore.
  • Fred Weasley.
  • REMUS LUPIN.
  • HEDWIG!!!!!!!!!!!

Three: Character developments that make no sense to me.

Ron Weasley. Starting out as the bumbling but loyal sidekick, Ron progressed into a selfish, petty, jealous jerk. Harry forgave him time and time again, despite it being pretty clear by book 6 he was growing pretty tired of breaking up the constant fights between Ron and Hermione, of having to defend his friendship with Ron to other students, and wondering if Ron could be trusted. I didn’t understand why Harry wanted Ron to come on The Quest — and indeed, Ron abandoned them the minute the going got tough. Ron and Hermione as a couple I didn’t get, either; there’s no romantic tension between them on page until well into book 6, and isn’t substantial enough for us to believe they got married later on.

Severus Snape. He’s the bad guy — right? While I never thought Snape was actually evil, he wouldn’t ever be mistaken for a nice person. But in books 5 and 6, when we learn that Snape is “only a bully because he was bullied as a child”, I have to say, it feels…false. Bullying is wrong, period; how James Potter and his friends behaved towards young Severus wasn’t okay, and we should recognize they made a poor choice. As adults, Lupin and Sirius do appear to show remorse for that, though they agree they won’t ever be friends with Snape — who is a big jerk. Yes, it was commendable that after all of that, Snape did save Harry’s life on a number of occasions. Yet, his really awful behavior (and there’s a ton of it) means we shouldn’t really sympathize with Snape.

Albus Dumbledore. Not the most disappointing for me, but the most shocking. Dumbledore is the guy, who has such strong intuition into everything that he’s always 37 steps ahead of everybody else. He’s directly responsible for Harry staying alive through the course of the series. So, why, then, does Dumbledore suddenly change in book 6, from wanting to protect Harry at all costs, to making him a spy and unwitting soldier in a war that was never his to fight? It’s immoral, unethical, and makes me question sooooo much about Rowling’s motivations behind everything in The Half-Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows.

Remus Lupin. This is my most disappointing. Lupin the practical, the stalwart, the level-headed in a crisis becomes…Lupin the whiny, the angsty, the grumpy. What?! How?! So he fell in love and had a son — doesn’t that usually make tragic cursed individuals HAPPYGrateful? And he hardly seems affected by Sirius’ death, and considering how long those two were friends, that’s just bizarre.

Four: Parts in the universe that leave me scratching my head.

Why do all the professors need to live at Hogwarts? Seriously, why aren’t they allowed to have little houses in Hogsmeade, with their own spouses and kids and pets? This makes the idea of signing a contract to teach here akin to joining a religious order where none of the participants are permitted to marry and reproduce. Odd, very, very odd.

It’s not at all realistic that everyone marries someone they went to high school with. In smaller, close-knit communities, people who have been acquainted for years through relatives or friends often do end up marrying. HOWEVER, the idea that 90% of Hogwarts alumni pair off together is just RIDICULOUS. Lily and James Potter were students together, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, the parents of most of Harry’s friends, etc., etc. And in the epilogue, we find that Harry’s generation did the same exact thing. Just…no.

SO MANY IMPORTANT CHARACTERS DYING OFF PAGE in the last book. The battle for Hogwarts takes up, like 100 pages. WHY is Harry absent for so much of it?! He doesn’t even have a chance to say goodbye to some of his dearest friends, like Lupin. WHY is his POV the only one during these incredibly busy and vitally necessary scenes?!

The last minute twist about Neville Longbottom possibly being The Chosen One. Just…WHAT?!?! And HOW did it never come up before that Harry and Neville shared a birthday, that Voldemort went after both families, that there was a prophecy?! Does this Big Reveal in The Order of the Phoenix mean EVERY TIME Harry asked someone why him, what made him so special, HE WAS LIED TO?! Deatheaters, Aurors, the Ministry of Magic, AND DUMBLEDORE knew about the prophecy. So…just…GAH.

Jim Salvati Full Moon at Hogwarts From Harry Potter Giclee On ...

It’s reasons like this that I just stop myself from thinking too hard about this world nowadays. Holding onto my joy for this series is becoming more difficult as time goes by.

Honestly, I believe that Rowling was an inexperienced writer who had a great idea, and was given a chance to run with it; then her fame went nuclear, and her editors and publisher let her do whatever she wanted. And the series suffered for it. If someone had jumped in about halfway through book 5 and insisted on a complete turnaround from what we got, I wonder if many of us would feel very differently now about Harry Potter.

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community, pop culture

The Death of A Fandom: Could It Actually Be A Good Thing?

Lunar Dragon" by Manticora - Miorro @ deviantart | Mythical ...

I debated not making this post.

I’m concerned about a lot of things when it comes to the current state of fandoms in the bookish community. I’m concerned as an author, and as a reader.

Basically, the last several weeks have led to two things. One: Everybody who’s decided they still like Harry Potter is being demonized for not wanting to give up a beloved fantasy series they have fond memories of. Two: Everyone who’s decided JK Rowling is an absolutely terrible person, and they’re done with a beloved fantasy series they have fond memories of based solely on their new opinion of the author, are bashing and bullying the folks who took Option One.

Here’s why this state of affairs bothers me a lot: While people are completely entitled to their own perspective — especially when it comes to something so subjective as literature — I don’t like to see an entire body of work, and the readers who loved/love it being treated like total garbage because of the unwise words of said work’s creator.

The weird truth about any sort of art is that it does exist in a sort of separate world from its creators. Honestly, there are many books I’ve enjoyed whose authors I don’t believe I’d meet for coffee — or, in fact, want to get anywhere near in real life. But I can set my feelings about the person aside from my feelings about the work. Maybe most folks can’t do that, I guess?

Enhanced Castle Wallpaper 4K Edition Update : Bloodstained

When it comes to the raging debate over the actual words of JK Rowling, I do think her remarks were generally offensive, but that she didn’t consider them such. Being brutally honest, I truly think she’s so arrogant as to believe she’s an expert on something she knows little about (and don’t ask me how she made that determination).

Do I feel deeply for readers who are aching at what they see as the destruction of one of their favorite series? Yes, I do. Can I also agree with those who are deciding to firmly keep the books and the author in those different realms of existence? Yeah, I can.

I loved Harry Potter. I’ve read all 7 books and seen all 8 movies. There were, of course, some I liked more than others. But although, after seeing a few interviews with Rowling, I didn’t necessarily care for her as a personality, nothing about her writing irked me enough to make a difference.

But a few years ago, as my copies of the novels were wearing out, and we’d seen each of the films at least twice, I decided to pass on getting fancy new editions, or on collecting the DVDs. It wasn’t just that I knew the story start to finish and there was nothing new to discover; I realized that the parts I didn’t care for were really starting to nag at me.

I could write an entire review on which things fell short for me on this series. (Maybe one day I will.) But for now, let’s suffice it to say that I was only satisfied with about 25% of the last book. I remain disappointed on several plot points and character arcs, and I’m allowed to be.

Wallpaper fantasy, figure, evening, waterfall, digital art ...

However, I don’t have the right to tell others they need to share my exact views of the series, and it certainly isn’t my responsibility, obligation, or even prerogative to force those same people to concur the author is a massive jerk.

Nor is it all right for me to tell those same people that if they can’t see she’s a massive jerk, they can go crawl in a hole and die.

This has been the defining aspect of many fandoms in recent years: which have the most division within. Harry Potter is high on that list — and now it’s been made even worse.

Realistically, the fandom as a whole is doomed. Thinking about it, though, I don’t believe that’s quite a bad thing.

As long as people keep buying them, the books will live on. But the intense in-fighting, the vicious online battle royales, will fade away. People who now stand against the author will continue to make their point known (as they should be able to). Those who don’t know or don’t care about the grievious offenses (and, yeah, I know that’s problematic, but also a discussion for another day) will carry on in liking the series, or not bothering either way.

Fantasy Art: Tea Party, by Yoshioka – Aethereal Engineer

Overall, though, we may actually go back to a bookish world where people simply read books and share their enjoyment of them. HP was one of the hugest phenoms in entertainment in the early 21st century, and it was the catalyst for a massive niche culture, there’s no denying it. We all sorted ourselves into our Hogwarts houses, found our patronuses, fit multiple references to HP into our own (utterly unrelated) WIPs. We knew whether we’d choose an owl, a toad, or a cat, what sort of wand we wanted, if we’d more likely fail Potions or Magical History. It was a big deal.

Some of us haven’t actively engaged in this part of it for a while, though, and we’re already not missing it. Maybe we’re missing it a little, but are okay with that. Others are grieving right now, and that’s permitted, too.

In the end, I’ll look back and still say I enjoyed Harry Potter. I’m going to keep my views on the books and the author separate. And I’ll support anyone who goes the opposite direction.

Though, from this moment in bookish time onward, I will appreciate if the fandom craziness of the past decade starts to quiet. Sincerely, I miss when we’d all just flail over our favorite characters in a popular series, and look forward to what came next. There’s so much disunity in the world right now, I’d really like to maintain a few spots of peace and happiness.

Maybe fandoms are something we can learn to do without.

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pop culture, reading

Is It Wrong To Get Rid of Books?

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So, apparently I live under a rock, because I’ve only recently heard about Marie Kondo, and the ire of booklovers she incurred by suggesting, as part of her decluttering program, that you shouldn’t hesitate to get rid of books.

It’s a topic I’ve touched on before — decluttering, as well as whether or not to keep all the books you ever purchase or acquire. When I was younger, I read up on what was then a hot bandwagon — Feng Shui — which is basically what Marie Kondo is doing and just re-branding it. (Sorry, folks, nothing new under the sun.)

But, anyway, I do believe there are instances when keeping books you simply didn’t like becomes a rightfully big debate — and it’s not as clear cut as “I didn’t like it.” There have been a lot of books I’ve read that I didn’t care for the style, the plot, the characters (maybe all of these!), but I could see the value these titles would have to someone else. Or there was a deeper reason I didn’t just aim for the recycling bin. In fact, many reasons.

Here are my breakdowns of why and when it’s okay to get rid of books, and how you should do it.

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Why you don’t have to keep books:

You just know you’re never going to read it again. And this does not make you a terrible person, nor give the rest of us the right to revoke your bookdragon license.

(It’s one of the best things about libraries — if you turn the last page and have a sour taste in your mouth, the objectionable item simply goes back to the dropbox. However, if you spent money on something that just didn’t do it for you — or even worse, makes you downright ticked off — then you may feel guilty for tossing it in the Goodwill bag. I’ll get to more on that in a minute.)

It turns out there’s a more appealing edition out there. Maybe the paperback cover catches your eye more than the initial hardcover release. Or there’s a new printing of a favorite classic, yet something will have to move in order to make room on your shelves.

(Again, I’m getting to the hows.)

You’ve outgrown something. In this case, I’m particularly thinking of that romance or mystery series you loved when you were 14…but now you’re 22…or 32, and you realize your last re-read was somewhere around 2011. Nostalgia will live on, regardless of whether you still own the items.

(Take a deep breath. It’ll be okay. I promise.)

You do just have too many books. For the amount of space in your house. Or you’re moving, or going traveling for a long time, or changing jobs and a lot of that material now feels irrelevant. It really is all right to engage in a purge.

 

How to pass on these rejections — ahem, these still-valuable objects that have brought something to your life, and will affect the lives of others:

A secondhand shop or charity donation. Goodwill loves getting anything in decent condition that will have quick turnover. And many bookworms frequent charity shops because of the prices and the variety. And remember, one man’s trash is another’s treasure came to be a cliche with good reason. Books are subjective!

Give to a friend or relative whose cup of tea is absolutely that genre or topic. You don’t even have to tell them that you personally didn’t like it. It truly doesn’t matter. One man’s trash…

Local libraries are always happy to take what you don’t want. Libraries are on tight budgets, and us giving them next-to-new books that they can add to their catalogues, or use in fundraising sales, or as prizes for summer reading programs totally makes their day.

You can sell book club or subscription box editions, and it’s honestly not a crime. The tricky thing about places like Amazon is that they generally won’t take special editions for re-sale. But Owl Crate, for example, has its own Facebook page for buying, selling, and trading titles from past boxes that didn’t fit your fancy. It’s all above board, and lots of people are happy to pay you a few bucks to receive that edition or that merch they missed out on at the time.

What about ARCs? This isn’t as big a deal as it was; most bookworms have started getting together to swap ARCs that they no longer have a need for. It is important to only give away ARCs, though, especially indie advance copies. Since final changes to a manuscript may not occur until after ARC feedback begins coming in (this goes for traditional and self-publishing), you can’t correctly (or ethically) sell an advance copy as a “finished product.” Plus, indie authors need every single royalty we can get — and we foot the bill for our ARCs, not some big-bucks professional marketing team. So if you sell an ARC we didn’t get a royalty for…that not only literally robs us, it’s just plain a slimey move.

The long and short of this discussion, though, is that, while it’s perfectly okay to get rid of books, there are proper ways to do so. Books, even if they’re mass produced, are the direct result of people’s very hard, usually original work. It’s like any other piece of art — and, yes, we should be thinking of books as art, period.

Even non-fiction. Even erotica. Even religious texts or teachings we may not agree with. You can (and should) have your own opinion on what you believe is worth reading, and why. But so many of us who think Picasso was an idiot or that Jackson Pollock is overrated still wouldn’t just toss their paintings into the nearest dumpster. So, don’t do that with any objectionable reads you come across, either, okay?

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blogging, pop culture

A Bookdragon Gone Rogue

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In the last year, I’ve decided to go distinctly against the grain of what most book bloggers have been obsessing over  cultivating as part of their platform. I opted out of Netgalley (mostly because I realized I couldn’t afford an e-reader or decent Smartphone), got off Goodreads, and never created an Instagram profile. I no longer keep a physical TBR, an active log of what I’ve recently read, and the only cohesive reviews I’ve put together in the past several months have been on this blog.

And does all of this unstructured approach make me feel more…chaotic? unprepared? ready to run off to Albania to herd goats? Nope. In fact it’s…liberating. Relaxing. Indulgent.

I don’t panic about my traffic and stats. (No, I genuinely don’t right now.) I don’t care if I missed a trend or hashtag game. Does this make me seem less friendly or less subscribe-able? Not sure. Maybe? (Hopefully not.)

I just want to enjoy what I read, and be reading it because I want to. Trying to keep up with who was reading what and which trend or bandwagon they were covering just made my head spin. So I gave up the sprint.

And, honestly, I have no regrets. Watching my fellow book bloggers becoming increasingly agitated over Instagram deciding to turn evil, over the fierce competition for ARCs, the pressure to post positive reviews no matter their own opinion on the title just makes me certain of it. Life is too short and other things more important than to get caught up in unnecessary drama that will send lifelong readers fleeing a pastime they once reveled in.

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So, now we come to the inevitable critique of this discussion: Since “bookdragon” is a title that came about as a result of behavior like hoarding masses of books, getting the jump on new releases, following what’s “in”, and keeping tabs on the ebbs and flows of the publishing industry, if I’m opting to abstain from a whole lot of this, do I still get to carry my “bookdragon” card?

I say yes.

And in addition, I think more of us should choose to go rogue.

I think we should start new movements, to bring reading back to this place of being about armchair adventure and emotional rollercoasters and perspective growth, rather than about status and position and fleeting popularity.

We should begin to forget why we wanted to be a book blogger…and remember why we wanted to share our favorite books with others.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the “early days”, when we’d simply gather together to flail over the latest announcement from a beloved author, our genre’s newest publications, a debut title that broke all the tropes, or just simply loving books. Loving to read.

miss this.

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Can we please go back to maintaining the bonds, instead of stepping up rivalry? Shouting from virtual rooftops, “HA! 22 BOOKS IN 31 DAYS! LOOOOSERS!”, really doesn’t make you a more accomplished person. Or very nice.

There’s been such an abrupt shift. When I first became aware of book blogging actually being a thing, and actively joining in the reading and commenting, I was so excited it could barely be contained. (Okay, that’s a flatout lie. I didn’t really bother containing it at all.) As a lifelong reader and writer, I had found my people and it was the best.

Then, almost before we knew it, there were lots of people either leaving blogging or social media entirely, citing too much pressure and subsequent burnout. Instagram is quickly becoming the same thing. And many authors — trad and indie, big and small — have been treated appallingly on Twitter because their titles didn’t line up with what bloggers (with no control over these publications) wanted.

The atmosphere has grown too toxic, too fast.

So, I went rogue. And I’m encouraging others to do so as well.

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I’ve made some of my best friends these days from getting into book blogging. Supporting each other was something we did so well. Nowadays we feel splintered.

None of these problems are by far universal or applied to every aspect of a booklover’s lifestyle. But there’s definitely (sadly) enough garbage going on to sufficently dampen a lot of people’s former enthusiasm — including mine.

And as a bookdragon, I’m going to do more than blow smoke about it.

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pop culture, reading

Do Our Reading Tastes Change Over Time?

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Is this even something to be concerned about? Maybe it’s just a bookdragon thing, because we’re already so tuned in to what genres and topics and styles we gravitate towards. But honestly, this is something that’s been nagging at me over the last several months.

When I was around White Fang’s age, I realized that a lot of the childhood favorites on which I learned to read were feeling, well, stale, and not as interesting as they had in elementary school. And, really, there’s nothing wrong with this, because of course your interests are going to alter as you grow from a child to an adolescent. So, experiencing the sense of setting out on a bold new adventure, I began scouring the library shelves for adult fiction.

After several years of this, I found myself a bit weary of overdone cliches and tropes I just couldn’t tolerate, or purple prose and “literary genius” styles that I cognitively couldn’t understand. Yes, I’m mature and bright, but complex and abstract allegories do absolutely nothing to enhance entertainment value in my reading pursuits. So, despite being well past the age that most people are expected to be enjoying YA fiction, I dove into it, with gusto.

Now we’re at the point where I’ve come to another realization — I think I may officially be past a stage of life where I actually, concretely care to read about teenage angst. Even if it’s well-written, and funny, and poignant.

It’s such a perplexing conflict, because I write adolescent main characters, and obviously need to have realistic insight into their problems or concerns. However, I don’t write exclusively from a YA POV, so maybe that’s where the crux of the biscuit lies. I can relate to that part of life, having been through it myself, and now that I’m raising a teenager. Hence, I can also see very well the POV of my adult characters — not wanting their kids to make “learning curve” mistakes, yet knowing some things are probably inevitable, and that sometimes taking a step back may actually be more productive for the next generation.

Given these facts, it’s dawning on me why I have such trouble reading current YA fic that portrays all the grown-ups as bad, and adolescents behaving as adults, through some apparent magical osmosis of learning responsibility from stereotyped “sensei” mentors.

Realistically, when I was in my late teens or early 20s, these tropes wouldn’t have bothered me nearly as much as they do now.

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So, in the past year, I’ve tried going back to adult fiction. And it has been a spectacular flop. I can’t seem to find a title aimed at readers over the age of 22 that doesn’t include potentially graphic violence, profanity, and explicit sexual content, or that isn’t so ridiculously pretentious, or that isn’t so squeaky clean it’s downright inane. Despite the fact that I did actually enjoy a few of the many novels I attempted, even when they contained some of these seedier elements (A Song of Ice and Fire), most of them I couldn’t wait to return to the library. With a note recommending they be the first books tossed on the bonfire in the event of a long-time electricity outage during winter.

This I find an interesting quandary to be in. While I am very aware of what “the real world” can be like, I do read to escape, to dream, and to aspire. I have my own spiritual and political beliefs, and I reached them through years of experience and discussion and comparison, and personally, I’m just offended by hoping to lose myself in a fluffy romance, only to find an agenda being shoved down my throat around page 200.

That’s another issue getting between me and modern publications — Why must they all be SO LOOOOOOONG?? Is there a new rule for authors that I wasn’t told of? “Since 2016, anything you write with the intention of selling must be no less than 325 pages”? I’m 5 feet tall, folks, I will literally break myself carrying a stack of recent contemporaries across the parking lot to the car.

And then there’s the whole genre problem. Murder mysteries bore me to tears anymore. Same goes for chick lit. High fantasy I generally avoid, because I can’t even pronounce a quarter of the character names or place settings, and I’m so over the idea of entire chapters being dedicated to “the characters walked for miles and miles and the narrator described the material their bootlaces were made of.”

And what in the world has happened to historical fiction?! Basically there’s no such thing as historical integrity these days. Authors and publishers apparently feel totally all right with changing facts or altering important details to suit their creative whims. Yes, artistic license should be allowed; but when pure invention is permitted to pass for unquestioned truth concerning real people, that’s where we should all draw the line. And I don’t see that line anywhere on the horizon. That means I will make my statement by not reading any more of this trash, and calling it what it is.

The saddest thing of all this recent upheaval is that: I do not have many new books to read.

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All bookdragons completely understand the rush of discovery, the thrill of finishing a new author or title that has just made it onto our favorites list. And the extreme low point of a big letdown. Unfortunately, I’ve been on the ground-thumping-end of the seesaw for too long when it comes to new reads. Not only is it frustrating, it’s gotten way too old.

In the last few weeks, as I’ve been mulling over what to attempt for summer reading, I’ve decided it’s time to nail down some hard and fast rules.

One: I do not need a specifically adult or specifically YA novel. I need a style that doesn’t talk down to the reader, that sticks to the point, and introduces me to at least somewhat original characters.

Two: I’m not going to apologize for not liking certain genres. Fantasy and speculative fiction simply is my jam, and whoever doesn’t agree with that, doesn’t have to, but I’m done worrying that my tastes are inferior.

Three: I’ll have to start setting aside more time to further research titles everybody’s raving about. Just receiving positive feedback from others doesn’t mean I, the persnickety bookdragon, will like it.

Four: Most of my library checkouts will be for Muffin. At least for a while. Until aforementioned research has been conducted, and I can place holds with confidence.

Five: I’m going to stick to these rules, and be better off for it.

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pop culture, reading

The Positive Aspects of Negative Reviews

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As an author, I desperately avoid possibly negative reviews of anything I’ve written, anything my friends have written, and books that I really want to keep an open mind about. As a reader…well, repeat the above statement.

However, there are times when I seek out negative reviews. Not the really nasty ones, because — hey, guys, come on! Let’s not! Can we please be civil to each other already?!

(I will admit, occasionally I come across a nasty review that just perfectly lines up with what I thought of a certain title, and it’s actually enjoyable to read. But that is definitely the exception, and it has to be done right. Meaning all your complaints are about the book itself, and you don’t get personal and wish something horrible on the author him or herself. ‘Cause, again, people, not cool.)

Anyway, there are actually upsides to negative reviews. Because — sorry, authors — reviews are for readers, and — again, sorry, authors — not everyone will like your book (no matter how awesome you know it is).

There could be lots of valid reasons why readers just don’t jive with your work. Maybe they simply aren’t into your genre. Maybe your style doesn’t float their boat. Perhaps their expectations for the plot weren’t how you wanted to write your story. None of this means that you should take negative reviews to heart.

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But all of this could also be very important information for potential new readers.

Is a work drowning in purple prose, and that aspect makes your eyes roll back in your head (in a bad way)? Are there certain triggers that you might not feel brave enough to ask about upfront, but seeing mention of them in reviews safely steers you away? Do you have an irrational but still very real phobia of books that clock in at more than 400 pages? And other reviewers’ honesty about any or all of these factors will really help you decide whether to proceed with a read or not?

There probably isn’t a bookworm alive who wouldn’t answer yes to at least some of these.

As a persnickety bookdragon, I’ve often found negative reviews useful. When I have differing tastes from my friends on a particular genre or style, perusing blogs or customer feedback of complete strangers whose noted preferences on specific authors or series lined up with my own thoughts can absolutely guide me in a good direction. And while I have sometimes put aside my generally-iron-clad criteria and experienced good results, too frequently it doesn’t turn out like that, and listening to my instincts would’ve been more satisfactory.

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There are moments when it can be really hard to have to admit to people whose feelings you genuinely don’t want to hurt that you just couldn’t stand that book they were raving about. But pretending to love it — and then dying inside — is not recommended.

And it works both ways — everyone’s had that one beloved favorite that just didn’t take with your friend/relative/significant other/pet. And it might temporarily sting — even if you knew that title was out of their comfort zone, and were kind of expecting a rejection — because of what it means to you.

The biggest thing to remember is that books are subjective, and no matter how similar two people’s hobbies, passions, or life perspectives are, the chances of them both liking absolutely all the same things is just highly improbable.

And that this is okay.

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So, in the end, there’s value to be gained for readers from positive and negative feedback, and reviews are for readers. So if you’re a writer, pretend the negatives don’t exist, and remember that you cannot please all of the people all of the time. Bathe yourself in the glowing praise from devoted fans, and bring those to mind when the going gets tough.

And, reviewers, please, keep posting your opinion. Do be polite. But please don’t feel you have to grovel (to even a bestselling, famous author) or fake it for your friends. Just because it seems you were the only person in your social circle or online community who didn’t like a certain title doesn’t, in reality, mean you were. And one day, someone else will be very grateful to hear your against-the-grain views.

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books, pop culture

Subscription Boxes Deliver Magic

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Important note before I start: None of these images belong to me, and I am in no way trying to claim credit for any official logos or designs from Owl Crate itself.

Everybody who’s any kind of bookworm has heard about book-themed subscription boxes, such as Owl Crate, Illumicrate, Lit Joy, and Fairy Loot. Many of us hold active memberships with one or more of these companies. While the monthly cost can be a bit intimidating for those of us on lower range incomes, when/if you can afford it, ordering one of these boxes is absolutely worth it.

My personal favorite is Owl Crate. Companies that are based overseas are, unfortunately, out of my price range. And not every box is created equal — some of the book selections and/or additional items just won’t float your boat. Doing research before placing an order is a good idea — looking up other bloggers’ past unboxings will give you a better idea what sort of items to expect from each company, and whether those fit your hopes for your particular subscription adventure.

Because, yes, every time you receive a subscription box, it is an adventure. Since you never know just what is in each shipment until it arrives, the anticipation is thrilling. Even if you believe getting excited over what might be in one small Owl Crate is trivial, in the end, you’ll find yourself racing to the post office on the morning of delivery.

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And it truly is magic to see just how much is packed into that little crate! Once you begin unpacking, you’ll find yourself reminded of that bag Hermione had in The Deathly Hallows, that was the size of a regular purse, but contained books and multiple changes of clothes and even a portable tent. Within the subscription box, layered on top of each other with proper skills, are well-packed tote bags, bookmarks, coasters, hats or socks, keychains, and sometimes really special items, like an umbrella or bookends. And, of course, there’s always a new-release book, signed by the author, and often with a special note composed by said author.

Below is the February 2019 Owl Crate as an example:

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We also own items from an experimental order of Illumicrate, which included a Strange the Dreamer-inspired umbrella that Muffin loves, and a Darker Shades of Magic-themed bag that I carry my business cards in. That’s the other incredible part of this experience — you had no idea you even needed certain objects until they arrive in your subscription box, and after you have them, you will find uses for them.

For example, this used to be me: “A glass water bottle? How impractical is that!” “Who would wear a sleep mask? Won’t that be too uncomfortable on your ears?” Then both of these were in the May Owl Crate, and, well…yes, I now am using a glass water bottle (sporting a Stardust quote!), and a sleep mask.

Here’s the best thing about getting book-ish swag that’s still so functional: It is an autist’s dream come true. Being a visual person, I’m naturally attracted to shiny things; but the intensely pragmatic side of my nature means that I can only stand so much that’s purely decorative and doesn’t serve some other sort of purpose. The amount of useful things packed into subscription boxes is just awesome. 

And we can’t forget about the books themselves! While each selection might be hit or miss for your personal taste, there is always something deeply satisfying about unwrapping a signed edition of a brand new release. And who knows, it may become your next favorite! And a true bookdragon knows that is worth taking the risk.

So while this post may sound a lot like an endorsement for Owl Crate, I swear it’s not; I’m just relating my experiences with this first-time adventure of having a subscription box, and so far, it’s been good. It’s why I encourage everyone who hasn’t given this idea a shot yet to do so when you have the chance!

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pop culture, reading

Book Club Picks: The Good, the Bad, and the Puzzling

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Okay, I think I need to say this now before I explode. There is something inherently frustrating about belonging to a book club.

Yes, that’s right: it can be frustrating for a self-avowed bookdragon to sit around and discuss books with other people. Why? Because sometimes the selected title will just make you want to scream…and then you will be the only person in the room who thought that about said selection.

Maybe it simply is that I am too picky a reader. Maybe it just boils down to I don’t like most adult fiction; it comes across as boring and irrelevant and senseless. While there certainly have been exceptions in my reading career, after this past year of belonging to a book club for the first time, I’m strongly reminded of why I generally stick to YA and/or fantasy.

Here are the picks that stuck with me in recent months as being the books I loved to hate, or at least to analyze unto its demise.

Before We Were Yours

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This is the story, based on real events, of sisters who were separated as children, by a woman in the South who was selling poor children to wealthy families that couldn’t produce their own offspring naturally. Yes, she literally abducted munchkins from parents who already loved them; their only crime was being too poor, or too immigrant, or too minority.

It’s already an appalling tale, but what galled me even more was the fact that all of this is discovered long after it happened, and the people involved are mostly dead, and the perpetrators never face justice.

I truly felt that the entire story was absolutely pointless since the whole concept of a character discovering this secret should have automatically led to bringing those responsible to court. Instead, the sisters just find each other years later and catch up, and they can all know each other’s children, and blah, blah, blah.

And while it may sound kind of heartless to put it that way, for me, the crux of the biscuit was literally: Will the kidnappers be forced to pay? Even if they’re no longer living, there must be someone still around who knows what the organization was doing, and will speak up, knowing it’s the right thing to do…

But, no, that never materialized, and when I finished reading this book, I actually wanted to turn back the clock and reclaim the hours I wasted on this utter nonsense.

Lilac Girls

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This one I was really into at first. It’s the author’s re-imagining of what life may have been like at the only all-women concentration camp in Poland during World War II. It is historical fact that there was a retired actress, named Caroline Farraday, in New York City, who found out about the survivors of this camp, and devoted a good chunk of her life after the war to securing funds for their medical care.

This is so inspiring, and I really wanted to know more about the real person, so after finishing about 60% of the book on audio (I skipped all the parts set in the camp), I Googled Caroline Farraday.

And what I found out made me so mad. At the author. Yet again.

The author deliberately invented a romantic interest that Caroline never had, and inserted him into the story, as her main reason for getting involved with the plight of innocents during the war. What the heck was the point of that?! It makes the real Farraday look flighty, self-absorbed, and only willing to turn to philanthropy as a way to spend her life when the man in question goes back to his wife. (Yes, you read that right — which brings up a whole host of other moral and ethical questions.)

And since, based on what’s on the website established by the historical society created in her honor, none of this is true, either about the woman’s life or about her recorded personality, I simply cannot track with this approach by the author.

And this is exactly why I refuse to recommend this book to anyone, even though it is an important subject to know about and discuss.

A Gentleman in Moscow

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Please, oh, please, oh, PLEASE, tell me there’s someone else in the world who didn’t like A Gentleman in Moscow! I definitely appear to be in the minority on this one. It’s the story of a Russian aristocrat, post the Communist revolution, who is put under house arrest in Moscow.

The entire premise tripped me up from the start: It’s an interesting concept (how a person’s life would change so much, so quickly, from what he knew, and how he would handle it), but completely implausible. After the Bolshieviks seized power in Russia, there is not a single way they’d let a Count just live out his natural days in a fancy hotel; nope, it’d be the firing squad for him, and we all know this.

The factual inconsistencies aside, this was honestly one of the dullest books I think I’ve ever read. It is literally drowning in purple prose, and even listening to the audio version made me so bored I could hardly stand it. Apparently there is a successful market for such works, but you can totally count me out of it.

And there we have it! Have you read any of these? Do you have thoughts on the up sides, or down sides of book clubs, or not at all? Let’s comment away!

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Fantasy fiction, pop culture

Game of Thrones: Better Late to the Party Than Never

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So, a few years back, I started hearing a lot about this amazing/scandalous/both TV show called Game of Thrones. Apparently it was incredibly violent/well-written/moving/dividing, but at the time, we didn’t have HBO, so I didn’t get to find out for myself.

Then I came across the startling revelation that the show was based on a series of high fantasy novels, so I began investigating more. At first — I’ll be perfectly honest — the fact every single one of these books could be used as a weapon against zombies (meaning they’re huge, people) really intimidated me. (Remember, folks, I have a phobia of books over 500 pages.) So for a while, I just held on to this knowledge and mulled it over.

Eventually, I decided to go for it. I checked the first in the series, A Game of Thrones, out of the library, and devoted at least an hour every evening towards finishing it before I turned 50.

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I finished it in less than a week.

I could not put it down. The characters leapt off the page, the prose was so realistic and attention-grabbing, the story’s slow unfold kept me hooked through the last chapter. Despite the violence and the sexuality, most of the text maintained a PG-13 rating, and the moments it strayed into R were generally short-lived, and I could manage that. More than anything else, I was so connected to the characters — especially the Starks, Tyrion, and Dany — that I had to know what would happen to them.

So I rushed back to the library for the second book, then the third. After a while, the author’s increase in profanity and sexual content did begin to wear on me, and I figured it might be time to switch to past seasons of the show, now out on DVD — where I could conveniently fast-forward through those scenes.

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Now we’re about a year on fron the start of this experiment, and while I haven’t yet read all of the books, nor seen all of the episodes, I am pretty well caught up, and literally on the edge of my seat at 8:58 every Sunday night to view the latest installment. (By the way, this means we’re temporarily paying extra for HBO. It’s worth it.)

While I’m completely late to the party on this fandom, I am SO glad that I made it. While neither the books nor the show are perfect, there is a ton of good stuff here. I have to say that I genuinely will miss the show after this, its final, season, and I haven’t been able to say that about a TV series in a long time.

And while I’m not champing at the bit (like many fans), I am interested to see how George R.R. Martin chooses to wrap up the written version. Given that the showrunners ran out of book material ages back, I applaud them for having the guts to decide which way the character arcs should go, and carrying it out — because once an original work is adapted to somewhere else, that new version now is its own thing, and has the right to be different from the source material if it wishes. Or, if you’ve finished writing a season that ends in major cliffhangers because the last book published has left the readers biting their nails for years on end, and kind of have to come up with an alternate track.

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My guess is that some of HBO’s decisions Martin would never even have considered; and I find all of this okay, either way. Because what it boils down to is Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire has the power to be such an enduring story, and this — as a writer, as a fan of fantasy literature and art — is what sticks with me. It’s what sticks with so many of us, why this series has been on the bestsellers list for years.

What makes a story good, in terms of content, has been and will be subjective forever. What makes a story powerful and moving and unforgettable is how it’s told in the subtext beyond the content. The themes of loyalty, loss, love, struggle, moving on, finding yourself, trying to be your best, not always getting it right that are prevalent throughout this series is what resonates with people.

In the last decade, I’ve had a very, very hard time finding art and entertainment that really struck a chord; so when I do come across something new that fits the bill these days, I dive in.

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Am I nervous about what will happen to my favorite characters at the end? (both versions) Oh, yes. Am I largely pleased about what’s happened so far in the show since they’ve been going “off book”? Actually, yeah. Do I treasure some of this incredible storytelling on page and on screen? Absolutely.

Was I ever headcanoning as I read, and then disappointed when something didn’t turn out the way I expected? In fact, no. And this “just going with the flow” attitude has been something new for me; usually if I didn’t call a twist — or the twist is one I was afraid of, in a bad way — then I get very disillusioned, and will often just put down a book or turn off a show.

So here’s the biggest thing Game of Thrones has done for me: Let me relax my usually rather high standards for my “type,” and for that I am grateful. If I’d stuck to, “But I don’t read adult fantasy,” or “All these books are too long,” or “I don’t even get this channel”… I would have missed out on a whole lot of enjoyment these past several months.

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