Obviously, this doggo would not be the worst ANYTHING — he’s looking rather puzzled and dismayed on purpose, because of the astoundingly perplexing experience I recently had, attempting to read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley.
I think those of us who read constantly, and in a number of genres, may toss around the phrase “the worst thing I EVER read!” at least a few times in our lives. It’s even possible we’ll hit our lowest low, then one day a new title will actually take that coveted place from its previous designator. And with all the good books in the world — and with taste being subjective! — the notion that we may end up hating more titles than we actually enjoy either suggests we simply don’t have much selection to choose from, or that we’re very finnicky in our reading selections.
I’ve written before about the problem of both scenarios. Both have their valid points. However, when it comes to the Flavia de Luce mystery series, I have a feeling the issue isn’t a persnickety bookdragon, but rather that this is a prime example of what in the literal hell was the author smoking and why did the publisher take the same drug to consider giving this total dumpster fire the green light.
On the surface, the Flavia de Luce series, of which The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is the first installment, is a typical silly murder mystery, narrated by protagonist Flavia, a precocious 11-year-old living in England in the 1930s, coming from a wealthy family run by the housekeeper — who of course is a terrible cook — since her eccentric father can’t do anything remotely adult-like, and her older sisters are spoiled brats. Flavia takes an early interest in chemistry, and this is how she solves the unexpected murder. This might, in theory, be so bad it’s just funny; but, it’s truly, truly not.
The fact is, Flavia is one of the most unhinged fictional characters I’ve ever come across. She doesn’t act, think, or speak like an 11-year-old (not even a child genius one!) — she behaves like a 45-year-old cynical misanthrope who thinks any pursuit in life outside of chemistry is just dumb. She believes herself superior to everyone — without any evidence towards this mindset — and behaves accordingly. She has no desire to be around other children, and doesn’t even like many adults. She mocks and taunts her older sisters and every facet of their beings, until they can’t take it anymore, and tie her up and lock her in a closet. And the revenge she decides to take on them for this action (of self-defense, clearly!) is to put poison ivy in her sister’s favorite lipstick. Just. What.
In the narration, Flavia is near insufferable before the end of the first chapter. Even listening to the audiobook, I wanted to reach inside the recording and strangle the total sociopath crackpot that was supposed to be the “heroine” of this story.
I certainly do not mind needing to suspend disbelief when reading fiction, nor do I feel every character has to be relatable or even realistic. BUT.
I guess common sense, and even actual facts, went completely out the window when it came to editing this piece of trash. NO RATIONAL CHILD ACTS LIKE THIS. Flavia reminds one of a villain origin story, of a person with severe emotional or mental disturbances, who will later be the very murderer a police detective protagonist is hunting. She was literally trying to poison her 16-year-old sibling. This is not clever, amusing, or morally acceptable!! How in the HELL is this a bestselling series?! HOW and WHY did many, many people keep reading *9* of these books?!
I didn’t even make it through all of the first disc. By the time I took the disc out and prepared the set for its return to the library, I thought to myself, “This is very possibly the stupidest thing I’ve ever read.”
And those of you who have been around this little corner of the internet for a while, you’ll already be aware I don’t tolerate stupidity in fiction well.
For me, the biggest WRONG with the entire situation — series, author, publisher, readers — is that everyone seems to believe, without irony, that Flavia is a witty, confident, ahead-of-her-time little firecracker. Rather than seeing her as a serial killer in training, desperately in need of being shipped off to a military-style boarding school that will take away her chemistry set, she’s viewed by the fans as underappreciated due to her age, but the other characters will come to respect her (after she shoves her self-righteous nose into police business and puts her own life in jeopardy). Her normal, grounded, sane siblings are to be thought of in the same light as the evil stepsisters from Cinderella. We’re supposed to feel sorry for her muddle-headed, overly neurotic father, because he’s a widower with 3 kids (that he never takes care of), and a vast, inherited estate. *Of course* the idea that Flavia is smarter than the village police isn’t meant as anything other than a slightly cheeky plot device.
So, I haven’t seen the Marvel animated series, “What If,” simply because I don’t have Disney Plus, but I do appreciate the idea of exploring the concept as a storytelling tool. We’ve all been reading a particular book, watching a specific show or movie, and about halfway through exclaimed, “That’s it! I know just what’s going to happen!” …and then nothing of the sort occurs later in the story. And you either like the twist better, or you’re so surprised you don’t know what to think, or the worst case scenario did indeed take place, and you’re beyond disappointed (or throwing things, sobbing in a corner, plotting revenge against certain characters…). We’ve all been there. And because overthinking how some of the biggest franchises of the past decade could/should have ended is one of this moth’s ongoing hobbies, I figured the “What If” moment in popular entertainment could be a good way to start the discussion here.
What if…Blue kissed Gansey and he didn’tdie? Fans of The Raven Cycle waited 4 books to receive the answer to the ultimate question: if Blue kissed Gansey, would he actually go kaput? Or was it a misunderstood prophecy, an incorrectly translated psychic reading, or something else entirely? Now, since we all know Maggie Stiefvater was, unfortunately, very ill during the writing of the fourth and final book in this series, it’s totally possible the poor lady just couldn’t come up with a way to get Blue and Gansey out of this quandary. But, from the audience POV, because so many of us were convinced the “prophecy” that Blue would kill her true love was just a red herring, it was pretty anti-climatic that when they finally took the chance and locked lips, yup, Gansey passed from this life. It made the whole ending of the other characters finding a way to bring him back much less satisfying than them being able to prevent it to begin with — considering that this was, really, as much of the quest as attempting to locate Glendower. Seriously, if the last chapter of The Raven King was, “And at last they kissed, and Gansey went, oh, wow, I’m fine, and everybody said, YAY! BOLLOCKS to this stupid dead Welsh king!, and then they all got gelato,” I would’ve been very happy.
What if…Harry Potter turned out to be the bad guy? I know we could all be here until the cows come home, debating what did and didn’t work in the last few HP books, but based on the massive twist given early in #7, that the all-good, all-benevolent Dumbledore was in fact once into some very dark magic indeed, this could have turned the entire story on its head. With this twist, the author — whether she meant to or not — proves that even her “heroes” may not be completely heroic. In #6, after the loss of Sirius, Harry definitely could have faced a pivotal moment — perhaps the beginning of his villain origin tale? I mean, “playing by the rules” to defeat Voldemort had got the poor kid nowhere, and there were plenty of people who already suspected he actually was turning evil (the Parseltongue, the mind-connection to the Dark Lord, the fact the Sorting Hat told Harry he would have done well in Slytherin). And when you consider that many of the “good” wizards (the entire fricking Ministry of Magic, for crying out loud!) were so morally gray and so ambivalent about stopping an actual, credible threat from the Deatheaters, the almost-formulaic “and in the end, all the bad wizards were killed and the nice ones prevailed” wrap-up to the series still doesn’t sit quite right with me. Watching Harry go towards the dark side could’ve been more interesting, less frustrating to read, and certainly not as predictable.
What if…Clary and Jace actually were brother and sister? Yes, I’m going there! I loved City of Bones, I liked both these characters, BUT the whole star-crossed-Romeo-and-Juliet tangent that they’re set on WILL FOREVER DRIVE ME CRAZY. If the “lie” Valentine told them was NOT a lie, that the reason they felt such a strong connection to each other so early on was NOT romantic, but was because they were long-lost siblings, that would’ve been a great direction to take the story. Not only would it have made other things much easier from the start (no love triangles, for example!), it could have created a great way for Clary and Jocelyn to bond after Jocelyn’s kidnapping, and for Jocelyn to have more of a redemption arc by not only being able to apologize to Clary but to her son as well, and get the chance to know him without all the stupid baggage of whether he was decent boyfriend material. (In case you couldn’t tell, I hate the way Jocelyn was written, and will die on the hill that she became a TERRIBLE parent and should never have woken from that coma if turning into a total bitch would be the result.)
What if…Bella chose Jacob? Yes, I’ll pause a moment to let you scream out all your grievances about Twilight. I would be utterly remiss if I skipped this most burning question, however, and we all know it. While none of us can really know what went through Stephenie Meyer’s mind when it comes to the true weirdness that is Breaking Dawn, we do have the previous books to indicate the audience got robbed of an ending that made sense. Book #1 definitely portrayed Bella and Edward’s forbidden love in a cautionary tale way, and #2 absolutely showed Bella could seriously consider not going back to Edward and the Cullens. I wholeheartedly believe that #3 took the path of love triangle because a) everyone was writing love triangles in YA then, and b) the publishers felt riling up the fandom was good for sales. However, before the end of Eclipse, there’s a very strong indication Bella is, in fact, finally, properly scared about being around vampires so much, and that she feels guilty about putting the townspeople and the werewolves in danger. So, if Eclipse had ended not with a marriage proposal, but a breakup, and Bella and the wolves telling the Cullens to leave Forks, then either that would’ve been the last lines of the series, or book 4 would’ve been Bella and Jacob’s happy ever after (from which a child would certainly have been possible, and much more likable!!!)
What if…the premise for The Hunger Games had been a fakeout? One of the biggest mistakes publishing made in the early aughts was allowing a sequel to The Hunger Games. I will stand on this soapbox until I take my final breath. This series is one of the most ridiculous, unsatisfying, unpleasant, unnecessary, unrelatable and just plain icky things stuck in YA libraries. Not only does the trilogy end with a number of important questions totally unanswered, the whole journey our protagonist goes on just stops abruptly, and the audience is supposed to simply accept “and then the war was over and there were no more Hunger Games, the end.” Because there are a MILLION things about this story that MAKE! NO! SENSE!, I would’ve greatly preferred that the title competition is just a smoke screen for something bigger, something more interesting than a cardboard dystopian tyranny, and a plot that presented Katniss with actual healing, rather not nonstop PTSD. In The Maze Runner, when it’s revealed there’s a world beyond the maze, and the kids are being trained/observed for a whole different thing, this is pretty satisfying, and logical. In Divergent, the reveal that the city was a social experiment comes out of left field and feels like a cop-out. So, to avoid that, The Hunger Games could’ve taken the route of, the kids don’t actually die in the tournament, it’s all faked, and they’re actually being stolen away to build an army or prepare to defeat some nefarious thing — for example, the zombie apocalypse in The Maze Runner. Yes, it’s been done before, but for the love of Buttercup (Prim’s cat), can’t we all agree that this would have given Katniss a solid goal to fight for, and probably meant SHE GOT TO SAVE HER SISTER IN THE END?!?! No, we’re not still salty about that…
What if…Day had been able to keep his memories of June? This is a series I don’t believe I’ve ever discussed on the blog before, and it’s because it just — Cuts. So. Deep. Marie Lu’s Legend was my YA novel of 2012; I loved the worldbuilding and the characters, I laughed, cried, shipped, cheered on our heroes and their loved ones. I couldn’t wait for the sequel. While not as good as the first book, Prodigy was fine, I enjoyed it. Then the trilogy finale, Champion, made us ride the will-they-won’t-they-survive rollercoaster all the way to the last few pages — and literally STOLE a happily ever after out from under us with a cliche of last minute amnesia. Then the bloody EPILOGUE ended on a COMPLETE CLIFFHANGER, and to say I was SCREAMING in agony is intensely under-representing betrayal of a bookdragon. Yes, that was how I felt: betrayed. If Day died, I could’ve handled it. It would’ve been sad, but acceptable. But for him to survive, and then…he…just…doesn’t…remember…June… AAAARRGGHHH!!! This legit ruined the author for me. She’s published several other titles since then, and I can’t finish any of them; I can’t help but think of the way she screwed me over with Champion. The fact that years later a fourth book came out, Rebel, told from Day’s younger brother’s POV, and supposedly wraps up the whole do-they-get-together-after-all question, just makes me furious, and I refuse to read it. It’s a waste of paper and ink, because WE SHOULD HAVE HAD THE ANSWER ALREADY. Rebel being published in 2021 DOES NOT EVEN BEGIN to make up for what we were forced to endure with Champion, period.
Okay, deep breath.
Hmm, maybe playing “what if” isn’t such a good idea, after all…
I’ve been watching a lot of CinemaSins on YouTube lately (warning: that channel is for mature audiences only), hence the title of this post. For anyone who has no idea what I’m referencing, CinemaSins is a small group of independent movie critics who provide a snarky, often humorous spin on our favorite films, or the films we love to hate. The caption for each of their videos begins “Everything wrong with…” and insert the title of the movie.
Last week, I decided to check out from the library a juvenile series called “The Wildwood Chronicles” that I’ve seen multiple times while carrying out my shelving duties. The covers alone drew me in, and overrode my slight misgivings about the length of the books. (Each one has a total of more than 500 pages. And, yes, someone expects middle-schoolers to be reading this.) Anyway, I hauled the stack home, and dove in.
A few pages in, I realized I’d read the first book before. But I had very little recollection of what happened, so I kept going. I wondered why some things came back to me right away (like the startling opening where the protagonist tries to chase down a bunch of crows that have just literally grabbed her baby brother and flown off), but others (most of the secondary characters, for example) weren’t familiar.
I read on, growing increasingly confused, as A) the plot makes very little sense, and B) I couldn’t ever recall seeing “Wildwood” anywhere on blogs or reviews. Wouldn’t an MG fantasy touted by the marketing as “the American Narnia” have received a lot of attention?
The premise of “Wildwood” is that 12-year-old Prue loses her baby brother to the aforementioned crows, and immediately develops a plan to retrieve the child, while keeping his sudden disappearance a secret from their parents. On the one hand, we can all understand Prue’s motivations; but on the other, I highly doubt that most 7th-graders would have the fortitude to carry out such actions, no less on their own. At that age, most kids, having just experienced something so traumatic, would simply run home to their parents and sob out the terrible truth.
There’s also the fact this story is set in the very real city of Portland, Oregon, which is a significant population center, and most of it rather urban and modern. However, Meloy, the author (a Portland native) chose to put a huge, dark, looming forest — called The Impassable Wilderness — on the outskirts of the city limits. Now, I’m all for artistic license, but this…just doesn’t jive. I’ve never been to the Pacific Northwest, but I can certainly look at an atlas, and see that there is no such area right next to Portland.
So, we start off with a wobbly foundation for a very long novel. It only gets worse as we proceed further.
As Prue travels through the “Impassable Wilderness” — which turns out to be a civilization unto itself, with humans who live about as we did in the 1940s or so, and animals who talk, walk upright, and wear clothes — she gets waylaid by several subplots that have little to nothing to do with her brother’s plight. This means the reader is being constantly introduced to new characters, locations, and motivations, and it’s really hard to keep track, and stay invested.
Here we reach the moment CinemaSins would warn, “Spoilers! (Duh!)”
You’ve all heard me whine before about irresponsible, or downright stupid, parents in YA/MG. And I’ve come across some pretty bad ones, but it has to be said that “Wildwood” takes the cake. Prue’s parents are portrayed as former hippies on steroids, who feel it’s totally fine to let their daughter be a self-proclaimed vegetarian, babysit her little brother all day long, without any help, and apparently not go to school for weeks at a time because the talking animals need her (insert massive eye roll here). About halfway through, Prue feels defeated in her quest to rescue the baby, and goes home and comes clean with her parents. Her mother and father have, at least, posted missing flyers for their children and are appropriately distraught. But they go on to tell Prue a far-fetched tale about how they made a fertility bargain with a magical figure from the I.W., and how apparently the baby wasn’t ever theirs rightfully, and Prue shouldn’t risk her life going back to Wildwood, they can be a happy family, just the three of them…right?
No, I’m not kidding.
For some reason, I did keep reading (maybe self-inflicted torture was the only option on the menu that weekend?), and when I finally crossed the finish line…I realized I was going to read the other two. Not because the book suddenly got much better. No, simply to see how bad it could get.
The sequel is called “Under Wildwood,” and is even more meandering. It carries on the pattern of numerous subplots and trope characters that I wasn’t interested in. And it adds in another POV; the first installment was told from Prue’s perspective, or that of her classmate Curtis, who (for some unknown but slightly stalker-ly reason) follows her into the Impassable Wilderness and they get separated early on (of course). But the second book also includes the POV of Curtis’ younger sisters, AND, at times, of a strange man running the orphanage Curtis’ sisters have been taken to “temporarily.”
Yes, that makes about as much sense as you’d think it would. The idea is that, after Prue (with a saved baby in tow, don’t worry) makes her way home from the I.W., Curtis remains there, and his parents believe he’s gone missing, and they decide to travel the world (yup), to try to find him. Instead of leaving his sisters with grandparents or neighbors or family friends, they put the girls in an orphanage (yuuuup). And of course the people who run the establishment are terrible and yadah, yadah, yadah.
Meanwhile, political regime conspiracies in Wildwood have overtaken most of the main plotline; Prue is suddenly painted as a sort of savior for this world, which takes a page straight out of Narnia, and seems to give it the bird. Prue isn’t an ordinary kid who stumbles into this magical place that she’s destined to help; she’s the most mature and responsible 12-year-old ever, who suddenly has incredible powers that she learns how to use in about a day. If you (Meloy) don’t like The Chronicles of Narnia, fine, you don’t have to. But there is something seriously pretentious — and offensive — about ripping it off, to “make it better,” and then shove that in your audience’s face. It isn’t just arrogant and off-putting in general; it’s disrespectful at a level most readers (and writers) would find unacceptable.
Don’t ask me why I kept going. I guess I was a glutton for punishment. Maybe curiosity killed the cat. But, yes, I wasted one more night on the final book, “Wildwood Imperium.”
Anyway, I managed to grasp the resolutions of the main plot — but, wow, did the author make me work for it. Between the not-at-all-subtle political messages, the many and varying subplots, and my ongoing frustration with the majority of the adult characters being totally dumb, it was a struggle.
In the end (spoilers! duh!), Prue stops a Big Bad Woman (strongly resembling the White Witch of Narnia) from taking over both Wildwood and the outside world using Plant Magic (yupper), but it means she’s almost wiped out (dun, dun, dun), and has to be buried in the local foliage to hopefully survive. Which she does, coming back as a tree in her parents’ backyard. Ahh, yeah, you did read that right. Sorry. Then the tree turns back into a person and her family’s reunited, and, er, yay, I guess.
Curtis finds his sisters and they all go home and are reunited with their dumb-ass parents, and, supposedly, yay and happy stuff.
Except I’m not buying it. Any of it, really.
Not a SINGLE explanation is given for why Prue was so special in Wildwood, how she even had powers, or why the natives let her just waltz in and become their messiah. I’m genuinely not sure how the stupid, nasty man who ran the orphanage fit into that whole subplot, as it was so dull and overdramatic I’ll admit I skipped big chunks of it. The notion of Prue and Curtis going missing for long periods of time and their families NOT being investigated for committing a nefarious crime just isn’t realistic.
The residents of Wildwood are gullible, elitist, and too mysterious for their own good. They indicate having a poor opinion of “Outsiders,” but there’s never anything included in the text to suggest why. Were people from Portland really mean to the I.W. natives? Did Portland even know what was really out there, hence the blocking off the area and calling it dangerous? Or vice versa?
The Plant Magic doesn’t make much sense, and its origins and operations are hinted at being more the basis for a religion in Wildwood rather than as a magic system. We’re left utterly scratching our heads as to how it connected with Prue, the “normal” kid.
We receive very little background before being dropped straight into the story — we have no idea what Prue’s parents do for a living, if she has any friends or hobbies (apart from the fleeting comment she might like to draw birds). Curtis is the “nerd” in her class, who everyone wants to avoid, but they somehow wind up close friends. As the story goes on, we do get a little more information about Curtis’ family, but most of what we’re told about Prue’s is little, insignificant details — they like to go to farmer’s markets, her dad hates to take out the trash, her mom is bad at knitting. None of it MATTERS in the context of what’s intended to be this sweeping fantasy epic.
This is a series that reminds me — painfully — why middle-schoolers say reading is boring.
And this could also be why I’ve never come across this trilogy anywhere in the blogisphere. Most reviewers are adults — or at least in their late teens — and many of us who read MG fiction want something that appeals to people of all ages. If a book or series is so tedious that even an adult, with greater levels of patience and tolerance, doesn’t want to sit through it all, how in the world can we get 6th-graders excited about it?
Usually I leave it up to you, my readers, to determine whether you’d enjoy a particular title. But I can honestly say, when it comes to “The Wildwood Chronicles,” I don’t recommend even that.
I’m sorry, everyone, but I need to go on a full-blown, let-down-bookdragon whinge.
The other night, I was reading the last book in a series I recently realized I’d never finished. Quarantine meant I couldn’t just put in a hold request at the library, so I found a coupon for Barnes & Noble and placed an order. As I re-read the first, and second, and third books, along with details coming back to me, I also began to get an inkling of where the plot was going and how it might end. Usually this is the most exciting part, as any bookdragon will tell you. Anticipating that moment your ship, er, ships. Figuring out before the characters do how they’re going to defeat the bad guy. When you guess who the last-minute rescuer is going to be.
All those lovely tickles of delight can oh so quickly flip to uncomfortable wriggles of disdain when it hits you that the twist will be something unfitting.
Yup, it was one of those.
Not wanting to believe it could be true, I kept reading.
I should’ve saved myself the heartache.
And now I just feel like: What was the point? The author wrote this charming, witty, enjoyable novel, that then had a slightly less witty, still fun, still enjoyable sequel, and then the third indicated a bigger, deeper, plot…and then before the fourth had even reached its conclusion, the whole thing was falling apart. WHY?!
I legit don’t understand how this happens. It’s like the authors stop caring about this world they’ve created, and just let it implode. I can understand knowing when something’s done, and being ready to move on to a new project. But why throw in the towel at the critical juncture? Isn’t it all the more vital to craft a series ending that suits everything that came before?
As a reader, I just find it infuriating. I mean, I’ve just invested literal dollars and time and emotions into reading four books that I expected to provide me with a nice, relaxing escape from lockdown. Now it feels like the halfway mark in that fourth book was just sitting there, rubbing its devious hands together and cackling, waiting to destroy me. In a very bad way.
I very much have the wrong kind of book hangover. I got gypped. And now I desperately want to read something that gets me out of the pit, that puts me back on track with beloved characters and feels I can trust not to stab me in the back. I foresee a re-reading spree coming on.
But then I’ll be stuck with the dilemma that immediately follows a re-reading spree: What new thing do I attempt next? Do I even have the fortitude for anything new after all the previous anguish and loss?
No, I’m not being overdramatic!
Thoughts, anyone? How do you usually get over bookish disappointments?
Okay, not literally jumping, don’t worry. Since the “hype train” isn’t an actual form of transportation, that probably should’ve tipped you off, that I’m not anywhere near any sort of dangerous behavior…rather, that I’m about to go on a rant. About a very real bookdragon issue, that affects us all — falling prey to overhyped books that turn out to just be…well, bad for us.
Hype is a double-edged sword. Sometimes we wouldn’t have found out about a book or author we turned out to love if it wasn’t for hype. But, sadly, more often than not — at least for me — hyped titles fall absolutely flat, and it just kills me anymore. I’m afraid I’m in the mood to crush what will doubtlessly be a favorite for someone…but I believe we all know by now I am a persnickety bookdragon. (And quarantine is grating on my nerves, so this is how I’m going to release some of the pressure, not gonna lie.)
A Man Called Ove:
I’m very aware this is a big hit with a lot of readers, and in theory, I could see why — it’s the quintessential grumpy old man in the neighborhood whom everyone secretly loves, and eventually his grumpiness fades, and there’s a heartwarming turn. In theory. Listening to the audiobook, I got about halfway through the story before I threw in the towel. The writing was just ugh. The overdramatic, unrealistic plot, and overuse of tropes did me in — it’s one thing to start every chapter with, “A Man Called Ove Goes To The Store And Gets Pissed Off At Stupidity”, but to constantly refer to the narrator as A Man Called, and make sure he NEVER learns his neighbors’ first names was just aggravating. I was also pretty disturbed by the graphically-described attempts at suicide, and really feel this title should come with a big, bold trigger warning slapped right across the cover. A complete NO from me.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek:
I can’t even count this one as “read,” since I didn’t finish it. But I am totally counting it as a hyped title that’s now going viral in terms of “everyone has to read this!”, and I wanted to throw it against the wall by page 25. Couldn’t even make it to the part where they started discussing the mobile library serving very rural areas of the American South in the early 20th century — because that sounded truly interesting. But when you’re claiming blue-skinned people existed in Kentucky (um, o-kay), and try to sum up the science for such a mutation in approximately 2 paragraphs…AND before we reach chapter 3, the narration describes in detail finding a hanged body, a marital rape, and inducing a miscarriage following that… Well, I knew I was out.
How To Stop Time:
To begin with, the title isn’t accurate — the narrator is basically immortal, but time keeps moving on around him. And he was SO whiny and hard to like. None of the characters really stood out to me. And what was even the point of the Albatross Society? They didn’t seem to have any reason to exist as an organization, since they were apparently just there, telling people what not to do with their immortality. Lame. I did slog through to the end of this one, hoping it would get better. Can you already guess what my answer is?
Children of Virtue and Vengeance:
This one hurt, I won’t lie. Despite Children of Blood and Bone being far too long, I did enjoy it, and was excited to learn there was a sequel. But it turns out I shouldn’t have bothered. The characters were the worst versions of themselves, as if all the growth from the first book hadn’t even happened, and all the thrilling tension of following the plot that kept me going through all 500+ pages of the original was gone. This story was pretty much random battles broken up by intense, unnecessary angst. So not impressed.
So, after all of this heartache so early in the year (yes, these are my 2020 reads so far!), I will be concretely returning to my resolve that began to firm up late in 2019, to stick with tried-and-true authors for me, try more indies and small press when possible, and simply ignoring the hype to the best of my ability.
Again, I’m really sorry if I bashed one of your favorites; the only constant when it comes to literature is that taste is subjective!
“What’s this?!” I hear you all asking. “A blog post — after the start of NaNo?!”
Yes. I feel pretty good about where my word count is, and where it is likely to be by bedtime tonight. And this is something I need to share.
Number one: All this art was drawn by Ms. Stiefvater herself. She is an amazing artist, not just a unique and talented author. I like to use photographs of her originals when singing her praises, and giving credit where credit is absolutely due.
Number two (but really also part of Number one and what spurred this post): A few weeks ago, I read an essay via a link on Maggie Stiefvater’s personal Twitter account that got me thinking. For very good reason. It was a detailed, private journey of how she spent years living with an undiagnosed, serious illness. There’s no way the decision to put all of that into text and release it to the internet was made quickly. She was brave, to share the intimate moments — how devastating her symptoms were, how many doctors brushed her off, how some of her fans panned books she’d struggled to complete while terribly sick.
Number three: Not only was I in intense admiration of Ms. Stiefvater’s courage, but I was also struck (how could I not be??) by the flat-out awfulness she went through before receiving proper treatment (she has an adrenal gland defiency). And I realized something personally — I was indeed one of those fans who was unfairly judging the books released between 2014 and 2017. I remembered, sharply, almost painfully now, acquiring them from the library and reading them, and thinking that they were okay, maybe even pretty good, but that they didn’t feel “like a Maggie Stiefvater novel.”
And after finding out why I got this impression, I felt guilty.
The sticky truth about the relationship between authors and readers is this: Sometimes, your favorite author will write something you just don’t care much for. It could be for a myriad of reasons. Maybe the subject matter just isn’t your jive; or you and the characters didn’t click all the way. It is all right not to be dancing down the street about every new publication.
However. Having said that, I’m going to stress the importance of distinguishing between: This one just didn’t do it for me, and What the hell happened to this author?
As a reader, I have done it myself. Including with The Raven Cycle and All the Crooked Saints. And now that I know she was hoping to avoid literally dying while writing some of those titles, I do feel ashamed.
A relevant aside:
I didn’t know until pretty much everybody else did that Terry Pratchett had Alzheimers’ disease. Once I found this out, I wanted to avoid whatever books he published in the last few years of his life, for fear of them not resonating in the same way as the early Discworld canon that changed my life. Yes, this is the truth. Terry Pratchett was an author that made me want to write again, during a dry spell after becoming a first-time parent and moving abroad. To have that shattered, to have that robbed of me by a stupid, invading illness, would have been utter rubbish.
“Hey, moth, how do you think he felt? He was the one with the life-altering circumstances and crappy diagnosis that stole his words.”
No, you don’t have to say that now. Yes, I caught on to that, a while back.
I have read a few of the final Discworld books, suspending judgement and disdain. I was able to pick out the golden nuggets of the-heart-of-Pratchett, still within the paragraphs his co-writer must have worked hard on, so that the stories would at least somewhat click with the fans. And it does feel that they stayed true to the characters, and the general premise of the world.
The last title in the series, The Shepherd’s Crown, includes a scene that made me cry for about 3 hours straight. It killed off a major character, and did so in a way that made it clear: this was a moment of Sir Terry coming to grips with his own impending mortality.
And you can tell, by the style, by how it made you feel in your soul, that the writing was all him.
After reading some of Ms. Stiefvater’s live tweets regarding The Raven Cycle, leading up to the release of her next trilogy, it occured to me — I had given this series an unfair slam. I’d had no idea what she was going through; and despite the saying “ignorance is bliss,” ignorance really just makes for some embarrassing gaffs.
At the moment, I am re-reading The Scorpio Races. When I finish, I’ll be starting afresh on All the Crooked Saints and The Raven Cycle. Now the moments that didn’t quite strike me or seem “Stiefvater-y” will make sense. It will feel like reading these books for the first time, because my preconceptions have been stripped away, and my eyes are fresh.
I don’t want to close off my heart to an author that had it so completely after The Wolves of Mercy Falls. The idea of totally missing what so many others adore about “her other series” unsettles me.
To a point, is it all a subjective matter of taste? Well, yes. And I shouldn’t feel the need to apologize for my own taste.
But not having the whole story before I make a final determination is an action that goes against the very grain of who I am.
In the end, I may not like the ravens and dead Welsh king more than the temperature-controlled werewolves and water horses. The owls and confused saints and lost pilgrims in the desert may still not be somewhere I revisit frequently. But I will know the whole truth of it all, and my conscience can be clear.
And then, I’ll be ready to proceed to Call Down the Hawk, the first in a new trilogy, spinning off from, but not based on, The Raven Cycle. And I may be very excited about it. Even if I’m not thrilled, I won’t feel this awkward distance between me and, quite honestly, one of my favorite authors.
I’ll want to read it — simply because she wrote it.
That’s the best every fan — and every artist — can hope for.
So, two weeks ago, one of my first tasks as a library clerk was to create a new display for the evening book club, reflecting next month’s theme. Since it will be October, the theme is spooky, ghost story, or horror, basically ye old “things that go bump in the night.”
This is one of the few literary genres I tend to avoid at all costs.
I have tried it. And I couldn’t handle it.
At least I am brave enough to admit it.
Unfortunately, seeing as I belong to this book club, I had to choose one of these selections for my own reading. And the covers alone freaked me out.
Here was me arranging the display: “No, no, no, NO, nope, nah, no way…GAH…ehhhh, no, no…Hey, HP Lovecraft, maybe I can do that?…A manga of Edgar Allen Poe? What the heck…No, no, no…”
Just putting up the books almost gave me a heart attack. That’s about how much scare I can take.
But, despite my better judgement, I checked out and actually attempted to read some Stephen King and HP Lovecraft.
Yes, you got that right: Attempted. I am officially throwing in the towel. Wimps R Us.
So be it. I finished Dracula years back. That counts. (Yes, it does, dang it.)
I am not a fan of fictional things that go bump in the night. Maybe it’s because I prefer to have a healthy fear of stuff that does, in fact, bump, and might get us. There is more than enough of that, between rare diseases, crime, natural disasters, and tiny creatures hanging out in your basement. We don’t need to add ghosts, demons, monsters, vampires, werewolves, and whatever else horror authors have dreamed up in the last 50 years to the list.
But for some reason, lately I’ve been thinking (a lot) about a book I read as a tween that knocked my socks off — so much, in fact, that I returned it to the library after a sudden jump scare scene, and it took me nearly 2 years to go back to that spot on the shelf and retrieve it to finish.
The story behind that is this: The book was called Urn Burials by Robert Westall, and it was a YA thriller. I honestly didn’t realize the category when I first checked it out. I was intrigued by the premise — the notion that ancient monuments, that Middle Age farmers probably wouldn’t have had the tools or knowledge to construct, were built by aliens — as I was in middle school and had yet to hear of this long-running niche theory. In the novel, it turns out the aliens are real, and they’re upright-walking-and-talking cats and dogs from rival races, and there’s a mystery plague involved. Now, for someone who had generally only read Beverly Cleary and EB White up to that point, this was a radical departure.
I was actually doing fine with Urn Burials until the chapter when the narrator is doing something incredibly normal, like washing dishes, and looks up at the nearest window…and there, staring at him through the dark of night, is an alien animal face.
The sun had set outside while I was reading, and as I looked up from the book, to my window with the curtains still wide open, that image was all I could picture.
I slapped the book shut, ran to the window — turning my head to the side, eyes down — and yanked the curtains closed.
The very next day, the book went back to the library. And it took me literal years before I could look out a window at night without feeling the hairs rise on the back of my neck.
So, seriously, explain to me why I keep thinking about Urn Burials and am honestly considering re-reading it.
I did my online research, and am pretty sure it’s out of print; so I’ll need to either acquire it secondhand or as a library discard. This means more time and effort on my part, and possibly more money. (I already checked, and it doesn’t seem to be in my local library system.)
All of this could indicate that this endeavor may not be an advised one.
The major thing driving this idea is curiosity: Now that I know what’s coming, would I still be as afraid? Would my age and experience since the first time I read those words mean I don’t have the same reaction and feelings?
How important is it to prove this to myself?
Because the other side of the coin is: It’s worse than I remember. And I won’t sleep for a week, patrolling the house from dusk to dawn, carrying White Fang’s katana and shoving it past dramatically-whipped-open closet doors. In case of, you know, upright walking and talking feline and canine aliens about to unleash a mystery plague.
What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read? Did you get over it or not?! Share your terrified thoughts in the comments below!
So, recently I’ve been complaining a whole bunch about literary genres/styles that have let me down, and made me realize how much published fiction I actually don’t want to read.
The next logical question then becomes: What will I read instead?
It took me a little bit to figure out (I blame stress for getting in the way of such an important decision), but the answer came at last: Switch to a genre I haven’t been near in a long time.
Since I unofficially “gave up” Middle Grade a couple of years ago (because I was “too old” for it), I decided this was a good time to reacquaint myself.
The Morrigan Crow series by Jessica Townsend:
I’m only about 40 pages into Nevermoor and already am hooked. I really want to know more about this world and what will happen to the characters. I’ve heard some conflicting reviews of this series, but I’m keeping an open mind. Because it’s aimed at ages 10-12, the writing is super simple and easy to read pretty quickly, but not feeling like you rushed through it and didn’t grab the plot points.
(For me, this is a major downside to adult fiction; there are too many authors that write such long, drawn-out descriptions and background that I’ll just skip ahead 20 or 30 pages at a time to get to the part where something actually happens. And usually by then, I’m not invested anymore in trying to care about the characters. I really need a concentrated focus not only to get my attention but also my sympathy. Sorry, adult fic authors.)
Hopefully I’ll have a positive review of Nevermoor to post later!
Willa of the Wood by Robert Beatty:
I loved this author’s debut, Serafina and the Black Cloak. While the sequel unfortunately didn’t do it for me, I was very pleased to hear Beatty has a start on a new series. I like the setting and premise of Willa of the Wood, and it seems to have a more magical atmosphere than Serafina in general, which I can get behind, since American-based fantasy worlds/systems are in rather short supply lately.
(And as much as I love the wave of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings inspired fandoms, I feel like it’s time the fantasy lit community as a whole branched out more. That could be an entire post unto itself.)
Pax by Sara Pennypacker, The Train to Impossible Places by PG Bell, and Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee:
Are adding these to my list technically cheating since I got them for White Fang? Well, not necessarily, because realistically I will read at least one of these. The Train to Impossible Places and Dragon Pearl especially have this sense of good old-fashioned adventure and friendship that’s been sorely lacking in many of my recent choices.
White Fang has been in a real reading slump lately, so I decided to throw some MG at him as well. A few years ago, he “outgrew” the MG he had been reading, so we tried some more lighthearted YA SFF, and that worked well for most of middle school and ninth grade. But then, about 8 months ago, every single title I brought back from the library would just sit…and sit…and sit on his dresser, until it was due, no more renewals, and not even opened.
So I stopped checking the YA section for him, and began passing on the picture books I selected for Muffin after I’d read them at the little guy’s bedtime. It worked. Before the summer was over, he was ready to give The Train to Impossible Places a shot; even this spring, I think he would’ve turned it down. My method is a testament to the power of shaking up your TBR.
Have you read any of these? Have you ever thrown in the towel on a genre or style in favor of something completely different? Let’s get some comments going on this!
Good morning! We’re not yet addressing the fact that summer is vanishing before our very eyes. Apart from that one sentence. Ahem. (And we’re also going to ignore the quandary of it being the first of the month and me not yet tackling my newsletter, an impending hurricane in the southern Atlantic, or the new school year nipping at our heels. A-HEM.)
Anyway, I know that I haven’t read many of this year’s most hyped books; partly because I’ve been reading less personally, but also since most of what I’ve read in the last 8 months were published in previous years, and I’m just now getting to them, or I read them only for book clubs. So, for now, I’m going to focus on 2019 releases that I did actually read in 2019!
The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi:
This was my first ever Owl Crate book! So honestly, I will always think of it fondly in those terms. I wrote a whole review on the conundrums with this text, but for the sake of space in this post, suffice it to say that while the characters were mostly charming and the style lovely, this just felt too fluffy and intangible. I had a massively hard time understanding the characters’ motivations, or why the plot was going the direction it was. And since I’m generally a persnickety reader, I wondered if I was just being a bit too harsh. But after some discussion with other bloggers earlier in the year, it looked like this title is part of a new trend in YA: The trend of not explaining anything to the readers and confusing the bananas out of them, therefore pulling away their full enjoyment of the story. (And that in itself is an entire separate conversation…)
So, this one fell flat for me, sadly.
On The Come Up by Angie Thomas:
After being extremely disappointed by this author’s debut, the much acclaimed The Hate U Give, I picked up her sophomore release after setting aside a huge amount of skepticism. And I am so glad I did. You can find my full review of this in a separate post as well, but I’ll happily highlight On The Come Up again. It’s a novel that rings true with regards to racism and poverty and the inner city struggle. The characters didn’t feel like cliches, and despite being a middle-class white girl who isn’t into rap at all, I completely related to Bri and her family and wanted them to succeed. This is how you write contemporary fiction that addresses relevant issues without being preachy, folks.
Go read it (if you haven’t already).
Wicked Fox by Kat Cho:
Unfortunately, here I am drowning in the sorrows of loss, for what could have been and definitely was not.
About 16 months ago, I started noticing that every new publication seemed to be fitting a hidden requirement: Somewhere, there was now an unadvertised rule among publishers, that all books have to be at least 350 pages long, and around 40% of that needs to include drawn-out, angsty, unrealistic subplots that distract the MC, and the readers, from the actual point. A little bit of this, I don’t mind, and can even be fun, if written right. However, now it’s become an epidemic. Wicked Fox absolutely falls victim to it.
Pages 1-150 of this debut novel were fun, cute, interesting, even briefly terrifying. The MC and her love interest were precious, together and as individuals. I felt for their respective concerns, and hoped that there wouldn’t be too much trauma before it was all over. And then…the derailment of useless subplots kicked in.
I literally skimmed the rest of the book, guessed the big “twist,” and hit what should have been a satisfying ending with a whole lot of, “Well, that took waaaaaaay too long to get to what I knew was going to happen, anyway.”
It’s become too tedious for me to read this sort of novel, several times in a row, being let down every single round. Wicked Fox felt like some kind of last straw. It’s certainly contributed to my decision of swearing off YA for a while, and trying to find adult or MG fiction that isn’t too tropey or irritating.
But, I will end this post on a more positive note…
The Boy Who Steals Houses by CG Drews:
This is not a warm and fuzzy book, and don’t expect for a minute that your heart won’t be ripped to shreds, because it totally will. But The Boy Who Steals Houses accomplishes what too many YA contemporaries fail in — it realistically, poignantly, and with an ending that gives you hope portrays how some kids are simply forgotten about, tossed aside, or put in last place in society for being different than the majority. It’s also about grief and loneliness, how you can heal, and what family can really mean. I don’t recommend starting this without a box of tissues and half a chocolate cake by your side; but as long as you’re armed, have at. This is a title I had the privilege of beta reading a while ago, and had been looking forward to seeing in its final form. If you read contemporaries, and don’t mind tearjerkers, definitely grab your copy. In fact, even if the genre isn’t your usual, try this one. CG’s unique and heartfelt style will draw you in from the first page.
And I did write a feature post on TBWSH as well, if you’re inclined to look it up in the blog.
All right, I’ll step off my shameless-self-promotion-box, and leave you all to hopefully a safe and happy holiday weekend!
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.
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?