reading

The Wrong Kind of Book Hangover

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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?!

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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.

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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?

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reading

Officially Jumping Off The Hype Train

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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!

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Fantasy fiction, reading

The Raven Cycle Revisited

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So, a few months ago, I decided to re-read the 4 books of The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. Initially I read books 1 and 4 several years ago (when each was first published), and I just could not get into the writing style, the characters, or the plot. And quite honestly, this really bugged me, after thoroughly enjoying The Scorpio Races, and being so love in with The Wolves of Mercy Falls that I called it my top trilogy of the 2010s.

So, what made The Raven Boys so different for me? I couldn’t even put my finger on it, but there was an underlying tone to the writing that just seemed…somehow off. It wasn’t until recently, when I found out that Stiefvater had been tremendously ill for a number of years — while trying to finish writing The Raven Cycle — that it clicked.

Not wanting to just give up on one of my favorite authors, especially now that I understood there were extenuating circumstances, I determined that acquiring copies of and reading the entire series immediately was the way forward.

That part was an interesting journey in itself.

To begin with, the first set I ordered had really uneven printing — on some pages, the text was so light, I could barely make out all the words. It became really frustrating, to have to sit in just the right light, at just the right angle and right time of day, merely to be able to follow the story. So I returned that set, and ordered another, from a different store.

I experienced the same exact problem. While it wasn’t as pronounced in this set, and seemed to be mostly confined to books 1 and 4, there were still pages in books 2 and 3 where the words inexplicably faded considerably, then the density of the ink picked right back up in the next paragraph. It was disconcerting, and actually hampered my enjoyment of reading.

It made me sad.

Especially since I had finally found what was missing from my first experience with this series: its heart.

It all washed over me at once: Gansey and Blue are ADORABLE, Ronan is awesome, Adam is such a precious misunderstood cinnamon roll, and Noah’s tragic backstory, just…sobbing emoji. By the end of The Dream Thieves, I was IN LOVE with The Gray Man, the Lynch brothers, SO BADLY rooting for Blue and Gansey to beat their curses, and IT WAS ALL SO AMAZING.

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And then…it all began to fall apart for me in Blue Lily, Lily Blue. *sobs* 

I have mentally gone back and forth about whether it’s mean or not to attempt to objectively critique the work of an author who was very sick at the time of writing. Because my respect and appreciation of the author remains intact — possibly it’s even gone up, knowing that she still managed to churn out bestselling novels despite suffering with serious health conditions.

Which is why it’s a little painful to admit that…the second half of this series falls distinctly flat for me. Evaluating as a reader, I have to say there were many inconsistencies, secondary characters that just kind of disappeared, subplots simply gone away, the introduction of new characters whose purpose was lost on me, and too many scenes that should’ve been pivotal felt either cut short, or the transitions were jumpy and it seemed like there was too much happening “offscreen.” I don’t agree with the direction of some of the character arcs, because they didn’t make sense for me as I was reading, and their choices seemed to come out of nowhere.

It’s why, in the end, I’m still going to rate this series as “in the middle” for my own enjoyment. It won’t probably ever rank up there with The Wolves of Mercy Falls. This does tug on my heartstrings a bit, I won’t lie. I do still kind of wish I could so deeply devote myself to all of the books written by an author who has given me so many cherished moments of laughter and tears.

But that’s also an important part of being a reader: Realizing that you are allowed your own opinion, that the writer doesn’t owe you anything, and making that special connection is worth savoring. We can’t expect every single book we pick up to change our lives. We should relish the ones that do.

And I know I do. Every time I catch a glimpse of the spines of Shiver, Linger, and Forever on my bookshelves, I smile. I sleep on a pillowcase bearing raven feathers and the words, “You are made of dreams.” Hanging from my light fixture is a wooden ornament announcing to the world, “Trees in your eyes, stars in your heart.” I know I’ll read whatever Maggie Stiefvater releases in the future, whether I adore it, or merely appreciate it.

There are so few authors I’ve read in my adult life who have spoken to me on a personal level, letting go because of one or two disappointments is simply not an option.

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blogging, reading

Love Potions and Other Calamities

Book Cover

Love Potions and Other Calamities

Publication Date: November 7th, 2019

Genre: Fiction, Comedy, Romance

Publisher: Headline

Welcome to the strange world of Rosie McLeod, an amateur detective with a big difference.  Her deductive powers are based solely on the careful preparation and use of plants and herbs.

Love Potions and Other Calamities is pure comedy, with a bit of drama thrown in, as Rosie sets out to discover whether her husband is having an affair and, as the story unfolds, to solve a murder – before she becomes the next victim.

Rosie McLeod, pub proprietor and a gifted herbalist of some renown, is thirty-nine and holding, but only just.  The talons of her fortieth birthday are in her back and her bloody, bloody husband hasn’t laid a lustful hand on her for months.

She has the fortune, or misfortune, to live in one of Scotland’s most famous places – the East Lothian village of Holy Cross, which takes its name from the legendary Glastonbury Cross that was spirited away – and subsequently lost – when Henry VIII purged the English monasteries.  The cross of pale Welsh gold, reputedly buried within the village, had at its centre a fragment of emerald from the Holy Grail.  The story is, of course, complete baloney.

But the association with the Holy Grail and the later witch persecutions of James VI mean that the village is as well known around the world as Edinburgh Castle, haggis or Loch Ness.  It has been described as “the heartbeat of Scotland” and is a major tourist destination – many of whom visit the village with metal detectors, hoping to discover the elusive cross.

However, a sighting of a large, black cat by the local Church of Scotland minister sets off a chain of events that lead back twenty years and, although the villagers are blissfully unaware of it, to a woman’s murder.  The black cat had last been sighted near the village some two decades before, and the minister’s predecessor was sure that it had triggered something evil.  The villagers, of course, think otherwise.

Nothing ever happens in Holy Cross.

I read this as part of this Reads and Reels blog tour. It’s cute, quirky, definitely not your typical British romantic comedy. (Note: Some of the humor is very adult-oriented, so this may not be one for more conservative readers.) The author has a unique style, blending the everyday and modern with the ancient and folkloric. It means that (as long as the mature rating is your thing), “Love Potions and Other Calamities” will be an enjoyable addition to your TBR.

Giveaway!: Signed copy of the book (international!):

Link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/0e7c6a8f126/?

To purchase:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Potions-Other-Calamities-Charlie-Laidlaw/dp/1786157373/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=love+potions+and+other+calamities&qid=1573147669&sr=8-1

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reading, writing

Some Thoughts on Call Down the Hawk

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So, after spending a few weeks debating when I would read Maggie Stiefvater’s newest publication, I decided to place a hold request at the library and see how long it took.

Not long, it turned out. For some reason, I got a copy within days of publication. And I started reading almost immediately.

And within a few days, I was finished, and my overall reaction was: “Meh.”

But not even in a bad way. Yes, I will explain.

All bookdragons have experienced that moment of fear that their favorite authors have — gulp — already produced everything we want to read from them. Regarding the Stiefvater bibliography, this was the case for me. Then, as I discussed recently, I’d decided to go back to my originally-disappointing read of The Raven Cycle, with fresh eyes.

And this endeavor has been going well. Hence, why I felt ready to dive into Call Down the Hawk, which was billed as sort of a spinoff focusing on one of the main characters from The Raven Cycle. But it’s not The Raven Cycle 2.0, and therefore some people are disappointed.

I’m  actually not. Why can’t Ms. Stiefvater write something different? Isn’t it up to her? Not us? Sorry, not sorry.

The prose shows Stiefvater is, in this regard, at the height of her game. It’s just what you’d expect from a seasoned author, and it’s clear she knows her characters, her plot intentions, and her method in weaving all the loose strands into one. The text makes you feel the words. The genre is definitely not YA anymore (more NA, if anything), but I don’t see that as an issue. (Others don’t agree; more on that later.)

Yet here’s why I probably won’t continue with the sequel: It just isn’t a plotline I’m invested in. And I don’t even mean I didn’t enjoy the book. Because I did, generally. Generally. 

I like the idea of exploring the concept of “dreamers,” individuals who can literally dream things into actual existence. It’s intriguing, seeing what people might do with that power, how they would use or abuse it, how they might be misunderstood or even persecuted by “the rest of us”. But a lot of the story in CDtH concentrates on a complicated art heist with a world-class forger…and secret assassins hunting down and killing dreamers because they’re convinced a dreamer will bring about — dun, dun, dun — the apocalypse.

It’s all plausible, in my view. It wasn’t that I felt the premise was too much of a stretch. It’s that: A) I know very little about fine art; B) am not enthusiastic about it; C)really felt satisfied with the background we got on the Lynch brothers in The Raven Cycle, and not up for a rehashing of the canon, and D) have had more than enough exposure to “it’s the end of the world!” as a plot device.

Therefore, my official review is: “Meh.” But with a smile. If you adored this book, I won’t argue.

Inwardly, I keep going back to the most repeated complaint I saw in reviews: “It’s not like The Raven Cycle.”

Well, of course it isn’t, and it doesn’t have to be. How many times have book bloggers whined that an author only seems to write the same sort of story and characters over and over — and then, when a writer tries a fresh, new direction, these reviewers immediately grumble that the sameness is gone?

Why do a lot of fans these days seem to think they can dictate what creators produce?

As an author myself, I have to admit, that it does bother me when readers leave glowing reviews for my fantasy series, but have hardly touched my collections of short stories. Is it a marketing angle? Because I’ve pushed my full-length novels so much? Is it personal preference on the part of readers?

Is it hypocritical, because I will die on the hill of: “Maggie Stiefvater’s best books EVER are The Wolves of Mercy Falls and The Scorpio Races“?

There are no easy answers, because art is subjective, forever, and for everyone. For creators, and for consumers.

For me, the biggest takeaway, though, is that, although I’m only “meh” about her latest release, I support Ms. Stiefvater to the very ends of the Earth.

And let’s just hope a dreamer doesn’t make that happen sooner rather than later.

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health, reading

A Stiefvater Appreciation Post

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“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.

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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.

Image result for maggie stiefvater art all the crooked saints

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.

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reading, writing

Can Fandoms Go Too Far?

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I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Fandoms are great; many of us avid readers belong to ones that focus on our favorite books and movies. We love being able to connect with like-minded individuals, flail over our shared passions, and know where our people are. And fandoms show an author or a franchise that their work is absolutely appreciated, and valued.

But there are instances, I firmly believe, when fandoms cross a line. I personally don’t approve of fan fiction, but I know others won’t agree with me that fanfiction is doing anything wrong. Some authors are thrilled to discover fanfiction of their work appearing online. But many of us only see the theft of intellectual property, and some pretentious knucklehead claiming to know our own books better than we do. When they wouldn’t have anything to fan about if we hadn’t written it to begin with. To say this is a controversial matter is definitely an understatement.

There are also all the now-millions of conferences and festivals that celebrate various franchises and their fandoms. Some of them (like the official Comic Cons) encourage us to throw around copyrighted material — branded costumes and merchandise are everywhere, no legal consequences. However, many fan-run events have been ordered, by lawyers employed by big, powerful entertainment companies, to shut down, because they took way too much liberty with producing trademark-item-inspired inventory to make their own profit.

Then there’s the epidemics of harsh critiques authors and filmmakers personally receive on social media, when fans are disappointed or angered by the turn a series took. If you don’t like the way something ended, you are absolutely entitled to your opinion — but the creator is just as entitled to believe that ending worked well for what they made. So, while I one-hundred-and-ten-percent stand behind fans being allowed to post negative, even disparaging, reviews, I also stand behind not tagging the creator to the link.

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So, what marks the line fandoms shouldn’t cross? I think it’s when fans start acting like they somehow own the content created by someone else.

It does not matter how much you love a franchise; that does not give you the right to try to make yours something that already belongs to another individual or group. When you consider that the creator willingly shared their work with you, via publication or making the film or broadcasting the program on TV, then it seems doubly ungrateful to behave as if you suddenly are due this fictional world for your own purposes.

Attitudes like this also contribute to book piracy, which causes major problems for artists and fans who follow the rules. It happened to me. While looking into releasing e-book versions of my fantasy series on Amazon, I discovered unauthorized copies of the paperbacks listed on Amazon, and Walmart.com. Despite both websites saying those products were out of stock, I went ballistic. I immediately contacted customer service.

Within days, Walmart.com had apologized for the occurence and removed my titles from their inventory. Amazon, on the other hand, refused to believe that I owned the copyrights, even when I gave them all my ISBN-purchase information from Barnes and Noble. Hence, I am now boycotting Amazon, not using them as an author, and not ordering anything from them. But this means no e-books from me for the moment, and I’m not able to support more indies who only sell on that platform.

And have my own sales suffered as a result of this decision? Yes, they have.

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The other thing that concerns me about people becoming too immersed in fandoms is the lack of originality that’s already starting to affect especially the fantasy market. If everyone’s so fixated on coming up with the next Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Percy Jackson or Game of Thrones, rather than taking what inspired them in a new direction, the genre will very quickly stagnate.

One of the reasons I love fantasy is the possible width and depth and breadth of ideas to be explored, and the number of ways in which to do so. Whether the bent is futuristic or in the past, based on traditional legends or contemporary culture, we can have expansive character arcs and worldbuilding while discussing relevant social and moral issues. Not many genres manage to pull that off.

Why would we risk losing that by compromising for popularity…and then mediocrity?

Maybe fandoms need to start drawing more of their own lines, before it’s done for them.

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reading, Young Adult fiction

Things That Don’t Go Bump In The Night

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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.

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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.

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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.

Um, yeah.

What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read? Did you get over it or not?! Share your terrified thoughts in the comments below!

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Fantasy fiction, reading

What To Read Next?

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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!

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blogging, reading

Books of 2019: What Lives Up to the Hype (Or Not!)

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

(Si-gh.)

But, I will end this post on a more positive note…

The Boy Who Steals Houses by CG Drews:

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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!

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