books, reading

The Great American Read: Part 2

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Welcome back to Part 2 of this discussion! Continuing with the alphabetical list where I left off…

Remember, these are only the books on The Great American Read that I’ve already read. The entire list has 100 selections, and the master can be found through PBS.com.

The Giver by Lois Lowry (2010, school)

I’d never heard of this book until it was an assignment for a college course. Apparently it’s been considered a children’s classic for years. Who knew? (In my defense, I was a rather limited-interest youth, and if it didn’t fall into my immediate areas of passion, I just wasn’t on the lookout for it.) Anyway, I wouldn’t call it a classic, and I hated it. Dystopian isn’t my favorite genre, but I think certain stories/authors craft a good dystopian without getting too dismal and despairing. But along with the intense lack of humanity in The Giver, there is never any REASON given for why the society ended up so twisted and authoritarian. And in a culture ruled by technology and regulations, the concept of one person being able to transmit all the memories of an ENTIRE species and history, apparently by osmosis, is RIDICULOUS. I couldn’t get beyond the inherent flaws in the premise to see any value in the story.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2015?, personal)

Okay, Gone Girl is twisted, and twisty, and in some ways it sucks you in and you feel compelled to find out what really happened and how it’s going to end. But it also leaves you with a definite sense of unease, and it reminded me of why I usually avoid reading thrillers.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1995?, school)

Yes, this novel is not light-hearted or a fun read. Is it important? Yes. The Great Depression is an era too many people are already forgetting or passing over in history class. We can’t do that. Steinbeck paints a bleak, realistic, and sympathetic picture of these farmers and the period they lived in.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1996?, 2004?, school)

Yes, once again, I was assigned the same title twice, in different courses! It’s definitely not among my favorites of Mr. Dickens. I do understand that it has valuable lessons in terms of not being too quick to trust people, or not getting swept off your feet by a beautiful but truly awful woman (or man). There are powerful hints in there about the problem with wealth covering up mental illness and people trying to buy happiness. Again, it’s an important sort of tale, just not one I’ll volunteer to ingest.

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1996?, school)

In many ways, The Great Gatsby could be called the modern Great Expectations. Gatsby is a self-made man, hoping to win the heart of a physically stunning but horribly selfish and conceited woman. This is a hard book to read, too, not because of the subject matter, but because so many of the characters are downright unlikable, and you can’t even root for Gatsby because he wants in with these massive jerks. You’ll never find me picking this one up again.

Harry Potter by JK Rowling (2000-2011, personal)

This is one of the few on the list I wholeheartedly concur with, and already recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read the series. White Fang and I are excited to start it with Muffin one day. I’m even going to invest in the new illustrated series before he’s old enough (and yes, partly because White Fang and I want to drool over them first). I could wax poetic about HP for a whiiiiile, so I’ll spare you in this moment, so that we can get through the rest of this post within a timely manner…

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (2012?, personal)

I did not like this story at all. It should have no place on the platform of the discussion about race. I was horrified by the way the black maids were treated, even in the era of Jim Crow rules. And the narrator was incredibly irresponsible, treating these women as if they were a sideshow, costing them their jobs, and then swanning off to New York for a big job as a journalist. I rarely advocate destroying books, but this one…I’m sorely tempted.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (2003, 2007, 2015, personal)

Okay, so I’ve read this a lot — what’s it to ya? It’s one of the sci-fi greats. And as a rule, I am not a sci-fi fan. Adams’ clever humor and brilliant and subtle insights into human behavior make for an excellent space adventure. It’s also a title I already yell at everyone to read it. Multiple times. And then start using the quotes in your everyday life. Every day.

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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2011, personal)

The reason I picked this one up was because all my co-workers at the time literally shoved it at me and declared, “Start reading!” As previously stated, I don’t really do dystopia, so I wasn’t going to read this of my own accord. I really, really wish I’d stuck to my guns. Book 1 was riveting, actually funny in places, then had a twist that was just SO UNFAIR I wanted to tear out the remaining pages and write my own ending. (For those of you who are wondering, it’s the fact that Peeta lost his leg after all Katniss did to save it, and the one-time exception about a pair of Tributes from the same District getting to win being a trick.) I skipped book 2 (to this day I’ve only seen the movie), finished book 3, and then proceeded to writhe in anguish and curse the author’s career. Yup, it was that brutal. I couldn’t stand Katniss well before the end of book 3, and honestly, I don’t recommend this series to anyone.

Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins (2007?, personal)

I didn’t even make it to the end of the first book in this series. It feels so trite, so patronizing, and paints a very, very narrow worldview of who’s deserving of God’s mercy. Sorry, folks, but I just don’t buy it. I know that puts me at odds with many evangelicals nationwide, but I have a more liberal view of end-of-the-world theories than the writers of these novels. And I’m allowed to be of the opinion that they’re not good fiction, Christian or otherwise.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1989?, personal)

Like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, this was a classic I chose to read at a young age. Again, I’m really not sure why, as I wasn’t big on historical fiction, and I didn’t understand probably 70% of the content. I came to appreciate this story much more as an adult, after I knew about what it was like to be a middle-class women during the Civil War.

Looking for Alaska by John Green (2013?, personal)

Some of my students (the older ones) were reading John Green novels, and I wanted to see what all the hype was. I grabbed Looking for Alaska off the library shelf randomly. I didn’t like it one bit. It’s condescending towards teenagers who actually like and respect their parents, who don’t spend their free time getting drunk and having sex, and suicide and instalove are glamorized. I truly feel anything by John Green should be nowhere near a list of 100 books recommended to everybody.

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien (2005?, personal)

Confession: I watched the movies first. No one throw things. I did allow myself to get talked into reading the books afterwards. But, moment of absolute truth here, seeing the films first was vital to my understanding and enjoying the story. Professor Tolkien’s writing style is meandering, wordy, and by turns enchanting and frustrating. It took me months to get through each volume, because of the pages and pages were not much happens, and poems and songs in invented languages were randomly thrown in, like, in the middle of a fight scene or something. It was very hard for me to follow or get into that style. While I am glad I read the trilogy, I don’t think I will again. Sorry, fans.

All right, that’s it for this time! Moving on to Part 3 next!

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books, reading

The Great American Read: Part 1

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Recently I mentioned The Great American Read (TGAR), and how part of the Summer Reading Challenge my local library is hosting this year involves encouraging patrons to see how many of the list they can check off. When I downloaded the master list, I was pleased (and surprised) to find I’ve already read 35 of the selections. Some of the others I’ve heard of but not read, never heard of, have no intention of ever reading, or may attempt one day. But in the next few posts, we’re going to be focusing on the ones I have completed.

Books on the List I Have Read (as well as approximately in which year, and for school or by personal choice):

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (1988?, personal)

This was one of the few classics I remember hanging around in my childhood that I actually read. Or had read to me. Honestly, I’m a little fuzzy on the details. I do know it was finished at least twice, because I recall enough of the plot and characters to confirm certain things which would’ve only come from more than a quick bedtime read. Anyway, I’m truly not sure why I wanted to pick this one, as a child who was much more into fantasy than historical fiction. I didn’t even realize how important Mark Twain was to the country at that point. And there was a lot about the dialect and time period I didn’t understand, so it was hard to follow stuff like why Tom Sawyer got his friends to paint the fence for him. (Since I was living in a town/era when painting a fence was an utterly alien concept, or the fact it was actually an arduous chore.) I did get that Tom had a massive crush on Becky Thatcher, and that people felt she deserved better than that silly boy (but again, I never grasped why the townspeople all thought that of him).

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1987?, personal)

This I volunteered to read, and happily re-read several times. I loved the characters (especially Alice, the Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar, the March Hare, and Dinah). I’ve seen a few of the movie and TV adaptations, and enjoyed most of them. My favorite was the Syfy modern version; Alice and Hatter were adorable together.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2010?, personal)

This title came recommended by one of my Early Childhood professors. She thought it was a unique storytelling style, about a very important topic (WW II), from the unusual POV of a German citizen during the time period. I agreed. It was a bit hard to get into the author’s rambling, at times nearly neurotransmitter-misfiring style, but I found the story very precious, and cried so much at the end.

Charlotte’s Web by EB White (1989?, school)

First introduced to me in third or fourth grade, I believe, via whichever teacher was insistent we students read it, carrying on the tradition, Charlotte’s Web is a title that changed for me as I grew up. At first, I was so taken with poor Wilbur’s plight, and Charlotte’s doting, motherly ways — but I think that’s how the author sucks innocent children in, to destroy their hearts later. Yes, I am aware livestock on farms become food all the time — and since I’m not a vegetarian, I’m part of that, and I accept it. This isn’t a novel I’d recommend for children anymore. I really feel there are other works that humanize animal motivations and feelings in an engaging and entertaining way without deviously pushing an agenda.

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The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis (1990, 2007-08, personal)

loved the old BBC movies of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a kid, and really enjoyed the book the first time around. White Fang truly liked the whole series, but most of the books I just found dull and dragging. White Fang’s faves were Prince Caspian and Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker (2005, school)

I liked this book a lot more than I expected to. I’d seen the movie, and wasn’t that impressed, and slightly terrified. I knew the story covered the harsh realities of domestic violence, and the high rate of abuse against women in the post-Civil-War black community. (If I remember correctly, it’s set in the early 20th century.) But the novel has layers upon layers of deep insight, into not just the abuse, but also what it may mean to be a woman, at different times in society and different cultures, how women can change their circumstances, or how circumstances may fight against them, and how sisterhood (not necessarily blood) can bring an abused woman out of darkness. It’s quite an interesting, controversial, and important tale.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (2009, personal)

I cried and raged by page 30 of this novel. I was SO upset by the obvious ignorance and prejudice shown against the autistic narrator. I skimmed a big chunk of the middle, and was so distraught by the end I honestly don’t even remember what happened in the resolution. I don’t recommend this title as an autism rep read. Not at all. It’s just so sad and agonizing.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (2008?, personal)

I had to see what all the fuss was about. The novel itself is wordy, there are too many subplots, and I really prefer the movie version. If you do your research, you’ll find NONE of the conspiracy theory offered in the book is new; Dan Brown drew on old theories or legends that had been around for centuries. Is any of it true? Some of it, yes — for example, the Knights Templar were long believed to have found an artifact or relic from the Temple of Solomon that was considered lost to history, and that the Catholic Church at the time would have seen it as very threatening to their hold on world affairs. (Many Popes back in the Middle Ages were not nice fellows.) Is there absolute proof that Jesus of Nazareth was married to Mary Magdalene and they had children? Not a stitch. Does it make for an awesome story? Totally. Even as a Christian, I honestly thought the idea of there being living descendants of such an influential historical figure (not bringing  religious beliefs or discussions into it at all), that may actually have the ability to, say, perform miracles in a modern, secular world, was quite beautiful. Just for the record, though, I don’t think the Priory of Scion really exists, or ever did.

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Dune by Frank Herbert (2004?, personal)

I was kind of forced. I never made it through the entire tome. I’ve seen the whole movie (which took about 3 days to watch, and approximately 3 years off my life). Sorry, any fans, but this is not for me at all.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1995?, 2005?, school)

Yes, I’ve actually had to read this for English classes twice. I understood it more the second time around, but didn’t like it more. I feel SO bad for the “monster,” and Dr. Frankenstein needs to be sacrificed to medical science. Give me the Mel Brooks version any day.

Game of Thrones by George RR Martin (2017, personal)

I watched 3 or 4 episodes of the show and wanted to die. I could not stand the INTENSE profanity, violence, and explicit sexual content (especially the misogny). (And Boromir — ahem, Sean Bean — gets killed off in season 1! Is there no justice?!) But my social media feed kept picking up ravings (in a good way) about the series, so I checked book 1 out of the library. I was impressed. Martin is a true wordsmith in his early works — the story draws you in, setting and characters come alive, the danger feels too real, the emotions of Ned Stark and the Khaleesi Daenerys and Tyrion Lancaster are SO palpable. The last chapter literally brought me to tears. Martin’s world in text is compelling, perilous, and very unfair, but I understood the bloodshed and the mistreatment of women so much more as a historical/cultural reference, and not necessarily something the author agreed with or condoned. I’ve decided not to finish the series (at least not now), but I’m not ashamed of having read the original novel that launched an epic fantasy empire.

And there we have it for now! Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3!

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blogging, reading

Maintaining the Balance: Tackling That TBR Without Losing Your Bookdragon Marbles

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It really sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Just don’t let your TBR get out of control. After all, reading novels is something we choose to do, and it’s not as if we’re being forced to add every single title we ever hear of to our I-want-to-read-this-one-day list. (Except you are when it comes to my books. Everyone must read my books.)

However, every week, there’s someone on Goodreads or Twitter, in their blog or writing platform, discussing how behind they are on their TBR. And when I think around 40 (what I currently have either on GR or on a scrap of paper somewhere) seems like a lot to buy/borrow and read within the next several months, there comes up a Tweet or a post that informs us all someone just culled 100-1,000 books from their want-to-read shelf.

So, here are some suggestions from this moth, who manages to regularly keep the numbers down. Because life is short, and I like to give advice, and trust me, you all need to take my advice (whether you know it yet or not).

(And, I really need to get a post out, to remind all of you I’m still alive, and this seems as good a topic as any. Brutal honesty wins out today, I guess…)

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Don’t worry about reading all the books “everybody else” is raving about. Between all the genres I just don’t try anymore and my limited funds, I couldn’t acquire every single title of note from 2018, or 2017, even if I wanted to. So I’ve given up attempting to even recall all of them. I do make note of the impending releases by authors I’ve enjoyed in the past, and titles in YA and fantasy (my favorites) that just sound great. Buuuut…

Don’t hesitate to edit the list. If you come across a bunch of ARC reviews from bloggers whose tastes generally fall right in with yours, saying that a certain hyped selection is really not doing it for them, listen to that, and seriously re-consider purchasing or requesting it. Or if you (as I recently did) get the book in question (maybe you didn’t cancel that pending library hold in time), get a few pages in (I usually give it through the first chapter), and your overall feeling ranges from “meh” to “what the heck?”, have no shame in setting that title aside.

Don’t impulse-order. Whether you may face book-buying remorse when that 10-title order from the internet shows up on your doorstop, or you’re trying to carry 10 hardcovers up the hill from your local library (yup, that’d be me) in snow, sleet and hail, more does not equal better. Focus on the releases you know you can’t live without that season. Like the newest Maggie Stiefvater. Or the latest Volume in The Order of the Twelve Tribes

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Know why you’re really choosing to read what you’re reading. Are you picking up a novel you’re actually dreading, but feel that if you pass on it, you’ll be “left out of the loop” on social media? Or can you not wait to open that cover because you just know a rush of emotions and fun and character development are coming your way? Yes, discovering new authors can be awesome. But there’s a lot to be said for sticking with the tried and true. For example, I learned in my youth that I honestly don’t care for murder mysteries, horror, romance, or most of the classics. So, it benefits me now (since it appears a few more days get chopped from my personal calendar every year since I turned 35) to not spend extra hours every month on books I just know aren’t my thing.

Reading is not a competition. Yes, it’s a good idea to encourage yourself to finish a selection in a timely manner. It shows self-discipline and being principled, and I come from a household where we keep saying “one day” and then one day never arrives on certain things. So once I start a book, I like to finish it within a week. (Re-reads are the exception to this rule.) However, don’t compare yourself to other readers. If it takes you a month to complete a really long book or one that gives you trouble because of vocabulary or time period or whatever, so be it.

Set reasonable limits. If you’re on Goodreads (actually, I should say when) and are realizing you can’t even remember why you added a particular title, delete it. If you saw a movie version of a novel and didn’t care much for the story, delete it. If there’s a book on your list that was added in 2015 and you still haven’t gotten around to it… You get the idea. Also, when it comes to “the 100 books everyone should read” and similar things, don’t get sucked into it. Seriously. Life is too short.

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Take advantage of the library. The library is great because of the free factor, and the no-guilt return if you didn’t like a book. Also, think of the space you saved on your shelves for the future releases you have to have (like all the forthcoming Beaumont and Beasley tales by Kyle Robert Shultz). Plus, investigating a book at the library, with your hands and opening the cover and examining the font size and how many pages there are — maybe even reading the first page — can really help you make up your mind. Sometimes online browsing just doesn’t cut it.

Forget about ARCs. Unless it’s the biggest release of your year, and your soul will shrivel into a useless husk without an advanced copy. Truly, people get fixed on the rush of frantically clicking the button on Netgalley, and then being approved for the latest “next Hunger Games/Harry Potter/Percy Jackson”. And then many times, the hype falls flatter than a skydiving pancake, and bookworms are found sobbing into their carpet until you have to build them a boat and rescue all the animals, two by two. Ain’t worth it, folks.

So, now that you’re all scratching your heads and saying, “Thanks a bunch, Daley, I basically can’t add anything to my TBR by an unfamiliar author, or that I won’t get around to reading within 29 days, or that didn’t come from the library,” relax, grasshoppers. Here’s what I suggest for keeping your list to a reasonable length, and not getting stressed out by attempting to get to the end of it before you’re 98 years old and can’t read small fonts or recall where you left the book…

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Do invest in reading a lot of reviews — good and bad — about new titles that may interest you. Take a few hours every month and devote it to finding positive and negative reviews of the same book. This could assist in making up your mind faster and possibly without spending money on a selection that you end up not caring for.

Buddy read anticipated releases. This can certainly help narrow down your choices for a particular week or month. It will reduce your TBR and achieve it pretty quickly.

Remember that above all, reading for fun is supposed to be just that — fun. So many of us became book bloggers in the first place because we love the world of story and the written word, and want to share that joy with others of the same vein. Pressuring ourselves to meet requirements that actually aren’t required won’t make us feel good; so let’s do away with them.

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children's fiction, Parenting, reading

Mini-Reviews: The Picture Books Edition!

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So, last week while I was attending the Thirty Million Words discussion session, it occurred to me that picture books are not something we see a lot of in book blogging. Other age groups and genres are covered up the yingyang, but for whatever reason, picture books aren’t. And since these are the first things most of our children will read, I think reviewing more of these titles and forming a list of recommendations would be helpful (especially for all the parent bloggers out there — she says while wrangling a 3-year-old who can’t accept that eating the last Fig Newton in the bag means they are all gone).

Muffin is enrolled in a program called 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten, and that’s just what it says on the tin: Muffin’s currently up around 600. I worked out that if we read at least 3 new books a week for the next year, we should make it. So I read to him every night. We’ve come across some real gems, and some not so much.

Here’s a smattering of what we’ve accomplished so far this year:

My Little Fox   (5 stars)

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This book gets 10/10 for gorgeous illustrations, a sweet, simple, flowing story, and an absolutely beautiful message about a parent’s love. (It even gets a resounding endorsement from Muffin: “I like that one.”)

I’ve Loved You Since Forever   (4 stars)

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20/10 for the breathtaking artwork in this one. It’s a moving tribute to a long-waited-for child. The lyrical prose may be a tad difficult for younger children to follow (it’s entirely metaphorical).

Mother Earth and Her Children   (3.5 stars)

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This is subtitled “A Quilted Fairytale” and it surely is. The artwork is portrayed in quilting style, and while I couldn’t tell if real fabric was used for the paintings or photography, the look holds true, and is quite impressive. The prose follows the change of seasons (though I wouldn’t call it a fairytale).

At The Same Moment Around The World   (4 stars)

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Okay, this is just plain cool. It goes all around the globe, spotlighting an incredible array of countries and cultures and time zones. TOP of the list for introducing kids to diversity in an appropriate and engaging way.

A Surprise for Giraffe and Elephant and Yak and Dove   (3 stars)

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These I’d actually call graphic novels for youngest readers. The storytelling style is similar to comics, even if the art method is nowhere near. There are 3 short tales, all pertaining to the main characters, in each of these titles.

Footprints in the Snow and Big Bad Bubble   (2 stars)

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Just because a picture book is a picture book does not mean they’re appropriate for children or quality literature. We tend to think of everything aimed at small humans as fun and cute and wholesome. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Footprints in the Snow gets a low rating from me due to its nonsensical plot. (Even 6-year-olds appreciate something that makes sense). And Big Bad Bubble gets a thumbs-down for its rather dubious method of encouraging kids to dispell their fears. (I’m not sure I can even explain that one. You may just have to read it for yourself.)

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day   (1.5 stars)

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Sorry to end on such a disappointment, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles this time round. This book gets a few points for taking a scenario of having a mom and kid at home while the dad is still at work, and the kid misses her dad and doesn’t really like the fact her mom is working from home, so the kid has to find a way to amuse herself. However, the language used by the child narrator to describe her feelings would NEVER be the thoughts of an actual elementary student. The narrator appears about age 8-10, and the vocabulary and thought structure the writer uses are WAY beyond the cognitive ability of a 9 or 10-year-old, especially regarding emotional processing.

From there, it only gets worse. The kid wanders off, alone, in the woods — isn’t that just dangerous? Where the hell was the mother for that part? And the kid drops her handheld gaming device into a pond… And therefore has to find a non-evil-electronics way of staying occupied. This one-sided-moral-lesson-as-plot-device move made my blood boil. Oh, yeah, a young kid can stroll off into the deep, dark woods, in the rain, all by herself — buy GOD FORBID she play video games! And while, yes, there are other things to do in life, and being outside is valuable, too, the way the author presented that view was simply deplorable. It was particularly shocking to see that 1960s perspective in a book that was published in 2017!

And there we have it for this time! See you on the flipside, moths!

 

blogging, community, reading

Reviews Are Still Important

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Here’s a sad little suggestion going around the internet: Book blogging isn’t necessary anymore. Yes, a lot of book bloggers are getting burned out, because it’s time consuming, and not always rewarding, and can feel repetitive. Well, on World Book Day, here’s why I think taking the time and effort to create our reviews and put them on our blogs is still important.

We can present an unbiased account of a title to a weary, cash-strapped public in desperate need of something good to read. Okay, maybe I’m getting a little dramatic here. But heaven knows that I’m a lot more satisfied with my library selections since subscribing to book blogs and Goodreads. As a busy mom/work-from-home writer, I can totally affirm for the majority of book-lovers that our spare time and spare money is limited. So we’d really appreciate a heads-up if we’re about to drop precious coin and hours on a novel that will make us want to run away to Albania and become a goat-herder in despair.

Since we aren’t being paid for our opinions, we have no reason to sugarcoat what we didn’t like about a book, or encourage people to buy it if we honestly feel they’re better off choosing a different release.

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We’re helping to keep alive the art of literary analysis. Yes, I’m completely serious. Less and less in college and even high school are English classes teaching how to accurately analyze a piece of literature. More and more on Goodreads, I’m seeing low ratings posted by younger (teen) readers for literary-complex books, and their reason is simply: “I didn’t get it.” No, most people won’t go on to break down symbolism and allegory and archetype for a living. But it is a VITAL skill to possess. It encompasses problem solving, objective debate, understanding motivation, and learning from past failures.

We’re giving critical feedback to authors — especially indie authors. Indie authors are quite often people without creative writing degrees who are self-publishing purely for their love of the written word. A lot of us can benefit from receiving detailed reviews that point out what readers loved and what they thought could stand to improve. We don’t have big publishing companies throwing a ton of advertising at our work, so this can definitely make a difference in sales, as we can get a concrete idea of what our target audience is after.

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So, what makes or breaks a review? Not whether you give the book a positive or negative review. It’s the WHYS.

You need to be specific. You don’t have to go through the selection chapter by chapter (in fact, many people would rather you not do that), but you must explain why you did or didn’t like something.

A lot of it does come down to personal taste. Certain content and genre preference should not be considered gold standards for “good” or “bad.” It’s absolutely valid for “like” or “dislike.” But, please, please know the difference.

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Here’s what I look for when I read a review:

Adjectives. PLEASE stop just typing in, “This is soooo good!!!” and logging off. This tells me NOTHING. If you say, “This novel had a lot of clean humor that had me laughing out loud, flawed but relateable characters that I was cheering for, and an action-packed plot with a jawdropping resolution,” then I have a much better idea of what you think. And, by the way, I’m aware how “writer-y” the above example sounds. But I feel it’s important to develop a real craft to how you opine. Even if you never intend to have a career as an author/journalist/librarian, there’s an impactful difference between: “This book was stupid” and “The main character made a choice that put others in danger, and I thought that was a bad move.”

More than a rehashing of the blurb on the cover. I can find the synopsis of the plot aaaaanywhere. That doesn’t give me any insider information. Which is what I’m after as I peruse blogs and social media.

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I avoid haters. If you really, loathed the content, the style, the story, or everything of a book, this is actually fine. This is free speech in action. I’ve left a few scathing reviews myself, when I truly felt it was warranted. However, you’ll never catch me sending hate email or tweets to the author, or the reviewer, and I won’t track with those who do.

You must have read the book for yourself. Recently I learned that some people are leaving 1-star/5-star ratings for titles they’ve never laid eyes on simply because their friend/relative/minister/favorite celebrity claimed it was racist/prejudiced/inappropriate. No. …No. 

The same goes for folks who think that any fiction tackling tough topics (racism, war, suicide, domestic violence, child abuse, self-harm, addictions) is “bad” simply for discussing the hard stuff. NOPE. Not a valid reason to slam a publication.

 

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A final few words: Are all our reviews going to be totally awesome little articles of genius? Yeesh, no. I’m sure some of mine aren’t detailed enough, or may have used too much slang for a broader audience. Is this okay, too? Yeah. If I had a tough time getting my thoughts to coalesce on this or that book, well, I’m only human. And I can always go back to my Goodreads account and revise later.

Do remember that people are getting something out of your reviews. Keep it up.

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blogging, reading, writing

Looking Ahead: Plans for the New Season

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Is it time to send out a search party for spring?

If you said yes, I wholeheartedly agree.

However, given that the calendar says mid-April, and April is, mathematically, a quarter of the way through a solar year, I believe this is a good moment to evaluate plans for 2018.

Is it just me, or is there this sense of a rut? Of wanting 2018 to be amazing, but getting more caught up in the “I wish I could…” instead of just going forth and doing. I’ve seen a lot of that on social media lately. People say, “I really want to get X, Y, and Z accomplished by a-b-and-c.”

Last year, I felt that way a LOT. And I swore that this year would be different. Well, guess what? Here we are, in April, and I already know most of what I’d hoped to do I won’t be able to.

So, rather than becoming bogged down by this rushing current of “other people moving ahead,” I’ve decided today to focus on how I can move myself forward.

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No more taking on unanticipated projects. I’ve already committed to finishing drafts of Volume 4 and the Super Secret Project by summer’s end. There are at least 2 other books I want to write in the Twelve Tribes world. Recently, I established How To Be A Savage on Wattpad. So, I have enough on my plate at present. I was originally going to put new snippets of HTBAS on the blog first, then upload extended chapters to Wattpad every week. Guess who hasn’t done either yet this week? Yupper, me.

So, I shall simply be posting Savage on Wattpad. (By the way, if you are a Wattpad-er, please look it up!  https://www.wattpad.com/554416578-how-to-be-a-savage-part-1)

Let’s test the boundaries of my comfort zone. Not in any way that will actually be damaging, of course. Yesterday I went to an event at the local library — second week in a row! — and was around all these other people…and inside I was totally wigging out. Last night I felt like I’d reached my extroverting limit for the next, oh, approximately 374 years. But now that I’m a published author, which is something I’ve been working towards for quite a while, it’d be really helpful  if I was able to make public appearances.

So, yesterday, although I had not intended to do this, I found myself signing up for a book club before I left the library. I even started reading the selected title last night. And next month, I may very well go to this meeting and sit in the back and not speak to anybody. But, hey, it would be progress. Because when you can only handle 4 or 5 people showing up to a group that you agreed to speak to about self-publishing, and they all say they’d like to have you come back at some point and speak to bigger groups, and this idea sends you into emotional spasms… That’s not healthy. I will probably never be able to address an auditorium of 300 people. And that’s okay. But why not 10, or even 25? Surely I increase my chance for more sales if I reach more potential readers…

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I can’t be at Realm Makers this year, and there is no reason for guilt. I crunched the numbers, and between the conference cost itself, the flight, the hotel, and the emotional toll traveling by myself to St. Louis in July (which equals much heat, and I and much heat do not get along), it was not pretty. At least I get to be present in some respect by sending my books to the conference. And, honestly, I’m not the greatest at staying in hotels (around strangers, out of my usual routine and surroundings), so this is a wise decision. Hopefully next year RM will be held in a Northeast city (where July temperatures rarely get above 85 degrees), and not being so far from my family would ease the tension.

Stop stressing about my health. For the most part, my health is under control. But it looks like I’ll be on medication pretty much forever. This is something I’ve never had to deal with. I’m not losing sleep over these issues anymore, but I’d be lying if I claimed it wasn’t on my mind at all. There are too many other things worth concentrating on more than the what-ifs.

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Let’s skip the hashtag games and tag posts. For any of you who have ever tagged me on Twitter or the blogisphere, thank you for thinking of me. I do mean that. Though trying to keep up with all of it really eats into the time I allot for writing. So I’m not going to pressure myself.

I need to stick to what I keep telling myself about television. Why am I wasting my time seeing if shows I know are going downhill may possibly have been slightly better this week? With season finales coming up for everything, this’d be a great point to cut the cord, so to speak. Rather than taking my attention away from important stuff, like writing and editing, or reading. And I could avoid the frustration I know is coming. Yes, yes, and yes. White Fang and I can focus on catching up on The Walking Dead and our movie queue on Netflix. Sounds brilliant.

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And stick to what I’ve been saying about my TBR. No. New. Library. Books. Not until I have finished the books White Fang already owns that he’s been bugging me to read. And then I can start tackling the indie books that have been multiplying like plot bunnies on my list of “one day, one day.” Yes, finances honestly do play a part in this endeavor. However, if I start purchasing, say, one book a month, then pretty soon I will have most of the titles I’ve been eyeing for a while. And realistically, it will take me a while longer to finish reading them all, so I’ll never be without something new to read… So, what’s the downside here?

What about you, moths? How are your yearly goals coming along? Any need to revise??

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Fantasy fiction, reading, Young Adult fiction

My Love/Hate Affair with the World of Shadowhunters

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White Fang has entered the world of Shadowhunters. He finished reading City of Bones last week, and is now onto City of Ashes. He has NO IDEA of the massive plot twists that await before he finishes City of Glass, and I am DYING keeping the spoilers under my hat. But I will absolutely do so for his sake.

Last night we watched the movie of City of Bones, and he and I agreed (I’d already seen it) that most of the acting was great, the plot changes were acceptable, and it was worth viewing.

Without getting into a whole discussion on the book vs. the movie (personally, I liked the movie, and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, so there), I will say that there were hints towards events portrayed in later books in what was hoped to be the first film in a series. Then production was switched to the TV series, Shadowhunters, which I cannot stand. Sorry, folks.

Anyway, my biggest issue with the foreshadowing is (again, NO SPOILERS, everyone, he reads this blog) is the reminder of the fact that Cassandra Clare repeatedly broke my heart in City of Fallen Angels/Lost Souls/Heavenly Fire. 

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The only reason I pushed myself to finish the whole series was the proverbial: to find out what happened in the end. Although I felt the wrap-up in book 3 was very nice and good and pleasant and fair, once I found out the author had written more, I couldn’t help myself.

Here are my thoughts of books 1-3: OH MY GOSH!!!! What a wild ride! Everyone who likes fantasy should totally read this! Wow, that ending!!!

Here are my thoughts of books 4-6: WHHHHYYYYYYYYYYY?!!?!?!!

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I truly felt this was a perfect example of: When the publisher wants more, but the author is tapped out. Plots suffer. Character arcs suffer. Readers suffer. And then so do book sales. And possibly great movies get cancelled, and turned into lame TV shows.

Now, I’m well aware that authors are allowed to change their minds without asking the readers what we think. And some authors can pull off stunning twists that no one saw coming, and we haven’t all fallen down on the floor, crying. But when it comes to The Mortal Instruments, I — and thousands of other fans — firmly believe the series should have ended with City of Glass.

After how much I enjoyed the first couple of books, I felt betrayed by what the ultimate conclusion actually became. Yes, betrayed. I had a bitter taste in my mouth for WEEKS after finishing City of Heavenly Fire.

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I wasn’t even encouraged to try the prequel series, The Infernal Devices. Eventually I did take Clockwork Angel out of the library…and returned it within a week, unfinished. That was over 2 years ago.

The prequel felt so flat, so churned out to feed the demands of an ever-increasing fan publicity monster. At least, to me it did. The banter all felt recycled from The Mortal Instruments, the characters merely Victorian versions of Clary and Jace and Alec and Izzy and Simon. It did not float my boat.

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And then there are the spinoffs. I haven’t touched any of them. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I have touched them — the library copies, to very, very carefully take a peek at the blurb…and then return them to the shelf. Actually, I think I read the first 2 pages of The Shadowhunters Codex. But my enthusiasm for the world as a whole was already seriously waning by this time, so I don’t feel like I missed much by opting to pass.

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However, I caved when The Dark Artifices hit shelves last year.

And then I was back on the floor, writhing in agony. Because of reader’s remorse. Because I knew I shouldn’t have bothered with the 700-plus-page behemoth of confusion and lackluster-ness that was Lady Midnight. I ended up skimming the last several chapters, found out who the (cardboard cut-out) villain was, and didn’t even bother with the epilogue. I don’t care for the characters, or the new plot, and didn’t even see the need for this series to be written.

And, yes, all of this is just my opinion, and there are many happily carrying on with this world. But I am (long) done.

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Last night, watching the movie again, I remembered anew what drew me to the books in the first place — the incredible worldbuilding, the intense potential for character arcs, the depth and breadth of backstory, the wonders awaiting around every corner, creepy and horrifying, or beautiful and admirable. The unwavering optimism of teens in a very challenging situation, sometimes in way over their heads, and how they faced everything with bravery and humor and teamwork — even when their personal feelings about who, or what, the team should consist of were complicated — all of this really won my heart.

Those are the feelings from reading the early books that I really want to hold onto. Let’s hope I can, in the midst of further releases and adaptations that are in danger of making me bitter.

Well, it’s still up to me, how much I take in, and what memories I choose to put front and center. Just like maintaining hope that Clary and company will defeat Valentine and retain the Mortal Cup. Not giving up even when it looks bleak.

Luckily for all of us this is just a fictional world, and we can decide to visit or leave whenever we wish. Though I must admit, I do still sometimes feel sad that I’ve decided to leave.

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