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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books, reading

Does Writing Carry A Moral Obligation?

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Okay, this will be my last truly whingey post for a while, I swear (since I’ve been rather whingey lately, I’m aware). But I just have to get this off my chest.

The book that was the last straw for me regarding a certain group meeting (see my last post) is Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. When I started reading it, I found it very thought-provoking; it presents prejudice in a variety of forms — class, status, race, lifestyle. And the author wrote in a very objective narrative style, showing both the points of view of each of the main characters, as well as why other characters liked or didn’t like them. So the reader was, for the most part, it appeared, left to make up their own mind.

But I drew the line after the halfway mark (and, as usual, I thought this title was about 100 pages too long). Since the early chapters, one of the characters in particular, you get the idea that she’s hiding something, and probably not something at the level of she’s divorced or doesn’t file her income taxes. And when the big reveal comes, I was horrified.

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MASSIVE SPOILER: The secret involves agreeing to be a surrogate for a wealthy, infertile couple, and then changing her mind about giving them the baby. She lies about having a miscarriage, has the baby and keeps the child herself, and takes on a nomadic existence, moving across the country every year or so, presumably to keep the couple from tracking her down in case they ever figured out she was lying. (There actually is a plot point that could lead to her being discovered, which I won’t get into.) But suffice it to say, I lost any possibility of EVER sympathizing with this character once I learned this.

And then it made my blood boil that other people who read the same book couldn’t see this character as a kidnapper and criminal.

In what version of reality would a judge NOT make this determination, and order the birth mother to hand the child over to the couple that she signed a legal contract with?! For me, it is SO cut and dry as to not even be worth debating. This woman does not deserve to keep this child, especially since she originally only agreed to be a surrogate for the money, and the couple was getting kind of desperate to have a baby, which clearly shows they had more invested (financially and emotionally) in the situation. Don’t their feelings matter at all in this portrayal??

Now, from a storytelling perspective, it is interesting to present this character’s motivation. Whether you agree with her decision or not is one thing. But here’s where I couldn’t stay on board with that depiction, as a writer: When the character’s secret was out, and nothing happened. The child learned the truth, learned that she’d been lied to her entire life, and there was no consequence. No one called a lawyer, police, the FBI, or tried to find the couple who was supposed to be raising that child. THIS IS NOT HOW REAL LIFE WORKS. It’s like the author had absolutely no concept of the laws around surrogacy and adoption when she wrote the book; apparently none of the editors looked into it, either.

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This brings me to my biggest question: Do writers have a moral obligation to realistically portray matters of law, regardless of what they or the readers would like the outcome to be?

It concerns me that what one person wants, no matter their responsibilities to others, seems to be the driving force behind many decisions made by  modern editors.

While I would never describe infertility, surrogacy, and adoption as straightforward issues (who would, really?), I know for a fact that other fictional conversations on this very matter explain the legal part much more correctly. (For crying out loud, I bet a Lifetime channel movie would handle that aspect better than Little Fires Everywhere does.)

The lack of competence continues through the second part of the novel, where the focus shifts to a subplot about a Chinese immigrant who left her baby at a fire station, then later came to claim the infant from a Caucasian foster family. I wasn’t pleased with how the author handled this, either, and felt that she was definitely encouraging readers to feel a certain way about the whole situation. And although every writer is going to have their own ideological or cultural views on various social conundrums, should they set it aside in favor of letting the reader decide for him or herself?

I’m not sure there are any easy answers. Part of what we value about the freedom of speech is the legal and civil ability to present our own opinions, controversial or not, in our fiction. I value that pretty highly myself. Some of the views I hold are deemed controversial by others. But what does it say about our society when a civilization successfully run by morals for hundreds of years easily turns that away for “because I want to”?

Not that fiction is the governing body of our country. But if we’re using fiction as a platform to discuss important aspects of real life — such as politics and law — then shouldn’t we be more careful in our bookish depictions?

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Mental Health, reading

Moving On, And No Regrets…

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So, for the past year and a bit, I’ve been attending an adult-fiction-only book club at my local library. I gave it a go because I’ve enjoyed belonging to book clubs in the past. A book club sounds like any bookworm’s dream come true — gathering among fellow avid readers, usually over some sort of (free) food, discussing plots and characters and which fictional world you’d like to live in.

However, I have discovered over this last year that: Not all book clubs are created equal.

Here’s why I’ve now decided that 14 months is enough time to declare that I’m not interested in going back to this particular meeting:

It turns out I really don’t like most adult fiction. When I was in my early 20s, I went on a big chick lit and cozy mystery series kick. It was largely because I was “too old” to keep reading juvenile fiction, and my genre of choice — fantasy — was generally too high-brow for my taste. These were the days of epic fantasy taking over everything (with the exception of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman), and the whole “they’re spending 700 pages walking on a quest?!” scene did not appeal to me at all.

Then, just about the time I’d exhausted the chick lit/cozy mystery selections of the time, the “new” YA was taking publishing by storm. So I spent several years engrossed in the plethora of dystopia released then, Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunters universe, pretty much everything by Marie Liu and Maggie Stiefvater, and the Warriors saga. By the time I came out of that (rather joyous) haze, I realized I was…gulp…nearly 40…and genuinely unaware of what grown-ups were reading lately.

So, I opted into this book club.

I am now feeling the intense pain.

Of all the titles I read for this group, guess how many I actually enjoyed?: A big fat zero.

They were all too long, or too boring, too inaccurate, or too unrelatable. I felt like a 15-year-old reading the same books the “grownups” were to get attention. It got frustrating, and almost embarrassing.

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To some people, any sort of social gathering, even one with a specific purpose, remains primarily social in nature. And quite frankly, I got tired of sitting around for 40 minutes, waiting for the actual discussion on the book to begin. And even then, trying to keep people on topic was consistently difficult. You expect things to get a little sidetracked, but when only about 25 minutes — of an allotted hour and a half — is spent covering the actual book, that is just too much unnecessary distraction for this moth.

And then there are the know-it-alls. More than once, I really wanted to throw the book at the wall (literally) when someone had become an instant expert on a subject after reading one, very poorly-written novel. It also drove me crazy that some people would refuse to see any point of view other than their own, extremely misguided line of thought. And I’m not talking about very subjective issues, like whether the writing style or narration type was effective. I mean stuff like not learning the facts behind a historical event presented in the book, and assuming that everything the author wrote was dogma.

Example: When someone announced, after reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (a novel that I cannot stand), that they had become illuminated on the “disease of autism,” I practically had a stroke.

Feeling like voicing your unpopular opinion will get you no respect just bites. No matter the title, it seemed if I didn’t like it, I was in the definite minority, and there were certainly instances when people looked at me like I had two heads because I found something pretentious, dull, or simply nonsensical. I’m a writer myself, for heavens’ sake, I know why I like what I like in style and genre. Disagreeing with the rest of the group shouldn’t be a crime.

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So, why did I keep going for so long?

Maybe I was hoping it would get better. Maybe I just got used to the routine.

Or, most likely, I was subconsciously worried that it was just a me thing, that I wasn’t “getting it,” and now that I was 40, I needed to suck it up and learn to deal with the heavy topics and the boring, long-winded diatribes in adult fiction.

Well, I can honestly say now that: I. Don’t. Care.

I’m content with my tastes, my preferences, and with my desire to not waste any more of my precious free time on stuff I just know I’m not going to want to read.

I will stick to the genre book club, where we gather at a pub and share a wide range of opinions on the literature, and laugh a lot more.

And where I’ve never worried that the entire table is assuming I have more than one head.

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pop culture, reading

Is It Wrong To Get Rid of Books?

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

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

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

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

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Why you don’t have to keep books:

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

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

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

(Again, I’m getting to the hows.)

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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pop culture, reading

Do Our Reading Tastes Change Over Time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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pop culture, reading

The Positive Aspects of Negative Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that this is okay.

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

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

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