pop culture, reading

Do Our Reading Tastes Change Over Time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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pop culture, reading

The Positive Aspects of Negative Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that this is okay.

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

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

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books, reading

Is There Such a Breed as the Persnickety Bookdragon?

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I am most definitely the above described creature. And I absolutely appreciate the generational value of literature, and want to see the world full of children who enjoy reading, and if you roll out a list of “100 books everyone should read,” there is a very good chance I will personally have read at least some of them. Many, depending on the genres or topics.

But here’s where the nitpickiness of my reading habits begin to show: Depending on the genres or topics. A few years ago, I’d reached the point of being comfortable with my specific interests, and not quite caring if those didn’t match up with the hobbies of those around me. I didn’t feel the need to apologize for being a geek and primarily ingesting fantasy, science fiction, fairytale retellings, alternate history, magical realism, and all of this in YA and even juvenile publications.

However, eventually my rationale started to feel hollow. I was running out of new authors to try — especially since I’d already rejected many of the ones I’d discovered since taking up blogging — and starting to wonder if I was…well, just too particular a reader.

Since joining two book clubs through my local library, I have realized that I am A) indeed quite persnickety when it comes to what I want to read, and B) for reasons I can’t really explain, it does bother me.

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Here’s a list of my bookdragon sins:

  • Not finishing books
  • Skimming scenes or entire chapters that weren’t catching my fancy
  • Giving up on a series halfway through if it took a turn that irked me
  • Not trying something else by an author whose work was so-so for me
  • Dismissing entire genres after only one read, or even none at all
  • Imposing a book buying ban on my whole family
  • Not joining a subscription box the second I learned about them
  • Refusing to give new releases a chance just because they’re compared to titles/series I didn’t like

There was a time when I’d defend all of these moves. These days…not so much.

The fear of missing out is becoming quite real right now. I’m beginning to understand why book bloggers speak of adding every single new title they hear of to their TBR purely for the sake of not feeling out of the loop.

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Or, let’s put a positive spin on this. What are some good points to being a persnickety bookdragon? Well, you save money, you save time, and you save space. You don’t have to worry about wasting hard-earned cash on titles you always knew, deep down, you wouldn’t like; you don’t have to find places to put 473 books; you can devote more of your free moments to sunbathing in your yard and languorously petting the dog.

Please no one tell me this theory doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

The downsides of this are not being included in as many online discussions, not getting references many of your friends do, and wondering what fictional glory you may be missing by not having read this or that. And none of this is fun. Not when you’re a bookdragon, and consuming a variety of literature and flailing over it is part of your very reason for existing.

So, I think it is time to loosen my tightened criteria, just a little. I want to have more of a hoard to proudly guard. I want to increase the hoard my children are nicely building. I want them to start finding bookdragon friends to flail with.

If this is most of my legacy, I’ll be okay with that.

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reading, writing

Review: Not Write Now by Kyle Robert Shultz

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Note: I received a copy from the author, and was under no pressure to craft a review after reading. None at all, not even the fact that this particular individual knows how to wield vampire aardvarks as a weapon.

Not Write Now is the first non-fiction release from fantasy author Kyle Robert Shultz, who is known among most of us for creating the wonderfully whimsical and poignant Beaumont and Beasley series. It’s a tongue-in-cheek, reverse-psychology method of, in fact, getting you to become a more productive writer. Containing plenty of Shultz’s trademark humor, as well as lots of solid advice, this is definitely a recommended read for anyone struggling with the “creative process.”

Considering that I myself have 4 released titles under my belt, and am actively working on 4 more, you’d think I wouldn’t necessarily be in need of such a book. I got a lot out of it, actually. And not just because it was fun, or because I know the author. I am absolutely the target audience for Not Write Now.

Yes, that’s right. I have been drowning in self-pity lately, wondering whether the whole indie author thing is even worth it. The Impostor Syndrome, which I have successfully avoided up till now, smacked me hard a couple of weeks ago, and got its claws in tight. I’ve been not wanting to write anything, wanting to prove my doubts wrong, fearing I can’t, and wavering back and forth. It hurts, deeply.

In this current state of mind, a super-serious writing advice book would not help; it would backfire, and all the jokes Shultz makes about our productivity just hitting the dirt would indeed come to pass instead. So I can tell you that his approach not only works, but it does make you feel better as well.

While I was reading, I remembered the rush of completing a project, the glow of achievement when I saw the word count nearing my goal, or the warm feels of a review that praised my style, my characters, my plot twists. I really needed to focus on all the positive stuff.

And it did stir the familiar (though lately buried) feeling of wanting to dive into a new draft, of putting on the playlist, and pulling out notes that I set aside to use “at some point.” That point can be now, and I don’t have to agonize over getting my drafts “perfect.” I’ve seen social media posts from other authors, both indie and traditional, reminding us all that you can’t edit what hasn’t yet been written, and that it’s called a draft for a reason.

So, don’t let yourself fall into the trap of not writing, for whatever excuse. Do read Kyle’s book, and take advantage of the resources outlined within. Don’t give up.

Not Write Now is available in paperback and ebook, and you can all Google Kyle Robert Shultz to find his website, his blog, and social media.

And I’m sorry to end on such a soppy note, but this has to be said: Kyle, I know you didn’t write this advice guide just for one person, but it came into my life just at the time I needed it, and I am so grateful to have a friend who randomly pops his work into the mail, with my address on the package.

reading, television

How It Should Have Ended

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All right, because I am me, there will be a lot of whingeing in this post, and I’m already begging your forgiveness by introducing it with a picture of a cute puppy.

And this will be a rather controversial post. Why? you may ask. Because of the subject matter, and the extremely subjective views I’m about to put in it. Why the controversy? you’re probably now wondering.

Today we’re discussing where some of my favorite series disappointed me.

It’s subjective and controversial because not everyone will share the same ideas about what makes good entertainment, and sometimes we get very heated over it. But, hey, this is my blog, so my perspective reigns here.

For a while now, I’ve been thinking about how I’d change the stuff I didn’t like about these series, and I wanted to make a post about it; but I was a little worried about backlash I may get. So, disclaimer time:

A.) These are my thoughts, and you’re allowed to disagree, but you need to do so respectfully.

B.) And if you aren’t caught up on The Hunger Games, Shadowhunters, Supernatural, or Grey’s Anatomy, for once I am not holding back on spoilers. So if you want to be kept in utter suspense, you may choose not to read forward.

Okay. Let’s do this…

THE HUNGER GAMES

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I did not want to read The Hunger Games. I fell prey to the massive hype. I should’ve stuck to my gut feeling.

Book 1 sucked me in, though, and while I had mixed feelings, I plowed ahead.

By the time the Capitol sent Katniss back into the Arena, though, I was pretty done.

Wanting to see the evil empire defeated, though, I finished the trilogy.

And then desperately wished I hadn’t bothered.

To me, there is something intensely wrong with having your heroine marry a guy who tried to kill her. Truly, I don’t believe the excuse of “Oh, he was under mind control” should fly at ANY point.

And the fact that Prue died ANYWAY…after all Katniss suffered to prevent it…I just CANNOT with that. It’s like the entire story was absolutely pointless from the very beginning.

So, here’s my alternate Hunger Games/Catching Fire/Mockingjay:

Katniss and Peeta (gets to keep his leg) return to District 12. Emboldened by the brewing rebellion, District 13 comes out of hiding, drawing other downtrodden areas into the spirit of revolt against the Capitol. When the next Hunger Games is announced, several of the districts send Tributes that are “plants” from the rebellion, and they sabotage the Arena and take down President Snow. (The despicable Alma Coin doesn’t even exist in my version.)

Meanwhile, Katniss is sensibly sorting out her silly love triangle, and she makes the right choice — Gale. Peeta (no ridiculous mind control involved) volunteers for the civil war, and dies for something worth fighting for.

SUPERNATURAL

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Yes, I am quite aware Supernatural has another season to go before wrapping up. But for me, it’s nowhere near soon enough.

I had watched this show for years. I’d even go so far as to call myself a devoted fan… Until the start of season 11, that is.

Anything that happened after that (except for the episode shot from the POV of the Impala) does.not.count.

I cannot bring myself to care anymore about characters I loved for nearly a decade…because it’s just gone too off the rails.

I was 90% on board through season 10. The Mark of Cain arc was just great. But the thrown-in subplot of the family Stein really fell short in my eyes, and something in me began to sense a sort of unraveling.

In retrospect, I really think the writers could’ve altered the last 15 minutes of the last episode of season 10, called it quits, and it would’ve been one of the most amazing finales in TV history.

Here’s where I would’ve deviated from the established canon:

Instead of Dean killing Death, the Mark of Cain gets removed right before he swings that scythe. Knowing that he can’t carry out the deal Dean has just made with him, Death leaves, but on the condition that the next time the brothers die, that is IT, don’t make him hunt them down.

Cass has to kill Rowena, knowing she can’t be trusted with the amount of power in the Book of the Damned. (I’d still be sad about that, because I loved Rowena, but it would’ve been fitting.) Cass and Crowley make an agreement, that angel and demon status quos need to return to normal, so no more making bargains with the Winchesters and upsetting the balance so much. If Cass wants to remain the brothers’ wingman, that’s up to him, but Crowley is out. (As much as I love Crowley as well, the running joke about him being boys’ lackey got a bit tedious.)

The last scene can be set, say, 5 years in the future, with the Men of Letters bunker full of new recruits, being trained by Sam and Dean. 

GREY’S ANATOMY

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Self-five for this past summer and fall, when I successfully made it through every.single.season of Grey’s Anatomy released on DVD as of 2018. (Hint: It was 12 of them.) Well, I’d never really seen it, and I like Patrick Dempsey. It turned out I got hooked on the whole show (with a few exceptions).

However, by about mid-season 9, I was beginning to feel jaded. And by the end of season 11, I went from, “Holy heck, this is impressive television,” to, “Make it stahp!”

The final straw? Derek Shepherd’s woefully inadequate death scene. It was so undignified for a character that had helped carry the whole premise since day one.

And the time jump that happened afterwards…well, I think it took the writers’ brains to an alternate dimension.

So here’s my editor’s red pen for Grey’s:

Instead of Derek dying, Meredith finally figured out that staying in Seattle would mean sacrificing her marriage, and she moves to Washington D.C. so Derek can pursue the most amazing opportunity a dashing neurosurgeon was ever offered. The finale would be wrapping up the other characters’ storylines in Seattle, and showing Meredith and Derek with their kids in D.C.

(Actually, there are a BUNCH of things I’d change about certain seasons or characters. But that’s also a whole other post.)

SHADOWHUNTERS

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My biggest complaint about all the Shadowhunters series is, interestingly, also the most condensed: There are simply too many books in this universe. The Mortal Instruments could completely have stopped at a trilogy. The Infernal Devices could easily have been a one-off. Same for The Dark Artifices. Rather than recycling plots and just changing characters’ names (sorry, folks, but that’s sure how it looks by now), the author could’ve been trying to create new worlds and new tales. I don’t even have an alternate ending for most of these…because my only wish is that it came faster.

Again, all these opinions are my own, and if you love any or all of these just the way they are, go nuts being you, lovely human.

But I am soooo grateful for freedom of speech.

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Autism, reading

Review: The Boy Who Steals Houses (Arm Yourself, With Tissues and Cake)

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MAJOR WARNING: IMPENDING SPOILER ALERT. I will try not to blow the lid off the entire plot, but this time it will be a challenge. You cannot say I didn’t make a disclaimer.

And there is much flailing (and not always the good kind — sorry, everybody) to be done over CG Drews’ 2019 release, The Boy Who Steals Houses. It’s a contemporary novel focusing on the broken and battered teenage Sammy Lou, who eventually finds that his life, and his heart, can be mended.

There are complicated and sad factors at play here: Sammy and his older brother, Avery, have run away from a neglectful home, and they’re both barely scraping by, using minor theft and breaking and entering to stay off the streets. Is it the best choice? No. But have these boys been gnawed up and spit out by a world that refuses to accept Avery’s autism? Yes, they have.

This is at the core of the plot’s conflict: Avery is autistic, and because of it he was consistently ridiculed, punished, even physically beat by the adults who were supposed to be taking care of him and Sammy. Sammy got used to sticking up for his brother because no one else was. Sam was forced to grow up way too young, and nobody taught him the proper way to handle difficult situations.

Into all of this comes the De Lainey family, a widower with 7 children to raise. The older kids — twins Jack and Jeremy, Grady, Moxie — are all teenagers, and help out with the younger ones and their dad’s construction business. Through pure happenstance (no spoilers here, I promise), Sam winds up being mistaken as a friend of a De Lainey child, and so begins a beautiful, perfect summer he so, so desperately needed.

Most of Sam’s backstory is nothing but tissue fodder. (Hey, better I prepare you now.) It shows the worst side of adults — neglect, abuse, refusal to understand developmental disabilities — and while it’s hardly pleasant, it is important to let the world know there ARE autistic children treated this way. And because Drews is herself an Actually Autistic, she doesn’t just want people to know, she wants people to give a damn.

And after reading 340 pages about the Lou brothers, you will.

Under all this horrible mess that has become their lives, these boys are sweet and smart and so pure at heart, and you never doubt that rooting for them is the right way to go. Do they get it all right? No. Do they need some attitude adjustments? Yes. Is all of this possible? Absolutely.

See, the biggest problem for Sam and Avery is that they’re just kids, and they had THE WORST role models ON THE PLANET. When you’re neurodivergent, you don’t view the world the way most people do, and you won’t know the difference unless someone points it out to you. The true villain of this story is the Lou brothers’ Aunt Karen, who really should be in prison for child abuse and failure to provide proper care for a disabled minor. The saviors of the story are the De Laineys, because they LISTEN and HAVE HEARTS and DON’T CARE that Avery’s different.

The ending of this book — that will steal your heart and charm the pants off you, then break that cardiac organ, with a hammer, no less — is just, and makes sense, and there is SO MUCH LOVE AND HOPE. It’s also realistic — teenage runaways who steal things and get in trouble with schools and peers and others who are breaking worse laws than petty theft do have to face consequences for bad decisions. But is it totally unfair to Sammy and Avery Lou? No, it’s not.

And this is the most vital part of it all. While Drews includes the harder, fiercer, colder, make-you-curl-in-a-ball details of such circumstances, she doesn’t throw her boys to the wolves and leave them to be scattered by the wind. The De Laineys are there to pick up the pieces and reassemble them. There will be LIFE for the Lou brothers after the end of the last page.

Oh, and another massive reason you should read this book? My name is in the acknowledgements.

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Seriously, just go order it already. You can find it on Amazon, Book Depository (free shipping!), and bookstores in the UK and Australia!

 

 

 

reading, writing

The Gilded Wolves: A Discussion on Blending Genres, Perspectives, and Expectations

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This is a novel that has been hyped all over social media and the book blogisphere. Even if you weren’t anticipating it or planning to read it, you’ve probably come across mention of it. I was thinking I may get it from the library, at some point, in the undefined future, if I didn’t have a long TBR or too many other projects going on… You get the idea. As gorgeous and alluring as the cover is, The Gilded Wolves wasn’t a title that really caught my attention.

So why did I rush through it in the last week of January? Easy — because it arrived in my Owlcrate order. The entire box was absolutely magical, and such a joy to unpack, and I knew that even if the book didn’t shower golden sparks of amazingness on me, nothing could take that experience away.

My overall thoughts on The Gilded Wolves aren’t quite straightforward. I’m wavering between enchantment at the clear charm woven into the very fabric of the style, the portrayal of the characters (the complete personification of “cinnamon rolls”), and the elegant setting of Paris in 1890; and overwhelming annoyance at the major plot holes, lack of cohesion between actions and motivations, and intense non-explanation of how the world of the Order of Babel truly works.

The premise is so engaging — a bunch of misfits, outcasts, misunderstood teenagers, from minorities or possessing abilities that the general public isn’t really on board with, banding together in the attempt to right some wrongs, and in the process they become a family. They’re either orphans or separated from their biological families, and they’re all either racially mixed or struggling to control complicated magical powers or innate traits that make life difficult. As a group, they find acceptance and caring. And there is plenty of snark and sass, as you’d expect from adolescents in any century, so there are several laugh out loud moments while reading.

Severin is the leader, the one with the biggest personal vendetta against the Big Bad Wolf, the Order of Babel. His family was part of it, and then the organization killed them off or something and disowned Severin. It’s never really made clear. In Paris, Severin runs a fancy hotel (again, huh?), and brings with him Tristan, who’s sort of his foster brother (so much more confusion), Laila (basically an exotic dancer, I think?), Zofia (a Polish girl who’s apparently autistic, but very stereotyped), and Enrique (a Filipino-Spanish flamboyant lost child). Each member of this ragtag bunch has specific roles, but I really struggled to understand just what those roles were or how they were decided upon. Zofia, being called “Severin’s engineer,” is the closest we get to clarity on this matter.

The plot (no spoilers) is about the accidental discovery of a very rare and coveted magical artifact belonging to the Order of Babel, and the group’s intention to acquire it for themselves. The idea is to have such intense bargaining power that Severin’s birthright will have to be restored, no arguing. And on the surface, this makes sense. Except…except it doesn’t.

We never get a real picture of what the Order of Babel does, what their significance is to this world, or why Severin sees them as such a threat. They don’t seem to start wars, want to take over the whole planet, or enslave large amounts of innocent people, so I really don’t know why they’re the villain. I do grasp that Severin feels incredibly wronged, and that this story is a tale of revenge. But, still…why? If Severin hates this organization so much, why is he fighting to have a place in it? Wouldn’t human nature indicate that his planned revenge would involve destroying the Order? They took everything from him, so now he’s going to make them suffer — right?

When the antagonist-non-antagonist gets introduced, things become even more complicated. Hypnos is basically an excuse to have a closeted gay man in 1890 Paris. It’s a cheap shot at the coveted diversity platform, and I don’t like it. In the Victorian era, such lifestyles/choices were still largely outlawed, and Hypnos would not have been seen as someone fit to lead a faction of a worldwide secret institution. Sorry, folks, but that’s the historical truth. You don’t have to like it, you don’t have to agree with it, but you shouldn’t be so eager to include modern social justice views into a novel set in a time period where they simply didn’t look at the world how we do.

The more we attempt to gloss over history or justify certain things society has changed their mind about, the more we in fact risk going back to an overzealous way of thinking and living. Sorry-not-sorry.

One could put forth the argument, however, that since the author obviously made some changes to the historical setting, by making magic a very concrete part of her story, that it was an alternate universe and maybe the perspectives were different. But we can’t rest on those laurels, either, since there was absolutely no evidence of that in the worldbuilding.

This is probably my biggest issue with the entire book: There are just too many things not explained. It reminded me more of a 2-hour made-for-TV movie than a fantasy novel. The characters were lovely, but they couldn’t carry the lack of proper storytelling on their own. Whenever pieces of a backstory were revealed via flashback, the author would abruptly cut the scene to return to the main thread, or to insert several more paragraphs of, albeit beautiful, but wholly unneeded, flowery description of a place or clothing or some flowers in a hallway. It got tedious when I was hoping to gain more of an insight into what makes the characters tick. I’m all for slow reveals; I strongly believe that keeps a reader’s interest longer than info dumping; but we never seemed to get very deep under the surface with anybody other than Severin.

Who do I blame for this? Frankly, I blame the editors. This author is with a traditional publishing company that threw an army of editors, formatters, designers, and marketers behind this project. Why, at some point during this process, didn’t somebody bring up what bunches of readers have since the title was released? Why weren’t these plot holes addressed ages ago, so that we don’t even know about them? Isn’t it possible that someone in this company was willing to cut out 100 pages of purple prose and replace it with plot twists and concise conversations involving lines of dialogue such as, “I think we should strive to completely topple this oppressive regimen that keeps the public in dark about their true purpose, while they’re starting wars all across the globe and sacking cities and ravaging developing nations’ natural resources!” You know, to inject some reason into the characters’ entire mission.

In the end, I’m not experiencing reader’s remorse; The Gilded Wolves is cute and entertaining. It mostly falls short under intense scrunity, because I tend to think a lot about everything, and I ask a lot of questions. I’m not judging the whole book too harshly. Would I recommend it to others? Yes, I would, actually.

However, I do come away from this reading with the sense of a cautionary tale for writers, and editors, and maybe the publishing industry as a whole. If you keep producing content that makes lifelong readers roll their eyes or throw up their hands in despair, this will soon lead to a massive drop in sales, and a domino effect on literacy itself. For the last few years, the trend has been towards a decrease in quality — according to the consumers. This is something that really shouldn’t be brushed off.

community, reading

Stretching Your Wings: The Importance of Readers (and Writers) Trying New Things

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I could’ve just as easily called this post: Why Genre Matters, and Why It Shouldn’t Have To. But that feels a bit tongue-twisty, and mind-bendy, for this early in the morning.

Anyway. So, here we go: When you tell someone you like to read, or you announce you’re a writer, the next question is inevitably — Which genre? Which genre do you read or write? And, yes, there has to be a classification, a distinction — Mystery? Romance? Thriller? Historical? Fantasy? Science fiction? Biographies? People are persnickety about it.

Here’s the part where it gets a little confusing (in an existential crisis way): I don’t necessarily disagree with the finnickyness — and yet I do. Because I think it does — and at the same time doesn’t — matter what genre(s) you read and write. As a writer, if you’ve declared a genre for your work, it should fall into the guidelines of that category, at least for the most part. And I’m not talking tropes or cliches; I’m all for originality, so I think crafting a ghost story or a chick lit with fresh characters and an unexpected ending is excellent. But readers are also looking for certain things from genre works, and they will reward authors (financially, by buying their books, and with praise) for delivering that.

However, as an author myself who likes to stretch the boundaries of the genre I have loved my whole life and do write in, I will put forth that being able to cross the category divides is a good thing. My YA fantasy series has garnered some high praise from middle-aged (and above) adults who may not be well-versed in speculative fiction. In my view, this is an absolute plus. When I started on Volume 1, I wasn’t intending to create a novel that would immediately be granted status among the classics of epic fantasy; I simply wanted to tell the story I wanted to tell.

And, yes, it was one hundred and ten percent going to have pixies and talking cats and references to Doctor Who in it.

Some readers take issue with that.

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SFF authors meet them everywhere we go — those few that literally turn up their noses when we answer the genre question. As if speculative fiction isn’t as worthy as other types of novels. There are a bunch of excuses — we’re avoiding reality by delving into myths and legends and implausible theories; we’re only in it for the money, and we aren’t crafting anything that will be taken seriously a decade from now; we need to bite the bullet and grow up already.

Well, let’s see: Who wants to be in touch with the current reality? Turn on the evening news for 5 minutes and you’ll be wishing you were on a rocket to Neptune in the year 2100. Or that dinosaurs would come back and just obliterate entire societies. When we write about what could be, not simply what is, we’re doing our part to make the world better for our children.

And what money? How many of us are Neil Gaiman and Maggie Stiefvater? Neil Gaiman and Maggie Stiefvater. There are reasons Tolkien and CS Lewis held down professorships, and classic sci-fi authors were also journalists or teachers or worked in some other field. Making a ton of cash as a SFF writer is a new thing, and still quite rare. If we wanted an instant bestseller, we’d choose a different plot, characters, and themes. Nope, we do this because it’s where our hearts are.

And growing up is overrated. Everybody knows it; they just won’t admit it yet. What period of life do adults get all nostalgic about? The grueling early days of being at the bottom rung of their career ladder? No! Their childhood! The carefree afternoons frolicking in meadows barefoot. This is precisely why Narnia and Middle Earth and Hogwarts are places people in their 30s and 40s still love to visit. (So much for the “what you published will be forgotten in a decade” bit.)

So, why isn’t spec fic as “important” as other types of literature?

It is as important. Full stop.

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How do we change the minds of those readers who claim differently?

Get them to actually read SFF. Take them out of their comfort zone. Stretch their limits.

They might, in fact, like it.

The same people who insist on drilling into their children: “You won’t know unless you try,” really need to abide by this themselves.

On the other side of the coin, SFF readers (and some writers) could stand to be a little less snobbish about other genres. How can they be sure that “traditional mystery” is a bore without having skimmed a single page of it? Or that they’ll despise the characters in that historical romance they never checked out of the library? Yes, we all have personal taste, and there’s nothing wrong with that — key point: nothing wrong. If you want to draw more unconventional SFF readers to your own work, try branching out yourself.

In the end, genres do exist with good reason; but we really shouldn’t be judging each other as people based on what we like to read.

And since we unfortunately already do this, how about we stop?

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community, reading

The Future of My Reading Habits

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So recently, I explained my decision to leave Goodreads as a user. This meant that my reviewer and reader account was closed and removed from the site, and although my published works remain there, I won’t be making any personal comments or updates anymore.

I went into the details in “Explaining My Recent Decision to Leave Goodreads” (sorry, it’s been a big week and I’m too lazy right now to attach a link), but it also relates very strongly to my post a few months ago, “It’s Time to Stop Being So Neurotic About Goodreads.”

Even before I reached the point of feeling completely overwhelmed by the toxicity of some of the reviewers, I was beginning to lose it when it came to GR. The way the site seems to turn reading into a competition just becomes suffocating.

Before I joined GR, my TBR was anywhere from 1-10 books at any given time, and this changed frequently depending on what else was going on in my life.

For example, if it had just been Christmas or my birthday, and I’d bought a bunch of new books, those came to the top of the list.

If I’d checked a bunch out from the library all at once, those came first.

If things had just gone bat guano crazy (like this week did), then my reading material would definitely be limited to either a trusted and beloved re-read (for comfort, and that I could pick up in small chunks), or nothing at all for a few days.

After I joined GR, my TBR swelled to as many as 60 titles I hoped to read in the next several months. I’m aware this seems like nothing to the folks who regularly have at least 100 books on their TBR, and find themselves constantly adding to it. But for me — a mom to special needs kids, who’s trying to work from an already-busy home — anything upwards of 20 feels stifling.

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And I was starting to lose the joy of reading. I’d frantically run to the library every week, to grab all the hot new releases before anyone else did, so that I could read them and review them as quickly as possible. Even if I hated them. Even if I DNF’ed them. Even if I was only reading them because 1,000 other people on Goodreads were.

That’s where the stress came in. Almost all the excitement of picking up a brand new title was being sucked out of my soul. The thrill of being able to add higher numbers to my “finished” list was providing more emotional juice than the wonderful story I’d just absorbed.

Especially since it often wasn’t wonderful. In the past 16 months, I read a LOT of books I never had before, and I have to say, probably 80% of the time, I was disappointed.

There were also some really awesome finds, including fellow indie authors, and titles in genres I’d usually shy away from. And I learned a TON about myself as a reader, and this is important. I learned what I really can’t stand, what I’m okay giving a try, and where I need to draw the line.

I have decided I do not care what my friends are reading, how fast they’re finishing, or how many books they complete in a year. I support their life goals, and if they’re happy, then I’m happy for them.

My personal reading goals will be much different from now on.

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I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions, but these circumstances called for it.

So, here are my priorities for reading starting now:

It will be fun. As soon as a new title (borrowed, bought, discovered in a rubbish pile) stops being enjoyable, I will put it down and not pressure myself to keep going.

It will fit into time I already have. Usually in the evenings, there isn’t much on TV that I’m interested in, so after Jeopardy! I crack open a book. This is also a good way to wind down at the end of the day, and relax. Since I generally need some time to focus on something that is not children or everyday-life-related before I attempt to settle down enough for sleeping, spending an hour or so diving into Maggie Stiefvater or Warriors or Beaumont and Beasley easily accomplishes this.

I’d found myself devoting massive chunks of time (when I could have been doing something else) to 500-page books that I wanted to finish only to be able to say I finished it. Not recommended.

I will not force myself to plow through genres/authors/content I find objectionable or just plain tedious. Everybody has different tastes, and that’s why there are so many options out there for readers. There’s nothing wrong with my preferring certain subjects and genres, styles and levels of content. So what if it means I’m much more likely to choose a MG or YA fiction, when I’m an adult?

I will not have a set time limit, nor a goal for how many books I’ll read in x amount of days. Part of the stress of feeling like your TBR is going to crush you if you don’t get through, say, half of it before 2020, is the sensed impending doom of that deadline. The fact is, the world will not end if I only read 15 books in 12 months, or if I only add 8 more to my TBR.

All of this combined should mean that I keep my sanity, and my love for reading as a hobby, and as a writer. After all, that’s what it’s really about.

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community, family, reading

New Discussion: Who is YA For?

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Note: I’ve chosen to feature the original art of Maggie Stiefvater in this post. Please remember to give all the credit for these gorgeous pieces to her.

Extra note: Why Maggie Stiefvater? Other than she’s one of my favorite authors? Well, the fact that she was part of the catalyst of this discussion that started on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been thinking about what she and others said, and about the post that really got the ball rolling on this topic.

So, here’s an interesting question: Who is Young Adult fiction actually for? It may seem like a “duh, Captain Obvious” answer — Young Adult fiction is for those under 21 — but the data behind sales, library checkouts, and online reviews proves, no, it isn’t.

The majority of readers of the labeled (and marketed) YA genre in the 21st century are women ages 18 to 45. That’s right. Women with children of their own. And yet…most of us wouldn’t necessarily recommend most YA titles to our adolescents.

Once upon a time, there was something called “New Adult,” a genre that targeted women readers approximately 19 to 30, people who were just starting out on being financially independent, having to manage an apartment or house, an exclusive relationship, and just being a grown-up. “What a great idea!” so many of us currently in that stage of life exclaimed (myself included, as then a new wife and mother). I enjoyed some of those books, sometimes a lot. When you’re about 25, most of us are past the point of relating to your biggest problem being whether to cut math class or not. That was what most YA was like back then.

However, two distinct things happened. One: There was a shift in what NA was, from real plots and discussing relationships and life to little more than pornography (which many readers were not happy with, myself included). Two: YA changed from being about the actual issues teens face to focusing on world-weary 16-year-olds living in dystopian settings that forced them to become the breadwinner or the chosen one or the next queen of the realm.

And this altering of dynamics resulted in some tricky situations. Real high school students ate up The Hunger Games and Divergent and The Maze Runner — but so did parents, for very different reasons. Actual teens were drawn to the escapism of dystopia: it was so far removed from anything they know that it was all about action and adventure and good guys versus bad guys. Parents, on the other hand, considered these series, and others like them, important cautionary tales, for what can happen to our civil liberties and democracies if we get complacent.

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So, in the wake of the demise of NA, a new type of “YA” emerged: the kind where any novel featuring a protagonist who was 15, 16, or 17 — regardless of the content, subject matter, or genre — was automatically marketed to real life adolescents.

Many parents do not want their kids reading it. There’s too much profanity, casual alcohol use, cutting school, fornication, and little to no consequences for unwise behavior.

And actual teenagers don’t want to read it, because the wild parties, skipping class on a whim, having sex without worrying, and paying all the bills on time so your irresponsible parent doesn’t forget to sounds like no one they know.

Recently I read a blog post written by a current adolescent, who stated many of these (and other issues) as reasons why she doesn’t read much “YA” anymore. And I agree with her — not as a teen, obviously, but as the mother of a teen who’s having a hard time finding reading material that he can relate to.

And as a mother who’s trying to raise a gentleman, I’m having a hard time finding reading material for him that encourages not swearing, not picking up random girls, and not getting blasted on a Friday night.

(That is a whole post unto itself. Anyway.)

A lot of the issue is this: Publishers saw a goldmine by getting the parents — the people with salaries — to purchase overpriced “YA” novels. Again, who’s mostly reading “YA” these days? Adults. Are kids reading the new releases by “YA” authors their parents are bringing home? Maybe, maybe not.

But here’s the other thing happening while all this is going on: Teens are much more likely to stick with MG fiction, or switch to not reading for fun at all. In English class, they’ll suffer through Shakespeare and the classics, and in their everyday lives, avoid them like the plague. They’ll just check out graphic novels or manga from the library, or skip reading anything and go straight to the movie version.

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Is this all teens? No. But is it becoming more and more prevalent and should we be worried about it? Yes.

When I was White Fang’s age (he’s 15 now), YA was just coming into its own. Too many teachers and librarians had complained that kids were expected to leap from Charlotte’s Web to A Separate Peace, and adolescent minds weren’t receiving proper nourishment. So some really smart people decided to create a market specifically for the 14-year-olds who weren’t “into kids’ stuff” anymore, but not ready for highbrow literary analysis.

And there is no denying that series like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson did what seemed the impossible at the cusp of the millenium — they turned kids away from computers and back to books, boys and girls, ages 8 to 18.

Now, though, we’re facing the reverse. And it’s because, once more, publishers are shutting teens out of the market. Kids who have a $10 a week allowance can’t afford $35 new hardcovers. They aren’t going to spend that money on stories that don’t make them feel connected or impacted, anyway.

Authors who write “YA” branded books but are aware their audience is mostly adults can be torn as well. (Enter Ms. Stiefvater’s Twitter thread on the subject.) They want to write about these characters, who happen to be adolescents. They want to write deeper, grittier stories than what you’d find in MG. Do some of them feel they’d be compromising their creative vision by “scaling down” certain things to gear it more towards “real” teens? Yeah, they do. Is that wrong? Hmm. No?

So, what’s the solution?

Well, here are my ideas: We need to go back to writing and publishing a market that teens can relate to and learn from. We also need to be aware there are plenty of adults who want to read fun, adventure-filled novels with a minimum of graphic violence and sex and language, and produce more fiction like that — just with 32-year-old protagonists.

And we need to try to drive down the cost of books to begin with — reading will become an elite past-time if we don’t consider the budget of 90% of working Americans.

Maybe we should also stop looking at the almighty dollar as our number one goal, and think more about the expression on someone’s face when they’ve found their next favorite read.

After all, that’s what literature is meant for.

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