Fantasy fiction, history, reading, Science fiction

My Official Title is Book Dragon

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Once upon a time, people who liked to read a lot were called “book worms,” and the notion formed around this phrase that habitual readers were extremely shy and introverted, of course wore very thick glasses, never were seen anywhere without a book in hand, and were naturally clumsy and socially awkward and should be made fun of. The misconception that we aren’t too fond of the real world — or even worse, can’t deal with it — hence we hide in fictional tales, became rather popular.

It was a bare-faced insult to the readers of this Earth.

Sometime last year, I noticed a discussion going around the blogisphere, a sort of petition to re-name book “worms.” To something that suited our true selves much better. The possibility I subscribed to was “book dragon.”

This is really quite accurate. Dragons are fierce, not easily intimidated creatures who stand up for themselves. Certainly not the shrinking, bumbling worm of pop culture misnomers. And indeed, those of us who not only find solace in a good novel, but truly, see the way to the future in it, are fiery about our passion, and we shall defend our views with that fire.

Also, we like to hoard what we see as treasure (i.e. books, bookmarks, book-related merchandise), and often are somewhat solitary (so the introvert thing is slightly true — but it’s still not a bad thing).

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The other thing about dragons (along with the flying, which, unfortunately, some of us may not master) is that they’re very smart. They know a lot, they remember a lot, they observe and take in details. In many of the very old stories, dragons are considered wise. And often people feared them. But I have a feeling it was less because of the potential fire hazard, and more from the fact the dragon had all the knowledge.

The saying “knowledge is power” goes back a ways. Lots of people honestly believe in it.

So, shouldn’t those of us who read and learn new things on a regular basis be, well, feared?

Okay, I’ll settle for respected.

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But seriously, where did this idea come from that we’re tiny, literally spineless animals, unable to be bold and courageous? Why has it perpetuated throughout the modern age, to associate reading with something boring, a waste of time, only for chumps? When every important cultural movement has always been started by people reading something — the Bible, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, the theories of Dr. Maria Montessori, Green Eggs and Ham.

Look at all the fantastic and amazing technology that exists in today’s civilization because of people reading books by Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, and Isaac Asimov. Consider how many TV shows and movies that you, average human, enjoy that may never have been made if the writers and directors weren’t inspired by reading, everything from the Grimm Brothers’ accounts of folklore to graphic novels based on ancient mythology.

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So, the next time you pass by a single figure sitting at a cafe table, armed only with their vanilla latte and the latest civil rights struggles memoir or astrophysics-for-dummies release, and carelessly toss out a, “What a nerd” remark — watch out.

Today’s nerds will be tomorrow’s teachers, inventors, architects, filmmakers, scientists, researchers, designers, neurodiversity advocates. We don’t read to escape the world we live in — we read to give us ideas on how to make it better.

So, watch out — we’re coming.

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Autism, cats, children's fiction, Fantasy fiction, movies, music, reading, Science fiction, writing, Young Adult fiction

My Writing Influences

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Good morning, everyone! Per the poll on my Twitter account, oh, only about a hundred months ago (no, really, about a week, I think), I will be selecting the next few blogging topics based on the feedback from those of you who actually read these posts!

The top choice was *my writing influences*. So, I present you with the answer to said subject. (Disclaimer: I did warn you ahead of time that you asked for this…)

Cats. And other animals, but a lot of cats. The tricky thing about trying to write about animals is that, as humans, we can only get inside their heads so much. Or, so I believed.

For a long time, I’d wanted to include talking animals in my writing, and my attempts fell flat. Then I started reading Warriors by Erin Hunter. I’ve waxed poetic plenty about that series in other posts, so I won’t go full throttle here, but suffice it (for the sake of this topic) to say that it completely changed my mind on what was possible.

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Mythological creatures and tales. Since I was old enough to read on my own, I was hunting down stories of the ancient Greek legends, Grimm’s fairytales, and pretty much anything involving unicorns, dragons, and mermaids. I gobbled up almost everything I could find centering on all the species of faeries and animals that don’t exist. I’ve adapted what parts of the legends work best for my story when it comes to The Order of the Twelve Tribes.

Music. I do have a writing playlist (which changes to fit with my current WIP). As those of you who have read Masters and Beginners will know, I’ve placed song lyrics at the start of each chapter throughout the novel. These are homages to my playlist while I was writing/editing Volume 1. So, that will be different in each installment. But it gives you a pretty good idea of what I’ve been listening to.

My previous life in England, and all the English authors I’ve read since forever. Charles Dickens, Peter S. Beagle, Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, JK Rowling — it’s a kind of a small miracle there are any American authors on my shelves. (And, yes, there are a few.) But these Brits developed my craft, the type of pacing I follow, the use of (hopefully) clever humor, and reinforced my passion not just to tell a story but to tell it well.  

And since I spent 4 years in Great Britain, I’m just used to thinking in both American and the Queen’s English at the same time, and so many of my characters started morphing into people who originally came from London/Cornwall/Oxfordshire/Edinburgh, and I didn’t fight it.

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Doctor Who. I would flat out be lying if I claimed my writing hadn’t been influenced by Doctor Who. (I have at least three TARDIS references in Volume 1 alone, for the love of Gallifrey.) And while it may seem a bit too ambitious, I truly hope that some day, in some way, I can create something on a parallel with the beauty of some of the early episodes of the show’s reboot.

Warehouse 13. If any of you have seen that TV show, you’ll probably recognize bits of the Warehouse in the Annex, and the sort of structure of the Regents in the idea of the Council and the Order’s hierarchy. (And this is as close to spoilers as I get, I swear.) I’ve had a few really favorite programs, but few have truly stayed in my heart as much as DW and WH 13. 

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Theories on lost knowledge or cultures. Again, for those of you now familiar with the plot of Masters and Beginners, you’ll know that I’m fascinated not only with the mythology and legends of different civilizations, but you may have noticed that I’ve dug pretty deep to find some unique twists for my story. My ideas about the origin of faeries and the Nephilim are actually not completely my own; they’re developed from some very old (think the Middle Ages) and rather obscure Celtic and Hebrew lore. But I took the jist of a lot of research and bent it and molded it until it was shaped like The Order’s world.

Autism. It’s impossible for me not to see life through the lens of autism. And since I’ve read about 62% of the YA/fantasy novels ever printed, I can tell you with some authority that there really aren’t that many healthy, realistic depictions of autism out there. So I decided to write my own. In Volume 1, I’ve introduced not one but two characters on the spectrum (one it’s stated early on, the other will probably be a surprise to most of you). In Volume 2 and beyond, there will be a much greater focus on them.

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My furry angel. You’ve all seen this picture by now, as Toby is my muse for the artwork on the series. (Feel free to ooh and aaw over his cuteness.) Having a real life model for cat behavior was very helpful for putting together the characters of Jules and Sammy.

Pretty pictures. It sounds almost trite, but if you think about it, it’s really important to surround yourself with beauty when you’re hoping to be creative — especially when you’re writing about really serious things like discrimination and losing loved ones and staring down your own imminent demise. (And here you thought I was just writing about fun and glittery faeries and talking cats!) It helps to remind you that — as Samwise Gamgee would say — there is good in the world, and it is worth fighting for.

So, there we are! I hope this appeals to your sensibilities of what you wanted to know about what influences my fictional work! Don’t forget to put a specific question for me in the comments for next week’s post, Author Q & A!

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Fantasy fiction, historical fiction, reading, Science fiction, Young Adult fiction

What I Love/Don’t Love About Books

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Okay, since I missed two Top Tuesday themes that I actually wanted to do, I’ll be catching up today with a two-for-one. So, prepare your eyes for a little longer-than-usual post. Hopefully, though, I delight and thrill you with each extra sentence.

I’ll get the complaining out of the way first…

PART ONE — Things that make me run away from a book and, therefore, not read it.

1. Novels that focus primarily on romance and emotions. My sincere apologies to all of those authors that honestly write really sincere, heartfelt and lovely stories in this genre. Because I know a lot of them are wonderful. (I know because I’ve seen the movie versions and enjoyed them. Just kidding — I’ve actually read a few, too.) But for me — remember, part Vulcan– there’s only so much of the lovey-dovey touchy-feely stuff that I can take (and that’s about 20 pages per book).

2. Historical fiction — especially those featuring romance over a plot. This is a new addition to the “no” list for me. I used to like reading historical fiction. Maybe I overdid it in my youth? Maybe in my “old age” I have no tolerance for reading books with lots of words from ye olden times that I have to go look up? Again, this is not a slam on the genre itself. But lately, I’ll just wait for the movie.

3. YA novels that think there is nothing more important than having a boyfriend and becoming a cheerleader. Hello, I’m autistic! How can I possibly relate to this?

4. Murder mysteries. Ugh. No, just no. I read several of these when I was younger, and rapidly came to the conclusion that they are all the same. It’s just the names of the characters and the settings that change.

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5. Horror or suspense. The genre is simply not my thing. I don’t like the violence, the gore, the (negative type of) anticipation as we draw to revealing the crux of the biscuit in the plot. (And those are often quite nasty cruxes.)

6. Fiction (or non-fiction) that is 95% allegory and not written in formal, sensible sentences. You know, the books that are described on the cover as “beautiful, poetic, inspirational, a journey through the scope of humanity,” and you think it’s about how a woman copes with her divorce, and you open it and the first paragraph reads like this: “The world. The air. Opals of silver in the distance. A red dot against the landscape. My heart.” HUH?!

7. Science fiction. Truly, I have nothing against science fiction as a genre, literary or on screen. But, to me, the science and technology part is all just….wibbly-wobbly stuff. So if a sci-fi novel drags me in, it’s because there are characters/plot/premises beyond the machines and equipment and inventions and physics of the universe that really hook me.

8. Books that spend too much time on dialogue between action scenes. So, remember when you were reading The Hunger Games, and it’s all very dystopia and interesting and life-and-death and then Katniss comes across Peeta in the cave, and… instead of a short-and-sweet “oh, wow, you’re dying, so let’s figure out how to fix this”, the author proceeds to give us like 80 pages of them lying in the dark, reminiscing about the good ol’ days in District 12? I literally skipped so much of this, just to get to a scene where something was happening, for crying out loud.

9. Most high fantasy. Sorry, folks, but I simply can’t read high fantasy anymore, with very few exceptions. If I can’t pronounce the characters’ names or the places they’re going to, it’s too dratted distracting from continuing on with the story. (And, again, this is just me. If you are a fan of high fantasy, good for you. But, as usual, just leave me with the film version.)

10. Fiction that claims to be accurately representing a disability or illness and does not. Unfortunately, there are far too many of these, especially when you’re talking things like depression, PTSD, and autism. There’s also a very harmful “cure culture” going on in society, where a lot of well-meaning but really, really misled people think that encouraging folks to just “get their autism fixed” (and similar notions) would be best for everybody (and ideas like that are going to contribute to the downfall of civilization).

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PART TWO — The happy stuff, or things that definitely make me run towards a book and most likely check it out of the library.

1. The mention of faeries, unicorns, dragons or mermaids on the cover blurb. The Mermaid’s Sister, pretty much anything I’ve read by Holly Black, several Jane Yolen tales, and Peter S. Beagle works (yes, I’m guilty of not even knowing The Last Unicorn was a book), I have picked up based purely on this criteria.

2. A non-whiny protagonist. This is an issue particularly in YA, especially with female narrators. A major reason I couldn’t stomach Catching Fire or all of the Divergent trilogy was because of how intensely whiny Katniss was in her middle book, and how Tris always came across that way. Give me Legend‘s Day and June, Susan Sto Helit of Discworld, Puck and Sean in The Scorpio Races, Sam and Grace and Isabel in Shiver, Bluestar and Yellowfang and Sandstorm of Warriors.

3. Anything from any part of the Warriors series. A new addition to the “yes” list (simply because I only started reading it about a year ago). But Warriors is officially one of my major weaknesses.

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4. Apparently, anything by Neil Gaiman. A few years ago, I would’ve said, “Thanks so much for your picture books and Good Omens, Neil, but, if it’s all the same to you, I’ll be skipping most of your adult novels and the really scary stuff.” Since then, I’ve gone to explore almost all of his short story collections, Coraline, The Ocean At The End of the Lane, Neverwhere, American Gods, Stardust, The Graveyard Book, and after saying not two weeks ago I’d be skipping Norse Mythology, I requested it from the library yesterday.

5. Anything by Terry Pratchett. His Discworld series is my favorite, but if his name is under the title, I’ll at least give it a go. Only You Can Save Mankind is a fantastic YA novel.

6. Fairytale re-tellings. Recently, I’ve kind of shied away from some of the more popular ones (I don’t need Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast for the 50th time, okay, publishers?), but the genre as a whole still interests me.

7. Novels with a good, clean sense of humor. A little bit of profanity or “grown-up” themed dialogue/references, scattered throughout a story, without being found in mass quantity in every chapter, doesn’t bother me. But since, unfortunately, that style of writing is rather difficult to find in a lot of adult fiction, I get excited when I come across a really fun read that has humor reminding me of Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry.

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8.  Pretty illustrations. How I choose picture books for Muffin focuses a lot on (no, I am not ashamed of this fact) the art. The style, the colors, how realistic it is. Some of the most beautiful I’ve come across include Can I Come Too?, Bernice Gets Carried Away, Little Tree, and How Rocket Learned to Read.

9. Books that are less than 500 pages. The exception to this is Harry Potter. Otherwise I truly like most of my reads to be around 275-310 pages, total. My eyes and hands just can’t take more than that, Captain.

10. Stories set in Britain and/or written by British authors. Why, yes, I am an Anglophile, just in case you couldn’t tell. (Read this blog for any length of time, and you’ll catch on. I just lived in England for 4 years.) The only thing that bothers me is when some of the British words get changed in the U.S. printings (grrr), and then I’m mentally correcting things as I read, which can get a bit tedious.

And there we have it! Will I actually attempt any future Top 10 Tuesdays?! Watch this space to find out!

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books, children's fiction, dance, Fantasy fiction, historical fiction, music, reading, Science fiction, Young Adult fiction

Top 10 Tuesday: Other Types of Re-tellings

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(Disclaimer: I don’t have a single notion of what the actual theme for this week is.)

We’re all aware (aren’t we?) that in recent years, re-tellings have become a big deal in modern fiction, particularly in YA and MG. New variations of fairytales (especially Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast), popular folklore (example: A Thousand and One Nights), and beloved classics (such as Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, and Alice in Wonderland) have taken the publishing world by storm.

But, for readers, the concept is…falling flat. It’s getting dull, repetitive, and leaves us…wanting something more.

So, here are my thoughts on which sorts of tales we could try to re-imagine now, to shake up the genre and keep it alive. (Because getting middle-schoolers to explore the original after reading a modern version is valuable to the future of our culture, and I honestly don’t want to see this concept fade away entirely.)

1. “Outdated” classics:

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In a post-slavery/post Jim Crow South, would Tom Sawyer be able to be friends with black kids? Maybe they’d form a band (how about jazz fusion)? If Tom Sawyer is still a slacker, wouldn’t he be stuck trying to get the popular, straight-A student, cheerleader Becky Thatcher?

The Iditarod sled dog race is considered very controversial these days. What would it look like for a White Fang-ish dog to participate in 2017?

Pirates are a big hit — the romanticized view of the “Golden Age of piracy.” What about space pirates, orbiting a distant star somewhere beyond the Horsehead Nebula, hoping to uncover a buried treasure of plutonium?

2. Lesser known folklore from Polynesian, Eastern European, African, Native American, Aboriginal Australian cultures:

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I haven’t heard much about Moana, but I’m interested to see it because it focuses on Hawaiian mythology, about which I know extremely little. Maybe this movie could start a new trend?

One of my favorite ballets is based on the Russian story of The Firebird. Why not have a modern boy-meets-girl, girl-is-cursed-by-evil-wizard, boy-seeks-help-from-magical-shapeshifting-bird? Or why not make it gender-reversed, and the girl gets to be the hero, accompanied by a literally hot boy into the dangerous woods?

There are so many Australian legends about creatures like bunyips and yowies and phantom everythings. Why can’t we read more about them in the Northern Hemisphere?

3. Underappreciated British legends:

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We have all heard about King Arthur and Robin Hood until we’re blue in the face. (And, sorry, guys, but I think we should cool it on the Sherlock variations for a while, too.) What about a twist on Lady Godiva, a woman who insists on putting more clothes on to get men to respect her? Or, instead of St. George slaying the dragon, a St. Georgina trying to encourage people to see dragons as good and wise?

4. Operas:

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Seriously, why not? Do you happen to know much about opera, any opera, off the top of your head? Nope? Me, neither! So, how about authors who are also opera fans adapting the plot of The Magic Flute or The Marriage of Figaro to a novel?

5. Theatre:

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Yes, I’m completely serious. Novels based on theatre productions of The Glass Menagerie, Death of a Salesman, A Raisin in the Sun, Fiddler on the Roof. And I don’t watch/listen to musicals, but why not those, too?

6. Expansive holiday tales:

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Not that there’s anything wrong with Christmas stories at Christmastime. But there also isn’t anything wrong with Hanukkah stories at Hanukkah time, or Diwali stories at Diwali, or Chinese New Year in space/the future/an alternate history. We are living in a global community now, and there are so many traditions and customs in cultures that co-exist with mine that many of us know so little about.

7. Real life history that we don’t hear so much about:

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The Von Trapps were a real family, and the travelers’ lodge they opened in Stowe, Vermont after their immigration to America is still open to the public today. So many people in the 21st century are so familiar with the musical film, I’m concerned that the real story has been sidelined.

Instead of Pocahantas all the time, let’s hear more about Sacajawea. I’ve come across several novelizations (for juvenile and adult readers) on the life of Pocahantas, but I don’t think I’ve seen more than one for the woman who saved Lewis and Clark’s butts on the Oregon Trail.

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8. Making too-dark-and-gloomy classics funny:

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Honestly, I’ve about given up on many classics because they are just too darned depressing. And some of those characters are just the most despicable and truly unsympathetic fictional people in all of literature. I know that’s the point when we’re talking the villain or antagonist — but when we’re supposed to wish for Jane Eyre to stay with Mr. Rochester, or for Heathcliff to realize he loves Cathy, or for Scarlett and Rhett to see the sunrise together — eew! no!!! Can we please have less soap opera, more a satire in the style of a 1980s MTV video?

9. Ballets:

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There are lots of ballets not based on famous fairytales. Let’s try putting the plots of Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring into a historical fiction novel. The Dying Swan could be re-done for a contemporary journey of a terminally ill patient. I already mentioned The Firebird; my other major favorite is Giselle, which is a combination of love and somewhat-ghost story.

10. Updating the ancients:

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Please forgive me, purists, but tales like The Odyssey and The Illiad, Beowulf and The Epic of Gilgamesh I simply don’t get. Give me the movie anytime. While I certainly appreciate their contribution to literature, I’ll more than likely never partake of it. Unless I can get a version post-1900, with first names and setting locations I can pronounce.

Congratulations on getting to the end of this long and rambling post!

 

 

books, children's fiction, Fantasy fiction, reading, Science fiction, Young Adult fiction

Top 10 Tuesday: Books I Wish I’d Experienced Differently

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Good morning, all! Here I am, doing another weekly meme — gasp! — two weeks in a row! What’s happening to me…

As usual, not a clue what the actual theme is for today, so here are 10 well-loved books/series that I just don’t seem to get, and I honestly wish that was different.

Warning: MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT.

And so, we begin…

The BFG by Roald Dahl:

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We watched the movie last night, and I have to say, although I certainly remember reading this as a child, I truly didn’t grasp the full scope of the magic of this world, its charm, and just how deep the messages about friendship, loneliness, and being different are. I have to wonder if it’s one of those stories that adults and children read in alternative contexts…

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh:

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I know this is seen as the premiere re-telling of The Arabian Nights, which is a story I’ve always wanted to learn more about. But I just could not get into this author. Her writing style was way too frilly for my taste, with over-extravagant metaphors that really didn’t explain anything, and it meant I couldn’t get into the plot. By page 50, I was really struggling, and I gave up before page 100. Maybe it’s because I have very little frame of reference to the folklore, but the idea that one unremarkable young woman would be able to keep a bloodthirsty killer at bay by telling him interesting bedtime tales just didn’t seem believable.

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton:

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As a reader who unabashedly does judge books by their covers, on that basis alone this novel should’ve been great. Unfortunately, for me it fell very flat. The writing was fun, but not realistic. Why did the author find it necessary to set the plot in an alternate history/geography? And why did the feel of the setting randomly shift between late 19th century Arabia and 1950s Colorado? So much of how the characters acted from one chapter to another felt at odds with itself. And I know that historically Arabian culture has been very chauvinist, but reading about it described in such unapologetic detail, without ever giving the indication it was truly wrong, bothered me a lot. I think the author missed a great opportunity to take that tradition and put it to shame.

The Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff:

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I did not hate this book. The series is unique, and I applaud it for that. Generally I’m not a big sci-fi person, but I don’t hold that against it, either. But I could not get into the idea of the AI falling in love with Kady ONE TINY BIT. To me, it was just waaaaay too ridiculous, and it really marred my enjoyment of everything from page 300 on.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness:

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This novel will forever be among those that are on the bestseller list that I just did not relate to. There was too much in it that didn’t make sense. Why was Conor’s grandmother so neurotic and uncaring? Why didn’t his father want Conor to come live with him? And why in the world did Conor blame himself for his mother having cancer?!?! It’s not like he controlled or caused that at all. Plus, the idea that the monster may have been real, or may have just been in Conor’s head, was really disturbing. Given everything Conor was going through, it would’ve been believable that he invented the monster as a way of coping with his mother’s illness. But the fact that the author never established one way or the other what was going on with the big gnarly tree dude was a serious downer for me.

Anything written by John Green:

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The reason I feel bad about this is John Green himself seems like such a nice guy. He’s friendly to his fans; he doesn’t appear to be a stuck-up star; he worked with kids with cancer, for heavens’ sake. But his writing style…it’s SO pretentious and unrealistic that it just gags me. NO average teenager talks like this. The uncool kids are NOT invited to the cool kids’ gatherings. And giving the impression that EVERY adolescent in the country MUST be obsessed with sex, swearing, and partying is unhealthy and very, very sad. Sorry-not-sorry, dude, you really need to focus on being a better role model…

The Shadowhunters series written by Cassandra Clare:

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I was so in love with City of Bones, and didn’t find City of Ashes and City of Glass that bad. But unfortunately, once we hit the 4th book in The Mortal Instruments, I got really, really tired of the way the plot dragged on and on, getting stretched thinner and thinner, and it made me stop caring about the characters. There were far too many subplots for me to keep track of anymore, and it became taxing and tedious to read all the political ramblings — Downworlders’ rights! Shadowhunters’ rights! Mundanes’ rights! It wore me out. Although I did try The Infernal Devices and The Dark Artifices, I won’t be continuing with them. And it does make me a little sad, because I honestly laughed out loud and cried with City of Bones, and could see it becoming one of my new faves.

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald:

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So, 10 out of 10 to the author for bringing up this forgotten fact of history — The Monuments Men, who spent World War II rescuing priceless treasures of art from the Nazis. But the whole rest of this novel gets a D-. The first time I read it, it seemed unusual and quirky, and was a pretty good, fast read. However, after finishing it, there was something bugging me. So a few months ago, I re-read it, and it clicked — 95% of the novel is entirely unbelievable. In post-9/11 New York City, a practically-orphaned 13-year-old with a mentally unfit mother would not be wandering  Manhattan by herself. She would not be successfully sneaking into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, raising chickens, and paying the bills all on her own. Also the fact that the author gave no  reason for Theo’s grandfather being so opposed to modern technology and lifestyle did not establish credibility for her situation.

Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter:

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This was definitely among my top bookdragon disappointments of last year. I had loved this series (it’s Jackaby #3), and was in agony waiting for its publication. Then it arrived in my local library, and…there was something…missing. The writing style was pretty much the same, there was Jackaby’s offbeat wit, Abigail’s charming relationship with Charlie, and a mystery to solve. But…the plot almost felt — cliche? How I hate to say that about a series that I found unique! But this is indeed what happened as I read Ghostly Echoes. The grand conspiracy seemed rushed, forced, and unnecessary; the development on the secondary characters  either predictable or non-existent; the big twist didn’t even hit me as, “Wow, what a twist!” The whole thing was…underwhelming. It’s made me wonder if I even want to read the last book. Sigh…

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater:

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I desperately wanted to fall in love with The Raven Boys. I like Maggie Stiefvater’s style and themes, and Shiver and The Scorpio Races are both in my top YA list. There’s really no reason I shouldn’t have been gobbling up every inch of this seriesBut that in itself seems to be my problem. Each book read like a 3rd draft, rather than a finished product; there was so much unnecessary information in every single part, and I honestly think this quadrilogy needed brutally serious editing. Some of the major characters weren’t engaging enough (think Noah, and even Blue), and there was soooo many secondary characters that didn’t really present their own dynamics. (I never could figure out who was who in Blue’s family beyond her mom and Neeve. What was the point of having 134 psychics crammed into the same house, anyway? And all the other boarding school boys felt faceless and not needed for the plot.) It almost became a chore to finish The Raven King and finally know what happened. It is sad, because I should’ve been looking forward to the big reveal.

books, Fantasy fiction, historical fiction, reading, Science fiction, Young Adult fiction

The Books I DNF Edition

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Here’s a moment of extreme bravery on my part — a book lover admitting that there are some very popular books out there that I started reading but didn’t finish. In some cases, I’m not even saying I didn’t like the book. It’s just that, for whatever reason (and trust me, there are always Reasons) it remains uncompleted in my reading life.

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  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell: Number one, it is *enormous.* It’s even bigger than Illuminae. If you need the ultimate doorstop/weapon against zombies/footstool, this is it. But it wasn’t just the length that was daunting; the author’s style meant that I was severely confused for long enough (about 150 pages) that I had no qualms about returning it to the library without reaching the end.
  • Cinder: I know this one will be a surprise, as there are many, many avid fans of The Lunar Chronicles. And I like looking into fairytale re-imaginings. Maybe it was the sci-fi twist, but I just never felt comfortable with this series, and I gave up about halfway through Cinder.
  • Shadow and Bone: This was definitely a personal preference, because I also like re-tellings of Russian mythology. But the extreme violence (when it didn’t have to be that intense) really got to me, and I removed this selection from my TBR around page 200.
  • Wonder: We read this as a book club selection a couple years ago. White Fang really enjoyed it, but I did not. Maybe it was the constant POV shifting (and yet they all sounded about the same — isn’t it a shame when that happens), or the motive for writing this novel being what I saw as extreme selfishness on the part of the author; but this tale never gelled for me, and I just let White Fang tell me how it ended.

 

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  • The Invisible Library: It read like a movie script. Has anybody else found that? Lately there are several releases that simply read like the film version of the story. If it is a novelization of the original book-to-movie, then it doesn’t bother me. But when it seems that the publisher makes a release designed specifically to go to the big screen ASAP, then it makes for a sub-par reading experience.
  • The Maze Runner: Oh, but this just offended my PDD reading sensibilities. The choppy writing style, the major stream of consciousness interfused with it-may-be-real-it-may-not-hey-wait-the-narrator-has-no-clue throughout… I passed it over to White Fang by page 50. (Interestingly, he thought it was pretty good.)
  • Eragon: No dragon fans hit me. I’ve seen the movie, and the dragon is stunning. But I just couldn’t get through the almost-pretentious writing style. It made my eyes and my brain hurt. Sorry, folks.
  • Incarceron: This felt like The Matrix in book form, and I do not like that film. The cover is amazing, but it feels like such a lie…

 

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  • Leviathan: Alternate history and steampunk just confuse me. My brain kept trying to figure out what the real history would’ve been… And I don’t enjoy brain-ache when I read for fun.
  • A Shadow Bright and Burning: It just seemed…a bit unbalanced? Certainly rushed. And the idea of all the men in London immediately falling in love with this nobody female who may have very dangerous magical powers bothered me.
  • The Finisher: It’s an intriguing plot (dystopian, but everything has reverted to the Middle Ages instead of futuristic tech). But the writing was slow and unengaging, and I still didn’t feel attached to the characters by chapter 10.
  • Splintered: This is the one that I can’t really put my finger on why I DNF it. I like Alice in Wonderland spinoffs, and I’d recently had some disappointments in that category, so I was eager to try something new. Maybe it was just the letdowns were too fresh in my mind? I feel like I could give Splintered another chance.
British pop culture, Science fiction, television

An Argument for the Old (Not the New) Doctor Who

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Yesterday I binge-watched Doctor Who, the early David Tennant/10th Doctor episodes. Muffin was away on a family visit, so I had time, and the DVD player, to myself, and this combination does not often occur. So I got out some healthy snacks (yes, healthy, I was good), and tissues, and began reciting the lines along with the actors, and eventually reached the point of being a complete sobbing mess.

I’d never watched Doctor Who before the series reboot in 2005, but by the end of the Christopher Eccleston/9th Doctor pilot, I was hooked.

I’ve never been much of a sci-fi fan; what I love best about the show isn’t the aliens and planets and technology. It’s the heart — the idea of the reluctant hero, who’s aching inside, but always finds a way to stay positive; of ordinary people being able to save the world; of blending humor and love with mystery and adventure.

And this is exactly why the newer seasons (even before Matt Smith/the 11th Doctor regenerated) have really, really let me down.

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I know from the reviews and the forums that I am not alone in this view. The announcement that the 12th Doctor/Peter Capaldi will be regenerating very soon has sparked a new round of debates on where the show stands right now.

Since about halfway through Matt Smith’s tenure, there has been a definite shift in the very framework, and the feel, of the program. In the early seasons, there was a conscious effort to tie in elements from the original shows of the 1960s and 70s, without which the history of the Doctor’s world and character wouldn’t make much sense. When you’re building on something that already existed in its own universe, with its own themes and rules, then just throwing that out the window and doing whatever you want just feels false.

People were so excited about the return of Doctor Who to television because of the thought of recapturing that sense of heart. The Doctor is an alien who may never completely understand the human race, but that doesn’t for a minute stop him from defending us. The companions are only human, but that doesn’t stop them trying to save the universe.

Somewhere along the way, what the fans love best got put aside.

Taking the show’s rules of space-time and declaring them null and void and making the Doctor pretty much a god is not true to the program’s premise, point, or essence. Totally ignoring previously vital elements is not okay.

A prime example is the season finale last year, “The Hybrid,” when Clara was gone/then she was back/then she’s gone/then oh, she’s actually back but the Doctor can never know she even existed. After spending weeks hyping up the “reveal” of the “hybrid”, the show did not actually explain what or who the hybrid was. And when you consider that, after establishing for literal years that the Doctor’s home planet was destroyed in the Time War, the writers decided to bring Gallifrey back and claim it had been waiting safely in some kind of stasis bubble since God knows how long — that simply invalidates the *whole* *entire* *series* up to now.

When people take someone else’s creation and run its standards into the ground, that speaks very strongly to a lack of integrity within the artistic community. This is an issue that concerns me in a number of ways.

I’ll continue to re-watch the early seasons of Doctor Who, the ones that still have a heartfelt, non-superior Doctor, that celebrates the beauty of imagination while still adhering to the constructs of its world. I’ll always love what they were and what they are.

But in terms of new seasons, I’m officially ending it. I don’t want my love of the series to get jaded and turn against me.

For the sake of the fans who are determined to stick it out, I truly hope that, with the next Doctor, the show makes that 180 it so desperately needs.

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