We are very happy to be included this year, so hop on over there and see what some of our favorite things were of 2012--they're all over the place!
One of our favorite book blogs is The Book Smugglers. Ana and Thea read a ton of science fiction, fantasy, and young adult and it's rare that a book is reviewed on their blog that at least one of us isn't interested in. They have some amazing features like On the Smugglers' Radar, where they share exciting upcoming books, and Inspirations & Influences, in which authors share what makes their writing what it is. For the holiday season, they have a mega-feature called Smugglivus. (which is a play on the best holiday of all, Festivus (for the rest of us!) from Seinfeld.) During Smugglivus, which lasts for several weeks in December and early January, they post up some combination of two guest author or blogger posts.
We are very happy to be included this year, so hop on over there and see what some of our favorite things were of 2012--they're all over the place!
Setting is something we bring up quite a lot in reviews. We all tend to appreciate world-building that's really well thought out and we also tend to quickly lose interest in world-building that's lazy or nonsensical. Today on Three Heads Are Better Than One (Or Two), we are talking about great settings - settings that are not only well done but that we also wish were real life places so we could pile into a van with lots of caffeinated drinks and sugar and go to there. (Imagine The Readventurers on a road trip to Hogwarts or Avonlea - epic!) I can just see us drinking raspberry cordial to excess and getting up to no good with the Marauders' Map. Now if only we could get our hands on a set of vanishing cabinets that took us to each others' houses...
There are many fictional places that I would love to visit but, keeping in mind that the stories set in these places are often full of danger, only on the condition that I would be free to return to the safety of our own reality immediately upon request. (And, sorry, I don't feel like checking out District 12, even if I am guaranteed a meeting with Peeta Mellark. Dystopias are pretty much a no-no for me when it comes to actually "sampling" of them.)
1) Harry Potter-verse. This is such an obvious and cheaty choice, I know. But, what can I say, I'd love it there. I can tell this for sure because I have already sort of experienced this world, thanks to Universal Studios in Orlando, and let me tell you, walking the streets of Hogsmeade, drinking butter beer at Three Broomsticks and visiting Hogwarts was a blast and a dream come true.
2) Fever-verse. My attraction to this world is three-fold.
On the one hand, I think visiting craic-full, fae-free present day Dublin could be a lot of fun, if it's even remotely similar to the vibrant city described by Karen Marie Moning. (Fish'n'chips sounds particularly nice just now.)
On the other hand, I find the whole idea of silvers connecting to different planes in Faery and to White Mansion - home of the Unseelie King and his concubine - utterly fascinating. Exploring different realities and different worlds (possibly alien worlds?) and then numerous mysterious rooms of the Mansion sounds like a great time to me.
And of course, who can forget Barrons Books & Baubles? I'd spend a few days there as well.
3) Eretz and Prague as described by Laini Taylor. My memories of Laini's books are still fresh, so it's no wonder I am all eager to visit her worlds.
Like with Fever, I am attracted to both real and imaginary worlds in Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight. I would be equally interested in browsing the streets of Prague and sampling Karou's bohemian life style and seeing with my own eyes the chimaera and seraphim of Eretz. I would probably have to wear fake horns or wings there, right? I also foresee many awkward conversations as I'd try to learn more about mating habits of chimaera and seraphim. Can you blame me for my curiosity? With so many different types of chimaera of different aspects, how do they even navigate the dating scene? There must be a ton of rules. Same goes for seraphim with their armies populated by stepbrothers and sisters.
This concept is explored pretty extensively on TV and in books. But the book that comes first into my mind that would accommodate my urge to meet my alternative self is Ian McDonald's Planesrunner. Unlike let's say, Fringe, this book would give me an opportunity to get to know not just one other version of myself, but a limitless number of versions. Hmm, that sounds both exciting and very tiresome. How many of myselves could I realistically handle?
There are also a ton of books about time-travel. The fictional version that is the most appealing to me is the one in Alison Goodman's Singing the Dogstar Blues. I would not only go inside that world with pleasure, but possibly stay there for good after enrolling in its time-travel academy and acquiring an alien bestie.
The first thing I need to say is that I thought about cheating on our own blog for this post by picking a book that would allow me to avoid truly answering the question. There are a few books that can easily be seen as cop-outs so I have to get those out of the way first. Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series is set in an alternate world that is similar in many ways to our own, but with many, many subtle differences. I'd love to experience living in that world, where literature crime is so prevalent that literary detective is actually a job description. (I think I'd be qualified to do this work. Perhaps this is my dream job?) If that were the only world in the series, I'd still want to visit, but instead, the series delves deep into the BookWorld, where every single thing that has ever been written or will be written exists to one extent or another. So why wouldn't I pick a book that allows me to visit EVERY setting? Game, set, match to me. Similarly, I know I would also want to pick Ernest Cline's recent sci fi novel, Ready Player One, because it would allow me to virtually visit any world from movies, video games, books, etc. that I could dream up. Of course, I'd probably be living in a slum due to the overpopulation and scarce resources in the primary world of that novel. Other cop out answers include Jumper (where I could visit any place on current Earth as long as I had a visual in my mind of it), and any of the "many worlds" theory based universe books in which I could experience endless different versions of myself/settings (The Walls of the Universe, for one). So, I'll move on to other, less cheater answers.
I think eventually we'll need to do another 3/2 post about literary houses we'd most like to visit, because several of my favorite settings are ones I want to visit solely to see what the houses (or the surrounding area) looks like, even though I could probably go to similar places in our reality. For example, if Misselthwaite Manor from The Secret Garden looks anything like it did in the 1990-something movie, I'd love to go there. Same goes for those huge rambling houses from the Austen-era and the futuristic "mansion so large Eve doesn't even know how many rooms there are" from Nora Roberts' In Death series. I guess these could be seen as boring choices but I can't help it that I am obsessed with huge, sprawling houses that probably cost a million dollars a year in upkeep alone. Other reality-based places I'd love to see are the orange groves in California from Beverly Cleary's 1950s YA book, The Luckiest Girl, and Sherlock Holmes era England, though I'd only want to visit there as a wealthy person. (I learned this wish needs to be mentioned from Delia Sherman's The Freedom Maze, which I read this week and absolutely recommend)
In terms of built fantasy worlds I'd love to experience, there are so many. I think I would love to visit most worlds where magic is practiced--places like the world of Harry Potter, Maria V. Snyder's Study series, M.K. Hobson's world that mixes about four different genres, and even the Graceling Realm of Kristin Cashore, where hopefully I would be graced with being able to do everything awesome. And it probably goes without saying, but I'd love to be a dragon in Rachel Hartman's Goredd, from Seraphina.
Though I've only read the first book in Kenneth Oppel's Matt Cruse series, Airborn, but he created a world filled with airships, where sailmakers rappel around the outside, patching holes, and where people can vacation and travel on huge floating dirigibles. I mean, I think about once a day how much I'd love to go in a hot air balloon. If I could ever go on an airship, I'd probably explode with happiness.
I think I need to stop, because I think I could find something exciting in nearly every single book I've read. I want to go to all the places!
I’m going to have to start with the obvious choices here, just to get them out of the way:
Phew. Now that I’ve gotten those obligatory choices out of the way, I’d love to talk about a few that I’ve only fallen in love with more recently. Recently, the idea of setting and world-building has become more crucial for me. I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve read so many fantasies or because I’m just getting old or what but, as I’ve mentioned before, shallow/generic world-building is a complete deal-breaker for me. Lately I want amazing, panoramic, inventive, technicolor worldbuilding with all the bells and whistles and nothing else will do. If you’re like me, I suggest you check out:
Catherynne M. Valente: I hope that I’ll be singing this woman’s praises for the rest of my life. In my humble opinion, she’s one of the most gifted writers alive right now. AND, with over ten distinct works plus poems and short stories, she’s already incredibly prolific for her young age. There are so many of her worlds that I’d love to explore: Fairyland, the limitless virtual Interior (from Silently and Very Fast), the secret, sordid world of Palimpsest, and Koschei’s realm from Deathless. I have so much of her work to read – it’s both depressing (that I haven’t gotten to it all) and comforting (that I have so many brilliant books left).
China Miéville: Why yes, I am a China Girl. When I think about setting, his books will always come to mind. Some of his books might feel crowded, short on characterization, and long on imagination. But one thing that can never be faulted is his world-building. His worlds have allll the bells and whistles, plus the trumpets, kazoos, maracas, and foghorns. I think my favorites of his are the oddly segregated cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma from The City & The City, the motley Armada from The Scar, and maybe most of all – the diversely populated outer space world of the Immerverse from Embassytown. I'd love to hop aboard an immer ship and explore that place with Avice and her first mate.
Her books may be labeled middle grade, but don’t let that label steer you away. Her stories are quirky and whimsical, but they’ll surprise you with their dark corners, deep thoughts, and most of all – their crazy imaginative worlds. Although to be honest, I’m not really sure I’d want to go to Caverna…except maybe to sample the cheeses.
Stacia Kane: Settings from my favorite series are almost always places that I’d love to visit. I guess it’s hard to spend so much time getting to know a place and not want to go there. I think most of you know that I love Stacia Kane’s Downside Ghosts series, and even though the series revolves around a very harsh, post-apocalyptic world, it has its upsides too. The main upside being…Downside (yeah, yeah – I couldn’t help it). I’d love to go out for a night at Tricksters, to enjoy some interesting (read: scavenged) food and great punk music from the 80’s and early 90’s. Chess can stay at home unless she promises to behave but of course, Terrible is always invited.
What are your favorite settings? Are they all places you wish you could visit or are some of them worlds you loved reading about but would never want to experience in real life?
The trickle of Australian YA flowing into the US is slowly becoming more of a steady flow, and this excites us to no end. Some of our favorite authors are Australian and the quality, for one reason or another, seems to be more consistent down under. Today, we're going to talk a bit about some of our favorite Aussie YA books and others that we hope to read soon. We've tried to separate them out a bit as all three of us are die hards for a few of these authors. (I think we hid our super enthusiasm rather well, though) Because our Wall of Short YA Books was a success, we've been putting together another Wall of Books, but this time for Aussie YA. Get ready to peruse that later this week. For now, let's read about myyy preeeeccccciouuuus...
Where my knowledge runs into a drought is when Aussie YA moves into genre fiction, which is kind of surprising because I love fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian, etc. lit when it is done well. The books above are just a few I intend to read due to great reviews and recommendations. I'm currently listening to Sabriel (narrated by Tim Curry!), one of my sister's favorites, and loving it. I own Obernewtyn, Burn Bright, and The Bridge, but I need to get my paws on Shadows. If any of these books are as good as the contemporaries I love, then I have a lot to look forward to.
*I feel that I must mention that my favorite Aussie YA books, The Piper's Son, Holier Than Thou and Raw Blue are left out of my section. However, if you have sense at all you will go read them immediately. That is all.
I was afraid that I wouldn’t have too much to say for this post – I don’t consider myself an expert on Australian young adult literature by any means. But then I went looking through a few lists and realized I am familiar with a few more than I thought I was! I’m still no expert (and my to-read list is significantly longer than my favorites list), but I feel like I have a few respectable offerings here. I know that I owe most of that familiarity to my fellow bloggers and reading friends, so thank you!
First things first – I don’t think any of us can write about this topic without first mentioning Melina Marchetta. Tatiana and I are hard at work* on a joint review for Quintana of Charyn which we will hopefully be posting sometime next week. For me, Melina Marchetta is the queen of Aussie YA and I have to agree with one fabulous audience member at the Books of Wonder event I recently attended who called her a “goddess.” Goddess indeed! You can read all about our love for her books here.
This is terribly sad, but I did not realize that Garth Nix, author of one of my favorite fantasy series (Sabriel – home to one of the greatest talking cats of all time) is from Australia. I’ve always meant to read his The Keys to the Kingdom series and I have his latest book, A Confusion of Princes, waiting for me.
Are we even legally allowed to post this without mentioning Markus Zusak? Well anyway – there, I just did. His Printz award winning novel The Book Thief should pretty much be required for any list featuring Australian YA. I am also a huge fan of Margo Lanagan, Allison Goodman, and Cath Crowley but I will let Tatiana and Flannery give them all the credit they deserve.
As far as the ones I want to read but haven’t, there are quite a few:
*If by "hard at work" you mean speculating about possible sexy times between Lucian and Phaedra.
Seeing that I am going last writing on the topic of our favorite Australian authors, there is not that much left for me to add. Catie and Flannery have done a great job of speaking fondly about the best of the best in Aussie YA. So not to repeat them too much, I am skipping gushing over my most beloved Aussie writer - Melina Marchetta (this is a no-brainer, we've made our dedication known a long time ago) and will talk in detail about a few other authors that were mentioned, but only briefly, by my co-bloggers.
I look forward to reading Alison's upcoming (2014 in Australia, long wait!) supernatural/historical series set in the early 1800s.
Jaclyn Moriarty. Moriarty has one of the oddest writing styles I've ever come across. That's why it's often hard to recommend her books to other readers. What's just the right amount of weird for one person is unbearable for another. Same with humor. Moriarty's sense of humor and even her stories are most peculiar and, I'll be honest, I don't always "get" them. In that respect, her epistolary Ashbury/Brookfield books were a total win for me, whereas The Spell Book of Listen Taylor - a total bust. I hope her new A Corner of White will fall into the first category, because when Jaclyn's books are good, they are very good - deep and gut-wrenching. Once you get past and embrace all the oddness and bizarreness.
Who are your favorite Australian authors? What are your favorite Aussie YA books? Have we missed any of them?
Although The Readventurer is not an official participant of Book Blogger Appreciation Week (at least not this year), we thought this event would give us a great opportunity to jump on this band wagon and talk about why we blog, what blogging means to us, how our views on blogging changed since we became a part of book blogosphere ourselves, and what kinds of book blogs attract us individually.
Before joining The Readventurer, my opinion of the book blogoverse was that it was a super-positive place, filled with blogs dedicated to exclusively gushy reviews and not much else. By comparison, I thought Goodreads was THE place to be - a vast social network full of opinionated readers and varied views. Obviously, I was wrong. Wrong, just like people who join Goodreads to only catalogue their books and then look down on the social part of it, to their own detriment.
Now, after blogging for over 6 months together with Flannery and Catie I have come to greatly appreciate the art, craft and discipline of blogging. I also know that you can have your blogging surrounding as edgy, critical and diverse, or as positive, nice and rosy, or as commercial and meme-driven as you wish.
On my own, I'd say I am a pretty poor blogger. First, I am an awful commenter. Even though my Google Reader is full of blog posts, a big portion of which I read and like, I rarely comment. Here, I suppose, my deeply introverted nature shows itself.
Second, and it's probably very bad of me, but I hardly ever read book reviews posted on the blogs. Old habits die hard, and I keep using Goodreads as my main source of reviews and, frankly, socializing. Goodreads' layout is just so much more convenient for discussion and review tracking.
But when it comes to opinion pieces, that's what blogging is perfect for. Publishing news, information about the industry and writing processes, favorite author interviews, random rants or strong opinions - these are the things that draw my attention. I am thankful to have found so many intelligent bloggers who helped me expand my knowledge of the bookish world.
There is a host of blogs that I subscribe to and visit (our closest blogging buddies are listed on our side bar), but there are a few that I'd say I am a huge fan of and that fit my personal interests the best.
Clear Eyes, Full Shelves is run by Sarah with the help of Laura, Sarah's mom Sandra and Rebeca. Interestingly enough, I don't really have similar reading tastes with the contributors on this blog (besides the fact that we all like and read a lot of YA), but when it comes to anything else they write about - we are always of the same mind. True Blood snark-caps - yes, please. Want to share your opinion about e-reading, negative reviews, anything, really with me? - tell me more, ladies! And List-o-ramas! I am pretty certain Laura's list of secrets to Book Nerd Relationship Success™ made me the blog's fan for life.
Kelly and Kimberly are the founders of Stacked. The reason why I love this blog is because of its non-review posts. Kelly is a librarian and knows and writes generously about both the library aspects of reading culture, and the publishing business as she knows it. Her posts always teach me something new and make me think (and encourage me to leave comments - no small feat!). What also endears me to Stacked is Kelly's honesty about the challenges and rewards of blogging.
Emily May's The Book Geek blog doesn't really have what I typically look for on blogs - there are no opinion pieces or news or interviews. It's books reviews 100% of the time. But Emily is pretty much my book soul mate and I read EVERYTHING she writes. And then emphatically agree with her. She is my official book tester and possibly the #1 person to see if a book I have in mind would work for me or not. You all are readers, I am sure you know the value of such a book friend in your reading life.
And of course this post would not be complete without proper appreciation expressed towards my co-bloggers Flannery and Catie. For me, blogging is often a test in discipline and commitment, but Flannery and Catie are the best supporters and the best company. I am quite certain they are the main reason why I enjoy the blogging environment as much as I do. I love working with them and I always love reading what they write. I feel like we are a great team. Each of us brings something important to our readventuring undertaking - Catie is a very intelligent, dependable and diligent, Flannery is our idea generator and socializing force, and I, well, I believe I bring my excessive love of Jericho Barrons to the table. Ours is a match made in (book) heaven:).
Like Tatiana, I never really thought much about blogging before I started doing it. I knew that some of my friends were bloggers, but I rarely visited their blogs and didn’t really understand what the whole thing was “about” – most likely because I am old. However, since beginning this fun/frenzied enterprise with Tatiana and Flannery (what I like to call “blogging by the seat of your pants”) I’ve discovered that I love to read blogs – and not just the bookish ones. More and more, I’m discovering that the heart of free speech, honesty, and individualism that I thought was disappearing is still alive and well – and I think that bloggers and other independent writers are the ones keeping it alive. As I’ve witnessed the major news media networks become more and more biased and ridiculous (and pretty much unwatchable), I’ve also seen a whole score of (mostly) uncompensated individuals step forward to give unbiased accounts, share their honest emotions, and provide their uncensored and valuable critical opinions.
Before I discovered great book blogs, I found books by reading reviews published in major news outlets, reading bestseller lists, and getting recommendations from giant online megastores. And I read A LOT OF CRAP. A lot. I read so much crap that I assumed that was all I could ever have. Oh, I knew that every once in a while (like every five years or so) I might stumble across a book that I genuinely loved. But I knew to only expect a few of those in my lifetime, and I learned to “appreciate” the mediocre reads that I had in the everyday.
Thanks to my favorite book bloggers and reviewers, I now have too many amazing books to read. I don’t have time to fit them all into my life! At this very moment, I have THREE books which I’ve been dying to read just sitting in front of me and it is like torture to try and choose one. Obviously, I will just have to read them all at the same time, alternating chapters until I reach the end – sort of like row, row, row your boat sung in a round. Yeah, maybe it will get a bit confusing but whatever! These are the crazy problems that I cherish having, and it’s thanks to my favorite book bloggers that I am dealing with this situation and not halfheartedly reading #27 in yet another formulaic, never-ending series. So, without any further rambling on my part, here are just a few of the book blogs that I adore.
The Nocturnal Library
Maja and I don’t always read the same books, but I always enjoy her reviews. She has a very unique, darkly humorous voice and she always gets to the heart of what worked and what didn’t for every single book she reads. I love that she takes chances (or what I would consider chances) on lesser known and self-published books.
Bunbury in the Stacks
I constantly find myself, even during my busiest and most stressful days, getting sucked into Heidi’s reviews. Her genuine, sweet, funny, nerdy voice always makes me chuckle and her opinions almost always mesh very well with my own. A great review from her is almost always a must-read for me.
The Galavanting Girl Books
Cassi and I share a deep intolerance for cheesy romance, shallow girliness, and jerkface love interests. I rely on her constantly for recommendations in young adult – particularly the more romance-centric reads. I know that if she can read something without suffocating on corniness, then I will survive it too.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two of my favorite reviewers who don’t currently have blogs (but I’m hoping they will someday soon) – Reynje and Nataliya. These two incredibly intelligent ladies are also brilliant writers. They are collectively responsible for a large portion of my favorite reads this year.
Also, I just want to state the obvious here: the two reviewers I rely on most are actually my co-bloggers. Before joining up with Tatiana and Flannery here at The Readventurer, I had developed a huge amount of respect for both of them. Tatiana has impeccable taste and never fails to say exactly what she thinks. Her reviews are not only entertaining, but incredibly informative and useful. Flannery is one of the most diplomatic, fair-minded people I’ve ever met and her reviews never fail to make me consider a point of view I hadn’t previously considered. I honestly get most of my book recommendations just from chatting with the two of them throughout the week as we plan posts. This is completely corny, but I really do feel lucky every single day to be blogging with them.
Obviously, I read and love a lot of blogs that I didn’t list here (including all of the ones that Tatiana and Flannery listed, most definitely). To everyone that I did and did not highlight in this post and to all of my bookish friends around the internet: you all have helped me get to this wonderful place where my TBR runneth over with amazing books. And for that I owe you all my most sincere gratitude.
When I started blogging, I had absolutely no clue what I was getting myself into. I had a lot of fun with it but it is very hard to maintain any sort of regularity in posting when you blog alone. I cannot, I repeat, cannot express how lucky I feel that Tatiana and Catie wanted to join The Readventurer. Not only do I respect their writing and reviewing styles, but I also truly respect them as people and I think that is really important in a blogging dynamic. I've come to see that every blog has a different feel to it--whether they're funny, poetic, promotional, meme-filled, repetitive, constantly excited, or whatever else. As someone inside our blog, I'm not positive how we come off to outsiders but the view from inside the bubble is wonderful. I look forward to reading any content that my cobloggers write and I don't foresee a day when that won't be true. I agree with Catie that I get most of my book recommendations from Tatiana and her, though there are a few other people who can sell me really quickly, some of whom have already been mentioned.
Like Tatiana, I am often a failure at commenting. I read a lot more content than I comment on and it is one of my least favorite aspects of blogging. I blog because I love it and I blog with Tatiana and Catie because I love working with them. And it might go without saying, but I blog because I love books. However, I do see how blogs can define for themselves where they'd like to be placed in the machinery of the publishing world. Promotion and I are not comfortable bedfellows. The other aspect of blogging that disconcerts me at times surrounds arcs, cover reveals, and author appearances on blogs for tours. I feel very uncomfortable promoting a book I have yet to read or have no intention of reading. Even if I have loved an entire author's backlog, there's no guarantee that I'll love the new one. While I understand that most publishers know that bloggers may not review an arc they ask for, they expect it to a certain degree, and it has made me not want to ever ask for any review copies. I could go on about what I hate about blogging but this post is meant to be filled with happy thoughts so I'll hop back on that train. The number one thing I love about the internet is connecting with other readers. (well, maybe #2, behind email)
Some of my favorite people in the world are people I have never met. (my cobloggers included) I talk to Nomes from Inkcrush and Maja from Nocturnal Library more than I talk to a lot of my real-life friends. I just went to dinner last night with someone I've become great friends with through Goodreads. I've been lucky to meet a few bloggers in real life. (including Rachel from The Readers Den and Holly from Book Harbinger) I exchange postcards with many people but I particularly love the ones I get from Chachic from Chachic's Book Nook and her Postcard Love posts always make me happy. I try about once a week to figure out a way I can hang out with Heidi from Bunbury in the Stacks and Alyssa from Books Take You Places. I trust Lyndsey to tell me new television shows to watch. I find an obscene amount of book recommendations from the On the Smugglers' Radar feature at The Book Smugglers. When people take a break from their online presence, sometimes I actually miss them. (Michelle from Chronicles of a Book Evangelist!) Those people are all some of my favorite reviewers, but here's a few more, and a bit about why I love them to pieces.
Maggie and Noelle from Young Adult Anonymous crack me up. I love to visit their blog because everything they do feels natural and like I'm meeting up with two of my best friends to chat about books. Is that creepy? If so, I don't want to not be creepy. Maggie came to visit me in San Diego last month and it was Dance Academy and sightseeing fun times. My favorite part of their blog is that they include random cultural references from our childhood years with absolutely no regard to anyone who might not get them. They just seem to have so much fun together and it's infectious...and totally apparent from their blogging style.
When Jo over at Wear the Old Coat loves a book, she manages to convey that emotion in her reviews. She it utterly original in her reviewing style because it seems to just flow stream-of-consciousness yet never seems to ramble. (or if it does, it's in a way I can follow and enjoy) She has a few features that I love but the one that brings me the most happiness is her Saturday Night Skins one because 1. It gives me a chance to rewatch Skins; 2. I get to chat to Jo, Anna from Anna Scott Jots, Reynje (who is starting her own blog soon!), Trinity from Trin in the Wind, and Maggie from YA Anonymous all the time; and 3. Jo does all the work making our google doc into a coherent recap post. Also, Jo has wonderful taste in books.
I don't really watch vlogs but when I do, they're Mandee's weekly posts at Vegan YA Nerds. I can't be positive, but I'm fairly sure Mandee's entire body is composed of kindness. Even when she doesn't like a book, she still manages to write it in a far nicer way than I ever could. She also makes me want to come after her in the night because she leaves all the spoilers out of her reviews in such a way that I'm dying to know what they are. Mission accomplished! I love visiting her blog to find out what's new and upcoming in Aussie YA fiction.
There are too many blogs/bloggers I respect and admire to mention everyone. If I did, this post would be longer than it is...and it is already bordering on Tolstoy length. I have never been sad that I chose to start blogging. I've met wonderful friends and found so many amazing books as a result of that choice. I don't ever want to go back to my pre-Goodreads, pre-blogging reading style. Thanks to all my reader friends for the meaningful impact you've had on my life.
All three of us would probably list young adult fantasy as one of our favorite genres. We are all drawn to these books, particularly the shiny, hype-infused new releases. Recently I (Catie) had put myself on a Netgalley request ban, only to stumble across Cassandra Rose Clarke’s Assassin’s Curse and fall helpless to its pull. This year has brought more new releases in young adult fantasy than we’ve known what to do with, and that’s wonderful news for us…in theory. In practice, it’s actually not all that wonderful.
When a genre gains sudden popularity, the market becomes flooded with titles as publishers rush to fill the demand. That’s a plus in the sense that some hidden gems which would have never been purchased are now garnering attention. That’s also a huge minus, because every other book and its sister is also getting picked up. And let’s face it – the mediocre offerings probably outnumber the gems by at least 10:1 (totally unscientific assumption). In the case of YA fantasy, we now find ourselves drowning in incredibly average titles. The YA landscape is suddenly very difficult to wade through for us. I know that we’ve all had a few (or many) disappointments this year. So today we ask, is there hope for YA fantasy? Is it all becoming one mass-produced slurry of average or is there still original, inventive, brilliant fantasy to be found out there?
In an attempt to analyze this question objectively, I decided to take a look at the data. Are the YA fantasy novels that I'm reading this year really not as great as the ones I read last year? To the laboratory! (ie, the excel program on my computer.)
As you can see, despite reading half as many YA fantasy new releases as last year, I already have three times as many two star ratings. My average rating for new releases in YA fantasy for 2011 was a 3.78, and as of now (with half the year gone), my average is 3.25 (includes new releases only). One thing I noticed was that I've read quite a few more new releases, percentage wise, than last year. New releases account for 80% of my YA fantasy reads this year, whereas last year they only accounted for 34%. Which might be a huge part of my problem.
However, even with these discouraging results, I still have a lot of hope for YA fantasy. There are truly brilliant works being released this year, but in my opinion (with maybe one exception), they aren't getting the attention they deserve. So I say to you all: please, give the following books a little love! There's nothing derivative or pedestrian about any of these books. These authors each have imagination coming out of their ears. These are some of my favorite reads of 2012, full stop - never mind their genre. Aren't they beautiful all lined up there? Sometimes you really can judge a book by its cover, apparently.
Listed by release date:
A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
This was my second Frances Hardinge and once again, she completely blew my mind. I thought her 2009 release The Lost Conspiracy (also titled Gullstruck Island in the U.K.) was fantastic and this one was just as brilliant, if not better. I am completely disappointed in myself for missing the release date on this one and not picking it up until July. Shameful! What kind of rabid fan am I? This is the mind-bending story of an underground society and the outsider girl who grows up there and longs to get out. Class politics, assassination, theft, revolution, friendship, madness, and exploding cheeses ensue. JUST READ IT. And then thank me later.
Railsea by China Miéville
China Miéville's second "young adult" offering came out this year and just like his other novels, it is breathtaking in scope and contains some of the most detailed, immersive world-building I've ever come across. (& it also contains more ampersands and giant moles than any other novel this year, guaranteed.) Whether this book is truly "young adult" or not is matter for debate, but personally I am thrilled to see writers (& particularly fantasy writers) come out with work that is so new and different that it resists definition. China Miéville has accomplished that time and again in his career and he does it once more here, with this beautiful (& fun!) high-rails adventure.
Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
Out of the four books on this list, I think that this is the one that I truly hope gets more attention. Not only did this book take my breath away with its clever inventiveness (djinns, hackers, and revolution...who does that?!), it is incredibly relevant to our time. This book made me see the very real, modern day middle east in a completely different light and it drew my attention to the current struggle going on there. Of course, all of this relevance is wrapped up quite nicely in a fun adventure story which features (and I seriously can not believe I forgot to mention this in the review) a TALKING CAT. Please, everyone read this.
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
I am so gratified to see this book popping up all over the internet these days and I hope it continues to get lots of love and attention - and awards maybe? I can hope. This is actually (gasp!) the only book on my list that's a part of a series. I can't wait for the next installment to come out. Do I really need to tell you what this book is about?
Some honorable mentions that haven't been released yet, but that I'm 99.9% sure will be great: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente, Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta and Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor.
I know the question at issue is, "Is there hope for YA fantasy?," and my answer is yes, but unsurprisingly, I keep thinking about other things. First, about how many fantasy books have come very highly recommended to me and which I have yet to read, and second, about how exciting it is to read what might become the classics of the future. (in terms of quality, not age) It is so easy to get disheartened about the current state of any genre if you are reading so many frontlist books. Every book that is published will not withstand the test of time, but some outstanding ones will find an appreciative audience, either now or sometime in the future. I found one of my favorite fantasy novels, The Perilous Gard, thirty years after it was published...in a secret section of children's and young adult books in my college library. That my best friend and I randomly found that section still feels a bit like a fantasy novel plot.
I try to temper my excitement about books these days because I easily get my hopes up and then they are sliced to pieces when a book doesn't come through for me. That said, there are many upcoming YA fantasy books I am looking forward to sampling. I say sampling only because I am fairly positive at least half of the fall 2012/winter 2013 books won't be as great as I'm hoping they will be. I'm also excited about some of the books Tatiana and Catie mentioned but that goes without saying, even though I just said it.
Prophecy by Ellen Oh
Publication Date: 1/2/13
The greatest warrior in all of the Seven Kingdoms... is a girl with yellow eyes. Kira’s the only female in the king’s army, and the prince’s bodyguard. She’s a demon slayer and an outcast, hated by nearly everyone in her home city of Hansong. And, she’s their only hope...
Murdered kings and discovered traitors point to a demon invasion, sending Kira on the run with the young prince. He may be the savior predicted in the Dragon King Prophecy, but the missing treasure of myth may be the true key. With only the guidance of the cryptic prophecy, Kira must battle demon soldiers, evil shaman, and the Demon Lord himself to find what was once lost and raise a prince into a king.
Jepp, Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh
Publication Date: 10/9/12
Is it written in the stars from the moment we are born?
Or is it a bendable thing that we can shape with our own hands?
Jepp of Astraveld needs to know.
He left his countryside home on the empty promise of a stranger, only to become a captive in a strange and luxurious prison: Coudenberg Palace, the royal court of the Spanish Infanta. Nobody warned Jepp that as a court dwarf, daily injustices would become his seemingly unshakeable fate. If the humiliations were his alone, perhaps he could endure them, but it breaks Jepp’s heart to see his friend Lia suffer.
After Jepp and Lia perform a daring escape from the palace, Jepp is imprisoned again, alone in a cage. Now, spirited across Europe by a kidnapper in a horse-drawn carriage, Jepp is unsure where his unfortunate stars may lead him.
Before Jepp can become the master of his own destiny, he will need to prove himself to a brilliant and eccentric new master—a man devoted to uncovering the secrets of the stars—earn the love of a girl brave and true, and unearth the long-buried secrets of his parentage. And he will find that beneath the breathtaking cruelty of the world is something else: the persistence of human kindness.
City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster
Publication Date: 2/5/13
The girl with no past, and no future, may be the only one who can save their lives.
Nisha was abandoned at the gates of the City of a Thousand Dolls when she was just a child. Now sixteen, she lives on the grounds of the isolated estate, where orphan girls apprentice as musicians, healers, courtesans, and, if the rumors are true, assassins. Nisha makes her way as Matron’s assistant, her closest companions the mysterious cats that trail her shadow. Only when she begins a forbidden flirtation with the city’s handsome young courier does she let herself imagine a life outside the walls. Until one by one, girls around her start to die.
Before she becomes the next victim, Nisha decides to uncover the secrets that surround the girls’ deaths. But by getting involved, Nisha jeopardizes not only her own future in the City of a Thousand Dolls—but her own life.
The Cadet of Tildor by Alex Lidell
Publication Date: 1/10/13
Having already survived six years at the Tildor’s top military academy, sixteen-year-old Renee De Winter is determined to graduate, training day and night to compete with her male classmates. When the boys overpower her parries, she works harder. When a bully sabotages her gear, she fights without it.
But when an underground crime group captures her mentor for its illegal gladiatorial games, she must choose between her career and her conscience. Determined to penetrate the group’s inner circles, Renee will leap from academia to the crime filled streets, pick up a sword, and weigh law against loyalty.
These all sound very exciting to me, particularly the last one because I love me some badass female gladiators. I am envisioning some sort of amalgamation of Yelena's training in the Study series, Tamora Pierce's fierce ladies, and the cage fight scenes in Blood Red Road. I've had an ARC of Jepp from the bookstore for a few weeks but I haven't gotten around to it, despite my high level of anticipation. I had to take a break in Throne of Glass and I haven't tried Shadow and Bone, Stormdancer, Grave Mercy, Bitterblue, or either of the Fairyland books so I'd like to knock all of those out before year's end, as well as all of Frances Hardinge's work as per Catie's glowing recommendation and China Mieville's. Am I aiming too high? Yes, definitely. But what can I say? I am filled with excitement. I tend to be more lenient with my fantasy than my cobloggers, I think. I can forgive a lot for a fun plot--I'll even allow some love triangle nonsense and world-building fails if the story is moving along. However, I've been repeatedly let down and I have at least half of the recent fantasies I've tried are currently sitting in half-finished limbo. But I'll never stop hoping to find more beloved fantasy novels. When they're amazing, they're lifelong loves.
The way I see it, there is still hope for YA fantasy, only it's going to take more and more time and effort to find anything good among mediocrity. Like with all the genres that experienced great popularity recently (PNR, UF, dystopias, SF now), once all publishers jump on what they think a winning trend, the overall quality of the genre drops significantly. If just a few years ago select genre fiction works were picked for their literary merits, now they are published more or less for simply fitting a trend. YA fantasy explosion isn't in full swing yet, but it's coming, and with it oh so many disappointments. Mostly these disappointments will be caused by the publishers' insistence on heavily promoting not the best books, but those they view as the most commercially promising.
It's hard to say why fantasy is on the rise right now. Maybe it has something to do with the popularity and success of Kristin Cashore's Graceling, Fire and Bitterblue. Maybe R.R. Martin and HBO are at fault. Or maybe it's just all artificially generated by publishers who strive to hit the next genre gold mine.
In any case, I am very skeptical of this trend, and my skepticism is enforced by the fact none of the fantasies released this year I enjoyed (sorry, fans of Grave Mercy, Bitterblue, Throne of Glass, Shadow & Bone, Stormdancer). The utter failure of these new books made me think back at the past great fantasy works that are bound to be lost in a shuffle while so-so books are heavily promoted. So, what I want to talk about is older fantasy novels that deserve, IMO, much more attention than many of the new ones.
While Jay Kristoff's Stormdancer is enjoying an intense pre-publication buzz (I am not going to argue that it's not justified, that novel may be just not my thing) for its unique Japanese-inspired setting, there are already books that can offer similar cultural experience and intrepid heroine with special powers - Alison Goodman's duo of books Eon and Eona, set in Chinese-inspired Empire of the Celestial Dragons. And, in my opinion, these two books are much more exciting and easier to read than upcoming Stormdancer. So if you are dead set on reading Stormdancer, I don't think it will hurt to indulge in some Eon/Eona action while you are waiting for September to come. Then, I hope, you will tell me which book is better.
I have no idea why A Resurrection of Magic books are not more well known, even though the first book in this trilogy - Skin Hunger - received a National Book Award Honor and general high critical acclaim. Are these books too challenging, too dark (imagine Hogwarts where every school room is a torture chamber), the narrative structure is too non-linear, too little romance? But these books are so unique and so special, it pains me that not more people give them a try. This series is unlike anything else I've read and manages to constantly keep me in suspense (just like it does its own creator - Kathleen Duey). Even though I believe these books won't satisfy everyone's reading taste - they are not exactly a commercial type fiction, but they are well worth at least checking out.
The following are books I keep recommending over and over again.
Before Katsa and Fire, there was Robin McKinley's Harry riding her horse, coming to terms with her magical powers and finally finding her place in the world. I just love how rich and romantic The Blue Sword is, by far McKinley's best.
Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia books might be just my most favorite fantasy books ever. I like to say that if I were a writer, I'd love to have written these books, because Turner's writing style is something that appeals to me greatly - the tightness, the intricateness, the precision and intelligence of her prose never cease to wow me.
And, of course, Melina Marchetta's fantasies. I keep coming back to them, like I do to all her books, because of the character, who are like a family to me.
What about you, our friends? Are there any great YA fantasy books on your TBR that we missed?
LGBT Pride has been celebrated in June since the 1980's, but for the past four years President Obama has acknowledged it at the national level. In honor of this month, and to show our support for equal rights for every person, we thought we'd bring our three heads together today for a round-up of some of our favorite books that contain gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered characters and/or feature LGBT themes.
Putting this list together made us all realize that there are a ton of these books that we'd like to read but haven't, so we've listed a few of those too!
I will start my part by saying that as far as mainstream YA and adult fiction go, I feel that there is a shortage of LGBT fiction, especially lesbian fiction.
And if we talk strictly YA, there is a shortage of LGBT fiction that isn't didactic and message-driven and framed as a lesson in tolerance. I would rather read YA lit that treats all variations of human sexuality as a norm, than teaches acceptance which is often tinged with feelings of separation between the "normal" majority and the pity- and tolerance-worthy minorities.
In that respect, YA books written (and co-written) by David Levithan are standouts. His Will Grayson, Will Grayson and Boy Meets Boy are remarkable in a way they embrace teen homosexuality, with a gay abandon, if you will. I love that his gay characters are so sure of themselves and their identity and so well adjusted, I love that these characters are real people who just happen to be gay, and their sexuality doesn't exclusively drive the plots of these books.
It doesn't mean that Levithan doesn't write about the difficulties that many gay teens might face in their lives, but he writes his characters as teens with regular teen problems - dating, conflicts with parents, school troubles - first. In Levithan's fictional worlds homosexuality is a normal, matter-of-fact thing, as it should be in real life too.
When I approach adult fiction, I also prefer to read novels not gay-issue driven, but rather about gay characters.
Sarah Waters is probably the only author I know who writes vastly entertaining fiction which consistently features lesbian heroines. Her novels range from historical romps (Tipping the Velvet) to gothic mysteries with ghosts in prisons (Affinity) to twisty romance/adventures with asylums for lunatics (Fingersmith).
Diana Gabaldon has a lesser known series of historical novels dedicated to Lord John Grey, a (gay) officer who spends his time serving in military and investigating crimes. While my love for Gabaldon's work is fading, the earlier stories in this series are quite captivating, especially if you are interested in knowing peculiarities of living gay in 18th century England.
Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness is even further away from LGBT, because, well, it's a science fiction about the type of sexuality that can't even be found in real life - ambisexuality. The inhabitants of Le Guin's alien world can be both male or female, depending on circumstances. Most of the time they stay asexual and only take on male or female sex for a few days a month during a period of sexual activity - kemmer.
Even though this novel is not particularly grounded in reality, it is a fascinating study of gender and "other" sexuality.
Brooklyn Burning by Steve Brezenoff:
I adored this story about a young person of unidentified gender and his/her struggle to deal with homelessness and the loss of his/her first love. The romance here is one of the rare ones that subverted all of my “Catie ending” predilections and made me root for the happy ending.
“Your song crept over me as I drifted, the room spinning ever so slightly, and I rolled onto my side and pulled up my knees, facing the back of the couch, and put my hands up together by my chin, like your music was a blanket I could gather around me.”
I'll Get There. It Better Be Worth The Trip by John Donovan:
A classic novel – possibly the first young adult novel to feature a homosexual relationship. Also one of the best young adult novels I’ve ever read, period. This one deals with grief and new beginnings and shame, and there are no neat endings here.
“Go ahead and feel guilty if you want to. I don’t.”
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You by Peter Cameron:
If I had been a wealthy gay teen growing up in New York City, this book could be about me. I related so much to this character’s voice, even though we have almost nothing in common. A quiet, contemplative read that’s not plot-heavy but is still compelling.
“I felt this awful obligation to be charming or at least have something to say, and the pressure of having to be charming (or merely verbal) incapacitates me.”
Hero by Perry Moore:
This book is fluffy fluff, but I could not put it down. I even took it to a family event and read it covertly in little snatches under the table. Somewhat pathetic rag-tag bands of unlikely heroes are definitely a golden topic for me, and throw in a very cute romance with dark hero? I was completely absorbed.
“Now I was the only one left. I thought about what I was going to say: Oh, hi there, I'm Thom. I just want to say what an honor it is to be a part of this prestigious team. A leader that wants to kick my ass, some bitchy girl with a major attitude problem, a geriatric precog, a guy who should probably be quarantined at the Center for Disease Control, and me, just your average, ordinary, gay teen superhero. Surely we're what the founding members had in mind when they banded together to form the world's premier superhero group. What's not to be excited about?”
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters:
Another romance that somehow managed to make me long for a happily-ever-after! These girls went through so much in the span of 500 pages; they deserved a happy ending.
“I felt that thread that had come between us, tugging, tugging at my heart - so hard, it hurt me. A hundred times I almost rose, almost went in to her; a hundred times I thought, Go to her! Why are you waiting? Go back to her side! But every time, I thought of what would happen if I did. I knew that I couldn't lie beside her, without wanting to touch her. I couldn't have felt her breath upon my mouth, without wanting to kiss her. And I couldn't have kissed her, without wanting to save her.”
Iron Council by China Miéville:
I read this recently and it’s a great example of a book that contains interesting, multi-faceted gay characters but isn’t really an “issue” book. Or rather, it’s completely an issue book, but it doesn’t focus on LGBT issues. This is a very powerful story about revolution.
“Howl Barrow was easy. ‘We can flatten a bunch of inverts, perverts and painters quicker than scratching our arses,’ one captured militia commander had said, and his disdainful claim had become notorious. The Howl Barrow chapter would not last long, with its Nuevist squads, its battalions of militant ballet dancers, its infamous Pretty Brigade, a group of Collectivist grenadiers and musketeers all of them dollyboy man-whores in dresses and exaggerated make-up, shouting orders to each other in invert slang. At first they had been greeted with disgust; then with forbearance, as they fought without restraint; then with exasperated affection. No one wanted them to be overrun, but it was inevitable.”
A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood:
A very funny, heartbreaking read about one middle-aged professor and his grief after his long-term partner’s death.
“George smiles to himself, with entire self-satisfaction. Yes, I am crazy, he thinks. That is my secret; my strength.”
Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell:
I loved this book for so many reasons: for its stark portrayal of the rural Ozarks, for the enduring strength of the young heroine, and for the very honest, sweet feelings that she has for her married best friend Gail.
"In Ree's heart there was room for more. Any evening spent with Gail was like one of the yearning stories from her sleep was happening awake. Sharing the small simple parts of life with someone who stood tall in her feelings."
Books I want to read: listing these ones out has made me realize that the letters “L” and “B” are feeling a bit neglected in my YA books. Two that I plan to read very soon are Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden and Pink by Lili Wilkinson. Also on my to-read list: The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd, Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowitz, Sister Mischief by Laura Goode, and Beautiful Music For Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills. What else would you guys recommend?
After looking through my shelves to see what books I could offer to this post, I came away a bit embarrassed, to be honest. I don't think there are enough books adding to the discussion (can there ever be enough?), but I am certainly not doing my part to read through even a small portion of the ones that are already published. That said, here are a few of my favorite young adult books featuring LGBTQ characters or issues.
What recommendations do you have for us this month? Which ones did we miss? Make sure to check out Malina Lo's blog for this month, where she has a very interesting series of articles about YA literature and Pride month. Happy Friday everyone!
Occasionally on Three Heads Are Better Than One (or Two) we will highlight the work of an author we all love. Today, we would like to help celebrate the release of This is Not a Test by one of our favorite authors, Courtney Summers. This is Not a Test is a slight departure from her usual dark, gritty contemporary novels featuring damaged girl characters. Instead, she has written a dark, gritty contemporary novel featuring a damaged girl character… with a side order of zombies! Contrary to what those last two sentences would suggest, her novels are far from repetitive. But they do all contain certain elements that we have loved. Today we chat about all the reasons we love the writing of Courtney Summers and highlight our favorite novels of hers.
When I first joined Goodreads, I floundered around for awhile. Years, actually. Somehow, and I really don't remember how it happened, I made friends with a few people on the site who invited me to join them in a private group of awesome. I was as nervous to post there as I always was on the first day of school. They read a book a month together so it was with great excitement that I purchased their next pick, Fall for Anything by Courtney Summers. It's funny to think back on that time, which was really only about a year and a half ago. I've become an absolutely more confident reader since that time. Until we talked about doing this post, I don't think I realized how important reading that book was for me as a reader. If I hadn't joined that group and read FfA, I might not have discovered my love of Summers' books until much later.
I went back and reread my review of the book and I was not surprised to see that some of the insights I had about the book are the reasons I've also enjoyed her two earlier books, Some Girls Are and Cracked Up To Be. Something that I enjoy in every one of her books is how she actually understands what being in high school is like and doesn't sugar coat even one iota of it. I've never really been bullied but my blood pressure soared as I read about how Regina and her friends treated other people in Some Girls Are (and how they later treated her). Likewise, I've never had to deal with harboring a secret like Regina and Summers made me feel more worry for her, specifically in one scene, than most any author I can think of made me feel for a character. I always try to block that one scene out of my mind but I just reread my review and it came back to me--I think it put me on edge as much as a horror novel. This makes me certain that This Is Not A Test will be chalked up as a total success, since I know Courtney Summers can write high tension scenes. I'm saving that book as a rescue from a future reading slump.
I don't know if I could put my feelings about her writing into better words than I did when I wrote my original reviews of her books, so I'll just select a few of the things I've said about her writing:
"Her characters are realistically flawed and you can almost smell the desperation that drips off of nearly every one of them, whether they are desperate for friendship, love, or forgiveness for missteps. " (Cracked Up To Be)
"Courtney Summers lovers will find the same old awesome in this one: gritty topic, beautiful writing, a bitchity main girl, and a lightning fast read." (Cracked Up To Be)
"At times, her books feel almost painfully realistic. This one definitely gives you the feeling of what bullying actually feels like--about the hopelessness and loneliness of it all. And about how either willfully or negligently unaware parents and teachers can be. " (Some Girls Are)
I really have to give Summers props for coming up with what I feel like is one of the harshest things you could ever say to another human being: "You make me feel alone." (FfA) If someone said that to me, I think I'd probably cry for hours. But having read two more of her books after that initial one, it doesn't surprise me that one of her characters would say that to another. She really is the queen of writing manipulative characters. I truly don't know of any YA authors who do it better. If you enjoy honest and realistic YA and you haven't read her books, you are an idiot. (sorry, I was just trying on my Courtney Summers mean girl character hat for a minute.) What I meant to say is, read them! You'll love them!
If you write reviews long enough you’ll start to hear your own critical broken record. You’ll start to notice the gripes that you tend to voice over and over again. A book can be hitting every one of your good spots, but the appearance of one or two of those things can automatically disconnect you from whatever love you were feeling. In fact, we wrote a post about some of those things last week. My inner broken record of gripes probably sounds something like this:
…too much resolution…
…too damn HAPPY…
And I haven’t failed to notice that most of the time, I am alone out here on my grumpy little island. (Tatiana visits quite often, however. We make bitter, bitter mojitos.) It’s not really a mystery why so many people love to read happy stories about people learning from their mistakes and then riding off into the sunset. Those stories can make you feel hopeful and optimistic about the world. They can make your heart swell and your face ache from grinning.
Unless you’re me. None of that happens for me, ever. At least, not when it’s “supposed to” happen. Not with the stories specifically written to elicit those emotions. And I admit that sometimes I feel like there’s this big, cheerful, exciting club that I’ll never belong to. Sometimes I pick up a “heartwarming” story for review with this complete sense of dread because I know that I’ll probably be the one person to dump all over it while you all are hanging out and celebrating.
This rambling opening is all just a semi-relevant precursor to the reasons that I adore the writing of Courtney Summers so much. Reading her books is like having an author specifically address each of my gripes one by one. Her characters never make unrealistic progress, her stories are never resolved into neat little packages, and the word “happy” doesn’t belong anywhere near her books. Her stories make me feel uncomfortable and bruised; they force me to sit with my darkest places and they linger in my mind long after I’ve finished them. Her writing is pared down and striking in its honest simplicity.
I also love that her main characters always have a romantic interest, but never a true loooove. I love the occasional dark humor that shows up to make me chuckle evilly in scenes where I probably shouldn’t be laughing. And I love her crazy taste in character names: Parker Fadley? Regina Afton? Culler Evans? Sloane Price? Is this a modern day high school or a fancy ski lodge in 1984? I don’t know. And more importantly, I don’t want to know.
But perhaps the thing I love most of all is that Courtney Summers’ books make me get in touch with my inner smug bitch. You see, I kind of love reading negative reviews for her books – reviews that say things like, “the main character is just so…awful” or (in outrage) “There was no resolution in the end!!!” or “I just wish that it wasn’t so dark.” (Note: I made up all of these quotes. They do not come from actual reviews.) I love reading those reviews because they make me feel like I’m finally the one on the inside. I’m finally a member of the club that gets something, and not on the outside shaking my head. Unhappiness never felt so good!
What is ironic is that my favorite Courtney Summers' novel is the one I was reluctant to read the most. I resisted and resisted and resisted this book recommendation.
I am talking about Some Girls Are - a novel about a mean girl.
The reason why I stay away from mean girl books is because most of the time they are too... humanizing and forgiving. You normally have a bully girl who is a nasty person but who learns during the course of a novel the wrongness of her behavior. We also find out why she is the way she is. Then she changes for better, possibly says sorry to her victim(s), and everything bad is forgiven and forgotten. And I am often left feeling like these characters are cut too much slack.
I never felt that way reading Some Girls Are. Regina is as mean of a girl as they come. When she crosses another mean girl, she finally gets a taste of hard-core bullying that she's been on a giving side of for years. Does she learn her lesson, become better and drive into sunset with a hot boyfriend at her side? Not really.
I liked that Courtney Summers never made Some Girls Are into a "lesson" story. I liked being in a mean girl's head and seeing how horrifying and damaging it is to live always hating and being hated. I enjoyed reading about predatory social dynamics in a mean girls' group. And I LOVED that there was no easy forgiveness for Regina. Whatever she did in her young life, she would have to carry with and within herself forever, but there is still a tiny possibility of Regina being able to make a positive change. There is more truth in such ending than in any HEA.
Having read all Summers' novel, I know for sure Regina is my favorite character. She is hateful, but she is proactive and vocal, and that separates her from the author's other more subdued and less "mean" heroines. Who knew I would ever end up falling for a mean girl?
The three of us consume hundreds of reviews and blurbs every single week for books that we haven't read. And our respective to-be-read lists, when placed end to end, could probably reach from the Earth to the Moon. And back. Our lists are long enough - we definitely don't need to be adding something that we know we'll hate. But how do we know?
Experience has taught us that there are certain topics that will just never appeal to us. These are our "dealbreakers" - those certain words or phrases that stand out in blurbs or reviews and cause us to run in the other direction. Of course, none of these are hard or fast rules, but when navigating the thousands of books published each year, it pays to be a little judgmental!
Sarah from Clear Eyes, Full Shelves inspired this post in part with her excellent List-O-Rama!
Half-assed world building
I know that not everyone is like this, but I love world-building – the more inventive and detailed the better. I grew up reading The Hobbit about once a year and then of course I became a massive Lord of the Rings fan. So you know… I have certain standards. A map on the opening pages, several made-up races and languages, completely original magic systems – these are all things that I relish. I want to be surprised. I want to experience a world that I could have never even imagined. So, (and this is especially true recently) when I run across the same old historical European setting and the same old magic systems and the same old black and white good vs. evil struggle…meh.
I know this is a major stereotype that I have, but I can’t help it. Experience has proven that for me, “heartwarming tale” = schmaltzy unrealistic corn-fest. I just don’t like anything that’s too…happy. And I hardly ever read to escape. I don’t know if this means I’m a rigid stick in the mud or what, but I really like my books to feel like reality. And for me that means they can’t be too happy.
Forbidden Love + YA
= No. I just can’t handle it anymore. I can’t handle whatever crazy-ass excuse (different classes, different species, he’s a murderer, he’s a sociopath, he’s a stalker but he’s oh so HOT anyway…) will be used to keep the love interests apart. And even MORE than that, I definitely can’t handle the stupid justifications that will be used to actually bring them together. You know what? If there’s a hot guy who might murder you someday…maybe you just shouldn’t, okay? Can we all just agree on that?
Dogs as narrators
I do fully intend to read Jack London’s books someday, but otherwise the story of the family dog holds almost zero appeal for me. I am a cat person through and through. Books that purportedly contain a “heartwarming tale” and a dog narrator have less than zero appeal. And if I ever come across “the heartwarming tail of the family dog” on a book shelf somewhere I can’t promise that I won’t barf.
The problems of rich white people in boarding school/prep school
Wedding planning angst
I didn't even angst about my own wedding plans - why would I want to read about someone else worrying for pages on end about which color of jordan almonds to serve?
The funny thing is, now that I've finished this list I can think of several exceptions to these dealbreakers. But I guess that's why I'm so thankful to have so many great reviewer friends: only you trusted people can convince me to break these rules.
This might not be the best time for me to approach this particular topic, seeing that I am still in a deep reading slump and just about everything is a dealbreaker for me at the moment. Grief, death, "strong" heroines, high fantasies with the same plots, road trips, nonsensical dystopias, love triangles, cancer, comparisons to Sarah Dessen or Judy Blume - you name it, I probably just abandoned a book with one of those elements. I won't lie, I am extremely weary of YA books right now (thank you very much, crappy ARCs!). BUT, there are still some things that have been grating on my nerves for years and I am going to lay them out for you.
INCEST (real or pseudo) used as a romantic element
This is a #1 dealbreaker for me. It's not that I am not morbidly interested in this topic, in general. Believe me, I am. Ian McEwan's The Cement Garden and Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex enthralled me. It's just as a romantic trope incest is full of fail. Contrary to how authors like Charlaine Harris and Mira Grant write about it, with heroines calling their lovers brothers while having sex with them (even if their brothers are not strictly biological), the issue of incest is complex and psychologically damaging. There has to be something unsettling and disturbing in a relationship between a man and a woman who have been raised since their infancy as siblings, for them to be able to cross that line and become full fledged lovers. There has to be some isolation, abuse, etc. involved. Incest is a taboo for a reason. Most people would feel sick at the idea of themselves sleeping with their siblings. They also, unlike characters in Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments books, would probably feel sick if they find out that people they've been making out with, are their brother/sister.
Let me make it clear - incest is not a smart tool for creating romantic wangst! Authors shouldn't exploit this issue if they are not equipped to address all psychological, social and emotional implications and consequences of it.
And speaking of wangst...
Now, this one is different for every reader. Each reader, I believe, has a certain level of angst that he/she is ready to handle.
I like thoughtful novels about suffering characters just like any other person. Sara Zarr's Story of a Girl I am reading right now has just the right amount of depressing angst, IMO. But a bit more than that, if the characters start throwing themselves around and cry and whine and contemplate suicide and wallow in self-pity in the most obvious and obnoxious way, like they do in Jennifer Donnely's Revolution, Jandy Nelson's The Sky is Everywhere or David Levithan's Every You, Every Me, I am immediately out.
Subtlety is key here. I don't need the characters to constantly voice their suicidal intentions to know their pain. You remember show-not-tell rule? The characters' pain should be shown through their actions, not their sad, sad monologues.
Now, maybe I am not a proper woman or something, but I just can't handle stories, both adult and YA, about pregnancies and child rearing, cute babies and whatnot. (Too much 16 and Pregnant watching possibly?) Maybe if I have my own I will change my mind, but as of now, I stay away.
However, I did manage to read a couple of YA books about teen pregnancies that didn't turn me off for some reason - How to Save a Life and Impossible. Why? Talented authors? Non-nauseating handling of the topic? I honestly don't know.
Books written by female writers from male POVs and books written by male writers from female POVs
I am not saying that it is impossible to get the opposite gender's voice right, but from my experience, most writers, especially when it comes to YA or genre fiction, can't do it effectively. More often then not you end up with female characters constantly thinking and talking about penises and males ones with lust-less, chaste thoughts, who describe their girlfriends' dresses' in minute detail and constantly quote poetry.
What I often feel is that when a male author writes from a girl's/woman's POV, he tries to get into the market by pandering to the female audience. And if a woman writes from a guy's POV, this guy's perspective is of a fantasy, wish-fulfillment kind.
Quilts, knitting, patchworking, macrame, scrapbooking, book clubs
I am saving these for when I am in my 70s.
"I'm in the future! Who cares how we got here!"
Remember when we fast forwarded a hundred years and suddenly we were back to pagan rituals? No? Remember how annoying the movie The Village was with its ridiculously stupid plot twist? I definitely do. If you're going to set your book anywhere that is recognizable as earth, please, please explain to me how we got to that point. And I don't think I'm asking too much to request that your explanation make logical sense. If there are some weapons around, where are the others? Don't invent a disease that somehow only affects redheaded twelve-year-olds. I'm getting pretty sick of the "mysterious plague that wipes out nearly the entire population of earth" story.
This could all be solved with one conversation
I admit that I can't know about this dealbreaker until it drives me absolutely bonkers after starting. If you have a character who is repeatedly getting into awkward situations, having misunderstandings, being walked all over, harboring a vital secret...well, just don't do it. Unless you are somehow writing the equivalent of a comedy of confusion and mistaken identity, you are going to drive me up the wall. This seems to happen a lot in romance novels. "Oh, I'm a secret millionaire but I'm going to let you go ahead and think that I'm homeless and that you're giving me a leg up, even if that means embarrassing yourself in front of your peers, my family, and everyone you know. We'll all have a laugh about this later!" (I made this storyline up)
I once saw a thread on Amazon about how Christian fiction should be marked as such and many parties were getting really heated about it. I am sure that some of it is probably good. I may even like some of it if I gave it a try, but I'm not going to. In the same way that I'm sure many readers would say they want to read "clean" books, I feel an aversion to any books that leave out what I see as realistic progressions of relationships (to me) or books with a heavy-handed message. I'm sure not all religious fiction has either of these two elements. Nevertheless, not for me.
Ghosts, mermaids, fairies, angels, vampires
Sure, there are exceptions to these (as there are to all of our dealbreakers) but I am sick of these subgenres. When I see any of these topics mentioned in a blurb, it drops down to the bottom of my to-read list (or more likely falls off it altogether.) I almost added "teenager solving crimes" to my list but then I remembered how much I enjoyed I Hunt Killers and A Pocketful of Eyes and I had to retract that statement. I think that last dealbreaker is more of a "played-out idea that is rarely done well." Hmmm, I think there are a ton of books that fall into that category.
That should be a band name. Anyway, this one's a direct result of my first and only attempt to read from Laurell K. Hamilton's Merry Gentry series. There was a free Kindle book on Amazon so I snatched it up and started reading...and had to put it down after less than a chapter because there was already an orgy happening with several different magical beings. Which brings me to my next dealbreaker...
The Female Main Character Who Is Irresistible To Everyone with a Penis
Yeah, that's right Sookie Stackhouse, I'm talking to you. I bet all the ladies of Louisiana want you outta there. But seriously, I'd like to believe that guys have varied taste. It is unbelievable (and annoying) when a character in a book gets with every dude around.
Other dealbreakers for me include some that Tatiana and Catie already mentioned. I won't read any culinary or crafty mysteries, anything narrated by an animal, any books with lots of ridiculous character names, anything by Ann Coulter/Bill O'Reilly/Glenn Beck and their ilk, about main characters who are highly skilled at everything but never develop those skills or train in any way, and most importantly, I try not to read anything that's boring. (I have to thank Nomes at Inkcrush for having a conversation with me about dealbreakers and saying that "boredom is a dealbreaker" and making me laugh.)
And now we want to hear from all of you! What are the key phrases and topics that help you decide what you don't want to read? Stop by and chat with us.
So many young adult novels these days come with this little fella attached: "(The blah blah Series, #1)." It's so ubiquitous that it's almost a foregone conclusion now that any YA fantasy or paranormal will be part of a series. (That being said - to the recent crop of standalones - we love you!)
But before we all became young adult junkies, we had a different sort of series. More mature. More intense. More gory. And sometimes, even more pointless and repetitive.
So here they are in all their beautiful/ugly glory: the adult series we love (and the ones we've lost).
When the topic of this post was suggested, I became quite excited - I thought, I read a lot of series, so picking my favorite adult ones would be a piece of cake. That is, until I opened my Goodreads account and looked at my shelves dedicated to series. Let's just say, in reality, the number of series that I liked in their entirety or am still following is only a tiny fraction of those that I abandoned after or during book one or at some later point in a series. The ability of authors to destroy their once great creations is staggering.
The easiest, albeit the most prolonged, parting with a formerly beloved series is definitely the one with the Stookie Stackhouse books. (It took me 11 books to finally realize it's time to pull the plug.) If there is any author who knows how to ruin her series, it's Charlaine Harris. The moment she loses interest in one of her stories, you know it - the books become in-your-face awful. This happened both to her Harper Connelly and Lily Bard series (I have no idea why, but I enjoyed Aurora Teagarden series from start to finish, even though it was plagued by continuity errors and all kinds of signature Harris mess), and it happened to Sookie books as well. In her greedy dash to add more books to this series she no longer had any interest in and make more money, Harris has gradually demolished everything we used to love about Sookie and the gang. (The butchering of Eric will never be forgiven, that's for sure.)
There are some series that are still lingering on my shelves, but I pretty much don't have any emotional connection to them any more, and, truth be told, I doubt I will actually complete them. Give me a few more months, and I will remove them from my shelves during one of my occasional TBR-clearing sessions.
Diana Gabaldon's Outlander and Lord John series are on their way out. These books are getting harder and harder for me to read. They've become too long and too plot-less. Unlike Harris, who gets sick of her characters, Gabaldon is too in love with hers and doesn't know when her stories become over-indulgent and when they need editing. Gabaldon seems to be her own biggest fan and, having her publishers eat out of her hands, she has every opportunity to continue writing 1000-pages long fanfiction based on her own characters and stories.
Women of the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong is in a precarious position. There is only one book left in this series, and I will undoubtedly read it. While I haven't been in love with any book in this series since book #10, I haven't hated any of the books either. But this series has lost its steam, it's clear. I'm glad it's almost over.
Now, on to the series I still love and look forward to reading more of. It is, sadly, a very short list.
First (and it feels blasphemous to call these books a series) I really hope to one day read a 3rd book in Margaret Atwood's cycle of dystopic novels called (by someone) MaddAddam Trilogy. After seeing this YouTube video, I am more hopeful that this book will be completed, because with Atwood you can never be 100% sure. She herself never knows if a book can be written until is is written in full.
Second, I am very interested in reading a follow-up to M.K. Hobson's The Native Star and The Hidden Goddess. Hobson is currently leading a Kickstarter campaign to finance the publication of the 3rd book in this gloriously named series Veneficas Americana. Fingers crossed, it succeeds. (UPDATE: Yes, it's a success!)
Downside Ghosts and Dublin Murder Squad are on this list as well. Catie will speak more eloquently about these two. For these authors I just hope that they will know when to stop while they are ahead and not follow the mistake of other series writers.
And the last, but not least, of my favorite series! I am sure you can guess, I've talked so much about it it's not even funny. FEVER!
This series is both finished and unfinished. I am apprehensive and excited about the new planned additions to the already completed story arc. This extension can be a huge failure or a lot of fun. At this point, I choose to be optimistic about it. This is the only attitude a Jericho Barrons addict like moi can afford.
I am a lover of series but I am also terrible at keeping up with them. I've probably started no less than thirty or forty different series at one time or another but the ones I am still keeping up with I can count on one hand. Er, maybe two.
Jasper Fforde is like that new person you meet at a party who you are instant best friends with--I love these people. They like all the same things you like, they listen to the same music, they read all the same things and you end up talking to them for hours. That's what I love about Jasper Fforde. When I read one of his books, I feel like I am just jumping onto the same wavelength and enjoying the ride. I am keeping up with his Thursday Next series, about a literary detective who can read herself in and out of books, and his Shades of Grey series, about people who live in a world where social status is determined by how much of the color spectrum you can see. I really can't think of many authors I'd describe as wacky and/or zany, but Jasper Fforde is sure one of them.
Like Tatiana and Catie, I also enjoy the Dublin Murder Squad books, though I've only read one and a half of them so far. (I know, no need to shun me.) Two other crime-related series that I've kept up with are the Gretchen Lowell/Archie Sheridan books by Chelsea Cain and the In Death series by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts). The Heartsick series is addicting but I wasn't the biggest fan of the last book and I'm really hoping it comes back together when the next one comes out in August. Cain snagged me in book one when she had Lowell taking a hammer and nail to Archie's ribs on the first few pages. I'm about three books behind in the In Death series but considering the series is almost to thirty-five books, I think we can all agree that I'm keeping up with it.
For quite a while, I was following several paranormal romance series. I kept up with the Argeneau Vampires by Lynsay Sands and the Dark Ones series by Katie Macalister for years and I still get excited when I see them in stores or at the library, but they've both let me down several times in recent history so I've mostly given them up. I still hold out hope that Macalister will pick her Aisling Grey: Guardian series back up because I really enjoyed all four books in that series. As an attempt to fill that void, I grimaced through a few books in the offshoot Silver Dragons series and then jumped off that ship. My cobloggers have already and will mention that we all mourn the loss of the Sookie series but I'd also like to throw another series into the pit of despair: the Undead books by MaryJanice Davidson. Contrary to the trend with many series where each subsequent book gets longer, pretty soon the Undead series will just be printed on leaflets. In terms of reading them right when they are released, I think the only paranormal series I'm following devoutly is Chicagoland Vampires. That series is reaching it's awkward puberty years and I spend more time daydreaming about whose story in the Chicagoland universe might come next when that series comes to its end. I have lots of (unsolicited and unwanted) suggestions!
And lastly, the series I am dying to read and/or finish. Like I said earlier, I have a horrible tendency to just read one book in a series and put off the rest or to just flit around despite trusted reader/friend recommendations to light a fire under my butt and get going. Most of these series are already on my 110+ Books I Want To Read Next list, but they bear repeating here. These are the adult series I have read one book in and want to finish or no books in and want to complete: the Mary Russell series, Newsflesh, Grant County, Logan McRae, Sirantha Jax, Veneficas Americana, Mistborn, and yes, I have yet to read the Song of Ice and Fire books. I don't know what's preventing me from jumping back into some of these series. Really, that's the appeal of series in general. We've already done all the work in book one. Anything after that is like adding oil to a well-functioning machine. But we all know that every machine has a usable life. (I just had a nightmare thinking about tax law class and our discussion about depreciation of assets.)
For better or worse, I read a ton of series. There’s something so appealing about being able to return to the same cast of characters over and over again. It’s like revisiting old friends, or old lovers (hey, these are adult series after all). When considering the adults series that I’ve had committed relationships with, they seem to naturally fall into these categories:
Dead to me: These are the series that have jumped the shark so horrifically that I don’t think they’ll ever be redeemed. Or maybe they were always bad and my taste has just evolved. Either way, I won’t be touching these with a ten-foot pole. Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the snarky reviews for them though…
The Sookie Stackhouse Series by Charlaine Harris – I feel so justified in dropping this series after reading the recent reviews of Deadlocked. It’s such a disappointment because I used to look forward to these whenever a new one was released. Unfortunately, I think the author lost her passion for the series and its characters long ago and instead of just ending it, she’s apparently decided to take everything we once loved and just burn it to the ground.
The Stephanie Plum Series by Janet Evanovich – I’m pretty sure that these were always bad. Still, when I first picked this series up at age 21, I thought it was pretty hilarious. Then I realized that the author was actually just re-writing the exact same book over and over again. This realization took approximately eight years to form but at least I finally got there. I guess I have matured somewhat in my adult years. Hurrah!
It’s not you; it’s me: These are the series that I feel like I may have outgrown. It’s not that their overall quality has lessened (much); it’s just that I find I’m no longer interested in reading them.
The Kate Daniels Series by Ilona Andrews – I read the newest one last year and it just wasn’t clicking with me. I think this series is great – one of the best, even. But honestly I’m not sure if I’ll continue with it. Hopefully all of my amazing reviewer friends out there can convince me one way or the other!
The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon – Yes, these have gotten extremely long-winded and detailed but I actually think they’re still great. I am just not feeling as connected to the characters as I once did. I may or may not read the new one. Again, it will be up to my trusted reviewer friends to sway me.
Don’t call me. I’ll call you: I love these series and I will definitely be continuing with them, but I just don’t have that insane urgency to pick up the next one. These are like my rainy-day reads – there for a good time whenever I’m bored but otherwise placed on the back burner. It’s a good thing that books can’t dump readers.
The Peter Grant Series by Ben Aaronovitch – I love Peter and I love his hilarious shenanigans as a magician/constable. I am actually really looking forward to reading the third book, which I’ll be reviewing here in the next month or two.
The Sirantha Jax Series by Ann Aguirre – Sirantha Jax ranks among my all-time favorite kick-ass female heroines and I LOVE that this series is like a magical hybrid of urban fantasy, romance, and sci-fi. It’s something different in a genre which can easily become stale.
The Hollows Series by Kim Harrison - more than any other series, the cast of this one feel like my old friends. This was the very first urban fantasy series I ever read and even though I was a bit disappointed in the last one, I'll definitely be coming back for more.
Whenever I see you out with someone else, I die a little inside: whenever I see the new books in these series going out with reviewer friends of mine (you know who you are!) I become so overwhelmed with longing and jealousy that I have to take a deep breath and resist the urge to grabby grab grab grab. Some of these I have ARCs for, which I am insanely excited about, but I’m trying to be a good reviewer and not read them until a month from their release dates and it is OH SO HARD. These are the series that I am still very addicted to.
The Newsflesh Series by Mira Grant – The very kind people at Orbit sent me an ARC of this which arrived today and it has taken everything that I have not to drop everything in my life and dive in eyeballs first. In fact, I’m actually rushing through this post right now so that I can get to reading it more quickly.
The Downside Ghosts Series by Stacia Kane – Why oh why does Chasing Magic not come out until the end of June?* And how the hell have I managed to resist reading the ARC that’s currently mocking me from the front page of my kindle library? I’ll tell you: I enlisted a sponsor. This series is so addictive that I need help in resisting it. Regina from Badass Book Reviews has kindly offered to keep me honest. Until the end of May. At which point you all won’t be hearing from me for approximately 6-8 hours.
*P.S. How hilarious is it that I'm complaining about this when Sacrificial Magic was released only a month ago?
The Dublin Murder Squad by Tana French – When I saw that the ARCs for this were restricted to booksellers and librarians, I wept a little. (Okay, no, I didn’t. But there was probably a melodramatic sigh of some kind.) To say that I am highly anticipating the twisted mental journey that her latest Broken Harbour is sure to take me on would be a severe understatement.
How about all of you? Have you had any major adult series disappointments? Are there any that you'd kill for the next installment of? Let's chat in the comments!
You're walking past your bookshelves (or piles, this is a judgment-free zone) or looking through them for your next read, when you see that book: the one that just looks perfect on your shelf. Maybe it's because that particular book is actually a disguise for suitcases full of memories. Maybe it's because it is a beautiful edition that you saved up to buy or a series that looks awesome lined up on the shelf. Or maybe it's just a book you've read or look through over and over that makes you happy every time you see it sitting there. Today at The Readventurer, we're talking about the books we just love to see on our shelves.
I know that you will all probably expect me to start listing off beautiful, pristine, rare copies of my favorite books, but when I think about the books I love to look at the most, none of those adjectives apply. This is the first book that comes to mind:
It’s an older paperback edition that’s water damaged, dirty, and one corner of it has been chewed off. It turns out that, when it comes to my favorite books to look at, I’m a sentimentalist. My favorite books to look at have stories beyond the ones within their pages. They have my stories.
My mom has struggled with depression for my entire life, but when I was fourteen, she went through a period of very deep depression and anxiety. She stopped being able to fully care for us, and often became overly frightened about things like rare diseases and natural disasters. (Don’t worry, this won’t be all doom and gloom. This story actually has an eventual happy(ish) ending. Years later my mom finally got help, became a therapist herself, and now works at a fancy pants rehab facility treating the rich and sometimes famous.) That summer though, she decided that we were going on a road trip, for reasons unknown and to points unnamed.
Did I mention this book is also illustrated?
As a lifelong planner and stability-lover, this was basically my worst nightmare. We spent hours and days in our beat up old Volkswagen station wagon, going from place to place with no goal in sight. Our little dog Cody came along in the car and got car sick at least once or twice a day. I can still remember vividly sitting in the back seat with him and trying desperately to will him not to throw up on me. When we had money, we stayed in motels. When we didn’t, we went “camping.” We drove from Washington State down through Oregon, California, Nevada, and Utah (and then all the way back).
In a tiny town in Utah, sitting on the front porch of a general store, was a box labeled “free books.” Inside that box, stuck in between romance novels and westerns, I spotted this copy of Little Women. I had checked it out years earlier from my school library and had found myself completely bored. In the middle of that crazy journey, I picked it up eagerly and buried myself in it. To be honest, I think I expected to be bored once again, but I would have taken anything at that point. However, I was not bored. Far from it! I can still remember sitting on a blanket in the dirt completely absorbed by that certain scene which will live in infamy! I read it when we were in shitty motels; I read it outside whenever it was light enough; I read it in the car; I kept reading it even after my dog chewed off the bottom right corner. That book took me away from everything that was going on and delivered me into another world. I can honestly say that it saved me!
In college I re-read Little Women and it didn’t absorb me in the same way. I’ve never been able to connect with it like I did on that horrible road trip. Maybe I’m not a true fan of the story, but this book – this particular book with its damaged dirty edges and teeth marks – will always remind me of how I discovered that reading could be an escape. And I think it's also directly responsible for forging in me a fondness for beat up old versions of my favorite books. Sometimes when I see them set aside at library book sales and thrift shops, I feel like it’s my duty to rescue them and give them a good home. These older versions of four of Thomas Hardy’s novels (which are almost falling apart) are some of my favorites to look at.
A super awesome investment.
Two of the best book sets that have ever been published are The Complete Far Side and The Complete Calvin and Hobbes. This is a fact. (source: my dad) I will forever love both of these cartoons because they are my dad's favorites. Gary Larson made tons of scientific jokes in his cartoons and I used to sit on a spin stool in my dad's laboratory and try to figure out why they were funny while I made necklaces and bracelets out of tiny plastic test tubes. (he cut the cartoons out and hung them on the walls) Now that I'm older and much, much more mature (heh), I think Gary Larson is one of the funniest people of all-time. The Complete Far Side weighs a ton and is surprisingly hardy, especially when you consider how often I look at it. Most of the cartoons are in black and white but there are some color pages interspersed. The book designers put thought into every aspect of the design--it has beautiful covers, the box the two books slide into is heavy enough to withstand a beating, and even the outside of the package and the inner pages of the cover are Far Side-related. The Calvin and Hobbes editions are very similar looking and the reason I love them is much the same, only it is because of my brother's love of the cartoon. Both sets are an investment considering their price (about $100 each) but in my opinion, they are so worth it. Every time I see them on my shelf, I smile. And more often than not, I get lost in laughter for an hour.
Recognize any of these? I bet you do
Wow, after Catie's and Flannery's personal stories, I don't think I can write anything that doesn't make me sound completely heartless.
Like every reader, I have a lot of sentimental value associated with books, but my sentiments are not attached to the books in their physical form, but rather to the content inside of them. This is why I can't really say that there are specific tomes that I will cherish and keep forever. There are stories that will stay in my memory forever and ever, but not actual, paper books. Those physical books I can acquire again and again.
Maybe my attitude has something to do with the fact that I had to completely rebuild my library after moving to America a few years ago, leaving behind a lot of what was important to me back then and there and discovering what blows my mind now, and maybe my ever-present drive to de-clutter is at fault. Either way, it doesn't really matter. Here are my books that I adore (if you remember, I only keep books that I've read and plan on reading again and again) and love to rearrange and fondle (just like any self-respecting bibliophile, right?). I always love looking at my bookies, I always want to read them (but then, I have only a limited time to dedicate to reading, so there is always a dilemma - to reread or read something new?), they always bring out the best memories - Mr. Darcy proposing to Elizabeth (both times), Harry Potter finding out he is a wizard, Jericho Barrons being all enigmatic and sexy, Jonah Griggs confessing and ripping my heart out yet again, Jamie Fraser announcing he is a virgin, Katniss looking at her children 15 years later after the deadly Hunger Games, or Georgia Nicolson just talking about her lip gloss and boyfriends. There is truly a whole world of experiences, emotions and people on our shelves, isn't it?
If I am forced to single out some of my books and say why seeing them makes me happy, I will give just a couple of examples, and please don't think that these are my favorite favorites, choosing those is simply impossible.
The books above to the left, with the font and alphabet you probably don't recognize are basically my first adult fantasies that I truly loved. Both Валькирия (Valkyrie) and Волкодав (Wolfhound) are stories based on Russian folklore and history. First one is about a woman warrior who is in search of a sense of belonging and love. She is stronger than most men (some magic involved), and that puts her in a very precarious position in a patriarchal society of pre-Christian Russia. It is very romantic (she gets the biggest badass BTW - the emotionally scarred widower and the army leader).
Волкодав is a Conan the Barbarian-like fantasy, with the main character who is on a quest to avenge the killing of his family. Less romantic, but not less interesting and absorbing than Валькирия. I love these books, because they remind me of my roots and take me into a time and place in history that I find very compelling.
And, of course, my Laini Taylor books. Laini is such a master storyteller and a master wordsmith and an artist. Even touching her books gives me a sense of magic, wonder and delight. I know that the moment I open her book, I will smile and get shivery from just experiencing her language and her imagination.
There are SO many books I own that give me all sorts of pleasures! Honestly, how do non-readers live without such experiences? My life would have been so empty and boring without books...
What are your favorite books to see on your shelves? Why do you love them so much?