I first heard about the Whitney Awards four years ago, but that year I did not read all the finalists like I have done in the years since then. I particularly avoided the Speculative category because it would have required reading The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, and I just could not imagine myself reading a thousand-page-long high fantasy novel. Then, this year, the follow-up to that novel, Words of Radiance was picked as a finalist for both a Whitney Award and the Association for Mormon Letters novel award. After years of avoiding Sanderson’s work, I decided it was finally time to dive in. A few weeks ago I went to the library, grabbed a copy of Words of Radiance, and furtively checked it out—even though it’s hard to be sneaky when you are carrying around a book that has a thousand pages and weighs several pounds. I brought the book home and stared at it for about a week before reluctantly cracking the cover. Although I’ve long been an avid reader, I’ve also secretly looked down a bit on people who read epic fantasy. I worried that my decision to start reading Sanderson would be the first step on a slippery slope that would end with me making my own chain mail. Thankfully, I have been proven wrong and I now repent of my previous snobbishness. Continue reading
For the most part I’m a discerning devourer of books, though to be fair if a story is promoted as having: a. aliens; b. space ships; c. sarcasm; d. guns; e. dogs; f. baking and/or g. magical realism, chances are 95% and rising that I’ll be checking out a sample chapter.
Though it’s the FINDING these works of bliss that has tended to be problematic, especially with the dross and magic flooding Amazon (self-published for the most case) demanding attention and often 99 cents. I’m also put off Amazon reviews when “This book arrived 10 days after I ordered it, which is why I’m giving it one star but the story was good.” Thankfully, the internet has given me a pool of reviewers whom I have come to rely on for recommending books I’d like – it has taken time (years) but right now I have seven tabs open with my favourite review sites/blogs, and I very rarely go to any others.
But what makes you want to read a book that has been reviewed? Is it the style of the review: strictly factual, Harvard referencing and no advertising anywhere? Chatty, casually mentioning three other similar books and flooding enthusiasm? Genre specific? A literary dissection, discussing the thematic elements, symbolism and political motivations? Or is it the website of someone you know (or know only online) who you’ve worked out likes and dislikes the same sort of books you do?
One of my favourite books this year – Terms of Enlistment, by Marko Kloos – found its way onto my phone simply because of the review from one of my favourite writers, Larry Correia:
I really enjoyed this one. Marko was in the German army, then emigrated to America. The thing that I enjoyed about ToE was that it was this really cool mil-sf, from the grunt’s perspective. Personally, my favorite parts where in the main character’s backstory, about his crappy upbringing, his enlistment, and the basic training. The character has a good evolution, and then we’ve got war, and space aliens. So what’s not to love? Check it out.
Short blurb, summative, war and aliens = WIN! Add to that the fact that Marko wrote a very clever, engaging and downright fascinating story and I’m now more likely to have a look at other books Corriea recommends.
One of my sons’ (and my) favourite picture books came from a review column of an online science-fiction magazine, which has featured many columnists and genres. Of the original post, this is the section which intrigued me:
Before I go, I want to mention one more book that I’ve absolutely fallen in love with. Every so often, a picture book crosses my desk that makes me want to email the author and gush and gush about it. (Adam Rex is still wiping off my gush overFrankenstein Makes a Sandwich.) I’ve just pulled up Amanda Noll’s website (www.amandanoll.com) and am about to do the same. Howard McWilliam is next. This is their first book. You’re going to want to own it.
Here’s the story: Ethan goes to bed one night and finds (*gasp*) that his regular monster has gone fishing (Gabe left him a note). Oh, no! What is Ethan to do? How will he sleep without a monster under his bed? So Ethan does what any intelligent boy with a purpose would do: he begins the process of interviewing prospective monsters for the position that Gabe has left vacant.
I’m a member of Goodreads, and while I’m rather lackadaisical about updating my status, I always read the reviews of my Goodread friends. Two friends specifically review books on their blogs (both of whom read widely and use star ratings, though Shelah’s also rates them for content, and Tracey’s often has author interviews too), and I’m constantly adding titles to my lists thanks to their reading and winnowing efforts.
Reviews also come as a result of a competition win. Through another review blog I follow (by a mother and son, which adds fun variety and opinions) I recently won a review copy of a Deseret Book title and while I was delighted to have an e-version on my phone, I was a little hesitant about how to review it. Mostly because most reviews I’ve read on Deseret Books read less as reviews and more as testimonials or missionary fireside proclamations. In the end I wrote an honest (and I think definitely un-DB style) review of the book, because if I read a review I want honesty, not nice-so-I-don’t-hurt-anybody’s-feelings pandering.
I was a little concerned when I read the blurb that this would be so sweetly pious it would make my teeth hurt (and my spirit grow dejected in comparison), but I really should have known better.
(The rest of the review is here, and includes peanut butter cravings, a prophet and happiness.)
Overall, I want a review to pique my interest, give me just enough details to work out if I want to hunt the book down, and also entertain me. Just like a book, really, only shorter (and with zero spoilers!)
So how do you choose your next read? Word of mouth? Trusted friends? Oprah? Eeney-meeney-miney-moe? Specific websites or publishing emails? Genre specific sites? What does a review(er) cover or omit to help you decide what to read? Read any good reviews lately?
There is one particular rule in my family that all three of us rabidly enforce. It doesn’t matter if it’s to do with a book, TV series, movie or joke punchline, no matter the format we are decidedly biblical – “As for me and my house There Will Be No Spoilers”.
I’ve been a victim of spoilers, and have inadvertently given a few. I’ve even suffered a reverse spoiler, when on my way to see the movie Gladiator, a friend said “It’s so sad when the gorilla dies! Whoops – sorry!” meaning I spent the entire time waiting for a gorilla a. to appear on screen and b. die. Needless to say by the time the credits rolled I was a. ticked at my friend for distracting me so thoroughly, and b. reluctantly impressed at their fine joke at my movie going expense. A similar pang of “Is it better to know or not” hit me this week when a significant spoiler was released about the upcoming Mad About the Boy, the third in the Bridget Jones series (by Helen Fielding). It’s a significant spoiler, enough to have made headlines around the world and have fans wailing into their “I Heart Mr Darcy” pillows on- and off-line. Some have suggested that the spoiler is a commercial ploy to generate interest and revenue, while others state that it’s the author’s prerogative to kill of characters whenever they feel so inclined (and I’m sure everyone has a character they’d rather have seen stay alive). Based purely on the spoiler some have already stated vehemently that they will/not be reading the latest book – it will be interesting to see how sales and reviews treat the release.
Maybe spoilers can be good as well. When my youngest was starting to read The Book of Mormon himself, my oldest said “And wait until you read about Nephi killing some guy!” to which my youngest snorted and said “He wouldn’t do that!” Of course that started an argument but also resulted in both boys reading that chapter straight away and then acting it out. Repeatedly.
So I admit spoilers can generate excitement, discussion, hype and anticipation but personally I much rather being ambushed by a plot twist, a character’s death (“I am a leaf on the breeze. Watch how I soar”) or revelation-realisation on my own terms, without obvious forewarning or accidental disclosures. I see it as the difference between going on a journey yourself and seeing someone else’s photos of the exact trip a week before you leave. It’s kind of the same thing, but a whole chunk of the excitement has disappeared.
Spoilers have their place. It’s just not at my place.
What are your thoughts on spoilers – are they okay or annoying? Do you give advance warning, or prep the ambush? What is a book or movie/show which left you stunned at a sudden change, death or revelation? (Remember, sweetie, no spoilers!) Do you have any rules when it comes to plots, characters and upcoming surprises?
My addiction started by the time I was two. The promise of a Little Golden Book would have me sitting placid and quiet while my Mum did the weekly grocery shop. Legend has it that she could read it to me once, then I’d read it to myself from then on.
I can’t remember learning to read, or even being read to. As far back as I can remember, though, are pages of books, with dust and words and pastels and stains and too many dog eared corners to count. The first book I remember causing emotional pain was Black Beauty, closely followed by London’s The Call of the Wild. I think I was about eight, no more than ten years of age, and books were surgically, magically inserting me into dragons, horses, dogs, spaceships, soldiers. I read far up trees, getting high. Continue reading
One of my favorite summer activities as a teenager was spending long, lazy afternoons lying on a lawn chair in our backyard under the shade of our eucalyptus tree, reading Georgette Heyer novels, while boats droned along the river near our house and cicadas chirped in the bush. All through my teenage years, and well into my young adult years, I spent my summers working through a big stack of books while I lazed in the yard or by the pool, or sunbathed at the beach, toes burrowed in the sand and gulls soaring overhead. As long as I can remember, summer + reading = heaven.
Of course, as an adult, I’ve found that summers aren’t quite as carefree as they were when I was young (also, I no longer read romance novels). Having been a mother for nearly twenty-three years now, with two teenagers still at home, I’ve had my share of busy and stressful summers that have hardly allowed me time to read while I’m in the bathroom, let alone read while lazing by the pool. Last summer I think I hit my all-time summer-reading low: only TWO books completed between May and September. But I start out every summer with an optimistically tall pile of books that I am looking forward to working my way through during all that downtime I will have. A girl can dream, can’t she? Continue reading