Discussion: Are You Going to Finish That?

In the years 2012-2015, I deliberately put aside four books (I think it was actually one a year) without the intention of finishing. I came to a point in these books where I didn’t care enough about the characters or their journey to continue.

However, in the same number of years I have set aside about 7 books to not be picked back up again thus far, but that I would like to finish.

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Five of those books were non-fiction. One was Les Miserables. One was The Prestige audiobook, and long story short, it took me a long time to figure out how to download an audiobook with my library again like that without streaming with my phone’s data, and by the time I did figure it out I did not really have a good time to devote to audiobooks, and I just haven’t gotten my hands on a physical copy since.

As a general rule, I read one book at a time, for about an hour or two a day at least five days a week. For some reason, I have a difficult time putting non-fiction down and picking it back up in this matter. There are exceptions, like the wonderful book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. But in my daily reading time, I am seeking some sort of escape. For most non-fiction, I have to pretty much carve out a different reading time and read it in significantly less settings. This worked out really well for Let’s All Be Brave by Annie F. Downs, which I read most or all of one Sunday afternoon, and completely adored it.

Some of the books I have set aside but not picked back up yet have been religious non-fiction, which, even when I like the book, can be hard for me to dedicate the time to both read and reflect. Another one was a writing book that has been highly praised but I wasn’t really into, though I still think one day I’ll get back to it. But again, I feel I might need to take notes or something when I read it, rather than doing so leisurely.

And while Les Miserables is fiction, that behemoth is certainly not a leisure read. What I read was really interesting though, and I would like to pick it back up. I was actually trying to read that one at a different time than my normal reading time, very slowly. I’m not sure what the best plan of action for me reading it in the future is though, other than dedication.

So tell me, do you struggle with occasionally setting something aside and not picking it back up? What kind of books do you typically set aside to finish later? Do you have any specific reading strategies that work for you when it comes to books that you might not read as easily as others?

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Character Study: Kaz from Six of Crows

When I read reviews of Six of Crows before reading the book for myself, I saw mention of how the characters aren’t really the nicest people around. Because of this, I was a little wary of being able to connect with any of the characters, which is what ultimately connects me with the story at large. Thankfully, I found myself liking two of the six main characters a good bit: Inej, and surprisingly, Kaz.

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I won’t spoil any details, but what I will say is that Kaz is probably the least nice, least good person out of the crew of six. And yet, I really liked reading about his character. And I wondered why this was.

There is a Writing Excuses podcast episode I listened to a while ago about how to make characters likable, and they talked about “sliding scales.” There are a few different scales you can play with, so while your character might not be  the nicest person, sliding that scale low, you crank up the competence scale. This example definitely applies to Kaz. He seems cold-hearted, and for the most part he is, but he is very competent at what he does.

But he does also care for someone, not just Inej, but also his brother, and we see both of these relationships are very crucial parts of him as a character, in how he behaves and the choices he makes. Because of these relationships, combined with his intelligence and competence, combined with physical and mental weakness, he feels like a very fleshed out character. And he doesn’t feel like an antagonist or a villain because he has just enough relatability to make you root for him, even when you know you probably shouldn’t.

Who is a character you like from a book even though you feel you shouldn’t? Who was your favorite character in Six of Crows, and why? 

Discussion: Plot Vs. Character?

I am always shocked when someone says they care more about the plot of the book than the characters. This boggles my mind to no end, because what’s the point if you don’t connect with the characters? I plan to do another post soon about the hero’s story arc, and to me that arc makes or breaks a story. But of course, I have to wonder…

tonystark-too-much-to-askI mean seriously, if you make me love characters enough, I will devour scenes where they just sit around and talk, but I have to admit, plot is imperative to make the story move forward. Can the character have an arc without a real journey? But what do the journey and the arc matter if you don’t even care about the character in the first place?

princessbride-intellectRecently I read The Body Electric by Beth Revis, and I found I had the same problem with it that I did with Across the Universe: the characters felt so bland even though they were in an intriguing world with high stakes. But since I didn’t care about the characters too much, what difference did it make? And then right after I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Of course it’s an unfair comparison, but let’s look at it anyway: I had gotten to know these characters and were already attached to them, but through their circumstances they grow leaps and bounds just in this one book. And when I read Shadow Scale, I was thrown into an interesting world with characters I already knew and loved, once again, but the arc felt so static. What was the point of the journey, ultimately? I really had no idea.

Characters help connect me to the story. The plot moves the characters through an arc. And if the arc is successful and I see positive change on the other side (or really well executed negative change), then I am ultimately satisfied with the story.

plot-vs-charactersDo you consider yourself more of a plot person or a character person? What do you think matters most in a story/character arc?

Discussion: Books from Childhood/Teen Years

Two things prompted this for me. The second was this week’s Top 10 Tuesday topic that I honestly feel too lazy to try to work out, which is Top 10 Books From My Childhood (Or teen years) That I Would Love To Revisit. The first was an interaction I had on Sunday morning. My mom works in the library at our church, and I always go in there to chat with her after service.

So this Sunday, there was a family who came in and one of the girls in this family came straight up to the counter and asked my mom if she had any recommendations. My mom was really sure, and then deflects the question to me. This girl was obviously young, and I was thinking geeze thanks, Mom, I have no idea. I asked the girl how old she was and she said 11. That didn’t really help me at all except now I know what an 11 year old looks like (there’s a blur between about 6 and 12 where all kids look the same to me). She ended up walking away with nothing, and I spent some time after that looking at the middle grade/YA section we have there, if you can call it that. I mean, the selection was fairly decent considering I don’t see much more (maybe even less sometimes) in this age category at a Christian bookstore. Obviously, there is a better selection at like a Barnes and Noble when you’re going beyond just Christian reads, understandably, but it really got me to thinking.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this girl goes through a similar experience than I did. When I was a kid, I was reading things like American Girl, Babysitter’s Club, Boxcar Children, and I also read some Christian books aimed for younger audiences, and thanks to looking at the shelves at the church library I remember some of those books: The Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle by Bill Myers, Dixie Morris Animal Adventures by Gilbert Morris, and others I don’t remember the names of. But at some point, probably close to 11, is when I came across an awkward stage of life in my reading where I discovered:

– The books for younger kids weren’t cutting it for me anymore.

– The books for teens were annoying because they were all dating and drama.

– While I had the reading ability for many adult books, most of them dealt with adult problems.

I couldn’t help but wonder if this is where this 11 year old girl is at.

It does seem that there is a decent selection of middle grade/younger YA books out there now, that maybe there is a good selection that is appropriate for an 11 year old, but I feel I know I certainly missed that boat. I spent years struggling not knowing which books were worth picking up. And I know this isn’t a genre that most of my readers read, but I feel that there is definitely a black hole in the middle grade/YA market in Christian fiction. There really needs to be more options.

But then again, maybe there are plenty, I honestly don’t really know since I’m not seeking those books out. Maybe instead the problem is that all these books are just titles on a shelf. This 11 year old girl just wanted to know what we liked. What had been tested and approved by someone else? How do you get this sort of feedback when you’re 11, from someone other than friends? 11 year olds aren’t reading blogs or on Goodreads. I think the best option they have is book fairs, and even that only helps so much.

I think it’s easy for people to overlook this age group. I remember some of books from my younger childhood years, and I remember some of the books from my teen years, but there is a bit of a void in the middle. I guess what I want to know is: do you remember what books you read when you were in that preteen/tween age? Do you remember feeling an awkward stage between kids’ books and teen books?

Bookworm Problems: Being Frugal Vs. New Releases

I have always been a very frugal person, as well as a planner. I remember very distinctly as a young child hoarding saving up my allowance money for some great something I would have to have in the future. One time it was Barbie things, another time it was a plane ticket to see old friends, and over years and years, at the age of 22, I had enough to help put a decent downpayment on a house with my husband right before we married. Sometimes my savings are merely for the future, sometimes they are for something specific, but I very rarely make impulse buys, even for little things; it’s just not in my nature.

I say all this so you can understand just how difficult it can be to be a frugal bookworm in a world with so many shiny new books constantly being released. Again, being as careful as I am, I don’t generally buy new books anyways, unless it’s an author I know and love, and generally it’ll also be a sequel to a series I’ve started. But even then, hardcovers can be expensive. And if the book releases at a time when nothing else is really catching my eye, what’s a frugal bookworm to do? Go to Barnes and Noble and just fork over $17? Stalk B&N.com and Amazon and wherever else for a good deal, meanwhile wondering what else I can justify buying to get free shipping (because part of my careful planning/frugal nature is refusing to pay for memberships or for shipping)? Pray for coupons and ebook deals and the like? And because of this whole free shipping/what else should I buy debacle, I can’t simply pre-order. It’s not that simple.

At Christmas, I knew there were books coming up in January, March, and April that I really wanted. I asked for a Barnes and Noble gift card, and thankfully got one, which was helpful. Then I got some gift cards I wasn’t expecting for Amazon, also helpful. I literally wrote out a “game plan” for when I would buy these various books with their various release dates and from where and with what. Since the start of the new year I have gotten Seraphina in paperback (it was important for me to wait until it was available in PB), Mistborn books 2 & 3, and Fairest with little cost thanks to the gift cards, but I’m still trying to figure out where/when/how to acquire Firefight, which I was going to get last month but then I wondered if I wanted it SO badly to get it in hardback, especially when I only own Steelheart as an ebook, and then I realized I will probably feel the same about The Winner’s Crime, but I am going to NEED to get Shadow Scale when it releases…

lincoln-ohboyBasically, I’ve just got this swirling mess of thoughts in my head that I am trying to organize into ways to get ALL THE BOOKS for as cheaply as possible.

ryker-cantAny other frugal bookworms out there? How do you find is the best way to stretch a dollar for books or get new books at good prices? 

Buying Into Romances

I don’t know if I’m picky or cynical or have just been reading too many YA books, but lately I’ve had trouble buying into some romances presented to me in books. I feel like President Snow as I read, saying…

convince-meHere’s what I’ve noticed generally doesn’t work for me…

Instalove or insta-attraction that becomes too serious too quickly.

shortstoryaboutloveIn my latest read Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone, the characters are attracted to each other pretty instantly. OK, I’m fine with that. But they very quickly go from “attracted to each other but have barely talked” to “I LOVE YOU FOREVER!” I didn’t even have time to root for them to become a couple before they were one, much less before they started declaring undying love to one another. I’ll go into more details in a forthcoming review, but this bugged me a little and while I didn’t dislike the romance, I didn’t invest in it or care about it the way I believe the author wanted me to.

The characters are just unlikable.

I think this is pretty self-explanatory. If I don’t care about one or both characters, I’m not going to care about the romance.

Badly done love triangles.

bones-throw-upWhat’s worse than a love triangle? A love triangle that ends badly, especially evident when the character chooses the wrong romantic interest. Boo hiss.

Examples: the Matched trilogy and The Maze Runner trilogy.

There is zero tension between the two leading up to a moment.

This sort of goes back to my first reason. There is not what feels like a proper build-up to “The Moment,” be it a kiss, a declaration, whatever. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel earned.

Example: Cia and Tomas in The Testing. “Oh, hey friend! Oh, you like me? Oh, OK, I guess I like you too…”

fauxlivia-uncertainThe couple just seems like an odd match.

You know when couples just don’t seem to completely “fit” together? Then it’s hard to buy their romance.

Their thoughts and actions just don’t seem to add up to love. 

Of course, I think this is the base of most unbelievable romances. Saying you love someone doesn’t mean you love them, especially if it’s clear you don’t respect them or care about them more than you care about yourself.

Grumpy-cat-no1Some other examples of romances I found to be just okay due to a variety of these reasons…

– Lilac and Tarver from These Broken Stars. I know this is an extremely unpopular opinion, and I didn’t dislike their relationship entirely. But (1) I had no problem believing they were quickly attracted to each other but (2) they seemed to have nothing in common even (3) after they went through a dangerous situation together, though I could believe in some sort of relationship but they (4) quickly jumped into that I’LL LOVE YOU FOREVER NOTHING CAN SEPARATE US NO ONE CAN STOP ME talk. I just didn’t buy it. They were in stressful circumstances that lead to these sudden intense feelings and quite frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if they broke up sometime after the book. I wasn’t excited about them getting together because I just didn’t see it panning out. It probably helped I didn’t love either of the characters entirely.

– Kate and Sean from The Scorpio Races. I don’t dislike their romance at all, it might be my favorite among these examples, but what was supposed to be a slow burn felt more like “hey we’re hardly talking” to “hey we’ve talked a couple of times” to “oh hey, let’s kiss” to “we’re a work in progress.” I would like to have seen 3 and 4 reversed here. I like that their relationship isn’t fast and passionate, but I don’t feel there’s enough tension leading up to the first kiss. It’s like the author decided, “Oh characters kiss when they’re into each other so I should insert it here instead of waiting about five more chapters when it feels earned.”

– Lynn and Eli in Not a Drop to Drink. Lynn meets Eli, and there’s an attraction between them, and very quickly they’re flirting (though Lynn knows like nothing about flirting) and then they’re spooning and right then was when it stopped feeling like a natural progression of a relationship. It also doesn’t help that Lynn is kind of unlikable and I can never get a real read for her emotions.

– Tris and Tobias in the Divergent trilogy. They’re instantly attracted to each other. OK. They start a relationship, and it moves a little quickly. I still managed to be somewhat on board until the end of Divergent. Everything unraveled for me and their relationship in Insurgent and Allegiant. They are prime examples of their actions not matching up with their declarations of love. They lie to each other, they don’t trust each other, and they don’t fully respect each other. No, no, no. Bad romance. (And I don’t mean Lady Gaga).

Alright Picky Amy, then what do you want?

let-me-love-you– A slow buildup with tension (it can be negative or positive tension). Example: Elizabeth and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice

– A couple that is clearly good for each other and can trust one another. Example: Katniss and Peeta in The Hunger Games

– A focus on character and personality as basis of attraction and love over attraction based solely on looks. Example: Addie and Trevor in Pivot Point

– Believable moments that bring the couple together. Example: Anne and Wentworth in Persuasion, Elliot and Kai in For Darkness Shows the Stars

– Two very likable characters. Example: Thorne and Scarlet in Cress, Persis and Justen in Across a Star-Swept Sea

What does it take to convince you of a romance in a story? What are the ones you buy the most and which do you not buy at all?

Marketing a Book as a Movie

I have never read Vampire Academy, but I’ve seen three trailers for the movie. The first had a color scheme prominent of bright green and pink, highlighting all the fun, light-hearted moments these teen vampires share, a la your typical high school comedy film (it is sure to emphasize that the director of Vampire Academy also directed Mean Girls). All I could base my thoughts on Vampire Academy the book was its cover, and the book cover and the look of the movie I saw being advertised just didn’t seem to jive. (Of course, based off the cover, I would expect Angelina Jolie to be in the movie.)

vampire-academyI also heard some of you guys mention that the movie did not look like it was going to be true to the nature of the book. So I was not too entirely surprised when I saw the second trailer, which emphasized much more dramatic, serious moments in the movie. And I thought, Aha, they must have heard the outcry and changed the focus. The third trailer I saw was a blend of the two, highlighting both funny and serious.

And that lead me to think about how we want to see our favorite movies marketed to us when they come to life on the big screen. I know that when I saw the first Hunger Games teaser, which was just Katniss in the woods, I was really disappointed. But the first real trailer that came out after that was really good, and the trailers for Catching Fire were definitely amazing, truly capturing the heart of the story: the rise of the rebellion and the struggles that Katniss faces.

When the first Divergent trailer came out, there seemed to be some mixed reactions. I thought it did a good job of highlighting moments from the book, but we all look for different things. And then there’s always the fear that a certain actor or actress is not going to be able to fill the shoes of your beloved character, so even if the movie is marketed well, it may affect your perception of it for that reason.

And then there is The Fault in Our Stars, another book I have not read and is being turned into a movie. A trailer hasn’t come out for it yet, but the movie poster already has people talking with its tagline…

fault-our-stars-movie-poster

I’m still weirded out that this is Tris and Caleb in the Divergent movie…

One Sick Love Story. Catchy marketing slogan, or insensitive and classless? Again, it seems to depend on who you ask.

So what do you look for when you see a book you love marketed as a movie? Which book-turned-movie do you feel has/had the best marketing? Which do you feel has/had the worst? 

*EDIT* For those interested, here’s a tiny clip from the trailer for TFiOS.

The Growing Sci-Fi Trend in YA

In case you haven’t noticed, and for the majority of you who read this blog and keep with YA books you probably have, the growing trend in YA now seems to be science fiction. And just coming off Sci-Fi Month in November, some books I heard about during the month are fresh on my mind!

YA-scifi-released

A very small sampling of YA sci-fi released in the last two years

Time Between Us/ All Our Yesterdays/ Relativity

While there have been YA titles dealing with space or aliens (Across the Universe trilogy, The 5th Wave), most of these sci-fi books seem to be dealing with time travel (like Time Between Us and All Our Yesterdays) and alternate realities (Reativity and Dissonance) or technology (Elusion and Free to Fall).

YA-scifi-upcoming

A very small sampling of 2014 YA sci-fi releases.

Dissonance/ Elusion/ Free to Fall

I’m not sure what started this trend, other than perhaps it seems like a natural progression to come from the dystopia genre (which is also still going fairly strong, and of course sci-fi and dystopia often go hand in hand), which might explain why more of these stories seemed focused on what I consider “earth-bound” science fiction, rather than focusing on what’s in space. And personally, there are several reasons I am excited to see this trend grow…

Sci-fi arouses our curiosity. I think one of the best things about science fiction is all the “what if” questions it poses. I recently started watching the new Fox show Almost Human, which raises the question: What if android (“synthetic”) cops were paired with human cops?

almost-human

If you like thinking about the possibilities of the future, you should watch this show. And Karl Urban and Michael Ealy are fantastic in it.

Or with a YA book I read this year, Pivot Point, what if one could see the different futures that await her when she has a decision to make? Really, the what-if questions we could ask in science fiction are endless!

It awakens creativity and scientific interest at the same time. I have to admit, I have never been interested in science. Ever. It’s always been my weakest subject and I have never cared to understand it. But in college I suddenly developed an interest in learning about genetic engineering. So while I will probably never have an interest in all sciences, there are now at least a couple of areas that I do find interesting, I think largely thanks to science fiction. It also really awakens my creative juices as I think through all those “what-if” scenarios. And I think both creativity and science are important!

It can be a gateway into more science fiction! Let’s face it, I’m sure the actual sci-fi content in most of these YA books is pretty light. I personally don’t have a problem with that, in fact it can be helpful when you’re as science-deficit as I am, but others might see this new trend as just watered-down science fiction. And there’s probably some truth to that, as the dystopia genre has been watered down, but lighter science fiction can be a gateway that leads to Ender’s Game, Star Trek, or more hardcore stuff that I myself have not checked out yet! Presenting a story with some science fiction, even if it also has a contemporary feel or a romantic subplot, can be just what some people need to get their feet wet and realize just how much they might enjoy other science fiction!

What do you think about the rising trend of science fiction in YA literature? Do you have a favorite sci-fi YA book?