Book lists, Book Memes, LGBT Books

Down the TBR Hole #1

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Down the TBR hole is a meme created by Lia from Lost In Story, and the whole point is to clean out and organise your TBR. I have a tendency to add books to my TBR with minimal knowledge of what the plot is. If they fit into the genres I read, and have LGBT characters, chances are good I’ll just blindly add them to my Goodreads Want to Read pile. What that means is that I sometimes look at my TBR and forget why I even picked those books in the first place. I’m hoping this will help me at least keep track of the books I want to read, and more importantly why, and hopefully get rid of the ones I’m not that into, after all.

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The Miniaturist — Historical fiction set in 17th century Netherlands. An 18-year-old girl travels to the city to the house of her new husband, who is kind but distant. And keeps herself occupied with a miniature replica of their home, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. I don’t think this book is for me, I heard good things about it, but I’m horribly picky with historical fiction these days and the setting just doesn’t seem all that exciting. So this one is a pass.

The Last Sun — This is urban fantasy, set in an island-city which pretty much amounts to New Atlantis. The protagonist is hired to search for a missing person but he ends up finding more than he expected to, including a legendary creature. I’m actually more interested now, the summary doesn’t give a lot away, but it says enough to leave me wanting more. The idea of Atlantis is exciting enough, I’m keeping this one.

The Iron Council — This is actually the third book in a series, but it’s the one I keep being recommended. It’s set after the events of the previous two books so I think that’s why it doesn’t matter if I read it first. I’m actually really interested in this book, it’s a sci-fi book often labelled as weird fiction, and it has a strong political tone. I like it when sci-fi lays it on thick with the real-world politics and this books seems like it will be right up my alley. I’m keeping it.

Girls Made of Snow of Glass — The tagline describes this as “Frozen meets The Bloody Chamber in this feminist fantasy reimagining of the Snow White fairytale.” The Goodreads summary goes into far more detail, which makes it sound much more interesting than that description makes it out to be. Plus, I heard really good things about it so I’m keeping it.

Amberlough — I know a lot about this book and I’m super excited to read it, it’s an adult fantasy novel heavily inspired by the rise of the Nazi party in previously decadent and tolerant Berlin. I’ve heard some people complain that it’s too on the nose, and it might as well just be set in real life Germany, I for one I’m glad it isn’t. I don’t have much patience for Historical fiction set during WWII so the fantasy setting is perfect for me, definitely keeping it.

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Sawkill Girls — I was super excited to read this book, because I heard great things, but now that I actually have it it’s like the wind went out of my sails. I’m still really excited to read it, and pretty sure I’ll like it, but it doesn’t feel as urgent anymore. Which figures, either way I’m keeping it.

The Nowhere Girls — This book is about a group of girls coming together to avenge a girl who accused popular guys at her school of gang rape, and instead of justice was run out of town. The reviews are great and this seems like a book with the kind of messages I appreciate. I’m keeping it.

Truly Devious — A true-crime aficionado is set to start her first year at a famous private Academy where one of America’s greatest unsolved crimes happened, decades ago. That alone is enough to pique my interest, but the goodreads summary goes into more detail about the school that make it sound even more exciting. Keeping it.

Her Body and Other Parties — This is a collection of feminist short stories, that span a myriad of genres, including horror. I’m curious about it, but at the same time I have a hard a time making it through short stories. So I’m indecisive about this one, because while the theme really interests me, the format might not be for me.

Running with Lions — A group of friends attends a summer soccer camp, the protagonist re-unites with an estranged childhood friend. I actually gave the first chapter of this book a try recently and I think the writing is not for me, so I’m going to have to pass.

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  • Books kept: 7/10
  • Books removed: 2/10
  • Unsure: 1/10

I can’t say this went the way I expected it to, I actually thought I would end up passing on a lot more books, but I’m very excited to read every book I kept, so I guess that’s a good thing too. I’d love to hear from anyone who has read some of these books, especially if you think I’m making a mistaking by passing on one of those two books, or to help me make up my mind about the one I’m on the fence.

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Book lists, Book Memes

Top Five Tuesday | Books that didn’t Live Up to the Hype

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Top Five Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by Shanah @ the Bionic Book Worm and this week’s theme is overhyped books. I give in to the hype often, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. If lots of people are enjoying something, chances are that you’ll enjoy it too. There’s logic in that kind of behaviour, and it’s the whole reason things become popular in the first place. It doesn’t always work out, though. This is a list of a few of the books that either utterly disappointed me or just left me feeling kind of “meh”.

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the seven deaths of evelyn hardcastle

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle — This was actually the first book I reviewed on this blog. I was so excited to start reading it, I’d heard only good things, and I love a good murder mystery — this one was supposed to blow my socks off, so expectations were through the roof. It turned out to be insufferable; the protagonist was as compelling as a piece of soggy bread, the villain was made entirely out of cardboard, and the helpful side character should just have been named “pointless plot-twist with zero emotional weight, because the reader can’t care about characters they haven’t met yet, and when will authors understand this?” I know it’s a bit of a mouthful, but some parents have weird taste. Ironically, that name would be the least contrived thing about this book.

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simon and the homo sapiens agendaSimon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda — This is an example of a book I liked, but that the hype led me to believe I would love. This is a solidly “ok” read for me. There were parts of it I enjoyed, parts that made me roll my eyes. If not for the movie I would have forgotten most of it. The romance is so odd, I respect that it can work for some people, but I can’t be invested in a relationship when I don’t even know who one of the characters is! Maybe that’s on me, but personally I didn’t care for it, the reveal at least didn’t try to be surprising, which in this case is a relief. Oddly, this worked even worse in the movie in my opinion, with Blue’s voice changing each time Simon thought he knew who he was the character grew even more flimsy and distant. But the romance is only a small part of the book, and as Simon’s coming out journey I think it works, and I liked it well enough. It was a short, fast-paced read, that could do with less pop culture references, other than that I enjoyed myself.

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the martianThe Martian — I read this in preparation for the movie, which I was expecting to love, since I love near-future sci-fi set in space something fierce. I ended up being disappointed by both. I hate the protagonist’s voice. I just hate him. I don’t even remember his name, but he rubbed me the wrong way since the first sentence. Me and books written in first person don’t always see eye to eye, and this book is a glaring example of why. When it works, the protagonist’s voice is either non-intrusive or even welcome, but when you absolutely hate them it’s like nails on a chalkboard and there’s no escape. Reading this book felt like being trapped in space with that guy in every college class who keeps interrupting the professor to add his unasked for opinion, or who disagrees with everything you say, by saying exactly the same thing only phrased a different way. I only kept reading because I hoped he’d die. That’s a thing that sometimes happens with “stranded” narratives, so I was holding out for what was supposed to be a tragic ending but would instead be a balm for my frayed nerves and rampant bloodlust. It never came. And somehow the movie made it even worse. The fact that the movie ended up being nominated for the Oscars with masterpieces like Mad Max, Room, and Carol only adds insult to injury.

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lord of the ringsLord of the Rings — I don’t know what it is but this book felt so generic. I liked the movies well enough, but I wasn’t a huge fan (I usually never like fantasy movies or shows, it’s a genre that works best in book format, for me), and while I appreciate Tolkien’s gigantic contribution to fantasy, I also can’t ignore that he is the father of  “inspired by Europe and set in Europe” fantasy — and that it felt stale by the time I got to him. I can’t really tell myself “but he’s the one who started it all”, and make myself enjoy the book. I also prefer character driven stories to plot driven ones. I prefer it when fantasy spends equal time developing characters as well as the world. Lord of the Rings is all about the plot, though, at least that makes it a fast read, right? No, it’s glacial. Because while Tolkien couldn’t be bothered to flesh out most of his characters beyond what we today consider traditional fantasy archetypes, he sure could describe every corner of the world and all its mechanics. Even when they didn’t matter at all, especially when they didn’t matter at all! Reading classics is tricky, and very hit-or-miss for the most part, so I knew there was a chance I was setting myself up for disappointment. Being right isn’t always great.

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6949905The Hypnotist — I don’t know how it is in the rest of the world, but Swedish thrillers are super popular in Portugal. You can’t go to any bookstore without finding at least a shelf of nothing but Swedish thrillers. Lars Kepler was a name that kept popping up, often under bestsellers. I decided to start with the first in the Joona Linna series, and boy was I in for a ride. The tone in this is just appalling, it’s written like a grocery list, completely monotone, with dialogue that feels like white-noise, characters that are so paper-thin you can see through them most of the time. Motivations so flimsy and contrived, that you can see the authors picking up their characters winding them up and watching them go do whatever the plot needed them to. To make matters worse, this has the world’s worst plot-twist half-way through, that completely changes the course of the narrative, in a very jarring way, for no good reason besides shock value. People love a teenage serial killer, right? Half of it felt impossible and contrived, unless the Swedish police all become officers by winning some sort of scratch lottery.

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These are just a few examples of books where the hype led me astray, it happens more often than I would like, but not enough to make me stop paying attention to what’s got everyone talking, altogether. I think the most important thing is learning to distinguish between a hyped book you might enjoy from one that just isn’t for you, no matter how much other people might love it. It’s a skill that takes some fine-tuning and years of practice, but that’s half the fun of reading — finding out what kind of reader you are.

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Book lists, Book Memes

Top Five Tuesday | Tropes I Hate + How to Fix Them

top five tuesday

Top Five Tuesday is a weekly meme started by the Bionic Book Worm, this week’s theme is five most hated tropes. But because I realise that criticism is more productive when it’s explained and when it comes with suggestions, I decided to go with that. All of these can actually work in the right context, so I have a few examples of books (and a TV show) that got it right. These are in no particular order, and I dislike them all equally.

Manic Pixie Dream Girl

This is all John Green, I know, and I haven’t actually read an Abundance of Katherines, but I’ve heard it’s par for the course with Green’s usual female protagonists. Which are all quirky, unique, “not like other girls”, and will make some bland boy’s life finally exciting. I know, technically, John Green “deconstructs” this trope, by having the female protagonist tell whatever guy has spent an entire book waxing pretentious and overly verbose poetic about her, that she is her own person and doesn’t exist for his own enjoyment. Which is all very good and dandy, except it happens in the last twenty pages of all of his books, which means that I spent an entire book reading about a boy chasing his manic pixie dream girl. And honestly how many times can you “deconstruct” a trope before you just admit that you like writing about manic pixie dream girls?

Now, for a book that actually deconstructs not only this trope, but every trope where a man projects his own wish-fulfilment ideals onto a woman, we have Gone Girl. That is what a good trope deconstruction looks like, that’s a female character with agency, and whose vengeance is almost cosmic. I don’t think all “bad trope” deconstructions need to be done in this way, but notice how Amy didn’t spend the entire book acting like Nick’s perfect little wife and dream woman, only to reveal her true nature in the last twenty pages.

Pop-Culture Overload

This could be all John Green again. I think I have some type of knee-jerk response associated with him, because at the height of his popularity I couldn’t tell anyone I liked reading, without being recommended one of his books, and that must have left some type of psychological scar. Anyway, back to this trope; it just fills me with second-hand embarrassment, something about it is so try-hard, I can’t help thinking of that “How do you do fellow kids” gif. It makes my skin crawl, and there’s the chance the references will be used in the wrong way or be nonsensical. It also dates the book, and I don’t think every book should be timeless, but if a book relies too much on referencing popular slang, and cultural phenomenons typical of the year it was written (imagine reading a book today with a character that won’t shut up about Harambe), it will be virtually unreadable in the next five years or so. It will become an interesting linguistic relic, and an object of sociological study 30 years in the future, though! It’s also lazy, there are plenty of ways to evoke the pop culture movements prevalent in a year or time period without naming every single one of them — the aesthetic and social mores inherent to them are more exciting than the thing itself.

If used sparsely, they can actually be very evocative, if used in an unexpected way they can be downright great. The best example I can come up with is one scene where Elliot, the protagonist of the fantastic show Mr. Robot, is lamenting not having spent more time with his quasi-girlfriend. As Elliot narrates all the things he wishes he had done we see a montage of him and Sheila actually doing these things. At one point he says “I wish we had gone to see those Marvel movies she liked so much”. That was like a punch in the gut to me, because it tells you something about Elliot’s feelings for Sheila. He is extremely depressed, and a staunch anti-capitalist who will never find any enjoyment in watching a Marvel movie, but he wishes he had done it, for Sheila, because her happiness is important to him, because whether he realises it or not, he was in love with her. That’s an amazing use of a pop culture reference — when it tells you something about the character.

Love Triangles

I have yet to meet the person who likes love triangles, I know people who don’t mind them, but hardly anyone who actively seeks them out. They are just so overplayed and overdone, there’s nothing exciting about the dynamic. But credit where credit is due, I have been seeing them less and less, so yay. These also only really happen in YA, they are a very rare sight in Adult fiction regardless of genre, but would probably be even more annoying there.

One way to make the love triangle more exciting, or at least less mind-numbingly boring, is to have the two “competitors” realise their love interest is stringing them along, bond over how hurtful that is, and then fall in love with each other. Another way to do it is to have all the people enter into a mutually loving polyamorous relationship where they’re all in love with each other. I have yet to see a love triangle where everyone is the same gender, so that would be novel at first, but I think it would end up annoying me anyway, unless it ended in one of the scenarios I mentioned.

Bury your Gays

There is obviously nothing to like about this trope. There’s always some sort of intent surrounding the death of these gay characters: either their death is a punishment for their queerness, or a “brave sacrifice” to save the heterosexual characters the author actually cares about. Stephen King just has a particular way of writing gay characters that makes my stomach turn, and I know it’s partly due to the time period the books were written in, but I hate his tone, I hate it. I couldn’t make it past the first few chapters of IT because two gay men are immediately victims of a hate crime, and more egregious, they aren’t even portrayed that sympathetically. It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. In Insurgent if I’m not mistaken, a character announces she is gay while in her death throes…which is….really something.

There’s also a lot of confusion surrounding this trope: obviously gay characters shouldn’t have some type of plot-armour by virtue of being gay, the stakes should apply to them the same as to any straight character. But if gay characters die at a disproportionate rate compared to straight ones, then it’s a case of this trope being in play. If you introduce gay characters only with the purpose of killing them not long after, then it’s bury your gays. If your gay characters have achieved happiness only to die right after, it’s also bury your gays. This excludes books like The Handmaid’s Tale, for instance, where the point of the book is to highlight how cruel and unfair the things happening to gay characters (and everyone else dehumanised by the system) are, and obviously plenty of awful stuff also happens to straight people, and the heroes try to overcome and face their oppressors which helps it not feel like some sort of misery-porn, and like the cautionary tale it is supposed to be. Ownvoices authors are also exempt from this trope, because they are often trying to convey their own reality, or a reality they fear. Which is why someone should tell Stephen King he is not Chuck Palahniuk.

Happily Married Parents Finale

This one I can actually see a lot of people enjoying, and I understand why. I just personally find it very aggravating, there’s something unpleasantly heteronormative about it.  And my distaste for this kind of ending can all be blamed on Harry Potter, which has probably the worst ending of anything I’ve ever read, let alone something I loved so loyally for so many years (turns out it was foreshadowing things to come from J.K. Rowling). Not everyone needs to be paired off, that doesn’t make any sense. This is especially common in large series, where the author feels like “oh there’s that one character people like, better give them a love interest to show their fans they found happiness”, really? How about they become a cabbage farmer in Iceland, instead? That sounds equally fulfilling to me. Iceland is beautiful I’m sure they’ll be very happy there, good job author. My problem with The Hunger Games is more that I think the ending was tonally wrong, overall this an example of a trilogy I actually enjoyed having tropes I hated.

I don’t have any specific good example, because there are various. Any ending where the entire cast doesn’t end up married to each other and with kids is good in my book. Also, not everyone will be happy, that’s impossible, and also okay from a narrative standpoint. I don’t mind if things are tied-up in a bow at the end of a series. If all the existent romantic relationships are still together and the evil is defeated, but if new ones are invented just to drive home the point of how happy everyone is, then we have a problem.


And those are some of the tropes I hate with a passion. What about you? Do you dislike any of these? Actually enjoy some? Let me know, because I love talking tropes.

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