Life Between the Pages: Editing CAN Make or Break a Book, but Sometimes the Story Shines Through

I love reading self-published books. I never know exactly what I’m going to get. Sometimes it’s fairly standard for the genre; sometimes it’s unexpected. Sometimes the writing is quite conventional; sometimes it’s unusual.

In general, though, I’ve found the books I don’t hate and/or abandon usually fall into one of 3 categories for me:

  • Well edited, but the story isn’t compelling. Simply put, it’s not my cup of tea.
  • Poorly edited, but the story or premise is fascinating.
  • Well edited with a fascinating story.

I love the books that fall into the last category. This is Seven Unholy Days by Jerry Hatchett, The Lot of a Nobody by Dave Johnston, and The Adventure by Jennifer M. Zeiger. I love not having anything to say about the writing because it means I can just immerse myself in the story.

The books in the first category are like The Lifespan of Rabbits by Robert Tucker (review of this political fairy tale pending). They’re well-written, but I just can’t connect with the story. These are the ones where I shrug and say it just wasn’t for me.

The books that fall in the middle category stab me in the heart. There’s so much promise and I love the story so much, but the rough writing, lack of polish, and/or poor editing makes it hard to read. This is Cuteness Overlord by Mike Aaron, Life in River Hallow by Teresa Grabs, and Elithius: The Red Captain by Dominic Sceski. These are the books where editing can make or break a book, but they are also books where I can see the story shining through and think they deserve a chance.

Good editing has the power to put the reader’s focus on the story being told rather than on how the story is told. The reader doesn’t get bogged down in the mechanics of the writing or gets thrown out of the story by it. Instead, they can sit back and enjoy the story, immersing themselves into a sweeping adventure. Honestly, some readers can probably do this anyways and chalk the poor editing up to the book being self-published, but I have a hard time ignoring the writing. When the writing is really good, though, when it’s been well-edited, I don’t even focus on how it was written; I just get to jump in to the story and stay there.

Poor editing can get in the way of the storytelling. As I said before, this may not be true for every reader, but it’s definitely true for me. If I have to read a sentence, paragraph, or whole page over again because I don’t get it due to the poor writing, then I get frustrated and wonder if I’m wasting my time. If the writer can’t be bothered to ensure their writing is clear, then why should I be bothered to read it? Okay, sorry. I’m letting my general frustration show here, but I think it’s important for writers to know. Poor editing can result in a lower quality story or something that simply reads as juvenile due to a young or inexperienced writer. The story might not actually be clear to anyone other than the writer, and maybe a few close friends and family members who rave about it. As a reader, I don’t want to be continually searching back through the text because reading something makes me think I missed something. I’ll just end up confused. When I get confused, I lose faith in the story and it’s quality. And then I just stop reading. Whatever the writer had in mind might have been brilliant, but it’s all about the execution. If a story isn’t told well, it’s poorly done. Simple.

But sometimes – sometimes – the story manages to shine through the poor writing and editing. These are the books in my middle category. They are why I love self-published books.

ContraDictation by Adam West is one of these. You won’t find my review of it, and there isn’t one pending. The writing was atrocious, but the story was more than fascinating. It’s simple: contradict yourself and wink out of existence. I loved the idea so much, I just said goodbye to the writing and focused on the story. Definitely a 4 cups of tea book, but I have no immediate plans to write a review. Why? Because the author recognized his poor writing and fully intends on better editing his two subsequent books. I’m very much looking forward to their publication.

Getting past poor editing can be difficult. I know it’s very easy for me to get bogged down in it and become frustrated with the writing where I can’t give the story a fair shot. But sometimes I come across a remarkable story. It’s different. It’s unique. There’s an intriguing quality to it. My mind latches onto it and won’t let go. There’s something special about the story and the raw way the author presents it. The editing is amazingly bad, but I can read past it to find an absolute gem of a book. I live for these books.

Those middle category books have the potential to be amazing, if only the writing and editing were better. It’s books like those that make me want to be an editor (but who would trust an untested avid reader who is so busy with 2 kids that one read-through would take a month?). I want other readers to love the same gem. But readers can be tough. Mix up your tenses enough, lose plot lines, kill off an already dead character, and confuse periods and commas and they’re through. I’ve seen reviews that rave about the book despite the poor writing. But I also see an equal or greater number of reviews murdering the book because of the lack of editing.

Readers look for an immersive experience. Take that away with poor editing and they might wash their hands of it. Editing can make or break a book. Some readers can still find the gem of a story, but others can’t.

Have or know of a gem of a book? Please send it my way!

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Life Between the Pages: The Reviews Just Won’t Stop Stacking Up

I’ve been a huge reader all my life. In high school, if people didn’t know me as the girl who played the harp, they knew me as the girl who always carried the thick books. I went everywhere with a book. I still do; there’s one book that still hangs out in my car (it’s been about 10 years).

I read to my kids every single day. It’s never more than an hour total, but, over time, I do get through books at a good pace. It’s not quite the book a week it used to be, and it’s certainly nowhere near the pace many prolific book bloggers read at, but it’s my pace as a mom of two young children. But because I read to them every day, I always have to have a book on hand so I can jump right to it when the current one is done.

About a year and a half ago, I decided to start writing reviews. I was reading a lot of self-published books, so thought I’d do what I could to support them. Unfortunately, I never considered how much time it might take to write one. Well, writing one is easy. Writing a good and thoughtful review that’s well-balanced and honest isn’t always so easy. And it takes time to type.

Being a busy mom means it’s easy to read to my kids at naptime and bedtime, but it also means I don’t have much time to devote to writing reviews. And when I’m constantly jumping to the next book, I don’t get a lot of time to reflect and actually write.

So…the list of books waiting for a review keeps growing. I haven’t even updated the list in a while. It’s been at least two books. Maybe 3?

And, yet, I keep reading. The reviews keep stacking up. Perhaps I should go write one of them instead of continuing to ramble about my life with books.

I have got to find a way to make writing reviews easier and faster, but still provide a quality review. But, if I keep thinking, the list will just keep growing…

Books: Abandoned or Did Not Finish?

When my husband surprised me with my Kindle almost 10 years ago, I went a little book crazy. I got book after book with little regard to whether I actually liked the summary. Needless to say, there were quite a few books that I started and then wondered why on Earth I thought I’d like it. Some are still waiting for me to touch them.

My Kindle came with a handy little keyboard. It’s not made anymore, so I’m keeping my stranglehold on it as tight as possible. But with that handy little keyboard, where most of the letters have now been worn away, I created 3 categories: to read, read, and abandoned.

As a book lover, I hated seeing that last category, hated sending books to it. But there were some books I simply couldn’t stand, some books that I loathed so much I never wanted to see again. If they had been physical books, they would have been tossed in the donation box in the blink of an eye.

For years, I never really thought about that category. Every so often I would drop books in it and think of them no more. I seriously made myself struggle through some books simply because I didn’t want to add another abandoned book to the list.

Over the past year or so, I’ve come across the book blogging world. And in this world I kept seeing DNF. After reading a few of these posts, I quickly realized it means Did Not Finish.

Sounds a lot like my abandoned category. But sounds nicer?

Over the past year I’ve ruminated on whether I should rename my abandoned category. After all, did not finish sounds nicer than abandoned.

But why should I? I haven’t followed the crowd since I was a child. For about 20 years I’ve done things my own way. Just because did not finish sounds nicer doesn’t mean I can’t say I haven’t abandoned books because I didn’t like them.

I call them abandoned because I have zero intention on ever returning to them. I have, in the truest sense of the word, abandoned them. And when I finally have the time to figure out how to remove them from my library, I will. They have been abandoned, left behind, no longer looked at or regarded.

But I also call them abandoned because, in my own way, I did finish them. Many of these books were self-published. As a self-published author myself, I recognize the work that went into writing and figuring out how to self-publish. I respect that. So, even though I hated the book, I still skimmed through to the end. I still gave the whole story some fraction of my attention.

I do not DNF books (unless I actually lose them, which has happened [I periodically lose Origin of Species]). I finish them. I just…abandon the ones I don’t like.

What about you? Do you DNF books or abandon them like I do?

A Bookish Transition or a Bookish Phase?

A Bookish Transition or a Bookish Phase_

The Lily Cafe is going through a change. I can’t tell if it’s permanent or temporary, but evolution is usually inevitable.

Growing up, books were some of my best friends. I could always depend on them for adventure and countless daydreams. They were a way of life for me. I needed them. That remained true until earlier this year when I entered the worst reading slump I had ever been in.

For months, I hardly touched a book. I thought about them. I considered picking one and reading it. I had a few books in mind that I really wanted to read. But I didn’t. It wasn’t until August that I decided to do something about it.

Over the past couple of months, I have been reading more. Instead of blogging, I’ve been spending more time reading, which is one reason why I cut down from posting 5 days a week to 3 and why I am slower at leaving and responding to comments. I’ve been happily enjoying books that have been sitting on my Kindle for quite a while, books by self-published authors that I’ve found through blogging, and books from NetGalley.

Yup. Definitely out of my reading slump. And definitely enjoying books at my regular level, though not at my regular pace, which is quite challenging with two toddlers who demand my attention every moment their eyes are awake. Which is the better part of 14 hours, plus the however many times my youngest still wakes at night. But I am satisfied that my love of books remains and has been renewed with a vengeance.

But it means there will be more bookish posts here. I am adamant that this will not become a book blog, though. I tried it and, after a couple of months, became direly bored of writing on one topic. No, The Lily Cafe will remain a lifestyle blog, filled with stories of motherhood, the fantastical stories in my head, the odd recipe, and general ramblings of a real life person who is desperately holding tight to her last marble.

With my renewed interest in reading, though, there will be more book reviews and probably more posts about books. I can’t help it. I love books almost as much as I love my family. If I could live on books, I would. My love of books makes me wish I had studied English in college instead of psychology so I could be an editor and live and work surrounded by books. I still have dreams of having a room wholly devoted to books, though. I’ve always wanted my own personal library.

But a question keeps looping back: is this a transition or just as phase?

I can’t tell if another slump is heading my way. Maybe I’ll fall into one in a couple of months or maybe it’ll be twenty years. Maybe life will get busier as my kids get older and I look for a job in earnest. Maybe I just won’t have time in a few months to do as much reading. Will that mean I won’t be writing as much about books or will be writing about the books I long to read instead of book reviews?

More book reviews will be appearing on this blog, but I don’t know if this is a permanent transition or just a phase and in a few months I won’t be posting as many reviews. If you’ve been following for a while, you might have noticed several reviews earlier in the year, but a noticeable lack somewhere in the middle. It’s hard to know if that’s going to happen again. I’ve been on a reading roll, but life happens. It might come to a screeching halt.

Regardless, there will be more book reviews popping up than before and likely more bookish posts. That won’t stop me from posting my writings and posts related to being a mom. But there will definitely be more book-related things as the end of the year comes up fast. As a matter of fact, I have two reviews scheduled for this week alone.

Is this a transition to a more bookish blog (after all, my tagline does call me a bookish mom) or just a phase? I can’t tell, but I hope you’ll come along with me on this ride.

How I…Am Working My Way Out of a Reading Slump

How I...Am Working My Way Out of a Reading Slump

At the beginning of the year, I had a lofty goal of reading a book a week. I was doing quite well until mid-February when an absolutely annoying book dragged on for about 3 weeks. I just lost interest in reading. I read here and there, but am definitely not reading a book a week this year.

For months, I was consumed instead by just being a mom. But last month was emotionally rough and I did what I always did when life got hard: I turned to books.

But, while I was interested, I lacked the will. I have more books on my Kindle than I care to count, but none of them were screaming at me. I have books that have been sitting since at least 2011 (whoops). I have books from the now ended Kindle Scout program (which was a great way to get free books, but, as it turns out, I’ve almost hated most of the books from them that I have actually read, and have quite enjoyed some of the books that were not selected for publication). I have books that have been written by many authors that I follow (I promise I’ll get to them and will post reviews!).

I have many options. There are fantasy and sci-fi books, mysteries and thrillers, literary fiction novels, the odd romance, and an historical or two. You’d think there would be something that would pique my interest. Really, there are many books that I would love to read, but…well, I can’t always motivate myself to even look at them. Despite the fact that I love books.

In high school and college, I always had a book with me. People I didn’t know knew me because I was always toting around a book. And they weren’t slim little novels everyone was raving about. No, they were thick, heavy epic fantasies. There were a couple I could have used as weapons. I read every day. I read every night. At one point, I couldn’t even fall asleep without spending at least 15 minutes reading!

Becoming a mom only slightly slowed me down. Naptimes were prime reading time, especially with a baby slumbering on me. Nighttime wakings were also fantastic times. And my son still won’t go to sleep unless we read to him. My daughter is another story, but at least she’s currently obsessed with a germs book that’s teaching her good hygiene. And considering she’s 16 months and loves eating off the floor, this is a good book for her.

But that book I read in February just killed me. For the first time in a long time I had no desire to read. I had even started a much more interesting book after I managed to finish it, but I had just completely run out of steam. For 5 months.

So, what did I do to finally get out of my slump?

Well, it took a few steps.

  1. Don’t judge a book by its cover, but, in this case, just do it. As I scrolled through my library, I picked the first book I came to that was visually interesting. And I stopped scrolling. It didn’t matter what the book was about. I was going to start reading.
  2. 5, 10, 15, 20. I wasn’t invested in reading yet, and possibly had no real interest in this book that was visually appealing. So, I started with reading just 5 minutes for the day. After a day or two, I increased my daily reading time to 10 minutes, then 15, and so on. Usually I found myself reading longer, so I was satisfied. And whenever I think I don’t feel like reading, I start over with just 5 minutes.
  3. My 25% rule. I have so many books that I’m probably not actually interested in anymore. But goodness knows which ones those are! Instead, I set a 25% rule. If I enjoy the story by the time I reach the 25% mark, I’ll finish the book. If I hate the book by the time I get there, it automatically goes into my abandoned pile and I start back at step 1. Otherwise I finish, review, and return to step 1.
  4. Join NetGalley. I follow many book blogs and noticed many of them were getting free books in exchange for honest reviews. The Lily Cafe is a lifestyle blog, but I have a history of writing book reviews since books are life to me, so I thought why not? I had to at least try and getting one book would be worth it. Turns out I was approved for 4 in less than a week, so now I have some deadlines. Nothing like a deadline for someone who always meets them to get me reading. Which reminds me I need to get reading!

And that’s how I got out of a reading slump and 4 free books. How do you do it?

Book Blog Tour: Adventus by Andrew Mowere

The Lily Cafe is thrilled to be a part of the blog tour for Andrew Mowere’s debut novel Adventus!

For months now, I’ve had the absolute pleasure of following a delightful blog run by three writers called the Association of Merry Makers. For months, I enjoyed teasing excerpts of an intriguing novel called Adventus. I can’t tell you how excited I am for this book to come out September 1st. I’m incredibly honored to be a part of the book blog tour for this wonderful novelist and his debut dark fantasy novel.

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What is this book about?

How far could governments go to shirk humanity?

A hundred years after Yuuto’s great-grandfather discovered the elven portal in Yotaku, it has opened in earnest. Moreover, another portal has opened in each of Jerr and Veld, respectively spewing orcs and dwarves into the realm. With millions of refugees simultaneously fleeing the destruction of their worlds, humanity’s leaders decide to hide the truth and send a joint mission of each race to slay an ifrit in Veld.

Yuuto Aimaru, the Observer, is chosen to represent Yotaku. This is the purpose for which he has been cruelly bred, a game of intrigue and trickery. Each country cares only to further its designs, and Yuuto is a spy well versed in deceit.

Would Yuuto do anything for his emperor and country?

Excerpt

Every shadow on his way to the inn seemed threatening to Yuuto, causing him to hurry in his steps so as to reach his destination safely. By then, the sun had almost set and Lily waited for him at a table.

“When you were gone,” she told him, “We met the captain of a ship. We decided to wait until everyone agreed, and Wester wanted to wait two days to buy some things, but we could be gone as soon as he’s finished.”

“Yes,” replied Yuuto absentmindedly, pulling a chair for himself, “quite alright.”

He ordered some tea for himself while Lily wolfed down a slab of meat. When the tea arrived, he still hadn’t said another word, and the translator looked at him.

“What’s wrong?” She asked after swallowing.

“Do…” he began, “Do you ever wonder what we’re doing here?”

“Following orders,” she replied, to a laugh from the magician. How right she was.

“I hope our orders make our wo- no. Just our countries. At the very least.”

“Hm?”

“I hope our orders make our countries safer.”

“You know how it is with leaders. So much intel…”

“And we remain unintelligent,” he finished. It was a popular saying among soldiers. “You said you’ve never been in a true battle. Practically froze during the last ambush.”

The priest shook her head, “Just brawls. I don’t know if I’ll ever be useful in a real fight.”

“You must have served in a rough city.”

“Sure I did. Digger: All thugs and no order. Friendly enough, but their idea of friendly is a knee in the face and a beer. Being a priest of Fep there, you learn to listen to orders. You can’t always tell what’s right. Your boss does.”

Yuuto smiled earnestly, “Ah, and when climbing up the ladder…”

Lily touched her nose whilst striking the table with her palm, drawing curious stares. Yuuto wondered how many beers she’d had. “You’ve got it. Whoever’s above you sees a little more, and whoever orders them a bit more. At the top, someone has the big picture in full. They see the whole, goddamn view. They’re the one you trust.”

Yuuto thought about this for a second. Of course he’d follow orders, even misguided ones. He’d hesitated because Ur might be useful beyond what the emperor knew. However, that was where Yuuto had made a mistake. Nobody knew better than the emperor.

Don’t you just want to read it now? 
I sure do. I’m a sucker for dark fantasy and have been soundly reassured it is indeed quite dark. If dark fantasy is something you enjoy, do pick up a copy of this book on or before September 1st! Or even if it isn’t your cup of tea. Readers can be an adventurous sort. Best part of reading, right?
How much is the book?

Preorder price: 2.99$

Normal Price: 4.99$

The Association of Merry Makers’ Mailing List (They use this to send a link to the preorder 10 days before it’s announced, with a 85% discount, so hurry up and sign up): http://eepurl.com/di5XSX

About Andrew Mowere

After attempting to write two novels without editing them, Andrew Mowere has decided to completely reboot his writing and considers Adventus to be his true debut. His favorite author is Patrick Rothfuss.

Andrew’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/andrew_mowere

Book Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FPWXRP2

For more, Andrew has been posting more teasing excerpts on their blog. Don’t forget to get your copy! I know I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of mine.

Thank you, Andrew, for letting me be a part of your blog tour!

Growing up, I loved reading Nancy Drew and wanted to be just like her. As an adult, I don't, but I still believe she has a message for all of us.

Nancy Drew Was My Role Model

Growing up, I loved reading Nancy Drew and wanted to be just like her. As an adult, I don't, but I still believe she has a message for all of us.

I started reading the Nancy Drew mysteries when I was about 9. I vividly remember  spending a summer sitting around all day with my nose in a Nancy Drew book. I loved them so much, my mom signed me up to receive 3 by mail every month. It didn’t take me long to finish them, and it wasn’t long before I was begging her to take me to the bookstore so I could get more.

It’s really my mom’s fault. She had read a few of the yellow cover books and her parents had kept them. One afternoon, she was helping her parents clear out an old garage and found a box of musty books. I was becoming more proficient at reading, so she thought I might enjoy them and brought them home.

For about a year, I didn’t have much interest. The books were old and showed signs of water damage. They smelled funny and the covers looked sad. But, one day, I was bored and leafed through one. It was actually interesting! But the books smelled awful. Off to the bookstore we went so I could get a shiny new copy.

I was hooked. For about 2 years, I devoured Nancy Drew and her adventures. Week after week, I began to prefer reading her stories to playing with toys more and more.

There was something fascinating about her to me. She was fearless and could literally do and know anything and everything. Her father had such an incredible trust in her that, in more than one story, she helped him with his cases at only 18!

To a 10 year old mind, Nancy was perfect and what I strove to be. I wanted to be fearless. I wanted to find and stumble into adventure and mysteries. I wanted to be that smart and capable. I wanted to know and do everything.

I was 10 and thought it was possible. I thought 8 years would be enough time for me to learn everything Nancy knew. She seemed so grown up and mature. I wanted her grace and tact. So, for a short time, I tried to be like her. I studied like crazy and tried to be more fearless (I am, in fact, the furthest thing from a risk taker and a total scaredy cat).

When I turned 18, I was still rereading my Nancy Drew favorites. But becoming her was less and less my dream. Instead, I simply enjoyed her adventures while ignore the lie her life was telling me page after page. It was impossible to really be Nancy Drew. I seriously doubt any 18 year old can be that smart, capable, talented, trusted, and poised.

Nancy Drew, along with my mom, was my role model growing up. Now that I am actually grown up, I don’t look up to her anymore, but I still covet being the kind of person she is in the pages I spent much of my adolescence buried in.

Instead of being smart, capable, talented, trusted, and poised, I look at the kind of person she really is. She is someone who is always willing to help, always willing to help solve someone’s problem. She is a thrill seeker with diverse interests. At the same time, she is kind, helpful, strong minded, a quick thinker, and knows herself and her own mind.

That’s the dream, isn’t it? To know yourself that well. To be self-assured and confident. As a mom, my kids constantly shake this. I am not always sure footed, but I most definitely have to be a quick thinker.

When I was 18, I was no where close to where Nancy was. I was unsure and lacked confidence. All I knew was that I was smart. I was talented in a few areas, but no where near as talented as Nancy. I still lack certain social skills, but Nancy is more of an extrovert to my extreme introvertedness. I could never do the mingling and small talk she has to engage in to get suspects to open up. I am not socially savvy like Nancy. Nor will I ever be because I’d rather talk to trees and walls than other people.

Over 10 years later, I don’t seek to be Nancy. Instead I long to be like her: confident, poised, and always willing to help. Nancy has her faults, like being overly nosey and often ignoring what her friends might want to do, but she knows herself and doesn’t let anyone bulldoze over her.

My Nancy Drew books have followed me for about 20 years now. For the first 10 or so, it was because I always circle back to them. I can’t help but love reading her adventures and losing myself in a mystery that usually doesn’t involve blood and death, or not much of it. And while I still enjoy them, I’m really keeping them for the daughter I am raising.

My daughter is a little over one and still years away from reading. She still thinks books are for licking and eating. Right now she’s obsessed with a picture book about germs. Let’s ignore the irony there. But I’m keeping Nancy Drew for when she is older, just like my mom kept hers for her future daughter. I hope my daughter enjoys Nancy as much as I did. And I hope my daughter can learn what I learned: to be confident, poised, and willing to help as she navigates through life.

Nancy Drew was written to be absolutely perfect, which is really a poor message to send to anyone. But, if you look deeper, you can see a young woman who is just confident in herself, and that’s a message I hope to send to my daughter, and one I hope to always remember for myself.

Whether or not you enjoyed Nancy Drew, too, always remember to be confident in everything you do. You get to live your life, so live it in a way that makes you happy, regardless of what anyone says or thinks. (Psst! They’re probably jealous they’re not as confident and self-assured as you!)

Do You Prefer Reading the Popular or Obscure Books?

Do You Prefer Reading the Popular or Obscure Books_

Popular books: the ones everyone seems to be reading.

Obscure books: the lesser known books that not everyone is reading.

I have a small confession to make: whenever it seems like everyone is reading a particular book or series, I run far, far, far away from it.

I just can’t bring myself to read the popular, hyped up books that everyone says is a must read. I’m sure they’re good and it’s possible I might find them interesting, but I dislike being told what to do.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not have a problem with authority. I am strictly law-abiding and you’d be hard pressed to find anything in my record. But, when it comes to taste, I hate being told “You’ll love this!”

Uh, excuse me, how do you know that?

Many people have told me I’ll love this or that or because I love this, then I’ll absolutely love that. Which are common phrases in book reviews. But I tend to have a somewhat bizarre palate when it comes to books. I lack any real author loyalty. Just because I enjoyed one book does not mean I’ll enjoy another from the same book. If I’m told I’ll enjoy a book because I loved another book, I often laugh because I don’t even need one hand to count how many times that has happened. I look at books in isolation. I take a single story and determine whether I’ll enjoy it on its own merits. Maybe it’s by an author I’ve read before, maybe it’s not. Maybe I’ll pick up a book from an author I’ve enjoyed before and found this book to be lacking and will put it back. If anything, I’m a fan of a good story, but I couldn’t possibly tell you what I think a good story is. If it tickles my brain enough, I’ll give it a try. So perhaps you should go and chat with my brain.

f it tickles my brain, I'll read it.

Over the years, the people who know me have learned to leave books up to me. They no longer recommend anything because I hardly ever enjoy it. Even the people who know me well (my mom, best friends, and husband) don’t recommend books because I’m, shall we say, particular.

But back to popular vs. obscure books.

When I was in high school, during my senior year, a book called I Am Charlotte Simmons was making it’s way around my class. We were preparing to graduate and head off to college, so Charlotte’s story was our imminent future. It passed from reader to reader and, one day, one of my best friends handed it to me. Now, I enjoyed the book, but didn’t love it. It felt like a good guide of what not to do in college and it’s safe to say I never read another book by Tom Wolfe.

Similarly, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold and She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb were wildly popular throughout my high school years, but I never touched either of them. I simply found the stories unappealing, yet everyone thought they were the best books in the world.

Instead, I read Robert Jordan and a multitude of fantasy authors that literally no one I knew had heard of. I devoured classic after classic and wandered into culinary mysteries. No one else was reading them, but I thought they were fantastic. And when I discovered self-published authors about 10 years ago, I became an avid reader of their books. I still enjoy them, to a point now where I even roll my eyes whenever the next “must read” book is announced.

Perhaps it’s because I enjoy marching to my own beat, or maybe it’s because I don’t like being told what to enjoy, or, more likely, it’s because I’ve never enjoyed the hyped up books.

I’m sure the must reads are great books, but they just don’t tickle my brain. Even though it seems contrary to what book bloggers in general read, I’ll stick to my obscure books, especially if they’re self-published and no one seems to know their name. One of my favorite books is obscure, Scriber by Ben S. Dobson. And I’ve yet to read another book by Mr. Dobson.

What about you? Do you enjoy the hyped up books everyone seems to be reading and raving about or do you prefer the books no one is talking about?

What Makes a Good Fantasy Book, or what will get me to read it

As someone who loves reading fantasy, I must admit I haven’t read much of it lately. Why? Have I been reading the genre so much over the past 15 years that I am finally tired of it? I hope not.

Well, I’ve given it some thought and realized there are a few things I look for in the fantasy books I pick up, which I have a harder time finding these days.

1. A unique story or interesting premise. I started reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series when I was 14. At that age, I thought it was massive and epic and incredibly well thought out, and would maybe last more than a week (yup, went through an average of one book every week throughout high school). My first dark fantasy was Anne Bishop’s Dark Jewels trilogy. It was unique with an interesting and different magic system. I love the humor in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. My favorite fantasy book from the last 5 years is Ben S. Dobson’s Scriber, where the story hounded the protagonist who wanted to be anything but. I had high hopes for Becca C. Smith’s Atlas. P.F. White’s Alison’s Adventures in the Multiverse is no longer available, but, while not perfect, sure was unique! I ended up hating Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series halfway through, but at least it had an interesting story. So what do I look for? Maybe something with a unique twist on the same old. Or something entirely new. Something that hasn’t been seen on the shelves for years.

2. Worldbuilding.  This is so fundamental to fantasy that it disappoints me when I find the world lacking or the worldbuilding glossed over with almost no history or background. Everyone speaks English and dresses like it’s medieval England. Robert Jordan crafted entire countries. Anne Bishop dared to go to hell. Discworld is on the back of a turtle, and it makes sense. Jason D. Morrow’s Marenon was unique with its second chance at life and richly imagined with creatures I never want to meet. The Watershed trilogy is a bit dated but I still appreciate the three unique realms that were each thoughtfully crafted. A world that comes alive is all I’m really asking for.

3. Magic system. Not that magic is necessary in every fantasy story, but it does turn up quite frequently. Magic needs rules and restrictions to make it and its users interesting. It may also need someone who can turn it on its head. But it needs to make sense. It needs to be useful and have a real place in the story, not be thrown in for the sake of having magic. I’ve heard Brandon Sanderson has a truly unique world and magic system, but I find him tedious to read. Anne Bishop has an amazing magic system tied to jewels. I’m kind of jealous I didn’t think of it first.

4. Good writing. Is this too much to ask for? Without good writing, I can’t find the story to be compelling. It may be a unique premise or approach with fascinating characters and a great world, but if the writing doesn’t match the material I’m going to get annoyed really fast. I may come off as a bit of a snob, but I can only wade through poor grammar, wrong word choices, missing words, wrong punctuation, endless repetition (doesn’t anyone use a thesaurus anymore?), etc. for so long.

5. Characterization. Good characters are complex, unique, memorable, and feel like real people. I like character-driven stories. I like flawed protagonists and antagonists. I can live with the know-it-all. The unsuspecting hero, the damsel-in-distress, the wise old wizard…I can deal with the staples. I also love the unique. I love that in Scriber the weathered warrior was female, and a princess. Growing up I loved Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness books because she was a lady knight who married a former thief. And Terry Pratchett, of course, turned everything on its head. But what I really love are characters that feel real, like they could be the person living three doors down. They’re flawed, maybe talented, have fears and dreams, but, most of all, are interesting to read and get to know.

What do you look for in a good fantasy book? What makes you want to pick it up? And anyone have any good recommendations for me (I really prefer self-published Kindle books at the moment)?

The Books of My Childhood That I Wish I Had Kept

Last week I wrote about how I select the books my husband and I read to our toddler.

The best part of blogging is getting to “meet” so many fantastic people all over the world.

How do those sentences even go together?!

Yes more blogs is a wonderful blog I’ve been following for at least a few weeks now. If you haven’t yet, you should definitely take a read and give a follow! Anyways, we had a lovely conversation about reading to our children and it sparked a memory of some childhood books that I absolutely adored.

Ten years ago I thought I was never going to be a mom. Ten years ago I was finishing my junior year of college and had the world at my fingertips. I had dreams and big plans. I didn’t know I was just a few months away from meeting my husband and deciding to have kids.

I also needed more space in my bookcase. Which meant donating books. Though after reading this post by Rebeca (go check out her blog and give her a follow!), I seriously wish I hadn’t just so I could literally be surrounded by books. Or my kids would find them and do…what kids do to books.

There were several books I had read during my childhood that I thought I would never read again and, since I hadn’t planned on having kids, wouldn’t be handing down to anyone (nieces and nephews were also highly unlikely at this time).

But now I’m a mom. And I wish I had kept these books. Though something tells me I’m going to eventually collect them all over again and, maybe, pass them on to my children. You know, after I’m done reacquainting myself with them after, oh, a dozen or so times.

  1. Tamora Pierce. One of my absolute favorite authors of my childhood. I read a few of her quartets, but kept only one. I devoured her books when I was 10, but, as I grew older, only circled back to one quartet, so let go of the others and never finished reading the newer quartets.
    1. The Song of the Lioness Quartet, or the Alanna books as I referred to them. These were the first that I read, the ones that got me hooked on Tamora Pierce. This quartet detailed the journey of a girl who wanted more than anything to be a knight. She disguised herself as a boy and took her brother’s place while he went to learn magic in her’s. For years, she trained as a boy, but, later as a knight, let it be known that she was a lady.
    2. The Immortals, or the Daine books as I referred to them. Daine has a powerful wild magic that gives her a close connection to wild animals. Orphaned, she finds herself under the guidance of experienced and powerful mage Numair, learning her magic (they’re both shape shifters) as they travel throughout the same world as the Alanna books. This is one series I dearly wish I had never given up. I read these so often that, even now almost 20 years later, I still have vivid images and can almost remember some of the passages.
    3. Protector of the Small. I never finished this quartet, reading 3 of the 4. They follow the training and adventures of the first girl since Alanna to train to be a knight, Keladry. While she is able to freely walk as a girl, she encounters many who do not believe she should be among them, but does manage to find some close friends who believe in her.
    4. The Circle of Magic. I still have this one (and read it about once a year)! This was by far my favorite, so even though I’m supposed to be focusing on the books I no longer have, I can’t write about Tamora Pierce without talking about my absolute favorites. This is about four young children who find themselves alone, but they are collected together by mage Niklaren Goldeye, who sees great power in them. Indeed, each of them becomes a master of one of the four elements as they become close friends.
  2. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede. As a child, I was never fond of magazines. Especially the girl ones for pre-teens and teens. I would roll my eyes at the fashion, boys, and celebrity drivel. So, when my mom told me about a literary magazine called Cricket, I had to have it. I read it for years and, in one, a reader mentioned The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede. A princess who runs away, goes to work for a dragon who becomes her best friend, eventually marries a prince, and saves the entire enchanted forest? Of course I had to read it! Are you sensing a theme here? Even as a 10-12 year old I was really into spunky female characters! Oh, and there’s a witch with about a million cats, so, as a cat lover, I loved these books even more.
  3. A Wizard Abroad by Diane Duane. I randomly picked this one up in the bookstore one day, not knowing it was actually the fourth book of the Young Wizards series. Needless to say, it was a little confusing, but I suppose I caught up enough to enjoy this book. This is about a 13 year old girl named Nita who finds a book called So You Want to Be a Wizard. She takes the Wizard’s Oath and becomes a wizard and meets fellow young wizard Kit. In this book, Nita’s parents send her to an aunt in Ireland, where Nita finds herself sliding sideways through time and must protect the world from an ancient evil. I loved this book, but never picked up the first four, or even the ones that came after. Maybe one day I will. For now, I just wish I still had this one.
  4. Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones. When I first picked up these books, there were two volumes with two stories each: the first was Charmed Life and The Lives of Christopher Chant and the second was The Magicians of Caprona and Witch Week. I had no idea until now that there were other stories. But this series is about a boy named Christopher who is born with 9 lives (indeed, there is a cat on the covers and I strongly suspect this is why I picked them up) and can travel to parallel universes and must solve magical dilemmas when he is called, and a boy named Cat Chant who is otherwise quite ordinary, but has lost 6 lives and is training to be the next Chrestomanci (enchanters who have 9 lives).

Hmm, seems I’ve enjoyed fantasy from an early age!

Have you given up books from your childhood that you wish you still had?