Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Words/Topics That Will Make Me Pick Up Or Buy A Book

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is Top Ten Words/Topics That Will Make Me Pick Up Or Buy A Book.

I can't say that any of these topics are to me like a bell is to Pavlov's dog, but any of these words or topics will at least make me more likely to take a closer look:

10. Romanov - The story of Russia's last royal family is both fascinating and heartbreaking.  I enjoy reading both non-fiction and fiction titles about the girls especially (though the fiction titles can be hit-or-miss); The Lost Crown by Sarah Miller is the best fictionalized account I've read so far.

9. fairy tale retelling - Some of the best ones I've read (for young readers, anyway) have been by Gail Carson Levine (Ella Enchanted, Fairest).  Sometimes fairy tale retellings just don't work for me (see Sarah Beth Durst's Ice or Lauren Baratz-Logsted's Crazy Beautiful).  But it seems that, with this genre anyway, I'm willing to try again.  There are some gems out there (Diana Wynne Jones's Fire and Hemlock, Robin McKinley's Beauty, Jane Yolen's Briar Rose, and Orson Scott Card's Enchantment all come to mind).

8. alternate history - I haven't read too much in this genre yet, but I would like to.  What I have read has ranged from the good (Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox) to the dismal (The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson).  I think I might like to read some steampunk... and that would definitely fall into this category!

7. doorway/portal to another world - I really like stories where the world of the fantastic intersects with our own world.  Books like 100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson or The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly had plots that incorporated this idea.  Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones is one of my favourites in this vein (and yes, there is an intersect... but it was left out of the movie so many people don't even know about it).

6. time travel - As long as they're not too heavy on the science-fiction, then I really like time-travel stories.  A book like Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife fits into this category.  So would a book like Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall.  No time machines, no crazy high-tech futures that usurp the plots.  Just interesting takes on the implications of living in a non-linear fashion.

5. alternating points of view - Sometimes it's fun to see the events from more than one point of view.  Bonus points if the author can actually make it seem like two or more different characters are narrating (it's obviously not as easy as it seems).  A fun example is Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey.

4. verse - I'm a sucker for young adult novels written in verse.  They're quick reads (but often with some of the most thought-provoking themes and plot twists).  Lisa Schroeder's books (I Heart You, You Haunt Me, Chasing Brooklyn, The Day Before) are some good examples of this genre done well.

3. island - There's something about the insular, restricted nature of an island that makes for some interesting plot possibilities.  Check out Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs and Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson for some good examples.

2. reincarnation - Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.  But if the subject matter involves reincarnation at all, I'm usually intrigued enough to give it a try.  One of my favourite books in this vein is My Name Is Memory by Ann Brashares (yes, the "traveling pants" author).

1. stand-alone - What can I say?  I'm tired of sequels for the sake of sequels, and series for the sake of selling more books.  I appreciate it when an author can make their point and tell a great story in just one book.  That's not to say that sequels don't have their place.  But sometimes I just want to read a story and get some resolution without having to spend a ton of money and time to do so.  Many of my 5-star reviews are stand-alone titles (or were stand-alone titles).  Among some of my favourite stand-alones: Tiger Moon by Antonia Michaelis and Room by Emma Donoghue.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books I Liked More/Less Than I Thought I Would

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is Top Ten Books I Liked More/Less Than I Thought I Would.

What an interesting topic!  I don't know if I'll be able to remember which books (out of all I've ever read) surprised me in a good or bad way... but here are some of the ones that stand out (click the titles for my reviews):

Top Five Books I Liked More Than I Thought I Would:

5. Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai - This was the first novel in verse that I read and, to be honest, I picked it up only because it was short.  I'm not that interested in historical fiction about fairly recent times, and I didn't know much about Vietnamese immigrants in the 1970s at all.  But I found the voice of ten-year-old Hà engaging and by the end of the book I wanted the best for her and her family.  If I hadn't enjoyed this one as much as I did, I probably wouldn't have discovered the world of verse novels.

4. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson - I actually kept putting off reading this one, because I'd heard that the beginning was gory and disgusting and I'd be traumatized for life (or something like that).  When I finally plucked up the courage to read it, I found that it wasn't that bad.  Intense and disturbing, yes.  But not intolerable.  And once the graphic depictions of the accident and injuries were over, there was a fascinating story about a flawed man and a mysterious woman who may be more than she seems.

3. The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson - When I put this book on my wish list, I'd seen mostly positive reviews of it.  By the time I got around to reading it, I'd seen some more mixed reviews, and they were enough to make me question whether I'd like this one or not.  The format was a bit different but, other than that, I didn't find much to complain about.  I actually really liked it.  While I guess it's technically a science fiction story (since it's set in the near future), I thought the questions of medical ethics were the real star and they made for an interesting, thought-provoking read.

2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë - I had to read this book for a first-year university English course.  I'd heard of it, of course, but at that point I didn't know the story and I hadn't yet seen any film adaptations.  I was surprised at how accessible it was, being written in the first person, and I was genuinely interested in the story.  Stupid professor ruined the ending for me, as I wasn't reading quite as quickly as she would have liked.  So much for slowing down and savouring it.  Oh, well.  It's still one of my favourite classics.

1. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver - I'd heard such good things about this book, but at the time I got around to reading it, I was feeling a little bit jaded, having been misled a few times into reading "amazing" books that really... weren't.  I wasn't sure if I was going to like this one when I started; Sam was not a likeable girl.  But by the time I finished the book, I'd fallen in love with it.  Oliver's writing helped bring those mean girls alive, but in a way that made you care and wonder about the nature of teenage cruelty.

Top Five Books I Liked Less Than I Thought I Would:

5. Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan - I kept seeing this one making the rounds of the book blogs (and getting rave reviews), so I thought I'd give it a try.  It sounded unique and interesting and definitely like something I would enjoy.  While I have no beef with the premise (which is actually a pretty cool one), I couldn't stand the characters -- especially Lily.  She rubbed me the wrong way almost from the get-go.  I never even finished this one.

4. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins - I was so disappointed with this book... especially with the ending.  While I appreciate the sentiment ("war is hell", etc.), much of the last book felt like a slap in the face.  If your main character is going to mope around, hide, and have her raison d'etre pretty much erased, it should be at the beginning of a series... not at the end.  This book was just depressing.  After all the sacrifices Katniss made in The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, she deserved better than this.  Just because things don't always have a happy ending in real life doesn't mean they can't in fiction.  My reaction after reading this final book in the trilogy was to wonder what the point of it all was (if anything).

3. Evermore by Alyson Noël - A tortured heroine, a hot immortal guy, manifesting things out of thin air, and living the high life in Orange County.  What's not to like?  Apparently, a tortured heroine, a hot immortal guy, manifesting things out of thin air, and living the high life in Orange County.  I'd read good things about this book, and it seemed to have the paranormal elements I was looking for, but it was a mess.  Swap out a few character traits, and it was basically Twilight... with worse writing.

2. Basajaun by Rosemary Van Deuren - I went into this self-published book thinking I would enjoy it.  It was supposed to be a magical tale, set in Europe, about a little girl and her rabbit friend defending their town from a religious zealot.  It was supposedly written by a "masterful wordsmith".  I'm sorry, but I wouldn't call someone who doesn't even know how to write technically correct dialogue "a masterful wordsmith".  And simply saying your book is set in Europe doesn't evoke a sense of place... especially when your characters all have American-sounding names and the main antagonist sounds like a reject from the Westboro Baptist Church.  And why can the rabbits talk?  And why does nobody question this?  And how did a six-foot-tall rabbit manage to make his way from Australia without being noticed?  Magic, indeed.

1. The Puzzle Ring by Kate Forsyth - This book has a Scottish setting, a kid who gets to live in a castle, and time travel.  Sounds like a pretty good read... but I was disappointed.  I thought it was too long and drawn out for the target age (the main characters were 13 or so, which probably puts the reading level at middle grade)... but I'm not sure actual middle graders would relate to these characters, either.  At times, they seemed much younger.  I think it could have been a decent book if either the characters' ages and/or reading level had been changed or if the story had been edited a little more tightly.  As it was, it didn't really work for me.  And after all the trouble I'd gone to to procure a digital copy (I had to buy it from Australia)!  I thought I would definitely like it... but I didn't.  Such a disappointment.