Category: Discussions

When Questionable Editorial Decisions Torpedo Books

September 21, 2017 Discussions 17

Have you ever read a book and come upon a particular part that made you wonder, to borrow from Alyssa Mastromonaco’s memoir title, “who thought that was a good idea?!” 

Especially frustrating is that I absolutely adored specific parts of these books, meaning questionable editorial choices tarnished what would otherwise have been winners for me.

I realize things like this are strictly a matter of taste. Something that makes my head explode might totally delight another reader. But, why pull a stunt when you’ve already got something great? And, that’s what happened with the three books I’m going to talk about today.

Sourdough

Sourdough by Robin SloanSourdough is a quirky book melding the technology and food (baking, to be exact) worlds. I was immediately interested in the story and Lois, the main character. She receives a sourdough “starter” as a gift and dives headfirst into the art of bread baking as an escape from her soul-crushing computer coding job.

Sloan had me feeling actual emotions towards the starter itself…almost as if it was a human character. I was rooting for it like it was a sports team and I was thrilled about this! 

BUT…literally a few pages later, he made the starter sing. I first thought this was an exaggerated way to describe a realistic sucking or bubbling sound a starter could make. But, then he started comparing it to actual music. And, had it make faces. And, pit it against another starter as if it were an American Gladiator competition. Wha?! Too much. Who thought this was a good idea?

*For me, the starter’s over-the-top antics didn’t fully torpedo this book. I still enjoyed it and would recommend it to others, I just could have done without the eye roll-inducing moments.

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby

Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise WolasI loved the first half or so of this story about a woman whose life dream was to be a writer. At a young age, she decided she would forego marriage and children to focus on her goal. Yet, she got married and had children anyway. It’s a beautifully written, introspective story about Joan’s inner struggle between her very real love for her family, her continued desire to achieve literary success, and her resentment of the choices she’s been forced to make. 

BUT…this book is 544 pages. That’s long for an introspective story. And, at least 100 and probably more (I didn’t actually count, but this is my estimated guess) of those pages are excerpts from Joan the character’s writing. I admit that I generally hate what I’ll call “stories within stories.” They pull me out of the central storyline and kill a book’s momentum for me.

This case felt particularly egregious because of the sheer quantity, the overall length of the book, and Joan’s writing’s lack of relevance in helping the reader gain more insight into her life. Who thought this was a good idea?!

*For a more comprehensive review, Catherine at Gilmore Guide to Books captured my thoughts on The Resurrection of Joan Ashby perfectly.

The Twelve Mile Straight

Twelve Mile Straight by Eleanor HendersonAfter reading the first chapter of this doorstop of a historical fiction novel, I thought I was going to love it. It had a great first line, was hard-hitting, and hooked me immediately. 

But, the story just went on and on and on. I felt like I was reading this book for weeks (it was actually 10 days). Henderson told the extended backstories of seemingly almost every character in the book, which could have been cut back. I just wanted the story to be tighter, because it certainly had good bones (to use a real estate term).

And, by the time I got to the end, I didn’t care about the answers to most of the major questions…I just wanted to be done. Who thought this was a good idea?

*To be fair, I didn’t have much time to read during the first half of The Twelve-Mile Straight and I wonder if I would’ve felt differently had I been able to invest more time and mental energy to it up front.

Young Jane Young

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle ZevinI’ve already reviewed Young Jane Young here, but it’s a perfect example of today’s topic, so I’m going to talk about it again. I loved the first half of this one and particularly the focus on the reverberating impact of a public cheating scandal on the female cheatee…and how different it is from the impact on the male cheater. 

BUT…part of the second half was written as a Choose Your Own Adventure story. Not only that, it was a FAKE Choose Your Own Adventure story! Choices were indicated at certain points in the story, but there was never an alternate path to actually go down. This whole thing felt like a kids’ comic book to me and didn’t fit at all with the style or tone of the first half of the book. Who thought this was a good idea?!

Has a book ever left you wondering “who thought this was a good idea?” Tell me about your experience!

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Was 2017 the Summer of Overhyped Books?

September 19, 2017 Discussions 22

Was 2017 Summer of Overhyped Books

 

I don’t think I’ve ever had a bigger season of reading disappointment than this past summer. And, I’ve been hearing similar things from other book bloggers and on reading-related podcasts.

 

Many of the books that didn’t work for me this summer had been hyped up by publishers and the book media…making the crash hurt that much worse. At the end of every year, I write a post called 5 Books That Deserved the Hype…and 5 That Didn’t. Y’all, 5 books isn’t enough to account for all the overhyped books this summer, much less an entire year! Let’s review the offenders…

Books Blurbed by Beloved Authors

I’m a sucker for books blurbed by authors I love. But, I also fall into the trap of thinking that means the blurbed book will be similar to said beloved author’s books. While this does occasionally pan out for me, it generally didn’t during the 2017 summer of overhyped books. I quickly DNF’d both of these examples…
 
Examples:

Hyped, But Disappointing Debuts

I’ve historically had good luck with debuts. But, this summer brought us a crop that were hyped by publishers as well as traditional book media (and some podcasters), but that I don’t think have connected on a large scale with regular readers (i.e. people not enmeshed in the book world)…and, they didn’t connect with me.

Examples:

Book of the Month Club Selections

I have to preface this by saying that I have read countless Book of the Month Club selections that I’ve adored and I anxiously await the announcement of their picks every month. But, I’ve read a couple of Book of the Month Club stinkers this summer. Let me repeat again…this is an anomaly overall!

 

Examples:
  • The Windfall by Diksha Basu (July selection). I know some people that liked this one, but I wasn’t one of them and I’ve heard of a number of others who thought it was completely inane.
  • Final Girls by Riley Sager (July selection). Also, Stephen King called it the “first great thriller of 2017.” This book is not universally disliked by any means, but I thought the ending completely jumped the shark. And after publication, there was the minor scandal surrounding Riley Sager being a male using a pen name that many assumed referred to a female author.

Here’s what I’d like to know about the traditional media’s new release preview lists: how are they put together?

Has someone at the publication actually vetted the books that are included on the list? Do the journalists compiling these lists do their own research to determine which books they’re actually interested in? OR, do the journalists merely talk to people in the book industry, who tell them which books to include?

 

It’s kind of like including the methodology in a summary of survey results or findings of a study. This information really impacts the way the results are interpreted! And, it would certainly help me determine which new release lists to pay the most attention to.

 

I do have to commend Publisher’s Weekly for linking to its reviews of all the books on its Fall Preview list, meaning someone at Publisher’s Weekly has actually vetted these books. The Millions occasionally links to an internal review and publicizes the name of the staffer that recommended each book included in its Great 2017 Book Preview. But, Buzzfeed, Elle Magazine, and Bookish need to get a little more transparent.

 

If any of you know insider details about how the traditional media’s new release preview lists are put together, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

 

As for me, I obviously personally research every book I include in my “Most Anticipated Books of X Season” posts and indicate specifically when I’ve already read a book I included. That being said, I know from my own experience that it’s hard to pick winners in advance. I haven’t always been successful (I average about 50% or so per season). I’d like to get more successful and will be even more explicit about how I’ve compiled my list after the summer of overhyped books.

 

How do you feel about the books of Summer 2017? How do you feel about hyped books in general? And, how do you feel about hyped new release lists?

 

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How to Keep Reading When Life Gets Crazy

June 15, 2017 Discussions 27

How to Keep Reading When Life Gets Crazy


Life can get totally crazy sometimes…especially every May/June for parents of school age children (if you want more details, read this). All those permission forms to fill out, special events to attend at school, theme days to remember, and changes in schedule. It all makes my head spin.

Something like reading can be one of the first things to fall by the wayside during all the chaos. It’s a hobby for most people. It’s expendable.

I don’t know about you, but reading has a calming influence on me. So, it’s during these chaotic times that reading becomes even more of a sanity essential. Taking a few minutes here and there to squeeze in some reading does wonders for my patience, parenting, and ability to let things go.

So, how to keep reading when life gets crazy? Let’s get to it…

Carry A Book Everywhere

Ladies, I know you carry those gigantic purses all over the place! There is room in there for a book, e-reader, or tablet.

And, if you’re in the 1% of women that don’t go the gigantic purse route, I’m sure you keep your phone on you most of the time…keep an e-book on it! Which will enable you to…

Take Advantage of Small Snippets of Time

I think some people feel like they need large blocks of quiet time to do any reading. If I thought that way, I would literally never read. I’d love to have a couple quiet hours to really dig into a book, but that doesn’t really fit into my life right now. And, I bet the same goes for many of you.

But, a couple 5 or 10 minute increments can add up to an hour before you know it…

Here some places where you can squeeze in an extra bit of reading:

  • When you wake up before your alarm
  • During or after your workout (bet you’ll hold those stretches longer if you’re reading!)
  • When you arrive somewhere a few minutes early (i.e. picking up your children from school, meeting friends for dinner, etc)
  • During your commute…if you ride a bus or train.
  • During your lunch hour at work
  • While waiting in any line or waiting room
  • During your children’s after-school activities (i.e. soccer practice, swimming lessons…just look up when it’s your child’s turn!)
  • Before bed (I can’t fall asleep without reading)

Embrace Audiobooks

This one was admittedly tough for me, but when I finally figured it out I was able to add 1-2 books to my monthly reading! If you can find your audiobook niche (mine is lighter nonfiction), it will make mundane tasks a lot more enjoyable.

Tasks that can be improved with audiobooks:

  • Driving
  • Household chores (cleaning, laundry, organizing, yard work, paying bills, etc)
  • Grocery shopping…and putting away said groceries
  • Getting dressed in the morning / undressed at night
  • Cooking
  • Exercising (if that’s your jam…audiobooks tend not to work for me while exercising)
  • While doing mundane tasks at work that don’t require lots of concentration

Choose Some Things NOT to Do

This section is inspired by the eye-opening book The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight (whose subtitle is “How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have with People You Don’t Like Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do”), which teaches you how to de-clutter your life (rather than your house, a la Marie Kondo) and Episode 79 of the Sorta Awesome podcast, entitled The Awesome Freedom of the Don’t Do List.

We can’t do everything in life…or at least can’t do it all well. Especially over the last few years, it’s become clear that I have to choose a couple meaningful things to focus on doing well…and get comfortable with saying no to lots of stuff that doesn’t fall those buckets.

Things I don’t do:

  • Attend many weeknight activities…like Book Club (I know, this makes no sense!), wine nights, etc. I will occasionally grab dinner with a few close friends, but it’s literally like once a month.
  • Join volunteer organizing committees at my children’s schools. I’ve found that being on an organizing committee or in charge of really anything ends up taking far more time than you thought you’d committed to. Instead, I choose to contribute by being a pair of hands (chaperoning soccer, working a booth at Carnival, etc) and by providing items for various events (i.e. bottled water for Reading Celebration, etc).
  • Worry about keeping my house perfectly neat all the time.
  • Put on make-up or do my hair during the week (I literally don’t even blow-dry my hair unless I’m going out to dinner on a weekend).
  • Run a lot of errands. I try to do everything I can online so I don’t waste time running around town.
  • Shop. I genuinely don’t like shopping, so that makes it pretty easy not to waste time doing it.

Where can you squeeze some extra reading into your day?

And, what can you add to your DON’T do list so you can spend more time doing the things you love?

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Based on a True Story by Delphine de Vigan: Spoiler Discussion

May 11, 2017 Discussions 18

This post is full of spoilers, so STOP READING AFTER THE FIRST SECTION if you don’t want to know the ending (or other details).

Based on a True Story by Delphine de Vigan SpoilerFiction – Thriller
Released May 9, 2017
384 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon 
Source: Publisher (Bloomsbury USA)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This post contains affiliate links.

I’ve been somewhat burned out of psychological thrillers lately, especially those that are billed as “the next Gone Girl and/or The Girl on the Train.” I generally find that the big twist is either entirely predictable or completely outlandish…and neither one of those situations leaves me feeling satisfied. Completely outlandish is what killed the last thriller I tried (Behind Her Eyes). I wrote a spoiler discussion with all the gory details.

So, I recently tried going international for a satisfying thriller and it worked!

Based on a True Story (a smash hit in France already) is the memoir-style story of a writer’s toxic female friendship. It begins with a titillating Prologue and continues with a creepy, Single White Female vibe that left me dying to know how things would play out. It’s incredibly emotionally tense and de Vigan’s gorgeous writing helps accomplish this.

The first half of the book lays the psychological groundwork for the more action-packed second half. Why is L interested in Delphine? What could L possibly have done to make Delphine stop writing and essentially ruin her life?

The entire time I was reading, I understood that Based on a True Story was completely messing with my head. Much of the allure comes from the “is this story true or isn’t it?” vibe that permeates the entire story, so that’s what we’ll pick apart here.

I haven’t come close to figuring out where I stand on all these questions…and that’s one of the beauties of this story! You’ll keep turning it over in your mind for awhile and it’s a book that will spark debates, making it a great choice for book club.

STOP HERE IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW SPOILERS!

Is Based on a True Story REALLY based on a true story?

I went into Based on a True Story thinking the book was, in fact, based on a true story. Aside from the obvious (the title), the publisher leads its blurb with this:

[…] a chilling work of fiction–but based on a true story–about a friendship gone terrifyingly toxic and the nature of reality.

And closes with this:

This sophisticated psychological thriller skillfully blurs the line between fact and fiction, reality and artifice. Delphine de Vigan has crafted a terrifying, insidious, meta-fictional thriller; a haunting vision of seduction and betrayal; a book which in its hungering for truth implicates the reader, too–even as it holds us in its thrall.

But, as I was reading, I started to completely question this assumption. A huge theme in the story is the idea that fictional entertainment (books, movies, TV shows) that are “based on a true story” (or marketed as such) are much more compelling for the audience than pure fiction. It’s the type of book L is trying to force Delphine to write next.

And I challenge all of us – you, me, anyone – to disentangle true from false. And in any case, it could be a literary project to write a whole book that presents itself as a true story, a book inspired by so-called real events, but in which everything, or nearly everything, is invented.

Based on a True Story is filled with these types of quotes! Are they a clue that we readers have been conned and that this is not, in fact, a true story? Is this entire book a huge indictment of the lemming-like nature of readers in general?

Based on a True Story could be pure fiction and that title could just refer to this prevailing theme in the book. But, would the publisher go so far as to mislead the public in its marketing blurb?

I’ve tried all kinds of Google searches and found very few actual news articles indicating whether this story is true or any English language in-depth interviews with de Vigan. She’s also not on Twitter. The only thing I’ve seen is a translation of a French language interview with de Vigan in Paris Match Magazine in a blog post by Susie at Novel Visits where she quoted as answering “in one form or another” when asked if there was an L. in her life.

Did Delphine imagine L?

It’s clear towards the end of the book that even Delphine herself questions whether L actually existed. When she figures out she’s been had (in a delightfully The Usual Suspects kind of way!), she tries to find tangible evidence of L’s existence in her life and she cannot find a shred.

It’s possible Delphine could have imagined L in the throes of a deep depression. But, I think the (pretty dang awesome, I might add!) ending pretty much negates this possibility.

If L didn’t exist, who submitted the “novel” in Delphine’s name to her publisher? Delphine could have written it while she was depressed, but would she really have no zero memory of it whatsoever? I guess it’s possible if you also believe she invented L entirely.

But, I’m not sure I buy that Delphine imagined L. while deeply depressed.

I see three possible interpretations of Based on a True Story.

Based on a True Story ends with The End*, the calling card L uses for her ghostwriting. This leads me to the following three interpretations of the book:

  1. Based on a True Story really is closely based on something that actually happened to de Vigan…and Based on a True Story is the actual book the very real L submitted to Delphine’s publisher under Delphine’s name. But, then, can the publisher release this book under de Vigan’s name in good conscience while knowing she didn’t actually write it?
  2. Like #1, Based on a True Story is based on some version of something that actually happened to Delphine, but Delphine really did write the book about her experience. But if this is true, then why did Delphine sign off with L’s calling card? To trick the reader? As a cheeky nod to L? This piece has me stumped.
  3. Based on a True Story is completely fiction (written by de Vigan) and the title refers to the theme I discussed above. Ending the book with L’s calling card is just a cheeky nod to her and the story. Maybe even inserted at the last minute by the publisher. But, again, why would be publisher then state it’s “based on a true story” in the marketing blurb?

I think all this ambiguity is intentional and meant to make the book more compelling…which it absolutely did for me.

As to which theory I personally subscribe to…I think it’s #2…mainly because of the quote Susie at Novel Visits found in the French language Paris Match MagazineBut, I admit I’m still questioning myself. There are holes in all three theories.

How do you feel about all the ambiguity? And, about never finding out who L really was or why she wanted to insinuate herself in Delphine’s life?

About knowing for sure if the book is based on a true story?

Part of me loves the fact that I finished the book weeks ago and am still trying to parce this all out. But, another, lazier, part of me wants the key to the castle…right now!

I’m definitely the type of reader who doesn’t mind an open or ambiguous ending…as long as it isn’t super abrupt and makes sense with the story. In this case, I think the ambiguity was intentional and well-crafted, so it doesn’t make me want to throw the book across the room.

Knowing who L really was or why she wanted to insinuate herself into Delphine’s life?

Initially, I was annoyed that this was never answered. But, now that some time has gone by, I’m much more focused on whether the story is true or not. L’s motive almost seems beside the point.

Let’s discuss! What did you think of Based on a True Story? How do you feel about all the ambiguity?

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Sarah’s Book Shelves Turns 4…and How My Reading Habits Have Changed Since

March 10, 2017 Discussions 55

how my reading habits have changed


I’ve never paid much attention to my blog “anniversary” before, but there’s always a first time for everything! I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for four years now. Some days I still feel like the new kid on the block (and I am compared to some bloggers).

I’ve been reflecting lately on how my reading taste and habits have changed since starting this blog and thought the anniversary of Sarah’s Book Shelves was an appropriate time to share how becoming immersed in the book world has broadened my horizons considerably…making my reading habits fairly unrecognizable compared to my pre-blogging days.

I never anticipated how much I would enjoy being a part of the book world, talking and writing about books, interacting with so many fellow reading nerds, recommending the right book to the right people at the right time, thinking creatively about where to take the blog next, and helping all of you solve your book and reading problems!

Thank you all for hanging with me all this time!

How my reading habits have changed since starting this blog

I read much more widely and diversely…
I’m now willing to give most any type of book a try. I’ve added short stories to my repertoire and have had some successful forays into dystopian (Station Eleven, my review) and science fiction (The Martian, Dark Matter). I’ve also ventured into more esoteric literary fiction that I never would have touched before starting this blog and become more aware of reading stories that are different from my own life.

I’m more focused on a book’s writing and intangibles…
A book’s style has become more important to me at the expense of plot. Nothing feels better than realizing a book’s style is for you within the first few pages. But, on the flip side, it’s harder to use publisher’s blurbs (which are generally focused on plot) to predict which books you will connect with.

I’m reading more new releases than ever before…
The buzz surrounding a hotly anticipated new release is intoxicating. And it’s fun to be in the know about all the shiny, new books (and to be able to recommend them to people). But, it also means I’m reading less backlist than I used to. I’m working on finding a balance that includes lots of new releases, but also leaves room for backlist books (putting those backlist books on hold at the library is helping!).

I’ve started quitting (aka DNFing) books that aren’t holding my attention…
I’m a “check-the-box” kind of girl, so prior to blogging I finished every single book I started. What a waste of time this was! I wish I could go back and start DNFing books years earlier. There are just too many great books out there to waste time on books that aren’t satisfying you in some way.

I now greatly appreciate short, tight books…
I used to love those massive chunksters that can double as doorstops (I even have a whole recommendation list devoted to them). I didn’t care if it took me a month to read one book. Now I feel like I’m missing out on so many other books by devoting that much time to just one. It has to really knock my socks off to be worth it. The last book that did that was A Little Life (my review). 

I now read with an eye towards recommending books…
I’m not just reading for me anymore. I’m constantly thinking about who else might like the book I’m reading and what other books are similar to it. This shift in thinking recently led to a list of Books That Aren’t For Everyone…But WERE For Me.

I’m more conscious of fitting reading in every single chance I get…
If I have a free minute (and I mean a literal minute), I try to pull out my Kindle. While stretching at the gym, while waiting in line at the grocery store, if I’m a few minutes early to pick my children up from school, etc. 

How have your reading habits changed over time?

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How Does Litsy Fit Into Your Review Strategy?

October 20, 2016 Discussions 20

Litsy

I recently joined Litsy (a relatively new app that’s like a cross between Instagram and Goodreads) and originally thought, since Litsy is image-centric, that my preference for e-reading would make me more of a lurker than a poster (who wants to see a million pictures of my kindle?!). But, I’ve enjoyed it far more than I ever thought I would!

Now that I know I like it, I’ve been pondering how it might fit into my overall reviewing strategy and would love to hear what others are doing. I want to avoid just duplicating what I’m doing on the blog and other social media. But, what niches will Litsy help me (and you) fill? Here’s what I’ve been doing and thinking…

Facebook

  • Post all blog posts
  • Share occasional interesting book/reading articles

Twitter

  • Post all blog posts
  • Share quick thoughts on reading and specific books
  • Share other bloggers’ work
  • Communicate with authors and other bloggers

Goodreads

  • Share what I’m reading in real time
  • Post full book reviews and ratings

Pinterest

  • Post all blog posts
  • Share other bloggers’ work

Instagram

I barely have a presence here…I post extremely occasional pictures of reading spots and books, but I’m definitely more of a lurker.

Where does Litsy fit?

  • Share what I’m reading in real time
  • Share quotes
  • Review audiobooks (I don’t currently review them on the blog)
  • Rate all books
  • Post quick reviews of select books with accompanying image

Lingering Litsy Questions: 

  • Does it make sense to consider Litsy my place to share quick thoughts on books I don’t review on the blog?
  • Or should I also post quick reviews of select books (maybe particular favorites) that I do review on the blog?
  • Should Litsy be my place to share quick thoughts on why I DNF certain books?

How does Litsy fit into your review strategy? Do you review every book you read and/or review on your blog on Litsy? If not, how do you choose which books to review there?

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Do You Have Trouble Giving “Lighter” Books 5 Star Ratings?

August 30, 2016 Discussions 51

Do You Have Trouble Giving "Lighter" Books 5 Star Ratings?


As I’ve mentioned over the past few months, lighter books have been working well for me this summer. I’m not sure whether it’s because of the season, my overall slumpy reading year, or the general bustle of my life, but lighter books are hitting the spot more often than “serious” books. Some of my very favorite reading experiences could probably be considered “brain candy” and selecting lighter books overall has pulled me out of my 2016 reading slump.

So, if a book is among my favorite reading experiences of the year, it should probably have a 5 star rating and be a contender for my Best Books of 2016 List, right?! Unfortunately, it turns out that I’ve been giving these types of books 4 stars instead of 5. If those same books had been more serious, I likely would have given them 5 stars. It’s like I’ve unintentionally self-imposed a 4 star ratings ceiling for “light” books. Or like comedies not being nominated for Oscars…instead being relegated to the Musical or Comedy category of Best Picture at the Golden Globes. I hate that this happens with movies and I hate that I’ve done it with books.

Why do I have such trouble giving “lighter” books 5 star ratings?

Am I really that much of a snob?! Do I think my favorite books of the year must all be serious and important? I would answer a vehement no to both of these questions if asked, yet my data proves me wrong. Of my twenty 4 star books this year, a quarter of them are light reads that I’d probably have given 5 stars if they were more serious books. A few of them are among my favorite reading experiences of the year (The Swans of Fifth Avenue, Siracusa). 

What about the blogging echo chamber? Am I feeling subconscious pressure to only give top ratings to serious books? 

Have I changed over time? When I look back at my Best Books of the Year lists, I included “lighter” books every year until 2015, which was also the year I started blogging more regularly.

So, what should I do now?

  • Change my ratings mentality moving forward? Make a conscious effort to be more open to giving “brain candy” a 5 star rating if it was a top notch reading experience.
  • Retroactively change the ratings of light books that I regret not rating 5 stars? I don’t like the idea of retroactively changing ratings, but I’m also short-changing these books. Hmm…
  • Keep an ongoing recommendation list of Top-Notch Light Reads? I’m pretty sure I’m going to do this one.
  • Create a separate “Best Books of the Year” list for light reads in December? Or just make sure to include my favorite light reads of 2016 in my overall Best Books of the Year list?

Do you ever find yourself hesitating to rate a lighter book 5 stars? How do you handle it?

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How Do You Feel About Epilogues?

June 14, 2016 Discussions 45

How Do You Feel About Epilogues


Prior to this year, I rarely noticed Epilogues and much less thought critically about them. But, this year, a few of my more successful reads (and their Epilogues) have gotten my wheels turning. In each of these examples, an unsatisfying Epilogue marred an otherwise enjoyable read. The silver lining is that, since Epilogues are tacked on at the end, it’s easy to just mentally lop them off your memory of the book! Let’s talk about a few of the specific types of Epilogues that rub me the wrong way…

The “Where Are They Now?” Epilogue

In this type of Epilogue, the story comes to a satisfying end…then, the Epilogue kindly offers an US Weekly “Where Are They Now?”-style rundown of where each character ends up decades later. Do we really need to know this? What if you end up hating a particular character’s outcome? Why mess with that satisfying ending in the first place?

Recent Example: Only Love Can Break Your Heart 

The Neat and Tidy Epilogue

This type of Epilogue ties the story up in an overly neat and tidy bow…leaving no room for interpreting the ending. I used to like books that tied everything up in this way, but have moved away from that over the past couple of years.

Recent Example: The Nest 

The “I Don’t Buy It” Epilogue

This type of Epilogue takes the story in a direction that rational thinking makes it hard to buy into…leading to lots of “oh please, that would never happen in real life” types of things floating around my brain.

Recent Example: The Expatriates 

What about successful Epilogues? Are there any? I had a very hard time coming up with any examples other than the Afterward (it’s called Historical Notes in the book, but I think it can count as an Epilogue for our purposes) in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. That Epilogue served a clear purpose and added another dimension to the story.

How do you feel about Epilogues in general? Can you share any examples of Epilogues that worked for you?




What Makes A Book Work For Me…And You?

April 21, 2016 Discussions 34

What Makes A Book Work For Me...And You

As many of you know, I’ve had a somewhat disappointing reading year so far. Continuing to pick up books that end up not working for me has gotten me thinking about what exactly DOES make a book work for me. The good news is I’ve pinpointed a few characteristics that have worked across multiple books I’ve loved in the past few years. The bad news is some of them are fairly intangible and hard to predict based on a book’s blurb…making accurately choosing books that will work for me pretty difficult!
 

Good Balance Between Plot and Style

I usually like at least some plot, but style and character are still extremely important to me. A plot-based book without style and character will generally not work for me, whereas a book that relies heavily on style and character can often (but not always) work for me without plot.
 

Focus on the Mundane, With Dark Undertones

When you’re reading casually along about boring daily life and a dark bomb is thrown in with no warning.
 

Examples: Why They Run the Way They Do, The Throwback Special

Characters’ Backgrounds Revealed Little by Little

This feature stands out most in quieter books that aren’t heavily plot driven. Gradually learning surprising new information about the books’ characters adds a bit of suspense and keeps me wanting to read more. Think of it as “what else do I get to find out about this person?” rather than “what’s going to happen?”
 

The How/Why, Not the What

A story where the you already know the ending; the suspense lies in how you get there or why it happened.
 

Examples: Everything I Never Told You, My Sunshine Away

Gorgeous Writing

Well, yes, obviously! But, what does gorgeous writing actually mean (for me)?! I like writing that is clean, unpretentious, and perfectly describes something in a unique way. I do NOT fall for writing so flowery or esoteric that you can’t decipher what the author is trying to convey.
 

Examples: Infinite Home, Shotgun Lovesongs

Certain Themes

I think this is a characteristic that can change over time and is influenced by someone’s stage of life or particular experiences. Some themes I’m drawn to right now are maintaining your identity through motherhood, marriage, and social commentary. 
 

Examples: Summerlong (maintaining your identity through motherhood), The Wife (marriage), The Dinner (social commentary)

What makes a book work for you?




The Dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish)

March 29, 2016 Discussions 54

The Dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish)

The DNF is a relatively new concept for me. I used to be one of those people that powered through every book I read, no matter how little I was enjoying it. But last year, I resolved to DNF more books. And I was quickly taken with the concept; DNFing 21 books last year and 6 so far this year. So, all this got me thinking about how I (and others) handle the dreaded DNF.

Is there a difference between a sample and a DNF?

In addition to DNFing, I picked up a sampling habit last year. If I’m purchasing an e-book from Amazon, I always download the sample first. And, I usually download two or three samples before deciding on my next book. When I choose not to purchase a book I’ve sampled, it doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t ever read that book, just that I’m not going to read it right then.
 
I approach ARCs (“advanced reader copies”, provided by publishers) a bit differently; I start each of those with the intention of reading the entire book unless it doesn’t work for me. And, therein lies the difference between a sample and a DNF for me. It’s all about intention. I don’t actually intend to read all the books I sample. I consider a book I intend to read, but ultimately decide is not working for me, a DNF.
 
Do you consider a DNF and a sample the same or different things?

How much of a book do you typically read before you officially DNF?

I usually try to make it to the 25% mark of a book that isn’t working for me before deciding to DNF. But, I’m completely willing to DNF at whatever point I start to dread picking up my current read. I’ve DNF’d at 2% and 80% (and everywhere in between) in the past year.

Do you have a general rule of thumb for how long you’ll give a book before you DNF?

How do you handle DNFs on Goodreads?

I’m wrestling with my strategy for this one. Goodreads doesn’t really make handling DNFs straightforward. There’s no official place to mark a book as DNF and no generally accepted way to handle ratings for DNFs. I created my own exclusive DNF folder and move a book from “currently reading” to “DNF” once I’ve made that decision. Ratings are a different story…

When I look up a book on Goodreads, I want to know how many people (or % of readers) have DNF’d that book. That’s helpful information for me. Given Goodreads doesn’t currently have a way to gather or share this information, I’m inclined to rate a book I’ve DNF’d. I realize there are issues with this (namely, how can I fairly rate a book that I didn’t finish?) and sometimes don’t rate DNFs for that reason. But, if I feel like I’ve read enough of a book to get a decent feel for it, I will rate it (likely 1 or 2 stars). I just feel like my DNF should be factored into the overall rating somehow…and this is the only way to do it at this point.

I wish Goodreads had a simple checkbox to indicate that you DNF’d a book and how much of the book you read…and then figured out some back-end algorithm to factor those into the overall rating. Or, report that information separately, but next to the overall rating.

How do you handle DNFs on Goodreads? Do you assign them a rating? How would you like Goodreads to handle DNF tracking?