Top 5 Wednesday -Tired Tropes

Hey guys! I just joined a new group on Goodreads called “Top 5 Wednesday”. This group gives out book-related topics for it’s members to write about each Wednesday. I probably won’t do it all the time, but today’s topic was one that I can rant about til the cows come home, so I thought I’d participate. ūüėČ

(Interested in the group? Check it out HERE.)

Today’s topic is:
February 8th: Book Trends You’re Tired Of
What are some things you are tired of seeing that are trends in publishing? Maybe something that pops up on a lot of covers these days, or the popularity of certain tropes in a particular genre? Let it out!

My least favorite tired trope? Women who can’t focus.

A few months ago, I asked the members of my Reading Challenge Facebook group¬†a very pertinent question: “Ok guys, recommendations please. Fiction books that have a woman (or girl) as the main character that do not have a single love interest…at all. Not even a friend with benefits. And not one where she spends the whole book bemoaning her singleness either. Genre: Mystery, Fantasy, SciFi, heck give me a western, I don’t care. YA is fine, but no children’s books; that’s cheating. — Why is this so hard to find?!? Male main characters without love interests are everywhere!” I ended up having to clarify that I meant an adult/older teen main character, since the first 3¬†recommendations were children.

Out of the 202 members of that group, I got 1¬†recommendation for a book that fit this qualification. ONE. Why is it so hard for people to write women who are able to focus on the task at hand? I get it in a romance novel or even a regular novel. But when the planet is in the middle of an alien invasion and the main character is so distracted by the guy she just met who is flying her to the battlezone that she can’t remember which weapons she should bring? That’s just stupid.

Literally 95% of the descriptions for books I look up on Goodreads that have an adult female main character end in some variation of “as they race against time, fighting danger and their growing attraction towards each other…” or “as the handsome new sheriff zeroes in on Claire…”. Really? Someone is about to die and you can’t keep it in your pants?

Example in point: ‘The Invisible Library’ by Genevieve Cogman. Now don’t get me wrong, I actually did enjoy this book overall. But (kind of spoilers?) you just found out that the most evil person in the history of evil is on the planet you are investigating and may or may not try to kill you…and you are having a debate about whether or not to have sex with your co-worker WHO YOU LITERALLY MET THAT DAY?!? What the heck?!?

I can’t figure out if these authors honestly think people won’t read a book with a female main character without her wanting to boink somebody or if they think all women are actually like that. Are they really ignorant enough to think that women won’t read a book without romance? Or that men won’t read a book with a female lead unless there’s sex involved? ::sigh::

Ok, rant over. I know people will respond to this with a ton of books that negate my point. Good! Please give me recommendations! I would love to read some books where they don’t cut into the action because their ‘poor female lead’ can’t decide if she loves her new partner or hates him.

(Yes, I DID notice that I only did one trope instead of five, but I hate it enough for five, so that counts, right? Lol! I’ll do better on the next one! ūüôā ~Jess)

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Book Review – Riders of the Purple Sage

Book:¬†Riders of the Purple Sage ‚ÄstAuthor:¬†Zane Grey

Genre: Fiction, Western

Description from Goodreads:

Told by a master storyteller, Riders of the Purple Sage is a classic of the Western genre. It is the story of Lassiter, a gunslinging avenger in black, who shows up in a remote Utah town just in time to save the young and beautiful rancher Jane Withersteen from having to marry a Mormon elder against her will. Lassiter is on his own quest, one that ends when he discovers a secret grave on Jane’s grounds.

My Review:

**This one might have some slight spoilers, sorry. Also, it’s a long one and I complain a lot, so just a head’s up. ūüėČ **

Full disclaimer, I have NEVER been fond of Westerns. Now I’m not talking about fun Westerns, like Steampunk (the Weird West Tales series by Mike Resnick is HILARIOUS; you should all read it) or Time Travel (yes, I’m thinking Back to the Future here, lol) but the pure Westerns. You know, where Character A steals Character B’s horse and Character B decides that the only way to avenge his pride is to slaughter Character A’s entire posse. Those kinds of Westerns.

So when my reading challenge list included “A classic from a genre you don’t normally read”, I decided to go with a Western; mainly because my only other choices were gore or pure romance, both of which I can’t stomach. And not knowing much about the genre, I looked up the only Western author I’d heard of, Zane Grey (thanks, Colonel Potter ūüėČ ).

“Riders of the Purple Sage” is not only Zane Grey’s most well known book, it’s also considered by most to be the best selling Western of all time and the book that started the genre. It’s spawned a couple¬†movies, inspired many writers and actors, and even has a country rock band named after it. Very, very popular…and very, VERY boring!

The plot itself isn’t too bad, though there’s actually two of them. In the first one, a rancher named Jane Withersteen is being harassed by the dastardly Mormon…authorities?…clergy?…we’ll just go with “dudes in charge” for not being docile enough and marrying the man they want her to. Lassiter, a mysterious¬†dark rider, wanders along¬†and helps her out. The second plot is about a Gentile¬†named Venters, whom Jane is supposedly in love with (and vice versa), who leaves her ranch to try to track down some cattle rustlers so he can¬†make the Mormon’s like him and ends up disappearing into a side canyon with another girl for apparently like a month. Either one would have made a decent book, but smashed together like they were, it was a little strange to follow.

Back to the boring. Look, I know the West is beautiful. The canyons, towers, hills of sage brush…all gorgeous. But it should NOT take 11 pages for one man to ride a handful of miles into a canyon. You do NOT need to describe every single hare running away from his dogs or explain every time his horse decided to switch from running to trotting. And the amount of times someone said the word sage, you’d think it grew on top of everything, the houses, the people, the horses. Someone did a count in their Goodreads review: 237. They mentioned sage 237 times in a 320 page book. For someone who loves the West and/or extremely detailed descriptions of a¬†book’s world this might be great, but for the average reader? ::thumbs down::

And also…WE GET IT, Jane is a Mormon! She doesn’t have to say it every single time she has a conversation! I came to dread the pages where she actually spoke. Everything turned into “How can I love this man if it goes against my faith” “They wouldn’t possibly turn against me, a fellow Mormon” “I know you can’t stand my Mormonism.” Yes, the author¬†used the word “Mormonism”…he used it MULTIPLE times.

And that ending! ::facedesk::

Now, on the plus side: I’ve read some reviews of this book that said it was anti-Mormon and I don’t really think it came across that way. Yes, the author spoke against Mormons several times, but not really against the Mormon faith itself, just against the bad guys (those “dudes in charge”) who were exploiting the Mormon faith to get what they wanted. There was a lot of inner monologue¬†where Jane was coming to terms with the fact that her leaders might not be the pillars of goodness she thought they were, but that it didn’t mean her faith had to be shaken. I think that’s a great message. Sometimes in life, the people who we looked up to the most aren’t who we thought they were, but that doesn’t mean that our beliefs are wrong.

On the whole, I’d say that I obviously didn’t really like this book…but I can see where people who love Westerns would enjoy it. There were a lot of shoot outs, a stampede or two, some nice scenery, and (spoiler!) the¬†men get their gals. Also, it had a nice overall message.

Similar Books:

**Recommendations by Goodreads, since I haven’t read ANY of these, lol**

Hondo – Louis L’Amour

The Virginian – Owen Wister

The Unforgiven – Alan LeMay

Book Review – The List

Book:¬†The List (aka: The Wordsmith) ‚ÄstAuthor:¬†Patricia Forde

Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Dystopia

Description from Goodreads:

In the city of Ark, speech is constrained to five hundred sanctioned words. Speak outside the approved lexicon and face banishment. The exceptions are the Wordsmith and his apprentice Letta, the keepers and archivists of all language in their post-apocalyptic, neo-medieval world.

On the death of her master, Letta is suddenly promoted to Wordsmith, charged with collecting and saving words. But when she uncovers a sinister plan to suppress language and rob Ark’s citizens of their power of speech, she realizes that it’s up to her to save not only words, but culture itself.

My Review:

**I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**

During my years as an English major back in college, I had myself convinced that I didn’t like dystopian novels. I hated Brazil, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, 1984, Fahrenheit 451…basically all of the classic dystopians that I was being assigned. It wasn’t until I forced myself to read The Hunger Games a few years ago that I realized I didn’t necessarily hate the entire genre, just the books that had been forced on me at school.

So I started trying other young adult dystopians. It turns out that these books, while still in-depth and thoughtful, often turn out to be much more action packed and tend to keep me on the edge of my seat. Such is the case with The List.

In The List, we are presented with a city called “Ark”, which is the only (known) livable area left on the planet after “The Melting”. (Basically climate change. That’s not really a spoiler, since it’s pretty self evident in the name, and they end up explaining pieces of it early enough in the book that it becomes fairly obvious.) In Ark, there is a set List of words that the people are allowed to use, which is maintained by The Wordsmith. This is because the Leader of Ark believes that words are the main reason that people were able to destroy the planet.

This is a fascinating concept, that the world could be destroyed by language. Politicians who use¬†language to dissuade the public’s fears and tell them that they don’t need to worry about global warming–even as the water starts taking over cities, Murderers who use language to lure in new victims, Conspiracy Theorists who spend so much time trying to convince¬†us about things that aren’t real that we end up distracted from the things that are. What would the world be like if we didn’t have the language that let them accomplish these things?

The author uses¬†Letta, our protagonist, to really delve into this idea. Letta grew up in Ark, completely believing in the idea that the Leader was trying to protect them, even as¬†she strove to preserve the words that were being lost. Then she meets up with Marlo, an outsider from a group of people called “Destroyers”: artists, musicians, poets…those who want to see the beauty mankind can create brought back. Inevitably, Letta’s ideas of what is right begin to shift. Could it be that language itself isn’t the problem, but how you wield it?

There is also a ton of action. There is the usual plot where the protagonist has to save the world, with the help of her new found friends. I say “usual” because it’s a common theme in Young Adult dystopians, but the author here does a very good job making the plot believable and in keeping with the world she’s created. I won’t spoil the book by going into too much detail about it, but it’s a good mesh of detailed, actually dangerous, and quick-paced enough to keep the readers engaged.

Overall, I thought this was a very good book. I was immersed in it enough to finish it in two sittings. It would be a good introduction into the dystopian genre for younger readers. It is also a really interesting concept and presents an interesting thought experiment on how language can change the world.

 

Similar Books:

Divergent – Veronica Roth

The Giver – Lois Lowery

 

Book Review – Mr. Fox

Book:¬†Mr. Fox ‚ÄstAuthor:¬†Helen Oyeyemi

Genre: Fiction, Magical Realism

Description from Amazon:

Fairy-tale romances end with a wedding, and the fairy tales don’t get complicated. In this book, the celebrated writer Mr. Fox can’t stop himself from killing off the heroines of his novels, and neither can his wife, Daphne. It’s not until Mary, his muse, comes to life and transforms him from author into subject that his story begins to unfold differently.

Mary challenges Mr. Fox to join her in stories of their own devising; and in different times and places, the two of them seek each other, find each other, thwart each other, and try to stay together, even when the roles they inhabit seem to forbid it. Their adventures twist the fairy tale into nine variations, exploding and teasing conventions of genre and romance, and each iteration explores the fears that come with accepting a lifelong bond. Meanwhile, Daphne becomes convinced that her husband is having an affair, and finds her way into Mary and Mr. Fox’s game. And so Mr. Fox is offered a choice: Will it be a life with the girl of his dreams, or a life with an all-too-real woman who delights him more than he cares to admit?

My Review:

This was an…interesting book. It’s not the type of book I would normally read, but I ended up enjoying it quite a bit.

The book almost reads like a writing experiment; one where you take the main characters and change everything about them, background, situation, even location in space and time, and see where the story takes you. Mary and St. John became all manner of people, from a very realistic nanny & writer pair all the way down to an actual fox and his lady love. It was a very interesting thing to watch, a writer reinterpreting her own characters over and over; almost like watching the writing process itself.

I can see where some people might not like this one. It DOES jump around quite a bit, without really any transitions, so I could see it being very confusing for some readers. But I actually enjoyed that. It shook things up a bit; gave me the sensation that I was reading a bunch of short stories rather than one long book. Granted, not all of the stories had an ending…or even a beginning, but it was still fun.

And it did still contain an overarching plot to keep everything tied together. All the stories tied back in some (if vague) fashion to the overall plot, in which St. John and his wife are haunted by the Muse that just wants to live; an interesting plot in itself.

I also want to applaud the writing style. The author has a natural way of writing; the words just seem to flow off the page, making even the most peculiar of tales seem realistic. I could have read a hundred more versions of St. John & Mary and never gotten bored. It makes me very eager to pick up another of her works.

Overall, I highly recommend this one. Not just to people who like short stories, but really to everyone who enjoys fiction.

Similar Books:

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler – Italo Cavino, William Weaver (translator)

Book Review – The Girl in the City

Book:¬†The Girl in the City ‚ÄstAuthor:¬†Philip Harris

Genre: Novella, Dystopia

Description from Goodreads:

With the oppressive Transport Authority controlling every aspect of their existence, Leah and her father do what they can to carve a good life for themselves. Leah spends her nights scavenging in the rural zone around the City, risking capture by the Wild Ones as she hunts for salvage her father can trade for food and other essentials.

But when Leah takes a bag of salvage from a dying stranger, she and her father are drawn into the world of Transport and its war against the terrorist organization, TRACE.

A war that could cost them both their lives.

My Review:

**I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review through NetGalley.**

Well, I was going to spend this review enthusiastically telling you about the amazing world-building that Harris was able to accomplish in less than 100 pages…and then I found out that this story is basically an add-on for another author’s work (Pennsylvania by Michael Bunker). So that review is out. ūüėČ

This little story is still very good however. The characters don’t have a huge amount of background (which is to be expected in such a short novel), but what you do get is really interesting. You come to honestly care about what happens to them, especially the main character Leah.

The story stops in a good spot, at the end of the immediate action and before you get too much into the aftermath. I would have loved to learn more about what happened to Leah afterwards, though.

I don’t want to go into too much detail and spoil things, so I’ll just say that this was a good little novella that made me want to read the original work.

Similar Books:

Pennsylvania – Michael Bunker

Shelf Love Challenge 2016

Whelp, looks like I won’t be hitting my Shelf Love Challenge this year. For those of you who haven’t heard of this challenge, it’s basically just to stick to books you already own. (Here’s the link for those of you who are interested.)¬†There are several¬†levels to the challenge and everyone seems to be doing this one a little differently. Some people are giving themselves a specific monthly stipend for books, some are borrowing books from friends or the library, some are listening to audio books online. I decided to do the “My shelves and I are going steady” level (51+) and to go hardcore and only let myself count books I actually owned; nothing from the library or free on the internet.

Which is where I hit my difficulty. I did stick (mostly) to not buying any books. Aside from the $5 binge at the local rummage sale (which totally doesn’t count…no really), I only bought 6 books in total this year. Super impressive, I know. ūüėČ BUT! Because of that, I ended up forcing myself to check the library when I saw a book I wanted to read but didn’t own.

So…yeah…totally not going to finish the 51+ level, especially since I just took out two new books from the library yesterday, lol. But I did alright anyhow: 43 of my own books, with another 2 that will probably get finished by the end of December. Not too shabby considering the amount of books I read but refused to count. And I HAVE already managed to hit my Goodreads challenge, which was a straight 60 books, so that’s good enough for me. My shelves will just have to be content with remaining my BFF. ūüėČ

Here’s my list of books for this year (Italics mean I haven’t finished them yet):

Cozy Mysteries
1) Death by Darjeeling (Laura Childs)
2) A Killer Read (Erika Chase)
3) Buried in a Book (Lucy Arlington) 
4) Still Life (Louise Penny)
5) The Excalibur Murders (JMC Blair)

Ebooks
1) Bedlam Stories: The Battle for Oz & Wonderland Begins (Christine King, Nicole Jones, Pearry Teo) 
2) Artful: A Novel (Peter David)
3) Doctor Who: The Angel’s Kiss (Melody Malone, kind of ūüėČ )
4) Ravenscliff Series: Sorcerers of the Nightwing (Geoffrey Huntington)

Graphic Novels
1) Amulet #1: The Stonekeeper (Kazu Kibuishi)
2) Serenity: Better Days and Other Stories (Joss Weadon)
3) Serenity: Leaves on the Wind (Joss Weadon)
4) Nimona (Noelle Stevenson) 

Others
1) Heap House (Edward Carey) 
2) The Doctor and the Kid (Mike Resnick)
3) Fangirl (Rainbow Rowell)¬†— I really liked this one!¬†
4) Redshirts (Jon Scalzi)
5) The Rest of Us Just Live Here (Patrick Ness) — I really liked this one!¬†¬†
6) The Last Voyage of Sigismund Skrik (Karsten Flohr, John Brownjohn)
7) The Accident Season (Mo√Įra Fowley-Doyle)
8) The Book of Three (Lloyd Alexander)
9)The Rosie Project (Graeme Simsion)
10) Breath (Donna Jo Napoli)
11) As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride (Cary Elwes)
12)¬†NPCs (Drew Hayes)¬†— I really liked this one! ¬†
13) Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse (Chris Riddell)
14) Mechanica (Betsy Cornwell)
15) Carry On (Rainbow Rowell)
16) Ghost Files (Scott Nicholson & JR Rain)
17) Asylum (Madeleine Roux)
18) Doctor Who: Dark Horizons (Jenny T. Colgan) 
19) The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend (Katarina Bivald)
20) Shutter (Courtney Alameda)
21) Knitting (Anne Bartlett)
22) Circus Mirandus (Cassie Beasley)
23) The Rithmatist (Brandon Sanderson)
24) Past Midnight (Mara Purnhagen)
25) The Grave Artist (Paula Lynn Johnson)
26) Book Scavenger (Jennifer Chambliss Bertman) 
27) The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow (Katherine Woodfine)
28) The Invisible Library (Genevieve Cogman)
29) The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell (Chris Colfer)
30) The Princess Bride (William Goldman)
31) A Tale Dark & Grim (Adam Gidwitz)
32) The Doctor and the Rough Rider (Mike Resnick) 
33) The Glass Sentence (S.E.Grove)

Library Books (not counting towards challenge):
1) You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) (Felicia Day)
2) A Monter Calls (Patrick Ness)
3) Serafina and the Black Cloak (Robert Beatty)
4) The Island of Dr. Libris (Chris Grabenstein)
5) The Night Parade (Kathryn Tanquary) — If you like¬†Hayao Miyazaki movies, you will like this!
6) The Book of Storms (Ruth Hatfield)
7) Cuckoo Song (Francis Hardinge)¬†— I really liked this one!
8) The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins) — Audio version is pretty decent¬†
9) Highly Illogical Behavior (John Corey Whaley)
10) Wink Poppy Midnight (April Genevieve Tucholke)
11) The Lie Tree (Francis Hardinge)
12) Jackaby (William Ritter)
13) Wildwood Dancing (Juliet Marillier)
14) The End Games (T. Michael Martin)
15) Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory (Caitlin Doughty)
16) Ghostland: An American History in Haunted PLaces (Colin Dickey)
17) A Night in the Lonesome October (Roger Zelazny)

NetGalley Books (not counting towards challenge):
1) Four Kings (M.D. Elster)
2) The Girl in the City (Philip Harris)

Librivox Audio Books (not counting towards challenge):
1)¬†The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) — Read by Mark Smith

Book Review – Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Book:¬†Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory¬†‚ÄstAuthor:¬†Caitlin Doughty

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir

Description from Goodreads:

Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty‚ÄĒa twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre‚ÄĒtook a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life‚Äôs work. Thrown into a profession of gallows humor and vivid characters (both living and very dead), Caitlin learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters and unforgettable scenes. Caring for dead bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, Caitlin soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practices from different cultures.

Her eye-opening, candid, and often hilarious story is like going on a journey with your bravest friend to the cemetery at midnight. She demystifies death, leading us behind the black curtain of her unique profession. And she answers questions you didn’t know you had: Can you catch a disease from a corpse? How many dead bodies can you fit in a Dodge van? What exactly does a flaming skull look like?

Honest and heartfelt, self-deprecating and ironic, Caitlin’s engaging style makes this otherwise taboo topic both approachable and engrossing. Now a licensed mortician with an alternative funeral practice, Caitlin argues that our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead).

My Review:

I was a bit hesitant going into this book. I get a little queasy even just thinking about dead things; people, animals, anything dead really. Partially due to the squick factor and partially due to the connotation. But I was assured that the book was really interesting and humorous, so I decided to give it a try.

I ended up really enjoying the book. The author was able to put enough spin on the stories that you ended up more thoughtful than upset. And she has a nice, quirky sense of humor, which helps keep the narrative upbeat, even in the darkest portions. If you can make me laugh during a chapter about dead babies, you are doing something right. ūüėČ

It was really interesting having such an in-depth look at a profession that most people shy away from even talking about. Learning about the history of burial practices in America was fascinating; the transition from natural burial to embalming to cremation and back to natural burial. I also liked how she discussed different burial practices without really putting any of them down. It was nice to learn about how other cultures treat death from a (mostly) unbiased perspective.

I would really recommend this book for people who are interested in learning about American burial practices or the funereal profession.

Similar Books:

Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner – Judy Melinek, T.J. Mitchell

The American Way of Death – Jessica Mitford