Monthly Archives: June 2014

Help Me Find New Authors

On the one hand, I need new book recommendations like a hole in the head (currently trying to pare my to-read list down to a manageable size, and weeping.) On the other hand, there’s something I’m slack on. Something I’ve really been meaning to address. I need to read more African American authors.

Being a big reader who has the benefit of a solid liberal arts education and a number of library jobs behind her, my bookshelf is probably more diverse than a lot of other readers’. But the isn’t saying much. I haven’t run the numbers or anything like that, but I definitely read mostly white women authors, followed by white men. Next is probably black women and then other writers of color, though I can’t be sure. And that needs to change.

When it comes to my writing, because I am vey much still learning and crafting my own voice, I try to write from a different perspective in every story. Male, female, POC, queer, physically handicapped, etc. Maybe it’s not ideal. Maybe I get things wrong. (Maybe I get things spectacularly wrong.) But writing fiction is the way I process and understand the world, and there’s a lot of different people out there, so I have to make a concious effort to try. (Otherwise I’d end up with a ton of stories about a white, twenty-something female with a middle class background and social anxiety, and who wants to read about that?) So, if I make a concious effort to make my writing diverse, I have to also make a concious effort to make my reading diverse. I’m not going to like every author or every book. But I need more experience and knowledge of a variety of authors. And that is where you come in.

Who are your favorite black authors?  I’ve read and enjoyed novels by Tayari Jones and N.K. Jemisin. I’ve read and been disappointed by Octavia Butler and Beverly Jenkins. I’ve read the usual books you get assigned in school, like Invisible Man and There Eyes Were Watching God and Beloved, though I’m sure there’s plenty I’ve missed along the way. What are some books I have to try? I’m interested in any genre, though I pretty much know already I’m not going to be into “church books,” anything strongly contingent on Christianity, and on the other side I’m not going to be interested in heavily urban books (at the library, we get a lot of books about “thugz” and “playaz” that seem really stereotypical and offensive to me, but what do I know?). Who am I missing out on?

Recommend me things in the comments, and I will add them to my absurdly long list!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Book Cover Trends

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The topic of this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Top Ten Book Cover Trends I Like and/or Dislike.

There’s really only one trend that has my attention right now, but I loooove it.

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Text!

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Specifically, covers where text is the primary, or only, element.

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I’m a bit of a typography junkie, and I love to see publishers and designers being creative with their typefaces and the composition and layering of text. There’s a million different things you can do with text, and it can convey lots of different moods or styles.

But there are plenty of cover elements out there that I can do without. Not quite nine, so I’m kind of cheating with this list, but here’s some cover elements I’m sick of.

1. Look, look, look how big my name is!

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I get it. You’re big time, and probably have a half dozen ghostwriters on the payroll.

2. Foot Fetish

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I am so, so sick of feet. There is only one shoe cover that is ever going to work, and that is:

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3. Women at the Beach

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Chilling under umbrellas, wearing vintage looking swimwear, being generally Chick Lit-y. You just know it’s going to be all about middle age and divorce and body issues.

4. Holy Eyeballs, Batman!

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OK, so for this one I actually have a thing. I have a giant phobia of eyeballs, enough so that when I saw the cover of Karen Russell’s new novella (which nothing in the world could induce me to look up and post here), I actually screamed. Out loud. At work. These aren’t as bad, even kind of pretty, but at the same time they gross me out. I definitely won’t ever be picking up any eyeball books, I can assure you.

What do love about covers? What do you hate? Any trends I’m missing?

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Review: Chaplin and Company by Mave Fellowes

18379031Title: Chaplin and Company

Author: Mave Fellowes

Rating: 2 stars

I received this book through Goodreads First Reads program. 

I really should have known better when I picked up Chaplin and Company. Pretty much every element of the book was something I hate in my reading experience. I can’t stand circus books (it wasn’t quite a circus book but was, shall we say, circus-adjacent). POV hopping is irritating, especially without any apparent structure behind it. Contrived coincidences annoy me. And the only thing I loathe more than excessively quirky characters are excessively quirky characters who feel smugly superior to everyone else.

So I should have known that I was never going to like this book, but I read it anyway. The end is more promising than the beginning, but that couldn’t save it for me.

Chaplin and Company is the story of Odeline Milk, a biracial outcast who decides to leave her stifling hometown when her mother dies to pursue her dream of becoming a world famous mime. She promptly buys a decrepit houseboat, goes on a quest to find her father, and meets a cast of quirky characters whom she initially despises but gradually comes to care for.

I could not stand Odeline. That’s partly the point, as the whole book is about her journey of growth, but that didn’t make reading her anymore pleasant. She was snotty, smug, overbearing, and chock-full of ridiculous quirks. She walks around in an oversized suit, complete with bowler hat and clown shoes. She drinks hot chocolate in August and talks like a 1920s movie star. She wants to be a performer, but sneers at the idea of busking, or performing for children, or doing anything less than debuting on a grand stage with her idol. The cast of supporting characters were equally unpleasant. Ridley, the love interest, John Kettle, the drunk, and Vera, the fat immigrant, all had their own sets of ridiculous quirks, and the cast was rounded out by some cartoony thugs and some broken-down people who have convoluted and contrived past histories with Odeline’s boat. Oh, and her father, who is, unsurprisingly, an awful conman. Vera is probably the best of these characters, but Odeline has such initial disdain for her that it’s hard to do anything but pity her.

They are interesting characters, for the most part, but they are not enjoyable, and that was really offputting. My main problem with the book, however, was the structure. It was primarily in present tense, which is a trend I cannot stand. It works, when it’s done well, for short stories, but in novels is just distracting and exhausting. It also jumps around between viewpoint characters, tenses, and time periods, trying to present omniscience but instead creating somewhat of a mess. Nothing about the writing really appealed to me.

The ending of the book is stronger than the beginning. Odeline does change. But it’s almost too much too fast; given who she was at the beginning of the novel, I didn’t quite buy who she became. I knew from pretty much the first page that I wasn’t going to like the book, which colored my final opinion, so take my review with that in mind. Too many things about it just rubbed me the wrong way.

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Review: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

18764828Title: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club

Author: Genevieve Valentine

Rating: 4 stars

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

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is a difficult book to classify. I’ve read Genevieve Valentine’s work in some of my favorite speculative magazines, and so I was a little surprised to see that The Girls at the Kingfisher Club was, on the surface, a fairly straightforward historical novel. Of course, once you open it, it isn’t that simple. The short novel is based on a fairy tale, though one I wasn’t familiar with (so it took me a while to realize it). Though there is nothing overtly fantastical about the novel, the language and structure serve to make it feel magical.

The twelve Hamilton sisters have spent their lives as virtual prisoners, as their father tries and fails again and again to sire a male heir. Eventually, chafing under the restrictions, they begin to sneak out at night to dance at speakeasies. The twelve “Princesses,” as they soon become known, are a mystery to all who know them, and live only to dance. But when their ruthless father begins to plan to auction them off to men, their desperate attempts to escape threaten to separate them all forever.

Eldest sister Jo, “the General,” is the only real character in the story. The others are archetypes, often interchangeable until the very end, each defined by a specific trait or habit. Normally, this sort of thing should bother me, but in this case I felt it added to the foggy, fable-like feeling of the novel. And as main characters go, Jo is a fascinating one. Instead of being motherly and feminine, as readers might be forgiven for assuming, Jo is flinty, obsessive, determined, and often cruel. This is very much her story, and she was a refreshingly unique character to follow.

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club will no doubt appeal to readers of both speculative and mainstream fiction. (Plus-cover! I have to admit, the cover was the entire reason I wanted to read this book.) It will perhaps be a polarizing novel–not everyone is going to like the brevity or the extreme stylized writing. But I thoroughly enjoyed it, and look forward to reading more from the author.

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