Fox on Books

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Archive for the tag “Fiction”

Short Stories, or, Review-Palooza!

It’s become clear that I read a lot of books. This year, I’m averaging one book every three days, across all sorts of formats, including manuscript, eBook, audio book and, of course, my true love, the paper book.

In order to keep them fresh in my mind, and to deliver opinions about them in a somewhat timely manner, I’m going to do bite-sized reviews of a recent selection.

Dear reader, dive in:

What Came Before – by Anna George

whatcamebeforeOof. This was a hard read. Following the spiral of a gradually abusive relationship, What Came Before challenges us to look at what we expect – and what we’ll accept – from those we love. Ambitious and confronting, it’s not for everyone, but is a particularly powerful novel.

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Looking for Alaska – by John Green
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John Green’s first novel has all the hallmarks of his later work. Teens who act like teens (bright, loyal, apathetic and often a wee bit pretentious), a simple narrative that allows the beauty and poignancy of his prose to shine, and a quietly wrenching third act make this a must read for older teens and fans of this brand of honest, contemporary YA. (Also, have you read The Fault in Our Stars yet? If not, what are you even doing with your life??)

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Words of Radiance – by Brandon Sanderson

wordsofradianceThe Way of Kings (Parts One and Two) and their sequel The Words of Radiance are perfect examples of high fantasy with truly epic scope and huge payoffs. If you’re a fantasy reader, you’d be foolish to go past Brandon Sanderson. He and Patrick Rothfuss are the best current fantasy writers around. I’m repeating myself and I don’t care: Brandon Sanderson is the real deal. He is astonishing, and if you haven’t read him, you’re missing out.

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Wool and Dust – both by Hugh Howey

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I’m a little late on this bandwagon but Wool and its sequel Dust are something you definitely want to experience. Howey’s exploration of a possible future after the world has been destroyed by nuclear warfare is sophisticated, claustrophobic and nail-bitingly tense. It’s the kind of sci-fi you’ll rant excitedly about in turn. I listened to these as audio books, and the SECOND I finished Wool I had to find out what happened next. four fox

Have you read any of these? I’ve covered a range of genres – what’s your pick of the above?

The White Queen – by Philippa Gregory

WhiteQueenI read The Other Boleyn Girl many years ago, and quite enjoyed Gregory’s blend of history with liberal doses of fiction – it’s addictive, and there’s just enough fact to make you feel like you’re learning something as you read. I picked up The White Queen in Britain (naturally) because I’d heard it was about to be made into a TV show, and I like to read the source material first, like a good booklover. Here’s how Philippa Gregory’s foray into the lives of the Plantagenets grabbed me:

Before the Tudors, the Plantagenets reigned in a bitter, brother-against-brother dynasty. The White Queen follows the young Elizabeth Woodville, who catches the eye of the young king, Edward I. Using all her charm, wit and possible otherworldly talent, she must maneuver the deep, deadly currents of the English court. Despite her best efforts, readers will know that Elizabeth’s two sons are the centre of one of the oldest mysteries in British royal history – the mystery of the princes in the tower. (Not) The Children of the Revolution:

Gameboard of the Gods – by Richelle Mead

gameboardAs you may already know, I’ve been a Richelle Mead fan since the first time I picked up Vampire Academy. What you mightn’t know is that I’ve tried and failed to read her previous adult paranormal fiction. The succubus series really never grabbed me, which was disappointing given how good Vampire Academy is.

I went in to reading Gameboard of the Gods, Mead’s newest novel, a dystopian/sci-fi adult novel that’s the first in her new “Age of X” series, with some trepidation. Ha! Completely unfounded. Gameboard of the Gods is fantastic. Here’s why:

Meet Mae Koskinen. She’s not just any law enforcement officer. Mae is a Praetorian. These elite, enhanced warriors are the pinnacle of the Runa’s armed forces – as terrifying as they are effective. Caught In the Storm:

Let’s Talk: Genres

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Originally hosted by Melissa from i swim for oceans, Smash & Kt took her original inspiration, and made it their own, expanding it to more than just books. Let’s get personal (but respectfully so) and learn more about one another! Each week, a different question will be posted along with a place to link up your posts and visit other people’s responses. This meme is definitely meant to bring out conversation and meet new people. So, Let’s Talk!

This week, we’re asking:

Do you rate a book differently based on the genre? Are there certain genres that you hold at a higher standard? Are there books that will gain an automatic “pass” or overlook of issues just because you love the genre/ type of world? If you don’t rate books, you can answer the questions based on your review criteria.

I definitely look for different elements in books of different genres. I think in a Fantasy novel, I’m always hoping for great characters – although that’s true of all genres, really – but in particular, characters that are a variation from the so-often-repeated staples. So, if you can give me someone who’s not the country lad born to be a hero, who knows not how powerful/talented he is, I’m automatically intrigued. Same goes for not having yet another wise old-man mentor/wizard figure.Or, more common lately, the young girl hero, ruthless and beautiful, reckless and underestimated.

It’s been done – and while I won’t stop reading or even let it affect my opinion of the book too much, I’ll be disappointed to see the same tropes used, with no build or extension. Give me more. Surprise me. Make me interested in your character for themselves, not just as a convenient plot prop who fills a role we’ve come to expect filled.

In YA, be it Fantasy or Dystopian or Contemporary, I expect a degree of sameness. But I think sameness can be okay in the YA genre: definitely more so than in “adult” Fantasy. My view is that YA books are looking to tell a similar story; one of growing up, at least a little. And I think one of the most powerful tools at a YA author’s disposal is the basic framework’s we’ve seen used in many stories before.

In this case, I feel like what an author builds within or beyond this frame is the important part. Yes, it’s a coming-of-age story. But how well do you connect me to it? How real are the challenges? How authentic are the characters and their reactions? So in that sense, I have a different standard.

The other things I look for in Fantasy, particularly as my taste skews toward high fantasy, are:

  • Formal/beautiful language. People like Patrick Rothfuss make me so happy, because his language is absolutely wonderful (and his story just brilliant).
  • World building! It’s got to be a place that isn’t a carbon copy of every generic fantasy novel! And it has to be somewhere I’m interested in, otherwise it’s hard to be concerned for the world’s wellbeing. Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan, Patrick Rothfuss, Garth Nix and Maria V Snyder all have mad world building skills.

I’ve definitely got higher standards in Fantasy, because it’s my preferred reading material, which means I read a lot of it, and consequently spend more time thinking about what I liked and what I didn’t and why – especially since I’ve started reviewing.

So, what do you think? Should I be more consistent in my demands of authors, whether they’re writing YA or adult work? I’d love to know where you stand – leave me a comment and/or link through to your own Let’s Talk!

The Rosie Project – by Graeme Simsion

RosieThis came to me highly recommended by a friend in the publishing industry – it’s being tipped as a big hit, touted as “Intelligent and romantic, endearing and funny. A love story like no other.” The trick with love stories is, of course, making one stand out from the crowd, reading something you’ve not read many variations of before. The Rosie Project promised that: but could it deliver?

Don Tillman accepted long ago that he’s different. He has a detailed schedule that allows him to make the most not only of his time at work as a professor of genetics, but also his home life. Don has lobster for dinner each Tuesday and has never used his balcony. He is frequently frustrated by his friends making demands on his time with little notice, disrupting his schedule, and has never been on a second date.

Looking at his options, Don decides that the best way to find himself a partner is to design and administer a questionnaire to any potential dates, that will disqualify unsuitable women. For example: smokers, drinkers and anyone prone to arriving late are immediately out of the running. Gene and his wife Claudia, Don’s only two friends, are wary of Don’s plan but willing to help. Gene sends Rosie to see Don, and after a disastrous date (really, what was Gene thinking?) Don dismisses Rosie from his mind. Or tries to, at least. When You Walk On By/Will You Call My Name?

Mrs Queen Takes the Train – by William Kuhn

This novel recently appeared at work and caught my attention with the cover and the excerpt in the jacket. It’s positioned as a light hearted and at the same time poignant look at the remainders of British royalty, and I raced through the story. Here’s why:

The Queen (that’s Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II to you, thank you) is feeling a bit off. In spite of herself, she’s become disillusioned with her life, between her duties as little more than a figurehead of a fading institution, and her private life, which is so informed by public concerns. Of course, it wouldn’t do for someone in such a privileged position to be ungrateful or dissatisfied with their lot – but Her Majesty is nevertheless restless and unhappy. Perhaps what she needs is to remember, as Julie Andrews suggests in The Sound of Music, a few of her favourite things and take her mind off everything for a while.

The Queen doesn’t intend to leave Buckingham Palace unattended and without letting anyone know, but when she finds herself outside the grounds she decides it might be just the thing to re-visit one of her favourite places, on her own, and be someone other than The Queen, for just a little while.

When a handful of Household staff discover The Queen’s absence they decide to see if they can’t find her and make sure she’s safe themselves rather than allowing MI-5 to launch a full scale operation to bring her home. Anne, Shirley, William, Luke, Rebecca and Rajiv are in for one of the most defining nights of their lives as they scramble towards Edinburgh and The Queen. Bright Copper Kettles and Warm Woollen Mittens:

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