Weekly

T10T: Things That Make Me Pick Up a Book

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is Things That Make Me Pick Up a Book.

I already talked about some of these points in detail in the past, and I’ll be linking some of the posts in which I did that.


1. Is the cover pretty?

There’s a good chance that the first thing I ever see about a book is the cover. If the cover for some reason catches my attention, I’m far more likely to read the synopsis, or try an excerpt, or add it to my TBR.

I wrote two posts in the past about what I like in covers and what I’m tired of seeing on book covers, and here are some other books I picked up/noticed mostly because of the cover:

  • The closer I’ve been to a cover add recently is House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig. I wasn’t that interested in the premise, and while I’ve heard good things, I want to read it mostly because its cover is a tide pool. There’s nothing as pretty as tide pools and I’m glad this book recognizes that.
  • I probably would have never reached for Aliette de Bodard‘s novels if it hadn’t been for the beautiful cover of The Tea Master and the Detective. She’s now one of my favorite authors, and I’m so glad I decided not to ignore my so-pretty-must-read instinct. This novella is a genderbent Sherlock Holmes retelling but in space, of course I had to try it, but would I have noticed its premise if the cover had been boring?
  • More than a cover buy, War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi was a cover download – it’s free to read on edelweiss – but still. Look at it. Isn’t it one of the most beautiful covers of 2019? (Also, Nigerian-inspired sci-fi!)

2. Do People I Trust Like It?

Reviews matter a lot, especially if I know and trust the person who wrote them. I’m far more likely to pick up something out of my comfort zone if someone I often interact with or whose recommendations have worked for me before liked it.

  • Did I read the Twisted Romance anthology, edited by Alex de Campi, just because Allison @maliciousglee talked about it on twitter? Yes. And I’m glad I did, and if you like queer short fiction/short graphic novels, you should really give it a try.
  • I read The Wicker King by K. Ancrum just because of Elise @thebookishactress and wow I really did almost miss the weird gay & polyamorous genre-bending book, I’m glad I listen to other people sometimes (and yes, I know, I should read the sequel too).
  • At least three different people have told me to read Nevernight by Jay Kristoff, which I wouldn’t try otherwise because of my experience with the Illuminae series (nothing ever went downhill faster), and I promise that I’m going to get to it this year.

3. Can I Request it on Netgalley or Edelweiss?

(And did they approve me/grant my wish?)

I have very little self-control, and when I can request/wish for something on netgalley/netgalley uk/edelweiss that sounds vaguely interesting, I do. It often doesn’t work, and when it does, it doesn’t always work in my favor – ARCs mean pressure and feeling pressured to read something that wasn’t a priority for me to begin with doesn’t feel great – but I’m glad I have this opportunity.

  • I didn’t expect to get this, but I have, and since I’ve also already read it, I can say that I recommend Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika Moulite & Maritza Moulite to all of those who like mixed media novels and the “reconnecting with family” plotline in The Astonishing Color of After.
  • I read The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke just because I got an ARC through netgalley UK – I wasn’t that interested in the premise, and was I wrong. It ended up being one of my favorite books of 2018.
  • I didn’t know whether I was going to read Song of the Crimson Flower by Julie C. Dao since I don’t even know if I will finish the Forest of a Thousand Lanterns duology, but it was free to download on edelweiss and it’s the retelling of a Vietnamese fairytale, so…

4. Is It Diverse?

I’m more likely to read something if I hear that it’s diverse, because I prioritize diverse books. I’m just not that interested in reading about white, allocishet, abled American main characters: I’m not one, and for someone who isn’t, I’ve read so many stories about them already. Literature should reflect the world in which it is created, and we live in a diverse world.

  • I tried A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna just because it was a genre-bending retelling of the Mahabharata set in space and I’m always looking for ownvoices retellings of non-western stories. To this day, it’s my favorite YA book set in space (and it’s criminally underrated. Please read it.)
  • When I heard that An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon was a sci-fi story with a mostly-queer cast – specifically, it follows an autistic intersex queer black woman – I immediately added it to my TBR, because I’m always looking for that kind of stories.
  • I did buy Release by Patrick Ness just because it was gay, because if it’s gay and I find it in a bookstore in my country, I read it.

5. Specifically, Is It F/F?

I’m more likely to get out of my comfort zone for f/f books, because in the genre I read the most – YA fantasy – there’s not a lot of it (but there is some and I hate when people erase that). This has helped me find some genres I love, like adult sci-fi, which is currently my favorite genre.

  • I don’t often reach for horror, but if it’s queer – especially f/f – horror? I’m going to try it, and that’s one of the two reasons I’m going to read Wilder Girls by Rory Power (…the other is the cover. Just look at it.)
  • I’m going to read Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear just because it’s about lesbians in space. Have I heard anyone talk about it? No, but it doesn’t matter, I have to at least give it a chance.
  • I thought I didn’t feel strongly about adult contemporary romance until I read Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole, and I read it just because it’s an f/f second chance romance following two black women in New York. I’m so glad I did, because I loved it and now I know that I was just reading badly-written romance.

6. …Did Anyone Mention Villains?

If someone praises a book because they loved the main character, I will consider adding it to my TBR. If someone praises a book because they loved the villain, it’s very likely that I’ll add it instantly, especially if said villain and their storyline seem to fall into my two favorite tropes: either a monster romance, or manipulative well-intentioned extremists. I wrote a whole post about why I love villain romance if you’re interested in knowing the reasons (and some recommendations!).

  • I read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin when I rarely reached for adult fantasy and didn’t even really know who NK Jemisin was, just because someone compared it to Shadow and Bone (and yes, it’s accurate).
  • One of the reasons I was anticipating The Fever King by Victoria Lee was that I heard something that, while very vague, made me think this book had an interesting villain. And while the main reason for reading this was “this is a futuristic gay book” (and it is a wonderful futuristic gay book, read it), the villain was as amazing as I expected.
  • The villain romance was the main reason I wanted to read Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan since it was just “the damn cleric book”, and I wasn’t disappointed.

7. Does Its Premise Sounds Like Something I’ve Never Read?

I wrote a whole post about what I like in synopses, but anyway, while the pitch isn’t everything, an interesting one will get me to add the book immediately.

  • My most anticipated release of 2019 from a new-to-me author is Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, which is apparently a space fantasy story about lesbian necromancers. I read some excerpts and… this book is so out there. I want it now.
  • I picked Witchmark by C.L. Polk up just because it was a steampunk murder mystery with an m/m paranormal romance inside. It ended up being one of my favorite novels of last year.
  • Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a story about Mayan gods in Mexico in the 1920s and I don’t think anything similar even exists. I have an ARC and I hope to read it this spring.

8. Does It Have Any Of My Buzzwords?

I have many of them! While I have already mentioned the main one before – and it’s villains – I have other ones, some of which I’ve talked about in this post.

  • I now know that political intrigue in space is… basically my favorite genre, so when I heard that A Memory Called Empire was specifically about that, I knew I had to read it. And, surprise, it’s my favorite book of this year so far. (Also, it’s f/f!)
  • One of my main buzzwords I talked about in my post was plant magic/creepy magical forest, and apparently the novella Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh has both! And it’s an m/m fantasy romance which is being described as Uprooted meets Witchmark, so everything I didn’t know I needed.
  • I was thinking about what trope often appeared in my favorite books, and “haunted people” turned out to be one of them. Which is the reason I immediately read the short story Circus Girl, The Hunter, and Mirror Boy by JY Yang when I heard of it. It’s my favorite story of 2019 so far, and it’s free online!

9. Is It From An Author I Trust?

This is probably the main one. If I trust the author, I’m willing to stick with something that doesn’t work for me or that sounds completely out of my comfort zone to see if it improves.

  • The main example of this I can think of is The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley. I dislike reading fiction about the horrors of war, but I didn’t DNF this book even though I was hating it, just because Hurley wrote one of my favorite books. I don’t regret it, as I ended up really liking it.
  • New adult about secret societies in American colleges isn’t something I would usually be interested in, but Leigh Bardugo wrote Ninth House and of course I’m going to at least give it a chance.
  • I don’t know what Escaping Exodus is really about, and I don’t need to: Nicky Drayden wrote Temper and I’ll be reading everything she writes in the near future.

10. Did I Read an Excerpt And Love It?

Sometimes, I try an excerpt of a book I’m not that interested in out of curiosity. I usually end up not feeling strongly about it – as I’m really not that interested after all – but sometimes I fall in love with the book just because of the first few chapters.

  • I tried an excerpt of Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee because I thought the cover looked like a weird space urchin and I wanted to know more about that. After I read it, I couldn’t think about anything else for the following two weeks. I didn’t even want to read anything else for those two weeks, until I finally bought a physical copy (which I almost never do with books I’ve never read) – and that’s how I found my favorite book!
  • I didn’t feel strongly about This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow and wondered whether I actually wanted to read it – the early reviews were few and mixed. So I read an excerpt, fell in love with it, and ended up buying an ebook immediately. It’s a gorgeous book that deserves more hype.
  • I was going to remove The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz from my TBR because of the lukewarm reviews, but I decided to give it a last chance and read an excerpt. That’s how I found what’s probably my favorite standalone.

What makes you pick up a book? What are some of your buzzwords? Have you read or are anticipating any of these books?

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Discussion

Judging Before Reading: Buzzwords

My (probably) last post in the Judging Before Reading series! I wanted to end on a positive note, so today I’m talking about buzzwords, those words that, if they’re associated with a book, make me more likely to read a it.


A note

All of these buzzwords are genre-specific. I wrote this post thinking about fantasy, science fiction and maybe contemporary fantasy/magical realism; I have no interest in any of these things in contemporary, with the exception of creepy forests and atmosphere (…every book should have an atmosphere, because I say so).


Villains/Villain Romance

Fantasy books with weak and uninteresting villains? Boring.

It’s so much easier to write the villain as an unfeeling, flat person (who acts more like a thing) with whom the reader isn’t meant to empathize at all. The protagonist is never tempted to go down that path, and if they are it never feels genuine, and you know it’s not going to happen. The heroes are good, the villain is bad, and if the heroes aren’t good, then they’re still without a doubt better people than the villain. I want books that make me question that.

[I think one of the many reasons The Grisha is more polarizing than Six of Crows is that in Six of Crows there’s never any reason to doubt even for a moment that the villain might have a point.]

If I hear that a book has an interesting villain who is at the same time somewhat right but also very wrong, I want to read that book. If I hear that a book involves the hero questioning whether they should ally with the villain (or maybe they even do that! I love when that has terrible consequences), I want to read it. Especially if there’s a villain romance involved. Make them kiss and still try to kill each other, cowards.

Some of my favorite examples of villain romance are the Jayd/Rasida side of the love triangle in The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley, the Asmodeus/Thuan plotline in The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard, and the Darkling and Alina from The Grisha. Also, of course, a certain something from Ninefox Gambit, but I won’t spoil.

[If you know any villain romance books, please tell me. I know four, maybe five of them and I need more. I don’t care if they end up together or the villain remains a villain and gets killed, I like both options, I just want more]


Creepy Forests

I don’t know how many of you know, as I’ve talked about this on here before, but I have a very unlikely phobia and reading about creepy, eerie forests is my version of haunted houses or whatever people find really scary and fascinating in horror books (for me, Uprooted by Naomi Novik is a horror book).

Even if it weren’t for that, I would probably love this. I like spooky books, especially atmospheric ones, and there are few things as atmospherics as forests. I remember After the Woods by Kim Savage not for its plot or its characters (even if I did like the main character) but because of the beautiful, mysterious descriptions of the woods. I also recently loved the forest from Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton.


…Anything Involving Plant Magic, Really

It doesn’t have to be scary! I’ll love it even more if it does, but anything involving plants and magic together is great. Botanical magic is a great concept and not enough books agree with me. The fact that I still haven’t read a witchy book in which the witches actually seem to know something about botany makes me sad.

One of the main reasons I loved Wild Beauty was the way the magic was tied to flowers, and in The Secret of a Heart Note, the main character uses plants to make magical perfumes and it’s one of the most beautiful and wholesome books I’ve ever read.


Women in Science

For all my life, I have cared about useless facts about marine animals just as much as I care about books, and I am the kind of person who can spend hours staring at tide pools trying to understand which species of blenny live there. I’m also an underwater photographer.

To see women who love science – it doesn’t have to be marine biology, I love reading books about magical female mathematicians even though I hate math – in SFF books means a lot to me. We aren’t just princesses or witches.

One of my favorite books I read this year is Into the Drowning Deep by Seanan McGuire, which is marine biology horror, featuring a bisexual marine biologist as one of the main characters. It has so many small details I loved – find another book that mentions carcinization! – and I didn’t even mind too much when it got things wrong. Another book I read and loved is Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, in which there’s a flashback scene following the main character as she stares at tide pools. This is relatable content, even though the biologist from Annihilation is probably the last person I’d want to find relatable, ever

Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang follows a woman whose superpower is math, and while I didn’t love the book itself, I loved her and her magic a lot.


Magical Buildings

This is my #1 contemporary fantasy buzzwords. I just find this trope fascinating – I love books that get that kind of “liminal” atmosphere of forgotten places and almost-haunted houses without ending up in straight-up horror territory.

My all-time favorite example of this is The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz, a story that revolves around a building in which every person is the best version of themselves – and people can create the best art ever in it, but they can’t take any of that outside. It’s about fantasy and reality through a magical building metaphor, and I love it. Another magical building book is A Room Away from the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma, which I read just because it involved this trope, and it had all the vaguely creepy atmosphere and mystery I wanted it to have.

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter also counts for me, because most of it is set inside a forgotten, cursed store that walks around Brooklyn on chicken legs. And that’s not even the weirdest part – there’s resurrection of a dismembered body via soft drink in this book!


Mass Murder

There’s something darkly fascinating about mass murderers in SFF. This is the kind of thing I would never want to read about in a contemporary book, but for some reason, I’m drawn to them in fantasy and sci-fi. Especially if the book at some point makes you wonder whether the murderer isn’t the worst person in the room. It’s just. I love it when books deal with morally messed up situations, a lot.

The first time I saw this trope was in Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, in which mass murder is just one of the many weapons one of the characters will use to maintain control after seeing so many magical users slaughtered just because of their powers. That character is wrong and what he does is horrible, but without them Ravka would have ended up like Fjerda, and would that have been better? It’s a really interesting discussion.

My favorite example of this is of course Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee, which I read because its premise promised mass murder and extreme questionable morality. And did it deliver. If you like villain content and situations in which everyone is wrong and doing the “good” thing will make things worse (but in space!), read this. I love this mass murder magic math book.


Fictional Schools

I wrote a whole post on that! Magical schools are never boring. Even in books I disliked that had that aspect – like The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang or Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko – I still ended up liking the magical school to some degree. I fell in love with this trope with Harry Potter and I have loved all the vaguely similar settings ever since.

Some of my favorite examples are the Little Palace from Shadow and Bone, the Sweet Mercy Convent from Red Sister, and the weirdest boarding school ever written, the Gabadamosi Preparatory from Temper by Nicky Drayden.


Weird!

I read a lot. Many books feel the same after a while. But weird books? They’re the best. I love nonsense and I love when SFF breaks tropes and boundaries.  Even when I end up not liking the book because it was too weird even for me (Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko is an example) I am still glad I read it.

Some of the weirdest books I’ve ever read that I haven’t already mentioned in this post are: Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente, a “decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery” told through transcribed fragments of films; The Wicker King by K. Ancrum, a maybe-not-so-contemporary book about messy teens and a broken reality; and Too Like the Ligthning by Ada Palmer. The last one is what happens when your novel is 90% worldbuilding and basically the book equivalent of a 18th century philosophy shitpost.

They make no sense. Please read them.


Atmosphere

Why should I read something if I end up having no sense of setting? I’m not here to read a book that feels as if it were floating in blank space. That’s my main problem with more than half of American contemporary books: they assume I already know how the setting looks like and don’t bother describing it.

Anyway, I love when I feel as if I were there with the characters, when the world feels alive and not just a barely sketched background. I’m more likely to read a fantasy book if it’s described as atmospheric, because I’m willing to forgive a lot if the writing and descriptions are nice enough.

Some of my favorite atmospheric books are The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, a novel set in a mysterious kingdom inspired by Hindu mythology, and When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore, young adult magical realism at its best. And one of the main reasons the Tensorate series worked for me is that – at least during the first two books – the setting is always really vivid and beautiful.


Do you know any books involving some of these? (Especially quality villain content, I always need that). Are any of these some of your buzzwords/anti-buzzwords?

Discussion

Judging Before Reading: Anti-Buzzwords

Another post in my Judging Before Reading series! Today I’m talking about anti-buzzwords, the words that, if associated with a book, make me less likely to read it.

Anti-buzzwords are more important to me than covers or synopses, because I learned through experience that I really don’t like to read about some of these things.


AI Romance

I don’t know if I’ve ever talked about this before, but if I hear that a book involves an AI/human romance, I probably won’t read it. Not because I have anything against this plotline, not inherently – it’s just that it usually comes with one of my most hated tropes ever: romantic love makes you human. And maybe the book won’t say it outright, but it’s always implied in some way – I love you, you love me and now I see you as a person, being able to love makes you deserving of human rights, romantic love is the most important and human emotion of all…
As I don’t think I’ve ever [been romantically in love with/had a crush on] anyone, this is not that great to read. So, no AI romances for me.

I decided not to read Heart of Iron and Honor Among Thieves because of the AI romances, and the side AI romance was one (but definitely not the only) reason I didn’t like The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

However, I love reading about AIs; some books about AIs that do not fall into this trope are The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie and the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells.


Mafia

I’m Italian.
It’s likely that the author isn’t, but in any case, I won’t read it.

I don’t know what it is about the mafia that makes authors from the US completely lose any sense of perspective – there is an entire subgenre of romance completely dedicated to the mafia, “mafia romances”, and no one ever says anything about it – but the mafia isn’t a thing of the past. It still has ugly repercussions on real people now. I don’t want to read about them, especially if they’re the heroes (just thinking about that makes me cringe) of the story.

I don’t have any problems reading about criminals, but not every kind of organized criminality is mafia. And if it doesn’t have the family element, or the extreme distorted Catholicism mixed with reactionary thinking, you are definitely not writing about the Italian mafia.

Don’t use the word “mafia” only because you think it’s a cool word for criminal; that’s not what it means.


Fandom

There isn’t anything wrong with books about fandom (and I say this because I think there’s something wrong with many American books about the mafia) but it’s not something I enjoy reading about. Maybe because I’ve never really been in one, not actively, and so I can’t relate? I don’t know, but I read three books involving fandom and/or fanfiction, and I ended up DNFing one and rating the others two stars.

Radio Silence and Fangirl are two of the three books I tried reading (the third is Queens of Geek). They’re probably the books that are described as “relatable” most often, at least on goodreads, but I didn’t feel that way. Eliza and Her Monsters is a book I’m on the fence about because it gets so many good reviews and it has anxiety and depression representation, but the fandom element isn’t encouraging (and I also tend not to love most of the anxiety representation in YA, but that’s not the books’ fault either and it would be off topic to talk about that here).

It’s an anti-buzzword because I try to remember that just because many people love a book and rate it five stars, it’s likely that I won’t feel strongly about it if it’s about fandom, even if I trust those people.


(Gay) Pirates

Let’s talk about what happened between the end of 2017 and today. During the last months of 2017, I was aware of four books that were, supposedly, about gay pirates.

All of them ended up being either not good, not gay or not about pirates. I’m talking about:

  • Barbary Station (read; not good, but gay and about pirates)
  • These Rebel Waves (unread; gay, but the gay characters apparently aren’t pirates)
  • The Unbinding of Mary Reade (read; not good, but gay and about pirates)
  • Seafire (unread; about pirates, but not gay).

So, no good books about gay pirates. And all books I have read since that were about gay pirates – so the Mary Reade one and Barbary Station – ended up having no pirating at all, at least for most of the book. No adventure. What’s the point, then?

I don’t trust this buzzword anymore. It’s not that I won’t read books about pirates, but it isn’t likely that I will pick up some anytime soon, either.


Plagues

I just find fictional plagues upsetting and I don’t read to be upset. It’s probably the element that leads me to avoid post-apocalyptic fiction the most, and also the reason I’m always hesitant with biopunk books even though I love biopunk technology.

[You could say I avoid bookish plagues like the plague.]

This Mortal Coil is a book whose sci-fi aspects I would probably love, but I couldn’t get through the first chapter (plague!). I have no interest in Contagion and never had any in The Fifth Wave for similar reasons.


Any Kind of Real Tragedy

I’m here to have fun.

I read for entertainment. I don’t read to learn that the world is a sad place, that people have done horrible things to each other and that war is bad. I already know that. If I wanted to know more details, I’d read nonfiction.

I’m not against dark things in fiction – even if I prefer to know that they’re there before reading the book – but dark things that are closely inspired and/or closely following real events? I don’t go there; at least I know that now.


Superheroes

Let’s go back to less sad things.

I like worldbuilding, I like complex magic systems, and superhero books usually have neither. I’d rather read urban fantasy if I want something magical but modern, and I’d rather read magical realism if I want fantasy but I don’t want to read about a magic system. Superpowers just feel flat and lazy to me. The thing is, the powers may look very cool on a screen, but on a page they’re usually not that interesting.

After reading Wonder Woman: WarbringerThe Epic Crush of Genie Lo and Heroine Complex, I also feel like books that deal with superheroes/people with superpowers are always way too over-the-top for me and my suspension of disbelief. They may be fun to read at first, but I get tired of that kind of humor very quickly, and I always end up feeling like the story would have worked so much better on a screen or as a graphic novel.


Human-like Aliens

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I’m not a fan of aliens overall, but I understand they can be done well (two examples I love are Space Opera and the Imperial Radch series). My problem is that in many YA books, aliens just feel like humans with different hair and eye color, and even if they have a less humanoid appearance, they will behave like humans. The only aliens I like are the ones humans can’t fully understand. My suspension of disbelief is broken otherwise.

One of the reasons I DNFed Toxic by Lydia Kang was the fact that its aliens acted a lot like humans with odd hair and skin colors.


It will make you cry!

If reviews always mentions that a book will make readers cry, I’m less likely to read it. For two reasons:

  • I don’t like being sad. Again, I read for entertainment, being sad for hours does not qualify as entertainment, I can already do that myself without needing a book;
  • If the author isn’t amazing, I will feel like I’m being manipulated. You could argue writing is always manipulative, but I shouldn’t notice it while reading;
  • Most contemporary tear-jerkers are sicklit, and sicklit as a genre is both highly unoriginal (books with the same plot as The Fault in Our Stars existed when my parents were teens) and ableist, because publishing seems to care about chronically ill people only when they die or get cured.

I didn’t care about We Were Liars when I read it, and I read The Fault in Our Stars when I was 14 (I hated it so much I wasn’t even sad). Then there’s White as Silence, Red as Song (Bianca come il latte, rossa come il sangue, which actually means White as Milk, Red as Blood), which was written by one of the most overrated Italian authors to ever exist, and when I think about how difficult it is to get published in Italy and then get translated, I don’t want to think about why he managed it with a trite leukemia-based sicklit book. I’ve never read it, I had to see the movie in class, it was enough.

Of course, there are some exceptions. One book that I liked even though it was sad and many people said it made them cry is We Are Okay by Nina LaCour, but I read it because I trusted the author and it was gay (anti-buzzwords or not, this combinations will probably make me pick up the book). I’m glad I did, because I loved it.


Do you like/dislike any of these things in books? What are your anti-buzzwords?

Discussion

Judging Before Reading: On Synopses

Today’s Judging Before Reading post is about what I like and don’t like in synopses. Soon I’ll also make a post specifically about buzzwords, but this post will be mostly about how the synopses are written.
My two previous posts were about what I like and don’t like in covers.


What I Don’t Like in Synopses

There are some warning signs in synopses similar to crowns on covers, but nothing makes me want to not add or remove something from my TBR as the mention of a mysterious boy in a YA fantasy synopsis if the main character is a girl. That’s when I think “oh, here’s the generic bad boy love interest, I’ve already read this story other 50 times, no thank you”. I may decide to read the book anyway – maybe it’s a non-western fantasy and I always look for those, maybe I trust the author or the reviews – but it’s less likely that I will pick it up.
It’s even less likely if I encounter this specific version: when the book is set, at least at the beginning, in a place where all major characters are women, but the author introduces a mysterious boy just for the romance, as if there couldn’t be anything like romance between women. So much wasted potential; when I saw Seafire by Natalie C. Parker did that I removed it immediately. I thought it was going to be gay, but no (and the boring cover didn’t help).

It’s not that I have something specifically against mysterious boys in books, it’s just that almost every single YA book has one. Other signs that are similar to crowns on cover – so: fine if not that great when one book does it, not fine when dozens do and that’s usually what happens – are:

  • If I can already guess a twist from the synopsis, I’m probably not going to pick up the book unless something makes me think I’m not guessing right. One example is mentioning a lost princess and trying to act like it’s not going to be the main character (this plot twist still exists. In 2018. How). I can be fine with this trope if the book doesn’t act like it’s trying to surprise me.
  • If a synopsis is badly written, I’m not going to think the book is the opposite. If the only way you can show mystery and suspense is to fill your synopsis with ellipses, we have a problem. (I know authors usually don’t write the synopsis, but still)
  • If the synopsis is all about the romance, I’m probably going to assume the book is too, and I’m not really a romance fan.

However, I want to keep in mind that the opposite can happen – that a book is actually not focused on the m/f romance, but the synopsis is. I can think of the synopsis of The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, which is actually really misleading because it makes you think the book is about a romance between Blue and Gansey. It’s not.
Two other things I can do without in synopses:

  • spoilers. I’m kind of surprised by how often the synopsis spoils the book, and I don’t even care about spoilers that much. If a synopsis needs spoilers to be interesting, the book is probably not that good anyway.
  • queerbaiting. Listen, if “mysterious boy” is almost always code for m/f romance when the main character is a girl, if the synopsis mentions a “mysterious girl”, chances are there won’t be a f/f one. Mention if it’s just a friendship or mention the almost-always-present-anyway m/f romance, I’m tired of being baited by synopses.

Paris Adrift by E.J. Swift and A Room Away From the Wolves are two books whose synopses I found kind of queerbait-y. Paris Adrift mentions that the female main character meets a girl and does not mention the actual love interest, who is male (surprisingly, I ended up not hating the romance, but…). A Room Away From the Wolves  by Nova Ren Suma ended up being a queer book, but not in the way the synopsis makes you think – the “mysterious girl” becomes a friend of the main character, there’s no romance, but the main character of the book is bisexual. [I would have loved if the reviews or synopsis had mentioned that the book was queer because of the bi mc, instead of being vague about whether or not there were queer elements and hinting at a romance that wasn’t there].


What I Like in Synopses

I think the main function of a synopsis is to make you want to know more. Sentences like “but not everything is as it seems” may be cliché (…please find another way to say it), but they’re basically the idea the synopsis needs to get across. It tells you something about the set up, but hints at more.

I tend to like shorter synopses because they’re less likely to have spoilers in them, but any length is fine. I think that one of the most difficult things to achieve is not sounding generic, which is easier for some books than for others – I think “orphaned chosen one discovers magical powers and begins to train in a castle” sounds inherently more generic than “fallen angels in historical post-apocalyptic Paris try to stop mysterious murderer” or “lesbian engineers become space pirates to avoid student loans”, but that doesn’t say anything about the quality of the book itself (those are the premises for Shadow and Bone, The House of Shattered Wings and Barbary Station; I liked the first two and not the third) and I try to keep that in mind.
“Done before” doesn’t necessarily mean “bad”, but it’s more likely to be less interesting. (That’s probably one of the reasons I’m not reading a lot of YA fantasy lately, but I want to fix that.)

Other two things I like in synopses:

  • As I mentioned before when I was talking about A Room Away From the Wolves, I like when synopses tell you if and how the book is diverse without dancing around it.
  • I love worldbuilding, and if a synopsis hints at an interesting magic system or a fictional world unlike everything I had ever read before, I’m far more likely to read the book. A recent example of this is For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig – binding souls to puppets with blood? I immediately knew I wanted to read that (also, it mentions that the heroine is Asian and bipolar, so…) even though I didn’t like Heilig’s previous books.

What do you like or don’t like in synopses?

Discussion · TBR & Goals

Judging Before Reading – T5W: Favorite Covers

I’m combining this week’s Top 5 Wednesday with my new series of posts “Judging Before Reading”. My first post was about covers I don’t like.

Top 5 Wednesday is a goodreads group created by Lainey (gingerreadslainey) and now hosted by Sam (thoughtsontomes). This week’s topic is Favorite Covers.

We’ve done this topic in the past, but with so many new, beautiful covers, it is time for an update.

I haven’t read all the books on this list, and if I’ve read them, I don’t necessarily recommend them. These are not my favorite books with pretty covers, this is a list about my favorite kinds of covers, with some examples.


Really Detailed, Atmospheric Illustrations

This is probably my favorite kind of cover. I love illustrations (I will always complain about the fact that, unlike adult SFF and middle grade, YA fantasy rarely has illustrated covers) and I love when the illustrations are detailed and their details remind me of some scenes in the book.

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng – when I say I like details, I mean something like this. Every time I look at this cover, I notice something new. This cover also represents the book’s atmosphere perfectly – it’s a Gothic story about Victorian missionaries in fairyland with really creepy faeries.

Paris Adrift by E.J. Swift – this is a gorgeous one. Not only you can immediately tell this is a story about time travel (look at the clock) set in France (look at the color scheme), but all the symbols – like the creepy bird and the violin – are references to some specific scenes in this book. I love this cover a lot.

The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang – I love this illustration for its style and atmosphere and I don’t know if I would have picked this book up if it hadn’t been for the cover. The details in the cloud are my favorite part.


Plants and Animals

Anything that is in any way tied with plants and animals (creepy trees and dragons as much as goldfish and kittens) is automatically more interesting to me. Especially if the covers has marine animals on it.

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman – I haven’t read this book, I don’t know if I will, but every time I see this cover, I want to. Not only it’s purple (which is almost always pretty), it’s also a jellyfish. And jellyfish are some of the prettiest animals on this planet, when you’re not touching them.

After the Woods by Kim Savage – Creepy woods are my favorite kind of setting, and this is one of my favorite covers because of that. It’s beautiful, it’s mysterious, it’s far less peaceful that one might think, and it represent the books perfectly. Yes, I’m almost sure the main reason I liked this book was the setting, since it’s the only thing I remember about it. (I really need to reread this.)

For A Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig – Dragons! I love reading about dragons and I love seeing them on book covers. Also, that color scheme. The brightness. This cover must be so beautiful to see in real life. (Maybe I will? I’m reading it right now and really liking it, maybe I’ll like it enough to buy a physical copy too?)


Floating Girls

Atmosphere and weirdness. Those are two things I always look for in books – and in covers, too. Floating girls may be a bit of a cliché and I don’t love all covers with them [I really don’t like the Mara Dyer ones] but when the cover gets it right, I can’t look away.

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant – this is the vaguest and also most creepy of these covers. It shows a girl – probably dead, since all that red is not her hair as one might think at first – floating in the darkness, and the way the title is written makes you think of water. I love this cover, it looks dark and violent like the book’s content without looking like a scene out of a splatter movie.

The Sin-Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury – I tried (and then read) this book just because I love the cover that much. It’s about a girl who can poison people with her touch, and the cover represents both the poison part and Twylla’s feelings (she feels very alone and trapped). I love it conceptually and I love it because it looks pretty.

The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé – this book is a underhyped f/f YA new release I probably wouldn’t have noticed at all if it hadn’t been for the cover. Now it’s one of my favorite books of 2018, and I’m so glad the cover was pretty enough for me to remember it. The deep blue under the ice, the creepy atmosphere, the floating girl – it’s a mysterious cover I really like and it made me want to read the book.


Title on Flat, Dark Background

I love when the cover is just (or almost just) the title on a dark background, especially if said dark background is the night sky and there is a skyline. It looks mysterious and “mysterious” always makes me want to read the book.

A Room Away From the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma – this is purple and I love purple, but what I like the most about this cover is the skyline, the moon and the stars. It’s the perfect cover for a creepy, atmospheric book set in New York I probably wouldn’t even have read if I hadn’t loved the cover.

Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke – this is really intriguing and symbolic and tells you nothing about the book, but that’s why I love it. I read the book just because of it, so I guess it’s a good one.

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter – this cover is even prettier in real life. I know because I own a hardcover copy, this is one of my favorite books of all time. Like in A Room Away From the Wolves, there’s a skyline, but this time there’s also the silhouette of the Brooklyn Bridge and one of the most important symbols in the novel, the swan. It’s simple and mysterious and I love the color scheme.


Just Be Weird!

Up until this part, I talked about covers I find pretty. But beauty isn’t the only way a cover can catch my attention: here are some cover that intrigued me because of how weird they looked.

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee – if this cover hadn’t looked like a very weird space urchin, I doubt I would ever have found, noticed and read my all-time favorite book. [Which makes me wonder how many great books am I missing just because their cover was unremarkable]. As I said before, I love everything that has to do with marine animals, and this space station looks like an Arbacia lixula in space. The ones whose spines regularly end up in my toes every summer. I hate them and I love them and I had to read the space urchin book. There are no urchins inside, but I’m fine with it.

Borne by Jeff VanderMeer – this book is about a very colorful and weird biopunk apocalypse. I would never have dreamed of picking up if it hadn’t been for the very weird cover. Is that a plant? An animal? An alien? I don’t know, but it’s Borne and it makes sense for the book. It helps that part of the creature looks like the feeding tentacles of the fanworm Sabella spallanzanii.

Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko – I requested this on edelweiss just because the cover looked really beautiful and weird. I have no idea what that illustration means, if it means something, but I find it intriguing and I probably wouldn’t even have noticed this novel if it hadn’t been for it.


What characteristics do you like in covers? What are your favorite ones?

Discussion

Judging Before Reading: Covers I Don’t Like

Today I’m starting a new series of posts, “Judging Before Reading”, in which I explain what makes me add a book to my TBR. In these posts I’ll talk about covers I like and don’t like, what are my buzzwords, and what will probably make me decide I don’t even want to give a chance to a certain book.

This is a post about covers I don’t like.


On Judging Books By Their Covers

I tend to do that. I think we all judge books by their cover to a degree, but I’m aware that I’m far more likely to add a book if I like the cover. However, if the premise sounds really interesting and/or I like the author, the cover won’t matter – I’m shallow, yes, but not that much.

Here are some cover trends and mistakes I’d love to never see again, anyway.


Crowns

I get it, you’re a generic YA high fantasy book. But shouldn’t the cover try to convince me otherwise?
Red Queen is the only YA book who got this right, but after it became popular,  “a fake-looking crown on a boring background” was suddenly a trend – a really boring one. Ash Princess tries at least to make the crown look interesting, but this cover still looks very generic to me. Four Dead Queens tries to bring something new with the position of the crowns, but the illustration isn’t good enough to avoid the “deformed crustaceans” look. And lastly, Three Dark Crowns is undeniably one of the most boring covers in the YA age range. (But it can get worse! Just look at how ugly One Dark Throne is.)

The thing about crown covers is that they make me think the book is a high fantasy I’ve already read too many times, with a bland m/f romance, a vague dystopian feel because there always needs to be a rebellion, and an even vaguer worldbuilding. I know I’m less likely to add a book if there’s a crown on the cover.


Tacky Round Things

This is so Divergent-era dystopian. I’d love if YA grew out of it the way it grew out of its fake dystopian romance phase four years ago. This theme isn’t as generic-looking as the crown on a dull background, but I can’t say it is much better. Seafire isn’t ugly, but I think it could have taken the compass rose theme in a much more interesting direction. Defy the Stars looks boring but has a nice color scheme, and The Last Magician is saved only by the fact that there are snake skeletons and you can’t go too wrong with snake skeletons (it almost manages to be boring anyway, though).

Unlike crowns, this kind of covers isn’t limited to a specific genre (Seafire is pirate fantasy, Defy the Stars is a romance in space, The Last Magician is a time travel story) but to me it looks dull and overused. It carries that “YA book you’ve already read before” feeling, and I know I’m less likely to add a book with this kind of cover to my TBR.


Did You Mean It or Was It A Mistake

This is a vague title, but sometimes I see a cover and wonder whether that was the intended effect. Like, I’m pretty sure the US cover of The Kingdom of Copper wasn’t meant to look like someone was just abducted by aliens, but because of the unfortunate placement of the dome and the light, it does. The Belles is a great idea ruined by the fact that the cover model is out of focus in her own cover (why?! The cover of The Everlasting Rose, however, doesn’t have this problem and it’s gorgeous). And Not Even Bones is a remarkable example of boring. Look at the most fake-looking blood drops ever. Look at the empty space and tell me if that’s not wasted potential. It looks so sad.

Covers with a good concept and a mediocre or terrible execution don’t make me less likely to add the book (I loved The City of Brass and of course I’m not going to miss the sequel because of the alien abduction), they just make me sad. They could have been so much better, and to this day I kind of want to remove Not Even Bones even though I know I’ll probably love what’s on the inside.


I’m Trying to Be Throne of Glass

I didn’t like Throne of Glass. So…
I actually don’t think Ship of Smoke and Steel is a terrible cover – it looks interesting, and the ghost-like appearance of the girl makes more sense here than it does in Throne of Glass, because this story involves ghosts – but, like the new Flamecaster cover, it looks very generic. “I have long swords and a wonderful tight gap” generic.
The new cover of The Winner’s Crime is also trying to be Throne of Glass, but in another way. Instead of copying the cover of the first book, it’s a shameless copycat of The Assassin’s Blade. The old covers were better.

It’s kind of like using Throne of Glass as a comp title. I’m going to hope it’s misleading marketing and read the book anyway if I find it interesting, but I can’t say it’s encouraging.


Faceless Bodies

People on covers aren’t necessarily a negative thing for me – there are some covers that get it right, like the aforementioned The Everlasting Rose – but faceless bodies are always ugly. It’s mostly a romance problem, but sometimes I also find SFF books like that. Palimpsest is an example of an off-putting book I would never have bought if it hadn’t been written by one of my favorite authors; Syncopation is remarkably ugly even for a romance book, and Chord is… an armpit. Why did that happen, I don’t get it.
I’d read a lot more romance if it covers weren’t so often either half-naked faceless people or models almost kissing.

Even if these books end up being favorites, I won’t buy a physical copy, because I don’t need or want ugly half-naked people or armpits on my shelves.


What are some book cover trends you don’t like? What do you think of these? Have you ever read a really good book that didn’t deserve the (not really good) cover?