On Reviewing Books

There has been a lot of discussion on the book blogosphere recently about the purpose of writing reviews (and why we should continue to LOVE it!) and whether writing reviews is something that needs to be done to be considered part of the community. I suppose this post is a response to a whole host of blog posts that I’ve read recently, and there will be a little appendix at the end for those that haven’t read these posts yet. So here are my thoughts on the topic:

Reading and reviewing are basically my only hobbies. I write and I also love filming and editing videos for our booktube channel, but other than that I spend the majority of my time reading (when I’m not revising or panicking for exams, of course.) My hobbies revolve around sharing my love of books and trying to write my own! And I read a lot of books. Maddie and I always get asked how we manage to read so much so we made a video entitled How To Read More where we tried to explain it, but really it’s a simple as reading is my whole life.  You’ve heard of stress eating, right? Well I stress read. I read when I get all freaked out about the future (aka exams), when I’m feeling frustrated or upset, when I’m happy, excited – any time and all the time.

So naturally I have a lot of book reviews to write. Around December 2014 we decided that we wanted to try and post everyday, and somehow we’ve managed to do that for the past four-ish months. I know, crazy! But when it comes to writing reviews, sometimes I find myself putting them off, because I just want to get on to reading something new. I almost feel obligated to review all the books I read, because I’ve set a precedent that I need to be posting something everyday. I may be an insanely dedicated reader, but I do have a life outside of reading (which extends to school work and seeing my best friend Stacks of Sarah, like, twice a week.)

Heart Full of Books has a NetGalley account, which is pretty much where we receive the majority of awesome books we review. Undoubtedly, NetGalley has given us some really greats reads – and some not so great ones – but there always seems to be a time limit on them. Especially for ARCs, because you have to get your review ready for publication. (Not a hard and fast rule, but one I pretty much stick to.) We’re also bloggers that will happily review self-published or small authors, examples being Branded, and Rite of Rejection. Recently, we’ve been getting a lot more requests from independent authors to read their books, which is super great because I think it’s important to promote unknown authors as much as it is to rave about new releases from bestselling authors. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I love working to deadlines for things like blog tours, but other times it can be a real hassle.

Our main content on this blog is book reviews, although we do have a Wider Reading page for our non reviews. This is because we’re predominantly YouTubers, with our blog working as a complimentary site to our channel, rather than the other way around. Therefore, the majority of our discussions and topical ideas are posted in video format. I think generally reviews are the least viewed content on both platforms. We give minor reviews in our monthly wrap-up videos and that’s pretty much it, because, realistically, I don’t think people want to dedicate more than 1-2 minutes watching a book review, especially for something they haven’t read. And so reviews are put on our blog, because it’s a lot quicker to read a written review than watch an eight minute long video review of a book that, at the end of the day, you might not even enjoy.

I will never stop writing reviews. Even if I have to work to deadlines, or if my review takes an hour to write(!) because when I’ve finished, I’m really happy with what I’ve written. I’m proud of every post on this blog, even if some of them took longer to write than it took to actually read the book!

I don’t write reviews for anyone except myself, because I get such a kick out of it! So I don’t really care if my reviews are only seen by two people. Maybe my review impacted how they saw the book, or whether or not they’re going to pick it up. Really, no matter how much effort it takes to upkeep a blog, I’m going to continue, because sharing your opinions matters more!

If you have written something similar on the topic, feel free to share it in the comments so I can add it to the Appendix!

Appendix

1. Queen of Contemporary announces she’ll no longer be writing reviews.
2. Thirst for Fiction explains why book blogging is hella great.
3. Writing From The Tub writes about publishing houses and deadlines.
4. Author Anthony McGowen’s misinformed tweet rant about book bloggers.
5. Day Dreamer’s Thoughts on…Book Blogging.

Advertisements

Reading Multiple Books at Once

I’ve always found myself to be the kind of reader that can’t help but read multiple books at once. It’s a habit I’ve always had and one I hope to break!

My most recent example of this ‘reading sin’ began when I started to read ‘Fractured’ by Teri Terry. (Note I write started and not finished…we’ll get to that later.) I really enjoyed ‘Slated’, the first book in the trilogy, and it has been over a year since I read it. When I saw the sequel in my local library, I knew I had to read it. Also, the ‘Slated’ trilogy was what I pulled out of The Series TBR Jar this month, so I had an obligation to read it!

I got 180 pages through, but then….

Continue reading “Reading Multiple Books at Once”

When We’re Not Reading…

Reading is a huge part of what we do. It’s easily our biggest hobby and something we devote a lot of time to! But, what do we do when we’re not reading?

1. Writing!
Wanting to create your own stories normally comes as a byproduct of reading great ones. I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil, but only in the last few years have both Bee and I taken writing more seriously. We currently have eight novels on the go at the moment (and a ninth book that we’re writing together!)
But, writing is quite a time consuming past-time. Over the summer, we hope to embark on more writing adventures, and actually get a book finished!

2. Making Videos!
We make videos twice a week for our corresponding YouTube channel ‘Heart Full Of Books’. It usually takes about two hours to film, edit and upload, so its something we can do fairly regularly. Making videos has really helped us gain presentation confidence and definitely helped to formulate ideas and articulate them coherently. We love to involve our lovely friend Sarah as much as we can – it’s so fun to film challenges with an unsuspecting guest!

3. Watching TV shows!
This isn’t something we do regularly, but when we do find something we love, that love is hardcore. We mourn shows when they finish for at least three days. Our latest obsession is the web series, based off of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, called ‘Nothing Much To Do’ Examples of previous obsessions include: Blue Water High, Dawson’s Creek, The Office (US), Nowhere Boys, X-Men Evolution.

4. School Stuff!
Let’s not elaborate on that one.

So, what’s your favourite thing to do when you’re not reading?

Cover Comparisons: Girls in Dresses

As part of the gendered covers debate, I thought for this ‘Cover Comparison’, I’d discuss some covers filled with girls in dresses, a classic trope used to obviously market books to a female audience.

the selection1624806820572939

The first collection of books are ‘The Selection’ series by Keira Cass. These stand out, as America’s dress is the central feature of the cover. It makes sense, and links to the almost-beauty-contest concept of the novel. The covers are accurate and appropriate. These books are very ‘girly’, focused on romance and making a good impression because of appearance. Only in the final book are the social injustice themes prominent. Looking at these covers, you wouldn’t be expecting anything more than a cutesy light read.

ruby redsapphire blue14759651

The ‘Precious Gems’ series by Kerstin Gier does the same thing as ‘The Selection’ series. The appearance of Gwen, in fancy ball gowns, is quintessential to her time-travelling adventures – she needs to fit in with the societies she’s investigating. At least there’s a slightly dystopian looking background of curled clocks and cities.

the winner's crimethe winner's crime

So, what about ‘The Winner’s Trilogy’ by Marie Rutkoski? Like with ‘The Selection’ the focal point of the covers are Kestrel’s dresses…she just happens to be holding a sword. I think covers like this do the content an injustice. Boys are going to be less likely to pick up this book because of the cover, when in actuality, the books are filled with war, conflict and social struggle, set in a high fantasy world resembling the 18th Century. Why wouldn’t boys be interested in that?

9565548994327020522640

The His Fair Assassin trilogy is a real contrast to the previous examples. With the stormy backgrounds, dark colour palette and the weapons. It’s important to notice that their dressed are not made of satin and silk, but much heavier materials like velvet – these girls are obviously not afraid of getting their hands dirty, and I wouldn’t mess with them because they look extremely comfortable holding those weapons. These covers are excellently well designed and I think actually do the story justice. You can see the tense emotions, and even the titles are enticing. These covers tell you that you are in now way about to experience a fluffy read.

throne of glass throne of glass back

The ‘Throne of Glass Series’ by Sarah J Maas is taking book covers in the right direction. Sure, Celaena is on the front of every cover, but she’s not in a ball gown. She’s wearing combat weaponry, cloaks and armour. I love that when you look at the back cover, only then do you seen a girl in a dress, because Celaena is a warrior first and a lady second.

Cover Comparisons: Spies and Sunglasses

Why is it that whenever espionage is involved, YA covers resort to the cliche of sunglasses? If you think about it, sunglasses aren’t a great disguise. You’ve still got the same stature, hair colour, smile…what is it about sunglasses that makes people feel like spies?

heist societyuncommon criminalsperfect scoundrels

First, we have the ‘Heist Society’ series by Ally Carter – this was my first experience of sunglass-overload. But sure, the sunglasses are being used to reflect the things Kat is trying to steal, so overall, it’s a pretty, succinct cover. But this leads me to think that any similar cover is a parody! 

code red lipstick fashion assassin
Which brings me on to the ‘Jessica Cole’ series by Sarah Sky. I haven’t read this series, but am definitely looking into getting these books – it seems like an original concept to combine fashion with espionage and delete the boarding school entirely. Does it have a ‘Totally Spies’ feel about it? So what isn’t original? … THE SUNGLASSES!

lucy carver one

lucy carver two
And finally, what about the ‘St Jude’s Academy’ books by Lucy Carver? So, there is a boarding school, but this time, murder is involved. We’ve got thieves, spies and detectives, who all have one thing in common: their choice of eye-wear. Props to ‘Killing You Softly’ for splashing out on the heart-shaped lenses.

Are there any other sunglasses covers out there that I’m missing? Preferably ones that grip the glasses, or emphasise nail polish colours! I love reading spy books, and other types of book within that genre of under-cover work, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes the similarities in covers makes it harder to pick out a book that seems original, if they don’t stand out from the crowd!

Character Development

‘Character Development’ is a phrase that we throw around a lot at Heart Full Of Books, because the phrase ‘good character development’ (or something along the same lines but with a far more exited tone) is the accolade of all accolades in a review!

Everyone has an idea on what character development is, but when we talk about it in our reviews we don’t mean the act of creating a character, we mean the process of putting a character through situations that change the way the character thinks or feels. Character development can sometimes be pinpointed to an exact moment, other times it’s a series of events that the protagonist reacts to in small ways, but by the end of the novel their outlook may have changed, resulting in a happy ending.

Truthfully, it’s a hard thing to define, and sometimes it can be a hard thing to notice. The more you read the easier it is to assess characters against one another. As readers we create our own scales of character development that relate to characters we know have had some pretty excellent CD. Personally, I look at Morgan Matson’s novels. Emily from Since You’ve Been Gone, being a perfect example, when I read a contemporary I think, “did this character change as much as Emily did?” but I should probably clarify that even if characters don’t change in the same ways, doesn’t mean there wasn’t a change! I can’t compare Emily to Yelena from Poison Study because they’re in different worlds and genres. What’s character development from Emily’s caterpillar to butterfly metamorphosis in regards to confidence, isn’t the same as Yelena’s fight against the patriarchy and her coming to terms with her magical abilities. But most importantly both character went though a palpable change! Character development is simply overcoming flaws and weaknesses – or at least coming to terms with them *cough* self acceptance *cough*

In our opinion, what makes character development go from ‘good’ to ‘excellent’ is if the character’s CD makes the reader think about themselves. If a novel makes me think about who I am as a ‘character’ and if I change as a result of the protagonist’s CD then that’s even better! I love being able to come away from a story and apply what the character has learned to my own life, it’s pretty excellent.

We like to mention and comment on character development as much as we can in our reviews, and hope to emulate our favourite authors ways of including CD in our own writing. Let’s just say if we say ‘excellent’ and character development in the same sentence that book has made it to the favourite list.

Paper VS Pixel: A Debate

photoEver since the Kindle was first created, there has been a lot of debate about whether people prefer books made of paper, or books made of pixels. I can’t chose, that’s why I love both, and that’s great. But, I thought I’d give you some advantages and disadvantages to both types of books.

Physical Books
+ Tangibility – Feeling the pages turn is an accomplishment – I feel so much success with each page that is read and can easily visualise the end.
+ The Smell – We all love the smell of a book. Who knew there could be so much variation?
+ Sharing the Love – Its so easy to give your friend a copy of ‘Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour’, rather than your whole Kindle which is, arguably, more priceless.
– The Price – I swear three years ago I could buy a new book for £5.99. Now most books are £7.99 and those extra £2 affect me.
– Space Issues – For those of us with limited shelf space, an obsession with physical books can be tricky.

E-books
+ Instant Purchase – If you want to buy something on an e-reader, you can do so in about 5 seconds, and start reading it instantly. (Which is great if your nearest book shop is ages away.)
+ The Price – Books tend to be cheaper on Kindle; even new releases can be under £3. ‘Anna and The French Kiss’ is only £1.99!
+ Discovery – E-readers offer a wide variety of books only available in e-format. Take ‘Clearwater Crossing’ for example, or novellas like ‘ The Queen’ by Kiera Cass and ‘Raven’ by Lauren Oliver.
– Reliability – With any electrical device, comes a battery life. Physical books won’t die on you in the middle of an excellent chapter.
– Corporate Guilt – Kindles are created by Amazon. That means any book bought via a Kindle will be from Amazon, the corporate giant who isn’t always angelic to booksellers. Buying physical books allow us to support independent book sellers! Yay!

So, which is better? I still can’t decide…so for now, I’ll just use both!

The Riordan Empire

When anyone brings up the subject of Greek mythology, it is no longer the Disney’s 1997 adaptation of ‘Hercules’ that comes to mind, with its colour coded gods and clueless hero, but Percy Jackson, the prodigy of Rick Riordan, rightfully labelled as the Myth Master. When I imagine this author, he’s wearing a laurel on his head, with Nike on his shoulder.

I recently finished the ‘Percy Jackson and the Greek Gods’ anthology of short stories, both an educational and humorous discussion of the twelve Olympians and, you know, Hestia. It was amazing. I could pick it up and put it down, enjoying stories I knew and stories I was yet to discover. Who knew Dionysus was the god of androgyny? Or that Hera was so evil? (Ok, we all knew that one.)

But Rick Riordan has managed to create an empire of mythological goodness. Let’s have the run down!

1. First, there’s Percy Jackson. This guy is probably more famous than his Greek namesake. He battled Kronos from the age of eleven, until he was sixteen, slowly falling in love with Annabeth, who’s adorable, no question. With Percy, we experienced many summer and winter solstices, the sea of monsters, the labyrinth and many epic battles.

2. Then, there’s Jason Grace. He’s not as great, but still great. We all had to get over the fact that he wasn’t Percy before we could accept him and his girlfriend, Piper as the neo-Percabeth (a registered OTP) Jason gets his own book, but the second book in his series is all about Percy. (Yippee!) We get to experience both Greek and Roman mythology and a new cast of gods and goddesses. Of course, epic battles are present, but it’s the friendship between Percy, Annabeth, Jason, Piper, Leo, Hazel and Frank that warms my heart the most.

3. Carter Kane was technically the second of Rick’s demi-god children, but everyone overlooks him because he’s Egyptian…and not Percy Jackson. I’ve only read one and a half of Carter, and his sister Sadie’s, series but I hope to enjoy even more gods and goddesses in the coming year. Plus, there are some PJ and Kane Chronicles crossovers, which solves the lack of Percy problem.

4. The next up and coming demi-god is Magnus Chase, a Norse guy. And yes, we all recognise Annabeth’s surname. Does that mean even more crossovers?! We shall have to wait and see. (Dang it, Rick, write faster!)

As you can see, it’s mostly males that are getting the spotlight series. But Annabeth, Piper, Hazel, Reyna, Sadie and Zia are all kick-ass females who can fight monsters and demons without their boyfriends’ aid. My wish would be to see a series devoted to the girls of the Riordan universe, forming a super group of demi-god warriors.

There are a lot of other books that supplement the Riordan universe, such as the ‘Demigod Files’, ‘The Demigod Diaries’, ‘PJATO Ultimate Guide’, ‘KC Survival Guide’, etc. all of which are valuable additions to your selves.

It’s safe to say I love Percy Jackson and Rick Riordan, and look forward to the expansion of his literary empire!

How To: Write a John Green Novel

You will need:

1. a male protagonist with a quirk.
2. a manic-pixie-dream-girl love interest who is ‘damaged’ and that the protagonist can use to find/fix himself.
3. one polar-opposite best friend and, optionally, one obnoxious best friend.
4. a setting that is based in reality, but somehow feels ethereal.
5. one hella good road trip.
Optionally you can add a missing girl (see 2.) into the equation.

It’s to be expected that any author is going to have some patterns in their writing style, and it’s particularly easy to spot them when their collected works so far and just the one genre. As a disclaimer, I am in no way trying to dissuade any one to not read or not enjoy John Green’s novels! They’re pretty wonderful, and Paper Towns is even on my favourites list, but just because I like the author doesn’t mean their writing is perfect. Despite whatever I say in this post I will not stop reading and enjoying Green’s works, and I look forward to whatever he publishes in the future. So be warned.

John Green is such a prominent author on any book shelf, be it library, supermarket or personal, that it’s become hard to criticise his work. This is partly due to the fact that he is also such a prominent member of the internet community, which makes him feel like a friend, or at least someone that we know a little more than the average author, and you wouldn’t criticise a friend, would you?

There’s no disputing the fact that ‘The John Green Formula’ (I will hereby refer to it as the TJGF) is a bestselling formula. The TJGF gives readers carefully developed characters and intricate love stories, not to mention they’re fun to read – I can not stress this enough. As much as a I enjoy the TJGF (which, I guess, technically makes it The The John Green Formula, but ‘The TJGF’ sounds better, so we’ll roll with it) I also find it a little frustrating.

I’m writing about the TJGF in my EPQ project about the way in which the first love is presented in YA and how it relates to character development, and it got me thinking more about the frequently occurring tropes in YA. The Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl being one of them, I’m not entirely sure where this came from, and it would be ignorant to say it must have started with the TJGF, but that seems to be where it’s most commonly recognised. Lauren DeStefano, author of the Chemical Garden trilogy, wrote a piece on the MPDG (I’m really going for the initialisms) and you can read it here. Her main point is that the MPDG trope objectifies women, and I can totally see where she’s coming from. (See 2.)

The MPDG trope is just as problematic as the ‘damsel in distress, need a boy to save me’ trope (the DIDNABTSM?) and this leads to questioning the representation of women in YA – and you can see how this controversy has spiralled out of just talking about the patterns in bestselling John Green novels. It brings on a whole feminist debate and issues about consent in YA literature – and let me tell you, they definitely should be discussed. I could go on and write a dissertation on the problematic tropes of the YA genre, but I’ll leave you with what I’ve got, slightly abruptly if anything, so that we can take some time to think about this stuff.

It’s almost strange to look at YA in such a critical light, as I normally think about YA as something I can read to take a break from the books on my English Literature course. But they’re so much more than that, the content and issues are just as serious as the ones in what are regarded as ‘the classics’.

Thanks for reading! It’s been a wild ride, and all I can say is ‘that escalated quickly.’

 

 

The Reading Hierarchy

Having accepted our places at university, Bee and I were discussing the curriculum of university English Literature courses. Shakespeare is a staple of the syllabus, appearing in every course without fail, turning up like a bad penny. One of the Bronte sisters is also there, ready to throw some 18th-19th Century context your way.

But you’ll struggle to find books like ‘Anna and the French Kiss’ appearing at university level. Now it’s becoming more common for ‘Lord of the Rings’ to make it to the set list, with ‘Harry Potter’ almost getting there, skirting on the edge of the fantasy genre, struggling to gain prestige because he’s labelled as a ‘children’s book’.

Why is it that classics like ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Great Expectations’ are always given precedence over books like ‘The Raven Boys’ and ‘Under the Never Sky’?

When I told my English teacher that I primarily read ‘Young Adult’ fiction, she said I needed to ‘grow out’ of that stage before university, and start reading things like ‘The Shock of the Fall’ or ‘We’re Completely Beside Ourselves’ if I was interested in contemporary fiction, instead of ‘Lola and the Boy Next Door’. I should be moving on to ‘adult books’.

But if I told her I’d recently read ‘You’re the One that I Want’ by Giovanna Fletcher, that would probably be looked down upon too, because of its placement within the ‘Women’s Fiction’ genre, or ‘Chick Lit’.

It seems unfair that academics think more of you if you’re read the collected works of Charles Dickens over that of Rick Riordan, and there seems to be this invisible hierarchy of reading, with classics at the top of the pyramid and YA at the bottom.

YA is the one of the largest growing genres of literature. Publishers can’t publish YA books fast enough. There seems to have been a boom of teenagers that want to read something that’s more suited to their age group, like me! When I was nine, I used to worry what I would read when I grew out of Jacqueline Wilson books. Now there’s a plethora of choice and I have trouble deciding what to read next!

I think that, and be warned of the oncoming opinion, that we should all just be happy that people are reading. Just because the book was published a month ago by someone straight out of college doesn’t make it any less worth reading than if it was publish over one hundred years ago by someone in their late forties.

Let books be books, instead of instruments with which the reader’s are judged.