Nope Book Tag

This is an old one that I only recently heard about, but I decided to do it despite it being old news.

1. A NOPE Ending – A book ending that made you go NOPE either in denial, rage, or simply because the ending was crappy.

I love, love, love Tana French’s In the Woods, but I recall being disappointed that it left many questions unanswered. It’s been long enough since I read it that I can’t remember specifics, but I do have the lingering sense of having wanted more from the ending.

2. A NOPE Protagonist – A main character you dislike and drives you crazy.

I know so many people adore Lila Bard in the Shades of Magic books, but ugh, I can’t like her. She feels like a cliché to me and something of a Mary Sue.

3. A NOPE Series – A series that turned out to be a huge pile of NOPE after you’ve invested all that time and energy on it, or a series you gave up on because it wasn’t worth it anymore.

I read all of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles when I was in high school and college, and I was pretty excited when she went back to writing them a few years ago. But I just could. not. finish. Prince Lestat. So I don’t know if I’ve changed or the writing has become…something… I dunno, but just nope.

4. NOPE Popular Pairing – A ship you don’t support.

You know, I don’t read a lot of the books that prompt this kind of reaction. I guess I do feel like Peter Grant + Beverley Brook is a bit forced, though. That relationship just does not add anything to the stories for me.

And though I know this is a book tag, can I just say that I can’t understand the Sherlock/Molly thing. I just don’t feel that one at all. (Nothing against those who ship it.)

5. NOPE Plot Twist – A plot twist you didn’t see coming or didn’t like.

I didn’t find the unearthing of Gwenllian to benefit the Raven Cycle very much. I don’t know if that counts as a plot twist, per se, but it was a moment that could be plucked out of those books—the character could be, really—and nothing lost.

6. A NOPE Protagonist Action/Decision – A character decision that made you shake your head NOPE.

Bad decisions make great stories, right? But I think pretty much everything Bella Swan did (and I only read the first two books, couldn’t even go on) just felt like NOPE to me.

7. NOPE Genre – A genre you will never read.

While I hesitate to say “never,” I probably won’t ever pick up erotica. Not my thing at all.

8. NOPE Book Format – Book formatting you hate and refuse to buy until it comes out in a different edition.

I don’t *hate* ebooks, but I tend not to read them. I’ve got so many downloaded that I will probably never read because my first inclination is always to reach for a physical book.

Oh, but I DO hate movie/TV tie-in book covers. I won’t buy those.

9. NOPE Trope – A trope that makes you NOPE.

Alpha males. A gruff bad boy that just needs the right woman to soften him. The overprotective type that comes off as controlling. Nope to all that.

10. NOPE Recommendation – A book that is constantly hyped and pushed at you that you simply refuse to read.

Well, to be fair, any time someone says I “have to” see or read something, I’m that much LESS likely to do so. I’m contrary like that. But I don’t care how many people recommend Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale to me, I’m probably never going to read it. It just doesn’t sound interesting to me. My loss, I guess.

11. NOPE Cliché/Pet Peeve – A cliché or writing pet peeve that always makes you roll your eyes.

Scenes in which two characters are arguing and then suddenly they start kissing. Arguments are not foreplay (at least not for me).

12. NOPE Love Interest – The love interest that isn’t worthy of being one. A character you don’t think should have been a viable love interest.

Pretty much any Sherlock Holmes story that puts Holmes in a relationship (but especially if the relationship is with Irene Adler). I nope right on out of books that do that.

13. NOPE Book – A book that shouldn’t have existed.

Did I mention those new Lestat books? Also, with many apologies to Uncle Stevie, but Dreamcatcher was awful.

14. NOPE Villain – A scary villain/antagonist you would hate to cross and would make you run in the opposite direction.

I know they’re dead, but the Dane twins in A Darker Shade of Magic were pretty damn creepy. I’d definitely avoid them.

15. NOPE Death – A character death that still haunts you.

One Day by David Nicholls. Movie was terrible, but the book made me ugly cry, and that’s very difficult to do if there aren’t animals involved.

16. NOPE Author – An author you had a bad experience reading and have decided to quit.

This is probably going to be somewhat… I don’t want to say “controversial,” because that’s not it, but it’s something I’ll probably get a lot of backlash for. But I don’t read Neil Gaiman anymore. I think he’s a lovely man, and I’ve enjoyed much of his work, but I never could get into American Gods, and I picked up one or two other books now and then, but they just didn’t work for me. And I don’t know if I outgrew him, or if the tone of his work changed, or what. I can’t even say I’ll never read him again. I just haven’t in a long, long time. But I do still admire him as an author.

Books I’ll Probably Never Read Tag

This one is making the rounds, so I’m not 100% sure who to credit for it… Whoever you are, thanks for the blog prompt!

1. A really hyped book you’re not interested in reading.

Just about anything by Kristin Hannah, really. Or Liane Moriarty. I tried one of hers once and could not get into it. There’s something about literary women’s fiction that puts me off. I can’t identify with the characters at all.

2. A series you won’t start/be finishing.

Everything I’ve read about the Court of Thorns and Roses books is just a no for me. I also tried reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and couldn’t get into it, so I won’t continue on that one. Same with the Game of Thrones books. (Yes, okay, A Song of Ice and Fire.)

3. A classic that you’re just not interested in.

Just about anything by Charles Dickens. We had to read Great Expectations in school, and it was excruciating. Though not as bad as Les Misérables. So I won’t read any more Victor Hugo either.

4. Any genres you never read.

I don’t read erotica. Not my thing. Not into westerns or hard sci-fi either.

5. A book on your shelves you’ll probably never actually read.

I’ve had Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell on my shelf for a long, long time. Watched and loved the television adaptation but will probably never actually heft the book to read it.

Proof of Skill

Today I read an offhanded remark on a site that said something along the lines of (paraphrasing): “Well, they’ve only ever self-published, which is fine, but it’s no proof of their skill as a writer.”

Hmm.

It made me wonder: How do we measure “proof of skill” for writers?

My guess is that we mostly measure authors by their sales, simply because that’s the easiest way. It’s quantifiable and concrete. And since publishing is a business, certainly sales matter. “Oh, So-and-So sold a bazillion copies of Bookity Book? Must be a great author!”

But there are plenty of books that sell a lot of copies that aren’t all that great. I mean, it’s subjective, of course, but just as many people seem to hate Twilight and Fifty Shades as love them. So sales aren’t necessarily proof of quality. They’re really more proof of appealing to a large (I won’t say lowest) common denominator.

How else might we figure proof of a writer’s mad skillz?

Less quantifiable is “buzz.” Which is to say, how much are you hearing about a particular book or author? (And, really, how much good are you hearing about it/them?) If many people are talking about a book, there are usually two reasons: it’s amazing or it’s offensive. It can, I suppose, even be both(?)…

So does word of mouth = proof of skill? Well, it = proof of marketing skill at least. But again, there are plenty of hyped-up books that end up being big disappointments and just as many hidden jewels gathering dust on shelves, and whatever ebooks do when they’re ignored.

Does being picked up by an agent and then a big publisher mean you’ve got amazing writing skills? Based on the comment that started this post, that still seems to be the gold standard. Even as we continue to say that self-published books are often just as good, and sometimes better, in quality, that they’re often more original because of the authors’ creative freedom . . . Deep down there’s still a sense of a need for gatekeepers to validate a book or author, an idea that books need to be “good enough” for an agent or major publisher, and books that were self-published clearly aren’t or weren’t. Never mind that self-publishing is no longer a last resort for many authors; they’ve learned they make more money and save a lot of time by doing it themselves. The stigma, alas, remains.

And I must say, of big-house books I’ve read lately, I’ve noticed a lack in editing quality in many of them. Now, I don’t know if that’s down to the authors or the editors involved in those books—I suspect many of the books were hurried out without enough proofing—but I’m just saying: having an agent and a big publisher doesn’t, in my view, immediately mean an author has skill. It could mean they had a connection to someone in the industry. It could mean they had a good idea that, even half-baked, the agent or publisher thought he/she/it could sell. It could even mean—yes, I’m going to say it—that they’re the token [insert diversity here] that the agency or publisher was looking for so they could feel good about themselves. I’m sorry, but I’ve worked in publishing, and I’ve seen it happen.

This isn’t to put actual, skilled writers down. This is just to say that the way we decide whether an author is “skilled” is . . . Biased a lot of the time. Subjective to each person’s preferences. There are a lot of factors involved. Being self-published versus agented and published by a big house—that’s not a definitive guideline as to an author’s skill.

The final facet of an author’s skill might be their actual craft, from the foundations of punctuation and spelling to the more lofty question of how they use words to build a story. BUT, again, not all of a writer’s ability can be determined this way. After all, a good self-published author probably hired an editor and proofreader. So maybe the author can’t spell and doesn’t know a comma from a semicolon but found someone to fix that problem. Maybe the story had huge plot holes that a development editor helped fill in. On the flip side, maybe the editor at that big publishing house was tired that day and missed a few things.

The key thing that set me off on writing this was the very casual dismissal of self-publishing I felt underlying the comment I paraphrased above. Not just because I’ve self-published a number of my books, but because to say something like that and not maybe define your personal criteria for “skills” feels a bit like a fly-by. Every reader has a checklist, whether they’re aware of it or not, of what they will and won’t tolerate in a book. They consider the authors who tick all their “yes” boxes to be “skilled” and authors who don’t, or who actively tick their “no” boxes, to be hacks. I’d like to think that most readers are open to self-published works so long as those books tick enough of their “yes” boxes, but I’ve seen readers in online groups have that as a “no” box: NO SELF-PUBLISHED BOOKS. Sad but true. They cite poor experiences with self-published books as the reason for their prejudice, but have they loved every traditionally published book they’ve ever read? I doubt it, and yet they don’t boycott those.

I won’t claim to have answered the question of how to discern a writer’s skill. There are too many moving parts, and I think the largest part is that we won’t even all agree on which authors are skilled to begin with. What some readers treasure, others despise. What some consider classics, others consider trash.

How do you decide whether an author has skills? What’s on your reading checklist?

21st Century Yokel

So I have a YouTube channel now, and I recommend you subscribe to keep up with all the videos because I won’t always be posting them here. The link to the channel itself is on the sidebar to the left. (Scroll down to all my online media buttons.)

I’ll try to get more sophisticated with my recording and editing methods. But for now, enjoy this short video about author Tom Cox’s work. And if you watch long enough, you’ll catch a glimpse of my cat Minerva.

Current Reads

With all the traveling I’ve been doing lately, I’ve been juggling a few books. I sped through the Raven Cycle and am now juggling a couple of novels: Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero and Scythe by Neal Shusterman.

I read Cantero’s The Supernatural Enhancements a few years ago, and it is a book that definitely stands out in my mind. Whenever people ask a blanket, “What book do you recommend?” The Supernatural Enhancements is the first thing that springs to the forefront of my brain. I find I’m enjoying Meddling Kids quite a lot, too. Think: the Scooby gang now in their mid to late 20s and dealing with PTSD as they go back to confront a case they thought was closed but . . .

And Scythe I picked up because I’d heard so much about it. I mean, nothing specific in terms of the plot, simply that so many people said it was good. And so far I agree with them. For those few who haven’t read it (I feel like one of the last in the world not to have done), it’s set in a future where mankind has all it needs because technology perfectly manages the world. Immortality has been achieved, and people can move their consciousnesses into younger bodies at will. The one thing that must be done: population control. Which is where the titular scythes enter the picture. You can probably guess the rest from there, more or less.

What are you reading? Any recommendations? Have you tried either of these?

My Books (in one handy graphic)

I get asked fairly frequently, “What do you write?” To which there is no short answer. If I wrote all in one genre, I could say, “I write [insert genre here].” But I write a lot of different stuff. Also, I have an irritating habit of going blank when asked what I write. So I created a handy graphic to remind myself what I’ve written (I lose count) and also show others:

These are all on my Books page, too, of course. Or you could just hit up Amazon. But I’m a visual person in a lot of ways, so seeing it all in one place helps.

Of all these, only two are available in paperback: The K-Pro and Manifesting Destiny. The rest are ebooks (and audiobooks where indicated). Faebourne will also be in paperback, though! Not that paperbacks sell all that well, but I like to have something to bring to events and show at tables.

So there is my bibliography in one quick look. Do you find things like this helpful?

TBR

As you see from the picture, my TBR (“to be read”) pile is relatively small. However, due to other obligations, I don’t read many books or very quickly any more. After all, I have to balance reading time with writing time, and that has to in turn be balanced against chores, errands, appointments, and family time. I used to read 50+ books per year. Now I set a goal of about 24—two per month—because that’s more realistic for me.

Of course, my TBR pile does not reflect my wish list of books that I still want to read but don’t currently have copies of. That’s a much larger stack, even if it is virtual.

Currently I’m reading The Dream Thieves by Stiefvater and Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero. Both are really good. Do you read more than one book at a time? I usually top out at about three.

How big are your TBR piles? What about your wish lists? What do you do if you pick up a book and decide you don’t like it or aren’t in the mood for it?

Favorite Books & Authors

Image courtesy of pexels.com

Fairly often I get asked about books I’d recommend or who my favorite authors are. That’s always tricky since my recommendations would largely depend on what the person asking likes to read. I myself read fairly widely, though I certainly don’t read everything. I couldn’t name a good erotica book, for instance, and I’d be limited in science fiction or epic fantasy. The only horror I read, really, is Stephen King and Dean Koontz, so I’d be little help there either.

As for favorite books, well, I have a few. And there are a handful of authors I read pretty consistently, though that handful changes over time as well.

Here are some books I generally name when asked, broadly, for recommendations:

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero
In the Woods by Tana French
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
Rivers of London (aka Midnight Riot) by Ben Aaronovitch
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George
Captive Queen by Alison Weir
King and Goddess by Judith Tarr
City of Masks by Daniel Hecht
The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibdin
Exit Sherlock Holmes by Robert Lee Hall
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
What Do You Hear from Walden Pond? by Jack Douglas

You’ll notice a few things, perhaps. For one, those books are all fiction, though many are historical fiction. A number of them are also mystery and/or fantasy. Only two are Sherlock Holmes stories (and neither by Doyle). None are Shakespeare or Shakespeare adjacent. There’s no Jane Austen on this list. That’s because I don’t think Sherlock Holmes or Shakespeare or Austen are the kind of thing I can recommend to just anybody. They aren’t most people’s cup of tea. If I happen to believe the person asking might like any of those, I’d certainly mention it. But when asked flatly, “Can you recommend a book?” these are what come to mind as most likely to please.

Some of the books listed above are also the first in series. I figure if the person reads and likes the book, it’s on them to follow up with the rest.

Then there are authors. As I mentioned, I go through cycles. I devoured all the Hercule Poirot novels when I was fifteen. I also read a lot of Dean Koontz and Stephen King around that time, and I started in on Anne Rice’s vampire novels too. I worked my way through Judith Tarr. Sara Hylton. Victoria Holt. Someone introduced me to Neil Gaiman’s work when I was 18. I went through a Kathy Reichs phase. I read all the John Le Carré Smiley books. Lately I enjoy Aaronovitch, Morton, and French as mentioned above.

“Which Stephen King books do you recommend?” is another one I get a lot. In my mind, there are two kinds of SK books: those from before his accident, and those from after. For earlier works, I usually suggest ‘Salem’s Lot, The Dead Zone, and The Dark Half. In the latter group, Duma Key is my favorite, though I also really enjoyed Bag of Bones.

Those asking for Koontz recommendations, well, I quit reading his books some while ago—around the time he dropped the “R.”—so I can’t speak to newer stuff. I really liked Watchers, and Twilight Eyes still haunts me. Lightning holds a special place in my heart, too, because it was the first “grown-up” book my dad ever handed to me. It was probably not right for someone as young as I was at the time, but I loved it. I kind of want to re-read it, but at the same time I’m afraid it won’t be as good as my memory of it.

“What about nonfiction?” I read less of that than I do fiction, but I enjoyed F You Very Much by Danny Wallace. I tend to like books that examine psychology and/or society. Just about anything by Jeanne Twenge, for example. For film industry books, Which Lie Did I Tell? by William Goldman is the first that comes to mind. I also have quite the personal library of books about Nicholas II and the last Romanovs. The Last Empress by Greg King is really good. I know I’ve also read a number of good biographies, but I suppose none have left much of an impression since nothing springs to mind when people ask me about biographies worth reading. “Who are you interested in?” is my usual reply.

Sometimes the question is about my favorite books from when I was a kid. Zilpha Keatley Snyder was my favorite author when I was younger, and The Changeling was my favorite book by her, though I also really loved The Velvet Room. And of course I read a lot of Judy Blume. I also tended toward animal books: Where the Red Fern Grows, Lassie Come Home, The Trouble with Tuck, Socks . . . I liked this one book called The Seventh Princess, I liked the Vesper Holly series by Lloyd Alexander, and I recall enjoying The Dollhouse Murders. There was also this one book called Cadbury’s Coffin that intrigued me. I liked The House of Dies Drear and The Secret of Gumbo Grove. And I read the Not Quite Human books, too.

For more recent titles—for books my kids enjoy, really, and that I sometimes enjoy reading to them—the usual suspects emerge: Riordan, Rowling, and the like.

This is, you see, a very long answer to the question. But there can be no short answer. I like—or, really, love—a lot of books. My house is piled with them, and then there are more still in boxes in the garage. Books I can’t bear yet to part with.

Well, then, what about you? What is your answer when someone asks you for a recommendation?

You Are Not Alone

I want to put in a little plug for this book that released today. You Are Not Alone is part memoir, part self-help book. It delves into the grieving process, particularly in dealing with the loss of a loved one. I helped edit the book, but even if I hadn’t, I’d recommend it. I’ve never read anything like it. You Are Not Alone is both gentle and strong, just the right mix for the people who need it. And everyone will need it at some point in their lives.

If you’re grieving, or know someone who is, please pick up this book.