If you've ever wanted to read every book in the library, maybe you should rethink that.

Mercy Challenge 2/20: Fast Books and Slow Books


I saw a good variety of pacing in this batch of novels. The first promised a high-speed car chase for my mind. When it came down to reading it, there seemed to be no end to the chase. How is it possible that something so quick can go on forever? Like many car chases, we live in the thrill of the moment and never know when it will end, despite the increasing built of suspense.

With a novel, however, we know when something will end. We hold its physical entirety in our hand. What if a book is slowly paced, and its development doesn’t leave us guessing? This is where the craft of writing gets to show itself off. Can the weight of a novel, so different to another, be considered equal to the other? I suppose that depends on the personal scale of the reader.

These two books (the first two mentioned below) were the first novels of their authors. (Edit: That’s what I heard. After further research, it appears this was not Brackston’s first.) I’m glad to have explored them, but they weren’t quite right. When I reached the third book of the B authors at my library, the developmental ticks of the newly published melted away. When I opened Burton’s book, it said to me, “You’re in good hands.” At the same time, my personal scale didn’t simply shift to treat the latter book better. The story promised a slow pace with a fast, heart-thudding appeal. The paperback form helped me take in this cult type of story. It felt right, but it still wasn’t my type of story.

So which is better? Faster paced books or the ones that take their time getting to the sweet spots? Your preference is yours alone, but you must defend it wherever you can.

Let’s get on with the novels!

My star ratings:
0/4 In the words of Homer Simpson, “AAH! Burn it! Send it to Hell!”
1/4 It was bad, but I’d still recommend it to people who don’t like books.
2/4 It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good enough for me to want to finish it.
3/4 It was good enough for me to finish but it wasn’t fantastic.
4/4 It was fantastic!

The Genesis Key
author: Barney, James
title: The Genesis Key
published: 2011
special sticker: none
guess the genre: Thriller about biology?
pre-read impression: Archaeology! Genetics! Intrigue! Washington DC!

LAST impression: I was right about everything. This novel was exciting!  The problem? It just wouldn’t end! I made the mistake of setting it aside for a few days (more like a few months) to work on a writing deadline, and each couple of times I came back to the novel, my interest wavered. By the time I was 3/4 through, the events wouldn’t stop coming when I expected a conclusion. It was like an action movie; they put in so many close calls to keep you on the edge of your seat, give you a “thrilling experience,” and all that. Except the problem with that is I read a lot of these twists on my short lunch breaks and if I fell off my chair I’d get ravioli everywhere. This is the type of novel you have to binge read, not set aside for days at a time. I’d still recommend the book with this advice: DO NOT put it down. For anything.

STARS: 2.5/4. The “.5″is for how far into the book I got. Had I finished it and not moved on to greener pastures, the rating would be a 3/4. The paperback copy (is there any other?) is very light, the print is large, and the pacing is quick. This novel makes a great lunch break ravioli. I mean… a great lunch break read.

And I must add: this would make a wonderful movie.

 The Winter Witch

author: Brackston, Paula
title: The Winter Witch
published: 2013
special sticker: none
guess the genre: Historical romance.
pre-read impression: Well, it’s about a witch. It’s about a witch with powers. It’s about a witch who can’t control her powers and falls in love. Should be interesting.

LAST impression: This took me back. There was a time when all I read were novels about witches full of woe, and the first couple of pages impressed me. The point of view was presented in an interesting way. It was half first-person POV from the main character (the witch), half 3rd person omniscient POV. I enjoy it when authors experiment with character perceptions. However, the strong beginning wasn’t enough for me to continue. Brackston tended to use one of my pet peeves in which characters process through questions in lieu of providing some advance in the plot. As much as I wanted to know what happened with the main character, and guess what other characters would end up doing to her, if getting through the novel was the price I had to pay for that, I didn’t care to finish.

STARS: 2.5/4. The extra .5 is specifically for the Welsh language in conversation. I know nothing of the language but it made my heart warm. If I read this novel back when I was interested in these stories, it would certainly have made me a Welshophile. (What’s the proper word for Welshophile?)

When am I going to find a book I can actually finish? I used to read books like this all the time, when I lived and breathed fantasy in junior high. Have I grown tired of the genre? Am I out of practice? Maybe I should move on to other books, or should I give this one another chance?

 You're Not Safe (Texas Rangers, #3)

author: Burton, Mary
title: You’re Not Safe
published: 2014
special sticker: none
guess the genre: Looks like it might be a thriller/horror.
pre-read impression: Okay. Wow. Murder thriller. Can’t wait for this one.

LAST impression: This turned out to be a cop drama. Only sort of a murder thriller. This should have upset me, since I’m so tired of detective shows. (Meme: “The amount of cop shows on television is TOO DAMN HIGH!”) However, I enjoyed this novel for quite some time. The inner turmoil of the characters intrigued me, as did the mystery as to who was committing the murders. What prevented me from finishing was how annoyed I became every time I had to read about a certain character’s backstory AGAIN. There’s really no need to rehash your heroine’s past every single chapter. We get it. Only a hundred pages away from the end, I decided to stop reading and check out the epilogue. Everything turned out how I thought it would, and that was nice, but I was done.

This doesn’t mean Burton did a terrible job. It means I wasn’t as invested in the story as I wanted to be for the simple reason that I’m tired of cop dramas. (Except Backstrom and Psych. Those shows, man. Those shows. I miss you.) If I come across any of Burton’s works that aren’t cop dramas, I’d definitely take a gander. Her command of dialogue is superb and keeps me reading even when I don’t want to. Her general prose, too, is conversational, and even if I didn’t care for the story, the confidence I glean from her skill puts me at ease. It’s not often an author can do that for me.

STARS: 2.75? Okay, I’m making up this rating as I go along. Had I finished, this would have been a 3/4.

MercyChallenge

I’m sorry it’s taken so long to make this post of the B authors. The variety in pacing between each novel seems to have thrown me off balance. The C authors show so much more promise!

Chabon, Michael The Mysteries of Pittsburgh
title: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh
year: 1988
special sticker: none
guess the genre: Dudes, I don’t even care! I’ve read Gentlemen of the Road twice (one time it was a comfort story while I had the flu) and loved it both times. I’m biased for this author based on only one of his books, but I have to tell you I’m exciiiiited!
pre-read impression: Hmm, there’s no summary. When there are only quotes of praise on the back AND inside of a novel, in my experience, it’s probably a crap novel. But we’ll find out when I read it.

Cleave, Paul Joe Victim (Cleaner, #2)
title: Joe Victim
year: 2013
special sticker: none
guess the genre: Murder thriller.
pre-read impression: Psychological detective something, I don’t know, for some reason I want to hurry up and read this.

Crichton, Michael The Andromeda Strain
title: Andromeda STrain
year: 1969
special sticker: none
guess the genre: The genre is Michael Crichton, LOL.
pre-read impression: We all love this guy, don’t we? I’ve never read anything by him, sadly. It’s about time I do this!

Mercy Challenge 1/20: Swirlies


I love novels, but I hate their beginnings. The beginning of anything, actually, is tedious. When you learn a certain skill, or begin a project, there’s so much prep work, so much basic training you have to suffer before getting to the good stuff. This is why I hate the beginnings of novels; I have to wade through the sticky sludge of exposition and world-building before the plot shows itself, and before I feel I know the characters. I’m sure this is why editors also hate the beginnings of novels. Oftentimes, editors (and readers) don’t manage to get through them.

This is one of the key reasons why writing a novel is hard. I feel every novelist’s pain. If the first chapter is crucial, the following three chapters are more crucial. Over the past two years, I’ve been rewriting no fewer than four novel beginnings. Yes, the novels themselves are getting better, thanks for asking. No, the process of rewriting isn’t getting any easier, damn it.

For the sanctity of fiction, I must put out a NOTE TO ALL AUTHORS: I couldn’t care less about the social reject’s problems. Not at first. What I care about is how he feels when his head is in a toilet while he’s getting a swirly.

I have an odd aversion to reading any novel when it comes home fresh from the library. Writers, take pity on your readers. We have to stick our heads in your writing and swirl it around until we’re drowning. Make that flush so strong you knock off our glasses with your writing-metaphor-toilet-water, or so articulate the water picks up our glasses and folds them for us.

I’ll work on my own writing. No one is perfect, but the beginning of any novel should be worth a try. …Right?

On to the Mercy Challenge, authors A!  (The 26-letter alphabet will be divided into 20 posts, give or take some letters.)

My one law of reviewing during the Mercy Challenge:

Be nice. I understand the work that goes into a novel. I also understand I only write good reviews when I’m bashing someone over the head with it. Every “review” I write for this challenge will be short, sweet, and—I hope—somewhat positive. To your benefit, I don’t stop reading a novel until I find out what, exactly I don’t like about it. This helps me grow as both a reader and a writer!

My star ratings:
0/4 In the words of Homer Simpson, “AAH! Burn it! Send it to Hell!”
1/4 It was bad, but I’d still recommend it to people who don’t like books.
2/4 It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good enough for me to want to finish it.
3/4 It was good enough for me to finish but it wasn’t fantastic.
4/4 It was fantastic!

 

Cold Glory (Nick Journey #1) Five Star Billionaire 

 

author: Anderson, B. Kent

title: Cold Glory

published: 2011
special sticker: none
guess the genre: Modern day history drama!
pre-read impression: Old objects, suspense, and cops? I’m in.

LAST impression: …Or not. I gave up exactly on page 128. The plot was really starting to rev up, but there  were a few things I couldn’t get past. First, I wasn’t too invested in the characters. Anderson didn’t spend as much time personally getting to know these people than he did coming up with plot points to get them moving. It wasn’t enough for me to feel as if I, the reader, personally knew these people. Then again, I’m someone who spends way too much time getting to know her characters than she does coming up with things for them to do.

There was one character in particular who was trying to hard to be this Strong Female Character everyone is searching for these days (as well they should). She was good enough until two things happened. I’ve just finished reading a different novel in which the female protagonist goes out of her job description to risk her life solving a case because, for some weak reason, she makes it personal. I saw smatterings of that plot device here. On page 128, to be exact. I’d normally let that slide, but it happened soon after I was confused by one of her actions: she went to a meeting without her shoes. Erm…uh… women don’t do that. No matter how “strong,” self-possessed, or confident she is, a woman simply doesn’t step outside, get into a car with her supervisor, and lead a meeting in which she has to convince other people to work with her just because her feet hurt. I give Anderson some slack because he isn’t female. Sometimes writing the opposite gender is difficult. I get that. Of all the objects she left behind because this character was frustrated or in a hurry, I don’t understand why it had to be the shoes.

Lastly, there were one too many mentions of “Perry Mason.” This is a minor offence, and a stupid reason for me not to like something, but I have a deep loathing for that show strictly for personal reasons.

Despite the above events that turned me off, the writing was exciting enough.

stars: 2/4. That’s not bad! Although I didn’t care to finish this book, I would recommend it to anyone over fifty years old or anyone who loves government conspiracy novels.

 

 

author: Aw, Tash

title: Five Star Billionaire

published: 2013
special sticker: none
guess the genre: Soap opera set in Shanghai? I’ve seen a few action films from China that were pretty good, so I’m a little excited for this.
pre-read impression: A small cast of characters might be puppets to a billionaire.

LAST impression: Let’s start with the good points. Like the movies I mentioned above, it was cool to hear/see a language different from what I’m used to. (That’s right, I don’t read many books set in China. I don’t know why.) I had to look up a few locations and words, but I’m not complaining. Aw did a wonderful job putting me in another setting with food, descriptions of strangers, and unfamiliar Asian vocabulary, but it’s where he also lost me; every single one of his characters appeared to be depressed for one reason or another that the most stunning parts of the book weren’t any of the main characters. Every protagonist was a depressed body surveying the landscape. I can’t sink my teeth into a book like that. Why is it general/literary fiction tries to be depressing all the time? This shouldn’t be a breakthrough concept in fiction anymore. 100 pages in, it was evident I wouldn’t finish this novel, just like the last one. I spent 147 pages wondering when the story would begin, and once it did begin I still wasn’t intrigued.

stars: 2.5/4. Even though this rating is about the same as above novel’s, this one was still better. The writing was better and that counts for something. I would suggest this book to nearly everyone; my experience with it shouldn’t force others to be down about it.

Needless to say they didn’t knock the glasses off my face. But that’s OK. I’m glad I found out what they were about. You should read them yourself! Tell me what you think.

 

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My brain will reboot for the next batch of randomly selected books. On to the B authors!

Barney, James The Genesis Key

title: The Genesis Key
published: 2011
special sticker: none
guess the genre: Thriller about biology?
pre-read impression: Archaeology! Genetics! Intrigue! Washington DC!

Brackston, Paula The Winter Witch

title: The Winter Witch
published: 2013
special sticker: none
guess the genre: Historical romance.
pre-read impression: Well, it’s about a witch. It’s about a witch with powers. It’s about a witch who can’t control her powers and falls in love. Should be interesting.

Burton, Mary You're Not Safe (Texas Rangers, #3)

title: You’re Not Safe
published: 2014
special sticker: none
guess the genre: Looks like it might be a thriller/horror.
pre-read impression: This is technically a third book in a series that seems to feature different protagonists per novel but… Okay. Wow. Murder thriller. Will break the rules for this one.

At the Mercy of My Library


When you work at a library, you see a surprising lot of crappy books. They’re not all bad. At least, I shouldn’t think they are.

I could be an incredible book snob if I wanted to. You may or may not have seen examples of that on this very blog. Especially when one works at a library, one becomes used to judging a book by its cover or jacket summary. We have to skim loads of information in order to help others. Only once in a while do we get to pour ourselves into the very items we recommend.

MercyChallengeRather than turn my nose up on authors who might actually be decent, I should see what they’re about so I can help patrons find books they would actually like! This is why I’m proud to announce my super-challenge:

At the Mercy of My Library (A.K.A. the Mercy Challenge)!

To make sure my choice is completely random, I have a system. (And what good library employee wouldn’t have a system for everything?) Ideally, every row of books would be equally long. In a busy library, this isn’t always the case. The book I choose will be the second from the right on the longest row of each bay. Allow me to demonstrate with this, ahem, professionally illustrated image.

librarybays

There are currently three rows of general adult fiction equalling forty-five of these bays. I’ll choose one book at random from each bay. This means fourty-five random books! (Yes. I, too, can do math!)

This challenge will start in April and last at least through August.

Exceptions to the rules:
If I end up picking a book that’s not the first in a series, I’ll find the first book on the day I choose these selections. If the first book isn’t in the library, I’ll give myself a break and choose something from the same shelf that interests me.

Because data rocks my socks, here are the data I’ll present for each novel:

Before reading
author:
title:
published: Year of first printing.
special sticker: Most books have no special sticker. Some, however, indicate Romance, Short Stories, Classic, etc. The following genres you won’t see in this challenge because they’re shelved separate from General Fiction: African American Fiction; Fantasy; Horror; Mysteries; Science Fiction; Westerns.
guess the genre: This will be fun.
pre-read impression: A simple sentence judging the cover and the book’s summary.

After reading
Last impression: Who knows?
STARS: My personal four-star system, which is a -1 star rating I use on Goodreads. (To be explained.)

Have a taste of authors I’ve selected so far, last names beginning with A.

 

 
Anderson, B. Kent Cold Glory (Nick Journey #1)

year: 2011
special sticker: none
guess the genre: Modern day history drama!
pre-read impression: Old objects, suspense, and cops? I’m in.

Aw, Tash Five Star Billionaire

year: 2013
special sticker: none
guess the genre: Soap opera set in Shanghai? I’ve seen a few actiony films from China that were pretty good, so I’m a little excited for this.
pre-read impression: A small cast of characters might be puppets to a billionaire.

 

 

This is going to be an adventure. Here’s to making it through the whole alphabet without needing alcohol!

Manga Month 2015 Recap


Have you outgrown your childhood? Have you at least outgrown teenhood? It appears I have because manga just isn’t what it used to be.

During February, also known as Manga Month by me and me alone, I sampled a little of this, a little of that, and found the manga wasn’t as tasty as it used to be. It might not be fair to pit these pulp graphic novels against classics from DC Comics, but the little nerdling in me had to protest somehow. The manga I more or less read were Black Butler and Are You Alice.

Black Butler, Vol. 01 (Black Butler, #1)Are You Alice? 1巻

At my library, the first is listed under Teen and the second is listed under Adult. When you read the first volume of each, you can tell which belongs to which age group. Black Butler is riddled with interjections from bit characters about how the main character is sooooo cuuuuuute, while Are You Alice shows some more disturbing images in terms of affection, romantic and otherwise. The latter also kept (and continues to keep) an air of mystery as this adaptation of Alice in Wonderland is told from many character perspectives. Black Butler is about, er, a butler. One butler who (spoiler!) happens to be the devil incarnate or somesuch.

Maybe I would have liked that tall, dark, and handsome anime star in high school. Maybe I wouldn’t have been as annoyed by the other servants in his household and been appalled by their inability to walk a single step without breaking an entire room of fine china. How did they get these jobs anyway? Oh, right. Because the household is run by a literal freaking child. I prefer my fiction to be believable, even if that believability is set in Wonderland, a place of arcane rules and confusion surrounding anyone’s role in this story.

Maybe I chose the wrong books. Maybe I’ve outgrown all manga. Better luck next time.

I’ll definitely continue reading Are You Alice. It’s quite good if you like trying to find a plot that’s been left in the dark.


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