Friday, August 31, 2012

End of August Wrap-Up

Whoa, this month just zoomed by! Here's how things went on the reading/writing for me in August:

Camp NaNoWriMo

Uh, yeah, that was kind of a... total fail. AGAIN. But I did write slightly more than last year, so that's something, I guess. At this rate, I should be able to win my first NaNo in, oh, about forty years or so. Sigh. Momentum is SO important! (Also, I got struck by another Shiny New Idea. Oops.)


These are the books I read in August: 

I was super excited about diving into this stack, but unfortunately I found most of them incredibly disappointing, including the two books I was most looking forward to reading. Turns out that reading them in order of ascending average Goodreads rating did NOT actually result in a similar increase in my reading experience.

Here's the books I read, average ratings on Goodreads, and my own rating with links to my status updates (may include spoilers):

1.The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson | 3.55 stars | DNF and 1 star from me
2.Dani Noir by Nova Ren Suma | 3.77 stars | 3 stars from me
3. Un Lun Dun by China Mieville | 3.78 stars | 3.5 stars from me
4. Wake by Lisa McMann | 3.78 stars | DNF and 1 star from me
5. A Fistful of Sky by Nina Kiriki Hoffman | 3.92 stars | 2.5 stars from me
6. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly | 3.97 stars | 4 stars from me
7. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland... by Catherynne M. Valente | 4.06 stars | 1.5 stars from me
8. I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak | 4.08 stars | DNF and 1 star from me
9. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai | 4.09 stars | DNF and no rating from me
10. Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier | 4.14 stars | 2 stars from me

So yeah, like I mentioned in my Goodreads status update, it turned out that I didn't particularly like any of the books that had average ratings of >4 on Goodreads. Guess that means I have peculiar taste.

Anyway, this made me think about what kinds of things appeal to me or put me off in fiction. (Great post by Patricia C. Wrede on the subject!) The main categories that I think of when it comes to a book are: plot, character, writing, setting, and message. In order for me to enjoy a book, at least the plot or main character has to be stand-out excellent (by which I mean, a good match for my tastes) and the rest has to be decent-to-good.

So here's how my tastes usually run when it comes to books (though there are always exceptions):

I can love a book for plot alone. I tend to like mysteries a lot, and time travel stories with one consistent timeline (none of that changing history crap, thanks). I get impatient if nothing seems to be happening, or if things are happening too slowly, unless the other elements are strong enough to capture my interest. And no insta-love or love triangles, thanks. (See my post on romance pet peeves.) Plot holes and and cliffhangers also bother me a lot, and so does predictability (I was great at annoying my sister during family movie nights because I loved to predict what would happen next). Most of all, I am a sucker for really intricate, clever, twisty puzzle plots. Those are the best.

If the plot isn't mind-blowingly amazing, then I need to love the characters. I prefer to find them likable, admirable, intelligent, relatable, and engaging. I lose respect for protagonists that do stupid or hurtful things, and I tend to dislike feeling detached from the protagonist. I particularly despise characters who start doing dumb things because they've "fallen in love." I'm much more fond of sensible, capable, and funny characters who have a good grasp of logic. (No speshul snowflakes who whine a lot, thanks!) I also have a difficult time reading about characters who don't see the world, or social interactions, or themselves, the way most people do. For example, Jack in Room, Marcelo in Marcelo in the Real World, and Lia in Wintergirls. I think these are all worthwhile books that shed light on important issues, but they're just not enjoyable reading experiences for me. I know those characters don't see things the way I do, but it's frustrating for me to be able to see what they don't and not be able to do anything about it.

I am not a fan of description, lyrical, or flowery writing. I tend to prefer writing that's straightforward and clear, and doesn't call attention to itself. I care more about story than word-smithing, so I definitely notice when the writing is so over-the-top that it distracts me from my reading experience. I strongly dislike narrator interruptions, awkward and stunted prose, and overly creative/nonsensical metaphors. I do enjoy a gorgeous turn of phrase here and there, but great writing isn't enough to make me like a book if the rest was only ok (unlike with brilliant characters or plots). I don't think I have any strong preferences for POV or tense, other than my dislike of second person.

This, like writing, is something that would bother me if done badly, and best when it doesn't call too much attention to itself. I tend to skim description, I don't really notice if the details are on the sparse side, and I'd probably be bored by too much of it. I'm perfectly fine with filling things in myself, so setting only bothers me if there is so little there I have nothing to go on or if there are things that don't make any sense or if there is clearly a huge gaping hole that ought to be addressed but isn't. As long as the world building isn't too obviously lazy or implausible or unreasonable, I'll be fine.

I don't think I would love a book solely because I agreed with its message, but messages I don't agree with can definitely kill a book for me. I think a lot of this has to do with characterization, as well — if the protagonist gets away with being petty, whiny, or useless, I'm not going to be happy about that. I'm not ok with misogynistic messages, either, and I'd be annoyed if superstition plays a positive part in the story (hate chosen one/prophecy plot lines). Also, I hate when authors attempt to bash me over the head with their messages. It pulls me out of the story and makes me feel manipulated, which will definitely cause me to think poorly of the book.

So yeah, I tend to be a pretty picky reader. I am also easily swayed by positive reviews. This usually results in me reading a lot of books I don't particularly like, which is unfortunate and why I adore negative reviews.


I think part of the reason I didn't write as many words for NaNo is because I got distracted by blogging as a semi-acceptable form of procrastination (even though it isn't really). But still, I'm glad I got these blog posts out there. I still have some drafts in the works and ideas I'd like to blog about, but my motivation will probably decrease once I stop seeing blogging as procrastination and as what I'm supposed to be doing. XD


I got a new bunny! And he is adorable! :D Meet Mochi:

Hope all of you enjoyed your August! :)


  1. I love complex plots, too. The books with a lot of twists and interwoven storylines are usually my favorites.

    The bunny is definitely adorable. :)

  2. Your bunny is adorable! I know I had something to say before this, but it's just too cute and distracting. :)

  3. Yes! Love those. Ahh, I should've asked for recommendations in my post! Since I talked about what kinds of books I do and don't like, maybe some readers will go "ooh I think you'll really like _______."

  4. Haha, thanks! :P That's happened to me before, too. Having a bunny hopping around the room looking cute is certainly very distracting!

  5. I am seriously in love with Mochi! So cuuuute! How old is he?

    Also, Linda, you are indeed a peculiar reader. :) It's like there needs to be a perfect storm of things to make you like a book, haha. I really enjoyed seeing you break down your preferences, and it'll help me better gauge if you'll like a book or not.

    Character and plot are big for me, but I am also a sucker for great writing. Lyrical is actually my favorite style of writing, but it's so hard to do well. I think "pretty" writing can be as unobtrusive as the straightforward, but that's when it's done well. In the hands of a master, it appears effortless and natural. Also, I think we tend to think lyrical is the same as flowery, but I don't think that's true. For example, I think the prose in The Scorpio Races is very spare but its also lyrical. I know, I plug this book all the time, but seeing your prefs, I still don't know if I can rec it to you, haha. It's definitely low on plot and high on setting/mood building and character building. The pacing is pretty slow too, especially within the first 100 pages, but I thought it was fitting.

    Another thing you said is also informative: "I also have a difficult time reading about characters who don't see the world, or social interactions, or themselves, the way most people do."

    I actually have a soft spot for these kinds of characters - not all of them, but I love odd characters, characters that are learning to be "human" as it were. I know you didn't enjoy The Demon's Lexicon that much, but part of the reason I ended up liking it so much was because of that struggle for the MC. He doesn't really know how to relate to people normally, but in the end, he shows how he feels in the only way he knows how. I love, love subtext - unspoken feelings, things that are proven by action.

    Don't feel too bad about NaNo. I fail-boated too. I thought I was more prepared for this story this time, but I guess not. :P Maybe I'll try again in November...

  6. Mochi's around 7 weeks right now. Can't wait until he's 3 months so I can start feeding him treats. And get him neutered, lol. (Shh, he doesn't know about that.)

    Haha yeah, I always knew I was picky (my sister helpfully pointed it out to me), but I never really wrote out what I look for/like in books (and movies), so this was helpful. The kind of messages that bother me have changed over the years, but I think I've always needed to either love the plot or love the character(s), and then everything else needs to not annoy me (though it's better if I happen to like those other things, of course). Then it'll be a book I enjoy, haha.

    I think I could get behind lyrical/unobtrusive/natural. The kind of writing I don't like is nonsensically metaphorical or describes too many things I don't care about or includes a lot of interruptions or pulls me out from the story. That doesn't mean that kind of writing is poorly done; it might just be a stylistic thing that appeals to other people. Even though I don't tend to love books for the prose, one book to which I did add points due to the writing was Laini Taylor's Lips Touch: Three Times. There were some very pretty phrases in there that I liked, so I gave it three stars. (I think I only liked the last story.)

    As for The Demon's Lexicon, I actually liked Nick a lot in the beginning! He was coldly logical, snarky, capable, independent, had a strong sense of self-preservation, and cared about his brother -- and those are traits I can get behind. However, his love interest and his relationship with her annoyed me a lot and thus I did not enjoy reading about their interactions or the way he changed for her. I didn't think he was less human or not relating to people properly in the beginning. He understood social situations just fine and had reasons for why he wanted to do things a certain way, and he just didn't want to react the way other people around him wanted him to. I actually thought that was great and that it was perfectly fine that he didn't want to be all emotional or endanger himself and his brother for these random people who were imposing on them. Probably shows how heartless I am, haha. :P

    Ahh I wish I could try again in November, but I'm going to Germany again. Maybe I should set a smaller goal for myself -- like 500 words/day or something -- and see if I can get that to work out better for me.

  7. Hah! I actually agree with you about Nick/Mae in the first book. I didn't really like her that much because I did sympathize with Nick and his whole not wanting to get involved with random people thing. I warmed up to her by the end, but I still wasn't particularly in love with either her or her brother, though I appreciated their sibling relationship; the main draw for me in DL was the sibling relationship between Nick and Alan. My favorite book in the trilogy is actually Book 2, which is narrated by Mae and I ended up really liking her and Jaime. I think I just needed to see them out of Nick's somewhat one-shaded POV (he was always annoyed and angry with them), and I enjoyed seeing Nick and Alan's relationship from the outside. I think Nick's peculiarities were more obvious/pronounced too in the second book (probably because he cared less), which made his struggle to be more human more obvious and interesting. Basically, Book 2 was a lot stronger (which I guess is what one would hope - improvement from debut to Book 2) and remains my favorite of the 3.

    I'll be Europe in October! Germany is one of the stops. :) Is it family vacay for you again?

  8. Hm, I don't think they have book 2 at my library, so I have a good excuse for not continuing the series. :P But yeah, for me, Nick doesn't fall into the category of someone who doesn't understand social norms or has a skewed view of reality. (I also don't think he was really all that un-human to begin with -- maybe his struggles would be more correctly phrased as becoming "more empathetic and emotional" rather than "more human.") I think Sarah Rees Brennan was too successful in getting me to share his angry/annoyed attitude, haha.

    Nope, Germany is for work, like the first part of my trip last year. Unlike last year, though, it won't be followed by a family vacation in Europe. :( Ah well, I got to have my family travel in June this year instead. But how awesome that you're going to Europe! :D Vacationing with friends?

  9. Or I suppose we could say "more normal"? I agree, he's not exactly un-human (he obviously has some emotions/feels things; he just doesn't really know what to do with them), but he's not at normal levels of empathy. The only person whose opinion he cares about is Alan's, but look at the way he treats his mother (granted, she treats him badly too) and the way he reacts to everyone who is NOT Alan. And he in no way understands why Alan would want to reach out to and keep secret his "normal" family. He doesn't even sympathize with Alan's secret or with Mae and Jaime's plight, and he lacks remorse/guilt. So in that way, Nick is at least lacking in an area that most people would say is an important part of being human - not necessarily being emotional but having sympathy and empathy for others. Of course, there are humans who lack these things too, and we call them sociopaths and psychopaths.

    I'm actually going on MY family vacation! Haha. So no friends, just family. Hope we don't drive each other crazy. Is work another convention sort of thing?

  10. Yeah, he is pretty weak on the empathy front. But there are also lot of people who lack empathy who we DON'T call sociopaths and psychopaths. *insert political joke here XD* So I'd say it's hard to determine where a "normal" level of empathy starts. I guess I didn't find Nick to be obnoxious about it, more logical, so it didn't bother me too much.

    Ooh, neat! :) Yup, going to a trade show. I get to stand in a booth all day and talk to people about our products, haha. I'm sure you'll have way more fun!

  11. :) I can't believe I missed this post before; I blame it all on dental school.

    We seem to have similar likes (yay for intricate, clever, twisty puzzle plots!), but not so much the dislikes. Like Krispy, great writing can save an otherwise mediocre book for me. In DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE, I adored the main character and the setting but was bored with both the plot (predictable) and the romance (too much insta!love for my taste). Yet it still became my favorite book last year purely because of Laini Taylor's gorgeous writing.

  12. I did read Laini Taylor's Lips Touch: Three Times and know what you mean about the gorgeous writing. But for me, the gorgeous writing wouldn't have saved the book on its own. Lips Touch is a collection of three short stories. I hated the protagonist in the first one, don't remember much of the second, and it wasn't until the last, with complex worldbuilding and characters, that let me truly enjoy and appreciate her writing. I gave the book 3.5 stars (it'd have been higher if I only rated the last story), so yeah, for me, gorgeous writing isn't enough to make it a favorite unless the other stuff didn't get on my nerves. From what you've said, Daughter of Smoke and Bone will probably get a similar rating from me. I didn't think Laini Taylor's writing had too many boring descriptions or nonsensical metaphors, though, so it wasn't really the kind of writing I disliked.

  13. I have read LIPS TOUCH, and actually agree with your thoughts. I only liked the last story -- and even that plus the writing weren't enough for me to truly enjoy the collection. But in DAUGHTER, I liked the protagonist and the gorgeous world-building enough that the writing more made up for other lackluster aspects of the novel.

    With Laini Taylor's writing, it is less the sentence-by-sentence level, but more of the overall construction of paragraphs and scenes and entire novel (though I do love the former!). In one of her blog posts, she mentioned that she re-writes and re-writes to find the "best" way to structure a scene, to present an information. And I really think she succeeded with that in DAUGHTER. It just made for such a smooth, lovely read.