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Bad Cover Representation

tired

I’ve been buckling down to finish this 5-book ebook bundle for a series that I have lots of feels about. HOPEFULLY I’ll be done and have it reviewed before I die of old-age, but who knows. Pregnancy fatigue also knocked me out for hours today…

Some of my feelings on this series are positive, and the negative ones all have to do with disappointment. Without getting into specifics, the covers and titles make promises that are not fulfilled. Sadly, this reflects badly on the entire series, which is almost unfair. ‘Almost’ because I assume the titles were under the author’s control, but I know covers tend not to be. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” doesn’t actually apply to books in real life, either. The POINT of a book cover is to help a consumer judge whether or not they want to buy it.

Particularly when one is talking about an entire series. Twilight themes its titles by using terms for celestial events, or in the case of the first, at least a time of day. The covers have a small, very recognisable palette and share the same style throughout. But how well do they represent the content?

From a target audience and marketing perspective, the brief titles and minimalist design say “YA” and “drama.” The use of red contrasted with black can mean romance and/or horror, and the theme naming suggests supernatural elements. Twilight is a paranormal YA romance with a pensive tone and heavy atmosphere, which primarily uses drama for conflict.

The level of quality is not a question that can be answered by the cover. If you love Twilight but hate the covers, that doesn’t change the fact that they do tell you what kind of book you’ll be reading. If you love the covers but hate Twilight, the same applies. The question was, how well do the covers represent the content? The answer is, quite well indeed.

You can browse the list of examples on TV Tropes’ Covers Always Lie page in the Literature section in search of covers telling lies, but they are not necessarily bad representation. Since I can’t think of an example off the top of my head, I’ll make one up based on something Hubby said on the subject using the plot of Assassin’s Creed 2.

The covers are all whimsical cartoon renditions of a boy in Renaissance Italy, always depicted in or in front of a bank. For example, sitting at a desk covered in paper and stacks of coins, or in mid-pratfall dropping an armful of ledgers in the street as he’s tripping over his own feet. Every title contains puns on accounting or banking terms. But the story is about a young man whose family is murdered in the second chapter of book one, driving him to go on a decades-long journey of graphically depicted murderous revenge. His father simply happens to have been a banker who worked closely with the Medici family–the boy himself was never even interested in joining the family business.

In that imaginary example, the covers say “Middle Grade” and “comedy.” The consistent setting and props tell us he will be deeply involved in financial matters and stay in a fixed location while depicting a fairly regular daily life that probably won’t show off much historical detail or accuracy, and the naming suggests that nothing dark or serious will occur. But this is obviously historical fiction with a mystery component intended for an adult audience, with a nigh atramentous atmosphere, lots of death, and exploration of complex themes. People would buy these books for younger readers and be distressed if not pissed.

Bad cover representation absolutely affects a reader’s enjoyment. …and I just thought of an example: the first two books in Moira J Moore’s Hero series. But I already made my point, so I’ll just link to them on Goodreads.

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Book logging

comtemplative

Listening to: X Gon’ Give It to Ya – DMX

My support network is a little ragged, so I have always liked keeping track of what I’m doing with an impersonal app. They don’t always last. But it’s a good practise when I can actually do it. Right now, it’s mostly just using Books Wing for reading. It’s got a nice icon, and it does pretty much everything I want it to, even if I can’t (don’t know how to?) input backdated stats.

I’ve been going way less insane on books this year (regarding reading them, I still buy too many and I’ve been given more than ever before) so I have actually done anything other than read–I’ve seen movies this year! I even played Fallout 4 at all–but it’s still my primary leisure activity.

Because I read so much, I don’t really remember everything I read. Sometimes I finish a book, and then I can’t recall it a week later. Either my memory is getting poor, or I’m reading too many books to remember much about all of them. Writing is an aid to memory, so I started keeping summary notes every reading session.

Within reason. On days when I read for two minutes before someone mistakes my book for a sign that I want to have a long conversation about shit I don’t care about, I keep my summaries back until I have managed a significant number of severely accumulative pages.

This morning, I actually had an hour of uninterrupted time (!!!) to read, and I used it. Then I lay in bed with my phone in hand, struggling to summarise the last 97 pages. …wow, that’s 25% of the book. I think it’s the third fourth of it, so it’s also when lots of threads are coming together and major changes happen, so I guess I was struggling for good reason. I actually stopped just so I could write a summary.

Anyway, it was challenging and fun. I play it sort of loose, so I sometimes add in my own comments. Eventually, I may find that I’m keeping an all-out book journal. Whether I do or not, I’ve already achieved my goal with this idea: I remember much more of what I read, and I have a reference/journal to reflect on.

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Mature Relationships in Fan Fiction

Continuing from yesterday…

All of the fics I read featured adult characters in romantic relationships. And yet, not one of them really acted like an adult in a romantic relationship. There is a great article I read recently that lists nine “signs” that tell you you’re in a mature relationship. Very few of the things on that list even happen in a teen romance.

It seems like the kinds of things that get explored in fan fic romance are high drama (“1. Being your significant other’s partner isn’t hard.”) and low substance. Fluff is fine, but too much can be like eating cotton. Bleh. Take another look at that list–a lot of those signs not being in evidence will tend to be the source of drama conflict for a fic. The same kind of place teen romance gets its drama.

To contrast, I will describe an adult romance with actually adult characters. In Put Up Your Duke, there are both internal and external conflicts. Internal: Isabella has low-ish self esteem and is trying to develop her identity, while Nicholas is a unsure of himself around her and doesn’t know how to work with a partner, let alone a wife. External: Isabella’s abusive parents turn their bad behaviour on her sister after she has married, and the man who lost a title to Nicholas (legitimacy debate) is bitter and trying to get the title back. In their relationship, they fail to communicate occasionally, but that is not the major source of conflict. In fact, they have frank discussions that either prevent or clear up problems that would have a fan fic for any fandom blowing out the drama speakers.

My feelings boil down to this: most fanfic seems based on relationships the way that anime characters portray them. Since the target audience for anime are teens and children, there is a decided skew when the characters are adults. (it also really bugs me when non-Japanese writers apply very Japanese tropes from anime to non-Japanese characters, but that is a topic that I should probably not raise…)

And that is probably where the mischaracterisation starts. Maybe it isn’t all a case of Can’t Write Guys. Some of it could be the age gap. A young writer might think a shy man and a flamboyantly extroverted man would have huge relationship bumps to overcome over the space of years, based solely on those aspects of their personalities. They might miss that Captain America and Iron Man fought over more subtle things than not being the same kind of person, or that Black Widow and the Hulk might have come together over something more complex than We’re Both Broken Birds and tragic purple prose.

Teen romance is fine. But when I want to read fan fiction about fictional grown-ups I love, I would like to see them be grown-ups… unless it’s an AU where they are teenagers. I would probably love that. But only if that’s what it said on the tin and it was what I wanted to read right then. I want to choose it, not click through seven fics and not see one grown-up wearing grown-up pants.

We do not live in a world where a person stops mattering when he or she passes the age of 30. (hell, RDJ is 51, you guys.) People continue to have sex and fall in love after that. And holy crap,they are IMMENSELY more interesting when they do that stuff when they are any age older than 20.

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Fanfic Guys Need to Act Like Guys

This is something that has been bothering me for an incredibly long time. Today, I think I have finally nailed it down to an expressible idea. Probably it is due to the combination of reading old posts on Pottersues, Avengers fan fiction, and a particularly pragmatic Megan Frampton romance, all in one very long morning. And it might be a long post, so bear with me.

Spoiler: The point mostly pertains to fan fiction.

It’s (fairly) commonly accepted that most people who write fan fiction are women, and a significant number of those are quite young. I’d say under 25, or under 20, depending on the fandom. I think it would be fair to assume a lot of them do not know or understand men very well. Particularly the ones who are not talented writers. (and/or are 16)

The point about not knowing or understanding men (or boys, but the former is worse and I’ll get into why) is one reason that there is a lot of fetishising M/M romance with damaging tropes.

I’m all about smashing gender stereotypes, but male characters who use emotional manipulation more than direct confrontation, cry prettily, and squeal over cute things seem less like barrier-breakers and more like a lady who couldn’t write a male character, so she just gave a female character a masculine pronoun. And I strongly believe that men and women should be allowed to cry without being maligned for doing so. But these characters are not part of that kind of thinking. They are just girls disguised as guys. They use feminine language, have feminine habits, feminine priorities, and solve problems and communicate the way that adolescent girls do. Sometimes like women, but usually like teenage girls.

I’ve seen this in original and published M/M romance, but fan fiction is where this shit LIVES. While happily getting my Avengers fic addiction fix, I read some Cap/Iron Man fic. I love these characters. Love the actors. I am so not alone in that love, which is pretty awesome. For a long time after I realised the ship was a thing, I was happy just knowing it was a ship. I’m easily pleased. Just exist, I said. So actually reading fan fiction was rather a step up in my participation. (I don’t do fandom stuff much…)

Reading it was… awkward. I tried to feel happy and do the fangirl squee thing, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I know we all experience our movies and comic books differently and not everyone will see characters the same way, but it was distressing to me that someone sees Captain America, this guy:

ca_bucky

as a mealy-mouthed, thumb-twiddling virgin who can’t say “penis” without dying from a blush-induced heat stroke. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any characters who are virginal at any age, or who are embarrassed by sex. There is something wrong with a large consensus of people seeing those traits in a character who is not characterised that way anywhere in canon. And comic books have more canon than the Santísima Trinidad.

Steve Rogers is an adult. Not only does he have a penis, he can probably say it if he has to, especially considering all of the health issues he had at the beginning of the first movie. I have been an old-fashioned virgin. I did not like to speak bluntly about sex or genitalia, but I didn’t blush when someone said words like “oral sex,” and I didn’t fall to shy pieces if the subject came up on any level. What I did do, and what I have seen Cap do, is tastefully avoid the subject and if it did come up, stay quiet or use polite euphemism until the conversation changed. It’s an adult way to handle one’s feelings on many subjects.

“I don’t want to talk about it because I think it’s private and in this situation inappropriate,” does not equate to, “I will melt down if I try to talk about it in any situation.”

And that is only ONE thing that is going sadly, sadly wrong in fan fiction. Characters are mischaracterised (ugh that feels so redundant) all the time in fan fic. That’s a risk you run–I learned this reading pottersues when the blog was new. But by that same token, it’s not okay. It still sucks. I’m not the only reader who dislikes it. Just in this case, it links to my issues with male characterisation by writers who seem not to understand guys at all.

Which brings me to my second point–relationships. But I’m gonna have to break this into two posts. I started writing this about 14:00 today, and kept getting interrupted by an appointment with my doctor and needing to drive places. Second half of this will be written and up tomorrow morning.

 

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I Should Have Read That YEARS AGO

I don’t actually remember how many of the Dresden Files books I read, but I only actually recall reading the first two. I am positive that I read more than that, but memories do not surface. It was back in the golden days (nights) of working at the SLC REC, when I could get through an audiobook a shift. I hadn’t read much urban fantasy at all, and I had heard very little about Harry Dresden. No clue how I got the books or why I started reading them. I certainly didn’t know anyone else who had read them.

Possibly I had a weird friend with a crush on James Marsters.

Mostly the books I remember listening to at the REC were Librivox recordings that varied wildly in quality, The Egyptologist fifty smeg-jillion times (damn I love that book), Fly By Night, and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Since then, I’ve made new friends, some of whom LOVE this series with the blazing admiration of multiple suns. And yet I never picked it up again until now. It has been literally years. It is slightly likely that I’m just bloody-minded. There is a special category for books on my TBR list that were recommended to me and yet have gone literally years without being read.

The Thief is still mocking me. It’s been a decade. No exaggeration.

…actually, as much as I want to get right into Fool Moon, I think I should read The Thief. Today, the mockery will end! Even if I have to stay up all night reading with a torch under the duvet.

It is perhaps indicative that right after I typed that, Owen woke up from the world’s longest nap and climbed into my lap. We watched La Leyenda de la Nahuala. It’s… still not as good as Llorona. The animation is really bad and the acting is usually painful.

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Goblin Secrets Review

Goblin Secrets by William Alexander

My grade: 3 stars
Pros: Interesting ideas, good descriptive writing, easy to read
Cons: Lacking in characterisation and substance across the board

One-word verdict:Unimpressed.

indifferent

Nice, but ultimately forgettable.

Rownie is an orphan who belongs to a witch called Graba. He discovers the magic of masks and goblins, and they inexplicably take him in. They really want his older brother, but they don’t make him feel unimportant. Graba doesn’t like to let her things go, so she pursues him. Masks and acting are illegal, which makes the goblins’ lives hard to begin with, and Graba makes it a lot worse.

Rownie is basically decent and brave. He has innate talent with masks, which have a vague power. It felt to me that I was providing quite a bit of the information about masks and acting as a reader, and I’m honestly not sure how I feel about that. Bravo for placing trust in the reader, but… it just contributes to this overall feeling I had that there isn’t much actual substance in this book.

Really, it’s just a bunch of set pieces sewn together with yarn. And by yarn, I mean Rownie navel-gazing. Don’t get me wrong, the set pieces are grand and wonderful and interesting. The scene where he wears a mask and participates in the goblins’ play was great. It just didn’t have much basis and almost didn’t go anywhere. The ending is fantastic too, in rather the same vein.

Where it definitely became apparent to me was about two thirds of the way in, when the goblins’ masks came to life and started attacking their makers/wearers. It was visually impressive. It was good use of the trope. But it felt ragged and incomplete.

I realised then that the characters were all thinly established, underdeveloped, and that I had zero connection with any of them. Even Semele, whom I think I liked? I could guess at the intention of the scene, but it didn’t mean anything. It was just there because it was a good idea. The narrative had not earned it. The characters certainly hadn’t. It was supposed to be part of Graba’s curse, but I found myself not caring to the degree that I barely noticed when Rownie broke the curse.

The writing style was pretty good, if a bit vague. The storytelling was… not pretty good. It’s a nice quick read, and if you can engage with it, then you’ll probably enjoy it more than I did. There are better books that offer cool ideas and worlds (Fly by Night, anyone?) and… something petty, but I DESPISED Rownie’s name, almost as much as the fact that it was a nickname of his brother’s name. I got the reasoning. I did not care.

Not interested in continuing this series.

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A long time ago, in a realisation far away…

One of those crappy, “Oh I should start blogging again” posts that I wrote was about joining Harlequin Rewards. It’s been awesome, especially when I discovered Maisey Yates. I have bought all of the Copper Ridge series in both print and digital formats. Still trying to get Hubby to read them. I think he will, it’ll just be a while. It took me a year to get him to read Johannes Cabal, and those books are practically starring him.

The majority of my Harlequins are still free stuff I was given or declaimed library books I bought. But now I have actually bought more than just Pregnesia at 2:00am. I’ve tried new authors and expanded into more subgenres. I used to just read historicals, first because I liked the covers, then because that was absolutely what I was into. Now I love western romance (of course cowboys, I’m from the southwest!), paranormals, intrigue, and there’s a special shelf for my Love Inspired so my mum can read them.

Which reminds me, I need more vikings. I have Highlanders coming out of my ears, but I am low on vikings.

Romance is such an amazing genre. I love the term Romancelandia, as it conveys just how zarqing big it is, and also notes the humour that we all have about and in it. Although I shouldn’t pick favourites, I do tend to love my bookfriends who read Romance the best.

Maybe this is coming out of nowhere. I guess after a long absence, anything I have to say is coming out of nowhere. Soon, I want to talk about rediscovering my love for the Aquabats thanks to Owen. Zarqing fardwarks, he’s going to be three in a fortnight.