Goodreads Choice Awards 2015

2015-11-03 05.09.13 am

Read my semifinals post here.

I love the Goodreads Choice Awards. I find a lot of the literary awards distancing, somewhat pretentious in the conversations that surround them. But GCA? It’s the “give the people what they want” awards. It’s the populist vote, and I appreciate that. It says as much about the losers as it does the winners, and it offers plenty of TBR picks.

The opening round starts today and runs until the 8th, with semifinals and finals running the 10th – 15th and the 17th – 23rd respectively. Each week, I’ll post an overview of the competition.

Like last year, I’ll be leaving out several categories (like Romance, Middle Grade, Picture Books) as my interest is limited (or nonexistent this year).

Fiction

Embarrassingly, I have read none of these (though several sit in various states of neglect around the house). However, Fates and Furies has gotten a ton of phenomenal press, and Kitchens of the Great Midwest is that book that keeps popping up in blog posts and social media. From a sheer popularity standpoint, I imagine The Royal We has a fighting chance.

Mystery & Thriller

This is The Girl on the Train‘s to lose, in my opinion. It’s been one of the most talked about books throughout the year, holding steady.

Historical Fiction

I loved, loved, loved Marriage of Opposites, my favorite Hoffman book by far, so it has my vote. Fans of Kate Atkinson may swing votes for A God in Ruins, and the final book in the Ibis Trilogy, Flood of Fire, is also nominated.

But really, can we talk about The Architect’s Apprentice? I’m getting shades of The Night Circus from the cover and description, so I think I need to buy this now and read it ASAP.

Fantasy

There are so many authors that could throw down in this category – Butcher, Sanderson, Gaiman  – but I’m pulling for The Fifth Season, which I’ve dipped my toe into and love.

Science Fiction

Full disclosure: I started both Seveneves and The Fold (audiobooks) and I really like them. The Fold is brilliant: immediately engaging, well-written, clever, and real. I think Seveneves could put up a fight, though.

Horror

Like I could vote for anything other than the latest penned by Jennifer McMahon? The Night Sister FTW!

Graphic Novels & Comics

Sensory overload. There’s Saga, Lumberjanes, Nimona, Sex Criminals, Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel…seriously, this is anyone’s game, but I’m opting for the plucky Nimona!

YA Fantasy & Science Fiction

I don’t think it will beat Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On, but Uprooted has my vote, hands-down!

How are you voting? Drop a note in the comments!

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Greta, written by Carol Rifka Brunt

Just a reminder, spoilers below!

I just finished Tell the Wolves I’m Home earlier this week (I’ve been not-so-great with finishing my audiobooks of late, letting them linger and listening in spurts every other week). I cannot recommend it enough, and I had a difficult time selecting one of the female characters to portray – protagonist June, her sister Greta, or their mother (who may get her own post on a re-listen, TBH).

Ultimately, I picked Greta. She’s stubborn and a bit of a firecracker, and while the story focuses primarily on June’s narrative, I thought Greta upstaged her younger sister in their shared scenes. Somewhat fitting, given Greta is a talented young actress known for stealing the show.

Greta straddles the line between sympathetic and obnoxious. She toggles between her mother and her younger sister June, particularly in how she reacts to Uncle Finn’s death from complications due to AIDS. We find out that Greta knew of their uncle’s diagnosis long before June. Why? Because their mother caught Greta using Finn’s chapstick, the same one he used to treat his cracked, bleeding lips that winter. June isn’t afraid of Finn, or his lifestyle, and her lack of fear and status as favorite exacerbate a rift between the two sisters.

Greta pokes. Greta prods. She sneaks and sabotages. For all her bravado, her bold, brash act, she’s hurting. Her sister is growing apart. Her mother is pushing her into a career path she doesn’t know if she wants. There’s something so universal about Greta – that wounded way she lashes out but still hopes for the best.

Thanks for reading! What do you think of Greta? 

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Women in Fiction Series Updates & Guest Post Opportunity

First of all, congrats to Jenny at Reading the End! She won the kick-off giveaway and will be receiving the first two books in the Nola Céspedes series.

Some brief updates about the series:

  • Spoilers are happening, people. It’s way to hard to write about some of these characters without including spoilers, because such a big part of their arcs involve, you know, what happens to them and how they respond (or don’t). I’ll include a spoiler tag at the top of the post, too.
  • I’m looking for guest bloggers for November for the Women in Fiction series! If you’re interested, please contact me by Saturday, October 31st with your pitch. I can be reached at erinmjustice {@} gmail [dot] com.

Thanks for reading! 

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Bella Swan, written by Stephenie Meyer

bella

Well, I did say not everyone would agree with the selections.

Look, I’m not a fan of the Twilight series. I understand why it’s been so popular, but I found it poorly written.

And here’s the thing: I don’t love Bella. Most of the time, I don’t even like her. What I appreciate, though, is that she’s become a cultural icon who manages to occupy space on both sides of the feminist playing field. I’m not writing about Bella because of who she is on the page – I’m writing about her because of how her character is internalized and interpreted. And I can think of no better character than Bella Swan when it comes to literary dichotomy.

In my world, the anti-feminist perspective is more prevalent: Bella Swan is an awful role model for young women. Bella has no real agency. Bella defines herself through an unhealthy, borderline (if not outright) abusive relationship.

And then there’s a the flip side: Bella Swan is an accurate portrayal of the female gaze.* She’s a contemporary adolescent woman and many readers can relate to her and the obstacles in her life more easily than, say, Hermione or Katniss.

Really, I think that’s what it boils down to for a lot of people: I can relate to Bella, maybe even a bit of the wish fulfillment I want to relate to Bella.

There is such vocal support for the feminist interpretations of what Bella’s character means,  but there’s also the readers who internalize who Bella is. They don’t see Bella for what she represents in a social sense, they see her as a kindred spirit. That we can have such a massive literary figure — and yes, for better or worse Bella is a hugely popular character — who is both anti-feminist  and easily relatable is telling and problematic.

That’s the piece I think we keep missing. Bella’s legacy is that for a certain segment of feminism, she’s indicative of ever-changing roles, norms, and expectations. Be confident, be brave, be vocal, be your own person. And maybe secretly, you just want to fit in, to not feel so different all the time, and you just want to be loved.

Those don’t have to be mutually exclusive – but I guess when the guy you want to love is climbing into your bedroom at night and watching you sleep, they kind of are.

*young, white, heteronormative female gaze

Thanks for reading! What do you think of Bella (and her new counterpart, Edyth)? 

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Hot Off the Press: October 20, 2015 Releases

Just one featured book for today’s releases, but man, does it sound good.

The hours count: A Novel by jillian cantor

This is one of those releases that I don’t have memorized, but every time I read the description I am thrilled by the potential. The book is based on Julius & Ethel Rosenberg, executed as spies 51NS9OqDDfL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_during the Cold War. However, it takes an interesting approach:

The day Ethel was first arrested in 1950, she left her two young sons with a neighbor, and she never came home to them again. Brilliantly melding fact and fiction, Jillian Cantor reimagines the life of that neighbor, and the life of Ethel and Julius, an ordinary-seeming Jewish couple who became the only Americans put to death for spying during the Cold War.

I’m fascinated by the Cold War, especially military history and the nuclear age, and I appreciate unique historical fiction that gives “side” figures an imagined voice. I’m excited to see how Cantor balances the narratives.

I’m sure there are plenty of other books being published today, so don’t forget to post your favorite ones in the comments!

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Hot Off the Press: October 13, 2015 Releases

oct132015

There are only a couple of books coming out today that hit my radar. Beware, they promise to be on the darker side.

she walks in shadows by Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles (Editors)

I heard about this collection over the summer and knew it would be my jam: reimagining classic Lovecraftian tales with a female focus. All of the contributing authors in the anthology are women, too! I mean, I’m a sucker for something described as “defiant, destructive, terrifying, and harrowing.”

City on Fire: A novel by Garth Risk Hallberg

An aside: the author’s middle name may as well be “Danger.” Also, in my defense, I’m not sure this book will be as dark theme-wise as SWIS, but it does prominently feature the 1977 NYC blackout, so there’s at least some literal darkness. Also, a murder occurs on New Year’s Eve. For some people (like my husband), a murder automatically sets a book to “dark.” But as we’ve established, I have Stephen King-level thresholds and just think this wide variety of characters in 1970s New York will be an interesting read.

I’m sure there are plenty of other books being published today, so don’t forget to post your favorite ones in the comments!

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It’s Not Personal, It’s Just an Adaptation

Note: This post contains spoilers for The Martian, both book and film.

Some folks have a bone to pick with adaptations before they even see the movie – literally toting “the book was better” as a personal mantra.

I love books. Obviously. But I tend to view books and film/tv as different mediums, requiring different approaches. Some elements don’t translate well onscreen, and sometimes the film/show makes significant changes but captures the tone and themes so well (The Silver Linings Playbook is a great example).

The Hunger Games trilogy adaptation has been interesting (My major feedback with the first two films is “Needs more Haymitch.”). Mockingkay: Part I was a personal favorite because it captured everything I wanted in the adaptation. Every scene I imagined was on film perfectly. I was thrilled, even though I knew that no one made that movie for me and not everyone would love it as much as I would.

Is it my favorite movie? No. Is it the best book-to-film adaptation? Absolutely not. But as a reader, it fulfilled my expectations. It’s my most satisfying book-to-film adaptation of recent memory.

I had really high hopes for The Martian adaptation, though I expected to be somewhat disappointed since the book was one of my favorites in 2014. I also wore Scott down and convinced him to listen to the audiobook, so now it’s one of his favorites, too. Oh, and please listen to the audiobook version if you haven’t ; the narrator, R. C. Bray, is phenomenal as Mark Watney. If you liked Matt Damon in the role, I think you’re love Bray as the voice.

My biggest complaint wasn’t the elimination of most of Watney’s mechanical engineering background (bookWatney would destroy filmWatney) and the intensive science scenes. That impacted several related subplots, including frying the Pathfinder and killing the communication link with NASA, flipping the rover, and the dust storm/solar panel charging issue en route to the other Ares site. Frankly, I was worried about sitting through those moments as I thought it would make the film’s pace drag.

No, I was upset that Jessica Chastain didn’t get a chance to portray the Commander Lewis I knew and loved from the book. I explored this in a comment on Book Riot:

I love Chastain, and was really excited to see her portrayal of Commander Lewis because she’s such an interesting, compelling character. I was disappointed by how they treated the final rescue moments. It seemed especially odd because the film continued to build up Commander Lewis as a leader, one responsible for keeping her emotions in check and her team on point, working together to make decisions and solve new problems.

Rather than the highly logical decision-maker I loved from the books, she became reactive. I also don’t remember her saying much in the film prior to strapping on the MMU – so no one knows what she’s thinking, and we know that lack of communication can kill. If the guilt was supposed to be the reasoning there, then it did need to be a distinct shift from the novel and explored more. I thought that they were trying for redemption for leaving him behind, but it didn’t work for me at all and made Lewis feel dangerously impulsive.

I was on board with the adaptation until I saw one of the best female leaders effectively abandon her post and play space tag with Iron Man.

Let’s be clear: an adaptation that wanted to explore guilt and expand Commander Lewis as Watney’s counterpart on the Ares shuttle would have been bold and wonderful. For me, the guilt/redemption arc just didn’t work as it was edited and as the character was portrayed. There have been rumors of a director’s cut and I would love to see it, if only to determine whether there was another character development scene for Commander Lewis.

Look, I know it’s crazy. The Martian is a fun movie. I liked it, but I’m not in love with it like everyone else is. I can’t recall a time I’ve felt so strongly (and negatively) about an adaptation change. I know I’m not the only one who’s been irrationally upset about an adaptation, so I want to know what yours was. Leave a note in the comments!

Thanks for reading! 

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Agnieszka, written by Naomi Novik

agnieszka

I read Uprooted over the summer and loved it, thanks in no small part to the protagonist Agnieszka (okay, and the earthy, grounded magic).

Agnieszka is a young woman who fears what will happen when her best friend is chosen to be a servant to “the Dragon,” a powerful wizard who protects their area from the dark magic of the forest. Agnieszka is one of many surprised when the Dragon choses her rather than her best friend Kasia.

When I think about Agnieszka, the first thing that comes to mind is her outspoken nature. She’s never afraid to ask questions or even challenge others when she perceives unfairness or dangerous situations. Sometimes this can seem naive or impetuous, especially since Agnieszka is a young woman and a novice in her craft. Still, there’s a genuine earnestness that she has, and you can’t help rooting for her.

Agnieszka’s magical abilities also play a huge role in the character’s unique likability. Novik avoids the dangerous Mary Sue territory by balancing skill with education. Agnieszka has a spark of talent, and through the impatient Dragon’s teachings she learns more about how to control and use magic. It’s a familiar story, but what I appreciated is the “fake it ’til you make it” mentality Agnieszka has. Agnieszka carries herself with confidence, even when she’s fighting the forest’s deadly magic.

Agnieszka confronts sexual harassment and attempted sexual assault, treason, and rotten, mystical magic. But she does so with a tenacious refusal to go it alone. Putting up with the prickly Dragon, they grow to trust and respect each other. She figures out how they can use and support each other – no easy task, considering how long the Dragon has been selecting young women from the village. Agnieszka never forgets her friend Kasia, and their close, kind friendship is a constant bright thread in the novel.

Agnieszka is chosen thinking that there’s nothing special about her – not when she compares herself to Kasia, who seems to shimmer and shine in every category. And while Agnieszka doesn’t dwell on this long, it’s easy to see the many reasons why Agnieszkva was chosen. A charming, clever young woman, Agnieszka is a character you’ll enjoy getting to know!

Thanks for reading! What do you think of Agnieska? 

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Hot Off the Press: October 6, 2015 Releases

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A bit of a mixed bag for the first Tuesday in October…

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

I’ve been excited about this book for the last few months, and it’s finally out today! This YA pick follows Mikey, who isn’t the Chosen One and just wants to get through high school. If the tone is anything like the title, it should be a fun ride.

Ghostly: A Collection of Ghost Stories by Audrey Niffenegger

I get scared very easily, but I love horror. I’ve enjoyed ghost stories since childhood, though it was less the creepy Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and more a chilling audio cassette my best friends’ mom found at the library, featuring mostly local/regional stories. This illustrated edition promises to delight the “classic and contemporary ghost story aficionado.”

Death by Water by Kenzaburo Oe

I normally wouldn’t select this type of book, but it hooked me with promises that “storytelling can mend political, social, and familial rifts.” I’m not familiar with this author (who’s been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, no less), but the way he connects life and myth have me intrigued. He’s also Japanese, and I’ve committed myself to reading more about this beautiful country I visited earlier this year.

The Secret Chord: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks

Oh, Geraldine Brooks. For some reason, I keep going back. I haven’t loved the books of hers I’ve read, but with Biblical figure David…well, I’m coming back, aren’t I? I find Biblical narratives compelling when done well (for a time, The Red Tent was my hands-down favorite book), so I’m interested to see how Brooks crafts her story.

I’m sure there are plenty of other books being published today, so don’t forget to post your favorite ones in the comments!

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Nola Céspedes, written by Joy Castro

I’ve thought about starting a “Women in Fiction” blog series for over a year now, and today it becomes a reality because really, why haven’t I started doing this already? Every time I’ve considered this concept and how I would approach it, one thing hasn’t changed: the first female character I’d feature.

nola

Nola Céspedes is a character I connected with immediately. She’s the Cuban-American protagonist of two Joy Castro-penned thrillers, Hell or High Water and Nearer Home. Both novels take place in contemporary New Orleans, and neither Castro nor Céspedes shy away from post-Katrina issues of race, class, and gender. Céspedes herself is named for the city’s shortened moniker, something she doesn’t particularly relish since she’s critical of New Orleans. Though, to be fair, as a young reporter Nola applies a critical lens to almost everything.

In our first encounter with Nola, she’s investigating the disappearance of a tourist and takes advantage of her skills, her connections, and the city’s corruption to make headway. Castro brilliantly juxtaposes Nola’s investigation of the  crime with details about Nola’s past, including traumatic events in her childhood she’s been attempting to repress through self-destructive behavior like overindulging in alcohol, bulimic tendencies, and sexually compulsive tendencies like picking up strangers at her favorite soccer field.

These things alone should ensure that Nola isn’t a role model, but there’s something compelling about her, about the way she finally confronts her demons and recognizes she needs help. In Nearer Home, we see Nola attempting to reconcile those behaviors, make her blossoming monogamist relationship work, and engage with her therapist. We also see her investigating a murder, and the victim is Nola’s former professor at Tulane. The second book is more personal, intimate:

she is more self-aware and less self-destructive, and she is a more reliable narrator. But she is also driven into emotional spaces that are uncomfortable for her, and it is when characters are most uncomfortable that they are most dynamic, when they reveal their truest selves or are capable of change (beware spoilers at source).

Nola is a character who is ambitious without being cutthroat or ruthless. As a young woman of color, she’s acutely aware of power dynamics and how they (typically) work against her. She’s tough but she isn’t impenetrable, and her childhood experiences demonstrate how women coping with trauma intertwine complex, sometimes conflicting feelings about their sense of self. I sometimes felt like Nola was battling against her emotions, her self-destructive and self-actualizing tendencies, society’s perceptions about who “she” was, and her own perceptions of how she fit into society.

Nola is beautiful, striking character who struggles and overcomes, not always in that order and not always through the means you’d expect (or want, or maybe even respect). She’s a far cry from the typical white guy detective/journalist, who’s all swagger and, compared to Nola, no substance. Her layers and choices make her fascinating, the kind of character I dream of writing (though one of my main female characters in my manuscript is named Nola, as an homage) and love reading.

If you love complex, dynamic characters and have an interest in intersectional feminist fiction, Nola Céspedes is a character with whom you should get acquainted.

Check back in this weekend – I’ll have a giveaway posted to win copies of both Hell or High Water and Nearer Home!

Thanks for reading! What do you think of Nola, and will you read Joy Castro’s books? 

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