Goodreads Choice Awards 2015: The Finals

2015-11-17 05.11.04 am

Read my opening round post here and my semifinal round post here.

The final round is open today until the 23rd. Make sure you vote to have your voice heard! The competition remains pretty stiff in several categories.

Also, I know it’s not a countdown per se, but I have Europe’s The Final Countdown stuck in my head. Which means you probably have it stuck in your head, too. Here, have a montage for your troubles:

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

Fiction

Should Win: Fates and Furies

Will Win: Fates and Furies or Go Set a Watchman

I honestly can’t tell with this one. I’ve been pulling for Fates and Furies since the opening round, but that doesn’t mean much. The books featured include major winner potential, so I could see this one going to a more popular book that’s been out a while. I’m not sure if Go Set a Watchman will get the nostalgia vote, despite most of the book community’s critical reviews of, well, the entire lead-up to the book hitting shelves.

Related posts: You can read my Hot Off the Press post about Fates and Furies here or my Go Set a Watchman review here

Mystery & Thriller

Should Win: The Girl on the Train

Will Win: The Girl on the Train 

It will be a huge upset if this doesn’t win. Everyone loves this book. It came out months ago and continues to do well.

Related posts: Read Goodreads’ own blog post about the “runaway success” of the book here

Historical Fiction

Should Win: Marriage of Opposites 

Will Win: A God in Ruins 

I’m pulling for Marriage of Opposites to surprise, but I feel like Atkinson has this one over Hoffman. I haven’t read her books, but they delight readers and tend to do very well numbers-wise.

Related posts: Read my Marriage of Opposites review here

Fantasy

Should Win: The Fifth Season

Will Win: Trigger Warning or A Darker Shade of Magic

There’s always one category where I want to throw my hands in the air because I have no idea where voters’ sentiments lie. I’m not sure if The Fifth Season has enough backing to win. Typically bigger names (like Gaiman) are more likely to get publicized and read by a wider variety of people. I’ve seen a lot of good press for A Darker Shade of Magic – I didn’t love it, but plenty of others did, so perhaps it’ll pull out a win.

Related posts: Read about why I chose to bring The Fifth Season with me on an impromptu trip here

Science Fiction

Should Win: Aftermath

Will Win: Seveneves

…oh, and there’s also a category where there are honestly so many good nominees I can’t figure out which book gets my final vote! I’ve been pulling for The Fold, but I also really enjoyed Armada, to the point where I’m thinking that even though I read it months ago, I have fonder memories of it than my more recent listen.

There’s a lot of great nominees, but I think Seveneves may have the numbers here. Just a guess based on the Goodreads ratings, which I only look at when I’m really stumped. Well done, Sci Fi. And even though I’m voting for Armada, I’m rooting for Wendig, because he’s just a phenomenal person and writer and I wish only good things for someone who has personally inspired.

Related posts: Read my review of Armada here and my writing/conference posts about Wendig here, herehere, and here (I may be biased)

Horror

Should Win: The Night Sister

Will Win: The Night Sister

Only because I recognize none of the other finalists (authors yes, those particular releases, no), and I’m a huge McMahon fan.

Related posts: My Hot Off the Press preview for The Night Sister here and a review of an earlier McMahon work here

nonfiction

Should Win: Between the World and Me

Will Win: Between the World and Me

So many people have read this book and appreciated how it tackled heavy themes and difficult experiences (“loved” seems an odd choice for the subject matter). Coates earned this victory with a haunting look at racial politics and social values.

Related posts: Read my take on the value of discomfort in reading here

Graphic Novels & Comics

Should Win: Nimona

Will Win: Ms. Marvel

I could be completely wrong here.  I read Nimona as a web comic and it stays with you in a way only great characters can. Everyone in the series is solid, fleshed out, and necessary. And the deconstruction of tropes, especially what it means to be a hero or a villain, is absolutely brilliant. As much as I (and others) love Ms. Marvel, I’m not sure it’s quite there. Hilarious, brilliant, and Kamala Khan is hands down one of Marvel’s best characters, but it doesn’t hit Nimona levels quite yet. Unpopular opinion time, I know.

Related posts: Read my original post about Nimona here

YA Fantasy & Science Fiction

Should Win: Uprooted

Will Win: Carry On

Rainbow Rowell knows her stuff, and she’s a wonderful author who spans YA and adult genres well. I think she’s got this in the bag, but maybe I’m out of touch with the kids these days.

Related posts: Read my Women in Fiction series post about the Uprooted protagonist here

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

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Goodreads Choice Awards 2015: The Semifinals

2015-11-10 05.26.17 am

Read my opening round post here.

The semifinal round is open the 10th – 15th (after the 15th you will not be able to vote). The final round runs the 17th – 23rd. Look for my final round posts and winner posts later this month!

If this is your first Goodreads Choice Awards, the semifinal round is going to seem…very confusing. See, the semifinal round both narrows and widens the competition. During the first round, readers can nominate books that were left off the ballot. If books get enough nominations, they are available for the popular vote in the semifinal round. They knock out books that were on the original ballot but didn’t do so hot. You’ll see some changes to my original picks and predictions in the list below.

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

Fiction

Well, well, well. Go Set a Watchman has entered the game. I was surprised it wasn’t in the first round, but figured it might make an appearance during semifinals. Now, I’m wondering if nostalgia will carry it to the finals and to victory. I wasn’t all that impressed with the book, so I will not cast a vote for it. I’m hoping autumn darling Fates and Furies takes it.

Mystery & Thriller

No major changes in this category, at least for me. I still think The Girl on the Train has this one in the bag, even against Robert Galbraith.

Historical Fiction

I’m still hoping for Marriage of Opposites to win – and you can read my review discussing its merits here. I think A God in Ruins has a very solid chance, through, and I’m pleasantly surprised to see Girl Waits with Gun, a blogger favorite, make it into the running.

Fantasy

So, this is where I wish I had rushed into reading the second Queen of the Tearling novel, The Invasion of the Tearling. I really, really enjoyed the first book and thought it was a clever take on an “unprepared female leader” narrative. Kelsea’s just a great character, and I didn’t read the second book precisely because I wanted to wait until closer to the third book’s release. Boo, hiss. I started reading The Fifth Season, but my love for the Tearling characters wins, and I hope The Invasion of the Tearling does, too.

Science Fiction

This is probably the best semifinals slate update I’ve ever seen, and I’m really excited to see the finals round ballot. There were some great updates – Nightvale, Atwood, Wendig, Armada…dang, this a good bunch of nominees, and a great balance of popular and critical hits. I’m still pulling for the The Fold, however!

Horror

The Night Sister keeps my vote, but I strongly recommend those with a strong stomach for visceral imagery check out The Deep, another great read. Also, I just learned there was a follow-up to The Three!

nonfiction

I seriously  missed the category last week, and I have no idea how. Anyway, I’m voting for Between the World and Me, but it barely beats out Missoula and Big Magic, which impacted me personally but not in the same ways.

Graphic Novels & Comics

So not only are all of my favorites from last week still there (Saga, Lumberjanes, Rat Queens, Nimona, Sex Criminals, Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel), but Wicked + Divine is nominated, too! I’ll say it again, this is anyone’s game. And yes, I’m still voting for Nimona!

Young Adult

First, read the awesome Women in Fiction guest post by Dot, then go vote for Dumplin’!

YA Fantasy & Science Fiction

I was worried Uprooted wouldn’t pull through, solely because I wasn’t sure if it registered at the same level for YA voters. Obviously I’m a fan, and a biased one at that.

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

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Being the Secret: A Women in Fiction Guest Post by Dot Dannenberg

This week’s Women in Fiction post comes from Dot Dannenberg. Dot is an extremely talented writer and an editor at 1:1000.  Please check out her 1:1000 pieces on our contributors page here. You’d be remiss skipping the 10-part West series (just saying).

Dot’s post below is one of my favorite pieces about books this year, because it’s whip-smart in its observations about teenagers, body image and self-consciousness, and two of my favorite books this year (go read them, for real).

At first glance, the female protagonists of two of this year’s hottest YA novels couldn’t be more different, aside from their boy names. Will (Willowdean) Dickson, in Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’, is an overweight Texas high schooler who upends her small town by entering a local beauty pageant. Theo (Theodora) Cartwright, in Brandy Colbert’s Pointe, is a recovering anorexic ballerina forced to face her past when her best friend’s kidnapper is finally caught.

These two seventeen-year olds seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum in everything from race to BMI to the circumstances they face. In Pointe, the stakes are much higher than in Dumplin’–Theo’s unreliable narration swirls around the details of past and current loves while only skimming the surface of the darker things going on around her–sexual abuse, drugs, anger. Willowdean’s world is much softer. The darkest cloud in her life is her aunt, dead at thirty-five from obesity complications, who serves as both Willowdean’s guiding light and ghost of Christmas future.

I am not the target audience for young adult fiction starring seventeen-year-old girls. At times, I wanted both books to go deeper into the obsessive internal minds of these narrators, something I recall so clearly from adolescence, which is sadly missing from most YA fiction.

But I was impressed with how these two books about such different young women manage to capture a universal experience I do remember about being a teenage girl: when a boy wants to keep you a secret.

In Pointe, Theo entangles herself with a drug-dealing piano prodigy named Hosea. He understands her. He introduces her to feelings she didn’t know could exist. And, of course, he already has a girlfriend. Theo spends the book oscillating between refusing to be the secret and caving to Hosea’s advances, telling herself to have fun while it lasts–the rest of her life waiting to unravel in the wings.

I kept waiting for the reasoning behind Hosea’s secrecy to appear. Had he and his girlfriend been through some life-changing event? Was it about race, all along, because Theo is black?

But Colbert doesn’t take us there. Instead, we get the mundane truth of high school: high school boys don’t have real reasons. Hosea and his girlfriend have been together for two whole years, and at that age, longevity trumps everything, even self-actualization. Now that I read it, I see how accurate this is–how catastrophic the power-couple breakups at my high school tended to be. I remember the cutest boy at school holding my hand, then agonizing that his recently-dumped girlfriend of two years would be angry he was moving on so fast.

I even more directly relate to Willowdean in Dumplin’. Willowdean crushes hard on Bo, the cute boy she works with at a fast food restaurant. It’s clear from their banter that there’s a connection, but their romantic trysts always seem to take place in secret–behind dumpsters or parked near abandoned buildings. Willowdean almost can’t believe he’s into her, to such an extent that she doesn’t even tell her best girlfriend about her first kiss. And of course, in classic teenage boy style, Bo insists he can’t handle a relationship right now. Sure. That’s what they always say.

It’s taken me almost thirty years to re-write the narratives I told myself about growing up fat. The line I repeated–“boys just weren’t into me”–was a lie. Like Bo with Willowdean, boys were into me. They were just too ashamed to be the guy dating the fat girl. The internal battle between shame and longing rings clear and true in Dumplin’.

I wish I’d had books like Pointe and Dumplin’ when I was in high school. Watching Theo and Willowdean live through these experiences would have made me feel a little less crazy. I would have second-guessed myself less. And maybe I’d have learned a little sooner to speak up for the things I know I deserve.

Thanks for reading! What do you think of Theo and Willowdean? 

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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