Discussion: Name that genre! And…does it matter?

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes get genre-burned. I’ll pick up a book, thinking it’s one thing, and then be disappointed when it turns out to be something else. It’s not that the something else isn’t good, or even that I didn’t like the book. It’s that it wasn’t what I was expecting. And while I sometimes welcome the unexpected, like with a juicy plot twist, I find myself wishing sometimes that the book world as a whole — bookstores, bloggers, even authors sometimes — would try to be a tad more accurate with genre labeling.

Also, let me just throw this out there: Young Adult is not a genre. Nor is Middle Grade, Adult, or New Adult. Those are audiences. They encompass the age demographic a book is targeting. But they don’t tell you a thing about what the book is about, other than the relative age of the characters (give or take a few decades, in the case of Adult).

So let’s talk just a minute about genres, what defines them, and which ones tend to have an identity crisis.

These are highlights from the Goodreads definitions. Sometimes it’s just easier than trying to type it all out myself.

FantasyFantasy is a genre that uses magic and other supernatural forms as a primary element of plot, theme, and/or setting. Fantasy is generally distinguished from science fiction and horror by the expectation that it steers clear of technological and macabre themes, respectively, though there is a great deal of overlap between the three.

Science FictionScience fiction is a broad genre of fiction that often involves speculations based on current or future science or technology. Science fiction differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically established or scientifically postulated laws of nature (though some elements in a story might still be pure imaginative speculation).

DystopianDystopia is a form of literature that explores social and political structures. It is a creation of a nightmare world – unlike its opposite, Utopia, which is an ideal world. Dystopia is often characterized by an authoritarian or totalitarian form of government. It often features different kinds of repressive social control systems, a lack or total absence of individual freedoms and expressions, and a state of constant warfare or violence. Many novels combine both Dystopia and Utopia, often as a metaphor for the different directions humanity can take in its choices, ending up with one of the two possible futures.

RomanceAccording to the Romance Writers of America, “Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending.” Both the conflict and the climax of the novel should be directly related to that core theme of developing a romantic relationship, although the novel can also contain subplots that do not specifically relate to the main characters’ romantic love.

Historical FictionHistorical fiction presents a story set in the past, often during a significant time period. In historical fiction, the time period is an important part of the setting and often of the story itself. Historical fiction may include fictional characters, well-known historical figures or a mixture of the two.

HorrorHorror fiction is fiction in any medium intended to scare, unsettle, or horrify the audience. Historically, the cause of the “horror” experience has often been the intrusion of a supernatural element into everyday human experience. Since the 1960s, any work of fiction with a morbid, gruesome, surreal, or exceptionally suspenseful or frightening theme has come to be called “horror”.

ContemporaryContemporary literature is literature with its setting generally after World War II.

ParanormalParanormal books involve unusual experiences that lack a scientific explanation. Some popular subjects in paranormal books are supernatural creatures, ESP, clairvoyance, ghosts, UFOs, telepathy, and psychics.

SteampunkSteampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction and speculative fiction that came into prominence in the 1980s and early 1990s. The term denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century, and often Victorian era England—but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date.

These are just some of the biggies. There’s tons of genres and subgenres out there, and often authors like to mash them up. For example, romance can be incorporated into nearly all of these genres, which gives you Historical Romance, Paranormal Romance, etc. I think one of the reasons that genres get so muddled is that they’re not mutually exclusive at all. Contemporary is anything that takes place after World War II? Well, that could encompass pretty much everything (except Historical), couldn’t it? And obviously there’s tons of crossover between Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror/Paranormal.

I think the problem happens when we get these main categories confused.  I think the problem is twofold:

1) Certain genres are really popular, and everyone wants their book (or their client’s book, or their friend’s book) to be the next Big Thing. So they say it fits the genre, when in reality, it doesn’t. (I’m looking at you, Dystopian Fiction.)

2) Lots of books are really hard to classify, because the authors have mixed a bunch of genres together in a delicious cocktail of imagination. It’s a bit more understandable how these get confused.

So what’s the trick in figuring out how to classify what you’re reading? Just ask yourself a few questions:

1) What’s the setting? Is it past, present, future, or a made-up world? Is it based in reality, or could it plausibly happen in our reality, or is it in no way related to our reality? Does magic factor into it? Science? Is it based on a historical event that actually happened, or a historical event that might have happened if things were different?

2) If it is the future, what shaped the world? Was it a cataclysmic event? Government conspiracy? Aliens? Magic? Technological advancement? Just because it’s the future doesn’t automatically make it sci-fi or dystopian or post-apocalyptic. Look at why the world is the way it is, and that’s a big clue.

3) What’s the conflict? Is it about whether or not Jim and Sally will get together, or is it about whether or not Jim will save Sally’s a ghost, or is it about whether or not Jim will discover that he’s really a prince and the only one who can free Sally from the dragon? Granted, Jim and Sally may get together in all of these scenarios, but it’s only the main conflict in one of them.

Am I alone in caring about this? I’m not sure. Maybe you don’t care how something’s labeled; a good book is a good book. So what if you were expecting dystopian and got sci-fi instead? Or you wanted steampunk but wound up reading historical fiction? What’s the big deal?

But if you’re like me, it’s kind of like ice cream flavors. If I’m in the mood for chocolate and I get strawberry, I’m going to be disappointed. I like strawberry. Sometimes, all I want in the whole world is strawberry. But if I’m in the mood for chocolate, strawberry won’t cut it.

Here’s some examples of books I’ve seen miscategorized (a lot):

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron. I’ve heard this book described as Steampunk and Paranormal, but really it’s just Historical Fiction. The automatons in the story are things that actually existed during that time period (you can ask Sharon. It’s fascinating), and there’s no supernatural elements that defy scientific explanation.

What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang. This one always gets called Dystopian or Sci-Fi. But really, if you look close, it’s neither. It’s a modern alternate reality. So really, it doesn’t fit into any of the above categories. Broadly, it can go under the Speculative Fiction umbrella, but none of the other terms really fit. So there’s really little wonder why bookstores want to label it as something else.

Defiance by C.J. Redwine. This book is a cornucopia of so many genres, it’s easy to see why people can’t seem to label it. I’ve actually had a few discussions with C.J. about what to call this book, and even she is at a bit of a loss. I’ve heard it called Steampunk, Dystopian, Fantasy, and Sci-Fi. It’s marketed as Fantasy Adventure, but there’s no magic (although there is a blind wingless subterranean dragon). What it actually is, I believe, is a Post-Apocalyptic Adventure. I think.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. I always see this book on the Horror shelf, and it’s just not. It’s not designed to scare or horrify. It’s about magical powers and adventure. It’s Fantasy.

How about you? Do you long to sneak into bookstores and reshelve the books to more accurately reflect what’s in them? Or do you figure, hey, I don’t care why someone picked up the book, as long as they’re reading it? What books do you see commonly misclassified, and do you care? 

Review: The Archived by Victoria Schwab (@veschwab @DisneyHyperion)

I was super-excited when I received an advance copy of Victoria Schwab’s newest book, The Archived in my mailbox. This has been one of the year’s most anticipated releases across the blogosphere (yes, I’m aware it’s only January, but still) and the concept sounded fascinating and original. I’m excited for you all to be able to experience it when it releases TOMORROW.

The Plot (from Goodreads):

Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.

Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.

Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was, a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often-violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.

Being a Keeper isn’t just dangerous-it’s a constant reminder of those Mac has lost. Da’s death was hard enough, but now her little brother is gone too. Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself might crumble and fall.

My Thoughts:

This story was amazing. Victoria’s prose is gorgeous and atmospheric, and it was easy to lose myself in the story. She reveals the workings and mythology of The Archive in bits and pieces instead of info-dumping all at once, so when I started out, it took me a little bit to get my bearings. But gradually, without really noticing it was happening, I began to understand. And before I knew it, I was totally immersed in Mackenzie’s world.

What I liked about Mac was that she was strong, but flawed. She constantly tried to do her best, but made some very bad decisions. She had been trained to be so secretive that she didn’t ask for help when she needed it. She had closed her emotions to the point where she didn’t notice warning signs and ignored her gut instincts. But what was amazing about this is that because of the way her character was developed, I understood why she was doing those things. I may not agree with them, but it made sense. I liked that she wasn’t perfect and sometimes didn’t piece together the clues about what was happening until it was too late.

I know I’m painting her as kind of clueless, and you may be wondering what’s so appealing about a closed-off and ignorant character, but she was also smart, resourceful, and determined. She was just a very well-rounded and human character, which in a story with such fantastic elements, kept it grounded in the believable.

Then there was Wes, who I thought was fabulous. Although there’s hints of romance between him and Mac, he’s so much more than just “the love interest.” Wesley has his own struggles and complexities. I loved how his approach to life not only differed from Mac’s, but challenged her, and how while Mac is undoubtedly the hero of the story, Wes has his moments of heroism as well. I can’t wait to learn more about Wes in the sequels.

The plotting and pacing of The Archived was excellent. I felt like I was constantly gaining new insight into the world while asking new questions. Victoria is a master at keeping the reader turning pages, giving enough information to appease, but not so much that you stop asking questions. She weaves small details into the early pages that you don’t realize are important until the end, so that a savvy reader may be able to figure out what’s going on…but probably won’t. I like when plot twists are subtly foreshadowed, because it makes the payoff that much more satisfying.

Ultimately, I thought The Archived was a beautifully written, tightly plotted, brilliantly original story. I was riveted from beginning to end, and can’t wait to see what Victoria has planned next for these characters.

Review: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken (@alexbracken @DisneyHyperion)

I received a copy of The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken from a friend, and I honestly had no idea what it was about. I must live under a rock, because I hadn’t heard all the buzz surrounding this book. So I went into this one blind, on a whim, and guys — it was a good whim.

The Plot (from Goodreads)

When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something alarming enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that gets her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that’s killed most of America’s children, but she and the others have emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they cannot control.

Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones.

When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. Now she’s on the run, desperate to find the one safe haven left for kids like her—East River. She joins a group of kids who escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can’t risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents.

When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at a life worth living.

My Thoughts

From the first page, I was riveted by this story and this world. The concept of a disease that either kills or gives superpowers — and that death may be preferable — was amazing. It’s never explained why it only affects the children (and apparently, only American children), and it doesn’t really matter. Ruby doesn’t know, so we don’t need to know.

Then Ruby is sent to a “rehabilitation camp,” which reeks of all the ugliest parts of human history. Ruby spends her adolescence in constant fear and misery. She has a power she doesn’t understand and doesn’t want, one which has stolen all the most important parts of her life. She’s learned to hide it, more through instinct than through knowledge, but eventually, it comes out. And Ruby escapes, but her problems are far from over. It seems everyone she encounters either wants to use her or kill her, until she chances upon a group of renegade kids who are also on the run.

The kids she encounters — Chubs, Liam, and Zu — are all amazing characters. They’re different and well-developed, and I loved the different ways they approach their relationship with Ruby. Zu, in particular, impressed me, because Alex Bracken managed to make her this amazingly sympathetic and beautiful character, without a word of dialogue. Then there’s Chubs, who’s suspicious and harsh, because of his fierce loyalty to his friends. And Liam, who is trusting and gentle and wants nothing more than for his friends to be safe. My heart broke for Liam again and again, because while he was trying so hard to lead their little ragtag group, there were moments where I remembered, he’s just a kid. He’s not cut out for this, but he’s trying his best.

Ruby herself is both strong and fragile, broken but determined. She wants to believe the best of others but the worst of herself, and sometimes makes poor decisions because of this. I like that she was a very flawed and damaged character, and that one of her main struggles wasn’t external, but internal. Watching Ruby learn to — maybe not embrace, but accept her powers was wonderful. I did have one small complaint with Ruby, and that is for a kid who went to the camps at ten and lost all contact with the outside world, she seems to know quite a bit about pop culture and classic rock. I mean, she can recognize the synthesizers and vocalist of Pink Floyd, even though she doesn’t know the song? Maybe I’m out of touch with the ten-year-olds of today, but that seemed like a bit of a stretch for me. However, that’s a tiny complaint. Just something that took me out of the story now and then.

As for the pacing, this book is kind of a slow burn. There’s a lot of tension, but not a lot of action for long stretches of time. I personally was a big fan of this, as I thought it added to the story’s atmosphere, but if you’re looking for a book brimming with action and adventure and superpower battles, this isn’t it. Those things are certainly present, but they’re not the main drive or focus of the story. But I was never bored. The dialogue is fabulous, and as I said before, the characters are wonderful.

I don’t want to say much more about it, because there are some fabulous plot developments that, while I saw some of them coming, were just so perfect for the story and Ruby’s growth as a character. And the ending is heartbreaking, but perfect, and left me itching for the sequel.

Overall, I thought this was an excellent book with strong characters, a fascinating and terrifying world, and a tense plot that kept me rapidly turning pages until the end. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you should.

Edit: So I know this video has been out for over a year, but I just saw it last week because I am not hip enough to see things when they come out. And it IMMEDIATELY made me think of this book. So much so that if the kid was a girl and they stuck the book’s title at the end, it could almost be a book trailer.

Also: most. Aggressive. Earworm. Ever.

Throwback Thursday (January 17) – Roswell

ATTENTION! In a couple weeks, Mandi and I will be hosting a Throwback Giveaway! That’s right, you will be able to WIN THINGS! I’m not telling you what yet, but they will be awesome. Trust me, you want to enter.

But here’s the catch: You will have the best chance of winning if you participate in Throwback Thursday. And comment on other people’s Throwback Thursday posts. And yes, you can do this after the giveaway goes live, but EVEN OLD THROWBACK THURSDAY POSTS WILL COUNT AS ENTRIES. In other words, browse your bookshelf or DVD collection, find something you loved, and HOP TO. RIGHT NOW. Get a leg up on the slackers.

Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by The Housework Can Wait and Never Too Fond of Books.

It’s the nature of book blogging to focus mainly on new releases, but there are thousands of great books out there that haven’t seen the “New Releases” shelf in years. We hope to be able to bring attention to some older titles that may not be at the top of the current bestseller list, but still deserve a spot in your To-Be-Read pile.

You don’t have to be a book blogger to participate! You can put up a Throwback Thursday post on your non-bookish blog; or if you don’t have a blog at all, just use the comments to tell us about a book you remember fondly.

And NOW! We’re expanding! Throwback Thursday is no longer limited to just books! Throwback Thursday is dedicated to shining the spotlight on any book-related old favorites that need to be remembered.What’s your favorite classic television show or movie adaptation? What about your favorite song? Was your favorite toy a character from a book?

Here’s how it works:

  • Pick any media (or non-media item) released more than 5 years ago. Remember to keep it book-related!
  • Write up a short summary (include the title, author, and cover art, if applicable) and an explanation of why you love it. Make sure to link back to The Housework Can Wait and Never Too Fond of Books in your post.
  • Link up your post at The Housework Can Wait or Never Too Fond of Books.
  • Visit as many blogs as you can, reminisce about books you loved, and discover some “new” books for your TBR list – or some other classic!

Feel free to grab the Throwback Thursday button code from the sidebar to use in your posts.

Thanks for participating, and we look forward to seeing which books you choose to remember!

My Throwback this week is…

Roswell, based on the Roswell High series of books by Melinda Metz

I discovered this series on Netflix a couple years ago, in my search to fill the void in my heart left by Buffy and Veronica Mars. I’ve never read the books the series is based on, but I watched the episodes like I read books, if that makes sense. As in, I couldn’t stop, and just kept starting the next episode after finishing the one before. Good thing the series is only 3 seasons long, or my family may have starved to death.

Roswell is about three aliens – Max, Michael, and Isabel – who crash landed on Earth as children, and grew up raised by humans. Max and Isobel were lucky enough to be discovered by a loving couple who wished for children of their own (Superman, anyone?), but Michael wasn’t so fortunate, and wound up in the foster system. As teens, Michael and Isabel FREAK OUT when Max uses his Alien Superpowers (because of course they have alien superpowers) to heal local waitress Liz Parker after she’s shot. Soon, Liz figures out that Max is not exactly human. And then her best friend Maria finds out. And the local sheriff smells something fishy about the whole thing. And Liz is kind of dating his son — which is inconvenient, because there is a Definite Something happening between Liz and Max.

Ugh, I could go on and on about all the things I love about this show, but I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t seen it. But never fear, if you want to gush about Roswell, I am more than happy to do that on a one-on-one basis. Just tweet at me or something, and I’ll be happy to blather on indefinitely about my great love for these characters. Especially Alex. And Kyle. And Michael. And Maria. And…well, all of them.

The show is this awesome combo of teen angst and superpowers and romance and sci-fi and mythology and secrets and puzzles and hiding and running. It is short, but at least the creators knew the show was ending, so everything wraps up pretty well at the end of the third season (although, make no mistake: I want more). And I love it so, so much. 

This is a blog hop! Link up your Throwback Thursday post below!


Film Review: Les Miserables

I think it’s safe to say that of all the movies released in 2012, Les Misérables was one of the ones I was most anticipating. This is for a few reasons:

1) I love the book

2) It contains my favorite villain of all time

3) I love the musical, and have seen it (I think) five times on stage. I’m not entirely sure. I stopped counting after a bit.

4) The production value looked incredible, like it could finally convey the visual scope of the story along with the emotional scope.

5) Anne Hathaway

After seeing it on Christmas day (and crying for a solid two hours), I came away with mixed feelings. Overall, loved it. I thought it was gorgeous, well-acted, and mostly well-sung. It hit all my emotional buttons, and was one of those movies I wanted to talk about (and did) for hours and days after.

But there were also some places where it fell short. And as a die-hard fan of the musical, I had a hard time just shrugging those things off. And disclaimer: I’m both a lifelong fan and a musician, so I may be drifting into “things no one cares about except me” territory. You’ve been warned.

First off, the casting for this film obviously, with a couple exceptions went in the direction of “well-known actors who can sing,” rather than “well-known singers who can act.”  In some cases, this was fine. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen may not have had the vocal range of their stage counterparts, but their characterization of the Thénardiers (who are pretty much the comic relief of the story, and not the vocal heavy lifters) was so spot-on that I overlooked their “singing.” Then there were surprises like Eddie Redmayne as Marius (I know that his head-shaking vibrato bothered some of my vocal-instructor friends, but I honestly didn’t notice it until someone pointed it out) or Anne Hathaway (who deserves all the awards. All. Of. Them. But more on that later). And Hugh Jackman, who did not have the vocal quality I expect for Valjean (“quality,” in this case, meaning timbre, not excellence), acted the part amazingly and sang it…well. His voice didn’t have the weight or the almost transcendent quality of Colm Wilkinson’s Valjean, but for those who have not had the music memorized for the past twenty years — which, let’s face it, is most of the movie-going audience, and I’m a bit of an anomaly — I don’t think this would be a disappointment.

But in a couple cases, I really, really wish they had gone with seasoned Broadway actors over A-list Hollywood. The main example is Russell Crowe as Javert. Don’t get me wrong, Russell Crowe is a fine actor, but he didn’t do anything acting-wise with the character that a stage actor couldn’t have done, and the singing was just not up to par with what the role requires. Here’s the thing with Javert. His character has this huge presence, both in the show and in Valjean’s life. He carries this tremendous weight of responsibility everywhere he goes, and his songs are meant to convey that. So it’s actually important to the character that he has a strong, solid baritone voice. Having to strain for the notes, or struggle for breath, weakens the character. It’s not just about how it sounds on the recording; I feel the character of Javert was done a disservice by having anyone less than a professional singer try to pull it off. Compare, for example, Russell Crowe singing “Stars” to Philip Quast (who many consider the definitive Javert) on the same song, and notice how much more gravity Quast’s version has. And as Javert is normally my favorite role in Les Mis, and has my favorite songs, having to hear Crowe sing out-of-breath and through his nose was…a disappointment.

And then there was Amanda Seyfried as Cosette, who had the look and the range, but not the support. I’m not sure if hers was a problem of casting, or just a casualty of the decision to film all the singing live. I think she would be highly benefited from a studio recording and some heavy filters. She also had kind of a Snow White vibrato, which can get grating after a bit. But this didn’t bother me as much, because honestly, Cosette isn’t anyone’s favorite character.

loved Samantha Barks’ Eponine and Aaron Tveit’s Enjolras. These are both Broadway actors who were cast in principal supporting roles, and both were amazing. I thought they may have actually been holding back a bit so as not to stick out compared to the Hollywood actors, but any time either of them opened their mouths, I was transfixed. Enjolras is my second-favorite Les Mis character, and Tveit seriously broke my heart with his conviction. Actually, all the scenes with the students made me have ALL THE FEELINGS. Probably because the students were, again, cast with stage actors instead of movie actors.

Let’s talk for a moment about Anne Hathaway. She is the huge, glaring exception to the “they should have cast singers” feel I have about this. Because she was amazing. And really, she sang her songs beautifully. She’s on screen for maybe 15 minutes, but they were the 15 minutes that stole the film. She did Fantine’s signature song, “I Dreamed a Dream,” (which you may remember from the trailer) in one take, in extreme close-up, and it’s phenomenal. I’ve never seen anything like it on film, or stage, and she deserves every award she’s nominated for. Heck, they should dream up some new awards and give them to her, just so she can have more awards. She’s that good.

Okay, getting off casting, let’s talk about the production. It’s gorgeous, in the way that “gorgeous” can sometimes mean “disgusting.” I mean, Les Misérables is very appropriately titled. Most of the characters are, indeed, miserable. So there are some truly terrible settings: the shipyard where Valjean is incarcerated, the Thénardiers’ run-down inn, the docks teeming with bottom-dollar prostitutes, the sewers, the bloody barricade. So while some places, like the church where Valjean gets his second chance, or the garden where Cosette meets Marius, are objectively beautiful settings, most of the film is in a much grittier world. But the grit is so artistic and real that it’s also beautiful.

And as far as the emotion and the story-telling, Les Mis succeeded. Beyond succeeded. It really told this amazing story, spanning both cities and decades, wonderfully well. It broke my heart again and again and again (which is what I was expecting — this is not exactly a “pick-me-up” kind of show). I started crying at the first scene between Valjean and the Bishop (probably less than 15 minutes into the movie) and did not stop until the end.

They changed some things from the stage show. Some songs were cut entirely, nearly every song was truncated in some way and much of the transitional music was eliminated (it was done well, though, and unless you have the show memorized, you won’t notice). The order of a couple songs was changed around, and at the end, they eliminated a character from the final song (it works). But it all worked for the film, and the story, and even as a musical purist, I didn’t have any problems with it.

Overall, I’d highly recommend this movie to both lifelong fans of the story or musical, or those who are new to it. It’s amazing. Yes, you have to overlook some “meh” singing, but really that turns out to be a little thing in the overall scope of the film. If you’ve been on the fence about this one, go see it. You’ll be glad you did.