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 Rise of Nine by Pittacus Lore (@harperteen)

Received an advance digital review copy from Edelweiss

The Rise of Nine is Book #3 in Pittacus Lore’s Lorien Legacies series (the first two are I am Number Four and The Power of Six), about teenage aliens with superpowers destined to save the world. If you have read my blog for more than about five minutes, you know that this concept holds massive appeal for me. Teen aliens with superpowers are awesome (as an aside, if you agree with that statement and haven’t watched Roswell yet, you need to get on that, stat). And while I think the Lorien Legacies are kind of cheesily written and won’t be touted as Great Literature anytime soon (or ever), they’re still a high-energy series of books that completely succeed in keeping me thoroughly entertained. And honestly, in a series about teen aliens with superpowers that’s ghostwritten by an alien, I’m pretty sure entertainment is the sole purpose.

The Plot (from Goodreads)

Until the day I met John Smith, Number Four, I’d been on the run alone, hiding and fighting to stay alive.

Together, we are much more powerful. But it could only last so long before we had to separate to find the others. . . .

I went to Spain to find Seven, and I found even more, including a tenth member of the Garde who escaped from Lorien alive. Ella is younger than the rest of us, but just as brave. Now we’re looking for the others–including John.

But so are they.

They caught Number One in Malaysia.
Number Two in England.
And Number Three in Kenya.
They caught me in New York–but I escaped.
I am Number Six.
They want to finish what they started.
But they’ll have to fight us first.

My Thoughts

Although the synopsis is written from the POV of Number Six, The Rise of Nine actually shifts between three POVs: John Smith (Number Four), Number Six, and Marina (Number Seven). I’m wondering if this is going to become a thing with this series. Book #1 had one POV, Book #2 had two, and now Book #3 has three. But because all of the POVs are written in the first-person and the voices really aren’t that different, it can start to get confusing. I kind of hope Book #4 reins it in and doesn’t add yet another POV to the mix.

Speaking of which, I totally thought this was a trilogy until I realized I was at the last chapter and there was no way things were going to resolve by the end of the book. Which is mostly fine, but there’s a couple plot points I can’t believe are still dangling, including the whereabouts of my favorite character. In case anyone wonders, apparently there are going to be six books. Which you probably already knew, but I didn’t.

But anyway, moving away from that, let’s talk about the book. So as I said, there are three POVs. And I’m not entirely sure they were necessary. Marina and Number Six’s voices were kind of interchangeable, until they get split up and you can tell who’s speaking based on the setting. However, that’s a pretty late-stage development, and I don’t think we needed to stick with Marina through it. Probably just John and Six’s voices would have sufficed and been less confusing. It wasn’t really a bad thing, just sometimes hard to figure out who was talking. I had to back up a page on several occasions to double-check the narrator.

As for the plot, it had all the crazy action I’ve come to expect from this series. I loved the addition of Number Nine and Number Eight to the mix. They provided some fun new powers and personalities, and I got excited every time another member of the Garde joined the group. We didn’t really learn much more about Lorien’s history in this book, which was kind of sad (I love learning about Lorien), but the increased action made up for it for the most part. I am a sucker for awesome new superpowers and gadgets and giant explosions, and there are plenty of all of the above. The best thing about this series is the action, and this book really played to its strengths.

Getting to the writing, even on the sliding scale that I use to judge writing (I’m not going to hold an action book about teen aliens to the same standard as high fantasy), I had one major gripe about the writing. Actually, it’s not major. In the grand scheme of things, it’s minor. But it irked the heck out of me. And that is the phrase “with my telekinesis”  and all its variations.

I used my telekinesis to push the plane”

“I’m able to deflect [the sticks] with my telekinesis”

“I use my telekinesis to pull on the tail of one of the helicopters”

And about a thousand other mentions of the Garde using their telekinesis to move, lift, throw, tear, float, and otherwise manipulate their surroundings.

I have absolutely no problem with the fact that all of the members of the Garde have telekinetic powers and that they use them all the time. I would too, if I had telekinesis. But since this is a thing that all of them can do, and they all use it like another extension of their body, constantly reminding us that they’re doing it with their telekinesis is redundant. If you’re ripping a helicopter from the sky, and I know you have telekinesis, I’m pretty sure you’re not doing it with your nose. It’s like saying “I kicked the ball with my foot” or “I picked up the book with my hand.” You don’t need to tell us what part of your body you used to do something. It’s assumed. Stop telling me that you are doing things in the only practical way you could do them.

Okay. Rant about telekinesis over.

Aside from that, the writing flows well, the pacing is good, and the action scenes (which are a good chunk of the book) were exciting. I enjoy this series with the same part of my brain that enjoys Michael Bay movies (admit it. Transformers was super fun). I still don’t really understand the title (we found out in Power of Six that there are actually ten Garde members, three of which died at the beginning of I am Number Four, and we met Number Nine at the end of the last book and he doesn’t do much “rising” in this one. It’s a mystery), but I don’t care too much. This isn’t a big “thinking” series. It’s about superpowers and explosions and adrenaline, and I highly enjoy it.

Content guide: Contains violence and profanity

Blog Tour: Battlefield by J.F. Jenkins + GIVEAWAY!

Book Blurb: 

Cadence, JD, and Orlando couldn’t be more different from one another. Under normal circumstances, the three wouldn’t so much as say hi to each other if they could get away with it. Then an alien crashes through the roof of their local mall, and everything changes. Not only do the three teens gain new abilities, but they’re also chosen to help fight in an intergalactic war where the next chosen battlefield is Earth.

Reluctant at first, they change their minds when the fight hits close to home. Teenagers from school start to go missing, and some are dead. Together they must learn to work together and solve the mystery behind these disappearances before more lives are lost.

Author Info:

J.F. Jenkins lives in Minneapolis where she spends most of her time creating and plotting world domination – something that has been in the works for roughly 13 years.

In her free time she works as the local coffee wench and dominates the minions of the pixilated world on her PS3.

She’s also got a little man (J Walk) and a little man trapped in a big man’s body (J Dawg) to take care of along with her two fur babies Ushi and Tibu.

She is currently unrepresented by an agency. Email jfjenkinswrites@gmail.com with questions and comments.

Links :

Blog | Twitter  | Amazon

My Review:

Battlefield had a lot of things going for it. First, the premise of an alien war coming to Earth, asking regular kids to help them fight it, and then giving them superpowers. All of this is awesome. I would totally see the movie.

Second, the characters are fun. My favorite was probably the dark and guarded Orlando, but I also liked JD and Cadence. They each had their own personalities and quirks and struggles, and I liked reading their interactions (although the dialogue was a little hard to follow at times).

It was a quick and fairly easy read, and the pacing kept me engaged. I was able to easily follow the plot and the shifts in POV between the three teens and Alan, their alien mentor.

From the cover and the blurb, I got the impression that Battlefield would be full of crazy sci-fi action and battles, and while there was some of that, most of the book was character exploration as we got to know the three teens and Alan, and as they played around with their new abilities and learned to play nice with each other. There’s nothing wrong with that; you just need to adjust your expectations accordingly.

That said, Battlefield did have a few issues that I struggled with. The first was just realism in the lives of the teens. At the beginning of the book, before they receive their powers, it is established that Cadence is not, shall we say, the sharpest tool in the shed. However, as we meet Cadence she is puzzling through her math homework, specifically this problem: x+4=6. She must solve for x.

This is kindergarten math. Literally. I have a child just starting first grade, and this sort of math is what she was doing in school last year. I don’t care how remedial Cadence’s classes are, I doubt they sent her back to elementary school.

Or then there’s Orlando and his abundant wealth. He lives in a mansion roughly the size of Buckingham Palace (okay, I made up the comparison, but to hear it described, that’s about right), complete with an entire secret wing thousands of square feet and multiple stories in size, that his sister has never noticed. Apparently she has never walked completely around the outside of their house.

Then he decides to furnish said secret wing with furniture and appliances from IKEA, and he buys two of everything so that he can tell his sister the bill was so he could decorate a different area of the house, and the bill to completely outfit the equivalent of two modest-size apartments with brand-new IKEA everything is $5,000.

Trust me, I’ve spent long enough browsing the IKEA catalog to have a decent idea of what it would cost to furnish an entire house/apartment. Twice. And it’s a lot more than $5,000, even when you are doing it with sleek but cheap Swedish furniture.

BTW: The IKEA shopping spree? Totally my dream. I’m still in mourning that I moved from a place with an IKEA to a place without an IKEA.

So those are just a couple examples of unrealistic elements that left me scratching my head, saying, “well that’s not right,” which in turn took me out of the story.

And yes, I realize I’m talking about a book with alien superpowers and complaining that math problems and IKEA prices took me out of the story. But as always, the fantastic stuff I can buy. I’ve never been to Alan’s homeworld. I don’t know what’s possible there, or what possibilities he brings to Earth with him. It’s the stuff that I’m familiar with, the stuff that’s based here that I need to feel real. And there’s a bunch of little stuff scattered throughout the story that just didn’t ring true for me. Not enough to ruin the book. But enough to take me out of the story, and I think the goal of any story is to immerse the reader from beginning to end.

Aside from the little details not ringing true, the other main problem I have with the book is that it seems to end in the middle of the story. I was actually shocked the book ended where it did. It’s not a cliffhanger, it’s not a resolution, it doesn’t follow a big action scene. It just…stops. I felt like I had just read half a book, and then it was over. It’s good that there’s a sequel, Control, because otherwise we’ll never get answers to any of the big questions raised in Battlefield.

Overall, Battlefield was a fun concept and a quick read with likable characters. No, the execution wasn’t up to the standards of some of the best YA sci-fi I’ve read (and keep in mind, I tend to be pretty nit-picky in my reading), but it was still entertaining.

Also, I had this song stuck in my head the entire time I was reading it. Now you can too. Just pretend it’s JD and Cadence dancing (not that JD and Cadence look like this, or can dance…or can they?).

Giveaway:

Enter below for a chance to win a digital copy of Battlefield from J.F. Jenkins!

This giveaway is author-sponsored and open internationally. Entrants must be 13 years old or older. I WILL be checking IP addresses, and people entering under multiple usernames WILL be disqualified.

Winners will be drawn on 8/16 and notified by email. They will have up to 48 hours to respond before a new winner is chosen.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks to J.F. Jenkins and Heather from SupaGurl Tours for letting me be part of the blog tour!

Review: Glitch by Heather Anastasiu

Glitch is the first book in a new sci-fi dystopian trilogy by Heather Anastasiu. I received it as a digital review copy from NetGalley.

Plot

Set over a hundred years in the future, Zoe lives in the Community, where humans have been implanted with technology to rid them of their emotions and dull their senses. Logic and duty reign supreme, and the population is kept calm and unified by a constant connection to the Link network.

However, recently Zoe has been “glitching.” Her connection to the Link has turned sporadic, and she has started experiencing emotions. Initially terrified, she contemplates turning herself into the Regulators to be repaired. But the more emotion she experiences, she less sure she is that she wants to be repaired.

Her situation is further complicated when she meets two more “glitchers.” One, Adrien, is a a member of the Resistance, currently working undercover in the Community to find and protect other glitchers. The other, Max, is an association from school who has very different ideas about what the glitching means for Zoe and the Community.

Additionally, glitchers’ brains have to rewire themselves to get around the Community tech,  and sometimes — like in the cases of Zoe, Max and Adrien — this rewiring leads them to develop unique and unprecedented new powers. Powers like telekinesis and shape-shifting.

Now the three of them must work together to keep themselves out of the hands of the Regulators. If they are discovered, it could mean deactivation…or worse.

My Thoughts:

Glitch is a fun, fast-paced cross between sci-fi, dystopian, and comic books. At times, it really feels like a bit of a grab-bag of pop culture. The law against emotion is reminiscent of Delirium. The superpowers-as-the-next-step-in-human-evolution plot reeks of X-Men. The villain is a hybrid of baddies from Uglies and Mockingjay. And then of course there’s the ubiquitous love triangle, which could remind you of the Twilight saga, or, you know, almost every YA book written in the last few years.

So yes, it’s somewhat formulaic. But the characters and the way they react to their world are unique, and again I must reiterate: there really are no new ideas in books. Just variations on tried and true themes. So does it bother me that Glitch reminded me of at least 5 other stories that I enjoyed? No.

Taken on its own merits, Glitch was a really enjoyable read. The pacing is quick and there’s not a ton of world-building, but it’s direct and understandable. I liked Zoe fine, although I liked Adrien more (despite his frequent and annoying use of future-expletives “cracking” and “shunting”). They jumped quickly from one perilous situation to another, with very little down time, making the reading experience akin to watching an action movie.

I hated Max, and probably my biggest complaint with the book  was the fact that Zoe cared so much about him. He was controlling, manipulative and petty. I kept waiting for the book to peel back a layer of his character that would reveal him to be someone I should care about — at all — but every time we learned something about him, it just made me dislike him more. I hope the “love triangle” aspect of the story gets kicked to the curb immediately in the next book.

I found myself vacillating between thinking the characters were behaving in a way that makes sense in a world with no emotions, and thinking there is no way they would act like this if they had no previous experience with emotions. It must have been a hard line to walk in the writing (it would have gotten old, really quickly, for Zoe to have been shocked and confused every time she felt something new, and to never have a name for what she was feeling), but sometimes it just seemed a little odd that she knew exactly what she was feeling.

For example, she seems to have no trouble identifying when she feels angry, or scared, or sad. But she is completely flummoxed when it comes to her feelings of infatuation and friendship. Granted, those are more complex feelings, but the fact that she’s able to so quickly put a name to her negative emotions while being utterly baffled by the positive ones is a bit contradictory.

The superpowers were fun, albeit not explained very well. We’re meant to understand that if a brain can rewire itself to glitch, then it can also rewire itself to have superpowers. And hopefully, you can accept that at face value, because that’s all the explanation we’re given. But in the world of superheroes, suspension of disbelief is a must (after all, other superhero origin stories include a radioactive spider bite, genetic mutation, secret ooze, and accidental exposure to a gamma bomb).

Overall, I’d recommend Glitch to sci-fi and dystopian fans looking for a quick and exciting read with some comic-y cheesiness thrown in for good measure. It’s not going to inspire deep thoughts about the nature of the universe, but it would make a pretty neat Michael Bay movie.

Content guide: contains some violence and sexual content.

Throwback Thursday (June 7) – Ender’s Game


Welcome to Throwback Thursday, 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.

Here’s how it works:
1. Pick any book released more than 5 years ago. Adult, YA, Children’s; doesn’t matter. Any great book will do.
2. Write up a short summary of the book (include the title, author, and cover art) 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.
3. Link up your post at The Housework Can Wait or Never Too Fond of Books.
4. Visit as many blogs as you can, reminisce about books you loved, and discover some “new” books for your TBR list!

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!

For this week, my Throwback is…

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.

Originally published in 1985, Ender’s Game is the story of Earth following an alien invasion that threatened to wipe out the human race. The humans were victorious — barely — and are now trying to prepare themselves in the event of a future attack. Their strategy? Start training the generals of the future while they are still children, so that when they mature, their military genius will be unrivaled.

Ender Wiggin is one such child. Plucked from his family at the age of 6 to be trained in a Battle School orbiting the Earth, Ender is the military’s best hope for defeating the Formics, should the need arise. Ender’s Game is the story of Ender in Battle School, and a world in which the future of humanity rests on the shoulders of child prodigies.

I have done a full review of Ender’s Game already, so I’ll try to be brief. I love this book mostly because of the way it explores the mind of Ender, and the psychology behind his actions. The sci-fi and alien elements certainly are cool and thrilling, but lots of books are cool and thrilling. I’ve never read another book with characterizations quite like those in Ender’s Game, and maybe that’s because most of the characters in this book are child prodigies. They don’t talk or act a bit like the children in my 6-year-old daughter’s elementary school classroom, but they don’t act entirely like adults or teens either.

Ender’s Game appeals to the part of me that wants a great sci-fi story where things blow up, the part of me that needs suspense and psychological thrills, and the part of me that just enjoys well-written characters. And Ender himself is unlike any other character I’ve ever encountered. If those things also appeal to you, I’d suggest you give it a try.

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