Standing up for “real fans”

So George R R Martin has put his foot in it again. Recently he has slammed fans as “toxic” for not being best pleased with the Game of Thrones ending. It is often such implied that those who do not like what showrunners or writers do are not real fans. We’ve been here before with the entitled fans debate– but really, I’d have thought authors would’ve grown more self-awareness in that time, not less. Yet it seems (as I have noted in other interviews) there is a common elitist disdain for the independent reviewers/bloggers/readers who share their criticism online. And, as much as I sympathise with people for wanting to be universally loved, no matter the quality of their work, I side with readers and reviewers more.

Really, this is an absurd take for so many reasons. What constitutes being a “real” fan anyway?  Obviously, you can stop liking something you used to love. And obviously a story can disappoint. Someone that criticises a work for disappointing them does not stop being the same person whose hard-earned money funded it in the first place.  

Here, Martin and the like clearly mean blind loyalty… but to what exactly? Giant corporations who are trying to get our money and offer nothing in return. So many great franchises have fallen to giant corporations eager to churn out show after show that wear their skin. Going on a rampage, destroying their previously established plots, world building and characters. Is it wrong, then, for fandoms to rise against this wanton destruction?

Particularly when the people doing this offer no new ideas or added value. The stories they steal are shadows of their former selves. They do not entertain; they annoy. They do not bring joy; they make us miserable. And they do not unite us with a common mythos; they sow division. The stories and projects under this banner of “remake” frequently disappoint. They waste our time and money. All the while, there seems to be a scarcity of funding for new and innovative projects. It’s just the same old people (Abrams, D&D etc) being given project after project- despite no one being happy with the outcomes. 

And in truth, we are more united than divided on these matters. For instance, one could say most people are united in their disappointment over how Game of Thrones ended (and other similar disasters in recent media). Even though we all desired different outcomes, most of us were quite dissatisfied (rather a funny example, but (I had a pact with a friend of mine, that whoever got what they wanted at the end of GOT had to buy the other one dinner… needless to say that never happened). Star Wars fans were, understandably not jumping for joy at the Disneyification of their beloved franchise. And, similarly, many of us Tolkien fans are not best pleased with what is happening to our precioussss. The truth is, we do have a stake in these properties, because it is our love for them that keeps them alive. We are the real fans and we are fighting back.

I think a lot of this comes from a desire to pre-empt attacks on his new show… which I shall admittedly be watching. But you can rest assured, I don’t need anyone’s permission to say whether it’s good or not.

So, what do you think? Do you think Martin had a point? What are your opinions? Let me know in the comments!

Do you really have to pay for books?

Erm yes, obviously. Sorry to disappoint all the people on twitter saying that if they didn’t like a book they shouldn’t have to pay for it. Even if you didn’t like a book- or indeed didn’t finish it- you still should pay for it. It’s simply awful to return a half-read book to a bookshop. It’s like returning a half-eaten ham sandwich to Tescos because you got halfway through and realised you wanted cheese instead.

But the point of this post is not to shame thieves people on social media who don’t want to pay for things they buy (okay maybe it is a little) but to offer another alternative to things you can do instead of stealing books:

  • Use the library
  • Go for a walk
  • Talk to your friends online
  • Basically anything- no one forced you to buy that book.

People really don’t seem to get the damage that stealing, pirating or even returning half-read books does to the industry. As I have spoken at length about the topic before, I won’t bore you with repetition, but state very simply how does anyone expect someone in this already precarious profession to make a living like this? Theft is not a small inconvenience for people who depend on every book sale just to be able to keep writing. We’re not talking about making a fortune- we’re talking about publishers allowing writers to continue series, to write more books and reward readers with their stories.

So, yes, you have to pay for the books you take home from the bookshop. And if you don’t like it, you can always go to a library.

Okay- let me have it- what do you think on this topic? Do you think I’m way off base? Or do you agree? Let me know in the comments!

Why I still like using ratings (even if they’re imperfect)

Obviously, not everyone is a fan of ratings. And that’s a-okay! I’m not writing this post to give anyone the idea that they *have to* use ratings. You don’t have to like them or even find them useful- but I personally find them a great tool for a reviewer.

Of course, a rating is not going to give you any level of detail. Of course, they are entirely subjective. BUT a rating can still be helpful as a snapshot of what someone thinks. While there is *a lot* of leeway between even a single star (or in my case banana) you can still gauge a reasonable amount from a quick glance at a rating.

Plus, for me, they can help with statistics (because as you all know I’m a stats nerd 😉). Looking at Goodreads, for example, I can quickly find out if a book is making waves or if it’s sinking. Which can satisfy a morbid curiosity (or create excellent fodder for discussion pieces 😉).

I’m not going to say that ratings are the be-all and end-all of a review. And I definitely don’t think they should be taken too seriously. However, they can provide an overall impression. Which is really no substitute for reading the review… so I guess you should do that too 😉

What do you think? Do you use ratings in your reviews? Do you love them or loathe them? Let me know in the comments! And take a banana or two for the road 😉

The NeBUloUs Topic of ARCs

I am obviously *not* the expert on ARCs. I only request one or two a year, despite being a virtual blogging veteran at this point 😉 So perhaps I should keep my trap shut and let other more experienced bloggers take the lead on this topic… but then when have I ever managed to do that? I guess it’s about time that I address the NeBUloUs topic of ARCs (and why there’s no need to get in a tizzy over them).

What “inspired” me to talk about this was the latest twitter drama: an author having what can only be described as an unhinged rant about how people with small followings aren’t entitled to arcs. Which, naturally, made me want to rant I DAMN WELL AM ENTITLED TO ALL YOUR ARCS 😉 JK I just thought “wow this is a good way to put people off buying your books darling”. And more importantly, most people don’t care about your ARCs, chill out.

Really, there are a lot of perks not being too invested in ARCs. For starters, as The Literary Phoenix pointed out in her brilliant piece “Five Reasons I Kind of Hate ARCs”, they allow publishers to continue to undervalue bloggers. While they’re seen as compensation for blogging/vlogging/whatever, they’re actually more of a free marketing tool for the publisher. Ironically, the reward for all our hard (unpaid) work is… more work?! I dunno about you, but that seems a little off balance.

Admittedly, there has been a lot of (good-natured) discussion about Tiktokers getting paid and getting all the ARCs. Which seems part of the course at this point- when it comes to blogging, there’s always someone else on some other platform getting all the perks and opportunities. Luckily for us, as Krysta @Pages Unbound wrote in her fantastic piece “I’ve Accepted That Publishers Aren’t That Interested In Book Bloggers” there are definitely upsides to this. Not being valued as commercial commodities actually gives us the freedom to write what we want and say what we actually think!! I wouldn’t trade that for all the ARCs in the world… and yes, I do realise I’m saying that as someone who’s not a part of the ARC-machine 😉

Clearly, we don’t blog for the accolades and money and prestige. And that’s why I can safely say that ARCs don’t really matter to me as a reader. I personally have no desire to read every ARC. Especially given I’m perfectly content to read from the backlist, to get to the popular books after the hype dies down and to not be tied to deadlines. Reading is supposed to be fun after all!

This is not to disparage anyone who enjoys getting ARCs. And honestly, more power to you- I know what kind of graft you have to put in to get them nowadays. That said, it’s never going to be the end of the world if you can’t get hold of the latest ARC. After all, if you’re just looking for free books, you can always head to the library 😉

So, what do you think? Are ARCs important? If so, how important? Really wanna hear your thoughts on this one!

Tiktok made me read some pretty average books…

I’m clearly an old fogey. Tiktok is not a thing I like or understand- so do bear that in mind before reading this post. I can’t say that I’m the target audience because a) I’m a millennial and b) I don’t like the snappy, bizarre-inexplicable-squeeing format for book recs. Still, I have the sneaking suspicion that there doesn’t seem to be anything special about the books recommended on there.

Aside from the books that were already popular wayyyy before Tiktok became a thing (ie Song of Achilles, We Were Liars, The Hating Game etc) I’ve only found one decent read through the endless waves of eeking and squeaking over *THE NEXT BIG THING*!

Don’t get me wrong, hyped books often have their pitfalls. However, there’s usually at least one or two gems in the latest trend of popular titles (see above for some suggestions). This time round though… I’ve got nothing. Let’s have a more in depth look, shall we?

Iron Widow– this was a big NAH for me. To put it simply, I found this book E-X-A-U-S-T-I-N-G. Maybe I’m getting old (haha definitely true) but other than the ANGST I didn’t get much emotional range from this book. I also didn’t see much growth from the main character- which I guess could make it a static hero story… except with an anti-hero, so instead of the main character staying the same and everyone learning from their positive example, everyone learns to be unpleasant from the protagonist… YEESH. Not the book for me.

Ace of Spades– I feel like this was popular everywhere, but I’m counting it, as it’s on every TikTok list and it’s a very Gen Z book (and as we’ve already established, I’m too old to be cool at this point). I’m- quite simply- not woke enough to like this book. Plus, it didn’t work as a thriller for me, since once I cracked the messaging, I knew exactly where it was going. 

Well Met– I kept reading to try and figure out who the love interest is supposed to be and why I should care… which is when I realised I should stop reading and find something less bland.

Ex Hex– great title, nice nineties nostalgia fuel, yet ultimately more forgettable than a toadstool.

You’ll be the Death of Me– okay, I should’ve known this one would do nothing for me, since I wasn’t all that into One of Us is Lying. After struggling for a third of the book to give a monkeys about the characters and the mystery, I DNF’d it and I have no regrets. 

Atlas Six– guys I don’t get the hype?! It’s a messy book with messy characters and I just… don’t care?

Love Hypothesis– annnd the one book I actually enjoyed turns out to be Rey-Lo fanfic (what are the chances?!) But seriously, it explains why I thought so much of it was flawed and couldn’t get behind the love interest. Turns out he’s based on a sociopathic dad-killer. At least she got his unlikability down to a T, even if the sex scenes made me squirm (and not in a good way).

As you can see, this is not an extensive list (if you want better research into Tiktok and its issues, definitely recommend checking out Krysta @Pages Unbound’s post on the topic). And some of this is clearly a sign that I am outgrowing YA (which I’m sure will be a whole other discussion). Either way, I’m clearly not going to be converted to Tiktok any time soon. Though admittedly, I did have the same attitude to Youtube, Twitter and Instagram… so I’m sure I’ll get into it as soon as the trend dies 😉. Until then, I’m gonna die on this hill: TikTok don’t impress me much 😉

Alright, am I missing something? What is so great about TikTok other than dog videos? Have you made any awesome bookish discoveries over there? And am I totally wrong about all these books? Let me have it!

Do I stand by my old reviews? Looking back on SEVEN YEARS of book blogging!    

Hello all! This is a post that’s been a long time coming- not least because today is my 7th BLOGGIVERSARY!!!! Can you believe I’ve been doing this for SEVEN YEARS ALREADY?!?! I certainly can’t!! And of course, that’s got me being all retrospective about my old reviews. Because written a HELLUVA LOT of them in that time!

Now, naturally, when I look back on my old posts, I have to admit I don’t enjoy it. Perhaps it goes without saying, they don’t ever seem as polished as my newer reviews. So, broadly speaking, I won’t be addressing that side of things (just know I’m *internally cringing* the whole time). I’m gonna be looking at the content and whether or not I still agree with what I said about the books. Wish me luck- I’m gonna need it!

(NB: The pictures will all link to the original reviews, so feel free to check them out for reference).

As I Lay Dying– I don’t care how many times a random stranger tells me that I “didn’t get” how genius this book is, I still think it’s shit and I stand by my review. It’s plotless, stuffed with uninteresting characters and pretentiously written. I do not think this book was “ruined for me” by bad teaching or whatever nonsense someone wants to throw at me- I just think it’s bad.

The Fault in Our Stars– I was almost too kind in my review… and I didn’t say anything positive about it 😉 Maybe I’d be more forgiving if this book didn’t exploit Anne Frank for clout… but it does, so I’m never gonna forget how pretentious this book is. Also, I once saw Green state in a video that he only believes in positive reviews, so I’m never taking this down 😉

Bronze Horseman– yeah this book still sucks. I definitely could have been more concise in my review- but I stand by the gist of it.

Throne of Glass– okay, now we’re getting into some juicy stuff, because we’re talking about books I liked at the time, yet no longer care for. Reading back these positive reviews feels a bit cringey. While I still stand by some parts- like the fact it was cool to have a protagonist who wasn’t a stereotypically “nice” girl- it’s hard not to think about where said character ended up (being a really bland “chosen one” stand in). I essentially stand by what I said, because it’s how I felt at the time, and I don’t think it’s fair for my current perspective to taint that.

Eye of the World– ahhh now this one is curious, because in an unbelievable turn of events, I ended up rereading this book recently. Annnnd I still had the same trouble with the writing and desperately thinking that the story needed editing. BUT there was clearly enough intrigue in the story for me to want to give the Wheel of Time series a second try. So, I guess I’ve softened with this one, recognising that I can see why other people like it.

Lonely Hearts Hotel– oh dear- this is one of those books I wish I’d never read. I don’t want to have written a negative review about it, because I feel like I was miss-marketed the story. That said, there’s enough objectionable content in the book that I have to stand by everything I said about it.

Woman in the Window– ehh, really hard one to talk about! I try to judge a book separate from the author as much as humanly possible… however I’d have to have been living under a rock not to have heard about what was going on behind the scenes! Aside from that, while I still think the writing was stellar, watching the movie and reading/seeing other reviews has made me rethink how well I rated this book. Despite the fact that I like the motifs, the story is just not that great. This is probably the closest I’ve come to fully wanting to retract an old review!

Maidens– still, there are plenty of times when I see negative reviews and don’t change my mind! Although this is a more recent read, I’ve included this because I’ve seen *a lot* of criticisms of this book and I just don’t agree. I find it a very richly written thriller with a dark edge, elevated by its mythological references.

Beartown– when I was planning to do this post, I was thinking about this review as one I regretted. After feedback, I felt like I was perhaps too harsh on the book and the way it handled sensitive topics. And then I read Night Swim. Unfortunately, I had much the same critiques, being frustrated with its take on the legal system and its desire to overturn judicial principles like “innocent until proven guilty”. So while I wish I’d handled the topic with more sensitivity… I still haven’t changed my mind about the actual book.

The Queen’s Thief Series– it’s not all bad news though! While I had mixed feelings about this series, looking back on my review, I found it to be pretty nuanced. It’s safe to say, I had a *strong* reaction to this series- and I think the review I wrote covers that! (in spite of my rather misleading title for the review 😉 )

Sadie– if anything, I wish I could have hyped this book more! Looking back on my super positive reviews like this, I TOTALLY stand by everything I said. My only issue is that I can’t do stories like this justice! They deserve more hype!!

And that’s all for now! There are so many more reviews I could’ve talked about, but hopefully I covered a good range! What do you think? Do you think my assessment of these reviews was fair? And do you ever change your mind about old reviews? Let me know in the comments! I’m dying to hear your thoughts on this!

Being a “Bad Art Friend” – An Unpleasant New Writing Trend or a Tale as Old as Time?

Recently, I went to a writing group, where a fellow writer told me how she got her inspiration. She was writing the story of a friend of a friend losing her virginity at 28. “When my friend told me the story, I just found it so funny, I had to write it into a novel,” she told me. And I cringed. The idea of such a personal story being relayed to the world is a lot of people’s worst nightmare. And the fact that the person poaching the plot was a complete stranger (thereby obviously not having permission to tell it) didn’t make me feel better about it.  

But it did get me thinking… how bad is it to pinch parts of someone else’s life story? Is it ever okay?

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the “Bad Art Friend”- a complicated tale of a personal story being plagiarised (and consequent law suits). A lot of people cannot decide who exactly the “Bad Art Friend” was in that situation (since this certainly seems to be a case of writers behaving badly). Nonetheless- whichever side I am on- there’s something deeply uncomfortable about taking someone else’s story in order to mock them. I cannot help but be reminded of Music and Lyrics, where Drew Barrimore’s character has been traumatised by such an event. Naturally, as the audience it is impossible not to empathise- for who would want to be the laughing stock of the world?

Which makes this seem like a cut and dry case- except it’s clearly not. Because isn’t this just something writers and artists do? Drawing from real life is quite possibly the oldest tradition in writing. We all have poets and singers we admire who openly write about real life people. And while artists like Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran may have been criticised in recent years for this practice… it’s not like it’s a new phenomenon. People scour Shakespeare’s sonnets for evidence of the real people they were about. Thomas Hardy knowingly took details from real life cases he read about in newspapers to add realism to his stories. And what of historical fiction, cannibalising the lives of real figures in history and reproducing them for our entertainment. Indeed, even I am engaging in this practice by sharing my anecdote at the start of this piece!

Sadly, I don’t think there is an easy answer here. If you argue that you should obscure the references, keeping identities secret like Carly Simons did with “You’re So Vain”, you underestimate the innumerable fan sites dedicated to decoding songwriter’s every word. And if you suggest only writing nice things your victims subjects, then you ignore the likes of Christopher Robin, the star of Winnie the Pooh, who famously complained about being foisted into the spotlight against his will. And retribution for those whose stories are stolen seems out of the question- lawsuits don’t help you win allies and plotting murder like in the (hopefully entirely fictional) Plot seems a bit extreme 😉

It seems to me that there is no way around absorbing parts of our lives into our stories and art. There is no obvious dividing line where truth becomes fiction after all. But perhaps we can still endeavour to treat people with basic dignity and respect. Perhaps there are some stories that we ought to leave well enough alone. Perhaps the only conclusive advice I can offer is this: don’t be a dick. Which is sound advice in general 😉

For more on this discussion (and somewhat different takes) check out these videos:

All of this leaves me in quite the conundrum- so I’d like to hear what you think! Is it ever okay to fictionalise someone else’s story? Can you entirely avoid drawing from real life? Let me know in the comments!

It’s okay to collect books

She says as she unhauls a few more books…

Of course, the main reason I’m clearing out these books is to make space for even more books 😉 As many of you will doubtless agree, there’s an immense pleasure to be had from perusing and purchasing *pretty new books*. I love going into a bookshop and being hit by that beautiful new book smell, looking at all the glossy new covers and growing my tbr with books I never intended on reading before. And of course, this is not an endorsement of mass consumerism and I will always be a BIG FAN of libraries- yet I have come to see that of all the vices to have in this world, collecting books is not that bad.

To start with, books are beautiful. Inside and out. Judging by the way the market has gone, booksellers agree that making a cover as gorgeous as possible is the best way to get that book onto our shelves. And they’re not wrong! I am easily swayed by a lovely cover. Not just for books I plan to read either- I’m a big fan of collectibles, especially for my favourite books. Most recently, I was gifted this gorgeous edition of the Hobbit:

Rereads are made all that more special with a nice new edition or an old nostalgic version! As much as the words are the same, I rather enjoy a physical copy that carries some memories or creates new ones. I may never experience the same story for the first time- but I can experience it fresh eyes and a different copy 😉 And these books become so precious to me (gollum style… except no one’s throwing them into Mount Doom on my watch! 😉 )

And personally, I love exploring what books other people have on display. If people can get over how nosy I am about what they’re reading, then it’s a great conversation starter 😉 And as someone who doesn’t always like to venture outside my own habitat, seeing bookshelves usually makes me feel at ease (unless of course the only book they own is mein kampf 😉). People’s bookshelves are often a wonderful insight into their personality.

Obviously, this goes beyond mere decoration (I’m not some celebrity ordering books by the yard 😉). And as much as I do feel rather special picking up a swish edition, it’s not all that necessary (especially considering most of my books are tatty and old). Collections of books are valuable in a way that goes far beyond monetary value. Here’s a shocking revelation: it’s the words inside that matter (and the words I’ve then written above those words cos I’m all for writing in books 😉) What you’re really collecting is the stories themselves. Inside is the accumulated wisdom of the author, their weird idiosyncrasies and their most preciously held thoughts. And I just love being able to support those authors as much as humanely possible.

So, what do you think? Do you enjoy collecting books? Am I preaching to the choir here or do you have a different view? Let me know in the comments!

I Lied to You – All the Books I Promised I’d Give Away… But I Actually Kept!

Nearly two years ago I did my harshest unhaul yet and was really proud of myself for getting rid of a ton of books… Annnd then I decided to keep a bunch of them! 😅 While I was spring cleaning this year, I discovered a lot of them were still in storage and (clearly) I have little-to-no-intention of actually giving them away. I do think there are some in this secret stash I might get rid of some day… but it is not this day! 😉 Let’s discuss why I went back on my word, shall we?

Kingdom of Ash– okay I’m still pretty torn about this one. On the one hand, I didn’t like the lacklustre ending in this book and have consequently fallen out of love with the series. On the other hand, I do like a nice signed copy and the memories I have of going to the book event where I got it still excite me on some level. I’m just so undecided over whether I will get rid of this one day!

Apocalypse– again, this is a case of “it’s signed and I remember getting it signed”. Even if I never loved this book (heck I don’t even like it) I just can’t bring myself to get rid of it right now. Also, as I was going through these books, I had a weird urge to reread it and see if it has any merit that my teen-self missed… Although- with that in mind- I may actually need to get rid of this book to prevent myself from doing anything stupid 😉  

Blood Bones and Body Bits– yeahhh this is definitely a case of being overly sentimental with this one. HOWEVER, in my defence, it was my first ever signed book!! And let’s face it, the Horrible History/Horrible Science series still slaps (I may just give it to my nephews).  

Deenie– I kept for sentimental reasons. I LOVED Judy Blume books as a teen and I still have so much respect for her as a YA writer, doing so much to normalise what it’s like to go through puberty as a girl in particular. I’m holding onto the fond memories I have of reading all her books, so I won’t be letting go of this book for the time being.

Nemesis– I don’t feel remotely guilty about keeping these books (okay, maybe a little bit). At the time of the Great Unhaul (That Wasn’t Quite So Great) I said I was unsure about these ones. Turns out, I didn’t want to part with this series. I LOVED these books back when I read them. And sure, I might be older (though sadly not wiser), but I can’t seem to outgrow my love for this completely underrated YA series! I just had way too much fun with it!

And that’s all for now! I’m going to go and hang my head in shame and think about what I did! But I want to hear your thoughts before I hide away from the world. Have you ever changed your mind about an unhaul? Or do you think I’m being overly sentimental here? Let me know in the comments!  

Books Set in the Pandemic- yay or nay?! Discussion inspired by Pages Unbound

Last month, I read a brilliant discussion by Krysta @Pages Unbound about why she won’t be reading books set in the pandemic and it got me thinking… do I feel the same?

When things first kicked off in 2020, I definitely did. Pandemic books seemed like poor taste cashgrabs and I felt awkward about reading them. I favoured books with heavy doses of escapism and distraction. And while I was drawn to older books set during pandemics- I didn’t actually end up enjoying them. I realised quite quickly that it was the wrong time for that sort of thing.

AND YET- I still hesitate to say I don’t want to read books set in the pandemic. Because as time has dragged on, I’m being to feel like a lot of books have this gaping hole where COVID should be. As much as I don’t want to be reminded of the crap that’s going on right now… I also can’t deny that it’s happening. I feel like it’s beginning to feel a little weird to have this MASSIVE global event not mentioned at all. And, to my mind, contemporaries and thrillers set in 2019 is only going to work up to a point (especially when we as the readers are suffering from the dramatic irony that none of the events of the story will matter a few months after its set…)

Realistically, it may be impossible for authors *not to* mention it. After all, writers love to dissect the world through literature- and it would be absurd if this was the one time in history that didn’t happen. If people could write about world wars and oppression and other unspeakable horrors while they were happening- why not this? It not only serves as form of catharsis, but also a historical marker to have fiction written about events as they unfold.

Perhaps there is a comfortable in-between- I’ve already started to see some recent releases that quietly mention the pandemic and then move on. It doesn’t have to be a big part of the story or detrimental to the plot or even that big cathartic moment I’ve been talking about. Only, it is there. And that may be what I’m looking for. Because while I think I will need books on the pandemic soon… it’s probably fair to say that it’s “not this day”.

That’s all for now! I HIGHLY recommend checking out Pages Unbound’s take and their blog for more fantastic content and deep discussions!

And I’m super curious to hear what you think? Do you want to read books set during the pandemic?