Top 5 Wednesdays: Favourite Monsters/Mythical Creatures

For some reason, I found it kind of difficult to narrow this one down to specific monsters, so I decided to broaden it a bit to focus on the kinds of monsters/creatures that I like to read about. I’m not a fan of horror, but I do enjoy fantasy books which also tend to have a lot of monsters or supernatural creatures. It’s kind of funny because I wouldn’t necessarily think that I often go for books that involve any kind of supernatural or paranormal creatures, but when I look back at the books I read and even the movies or TV series that I enjoy, I’ve realized that many of them actually do involve monsters of some kind.

Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and is now hosted by Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes. The official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.

1) Witches

In my recent post recommending books about witches, I mentioned how I generally love to read stories about witches, even though I haven’t read too many. It’s kind of tough to actually consider a witch a monster since most of them are otherwise normal people, but I tend to find it fascinating when people are able to do magic. It’s also hard to classify them as monsters when the character has magical powers but is otherwise the hero of the story. I especially love stories about people learning to use their powers, and I think witches can also make very interesting and frightening villains.

2) Vampires

I should clarify that I don’t mean the Twilight kind of vampire, but more along the lines of Buffy the Vampire Slayer vampires. If you had asked me a few years ago, I would have said that I actively avoid stories that involve vampires, and to some degree that is still true. I think a lot of that has to do with the sheer volume of vampire stories, which makes it tough to weed out the kind I like from all the others. If I see the word “vampire” in a synopsis, my gut reaction is often to avoid the book, but I often end up enjoying the stories that I do read or watch that involve vampires. I think part of my interest in vampire stories is because I love reading all about vampire lore and history, and many of these books tend to have a very gothic feel.

3) Demons

I guess “demon” is a fairly generic term for a monster in general, but what I had in mind was everything from the chimaera in Daughter of Smoke and Bone to A Monster Calls to This Savage SongThis Savage Song to (once again) Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There is just such a range of kinds of demons that an author come up with, so there is lots of room for creativity and I tend to find it interesting to see how authors craft the world to explain where the demons came from and what they are able to do.  I actually really like the Buffy approach to demons where many of them are a kind of metaphor for real-life problems.

4) Ghosts

This is another one where if you had asked me a few years ago, I would have said that I actively avoid anything to do with ghosts. I’ve always been afraid of stories involving ghosts, even going so far as to hide a book I once had that involved a ghost because it creeped me out too much (I was 8), and always putting another children’s book involving a ghost on the cover upside down so I wouldn’t have to see it. Ghost stories scare me and I don’t read them very often at all, but I was surprised to realize that I’ve really enjoyed every one that I’ve read. I think there is a lot that can be done with ghosts to make a really fascinating story, and they can also range from really creepy (ie. Little Girls by Ronald Malfi) to pretty light (ie. Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol).

5) Monstrous people

Even more creepy than ghosts for me are stories about the more realistic kind of monster — monstrous people. I’m thinking specifically of stories that involve characters who do something truly horrible such as serial killers, stalkers, or psychopaths (ie. We Need to Talk About Kevin or You). These are in some ways much more scary for me because these situations are real and could possibly happen. As much as ghost stories freak me out, I can at least tell myself that they are just stories and it won’t happen. Reading about a psychopath or serial killer, on the other hand, is scary on a completely different level because at the back of my mind is always the idea that this person actually could exist. It completely takes away that level of separation that I tend to have from other supernatural monsters, and makes it horrifying in a completely different way.

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Top 10 Tuesdays: Bookstores/Libraries I’d Love to Visit

When I first saw this week’s prompt, my immediate assumption was that it needed to be real libraries or bookstores, which is something I would have really struggled with. I’m not much of a traveler, and when I do travel, bookstores and especially libraries are not really high on my priority list in terms of something I must visit. I always end up going to the bookstore every time I go anywhere, but I can’t say there are any that I know of off the top of my head that I’d love to visit. For libraries, although I might like to see them, it kind of seems silly for me to visit a library that I won’t be able to take a book out of! I decided instead to focus on some of the fictional libraries or bookstores that I would love to visit instead, if they were real.

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

1) Belle’s Library from Beauty and the Beast – I think this is the first fictional library that I ever really got attached to. Beauty and the Beast has always been one of my favourite Disney movies, and I think giving someone an entire library full of books is one of the most amazing gifts ever!

2) The Sunnydale High library/The Magic Box from Buffy the Vampire Slayer – I would have loved to hang out with Buffy and her friends in the library and read up about demon lore (although maybe I’d leave the fighting to those with superpowers). The Magic Box is not strictly a bookstore, but books seemed to be a huge majority of the shelves and I think it would have some fascinating things to read.

3) The Hogwarts Library/Flourish & Blotts from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling – The scene early on in the series where Harry sneaks into the Restricted Section of the library has always been one of my favourites, and I think the library in general at Hogwarts would be such an interesting place to visit. Flourish & Blotts, where Harry first got his textbooks for school also sounds like a lot of fun.

4) The Baudelaire family’s library from A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket – I don’t think we really get much about this library in the series since the Baudelaire’s house was destroyed, but I’ve always loved the way the children remembered their family’s library. There are actually many kinds of libraries throughout the series, but some of them are so specific that they’d be hard to have much interest in unless I liked the particular topic they focused on. The Baudelaire’s library sounded like a very comfortable place with plenty of books of many different kinds.

5) Lea’s Antiquarian Booksellers from The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield – I absolutely loved this book, and I think a huge part of that for me was the way the main character, Margaret Lea, described books and reading. Margaret works at her family’s bookstore which sells (if I recall correctly) second-hand books, and it sounded like such an interesting shop. I also remember Vida Winter’s home having quite a huge library of its own too, so that might also be interesting to visit.

6) The Lunae Libri from Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl – To be honest, I’m remembering this one more from the movie than from the book, and I’ve only read the first book in the series. The Lunae Libri is the Caster library which is kept hidden and underground, and contains many books about the Caster world that can’t be used by mortals. I guess in that sense it would be pointless for me to go since I wouldn’t be able to touch any books, but it would be very cool to at least see it.

7) The Newberry Library from The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger – I’m pretty sure this is a real library in Chicago, but I think that just goes to prove my point about not seeking out libraries. I was in Chicago a couple of years ago for a vacation, and never even thought of visiting this library. Partly, I’d want to visit it because it seems huge, and partly it’s because I think it would be really interesting to meet Henry.

8) The Letter Library from Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley – Although I loved this book in general, one of the best parts for me was reading about The Letter Library, which was a section of the bookshop where books are not for sale, but customers are encouraged to write, underline, highlight, etc. in them or leave letters in them for other people to find. As much as I hate writing in my books and I don’t really like reading books with lots of extra writing on the pages (I find it very distracting), I think this is such an amazing idea and so creative!

9) The bookshop from The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald – To be fair, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this book but it is one where the opening of a bookshop played a major role. The book is about a woman named Sara who decides to open a bookshop in a small town in Iowa and give the people around her personalized recommendations for books that she thinks would be a good fit for them. I thought the book itself got a little boring toward the middle, but the concept of a bookstore where you can go and get specific and personal recommendations is theoretically amazing (even though I tend to hate asking for recommendations).

10) The public library from Matilda by Roald Dahl – Again, I’m thinking more of the movie version than the book. This is one of my all-time favourite movies, and I remember being absolutely fascinated by a very young Matilda walking to the library alone and spending hours there devouring books — and her sense of wonder when she learned that she could actually take books home too! It definitely inspired me to visit my own local library more often.

Monthly Recommendations: Books About Witches

About a year ago, I made a Top 5 Wednesday post about books featuring witches, where I commented that although witches are one of my favourite kinds of characters to read about, I’ve hardly read any books about them. Unfortunately, not much as changed since then, since I could only think of one or two books that I hadn’t already mentioned that might fit. One of those books was an excellent graphic novel (Baba Yaga’s Assistant, which I highly recommend), and the other is a classic: The Crucible, both of which are books I’ve mentioned a few times previously. I decided to do something a little different for my recommendations this time, and kind of pre-emptively recommend some new releases featuring witches that I’m very excited for. I’m hoping these books are as strong as I expect, and these will end up becoming “true” recommendations once I read them.

Monthly Recommendations is a Goodreads group created by Kayla Rayne and Trina from Between Chapters. Monthly topics cane be found on the Goodreads page here

1) Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft edited by Jessica Spotswood and Tess Sharpe

34323814This is one of what appears to be the new trend for YA anthologies, and I’m looking forward to it because it contains stories from several authors that I’ve read and enjoyed before (Anna-Marie McLemore, Robin Talley, Brandy Colbert, and Emery Lord) as well as many that I have not yet tried. It is a series of 15 stories featuring diverse characters who are witches. The book has also been tagged as a feminist collection about the strength of women working together, and I think it is important since fear of powerful women seems to be highly linked to stories about witchcraft. This book has only been out since the end of August, but it has already received high reviews from several of the reviewers I follow. I’m always a little hesitant going into an anthology like this because I tend to find the stories pretty hit-or-miss, but considering my strong interest in witch stories, I think this one might interest me more.

2) Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton

32824058This is a very recent release, coming out just a month ago. It first caught my attention because of the beautiful cover, and as soon as I saw that it was about witches, I knew I wanted to add it to my TBR. In this book, there is a legend that says a witch made a pact with a devil, where the village will be protected if one boy is sent into the forest on the night of the Slaughter Moon every seven years. The plot synopsis on Goodreads is vague, and the book is still too new to have very many reviews, but it sounds like such an interesting storyline. I tend to enjoy stories that involve witches or towns that are affected by legends of witchcraft. I’m a little worried about this one because the few reviews I’ve seen so far have been extremely mixed, so I’m curious to give it a try for myself and see whether it will be a book that I really can recommend.

3) The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

30095464This book has been on my TBR for two years already, and I still haven’t picked it up yet! It is about a girl named Tea who accidentally resurrects her brother, and learns that she is different from other witches in her family. Tea and her brother are taken to another land for training by an older bone witch, where she must learn to wield elemental magic. This is one that I heard a lot about when it first came out, but it now seems to have pretty mixed reviews as well. This book has since become the first in a trilogy, with the second book released in March 2018, and the last one expected in March 2019. I’m always a little hesitant to pick up books when the reviews are so mixed, but I’ve been wanting to read it since I first saw it on Goodreads so I may have to give it a chance for myself. It seems that the biggest complaint is that the book is very slow-paced, which is not necessarily an issue for me if I read when I have enough time to devote to it.

4) The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

25740412This lengthy book (600 pages!) is another one that has become the start of a series. It was released in May 2017, with the second one out just about a month ago. I’m actually kind of surprised I haven’t seen any hype at all surrounding the second book. This one is about a girl named Elloren Gardner, who is the granddaughter of the last prophesied Black Witch but has none of her grandmother’s power. Elloren gets the opportunity to become an apothecary and travels to Verpax University to start a life for herself, out of the shadow of her family legacy, but soon realizes that the university is much more dangerous than she expected, especially because of her connection to the Black Witch. I’m always up for a good book set in a magic boarding school and this one sounds amazing! I remember seeing quite a bit of controversy about this one because of potentially problematic content, specifically racism, but I have also seen quite a few reviews saying the exact opposite. Honestly, the controversy has just made me more curious to see what the whole debate is about.

Top 5 Wednesdays: Favourite Villains

I had a surprisingly hard time coming up with a list of my favourite villains, even though villains are often my favourite characters in a book. I especially love characters who are morally gray and I love to find out about a villain’s backstory and what made them the way they were. I guess I can blame a part of that on being a psychology major. One of my favourite assignments in school was being asked to research a famous serial killer and look at some of the factors that might have potentially led them to make the choices they made. It was for a class called Psychology and the Law, and it was a completely fascinating assignment. I find I often take the same approach to villains in books. I love stories like Wicked and The Phantom of the Opera (the musical, but also the book in both cases) that give some context to what led the person to become the way they are, although it is a perspective that you don’t seem to see too often.

Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and is now hosted by Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes. The official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.

1) Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

444327I know the intent of this post it to try and avoid Harry Potter villains as much as possible, but I couldn’t possibly make a list of favourite villains without including Umbridge. I was actually browsing through my old blog posts from the year I started blogging, and I came across this one which describes exactly why Umbridge is so memorable, and arguably even more terrifying than Voldemort. I still completely stand by everything that I said in that post. Umbridge is so scary because she is so real. Everyone in their life at some point has come across someone like her. The kind of villain who cares more about adhering to rules than showing compassion, that blindly follows a leader without question, and always tries to gain more power while working within the system. For me, it was the university professor who showed no compassion at all when I asked for an extension on an essay due the week after two family members passed away within days of each other. It was the boss who complained that I hadn’t applied for a promotion like other staff who had been there a long time, while simultaneously telling me they were unhappy with my performance, among many other ridiculous attempts to follow rules that made little sense. It was the college professor who inexplicably sided with the group member who completely screwed over the entire project, which of course was assigned a group mark, by failing to do the work properly and refusing to communicate with any of us, and left us only with “Well, you still have time, so why don’t you go to to the library and help her fix it?” None of those people were “villains” per se, but they definitely shared some of the traits that Umbridge had, and it is why that character resonates so strongly with so many of us.

2) Count Olaf from A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

65113I wouldn’t necessarily consider Count Olaf the scariest villain I’ve ever read, but he is definitely one of the most memorable. This series is absolutely hilarious because if you think about it, it is so cartoon-ish. Count Olaf spends the entire series coming up with ridiculously elaborate plots in attempt to steal the Baudelaire’s orphans’ fortune, but he is just creepy enough to be genuinely scary. This is a man who stalks the children everywhere they go, and they are constantly looking over their shoulders to figure out where he will turn up next, especially since the adults in their lives are intent on turning a blind eye to it. The children are left completely on their own to fend for themselves and keep themselves safe, while trying to make a new life for themselves. The series somehow manages to strike a very compelling balance between humour and real danger. It is the kind of story that seems both completely ludicrous, but there is also the slight underlying layer of doubt that this could actually happen. Count Olaf, realistically, is a regular person with no particular special powers, and that’s what makes him so creepy. He uses disguises and persuasion to get what he wants, and is somehow very effective at it. He was one of the first book villains that really caught my attention, and he remains one of the most memorable.

3) Queen Elara from the Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard

22328546Elara is not necessarily a villain I would have thought of if I hadn’t read the last three books in this series very recently. Elara is a power-hungry woman with the power to read and control other people’s minds. It is this ability which makes her so scary, since she uses it to her advantage to win over the King’s heart and position herself as Queen. Elara is cruel, using her powers to force other people to do horrific things to themselves (ie. Sara Skonos) and others (Cal), and controlling and even haunting her son Maven to the point where he can’t separate which thoughts are his own, and which come from her. She orchestrates an elaborate plot to hide Mare’s abilities by disguising her as a lost Silver princess, which was done to suit her own goals. The ability to force others to do what she wants is enough to be scary on its own, and there is good reason why people with this skill are treated with suspicion at least in the various territories in the series. It is not so much the ability itself that makes Elara so dangerous, but the fact that she chooses to use it to hurt others, and especially to control the mind of her own son.

4) Amarantha from A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

16096824You know a villain is bad when they have a lasting impact on the entire series, even when they are not physically present. Amarantha is a High Fae general who developed a hatred for mortals, and is known for cruelly torturing anyone who crosses her. Like Elara, she will stop at nothing to get what she wants and is not above tricking people into giving her the power she desires. Her cruelness is seen in her treatment of Lucien, Tamlin, and especially of Rhysand. It was Amarantha who cursed Tamlin and his court in the first place, forcing him to need to find a mortal with a hatred of faeries and earn her love to break the spell, otherwise he will be imprisoned along with all of his subjects. Amarantha is cruel and vengeful, and seems to enjoy ruthlessly torturing people. She also had very powerful magic that she used against enemies, along with the abilities that all High Fae have. She is a character whose impact on those around her resonates throughout the entire series, whether she is on the page or not. You can see her effects most strongly on Rhysand, and his explanation to Feyre about his life is absolutely heartbreaking.

5) Joe Goldberg in You by Caroline Kepnes

20821614It’s not very often where a book lets us fully get into the villain’s head, so this one was particularly creepy to read. You is narrated in second-person perspective by a man named Joe Goldberg, who becomes obsessed with Beck, a woman he meets at the bookstore where he works. Joe decides to look her up on social media, and learning that she has left her accounts public, begins to stalk her and slips his way into her life as a boyfriend, using what he discovers online as a way to ensure he can present himself as the perfect match for her. What makes this book so creepy is that we are reading it entirely from the villain’s perspective, along the same lines as something like Lolita. Joe is not a good person. He obsessively stalks Beck and will stop at nothing to remove any obstacles that might be in his way. It is also especially creepy because of the way it shows the dangers of social media. Joe Goldberg is another one of those villains who are so creepy because they are so realistic and possible. As much as no one likes to think that these kind of people exist, there is still that slight chance of someone like Joe could be real.

 

Top 10 Tuesdays: Longest Books You’ve Ever Read

It’s too bad this prompt didn’t come up toward the end of next year, since I’m expecting to read quite a few lengthy books in 2019! What I found really interesting about this one is that if you were to ask me which were the longest books I’d ever read, the list I’d come up with is somehow pretty different from the actual list. I decided to just go onto Goodreads and organize my “read” shelf by number of pages. It’s not perfect, since I’m not too picky about the edition when I set books on Goodreads, so it’s possible that some of the books listed here were a bit longer or shorter in the specific version I read. It also surprised me because a couple of the books I expected to be here (ie. Inkheart, because it felt like it took me forever!) were nowhere near the top.

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Here are the top 10 longest books I’ve read, according to Goodreads:

  1. Winter – 827 pages
  2. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – 766 pages
  3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – 759 pages
  4. Breaking Dawn – 756 pages (I really don’t remember this book being so huge!)
  5. A Court of Wings and Ruin – 699 pages
  6. War Storm – 662 pages
  7. The Other Boleyn Girl – 661 pages
  8. Gemina – 659 pages
  9. Me Being Me is Exactly as Insane as You Being You – 656 pages
  10. The Once and Future King – 639 pages

No surprise that a there are a few Harry Potters listed there. There actually originally were two more, but once I updated Goodreads to the edition I had, they dropped out of the top 10.

Discussion: The Challenge Police

Over the past few years, I’ve been a part of many different reading challenges and I love to take part in the Goodreads groups that go with them to have people to talk to about the books we are all reading. One of the things I love most about reading challenges is the ability to tailor it to my own tastes, at least to some degree. As I’ve mentioned before, I prefer to do challenges that give lists of specific prompts to fulfill, and I find it so fun to cross things off the list and have the scavenger hunt of trying to find books to fit every prompt. I’m open to trying new books and the challenges give me a bit of a push sometimes to try something that I might otherwise have never picked up.

The downside of being part of these reading challenge communities though is that sometimes people seem to take things a little too seriously. Inevitably, there are a few prompts that I absolutely dread, whether because they are outside my comfort zone, they are difficult to fulfill, or I’ve already read that genre and know that I don’t like it. I’ve had examples over the years of each of these. In general, I find the reading challenge groups that I’m a part of tend to be more supportive than not, but there always seem to be a few people who take it upon themselves to be the “challenge police” and try to control what other people are choosing.

On the one hand, I get it. I’m definitely a rule-follower when it comes to these kinds of challenges, and I want the books I pick to be a clear and obvious fit for the prompt so that I’m not left questioning whether I can really cross the item off. I would imagine that people who are trying to police other people’s choices are thinking along the same lines — they think that in order to “count,” the book must stick pretty closely to the prompt. I’ve had a few books that I’ve picked in the past that didn’t quite fit, but I went with them anyway. For example, I picked one of the books in the Delirium trilogy for a prompt requiring an “adventure novel” because it came up on a Goodreads list of adventure books, and I definitely would not have considered that story an adventure. You could make a case for it for sure, but I would have preferred something that fit the prompt a little more closely. The thing is, that is my personal preference and other people are okay with looser interpretations — and that’s totally okay! 

This came up recently as well in my favourite Goodreads challenge group, since we are in the process of voting to create next year’s challenge. A prompt had been voted in earlier in the year calling for “a children’s classic you haven’t read yet.” It was kind of a surprise when that one made the list since there had been absolutely no discussion around it during the voting process, and there were quite a few comments afterwards expressing that they weren’t excited for it. At the time, keeping in mind this is after the prompt had already been selected, a discussion arose about loosening it up to state just “a children’s classic” and remove the extra restriction to only include books you haven’t read yet. Several people seemed interested, and the person who originally suggested that prompt agreed that they would be fine with changing it. However, it was never changed on the list of prompts, so I decided to ask the moderators what was ultimately decided. The general conclusion was that it could not be changed after the fact because we couldn’t know for sure whether people would have voted for it in the modified form, but the moderators might open a poll at the end of the process to see if people wanted to change it. I found that a little odd since what we were asking for was a really minor change that didn’t even exclude the original prompt — people can still choose a children’s classic they hadn’t read, but would also have the option of choosing to reread one. In the end, the discussion shifted away from interest in voting on it, and instead it was left down to “it’s your challenge, so you can loosen it up if you want to.” I personally struggle with that because I think the way it is written inherently excludes rereads, and would have a hard time justifying to myself choosing a reread when it says “that you haven’t read,” but that’s a limitation on my part. What was great though was to have so many members jump in to comment that there’s no reason for anyone to feel restricted by it, and everyone is free to interpret it as they wish. It’s my choice whether to stick to the prompt the way it is written, but at least the other option is there.

The “challenge police” tend to show up when they see people posting about books that don’t seem like a great fit for the prompt. I noticed this earlier this year with a particular prompt that called for “an essay anthology,” which led to a lot of debate in the group’s thread about what counts as an anthology vs. a collection. It seemed that the creators of that challenge assumed that people knew what was meant by anthology when the prompt was listed, since at the time they offered no further definition of what it was. Some group members seemed to be defining “anthology” in the strict literary sense of the term, whereas others took it more loosely as “a book of essays.” There was debate over whether an anthology had to contain one author or multiple authors, which was made even more complicated by someone looking up the dictionary definition of anthology, which included both various authors and one author as options. Eventually, someone from the website hosting the challenge jumped into the discussion to clarify how they were defining anthology, and stated that many of the books that members had listed above would not count. To be fair, that statement was made about a week after the challenge list was originally posted so it was still well before the challenge had “officially” started, but it didn’t quite sit right with me to have someone tell people that their choices wouldn’t count when in reality, no one is checking on their progress.

I can understand policing people’s choices if the reading challenge was some kind of contest to see who would finish first, or if everyone who completed all the prompts within the year would get some sort of prize. In that context, it would make sense to have strict criteria about what counts and what doesn’t, but that is just not the case. The reading challenges that I’m part of are challenges that people take on because they want to, and many people adapt the challenges to suit their own tastes and fit around the amount of time they have. I can understand pointing out when someone’s choice very clearly doesn’t fit the prompt (ie. reading Of Mice and Men for a prompt requiring a book over 600 pages…and I pick that example specifically because that book showed up a Goodreads list of long books), but if the choice still generally falls within the realm of what the prompt is asking for, is it really necessary to nit-pick? As another example, last year I had a very frustrating prompt requiring a book published by a micropress. Once I did some research to figure out what the hell a micropress even was, I quickly discovered that I was just not interested in any of the books I was finding, nor were they easily accessible to me. Most books that are published by micropresses (basically a small, independent publisher that produce books on a small scale) are chapbooks and most of them were poetry. I was left with three choices — skip the prompt completely, read something I had absolutely no interest in for the sake of crossing an item off the list, or adapt it to make it work for me.

As I mentioned above, I generally like my choices to be a clear example of what the prompt is asking for, but what I should also mention is that I’m more interested in what I consider the “spirit of the prompt” than necessarily following it exactly to the letter. What I mean by that is it accomplishes the same thing that the prompt itself is trying to accomplish, even if it doesn’t technically fit. So, when a prompt calls for a micropress, I decided to choose something that was published by an independent publisher that was relatively small-scale, and ended up choosing something from Swoon Reads, which is a crowdsourced publishing company where people upload manuscripts and they are read and voted on by others to decide what gets published. I decided that was close enough. For the essay anthology, I picked Everyday Sexism, which was a book of essays but not really an anthology. In this case, I was limited by my local library closing for renovations and in the process getting rid of many of the books they had in stock, so my choices were limited (unless I wanted to buy a book for the prompt, which I didn’t). I decided it was better to pick something that I had some interest in reading and that I could easily find, instead of worrying about whether it exactly fit the technical definition of anthology.

I think one of the reasons people get so offended by the challenge police is their approach. I was “challenge policed” myself once, but I didn’t take offense at all because the comment was very respectful. The prompt was for a book set in the Southern Hemisphere, and I picked a book that was set in Nigeria, not realizing that Nigeria is actually in the Northern Hemisphere. Someone very kindly pointed out my mistake, and I ended up shifting that book to another prompt and picking something else. In contrast, I saw the opposite happen this year with another member of the same group. The prompt was for “a title that is a whole sentence” and one person had posted in their progress thread about a book they had picked. Another member who happens to be an English teacher decided to criticize that person’s choice on the grounds that the title was not technically a complete grammatically correct sentence, and therefore the book didn’t count. Keep in mind that this feedback was unsolicited, although you could argue that by posting her plans on a message board, the group member was opening herself up to comments. The English teacher pointed out the mistake in quite a harsh tone, and even at one point made a statement to the effect of “Well, I’m an English teacher so I have the authority to tell you that it doesn’t count.” Needless to say, the group member became defensive and it spun out into an argument between the two of them when the person insisted on sticking with their choice. At the end of the day, this is a group where the rules are quite loose and people are welcome to adapt their challenges, so how is it benefiting anyone to try and control what they are reading?

In fact, the only context where I can see it being necessary to police other people’s book choices is when that is part of the challenge itself, and they agreed to that level of pickiness when they signed up. There is one Goodreads group that I joined because I was very interested in seeing their lists of prompts, but I quickly decided that it wasn’t for me because it had extremely strict rules about what books would count. This group runs on a points system, where members get points for completing tasks within a 3-month period, and different tasks are worth different amounts. The group has all kinds of rules about different genres and even formats. For example, books must be over 100 pages, and children’s books must be “validated” by searching for them on AR BokFinder and have a specific score in order to count. Graphic novels, comics and manga can only be used for low-scoring tasks, and have a range of restrictions on them as well. Page counts must be for the specific copy you have. E-books must be pre-approved by moderators if there is no print edition available, etc. I’m sure it makes a lot more sense to people who are actively involved in the challenge, but it seems like a lot of extra steps. And that’s not to mention the rules around claiming your points for the task — members need to post it with the task number and a task description, must link to the book on Goodreads, clarify how it fits the task if it is not immediately obvious, etc. Certain kinds of books must be pre-approved for length. In a case like this, it makes sense to have challenge police involved to make sure people are adhering to the rules, and members of this group must be well-aware of the rules when they agree to take on the challenge. Plus, earning points wins the “reward” of being able to create a task for a future challenge.

In general, I’ve found that most challenge groups are much more lenient than that, where people are free to make the challenge their own. It makes no sense to me to have people so adamantly insistent on double-checking people’s choices to make sure they are doing the challenge “properly” when there are no set rules about how it must be done. I’ve seen people get really creative and take on challenges using only children’s books, only graphic novels, all non-fiction, etc. Some people like to do 2 books per task. Some people choose their favourite prompts and skip everything else. The point of a reading challenge is to be fun and encourage people to read, and policing their choices is a very quick way to kill the excitement for most people. No one wants to be told that they are “not allowed” to read a book that they are really looking forward to just because it doesn’t seem to fit. If they think it is close enough to a prompt and they are choosing to read it, then let them. Even if you think the book doesn’t fit at all, at the end of the day, it is their challenge and they can do it their own way. If you do decide to offer a suggestion, at least make sure you do so respectfully and remember it is not your job to force the other person to agree.

Top 5 Wednesdays: Favourite Magic Systems

I’m not sure the magic system in a book is ever something I’d really paid much attention to. I love books that involve magic in general, but I can’t say I’ve put too much thought into how the magic really works. It actually surprised me recently to see a review of a book, I can’t even remember which book, where the reviewer complained that the author used elemental magic, and that it wasn’t very creative to do that. For me, as long as the magic system makes sense within the story and isn’t too complicated for the reader to understand, I’m fine with it. I don’t necessarily need to understand all the intricacies of exactly how the magic system works in order to enjoy it. It was tough for me to think of books where I remembered the magic system well enough to really classify it as a favourite, but I decided to give it a try anyway.

Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and is now hosted by Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes. The official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.

1) Buffy the Vampire Slayer

5507294-7783253832-evilI’m immediately cheating by picking something that isn’t a book, but the more I think about the magic system in the Buffy universe, the more I realize it is one of my favourites. What I love most about this system is the idea that magic always has consequences, and magic as power. We see this primarily through Willow and her abuse of  magic in Season 6, and also through Giles. I’m one of the few Buffy fans who actually really enjoyed Season 6 in general, and I didn’t see Willow’s “magic = drug addiction” metaphor as such a shock, since it had been slowly building since Season 2. We see Willow early on in the show as a very mousy, nerdy character whose confidence only really starts to grow once she starts experimenting with magic. By Season 4, she’s complaining that she’s plateaued and wants to branch out a bit more, and by Season 5 she is heavily relied on as one of the most powerful members of the team because of her magic. It is no surprised to me that she got addicted to that feeling of being powerful, and associated that power with her self-worth. She even comments later on in the series that part of her reason for using magic was that it took her away from herself, and she didn’t know who she was without it. It was a similar storyline with Giles, although we see that more through his caution now and his stories about his wild teenage years where he and his friends got in way over their heads with magic, and unleashed things they had no control over. What I took away from the magic system in Buffy is that magic itself was neither good nor bad, but it was all in how the individual chose to use it and how much control they had over it. We see Willow fully lose control and give herself over to the power in response to Tara’s death, in a way that had been hinted at a couple of times before, yet it is not because Willow herself is an evil person, nor was Giles when he and his friends played around with summoning demons. Magic in Buffy always comes with a price — whether that’s in Willow losing Tara and later her friend’s trust, or Xander’s demon summoned to make everyone express themselves (in song and dance!) trying to take Dawn as a bride in exchange…not to mention the spontaneous combustion. Power is an on-going theme throughout the show, and I think the magic system played a huge role in that.

2) The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

444327This is a very obvious choice, but this was one of my first experiences with a series that had an internal magic system, and I absolutely adored it. In Harry Potter, we got a magical world that felt so realistic and possible that it was easy to believe that it really existed. I loved how J.K. Rowling developed a wizarding world that runs parallel to the Muggle world, that was similar enough to it to still seem feasbile while still having that fantasy element that made it so intriguing. I loved how young wizards and witches had to go to school to learn how to use magic and to use it responsibly, and that there was a law enforcement system in place to make sure that people weren’t crossing the line. They have Unforgivable Curses because even in a world where people are literally able to teleport and conjure things out of thin air, there are still standards of how people should treat each other.  I also liked how all wizards and witches seemed to start out on equal footing. Harry and Hermione who grew up in Muggle households weren’t at much of a disadvantage to Ron or Neville who grew up in wizarding homes. What I loved most about the magic system is that the whole process of learning magic is presented in a way that feels so realistic and possible. I also loved how it was so broad and included so many different branches, with many different options available in terms of what adult wizards can do after leaving school. This series always gave the impression that there really could be a secret wizarding world alongside our real one, and I think the way the magic system was written was a big part of that.

3) The Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor

20706293I feel like I’ve been bringing this one up a lot lately since it is a series I finished fairly recently, but the magic system in this one was very interesting. This series is set in a world where there is an ongoing war between Seraphim and Chimaera. The majority of the magic in this series is around the chimaera’s abilities to use wishes and to resurrect others. What interested me most about this magic system is that all magic required some kind of cost, and that cost was proportional to what the magic was doing. All magic in this world requires a tithe of pain in order to work, including the wishes. We see wishes being used early on when Karou is allowed some very low-level wishes that require very little pain, but also are not very powerful. The more powerful a wish, the more is required to use them. Wishes in this world are bought through trading teeth, and take a physical form (ie. metal coins) that disappears when a wish is made, or can be combined to make stronger wishes. The other major kind of magic used is that some chimaera have the ability to resurrect others or move souls into a new body. Resurrecting someone in the same body requires teeth, but creating a new body require a tithe of pain and the soul must be stored in a thurible to preserve it until it can be put into the body. I tend to like magic systems where the magic has a logical consequence, and this one worked well for me since the idea of using pain as a cost made sense to me since it would naturally limit people’s abilities so they can’t just freely use magic carelessly. This was an incredible series!

4) Uprooted by Naomi Novik

22544764Uprooted is one of my new favourite books, ever since I read it last summer. If I’m completely honest, I don’t remember the details of it so well at this point since it has been over a year since I read it, but I remember being very intrigued by the magic system at the time. I liked that the magic was something that Agnieszka had to learn, even though the Dragon recognized that she had an inherent talent for it. The magic system was based on language and putting together syllables to create the spells. I also thought it was interesting how despite Agnieskza’s abilities, she had very little interest at first in doing magic at all and really struggled with it, although she later was able to learn a lot very quickly (some might argue too quickly). What I found especially interesting about this book is that the two characters actually used two completely different approaches to the same magic system. The Dragon uses a more categorical approach, where he separates magic into different types and memorizes the exact way to do each spell. On the other hand, Agnieszka struggles with this and prefers to use a more intuitive approach where she uses whatever “feels” right at the time, and was more likely to think outside the box instead of getting stuck on the way things were always done. It was interesting to see these contrasting approaches and how they could work together and learn from each other.

5) The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

10194157I wasn’t originally intending to read this trilogy this year, but I’d heard it was a good idea (although not essential) to read it before Six of Crows, which I was planning to read, so I decided to squeeze it in.  found the magic system in this one a little confusing at first since it is quite intricate, but once I got used to it, it was fascinating. The magic in this universe is known as Small Science, which is practiced by people known as Grisha. Among the Grisha, there are three orders: Corporalki (the Order of the Living and the Dead), Etherealki (the Order of Summoners), and Materalki (the Order of Fabrikators). Each of these orders are also subdivided based on specialization, and the abilities they have show quite the variety. Grisha can manipulate the body by damaging internal organs or taking air from their lungs or heal others; change people’s appearances; manipulate the elements such as air, water or fire; or cause physical or chemical changes. The central tenet of the system is “like calls to like” and they actually don’t see their abilities as magic at all. Instead, they view it as extensions of the natural world. I thought this magic system was very interesting because it was so different from others that I’ve read and I like how it explained where the abilities came from since it connects them to the natural world. Grisha can’t just create things out of thin air, but can alter or use things around them. It was a complicated but very interesting system, although it took quite a while to keep all the classifications straight.