Let’s Talk Bookish: Reading Outside Your Target Age Group

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Eternity Books. This is my first time participating, and I’m looking forward to participating in more of these in the future.

This week’s prompt is: Should readers read books that aren’t for their target age?

Examples of this are adults reading YA books, teens reading adult books, or children reading YA/adult books.

I’m of the general opinion that people should read whatever they like reading, regardless of whether they’re a member of the target demographic or not.

The exception to this might be children reading certain adult books. That said, far be it from me to police a child’s reading choices; that’s up to the parents. I don’t have kids nor do I ever want them, so I’m not going to touch this except to say that as a kid I was allowed to read whatever the hell I wanted, but I mostly stuck to my own age group by choice because I figured adult books would bore me. I wanted to read stories about kids doing exciting things. And, you know, I think I would have turned out fine even if I hadn’t stuck to those books.

In general I don’t see a reason to stick to one particular type of book just because you fit the target demographic.

Now, I might be biased. I occasionally read YA still even though I’m technically not a part of the target demographic (that said, is it just me or does the target YA audience seem to be trending older and older?) Heck, there are even some middle grade books that have piqued my interest. And in that same vein, I remember being a teen and not wanting to read YA anymore because I felt it was too juvenile (I feel like most readers go through a phase like this at some point) but I also didn’t want to read adult books because I had this idea in my mind that they’d be boring. Now that I’ve matured, I know that there are some juvenile YA books, but that’s not the whole landscape of YA, and there are some boring adult books, but that’s not the whole landscape of adult.

I think that there are a few different dynamics working to keep people reading only in a certain age group.

First, is the stereotypes associated with each grouping.

Some teens and young adults might think adult books are boring. I blame school for this. I myself have avoided the Classics genre like the plague since I finished school because it just reminds me of high school and being terribly bored and reading the sparks notes instead of the actual books for assignments, or else feeling like certain books were torture. To this day, I’ll tell anyone who listens about how much I hated the book Jane Eyre, though I occasionally wonder whether I’d have hated it as much had I read it on my own. There are books I had to read for school that I liked, but none that I loved. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein comes to mind as a book I liked but might have loved had I read it in my own time and in my own way.

It’s only now, 5 years post-high school, that I’m starting to think about reading any classics on my own.

On the other hand, YA books have a certain stigma to them (probably because they’re mostly enjoyed by young women and teenage girls, but that’s a topic for its own post.) On threads in book-related subreddits, I still see people referring to YA as a “genre” (which, isn’t the correct term, it’s literally just a way to group books with specific themes like coming-of-age stories) filled with vampire or paranormal romances, which 1.) isn’t even true these days, and hasn’t been the case for probably almost 10 years, and 2.) even if it were true why do people feel the need to shit on paranormal books or romance books? The people perpetuating this stigma often do not read YA, because if they did they’d realize that just like with adult books, YA books offer something for all readers.

That brings me to the second point, of people putting themselves into boxes.

People who answer this question and say that people should only read inside their own target age groups are probably adults who only read adult books. They’re on par with the pseudo-intellectuals from the book-related subreddits who turn up their nose at the mere mention of “Young Adult.” Some of them probably make wild claims of having been reading adult books since they were 5 years old to sound impressive.

At the end of the day, if you choose to only read books aimed at your age group that’s totally your choice. In my opinion, you’re just holding yourself back from reading more and from reading outside your comfort zone and maybe even from finding a new favorite book.

But whatever you personally choose to read shouldn’t dictate what everyone else decides to read.

Tome Topple TBR

Tome Topple is a readathon hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. This is the 9th round of the readathon, and the only rule is to read books over 500 pages, but there are other optional prompts. This round takes place from November 9 – November 22. Here is a link to the announcement video by Sam, and a link to the readathon’s twitter page.

I’ve picked 3 books just to be well-rounded (and because they’re all the books I own longer than 500 pages that I haven’t read yet, it’s very lucky that they happen to fit the prompts lol) but I’m only really planning on finishing one and if I get to a second one it’ll be like an extra successful tome topple for me.

The books I’m planning to choose from are:

#1 Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

This fills pretty much all the prompts except one, and it’s the one of these three books that I’m definitely planning on reading the entirety of for this readathon. This is an adult book, it’s a part of a series, and it’s has been on my TBR the longest. The only prompt it doesn’t fit is being in a genre I don’t normally pick up. I don’t read a lot of Sci-Fi, but I definitely read enough that it’s probably still in my top 5-10 genres overall. This is the book I’m prioritizing for this Tome Topple round, so if I only finish one book… it’ll be this.

#2 The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

This is another adult book that’s been on my TBR for a while, though not quite as long as Leviathan Wakes. It’s also a Sci-Fi/Fantasy book, so not in a genre I don’t normally read. I’m including this though just as a nudge at myself like… hey remember this book you were excited to buy like over a year ago and still haven’t touched? Remember that book? You should read it.

#3 A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara

This is an adult book, and it’s literary fiction which isn’t something I read frequently. It’s not a genre I never read, but it is a genre I’ve been avoiding lately so I’m going to say that it counts for the prompt of a genre I don’t normally read. Last time I attempted to read this book it put me in a reading slump. I think that it might fit the mood of November better than it did the summer, though, so hopefully that won’t be a problem this time around. I’m planning on starting it from the beginning again for this readathon if I get around to picking it up again.

That’s it for my TBR! I’ll be lucky if I manage to finish one of these long books. If you’re participating in this round of Tome Topple, let me know what you’re planning to read for it in the comments!

Down the TBR Hole #6

My Goodreads TBR needs desperately to be cleaned out, so I’m doing these posts until I feel it’s manageable, or until I’m back at the beginning of the list.

The Rules

  • 1. Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf.
  •  2. Order on ascending date added.
  •  3. Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books.
  •  4. Read the synopsis of the books.
  •  5. Time to Decide: keep it or should it go

I’m adding my own twist on this and adding a 6th piece: if I’m on the fence about a book after reading the synopsis, I’ll read the preview of a book and make that part of my decision.

Blanca & Roja

#1 Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore

[Goodreads Link]

This is a YA retelling of Swan Lake with LGBT elements and that sounds right up my alley. As a dance nerd, I wish there were more retellings of stories that are famous ballets because some of them are so good and have so much potential. (I mean, honestly, how many Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast and Snow White retellings do we need? There are other– frankly more interesting– stories out there.) Anyways, this is for sure a book that I don’t want to forget about because I would like to eventually give it a chance.

VERDICT: KEEP

The Astonishing Color of After

#2 The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

[Goodreads Link]

I have had mixed experiences with magical realism as a genre. But the overall story of this book, which is about grief and family and coming-of-age, makes me hope that this will be on that I connect with. I don’t tend to pick up many books like this in the fall/winter months, so maybe I’ll get around to it next Spring. Funny this was on my original Asian Readathon TBR back in May, I just sort of… failed miserably at that Readathon so. But yeah, in my own time, I’ll definitely get around to picking this up.

VERDICT: KEEP

Daisy Jones & The Six

#3 Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

[Goodreads Link]

This is a book I was excited about when it first came out, but since then I’ve heard multiple mixed reviews about it, and some of the less-than-perfect reviews have sort of made me wary. I do have the audiobook saved on Scribd so hopefully I eventually get around to this. But if a large amount of time goes by and I haven’t read this, I’m going to just cut my losses.

VERDICT: KEEP (for now)

Freshwater

#4 Freshwater by Awaeke Emezi

[Goodreads Link]

This is a book I added to my TBR when I was trying to get into literary fiction and I was (loosely) following a couple of awards. I believe I found this one through the Women’s Fiction Prize longlist. I have been trying to find a Nigerian author that I like, and have been unimpressed with the last couple I’ve tried, so almost for that alone I want to give this book a chance.

VERDICT: KEEP

Assassin's Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy, #1)

#5 Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

[Goodreads Link]

Okay so this is actually fairly high on my priority lists as in it’s a book I haven’t yet bought or solidly committed to, but I regularly think about it and how I really want to give it a chance and hopefully fall in love with Robin Hobb’s writing and the whole Realm of the Elderling series. So with that in mind, there’s definitely no way I’m getting rid of this book.

VERDICT: KEEP

Once again I have kept 5 books and parted with 0. I’m hoping as we get further down my Goodreads TBR that I start to get into posts where I keep 0 books and get rid of 5 to make up for how little I’ve cut from my TBR so far.

Review: A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson

A Nearly Normal Family

Genre: Thriller

Publisher: Celadon Books

Date Published: June 25, 2019

My Rating: ★★★★

A Nearly Normal Family is a legal thriller that takes place after Stella Sandell is arrested for murder. It takes place in three parts, the first part of the book is from her father’s point-of-view, and then Stella’s, and in the end we get her mother’s. The book tries to explore whether members of the same family know each other as well as they think, and where the limits of loyalty lie.

I rated this five stars not because it’s flawless, because it’s not, but because it was the first book in a long time that had kept me captivated enough to finish it in one day, because it did everything it set out to do, and because I fell in love with the Swedish family at the center of it all.

This book is translated from Swedish, and so the writing is a tough thing to talk about. There are parts of the book where the language seems choppy and doesn’t flow perfectly, which would bug me a lot in a work that was originally written in English, but I don’t know the difficulties in translating Swedish to English and keeping all the nuances of the narrative intact, so I was willing to overlook it. Plus, it was a huge improvement from the last thriller and first-person narrative I read which was originally written in English and which I DNF’ed.

The plot itself is pretty typical for a legal thriller. There was a murder, a suspect is being tried, but did they do it? And if they did will they be found guilty?

Admittedly, one of the interesting parts of this book was reading about Swedish prisons and the legal system in place. I don’t think any country has found the magic formula for a fool-proof system, but it was interesting to read a story written by a Swedish man that touched on how things worked, what the general population in Sweden thinks about their own legal system, and how prisoners are treated. This is still a work of fiction though so everything I read was taken with a grain of salt.

The twists in the plot aren’t super unpredictable. They were fun, sure, but it wasn’t quite a roller-coaster. I didn’t mind that at all though, and I still enjoyed this immensely even if I did start to work it out for myself before the ending. Half the fun though is the anticipation of finally getting the confirmation of being right.

What really kept me reading, though, where the characters. The further you get into this the more you learn about the night of the murder and what happened leading up to it, but with each perspective you learn more and more about the family.

When you read from Adam’s perspective you think he’s just a protective father who loves his daughter, though some of his decisions were frustrating, part of me actually thought he was justified.

That being said, my favorite part of the book was the middle. Stella’s perspective because the most surprising part of the whole book was how much I liked her. I don’t want to give away too much, but, in my opinion she reads like a teenage girl, which isn’t a perspective I often find is done well by adult male authors.

I don’t want to say too much about what I liked about them because in a way, the twists are as much about the family and how we see each of its members as we find out more about what happened leading up to and in the aftermath of the murder as they are about the murder case itself.

I’m hoping that this author continues to write and that his works continue to be translated into English because I’d love to read more of his stuff. Maybe the translations will lose their choppiness as time goes on as well.

I’d highly recommend this book, it’s one of my favorites that I’ve read in 2019.

Down the TBR Hole #4

My Goodreads TBR needs desperately to be cleaned out, so I’m doing these posts until I feel it’s manageable, or until I’m back at the beginning of the list.

The Rules

  • 1. Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf.
  •  2. Order on ascending date added.
  •  3. Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books.
  •  4. Read the synopsis of the books.
  •  5. Time to Decide: keep it or should it go

I’m adding my own twist on this and adding a 6th piece: if I’m on the fence about a book after reading the synopsis, I’ll read the preview of a book and make that part of my decision.

Now that I’ve gotten all that out of the way, let’s just get started.

The Test

#1 The Test by Sylvain Neuvel

[Goodreads Link]

I’m definitely still intrigued by the sound of this, but I don’t feel particularly pulled to it. This is one of those ones where I’ll let it stay for now, but if I end up with it on a future Down the TBR Hole post (if I ever manage to get through my current TBR as is), it’s got to go.

Verdict: KEEP

For Better and Worse

#2 For Better and Worse by Margot Hunt

[Goodreads Link]

I got this in a Book of the Month box as an add-on awhile ago and still haven’t read it. I definitely do want to get around to it, and it might be something I read next month; it’s definitely not fitting onto my current plans for October anyway.

Verdict: KEEP

Heroine

#3 Heroine by Mindy McGinnis

[Goodreads Link]

I don’t read a lot of YA contemporary, so I’m hesitant as to how this book might handle the topic of drug addiction (which is probably an unfair generalization of YA contemporary on my part.) However, given the issues like the opioid overdose crisis affecting people close to me, this is a book that I’m interested in reading. It is something that needs to be talked about and discussed more, and I really do hope to read something that does the issue justice. One day I’ll get around to this.

Verdict: KEEP

Miracle Creek

#4 Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

[Goodreads Link]

This was another Book of the Month box for me. I honestly just haven’t been reading very many thrillers lately but this one I already own so hopefully I’ll get around to it sooner rather than later. I remember being very interested when I first picked it up I just… haven’t been reading this genre, unfortunately. Hopefully I’ll read more of them soon because I certainly have a lot of them to get to.

Verdict: KEEP

Once Upon a River

#5 Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

[Goodreads Link]

After re-reading the synopsis for this, I remember why I added this to my Goodreads TBR in the first place and that’s because it sounds exactly like something I’d love. I’ll have to read it this winter sometime, because it sounds like a great wintertime story.

Verdict: KEEP

So this was a rather boring rendition of Down the TBR hole because I’ve kept 5 books and gotten rid of 0. I swear there’s definitely books on my Goodreads TBR that need to be culled, I guess they’re just… futher down the list than I expected. So far all these posts have done are make me wish that there were more hours in the day to read so I could get to every single book.

Fall Time Book Tag

It’s been a little while since I’ve done a book tag, and I love all things fall, so I figured why not do a book tag that’s dedicated to my (and many others’) favorite season?

The original tag was created by Sam’s Nonsense on Youtube, and you can find it here.

Crunching Leaves: The world is full of color – choose a book that has reds/ oranges and yellows on the cover.

I’m going with Windwitch because I just really like the composition of reds and oranges on this cover. Also as a reminder to myself to finally read Bloodwitch. I liked this one more than book one, so hopefully this series just keeps getting better?

Cozy Sweater: It’s finally coll enough to don warm cozy clothing – what book gives you the warm fuzzies?

The Dream Thieves. Wow, and just like that, this post already has more YA in it than any other post I think on my entire blog. Anyway, I read the books in the series that were out at the time right after my freshman year in undergrad and The Dream Thieves still sticks out to me. This book also has some tangentially related memories it brings up for me, plus Ronan is one of my favorite characters in the series. I love the whole series, even though I do have a lot of criticisms of it, but if I could only pick one book to read it would be this one. I do want to re-read them before Call Down the Hawk comes out.

Fall Storm: The wind is howling & the rain is pounding – choose your favorite book OR genre that you like to read on a stormy day

I don’t know why, but the word stormy just makes me want to read thrillers. It’s been way too long since I picked up a thriller (I think the last one I read was in March?) but I am hoping to pick up a couple once I finish the book I’m currently reading. Horror might be a good choice too on a stormy day, particularly in fall as we’re getting closer to Halloween. In fact it was raining today and I got a good chunk of the way through ‘Salem’s Lot so yeah. Thriller or horror would be my genre of choice for that weather.

Cool Crisp Air: What’s the coolest character you’d want to trade places with?

I would not want to trade places with most characters I read about, considering that in a lot of the books I’ve read recently my favorite characters have either died or witnessed their closest loved ones die. Still, I’ll say Nona from the Book of the Ancestor series (Red Witch) because, fuck yes, I’d love to be trained by assassin nuns to become an assassin nun. What could be cooler than that?

Hot Apple Cider: What under hyped book do you want to see become the next biggest, hottest thing?

I feel like by nature of this question I have to pick a new release? This year I’ve only read 4 recent releases< Of those, 2 were way over-hyped and not very good at all. 1 was good enough, and the last one I haven’t seen talked about much so I’m going with Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. It’s certainly not a new favorite of mine but I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable I found it, plus I’m all for own-voices stories, and stories about criminally ignored myths or folklore (in this case, the Mayan gods.)

Coat, Scarves, and Mittens: The weather has turned cold & it’s time to cover up – What’s the most embarrassing book cover you own that you like to keep hidden in public? 

None of them. TBH if I think a cover is embarrassing I either won’t touch the book, or I’ll get it from the library. I know this is a very superficial thing to be worried about, but I also don’t care. This was months and months ago, but the most recent example I can come up with is that I got Red, White, & Royal Blue from the library because the pink was just too much. I feel like embarrassing covers would be more of a problem if I read more romance (or, I guess, erotica) just by its nature, but I rarely pick that genre up so.

Warm, Cozy BonfireSpread the cozy warmth – Who do you tag? 

Anyone reading this! And let me know in the comments if you do it after you read mine, so I can read yours too.

Review: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut, #1)

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Tor Books

Date Published: July 3, 2018

My Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Normally, I don’t like having to defend my opinions on books. After all, there’s no accounting for personal taste. But, I do feel like I have to defend my position here a little bit. First, there’s a couple things you should know about me before reading my review of this book. First, I’m a feminist. Second, I have a degree in physics. Also, Hidden Figures is one of my favorite movies of all time.

So I’m fairly sure that this book was written for someone like me. I was convinced before starting this book that it was going to be a 5-star read, maybe 4-stars if there was some flaws or it didn’t emotionally connect because how could a book about women in a space program eventually living in space possibly disappoint me that badly?

Well, it managed to disappoint me that badly. And I’ll tell you how.

Per usual I’ll start with writing style. The writing of this book isn’t bad per se, but I also wouldn’t call it good. It’s fairly mediocre. On top of that it’s written in first person which generally isn’t my cup of tea to begin with. I do understand why the first person choice was made though, so I’m not going to dock points for that. Anyway, the writing style never really shines anywhere, but it really flounders during the sex scenes between the main character and her husband. Like, those were so bad I had to pretty much skip over them because I wouldn’t have been able to keep going… luckily they were mostly short and fade to black.

Overall, it’s readable as a writing style, but in my opinion it borders on too simplistic. And that’s coming from someone who generally likes more straightforward styles over poetic and flowery ones.

I also had trouble connecting to the characters, including the main character which shouldn’t at all be an issue in a first person narrative. Writing in first person can often be a crutch for novice writers who don’t know how to portray a character’s thoughts or experiences without using the word ‘I’ but that wasn’t the issue here. The issue was that I straight-up didn’t like Elma. I couldn’t find her relatable- which, as a woman with a physics degree is probably the last thing the author was aiming for- and in fact I found her selfish, annoying, and too fucking perfect.

The least relatable thing about Elma is that she’s so smart that no one else can match her. She went to college at 14. She does math in her head. Oh, you have to solve differential equations with a piece of paper and a pencil? You’re actually a dumbass in comparison. This annoyed me to no end because even the smartest people I knew in my own physics program worked through the math on paper. Maybe there are people out there who can do linear algebra no problem in their head, but they’re few and far between, and they’re far from the average woman in physics, I’ll tell you that.

In fairness, I generally hate stories about exceptional main characters. I have this problem with fantasy novels, too, where the MC has to put in essentially no work to master things others have put years and years into practicing. I just find it really hard to root for characters who have it easy. Which, when we’re talking about a woman physicist in the 1950s, even a genius like Elma shouldn’t have it easy, right? I think Hidden Figures did a much better job of portraying this, and I actually liked all the main characters in that movie. This book, though, had me rolling my eyes.

The biggest obstacle that Elma faces throughout this novel has nothing to do with her gender at all. It’s her anxiety. Honestly the amount of time spent talking about how she has such bad anxiety in front of reporters and cameras and how it makes her throw up really came at the expense of the actual plot of the novel and the feminist narrative. Elma is a woman physicist in the 1950s and this is the biggest obstacle we could come up with for her to face?

Then there’s her husband Nathaniel. I was hoping we’d get a realistic look at marriage in the 1950s, but instead Nathaniel’s traits boil down to he’s an engineer and he’s Jewish. Other than that he has no personality, no motivations outside of supporting everything his wife does including when she forgets to pay the electric bill, and he has absolutely no agency. Their relationship is so unrealistic. Even the most supportive of couples will argue once in a while. Even the healthiest of couples don’t agree on everything. Yet, Elma forgets to pay the electric bill (which she always does because she can do math in her head and Nathaniel can’t) and Nathaniel barely bats an eyelash about it.

The other supporting characters honestly aren’t even worth mentioning, except for Parker. I found him genuinely interesting, but we’re supposed to hate him because he’s trying to keep Elma on the ground and out of outer-space. The only male character in the whole book with agency is, of course, the antagonist.

Writing a feminist book doesn’t mean that the only male characters with agency should be antagonists and that male significant others or romantic interests should be some robot-like unquestioning domestic servant following you around like a puppy-dog.

This is the second book I’ve picked up in less than a month where the feminism part of the story was something I was excited about and then disappointed me greatly. I am a feminist. This does not mean I think only female characters should have any type of agency, or that the only male characters with agency should be on the side of the patriarchy. Ideally, men and women characters should be equally well-developed. In my own experiences, sure men were the causes of some of my biggest problems in my undergrad career in physics. But there were other men who were some of my best friends, some of my biggest allies, and even one I considered to be a mentor. This lack of nuance in “feminist” stories is starting to get on my nerves. Granted, if you can’t develop your main female character, expecting a well-developed cast of supporting characters male and female is probably expecting too much.

Additionally, there’s such a heavy-handed attempt to show Elma off as super woke. This would be fine if it felt natural, but it doesn’t. It’s forced and it’s a weird insertion of our current climate of progressive social values being projected onto a character living in the 1950s. Either way, it should have certainly been executed in a way that didn’t just amount to Dr. Martin Luther King’s name being dropped every other page. It was just as heavy-handed and lacking in nuance as the attempt at feminism.

Frankly, the author’s mediocre writing ability was just not good enough to pull off taking on these important topics.

Now there’s the plot. The plot, in this case, comes as less important than the heavy-handed feminism and Elma’s severe anxiety. Which is interesting, seeing as the plot is that’s it the end of the world and they have a limited amount of time to colonize other planets before the ocean starts to literally boil.

After the first section of the book when the meteorite strikes, which is high-action and actually intriguing, there’s a time-skip. After the time-skip it’s back to business as usual. There’s no sense of urgency, really, and that made it really hard for me to continue turning the pages. The pacing was so uncomfortably slow, but by the time I realized just how bad it was I only had 100 pages left in the damn book so I pushed through it.

We spend so much time on Elma’s anxiety and her problems with Stetson Parker that it’s almost like the fact that the habitable world is literally ending has been all but forgotten by the author. Which is unfortunate, because that’s the book I signed up to read, not a book about a woman with crippling stage-fright (but who also happens to be a natural on camera?)

I’ll save you some time. We don’t get to space until the last line of the book. What was the point of the 300-ish pages between that and the beginning of the time-skip? We don’t even spend a lot of time focusing on preparing for colonization of space in those pages.

I was going to give this book a generous 2 stars. But after writing all this I just realize that I’m so disappointed that I can’t bring myself to do it. This is a one-star read for me, and I wish it were the 5-stars I was expecting. If you’re looking for a story that empowers women in STEM and has important themes of equality, just watch Hidden Figures. If you’re looking for a story about going to space or the end of the world, find some other sci-fi novel.

This ain’t it.