Friday, December 16, 2011

Some books suggestions for your gift-giving.

What is the elusive element that makes one book or series become an international best-seller, while another sometimes better-written book or series labors in obscurity? I was thinking about what to blog about this month and figured that this is a timely topic because it allows me to give some publicity to books I love, in time for holiday gift-giving.
(BOO!)My first choice for over-exposed and not-really-deserving books are the Harry Potter books, or as I've seen them referred to, "Hermione saves the day again, and her two male friends tag along." My kids were still in grade school when these books got major attention. Since I didn't want them to fight over who got to read them first, my decision was that I would read all of them aloud, usually around the campfire during our yearly week-long vacations up north. The first book was kind of painfully boring, and I wondered what all of the fuss was about. The second one was slightly better, and by the third book J.K. had become a much better writer and the world she had created was fully realized, so the stories were more fun. Still, I wonder just whose eye that first book caught, to make it become such a phenomenon.
(YAY!)Compare those books to the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. Eoin was a middle-school teacher who had always enjoyed writing. His first book was so funny that my entire family (husband and me included) were enthralled from the second chapter. The first chapter introduced the character of the teen-aged Artemis in a round-about way, but by the time the fairy-folk and leprechauns were introduced, we were hooked! I've seen Eoin Colfer speak at book signings a few times, and he is wonderfully entertaining and endlessly amusing, filled with anecdotes about growing up with his brothers in Ireland, and raising his boys there now. There was a blurb in the first book claiming it was going to be made into a movie, but to-date, no movie. Shameful. Whose eye did not get caught?
(BOO!)I know many people have read and enjoyed the Twilight series by Stepanie Myers, but I had to force myself to read 2/3 of the first book and that was all I could stomach! The hackneyed phrasing called out for an editor to bring some reality to the world being created, to wit, "Really? Today's teenagers talk like that?" and, "Sparkle? A blood-sucking demon of the night not only can walk in daylight, but he sparkles? What is he, a Christmas ornament?" IMHO, the popularity of these books with young girls and grandmothers is attributable to the set-up where the heroine wants to have sex, and the hero won't agree to it until they are married. So instead of having to be in control of her own hormones and his, he takes the onus off of her. In return, he becomes one of the creepiest stalkers I've ever read about...really? Sneaking into her room to watch her sleep all night is normal? Watching her 24/7 because she's so accident-prone? She is the kind of heroine writers refer to as TSTL (too stupid to live). Plus she's boring as a character, and chooses the weird, broody, cold-bodied (popsicle anyone?) vampire, instead of the hot-blooded and never-in-a-shirt werewolf who also, oddly enough, adores her blandness.
(YAY!)I read the Enchanted Forest series of 4 books written by Patricia Wrede to my kids. Funny, with tongue-in-cheek twists on various fairy tales, these tell of Cimarene, a princess who doesn't want to just be taught how to embroider only to be married off to the highest bidding prince; when told that is to be her fate, she runs away and offers to be the princess who keeps house(in a cave) for a dragon named Kazul. These books are empowering for young girls who learn that girls can indeed to anything, and the boys have heroes to identify with as well. Just plain good fun. But no one has ever heard of them!
(Yay!)Jonathan Stroud wrote the Bartimeous Trilogy, a densely-written series of books that involve a djinn, a young magician, and some really exciting adventures. The writing is perhaps senior high school or college level, but very well-done and entertaining.
(Yay!)Laurence Yep wrote a great series involving the boneless king and lots of dragons. More great books that few have heard of.
(Boo!)So you like vampire romance books? I used to read them, and was kind of disappointed in the Charlaine Harris books about Sookie Stackhouse...they got kind of repetitive and boring after the 3rd book, though I did read the 4th one. Then I stopped. Imagine my surprise to learn that a very popular new series on cable (which we don't have because we won't pay for TV), is based on these books. I watched a few episodes and was amused that "based on" is very loosely interpreted.
(Yay!)Contrast with Mary Janice Davison's Unwed and Undead series, which has much tongue-in-cheek humor, a snarky yet plucky heroine, and a very hot vampire who pursues her. Did I mention that she loves very expensive shoes, and gets turned into a vampire against her will early in the first book? She wakes up in a morgue with a toe-tag and walks outside to see what's going on, making the attendant pass out! When she realizes she is a vampire, she gets mad at God, since she's always tried to be a good Catholic girl, so she resolves to kill herself to end her torment. Swallowing bleach, throwing herself off a building, etc...none of it works. She resigns herself to suffering through what is obviously meant to be, then becomes caught up in vampire politics...leading to her being crowned as Vampire Queen. Very funny books, though I could ask for more hot sex!
So I guess I don't need to feel so badly about the fact that my books haven't set the world on fire either. If you are curious about my books, or just looking to win some great prizes, head on over to my website for my offering in Drea Becraft's Holiday Blog-Hop! She had such great luck with her Halloween hop that she planned this one immediately. There are some great prizes being offered by many interesting authors, most of whom won't ever become as famous as some who could publish their grocery lists and make money...but that doesn't mean you won't thoroughly enjoy reading their books!
Happy holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzai, and enjoy the ancient pagan festival of Solstice, where we celebrate in the dead of winter, hoping for a rebirth of the sun that gives life to us all. Bring pine and fir trees into your house, decorate with holly and berries and mistletoe, and enjoy lots of carbs in cookies and other sweets, to help stave off SADS. May you and yours have a great season!
And let's hope that if there really is to be a changing of humanity in 2012 that it is for the better. See you next year!


Tim Smith said...

Excellent post, Fi. I agree with your Yay's and Boo's. I tried reading a Vampire romance once and couldn't get past the first few pages. Not my brand of Scotch. The one good thing about the Harry Potter series was that it encouraged young adults to put down their gameboy and actually read a book.

jean hart stewart said...

Couldn't agree more.. So glad to find somebody else not enchanted by Harry Potter, although I got so turned off at the first one I never tried the others. Among Yay books I like anything Mary Balogh writes...Jean

Tina Donahue said...

Thanks for the list, Fiona. I must admit, I've never read Harry Potter nor have I watched any of the movies. Same goes for The Twilight franchise. But then, those books are for tweens and thankfully they're reading instead of playing gameboy or whatever.

Cheryl Pierson said...

Hi Fiona,
I wanted to like Twilight. I really really did. But I never made it beyond the middle of the book. I found myself getting angry with her. Not good. I need a heroine I can like, and they are few and far between enough as it is. LOL My daughter loved loved loved Harry Potter. My son...not so much. My business partner loved those books and movies, too. Again, I tried. really hard. But I kept thinking I had other stuff waiting to be read and I just couldn't get into that. I just finished the first installment of a young adult series that is also for adults. Not sure how it will do, since it's a western. It's called Kane's Redemption, and is the story of what happens to a young 10 year old boy when he is kidnapped by Apaches that murder his family, but then is rescued by "Kane." This is my first foray into writing young adult. I'm like Tina, gotta just be glad those kids are READING something rather than being on the computer games.
Great post. I always love to hear other people's "take" on books.

Fiona McGier said...

Re:Tim: I used to like vampire romances, but then I realized that it would involve a young person and someone old enough to be their grandfather or worse! Then I imagined the vampire yakking endlessly about the old days, and the youngster saying, "Oh? Sorry, are you still talking? I'm texting."

RE: Jean: I'll have to look up Mary Balogh...I read a lot of YA books to my kids, and consequently I have 4 readers...but then they didn't really have a choice with an English teacher for a mother!

RE: Tina: Yeah, I'm glad that teens are reading anything also...but I'd like for it to be something of more quality. The books that get chosen for them to read in school are so darn depressing all of the time! Death, doom, destruction, quiz in two days, kids. No wonder they associate reading with unhappiness!

RE: Cheryl: I have always liked sci-fi and fantasy books, so my kids do also. Harry Potter came highly recommended by a mother of one of my son's friends. That's the only reason we kept on reading after the boring first book. Still I often wonder what causes the kismet that makes one book or series take off, while other books are generally ignored. Who knows?
One of life's mysteries, I guess.

Thanks to all for reading and commenting.