Top Ten Tuesdays – Best Book Covers

One of the very first top ten lists that I completed was about my least favourite book covers, and a good friend of my commented that she would love to see what I thought were good book designs. Since this is a freebie week in terms of topic, I thought I’d come back to her suggestion and share what I think are some beautiful books with my readers. Thus, in no particular order, these are some of my absolutely favourite book covers that I want on my shelves not only because they are awesome books, but because they are so wonderfully designed! (Thanks to the Broke and the Bookish for hosting!)

  1. The Lunar Chronicles – Marissa Meyer

Cover - The Lunar Chronicles

I have gone on and one about how much I love The Lunar Chronicles, but I haven’t had a chance to gush that much about my adoration of their covers. I often wait for books to be released in paperback before I buy them to save space on my shelves, but this is a series that I pick up in hardcover as soon as they come out. In short, the cover designs are gorgeous. In what will become a running theme for this post, I really appreciate the simplicity of them. Each one features a single image on a dark blue background: a slippered foot, a red hood, and a braid. These images invoke connections to the fairy tales being reinterpreted while also looking modern and stylistically clean. While the illustrations themselves are detailed, the covers are rather stark which makes them pop and stand out. The typography is also a delightful callback to an older era of storytelling while still feeling contemporarily inspired. Unlike most modern YA covers that are so busy and symbolically mixed up, The Lunar Chronicles books give readers a clear idea of what to expect from its pages.

  1. Curse Workers – Holly Black

Cover - Curse Workers Series

A pet peeve of mine is when books have photos of real people on their covers. YA novels are particularly bad for doing this, so when I saw these editions of the Curse Workers trilogy, I was thrilled! I generally prefer more symbolic or abstract covers when it comes to my books as I like to develop my own images of the characters. Additionally, most cover models just don’t look all that much like the characters described in the book. By using pointillism artwork, not only did these covers let my imagination come up with its own interpretation of the imagery in the series, but they look striking and different on a shelf. In fact, I picked up White Cat only because the cover looked so interesting among the other YA offerings at my public library. I also appreciated the bold colour themes for each book, and these are definitely a trio of books that have earned a place in my library not only because they are fun and interesting stories, but because they look fabulous as well!

  1. Harry Potter (the 2013 releases) – JK Rowling

Cover - Harry Potter 2013 Releases

I grew up with Harry Potter, but was never fond of the covers. In fact, I found most of them to be rather heinous. I didn’t like the style of the American covers, and I found the illustrations on the British versions to be awkward and not reflective of my image of the story. I own a full set of the British books, but I have always wished that I loved the way they looked more. This desire was fulfilled in 2013 with the release of a new set of covers to celebrate the 15th US anniversary of the release of the books. I usually prefer more abstract covers, but these full illustrations capture my vision of the Potter universe so well that I had to make an exception. They explore the magical world in great (and quirky) detail, and each matches the atmosphere and mood of the book that they are attached to. I liked the style of the characters, and I felt that all of them tied together and looked cohesive. So now I am trying to convince myself that it is totally appropriate to import an expensive book set from the US just because I think that they are pretty!

  1. The Last Unicorn Deluxe Graphic Novel – Peter S Beagle, Peter Gillis, Renae de Liz

Cover - The Last Unicorn Deluxe Graphic Novel

It seems as if The Last Unicorn makes almost all of my top ten lists in some form. In this case, I am showcasing the deluxe version of the graphic novel as this is a beautiful book. It is an over-sized, textured black book with a silhouette of a unicorn in the center that is filled with images from the inside pages. While incredibly simple, it is a very effective cover that demands to be seen. I love how the colour pops on the black background, and how the entire cover feels classy and deluxe (which is hard to see in this online image so you’ll have to take my word for it!).

  1. Womanthology: Heroic – Various Artists and Authors

Cover - Womanthology

I obviously like silhouettes! Like The Last Unicorn, Womanthology fills an image of a female superhero with illustrations from the various artists and stories featured in the book. Not only is this a great way of representing the full body of work contained in this volume, it is symbolic of the message that women can be heroes in many different ways. Contrary to The Last Unicorn, this cover is placed on a bright white background, and it seems to suggest that the stories and creations can spill beyond the drawings on the cover. Overall, it’s a very creative front image for a ground-breaking book about women in comics.

  1. Shadows Cast by Stars – Catherine Knutsson

Cover - Shadows Cast by Stars

Like White Cat, the cover of Shadows Cast by Stars is what caught my eye and made me want to read this book as it’s gorgeous! It’s hard to describe exactly why I enjoy this particular cover so much. I love the colour scheme and the way the designer used gradients. There are a lot of things going on with this image, yet it doesn’t feel too busy to me. Finally, it conveys a sense of mysticism and the supernatural that represents the story rather well.

  1. Parasite – Mira Grant

Cover - Parasite

I love the cover to Parasite because it is so in-your-face. The bright primary colours and simple design means that it stands out brilliantly among other sci-fi books (a genre with a bevy of terrible designed covers). The clinical design fits wonderfully with the topic of the book, and all of the design elements come together to make it impossible to ignore this book because it calls out for notice.

  1. How the Light Gets In – Louise Penny

Cover - How the Light Gets In

I really appreciate all of the most recent editions of Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache novels, but there’s something special about How the Light Gets In. The photograph used as the background is not only beautiful, but technically strong. The sharpness and colour-balancing are spot on, and I’d love to see the print without the title writing! Speaking of which, the typography used in this series is very timeless and classy. Unlike many mysteries and thrillers, the entire cover is more subdued, yet powerful in its simplicity. This feels like a cover that will not become dated very quickly.

  1. Locke and Key – Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

Cover - Locke and Key Series (Full)

Locke and Key uses a lot of creepy, creative imagery, so it is only fitting that the covers showcase everything that makes the art of the series work so well. The covers all use the theme of keys, a major part of the plot of the stories. Each key is unique and intricately designed, and they are layered over top a different setting from the books. The colour schemes used are dark, but each cover has a unique palette. Like The Lunar Chronicles, all the covers follow the same format and work well as a cohesive whole (a practice that publishers very annoyingly often disregard). Finally, the title design is very creative and interesting to look at. It’s a nice break from the trend of simple block letters that plagues so many mainstream graphic novels.

10. Dorothy Must Die – Danielle Paige

Cover - Dorothy Must Die

This is the only book on this list that I am not particularly fond of, which is unfortunate because the cover to this novel is great! As one can see, I really really like silhouettes. A lot. Like the other two covers on this list that use this design element, Dorothy Must Die makes strong use of negative space. The silhouettes being used are of the gingham clothing and famous silver slippers that Dorothy is so well-known for while the actual body of the figure left undrawn. This is combined with the red typography that overlies the image like a splattering of blood makes it a very distinctive and noticeable cover. Among all of the “pretty sad girls in dresses” covers that are flooding the YA genre, Dorothy Must Die stands out as unique and visually interesting.

Top Ten Tuesdays – All Time Favourite Books in the Sci-fi/Speculative Fiction Genre

This week’s Top Ten Tuesdays is all about your favourite genre! Now despite the fact that my GoodReads account is littered with YA dystopias, my favourite genre is the broader category of sci-fi and speculative fiction. I’ve always loved this genre because it has the ability to ask really hard questions about human development, and it explores a lot of what ifs that have great potential to shape the way we live now. So onwards to my favourite books in this area! (Thanks to the Broke and the Bookish for hosting).

1.       I, Robot – Isaac Asimov

Cover - I, Robot

I cannot imagine any top sci-fi list that does not contain at least one entry from Isaac Asimov. He is one of the grandparents of the genre (along with Heinlein and Clarke), and his influence is persuasive even in stories produced today. Asimov is also one of the most prolific authors of all time, and he wrote over 500 books before his death.

Admittedly, he’s not a perfect author. He has a very particular style that many readers are not fond of as it is heavy on dialogue and low on action. Additionally, as he was writing many of his biggest novels in the 1940s (and even earlier in some cases!), some of the science is woefully out of date. His female characters are almost non-existent, and when they are there, often poorly characterised. There are also a heap of inconsistencies in his work, though this is pretty understandable for a man who wrote an overarching series over a period of fifty years. And despite all his flaws, I adore him.

If I had to choose my favourite of his books, it would have to be I, Robot. This is a collection of short stories that really kicks off the robot universe in Asimov’s work. As I said earlier, Asimov is still influential today, and one of his most commonly used ideas is the three laws of robotics. When he was first writing sci-fi stories, Asimov was often frustrated at the evil robot plot that was so prevalent, so he started to think about a set of rules that could be used to ensure that robots were safe tools to be used by humanity. Thus, the three laws were born that ensured that all robots were programed to be unable to harm humans. However, once he created these rules, he decided to play with them, and I, Robot is all about how the rules aren’t as easily applied as one might think. It’s a great read for experiencing some of the best of the golden age of sci-fi.

(PS: I refuse to acknowledge that the movie exists. If you have seen it, wipe it from your mind! The only things similar in it to the book are some of the names, and the idea that the three laws can be fickle. But at least Asimov respects his own rules when he plays with them).

2.       The Gods Themselves – Isaac Asimov

Cover - The Gods Themselves

I promised myself that I was only allowed to list, at most, two Asimov novels. This was an extremely challenging task since Asimov, as mentioned, was an extremely prolific author. However, with considerable thought, I have managed to narrow my nominees down to two: the aforementioned I, Robot, and The Gods Themselves.

The Gods Themselves was Asimov’s attempt to write about two things that critics were always pointing out that he avoided: sex and aliens. Asimov’s take on these two subjects is very strange, unique, and definitely interesting to read about! I don’t want to say much about how he conceptualised these two things because it is definitely a book that works best if you go in with no spoilers. The Gods Themselves will keep readers guessing as it uses viewpoint switches to good effect, it is fascinatingly different from Asimov’s other work, and it’s just a great alien book overall.

3.       Unwind – Neil Shusterman

Cover - Unwind

I may have only read Unwind recently, but I am sure that this series will remain stuck in my brain for many years to come. In short, this is a terrifying, haunting book that brings extraordinary difficult questions to the minds of young adult readers. After all, in Unwind, it is legal to have a teenager separated into parts (unwound) for organ transplants and the like. Near the end of the book, Shusterman writes a first person perspective of being unwound. I felt like my heart was going to stop. It was one of the most chilling scenes I’ve ever read in YA literature, and the memories of that piece of writing still make me shudder when I think about them.

My one criticism about Unwind was that I thought the political aspects of the world building did not make sense. I could not begin to fathom how a pro-choice/pro-life war could possibly result in the terrible realities of the Unwind universe. However, this world building was slowly developed throughout the next few books, and I no longer feel so incredulous. In fact, I was quite impressed with the layering of actions and consequences that went into the creation of this dystopic world.

4.       Cinder (Lunar Chronicles) – Marissa Meyer

Cover - Cinder

Cinder is, unsurprisingly, a fairy tale retelling of Cinderella, but one that makes great use of its sci-fi setting. It wins a place on this list not only because it’s a great story, but because YA sci-fi that actually makes use of the genre properly is not all that easy to find. Too many stories have science and technology issues present in the plot, but they are actually superfluous to the story. To explain this, I’ll use one of my favourite examples of YA fiction gone wrong: The Selection.

When I talk about The Selection, I usually harp on its political or social issues that are unexplained or incompletely thought out. Today, however, I’m going to deconstruct its technological aspects. The Selection is a speculative dystopia that occurs in the future after several major wars have changed society greatly, and one of these changes is that technology has regressed exponentially save for things like televisions. The story as it is written requires that citizens have televisions in their homes so that they can watch the selection; however, the rest of the story tries to divorce itself from technology as much as possible without much explanation. This type of world building could be fascinating in a sci-fi story, but it fails because the story actually has little to do with this feature. The Selection feels more like a piece of alternative historical fiction save for the presence of the television show. In fact, it could have been just as easily written as a fantasy where the show was a result of some sort of magical viewer instead of a TV.  The book could have easily been slotted into any of these genres had it bothered to really explore the consequences of this choice. However, it chose to be a piece of speculative fiction with sci-fi elements that weren’t explored, didn’t make sense, and certainly weren’t all that central to the plot overall. This is a common mistake with genre fiction, particularly sci-fi, and one that causes me a particularly large amount of annoyance.

Cinder, on the other hand, requires its sci-fi setting to work. The story of Cinderella  gave Meyer the setup of a family with a mother who has two blood related daughters, and one daughter who was only connected to the now deceased husband. However, in Cinder, the title character is treated poorly because she is a cyborg, not just because she’s an adopted daughter. Cyborgs are treated as inferior because of humanity’s fear of becoming obsolete. This fear has been exaggerated by the presence of Lunars, an evolved form of humans who now have the ability to control regular humans with their minds. Furthermore, humanity is in a state of panic over a plague that turns out to be part of a campaign of biological warfare. Cyborgs are used as test subjects because one doctor was looking for the lost Lunar princess, but also because they were easy social scapegoats given the average citizen’s fear of them. Thus, Cinder is a story where the genre elements are embedded in the plot, and without these pieces, the story would be changed dramatically.

Cinder is also a great piece for introducing sci-fi to the YA genre in a way that is not overwhelming as the science is structured in a way that is understandable to the age group that it is targeting. Further, it contains popular elements such as romance, and also engages with some of the big questions explored in sci-fi, such as what it means to be human. Overall, Cinder is a fantastic book that really deserves more attention as a great piece of sci-fi literature.

5.       Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood

Cover - Oryx and Crake

Oryx and Crake is a chilling look at what society could become if we continue to stress individualism and hyper-capitalism as our primary collective goals. Told through the eyes of an unlikeable protagonist who is not a scientist, Atwood creates a fascinating futuristic world with a focus on a lot of the little details that makes the story come to life (rakunks! Chickie nubs!). This is another book I’ve discussed quite a few times, so I will keep this short and just say that Atwood wrote a sci-fi masterpiece with this book!

6.       Feed – Mira Grant

Cover - Feed

A clerk at a local bookstore pushed me to buy Feed, and I remain forever grateful. Feed is everything I want in sci-fi. It has science that makes sense, one of the protagonists is an interesting and complex female character who isn’t perfect or a blank stale, there are scary zombies, there is political and social commentary, the characters are sarcastic and witty, and the world-building is thoughtful and complete. I’ve gushed about this book a lot on my blog, so I will end by just stating that this book (and its sequels) are amazing pieces of modern sci-fi, and everyone should read them!

7.       The Sirens of Titan – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Cover - The Sirens of Titan

The Sirens of Titan was my introduction to the world of adult sci-fi, and it pretty much blew my little teenage mind. The major themes of the book touch on issues such as free will, and the point of human existence. The book can be quite dark, but it is also a black comedy so there is levity as well. What still stands out about it to me today is that some of the scenes are unbelievably creative and strange. For example, the alien creatures on Mercury who eat sound represent such an innovative way of looking at non-human life, and this ability to look beyond the typical is a staple of great sci-fi.

8.       A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle

Cover - A Wrinkle in Time

A reader’s love for sci-fi and speculative fiction has to start somewhere, and I am pretty sure my introduction to the genre was through L’Engle’s books. A Wrinkle in Time is a children’s book that talks about hard scientific concepts while also discussing the concept of evil. It treats its readers with respect, not shying away from difficult concepts, but trying to present them in a way that younger readers can understand. Another plus is that the protagonist is a young, imperfect girl. She’s not a super model in denial, she’s not overly exceptional at any one thing (except for math, a most definitely under-appreciated talent!), and she acts out and whines like a kid should. Meg is also brave, independent, and loyal. It’s a delight to read about a female protagonist who feels like she could be a real person. Even when the sci-fi setting of the story throws her into unimaginable situations, Meg manages to keep going.  Another plus about A Wrinkle in Time is that the sci-fi aspects of the story are very memorable. From the strange beings that Meg and her family become entwined with, to the concept of tesseracting, it’s hard to forget these neat ideas, and they probably inspire kids to explore fields like physics and math.

9.       Speaker for the Dead – Orson Scott Card

Cover - Speaker for the Dead

I really didn’t want to put Card on my list because my personal feelings for him and his work have soured so badly to the point that I struggle to enjoy even the works of his that I once loved. However, Speaker for the Dead is an outstanding sci-fi novel. Speaker is a sequel to the famous Ender’s Game, but the story is much more expansive. Instead of being about a group of kids on a space station, Speaker takes place in a universe where humans have gone exploring and now live on many different planets. This book also introduces a new form of alien who, like most of the aliens on this list, are a very different life form in comparison to humanity. The life cycles of these creatures are an important plot element of the book as much of the story deals with how two sentient species should deal with one another.  Add in the remaining Hive Queen, Jane (a being made out of what is essentially the universal internet), and another surprise alien species, and you’ve got quite the batch of ethical considerations to deal with. Speaker takes very few shortcuts with its world building, and sci-fi fans will find their imagination  happily pushed in this very philosophical, but also thrilling story.

Though, in forewarning, I find that Card’s personal political views start to come out a bit stronger with each book he writes, so this one has a bit more blatant moralising than Ender’s Game (though in retrospect, Ender’s Game has some pretty blatant issues as well).

10.   Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes

Cover - Flowers for Algernon

If I had to name my favourite book of all time, Flowers for Algernon might actually be it. I’ve re-read it at least ten times, and the story never fails to make me all contemplative and weepy. The sci-fi plot deals with an intellectually impaired man who undergoes an operation that is supposed to increase his intelligence. Like all good sci-fi, this brings up hard questions about ethics and humanity that have no easy answers. The author also says some rather cutting things about how mentally disabled people are treated by society as a way to challenge us all to be better.

What really stands out in this book is the fact that it is narrated from Charlie’s perspective, and Charlie changes dramatically throughout the book. At the beginning of the novel, Charlie is a 32 year old man with an IQ of 68. His literacy and comprehension levels are low, and the journal entries reflect these realities. His sentences are short, his spelling not so great, and many of his observations are child-like. He works at a bakery, and aspires so badly to become smart so that people are not frustrated with him. Thus, when he is offered the opportunity to take part in a controversial experiment that would alter his brain in order to try and increase his intelligence level, he jumps at the chance. Cue a lot of heart wrenching on my part since Charlie does this because he wants so badly to be liked and respected as an equal human being.

After the operation, Charlie does slowly start to become more intelligent. He is enrolled in an assortment of lessons, and his journal entries become more and more sophisticated. In fact, Charlie essentially gains a genius level IQ, and outstrips most of his teachers, and even the scientists who design the experiment. However, with increased intelligence comes backlash from those around him, and Charlie comes to the realisation that those he cared about most were actually very cruel. Additionally, while his intellectual abilities increased substantially in a short amount of time, his emotional maturity did not grow at the same level, so Charlie struggles mightily with how to deal with a bevy of emotions that he has never experienced before.

Flowers for Algernon is a devastating book. Reading it is basically the same as asking someone to punch you in the guts over and over again. But unlike getting randomly punched in the guts by a random person, this story leaves readers with some really important thoughts that are way more beneficial than internal bleeding. You will be taken to the absolute emotional heights of hope and love, and to the deep depths of rage and despondency. You will probably finish without an answer to all the challenging conflicts and ideas presented by Keyes, but you will have a better appreciation for the spectrum of humanity. If there was one book on this list that I could make everyone read, Flowers for Algernon would be it because it is a phenomenal piece of literature, and a great example of just how extraordinary science fiction can be.

Review – Parasite by Mira Grant

Title: Parasite (Parasitology #1)

Author: Mira Grant

Star Rating: * * * *

Genre: Sci-Fi/Medical Thriller/Horror

Cover - Parasite

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!

Synopsis

Sally Mitchell was seconds away from being taken off life support when she miraculously woke up. The only explanation that the doctors could suggest was that her tape worm implant managed to save her from the effects of her terrible car crash. After all, in 2027, who doesn’t have one of these helpful creatures in their guts to help control their health?

Six years after her accident, Sal remembers nothing of her previous life and just wants to move on. However, her family still wants their “old” daughter back, and Symbogen, the corporation behind the intestinal implants, is still very interested in her as a test subject. When people start falling ill to a mysterious “sleeping sickness” that seems to turn people into mindless, violent automatons, Sal’s life becomes even more of a mess. Wanting answers, she reaches out to an anonymous source who speaks to her in code, but the truth leaves her with difficult choices about who she needs to be loyal to and who she really is.

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