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.

Top Ten (Belated) Tuesdays – Popular Authors I Will Never Read

I’ve been busy lately, but I also enjoy procrastinating and there’s only so much of my thesis that I can write before I start to twitch. So here’s a belated top ten list for the week of March 4th. (Thanks for hosting, The Broke and the Bookish!)

Cover Collage for Authors I Have Not Read (edit)

1. John Green – I’m a genre fiction person. I don’t read a lot of contemporary, but despite this, people are always trying to get me to read books by John Green. It’s not going to happen. Even the famous one about sick people in love because as heartwarming as it may be, I’m just not a fan of those types of stories. Call me when he writes about sick kids in space.

 2. Stephenie Meyer – Okay, this one was a gimmie. First of all, I’m not all that fond of paranormal romances, and I’m a hardcore feminist who doesn’t have much patience for books with abusive relationships. Plus the Twilight series doesn’t even seem bad enough to read for the lulz, and The Host’s description seems pretty dull, even though it’s a sci-fi. So alas, this particular iconic author gets a pass from me.

3. Sheryl Sandberg – Sandberg wrote the infamous Lean-In book. Despite being a feminist and a person very much interested in women in the public sphere, I will probably never read it. I’m not fond of this woman’s politics, and I think the whole lean-in movement is a privileged mess of nonsense that overstates its utility. I’ve got too many other good things to get through to waste my time!

4. Jane Austen – I love to read, but I rarely ever touch the classics. I know that, as a woman, I am supposed to love Austen, but unless she comes back from the dead and writes a dystopia, I’m just not very interested.

5. Lauren Oliver – I see this name EVERYWHERE in the YA book sphere, but I’ve never actually been all that drawn to her novels. Possibly because her major work is about love, and YA romances often end up being full of insta-infatuation and ridiculousness. That and Panic is getting pretty mixed reviews right now so I just am not all that enthused.

6. George RR Martin – Like Green, everyone and their dog, parakeet, and seventh cousin has recommended the Game of Thrones series to me because I like politics and strong women. I don’t, however, like high medieval fantasy. Nothing against the genre, we’ve just never had a great relationship. So the thought of tackling these giant books, even if Martin seems like a pretty cool author with great ideas, just doesn’t appeal.

7. JRR Tolkien – So as I mentioned, I don’t particularly love high medieval fantasy, and Tolkien is how I found this out. I had seen the movies, and then everyone suggested I give the novels a shot. Except I didn’t like the movies all that much, and the books were even longer and more detailed than the extended edition DVDs. Despite the fact that I love intricate world-building, I just can’t seem to get into this particular genre. Sorry, Tolkien!

8. PC Cast – When I was getting back into YA literature, I searched around for some of the big name series that were on offer, and the House of Night books popped up everywhere. When I looked into their summaries, however, they didn’t seem to come together into a cohesive or interesting story that I wanted to read. Plus the author has had moments of bad behaviour with fans, so I decided to skip this paranormal stack of bleh for something else.

9. Ally Condie – Condie was supposed to be one of the next big names in YA literature, but her Matched series always seemed a bit ridiculous in concept to me (and perhaps too derivative of The Giver). So I picked up one of the seven million other dystopias on offer right now.

10. Sarah Dressen – All I know about Sarah Dressen is that she pops up on review blogs all the time for writing fluffy contemporary fiction books about love. Most people I’ve seen talking about her rave about her novels, but both contemporary and romance are genres that often make me want to tear my eyes out.

Top Ten Tuesdays – Books that Make You Swoon

When I first saw this topic, I thought that it would definitely be one of my skip weeks. After all, I’ve made no secret of the fact that I don’t often enjoy romance plots in books. However, upon reflection, I realised that I actually do enjoy romance in my literature quite a bit, but only when it feels real and story-appropriate. I continually rant against love stories that force characters to fall into eternal devotion at just a glance because interesting and engaging relationships are the ones that are allowed to develop. Further, romance can be really fun to read about except when it is trampling all over the main plot of one’s book. Even though I have read many romantic duds lately, there are still literary couples that make me smile, and inspire all the myriad of emotions connected to love. So here’s to the top ten books that… give me lots of romantic feels! (Thanks to the Broke and the Bookish for hosting!)

1.       Cinder and Prince Kai in The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

Cinder and Kai

Sometimes the trope of love at first (or close to first) sight can actually work. In the Lunar Chronicles, Prince Kai sneaks out of the palace to Cinder’s booth to ask her to fix his childhood android. At the time, he’s extremely stressed as his father is dying, and Earth is being threatened by the Lunar queen. Cinder is an average teenage girl who is appealing because she doesn’t fall apart as soon as she realises who he is, and she lets him escape from the confining realities of being a prince. Cinder becomes intrigued with Kai as he’s one of the only people who treats her like a human being (as he didn’t know she was a cyborg when they first met). There hasn’t been a lot of development for these two, but neither are they actually in a relationship yet. I am enjoying the mix-up of social classes (a prince and a cyborg mechanic!), and the fact that their relationship is intertwined in a heap of political intrigue that makes it so very hard for them to sort everything out.

2.       Gamache and Reine-Marie in the Inspector Gamache Mysteries by Louise Penny

Hands

Gamache and Reine-Marie are adorable lovers who have been together for many years. They know each other’s habits, and are totally at peace with one another. They represent the type of relationship that I want to have when I am older, after life and age have mellowed me out, and further strengthened my partnership. The affection and simple joy that these two characters give to one another is born out of celebrations, hardships, and the everyday occurrences of life. They represent a very positive and beautiful image of spouses, and their interactions never fail to leave me with warm and fuzzy feelings.

3.       Temperance Brennen and Andrew Ryan in the Temperance Brennen Mysteries by Kathy Reichs

cockatoo looking

Temp and Ryan are one of those will-they-won’t-they couples that can drive you nuts. They are colleagues, but also genuine friends, and Reichs allows their relationship to grow and shift throughout the entire series. I’m not too happy about their recent break-up, but when they were together, they were an exciting and dramatic couple that always seemed to be there for each other in their worst moments. Plus they jointly owned a cockatoo with a foul-mouth, and there’s just something awesome about that, and the fact that bird continues to keep them in contact.

4.       George and Shaun Mason in the Newsflesh Trilogy by Mira Grant

I fully admit that this particular couple is controversial, and lots of readers absolutely loathed their relationship; however, George and Shaun Mason as lovers really worked for me. For those who have not read the series (SPOILERS!), these two are adopted siblings. Both lost their parents to zombies and were adopted by a husband and wife who just wanted to use the kids as convenient media props. The duo are not related by blood, and thus the taboo aspect of their relationship is complicated. While they do view themselves as family, theirs is a family forged out of danger, neglect, and ultimately choice. After losing everyone they had ever loved, they developed a new strong bond with each other. When George is killed at the end of book 1, Shaun falls apart. He can’t properly face life without the one person he trusted completely, and the depth and strength of his love for George is undeniable. Some people might never be able to find this relationship unsquicky, but these two inspire powerful emotions in readers, and that’s exactly what I want from a romance.

5.       Batman and Catwoman by DC Comics

Batman-Catwoman

Batman and Catwoman were probably one of the first literary couples that I shipped as a child. I love that their relationship is a challenge because they are very different people with diametrically opposed life philosophies. I love that even though they obviously want to be together, the problems between them can’t just magically be fixed. I love the passion and the forbidden nature of their affection, and the fact that they push each other so hard to change in often positive ways. I love that their love is always something they think of fondly of, but something that they can’t act on all that often. They are a complicated mess, but a really enjoyable one to read about.

6.       Lyra Silvertongue and Will Parry in His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

Lyra and Will

Lyra and Will represent a very sweet, tender, and youthful type of love. Both are still children in this story, so this is not a pairing that relies on making readers swoon. However, readers watch these two children slowly grow-up and mature throughout their story, ending at the point where they are ready to acknowledge that there is something more than just friendship between them, but also knowing that they cannot stay together. Their journey to adulthood is forever intertwined, and you know that no matter what happens in the rest of their lives, they will never forget one another.

7.       Alana and Marko from Saga by Brian K Vaughan (author) and Fiona Staples (illustrator)

saga-alana-marko

Alana and Marko are rebels, lovers that met on the front lines of war, and are now on the run for their illicit relationship. They are also very sexy, and obviously passionately in love. Vaughan is not afraid to show how they are a romantic pairing plagued by outsider interference, yet still full of humour, love, and perseverance. I enjoy reading about their tumultuous life, and hope that they can use their relationship to prove to their people that war doesn’t always have to be the answer.

8.       Lady Amalthea and Prince Lir in The Last Unicorn by Peter S Beagle

Star-crossed lovers are a trope that I seem to really enjoy, and Lady Amalthea and Prince Lir are a textbook example of this type of relationship. Lady Amalthea is a unicorn who has been turned into a human. At first, she cares nothing for Lir and his very human expressions of affection. However, as she loses herself in her mortal form, she slowly falls in love with the prince. But alas, the two are ripped apart when Amalthea must transform back into a unicorn to save her people. Their romantic ending is bittersweet as through their efforts, they saved the rest of the unicorns, but in doing so, doomed their love forever.

9.       Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes in the Mary Russell series by Laurie R King

This is another couple that readers tend to either love or hate. For me, the pairing works really well, and I found myself seeking fanfiction of the two because I wanted to explore more of their relationship. The reasons that I find these two characters together so appealing have a lot to do with my personal romantic preferences. The features that I find most attractive in other people are intelligence and wit. If someone is well-read and good at debating, my interest will be piqued. So when you have two incredibly smart individuals, I just melt when they start exchanging barbs, and doing fun, intellectual experiments together.

10.   Olivia Taylor Jones and Gabriel Walsh in the Cainsville series by Kelley Armstrong

Kelley Armstrong Omens

I really have no idea why I enjoyed this pairing so much. In fact, they aren’t even really a pairing in this first book of Armstrong’s latest series, but I really want them to be. Omens was really a book about Olivia’s life changing dramatically. There wasn’t a lot of room for romance, but something was starting up between her and Gabriel. I love slow build-ups because they recognise that many relationships don’t take off from a single meeting. Instantaneous love is far less common than books lead us to believe, and letting characters get to know one another and experience things together means that you get a much more nuanced relationship that feels like one someone might actually experience.

(Also, I have no pairing photo for this couple because my brain has decided that Gabriel is a bald, Black guy, and nothing Armstrong has said on the matter has seemed to change this headcanon, even though he’s supposed to be white and blonde. Whoops!)

Top Ten Tuesdays – Books that Make You Cry

Better late than never was my mantra as I pulled together this week’s list. Thanks to the Broke and the Bookish for hosting!

1.       Tamsin – Peter S. Beagle

Cover - Tamsin

Beagle is one of my favourite authors, and he can write very beautiful, but melancholy stories. Tamsin is both a very hopeful and empowering book, but there are also extremely sad and effecting moments. You can’t help but feel for Jennifer when she is taken away from everything she once knew and deposited at a haunted farm.

2.       The Last Unicorn – Peter S. Beagle

Cover - The Last Unicorn (Book)

The Last Unicorn is basically the saddest love story ever. A unicorn realises that she has no idea what has happened to the rest of her kind, so she goes on a journey to find them. However, in order to save her from the fate suffered by the rest of her kin, a wizard turns the unicorn into a human. While still trying to figure out what happened to all the other unicorns, she starts to lose herself, and she falls in love with a prince. To save her people, though, she has to sacrifice this new life, and she becomes the only unicorn to ever know regret and true sadness. Beagle’s given readers a story of star-crossed lovers, and it never fails to make me weep.

3.       Blue is the Warmest Colour – Julie Maroh

Cover - Blue is the Warmest Colour

Blue is the Warmest Colour is a graphic novel told in flashback about a young woman named Clementine. When young, Clementine met a woman with blue hair, and suddenly her sexuality and desires stopped making sense to her. Though she tries to be straight, she is continually drawn to Emma, and eventually the two unite in a tumultuous and passionate relationship. However, their unstable partnership falls apart, and Clementine struggles develop into a deadly physical illness that leaves Emma alone with just the words that her lover wrote in a journal. I challenge anyone not to cry all their tears at that ending.

(As a note for those who have watched the film, the plot of the graphic novel differs dramatically, and is a very effecting and emotional experience in its own right).

4.       Where the Red Fern Grows – Wilson Rawls

Cover - Where the Red Fern Grows

I am a total sap for books where animals die, and the deaths of Old Dan and Little Ann are particularly tragic. When I first read this novel as a child, I felt absolutely gutted. As an adult, I still feel misty-eyed when I even think about the ending. Lesson learned: Coming-of-age novels with animals are almost always going to try to destroy your poor heart.

5.       The Amber Spyglass – Philip Pullman

Cover - The Amber Spyglass

Speaking of coming-of-age novels, The Amber Spyglass is another one that just makes my heart ache. After everything that they’ve been through together, Lyra and Will have to say goodbye and go back to their respective worlds. ALL THE SAD.

6.       The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For – Alison Bechdel

Cover - The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For

A book that follows a community and all of their successes and obstacles over a period of multiple years is bound to make you cry at some point. The characters in this series fall in love, break-up, have children, move away, grow-up, develop cancer, cheat on each other, face discrimination and economic displacement, and generally go through all of the challenges and joys of life. Sometimes I laughed so hard that my gut ached, but other times I sobbed bitterly.

7.       Flowers for Algernon -Daniel Keyes

Cover - Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon is about a man with severe mental disabilities who undergoes an operation that makes him a genius. Not only do you watch him come to the rapid realisation of how mean and cruel people around him were, but readers also see his reactions to the fact that the operation isn’t permanent, and the self-destruction that this inspires in him.

8.       Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café

Cover - Fried Green Tomatoes

In writing this list, I realise that books that follow the lives of a person or a community are ones that tend to make me wibble and cry the most since you are privy to the biggest ups and downs for the characters. Fried Green Tomatoes has some of the most uplifting moments, but readers will have to get through some very sad losses and challenges to get to these.

9.       Hunger Games Series – Suzanne Collins

Cover - Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is an exceptionally depressing and emotionally difficult series. Lots of characters die in rather gruesome ways after having fought so hard against a corrupt system. However, it’s the ending of the book that is the truly depressing part. After the war is over, Katniss never recovers. She doesn’t get a happy ending; she just gets to be with the one person left who was used and abused by the system as much as she was. She probably suffers from horrific PTSD for the rest of her life, and almost everyone she cared about is dead or has been irrevocably changed by the events of the books.

10.   Love You Forever – Robert Munsch

Cover - Love You Forever

Not going to lie, I cry every time I read this book. Munsch has managed to capture some of the most positive and powerful feelings between children and their mothers in only thirty pages. Well, if you just ignore the possible stalking imagery… In any case, I totally fall for this nostalgic story of unconditional and life-long familial love.

 

Top Ten Tuesdays – Worlds I’d Never Want To Live In

I have been looking forward to this topic for WEEKS! As someone who spends most of her reading time devouring dystopias, I have a massive list of terrifying and disturbing worlds that I’d never want to live in that is far longer than necessary for this exercise. It was truly a Herculean effort to narrow things down (which is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration), but here are the top ten fictional worlds that I would never want to experience personally. (And thanks to the Broke and the Bookish for hosting!)

1. Neil Shusterman’s Unwind Dystology universe – Between the ages of 13 to 18, you have no right to life

Cover - Unwind Dystology

At some point, I am going to have to talk about Neil Shusterman’s Unwind Dystology on this blog because his series is one of the best YA stories I’ve read in a while. The strength of the Unwind universe is that it is a truly horrifying dystopic world. The story takes place an indeterminate amount of time in the future. The most significant technological change that readers have to deal with is the fact that humanity has invented a way to ensure that rejection is no longer an issue with the transplantation of any body part. Shortly after this discovery was made, laws were changed to allow parents to “unwind” their children at any time between the ages of 13 to 18. Unwinding is the process of dismantling a person into their component parts to be used as transplants in other people. Those undergoing the process are conscious during the procedure (though suffer no pain), and there is a lot of evidence that their consciousness lives on at least partially in the bodies that they are transplanted into. Not only do teenagers arbitrarily not have the right to life in this world, they aren’t even properly killed, and may exist in some weird, half-conscious state. The idea of a world where some lives are so incredibly undervalued is revolting to me, and the danger that teenagers are in is disturbing beyond description.

2. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter universe – An insular world ruled by nepotism and ignorance

Cover - Harry Potter Series

For many, the world of Harry Potter is a place that they’ve dreamed of living in. They’ve waited for their Hogwarts letters, and imagined what it would be like to wander through Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade. For me, however, the world is a perfect dystopia. Harry Potter’s universe is isolated, insular, and relies heavily on nepotism to function. Wizarding society is paranoid of muggles and modern technology, stymied by oppressive beliefs, and almost nothing in their world is organised in a rational or stable manner. According to canon, the government has been corrupt for decades, there aren’t all that many job opportunities or sites of innovation for members of the community other than said corrupt government, and, if you’re a muggle-born, you’re basically forcibly disconnected from your world the moment you receive your Hogwarts letter. Children are trained in dangerous magical arts, but it doesn’t seem like anyone bothers to teach them basic math or literacy skills. Honestly, a world where someone can cast painful curses, but doesn’t have a rudimentary knowledge of civics education is a scary one indeed. Despite all the cool things you can do as a witch or a wizard, I’ll hold onto my muggle identity.

3. Joelle Charbonneau’s The Testing universe – Where being smart means you’ll either be very privileged or very dead

Cover - The Testing Series

The world of The Testing is particularly intriguing for me because I’m one of those smart kids who does really well in school, and has been pegged as leadership material all throughout my education. To see a universe in which my types of skills are rewarded is really exciting. Unfortunately, this is also a world where the best and the brightest are tested both mentally and physically, and the examinations quite often end in death. Not only do Charbonneau’s characters have to sit gruelling written exams, but they are dropped off in a desolate wasteland and told to fight their way back to civilization. Sure, if you win at their game you have the chance to be a world leader, but the stakes are incredibly high. And here I thought law school was bad…

4. Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It universe – A world of slow destruction and death

Cover - Life as We Knew It

Most recent dystopias/post-apocalyptic/disaster novels have been exciting and full of suspense. Life As We Knew It takes a different, probably more realistic approach to what could happen to a family trying to survive the end of the world. Miranda and her loved ones face isolation, starvation, and terrible illness in the days after the moon’s orbital shift that caused devastating climate change on Earth. It’s a universe that really shows you how hopeless and inevitable death and loss can seem in this type of situation, and I can honestly say that I don’t think I’d survive in that world.

5. Mira Grant’s News Flesh universe – A world filled with aggressive zombies and corrupt living people

Cover - Newsflesh Trilogy

When I was trying to think of a world that made me shiver in terror, the words “zombie kangaroos” kept running through my head. In the News Flesh universe, the zombie virus can infect any living creature that is larger than a medium sized dog. (Australia has somehow become even scarier than it is now…) The virus is also extremely contagious, and people must submit to blood tests on almost every street corner (those of us with severe needle phobias do not approve). Furthermore, the scientists who are supposed to be helping humanity cure this illness aren’t actually all that interested in accomplishing this purpose. While I absolutely loved reading this series of books, I’d never want to have to deal with the realities of this universe!

6. Mindy McGinnis’ Not a Drop to Drink universe  – A world without water

Cover - Not a Drop to Drink

In the world created by McGinnis, water is an extremely rare and precious commodity. Lynn’s entire life is centered on ensuring that the pond outside her house remains safe. A lot of stories touch on the difficulties of scarcity of food, but the idea of water being hard to obtain is truly horrifying. A person who is denied water can die within days. We use water to clean ourselves. Without water, our wounds are more easily infected and our food possibly contaminated. Without water, we can’t even grow our own food or raise livestock. A world without water is a world where humanity is going to go extinct very shortly.

7. Atwood’s MaddAdam universe – A world of hyperconsumerism falls to a manufactured plague

Cover - Oryx and Crake series

Atwood’s MaddAdam world is scary because it feels like it could actually be a possibility for our future. Consumerism governs the world, and economic inequality is dramatic. Technology has given humanity many marvellous things, but it has also allowed us to live out our most depraved desires. Thus, humans have become myopic and selfish, and community is a neglected ideal. Then Crake, a bioengineering genius, gets it in his head to wipe the slate clean… As a precautionary tale, Atwood does a fantastic job of writing about what our world could become, and it’s a place that I really hope I never have to experience.

8. Paul Antony Jones’ Extinction Point universe – A world where almost everyone is dead, and bizarre and scary aliens have made Earth into something unrecognisable

Cover - Extinction Point 1Cover - Exodus

Extinction Point started with the fall of an alien red rain that killed basically every single person on the planet save for our protagonist and a few stragglers that she finds on her journey. If the idea of being the last human being on Earth isn’t chilling enough, then read on to see how the alien presence starts to terraform our planet and release strange and dangerous flora and fauna. Emily’s encounters with these creatures gave me actual nightmares. Earth is no longer humanity’s home, and everything that is taking over wants us dead (preferably via digestion).

9. Holly Black’s Curse Workers universe – A world where people can do terrible things to you with just a simple touch

Cover - Curseworkers series

When I first read the Curse Workers series, I thought that it would be amazing to have magical powers that I could use with just a touch. However, then I remembered the plot of the first book and realised that I could have my emotions manipulated, my memories altered or wiped, or even be killed or transformed into an inanimate object with just the brush of someone else’s fingertip. Additionally, less than one percent of the population has magical powers, and those that do are usually part of organised crime. Upon reflection, I re-evaluated my initial daydreams. The Curseworkers world is terrifying, and I am genuinely surprised that those with powers haven’t all been locked away by a scared majority.

10. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale universe – Where your entire worth (if you are a woman) is defined by whether or not you can be used for your reproductive capacity

Cover - Handmaid's Tale

Atwood has a tendency of creating worlds that hit very close to home. In the Republic of Gilead, Offred is a Handmaid, a woman whose sole purpose is to submit to impregnation. Fertility rates are incredibly low, and fertile women are seen as common property, passed between different households. If they become pregnant, their children are given to the wives, and they must continue to try and bear more offspring. Women as a class have no rights, and are regarded as useful only in regards to what they can do for men. As someone who does a lot of work in gender-based rights, Atwood’s universe is based on ideas and opinions that I have worked to counter on a regular basis. The realities and implications of her universe make me sick to my stomach, and encourage me to always keep fighting for equality so that none of the realities in Offred’s world come to pass.

Top Ten Tuesdays – Things On My Reading Wish List that I Really Wish Authors Would Write About

It’s been an age since I’ve had a chance to jump in on the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme, but this was a topic that I just couldn’t resist! As usual, my list is very YA-centric since that seems to have been my reading focus for the past several months, but basically all of these wants could apply in adult genres as well.

1.       Female characters who aren’t loathsome to one another

When I first started thinking about what I wanted to see more of in fiction, I thought about the famous Bechel test for movies that requires that two women talk to each other about something other than a man. While it is true that I would love more examples of that, there was something else I wanted to see a little bit more: female characters who don’t treat each other terribly. It is, unfortunately, very common for women in fiction to be judgemental jerks to one another. YA characters in particular are often thinking about how “slutty” and vacuous the other girls around them are. Not every character is going to love everyone, but male protagonists are not usually written in such an unnecessarily contemptuous manner. I challenge authors to write women without the cattiness. If you need tension, figure out some other, more creative way of showing this!

2.       Fat Characters

If I have to read about one more not pretty, but totally pretty female main character, I will scream. While I applaud the increase in female protagonists in YA literature lately, I am sick of seeing the same white, able-bodied, cis-gendered, thin girls that aren’t particularly transgressive. In short, I want to see something new, and the next few points on my list talk this desire.

For example, I want to read about fat characters. Not teenage girls who think they are fat because they are in the middle of puberty. I want to see characters whose bodies fall outside society’s norms, and I want to see them in stories that are about more than them being fat. I do want to see how anti-fat stigma affects their lives, but I want to see them be more than that. I want them to have exciting adventures and dramatic personal lives. I want to see fat characters as people because fat people exist, and I’m tired of seeing so much erasure in my reading material.

3.       Racialised Characters

Similar to my ranting from above, mainstream fiction really needs more racialised characters. There are plenty of stories out there featuring non-white characters, but in North America, almost all the popular novels feature white-coded protagonists. Not only should stories about racialised characters be promoted simply because these people exist and deserve to have stories where they can see themselves reflected, having diverse characters means having diverse and interesting stories!

4.       Disabled Characters

One of the things that I loved about the Hunger Games was that Katniss was pretty blatantly coded as mentally ill during part of the series. Aside from books that are meant to deal with disability as a “special” topic, there aren’t all that many stories in popular fiction that have a protagonist who is differently abled. This seems to imply that disabled characters can’t be protagonists because disability is seen as inability. However, in Viral Nation by Shaunta Grimes, the protagonist has autism and must travel with a service dog, yet she still manages to be a very interesting and capable individual. She faces unique challenges, but this just gives an author the chance to explore a different story.

5.       Queer Characters

Popular fiction has a dearth of queer characters. Heterosexuality is assumed, and queer characters, if they are present at all, are often just in the background. As someone who identifies on the queer spectrum, I really want to see a better representation of sexual orientation because my life would have been better if I could have seen myself reflected in books when I was a kid. However, I want queer characters to appear in stories that aren’t just about their love lives. I want a queer protagonist in a dystopia where the plot doesn’t center on whether or not s/he gets a romantic partner. I want them to exist as something other than a morality plot

6.       Polyamorous Characters

I HATE love triangles. When they pop up in a story I usually have to refrain from tossing my book across the room because they annoy me so much. I know that love triangles occur in real life, but they are over-represented in fiction, and they problematically glorify monogamy. There are plenty of people in the world who are quite happy having multiple partners, and I see no reason as to why this relationship type so rarely gets portrayed in a positive light in literature. Why does a character always have to choose between two excellent potential romantic partners? Maybe the three people in the love triangle can work out a solution where everyone wins!

7.       A little less romance, please?

It seems to be an unwritten rule of most popular literature that romance must play some sort of role in the story, but sometimes I just want to read about people who are doing things together without any inclination to eventually kiss/have babies. Much of my distaste for romance comes from the fact that these plots can sometimes overtake the central plot, or even if romance is a subplot, it’s badly written and just slows down the rest of the narrative. Like the rest of a story, romance should flow organically. If characters are gravitating together in a non-platonic way, then work to make this an interesting part of the book. Otherwise, let your characters be single.

8.       Sex as something fun and responsible

Sex can be a complicated, difficult, and fraught with emotions topic to deal with in fiction, but I wish sex could be portrayed in a responsible, but fun manner. Particularly in YA, where sex is serious business, I would encourage authors to consider creating sexually empowered characters that are capable of making safe choices, but who can also enjoy themselves when it comes to sex. Pleasure isn’t something scary or bad, and I’d love to see a more positive representation of sexuality where the parties are mutually enjoying themselves to be portrayed in fiction,

9.       Realistic Romance (No more insta-love!)

Just before Christmas I read a book called The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson. One of the things that really impressed me about it was the fact that the teenage female protagonist acknowledged just how totally in love with her boyfriend she was, but also recognised that their relationship didn’t have to last forever. Too often I see YA books fall into the trap of having young adults pledge themselves to each other until the end of time. While sometimes people do end up staying with their teenage partner for life, this is not the most realistic scenario, and it would be wonderful to see authors write about relationships that can still be very strong and important without implying that this is the characters’ last romantic choice ever.

10.   World-building that Makes Sense

Finally, just to include something that isn’t character-focused on this list, I really wish that authors would spend more time actually thinking about the world where their characters are residing. While you don’t have to figure out every single rule about your universe, to write a well-constructed story, you do have to know more than will probably end up in your book. If I keep stumbling across fuzzy places in your narrative where there is a question about your world that hasn’t been answered, I will continually be drawn out of the story. I come across this problem a lot in dystopias or speculative fiction when a government is evil just because, or society has undergone a radical change for no apparent reason (I am looking at you, Unwind by Neal Shusterman). If your plot depends on specific world-building traits, then make sure those traits make sense!