Why I Will Never Have a Favorite Book

 

You mention your love of books, or you’re among book lovers, mention that you’re an author, or having an interview, you’re getting to know someone….you know the questions is coming…..what is your favorite book?

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I’ve never been able to answer this question, and I never will. Usually I don’t like using words like “never” but in this case, it’s completely appropriate.

I understand how people can have favorites, but only because I cannot properly place or understand the value someone else has for one particular story; I can only account for the value and significance certain books have to me.

So, why am I incapable of choosing one or even a select few (less than 10) favorite books? It boils down to two basic issues:

First of all…

What defines a favorite book?

A favorite is defined as what is preferred before all others of the same kind.

But seriously, what criteria needs to be met for a book to be considered a favorite? What are the parameters? I’m sure the answers are as varied as the books being read and named, but problem remains: how do you define a favorite book?

Is it the number of times you reread it? Is whether or not you would reread it? Is it a matter of how deeply a book touched you? If a new idea was introduced to you?

My reasons for choosing the books I consider as my favorites (of which there are many) can vary; sometimes the reasons are ineffable and exist in the feeling within the book itself, the magic woven into the ink of the words on the page.

For every possible definition, I could probably conjure up another and another title that would fit, forever making a singular favorite impossible.

Second of all…

Too many possibilities

Even if you were able to construct and agree on a definition, there are far too many possibilities!
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Every day, there are new books being written, published, and found, and if even fractions of those are read, at least a fraction of those are likely to become special or a favorite. The sheer number of stories in existence is enough to illustrate the difficulties, even when you do the math to approximate how many of them you may read in your own lifetime.

Unless you’re reading mostly books that you don’t like, or aren’t interested in, or that are all somehow all just atrocious, you should be scooping up a handful of titles that stick with you.

So again, how, with all of the many wondrous possibilities at hand, is it possible to choose one, or even a precious few, favorites?

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Even if you try and narrow the parameters to make the choice “easier,” there’s still the question of how you decide what kind of favorite? Favorite book(s) of all time (hard to say and subject to change)?

Favorite book in a particular genre? By a certain author? Recent favorite (as in most easily comes to mind, or in the last few months)?

So you see, choosing a favorite anything can be difficult, but choosing a favorite book…

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It’s just not going to happen any time soon…

I could give you a list of my favorites, possibly even rank them from extreme to basic favorites, but that’s probably the best I can do. Personally, I’m okay with that.

What about you? Are you able to choose a favorite book? Please share it in the comments!

Review Corner: In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen

After reading an interesting description of how the lives of three strangers overlap paths across the country and time, I received a copy of In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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The premise of the book rests on the idea that you never know what is going to happen, no matter where we hope or believe our decisions, actions, and desires will eventually lead us. The initial overlapping element between the three characters the story follows involves the Eons& Empires movie, which is also based on a comic book series.

First we are introduced to Adam in Coral Cove, Florida; next to Sharon in Cincinnati, and finally to Phoebe in Chicago. The story starts with the high school versions of the characters and follows their current lots in life, to varying degrees, and the circumstances which lead them to see the premiere of the Eons & Empires movie.

The novel is mostly written in present tense, and a large portion of it is a collection of pieced together sentence fragments. Occasionally the fragments work, or are at least understandable given the style of the novel, but there are times when the fragments are almost cryptic. This is sometimes because the fragments preceding and following are lacking pertinent information..because they’re fragments.

For the most part, it’s written in third person, but randomly it switches to second person, and that happens a couple of times throughout the novel to take up the story of Oliver. In my opinion, one of two things should have happened; Oliver should have been added onto the back cover (I understand he’s not because his and Phoebe’s timeline are woven together at the start, but still) and been properly added into the book, including keeping the third person point of view; OR, the necessary parts of his story should have been woven into information obtained through other characters. I know, it’s difficult, but I feel like the random addition to this obviously more than side character with the unnecessary and jarring switch in point of view only added the complications of the story in hopes of adding drama and conflict, not, I feel, to the richness or strengthening of it.

One major issue I have is the decision not to add any dates after 1992 and some obscure and sometimes vague references to events in the news over the span of years the book covers. The ages of the various characters are scarcely mentioned and easily lost track of given the skipping around of time, places, and people; it was difficult to know how much time had passed at any given moment while reading. I count at least four time I noted my frustration and desire for something as simple as a month and year at the start of the chapters. I am very curious what the reasoning was behind leaving out this information.

Another issue I had with this book involved the numerous occurrences of, generally small details throw in by the author, that I just cannot buy and in some instances, question. One of these is the likelihood of a person, not affiliated or enrolled in a college, allowed to drop into a class just to take notes for a student; any professor I’ve met would suggest you ask another student actually enrolled in the class for notes. Some professors are more lax about this, true, but other are incredibly diligent about the people allowed in the classroom.

Another of these instances includes the owner of a restaurant in a random city would just happen to know some place called the Rosebud in LA, where main character Phoebe worked for an extended period of time as a bartender. I really feel it’s a stretch, though it is a bit less so when the restaurant owner mentions living in California for some time later on in the chapter. But in general the Rosebud is discussed as if everyone in the world would know it.

One last example of this (though this one of the bigger disputes I have) involves main character Sharon, and the cut on her arm. I will leave the details of the circumstance for any readers, but for what is described as “barely pressing” and “only a scratch” does not add up to what seems to be a scar on her arm for many years down the line. The repeated references to it by other characters, as well, makes it seem like far more than it is described to be. Perhaps I’m just not a fan how every interaction involving this cut is described in the book.

All around, the characters were not particularly endearing, filled with depth, or memorable to me. They seem like echoes of popular tropes, and are utilized more as tools and puppets to fuel a drama than characters I felt I could invest in. Also, given the drawn out and ambiguous nature of the plot, there is also no actual ending, at least not to my satisfaction; it seemed like an arbitrary place to stop the story, though this could also be in part due to the lack of dates, if there happens to be some sort of pattern.

I know, I’ve mentioned a lot of the things I disliked about this novel, and honestly, there were just a lot of things that left me uncertain why I was reading, what I was reading, and what the point of it would be in the end. However, Shari Goldhagen has a certain talent for adequately describing an oddly authentic and realistic human voice, in spurts.

One such example is within the first couple of pages and had me rushing to jot down “it was the panic in her eyes that pulverized everything inside of him- the first time he understood the awesome responsibility of being someone’s whole world.” This struck a chord with me and imprinted on my heart.

Another of these moments, I must admit to understanding myself, is the idea that talking about a book, movie, show or something that you love, has the potential to make it less real or weigh it down; I understand wanting to suspend the magic in your own thoughts, reviewing and remembering without any other input.

For these moments, and a general simple enough style to absorb, I continued to read, despite feeling that I had no character to invest it, no one to root for, and no ending to hope for.

I couldn’t say who I would recommend this to; if you’re looking for something you’ve simultaneously probably haven’t ever read before and yet can easily recognize every character from others you’ve met and experienced before. Ultimately, if it sounds interesting to you, go for it, but this book didn’t do a whole lot for me, aside from those particularly memorable quotes that I will, indeed, carry with me.

In Some Other World, Maybe is available for purchase February 10th in hardback and in paperback February 16th.

Review Corner: Raining Embers by Jessica Dall

I was approached by Jessica Dall and offered an ARC of her new book Raining Embers for an honest review. After sending me a little blurb about it, I decided I was interested in taking a looking. The idea of a disability being the actual sign of awakening powers, as happens to Palmer and Brier, the main characters in this oddly constructed story, reminded me of an idea I had of my own, and so I became curious what someone else did with one overlapping vein of an idea.

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As interesting as the concept is for Chaos and Order to be reincarnated into the bodies of the main characters of the story, there is a lot of work that needs to be done to make this the intriguing story it could be. I feel like there were a lot of very integral things missing, and a few that could use some revising.

The events, as best I can attempt to summarize, go as follows: Palmer Tash is an acolyte, Brier Chastain-Bochard lives in the palace and becomes engaged under supposedly suspicious circumstances to Nico Adessi-Guillroy. Both have a strange “disability” that has gone unexplained through their lives. The same night of Brier and Nico’s engagement, Palmer and Brier (who have only just happened to see/meet each other for the first time), are kidnapped by the brothers Goebel and their friend/helper/shape shifter Cerise (whose part is never really explained and essentially unnecessary to the story). After running away from the Goebels because of their involvement with the last reincarnation of Chaos’s death; they flee along with a six year old named Rosette that sinister Reinhald Goebel took from the streets that Brier decides they can’t leave, Brier and Palmer first settle in a small village, and finally decide to return home. When they return to the city, they find they are at war, so of course, they try to escape again, because it seems there is some kind of government/power takeover attempt going on, but run into Reinhald, who then coerces them to join him. First they retreat outside the city to pick up some troops, then return, and Brier’s power is unleashed and demolishes the city. After which, the story is pretty much done, except for Brier’s feeling of “wrongness” about herself (the lead in, I presume, to the next book).

After over 280 pages, I could tell you little more about the characters, plot, setting, culture, or even motives presented in Raining Embers. I get the feeling that Dall may have been trying to do too much without making sure to weave more depth into the story and her characters.

The characters were in desperate need of depth and personalities, traits that were unique to each character. Even the physical descriptions, if given, were not always consistent, or at the very least made imagining the scene uncertain. For instance, in the very beginning of the novel, Brier is described as impossibly tiny, despite the fact that she is, presumably, a young woman, but later, Brier is depicted as carrying a six year old over rough terrain. For a woman described as being not much bigger than a twelve-year old, it’s very hard to imagine her carrying a child, on her hip, for any extended length of time. All around though, I don’t feel like a single character had what I would deem a full personality. I also did not see any dynamic characters. There was no one to root for because I had no idea who I was dealing with and read an entire story without feeling like there actually were main characters, instead I felt like I was following two narrators that happened to be trying to act in the story at the same time.

There is one thing I do know about Brier, but it’s a choice I seriously question the necessity of, and that is Brier’s extreme concern about and obsession for finding alcohol. You could play a drinking game with the mention of alcohol and the need to find more for the first part of the book.

idiva_063Again, having no idea how old Brier is or what the culture is like, there is no way to know if this is acceptable or as shocking at it feels.( **correction, Brier’s birthday party is when the engagement is announced, however, I had to have this pointed out to me. As a plot point, again this needs to  be more attended to and given context in the story). Also, the reason that Brier supposedly desires to be drunk so badly is her “disability”, which is that every summer she suffers through a rotting smell. Nowhere in this book is there an adequate enough description describing this supposedly pungent and putrid odor that is supposedly so overpowering that most of what Brier thinks for at least the first couple of chapters, seems to be alcohol and finding more. Because of this lack of reason, Brier’s drinking felt pointless and completely unnecessary.

Connecting with the characters was made all the more difficult due to, what I feel, are some glaring dialogue issues. When there was a string of dialogue, it was a little hard not to feel like I was watching seventh graders perform a self-written play; over acted, some poor and over reaching word choices, and a dose of bravado. If the characters had been more deeply developed, each voice should resonate with the character speaking, with this this depth missing, the dialogue is flat and doesn’t properly do what dialogue should, which is move the story along and give the reader more information about what is going on, and about the character(s) speaking, or the ones being spoken about.

As to the plot, a lot of things played a big role in where this failed to deliver a spell binding story. For one thing, the setting and the culture were not adequately described by any stretch of the imagination. The last names, for instance, Chastain-Bochard and Adessi-Guillroy versus Tash; there is absolutely no explanation of why last names matter, or how, but there is continued alluding to them denoting rank, title, occupation, station…honestly I had to just roll with it and pretend I knew, but by the end of the book, I no longer cared. It feels like Dall tried to get intricate and devious with some kind of overthrowing power play, but with no explanation of the government, no history to ground it, no emotion to make the reader care, and no antagonist properly defined in any capacity, it doesn’t hold up.  I ended up just reading through it and shrugging instead of investing in it because I didn’t feel like there was anything or anyone to invest in. An all-out war is happening at the end of the book, Brier, as the embodiment of Chaos stretching her legs brings down the palace, destroys the piazza, and I couldn’t tell you who was supposed to be fighting, or why.

I also felt the action scenes needed more attention to. The settings, which I never felt were properly presented, became very difficult to picture, especially on the move with a lot of things happening. However, the action didn’t flow, what was happening became confusing and I ended up just going with it and being okay with not understanding what exactly was going on in the moment. For instance, I believe they are in the palace, but there is a sudden stream of gushing water down the hall Brier and Palmer are in, but you have no idea where this water source came from, or what made it suddenly come gushing towards the main characters. Details like this can make or break a story, you don’t have to go into minute detail, but if you’re throwing in things like this, add some context.

One thing I did enjoy, were some of the descriptions of the Nothing that Brier feels. As the embodiment of Chaos she can feel death, control it a little (sort of, but not really?), which I found an interesting concept. Unfortunately, there’s only so many ways you can describe Nothing and have it sound poetic while working in the setting.

I wanted this book to be more than it was but I think a lot could be made stronger on the whole. I honestly don’t even know how there is going to be another book because there just didn’t seem enough to the world, the story, or even the characters. I think, with development, there could be something here, but as it is, I would have a hard time recommending this book to anyone, but to each their own.

Review Corner: Uprooted by Naomi Novik


It was an email from Barnes & Noble (great marketing job by the way), that first led me to the book “Uprooted” by Naomi Novik. It was a special offer to purchase two e-reader versions of two bestselling books for half price. I do not own an e-reader nor am I particularly interested in virtual versions of books, I much prefer the real thing, but I was curious once I saw them.
The cover art caught my eye, obviously, which led me to click and took me to the webpage listing on the B&N website for the book. After reading the synopsis, I was not enthralled but I was a little more curious, so I clicked the button allowing me to preview part of the book.
I generally despise sneak peaks and previews of books. I couldn’t honestly even tell you why except that I prefer for the story and my thoughts on it to unfold as they are meant to, as I read them from start to finish…in this case, I decided to take a chance since the preview started at the beginning, the first page of chapter one, so I began.
I read the first two or three pages when it became apparent to me that I would continue reading. Needless to say, I acquired it. I found a hardback version of the book for sale because, well, as I said, bibliophile, I love the real thing over e-reader versions.
After waiting a couple of weeks to finally get my hands on it, I began the story of Nieshka, the Dragon, and the Wood.
Looking at the book as a whole, I would have to say that I enjoyed the journey I took while reading it. I was intrigued with the premise and most of all, painfully curious about what would happen next.
The writing was easy to read, generally simple in style and usage, apart from the tongue stumbling spells and incantations repeated and used throughout the book by the various magic casting characters.
Nieshka has quite a lot on her plate after surprisingly being chosen by the Dragon to essentially become his serving maid, only to find that she is not as ordinary as she had always believed, nor as the Dragon expected. Soon into the story, the reader finds that Nieshka is a witch and has a unique and special gift all her own that not even the Dragon knows or fully understands.
They both stumble and struggle through finding a way that the Dragon’s precise form of magic can be taught to or used by Nieshka’s unorthodox style of magic which generally involves ineffable feelings she has about what is good or bad, right or wrong.
It’s not long before Nieshka answers a cry for help from her own village while the Dragon is otherwise detained. Racing off at break neck pace to aid in any way that she can without knowing much herself, Nieshka truly begins the long, twisting adventure she finds herself in, involving the Wood, the kingdom of Polnya that she lives in, and the village she loves and never imagined leaving.
If you love a story that involves magic, you will probably enjoy the tale told here. The descriptions of magic were often beautiful and the intimacy described when the Dragon and Nieshka combine their magic is believable in its sensual qualities and is imparted to the reader in unique fashion.
However, there are a few things about “Uprooted” that I believe could have made it stronger. To avoid giving away too much information or any possible spoilers, I’ve put my more pointed thoughts below here. So if you’d like to skip particulars, please feel free to skip to the end, and consider it safe after the picture of the kitten under flannel asking if it’s safe to come out.
I feel like the characters were a bit flat, they didn’t seem to grow much or have much explanation for any of their doings and workings beyond a surface level examination of them. Even the title character, Nieshka, has a lack of depth that is surprising given how much ends up happening in the book and how many people she cares about and goes to lengths to protect or save. It’s perhaps also this lack of depth that makes the strange “romance” between Sarkan (the Dragon), and Nieshka seem unnecessary, or like an add-in for affect and attempt at giving the characters feelings and more depth.
The motivations of characters was sorely lacking in explanation, as was much in regards to setting. For instance, upon first learning that she is a witch, Nieshka doesn’t mention at all what this information means to her, her family, or her village. There are no histories, tales, or legends about witches, or even wizards, to shed light on the situation or give the reader any idea whether this is welcome or unwelcome news.  That Nieshka has magical capabilities doesn’t seem to register on any level other than as a vessel for action, was a feeling I never could shake while reading.
Prince Marek and his motivations for his various actions is also an example. He is both despicable enough to attempt to force himself on the main character, and yet is continuously referred to as something out of a song about heroes and knights in shining armor, and whose only true desire is saving his mother from the Wood, where she has been trapped for over 20 years and presumed corrupted or worse. At some points it is hard not to feel like some of the characters are only used to further the story, place holders and action drivers, while not actually having a solid place or purpose in the story, no real emotion or relate able reason to be examined or supposed upon.
At one point in the story, Stashek and Marisha, the two young children of the brutally murdered Crown Prince Sigmund and his wife, Malgorzhata,( also murdered before her children’s eyes), are being smuggled away by Kaisha and Nieshka to save them. All while you want them to succeed, there is no ensnaring your emotions about the futures of Stashek and Marisha and no feeling of loss for their parents other than the shock of their unexpected deaths.
Near the end, a lot happens in quick succession. The small cast of leading characters find themselves in one flight or battle after another, the nemeses only shifting faces and intentions as big and small aspects of the story collide and shift focus from aspects of court to the Wood. Perhaps this feels exacerbated by the seeming lack of profoundness in the characters feelings and desires, but the fast pace near the end almost feels like it may have been too much.
Possible spoilers being over, and criticism aside, the book was worth the read, even if I feel it could be even better. I enjoyed Naomi Novik’s style enough that I’m curious about a series she has been working on that blends dragons and history.
The ending of “Uprooted” was mostly one that I appreciated, though I cannot decide if I actually liked and enjoyed the ending. Nieshka’s life as it is painted after the various battles and revelations concerning the Wood is one that I enjoy picturing and imagining for her. I’m not sure if I’ll read it again or who I would specifically recommend it to, but it’s worth the read.