MY LITERARY PET PEEVES (discussion)


Characters repeatedly using each other’s names in conversations

This is one of my biggest literary pet peeves, and one of the ones that I just find SO distracting. Imagine two characters, John and Jane, having a conversation, and their entire back-and-forth is just: “Hi Jane.” “Hi John.” “How are you, Jane?” “I’m good, John. What about you?” “I’m doing great, Jane.” Like ?????? When I think about how I have conversations in real life, I almost never use the names of the people I’m talking to in the conversation, so seeing this coming up so often in novels drives me crazy. Some inclusion of names is fine, but when every single line of dialogue includes the characters’ names, it’s extremely irritating. (I DNF’d The Atlas Six like less than 20 pages in because this dialogue issue was EVERYWHERE, and also the writing was just generally awful lol.)


Obvious/simplistic mannerisms or gestures

Another thing I’ve found that I don’t like: when authors give characters the most boring, simplistic gestures or mannerisms. “What do you think about this?” character A asked, putting her fingers to her chin and tilting her head inquisitively. Like, no. The characters start to feel like cartoons when their gestures/mannerisms are so obvious. Would love to see more subtlety than just tilting their head when they’re asking a question. 😬


Characters knowing things they can’t possibly know

I hate this so much. I can suspend my disbelief for a lot of things, but this is one that really annoys me. I’ll be reading a novel and then the character will just discover extremely detailed and specific things from A Look that another character gave them or whatever. People know a lot of things from studying other people, reading their body language, etc., but when characters start gleaning very convenient, important plot-relevant information just from a basic Look, I have trouble suspending my disbelief.


Gender essentialism

This one is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a major red flag for me, especially in romance, and will pretty much immediately lead me to DNF if I find it pervasive in a novel. I’ve seen so many egregious examples of gender essentialism in romance; there are truly so many wild examples I can think of (“a feminine chair” ??? really??).


Magical realism short stories whose entire plot is just “weird things happen”

I love short stories, but I encounter so many magical realism collections that are not trying to make any point or tell any kind of story beyond “weird things happen.” Throwing a bunch of “magical” stuff at me does not make your story an actual story lol. Would love something at least narrative-adjacent, or that has some degree of finesse.


Being told something without it being shown

Another self-explanatory one, but I see this so often, and it annoys me to no end. Character A will be like “wow, Character B is so funny!” when Character B has not shown anything even vaguely resembling a sense of humour. It takes me out of the story so fast, and really makes me distrust the book’s writing. I don’t want to be told to believe things that I don’t actually believe, based on the evidence from the novel.


Overly romanticized writing about books

Omg I find this so irritating. I hate books–especially fiction–about books. I love reading, as I’m sure a lot of us do lol, but I cannot stand overly romanticized writing about books that’s like Wow, that new book smell! I love cracking spines! Like ?? It doesn’t resonate with me at all; I don’t like to read because of the new paper smell or whatever. This kind of writing just strikes me as trying super hard to be Quirky and Special when sometimes reading is really not that deep. People like to read because people like to read. It doesn’t have to become this weird thing that Only Special People Do.


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BOOKS THAT ARE EVEN BETTER AS AUDIOBOOKS


hello hello!! I’ve been wanting to write this post for ages and now it’s finally here!! as I’m sure you can tell from the title, this post is about a bunch of books that I think are even better when you listen to them as audiobooks. as per usual, there are lots of different genres here, and I’ve also included samples of the audiobooks for each book so that you can hear what the narration sounds like. (also all of these are some of my favourite books so consider them all highly recommended!!)


Against the Loveless World by Susan Abulhawa

(my review)

Narrated by: Susan Abulhawa

Susan Abulhawa does a fantastic job with this one. She has such a calm, serene voice, which lends the narrative an impact and precision that is by turns chilling and by others quite moving. Authors narrating their own novels doesn’t always work out, but this one absolutely did.


White Ivy by Susie Yang

(my review)

Narrated by: Emily Woo Zeller

Emily Woo Zeller is an audiobook legend at this point; she simply does not miss. This is an incredible audiobook, especially when it comes to the voices that Zeller does for these characters. She’s so good at doing voices that even when they’re similar (e.g. as in the case with a mother and daughter in this book), she’s able to distinguish them using small but immediately noticeable differences. Every time I listen to an Emily Woo Zeller I know I’m in good hands, and I knew that this was gonna be an incredible read literally as soon as Zeller read that first line. 10/10 perfection.


Gideon the Ninth + Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Narrated by: Moira Quirk


This series is very complex and hard to follow sometimes, but Moira Quirk’s narration is always pitch perfect. The voices that she does for these characters are so good (and fun!), and her narration does a stellar job of conveying the sense of humour that’s such an important part of Muir’s writing. It’s just brilliant, and if you’ve only read these novels physically before, I highly recommend trying out the audiobooks for a reread.


A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

Narrated by: Suehyla El-Attar

Suehyla El-Attar is Egyptian American, which I was so happy to see because this book is set in Egypt. The pronunciation of all the Arabic words was on point, and I loved how theatrical and sometimes dramatic her narration was. It’s a fun and funny book, and the way she narrates gets that across perfectly.


If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

Narrated by: Frances Cha, Sue Jean Kim, Ruthie Ann Miles, Jeena Yi

This one is one of my favourite audiobooks ever. Frances Cha is one of the narrators–her voice is mesmerizing and so piercing–but the other narrators are also excellent. I loved every single one of the perspectives in the novel, and I can’t recommend this one enough if you’re looking for a compelling audiobook to listen to.


Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

Narrated by: Juanita McMahon

Juanita McMahon is another audiobook icon for me. I’ve read four of Sarah Waters’ six novels, and every one of the 4 that I’ve read have been audiobooks (Tipping the Velvet is just my favourite of the bunch, but I also loved the audiobooks for Affinity, Fingersmith, and The Night Watch). I can’t even begin to tell you how good these audiobooks are: the voices, the atmosphere, the accents–Juanita McMahon does it all so masterfully. Her narration perfectly suits Waters’ writing style, and I feel like I loved these novels so much more because of her excellent narration.


Little by Edward Carey

(my review)

Narrated by: Jayne Entwhistle

One of my favourite things to do is listen to historical fiction novels on audio because I feel like that way you really get a sense of atmosphere that you wouldn’t otherwise get from reading the book physically. And let me tell you, Jayne Entwhistle captures the spirit and atmosphere of this book SO WELL. Little has a kind of quirky sensibility to it (in a good way!) and Entwhistle’s intonation and rhythm conveys that so well. Again, one of my favourite audiobooks ever, and one of those books that are leagues better on audiobook, I think (though it’s a brilliant book in its own right; it was my favourite novel of 2020).


The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye

Narrated by: January Lavoy

This is the only January Lavoy audiobook I’ve listened to, but wow did it leave a mark. I was so, so impressed by this audiobook. It has a theatricality and sense of drama to it that is just exceptional. Again, the voices are extremely well done, and some of the more dramatic scenes in this book…oof. January Lavoy Goes There, and this audiobook is so much better for it.


Fault Lines by Emily Itami

Narrated by: Lydia Wilson

This one was such a lovely audiobook; Lydia Wilson’s narration has such a lovely and endearing sense of earnestness to it, which I think is what drew me to this book–despite the fact that I usually stay away from books about motherhood–and made me enjoy it so much in the end.


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DELVING INTO THE FANTASY GENRE (discussion)


hi everyone!!! so as you know, I’ve really been getting into fantasy novels in the past couple of years, and as part of that, I’ve been trying to keep track of what kind of fantasy novels I tend to enjoy, and what I’m looking for specifically when I pick up a fantasy novel. with that in mind, I thought in this post I’d make a list of some of the things I enjoy reading about in fantasy, along with some examples of fantasy novels that I think did those things especially well. in the second part of this post I also have a list of some fantasy books that didn’t work for me so I can explain what it is about their stories that made me dislike them/not get along with them.


#1: CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

Example: the Daevabad trilogy by S. A. Chakraborty

One of the biggest problems I have with fantasy is that it’s too plot-centered, with not enough development for the characters to really feel memorable or fleshed out. I don’t want to feel like the plot is happening to the characters, or that the characters are just there to react to the plot. I want the characters to be at the center of things, and I want for the plot to actually have time to breathe so that the characters are able to process what’s going on.

This is something that Chakraborty does SO WELL in the three books of the Daevabad trilogy. There is plenty of exciting action, but there is also a lot of character development work that justifies and enriches the plot. There’s a reason this series has quickly become my favourite fantasy series ever: the character development work is so exceptional, and the plotting and pacing is just so well done. It’s my perfect fantasy series and I honestly have zero complaints about it (I could’ve easily fit it into any of the other things I’m talking about in this post but I had to restrain myself lol.)


#2: INTERESTING WORLDBUILIND/THEMES

Examples: Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri, the Poppy War trilogy by R. F. Kuang

I am much more of a character reader than a worldbuilding reader. For that reason, I’m super impressed when a fantasy book is able to draw me into its worldbuilding as much as it does–or is able to–with its characters. The Daevabad trilogy is a prime example of this–the characters are always gonna be what I’m interested and invested in the most, but the worldbuilding was just so stellar that it ended up being one of my favourite things about the book. I love worldbuilding that’s detailed (but not too much), and feels organic to the story rather than heavy-handed (through info dumps, lots of exposition, clunky dialogue, etc). I also absolutely love the worldbuilding in The Jasmine Throne; so much nature-y imagery and descriptions, and I love the way that Suri ties it in to themes around imperialism and self governance.


#3: ROMANCE!!!!

Examples: A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland, A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske, Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

You guys should know by now that I am an absolute sucker for any story with a solid romance, and fantasy is no exception. Actually I feel like I enjoy romance in fantasy even more than I enjoy romance in romance novels. Because in fantasy the conflict is so much more heightened and the stakes are so much higher, fantasy romances (for me) end up feeling so much more earned and angsty. Characters have to really go through A Lot to be/stay together, and I just love watching them navigating the various conflicts that come up, especially if it’s across a series.


#4: PERSONALITY

Examples: the Locked Tomb series by Tamsyn Muir

One of the things that I have almost zero tolerance for is generic fantasy. I cannot stand fantasy books that are bland/have no sense of personality whatsoever. I don’t need every fantasy novel I read to have a crazy sense of personality or to be Super Quirky or whatever, but I would like it to at least have some sense of character/to be tonally distinguishable in some way. Gideon the Ninth (and its sequel, Harrow the Ninth) is kind of a prototypical example of what I mean by “fantasy with personality.” Certainly not every fantasy book needs to be written like Gideon the Ninth, but what I love so much about this book is that it has a really unique playfulness and sense of humour. The writing is never just serviceable; the characters’ personalities and sensibilities always underlie the narration, which makes it such a fun and, I think, memorable read.


#5: SOME FUN/LEVITY

Example: Master of Djinn

This one is not a requirement so much as it is a nice bonus to have. I love fantasy that is funny or playful, even if only sometimes or rarely. A lot of fantasy tends to be very Dark and epic, which is fine (I don’t mind that as a rule), so I do like when even darker fantasy stories have some moments of levity or fun. The fantasy books that I don’t end up liking are often the ones that are too self-serious, and so end up feeling really stiff and personality-less.


MISSES

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Too much plot, not nearly enough time for the characters to actually process the (VERY MANY) plot happenings. Also too many POVs, not enough character development, and a mess structurally. Really did not get on with this one despite all the hype it’s gotten…


Mask of Mirrors by M. A. Carrick

Characters have absolutely no personality–like not a single shred of personality anywhere. All we get is plot development upon plot development with nothing to distinguish these characters or make them interesting or likable in any way. I found this extremely boring and–here it comes–bland.


She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker Chan

This one had some character development, but not enough for the characters to really feel realistic or authentic to me. Maybe also a case of telling over showing when it comes to the character development.


The Shadows of What Was Lost by James Islington

This is easily one of the blandest fantasy novels I have ever tried to read lol. Like not to be dramatic but this book is everything I hate about fantasy: extremely generic, plot-focused, and with almost zero character development. A great example of what I don’t want to see in the fantasy I pick up.


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