Thoughts On #ownvoices In the LGBT+ Publishing World (and why I’m iffy about it)

I love #ownvoices. It’s lovely and important and something that I want to see more of. I’m so glad that more authors are #ownvoices and that there is an easy-ish way to find the stories that features characters that are akin to the author.

However, for all that, I’m not sure that #ownvoices LGBT+ representation is exactly the best. Not because there’s anything wrong with it inherently, but because I’ve heard about readers contacting the author to find out if a story with LGBT+ rep is #ownvoices. Which means the reader is asking if the author fits under the LGBT+ umbrella.

Now some authors are out, loudly and proudly. They have their marginalized sexual/gender identity on their Goodreads page, or on their website. I am so happy for those authors because they feel comfortable enough and safe enough to come out online. And I feel like us readers should be honored by that trust.

But there are some authors that can’t safely come out – either because of their society or because of their family. Or they are just not ready to. (And might never be, and that’s okay, too.) Having #ownvoices (and especially the people that contact the author to ask if the book is #ownvoices) makes it seem like us readers are owed the author coming out. Even if they’re not ready. Even if they can’t safely. Even if they don’t want to.

Some of this entitlement also happens with non-LGBT+ #ownvoices questions as well, naturally. But it seems more prevalent in the LGBT+ side of #ownvoices. (Or maybe I just spend more time here.)

I’d also like to mention the fact that I believe sexuality is fluid. An author might have written a story that was #ownvoices at the time – but has since found another label (or no label at all). That does not invalidate the previous book being #ownvoices, but it does suitably muddy the waters.

In short: I like #ownvoices. I will probably note it if the author says the story is #ownvoices. But I will not go ask the author if they fit this marginalization or that marginalization.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in #ownvoices!

Stay tuned for next time when I will be coming at you with a list of books with F/F romance!

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I (sometimes) Hate My Taste In Books

I love checking out blogs and reviews for new books. Or old books that I’ve never read. I do tend to pay a little more attention to the books that get rave reviews from many different people. Books that have either stood the test of time and remained popular or the newest, hottest thing that I keep seeing/hearing talk about drawn my attention.

I mean, if all those people loved them, surely I will too. Right?

Unfortunately, that’s not right.

So many times I’ve picked up a book that everyone and their poodle loves and I just can’t stand it. I don’t do this on purpose. I want to like the popular books. I want to be able to gush about them to all the other fans and be eagerly awaiting the sequel. I want to love the book just like everyone else, but I wind up not.

This isn’t the Hype Monster, but it is related to it. You see, I don’t go into these books hyped up. Sure, I expect to like them, but I expect to like every book I read otherwise I wouldn’t read it.

I expect all my books to be at least a three star read before I start the book, and if I’ve read more by the author, that is adjusted appropriately. Like if I’ve rated all the author’s previous work four or five stars, I expect the new book of theirs to be a four or five star read.

I don’t tend to buy into hype anymore, but when a review is describing a book that sounds perfect for me, I expect to enjoy it. I don’t expect my enjoyment to be almost directly linked to how much other people enjoyed it. (At least, I didn’t. I’m starting to now.)

I simply don’t seem to like the same things that so many other people do. I’ll look at the ratings for a series and my least favorite book will oftentimes get the highest average rating on Goodreads. Or a book I loved will get a low rating.

I don’t even plan things like this. I mean, it would be one thing if I was trying to be one of those people that hates on the popular stuff. But I’m not. I want to like the popular stuff. I want to be able to join the legions of fans and adore this super popular thing.

But I just can’t. And, sometimes that’s beyond frustrating. I mean, the books I do end up loving? Yeah, good luck finding anyone else to fan over and then I’m left out there hoping that enough people liked the book/s for the author to continue writing them.

Does this happen to you?

The Recent Spate of Trans Shapeshifter ‘Superheroes’

(Includes minor spoilers for Dreadnought by April Daniels spoilers for Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee and possible spoilers for Feeder by Patrick Weekes. (I’ve not actually read Feeder, so basing my comments off a few reviews.))

Sometime back, I heard that there was a trans superhero story coming out: Dreadnought, young Danielle being trapped in the body of ‘Daniel’ with parents who didn’t understand her and in a society that would probably misgender her if she came out trans.

I was excited for the book, read it and liked it quite a bit. Although there was a bit of an issue I had. You see, when Danny gets Dreadnought’s powers, her body changes. In fact, everyone that has ever had Dreadnought’s powers body probably changed. You see, their body becomes the idealized version of themselves – what each ‘Dreadnought’ secretly (or not so secretly) wants their body to be.

So, Danny’s body becomes that of a girl. Sure, from then on Danny has to deal with crappy parents, transphobic and misogynistic society and people. But she’s as she wanted to be: always knew she should be, physically.

Okay. Not perfect. But okay.

Then I read Not Your Sidekick and met Bells, one of two BFF’s to the main character, and a young trans-man. His family sounded supportive, but he was young and from what I gather they weren’t wealthy, so he hadn’t started to transition.

At some point, offscreen as we stay in Jess’ (the main girl) head the entire story, Bells gets the ability to shape shift. Literally. I’m not sure how strong his ability is, as he can do something small like change his hairstyle and keep the appearance there all day, and Jess notes that he’s looking a bit bulkier in the arms and broader in the chest. (And he, apparently, quit wearing his binder.) All of which would make me believe that the closer he keeps to his original appearance, the more/longer he can shape shift.

If I had to guess, I’d say that Bells is able to change his appearance enough to be physically male, though without changing his features.

Okay. I like Bells. I do. Starting to notice a pattern here, though.

Now, I introduce you to Feeder. If my sources are correct, Maya is a trans-woman with the ability to shape shift. Into anything/anyone, apparently. And is almost constantly in the body of a woman. Until it is revealed to her crew that she’s trans (from the way it sounds, it probably says something like ‘male’ on her birth certificate and that’s how the ‘reveal’ happens) and then she is left scrambling trying to explain.

I like seeing trans characters in spec fiction – but…why does it have to be like this? I mean, why are the only two trans superheroes that I’ve read about, both able to change their physical appearance?

I could almost understand it if it were trans authors doing this – at least then I’d read it as wish fulfillment (which, after all, is what a lot of books are) – but if this is cis authors, I have this terrible knee-jerk reaction that, even if they mean the best, they are trying to ‘fix’ the trans character.

Either way, I feel it’s not the ideal representation and I would love you guys if you leave me some spec fiction book recs with trans characters that can’t shapeshift.

On Nostalgic Ships

Discuss the first fictional couples you ever got butterflies over, or couples you used to be really into when you were younger.

That’s what it says over on the topics page for this month’s first Top 5 Wednesday. Today was supposed to be a top five list (for Top 5 Wednesday) featuring my top five nostalgic ships – the couples that I used to love. And as much as I wanted to do it, I thought about it for a long moment and realized something very important:

I used to hate romance in my stories.

I started thinking about those books I read growing up. Nancy Drew…I never felt anything for Ned beyond boredom and general frustration that he was taking time away from my mystery. And don’t even get me started on Frank Hardy and his insertion into Nancy’s life. (Although at least he got the mystery solving aspect.)

Trixie Belden (anyone else remember those books?) was fine, but I used to roll my eyes so hard at her crush on Jim. (Brian was always my guy.) How about The Babysitter’s Club books? Only one of those girls usually had a boyfriend and he was…forgettable. (Besides, I adored Claudia and I’m pretty sure she never even had a crush.)

And I actively avoided romance novels.

In fact, I can remember years ago when I about eight-ten years old and my mom and I used to go to the library once a week. Sometimes my sister would ask my mom to pick out a book or two for her to read and she liked those books. The books down the isle that I avoided like the plague: the Harlequins.

You know those books, the woman’s dress hanging halfway off her shoulders and the man completely shirtless? Yeah, when I was young, those books terrified me. I was the teenager that, instead of reading romances, liked to read cozy mysteries in her younger years and fantasy books with little to no romance as she got older.

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The first book that had a lot of romance in it that I read and liked was Soulless by Gail Carriger. (Which, interestingly, is also the book that started my love affair with steampunk.) It’s only been in the last five years since I would even touch romance novels – and then I started with Christian romance. I’ve only really been reading romance novels or books with a significant amount of attention paid to the romance for a bit less than three years.

I’ve been a member of Goodreads since 2013 and after going through some of those early reading challenges… I don’t even remember if there was romance in those books or what it was like.

There were certainly no romantic relationships that I shipped.

How about you? Did you follow romances closely in books you read as a teen/younger? Were you like me and didn’t even notice romance until you were in your mid-twenties? (Because, seriously, I still barely notice it most of the time.) Do you have any nostalgia ships?

On Being Caught up on Reading

So, a couple days ago was a Top Ten Tuesday and I usually try to post a list every week – at least if the subject interests me. However, this week the topic is ‘Books I Meant to Read In 2018 but Didn’t Get To’ and, sure, there are a few. (Two that I can think of off the top of my head.) But, overall, I read all the books I wanted to in 2018.

I worked hard, ran a book buying ban for the last three months or so along with a reading binge to clear out all the older books I owned. Then, around the first of December, after completely catching up on reading all the books I had previously bought, I bought more books.

So, at the end of December, I was left with books I had almost literally just bought. And I was left feeling pretty darn accomplished.

While there is/was a little of the old ‘what if I run out of books to read’ panic cropping up, I felt so good about having cleared out books I’d owned for the better part of a year. It feels nice to not have books sitting around gathering dust. It feels nice to not have books so long that I lose interest.

So, for once, I’m all caught up and feeling accomplished. Which is why I didn’t participate on Tuesday. I don’t have any lingering books I’m wanted to read but didn’t get to. How about you? Have you ever been ‘all caught up?’ Are you right now?

The Dreaded Reading Slump (Or: What to Do When You Want to Read but Just Can’t)

I’m sure we’ve all been there. You pick up a book that sounds good, read a handful of pages but nothing’s catching your attention. So, certain it’s just a bad book or the wrong type for right now, you try another one, to much the same effect. Or, maybe you can’t even bring yourself to crack open any of your books.

The reading slump: the bane of book bloggers everywhere. (And most readers, too.) It can cause you to fall behind on your reviews, make you buy too many books in search of the one that’s ‘just right,’ and just generally wreak havoc on your well ordered life.

Symptoms

Frustration and an over abundance of books ‘started’ but not finished. General bouts of lethargy. Long minutes spent simply staring at your bookcase or mindlessly skimming through your kindle.

Causes

The direct cause of the reading slump is unknown. Contributing factors can include, but is not limited to, reading a lot and causing burnout, reading several bad books in a row, real-life stress intruding on your book reading. Also could be caused by frustration at the books – even if they aren’t ‘bad.’

Treatment Options

1. Change What You’re Reading

This can be as simple as switching genres – in which case it’s probably genre burnout. (I have totally been there.) If it’s more than just genre burnout, you might need to try reading some comics/graphic novels/manga – or even some fan fiction. (Fair warning, if you’re anything like me, you’ll vanish into fan fiction and quite possibly never return.)

2. Reread Some Old Favorites

Sometimes rereading a book that you love can be enough to jolt you out of a slump with a reminder to why you enjoy reading so much in the first place. Related:

3. Read A Favorite Author

If you’ve a favorite author that has books you’ve not read, you could try reading one of them. Beware, this does run the risk of you actually not liking a book because, no matter how much you love their other work, no author is infallible.

4. Quit Reading

Yes, I know, you’ve got all those shiny new books sitting on your shelf – giving you evil glares – and you want to read something. But, unfortunately, sometimes you just can’t force it. Take a break from reading completely. Maybe catch up on a show or rewatch a favorite. Play a video game. Listen to music or do some crafting. (If you’re feeling really energetic, you could always exercise or do chores, though, blech, who wants to do that?) The point is, do something, anything, besides reading and try to quit feeling guilty that you aren’t reading.

Hope this will be helpful because I’m pretty sure I’ve tried all of these during my last slump. (And I think it was the third one that got me out of it.)

Do you have any tips for those suffering from a reading slump?

Why Most of my Reviews are 4-5 Stars

I got thinking about this recently and, you know, it’s so funny because I say that I don’t trust people that always like something or always hate something. I mean, I’ve seen review blogs where they never have a good thing to say and other’s that constantly give out five stars and I get where I don’t really believe/trust either of them. So, I felt like it was time to clear up a few things.

DNF Books

Any more, I’m not at all afraid of DNFing a book if I’m sure it won’t get over two stars. Sometimes I keep reading the book, just to see how it turns out, but, more often, I’m also willing to move on a read something I’ll enjoy more.

By that same token: I do rate books low, but they usually don’t get reviews here on my blog. You see, if I read a bad book, one that I just dislike, chances are that I’ll post my ranting over at Goodreads instead of dropping a review here.

Spread the Love

As strange as it would sound – and just might – even though I come off cynical, I’m actually a very happy person by nature. Sure, I like complaining, but the fact is that I’d much rather use my reviews as a way to recommend a really great book than as a way to warn people off a book.

As much as non-critical reviews are difficult for me to write, I don’t believe even a five star book has to be flawless. To me, all five stars mean is that it was a perfect book for the reader. I have rated books five stars that I think have flaws, but I enjoyed them enough to say the book was perfect for me at the time.

Emotional Rating

To me, when I rate a book, it’s based solely on my emotions when I finish the book. I don’t think in depth about what I liked, what I disliked and what was just meh. I’m going with my gut, how much I just simply enjoyed reading it. (I almost said ‘how much fun I had reading it’ but I’ve enjoyed and rated high some books that I wouldn’t call ‘fun’.)

Does that mean that I’ve wanted to change my rating after awhile – raising it or, more often, lowering it? You bet. Does that mean that sometimes I write a review for a book before my opinion changes and then I’m looking at it and wishing I’d reviewed it differently – or not at all? Yup.

Finally, the most important reason my reviews skew higher.

After many years of reading, I’ve finally gotten better at picking out books I’ll like. That doesn’t mean I never get duds (see the section on DNFing) but it does mean that I know more which books I’ll have a better chance of liking.

How do your reviews tend? Do you have more 4-5 stars or 1-2 stars? (Or maybe you write a lot of – my dreaded – 3 star reviews?) Do you post reviews to different places and post your more positive ones at one website and your less positive ones somewhere else?

Content Advisory: What It Is & Why I Have It On My Reviews

I meant to get this post up a little sooner but better late than never, as they say. I wanted to talk about a feature of my blog that I’m very happy with and tell you what it means and why I’ve chosen to do this.

Content Advisory

This is a feature I’ve been thinking about for a long time, ever since the brief talk a few years ago about rating books like they do movies. First of all, I thought then that it was a bad idea to have books that were ‘rated PG-13 for violence’ and I still do. (Because I’m just against enforcing something like that.)

However, I do like the idea of a sort of ‘content’ list – which is where my Content Advisory at the bottom of each of my reviews comes from. You see, there’s plenty of times I’ve looked at a book and wondered: How gory is it? Are there explicit sex scenes? What about trigger warnings?

These are things I’d like to know before deciding to buy/read a book. Sometimes reviews talk about the content, but other times I’ve read a book that has something I’d consider iffy and I’ve never found a review that talks about it.

Now, as of writing this post, I have found a couple of websites (links at the bottom) that are all about doing this (and were definitely less helpful than I expected). For me, it’s nice to know what I’m getting in to – at least to a degree – with a book.

I admit, what I would love, is if books had little notes on their back cover – or, perhaps, on the inside of the cover – on things that might be worrisome. Say, for example, a book has graphic violence, or explicit sex. That would be noted, but there wouldn’t be a ‘recommended for ages 15+’ on it. We’d get the benefit of knowing if something would be bothersome, without any added policing about the ages.

 

What do you think of content advisories? Would you like to see books get them, or do you prefer not knowing that sort of stuff before hand? Or would you rather rely on reviews? I’d love to know what you think!

Links: (as promised)
Compass Book Ratings
Rated Reads