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6 More Things I’m Tired of Seeing in Modern Stories

To see the first six things, click here.

The Bar Scene

Going to bars is more exciting in person then it is to read about. On the page, it can be pretty dull. You have your MC, often female in my experience, meeting a guy and having a conversation over beer. It just doesn’t translate all that well and usually serves as a plot device.

The Random French-speaking U.S. Citizen

This is an oddly specific trope that has popped up in at least 4 books I read this past year. It consists of a side character (sometimes MCs do it as well though) who mostly speaks English, but occasionally drops French phrases for reasons often unknown. Oh, they’re not usually French or anything, they just do it…because…uniqueness? A recent book I read did call themselves out on it, but that still doesn’t mean it was necessary. In another case, I think it was because the author took French and was looking for an excuse to use it. This is frustrating when the French helps to move the story along and I have no idea what they’re saying! Unless France or its culture is important to the US-based novel, I’m tired of reaching for a French-English dictionary just to understand the story. (Obviously, it was fine in Jenny Colgan’s The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris.) If authors want to make quirky characters, I’d like to see them stick to using interesting traits, not having them spew French phrases now and then. (And it’s always French, never random Spanish or Japanese, furthering my theory that the author is trying to jump on a romantic, stylish trend.) Characters should have reasons for suddenly sliding into other languages.

Sexual scenes

This is a matter of opinion, but I would much rather have a story than read about what characters do in the bedroom, sometimes over and over again. When I read a book, I want excitement and interest. This usually takes the form of having the characters go out on dates, having adventures, and getting to know each other. I don’t feel the need to go any more personal than that…and it’s just not very interesting to me, especially when they’re done over and over.

The Open-Ended Ending

Possibly one of the biggest issues plaguing my book choices, sometimes authors feel like they want readers to imagine their own ending. But I personally buy books because I want the author to spin me a story, and for me that means coming up with an original ending that’s thought-provoking and doesn’t leave me hanging. I don’t want to decide for myself. And yes, stories should have endings.

Gay carciatures

Come on, people. It’s 2019. Of all the gay characters I’ve met this past year, there were TWO (in the same book) that weren’t flamboyant, fashion loving, stylish, or resorted to terms like “sweetie” and “darling.” Let’s start making gay people sound and talk like actual people. The occasional semi-stereotype is probably fine for diverse reasons, but even so, characters should have some sort of uniqueness to them.

Drawn-out drinking scenes

I sometimes wonder whether characters in the adult fiction world have hobbies other than drinking. It’s rare these days where I read a book without hearing someone wax poetic about their favorite wines or beer or who knows what. Maybe this is just me again (I find drinking overrated), but these are often the scenes I find most dull in a novel. I feel the characters are putting on airs, and it just seems so superficial. Characters are allowed to have hobbies and activities other than drinking. Additionally, scenes where characters socialize at bars are rarely exciting in themselves (see above).

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Luckiest Girl Alive: Jessica Knoll

Luckiest Girl Alive: Jessica Knoll
Genre: Fiction
Published: 2015
Pages: 338
Hogwarts House Recommendation: Slytherin

Meet Ani FaNelli: successful magazine editor, wife to a financial tycoon, New York resident with a nice place. She’s worked so hard to truly make it in life, and now that’s she’s about to get married, life couldn’t be any better.

Or could it?

Ani has something buried in her past that has driven her to this point in life. As a teenager at her fancy private school, she was humiliated by her peers and did something that she can’t forgive herself for. When she is asked to take part in a documentary regarding her past, Ani must decide whether to stay quiet or speak up. Can she truly find happiness with her new life?

Luckiest Girl Alive seems to be a story about a successful woman who is hiding a secret, but there is actually much more to it. It’s not the thriller I thought it would be–not that there aren’t thrilling moments–but at it’s core it’s a tale of survival and how our past can shape our futures.

When we meet Ani, she’s living in New York City. She reminds me of a spoiled Instagram influencer/model/party girl, like a lot of the other characters in here. This isn’t a bad thing; she has a unique voice that rings true throughout most of the book which we don’t always get in thrilling novels of this type. From the school the to magazine, most of the female characters seem to be snobby, gossipy, and obsessed with their weight, including Ani’s friends who I didn’t warm to very much. Ani too appears to be materialistic, but not everything is as it appears to be. Her husband is also pretty bland, but this actually plays a part in her story. The relationship that interested me the most was actually the one between her and her English teacher that spans years. Sure, we see a lot of the private school cliches as well, but I also appreciated how Ani was able to make friends and didn’t just try to fit in with a “clique” because that was the only option available. To me, a former private school student, it never really worked that way.

This book may start off reminding readers of Mean Girls (she spends some time with who she believes to be the queen bees), and it stays that way for a while. Without giving anything away, there are no shortage of heavier issues to touch on here, in particular, rape culture as Ani finds her place in the social scene. Then we have events that completely turn the tables and really shift the book’s focus to the past, especially as we watch Ani film the documentary in the present. Here I probably would have liked to see how it all tied to her future a bit more. I did find the police procedurals to be pretty slow as well, especially considering how some of the following chapters were mostly just summaries of what they found to be true. I was especially disappointed that I had to rely on summary chapters to tell me exactly what Ani thought she did that made everyone dislike her, which I had a tough time figuring out at first. It struck me that she might not be disliked for the reason she thought she was, but I could be wrong. Eventually this does all tie together into the present day and we realize why Ani has done what she’s done.

But not all of the mystery surrounds the big incident in the past. Rather, it surrounds Ani herself. She is a puzzle. Are we rooting for her? She seems pretty superficial. If I were the intern who she met with, I’d definitely be intimidated! But then again there’s the way she cares about Loretta, the woman running the corner stand. On the other hand, I found myself not always liking her mother, who she probably gets these materialistic tendencies from. So is there redemption? Ultimately, this is good character development, not that Ani is above a little sabotage herself. I’ve complained about slowness and “character studies” in the past this year, but this book does them right. Mostly. I probably could have done without a couple of scenes with Ani and her new family that didn’t lead anywhere.

Suspense fans will find something to like, too. Maybe especially because this book was a little slower, I was also pleasantly surprised with the ending. Just as I thought there were going to be few twists and turns like I was told, the novel’s path shifts into reverse. I was able to put together some clues and theories before it happened, and it kept me turning pages. It’s pretty clever, though I did wonder about her husband’s side of the story and his reaction.

There is a lot to Luckiest Girl Alive that makes it a unique take on a character hiding something from the past. It’s a character study and drama with a dash of #MeToo and even a sprinkle of crime thriller. If you can make it past some slow parts, it’s definitely worth picking up. Also I have to give a pat on the back to the author for writing this story–an incident in the book is partially based on her life, and she goes into this at the end of the book. It’s eye-opening to know that these things can happen in private schools a mere 45 minutes from home, too.

3.5 stars

SONG OF THE NOVEL: Secret

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Should we criticize books for having triggers?

I recently published a review of a book on this blog, and then went to check out what other people were saying on Goodreads as I often do. I was shocked by the amount of reviewers who gave it a very low score and said they hated it because an animal was abused, or because there were instances of rape. I disagree with those sentiments, but at the same time, there is a time and place for criticizing the use of heavy topics, and it’s when they aren’t done well.

Life is a mixture of the good and the bad. There is war and crime and mistreatment of animals. So criticizing a book just for merely having child abuse or abusive relationships is ridiculous. Bad events do not equate to a bad book.

Now when do you criticize said heavy events? Maybe when it seems like the author is agreeing with, or romanticizing, what is happening. Most readers should, but aren’t always able, to separate author beliefs from what a character says or does and should keep that in mind.

Let’s take a look at my recent reviewed book, I Know Who You Are. (There are spoilers!) After a series of events, in the epilogue, the main character finds herself pregnant with her brother’s child. Disgusting? Yes. But a bad book because of it? No, because these things unfortunately happen and the story is still pretty interesting. What makes this instance critique-worthy is the author’s attitude towards it. The main character isn’t put off by this pregnancy; rather, she seems delighted that she finally has a child. (Um, EW.) That is why the ending made me run for the hills. It wasn’t because the MC was raped. It was because the MC seemed happy about it, because it finally gave her a child, and the author felt like this event resolved her character.

Looking at A Simple Favor, which I didn’t like, there is an instance of incest near the beginning. However, it adds absolutely nothing to the story and it’s just there to add–romance? Tension? A storyline to throw readers off the trail? This, I can see, would be distasteful to readers. This scene in particular does seem romanticized more than anything. I too complained about the use of it.

There’s one other excuse to complain too: when an issue is handled badly. A recent book by Jenny Colgan that I DNF’d killed off the gay characters. Many readers didn’t like this; evidently killing off the happy gay couples is a trope and overdone. This I understand to a point; the gays always being the ones to die does strike me as strange. There are other instances too, such as when a writer writes male characters as being overly touchy towards women and not having that issue addressed, instead acting like this behavior is totally normal. But often, an author writing about something like that does not mean they agree.

So instead of bashing a book because the author dares to include something less than sunshine and rainbows, think about what the author is trying to say about it. If it’s bad, maybe it’s because of the way the author is handling it. We shouldn’t shy away from books and be quick to write them off because there is a topic included that’s hard to swallow. Or perhaps you mostly prefer light and fluffy books. That’s fine too. But it’s not fair to the author to leave a 1-star review saying it’s bad because there’s animal cruelty inside when that isn’t your cup of tea.

The world has gotten a touch more sensitive, but writing off books as bad because something traumatic happens to the characters is just silly–as long as the above isn’t happening. Talking about these issues is important. In some cases, we read to learn more about these instances and look at an issue from a more personal standpoint. They may help readers to see that okay, maybe the rape victim isn’t to blame after all. Or, wow, I didn’t realize how saying that to a person of color is offensive. I’ll have to check myself. And not always does it mean that the author agrees with what is happening. If readers learn something new, why is it a bad book?