May reading round-up

  • # of books read: 21
  • audiobooks listened to: 5
  • ARCs read: 1
  • total page count: 4,538
  • year total page count: 20,077
I managed to get tons of reading done this month!  My favorite reads of the month were Bang by Barry Lyga (about a boy who shot and killed his younger sister when he was a toddler), Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty (a murder mystery set in space and involving clones), and Ten Count v. 1 (a manga that warmed my little yaoi heart).

I got through the top four books in this stack.  I enjoyed House quite a bit, though it was somehow completely different than I imagined.  Dissected was also pretty good!  I thought I would like The Last Final Girl and Tape better than I did, but hey – you can’t like everything.   All of these were super quick reads.  I got House and Tape via Thriftbooks (along with most of the others in this stack!) and the others I got at the library book sale.  Last year I only found one book at the book sale, so I was quite pleased with the selection this year.

The Revenge of Analog was an interesting look at how people, after several decades of movement toward a digital world, are gravitating toward the analog.  Whether it’s music on vinyl, film cameras, or simply handmade goods, I have seen this trend emerging both for myself (I own a typewriter again!) and among others of my generation.  Sure, it’s convenient to be able to load up my Nook for a trip, but sometimes it’s easier (simpler, and easier on the eyes!) to read a physical book.  I was thinking this was more of a hipster trend, but honestly I’m seeing this everywhere.

A nice day for beach reading #beachreads #sixwakes #bookstagram #murlafferty

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I’m not a big fan of sci-fi, but the horror elements of Six Wakes (“Six crew. One ship. One killer.”) intrigued me when this appeared at the library.  I also really liked the cover, because sometimes that’s how I judge books!  I had the opportunity to read One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus as an ARC, and I enjoyed that murder mystery just as much.  Maybe I like murder mysteries now?

Because the weather has been far cooler than usual for May, I’ve been listening to audiobooks like mad (normally, I’d have my car window rolled down, which makes it hard to listen to an audiobook while driving).  My favorite audio of the month was definitely The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.  It was a quirky kind of love story that takes place over the course of a day.  The alternating voices reminded me a little of Eleanor and Park – also the focus on music as a thing that brings the two together.  I also enjoyed Anna Kendrick’s memoir, Scrappy Little Nobody.

Three nonfiction books this month, WHAT?  I’ve had this on request for a while and it came in for me just as I was heading up to Acadia, Maine for the weekend.  It could not have been more perfect timing.  The Stranger in the Woods is the story of a man who lived alone and unnoticed in the Maine wilderness for TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS.  As the author of the book pointed out, most people don’t go more than a few hours without speaking to another human being.  Even me.  I enjoy my time alone, but I also have the outlet of talking to people via the internet, even if I don’t leave the house at all, which is rare.  Usually I at least go to the gym or grocery shopping.  So while it sounds lovely to be alone for so long, I’m sure not even I could do it.

The complete list!  (links take you to my Goodreads reviews)

  1. The House by Christina Lauren
  2. Day 21 (The 100 #2) by Kass Morgan (audiobook)
  3. I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid (ebook)
  4. Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
  5. The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter by David Sax
  6. Dissected by Megan Bostic
  7. The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (audiobook)
  8. Tape by Steve Camden
  9. The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones
  10. One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus (ARC)
  11. The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
  12. Bang by Barry Lyga
  13. Insanity by Susan Vaught
  14. The Infinite Sea (The 5th Wave #2) by Rick Yancey (audiobook)
  15. The Gathering (Shadow House #1) by Dan Poblocki (audiobook)
  16. Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty
  17. Ten Count, Volume 1 by Rihito Takarai
  18. The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel
  19. Blood on My Hands by Todd Strasser
  20. Deadly Attraction (Nightmare Hall #3) by Diane Hoh
  21. Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick (audiobook)
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the YA horror novel aesthetic

You could say that every genre has its own aesthetic, but lately the YA horror genre has been taking aesthetic to a new level – beyond cover design, or even typeface and chapter headings.

The first YA novel that did this really effectively was Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – a novel which some might argue isn’t really horror.  But even if it is fantasy, it’s super creepy fantasy with invisible monsters that eat children.

Using real photographs, Ransom Riggs created a story.  The photographs became a kind of evidence for the text.  Sure, you could read the story (or listen to it on audiobook) without looking at the pictures, and you’d still get a creepy fantasy tale.  But the photographs were what drew me in.  They were mysterious, and did I mention real?  Of course, they were originally created using Victorian-era special effects, but the idea of finding these strange images made me as a reader feel just like Jacob, sifting through his grandfather’s collection.  The page layouts were even made to look like scrapbook pages.  I’ll call this style the Old-Timey aesthetic.


Quickly after the publication of Miss Peregrine’s, I began to notice other YA horror books using images and elaborate page design to draw readers into the story.  The Asylum series by Madeleine Roux had images that looked like they were found on the tiled floors of an old asylum.  Also included were images of scribbled notebook pages akin to what the narrator was finding and/or writing.

I enjoyed the feel of this series even though I didn’t enjoy the story as much – and part of my lack of enjoyment of later books might have been reading them as ebooks, which made them feel somehow less authentic.  I also found that some of the images were clearly photoshopped which made them feel less authentic than those in Miss Peregrine’s.


In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters also uses photographs to great effect – a look at the copyright page shows that most of the photos are from the Library of Congress.  These photos are entirely separate from the story, but mirror the events: seances, spirit photography, army hospitals, and flu victims, all of which ground the story to the time period.  The author did a great job of doing that through her writing, but the aesthetic of the book took it that much further.  You can see that the chapter headings also had a 1920s flair.

YA horror novels about historical events have a great advantage by the ability to use photographs.  But there’s another YA horror aesthetic that doesn’t.  I like to call it the House of Leaves aesthetic, where even the words on the page are arranged to lure the reader deep into a troubled protagonist’s mind.

(If you haven’t read House of Leaves, it’s a very complex story within a story within a story (perhaps even two more levels deep here).  There are footnotes, there’s word art (see image on right), there are hidden codes.  It took me months to read this book.)

Dawn Kurtagich’s novels The Dead House and And the Trees Crept In (UK title: Creeper Man) were definitely inspired by House of Leaves and have many similar elements – the word art, and the story within a story.  There are journal pages and words crossed out.  In The Dead House, the novel is meant to look entirely like a compilation of files and journal pages and transcripts.

Both of these books are very psychological in nature, where the characters question their own sanity, and the disordered fonts/cross-outs reflect that – while the appearance of “official documents” and files lend an authenticity to the story.

This aesthetic isn’t limited to YA horror (see House of Leaves, also the horror/comedy novel Horrostor which is laid out like an IKEA catalog – the story takes place within such a store), and it certainly isn’t limited to horror, but it seems the genre most befitting this type of treatment are horror novels.

And I love it!

(Did I miss any other examples of YA horror aesthetic?  Please let me know in the comments!)

 

reviews! and a comparison of KDP & Smashwords

A couple reviews of The Art Kids can be found on the blogs Offbeat YA and Joana in the Sky with Books!  If you are a big fan of Christopher Pike, definitely check out Offbeat YA – she’s reviewed a bunch of his books.

Hitchhikers ebook cover 4You may have noticed that I finally got Hitchhikers up on Smashwords (link via the cover on the right).  I decided to go with Smashwords this time around because I wanted to offer the book for free, and also to offer more than just the Kindle format.  Looks like I’ll have to upload the book to Kindle Direct Publishing if I want it to be available on Amazon itself, but you can download a kindle-compatible format (.mobi) via Smashwords for now.

I published Bethany Caleb and The Art Kids back in May via Kindle Direct Publishing.  I enrolled in KDP Select, which allows you to offer your book for free for 5 days during the 3-month exclusive enrollment period.  Formatting and uploading the book was super easy.

I published Hitchhikers a few days ago via Smashwords, which allows total freedom in setting the price and also offers multiple ebook formats and will also will distribute to multiple online retailers, including Apple’s iBooks and Barnes & Noble.  The formatting process was a little more difficult, but it does seem like it would be easier to then use this Smashwords-formatted document for the Kindle format.

There have been 89 total downloads of Hitchhikers already.  Of course, it’s free, so that helps, but to compare: during my first free promotion of Bethany Caleb & The Art Kids (1 day), there were 18 & 34 downloads respectively.  I had promoted this free download as an event on Goodreads as well.  During my second free promotion (2 days), there were 13 & 45 downloads.  I’ve officially “sold” a handful of each title.

So far, I’m liking Smashwords a lot.  I like being able to control the price, and it certainly helped publicize the book at first because their front page shows the newest uploads.  Now I can just hope that some of those 89 people will review the book…