Monday, March 15, 2010

Characterization and me

I recently stopped reading two books without finishing them, and in thinking about why, characterization stuck out as an important appeal aspect for me as a reader. As far as I can tell now, I like books with well-hashed-out complex characters or, if they're tropes (common in plot-centered genre fiction to help get to the action quickly), I want to relate to them or at least like them (which is surprisingly not necessary for all readers).

The Reckoners by Doranna Durgin is a paranormal romance about spunky 25-year-old ghost hunter, Garrie. As I was reading it, I thought it was a later book in a series (though it's actually book 1) because Garrie's mentor is referenced but not present (she has passed on), and Garrie's ghost-hunting support team come off as a stereotypical geek and a Latina princess. One of the characters is an "energy-based creature" that often appears in the form of a cat. I didn't understand Garrie's emotions or concerns. To illustrate the necessity of a reader's advisory interview, though, I give you reviews in which the book is praised for its characters (on Amazon, Goodreads, and blogs).

A totally different book in all other appeal aspects, I also stopped reading Gail Collins' When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present. I'll admit, this was partly
owing to the trouble I have with reading more than one nonfiction book at a time. However, I had a hard time with this book's tendency to use real-life examples of women but barely introduce them. This is an effective means of writing history, but, as a reader who has specific characterization requirements, it irked me. I wanted to know more about who they were (not just some representative experience they had four decades ago) and why they were being referenced.

My point is not criticism but to figure out readers' advisory, and these two books gave me new insight into what's important to me as a reader reading for personal entertainment.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

RAview: J.A. Jance's Desert Heat

After much internal debate, I decided J.A. Jance's Desert Heat is softer-edged suspense, which is hilarious since the subtitle is "A Brady Novel of Suspense," (see my preliminary attempt to understand thriller-related genres). It's the first in her series featuring Arizona sheriff Joanna Brady.

Being in one of the adrenaline genres, the pacing is fast. Regarding characterization, Joanna is identifiable with. Jance includes a quote from Mostly Murder on her web site: "Every woman in America is obviously not a sheriff, but Joanna Brady is every woman.” The protagonist has a nine-year-old daughter and an overbearing mother who drives her nuts, and the book opens with her husband, a cop running for sheriff, being shot. The police (Andy's colleagues) think it was a suicide attempt, but Joanna is convinced they're wrong.

Story line: Perspectives alternate among her point of view, that of the hired killer who wants Andy dead, and his former-prostitute girlfriend, Angie. Suspense lies in Joanna's fears that the killer will return to finish the job, in Angie's slow understanding of what her boyfriend does for a living, and in her escape from him. Of course, Joanna winds up in danger, as well.

The Arizona setting is more apparent in the characterization--"In a world of bola ties and Stetsons, he was the only officer...who consistently showed up for work wearing knotted ties and three-piece suits"--similar to Sophie Littlefield's A Bad Day for Sorry. As is common for the genre, details and language aren't a big part of the appeal. The tone is--shocker--suspenseful. It's also sad, validating, and proud.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Mysteries, thrillers, suspense

I finally got The Readers' Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction from the library holds list! This year, I'm using the Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge to expose myself to and start to get a handle on thrillers, but I've been unsure if what I'm reading are even technically thrillers, and it's starting to drive me nuts.

Joyce Saricks groups thrillers and suspense together (along with adventure and romantic suspense) under the umbrella of "Adrenaline Genres," while mysteries are grouped (with literary fiction, sci fi, and psychological suspense--which explains why I didn't find Lippman's Every Secret Thing all that suspenseful) under "Intellectual Genres." So, the first question is whether a book's strongest appeal lies in a puzzle that engages the mind (mystery) or in its fast pace (suspense and thrillers).

In mysteries, solving a crime drives the plot, and the culprit and motive is revealed by the end of the book. In suspense, readers know something bad is going to happen, especially as the protagonist doesn't. The central focus is on suspense, and information is not withheld from the reader as it often is in mysteries. In mystery, "something has happened," and in suspense, "something is going to happen." Saricks' defines thrillers for their emphasis on details of a profession and the way the protagonist uses his or her professional skills to get out of a dangerous situation.

Obviously, this is more nuanced, and I've only just begun to read the book. But I wanted to get a basic primer down with definitions. To keep things interesting, I will read these three genres for the challenge, but I do want to focus more on thrillers and suspense, since I think I have a better handle on what defines a mystery.

*Edit: I should also add adventure, one of the adrenaline genres, which seems to include a few authors I had previously considered thriller writers, e.g., James Rollins and Clive Cussler. Saricks defines adventure as the story of a hero overcoming dangerous obstacles to find a treasure or save the world, and they typically are set in exotic locales and/or historical periods.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Knitted vegetables

I finished three amigurumi vegetables from Amigurumi Knits. The veg section of the book is easier than the insects and sea creatures also in the book, but they were still a challenge. I did learn short row knitting from the carrot, how to pick up stitches from the eggplant, and a few different decreases and increases.

The yarn I used for the tomato was actually the color the book recommended for the carrot--but when it arrived, it seemed too red to me. Then I got an exaggerated orange sherbet color for the carrot so there would be enough contrast.

After all this tiny, specific knitting, I think I am ready to take a break from it and try a sweater or a dress. Now just must find a good pattern and come to terms with how much it's going to cost to buy all that yarn...