September 30, 2012

In My Mailbox #7

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren. It's a great way for book bloggers to showcase books and other literary things they've received over the past week.

This is a special birthday edition! My birthday was this past Friday, so I wanted to show off what I received.

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley
I need more adult fiction in my life. Desperately. So when I saw that this was on sale at Amazon, I snatched it up. I vaguely know it's about time travel and dealing with grief. Not much more than that, but ratings have been pretty high so I'm willing to try this out!

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund
Already read and reviewed here. Suffice it to say that it's a really thought-provoking science fiction novel but isn't the best in terms of being a retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion.
Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst
I am not quite sure what made me so excited to read this book, especially considering I haven't read many reviews. Just the idea of a "chosen one" and gods that interact with humans is enough to make me super excited, I suppose. And it has become one of my favorite books for the year. Look out for my review later this week!
Bitterblue (Graceling Realm, #3) by Kristin Cashore
Yes! I refuse to buy this book until it's paperback like my copies of Graceling and Fire, so that meant months and months of waiting on my library's waiting list. And I've also been waiting on a Graceling reread and Fire first read so that I could devour all three of Cashore's companion novels at once.

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
Words cannot express how excited I am to read J.K. Rowling's new adult novel. Like a large percentage of Rowling's many fans, I was fortunate enough to grow up with the Harry Potter books. The Casual Vacancy is the type of book I would never randomly decide to read, but I will read anything published by J.K. Rowling and I am eager to see what story she crafted this time.
Daughter of the Forest (Sevenwaters series, #1) by Juliet Marillier
Son of the Shadows (Sevenwaters series, #2) by Juliet Marillier
Child of the Prophecy (Sevenwaters series, #3) by Juliet Marillier
These were the first three books I read by Juliet Marillier, years ago when this was a trilogy and not a series. These are still my favorite works of hers, and after reading a number of recent reviews of Daughter of the Forest, I realized how desperately I need to go back to Sevenwaters and experience the magical stories once again. And then after I finish these three I fully intend to read Marillier's later three Sevenwaters books for the first time.
The Intellectual Devotional by David S. Kidder and Noah D. Oppenheim
I honestly have not heard of this book before, but apparently the method behind it is that you read a small article in it each night for an entire year. There are seven fields of knowledge that repeat each week and each week is a different theme. Sounds interesting and I'm totally down for gaining small bits of knowledge each night. 

What did you receive in your mailbox?
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September 27, 2012

Review: For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund
Published: 2012, Balzer + Bray
Genre: Young Adult Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction, Retelling
Source: Library book
Contains spoilers for Jane Austen's Persuasion, since it is a retelling

Envy hurt exponentially more than heartbreak because your soul was torn in two, half soaring with happiness for another person, half mired in a well of self-pity and pain.

My main interest in reading Diana Peterfreund's For Darkness Shows the Stars was definitely the fact that it is a retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion. It's not a secret to anyone who knows me that I love all things Jane Austen, and after doing a Persuasion read along this summer I just felt compelled to read this genre-defying science fiction/dystopian/post-apocalyptic version. Reading it with Persuasion so fresh in my mind proved to be a little detrimental, however I did find myself enjoying all the new aspects that Peterfreund brought into this retelling.

In this futuristic society, people are divided into three groups. There are the Reduced, the offspring of those who took genetic engineering too far and played the role of God. The Reduced look human, but are unable to mentally advance beyond the age of an early child. There are the Luddites, the offspring of the people who refused to partake in the genetic experimentation in the past and thus did not have their lineages suffer. The Luddites fully believe that the Reduced are God's punishment for those ancestors and their experiments, so the Luddites feel a sense of entitlement for their superior positions. The Luddites also believe that it is their responsibility to take care of the Reduced. And a third class has emerged between the two: the Post-Reductionists. For a while the Reduced only gave birth to more Reduced, but recently a trend has emerged where the Reduced are sometimes giving birth to children whose mental facilities are no different from the Luddites. While the Post-Reductionists prefer to call themselves so, the Luddites see this terminology as a threat to their society and the semblance of stability.

Elliot North has experienced this fractured society firsthand growing up on her family's Luddite estate. Although the Luddites fear progress and anything that has the potential to negatively impact the society that they have created, Elliot does not necessarily buy into that mentality. As the one who actually runs the estate, if not the nominal lord, her concerns are for the continued success and well-being of the North estate and all of its people. Again and again her Luddite philosophies clash with her knowledge of her changing world as she becomes best friends with Kai, a Post-Reductionist worker, befriends many other Post-Reductionists, gets to better understand the culture of her home, and even genetically enhances a wheat crop herself all for the greater good of the people of the North estate. Her own confused thoughts on a gradually Post-Reductionist society are brought to the forefront when her grandfather's shipyard is rented to a group of free Post-Reductionist explorers, one of whom is her ex-best-friend Kai.

It is difficult for me to collect my thoughts on For Darkness Shows the Stars as an independent work since I did commence my reading with the understanding that this is a retelling. There were many ways in which I felt that the adherence to Persuasion's storyline is a bit of a detriment in For Darkness Shows the Stars. Persuasion is a story about the power of persuasion, and about how easily people can ignore their own predilections if another can give a good argument. As its core, For Darkness Shows the Stars has a fundamentally different aim.  Persuasion shows how Anne Elliot's decision to not marry Captain Wentforth has profoundly affected her life, but her life alone is the only one that really suffers. That is not really true in For Darkness Shows the Stars, where Elliot North's conflicting thoughts on Kai's views of changing society and the place of progress and Post-Reductionists has consequences that affect tons of people; this is no isolated love story, but rather a critique of a society's fear of progress. Although Jane Austen's story does bring up questions about the changing society and how governmental organizations like the navy were helping society as the aristocracy began to flounder, these messages are not nearly as explicit as Peterfreund's are.

Elliot North is a likable protagonist, and I found myself emphasizing with her struggle between saving her estate and the importance of her Luddite ancestry. She's resourceful and determined and not quite the pushover I'd expected since she is based on Anne Elliot. I'm not saying that I dislike Anne Elliot by any means, but Elliot North and her struggles are much easier for me to relate to. The fact that her decision to remain behind instead of going to a Post-Reductionist enclave with Kai had less to do with a sense of uncertainty versus her knowledge that the estate needed her also helped.

Since Persuasion is literally all about mourning lost love and questioning past decisions, there's no way I could read something like For Darkness Shows the Stars and not examine how this theme was touched upon here. First the good of Elliot and Kai's relationship: I felt like I really got a good understanding of their relationship. Through past letters periodically spread throughout the novel, I was privy to the development of their friendship as the two learned about each other, their different places in society, and began to question why things were the way they were. Although the letters were not my favorite way for all of this backstory to be conveyed, I still loved the solid foundations that Peterfreund establishes for their relationship.

Now the bad: I just couldn't buy into this idea that Elliot and Kai were separated at fourteen and yet considered each other to be the loves of their lives and spent four years pining for one another. While I just mentioned that I think the establishment of their relationship is well done, I speak only of the establishment of a solid friendship. I could buy them mourning each other's friendship over the years. One of the most powerful aspects of Persuasion is that eight years of youth and marriageability pass Anne by as she literally cannot stop regretting her choice to stay behind as Wentworth went on to prove his worth. I never really got a sense that Elliot was mourning the fact that she stayed at her estate, especially since it was so clear how necessary her presence was there. And there's no way that I'd be convinced that Elliot would not be able to move on and find a new love, given time. In Persuasion Anne is literally stagnant, continually regretting her decision to stay behind and let Wentworth go, but there's not this same sense of regret for Elliot North. Despite those issues, I still enjoyed the relationship that continues to develop between Elliot and Wentworth once they are reunited. I am a sucker for those romances where the characters struggle with seemingly irreconcilable differences, only to begin to develop a mutual understanding and respect much later. I did feel, however, that the romance itself is secondary to the bigger themes of the story.

As a book in its own right, I really enjoyed For Darkness Shows the Stars. I really enjoyed the morality questions it offers and some of the answers that it proposes. It is a book that does not shy away from the difficult questions. Can progress ever be justified, or is the inexorable pull towards progress really just another way to repeat past mistakes? Are human lives all equal, or do the mistakes of our ancestors continue to condemn us? I did feel, however, that this would have been better off not as a Persuasion retelling. The focus is on morality and humanity after all, not a lost love. I am sure that those who aren't as critical of retellings and their use of the original source material, or those who haven't actually read Persuasion, will not find nearly that many issues.
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September 25, 2012

Top Ten Series I Haven't Finished

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by the bloggers of The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is the top ten series I haven't finished for one reason or another. Now, I'm not a huge fan of series to begin with. I've said it before and I'll say it again - I think that a number of authors create series more as a way to keep publishing books and earning money than because the storyline legitimately needs to be continued. And keeping up with a series takes a lot of effort on my part as the reader. I am willing to do so, however, for those series I really like. I've organized my list into three categories: those I plan to continue, those I'm not sure about continuing, and those I definitely will not continue.

First I'll list the series I have every intention of continuing with in the future:

Philippa Gregory's The Cousins' War series I love Philippa Gregory's books. Whenever I'm in the mood for a historical fiction fix, I always turn to her. Although Tudor England is one of my favorite time periods to read about, I find all of her books comforting. They're adult reads, feature good romances and strong female protagonists, and are a great means of escapism into a different time period. Plus I do love learning about histories of the world. I've been slacking with her books lately, however, as I continue to read mostly YA. But I will continue with her newest series soon!
Juliet Marillier's Sevenwaters series I adore Juliet Marillier. In my defense, when I first read her Sevenwaters books, back when they were recently published, it was only a trilogy (and I read those three Sevenwaters books). I only found out recently that apparently she's added more books to this series. I kind of liked how the trilogy ended and this makes me a little wary of continuing with it, but I trust her abilities as a writer. I just need to reread the first three books again before continuing on with the new ones.
Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments series I read the first one and maybe the second...although I'm not sure. I was a huge fan of Clare's Harry Potter fan fiction. Any other Draco trilogy and "A Lot to be Upset About" fans out there? So I was excited for her first series, but then I started hearing criticisms that Jace is her Draco. And I couldn't help but agree. Apparently that criticism was enough to turn me off, despite relative enjoyment of the first book. But I can't really ignore Clare's presence in the YA world. So I'd like to either really read this series or start with The Infernal Devices.

N.K. Jemisin's The Inheritance Trilogy I really enjoyed The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Give me any story with solid world-building and a believable mythology (and gods who actively are involved in the lives of mortals!) and I'm good to go. I've heard that the POV changes as the series continues, so I'm anxious to see what happens next. Plus the first book ended on a major cliffhanger. So I need to return to the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms soon.

Here are some series I'm not quite sure whether I'd like to continue with or not:

Lois Lowry's The Giver quartet The Giver is probably my favorite YA dystopian of all time. I mean, it helped define the dystopian genre for YA audiences years and years before The Hunger Games headed the recent surge in YA dystopian novels. Just everything about The Giver is so inventive and full of commentary, and it makes societal criticisms without having to rely on constant action. I didn't realize that Lowry continued with the series until years later, and I just consider the first book to be so perfect I'm kind of nervous to see how it continues
Lauren Oliver's Delirium series I may get back to this series eventually but I haven't decided one way or the other. Oliver's writing style is beautiful, but I had issues with the world-building and premise of this dystopian world where love is outlawed. In some ways it's a really thought-provoking idea, but I never truly understood the urgency behind banning love. I know that the sequel, Pandemonium, has been published. I guess this is one of those books where I'll need to have time and desire before I pick it up again.
Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series I read and loved Uglies, Pretties, and Specials. But those were years ago and I'm not even sure how to classify Extras. Isn't it featuring a different protagonist? So is it really a continuation of the same series or something slightly different? I'm not sure. I feel like I'd need to reread the first three books before picking up Extras, and right now that's just not something I have the time to do.

And these are the series I have no desire to continue reading:

Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series I read the first three or so books in this series back in high school. But they're long and I guess there were other books calling out to me. And then the TV series "Legend of the Seeker" came along a few years ago. I ended up reading the first and second book in the series again, but then again lost interest. Would it be bad of me to admit that I prefer the TV series to the books? Although I'm sad the series ended, I just can't muster up the dedication and time needed to read thirteen very long books. 
Sophie Jordan's Firelight series Firelight and Vanish, the first two books in this series, were some of the first books I reviewed for this blog. At the time I was super excited to read books about dragons. And I'd had such a hiatus from the current YA book marketplace that I had not many recent comparisons to this series. But now it is a few months later and I've come to admit what I had already suspected while I was actually reading these books: they're typical lite YA paranormal romances and, as I have far too little time to read books I'm truly interested in as it is, I will not be reading future books that I realize aren't that great.

Beth Reavis' Across the Universe series Once again, this series was just not very good. I thought it was cool that I'd found a science fiction book where I didn't feel like I was drowning under heavy scientific concepts, but the flaws in this first book outweighed the pros. I'm not a huge fan of dual narration and while I identified somewhat with the female narrator, the male one felt completely cliche. The story had some interesting ideas, but the mystery was kind of obvious.

I realize that not all of these series are finished, but I'm still behind in all of them in terms of books published.

What are some series that you haven't finished?
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September 23, 2012

Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Published: 2002, HarperCollins
Genre: Children's Fantasy
Source: Library book
Goodreads · Amazon · Barnes & Noble

I don't want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted just like that, and it didn't mean anything? What then?

So far Neil Gaiman's books and I have clashed. I was not a fan of Good Omens at all, and I didn't enjoy Neverwhere either. And we read and discussed one of his Sandman graphic novels in class, but, honestly, a graphic novel is just not going to be my favorite; it's not my type of thing. But it's hard to give him up completely. After all, he's such a well-known and respected darker fantasy author. After so many disappointments, however, it's hard to create my own initiative here. So when this Young Adult book group I just joined told me we were going to read Coraline for this month, I was ready to try him once more.

Coraline Jones and her parents have moved into a new flat, their floor sandwiched between one shared by two retired actresses and another inhabited by a crazy old man who conducts a mouse band. An only child, Coraline spends the majority of her remaining summer vacation exploring her building, getting to know her neighbors, and wandering around the apartment's unkempt grounds. Coraline's parents both work from home and are too distracted by other responsibilities to find much time for their lonely daughter. Alone and confined indoors due to the weather one day, Coraline feels drawn to the mysterious door in her drawing room that opens upon a brick wall. Except that this time when she opens it she finds a dark hallway before her. At the end is a flat that appears much like her own, but with subtle differences. There she is introduced to her other parents, who give her all the attention and adoration her real parents do not. Coraline senses something off about this world, however, and returns home. But when all evidence points to her true parents being kidnapped by her other parents, Coraline must venture back into this alternate world to put her real life back in order.

From the beginning, Coraline's name signifies that something is a little off with this story. She's not a Caroline, but the slightly altered form of Coraline. At a first glance the alternate world beyond the drawing room's door seems just as subtly different. It holds much that is familiar to Coraline but even better, featuring her favorite foods, exciting new toys, and attentive parents. But this world, as Coraline eventually discovers, is more than just a little off. The other mother, for example, at first seems pretty similar to Coraline's true mother, but over the course of the novel Coraline discovers newer ways that this creature is unlike her mother, from the black button eyes, to bone white skin, to crimson claws (nails), to black sinous hair. I have to admit, the differences between this world and Coraline's real one became more and more terrifying as time goes on. Although this is a story where a child discovers a new world, in the vein of Alice in Wonderland or The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, this is one fantasy world I personally would be content to never discover.

Coraline is a wildly imaginative story. I want to meet Neil Gaiman and figure out where he comes up with these concepts, especially those more grotesque ones. I still cannot get over being creeped out by the black button eyes and how the other mother wants Coraline to replace her own eyes with them. I'm not much of a fearless risk-taker myself, but that makes me more appreciative of how, in the midst of many trials, Coraline is able to find a sense of self-confidence and emerge all the stronger. Honestly, I never would have been able to do what she does to regain her family. But I do love a story where a protagonist goes against the odds to restore rightness in the world. 

My favorite aspect of the book is how Coraline is able to explore the depths and limits of love, figuring out what it means to her. Do the disconnected, almost apathetic reactions that Coraline feels she receives from her parents constitute as love? Do the other mother's proclamations and temptations count? Over the course of the novel Coraline has to figure out answers to these questions and discover what love means to her. As Coraline's journey reveals, this is not an easy answer. But then, love never is truly easy to understand.

I have a feeling that this kind of story would have fit my younger self much better than how his adult stories currently (don't) suit me. My biggest problem here is that I'm not a dark fantasy fan; if I was one, I would have enjoyed this story. And Gaiman's quirky writing style is just not something I can easily adjust to. While this story is again a miss for me, Coraline features a plucky and resourceful young heroine easy to admire. From Coraline I can start to get a better understanding of why Neil Gaiman has such a large fan base, even if I am still not part of it. 

Will this be my last Neil Gaiman story? I'm not sure. While I respect his writing, I'm just not sure it's anything I'd really come to enjoy.
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September 21, 2012

Review: Audrey's Guide to Witchcraft by Jody Gehrman

Audrey's Guide to Witchcraft by Jody Gehrman
Published: 2012, Magie Genie Books
Series: Audrey's Guides, #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, Paranormal
Source: Ebook for review
Goodreads · Amazon · Barnes & Noble

Sometimes knowledge is power, and sometimes it's a deadly liability.

When Jody Gehrman contacted me about reviewing her book, I was excited to have the opportunity to read something different. I haven't read YA novels that feature actual high school students or that are about witches for a while now. I'm far enough removed from high school that I really don't care about the petty school drama and teenage angst associated with it. As for witch books, are there really that many even out there anymore? I am definitely a high fantasy fan, but I need to mix up the genres I read every once in a while, and Audrey's Guide to Witchcraft provided a great way to switch things up with something else I enjoyed reading.

Audrey believes that she's in for another typical day of high school until a feeling of unease begins to penetrate her thoughts. For reasons she can't explain, she knows that her mother has disappeared; she sees this mysterious face and haunting blue eyes all over; and she hurts the school's resident mean girl without lifting a finger. Audrey's fears about her mother are confirmed and she learns something even more unexpected: her mother is a witch and so is she. And powerful witches at that. Her mother's "family," a clan up north, needs to borrow her mother's considerable talents to defeat a sorcerer, and so Sadie, a young witch, comes to stay with sisters Audrey and Meg. Once Sadie discovers Audrey's power, she hesitantly consents to train Audrey. Although her mother is still missing, Audrey's life starts to improve as she embraces her inner powers, finds love, and plans on doing whatever it takes to help her mother defeat this mysterious enemy.

The strongest aspect of this book is definitely Audrey's relationships with others. I think that Gehrman paints a realistic portrayal of teen sisters, jealousy and all. Despite the drama and petty annoyances she has with Meg, it's clear that Audrey will do anything to protect her younger sister. And although their mother is absent for most of the book, the relationship between the mother and her two daughters also plays a large role in the story. Most of Audrey's decisions stem from her doing whatever she thinks will help out her mother. Lots of times teenagers go through phases where they believe their parents do not understand them, so it was refreshing to see how this book presented a teen girl's strong relationship with her mother. Besides her strong family bonds, I loved reading about Audrey's friendship with her best friend Bridget and the gradual friendship that forms between Audrey and her witch "cousin" Sadie. In fact, the vast majority of relationships that influence Audrey are formed through strong female bonds, which is awesome. Who doesn't love reading about that?

Of course I also enjoyed Audrey's relationship with Julian. While it isn't quite insta-love, there is a sense of insta-connection. Sadie hints at possible meanings behind Audrey and Julian's connection, so I feel sure that this topic will be something explored in future novels. I've just been very jaded recently when it comes to romance in YA books, but Audrey and Julian have a solid relationship. Julian cannot offer the same support to Audrey that the female influences do, but he is still the kind of boyfriend that all protagonists struggling with paranormal secrets should have; for the most part he's completely accepting of Audrey's inability to divulge her secrets, and he is genuinely a good guy who cares for her safety. I'd like a little more character development on his end, but for the first book in a series I was content.

I liked the idea of Audrey making lists of important things in her life. The idea fits well with Audrey's two main interests in life, baking and chemistry, which both are very list- and detail-oriented. I think the inclusion of a few recipes and how-to guides was great (and on a similar note I enjoyed how the story ended - it felt circular and so right). I do wish that this theme could have been expanded even more. There are only about five lists throughout the entire novel, unfortunately. I wanted more recipes and spells. So I hope we'll get more details of those in future novels as well. 

In terms of conflict, I found the overarching villain-initiated conflict could have been a bit stronger. Even though the villain does try to explain his plans for world control to Audrey, I didn't really understand his motivation behind his actions. And after Audrey has seen so many creepy messages and images, I felt the final showdown was anticlimactic, although it definitely leaves the book open for series potential. I actually found myself more drawn to Audrey's internal struggles. I love a character who struggles with identity issues and seeks to find a sense of purpose. I considered this to be at the heart of this story and it had far more effect on me as a reader and Audrey's characterization than the actual villain showdown does.

I found myself to be pleasantly surprised by this book. Because the YA paranormal romance market has become so flooded with books over the past few years, Audrey's Guide to Witchcraft suffers from a few clichés here and there. Those clichés, however, did not detract from my enjoyment of reading this solid and well-written contribution to YA witch/paranormal books. Because the book is part of a series, Gehrman did leave a number of things open and I am eager to see how the story continues. This is a light and fun read, yet Gehrman is also able to bring up some important questions about family and self-discovery.

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, Jody!
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September 19, 2012

Waiting on Days of Blood and Starlight

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights any upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

 Release date: November 6, 2012
In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Karou must come to terms with who and what she is, and how far she’ll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, mysteries and secrets, new characters and old favorites, Days of Blood and Starlight brings the richness, color and intensity of the first book to a brand new canvas.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone was a surprise and an absolute delight. By the time I started blogging this spring, I guess basically everyone had already read the book. I had seen a few glowing reviews and references to it, however – enough for me to know that I had to try reading this book, and I am so glad I did. Here's the review I posted earlier this week where I gushed about how incredibly talented and creative Daughter of Smoke and Bone is. 

I'm fully expecting the same sort of brilliance to shine through in Days of Blood and Starlight. One good thing about taking so long to pick up this book is now I have a very small wait time until I can pick up the next installment. I am so eager to see what has happened to Karou's chimaera family, as well as what will happen next with Karou and Akiva's star-crossed romance. I'm not a huge YA romance fan, but the romances between Akiva and Karou and Akiva and Madrigal are just beautiful. I want more! 

What are you waiting on?
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September 17, 2012

Reading with a Sense of Immediacy: The First Person Present Tense

I remember a time in the not-too-distant past when coming across a book written in the present tense was like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. Perhaps present tense stories weren't quite that rare, but they were definitely not a commonly used narrative technique. In the past few years, however, I've noticed an interesting trend as this narrative technique continues to grow and gain popularity. By stopping and thinking for a second, I'm sure that the majority of Young Adult fiction readers (and perhaps even many Adult fiction readers) can name at least one book off the top of their heads that uses the present tense as the narrative technique of choice.

I'll admit that it baffled me when I first started reading books written in present tense (generally first person) with increasing regularity. I need to first explain that I tend to prefer more formal writing styles. Third person limited and omniscient are my favorite narrative techniques, although I'm becoming more accustomed to first person. Obviously first person is better able to draw you into the protagonist's mind than third person is. But I've always been a fan of third person narratives for that reason – I like being more of an observer in the stories I read. I enjoy that bit of distance, the chance for the author to show readers the bigger picture, which gives me an easier time analyzing the book. I can understand why many people enjoy the first-person point of view, but it's not my personal preference. It's a little harder for me, however, to understand love of the present tense, which I’ve only seen in first person. For me it almost feels stifling. I have a harder time seeing the big picture (which I realize may be intentional on the part of the author). I sometimes find myself feeling overwhelmed by the fact that everything is happening right now.  

The increasing use of the present tense, specifically the first-person present tense has made me wonder about its origins. What about our current society has led to its prevalence and continued use? Is it possible that Suzanne Collins' incredibly popular The Hunger Games is partially responsible for this literary trend? After all, it was The Hunger Games that helped popularize the YA dystopian novel, and that is a fad that is still going strong. As stated in this New York Times Opinionator piece, “Staging the Self: ‘The Hunger Games,’” Stanley Fish believes that protagonist Katniss' adventures are appropriately told through the first-person present perspective:
"Of course, in Panem, everything is a staged event, given that everything is seen by a nation-wide audience. And yet, in the midst of a relentless theatricality — Katniss is continually being made up by cosmeticians — everyone is hungry for the genuine. That is why it is so important for Katniss to simulate it, to give the people what they want, and what they want is to believe that the simulated is the real.

"It is what we want, too. The present-tense narrative has the effect of creating the illusion of immediacy and as readers we fall in with the illusion, especially at those moments when the characters we are invested in engage in what feels like intimate conversation. But then the curtain is drawn back, and we realize what we had momentarily forgotten — that we are watching not reality, but a huge reality show, a pageant of bread and circuses, Panem et Circenses."
If we are to agree with Fish here, then Collins specifically chose this narrative technique to convey her story. In other words, she believes that having Katniss narrate in the first person present tense added another essential layer, one that was necessary for the story itself. His article continues to discuss the questions Collins raises about the self and reality, and clearly he believes Collins’ use of tense helps further those examinations.

In addition to this very successful YA trilogy using the first-person present tense, it should come as a surprise to no one that now, more than ever, we live in a society centered around instant gratification and immediacy. The independently organized TED event TEDxBrighton explores ideas of a Generation of Now, a generation that thrives on the sense of immediacy. What can give reading a better sense of immediacy than by creating a book in the present tense?

The first-person present tense definitely has the potential to fuel our society's desire for immediacy, since everything is happening now, without delay. The first-person present tense allows us to not only enter a protagonist's head, but the protagonist's life as he/she is actually living the events of the novel. In this respect, nothing beats the first-person present tense in terms of feeling real and raw, perhaps even giving us a stronger emotional identification. I think it's difficult to argue with the fact that the first-person present tense gives readers the most intimate way in which to experience a novel.

As with all changes to established norms, however, harsh criticism on this tense abounds. In an article written for The Guardian, Philip Pullman expresses his many issues with the use of this tense. One of Pullman’s dislikes about “the present-tense narrative is its limited range of expressiveness.” He argues that our languages are crafted with a variety of tenses, and that authors should be more varied in their tense use in books than simply the present tense. A more compelling argument of his is that by writing only about the immediate in a narrative, the author loses some authority and power over his own text. He claims that it is “an abdication of narrative responsibility.” A bit harsh, perhaps.

Pullman’s opinions built on those already proponed by author Philip Hensher. Hensher’s opinion in the Telegraph is actually in response to the 2010 Man Booker Prize shortlist which featured an equal amount of books written in past and present tenses. Not only does Hensher believe the present tense to be a fad, but also a “horrible cliché” that used to be used discriminately but has recently gained prevalence.  

Laura Miller delivers a different type of opinion piece for by stating that "the present tense is only one among any number of crutches clung to by mediocre writers." In other words, Miller believes that the use of the tense by itself is not a problem as much as the writers who choose to work with this tense without knowing how to utilize it effectively. As I mentioned earlier, there are definitely books out there that have used the first-person present tense very well. But should the authors who manage to successfully utilize this narrative perspective provide a basis of justification for so many writers, both new and established, to write in this tense?

Although there are many reasons why the use of the simpler, immersive, and more vivid present-tense narration makes sense, this narrative technique is not without its flaws. If we were asked whether the use of the present tense signifies bad writing, I should hope that most people would undoubtedly say no. But does the use of the present tense come at the sacrifice of some other important storytelling aspects, and are those changes more extreme when using this tense? That is not something anyone can so easily answer.

In my opinion, I think that the cons outweigh the pros, especially now as it its use seems to be evolving from more experimental and deliberate actions on the authors’ parts to an increasingly common narrative tense. While I will not necessarily avoid reading books written in the present tense, I know that I, for one, will continue to critically examine how and why this tense was used since for now it is not part of the narrative norm. Once the present tense has a more established place among narrative techniques used in literature perhaps, I, too, will come to enjoy it. But for now I'd like to wait and see how it continues to be used.

What are your thoughts on the (first-person) present tense in books? Do you think it's simply a fad or a trend that will continue to gain strength in the literary marketplace, and is it one we as readers should encourage? Are there any books you've read that you believe utilize the present tense well?

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