genre fiction

New Adult Fiction – Marketable Category?

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New Adult FictionAs I have been reading and reviewing for this blog, I have noticed a gap in the book marketplace – college age fiction.  You could either have your book revolve around someone 17 or 18, or you skipped to the 30 year-old adult.  Plus, unless you’re reading fluffy romantic fiction, you’re more likely to find literary works with protagonists that are middle-aged.  Young adult fiction is finally gaining some great critical acclaim in the last few years, and is increasingly marketable to non-teens, but there hasn’t been a lot there for those in the 18-30 market.  Even with the few books released with older protagonists, they often got shoved in YA, perhaps because they were young characters and couldn’t quite be considered adults.

Publishing Crawl contributor Rachel Seigel wrote about this very same gap just the other day, with great news of an up and coming category – New Adult Fiction.  As Seigel puts it, New Adult fiction would encompass those “protagonists [who] are emerging adults who have a broader life experience than younger teens, but not enough experience to be living full adult lives.”  That’s great news for those that are 18-25, and those who read to find common experiences for their age. It could also be a very popular category with juniors and seniors in high school, who might want to find something to look forward to.

Rumor has it that Twilight was originally written with Bella in college, but the publishers had Meyer age it down so they could market it for the lucrative YA crowd.  While the characters’ ages is only a small problem in the popular-but-awful series, if authors are having to make characters younger, the stories can suffer.  The transition out of high school and into college also holds a great deal of possibilities for authors to mine from.  With so many Young Adult books featuring never-there parents (so that the characters can get into as much trouble as possible, thus driving forward plot points), turning the kids loose on college makes the absent parent far more believable.  How many young heroines in recent years have had one dead/out-of-state/absent parent and one parent who doesn’t seem to care that their daughter is in love with a creepy boy/werewolf/fighting to the death?  (Of course, Disney has done the dead-mother thing for over 50 years, and they’re still going.)

What could New Adult fiction mean then, for YA?  Well, for one, there might be some authors “trading up”, as it were.  But frankly, there are already a lot of books in this category, if it were to catch on.  Last summer I reviewed the great Code Name Verity, and wondered at its YA classification when it featured two adult women in their early 20’s.  One of my next reviews will be for The Office of Mercy, a soon-to-be-released YA dystopian that actually features a 24 year-old heroine.  The books are already being written, but there could be a lot of readers missing out on them because of their younger classifications.

I have already talked about on this blog my disdain for those who look down on genre fiction.  What makes little sense to me are those who might not pick up a book because it’s meant for the “teen audience”.  It’s actually something I covered in my review of Code Name Verity, and it still makes me sad that there are excellent books out there that might get overlooked by some readers because they feel they are “too old” for this or that novel.  The great thing about New Adult fiction would be to break down some of those barriers, get some excellent non-YA books out of the binding YA category, and it inspires authors to write those stories and editors to accept them.  Let’s hope that this time next year we will have a ton of new New Adult fiction books.

I’m even going to start tagging appropriate books in my reviews.  Every little bit helps the trend, right?

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Storm Front – Jim Butcher

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Storm Front opens with Harry Dresden getting mocked by his mailman, because Dresden is a professional wizard.  You can find him in the phone book.  He helps the police out with some of the more mysterious cases, finds lost items, and generally uses his magic and knowledge of the supernatural for good.  He’s a private investigator, but with a magical twist.  The first in the Dresden Files series, Storm Front follows Harry as he hunts down the most powerful sorcerer he has ever gone up against, a man with a penchant for ripping the hearts out of his victims from miles away.

Written like a hard-boiled detective story, Jim Butcher has created a very unique series with Harry Dresden.  Between Dresden’s thirty-pound cat Mister and the skull-residing spirit Bob, Butcher sets Dresden up with a fantastical home life with a more modern take.  The magic in Storm Front focuses a lot on energy, mental capabilities, and a lot less on wand-waving.  It’s sort of like Harry Potter for adults, you know, if Harry never married Ginny and had three kids he obviously named himself.  Dresden has a great self-deprecating humor that keeps him from feeling too grandiose or self-righteous.  He has his flaws, but he also knows he has better control over his innate powers than many of his peers.  Dresden himself is a great, deep character who keeps you engaged in the series.

Alongside Dresden is his Chicago PD contact, Karrin Murphy.  Short and hardly physically imposing, Murphy deals with crimes of occult nature.  She calls Dresden in regularly to assist on cases, and she is just as much a match for Dresden as a character.  A strong female counterpoint for Dresden, Murphy more than holds her own in Storm Front.  Couple her with reporter Susan Rodriguez, and you get a surprising amount of female power for a fantasy detective novel.

Fool Moon and Grave Peril follow in the series, and both are better than the previous book.  Storm Front really builds a world you want to learn more about, a character and companions that you want to keep following.  I read the first three books in just a matter of days, and there are about nine more in the series I need to catch up on.  First released in 2000, Storm Front may not be the newest series out there, but it is definitely worth checking out.  With the increasing interest in different-slanted fantasy (especially due to TV shows like “Grimm” and “Once Upon a Time”), the Dresden Files are ahead of the curve.

Rating: 8/10

End of the Wasp Season – Denise Mina

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The End of the Wasp Season coverI am sort of afraid that some people might think I’m a bit obsessed with Mina and with Rankin.  In my defense, they are well worth the obsession.  I swear, I do read other authors, but when a new Mina book comes out, I have to stop everything and read.

The End of the Wasp Season is the second in the DI Alex Morrow series.  Pregnant with twins, Morrow seems almost healed from the loss of her young son a couple of years before.  Though her coworkers think the pregnancy makes her frail, Morrow is more confident and enmeshed in her work than ever.  Investigating the death of Sarah Erroll brings Morrow back into the life of an old school friend, reminding Morrow of the past she tries so hard to forget.  Morrow must deal with her complicated relationship with her half-brother Danny, her pregnancy, and her sympathy for the victim that has landed at the center of this story.

DI Alex Morrow is potentially the most relatable cop coming out of Scottish crime fiction.  She does not consider herself above anyone else (a trait that Rebus sometimes falls into), does not think that she has skills someone else does not.  Morrow merely presses the issue, follows her gut, and feels for the victim.  It is unusual for crime fiction to have much sympathy for the person now dead.  After all, the bodies tend to be the impetus for the game, nothing more than a piece on a checker board.  Morrow, however, is sickened by the attitude her fellow officers have towards the disfigured body of Sarah Erroll.  She is motivated to catch the killer not as part of her job or to serve justice to the wicked, but to help provide closure to Sarah’s dangling existence.  The final push that leads Morrow to the killers is fueled by a simple video of Sarah sent to Morrow by one of Sarah’s friends.

Morrow’s anger has abated in this novel, and I like it better.  She maintains an edge, but the lack of quick anger helps to demonstrate the steps she has taken to move on after the loss of a young child.  Alex is not soft by any means, but she learns through her rediscovered friend Kay, her husband, and even through the murderer what a good family could mean to someone.  Perhaps “good” is not the word, but rather “accepting”.  Knowing who you are, where you come from, and accepting that could make all the difference in the world.

Now, to our killer.  Thomas is a young man whose thoughts can be terribly depressing.  His father is a large financier who has just lost everything.  The book implies a scandal of some sort, but like Thomas, we never fully understand what happened.  His father, Lars, confesses to Thomas that there is another woman he calls his wife, and he has another son and daughter the same age as Thomas and his younger sister.  Unable to cope, he made the trip to Sarah’s thinking she was the other wife.  He takes his friend Squeak with him, and Thomas is scarred because of what happened in that house.  Lars kills himself the day the boys kill Sarah, and Thomas is ushered home to his insane mother and equally mental sister.  He tries to act the adult, but finds he cannot cope both with what he has done and how his family behaves.

There are two things that are interesting about Thomas.  One, that he reminds me most of William McIlvanney’s murderer in Laidlaw.  The Glaswegian detective that kick-started the tartan noir, McIlvanney manages to make his own killer Tommy sympathetic.  You feel sorry for him, understand him.  There are few authors out there who manage to make you root, in a sense, for the killer.  Mina does that with Thomas (same name, ironically).  You delve so deep into his psyche and into his problems, that you see where he has been capable of what he has done.  There are, again, a lot of Jekyll and Hyde tendencies in Thomas, the normal boy making you pity the monster within him.

The other interesting tidbit lies in the mind’s ability to trick itself.  After all he has done and seen, Thomas tries tirelessly to wipe the images and actions out of his mind.  You as the reader wonder just how much he really participated in the act of Sarah’s murder, if his protestations to himself are all an act or if they are sincere.  He has never seen his sister’s mental illness because he did not want to see it.  He wanted instead to feel jealous of her and the doting attention paid her by his parents.  The mind tricks us to protect us, and that is the lesson that Thomas seems to learn, mostly, from his experiences.

Mina has again crafted a novel that is psychologically superior to most of her contemporaries.  Morrow is our MC, well-rounded, growing (not just in pregnancy, haha), and learning in her career.  She cares, and so it is much easier for us to care about her.  But Mina does not just give us Morrow as a narrator.  She gives us our victim, so that we can feel compassion for her.  Mina writes from Kay, Morrow’s school friend, so that we can see Morrow and the police from a different light.  And Mina takes us deep into the mind of the killer, but not leaving us feeling disgusted like so many other writers choose to do.  Instead, we feel pity for the boy who was never loved and cast aside by the father he so hopelessly tried to please.  Four fully-fleshed characters to narrate our story, each with a different one to tell, and each completely captivating.  This is why Mina excels and remains at the top of Scottish crime fiction – she makes us care about each and every character in her story.

Rating: 9/10 (I only take off a point because the book opens with Sarah’s view instead of Alex, and it was a little jarring for me.)

Format read: Kindle

Genre Fiction vs. Literary

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As many of you have probably noticed, I have yet to review anything here that would be considered strictly “literary” fiction (with the exception perhaps of my spotlight on George Mackay Brown).  Although I believe that I have good taste in fiction, some of my readers may question my judgement.  Let’s be honest, you may wonder what there is to gain from someone who reads a lot of Young Adult literature, fantasy, and crime fiction.  Quite the eclectic mix, certainly, and unusual for someone with a Master’s degree in Literature.  Did you maybe think to find only the kinds of books popular with book clubs?  I know a few blogs out there tend to stick to the best-sellers and the intellectual, but that was never my goal here.

I don’t think I had a specific goal in the types of books I would share, other than just ones that I loved and read recently.  I know that literary theorists, like myself, often look down upon “genre” fiction.  It’s actually considered a dirty word in many circles, and when people would discover my chosen field of study, they would look down their noses and go, “Oh, interesting.”  For those that don’t know, as many of you don’t, my Master’s thesis focused on crime fiction and social class within crime.  But even that was met with a certain amount of skepticism as literary theorists tend to shy away from genre ficiton.

Why is that?  Is it not worthy of study?  I have to shake my head at those who would think you could not mine a wealth of goodies out of Mina‘s Garnethill trilogy.  I have never read another novel that dealt so well with dysfunctional family dynamics and the brink of sanity.  Or Rankin’s Rebus series, which gives you a character so well shaped that thousands of people (perhaps more) tour his Edinburgh, just to get a feel for the detective.  If these do not make the authors worthy of further study and speculation, it certainly makes me wonder why you would choose to focus on Shakespeare, as does every other scholar at some point.

Genre fiction is not just an unmined route, though it certainly is that.  It is a route worthy of our look.  It is no less a literature than Jane Austen, who some in the past have even dismissed as “women’s novels”.  Everything is literary or not depending on the time period and who is looking at it.  I personally can get a lot more out of Rebus than I can a Wordsworth poem, for instance.  I do not frown upon those who choose to study poetry or plays for which I have no affinity – rather I applaud them for having a talent that I do not possess.  But for myself, genre fiction gives me something more meaty with which I can play.

In my humble, slightly educated opinion, I feel that if the work (novel, short story, play, or poem) moves you, makes you feel a connection to the character, is well-executed, and provides a deeper message, then why not study it?  After all, is this not the reason we have continued to pick apart Hamlet over the years?  So what if the bones of the story involves magic and a One Ring?  If it still gets you thinking, then there is something there worth discussing.

Some people used to laugh at the books I would choose to read in my spare time, either because they were “high-brow” or “low-brow”.  I honestly enjoy a mixture of the two.  For instance, on the same shelves that hold Jane Eyre, The Canterbury Tales, and My Name is Asher Lev sit such books as The Chosen One (Carol Lynch Williams), Doors Open (Ian Rankin), and Ella Enchanted (Gail Carson Levine).  Of course, these are also grouped with Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Zizek, so you know my tastes are weird.  What can I say?  Everyone enjoys different things and everyone loves a good read.  Sometimes our moods are different and in those moods we crave a different book.

After all, what else are books except to provide entertainment, identification, and a little escapism?