Top 5: Who should win Game of Thrones?

It’s the question on everyone’s mind: Who should win Game of Thrones? Here are my top 5 contenders, based on no research, zero books read, and no episodes watched.

Let the battle for who would look best on the Iron Throne begin! Team least decapitated wins and gets to climb a wall to kill a winter king.

5. This Fire Cow

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Fire Cow took the lead early in the polls, but failed to keep up its high score in the ice challenge. Fire Cow’s extra layers of wood, timber and open flames would have looked great on the Throne.  Alas.

4. These Sketchy Owls

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They advertise themselves as this year’s premiere feathery power couple. They say all their plots are collaborative affairs, but we all know who’s the brains of this outfit. Unfortunately, they failed to poll well with the crow demographic and ended up in fourth place.

3. This Explorer

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You might have to look closely to see it, but that mustache is everything. 

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The Handmaid’s Tale gets a sequel

Testament.jpgNot to sound ungrateful, but after the success of the Hulu adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, does it really come as a surprise that Margaret Atwood is writing a sequel?

Originally published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale was a standalone story – in fact, Offred’s story was framed as a collection of tapes found by an archaeologist in the far, far future. So it makes sense within that framing device that Margaret Atwood’s next installment, The Testaments, skips over to follow three completely new(?) female characters 15 years after The Handmaid’s Tale ends. (Will we ever find out what happened to Offred? Unlikely. And I’m okay with that.)

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Penguin shuts down FirstToRead, and a look at what’s next

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I can’t decide if I’m more surprised that Penguin Random House’s FirstToRead early reader access platform is shutting down this July, or that it took so long. I took a dive into FirstToRead’s point and review system in 2016, and even then, the signs weren’t great; the program’s social media accounts had been abandoned, the books on offer were also available on NetGalley, and the site went down for two whole days in the middle of my investigations…

Still, FirstToRead’s system of getting people to read and review its books appeared to be working. From my 2016 math, for every 100 free advanced galleys released per available book, the review feedback rates were in the 20-40 percent range. That review rate seems to be on par with NetGalley review rates for small or coop publishers.

And yet, and yet. For an established publisher like Penguin? The payoff probably wasn’t enough to justify staffing, hosting and maintenance—especially since FirstToRead merely replicated some of Penguin’s NetGalley offerings. 

And so the FirstToRead platform is being officially shut down this July.

Where To Next: Reader Rewards

Even as FirstToRead enters its end days, Penguin is advertising its new program, Reader Rewards, a pay-to-play rewards system in which you register eligible purchases to earn points for a free book.

According to the website’s FAQ, earning “120 points (the equivalent of uploading proof of purchase for 12 books)” gets you “any eligible book(s) on penguinrandomhouse.com for free (up to a $30 value).” Points expire after two years, and code expires within six months of issue.

So, What Now?

If you have a FirstToRead account, check in and use up any spare points on May’s book lotteries. They won’t carry over once the program shuts down in July 2019.

If you’re a regular buyer of Penguin Random House books—and any of its insane number of imprints—then sure, sign up for ReaderRewards and take advantage of your purchases.

And if you’re mostly looking for ARCs, there’s always NetGalley.

Canaries, have you ever used any of these platforms?

What’s been your experience?

 

 

Earning points on FirstToRead, and other observations

First launched in summer 2013, FirstToRead is Penguin’s answer to how to get ARCs and Galleys into the hands of readers. Every few weeks, anyone with a pulse (who also happens to live in the United States) can enter a lottery to receive any of a dozen upcoming books. Readers earn points by interacting with the site, reading and reviewing the books they win, and can then spend those points to get even more books.

But here’s the thing that’s been driving me crazy, the site says almost nothing about how their point award system works. When I joined FirstToRead, I’d explore the site, and when I’d next log in, mysterious points would appear in mysterious quantities. And I just gotta know exactly how much when why what and where. Google, unfortunately, has been a complete disappointment in solving this mystery.

So, reader friends, here are my observations, in case you’ve also wondered:

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Point Distributions:

One-time:

  • 100 for creating a FirstToRead profile
  • 100 points for linking to Facebook
  • 100 points for linking to Twitter

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Girls reading books about boys

I remember towing my kid brother around the library in a doomed attempt to inspire a love of reading.

“This one sounds cool,” I said, handing a book to my brother. It was an adventure story with a shiny gold spine. “It’s about a kid genius who tries to kidnap a fairy and ends up with high tech fairy operatives chasing him.”

My brother wasn’t impressed. He inspected the cover with a kind of resigned patience usually reserved for trips to the shoe store. With a furtive glance at me, he slid the book back into its slot on the shelf.

“What’s wrong with that one?”

“Dunno,” he mumbled. “It sounded boring.”

“Okay then, how about this one? It has a quest and dragons.” I said, pulling another book down. He was shaking his head before it cleared the shelf.

“No,” he said, looking relieved to finally have a good reason to veto my pick. “It has a girl on the cover.” Continue reading

Writing the impossible: Thoughts on immortal characters in fiction

Deities, vampires, demons, elves, artificial intelligences, cyborgs, genetically enhanced humans, sentient ships, aliens.

I love reading about inhuman aliens, about immortal characters, about the other that is, in some deep way, truly other. And so I am always more than deeply disappointed when the alien is merely a human with purple skin and the 400-year-old vampire prince has all the personality of a petulant teenager with pointy teeth. I am looking at you, urban fantasy. You, space opera. You, paranormal romance.

Immortality, like any story decision, deserves to be more than a cursory afterthought. What happens when immortality is granted to someone who would otherwise be human?

The questions are endless: What is it like to still be healthy and alive after a hundred years? In two hundred, how much has society changed and what is your role in it? In two thousand, how do you see time and the people around you? Does your perception of time continue speeding up, or do the days drag by? How has your religion changed, if it’s even still around? Is the passage of time oppressive or inspiring? Does living forever mean disengagement and bitterness, or compassion and patience? Do people still understand you when you talk? Which languages do you choose to learn and how often? What up with science? Have you upgraded your rotary phone yet?

Ever try talking to an older uncle about things you care about? Image your uncle grew up in ancient Mesopotamia. Or was a nomadic shepherd on the Asian continent. Or a British sailor on a whaling ship. Now he asks you what you’ve been up to. Probably in ancient Chinese.

Damn.

Immortals in romantic subplots

Is that a 475-year age gap I see? Is that a teen dating an octogenarian?

Immortal love interests are ubiquitous in the romance genres. They often come with troubled pasts – history is no cakewalk, after all. They demonstrate the weight of history through outbursts of anger, their iron-clad control, their impassive countenance, their pushy, alpha-male tendencies.

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Where are all the ancient alpha males who grew up in more egalitarian societies or encountered the hard, no-nonsense women running households and businesses?

I always feel vaguely cheated. Is that it? Is that all? You’ve lived for hundreds of years, and all I get is a foot-stamping romance-novel trope, muttering “mine” uneasily under its breath? Or else you are my immortal heroine acting with all the self-possession of a teen high on red bull and sugar. Continue reading

Defining Dystopia. Hint: It’s not about love triangles.

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I’m about halfway through reading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale with Tash from The Bookie Monster, and it has dawned with me that over the last few years, I’ve slowly lost sight of what the dystopian genre is all about.

The Handmaid’s Tale takes North Korean oppression, mixes in the gender-driven segregation of fundamental Islam, and frames it all in the language of Christianity. In no place in the text can you take a step back and scoff, this can never happen. It might. The story makes you believe it might.

This is the chilling power of the genre – it says, This could be the world. Our world. Tomorrow. The dystopian genre is a cautionary tale. It’s a warning. It’s the uneasiness of premonition. It is the Greek seer Cassandra, blessed by the gods to see the future and cursed to never be believed.

Reading The Handmaid’s Tale, it occurred to me that the mushrooming teen dystopian genre has been selling oppression lite. To win itself a shiny “dystopian” label, the ubiquitous YA book checks the box  marked “oppressive society” and perform a token wave to its character’s rejection of the status quo. These worlds don’t need to be realistic or thoughtful or threatening (and perhaps that’s why Divergent’s world pissed me offSeveral times.) They just need to involve oppression. The weirder the better. Continue reading