What’s so good about bad books?

Last week I found myself contemplating the world of Kindle publishing via two very different sources. The first was the astonishing Tumblr Kindle Cover Disasters, which you should all visit as soon as you get home from work, since I guarantee you will laugh out loud at a pitch and volume that makes it clear you’re not getting any work done. (Hats off, Max Wood. Hats off.)

The second was a Slate article by Katy Waldeman titled “Which Bad Novel is Perfect for You?”  Waldeman’s piece focused on the Kindle Scout program, which allows Amazon buyers to vote for their favorite 5,000 word excerpts of unpublished novels. Amazon then considers the top vote-getters for publication.

Waldeman argues that the Kindle Scout program is practically designed to select and publish a specific type of books: namely, bad books. Books that

sail across that fine line between being pleasurable despite their badness and being pleasurable because of their badness. … If a guilty pleasure is an occasional, delicious bag of potato chips, these books are a nacho tower fluorescent with cheap cheese, unappetizing, weirdly compelling, “so bad it’s good.” You don’t feel guilty enjoying it in spite of its flaws. Rather, you feel some mix of superior and delighted as you devour it on account of its flaws.

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Sir Terry Pratchett (1948-2015)

Like most devoted readers of fantasy, I was stunned and saddened to learn that Terry Pratchett passed away last week at the age of 66. Pratchett always seemed to be one of those authors who would be just as delightful in person as he was through the pages of his books. To quote many other Pratchett fans, how could you not admire someone who wore this t-shirt to conventions? (See right.)

Others have already written much more eloquently than I could about Pratchett’s extraordinary literary output, the incisive wit of his writing, and the way he used the mad Discworld to make our own world seem equally ridiculous and magical in turn. But I spent much of last week re-reading Discworld favorites and looking up favorite Pratchett quotes, and I couldn’t resist sharing some of them here in celebration of an author whose voice I already miss.

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Review: Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews

First, I would like to say that I am omitting the cover image from this review on purpose. I put this cover and this cover on my blog, but I draw the line at this one. I have SOME pride.

Nevada Baylor* is a private investigator running her family’s detective agency following the death of her father. Nevada has a handy magical ability: she can sense when people are lying. In a world where other people can use their magic to levitate, throw heavy objects, or light things on fire, however, Nevada knows her limits. She sticks to cases that won’t get her killed — at least, she tries to. But at the beginning of the book Nevada is strong-armed into tracking down Adam Pierce, a powerful magic user with a penchant for burning things to the ground when he doesn’t get his way. In order to accomplish this task, Nevada reluctantly allies herself with Connor “Mad” Rogan, a former soldier and reputed war criminal who wants to find Pierce for his own reasons.

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Review: The Grendel Affair by Lisa Shearin

Few action-adventure protagonists are harder to pull off than the Everygal heroine — the average, relatable, usually-slightly-klutzy woman who somehow finds herself in the middle of scary or world-shattering events. You know the type. She’s just a normal girl who happens to stumble into an apocalypse every once in a while — and fortunately the hot supernatural guys who are lusting after her are there to bail her out. Everygal klutziness/incompetence usually has me grinding my teeth in exasperation and wishing Everygal would turn the book over to the much-more-interesting supporting cast. I don’t need all of my books to feature ass-kicking main characters, but if it’s an action-adventure novel I have to believe that the protagonist is someone who could and should be in dangerous situations.*

Which is why I love Mackenna Fraser, the main character in Lisa Shearin’s The Grendel Affair. Mac works for an organization called Supernatural Protection and Investigations, or SPI for short. SPI’s mission is keeping the existence of supernatural forces and monsters off the radar of the average citizen (think a less authoritarian version of the Men in Black). Most of Mac’s colleagues have backgrounds in law enforcement and can discharge a staggering variety of weapons.

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Review: Lock In by John Scalzi

Five months have passed since my last review — yikes! The semester can really wreak havoc with those of us on academic schedules. But, on the bright side, I now have a fairly significant backlog of books that I can review for this blog. First up is an unreserved rave for John Scalzi’s Lock In.

The short version of my review is that if you like smart, imaginative science fiction, you should buy this book immediately. I knew almost nothing about the book’s plot when I began reading but I was drawn into Lock In’s world from the very first page. Scalzi handles his exposition masterfully; information about this alt-universe version of the United States is revealed at just the right pace,* and without making the reader feel as if she’s drowning in unfamiliar terms. So if you’re game for a great sci-fi novel and you don’t mind going in blind, just take my word for it: this book is awesome and you should read it.

If you’d like to read a few minor spoilers before deciding if Lock In is for you, follow me past the jump.

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Review: Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews

I think the hardest books to review may be books in an ongoing series. Fans of Kate Daniels have probably already picked up Magic Breaks; newcomers to Kate’s world definitely aren’t going to start with Book 7.* So consider this partly a review of Magic Breaks, and partly a review of where the series stands as a whole at this point. I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers for books 1-6, but anyone planning to start the series might want to skip this review.

Minor series spoilers henceforth

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Review: On the Edge by Ilona Andrews

In order to write this review, I am going to have to make an embarrassing confession. When I was in college, I went through a paranormal romance novel phase. Many of these books involved either sexy demon hunters who needed women to help them break their curses, or time travel and brooding Scottish lairds (which I think explains my inability to take Outlander as seriously as Diana Gabaldon clearly wanted me to take it).

Eventually, I grew out of the genre — not because I decided paranormal romances were bad or dumb, but because of the lack of surprise. A romance novel can, by definition, really only have one ending: Guy and Gal profess undying love. I started to crave books where I didn’t know how things would turn out, and where everything didn’t hinge on two good-looking people falling into bed together.

All of this brings me to On the Edge, a paranormal romance written by the Ilona Andrews team. I didn’t quite realize the book’s genre when I checked it out (one nice bonus of Kindle checkout: I generally don’t prejudice myself or spoil plot developments by looking at covers), and I’m glad I didn’t because I probably wouldn’t have picked it up.

On the Edge is, without question, the best paranormal romance I’ve ever read. I devoured this book in a day and a half because I literally couldn’t put it down — at one point I was stirring dinner with one hand and holding my Kindle with the other, anxious to find out what would happen next.

But I have a really unfair criticism of it. I wish it wasn’t a paranormal romance.

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