Category Archives: Reviewer Roundtable
Reviewer Roundtable: Genres
Hi! Today’s Reviewer Roundtable is about genres — what do the genres really mean, what about all the subgenres, what about books that cross genres, etc. Genres can be hard to figure out for books anymore Let’s talk about it. Check out our own genre page, which has been adapted from this page on genres.
Holy moley! I had no idea there were so many different genres!
Can a book be of more than one genre? Like sci-fi romance?
Yep. Though one would probably be a sub-genre.
That article confuses things because urban fantasy = paranormal by their own definition. Further, I don’t think it covers all genres, though that probably wasn’t the point of the article.
Paranormal is not fantasy. Fantasy indicates that the story is made up. I feel paranormal are true events that could happen in this world.
Now, Ruby, that would depend on your belief system, wouldn’t it?
I find what I believe is usually correct. 🙂 J/k
I think people complicate things with over thinking genres.
Nell, I agree. Yet, sometimes a further classification helps. Sci-fi/fantasy used to cover everything fantastical, futuristic, etc. I think fantasy was a sub-genre of science fiction until very recently.
I think you’re right, Perc. But anymore, fantasy seems to be bigger than sci-fi. Science fiction also used to have an element of “morality” in the story, examining a truism of human nature. That’s not quite the case anymore.
I think the popularity of sci-fi and fantasy swings; as one gets popular, the other takes a hit. There is an idea of space opera, which is what Star Wars is, to define something that is set in space and vaguely science fiction, but has elements of fantasy to it. That’s why I see hard sci-fi used for something like The Martian, which tries to ground itself in current tech. Star Trek on TV is often a morality play. However, the new Star Trek movies are more fantasy than sci-fi. It seems fantasy is considered more escapism for fun, but sci-fi shows us something about humanity.
Lucyfer says they’re only two kinds of genres – one she likes, and ones she doesn’t.
I agree with Lucyfer, except I think it should be urban fantasy and everything else. 🙂
LOL. That’s not as useful, though, is it?
If you use sub-genres, does that mean horror is first and then something else is second? Cuz, you can have horror romance if you really try…
Yep. So horror would be the main genre, and there could be historical horror, romantic horror, and adventure horror as sub-genres.
My pet peeve is when people discount a book because there’s some sort of love story in it. Just because there is a relational aspect to a story does not make it a romance. I mean romance fits for books that are primarily about love stories with a happy ending. Just because there’s a love story in the book as part of the story doesn’t make it a romance. It may really be a sci-fi story, or a paranormal story, or a human drama. A romantic component doesn’t make it a romance. Just like if one ghost shows up in one scene of the book, it doesn’t make it a paranormal story.
That’s true, Ruby. “Romance” is supposed to mean that the story is about the courtship between two people and that there is a happy ending, usually with marriage or a declaration of love. That’s the “romance formula.” But most urban fantasy has a romantic component, without it being called a “romance.”
That’s why I like urban fantasy…there is a relationship there. But I also want all my stories to have a happy ending.
Okay, but can romance go across several books? Or does each book have to have a happy ending?
Well, that’s a good question, Perc. Diana Gabaldon’s first Outlander book was labeled romance, but a romance story is done when the happy ending occurs. What about a story about a lifelong marriage, as Outlander became? Technically, a romance book has to end with the happy ending, which is why in series like Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter, each book is about a different set of protagonists. I don’t care for that, because each story is exactly like the first, just with different people.
I’m no expert but I think romance can go over several books with a happy ending at the end of the story.
Sookie could be considered romance, across several books, but it’s obviously more than that. If it was only labeled one genre, would we be limiting ourselves a bit too much?
How would you label Sookie, Percy?
Ooh, this is a good question Nell. I’d like to see what we each label Sookie. I consider the Sookie Stackhouse series to be urban fantasy, but there’s a lot of sex in them. Do you consider them different, Fiona?
I would say Sookie is supernatural (which usually implies action) romance.
I would call the early Sookie books supernatural mystery, because that seemed to be the focus of the books. Overall, I would say they were each supernatural but the sub-genre changes, based on the book. A few were romance, IMO, as they just dealt with the many relationships that had been created. I don’t think Sookie was romance as an overall series, though.
Sookie is supernatural romance.
Sookie is urban fantasy. There is more than one romantic relationship. There is a happy ending, but not with the person you’d expect. And there is the mystery/detective component. But Sookie was marketed both as urban fantasy and paranormal romance, probably to sell them to more people.
I think it sold better as a romance. More people bought the book and got hooked on the series.
Romance is what I like, so that is the part of the book that I really concentrated on.
I thought of Sookie as supernatural with some romance but it seems as if Ruby reversed that?
I put romance first because that’s what I like.
That’s my point. We each emphasize what we like. But any book about people is going to have some form of a relationship in it, correct? So, I’m not sure that that is helpful? So, maybe we need to back up and first ask the question, why do we need all of these different types of genres or categories? Is it to entice readers? Classify it for Dewey? Or as a selling point?
I think to help readers select the stories they like.
I think selling first, readers second.
I agree with Percy. I think it’s a marketing ploy.
What we need is a book marketer’s opinion on how they try and sell a book. Or if they market it in two different ways to two different groups of people. I mean, have all of you seen the Deadpool posters where they make it look like a Valentine’s Day romance? It is NOT a Valentine’s Day romance!
That’s just a sucker the women into going to it. Actually, I plan to go because it’s NOT a romantic movie on Valentine’s Day.
Lol. And if it gets people in because they are interested AND it doesn’t turn them off, great! Otherwise, if they feel tricked, they won’t like it. So maybe the point is the author needs to say why they wrote it or who they wrote it for?
I think you have to have some type of genre description so readers can find books they like. But the genres can also put people off.
I usually put down anything that has the word fantasy in the genre or the word dystopian. That just sounds too heavy for me.
Paranormal romance, you know will involve some smut. Fantasy means to me unicorns and kings. Urban fantasy means kick ass men/women killing monsters in modern times.
And usually some sort of detective element in urban fantasy, too.
I just want a story that has something MORE than the courtship. Diane Sylvan’s series bothered me because it had the romance, but all the other elements were treated as secondary — the bad guy, the plot, etc. What I don’t like in relationships stories — romance or not — is infidelity and love triangles.
Oh, I love the love triangles.
Hate love triangles.
And I really hate purposeless sex. My classic example is… “Oh, no, the monster is chasing us, but your ass is hot! Let’s stop and have sex behind these bushes because the monster will never catch us while we’re having sex.” Obviously that writer never watched horror stories.
Ivana, that’s just horrible writing.
I don’t mind reading smut, but I won’t review it.
Smut definitely has its place.
I think “smut” and “romance” are two different things. What do you think, Ruby?
I think smut is more erotica. That’s the books centered around the sexual acts.
Okay, but isn’t “graphic sex” going to be subjective?
And if it’s really graphic, but only in one scene, does the WHOLE BOOK become smut/erotica?
I think it depends if the graphic sex is just a part of the story. Erotica is usually the whole book. Think of it as pornography for your brain.
Many urban fantasy writers, particularly those written by women, build in at least one sex scene per book. Not usually to the detail of smut, but sometimes. I don’t think one scene changes the genre, though, unless it’s REALLY graphic.
Sorry, but I really hate when I am reading along in a really good book and then all of a sudden they feel the need to throw in a graphic sex scene. Ruins some books for me, especially if it really has nothing to do with the actual story.
Kind of like we said at the last rountable, the sex–and the level of detail provided–has to serve the story or it seems weird. I think sometimes sex is included at the suggestion of the publisher because sex does sell.
How would you label the book if it was a romance story, but didn’t have any sex scenes in it? Versus a romance story that does have sex in it, but isn’t erotica.
I label that as “romance,” Fiona. 🙂
Romance is really about the courtship between two people, not the sex.
Yeah, but that’s my problem. For someone like me who likes to read romance but really hates the sex scenes, how would you be able to differentiate between the two since they are both considered romance?
Fiona, I agree. That is really difficult. There isn’t a “no sex” genre in romance. I have seen some reviewers give a book a “heat” rating to indicate no sex, non-explicit sex, or oh-la-la sex. Maybe we should start doing that.
That would be good. I had to go to Christian romance books at one point, which was exactly what I wanted – about the relationships and nothing physical – but then I had to deal with all the Jesus stuff (sorry if that offends anyone).
One reason I prefer any genre with something paranormal is that, to me (sorry Ruby), it isn’t real. I have enough real-world problems; I don’t want to read about more. Paranormal isn’t real, so I don’t really have to worry about it. It’s pure escapism.
I choose romance because I know it will have a happy ending. Sometimes in my line of work things don’t have a happy ending so I like at least having control knowing that my story will.
Okay, so really, we DO need sub genres and the list on that blog because we all have base things that we want from a book. I might want action fantasy and if it has a romance, okay. Further, this helps us, as readers, pick a book that we want to read and if it opens us up to other things, great!
I think it’d be nice to have subcategories, because I’ve started books that sounded interesting, but I get into them and they’re not what I like at all.
I think we need something to help us pick a book that we might like. So then we have to learn what each publisher/author does, to know if what they write is for us.
You start with Fiction. As soon as you’re ready to add one more word, you often need two. You can say Fiction, Romance – but like Fiona said, that doesn’t tell her enough. So we start combining – it’s a Sci-Fi Romance, or a Paranormal Romance, or Romance Thriller — it’s hard sometimes to use only one term as a full definition.
So, for our site, do you think we should list subgenres, or should we just put the basics and reviewers can pick any and all that would apply. I’ve been trying to keep a book to one genre category, but maybe that won’t work?
Ivana, did you read my review of the first Keir book? I had a really hard time putting it into a category based on what was on our genre list.
So, Vahn. If we just had a romance category (with no subs) and a sci-fi category (with no subs), would you have checked both boxes? Or do you one one box that says sci-fi romance?
Ultimately, the one that said sci-fi romance, if it had existed as a box; but this is a rabbit hole because where do you stop? In order to function as a site, we have to either do a basic list, or list every single subcategory possible which is going to get real silly, real fast.
Yeah, I know. Maybe we just limit people to 2 categories?
Since we mainly review fantasy, I thought about listing sub-genres for fantasy, but then generic genres for everything else since we don’t review them that often. What do you think about that?
It may be worth considering adjusting the genres on the site based on those we review most often, and thus have more subgenres. That would reviewers customize a bit, without making a 700 word 5-minute scrolling list of genres.
Or maybe we start getting participation by asking what others classified a book?
I like where Percy is going with that. It could also be appropriate to make that the little blurb before your official review begins.
Maybe just a sentence in the review?
Yeah, how WE interpreted the genre of the book. Then others could comment if they felt it read differently for them. It wouldn’t be us labelling it so much as saying “this is how I read this book and would categorize it with my other books.” We could have the line that says the authors genre, and then one below it saying the reviewer’s opinion.
Looks like we’re winding down. Any further thoughts on genres? I think they are both useful and confining and that, as a reader, you have to think a bit broader and base your choices on experience.
It seems as if genre is a much tougher thing to nail down than perspective. We each like what we like and emphasize that part of it. It’s not that we don’t realize it could fit into another genre but that’s not what got us into the book in the first place.
Ultimately, I’m a fan of having a list like what Ivana suggested, and then allowing each reviewer the choice on whether to delve more into subcategories, or even discuss it at all, per review.
I do think I will use the one sentence thing Fiona talked about. How I interpreted it vs. how it’s marketed. And maybe how “hot” the sex is.
Based on this discussion, our genre categories have been changed a bit. There are sub-genre breakdowns for what we’re calling “speculative fiction”—anything that isn’t actually possible in today’s world. Since that is what we mostly review on this site, that seems to make the most sense. Since we don’t review other genres that often, we just list the top genres for those. So, for example, both a regency and a modern romance would go in the romance category on our site.
What are your thoughts on genre? Helpful? Restrictive? Both? Do you stick to one genre or get a taste of multiple genres? We want to know!
Reviewer Roundtable: Point of View
Hello One Book Two readers! Back in August 2015, we did our first Reviewer Roundtable on the mechanics of magic in urban fantasy. That post went over really well, so we’ve decided to do more.
On the third Saturday of each month during 2016 we’ll be posting a new Reviewer Roundtable. A roundtable is a discussion among the One Book Two reviewers about some element of reading/writing. And we’ll be looking for YOU to chime in on the comments. 🙂
The topic for today is Point of View (POV). We can talk about pros and cons, what we like or don’t, when it’s appropriate and when it’s not, whatever. For reference, here is a For Dummies page on POV in literature.
I really prefer 1st person. I think it forces the author to tighten up the story and stay focused on what is happening. It also keeps extraneous descriptions down to a minimum.
I find 1st person to be the most dangerous — all too often it is the perspective that becomes awkward or causes something to fail for me. This is due to the forced tightening and focus Percy mentions. However, it’s also the most powerful, because when pulled off correctly, you’re directly connected to that character in a way other POVs cannot match, and it can impact you all the more.
I agree with Vahn. I used to HATE 1st person books. Then I read one I really liked. I think it’s all about how well the writing is done (obviously).
With 1st person, I find that there is always suspicion because that character can’t know everything. For a mystery, this works really well, because the reader is in the dark as much as the character. What I don’t like is when the author brings in something the reader doesn’t know to solve the mystery, and then claims the 1st person narrator knew it. I feel that’s “cheating.”
Unreliable narrators in 1st person POV are fun. When they mess up, the reader knows it. When they do things correctly and it just seems wrong, the reader knows it. And when the author decides to throw you for a loop by making the character do something completely out of character, the reader gets even more pulled in. It’s fun.
I also think it depends on if the story has an emotional aspect that 1st person would make that more interesting. How much better would the Wheel of Time series be if we didn’t have to read so much of the protagonist’s internal struggle of whether or not to accept the hero role. But when the story is about an internal change, 1st person is necessary.
Annie, you make an interesting point about POV being used appropriately when the story conflict is internal or external I think I prefer 1st person POV because I prefer stories where the struggle is internal. Hubby and I talked about this with Daredevil vs. Jessica Jones (on Netflix). To me, Jessica Jones is so much more interesting because she is struggling with personal issues while Daredevil is fighting against an external bad guy.
Do you prefer the main character telling the story from his/her POV or a sidekick telling the story?
I read a book from the family cat’s POV once. 😺 I liked it!
Annie, I think it has to serve the story. However, in general, I would say I prefer the main character’s POV. Otherwise, it’s too easy for the author to “cheat,” like you said before. Take the Sherlock Holmes stories. The general pattern is that Watson is surprised by some knowledge Holmes has, which is what allowed him to solve the crime. It worked for those books, though. (LOL!)
I have read a few historical fiction stories where the major historical character is the “subject” of the story, but the story is told from the POV of someone close to him or her. It lets the narrator offer personal but yet somewhat objective commentary on the historical figure.
I’m finding that I generally don’t like it when authors change between narrators in a 1st person story. If we need the other person’s POV, write a different book.
I like it when they change POV. I love knowing what the other character is thinking! The Kitchen House does two points of view brilliantly. It’s the story of the life of a black slave and white girl that was held as an indentured servant. She was raised as a black slave but then when she got older, because she was white, she became the heir to the manor. It is told from the black and white POVs.
I don’t mind changes when the cut off is between chapters or somehow clearly marked. I don’t like having to guess whose POV I’m reading.
I love reading and writing first-person, especially if the narrations are split between charactors like in books like Defiance by CJ Redwine and Legend by Marie Lu. In fact I like alternating so much, I use dual 1st person POVs in two of my main writing projects. For me it’s fun because if you have two characters on opposite sides (let’s for say good vs. evil for kicks), and you get to hear the story from both angles. You may even find yourself rooting for the bad guy.
I’d be curious to know if there were some authors out there writing the same story from multiple POVs, and if we could read them. It seems like a writing class exercise, but as a reader, I’d be interested to see how much it impacts my enjoyment of the story.
A great example is the series I’m reading now – Life As We Knew It and its companion novel, The Dead & The Gone. They are about an asteroid that hits the moon and knocks it out of orbit. On earth, tsunamis hit badly, earthquakes and bad weather are frequent, the coasts wash out to sea, plague, famine, death…It’s very intense. One character lives in a rural area, the other lives in New York. Very different situations impacted by the same event.
Actually, Alex Hughes just wrote two companion novellas in the Mindspace Investigations series from two different first person POVs — Fluid and Temper. The novellas cover the same time frame, and the characters periodically come together during that time. It is interesting to read how each character thought about the other.
Okay, I can see how having contrasting POVs can serve a story. At the same time, POVs that don’t contrast drastically might not work. And that’s what I want authors to avoid. Like with most things, there has to be a reason for the POVs.
I’d like to clarify that a tad more, Percy — there has to be a reason, and that reason needs to be integral to the story or have an impact on the reader in some way. I prefer 3rd person if there are multiple characters. I’ve seen it pulled off with 1st person a few times, but more often than not it’s a tad jarring.
Though I like 1st person best, I’m not against 3rd person POV. I think the number of POVs does need to be limited, though. The whole reason I couldn’t read G.R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones was because there were too many POVs. When each chapter switches to a new person, and six chapters later it’s still a different person each time? NO thanks!
I can see Percy’s point on the A Song of Ice and Fire series since there were so many characters. This is why I think I lost interest in the books. In the fifth book, there are so many different POVs, you almost never get back to the characters from the first book in which you were originally invested. When there are so many characters, in either 1st or 3rd person, it’s too difficult to keep track of who’s who.
How does everyone feel about 2nd person? 2nd person is when the narrator is talking to an audience but referring to said audience with the word “you.” He/she may ask for advice, tell jokes, or just have a mental breakdown.
David Duchovny wrote a book about a cow, and the cow talked to the audience a lot. It made it really funny.
I think 2nd person is really interesting and incredibly odd simply because it’s unfamiliar to me, and rare enough that I can’t think of a novel written entirely that way that I’ve read.
I don’t think I would like second person. I don’t want to feel like it’s a lecture or someone talking to me. I want to read about what a person is doing.
I just started listening to a book by Ari Marmell, one of his Mick Oberon series. It’s written like a 1920’s pulp noir mystery, which were commonly written in 2nd person, as if the protagonist were telling you a story over a beer at the local pub. The Yancy Lazarus series is kind of that way as well. Mostly it reads like a first person, with the occasional comment to the audience, but it does feel more intimate.
I find the 2nd person POV more often in kid’s books than adult books, like RL Stine’s The Nightmare Hour books.
Oh yeah. In kid’s books where you are trying to teach them about proper behavior, 2nd person works well because the reader get the moral message.
If the story is good, any POV can work.
Honestly, I like any POV. I’m not going to be instantly turned off by a book just because of the POV it is written from. Obviously, I’m sure we can all agree, it comes down to the writing and the author’s skill.
If a book is recommended or the description sounds good I’ll read it (or attempt to) regardless of POV. But if the POV isn’t handled appropriately (regardless of which it is), it can be a deal-breaker for me.
Agreed. I definitely don’t avoid a book because of POV, but my satisfaction when it’s over can definitely be hindered by the wrong choices.
As a group, here is what we want to communicate to authors about POV:
- Have a reason for the POV you choose that supports the purpose of the story. If there is no compelling reason for a particular POV, stick with 3rd person limited (we consider that the “norm”).
- Stay true to that POV in your writing; know which narrator is “talking” at any one time and be intentional about what the narrator knows or doesn’t know. Don’t mix up your perspectives; it confuses us and reads as unprofessional.
- Don’t overwhelm us with too many POVs. We can’t keep that many people straight!
- If you do have multiple POVs (meaning narrators), don’t make us guess who’s “talking.” Make sure it’s VERY clear who the narrator is every time you switch narrators.
- Ask your editors and feedback readers to check your use of POV, among other things.
- We’re open to any POV as long as it’s used appropriately and with skill.
Now, what do YOU think, readers? Chime in on the comments, we want to hear from you!
Reviewer Roundtable: Mechanics of Magic in Urban Fantasy
Join us for One Book Two’s first Reviewer Roundtable! These discussions will feature three or more of our reviewers and/or guests and focus on a topic or trend we’re passionate about, related to the books we review here.
It seems that magic in the Urban Fantasy genre, by default, needs to be “toned down” magic. I say this because if civilization is already technology based, why would technology have developed in the first place with plenty of magic readily available? Thus I think for it to work, you have a few people using magic and they are mostly hidden from society – or were, up until the story takes place.
I agree, provided you mean socially and not in terms of intricacy or power. While that is the pervading perspective in Urban Fantasy that is set in the otherwise “real” world, there are exceptions. The Allie Beckstrom series by Devon Monk comes to mind. She simply created a slightly alternate history where magic was abruptly unleashed on the world after technology had taken root, and the two now exist alongside each other.
What is causing the trend with it being secretive though? Frequently the main character doesn’t bother to hide that they use magic, or actively advertise it (Dresden comes to mind). The “mankind isn’t ready for the knowledge” tactic tends to bore me…
Yes, I meant socially – and those are some interesting points, especially about Allie. Perhaps Allie should be considered MagicPunk as it blends magic and technology specifically? The author obviously put thought into how magic interacts with technology – most other Urban Fantasy novels I can think of do not blend in that way, with the world knowing and embracing magic.
I agree with your last point. I think it varies. Most of the time, it’s probably the fear of public reaction – the medieval villagers with pitchforks perspective, that causes magic users as a whole to be secretive. Too much power in one person’s hands. Basically, the same arguments in X-Men about keeping track of those with powers.
One of the issues I imagine writers have to deal with, when deciding if magic is to be “open” or “secret”, is what to do about the imbalance of power it creates, as Percy mentioned. In the Allie Beckstrom series, magic took such a personal toll on everyone that it was used sparingly, maintaining more of a balance between the haves and have-nots (until they figured out how to use proxies, that is!). In Jocelynn Drake’s Asylum Tales, the magic community is so powerful that everyone cowers from them in fear. The only reason the non-magic population seems to exist at all is because the magic folk think humans are beneath their notice and ignore them most of the time. Other stories provide talented people a choice – be governed, or be neutered.
As to the Magic and Technology point, the Magic Bites series by Kate Daniels addresses this in a creative way. I’ve only read the first book, so you may need to check me here, but magic rises and falls in the world like waves. When magic is up, technology doesn’t work. When magic is down, technology is necessary. It makes life difficult, but is also fairly unique.
Urban Fantasy is still a relatively young genre but it seems what could be a trend has become standard: that magic is simply a flavor to provide for a supernatural alternative to an otherwise Traditional Fiction story. Much like The Walking Dead on AMC is really a character drama that happens to have zombies in it. While I love my Urban Fantasy novels and look forward to each new release, I’d really like to see mechanics explored such that the magic becomes a character of it’s own. I see this frequently in Traditional Fantasy in novels such as the Kingmaker series by Patrick Rothfuss, but not here. What do you think?
I do like it when the magic is unique to the story. For example, Devon Monk’s Allie Beckstrom series has very different mechanics for magic than what is presented in Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files – yet both books describe its nature well enough that it does become a character in the story. I understand how it’s being used and what the consequences and idiosyncrasies of it are.
I know not all writers focus on this. In those cases where it is simply a narrative tool, I at least want the mechanics of the magic to be consistent. I don’t want to see an author violate rules they previously established. If they don’t want to address any rules, I’d like to know the reason why it works in one situation and not another. What about you two?
Nowadays I completely agree. Years ago I enjoyed reading my Dungeons & Dragons novels where the stories all used the mechanics of the D&D roleplaying game. Many authors wrote within the world, but they all used the same rules. Ultimately this perspective is really a reflection of me. I wanted total consistency and that may be why I read so much gaming fiction back then – I could go into it knowing the rules. It felt safe. Now that I’ve gotten past that, I think it would be tough to return to that mindset. The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan is a sort of bridge between that rules-centric system and open creativity, a vague difference between male and female magic – but they can still do so much.
Now I enjoy finding new systems of magic and seeing what each author does. Hines’ Libriomancy series is awesome for this! It’s the same for the two series you guys mentioned.
You mentioned wanting to know why it works in one situation, and not another. I completely agree with that. I think a perfect example of where I have the same desire, and ultimately frustration, is the the Nightside series by Simon R. Green. I want to like the series so much – indeed, I’ve read 9 or 10 of them. They flow much like a Dresden Files novel and can be consumed in one or two sittings. Yet, the rules for magic seem nonexistent. The protagonist occasionally uses abilities with ease that would have solved countless problems in the past, yet he never even attempted those abilities then. For me, that hurts the experience and pulls me out of the story, as I find myself questioning why they didn’t do “this or that”.
This was fun, we should do it again – maybe pull in some of the others!