Wake of Vultures and why I don’t recommend books

Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

I finished reading Wake of Vultures, by Lila Bowen, as part of my fantasy-reading challenge. I think it was a short book, because it didn’t take long to read. (Another thing I dislike about kindle books is that you can’t get a feeling for how long they are by their thickness.)

Read on to hear what Sebastian (my writer half) and Rain (my reader half) thought of Wake of Vultures. But first, why I don’t want to recommend books to you. (Thanks to Brian Wright for the inspiration for this post. And no hard feelings, promise.)

Don’t ask me for a book recommendation

The longer you mix with people who enjoy reading books, writing books, or building altars to books and sacrificing goats on them, the more likely you are to be asked for book recommendations.

Oh, you write fantasy! What are some good fantasy books I should read?

I know, because it frequently happens to me.

And every time I want to run screaming, hide under my desk, and pretend to be dead until you give up and go pester someone else.

(But don’t feel too bad about it, because I do it to other people as well.)

Why do I feel like this? I think there are two main reasons.

1. I don’t know what you appreciate in a book

The first is that I have no freaking idea what kinds of things you enjoy in a book. Readers are so different.

One person loves the lyrical language in this book, it makes another want to poke out her eyes with a pickle.

One person wants to marry this character at sunset on a mountain and have dozens of his babies, and another thinks he’s the biggest jackdonkey in the history of farm animals.

One person is moved by the leisurely stroll through this character’s daydreams, and another is flipping pages impatiently and waiting for the car chases to begin.

So let me reiterate. I have no freaking idea what books you might like.

Even if I know you well I probably don’t. My hit rate recommending books to my husband is only 50%, and I’ve seen everything he’s read in the past squillion years and heard all his commentaries on it.

I will do much worse for you.

2. You’re going to judge me, I know it

Sure, when some people ask what books you know that they might like, what they actually mean is:

What books do you like (that I might like)?

This question is even worse. You’re asking me to reveal my deepest secrets (okay, the books I’ve read and enjoyed), and you say you won’t, but I know you’re going to judge me.

Judgmental bunny disapproves of your book recommendation.
Judgmental Bunny thinks you’re an idiot for liking that book.

Admit it, you think less of a person who loves a book that you find dreadful or, worse, offensive.

It’s not that I’m embarrassed about the books I read. I freely admit I don’t have high literary tastes, and a lot of the classics bore me to homicide. It’s more the same reason I don’t like to read physical books on public transport (this is a point for ebooks):

I don’t want people to know what I’m reading.

Hmm, that sounds like the same reason, doesn’t it? You might not notice this if I say what I said before, only louder. I know you’re going to judge me.

And my tender little soul doesn’t like being judged for things it has no control over, like my taste in books.

My solution

What do I do to escape these awkward situations?

I recommend a popular book.

Total cop-out, I know. But at least then if you don’t like it you can blame the masses. They don’t have a face, so they don’t mind.

If you have a better solution, I’d love to hear it.

Sebastian and Rain debate Wake of Vultures

If you haven’t met them yet, Sebastian is my writer half, and Rain is my reader half. They often have differing views, so I’ll let them fight it out over what we thought of Wake of Vultures.

Sebastian: I loved the setting. It was so unusual for a fantasy novel–an American west filled with mythical creatures. Not a castle or dragon in sight.

Rain: It was interesting, I guess. Though I did miss the castles and the dragons. No matter how scary it is, a demon owl has nothing on a dragon.

Sebastian: Fantasy is so over dragons and castles.

Rain: I’m not over them. They’re romantic and I love them.

(Rain tackles Sebastian and they grapple on the floor for a while until they get bored and dust themselves off.)

Wake of Vultures desert
I don’t know what Nettie’s desert looks like, but I imagine it looking something like this.

Sebastian: Let’s agree to disagree over dragons and castles. I was also delighted about how (and I hesitate to use the word) diverse the main character was. “Diverse” is a terrible word for this. Unusual for fantasy, should I say?

Rain: How?

Sebastian: For a start she wasn’t white. She was half black and half native American.

Rain: Of course she wasn’t white. The story wouldn’t have worked at all if she’d been white.

Sebastian: That’s what I mean. She wasn’t just dark skin on a white character. Her race mattered for the story. Also, she was bisexual and self-identified as a boy.

Rain: I know.

Sebastian: Really? I wouldn’t have expected you to pick up on that.

Rain: Yea, I didn’t. But the author told me at the end of the book. I didn’t think the boy’s clothes meant anything. Half the heroines in fantasy dress as boys. I also felt the story was… more of a snack than a main meal. It was sort of simple and linear, and I didn’t feel like the weight of the world was behind it.

Sebastian: That’s because you’re used to reading epic fantasy. Not every book should be Game of Thrones. (Alecia’s aside: The first book of the series, not the TV programme, which Rain hasn’t been allowed to watch.) What did you think of the writing style?

Rain: I didn’t even notice it.

Sebastian: Exactly. I thought the writing was so smooth it was invisible. I wish I could write like that.

Rain: I wish you could too. Then at least you’d have a reason to be arrogant.

Sebastian: Hey, I’m not…

(They fight again, and never get around to discussing what they thought of Nettie, the main character.)


Do you stumble when people ask you for book recommendations? Any good strategies for dealing with them that you’d be willing to share? Have you read Wake of Vultures, or do you want to now?

Don’t forget, you could win Wake of Vultures or another of the books I’m reading this month if you sign up to either of my mailing lists by the end of Feb 2017. Get new posts twice a week, or a monthly summary of my new posts, random craziness, and any new stories I’ve released. 100% cannibal owl-free, guaranteed.

Sorry, this offer has now closed, but you should still sign up because then I can send you cool stuff.

Author: A.S. Akkalon

By day, A.S. Akkalon works in an office where the computers outnumber the suits of armour more than two-to-one. By night, she puts dreams of medieval castles, swords, and dragons onto paper.

15 thoughts on “Wake of Vultures and why I don’t recommend books”

  1. Thanks for the shoutout and definitely no hard feelings! I am a strange reader in that I usually need an endorsement before deciding to spend my time and money on a book, so I often ask people whose opinions I respect. Writers with talent, like you, certain fall into the category. I understand where you are coming from, however. I once recommended a book to a friend and later had her tell me she hated it. I was so surprised and disappointed! And I got super defensive: “It was a Pulitzer Prize winner! A LOT of people who know what they are talking about thought it was brilliant.” Anyway, another great post!

    1. I think it’s pretty normal to buy books largely based on recommendations. I mean, how else are we going to know if we’ll like a book? Your reaction to your friend’s reaction to the book cracked me up. People who know these things said it was brilliant! How could you not like it? Hilarious, and so true. (Some Pulitzer Prize winners are not books I’d enjoy.)

      Aw, I’m flattered that you think I have talent at writing. I hope you’re right and that I can manage to do something with it. 🙂

  2. I’m terrible about recommending books – I actually wrote a blog a while ago about the “terror and tyranny” of the book recommendation! A handy hang-up to have, considering I used to own a bookshop… It is really difficult though, and I do tend to give lots of disclaimers:

    “Well, I liked it. I mean, it’s – interesting. Different. If you like that sort of thing. You might not. The characters are good. If you like those sort of characters. It’s – d’you know, someone else, who read that other book you like, liked this other book. Read it instead. Not this one. Unless you want to. Then it’s on you.”

    Yeah, I was great at it.

  3. I like your reviews, Alecia. You have an interesting way to present them. I don’t mind recommending books or taking recommendations. We all have different tastes and opinions, so liking what someone else likes is never a guarantee. But it’s the best we got 😀

    1. Thank you! I had the vague idea that many people aren’t interested in book reviews, and I didn’t want to bore my readers who came for the humour. Hence, Sebastian and Rain!

      Since you offer – what should I read after I get through my fantasy challenge this month?

  4. Hahaha, I love Sebastian and Rain! 😀 The image of them having a wrestling match over this book is priceless. I haven’t read Wake of Vultures, but it sounds interesting. Although the main character sounds to me like the author decided to write the most marginal character she could get away with. I love diversity, but sometimes I get the feeling it’s done in “look at me, I’m really diverse” kind of way.

    1. I’m glad you liked the image. 🙂

      The whole “diversity” thing really confuses me. As a reader I tend to ignore it (You’re a minority? Great! So am I. But what’s your story?), but as a writer it’s a minefield. White characters: why are your characters white? Characters with race not mentioned: no race, assumed “ordinary”, ie white – why would you let everyone assume your characters are white? Non-white characters: don’t tell other people’s stories. Argh! It’s a great reason to set everything in an imaginary world where people have purple skin and worship the Great Octopus… Hmm, now there’s an idea.

      1. Yeah, trying to write diverse characters is a minefield and it’s terrifying. You summed up the dilemma perfectly. I would love to put more diversity into my books, but my heroes are so dysfunctional I think I would just end up offending people. I’m mostly trying not to mention skin color or ethnicity, it feels like the safest way to go.

        I love the idea of a world of purple-skinned people who worship the Great Octopus! 😀

        1. Whew, so I’m not the only one.

          I might have to write that thing about the Great Octopus… after I write my short story “The Dragon’s Apprentice”. 🙂

  5. I recommend things to people all the time. If I know them very well, I order them to read or watch something. If they are my friend/husband/brother, I give them a copy of the book or force them to sit down and watch whatever it is. (If they still do not read or watch whatever it is at that point, I give up.) I enjoy recommendations from other people because they expose me to books and movies I would never have watched or read or my own. Still, I appreciate that some people do not like giving recommendations. It shows a healthy amount of perspective. I appreciate that you separate out your writer/reader selves, too. It is a fresh and interesting way to tackle a book discussion.

    1. I admire your courage! I try to convince my husband to read new books sometimes, but he usually ends up back at Terry Pratchett. I enjoy getting other people’s recommendations for books and movies too – otherwise there’s just too much bad stuff to wade through.

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