You can’t judge a book by its title

We all know how expensive books are to buy — especially here in New Zealand, where a paperback can easily set you back $20 and then some. So it’s no surprise that we’ll often reach for those tried-and-true authors, the ones we “know” and can rely on, when it comes to spending our hard-earned cash. I’m more likely to take a chance on an unknown author when I’ve received a gift-certificate, but I’m just as likely to spend that gift certificate on buying books in the various series I’m collecting.

That’s where libraries can be a boon. If I select a book, and when I get it home and start reading I find it doesn’t appeal, it doesn’t matter. I just return it. No harm to the old wallet, no feeling vaguely cheated that I’ve spent all this money, and I didn’t like the story, and I’ll have to give the book away or it’ll just take up space on my shelves. Win!

But even when I’m cruising the library shelves, and I’m open to new authors and new genres, what is it about a book that will catch my eye? If I’m not looking for a specific author I’ve read before, or had recommended to me, it’ll be the title. If for some reason the title calls to me enough for me to pluck it from the shelf, then it’ll be the book cover and blurb. So if I’d been cruising the library shelves, I’m afraid I would probably have passed on a little gem called Shapeshifter by Holly Bennett. Lately I’ve read a lot of paranormal romances featuring shapeshifters and were-beasties and vampires and the like, and I’ve kind of reached overload for now. Hence it follows that a book with the title “Shapeshifter”, sitting on the YA shelves, by an author I’d never read before, probably wouldn’t have made the “catch my eye” cut on the library shelves at the present time.

So how did I come to read it?

DD (Dear Daughter) grabbed Shapeshifter off the shelf. And knowing her, as I do, doubtless she grabbed it specifically because of the title — she loves all things shapeshifty. And she read it and loved it and told me it was “unexpectedly different” and begged me to read it before she returned it to the library.

I read the blurb…

“A woman trapped in the body of a deer. A dark sorcerer in relentless pursuit. A mysterious child, found alone on the slopes of a great mountain.
Set in the wild, magical landscape of iron-age Ireland, Shapeshifter is a tale of rapacious evil, quiet courage and the healing power of love.”

…and I still wasn’t particularly keen. I was in one of those moods where I wanted to read a sure thing, something I knew would entertain me. I read heaps. And heaps. And over the past few months, I’ve read loads of books that are great reads but not necessarily memorable. If someone reeled off a bunch of titles I’d listed in my monthly reading lists and asked me what I thought about them, I’d probably draw a blank and have to Google them or ask for a summary before I could recall them enough to give an opinion. I figured this one would fall into that category — if I was lucky. And hey, I had plenty of other things I could have been doing over the weekend. (Like housework, or feeling guilty about not doing housework while working on my current wip, for instance.)  But DD was insistent, and I was currently resorting to re-reading books from my keeper shelf, so I figured what the heck, I’d give it a go.

Shapeshifter was inspired by the legend of Sive — an episode in the ancient legends of Finn mac Cumhail, famous leader of the Fianna. In the original legend, however, we never find out what happened to Sive after the sorcerer takes her. In Shapeshifter, Holly Bennett gives us Sive’s story, seamlessly interwoven into the bones of the original legend.

And what I loved about this book was the lyrical way it was written. Hmm. Maybe “lyrical” isn’t the right word, because I’ve heard that used a criticism: “The language was almost too lyrical.” Like, if it’s lyrical it’s too affected or convoluted to read easily. (Hah. Don’t get me started.) So perhaps here’s a better description: while reading this book I could almost see myself huddling by a fire at night, listening to a storyteller telling Ms Bennett’s story, and every time he paused, begging him to continue. And then, when it ended, heaving a huge, satisfied sigh because it was such a wonderful tale, so masterfully told.

This book drew me in and a sneaky but gentle way, and ensured that I just wanted to keep reading. And when I turned the last page, I sighed with pleasure and regret that the story was over.

DH also picked it up and commented, “Wow! This is beautifully written.” (And this from a guy who is always snout-deep in The Economist or text-books, and literally doesn’t have time to read fiction, let alone something from the YA shelves.) So if you’re wanting something a little different, but you’re not into paranormals — and especially not those featuring shapeshifters and were-creatures — please don’t be put off by the unfortunate title. Give Shapeshifter a try.

Here’s the rest of my reading list for November 2011:

  • Blood Born by Linda Howard and Linda Jones
  • Traded To The Sheikh by Emma Darcy
  • The Sheikh’s Chosen Wife by Michelle Reid
  • One Unashamed Night by Sophia James
  • 1022 Evergreen Place by Debbie Macomber
  • Black Hills by Nora Roberts
  • Burning Alive by Shannon K. Butcher
  • Lord Of Misrule by Stephanie Maynard
  • Spaniard’s Seduction by Tessa Radley
  • Eternal Pleasure by Nina Bangs
  • The Bejewelled Bride by Lee Wilkinson
  • Black Bird 1 by Kanoko Sakurakoji
  • New Blood by Gail Dayton
  • Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning
  • Magic to the Bone by Devon Monk
  • Strange Brew, anthology edited by P. N. Elrod
  • The Restless Dead, anthology edited by Deborah Noyes
  • Wings by Aprilynne Pike
  • On The Edge by Ilona Andrews
  • Demon Princess; Reign Or Shine by Michelle Rowen
  • Magic in the Blood by Devon Monk
  • Bloodfever by Karen Marie Moning
  • Shapeshifter by Holly Bennett
  • Warprize by Elizabeth Vaughan
  • Warsworn by Elizabeth Vaughan



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