This Week, I Read… (2019 #7)

25 - End of Days

#25 – End of Days, by Susan Ee

  • Read: 2/7/19 – 2/9/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (17/100)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

The final entry in this series had me so full of adrenaline that I had to take breaks to get up, move around, and work some of it off.

I’ve said other books are roller coasters, but this one is like, I don’t know, a super collider? Between the loving-tender-desperate scenes with Raffe and Penryn, my sudden and wholly unexpected sympathy and even sadness for Beliel, the silliness of the Talent Show at the End of the World immediately turning into the painful longing and elegance of one last ballet, followed by the battle that’s been building for three solid books–I’m a mess. A happy, jittery, sad, triumphant, jazzed-up mess.

If there’s one small flaw I found in this, it was actually the epilogue, which felt unsatisfying after the tumult of emotions I suffered to get to it. It’s not that it doesn’t cap off the plot or give hope for the future, just that it felt flat to me compared with what came before.

26 - Unfettered

#26 – Unfettered, by Sasha White

  • Read: 2/9/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (18/100)
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

I liked the clean, direct writing style, and the gravity with which the particulars of a BDSM club were handled. I didn’t like how rushed it was.

I get it. It’s a teaser novella for the first book. But even so, forty pages isn’t enough to convince me that Ronnie’s in love with Ian, or that he’s in love with her. That they’re in lust with each other, oh, absolutely, I believe that. But the ending of the novella rang false for me, especially because after all that work Ronnie went through to be a part of the club, the first thing she does is leave it to go home with Ian? Thematically, that makes no sense.

I dearly hope the first full-length novel will fix/pay off the setup here, because I’m definitely primed to like these characters, I just feel like the novella wasn’t enough.

27 - Bitterblue

#27 – Bitterblue, by Kristin Cashore

  • Read: 2/9/19 – 2/12/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (9/48); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book with a title that contains “salty,” “sweet,” “bitter,” or “spicy”
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

I enjoyed this even more than Fire, and that’s really saying something.

This one had a lot of lessons to teach, as well. Your first love doesn’t have to be your last or only love. Recovering from deep emotional wounds won’t happen if you bury them, if you pretend they never existed, but it’s possible with time and care. Personal growth can be painful but is always worthwhile.

Not everything is neatly settled for Bitterblue as queen when the story ends, yet, after three books of three young women struggling in the shadow of her father’s monstrous power, the ending does feel satisfying and hopeful.

I’m impressed with the level of craft in a trilogy that doesn’t proceed chronologically. I was often surprised in this volume at small touches that spoke of careful plotting. But I loved it even more for its emotional resonance, because who hasn’t felt lost, alone, or overwhelmed at some point in their life?

All three of these books were library books, and now, I need my own copies, because I’ve got to reread them, and study them, and treasure them. I think that’s one of the best compliments I can give a book.

28 - Let and Let Die

#28 – Live and Let Die, by Ian Fleming

  • Read: 2/12/19 – 2/15/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (19/100)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

I can’t even begin to untangle the many levels on which this book displays deep and unashamed racism. Even accounting for the attitudes of the time, even dismissing language that was socially acceptable (to white men, anyway) at the time but isn’t any longer, there is still plenty of unchallenged racism to go around, ranging from the small but frequent likening of black people to animals, to the middling depiction of black vernacular language across all characters but Mr. Big (the sole intelligent, polished “negro”, which is a problem in its own right), to the broad exotification and demonization of voodoo practices.

It’s gross, and I felt gross reading it.

But I knew, from reading Casino Royale previously, that I had to expect a certain level of sexism and racism from this series. When I finished that work, I still clung to my desire to read the whole series, learning what I could from it even if there were parts of it I despised.

Live and Let Die has me questioning that resolve. When you strip away the worst parts, what’s left is still pretty bad–from a technical standpoint, there’s a whole host of issues that have nothing to do with any moral failings of the content.

Bond and Leiter speak in precisely the same way, despite Leiter being a Texan to Bond’s classic British splendor–they both exchange information solely at two extremes of conversation, either the rapid-fire back-and-forth that probably sounds more realistic in the mouths of talented actors, or the page-long exposition dumps of one of them catching the other up to speed. Aside from Leiter’s tendency to smile more than Bond, and his notable blond hair, they might as well be the same person. They should not be the same person.

Solitaire goes beyond a mere damsel in distress that Bond needs to save. She actively causes Bond to make bad decisions while providing no real benefits to outweigh the harm she does. Even as an informant on Mr. Big’s dealings, Bond notes that she doesn’t tell him anything he didn’t already know or could guess. Her role in the story is to be a pretty girl for Bond to want to have sex with, to “fall in love” with.

Of course he doesn’t really fall in love, because he’s sworn off love, remember? The entire point of the first book’s ending was that Bond was never going to love again. So I wasn’t surprised at all by how he manipulates Solitaire. Sickened, but not surprised.

The plot is the sort of campy and improbable thing I’d expect, but in this case, more so than with Casino Royale, most of what happens seems to happen because of Bond’s stupidity or poor decisions. Mr. Suave Secret Agent is just screwing up left and right in this story, and if I’d actually cared about him, I would have been screaming at the page, especially when he decides to trust Solitaire based on absolutely nothing. I can accept Bond being an asshole, I can accept him being a sexist manipulator, I can even accept his profound British distaste for all things American (he’s constantly ragging on our food and our cars, to the point where it was interfering with the flow of the story.) But I cannot accept a stupid Bond. What’s the point of his antihero, power-fantasy appeal if he’s a blithering idiot? What redeeming qualities does he have, if not intelligence?

So what good did I find, from a writerly perspective, in this work? Not much. There were occasional moments of compelling imagery, all the more vivid for being surprises in the midst of overworked, pedestrian action sequences. And I was impressed with how much dread and tension the train-travel section was imbued with, given that traveling on the page can often be boring rather than suspenseful.

Not really enough to justify the time I put into reading this.

I’m done. 2019 being the year of me reading the entire Bond series is a failure. I won’t keep wading through this garbage any longer.


Writing Homework #19: Tear Apart a Chapter


I’m struggling right now with rewriting my current project. It’s a more focused process than the word-vomit stage of the first draft, but not the highly targeted, technical work of line editing. It’s something in between, with elements of both, and my brain, so used to critical analysis of the works of others, just won’t apply it to my own writing at the moment.

So I thought of a way to use my strengths to solve my (hopefully temporary) weakness.

I’m not going to rewrite my writing–I’m going to practice on someone else!

For this exercise, take a book you don’t like. Don’t have any sitting around, because you keep your shelves clean? Pick something up cheap at a used book sale. For this, I’d recommend something physical you can mark up–but if that’s not an option, you could download something free from sites like Project Gutenberg.

Read a chapter or two or three, as much or as little as you need to get a sense of the style without getting too bogged down with the plot.

Pick one of those chapters (or half of one, if they’re very long) and go to town with your weapon of choice, be it the classic red pen, or a highlighter, whatever you like. (Or make your notes digitally on the ebook; if you’re not a fan of that, write them longhand on a separate sheet of paper.)

Kill those darlings. Nitpick. Question everything. Cut words. Change ones you don’t like. Make notes on what’s vague or unexplained.

All done?

Now fix it. Rewrite that chapter or scene to suit your style.

Open up a new document or turn to a fresh page in your writing journal, and rewrite what you just tore apart. Since this is an exercise, and just for you, feel absolutely free to make any changes without worrying about if they’d make sense later in the book (if it’s one you’ve already read, anyway.)

Change a character’s name or gender or race or orientation–don’t we all love head-canoning those bland characters into something new? How does it change the story, or does it? Write it all down.

Is the setting present enough for you? Does it need to be fleshed out, or changed entirely? Switch the scene to a different location. A different season. A different country. Set it on the moon, if you like–just make your changes consistent and believable throughout the whole scene. Change everything you need to change to make it feel natural, like it was always meant to happen there.

Does the author use more adverbs than you prefer? Cut them. Make the verbs stronger. Do they not use enough for your taste? Throw some in where they can make an impact.

I could go on, but I hope you get the idea–and a great deal of the specific work will depend on the text you choose, and how you write your own work.

But I’ve always found it’s much easier to be critical (in the classic sense, not the derogatory one) of another’s work, rather than my own. Looking at your own work the same way requires practice, and I’ve just given you a way to get that practice, so get to it!

Need to catch up on your assignments?

Organizing Your TBR: Make a Reading Cycle List


I have a lot of books, and sometimes, trying to choose what to read next feels overwhelming. I will get in a rut where I only want to read romances; or I’ll be in a book hangover because whatever I just read was so good; or I’ll read three or five or seven books in a row that all end up being terrible, and that makes every book like a potential waste of my reading time.

But picking out a specific set of books to read next, such as a monthly TBR, has never seemed to work for me. Sure, I’ll read a few of them while I’m excited about the pile, but getting down to the last one or two, I’m often feeling an itch to pick out something else.

This year, though, I’m juggling quite a few goals, and I wanted to spend less time wondering what to read next, so I created the Reading Cycle List. It’s not for specific books–its for categories of books!

I’ll be up front: this isn’t going to work for everyone, especially people who identify strongly as mood readers, ie, they have to be in the right mood to read something and/or they choose their next book based on their mood. This is going to be much too structured for you guys, mood readers. Keep doing your thing.

For others, this is going to seem like a fair bit of hassle, and up front, yeah, it’s heavy on organization. But I’m into that. I love checklists. I love the feeling of accomplishment, that little zing, when I mark something off.

So, we’re going to use me as an example, but the point of this is that it’s totally customizable to your personal goals; you just have to think about what you want to prioritize.

I started with my two numerical goals: Mount TBR, for books I own, at 100 for the year, and Virtual Mount TBR, for library books, at 48. The ratio is conveniently close to 2:1, so I started my cycle list like this:

  1. A book I own
  2. Another book I own
  3. A library book

But that’s really vague, and it doesn’t factor in my more specific goals–the PopSugar Reading Challenge, wanting to finish all the books I got in 2016, a strong desire to start knocking old books off the top of my TBR, working on the many series I’m in the middle of, and reading/reviewing all the indie books I have.

To give myself room, I doubled the cycle list to six, and slotted in more specific goals.

  1. The next book on my TBR that I own
  2. Something from 2016
  3. A library book
  4. The next book from a series I’ve started
  5. An indie book
  6. Another library book

I’ve kept the 2:1 owned/library ratio, and the categories that obviously came from books I own already got slotted in place. I’m still missing a spot for PSRC, and I’ve picked out a lot of those tasks already from the books I own. So let’s add another three to the list.

  1. The next book on my TBR that I own
  2. Something from 2016
  3. A library book
  4. The next book from a series I’ve started
  5. An indie book
  6. Another library book
  7. A book for PSRC
  8. Another book from 2016
  9. Another library book

Since I had a free spot, and a lot of books still to go through from the massive amount of freebies I picked up when I discovered the “free” bestseller lists on Amazon that year, I doubled up on that one, but later in the year when I run out, those spots can disappear, taking the third library book with them, and I’ll go down to a six-category cycle.

When I’m starting the cycle, it’s easy. I look at my nearly 800-book master TBR on Goodreads, and I start at the top and go down until I find the first book on it I own. Then I read it.

Next, I look at my acquired-in-2016 shelf, and I pick something. Yeah, okay, I have to decide on a book there, but from a much smaller pool than simply all the books I own. And if I really don’t want to have to choose, I can apply the same principle and take the first on the list.

After that, it’s a library book. I’m working my way down my master TBR for those, as well, subject to their availability from my library–I’ve been utilizing both the county- and state-wide inter-library loan systems more so far this year than I did in all of 2018. If I have more than one library book out? I read the one I have to return first, because that’s just sensible.

For the fourth category, I’ve got more than a couple series going, but once I decide which one to work on next, the book’s chosen for me.

And so on.

By doing some prep work, I can make steady progress on my reading goals and never feel the crushing weight of choice paralysis.

Let me reiterate: this is not going to work for everyone. Some readers are probably going to look at this and think I’ve gone off the deep end, micro-managing my reading to the nth degree. And even the ones who want to try it probably aren’t going to build themselves a nine-book cycle like I did; that depends on how many reading goals they have and how neatly they can work them all together.

But it’s done wonders for me in the six weeks I’ve been using it–I read twenty books in January! (Yeah, I did finish one after I posted my wrap-up for the month. I should have waited.) Part of that was foul weather giving me a lot of reading time, but part of it was definitely my lack of waffling about what to read next.

Sound interesting? Give it a try, see how it goes.


This Week, I Read… (2019 #6)

22 - After the Fall

#22 – After the Fall, by Liz Isaacson

  • Read: 2/1/19 – 2/2/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (15/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: Two books that share the same title (1)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

Racism alert: while this probably isn’t the author’s fault, someone along the publishing food chain screwed up. Norah is never explicitly stated to be black, but she’s obviously black-coded: “dark-skinned,” “chocolatey-eyed,” and with hair that depending on the hairstyle is either curly or poufy. So she’s black, or since her absent father is never described, possibly biracial. Yet the woman on the cover is definitely white.

I don’t read a ton of Christian romance, but romance in general is still a largely white genre, and I imagine the Christian sub-genre is even more so. If you’re chicken about your audience rejecting the book because you put a black woman on the cover, then they’re racist, and so are you, person who made that decision.

Moving on from that, I didn’t like the book. Some romances suffer from not enough conflict keeping the leads apart; this one actually had too much. On Norah’s side, you’ve got plenty of issues: her past drug abuse, her strained family life, the fact that she works for Sterling’s family as one of her jobs, and her decision never to get involved with anyone because the men in her life have all sucked. On Sterling’s side, you’ve got his potential snowboarding career taking him out of Gold Valley, his family’s racist/classist disapproval in general, plus his brother’s wife actively being racist/classist and trying to split them up by firing Norah. Oh, and throw in one scene of Sterling’s cheating ex feebly trying to get back with him. So that’s, what, seven stumbling blocks already? Then, for both of them, there’s the non-fraternization policy at Silver Creek, where Norah got Sterling a counseling job.

Eight subplot conflicts. Eight. In a 266-page book. So none of them can be explored in any depth or with much seriousness, because there simply isn’t time. The fraternization issue, after a few chapters of the two of them “sneaking” around, is resolved with a single, relatively calm discussion with the Silver Creek director, who harrumphes once and says “I guess policies can be changed.”

Seriously? If that’s all it took to fix the problem, then why even bother writing it in? Why make it an issue at all? Clean out the easy problems and focus on the ones that matter!

23 - Pigs in Heaven

#23 – Pigs in Heaven, by Barbara Kingsolver

  • Read: 2/2/19 – 2/4/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (16/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book about a family
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

It’s The Bean Trees, only not as good. Taylor is as stupid and reckless as ever, making poor decisions left and right. Turtle is still a stubborn and strange little girl, but at least she can speak in full sentences now, when she wants to. Alice is still a complete hoot.

But the acres of new characters introduced dilute the power of this story about family, and everything is too neat and tidy in the end, and no matter how beautiful I find Kingsolver’s language (I always do) it doesn’t make up for the disappointment I feel reading this mess of a story.

24 - Pride and Prejudice

#24 – Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

  • Read: 2/4/19 – 2/7/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (8/48); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book with at least one million ratings on Goodreads
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

I can certainly see why this story is so beloved, nearly universally so. I’ve tried to read it several times in the relatively distant past, but the complexity and archaic nature of the language put me off every time–I’m glad I got past that now, though I did still find it difficult going, mostly when I had to stop and mentally diagram a sentence, or rewrite it in my head, to make sense out of it, or when I had to parse a complex conversation in my head to figure out who was speaking, because that was not always apparent.

As I was doing all that, I had to remind myself constantly not to hold this work to modern standards, and I think I mostly managed it. But it definitely did affect my enjoyment to be so confused so much of the time, not by the plot, which was reasonably straightforward, but by the presentation.

6 More Prompts to Develop Your Characters: Living Space


Time to dig into wherever your characters call home! Whether or not it’s an actual setting in your story, knowing where your character sleeps at night can tell you a lot about them and provide important background for how they live.

As always, I’m using “they” to refer to a singular character of any gender.

  1. Do they live alone? With a significant other? A roommate or two or three? Are they living with family? And whatever the answer, are they satisfied with their circumstances, or would they rather live with (or without) someone else? Why?
  2. Where is their home? City, suburbs, country? How far is it from their job, the grocery, other important destinations? If there’s a commute, how do they travel, and how inconvenient is it for them?
  3. What is the physical building like? Old or new? Run-down or well-maintained? How big is it, and how much of that space is theirs? What interesting physical details make it different from other buildings in the neighborhood (if there are any?)
  4. Are they living where they want to be living? If not, why, and what are they doing to change that?
  5. How are they paying for their living space? Do they own or rent? Is someone else responsible for the bill? Are they living above or below their means?
  6. (For any given room in the place that’s actually used as a setting) How comfortable is this room? Why would they want to spend time there? What could be better? How clean is it kept?

It can be difficult to invent a whole structure out of thin air, or furnish a room without relying on places you, the author, have visited or lived in yourself. This is a great time to search online for reference images–I got the one here from Pixabay with the key words “apartment building;” originally I’d intended to use a more traditional high-rise, but I just love the coziness of small British towns, ever since I visited Nottingham.

And that’s another point to consider–if you’re writing in a real-world setting, the country definitely matters, both socially and structurally. You’re not going to find many American-style front-lawn neighborhoods anywhere in Europe, for example. So if you’re using an actual location as a setting, whether it’s direct or just inspiration, looking at images of that country/city will give you an idea where to start when answering these questions.

Good luck, and having fun building your characters their homes!

Down the TBR Hole #15

Down the TBR Hole is a (very) bookish meme, originally created by Lia @ Lost In A Story. She has since combed through all of her TBR (very impressive) and diminished it by quite a bit, but the meme is still open to others! How to participate:

  • Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf
  • Order by Ascending Date Added
  • Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books. Of course if you do this weekly, you start where you left off the last time.
  • Read the synopses of the books
  • Decide: keep it or let it go?

With the new reading challenge I took on this year, Virtual Mount TBR, I’m actually finally reading some of the books I’ve been considering on these monthly lists! All the more reason to put another ten up for debate and see if they’ve got the goods.

#1 – Unexpected Reality, by Kaylee Ryan

30254013This came off of a romance rec list for books about single dads. That’s not a specific draw for me, but the list made this one sound good.

Flash forward to now, when I actually read the blurb for it and discovered its super-vagueness. Two of my Goodreads friends have read this and rated it 4 and 5 stars, which is generally a good sign, but lots of the most-liked reviews on the first page are one-star and/or DNF reviews. Plus words like “angst” and “cheesy” are popping up over and over.

I think I can let this one go.

#2 – Nuts, by Alice Clayton

25056208I ditched Clayton’s Wallbanger last time around, but this one sounds more up my alley, because I’m definitely a foodie. The implied slow burn in the blurb has me intrigued, and I’m not so against rom-coms that I’ll pass by one that looks good just because I’ve been unimpressed by some of them in the past.

It stays.




#3 – The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting, by Anne Trubek

28260582A rare nonfiction entry! Most of the nonfiction I read comes to me by way of used book sales–I see it, it looks interesting, it comes home with me.

This, I believe, I saw on a Goodreads giveaway, so I entered, and thus the book went on my TBR. I did not win (sadly) but it remained.

Looking at it again, it’s not something I’m so interested in that I’d rush out and buy it, but if I can borrow it from the library, I’d definitely still like to read it. It stays.


#4 – Blackbirds, by Chuck Wendig

12944651I searched for this entry myself, after being introduced to the author’s hilarious blog filled with writing advice and sass.

Does it still sound interesting? Pretty much. Do the insanely mixed reviews put me off a bit? Yeah, yeah they do.

But much of his other work is in the Star Wars franchise, and I stopped reading those novels in college, when things in the New Jedi Order got weird. (Also, a lot of them weren’t very good anyway.) So if I want to give Wendig a try, and I do, this still seems like my best bet. It stays.

#5 – A Duke but No Gentleman, by Alexandra Hawkins

23014733I have no idea where I picked this recommendation up, but I’m wondering now what I was thinking.

The blurb tells me three major things: love triangle, super-innocent heroine, and a bet to seduce her.

I’m not against the appeal of innocence, but I’m definitely against two scoundrels competing to rob a woman of hers.

This goes.


#6 – If the Slipper Fits, by Olivia Drake

12698072Again, not sure when/why this made it to the list. It’s a real problem I have when I’m still assessing books that I put on my TBR over two years ago.

Anyway, a Cinderella retelling in historical romance form. Some readers would be chomping at the bit for this, but looking at it again, I’m just…meh.

With almost 800 books on my TBR, meh doesn’t cut it. It goes.



#7 – Power Play, by Charlotte Stein

13559351It’s hard for me to decide how seriously to take reviews when evaluating erotica, because their “over the top” issues might stem from a lot of different sources.

I’ve read my fair share of BDSM romance/erotica, but guess what? Not once has the dominant partner ever been a woman. That alone intrigues me.

Could I be signing up for a terrible book just for the sake of its novelty? Possibly. Am I going to keep this on the list anyway. Yes, I am.


#8 – The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller

11250317The hype surrounding this is real and pervasive, and I’m honestly surprised I haven’t succumbed to it already.

I want more LGBT YA out there. I want to read it.

I think I’ve been resisting this because it’s so hyped that I’m afraid to be disappointed? It wouldn’t be the first time.

Also because I’m just not a classic lit buff who’s read The Iliad a thousand times. I know the story, but is this adaptation going to piss me off?

It can stay. I’m sure I can get it from the library. Or change my mind later.

#9 – Summer Girl, by A.S. Green

31338857Not sure where this came from, but the hero’s a musician, and boy am I sure that’s why it went on the list.

Given the low number of ratings and reviews, looks like this is from an indie/small-press publisher, and while I’m inclined to cut unnecessary romances from my TBR because I’m drowning in the ones I already own, this seems promising.

It can stay. I’m such a sucker for musicians.



#10 + 11 – This Shattered World and Their Fractured Light, by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner

I read the first book in this series, These Broken Stars, back in 2016, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it, so I threw the next two on my TBR. But then I went back to reading My Own Damn Books and these drifted out of my frame.

Now they’re back on my radar, and they definitely stay.

I only cut 3/11 this month, but things won’t be as brutal as last time, every time. As always, if you’ve read any of these and think I should reconsider my opinion in either direction, tell me in the comments!

This Week, I Read… (2019 #5)

16 - world after

#16 – World After, by Susan Ee

  • Read: 1/24/19 – 1/26/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (12/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: Your favorite prompt from a past PSRC (next book in a series I’ve already started)
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

I was just beginning to get frustrated by the lack of clues regarding the angels’ purpose in coming to Earth, when things started happening and knowledge started dropping in a big damn hurry.

I’ll be honest, I started this book feeling like it wasn’t as good as its predecessor. After all, so much of the world-building that made the first one so interesting was done–this second installment had the task of keeping me hooked, and at first, I was still too busy wondering what the hell was going on, annoyed by Penryn’s lack of progress towards any meaningful goal.

Also, the dream/memory sequences from (my now beloved) Pooky Bear were just bizarre, and felt like a cheat to keep Raffe in the story while he was physically absent.

The second half of the book, on the other hand, raced by while giving me all the things that I missed in the first half. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see how deliberately paced this story was to elicit just that effect.

I not only got my answers about the angels’ goal, but about the first book’s Weird Science, about Paige, about Raffe’s regard for Penryn. Which is definitely more romanticized this time around, and while I still view immortal(ish) being + teenage girl as a highly sketchy romance trope, Penryn and Raffe are skating by on how blatantly separate they’re staying. Forbidden, unconsummated love is prime tension material, and I like how Penryn gets to have her girlish fantasies in extremely small doses when she’s relatively safe, then shuts it all out to get what needs to be done, done.

The better I get to know her, the more I admire her. I’m definitely looking forward to finishing the series.

17 - royal

#17 – Royal, by Winter Renshaw

  • Read: 1/26/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (12/100)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

So much terrible, unmitigated angst. Buckle up, because all I’ve got this time are complaints.

Demi is an idiot for diving into bed with her childhood sweetheart without at least first finding out why he disappeared from her life for seven years without a word. Don’t care how hot he is or how much you missed him, have more self-respect than that, please. Especially when you keep asking him, and he keeps putting you off with “I’ll tell you soon.”

Royal is woefully underdeveloped. Most romances I’ve read with leads who were in the foster care system focus on that aspect of their lives and how it affected them, but with Royal, it’s just a bit of sob-story texture to his rough, edgy persona. His characterization is shallow, the sections of the book where he deals with his messed up family are painful to read, and none of it makes him appealing in the slightest.

The first chapter being a patched-together timeline of our two lovebirds growing up together is dull. Start the story when he shows up on her door, and give us the backstory when its appropriate, not front-loaded at the beginning to try to shortcut, to make us care about these characters because “childhood love is forever yay!”

Not to mention I found some of those scenes blatantly unrealistic. Royal teaching Demi to drive while her parents were on vacation, without their teenage kids? Who was watching them? Even if her parents accepted Royal as practically a member of the family (of course they did) who lets a sixteen-year-old boy teach a fifteen-year-old girl how to drive? (Also that’s not even legal in a lot of places in the US, where it has to be your parent or guardian with you when you’re on your provisional license/temporary instruction permit. I know that varies by state, but in mine? Royal and Demi were absolutely breaking the law, and that just pulled me right out of the story.)

Moving on from that, Royal as an adult is loaded with misogyny. He’s having a workplace fling with Pandora, a woman who he repeatedly describes as trashy, kinky, slutty, and to top it all off, an inferior version of Demi, but it’s as good as he can get, so he bangs her when he needs the release. Now, Pandora is written as an absolute loser manipulator, so I can’t even feel that bad for her directly, but whether or not she deserves Royal’s low regard isn’t the point–he’s not a good guy or an appealing romance hero if his One True Love is perfect but all other women are disposable skanks to sleep with but never care about. That makes him a terrible misogynist and a horrible person.

And I haven’t even gotten into the ridiculous fiance/affair/Ponzi scheme/secret love child plot Demi’s got going on. It’s insane, and something that complicated and ridiculous isn’t even necessary to keep Royal and Demi apart, because they’re already managing fine with that on their own, but weird plot twists are just piled on to make Demi’s former fiance look like the worst man in the world, because otherwise why would Royal, the horrible misogynist, look like the good guy she should end up with?

18 - written in the stars

#17 – Written in the Stars, by Aisha Saeed

  • Read: 1/27/19 – 1/28/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (6/48)
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

An important story that I wish had been better told.

This plot is on railroad tracks. No subtlety, no subplots, no foreshadowing. A thing happens, then another thing happens, then another. The most pointed example I can give is when Naila’s passport and hidden money disappear. I knew she had to have a passport in order to get to Pakistan, so I’m not surprised her parents took it when they wanted to trap her. But the hidden money was never mentioned until it was missing. I had no idea it existed, so I couldn’t really share Naila’s shock that it was gone.

There’s little in the way of characterization, either. Naila is a girl who wants to go to college and choose her own husband (eventually.) Can I tell you much else about her? Not really. I can tell you what happens to her, but the only things I can infer from how she handles them is that she’s an emotional teenager–everything is either the best or worst thing ever, she’s on an emotional roller coaster. (To be fair, the bad things that happen to her are really, really bad, so this isn’t a criticism of her for those reactions. But she doesn’t have much personality other than rebelliousness.)

While nothing in my heritage or raising ties me to any culture in which arranged marriages are common, I do appreciate how the story makes the critical distinction between arranged marriages and forced marriages. Arranged marriage is the bad guy in so many schlocky romance novels, but it’s an important cultural institution for many people around the world, and it’s not inherently bad. What Naila undergoes in order to be trapped into a marriage, on the other hand, is wrong on so many levels.

It’s an important story, and I gained something by reading it. I’m just disappointed it wasn’t presented with more sophistication.

19 - the year of the flood

#19 – The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood

  • Read: 1/28/19 – 1/30/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (13/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A cli-fi (climate fiction) book
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

Because I didn’t know when I started that this story happens concurrently with the events of Oryx and Crake, I was initially confused, and the slow pace of the narrative annoyed me.

However. When I put two and two together and figured out what was going on, I started to enjoy the story. The world-building here is more detailed and elaborate than in the first book, and I honestly found the Gardeners fascinating. Where I had originally been frustrated that I couldn’t see the point of the present-day story line, I did eventually figure out where it was heading, and once I got it, it was easier to sit back and enjoy the ride.

I suppose it didn’t help that I read Oryx and Crake just over a year ago, so that cliffhanger ending which had me excited was only a vague memory of tension. Would I have liked this better if I’d read them back-to-back? Probably. But Flood definitely stands above Oryx to me, simply for the richness of detail.

20 - The Deepest Cut

#20 – The Deepest Cut, by Jessica Jarman

  • Read: 1/30/19 – 1/31/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (14/100): PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book by an author whose first and last names start with the same letter
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

The premise is interesting: King Arthur, his knights, and a few other important people in his circle get stuck in a cycle of reincarnation to battle evil magical threats. It’s weird, it’s over the top, it’s Camelot fan fiction, and I want to love it unreservedly.

However, I do have some reservations.

It’s short and underdeveloped. I’m not complaining about the cliffhanger, but even for a first book in a series, I feel like we don’t get all that many answers to any of the thousand questions the narrative offers. I also feel that using such notable literary figures has led to a sort of assumed shorthand for their characters–no one is developed in any sort of depth, and in fact, I can’t recall several named characters ever getting any physical description at all. The ones who do are mostly limited to hair color, which doesn’t help when most of the men (Arthur being the notable blond exception) are dark-haired. I mean, can I get even a body type? Who’s tall? Who’s lean? Is anyone pudgy? Or are they all interchangeable dark, brooding muscle-heads?

My other major issue is that no one (except Galahad) has even the tiniest level of chill. This entire story is set at 11 and it’s a bit exhausting, especially when the three POV characters are all hot messes. Anna is deeply troubled, fine. Lancelot is a conflicted man trying to choose between love and duty–absolutely on point with the lore. Merlin, however, is dangerously unstable, it takes almost nothing to provoke him into losing control of his magic, and that’s less than fine with me–he’s the hero of the romance story line, and even in his past lives he’s shown to ride a hair trigger between keeping himself in check and casually obliterating people. Should that be romanticized?

21 - The Lathe of Heaven

#21 – The Lathe of Heaven, by Ursula K. Le Guin

  • Read: 1/31/19 – 2/1/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (7/48)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

I haven’t read many books which tackle the all-too-human inclination to play God, but any I read in the future will be held up to this as a high standard.

George Orr fears the power of his dreams, and Dr. Haber desires that power. Both men believe they have the good of humanity at heart–George because he thinks that playing God is wrong, that he has no right to change things; Dr. Haber because he thinks he’s wise and benevolent enough to change things only for the better.

Both are entirely relatable viewpoints, and which side of the debate a reader falls on will depend entirely on themselves–is it better to use what power you have to do good, or to know yourself as fallible and refrain from using your power to interfere in the lives of others?

I’m inclined to side with George, in the need to absolve myself from the guilt and responsibility of altering the world so tremendously, yet my science-trained brain understands Dr. Haber’s motives pretty clearly: the pure pursuit of knowledge itself, overlaid with the drive to use that knowledge for the benefit of mankind, with the side benefit of increasing his own eminence along the way.

This is a brilliant novel in the way it codifies and internalizes such a massive conflict of moral viewpoints into its two main characters, with the backdrop of Portland and the Pacific Northwest serving as a canvas on which to paint the alternate timelines of apocalypse, overpopulation, climate change, alien invasion, and finally, a strange and foreign peace in a world that seems wildly different from the one we know, and yet, is still recognizably our own.