This Week, I Read… (2019 #16)

51 - The Last Necromancer

#51 – The Last Necromancer, by C.J. Archer

  • Read: 4/11/19 – 4/13/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (34/100)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

Terrible. Maybe even the worst book I’ve finished this year.

Charlie/Charlotte is one of the most inconsistently written heroines I’ve ever encountered, bouncing back and forth from a worldly, tough “boy” from the streets to a shrinking violet who needs constant rescuing from everything and everyone, including her own stupid decisions and her “oh god why is he the love interest” rescuer.

At first Charlie’s cleverness is sort of cute, and I even appreciated early on when I saw her slip out of character, knowing that that would lead to her getting found out. But then it didn’t. She’s surrounded by adults, several of whom are specifically trained to investigate things, yet they all fall for her disguise? Fitzroy even tells her it was perfect, after the fact, when someone else figured it out. Nope, nuh-uh, not buying it. She was screwing up left and right.

Why? Because she was busy trying not to jump into Fitzroy’s pants. Instant attraction is fair, sure, he sounds all tall-dark-handsome and whatever, but she keeps wanting to jump into his pants even after he’s revealed himself to be abusive, manipulative, and downright psychotic. If you hire someone to “scare” a woman, and the guy you hired tries to rape her, guess what, that’s on you for your poor judgment. And when you kill the attacker to stop the rape, that doesn’t make you the good guy, because two wrongs don’t make a right, you unsympathetic lunatic, THE WHOLE SITUATION WAS STILL YOUR FAULT.

Fitzroy is a huge problem even separately from Charlie. In the ministry, Lord Gillingham plays the part of the truly unashamed and unrepentant Worst Man Ever–nothing he ever advocates as a plan of action takes Charlie’s well-being or wishes into account, and at the end, he wants her killed because she’s too dangerous to leave lying around, a weapon for someone else to pick up. So he’s the worst, right? And that’s supposed to make Fitzroy look better, and give him a chance to show how seriously he feels about Charlie’s safety.

But here’s the thing #1–Fitzroy’s not really that much better than Gillingham, he’s just less forthright about how awful he is. And here’s the thing #2–We’ve already got two far more appealing men in the story, Gus and Seth, Fitzroy’s henchman. Yes, they took part in Charlie’s original abduction, so they are by no means “good” guys, but whenever Charlie isn’t remembering to be pissed off at them all about her situation, she’s really friendly to both of them, and they are to her as well. Seth is actually used as a point of jealousy for Fitzroy, because he’s aware Seth has taken a shine to Charlie. (And Gus is ugly, so no one could possibly love him, right?)

I mean, I don’t actually like any of these characters at all, but if offered the same choices, I’d go for Seth in a heartbeat over Mr. Hired Someone To Scare Me Who Tried to Rape Me.

On top of all that, the language was too obviously modern to make me feel like this was really London in 1889; the action writing was clumsy; as piece of Frankenstein fan fiction, I am unimpressed, because it’s the monster that was interesting, not the doctor, so gutting the story to make Dr. Frankenstein into Charlie’s father wasn’t all that true to the spirit of the original work; and as a romance, not only does it glorify abusive behavior, it’s just not good. I didn’t feel any real romantic or sexual tension, it was all angsty and juvenile.

52 - A Natural History of Dragons

#52 – A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan

  • Read: 4/13/19 – 4/17/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (35/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book featuring an extinct or imaginary creature
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

As an avid watcher of nature documentaries, as a one-time potential scholar of biology, as a reader fascinated by the history of science and the progression of “natural history,” it only took the first fifty pages of this story to convince me it was written specifically for me. It wasn’t, of course, but so strong was my interest in it, my connection to it, that I loved it instantly.

Isabella’s dry wit and elderly impatience for propriety and formality were a lovely bonus on top of that.

My romance-loving heart was appeased by the inclusion of a well-characterized marriage, though I appreciate how “romance” wasn’t the point, and how framing the story as a memoir allows Brennan to skip the boring/tedious parts of both Isabella’s courtship and later on, larger swathes of time when nothing important to the story was happening. Most stories use time skips of some kind (and those that don’t, I usually wish did,) but I always have an eye out for when any storytelling technique, no matter how common, is used exceptionally well.

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This Week, I Read… (2019 #15)

48 - This Shattered World

#48 – This Shattered World, by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

  • Read: 4/3/19 – 4/9/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (16/48); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book by two female authors
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

The good: Damn, that’s some USDA Prime anguished romantic tension. The story is stuffed full of reasons to get weepy from start to finish, and the stakes are always high and always feel real. This only took me six days to read because I suddenly have no free time, not because it’s ever slow, plodding, or dull. It’s not.

The meh: It’s been long enough (over two years) since I read the first in the series that I didn’t even connect what was happening here to the events in #1 until Tarver showed up. Even then, it never snapped together for me.

The bad: Those short dream sequences between every chapter made no sense for most of the story, and when I finally did get context for them, I was still annoyed by how they interrupted the pacing. I don’t think it was a useful stylistic choice to make them so frequent and so choppy.

Overall? I enjoyed it, though like at the end of the first book, I wish the world-building had a bit more depth. I plan to read the final book sooner than two and a half years from now, at least.

49 - 5 to 1

#49 – 5 to 1, by Holly Bodger

  • Read: 4/9/19 – 4/10/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (17/48)
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

Shallow and gimmicky. Sudasa’s POV being written in free verse didn’t do anything to enhance my understanding of her. Okay, so she likes poetry and that’s important to the story in the end (sort of) but I don’t think it justifies the loss of everything present in Contestant Five’s POV chapters. He felt much more real simply due to the extra time and word count spent on him–Sudasa felt like a prop.

When so much of the actual plot relies on her NOT being a prop in this elaborate marriage ritual in a strange dystopian society, she needs to be an actual character, and I never thought she was.

Another consequence of more than half the page count of the story being in verse was that this was a fast read, and not in a good way. I spent just under three hours reading this, and an idea this (potentially) complex, this rich with interesting moral quandaries to navigate, simply doesn’t have space here to be fully developed.

50 - The Lacuna

#50 – The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver

  • Read: 4/10/19 – 4/11/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (33/100)
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

DNF @ page 77. It had to happen eventually, that I truly wouldn’t enjoy (or even finish) a Kingsolver novel, even though I’ve had good things to say about most of her other work.

However, I simply couldn’t get into this one. There’s a distance involved with being detached from a narrator who is already almost completely detached from his own life–Will, “the boy,” is so uninteresting as to be almost entirely non-existent. Lots of interesting things happen around him, and as always, I love and appreciate the quality of Kingsolver’s detail- and nature-oriented prose; the schools of fish, the secret tunnel, the screaming monkeys. (That’s the extra star on this rating–even if it’s a DNF, it’s still got some gorgeous language and imagery.)

But as soon as Will was relocated to Mexico City and all that nature fell away, I lost interest. His struggle between finding jobs or remaining in school, his conniving mother’s demands…I just didn’t care. I had no connection to him. I also had very little idea, even more than ten percent in, where the plot was headed, at least beyond following this bland protagonist through his life. In some cases, that would be enough, but I wasn’t looking forward to it here.

Getting Serious About Series #3

One of my reading goals for 2019 has been to knock some of these off the list, because between the original post and the first update, things got a little out of hand.

For comparison, completed series from last time have been removed, completed series this time will gain strikethrough, items that changed categories will be in blue this time, and new entries will be added in red.

Both Started and Finished Since the Last Time I Posted

Waiting for the Next Book to Be Published

I Own Them/Can Borrow Them From the Library But Haven’t Read Them All Yet [read/total]

I Own Some But Not All [read/unread/unowned]

I’ve Read the Ones I Own But Not the Rest [read/unowned]

I Own The First One (or More) But Haven’t Started Yet

End of the Month Wrap-Up: March 2019!

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This has been one doozy of a month, as my repeated absences show. I applied and interviewed for a new job, got it, went on a family vacation that had been in the works for months, then came home to start said new job the very next day.

So far, the job itself is fantastic. My boss and coworkers have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome, and as comfortable as it’s possible for someone to be who’s resetting their entire life. Because I’m working longer hours overall, and certainly later hours, which has forced a top-to-bottom rescheduling of my entire routine.

The good news? I’m already exercising more regularly and eating healthier, because if I’m doing a life reboot, why not use the opportunity to form better habits, right?

The other good news is that a half-hour writing session immediately after breakfast is now mandatory. On my days off, hopefully I’ll get to put in more time and make more progress, but I was seriously stuck and having trouble “finding” time in my older, more open schedule. Now that it’s tighter, that was the spur I needed to finally make time to write.

The bad news…well, so far, the activity that’s suffered most is reading. I think I read for about ten minutes total my first day of work, and only about half an hour on the second. (Yes, I know, some of my old reading time should have been writing time. What can I say, reading is easier!)

After I adjust to my new responsibilities, I hope reading will bounce back. And I still think I can get a book in a week, if I read a fair bit on my days off. But fair warning: my days of four or even five book reviews a week might be over.

As for the blog, I have plans for the next several posts and intend to bang some out over my “weekend” to get ahead, so ideally, I’ll be around more. And with #spookyromancenovel back in production, I should have plenty to talk about.

This Week, I Read… (2019 #14)

 

46 - MaddAddam.JPG

#46 – MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood

  • Read: 3/25/19 – 3/31/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (31/100)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

I can’t tell if my reading comprehension is going up for this complicated and cerebral series, or they’re actually getting better. I enjoyed The Year of the Flood substantially more than Oryx and Crake, and while this isn’t as huge a leap forward in terms of (perceived) quality, I still think it’s an improvement. Especially with Toby’s evening story time with the Crakers replacing Adam’s Gardener sermons–it’s not that his preachings were dull or uninteresting, but I like Toby’s tone, and her tendency to veer into asides, so much more.

This conclusion to the series is so strong, so well-crafted in explaining and tying up loose ends from both previous books, that I’m honestly wondering if I didn’t appreciate Oryx enough at the time. Was it just too far outside my comfort zone? Now that I’ve followed the unusual narrative structure through three books, it’s not so intimidating. I guess I’ll find out eventually, because I do plan to reread these. Someday.

47 - On the Edge

#47 – On the Edge, by Ilona Andrews

  • Read: 4/1/19 – 4/2/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (32/100)
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

As I’m totally in love with Andrews’ Kate Daniels series, when I saw this at a used book sale, I snapped it up without even reading the blurb.

At first, I felt like Rose was too similar to Kate, because one hard-headed and physically capable woman can seem much like another, from the outside. But as I got to know her, Rose turned out to be quite distinct, with different motivations, different attitudes, and certainly different goals.

If they both love their family to the detriment of their own well-being, I think that’s a forgivable similarity.

As for the world of the Edge, it was vibrant and unusual from the start, yet still grounded enough in our “Broken” reality that I had a foothold ready to stand on while I learned about it. Given the way the book ends, I’m looking forward to learning more about the Weird as well, though disappointed to see that the rest of the series doesn’t follow Rose and Declan as protagonists throughout. I’m sure I’ll fall in love with the upcoming heroes and heroines too, but I really want to know what happens to Rose!

 

This Week, I Read… (2019 #13)

45 - A Great and Terrible Beauty

#45 – A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray

  • Read: 3/22/19 – 3/25/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (15/48)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

I’m really confused about what the point of this book is.

Are these girls supposed to be defying Victorian-era norms or not? Is it wrong to reach for power (mystical or otherwise) when your society expects you to shut up and be pretty, or is it admirable?

Because none of these girls gets a happy ending, and part of me is fine with that, because they’re all unabashedly horrible people. Even meek, attention-seeking Ann does her share of underhanded things. I don’t like any of them. I wouldn’t want to be friends with any of them. I didn’t enjoy reading about any of them, either–I don’t think it’s a crime for a female character to be unlikable, personality-wise, but she has to at least be interesting. And these girls weren’t. Their pettiness and backbiting and scheming wasn’t anything fresh or original.

I loved the movie Heathers and its cadre of mean girls (I’m old enough that I haven’t actually seen Mean Girls, it’s always going to be Heathers for me) but at least that movie was funny. Nothing about this book is funny. I never once laughed.

The story is also a mess of utterly obvious racial stereotypes and fetishization, fat-shaming, mild lesbophobia, shallow treatment of self-harm, and even shallower treatment of chronic illness. One could make the argument that most or all of these things are accurate to the time period and social standing of the characters, and in most cases, I’d even agree. But since this isn’t Victorian England anymore, maybe authors could stop writing about these things as if they’re normal and acceptable? Because they shouldn’t be, and it’s a bad message for YA novels to say that they are.


It’s short, this week, since my vacation started on Wednesday. Whatever I finish while I’m away will show up in next week’s post.

This Week, I Read… (2019 #12)

41 - Just for Your

#41 – Just for You, by Rosalind James

  • Read: 3/15/19 – 3/16/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (27/100)
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

Coming back to this after having read the first three full-length novels in the series, I found this to be bland. In the small space allowed, neither Reka nor Hemi really has a chance to develop much personality beyond the gently sarcastic tone that is apparently the way all Maori characters speak in James’ novels. Reka sounded exactly like all her sisters, and pretty much the entire rest of her family. Hemi did a decent job apologizing for his boorish behavior in the past, but eager-puppy-hounding-the-heroine isn’t much of a personality, and if that’s all he is, it’s not exactly a strong argument in his favor.

Honestly, I like these two much better as the happily married couple who shows up from time to time in the series. I didn’t need this back story, because it’s just not very interesting.

42 - Free Me

#42 – Free Me, by Laurelin Paige

  • Read: 3/16/19 – 3/17/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (28/100)
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

There were a lot of things about this that I feel like I should have hated, and yet, I found it surprisingly difficult to stop reading.

Ice-queen, emotionally shut-down heroine. Arrogant, too-sexy-for-his-own-good hero. An arrangement to have weekly sexcapades with no dating, no bonding, no falling in love.

These aren’t my tropes. I should hate this book. Or at least dislike it strongly.

But every time these two commitment-phobic lunatics opened their mouths to speak to each other, I heard rational conversation. They fought, sure, they argued all the time, but it was practical, it was realistic, it was natural. Those were the conversations and arguments I felt like I would be having in their place, if I found myself in their bizarre situation. Even though the premise was contrived as hell, once it got going, I bought it. These characters sold it to me.

Gwen did things against her better judgment, but she did them knowingly, aware of potential consequences, which saved her from Too Stupid to Live syndrome. I warmed up to her quickly and still liked her at the end–especially because of her final decision re: the cliffhanger. I want to read the next book so I can see her happy ending, because it’s fantastic to see a woman stand her ground and know what’s best for herself.

JC, on the other hand, came off as a swanky-smooth and untrustworthy playboy at first, a desirable sex god in the middle, and a complete mess at the end. I’m not attached to him at all, he’s definitely the worst part of the book for me–even in his “falling in love” phase, when he was cute more than sexy, I was on edge because I knew his secret had to be devastating, whatever it was. And now that I know what it is, I’m not entirely sure I buy his motivation for starting this whole thing with Gwen in the first place. His life would have been infinitely easier if he’d stuck to being a bed-hopping playboy, and putting Gwen in the position he did at the end is a really, really shitty thing to do. So he’s the reason I kind of don’t want to read the next book.

Still, I probably will at some point. I devoured this in less than a day, and I do want to find out how it ends. Who knows, maybe JC grows up some more in the conclusion. Maybe I’ll like him better then.

43 - The Raging Quiet

#43 – The Raging Quiet, by Sherryl Jordan

  • Read: 3/17/19 – 3/19/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (29/100)
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

I enjoyed this book immensely, but a few days later, writing this review, I feel that maybe something was lacking.

I’m glad I came across this as a lost/potential YA classic. It has a good message, simply delivered. But I think that very simplicity works against it for an adult reader like myself. It lacks depth and subtlety–people are good, or they are bad. Marnie and Raven are the only two characters allowed to be a little of both, with Marnie’s stubbornness leading her to sometimes poor decisions, and Raven’s frustration at his inability to communicate leading him to lash out violently.

I was also vaguely disturbed by how quickly Marnie manages to “tame” Raven. Someone who has lived half-feral all his life, with no real socialization, doesn’t strike me as likely to turn into a fine young man in only a few months. This isn’t to say Raven isn’t or couldn’t be intelligent, teachable, and hungry to learn, all of which he’s shown to be. But Marnie remarks on his wildness, and how she doesn’t want him to lose that entirely; but he almost does, and in an unbelievably short amount of time. (This perception of mine might be exacerbated by how quickly I read the book, I admit.)

I enjoyed it, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I’d been lucky enough to get to read it when I was the target age group; I don’t think it’s quite as strong a story for adults.

44 - Ride

#44 – Ride, by Daphne Loveling

  • Read: 3/19/19 – 3/20/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (30/100)
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

No one’s setting my heart on fire here.

While I’m not familiar with MC romances yet (I think I’ve only read one other,) this hardly qualifies. The hero is a club member but spends almost no time at the club, almost no time on his bike due to the injury that starts the plot, and very little time thinking about his club duties other than that he’ll give up his position if he can’t ride a bike anymore.

All his MC identity does is give him that hint of bad-boy flavor, which doesn’t even affect the plot that much–the heroine’s ex-husband is prejudiced against the hero because of his look, but the sweet old neighbor lady thinks he’s a fine young man regardless.

And he mostly is. I have a personal dislike for his name, Trig, because to me that’s always going to be shorthand for the school subject trigonometry, and that’s not an association I want in my romance reading. But that’s not the character’s fault, and he’s generally an okay guy.

But that’s the thing–he’s just okay, to the point where every other man in the novel (all two of them) have to be flagrant examples of the worst that adult maleness has to offer, just to make him look good. The heroine’s ex is a serious piece of work in an abusive, gas-lighting way, which I found believable, but the guy she goes on one date with at the beginning of the novel is so, so, so awful that he comes across as completely fake. I don’t believe that anyone says the things he says, or if they do, that someone hasn’t poisoned their Cheerios yet. It’s ridiculous.

My other major problem is that the conflict is thin and mostly one-sided. The heroine is hung up on a lie she believed in high school that prevented her and the hero from getting together. First, I can’t believe it took ten years for someone to point out to her that the third party involved might not have been trustworthy, and second, why couldn’t she realize that herself? Is she really that dumb? But even so, the narrative spends a lot of time on it, building up its importance while simultaneously having the heroine waffle about whether or not it actually is important, whether or not she should just let it go.

Trig, meanwhile, has no clue about any of this. His conflict amounts to “should I bang my physical therapist or not?”

The other brief, underdeveloped point of conflict is the ex-husband, who shows up in a blaze of anger at the last second to undermine the budding romance with threats. Trig threatens him back, and in the process promises to terminate the child-support arrangement WITHOUT THE HEROINE’S KNOWLEDGE OR CONSENT. Given how she’d already reacted to Trig answering her phone once, I expected her to go ballistic. Maybe even nuclear. But she didn’t! She was completely okay with Trig instigating a change in her legal relationship regarding her husband and his money! Without her knowledge or consent! HOW IS THIS OKAY WITH HER OR ME OR ANYONE.

But, like I said, Trig’s just okay, he only looks halfway decent as a man compared to the awful dumpster fires the author offers as alternatives.