Down the TBR Hole #3

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?

I left off with Second Position, which despite being at the end of my second go-round of this meme, is now #6 on the overall TBR. Woohoo, I’m reading books I wanted to read!

I pick back up with a real doozy.

#1 – 1Q84, by Haruki Murakami

1Q84The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo.

A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.

As Aomame’s and Tengo’s narratives converge over the course of this single year, we learn of the profound and tangled connections that bind them ever closer: a beautiful, dyslexic teenage girl with a unique vision; a mysterious religious cult that instigated a shoot-out with the metropolitan police; a reclusive, wealthy dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideously ugly private investigator; a mild-mannered yet ruthlessly efficient bodyguard; and a peculiarly insistent television-fee collector.

A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s — 1Q84 is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet: an instant best seller in his native Japan, and a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.

I’m pretty sure this made it on the TBR because it sounded interesting and I’ve read a lot of praise of Murakami’s works in general. Digging into the reviews of 1Q84 specifically, though, it seems like a bad place to start. First, it strikes me as a love-it-or-loathe-it book: very few middling reviews, tons of 1- or 5-stars.

Second, even people who like it themselves are repeatedly saying not to start here if you’re new to Murakami.

Third, it’s nearly a thousand pages, so if this might not be a keeper, it’s probably not worth investing the time or money in.

This one goes, with the caveat that I’ll look into his other works and pick one to try that’s better suited as an entry point.

#2 – The Penryn & the End of Days trilogy, by Susan Ee

It’s been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back.

Anything, including making a deal with an enemy angel.

Raffe is a warrior who lies broken and wingless on the street. After eons of fighting his own battles, he finds himself being rescued from a desperate situation by a half-starved teenage girl.

Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they have only each other to rely on for survival. Together, they journey toward the angels’ stronghold in San Francisco where she’ll risk everything to rescue her sister and he’ll put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again. (Angelfall)

Booklr loved these books when I showed up there as a brand-new independent author, and Susan Ee was an indie who made good. I’m a sucker for post-apoc fiction (duh!) and these sound right up my alley, simple as that.

They stay, though if I don’t end up liking the first one, I’ll quit there and ditch the other two.

#3 – In Another Life, by Julie Christine Johnson

in another lifeHistorian Lia Carrer has finally returned to southern France, determined to rebuild her life after the death of her husband. But instead of finding solace in the region’s quiet hills and medieval ruins, she falls in love with Raoul, a man whose very existence challenges everything she knows about life–and about her husband’s death. As Raoul reveals the story of his past to Lia, she becomes entangled in the echoes of an ancient murder, resulting in a haunting and suspenseful journey that reminds Lia that the dead may not be as far from us as we think.

Steeped in the rich history and romantic landscape of rural France, In Another Life is a story of love that conquers time and the lost loves that haunt us all.

I think this one came to me via a recommendation list on BookRiot…I think. Or possibly I spotted the giveaway on Goodreads when the book was published in 2016–the timeline is right for that.

Now that I’m reading the blurb again, I can see why it intrigued me (romance) but I’m less excited by murder and suspenseful. And the reviews mention time travel, which is not a thing I’ve been impressed with often enough to seek it out.

This one goes.

#4 – A Man of Character, by Margaret Locke

a man of characterWhat would you do if you discovered the men you were dating were fictional characters you’d created long ago?

Thirty-five-year-old Catherine Schreiber has shelved love for good. Keeping her ailing bookstore afloat takes all her time, and she’s perfectly fine with that. So when several men ask her out in short order, she’s not sure what to do…especially since something about them seems eerily familiar.

Caught between fantasy and reality, Cat must decide which—or whom—she wants more.

Blending humor with unusual twists, including a magical manuscript, a computer scientist in shining armor, and even a Regency ball, A Man of Character tells a story not only of love, but also of the lengths we’ll go for friendship, self-discovery, and second chances.

I honestly don’t remember where I stumbled across this mostly-unknown title (just over 100 reviews on GR) but I’m glad I did, because it sounds adorable. And the ratings are good, especially for such a relatively small sample size.

Maybe it’s self-indulgent to want to read about a writer who gets to date her own creations, but I don’t care. This one stays.

 

petticoatsFrom an impressive sisterhood of YA writers comes an edge-of-your-seat anthology of historical fiction and fantasy featuring a diverse array of daring heroines.

Criss-cross America — on dogsleds and ships, stagecoaches and trains — from pirate ships off the coast of the Carolinas to the peace, love, and protests of 1960s Chicago. Join fifteen of today’s most talented writers of young adult literature on a thrill ride through history with American girls charting their own course. They are monsters and mediums, bodyguards and barkeeps, screenwriters and schoolteachers, heiresses and hobos. They’re making their own way in often-hostile lands, using every weapon in their arsenals, facing down murderers and marriage proposals. And they all have a story to tell.

I undoubtedly saw this on Booklr when it was new, but honestly, I haven’t seen much of its presence since. I’m less inclined to collections of short stories than I might once have been, having had some bad luck and impatience with them in the past few years, and looking over the author list, there are only a few I’ve read before and liked, and one I actively want to avoid due to strongly problematic elements in her other works.

As much as I’d normally want to support such something with such clearly feminist goals, this one goes.


Have you read any of these and have an opinion you want to share? Let me know in the comments if you think I’ve made a mistake!

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The Book Robin Hoods

bookrobinhoods

“Welcome to The Book Robin Hoods, where authors are matched with readers with the goal to promote writers and help book bloggers find awesome new reads to review.”

I’ve joined a new community of readers and writers, created and hosted by M.C. Frank, which has the goal of making it easier for independent authors to find reviewers for their works, and giving readers access to authors they might never have found otherwise.

As of last week, I’m now a featured author, and I’ve already gotten a few requests for What We Need to Survive!

I encourage everyone to check out the site. I’ve already gotten a few direct requests for review copies, and pretty soon I’ll be making requests of my own, to see if any of the featured book bloggers are interested in my works!

This Week, I Read… (2018 #2)

3 - The Ice Queen

#3 – The Ice Queen, by Alice Hoffman

I almost didn’t finish this, because the story started with a lifetime of tragic backstory for the adult narrator, and the first half of the book didn’t do much to make her a character I could connect to–in fact, she’s downright awful and dishonest at times.

Then somehow I found myself flying through the pages when we finally get the mystery of Lazarus underway. I didn’t think he was interesting or appealing as a love interest–the narrator’s relationship with him doesn’t seem any more like love than her self-described sex-only “relationship” with her previous lover–but I did find the questions surrounding him were enough to keep me going.

All at once, near the end, he exits the story completely and the narrative is only concerned with the revelation of her brother’s cancer diagnosis and the events leading up to his death. A quick epilogue sees the narrator paired up with her former “just sex” lover, who was basically a non-entity for most of the story, and then it’s over.

And there’s much waxing metaphorical about fairy tales and chaos theory, most of which was too patchy and incoherent for me to make much sense of.

One gripping section does not a good book make, because I think less of this for its very inconsistency.

4 - The Art of Language Invention

#4 – The Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World-Building, by David J. Peterson

I challenge anyone even remotely interested in language creation to read this book and not immediately want to start a conlang project of their own.

I know I do.

I wish my background in foreign languages and/or linguistics was stronger heading into this read, though, because some of this did go over my head. Latin was never a required course at any school I attended (it wasn’t even offered at my high school), and while I took three years of French and one, later, of Japanese, they were so long ago I’ve forgotten much of both from my lack of practice. A solid foundation in Latin (however awful a language it seems to be to learn) would have given me a leg up in some of the deeper technical aspects, like cases, because that’s just not a thing I ever learned until reading this.

It is an incredibly technical read, and not one I’d recommend for someone with little interest in the subject–this isn’t the type of nonfiction that stuns you with surface-level facts about some subject you’ve never heard of. It’s basically a textbook with occasional bright sparks of humor.

But it’s a very, very good textbook. One which I will be referring to constantly as I try my hand at conlanging myself. After I learn the International Phonetic Alphabet, first, because I’ve only got the barest grip on that…

5 - His to Protect

#5 – His to Protect, by Elena Aitken

A short and basic shifter romance about fated mating which is not all that great to start with, even before being irreparably marred by Gay Villains.

Seriously, the heroine finds out a few years into her marriage that she’s a beard for her gay husband, stands by him as he discreetly dates men on the side, then he ends up staging at elaborate coming-out plot in the media while also embezzling from the company they run together. And his boyfriend is in on the crime, and is also the heroine’s lawyer, so she can’t even continue to use him for counsel because he’s in on it.

So instead of doing the mature thing and getting a divorce, the gay villain husband and his gay villain boyfriend frame the poor, defenseless woman for their crime, not only ruining her professional reputation by making her look like an idiot for her failed relationship, but also doing their best to put her in jail.

And of course there are no positive representation of any kind of queer person anywhere else in the book. Just big, fiercely protective, insanely possessive, manly men–brothers, even–and the oldest one falls for the poor, defenseless woman.

Now, I have nothing against romantic heroes being big and strong and masculine. But when the whole point is that he needs to save/protect his woman from her evil gay ex…

Can we please stop with the blatant queer-bashing?

6 - Magic Bleeds

#6 – Magic Bleeds, by Ilona Andrews

The first three novels were good. Solid. I enjoyed them, and I was curious to see where the Kate/Curran pairing was headed, in the midst of all that blood and guts and magic and stubbornness.

The two of them finally getting together was absolutely worth the build-up. Enemies-to-lovers at its best, here. (Though I’d call it adversaries rather than enemies–Curran hasn’t really been an enemy, not in the way each book’s true antagonists have been.)

Which, speaking of, the main plot here had a better magical war than the previous books. I know the story line is working its way up to Kate’s eventual confrontation with Roland (at least, it better be) but the first three books were more of a monster-of-the-week setup than anything else. It made sense to start smaller, Kate couldn’t be too badass right away, but I’m thrilled to see this book introduce a more terrifying evil to fight while also moving the story of Kate’s family forward.

Basically, it does everything the earlier books did, but so much better. I’m kicking myself that this is the last book of the series I own, and I’m on a book-buying ban for a few months. I want to read the rest right now!

7 - Tapping the Billionaire

#7 – Tapping the Billionaire, by Max Monroe

This one plays with a lot of tropes we’ve all seen in the romance genre–billionaires, office romance, secret online lives. After I read the introduction, I actually thought I wouldn’t like it at all, as the tone is immediately hard-hitting with “look at me I’m so different from the other billionaires.”

But then, he is. The story bears it out, and our billionaire CEO is actually an incredibly sweet, down-to-earth guy who I pretty much fell in love with myself as the story went on.

The reason this didn’t get five stars from me boils down to the unrelenting “humor”. I may be an incredibly snarky reviewer who goes right for the guts of a book I don’t like, but I’m not snarky 100% of the time in my life. The dialogue did often feel like it was trying too hard, as well as the internal thoughts of the characters. (Which were also in past tense? If we’re getting their actual thoughts, they should be in present tense, even when the narrative POV is past. That’s standard for everything I’ve ever read, so it was weird here to deviate from it.)

Also, the very, very last section of the epilogue (in my edition) is marked at the head with the wrong character name. Confused the hell out of me until I realized it, especially as it’s the setup for the next book in the series–and that’s incredibly sloppy editing.

8 - Deep Blue

#8 – Deep Blue, by Jules Barnard

There were more things I disliked about this than liked, though it did tackle one issue I don’t see often enough in NA romance–a character questioning whether or not they should be going to school (grad school, in this case) for a stable career instead of following a riskier but more desirable path. And that’s a big conflict this age group faces, one that is usually handled shallowly the rare times I’ve seen it.

On to the bad things. Pacing. The first half of the book took forever and spent far too much time on petty relationship drama with the lead’s best friend, and then everything in the second half rushed by with little time to process it. I was still on board with the plausibility of the plot when Jaeger’s ex showed up claiming they had a kid together, but we raced right past that into her setting up the lead with a phony drug charge and the go-between guy who actually planted the drugs also almost killing her with a spiked mocha.

I’m not saying shit like this never happens, or that it couldn’t have been a good plot point if it was better-developed, but everything piled up on top of itself so fast I felt like a pinball, careening from one disaster to another.

Pacing also forms the foundation of my complaint with the romance itself. Cali holds out on her attraction to Jaeger for a while, no problem there, I like slow burn, but once they’re together, he’s instantly full speed ahead. He’s waaaay more serious about her than she seems to be about him, and instead of that being a hurdle in her own life she needs to clear, it comes across more as an imbalanced power dynamic. He’s not so much older than her that it creeped me out, but he’s quite a bit more financially stable, and he’s already got himself a successful business, so they’re in very different places in life despite only a few years’ gap between them. Cali does reflect on this, just a little, which is at least something, but she dismisses those concerns pretty quickly, and no one else seems to care. It left a bad taste in my mouth.

9 - The Bean Trees

#9 – The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver

Having read and loved two later Kingsolver novels, I was looking forward to this, her first work. While it shows the potential she grew into later, on its own it’s okay at best.

Too many things go unexplained, passed over with no common-sense context. A baby gets dumped on you by a stranger? Sure, take it and raise it, even though you should immediately contact the police. Taylor bumbles her way through her life, without any clue or plan, and despite being the main character she doesn’t have a clear character arc. At the end, suddenly she’s very attached to little Turtle, who mostly seemed like a grudgingly accepted thorn in her side before that; also, she’s fallen in love with Estevan? Were there actually clues about that earlier that I missed, or was that as sudden and unexpected as it felt to me? Because Taylor didn’t seem to love much of anything, or anyone.

Still, I did enjoy it. Kingsolver’s lyrical way with words is already in evidence, though it will definitely get better with practice, and I’m a sucker for the non-blood family trope.

New Year, New Giveaway Plans

lottery-174132_1280

I know I said I wasn’t going to be posting until tomorrow’s weekly book reviews, but in between my naps I’ve been investigating more book promotion options, especially giveaways.

I want to get my books into the hands of more readers, and I want more reviews!

But with the new fees on the (previously-free) Goodreads giveaways, they’re no longer an option for me. Instead I’m testing out Rafflecopter’s free plan.

So go here to enter my new giveaway!

It’s running for one week–most of the entry options are one-time only (following me on various social media) but you can get an entry every day for tweeting about the contest.

Help me make this a successful first run by spreading the word!

This Week, I Read… (2018 #1)

1 - Moby Dick

#1 – Moby Dick, by Herman Melville

I really didn’t want to DNF the first book of 2018. I trudged doggedly through the first third, alternately bored and disgusted. I skimmed the middle, skipping lightly over chapters that were obviously outdated “science” about whales.

At the two-thirds mark, I just couldn’t take it anymore. This book has nothing to offer me, and I wonder what, if anything, makes it relevant as a “classic” today.

As an adventure story, it’s plodding and dull. Ishmael doesn’t even get on the Pequod for the first hundred pages, and once he does, it’s still forever until they spot a whale and get hunting–even when they do finally do anything, the action stops for chapters at a time so Ishmael can educate us on whether or not a whale is a fish.

As a comedy (I’ve seen reviews saying it’s better to read it with humor in mind), it’s incredibly racist. I’m well aware that mid-1800’s America was racist from top to bottom, so I don’t need the extended Noble Savage trope embodied by Queequeg for the first hundred pages. Yes, Ishmael befriends him despite his strangeness, but in a particularly jocular and indulging way, like Queequeg is a clever puppy Ishmael is impressed with, instead of a human being. And aside from that, I really didn’t see anything else that could remotely be considered funny.

As a complete narrative, it’s desperately unfocused. The style changes from chapter to chapter with astonishing variety–sometimes it’s a college lecture, sometimes it’s a brief aside from Starbuck’s or Stubb’s POV (which honestly threw me the first time it happened,) sometimes it’s a rambling secondhand story (told at great length) from a crewman on a ship they encounter. Rarely it is actually about what I thought the book was supposed to be about–Ahab and his White Whale.

If I ever decide I want to know how it ends–miraculously it’s never been spoiled for me–I’ll look up the Wikipedia entry to find out, because I am never touching this book again.

2 - The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue

#2 – The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, by Mackenzi Lee

This book was charming from start to finish. The hype surrounding it had already gotten so huge by the time I got it that I was almost afraid I’d be disappointed, but I wasn’t. Monty is such an engaging rogue of a narrator, and he’s lovable despite his many, many flaws–his heart, though often dreadfully misguided, does end up being made of gold.

And the sheer amount of twists and turns in this plot make it an odd combination of unpredictable and completely logical. Each point follows naturally from the one before it, yet by the end of the adventure we’ve wound up so far from both where the story started, and where the characters thought they’d be, that the journey is absolutely wild and marvelous.

Okay, okay, I’m gushing, I know. But I fell in love so hard with Monty and Percy that I can’t wait to reread this!

2018 Writing Goals: Wait, I’m An Author?

What We Need Covers

Faithful readers may have noticed I neglected to do an End of the Year wrap-up post.

That’s because, for all intents and purposes, 2017 sucked and I don’t want to revisit it.

But a few good things did happen, the most major of which (for my career) is that I completed my third book and first series. Which is a huge accomplishment, and I’m wrenching my shoulder patting myself on the back, still.

But between that, and the bad things that 2017 brought me, I’ve definitely slid into a writing slump. Yes, I did NaNo and “won,” but even telling myself to keep working on the draft in December until it was done, I didn’t complete it. I wrote a measly (for me) 12K the whole month.

I cannot find the motivation to continue that project right now. It’s not just a matter of self-doubt, though I don’t have a lot of confidence in the idea any more. I feel as if the uncertainty and depression of this year has infected that project.

I’m going to shelve the unfinished draft to (maybe, someday) come back to. After all, I did a fair bit of work on the worldbuilding for it, and even if I don’t finish that story, I may want to try a different one in the same world. Or I may get new inspiration that helps me bend that story into something worth continuing.

So where does that leave me now, at the start of a new year? I’d still like to put out a book this year, and I do have a completed first draft (from NaNo ’16) that I’ve been sitting on. I wasn’t sure I was up to tackling the rewrite last year, and I know the story has deep issues that need addressing–but don’t they all? Who turns out a perfect first draft?

The core of the reason that the NaNo ’17 story failed was that I was forcing myself to write something I wasn’t passionate about. And while that’s a good way to build discipline for less experienced writers, in my case, it was a recipe for burnout.

I am passionate about my beloved-but-flawed RockStar novel–but I was almost scared to try to keep going with it, it’s so big and unwieldy and different from What We Need. I hadn’t planned on writing post-apoc forever (oh, god, no) but I’ve always been more of a fantasy/sci-fi person, and jumping genres to contemporary? What if I’m terrible at it? What if the “real” world I create feels wrong?

But I still hear new songs and think about whether or not they’re something my characters would have written for their band, or if they’d cover it, or if it describes some aspect of their relationships.

I think it’s clear what I need to be working on, this year.

I’ve started the draft reread and am taking copious notes on what needs fixing. If all goes well, I’ll have a contemporary, rock-band romance novel out by next year.

Wish me luck, my lovelies. I think I’ll need it.