This Week, I Read… (2019 #29)

93 - Saga, Vol. 4

#93 – Saga, Vol. 4, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

  • Read: 7/11/19 – 7/12/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (29/48)
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

Right after I said in the review for the third volume that I expected five-star ratings across the board, I end up not liking this one quite as much. I’m still trying to pinpoint why. Some of Hazel’s narration seemed off (and some of it deliberately tricksy, which I was fine with) but I don’t really like the red herring of Marko potentially cheating that got dangled in front of me. It’s not even that I’m wholly anti-cheating in general, it’s actually that it didn’t feel like a plausible turn for the story to take, so I couldn’t treat the possibility seriously.

Alanna’s drug problem, on the other hand, was totally believable and in keeping with the pressure she’s under. I liked the time we spent with her on the Circuit, and I wish we could see more without that extra time completely breaking the pacing (which it would, I know, it’s just such an interesting bunch of characters, I want more of them.)

I think the larger, systemic problem I had with this volume might be how fractured it felt. The main arc is the separation, fine, but all the subplots seem to be going in wildly different directions here, with assassinations and kidnappings and a few side characters dying (lots of not-quite-random violence in this one) but with little cohesion binding them together. To be honest, I feel like I’m missing something that makes this make sense, in the larger fashion that the first three volumes gave a satisfying tale told in each one. Here, I feel like I read a lot of loose ends.

Which, to be fair, where still cleverly written, brilliantly drawn, and full of the detail I’ve grown to appreciate so much. My vague dissatisfaction could simply be that we’ve reached the point in the overall story where things have to start going wrong very quickly on all fronts, which is why this volume in particular was hard-hit by that violence and messiness. When I have the whole story in front of me, perhaps this slice of it won’t seem weaker.

94 - Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

#93 – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

  • Read: 7/13/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (61/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge: The Reading Frenzy’s “Run Away with the Circus” Read-a-thon
  • Tasks: A retelling of a classic (PopSugar); A light and fluffy read (The Reading Frenzy)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF at page 70. This was a gimmick read, and that gimmick wore thin extraordinarily quickly.

I’m not a huge P&P fan, I’m no raging purist that thinks this is bad simply because it exists. The premise sounded awesome, and I’m down for genre mash-ups. But the execution on this is so, so poor. The only good thing I can say about the text is that, in streamlining Austen’s original prose to shorten the book and make room for the additional elements, the story is far more readable in terms of style. My major stumbling block with the source material was the archaic and bloated sentence construction–that’s what’s eliminated (mostly) here for the modern reader. Kudos for that, it let me read those 70 pages before I gave up in a single afternoon instead of several days.

Everything else is terrible. The zombies–oh, sorry, “unmentionables”–are spliced into the original text, and every seam shows. Whenever the narrative needs to address the fact that Lizzy and her sisters are accomplished fighters–which is often, because we might forget otherwise?–it completely destroys the tone of the scene and takes me out of the story.

Plus, let’s throw in a little racism while we’re at it–the Bennet girls are said to have trained with Shaolin monks in China, yet Japanese terms like dojo and ninja are used liberally. If I trusted the author more, I might be able to shrug this off as a relic of the time period, when the English were mad with Orientalism and would easily conflate all things “Eastern” into a single exotic source, destroying Asian diversity; except that China was well-known to Europe for centuries in 1797 when P&P is set, but Japan wasn’t open to the Western world until the mid-1800’s. There is absolutely no reason for any Japanese terminology or cultural influence to be in this book.

Now, Elena, you might say, why are you insisting on historical realism when this book is about zombies? Well, because the book hasn’t presented me with any reason the “strange plague” altered history enough to send British and/or American delegations to Japan more than fifty years early, that’s why. P&P is set in the real world, and P&P&Z added zombies, so unless those zombies went to Japan and started diplomatic talks, Japan should still be that mysterious island nation that little is known about and who doesn’t really talk to anyone yet.

It’s hackneyed and racist to conflate multiple Asian cultures this way, and it’s lazy not to know enough about history to make this sort of mistake in the first place. And nobody higher up the food chain caught it, either.

This is a gimmick read, and it’s a bad one.

95 - Caliban's War

#95 – Caliban’s War, by James S.A. Corey

  • Read: 7/13/19 – 7/17/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (62/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge; The Reading Frenzy’s “Run Away with the Circus” Read-a-thon
  • Task: A book about or set in space (both challenges)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

Revisiting a world I know so well is so comforting, even when the action is crazy pulse-pounding and the stakes are huge.

I came to this series as a show-watcher, and I was flabbergasted after reading Leviathan Wakes at how faithful the show was. Knowing now that the writing team behind this is also working on the show, I’m not surprised at all moving forward, but I’m still amazed by how much of the incredible character depth in the novels gets carried over.

So, book two. I was thrilled to finally meet Avasarala on the page and see the full scope of her vulgarity, because of course she can’t drop the f-bomb that many times on screen. She’s so many things that female characters are so rarely allowed to be, especially in combination: intelligent, politically powerful, manipulative, crass, insulting, cantankerous, and also deeply in love with her husband throughout a long and stable marriage, motherly/grandmotherly, and despite the outward flaws of her personality or the deliberately cultivated flaws of her political persona, she’s likeable, relatable, and most of all, a force for good in the universe.

Can you tell she’s my favorite character? Just a hint?

I loved her relationship with Bobbie on the show, and it’s only better in the book. In fact, everything about Bobbie is better in the book, simply because she’s another amazing female character who gets to do things outside the scope of normal literary femininity: be the most bad-ass warrior in any given room, but still have a personality beyond it. Bobbie is shaped by being a Marine and brings military-style thinking to every conversation, sure. But she also grows so much by being exposed to influences outside her military comfort zone, and whenever she offers an idea, she’s not dismissed as the meathead who thinks with her gun. (That position is arguably held, albeit somewhat voluntarily, by Amos, who seems to welcome the underestimation and dismissal he receives from strangers for being the big, bulky grease monkey–another subversion of the “big dumb brute” trope, because Amos is plenty smart in a lot of ways, and the story shows it even when he’s trying not to make it a big deal.)

Speaking of Amos, I also liked the extra depth to his relationship with Prax. (Whom I also welcomed as a POV character, he convinced me by the end of his first page that he was a scientist through and through, and I love reading good scientists.) In the show, I saw their bond forming, but I didn’t always understand why those two gravitated towards each other, but in the book, it’s very clear.

I have less to say about the main Rocinante crew in general, other than that Holden and Naomi’s romance still seems kind of meh, though I accept the arc of her leaving and his apology bringing her back as solid and well-done. Alex doesn’t get a lot of further development here, he’s absent for half the book for story reasons, but Holden at least acknowledges in the end that that was a shitty thing to do to him, and Alex takes it all in stride as the easy-going dude he is.

With so many new and amazing characters moving the story forward, the main four can’t be quite as shiny and interesting overall as they were back in the first book when they were new, too, so I understand that, but I hope this trend downward stabilizes instead of continuing until I’m bored with them.

96 - Teach Me

#96 – Teach Me, by Olivia Dade

  • Read: 7/18/19
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

Since this was a romance I picked up at the behest of one of my reading clubs and not by my own interest, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this. A work-place romance between an Ice Queen type and a single dad, and a sort of enemies-to-lovers arc? (They’re not enemies, not really, but she has reasons to resent his presence in her school and department at first, though she takes the high road and decides not to.) I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen to read this on my own, but I would have been missing out.

I loved Martin, I really, truly did. I’m a total sucker for a thoughtful man, and compassion is woven into his DNA. In their relationship, he shows his vulnerability first, which is definitely a rarity in your standard m/f romances, and one I appreciate. And he’s a good dad, without laying it on too thick. Showing him struggling with the anticipation of an empty nest when his daughter goes off to college the next year really made that aspect of his character work.

Rose, I liked slightly less. I can see how she’s a well-constructed character and a perfect match for Martin, but her fears came out a little too strongly for me and held her back a little too long. Maybe that’s just because in her place, I would have been doodling hearts around Martin’s name in my notebook long before she was, but I was honestly irritated by how closed-off she was, even near the end.

The payoff was cute, the relatively few kissing and sex scenes were swoon-worthy, though this story is far more couched in the Unresolved Sexual Tension stage of a relationship–that first kiss comes pretty late in the book. But it’s worth the wait.

It wasn’t perfect for me, but it’s pretty darn good, and since this is my first read by this author, I’ll be looking into more of her work.

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Let’s Talk About Tropes #10: There Was Only One Bed

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First of all, a quick apology: somehow I neglected the Tropes series for over a year? I really didn’t feel like #9 was that long ago. Also, in checking over past subject matter to make sure I didn’t repeat myself, I discovered that the title format changed partway through, because I’m not great at consistency when I’m juggling this many projects, apparently. I’m making a category for them so they’re all available in one place if you want to catch up.

Now, about the beds. What do you do when you need to up the romantic or sexual tension between a couple? One answer is to put them in any situation where there’s only one bed to share. They could be traveling together and there’s a mix-up with their hotel, or they didn’t have a hotel to begin with and they’re pulling over into some cheap place that only has one room left, and guess what–there’s only one bed.

I love this trope, and I hate it. It can be handled well (anything can!) but there’s so many easy traps to fall into, so many assumptions made by the creators who use it.

1. In mass media, this trope is entirely heteronormative. “Oh no, a boy and a girl might have to share a bed! What will happen next?!?” But on one hand, not all boys are attracted to girls, and vice versa. This trope is pulled out to put the not-couple in a questionable situation where we can assume hanky-panky might ensue. But where are the subversions where it’s no big deal because the guy isn’t into women (or the reverse, of course?) Why doesn’t this ever get paired up with the gay best friend trope? (Not that that isn’t a problematic one, too, but that’s for another post.)

2. On the other hand, why doesn’t “one bed” every raise any alarm bells for same-gender pairs? In high school, I went on a trip to Toronto to see The Phantom of the Opera as a part of the National Honor Society. Obviously all the hotel rooms were segregated by gender, so I was sharing a room with two queen beds in it with three other girls. I drew the short straw and had to sleep beside a girl I barely knew, whose first name I think I remember but last name, no clue. (To be fair, this was just over twenty years ago.) Why didn’t that raise any concerns to any adults? What if that girl was a lesbian? What if I was? (I identified as straight at the time, now I know I’m bisexual. I didn’t start anything with that girl or either of the other two in the room–but if I’d been a boy, all hands on deck, it’s a nightmare!) If a boy and a girl are in danger of having sex with each other simply because there’s only one bed, why not two boys? Why not two girls? Why not two of anybody, regardless of gender identity?

3. Which brings me to the third problem. Yes, the trope is generally trotted out to be specifically about sex, to create the will-they-won’t-they tension. But that only reinforces negative stereotypes about men/boys and predatory sexuality. Why can’t two people share a bed without sex being a specter hovering over the situation? Why do we assume the men/boys won’t be able to control themselves and take advantage (or try to take advantage of) the women/girls? A) Why can’t it be the girls lusting after the boys; or B) why can’t these two just act like rational human beings and understand that sleeping in the same bed doesn’t mean sex is happening? (It’s sort of forgivable when we’re talking teenagers who don’t have the life experience, necessarily, to make good/safe choices, but when I’m reading an adult romance novel that falls into this trap, I usually walk away disappointed. Men aren’t hormone-driven chauvinist pigs, and when they are, they shouldn’t be the hero of the story!)

That isn’t to say that two people can’t be uncomfortable with sharing a bed, ever, at all. If one person (character) has personal space issues; if they have real reason not to trust the other (though this brings up the larger issue of whether or not the two of them can even share the room at all, let alone the bed;) if one admits to being a total cover hog, or a tendency to toss and turn, or anything else that might make the other person uncomfortable sharing a bed with them. There’s no reason not to be considerate, after all.

And this isn’t me, O Great Author Elena Who Knows Everything About Everything, telling you not to ever use this trope. (/sarcasm) It’s popular for a reason. It’s a back bone of fan fic, especially alternate-universe fic, everywhere, and since I don’t read a lot of that these days, I wouldn’t be surprised if the more progressive fic authors are already dismantling the classic trope in the ways I’ve taken issue with. (And probably a few ways I haven’t even considered yet.) As with all my Tropes posts, I’m asking you to consider why you’re writing a character or situation the way you are, and if there’s a way you could break free of the same old patterns everyone else uses. And if you choose to follow the pattern, if you’re doing so deliberately, that’s fine. Just take the time to examine the tropes you use and make sure you’re not writing them out of laziness, and you’ll be fine.

 

The Book Blogger Confessions Tag

I was wondering what to post next–I’m trying to get ahead on the blog while #spookyromancenovel is in beta–and I saw this bookish meme on Adele is Reading! Please give her a visit and check out her answers as well!

Which book, most recently, did you not finish?

There’s going to be a review on Friday for my most recent DNF, but I don’t want to spoil that, so the prior one would be Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I’d heard great things about it, and I’d already read a bit of her nonfiction–We Should All Be Feminists. And I tried and tried and got almost halfway through but I just couldn’t make myself keep going. There was a lot I liked about it, in terms of cultural detail and setting and some of the characters, but the plot wandered without much direction.

Which book is your guilty pleasure?

I’m trying not to think of things in that frame of mind any more, to let of the “it’s bad but I love it anyway” mind set. But my current guilty pleasure, not in the way you think, is Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. Not because it’s bad–it’s amazing!–but because when I’m not super into the book I’m “supposed” to be reading for whatever challenge or book review, I’ll go back and reread my favorite sections of RWRB instead. I haven’t read it cover-to-cover more than once, but there are definitely scenes I go back to (not just the sex scenes, either, get your mind out of the gutter) when I can’t face whatever I don’t feel like reading. It’s quickly becoming a comfort book.

Which book do you love to hate? & Which book would you throw into the sea?

I have to reach pretty far back for this one, but the worst book I’ve ever read was Cormack McCarthy’s The Road, and I feel no shame hating it with a flaming passion for all its faux-literary pretentiousness, wandering pointless plot, complete lack of meaning or satisfying conclusion, and fundamental inability to help the reader understand literally anything about what’s going on in the story by neglecting the basic tenets of common dialogue and punctuation. In reading it I felt like McCarthy himself was standing over me, reveling in how much I couldn’t keep track of who was speaking, what was happening, and what any of it meant, while sneering and saying, “But look how many awards I’ve won!”

I would happily throw my copy into the sea if I hadn’t already thrown it away long ago. With it, I’ll toss in anything “classic” that is horribly outdated in terms of social justice, sexism, and racism but continues to be taught in school because that’s the book that’s always been taught and Old White Male Authors are the only literary tradition worth perpetuating. You can all go into the sea, for all I care.

Which book have you read the most?

I can’t pinpoint for sure, because before I started frequenting used book sales in the last five years, my collection was actually quite small and I reread books frequently. Most likely, it’s a Sharon Shinn book, possibly Archangel or Angelica, but if it’s not one of hers, then the next most likely culprit is Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest. Now, I hardly reread things at all, because I have too many new-to-me books to plow through.

Which book would you hate to receive as a present?

I got my husband a nice leather-bound, gilt-edged copy of Moby Dick & Billy Budd, because I knew MD was one of his favorite classics. I tried to read it, finally, and I hated it. So don’t anybody give me another copy of my own, a) I don’t need it and b) I wouldn’t want it anyway, it’s terrible.

Which book could you not live without?

Tough choice, but I think this is going to go to another one of my favorite authors, heavily featured in my personal collection: Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. Every time I reread it I get more out of it, and it’s strange and fascinating and beautiful, and I recommend it to everyone I think might have even the slightest chance of appreciating it. I would never willingly get rid of my copy, ever.

Which book made you the angriest?

If we ignore The Road because I’ve already ranted about that, the book that made me angriest was The Hidden Face of God: Science Reveals the Ultimate Truth, by Gerald Schroeder. Many years ago, when my devoutly Southern Lutheran grandmother found out I had given up on church and was on the road to becoming atheist (which I am now) she was not disappointed or judgmental, she didn’t cut me off. (She was really the best grandma ever, I miss her so much.) What she did was send me this book, hoping that it would convince me science and religion weren’t oil and water, that there could be room for both in my life, that they could be reconciled.

Honestly, just looking at the book made me mad, so I didn’t read it. For several years, actually, and then my grandmother passed away and still it sat there, staring at me from the shelf and making me feel guilty that I neglected that avenue of connecting to her.

Eventually, I did try reading it, and gave up 10% in. It was a terrible mishmash of flawed reasoning, rampant logical fallacy, and at times seemingly willful misunderstanding of “science” in order to twist in into something that gelled with Christianity. I wasn’t sure what I was hoping for, some insight into my grandmother’s faith that I’d never understood, but it just made me angry that drek like that can get published and continue to mislead people about what science even is.

Which book made you cry the most?

Recently, that’s definitely Feed by Mira Grant. I was in occasional tears throughout the first half of the book and near-constant weeping at the end. I was a soggy, exhausted, emotional mess. And it was amazing.

Which book cover do you hate the most?

I haven’t read it yet, so I have no idea if this is going to be a good-book, terrible-cover situation. But I’ve got a copy of Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted, and that cover is just a nightmare waiting to happen:

Haunted.JPG

I picked it up from a used book sale not on the strength of its cover, just on the author’s fame. I did one of those “put your writing in the box and we’ll tell you who you write like!” and I got him. (From the entire first chapter of What We Need to Survive, if you’re curious.) But I hadn’t read any of his work, and a few months later this turned up, so it went into my basket and came home with me. Maybe I’ll try to get to it soon.

I hope you enjoyed my answers to this tag! Feel free to keep it going on your own blog, and if you do, please link back to me so I get notified and can check out your post!

This Week, I Read… (2019 #28)

89 - The Songbird's Refrain

#89 –  The Songbird’s Refrain, by Jillian Maria

  • Read: 7/5/19 – 7/7/19
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

I was provided a free copy of the book by the author for review purposes. This consideration does not affect my review in any way.

A debut novel that showcases a lot of potential but is hampered by a few amateurish flaws.

At first, I liked the story. A wee baby lesbian with an interesting way of talking herself out of self-centeredness (or even, occasionally, paranoia) doesn’t run away to join the circus, but is instead kidnapped by one. (Not exactly a circus, but it’s the best shorthand to use without spoiling all sorts of things.) There were some pacing problems in the first half, it dragged some, mostly because of vague “you’re you but also someone else” dreams.

Right around the halfway point, when I figured out what the dreams meant just before that information was revealed, I got hooked hard. I finished the rest of the book in basically one long sitting. By the end, I loved the story, bumping my “probably will be three stars” rating to a definite four.

Why not five? This really, really needed one more editing pass for word repetition. There are some darlings that still need killing–how many times does Elizabeth rub at the scar on her shoulder? Some chapters it doesn’t feel like she does anything else. Certain descriptive phrases–“peachy skin,” “black-draped,” “lumpy [and/or] misshapen”–come up so. many. times. Even a lot of the description that isn’t repetitive doesn’t quite land with me, I felt like I could see what the author intended, but not without thinking to myself, that’s not really a great way to put it.

Still, despite a slightly rocky start, I was on board with this story once it got going, and I cried a little at the end. It was satisfying in a way I can’t describe without inflicting dire spoilers, but given that so much of the plot is tragic (in the true sense, not the melodramatic one) I was happy that the ending managed to provide a sense of catharsis to some of the horror the characters experienced along the way.

90 - Saga Volume 3

#90 – Saga, Vol. 3, by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

  • Read: 7/7/19 – 7/8/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (27/48)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

I have this feeling, now that I’m three volumes in, that the entire run of the series is going to be five stars for me.

I’ve talked before about how much I love the story, and that hasn’t changed here. But as I’m getting more accustomed to the art style, and as I’m also reminding myself to read these volumes a little slower, I’m noticing so much more detail. Visual and environmental storytelling is a subject I’m familiar with in video game design (because I’m a geek who loves to watch YouTube videos about it with my equally geeky husband, we’re totally fascinated) but how have I not been applying those lessons to the graphic novels I read?

I blame the fact that I never read comic books growing up. I didn’t learn to read visually as a child in the same way a comic reader would, and I’ve been reading adult-level novels, absolute bricks of novels, since I was ten. My skill set never needed visual reading skills the same way.

Some of my favorite details from this volume: Marko’s new beard as a sign of both time passing, and of grief. Heist’s piss-stained underwear, because of course the drunken-author figure can’t be bothered to put clothes on and not be a total slob. All the changes in Isabel’s face to make her more frightening when she’s threatening Honest Cat. And, honestly, the level of detail in the single-panel “vision” of Prince Robot’s hallucinatory orgy, there’s just a lot going on there and if your brain just glances at it and says “yeah, people having sex, whatever” then you miss so much, because he’s apparently a pretty kinky dude inside that television skull of his.

And there’s more, of course, but those are the highlights. I’m wondering, now, just how much information of this sort I missed in the first two volumes, which I already loved, so how much better will they be when I reread them?

91 - Butterfly Swords

#91 – Butterfly Swords, by Jeannie Lin

  • Read: 7/8/19 – 7/9/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (60/100); The Reading Frenzy’s “Run Away with the Circus” Read-a-thon
  • Task: A book with an animal in the title
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

I was primarily interested in this because it was a historical romance set outside of England/Europe, and it was, yet I was disappointed by its setting. Sometimes when I read more typical historical romance (especially Regency stuff) I’m inundated with detail about what life was like then, the styles of dress, the manners, the routines of daily life.

I got none of that here. I think the story is assuming I’ve ever seen a martials arts film set in the past (doesn’t really matter when, peasants are peasants) and asking me to fill in everything I know about Tang Dynasty China from that.

So that covers my first disappointment. The second is the romance itself. I see how Ryam and Ai Li are in lust with each other quite convincingly. (Side note: I don’t understand why her name is spelled as “Ailey” the way Ryam pronounces it, even when in the sections the narrative is clearly from her viewpoint. Bothered me through the whole book, it should have been reserved for his dialogue.) What I don’t see is them ever making any sort of emotional connection. Ryam saves and then follows her out of a sense of duty to her for her brief kindness, fantastic opening. But then he obsesses about how sexy she is while reminding himself how inappropriate making a move on her would be, and I never get the sense he moves on from that attitude. Ai Li’s thought process is basically “big barbarian = actually handsome, I can take care of myself, oh no wait I can’t, let’s keep him around.”

And the sex scenes were only okay. I’m glad there weren’t more of them, actually. So yeah, all the reasons I read this romance weren’t delivered on.

92 - Maybe in Another Life.jpg

#92 – Maybe in Another Life, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

  • Read: 7/9/19 – 7/10/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (28/48)
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

I came to this after discovering Reid with The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and wanting to dive into her back catalog. Sadly, I wasn’t nearly as impressed by this, even allowing for how she’s obviously grown as a writer.

It’s not all bad, fortunately. No matter how often the characters talk about soul mates or fate, it’s clear that this story is about refuting the idea of soul mates, because both of the parallel story tracks have happy endings that match Hannah with a different person. Which I think is lovely, because in other Sliding Doors-style books I’ve read, it’s clear there’s a right romantic choice, and even though the paths are different in the two story tracks, they both wind up in the same place in the end, or at least with the potential to get there. I really like that this doesn’t. This book says, no, there’s more than one “right” person out there for you, if you’re open to the possibilities. And I think that’s a good message.

The weaknesses lie in the details.

Hannah reads as incredibly immature for her age, though to some extent I know she’s supposed to, since she starts the story not having her life in order and needs to get it that way; but I honestly question why these two dudes are falling for her, because she’s a mess, and at least in Ethan’s case, he knows she’s a mess and we’re just supposed to accept on faith that he’s been pining for her this whole time. In Henry’s story, on the other hand, Hannah’s a mess because she was the victim of a car accident and he’s got a great reason to be seeing her at her worst.

But that leads me to another weakness. I don’t feel like Ethan and Henry are fundamentally any different. The surface differences are there: Ethan’s a second-chance romance while Henry’s a new man in Hannah’s life. Henry’s a nurse and I honestly don’t even remember what Ethan does for a living because it’s not at all important to the story, especially because he takes a bunch of vacation time to hang out (and repeatedly bang) Hannah when they reunite. But in all the ways that they interact with Hannah, they’re basically the same guy. They’re both sweet and caring. They’re both super-indulgent of Hannah’s cinnamon roll fetish. They both act consistently more mature than Hannah does. When you strip them down to personality, there’s not that much to mark them as different.

Which leads to the root weakness, a weakness that pretty much all stories with this fundamental split tend to suffer–lack of development space for any character that’s only present in one of the timelines. I can’t know more about Ethan or Henry because there isn’t time, from having to deal with both of them.

That’s a lot of negativity, but there were some good things. To contrast Hannah’s dual stories, her best friend Gabby gets them, too, only hers end up with the same happy ending via drastically different paths. That’s a solid subplot that was handled with a great deal of grace and care. (It did result in the worst case of repetition in the entire story, at the end, when her new flame makes the same half-page long speech in both story lines and it’s honestly excessive. I get that he’s the same dude in both stories because nothing about Hannah’s choices ever affected him, but that was just SPEECH –> a few pages –> EXACT SAME SPEECH.)

Despite all of this, I did enjoy it. It wasn’t amazing, it didn’t blow me away like Evelyn did, but it also hasn’t turned me off reading Reid’s other pre-Evelyn work. I still want to explore it, I’ve just tempered my expectations a little.

Let Me Tell You a Story #31: My First Fanfic

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I didn’t see the original Star Wars trilogy until I was around eleven or twelve, which makes the year 1991 or 1992. I remember watching Star Wars from a VHS recording my parents had made from an edited-for-TV broadcast, so it had commercials to fast forward through and everything.

We had all three movies, but something about Star Wars on its own made me love it so much that at first, I didn’t want to go on with the story. It was enough the way it was, at first, and it provided such a rich environment for my brain to play around in. While I was riding my bike that summer, I staged lightsaber battles in my imagination. While I was helping out with the household chores, I was reciting the lines in my head, but getting them slightly wrong and then letting the story unfold along a new path, because if Obi-wan had said this instead of that, what would Luke have said in response?

The other half of the story setup: I’d gotten a calligraphy set from my parents for my birthday that spring. I’d been practicing my letters on the little guide sheets they gave me, but I hadn’t tried to write words, really, because that required spacing the letters neatly instead of just doing them however. I wanted to write something readable, rather than doing the alphabet a dozen more times.

So I wrote a few pages of what, technically, was my first fanfic.

It was about Azure Skywalker (I was obsessed with that name right about then, because an older girl had just moved in down the street, and she was really pretty, and that was her name.) Azure was Luke’s long-lost sister. (Remember, I hadn’t seen the other two movies yet!) Azure was looking for him, because she’d only just found out he existed. She came to Tatooine before Luke left, and they went through the rest of the basic movie plot as it was, except that Azure was there too, with all the changes my amateur little writing brain thought were needed to make that work.

I wish, I wish, I had photographic evidence that this existed, that I wrote out a Star Wars fic with one of the most blatant self-insert characters ever, in calligraphy, in a mix of blue and red ink as the little cartridges ran dry, on that horrible fake “vellum” that calligraphy kits come with. (Came with? I haven’t bought one since.)

It was extra, so very extra, long before that was part of our vernacular. I would show it to you, if I could, because I know this sounds so ridiculous I’ve got to be inventing it to make an interesting post. I’m not. This actually happened.

I never let anyone read it. I’d already written “books” at this point–we actually had a class project in second grade where everyone wrote a book sometime during the year, because my elementary school had just bought one of those machines to make the curled plastic bindings, so why not use it? I wrote my first “book” about a bunch of snack foods that lived in my pantry and were friends and the pretzels made fun of the Zebra Cakes because they were too big and fluffy to move around easily. (Little Debbie Zebra Cakes were a staple of my lunches in those days. Instant nostalgia if I eat one now.) My second book was a collection of ghost stories I mostly plagiarized from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, with a few twists I threw in to make them “better.”

So I wrote original fiction, and stole original fiction, long before my first fan fiction. Which, to hear dedicated fic writers tell it, is unusual. What’s my point? Fan fiction gave me a new method to explore story ideas. Instead of feeling like I needed to invent something entirely from scratch (like the living snack foods) or tell someone else’s stories, but my way (the ghost story book,) fan fiction gave me ground to stand on while I said “But what if this happened instead?” and explore what that meant.

Without having those examples to set in front of you, because they’re long, long gone, the distinction between my plagiarizing and my fan fiction might seem small, almost nonexistent. Let me assure you, anyone who read my ghost story book would recognize exactly where I got every tale, there was no fan fiction about it. There was no exploration of a different aspect of the story, taking a direction it didn’t go, like with Azure Skywalker and her white lightsaber and my version of Star Wars where Leia was not Luke’s sister, because I had no idea that was coming.

My fan fiction roots never went deep. I don’t recall writing much more than that–I think there was a crappy retelling of Snow White in high school–but it taught me to look at a story that already existed, to take inspiration from it, to play with alternate ideas and create something new from it.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again–in the broadest sense, the What We Need series began as fan fiction. The original inspiration was The Walking Dead: The Game by Telltale Games. Then I forgot to add zombies, so it morphed into fan fiction of Stephen King’s The Stand as well.

The stories I published, after much work and so much polishing, aren’t fan fiction anymore–they’ve diverged enough to be their own thing, inspired by those story worlds rather than set in them. (Also, I never borrowed characters, as straight-up fan fiction does in almost all cases.)

I don’t consider myself a fanfic writer. I don’t cook up AUs about my favorite characters from my favorite books and post them to AO3. But fan fiction was a part of my journey as a writer, and I think for many of us, it’s an important step in that journey. Some people never move past it–but some people never want to. I wrote mine in calligraphy at eleven or twelve years old, and never showed anyone. I’m glad the Internet lets us share it, instead.

Down the TBR Hole #20

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 read a lot of books in June, which was awesome, but I also added at least half as many to my TBR, thanks to reading one first-in-series that I adored and necessitated putting the rest of the series on my list.

Let’s get started.

#1 – Dark Touch, by Aimee L. Salter

28174019._SY475_

I have absolutely no memory of adding this, nor do I recall where the recommendation came from.

These days, I generally avoid what looks to be overly angsty YA, and this has all the hallmarks, though I give it credit for having the female half of this lovebird pair be the dark, edgy, messed-up one while the boy is sweet and innocent. I’m not saying that never happens, but it’s definitely not the standard. However, it can go.

 

 

#2 – Trinity Falls, by Regina Hart

17239886This came from a “read more black romance authors” list.

I love small town romance as a genre, I reach for them when I need something sweet, comforting, and wholesome, so this was an easy add to my TBR.

And it’s on Hoopla. It stays.

 

 

 

#3 – Talk Me Down, by Victoria Dahl

4716621Dahl comes highly recommended by a big cross-section of Romancelandia, and I’m pretty sure somewhere else on my TBR I have some of her other books listed.

I’m not sure which I’ll get to first, but this one still sounds interesting, because, hey, if the heroine is a secret romance/erotica author, I’m probably going to read it. It stays.

 

 

#4 – Beauty and the Geek, by Sydney Bristol

30979185._SY475_Woo boy am I tired of Beauty and the Beast retellings.

This must have sneaked in under the guise of being geeky, but rereading the synopsis and skimming the top-rated reviews, I’m dropping this like a hot potato. Whatever spark interested me at first has not persisted.

 

 

 

#5 – Punk 57, by Penelope Douglas

29104680._SY475_I’m torn. I still like the idea of a love-hate relationship playing out between two childhood pen pals.

I’d forgotten how I came across this one until I saw a glowing review by a Goodreads friend…so that pushes me in favor of keeping it.

But rereading the synopsis, I don’t really like the style. I think I’ve got enough to read without this one. It can go.

 

 

#6 – Brown-Eyed Girl, by Lisa Kleypas

28220639This is going.

Since I added this, I’ve read enough Kleypas to be fine with her, but I’m not eager to try her contemporary works, rather than historical, when this one doesn’t seem to be well-received by any of my romance-reading buddies.

Life’s too short to keeping reading authors that don’t ever wow you.

 

 

#7 – The Zen of Fish: The Story of Sushi, from Samurai to Supermarket, by Trevor Corson

250638._SX318_Giving it the once-over to refresh my memory, I’m still interested in the subject matter. However, quite a few things are stacked against this.

The poor reviews all mention a juvenile, “atrocious” writing style, which doesn’t inspire confidence. Other reviews go into how it doesn’t deliver on its original premise, to the point where it’s apparently been republished under a less misleading title? Also, my library system doesn’t have it, and I’m sure as hell not going to buy it, not with these issues. Bye-bye.

 

#8 – Fixing Fate, by Anna Brooks

32454071._SY475_Not sure where I found this one, but I’m questioning my past self’s judgement.

There are romance red flags ALL OVER THIS. Reviews are calling the “hero” perverted and creepy; I’m not into romantic suspense in general; and the synopsis is laughable.

What the hell was I thinking? It goes.

 

 

#9 – Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King

16130549._SY475_It’s odd, King rarely appears in this meme for me, because a) I will try reading anything he’s written, and b) I already own a ton of his books that I haven’t gotten to yet, because he’s so easy to pick up secondhand.

But I don’t already own Doctor Sleep, and I definitely still want to read it.

The Shining  is one of my favorite King novels, so why wouldn’t I want to read the sequel? [Unless it was critically panned across the board, which this definitely isn’t! People love it!]

#10 – Under Rose-Tainted Skies, by Louise Gornall

28101540This made it on to the list via Tumblr hype, especially from some very vocal people with various mental illnesses who applauded how agoraphobia and OCD where handled here.

While those are not my issues, I’m here to support anything that helps de-stigmatize neurodivergence in any form. It stays.

 

 

 


So this month I cut six out of ten, that’s a good month for me! As always, if you have read any of these and have a different opinion, feel free to leave a comment and let me know, whether you want to talk me in or out of reading a book. Until next month!

This Week, I Read… (2019 #27)

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#87 – Feed, by Mira Grant

  • Read: 6/27 – 6/30/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (26/48)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

I don’t remember the last time I cried this much over a book.

The world-building was fascinating and a grim but realistic projection of what the US would become in the event of a devastating, but not fatal, not apocalyptic, zombie event. That’s what had me hooked right from the beginning–the idea that it happened, but it actually wasn’t the “end of the world.” The world kept going, the government didn’t destabilize, society recovered. It sure looked different, but it wasn’t gone in the way most post-apoc fiction treats it.

I was also hooked on the snark. George was a fantastic narrator.

What kept me going turned out to be honest emotional investment in the characters. A close sibling relationship in defiance of (and because of!) distance from their parents. Years-long friendships and working relationships. One exceptionally minor romantic relationship only! I do love my romance, but there wasn’t room for it here, and it wouldn’t have fit the tone, so I applaud not having any romance subplots.

The thing I actually like best, and don’t want to spoil the specifics of because I really, truly recommend this book, is that death means something. It’s not random. It’s not without impact or consequences. Let me repeat: I can’t remember the last time I cried this much over a book.

Anansi Boys

#88 – Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman

  • Read: 6/30/19 – 7/4/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (59/100); The Reading Frenzy’s “Run Away with the Circus” Read-a-thon
  • Task: A book with a red and white cover
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

I found this so-so compared to Gaiman’s other works, which I generally adore. Having it labeled as a sequel to American Gods doesn’t do it any favors when it’s only set in the same world, especially as it lacks the same gravity and tone. I found myself thinking much more of Neverwhere at first, because Fat Charlie is bumbling and feckless as Richard Mayhew.

The plot moves with almost agonizing slowness, and I found it a struggle to keep going at points. What saved it for me was wealth of subplots about characters that were far more interesting to me than Fat Charlie himself. Rosie was all right, but her mother was so delightfully evil; Daisy was a charmer; and the thought processes of Charlie’s boss, the rationalization of his criminal acts, were a masterpiece of characterization. It was Fat Charlie himself who let me down, as the plot required him to be such a non-entity at first so Spider could slide into his life without a ripple; and though he fights back, he never really gained my sympathy.