This Week, I Read… (2018 #45)

158 - Unmatched

#158 – Unmatched, by Stephanie Kay

Grant and Lexi meet under less than ideal circumstances, realize they have great chemistry, and decide to have a fling. After all, she’s having a hard time finding a Mr. Right to scratch her itch, and he’s only looking for some fun before he transfers to his next assignment in four months.

No problem, right?

Of course they fall in love. And it’s a hell of a fun time while they do–their banter is generally sharp and witty. I have no complaints there; despite the complaints I’m about to share, I did genuinely enjoy this book.

The sex scenes were many and somewhat repetitive. I get that these two are fire in the sheets, but certain obvious phrases popped up over and over, which detracted from them.

What bothers me most, though, is after sitting down to read this in one sitting, I can’t tell you what Lexi’s job is. Grant’s is brought up constantly–as a rescue swimmer for the Coast Guard, that’s key to both the constant “rescuing” he does of Lexi from her bad online-dating-site dates, and to their breakup, because he has to leave for his next posting. But Lexi? I finished the book ten minutes ago, and I could not tell you what she does for a living, which undermines the major conflict. She’s adamant that she won’t move to follow Grant because a) she moved a lot as a kid and hated it; b) she doesn’t want to do the same thing to her daughter; and finally c) she doesn’t want to give up her job and be separated from her friends and family, only to be entirely dependent on Grant without a job of her own or any support system.

I completely get A and B, and I’d even be mostly on board with C–the dependency part–but why doesn’t she think she’ll be able to find a job if she moves? Do they not need [whatever she does] in Florida? Why does that seem insurmountable to her?

Now, I’m not saying the information isn’t there–if I reread, I could probably find someone, somewhere, mentioning what Lexi’s actual employment is; I think she’s even at work in one of the very earliest scenes, but all I remember is that she had to shut down her computer before she left to get her daughter. However, Lexi’s career is nowhere near as present in or important to the narrative as Grant’s, which isn’t a good look for a romance novel, especially when it’s his job that’s the flashpoint for their breakup.

159 - Lisey's Story

#159 – Lisey’s Story, by Stephen King

I tried, I really tried. DNF at almost exactly 50%.

I was bored with it after the first hundred pages, but I thought maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for it, and set it aside to read a few other things. When I picked it back up a few days later, it got more interesting and engaging; I can’t put my finger on why, precisely, but I thought I’d be good to go for the rest of the book.

I was wrong.

For being a book named for its main character and her “story” this work is about everyone but her. It’s about her husband, her dead writer husband, who is depicted in flashback segments as brilliant but almost completely insane; there’s no accounting for taste, of course, but I don’t find him appealing as husband material or even just as a character. The made-up language he shared with Lisey was something that I loved at first–my marriage has its own shorthand, so I got it, even if the particular words they used struck me as irritating and juvenile after the millionth time I read them.

It’s also about Lisey’s sister…sort of? Most of the beginning is concerned with one of her sisters and the vegetative state she falls into after a fresh bout of self-harm. I don’t know how important that ends up being, because structurally it seemed like killing time until the “real” plot finally started, the one where a professor, eager for the deceased writer’s papers, accidentally unleashes a psycho fan on Lisey with no way to stop him.

That plotline sounded interesting. I wanted to see where that went. But when I got there, I was more disgusted than intrigued. After reading the first physical meeting between Lisey and “Zack,” I did not want to continue reading, and gave up after just a few more pages of torturously winding flashback about Christmas shopping.

It was time to stop fighting the boredom with this book that was making me put it down every twenty pages or so to find something else to do.

I had high hopes, based on friends’ recommendations of it, and the fact that I was reading a book by a male author I trust with a female character as the lead; but she’s not even a character really, she’s a frame through which the reader views the portrait of the character King seems to believe really matters, her dead writer husband. It’s not about her at all, and if it is, I should have more evidence of that in the first half of the book and not have to wait so long for the story to prove she’s more than a paper-thin widow whose past far outweighs her present and future.

Advertisements

NaNo ’18, Progress Report #2

Daily Word Counts:

  • Day 8: 407
  • Day 9: 1,878
  • Day 10: 2,933
  • Day 11: 2,233
  • Day 12: 851
  • Day 13: 2,595
  • Day 14: 698

A much better week overall, especially because I finished the last few Fictober18 prompts!

I’m on track for 50K; my cumulative count at Day 14 is 23,498/23,333, so I am just barely ahead.

Still excited about the story, things are definitely moving along. And one of my lovebirds finally confessed! Slow-burn no more! (Kind of.)

This Week, I Read… (2018 #44)

154 - Under the Banner of Heaven

#154 – Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, by Jon Krakauer

This book is obviously well-researched; I’ve never read nonfiction with so many footnotes or such an extensive bibliography. I appreciate that Krakauer made his sources as plain as possible for anyone who wished to check for themselves, because it was clear from the very beginning that this was going to be a controversial book.

What I liked far less was the lack of clear focus. I feel almost as if I were tricked into reading this by the sensationalism of the true-crime aspect; but most of the book is actually the history of Mormonism and the fracturing of its mainstream and fundamentalist versions. I found that valuable, as I didn’t know any of it–I was raised in various Christian (Protestant) faiths through my childhood, LDS was certainly not one of them, and I’ve only ever lived in the Midwest, where the presence of Mormons is minimal.

The problem is, that’s not the book I thought I was going to be reading; and the history was presented with such a high level of detail that it dragged. I understand what a rarity it is to have access to that much detail, how exciting it would be to a bona fide historian–but did it all need to be included for us laymen, when the pace suffered because of it? I would rather have been given a condensed, clear narrative.

In addition, the final chapters moved from nonfiction quickly into a quasi-medical/philosophical debate about whether or not religious belief was an indicator of mental illness, re: the Laffertys’ retrials, ordered on the basis that they were not competent to stand trial originally. While it’s an interesting question (to those it doesn’t mortally offend because of their own religious beliefs), the debate, along with the inclusion of narcissistic personality disorder as a possible explanation for a non-insanity scenario, is not a satisfying conclusion, either to the story as presented, or as a conclusion to the loose hypothesis of the book that the Lafferty brothers committed their murders because of their fundamentalist beliefs. After spending a whole book showing us the history of this “violent faith” I’m dissatisfied with a shrug, I guess we’ll never know ending, even if it’s the truth.

155 - The Lightning Thief

#155 – The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan

It was almost perfect.

I adored the chapter titles and every other bit of snarkiness, sass, and wit. I love that the hero is a “bad” kid, I love that there’s disabled representation, I love the clever ways Riordan modernized classical Greek monsters.

My complaints boil down to three things.

1. (Minor) I dislike the depiction of Hades. It’s entirely possible I’ve been spoiled by so many romanticizations of him (and other versions of Death) over the years, but in my mind, he’s much more complex than the simple evil he is here.

2. (Slightly less minor) The story heavily favors action over emotion. Which is certainly fitting for a quest, but the moments for characters to connect with each other are few and brief. I wouldn’t mind so much, except that at the end, when Percy is betrayed, I didn’t feel much of anything because I didn’t feel he and his betrayer actually had much of a friendship to begin with.

3. (Major) I have deep issues with how Smelly Gabe meets his end. Sally married him to protect Percy; she used him. I understand that motivation, and being in a loveless marriage with a guy like him was a self-inflicted punishment for her actions. Fine, as far as that goes. But using Medusa’s head on him, selling the statue as art, and making a better life for herself off the profits? Listen, I don’t care that we find out he’s an abuser, he’s still a person. Sally married him under false pretenses–if she felt trapped by the marriage, it was a trap of her own design. I’m not excusing Gabe’s behavior, because abuse is never justified, but killing him is a far more extreme corrective action than I expected, and far worse than I think he deserved. Leave him? Absolutely. Kill him? Not a good message to send.

156 - First Night

#156 – First Night, by Lauren Blakely

A quick indulgence in sexy times. Pros: communication, communication, communication. Even though this is a one-night-stand setup, they talk to each other. Cons: Not into Julia’s size-queen attitude; some of that communication I’m praising for its presence is stiff and wooden (puns certainly not intended.)

As a standalone story, it’s thin, but as a teaser for the first book in the series, it does exactly what it’s supposed to do.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00026]

#157 – Night After Night, by Lauren Blakely

It’s rare that I read a romance novel where two characters have such palpable and instant chemistry, so that’s definitely in its favor. I don’t even mind that it ends on a cliffhanger, because I knew going into this that it was part of a series romance (multiple books, same characters) and the relationship couldn’t move too fast. Clay and Julia are just beginning to realize how much they might mean to each other, if they can get this relationship off the ground.

And from a kink point of view, since I’ve read my fair share of BDSM novels, it’s fun to see two switches go at each other. The actual level of kinkiness involved is light, but the talk is plenty dirty, and the two of them bounce back and forth in control easily and believably.

My problem with this is the same as it was with First Night, the teaser novella (which I totally wouldn’t have bothered to download separately if I’d known my edition of this had it at the beginning anyway, making it less of a novella and more of just the first four damn chapters of the book)–I love that Clay and Julia talk to each other so much, and that real emphasis is placed on them getting to know each other outside of bed; but the dialogue is just so stiff sometimes. With the longer run time on this, I managed to figure out why, something I couldn’t pinpoint in the novella: body language is almost completely absent. Unless Clay and Julia are actively engaged in seduction or sex, almost nothing is said about what their body is doing during dialogue, and that makes them both read like ventriloquist dummies at times.

I applaud what this story was trying to do, and I might even read the rest of the series, I’m surprisingly invested. But I do wish it had more polish.

NaNo ’18, Progress Report #1

This should have gone up yesterday, but as you’re about to see, it’s been a rough few days.

Daily Word Counts:

  • Day 1: 2,026
  • Day 2: 2,633
  • Day 3: 2,374
  • Day 4: 2,049
  • Day 5: 237
  • Day 6: 1,796
  • Day 7: 794

It’s not that I’m not excited about the story, because I am. There’s just been a gap the last few days between my excitement and my motivation, including today; I haven’t written a single word on the project yet. [I intend to as soon as I’m done with this, my patented combo dishes-and-writing session where I write in short bursts while my crusty dishes soak in the sink.]

I hate seeing zeroes in my daily log, so this year I’m embracing any progress is progress. Even if that means I force myself to write a hundred words before calling it a day. But I’ve already eaten up my extra-word cushion, which I’ll admit is discouraging this early in the month.

Remember, fellow WriMos–every word is progress!

End of the Month Wrap-Up: October 2018!

railway-2818748_1280

In October, I read a whopping 17 books! The upshot of spending a week horribly sick is extra reading time.

That means I’m slightly ahead of pace for Mount TBR 2018–I have sixteen books left to read in the final two months of the year, which is fewer per month than the overall minimum pace (12.5 books/month.)

This is handy, because November is NaNo, and I never have as much time to read.

The even bigger news from October was my participation in Fictober18, which launched a new novel project in an entirely new setting for me! I didn’t finish all 31 prompts (I’m continuing on those now, during NaNo) but I did write 39,108 words, which is by far the most productive writing month I’ve had all year. And it’s on a story I’m excited about!

Despite my book-buying ban, in October I acquired six books, though at least five of them are digital! The one physical book, my mother gave me, because it was something from her collection than she was getting rid of, and she knew I wanted to read it. (Surely, that doesn’t count, right?) One was this month’s Tor freebie; one was free on special from an author I’ve enjoyed before; and the final three were Elizabeth May’s The Falconer trilogy, the first of which has been on my TBR for years, and they were all on sale!

(I will always, somehow, find a way to justify getting more books. Part of me isn’t even sure why I try banning myself, because it rarely works for more than a month or two. However, I have gotten fewer books overall this year than I’ve read, for the first time in the last three years. That should probably be my goal: negative growth, until I get my TBR down to a more manageable size.)

Speaking of my TBR, though, it got 19 (!) books longer this month, due to several excellent recommendation lists I saw floating around.

My November goals are few and simple:

  1. Read at least eight books total, including the four I selected for Expand Your Horizons. It’s less than usual, because…
  2. NANOWRIMO! I’m continuing to work on #spookyromancenovel that I started for Fictober18, and ideally I’d like to finish it, though adding the 50K necessary for winning NaNo is certainly an acceptable sub-goal.

I’ll do my best to keep up with blog posts, including the weekly NaNo updates, the first of which comes up tomorrow, so stay tuned!

This Week, I Read… (2018 #43)

150 - Atmospheric Disturbances

#150 – Atmospheric Disturbances, by Rivka Galchen

DNF @ page 50, around 20%.

I was initially intrigued by the idea of the narrator perceiving his wife as an imposter, as a sign of either mental illness, falling out of love with her, or both. In order to do this, though, the writing style is heavily laced with repetition, filter words, and other tricks to distance the reader from the narrator. Which I found an odd choice, given that it’s in first person.

This quibble is definitely literary in nature, but this work is obviously striving to be “literature” in the way I dislike most, stressing the importance of style and theme over all else, including character, plot, and reader engagement.

Mission success: I am not engaged.

151 - Bel Canto

#151 – Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett

I have a fondness for absurdity that made me fall in love with this book.

As a writer, I hold a firm belief that any story idea can be a good idea, if only you commit to it. Would I ever be brave or foolish enough to write a novel about opera, Stockholm Syndrome, political unrest, language barriers, and love? Probably not. But here, I think Patchett has fully committed to this idea and pulls it off beautifully.

There are so many moments of genuine pathos and so many more of unexpected beauty, even when I knew, somewhere in the dim recesses of my logical brain, that the plot of this book was utterly ridiculous. Though I was aware of it, once I got past that initial suspension of disbelief–that a hostage situation accidentally happened with captors too weak-willed to actually shoot anyone–the rest of the plot flowed seamlessly, almost inevitably, from the premise.

Even though the resolution of the situation is “spoiled” with sure knowledge in the narrative of the eventual death of the captors, the story concentrates so deeply on showing them as fully human that I found myself still hoping, somehow, for a happy ending, even though I knew it wouldn’t happen. The post-crisis ending of the book startled me into viewing the story differently, in a way that makes me question if I didn’t miss something the first time, something I hope to find upon rereading in the future.

152 - The Iron King

#152 – The Iron King, by Julie Kagawa

DNF @ 25%, around page 110.

This was so painfully unoriginal that even the promise of romance with a mysterious fae prince couldn’t keep me reading.

Our protagonist Meg has no personality to speak of. She doesn’t really get along with her family; she’s unpopular at school; she’s apparently studious enough to be assigned as a tutor to another student, but beyond stating once “I’m good with computers” I have no idea what her interests, hobbies, habits, and life goals are.

She’s obsessed with getting her driver’s license, and that’s about it. I knew tons of people like that in high school, and it’s just not personality-defining. Give me more.

The high school section at the beginning is the laziest selection of tropes I’ve ever seen used to shortcut any actual need to describe the experience. Cheerleaders are fake-boobed airheads. Jocks are cool but cruel. Meg has a crush on the biggest one of all, the “king” of school, but…why? She only ever talks about how cool and unattainable he is, not what he’s like. Not why she admires him.

And what does “good with computers” even mean, coming from a 15-year-old girl in a story published in 2010? Does she code websites? Does she read online comics? Does she edit Wikipedia articles? Or does she play free webgames? Please, tell me anything about her at all!

So then weird things start happening, and Meg’s only friend turns out to be Robin Goodfellow, aka Puck. Shakespeare heavily referenced–that’s Obvious Source #1.

Meg’s little half-brother is stolen and replaced with a changeling, and she decides to go get him back. Now I’m reading a poorly-written YA version of Juliet Marillier’s Heir to Sevenwaters. Or a modified version of a favorite movie, Labyrinth. Obvious Source #2.

Meg and Puck enter faery land and stay with a tiny dude in a tree. Meg is lured out by a wisp pretending to be her brother, and nearly gets herself killed. (Where have I seen this before? Yeah, Heir to Sevenwaters again.)

Then the next day, she and Puck become the target of a wild hunt and get separated, leaving Meg to fend for herself in an unfamiliar world with creatures she knows nothing about. (That’s Labyrinth again, Sarah having to learn about the rules of the Goblin Kingdom.)

But Meg doesn’t have Sarah’s cleverness or daring. Meg’s an idiot to gets herself indebted to Grimalkin (who is described very like the Cheshire Cat, let’s add Alice in Wonderland to our source list) at the very first opportunity she has for independent action, by promising a favor.

Dude, has she literally never read/heard/seen anything about the fae in her life, ever? I refuse to believe a girl her age with the cultural awareness to use the term “otaku” doesn’t know the most basic, fundamental trope about fae in any setting: bargaining with them is super dangerous! (Yes, at one point she lies about her human identity and calls herself an “otaku faery.” Earlier she accused Robbie/Puck of watching too much anime. You know what a lot of anime out there are based on? WESTERN TRADITIONS OF FANTASY, INCLUDING THE FAE. Which just makes it even more unbelievable how thoroughly stupid Meg is.)

Another example of her idiocy: Robbie was her friend basically forever, she states she doesn’t remember a time when he wasn’t around. But she’s never been to his house, supposedly two miles away. She’s never met his family. She’s never seen him do schoolwork and she knows he sleeps through most of his classes, yet he never seems to be in any trouble. But she only realizes now, during the course of the story, how weird that is and just how little she knows about him. Her best and only friend.

Okay, okay, there’s a counterargument to how contrived this appears to be. Kagawa isn’t stealing pieces of all of these other pieces of media that I’m glomping onto as references–I’m seeing them because they’re familiar to me, other readers might see others, and they’re all springing from the same basic source material, that very British/Irish fae mythology that infects nearly everything. And that’s a valid argument.

But if there’s nothing new to this work, nothing original to it while it recycles the same basic ideas and creatures that all this other media has used, then isn’t it just a patchwork of its betters?

And if there is some fascinating new take on it that I didn’t see because I gave up too early, then why wait more than a hundred pages to get to it? Why not introduce it right away, to get me hooked?

153 - A Fisherman of the Inland Sea

#153 – A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, by Ursula K. Le Guin

This collection didn’t set me on fire the way Four Ways to Forgiveness did–but then, that was composed of interconnected novellas, and this was a grab bag, many of which I simply didn’t like.

The star of the show is definitely the titular novella, which I enjoyed–a story combining second-chance romance, alien anthropology, time travel, and a smidgen of Japanese culture. It’s rare in the Hainish Cycle works that Terra gets more than a mention, so having a Terran character at all is fantastic, and working a bit of her home country into the narrative as the fable, which the novella is an inventive future-retelling of, was brilliant.

Expand Your Horizons: November TBR

Expand Your Horizons

Ten months done, two to go! If you’ve just joined me recently, I’ve committed to reading one book each, every month in 2018, from Nonfiction, Banned Books, Classics, and #ownvoices.

Here’s my November TBR:

Horizons TBR November

  • Nonfiction: Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer
  • Banned Books: The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan
  • Classics: 2001, by Arthur C. Clarke
  • #ownvoices: A Free Life, by Ha Jin

If you’re curious about the challenge, you can find all the details here, and be sure to use the #horizonsreadingchallenge tag on your social media so everyone can see what you’re reading!