This Week, I Read… (2019 #38)

125 - The Bride of the Wolf

#125 – Bride of the Wolf, by Abigail Barnette

  • Read: 9/12/19 – 9/13/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (80/100); The Reading Frenzy’s “Back to School” Readathon
  • Task: A book featuring magic (or brown on the cover)
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

One of Barnette’s earlier works, which I picked up when she reacquired the rights and republished it. It definitely shows that she wasn’t as far along her journey as an author–it was blander than I expected from her.

The novella format was large enough for the abbreviated love story she was telling–this is definitely InstaLove here–but not really to encompass the premise that her tidbits of world-building hinted at. A medieval-era Britain where werewolves were not only real, but were living (somewhat) freely beside humans and were incorporated into the feudal power structure? I want to see more of that world! But it’s mere window dressing for a “I’m kidnapping you to save you from something worse” romance plot that doesn’t do a lot to develop either the world in any more depth, or even its own main characters.

I see there’s a second work in the series, novel-length this time, and it’s about Henry, a side character from this novella whom I liked, at least as much as I could given the small amount of page time he got. But as tempting as that would normally be, I’m just not convinced it’s going to be enough better to give a try.


Let Me Tell You a Story #32: Procrastination

When does giving myself a project break, letting my manuscript rest, become procrastination?

I’ve been missing blog posts this month. Since I’m not writing much, and I’m not reading that much either, I’ve felt like I had less to say worth putting in blog-post format. I rationalized that by saying, “It’s okay, you’re working a lot more than you did at your old job, or even at this new one over the summer. There’s only so much time in the day, and something has to give somewhere.” I still mostly stand by that, because the other half of my rationalization is that I blog more often/regularly than most of the other authors whose blogs I follow. I’ve even considered formally cutting back on my blog schedule, because that way I could spend more time “writing.” Still on the fence about it.

Except I’m not writing, either. I’m doing the bare minimum to keep my 4thewords game streak going, by typing up book reviews and these blog posts and some journal entries, and not “writing.” At first, I was waiting for my beta readers to finish their feedback. Well, I’m not waiting anymore, I’ve had it all for two weeks now and I still haven’t really started the new rewrite draft.

I’ve been playing a lot of Skyrim. I know that’s semi-random, to go back to a game first published nine years ago, and explaining how that became my video game of choice would require so much of my gaming history that doesn’t really matter to anyone else that I’m going to skip it and just say, it’s giving me what I want right now from a gaming experience.

But, although it’s always easier to boot up Skyrim and spend an hour hitting things with swords than it is to start rewriting, it’s not really the game’s fault. Sure it’s fun, sure I’ve spent a lot of time playing over the past three weeks, but if I hadn’t reinstalled it I’d probably be reading instead, or starting a new cross-stitch project, or something else that’s not writing.

I’m avoiding it actively now. I can tell, because I keep promising myself I’ll start tomorrow, when I’m feeling more up to it, and yet, I never do.

I’m procrastinating.

So I spent a little time wondering why. I’ve gotten pretty darn good at conquering procrastination when it comes to chores–the consequences of putting off doing the laundry too long, or letting the dishes pile up into a mountain that it seems impossible to fully clear out, are obvious to me from past experience, and I’m not willing to put up with them. I’ll even use doing the chores now to avoid writing!

But starting a new draft is an open-ended, formless task. I can impose structure on it by working chapter by chapter each day, or working for a specific amount of time, or whatever. I’ve done it before. But it’s so huge, and intimidating, and that makes it hard to get started.

Also, I’m feeling down about it because when I started the year, I’d hoped I’d have another published book by the end of it. I put out a book every year from 2015 – 2017, and I missed last year because of many, many reasons, but I’ve made my peace with that. I was really hoping to get back into a yearly cycle, and #spookyromancenovel is just not going to be ready. It still needs so much work. While I understand that’s not failure, and there’s nothing wrong and everything right with not rushing something out the door that’s not up to my standards, it doesn’t inspire me to get started.

If you get right down to it, I’m even procrastinating by writing this blog post. I could have woken up this morning, eaten my breakfast, and dived right into Chapter 1 revisions. I didn’t. I chose to write this instead, to sort out my writing-related feelings and let you guys know why I’ve been less consistent than usual about my blog, and also nearly radio silent on social media, for those of you who follow me there as well.

I don’t have an answer yet. I could go read yet more articles on overcoming procrastination, but like most of them say near the beginning, I’d just be using them as another form of procrastination, even under the nominal guise of research and self-help. When I write the last word here, schedule the post, and close the page, will I go right to #spookyromancenovel and finally get started? I should. I’ll try. I don’t know how well it’s going to go, but I’ll try.

This Week, I Read… (2019 #37)

123 - IT.jpg

#123 – IT, by Stephen King

  • Read: 9/5/19 – 9/8/19
  • Challenge: The Reading Frenzy’s “Back to School” Readathon
  • Task: A book with the good vs. evil trope
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

DNF @ page 270 or so. I wanted to like this, but I simply wasn’t enjoying it and could face the other 700 pages. I’m no stranger to gargantuan King novels, but this wasn’t keeping me interested.

I feel like there’s a good story buried in here, under the weight of the constant misery every character faces. Dozens of named characters show up in the first three hundred pages, and nearly all of them are either victims or perpetrators of abuse–those that aren’t are generally helpless adult bystanders (teachers, the librarian, etc.) The kids are abused by their parents, or bullied by their classmates, or both. The lone female major character (and I’m assuming she’s major, because she’s the only girl who was present for whatever went down, and she’s introduced as an adult in the opening like the rest of them) is physically and emotionally abused by her husband.

It’s a slog, wading through all this trauma, and the constant abuse is so casual, so just-part-of-the-way-things-are, that it’s clearly not the point of the story. I lost my patience when a side story is interjected about Eddie Corcoran, told entirely though newspaper clippings, about how his disappearance (that is, murder by It) caused authorities to look into the death of his younger brother and determine it was actually murder by their stepfather. First, a side note, why is his name “Eddie” when there’s already an Eddie in the main gang? In the real world, Edward’s a common enough name and that happens, but in fiction, why have them have the same name when you have the power to give him any other name? But second and more importantly, yay, another kid was killed by It and that’s terrible and relevant, but it spins out an entire tangent about (surprise!) yet more child abuse.

Why is this book about child abuse? Is that the point? And if it is, why isn’t it taken more seriously?

Look, I get that this was published in the 1980s and I can’t be holding it to modern standards in terms of “staying in your lane,” but King came across as out of his lane constantly and whether or not it’s fair to judge him for it thirty years later, it’s horrible to read and I couldn’t take any more of it. Is he the right author to casually slap a homophobic hate crime in the beginning of his horror novel and do it justice? No, he throws out slurs constantly and even the most tolerant of the police involved are still clearly bigots, and even if that’s accurate to the time and culture of Small Town America, I don’t need to read about it like that to know it’s true, just like I didn’t need to read almost three hundred pages of bullying and child abuse. And was he the right author to do a mini chapter from the point of view of a Jewish woman reminiscing about the prejudice she faced in the past, while we the reader have figured out her husband has obviously committed suicide upstairs but she doesn’t know it yet, so we have to listen to her remembering all the slurs she was called? (Like, seriously, do we have to read slurs for everything in this book? If there were any black characters yet I’m sure there would have been n-words dropped, too. I’m not saying no slurs can ever be used by anyone ever, but the sheer volume here was ridiculous, and they were coming from a straight, white, male author, who is none of the things the slurs were applied to.)

I have a lot of complaints, yet I’m also saddened, because when the narrative wasn’t stuffed with wordy and unnecessary junk, the sense of dread pervading it was palpable–there were moments when I could see this was a good horror story suffocating under the weight of 500 extra pages of homophobia and child abuse and slurs and surprisingly extensive description of every single street in the entire fictional town of Derry.

I want to read a slimmed-down version of this story and find out what happened. Not sure I’d get that from the movie adaptations, I’d rather have a book that wasn’t so bloated, but I’m sure not finishing this one.

124 - The Westing Game

#124 – The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin

  • Read: 9/9/19 – 9/11/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (79/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book revolving around a puzzle or game
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

Since I read this as a child and loved it, when I was new to Goodreads and cataloging everything I could remember reading, I gave it five stars from a combination of loose memory and nostalgia. When this year’s PopSugar Challenge prompted me to read a book about a game, this was my first thought, because I still have my copy (purchased from the Scholastic Book Fair, one of my favorite things about elementary school) and I hadn’t read it for so long.

The question was, would I still give it five stars as an adult? Would it hold up?

Well, yes and no. My rating still stands, though with the caveat that it’s a five-star kid’s book. If I had read it for the first time as an adult, just now, I’d likely be less impressed, but there’s still a lot to recommend it if you remember the recommended reading level. So many things I would criticize in books targeted at adult readers–telling instead of showing, extremely short scenes, some head-hopping–actually work very well in literature aimed at children, because they’re more apt to understand and accept things at face value. I’m not saying children’s lit can’t have depth, but on the surface it needs to be reasonably straightforward. And despite the complex turns of the game and the numerous red herrings meant to lead a reader down false paths, in essence this plot is actually incredibly straightforward: it’s a game, and someone is going to win it.

I usually don’t take much care to keep my reviews spoiler-free, but in this case, I will, because though I remembered the thrust of the plot and a few key “twists,” I actually had forgotten most of the details, after so long, and got to be surprised by most things along the way. I was also impressed, as an adult, with how much personality is infused in each member of the large cast of characters, especially in so short a book–that’s where the telling comes in, and very well. Though the exposition about and description of characters is minimal at their introduction, only enough to make them distinct from each other at the most basic levels, we learn an awful lot about them through how they interact with each other, how they respond to the rules of the game, and what measures they take to win–all of those things speak volumes about them as people, and that’s quite honestly an amazing feat.

As for the game itself, I thought it was remarkably clever as a kid, but now it’s just… weird? But I totally buy that that sort of elaborate setup is the sort of thing bored rich people might do with their time and energy, with the right personal motivations in place. I realize that’s vague, but no spoilers, so I’ll just say the setup is weird and obviously contrived but also believable because it’s supposed to be both!

Down the TBR Hole #22

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?

Right now, my “read” list is exactly 201 books longer than my “to-read” list–between reading down My Own Damn Books and cutting stuff that doesn’t appeal anymore, I’m making real progress. On to some more!

#1 – What a Wallflower Wants, by Maya Rodale

20705673Oh, boy. I bet this came off a “bad boys” romance rec list, especially since I see I added it around Valentine’s Day 2017. Rodale is a name I keeping hearing recommended, but as I keep trying historical romance authors I keep not enjoying myself–I’m just not big on the subgenre in general, though there have definitely been some exceptions in the past. I don’t get the feeling this particular book is going to be one of them, with a “dark history” for the heroine and a jerk of a hero, according to many reviews. It goes.



#2 – By Your Side, by Kasie West

30256248._SY475_Locked-in-a-library romance? Yes, please. I’d still be interested in this twist on a contrived setup even if I hadn’t read and loved West’s Pivot Point duology since putting this on the list–I like her style and want to read more of her work. It stays.





#3 – Act Like It, by Lucy Parker

25750546._SY475_This stays, based on consistently good reviews and an interesting blurb. I was never a full-on theater geek–I did two of the four musicals in high school and I had a medium-sized role in my senior play, but those experiences failed to get me fully invested, and one of my college roommates blasting the soundtrack from Rent as her alarm every morning turned me off modern musicals in the early 2000s, though I’ve gathered being a musical geek is a thriving subculture these days, even aside from being in love with Hamilton. So I’m intrigued, and the ebook’s on Hoopla, I don’t have much to lose on this one.


#4 – The Bollywood Bride, by Sonali Dev

18938929._SY475_Second chance romance. Childhood friends. Bollywood. I’m sold. And it’s got solid reviews, and it’s on Hoopla, and I’m always trying to read more diverse romance. This sounds good enough it might even get moved up my list.





#5 – Radio Silence, by Alyssa Cole

23500162I love me some good post-apocalyptic romance, it’s my jam, so obviously this went on the list when I discovered it. Rereading the blurb reminded me it looked like enemies-to-lovers as well, which I like when done well. But the top-rated reviews are all pretty damning on the world-building front, that the PA setting is just window dressing and not fleshed out at all, adding very little tension. It goes. I don’t have time for subpar PA, and Cole is already elsewhere on my TBR list with (apparently) much better reads.



#6 – The Hidden Blade, by Sherry Thomas

22751852Both the blurb and several of the top reviews bill this story as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets Downton Abbey, and I have to say, that’s an effective hook. Digging slightly deeper, I’m on board with the role inversion of the guy being the escapee from danger and the girl being the badass warrior he’s searching for. What’s holding me back isn’t so much “do I want to read this” but “should I read the second book first?” This is a prequel, and according to the author they’re each viable as a standalone, and some readers have read the second book first, the romance between these two adults, and gone back for their history. But looking at reviews for the second book, apparently it’s not even that great a romance, and the pacing is bad? I don’t want to get invested in a great first book that’s not a romance, only to have the romance itself fall flat in the second book. Sounds like I’d be setting myself up for disappointment, so it goes.

#7 – The Witches of New York, by Ami McKay

20053031._SX318_Historical witchy fantasy fiction. Yes, please. I saw the hype surrounding its release, added it to the list, moved on with my life, but now I’m excited all over again, so obviously it stays. I’ve seen quite a few of my booklr friends on Tumblr recommend going into this book as blindly as possible, so I’m just going to leave it at that.




#8 – #11 – The Checkmate series, by Kennedy Fox

I came across the third book in this series, This is Reckless, courtesy of a rec list, and it sounded interesting. Still does, sort of. I put it on my list, along with #4, its conclusion. And seeing that the series started with another duology for a different pair of characters, I added that too, though I’m thinking now I didn’t look too closely at them, because rereading their blurbs made me cringe. They sound terrible! The whole series looks like a mishmash of lazy tropes with “bad porn,” as one negative review called the first book. They all go. I’m sure I have enough bad romance already on my Kindle that I picked up for free, out of curiosity, that I don’t need to knowingly go get more.

Seven cut of eleven again this month, I’m feeling good about that. I still own just over three hundred unread books, between my physical and digital collections, so the books I don’t already own have got to justify their place on the list, at least if I ever want to have a shot at getting my TBR to manageable levels.

This Week, I Read… (2019 #36)

120 - Roomie Wars

#120 – Roomie Wars, by Kat T. Masen

  • Read: 8/30/19 – 8/31/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (77/100)
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

There were things about it, from time to time, that were cute and I liked in the moment, but overall, this isn’t a convincing friends-to-lovers romance because it’s simply not a convincing friendship.

I understand people have different life experiences than me, but throughout the book, when these two idiots would talk to each other, I kept pausing and thinking, “Do people really act like that?” Every emotion was extreme and full of angst, not in the dark and brooding way, but in the “nothing is more important in my life than this” way, no matter how small or inconsequential “this” was, in the long run or even just at the time.

They might have jobs and an apartment and pay their bills on time, but under that thin veneer of maturity, they’re not adults, they’re whiny, impetuous teenagers. And in some cases I know personally, that’s still giving teenagers a bad name.

Without a solid friendship to serve as basis–and what there is is told, not shown, because of the time skips–this falls pretty flat as a romance, though it’s got funny moments as a sex romp, at least.

121 - Sweet Sinful Nights

#121 – Sweet Sinful Nights, by Lauren Blakely

  • Read: 9/1/19 – 9/2/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (78/100); The Reading Frenzy’s “Back to School” Read-a-thon
  • Task: A book from my TBR jar
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

This does not live up to the best of my previous Lauren Blakely reads and is responsible for me taking all of the books of hers I have TBR’d off the list. Yeah, it’s that bad. I don’t want to risk sitting through something that bad again.

There are some fundamental problems with the structure. By opening with just a tidbit of the “ten years before” romance, we’re supposed to see how great Shannon and Brent are together and long for them to get back together, right? Except that their first relationship is shallow, immature, and even the author calls it a “fuck and fight” relationship. It’s supposed to show us how passionate they are, but that’s not a healthy relationship dynamic! Why would I want them to get back together?

Oh, so they’re supposed to be more mature about it this time? Well, good luck with that, it’s all secrets and willful misunderstandings and giant plot twists. It’s high drama, or it’s sex, or it’s both. Shannon even goes into internal monologue more than once about how sex with Brent wipes away all her problems and negative emotions, calling him her “addiction” and/or her “drug.” Still not healthy! Still not aspirational! Still not realistic!

The sex itself is near constant, and just as over-the-top as the drama. I can, in general, concede a few hyperbolic moments during sex scenes, especially when the characters are experiencing some sort of new closeness or clarity about their relationship and yeah, maybe the world does spin a little faster or whatever. But not all the time. Not from every single kiss, every touch, every orgasm. I mean, if Brent is really that good in bed that you’re addicted to him, I guess the author has to convey that somehow, but taking it out of the realm of the physical into the mystical-hyperbolic just reads as lazy and uncreative, not romantic or even arousing. It’s just dull.

I think the only good thing I can say about this is, Brent is(was) a comedian, and yeah, he’s actually funny sometimes. The comedy bits of his we get to see didn’t have me rolling in my seat, but they’re decent, and he does come across as witty in conversation often enough that I don’t feel his being “funny” is an informed trait. But it’s not nearly enough to rescue this train wreck of a romance.

122 - Tone Deaf

#122 – Tone Deaf, by Olivia Rivers

  • Read: 9/3/19 – 9/4/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (38/48)
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

While this book might be good in terms of representation for deafness, it’s less than stellar in most other aspects, and I am not impressed.

I rarely have to bring up formatting issues, but in this case they were serious enough to interfere with the readability of the story and my understanding of it. There’s an author’s note at the beginning explaining why signed dialogue is marked with italics, but then in my Kindle edition, they’re not. There are no italics, or bold font, or anything distinguishing signed dialogue except a lack of quotation marks and/or the tag using “signed” instead of “said.” Oddly enough, I was okay with that–it was still generally clear whether or not the communication was verbal. What completely tripped me up, on the other hand, were the text messages. They weren’t marked consistently in any way that followed the usual dialogue rules–set off in new paragraphs, surrounded by quotation marks, indicated with tags. And there are a lot of text messages. They just existed, in plain font, mixed in with everything else, and while sometimes I could clearly tell what was supposed to be texting, a lot of the time I couldn’t and had to reread sections to figure out what was going on. Never a good sign.

If this is not true in the print editions, great, but the digital edition is a mess.

Okay, on to story problems. I have a lot.

1. The enemies-to-lovers trope underpinning Jace and Ali’s relationship isn’t quite InstaLove, but it’s incredibly rushed. They know each other for what, two weeks? And yeah, a lot of that time is spent in close contact, but they’re apart for a lot of it too, and enforced intimacy between the two of them wasn’t really believable early on because of their issues–they seemed to melt into each other really quickly, and Jace declares they’re “together” to a bandmate after one cuddling session and a single kiss. While Ali is still asleep and has no say in how their relationship is represented.
2. Neither of them have much personality beyond their history of abuse. Ali is also deaf, and I think that’s represented well? Coming from someone outside that community, anyway, it seemed legit. But Jace’s other personality trait is that he’s “broken,” stated outright by a bandmate at one point so that Ali could say “I’ll fix him.” I cringed. Oh, honey. That’s not how love works. That’s not a good relationship dynamic, and that’s the last thing teenage girls need to be reading, that if you love someone hard enough they’ll be saved.
3. I don’t understand one particular aspect of Ali’s plan for escape. She constantly says she wants to go to New York, and that’s a good choice in general because it’s far away from LA and her father, I won’t argue that. But the college she applied to and find out accepted her is in Washington, D.C., and she never explains why she’s eager to go to New York instead. I get that teenagers running away from abuse don’t have to be completely logical, but really, why New York? It’s an incredibly expensive city to live in. A runaway could get anonymity in any big city, if they tried, so why not somewhere more random and with a lower cost of living? Or, more importantly, why not the other East Coast city the plot says she actually has a reason to want to live in? Even if she had succeeded with her plan of escape and didn’t have enough money after sorting out supporting herself to go to school right away, wouldn’t she be better off at least living in the same city as the college so she could go later? (Yes, the plot says New York because that’s also where Tone Deaf’s tour ends, but since we never get anywhere close to it before the end of the book, that’s also arbitrary, it could have ended in D.C. or stopped there along the way.) The only counter-argument I could come up with against D.C. is that it might make her easier to find, once her father found out about her acceptance letter, but she was dead set on New York before that happened, when D.C. would have been the better choice.
4. The other members of the band spend a lot of page time fawning over Ali while she’s their stowaway, but also don’t get much in the way of personality. Killer and Arrow are dating, and I honestly forget which one is gay and which is bi, but both their sexualities are explicitly labeled, something we bisexuals rarely get in media, which is great. But they don’t really get much beyond that, except that they’re nice to Ali and Killer’s also a Doctor Who fan. Jon, the least-developed member of the band, gets one scene with Ali where he’s completely awkward because he admits to being shy with girls, then he basically stops mattering for the rest of the book.
5. The abuse. Oh, lord, the abuse. It’s pretty horrific, but at the same time, it also feels like it’s treated pretty shallowly, since Jace and Ali “fix” each other in the short time they’re together on tour and go on to have a happily ever after as soon as Jace saves her from her father. His backstory, of course, has to be even worse than hers to explain why he’s “broken” and she’s still whole enough to save him from… From what? He’s a health nut who refuses to drink or do drugs, so not physical self-destruction. From eternal loneliness? From emotional shutdown? We never get to explore what she’s saving Jace from by loving him so much, but clearly, he’s messed up and needs that saving.

End of the Month Wrap-Up: August 2019!


As the weather got really hot and then decided, yeah, it’s time to be fall, apparently I stayed in and read a lot while I wasn’t writing. I got through a whopping nineteen books–though to be fair, several of those were graphic novels, which read fast for me, and two were DNFs.


On the writing front, not much is going on. I gave my beta readers more time with #spookyromancenovel, because most of them needed it for one reason or another, and I wasn’t ready to dive back in to rewriting. That’s on my plate for September, but honestly, after this revelation, I’m not eager to get back to work. I’ve got some thinking to do. In the meantime, I’ve kept up my daily writing habit with book reviews, blog posts, and journal entries. Nothing wrong with taking a breather from a big project!

I worked a lot. I mean, a lot a lot. Hence my missing a few blog posts, generally being inactive on Tumblr, and spending more time reading in my off hours than doing anything more active, because I was tired, because I was working. A lot. (In fact, I’m churning this somewhat half-assed post itself in the sliver of the morning I get before I start a ten-hour shift. I love my new job–I wouldn’t go back to my old one for anything. But it does come with longer days sometimes.)

By the same token, I didn’t exercise as consistently as I wanted to in August, but I’m using the start of a new month, as I so often do, to attempt to get back on track. As soon as I’m done with this post, it’s yoga time. I swear!

As always, I hope your August was grand, and if for whatever reason it wasn’t, I hope your September is better.

This Week, I Read… (2019 #35)

117 - Still Waters

#117 – Still Waters, by Viveca Sten

  • Read: 8/22/19 – 8/24/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (74/100); The Reading Frenzy’s “Bookish Treasure Hunt” Challenge
  • Task: A door on the cover or in the title
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

DNF at 25%. It takes a really gripping mystery to keep me engaged in the genre, as it’s not my thing, and this simply wasn’t interesting enough.

As I’ve read other Swedish works in translation, I wasn’t put off by the simple, blunt narrative style, though I will say this was even simpler and more blunt than I’ve seen in the past. The text quickly fell into a pattern: introduce a new character or refocus on a known one, tell the reader how they’re feeling, describe the setting a little (or a lot, if it’s a new one,) sum up any backstory relevant to the scene, and then finally let the scene itself unfold. “Telling” not “showing” seems to be typical of the Swedish thriller style–I certainly waded through more than a thousand pages of it reading the Millennium series–but I could get over that, if only the telling had been interesting itself.

It wasn’t. While two dead bodies appearing within a week of each other on a beautiful Swedish island might be enough of a hook for the fictional locals, I’m not wowed by it, and the secrets Kicki was keeping about what may have gotten her cousin killed, and probably herself as well, were so vague and formless that I couldn’t muster enough energy to care.

This isn’t my genre, and I never would have bought this book on my own–it came to me free for World Book Day last year, so I figured I might as well give it a try, but like I’ve said, I’ve read other Swedish mystery/thrillers, and this doesn’t stand up favorably to them.

118 - The Fire Rose

#118 – The Fire Rose, by Mercedes Lackey

  • Read: 8/25/19 – 8/27/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (75/100)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

So, so very bad. Even though I know this book is over twenty years old, and the fantasy and fantasy-romance genres have matured since the mid-1990’s, this is still really, really bad.

Despite the overly stuffy and “proper” narrative voice, I found the prose oddly compelling and readable–I think I finished almost 100 pages in my first sitting–but some of that interest was coming from a “what stupid thing will happen next,” rubber-necking sort of curiosity. It’s a Beauty and the Beast retelling reframed through the mastery of elemental magic. But this Beast did it to himself directly, rather than his affliction coming from an external source. Okay, I suppose we can work with that, but the redemption of Jason Cameron’s less-than-stellar qualities never happens. He’s a pretty terrible person, even setting aside the innate racism and sexism endemic to the setting and thus, his character. I mean, he knows his personal secretary is out there abusing women for fun, and has the power to do something about it, and doesn’t. Not a good look for a romantic hero.

Rosalind is less of a terrible person morally, but still a pretty boring character. Her spitfire attitude is nothing we haven’t seen from a million other “but women were oppressed at the time” stories where the One Special Woman rebels against society somehow. Rosalind does it by being smart and studious and working for her living, albeit under odd circumstances, but she spends so much time reveling in the luxuries Jason surrounds her with that her uprightness folds under a few pretty dresses and sumptuous baths. I could even get behind the “if this is what I’m offered, by golly, I’m going to enjoy it” justification, if only the author didn’t spend so. much. time. describing these luxuries; the clothes, the baths, the rooms, the food. It’s excessive detail that slows down an already thin plot.

Then the real kicker–it’s a romance, except I never once felt like either Jason or Rosalind was falling in love. They spar with each other convincingly at first, but the tension between them is more intellectual than romantic or sexual. After the revelation of Jason’s condition, he admits to himself he feels sexual attraction, but, you know, given his situation, wouldn’t he be attracted to just about any woman who could stand to be in the same room as him? Beggars can’t be choosers, and all. As for Rosalind, there’s just nothing convincing going on there. For all that she makes “uncensored Ovid” and Caligula jokes, she never managed to show me she was a sexual character, and of course, the romance ends with a marriage but no physical contact, not even a kiss? Bestiality is apparently not a line we’re going to explicitly cross, yet by not having Jason regain his human form, that’s the only road open to this romance. So it’s weird and unsatisfying and not credible.

And the villains are barely one step up from mustache-twirling idiots, they’re so ludicrously thin and dull. Didn’t want to not-mention that failing, but don’t have much more to say about it, because there’s barely anything there to criticize. They exist because Jason needs antagonists, but they’re not interesting.

118 - Break in Two

#119 – Break in Two, by M.J. Summers

  • Read: 8/27/19 – 8/29/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (76/100)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

One of the laziest and most formulaic romances I’ve read in the last year, and right down there with the most boring romances I’ve ever read.

Claire’s only personality is that she hates her ex–he’s actually given more development than she is, in the early chapters, so we can get the full picture of just what a sleazebag he is and how much better off she’ll be without him, but that comes at the definite cost of giving her page-time to have any traits of her own. She owns a lot of clothes, but even that is less about her being a clothes horse or a shopaholic, and more a setup for Cole to accidentally see her underthings, more than once.

Cole starts out with the thin character type “sexy cowboy,” to which is added, half-heartedly, “small business owner trying to make things work.” His business-owner chops are immediately undercut by how insanely unprofessional he acts around Claire, both in terms of flirting/sexual harassment and anger management issues. The first time these two idiots “fight” they’re actual just throwing childish temper tantrums at each other, and I thought, wait, are these people adults? Have they ever had jobs before?

Add to that some poorly-thought out plot points–like Claire’s ex’s affair being exposed by a phone-answering mix-up, when it’s established that Claire has her own cell phone so why would the side piece think the dude is calling when it was Claire, her coworker? They wouldn’t have the same phone number? Caller ID is a thing? It’s completely preposterous?

Oh, and the sex is rushed to, not particularly interesting, and completely eclipses the development of any emotional attachment actually forming between Cole and Claire.