This Week, I Read… (2018 #20)

69 - Prelude to a Wedding

#69 – Prelude to a Wedding, by Patricia McLinn

After a rough start full of intentionally misleading situations for the characters and a lot of head-hopping, I ended up being surprised how much I liked this book. Bette and Paul represent to each other the things in life they actively do not want, but their attraction leads them to change their lives, with much hemming and hawing along the way.

However. I was completely not cool with the way Paul used his contract with Bette’s temp business to essentially extort a date from her. While it fits with his often-childish ways, it’s grossly unprofessional, and had I been Bette, I would have terminated my services and shoved Paul out of my life so fast his head would spin. Instead, she agrees to the date and they go on to have life-changing revelations.

Ultimately, it was an opposites attract plot that actually had some depth to it, even if both characters seemed clueless about why they worked so well together. And I honestly teared up a little at the end, when Paul wanted to elope but then backtracked so he could stop living impulsively. That’s what actual character growth looks like, and not something I see enough of in a lot of romances.

70 - The Aeneid

#70 – The Aeneid, by Virgil, translated by Robert Fitzgerald

DNF @ 60%. Disclaimer: this is clearly a case of “it’s not you, it’s me.” The language at times could be beautiful, but everything I dislike about this is everything that fans of epics generally praise them for–war, blood, and rampant name-dropping.

Epic poetry just isn’t my thing. I did find this far more readable than The Inferno; while this translation’s back cover reviews purport it to be THE BESTEST EVAR, I have no other translations to compare it to.

However, it’s slavish fan fic of the worst kind. Don’t know what to do to keep your readers hooked during a slow part? Throw in Circe or Cyclops or Scylla for a page or two! Recount the twelve trials of Hercules! Talk about fallen Troy and its dead heroes some more!

I honestly only tried to read this to give me deeper context for Le Guin’s Lavinia, which I found at a used book sale. I’ll read anything she wrote, and I figured I should go into it having read the source material. But when I started skimming, it was a losing battle. First, I skipped the long lists of names and lineages, because they meant nothing to me. From there, I skimmed the battle sequences, because poetic images of war do not rouse me to any great emotion (not when I don’t care about the characters involved–again, these are just names on a page.)

By 60%, I was skimming so much I was no longer engaged at all. I would be much better served for my purposes to read a simple plot summary. Especially as, by then, Lavinia herself was only mentioned two or three times, and yet Turnus was waging war in her name. I don’t say “for her” because he seemed more angry at being denied his rights (ie, the marriage he assumed he was entitled to and his position acquired by it) than Lavinia herself.

Finally, and I know it’s almost silly to complain about this when it was written two thousand years ago, but it’s so vehemently sexist and mysogynist. Juno is the major villian throughout, in her staunch opposition to Aeneas and his exiled Trojans. But she works through trickery and deceit, while the male antagonists at least get the glory of honest combat (even when it’s motivated by Juno’s inflammations.)

In the early books, Dido isn’t a villian, per se, but she does distract Aeneas from his quest by… being hot? Her passion for him is described as almost unnatural, and in seeking him out and “marrying” him, she’s described as a vow-breaker and ridiculed by her people and her allies alike.

Because, you know, women aren’t allowed to be lustful, and giving in to her lust was a political mistake.

The only semi-positive portrayal of a female character I could find (admittedly I was skimming by then) was a mention of the praise for Aeneas’ childhood nurse at her passing and burial–which is minor, and only positive in relation to Aeneas himself, because he valued her as his caretaker.

I tried. I really tried. But I was just so bored and disappointed.

71 - The Island at the Center of the World

#71 – The Island at the Center of the World, by Russell Shorto

I liked this on the strength of its completely unfamiliar subject matter, and disliked a lot about how it was written.

I can’t argue with myself that a “forgotten colony” narrative is fascinating, and learning a piece of lost history, only recently rediscovered, appealed to me greatly.

But the problems with the execution irked me every time I ran into one.

First, while Shorto often acknowledges where facts are thin or simply unknown, he doesn’t always. There are numerous places where, in the interest of making a cohesive story, he slips in phrases like “we can imagine” or “[this person] must have,” hoping the reader won’t notice how often he veers into assumption or speculation.

Second, I often felt like this book was written for exactly one target audience: New Yorkers themselves. I’ve been to New York City, once, when I was seven, on a family vacation. I have no reasonable idea of how Manhattan is laid out, so the constant references to its streets and landmarks now in order to give a sense of where things were then was useless to me. (Could I have stopped to check addresses on Google Maps? Absolutely. Did I want to be glued to my phone while I was supposedly reading? Absolutely not.) I don’t deny that those tidbits would interest someone more familiar with the city than I am, but there were simply so many times it happened that it irritated me.

My third complaint is an extension of that. This work is stuffed with extraneous detail. As if to make up for all the places where things are unknown, where records are missing, Shorto puts in much that has little or nothing to do with the main thrust of the book. I was actually put off by the very beginning, when we’re treated to a street-by-street, building-by-building description of Henry Hudson’s (supposed) route through London to start this whole shindig off. Do I care? Not really–there are plenty of better sources if I want to read about that era of London, and also (back to point 1) we don’t know that’s the way he went!


The May 2018 Book Haul


Remember when I said I was on a book-buying ban until my birthday? I broke it a few weeks early to pick up A Dreamer’s Tale: Annotated Edition courtesy of Extra Credits/Extra Sci Fi. Then I ordered Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda from Common Language to celebrate Independent Bookstore Day at the end of April.

Well, I’d been sitting on a Thriftbooks coupon or two (in addition to the one I’ll be getting in a few days!) and I hadn’t skimmed the stacks of my library’s book sale room for months, either.

So yeah. I bought a lot of books in the last few weeks. And this picture doesn’t even include the 12 ebooks, thanks to the nine I got free on World Book Day, thank you, Amazon, for offering a selection of novels by authors from around the globe. Of course I jumped all over nine free books!

So here’s the physical list, because I know some of those titles are hard to read, especially on the damaged spines:

  • The Three Theban Plays, Sophocles
  • Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
  • The Shack, William Paul Young
  • The Lace Reader, Brunonia Barry (this one’s autographed!)
  • Wildwood Dancing and Cybele’s Secret, Juliet Marillier
  • Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie
  • Paper Towns and An Abundance of Katherines, John Green
  • The Inheritance Trilogy, N.K. Jemisin
  • The Dolphins of Pern, Anne McCaffrey
  • Caliban’s War, James S.A. Corey
  • The Dark Half, Stephen King
  • On the Edge and Magic Slays, Ilona Andrews
  • Messenger, Lois Lowry
  • The Trial, Franz Kafka
  • Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke
  • Royal Assassin and Assassin’s Quest, Robin Hobb
  • Virtual Light, William Gibson
  • Life Before Man, Margaret Atwood
  • The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

I’m on track, still, for this year’s Mount TBR, albeit barely, or I’d be diving into some of these RIGHT NOW. I’ll be good, though, because I’m still reading the final book in my Horizons TBR, and I’ve got to get that done, at least, by the end of the month. Some of these might sneak into my reviews next month, though, we’ll see!

Expand Your Horizons: June TBR

Expand Your Horizons

Five months of the challenge down, seven 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 June TBR:

Horizons TBR June

  • Nonfiction: Medieval Lives, by Terry Jones
  • Banned Books: Big Breasts & Wide Hips, by Mo Yan
  • Classics: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers
  • #ownvoices: The Death of Vishnu, by Manil Suri

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!

This Week, I Read… (2018 #19)

65 - Norse Mythology

#65 – Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman

Gaiman’s mythic retelling here is eminently readable–no high-falutin’ archaic language or onerous and endless family lineages to skim through. In fact, at times, certain phrases jumped out at me as too modern–did one of the gods really say they’d “check it out”? Similar idiom only startled me a few times, so it’s a minor nitpick.

Before reading this, I had only a passing knowledge of Norse mythology, and much of that was drawn from superhero movies and thus WRONG. Not that I have any objections to reinterpretation, but it’s nice to know the base stories, too.

So this is where I see it borne out that Thor is DUMB AS BRICKS. My husband, far more knowledgeable than me on the subject, always quibbled with MCU about Thor being too–well, not intelligent, exactly, but certainly not outright stupid enough. Which now I think seems a fair criticism.

Overall, I enjoyed it, but as much of a Gaiman fan as I am, it didn’t quite wow me.

66 - We Should All Be Feminists

#66 – We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I read this in about twenty minutes, and my first reaction was confusion. What was all the fuss around this book about? I didn’t feel like it expressed anything new to me, or radical. Women are oppressed, we need to fix it, same old, same old.

But as the day wore on, and I thought more about it, the more I realized that a) I probably shouldn’t be speed-reading nonfiction at four in the morning if I want to grasp it fully, and b) maybe it is radical, because of who is saying it.

I’m not familiar enough with the multitudes of different cultures in Africa to say that with certainty, but given the importance of masculinity that Adichie describes in her own, it’s fair to say than a black African woman standing up and telling the men of her sphere that they need to do better is a lot more revolutionary than I first believed when I finished reading.

On top of that, Adichie addresses that feminism isn’t just about empowering women, but also necessitates ceasing to coddle men as well. Parents teaching their sons basic housework and cooking is an obvious first step, but going farther, she talks about the fragility of the male ego, something that’s frighteningly relevant now with the renewed rise of misogyny (incels and the like) in white male America. If someone had taught these boys that women didn’t owe them sex and a perpetually clean house, maybe as men they wouldn’t be harassing, raping, and killing the women they believe they are entitled to.

In the end, my initial meh reaction was rooted in my Standard White Feminist upbringing, where I forget that women who don’t look like me often have different struggles to face and different ways of meeting those challenges. I’m nowhere near being “woke,” and the journey to get there will last the rest of my life, but I’m a baby step closer now.

67 - Women of the Silk

#67 – Women of the Silk, by Gail Tsukiyama

I liked a lot of things about this book, until the ending soured some of them for me.

What struck me most at first was the irony of the increased freedom the women found in their lives through working in the silk factories. The working conditions seemed terrible and the hours insanely long, nothing I would consider “freeing,” yet these women were earning their own money, living in sisterhood without men dominating their lives outside of their work, and barely involved in their days at all. (The owner of the factory as well as a few managers were men, but most of the daily oversight was done by women who had moved up through the ranks.)

Throughout the small events of Pei adjusting to her new life as a silk worker, I began to scent whiffs of sly lesbianism. The formal hair-dressing ceremony, which replaces a wedding ceremony for a woman who decides to remain unmarried and supposedly celibate, was undertaken twice in the story–both by pairs of girls, and in Pei’s case, because she didn’t want to be separated from Lin.

I was thrilled when this turned into a romantic relationship, even if the sexual aspect was barely a paragraph of implied sexy-fun-times. The two of them remained together for (nearly) the rest of the book. Lin going with Pei to visit her long-lost family was a particularly moving scene.

…And then we got to Bury Our Gays. I know this was published twenty-five years ago, and the modern distaste for this trope wasn’t as widely spread, but in this case I actually don’t understand what is accomplished, narrative-wise, by Lin’s death in the last few pages. How would the ending truly be any different if Pei and Lin went to Hong Kong together instead of Pei having to shoulder the burden of her grief as she tried to build a new life? Either way, she is (or they are) starting over, making the ending a hopeful one. So why did Lin need to die, when the horrors of the war had already been amply demonstrated?

My other major complaint is the writing style. While most of the book being “telling” made it a quick read for its length, I was disappointed at constantly being told how I was supposed to feel at every point. Look, everyone is miserable. Look, Pei is finally happy for a bit. Look, these women are weird and unusual in their culture and people despise/fear/don’t trust what they don’t understand. I was being spoon-fed instead of drawing my own conclusions.

In the end I found it worth reading for its historical aspects and strong found-family themes, but not nearly as a) feminist, b) beautiful, or c) about women striking against poor treatment in the factories, as the blurb lead me to believe. (Seriously, the strike is about two chapters of the book and absolutely didn’t need to happen for the story about Pei to work. Because this story is definitely hers.)

68 - Planet of Exile

#68 – Planet of Exile, by Ursula K. Le Guin

I was more impressed with the direction and coherence of this story than I was with Rocannon’s World, which was only published a few years earlier. There’s definitely growth between them in style and substance.

However, this was simply too short to accomplish all it was trying to do. Jakob Agat goes from feeling like an exiled human on an alien planet, to becoming a true man of the world and its people, over the course of one extremely brief war. By which I mean a few days of battle, which he and his “army” didn’t even win, they simply outlasted the patience of their numerous but unorganized attackers.

As a bare-bones plot, I’m good with this idea. Intense experiences can forge those kinds of bonds, and change a person drastically.

But the marriage? I can’t even call it a love story, or a romance, because those elements simply aren’t there. We the reader are meant to accept that Jakob and Rolery fall into bed together for little obvious reason, after knowing each other for a few days and having two or three real conversations. And then he marries her offscreen–it’s presented as fact, after the fact, without the reader witnessing what ceremony (or lack thereof) was performed.

I mean, marriage is one way to create an alliance between two peoples, but that’s not why they did it. They slept together because they wanted to–that much I believe, even if I don’t understand why exactly–and then the marriage was…to spare her shame and punishment from her people? Several times prior to that, mention is made of harsh rules that some of the tribes have concerning unchaperoned women, but it’s not made clear whether Rolery’s tribe subscribes to those rules. If we don’t know that, how or why does Jakob? Did Rolery suggest the arrangement or merely agree to it? I’m not satisfied with what we’re told.

Which leads to my other criticism, which is the biology of the situation. It’s clear from several sources in the text that the human colony is dwindling due to low successful birth rates, which is linked to being alien to the planet, enough that they have to take enzyme supplements to be able to digest native food.

But in a mere six hundred years, which (assuming parenthood in at least the twenties and not younger) is at most thirty generations. That’s not a lot of time for an organism as complex as a human being to adapt (in the strict evolutionary sense) to an entirely foreign ecosystem. First the mutations have to occur (and the different spectrum of radiation from the sun could certainly do that, no quibbles there) but then IT ALSO HAS TO PROVIDE A BENEFIT WHICH ALLOWS FOR RELATIVE SUCCESS IN REPRODUCTION OVER UNMUTATED PEERS.

The situation described doesn’t match that. Human babies are either miscarried frequently or brought to term deformed and incapable of survival. It’s not a strict issue of the environment rendering the adults sterile somehow–they’re still conceiving. And yes, simply being born viable is a reproductive advantage over being stillborn or miscarried. And if that’s the mutation, fine, but I’m doubtful that’s what Le Guin intended, because what does digestion of the native food have to do with that? It doesn’t.

And even if we accept that the youngest generation of humans present on the planet are adapted for it, able to survive more successfully, that doesn’t suddenly cause the ability to interbreed successfully with the native species, as is implied by the hopeful ending Rolery envisions of being able to bear Jakob’s children.

So I see a lot of potential in the basic plot, but I feel the novel I read didn’t live up to that goal.

The Book Robin Hoods: More Reviews in the Bag!

calling allauthors

I’m starting to see results from all those copies of What We Need to Survive I’ve been sending out to reviewers through TBRH. Yeah, okay, one of them was just a two-star, but that’s going to happen–not everyone is going to like my work, and that’s okay!

But I got a pretty glowing one just this past weekend that I wanted to share. This is the sort of quality reviewer you can find through TBRH, which is such a great resource for indie authors!

The world got infected with a mysterious disease, which killed off most of the population in a short period of time. Everything’s changed: there’s no electricity, no working factories, no way to connect with other people other than in person. Those who survived either prefer to stay in one place or to walk from town to town, trying to find food and supplies they need to stay alive. Paul belongs to the second group and he’s used to traveling alone, but one day he meets a group of strangers and decides to join them. As they walk through deserted areas together, Paul starts to notice the advantages of not being alone anymore. He’s especially interested in quiet and introverted Nina, whom he can’t quite figure out. Will traveling together bring them closer? And what are the odds to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, where every person you meet might be your enemy?

‘What We Need to Survive’ is the first book in the What We Need trilogy, written by the American author Elena Johansen. I’m glad there are two more books to read, because I’m definitely not ready to part with Paul and Nina yet!

From a post-apocalyptic story you’d probably expect a lot of action, battles, zombies or governmental conspiracies – that’s what other PA books and movies are usually about. I’m not into those things, so I’m glad this book is nothing like that. It focuses on everyday life of those who survived the plague and try to stay alive in this new reality. It’s about human relations, learning to trust and help each other, about friendship and love, which make it easier to live day by day, when the future is so uncertain.

The author created a group of well-constructed, three-dimensional characters with great dynamics between them. My favourites are definitely Paul and Nina. Paul is a strong, tough man with a tender, caring heart, always ready to help the others. He’s also musically talented and I have to admit I have a weak spot for fictional guys who can sing and play instruments. Nina is more withdrawn, she doesn’t let her emotions show and it’s not easy to earn her trust, but she cares deeply about her little group.

The romance between Paul and Nina is one of the main threads of the book, but thankfully it’s free from clichés like insta-love or ‘we survived so let’s live like there’s no tomorrow’. It’s a delicious, slow-burn romance – there’s no rushing into things, just because they both survived the plague. They’re slowly getting to know each other, gaining mutual trust, and one of them needs to work hard to let their guards down and open up for the possibility of falling in love and building a relationship.

‘What We Need to Survive’ is a very well-written, captivating novel you won’t be able to put down. It conveys a message that there’s always hope, and love and friendship can grow even on the ashes of the world as we know it.


Bookish DIY: Quotes

Lace Journal 1-31-18

Most readers have a favorite book quote or three, or a dozen, or a hundred. And it’s lovely to go back to the books they come from to revisit them, but there are so many ways to incorporate them into your life outside of reading.

A lot of these you can buy ready-made, and if you find something you like from a business you want to support, go for it! But if your favorite quote isn’t up there in popularity with I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library,” (Jorge Luis Borges) and you can’t find any merch to show your love, here are some ideas:

  • Put it on a t-shirt. How you accomplish this will depend on the length of the quote, your level of craftiness and the technology available to you–you could make your own printer transfer sheet, use purchased iron-on lettering, hand-paint it or simply write it out on the fabric with a Sharpie or other permanent marker. And there are services like Redbubble that can make the shirt for you from your own design–just make sure it is your own design.
  • Put it on a tote bag. Same deal. Who doesn’t love carrying books around in a book-quote bag?
  • Use it in your art, or as art. I’ve got an example of my own above (and boy did some people not get the irony when I posted it on my journalblr,) but quote art can take many forms, from simple printouts in gorgeous fonts to frame and hang on your wall, to whatever form of art you practice, painting, sculpture, calligraphy/hand-lettering, anything you like. Book quotes are a near-endless source of inspiration for the bookish artist. I saw a picture on Pinterest where short quotes were painted on small rocks!
  • Make it into jewelry. Tutorials abound for bookish jewelry, from putting tiny printouts of quotes into locket or small frames, to stamping the quote on metal bracelets or writing it on a tiny scroll to place inside an amulet bag necklace. Again, your craftiness and the length of the quote come into play, but wearing your love of books as jewelry has gone beyond mere trendiness, and making something with a quote you love means you have something both unique and personal.
  • Put it on your journal. Okay, so I put one in my journal, but especially if the quote is inspiring, why not write or paint it on the outside, where you’ll see it every time you go to write or draw?
  • Put it on a bookmark. You can always have it with you when you read…
  • Put it on a pillow? I’d never seen this one until I went hunting for quote-merchandise ideas, but apparently it’s a thing. (I also don’t really do decorative pillows, so I guess I had no reason to consider it before now.) This would be a great time to draw on your embroidery skills, if you have them, but again, some fabric (or even a ready-made, plain pillow) and a little paint or a Sharpie would do just fine.

I hope I’ve given you a few ways to bring your inner book nerd out where it’s more visible, and get crafty in the process!

This Week, I Read… (2018 #18)

61 - Unexpectedly Mine

#61 – Unexpectedly Mine, by Stephanie Rowe

As my criticisms are many, let’s start this review with the good points.

This romance does a bang-up job at keeping the obstacles coming, and snatching victory (ie, a happy ending) from the jaws of defeat. The leads only get their HEA after a great deal of change. And while I don’t care for either teenage daughter character–they’re both nothing but whiney, with no personalities to speak of–both leads do visibly struggle with what it means to be a good parent.

Also, Clare actually debates with herself whether getting involved with Griffin was a good idea and/or worth the heartache that seemed the obvious ending to their fling. Not for just a few heartbeats, like so many heroines I see, who are so overcome with lust that they make stupid decisions. Clare ends up making the choice she considered “bad” at the time, but she did it with her eyes open, knowing she’d get hurt in the end and deciding to have her fun anyway. It’s not often I see any character own their (potential) mistakes so clearly.

On to the bad parts.

1. Griffin. He’s not a consistent character. We’re introduced to him in a heroic light, then we find out he’s a millionaire businessman, but we rarely see him act as one because he’s fallen head over heels for Clare and acts accordingly. While these actions might be out of character for pre-book Griffin, we only really see him being the “good man” Clare repeatedly asserts him to be, so his character arc is pretty flat.

2. Griffin again. While we’re given extensive detail on Clare’s romantic history, I can’t recall any real detail about Griffin’s failed marriage. I don’t even know how long ago his wife and daughter left him, aside from the fact that his ex-wife has remarried and had twins by her new husband–so lowball, at least two years, unless they were super-rushing the wedding, but high estimate could be just about any length of time. Why was Griffin so set on getting his daughter back now, this instant, when she’d been gone so long? The narrative does mention that he hadn’t actually seen Brooke in person for over a year, but what was it that made him need her so badly then when he didn’t seem to before?

3. Repetitive dialogue, internal monologue, and description. Both leads have POVs, and both tend to ramble in their heads multiple times with endless questions, nearly whole pages of talking to themselves about their problems. Griffin and Clare are both described repeatedly, with only slight variations of word choice–no, thank you, I haven’t forgotten what they look like. A lot of page space is taken up talking about Clare’s friend Astrid’s appearance, with great emphasis on how quirky and free-spirited she is and how wild her hair is. I didn’t actually confirm this, but from the get-go it was obvious to me that she’s the female lead in the next novel in the series, because boy, does she take up too much room in this one.

4. Too many characters, too quickly. In the second major setting of the book, the town’s general store, Clare (and the reader) is bombarded with names and faces. I don’t even know how many new characters were introduced in a few short pages–both of her best friends, the couple who owns the store, a friend of her mother’s, and at least a few more besides. Some of them are important–some of them I don’t remember ever seeing again. I get that it’s supposed to be a bustling hub of activity, but that doesn’t mean we have to meet everyone in town at once.

5. Griffin for the third time, because the ending sucks. The reason Griffin eventually stays in town sucks. Him realizing his daughter is happier and better off with her new family is a good thing, and him not buying a business just to impress her is better, but then his alternative is handed to him on a platter in the hokiest manner possible. It’s too big a jump to believe.

62 - Fear of Falling
#62 – Fear of Falling, by S.L. Jennings

DNF @ 7%. Earlier than I usually give up on a book, but this had racism and toxic masculinity written all over it.

We learn the narrator, Kami, is not white when a complete jackass at a bar tries to guess her ethnicity. He actually uses the word “mulatto,” which I’ve never seen or heard anyone use in a non-historical context, then moves on immediately to other offensive stereotypes. But wait! An attractive bartender appears to save Kami from this racist loser!

Except he proceeds to be nearly as offensive in “guessing” her ethnicity by using apparently complimentary terms which still reduce her to an object.


Eventually, it’s revealed that Kami is of Filipino descent, but it took basically the whole chapter. I mean, just tell me that to begin with? Don’t make it a mystery we have to spend a whole chapter to solve by having two characters be racist at her, especially when one of them’s obviously her love interest down the line? He’s presented as less offensive than his cousin–oh, yeah, the jackass is his cousin!–but immediately dismisses the cousin as “harmless.”



But yeah, it’s just (racist) dudes being (racist) dudes, right? So it’s okay. And there’s where we get toxic masculinity on top of the racism, because all men’s behavior towards women is fine, as long as another man can rationalize it or dismiss it as harmless, a joke, etc. So Kami brushes off the jackass cousin because look how handsome and less-racist the bartender is!

I won’t dignify the rest of this novel by reading it.

63 - Women in Love

#63 – Women in Love, by D.H. Lawrence

DNF @ page 100, because all the characters were similarly awful, and this far in there was still no sign of either a plot, or the two love affairs that the back cover blurb assured me were the point of the novel.

When I say the characters are “similarly awful,” I mean a lot of damning things. They’re all petty and shallow; easily overcome by violent emotion which renders them dazed or speechless or, in one case, actually violent; deeply self-absorbed and without much in the way of compassion or empathy; and prone to philosophical debate at the drop of a hat, no matter where, when, or how it might contravene social etiquette. There’s abysmally little in the way of personality to differentiate between any of them.

As early as the third chapter, I remarked to my husband, “This book just seems like an excuse for Lawrence to have angry debates with himself,” because one of the characters most guilty of this is apparently a self-insert of him. In that chapter, his avatar (Birkin) goes to the classroom of Ursula, observes her lesson for a moment, proceeds to tell her in no uncertain terms how she should be teaching it and how she’s missing the point entirely, and then the woman who’s trying to gain Birkin’s affection (Hermione) appears, and she and Birkin have an involved philosophical debate. Ursula is still there, and saying nothing, and I’m pretty sure at some point the students left for the end of the day, but never is there any explanation of why Birkin came to see Ursula (in fact, he seems to quickly forget she’s even there), or how Hermione knew Birkin was there for her to barge in upon. And Ursula never shows any reaction to having her class disrupted.

If there was any point to that chapter other than making a stage for Lawrence to proclaim his values upon, I can’t find it.

Also, for a book supposedly about women in love, there’s an awful lot of homoeroticism between Birkin and Gerald, who’s supposed to have an affair with Ursula’s sister Gudrun somewhere down the line. There’s a great affection implied between them, even as Lawrence tells us there’s also a drawing-back, even a repulsion of each other. Afraid to get too close, hm?

Basically, all the characters dislike each other virulently, and I couldn’t take it anymore.

All that being said, Lawrence does have the occasional eye for beauty in his words, with frequent and powerful juxtapositions of meaning to give vivid life to his descriptions. I found myself jolted out of my boredom with the story several times just turning a particularly lovely phrase over in my mind, exploring how eloquently he could describe a state of being.

Sadly, that’s not enough to make me want to finish the book, given that everyone is so detesting and destestable.

64 - Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

#64 – Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli

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

It was amazing. I laughed out loud, I got teary-eyed, though I never quite cried. Simon is a darling, “Blue” is hilarious, and even though I went to high school twenty years ago, everything about this seemed authentic to me–technology has changed teenagers that much.

My only criticism is minor, and may have been exaggerated by how quickly I read this: I didn’t seem to get all the nuances of Simon’s closest circle of friends right away. We’re introduced to a lot of characters quickly, which would normally be a complaint for me, except this is a high school setting and (for once) the MC isn’t a loser loner. So yeah, he’s got a lot of friends. But we don’t get much about them at first, and later in the book I realized this is a deliberate sign of Simon’s cluelessness and confusion about other people, but as a reader it was the tiniest bit confusing to me.

Super minor, though. I did figure out who Blue was, but only at the very last possible minute, like one chapter before the reveal. I might have gotten it earlier if I’d had a better sense of who was who, but it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book much at all.