This Week, I Read… (2019 #51)

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#162 – The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert

  • Read: 12/3/19 – 12/8/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (106/100); The Reading Frenzy’s Holly Jolly Readathon
  • Task: A book that was gifted to me
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

A four-star first half with a one-star ending stuck on the back end.

I went into this blind in terms of actual content, as this was a gift I received. I doubt I would have bought it on my own, despite loving both science and the history of science–I would not have trusted Gilbert to write that novel well, knowing what I do about her other works.

But it was a gift, and I finally read it. At first I was surprised by how much I was enjoying it. Henry was a fascinating character to set up Alma’s story, and she was still reasonably interesting, though I do see why some reviewers find her lacking in comparison. One of the strengths of this work is that the side characters are all given full, even lush, personalities and backstories–no one is glossed over as unimportant, and that does lead to the risk that side characters could catch a reader’s attention more than the heroine. I found her engaging enough that I was fine following her around the length of her life, but I do see the potential for other, better stories in many of the minor players.

However, that level of devotion to all characters does lead to a certain narrative ponderousness, a slow pace that drags further when one has to stop the main story to find out everything and anything we’ll ever need to know about this new character being introduced. I didn’t mind so much in the beginning, but by the time Alma goes to Tahiti and I had to sit through the entire life story of both the Reverend and “The Boy,” I was worn out on being introduced so thoroughly to each and every soul in the book.

The more fundamental problem I have with this is that it’s an incredibly long walk to get to a very short pier. I see how the pieces fit together. I see how every person in the story was necessary to Alma’s decades-long journey through the fields of science, and more literally, from her home all the way to Tahiti and then abruptly to Amsterdam. It’s a long chain of connect-the-dots across years and continents, and the scope is incredible. I know the how, but in the end, I’m unsatisfied by the why. I was quite bitterly disappointed to realize that this is, at its deepest core, literary fanfiction for The Origin of Species, and not a particularly good one, at that. All that work to put an OC into actual history and not have it go anywhere, not fulfill any purpose! If I’m going to read that style of reimagining, I’ll just pull Neal Stephenson off my shelves, he makes it far more entertaining.

The ending was just so bland, so unfulfilling, so purposeless. Why did I follow Alma for nine decades and five hundred pages only to discover she was happy with her life despite not really accomplishing much of anything?

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#163 – Cibola Burn, by James S.A. Corey

  • Read: 12/8/19 – 12/12/19
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

A slight dip in quality compared to the first three in the series, but still really engaging–in the second half, anyway.

Part of my problem was the slow start. It took me three days to read the first half and one to read the rest. There’s so much setup to the politicking on the newly settled/contested planet that it’s a slog at the beginning, despite what is supposed to be a big “boom” of an opening–literally.

Part of my problem was one of the new characters. I loved Havelock’s story–surprised to see he’s back, of course, but he was the perfect counterpoint to the villain, whose primary flaw was inflexibility, while Havelock weighed the relative benefits of company loyalty against morality and made the “right” choice. Basia’s story was okay, he’s got grief issues about his lost son and he’s emblematic of the sort of pioneer spirit of the settlers. But Elvi was by far the weakest female character this story has ever produced. It’s not that I don’t see how the choices she made about her love life made sense, from an introverted scientist’s perspective. She’s actually a reasonably complex character, so I can’t level the “two-dimensional” criticism at her. It’s just that her entire function is to be the science girl and tell Holden things. Yeah, she figures out how to stop the plague, she’s not entirely useless. But the story focuses so much on her crush on Holden, which is “solved” by banging someone else entirely so she stops throwing her sexual energy in a useless direction and can get back to doing science. Putting her in the climactic sequence with Miller and Holden at the end felt wrong, like she was sorely out of place, and it didn’t really finish her character arc in a satisfying way. I’m not even sure what her arc was supposed to be; she’s not completely without agency or heroism, but her purpose is murky, narratively speaking, unless she’s just the lens we view Holden’s actions through. And since Holden still has his own POV chapters, I’m not sure that was entirely necessary.

So that’s the bulk of why this was a four-star read instead of a five for me. I still enjoyed it a lot; I still think the series is moving in an interesting direction, giving us a bit more information on both the protomolecule civilization and whatever it was that destroyed them, while moving along humanity in what is obviously a reasonable direction: of course settlers are going to go squat on newly available worlds! Humans explore things! We colonize them! We get ourselves into trouble! Which is basically the thrust of this entire story.

What I really liked, though, was Avasarala’s epilogue, spelling out to Bobbie what the consequences of this new human migration would be. Things are going to get even more interesting from here, and I look forward to having both of those beloved ladies back in the future.

2020 Goals: Learn to Draw

To the best of my knowledge and this blog’s search function, I only briefly talked about my attempts in 2016-2017 to learn to draw from from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and its later revised edition, both of which I have. The left photo is the set of “pre-instruction” drawings the lessons have one do as a baseline of ability–I’m not terrible, I’ve taken some art classes and have some basic skill at proportion and perspective, but I’m not great–and the right, one of the last exercises I did from The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which, amazingly, I found used in my local library book sale room only a few months after starting the original edition.

I jumped tracks partway through and started using the revised edition, only to discover I didn’t like it as much. The viewfinder it had me build was awkward to use without a third hand, and I abandoned my “lessons” not long after doing that second drawing.

I was clearly making progress, but wasn’t enjoying myself as much. I still wish I had finished, though, so I’m going to try again in 2020.

Here’s the plan:

  1. Worth through all of the original Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, doing lessons as consistently as possible, and drawing on a daily basis even if I don’t finish a full lesson.
  2. Whenever I finish that (and I have no clear idea how long it will take) I will choose a second medium to “learn” to get color on the page. I’m leaning toward colored pencils, which I already love and seem a natural first step beyond pencil drawings, or watercolor, which I don’t know as much about but have always been curious to learn. Online tutorials abound for both, so I will not lack for instruction.
  3. Journal extensively about the process on Tumblr, where my side blog @elenajournals was sadly neglected through basically all of 2019; update monthly here with my progress like I used to in my “From My Art Journal” series.
  4. If I’m happy enough in my progress later in the year with color medium #1, try a second one as well, but that’s up in the air for now.

Meanwhile, on the research side of things:

  • Gather examples of book covers I like, both stylistically and for “art” reasons–most book cover art is digital these days, but I’ve seen some pretty gorgeous examples that aren’t.
  • Brainstorm ideas for covers for whatever unpublished projects I’ve got in the pile.
  • Eventually do the art for my own covers!

Because that’s where I want to do with this. I love the company I worked with to create the covers for the What We Need trilogy; they did great work and were pleasant and easy to work with through the entire process. But commissioning design work is expensive, and every time I think about putting out a smaller, non-novel project, especially if it’s something I want to offer for free, I simply can’t justify doing it when I would/should drop several hundred dollars to get a cover made.

If I can do my own, though? The self-publishing world becomes my oyster.

That goal is likely a decent way off (like, maybe not even in 2020?) if I want my art to be “good enough,” but I think having a concrete (and business-related) goal in mind for this second-attempt drawing journey will help keep me on track when I’m fully aware I often abandon projects like this halfway through. Like I did in 2017.

Honestly, I’m so excited about it I want to start now, but I’ve got a novel to finish and Christmas cookies to bake and Christmas presents to wrap and a holiday vacation to take. Actually, I did already “start”–I did a second set of pre-instruction drawings last week and all of them look about the same, except for the hand study, because boy have I done a lot of those over the years, even before picking up DotRSotB. But the real work begins next year.

Down the TBR Hole #25

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?

If I ever want to actually comb through my entire TBR…well, I should probably post these daily, then. I was going to say weekly, but monthly is all the blog can handle. But there’s still so many books to go through! (Currently 641 items on my Goodreads “want to read” shelf.)

Okay, where I did leave off last month?

#1 – The Shirley Letters: From the California Mines, 1851-1852, by Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe

1600115The mystery of where I found this title is solved easily by the date I added it on Goodreads being identical to the date of the review of the only friend I have to have read this. Her review was glowing; I was interested.

I completely forgot it was here, and I don’t read nonfiction much anymore. Not never, just not much. That would almost be enough to pitch this off the list, but one of the reading challenges I’m planning for in 2020 asks for a book I’d forgotten was on my TBR, and this seems like a perfect candidate. It stays. It certainly helps that I can get it through interlibrary loan, though, because I doubt I’d want to buy this.

#2 – The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

17910048I don’t recall where I found this, but I like the premise enough that I’ve considered buying it from Thriftbooks several times over the past several weeks, every time I place an order. (Which, between my personal purchases and Christmas shopping, has actually been quite a few instances.)

I still haven’t quite bought it–there’s always something I want just a little more–but I still want to read it eventually. It can stay.

#3 – The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie

944073._SX318_SY475_I think I grabbed this off a rec list, but just looking at the “readers also enjoyed” section on Goodreads makes me cringe, because The Lies of Locke Lamora is there–which I liked just fine–but so is Prince of Thorns, which I absolutely detested. I’m not sure I need to read more “dark, gritty” fantasy novels by men, when that’s such an over-saturated genre. Couple that with the good reviews being hyperbolic and glowing while the bad reviews are talking about this book trying way too hard to sound adult but coming off like a posturing teenager, and it goes, I’m not interested anymore.

#4 – Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors, by Lizzie Collingham

31570While I don’t remember where I heard of the book, the appeal is obvious to me–I love curry, we have Curry Friday in my household the same as Taco Tuesday. I have half a dozen Indian cookbooks (both by native Indians and Brits of Indian heritage) and I make dishes from all over the country and its regional cuisines.

But, despite this being a combo nonfiction history and cookbook, I’m not digging it anymore. All the reviews are pretty meh and getting my hands on a copy doesn’t look like it’s going to be worth the hassle. It can go.

#5 – How to Suppress Women’s Writing, by Joanna Russ

1047343._SY475_Listen, I know I say I don’t read a lot of nonfiction anymore, and I am by nature skeptical of anything people say is “required reading” for any group of people, even those I belong to. And I am a woman, a writer, and a feminist, three things on various reviewers’ lists for that “required” reading.

But they also keep saying that it holds up beautifully for a 40-year old book about social issues, and practically reads like it could have been written now. And that intrigues me, on top of the subject matter. I still want to read this.

#6 + #7 – No Longer Human and The Setting Sun, by Osamu Dazai

I know I’ve been moaning lately about reading WWII fiction, and I am tired of it. But I also want to read more works by Japanese authors, because I studied the language for a year (nearly twenty years ago, but still) and I watch a ton of anime (both twenty years ago and currently.) The history and culture of Japan have fascinated me since I was quite a small child. Shouldn’t I dive into their literary traditions? I mean, I have, I read The Tale of Genji ages ago, and I have a few other books already in my possession. But when one anime character a while back just kept on quoting Dazai in practically every episode, I got curious! I don’t know if I’ll like them, maybe I’ll hate them (in which case I’ll only read one and ditch the other) but they should stay. I need to read more world literature and that definitely includes a country I’m already consuming lots of other media from.

#8 – The Man Who Loved Children, by Christina Stead

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I was tempted to chuck this without much deliberation, because I think I pulled this from a world-lit list (Australia) without looking too closely at it. Gentle digging uncovered incredibly divisive reviews proclaiming this the best under-rated book ever all the way across the spectrum to a steaming pile of trash. That alone would make me let it go.

But it qualifies perfectly for “an underrated/lesser known book” for that challenge I mentioned earlier. And I can get the ebook through Hoopla, which means no risk to me if I hate it. It stays for a very specific purpose.

#9 – Stoner, by John Williams

166997I know I pulled this off a rec list, though judging by the books following it that I added the same day, I can’t quite figure out what the rec list was advocating as a theme, because there seems to be no sense in it.

This “classic” seems to have a cult following even though I’d never heard of it–but then, isn’t that practically the definition of cult media? I’m torn. It sounds like it could be interesting, but it also sounds like it could be dull as bricks. I do want to read more “classics” even though it always seems like a 50-50 chance I’ll hate them. But then if I gave up on classics, I would never have read some of my favorites. With a great sigh, this can stay. But I will DNF it if it looks at me funny in the first 10%.

#10 – My Abandonment, by Peter Rock

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This came from the same list as Stoner above. See what I mean? No clue what the point of the list was.

This, though, I’m not so torn about keeping around. It still sounds interesting in concept, it’s still based on a true story, and though the reviews are decidedly mixed and have myriad complaints, I’m still willing to give it a try. I need to read more outside my comfort zone in general, and hey, look, it’s on Hoopla. It can stay.


I only cut two books out of ten? That doesn’t seem like me. Especially since a lot of these are not-me kind of books. A sign that I’m still trying to grow as a reader? Or am I just being generous with my TBR since I’ve lowered my DNF cutoff this past year from 25% to 10%? It’s a lot easier to try a book out when you’re only committing to 50 pages or less, in most cases.

This Week, I Read… (2019 #50)

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#158 – Wrong to Need You, by Alisha Rai

  • Read: 11/27/19 – 11/30/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (47/48)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

I connected with Sadia and Jackson so much more in this than I did with their romantic predecessors in the first book, and that was enough to bump this up to five stars easily. The things I did not like about this one were small and not really more than quibbles compared to how much I loved it.

First, though, I rarely listen to audiobooks out of personal preference, but that’s how I could get my hands on this through my library, so I did. I did not particularly enjoy the way Sadia’s POV narrator did male voices, so that meant a good deal of Jackson’s dialogue sounded forced and flat. But that’s not the fault of the story itself, so I learned to live with it. Oddly, I found Jackson’s narrator handled female voices a lot better overall, when I usually hate men imitating women. Chalk it up to professional ability, I guess.

If I liked how Rai handled Livvy’s depression in the first book, I love how she handled Sadia’s anxiety here. Anxiety didn’t prevent Sadia from being good at her job, or a good mother, or a good sister–except when it did. For a person who’s never suffered panic attacks, that contradiction might be hard to parse, but not only did Rai write about the panic Sadia suffered as a result of overwhelming circumstances, she also included the worry and stress a panic attack causes when it happens–the sense of failure to live up to expectations and meet obligations, the shame of someone else seeing you in such a state, the worry that others will view you differently once they know. I cried through some scenes, to be perfectly honest. They were that real to me.

As for the romance? The tone is wildly different from the first book, being just about the slowest of slow burns, whereas sex in the first book happened early and often. But I like slow burns just fine, and Jackson was worth waiting for, so to speak. When the heat was on, things got really hot, and in some unexpected ways I definitely appreciated. The emotional side was just as well developed. Jackson might have been distant and closed off at the start, but he was never cold or “robotic” (as he actually describes Nicholas to be) or as much of an asshole, either. He’s not good with words but his actions are generally pretty clear–he lives to support, and eventually love, Sadia.

With that motivation wound into the mystery of why what happened to him re: the arson charges and his complicated family history, I wasn’t nearly as annoyed by the drama-rama this time around, because I was getting resolution to the extensive setup laid out in the first book. Here, it didn’t detract from the story, it enhanced it. Yes, I realize that wouldn’t have been possible without laying the groundwork earlier, but it doesn’t really change my opinion about the first book, because there was just so much of it and it was so tedious keeping it all straight!

And finally, I haven’t read a lot of brother/brother’s widow romances, though I’m aware it and similar situations like it are a subgenre. I’m not weirded out by it personally, though I’m glad it’s acknowledged in a balanced way here. Jackson doesn’t really think it’s wrong for that reason, it’s more about his own relationship with his dead brother than Sadia’s status as a widow. Sadia is weirded out by it, because she’s handling it along the weirdness of the entire situation they’ve gotten themselves into, and I think that’s a perfectly understandable reaction for someone in her position. And Sadia’s sisters, in the big climax of personal acceptance that happens near the end, are all basically “So what?” which is the enlightened, consenting-adults attitude to take. Everyone else generally seems accepting as well, which is a better stance, I think, for the book to take than harping on the “forbidden” aspect and fetishizing it. Which this never did. Especially as Sadia’s son develops a strong relationship with his “uncle” long before it’s clear that Jackson might end up being his step-dad, too. Because making the kid’s relationship with Jackson creepy or complicated would have ruined this in a hurry, but they’re sweet and wholesome and so incredibly adorable.

What can I say, I have a thing for introverted men who don’t do crowds or attention and aren’t alpha-male jerks. I see a fair bit of myself in some parts of Sadia, and given the chance I probably would have fallen for Jackson if he were real and in my life. So what do I have to complain about here? Basically nothing.

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#159 – Hurts to Love You, by Alisha Rai

  • Read: 11/20/19 – 12/2/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (48/48)
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

Such a disappointment after the first two books.

Eve is fine as a main character. Yes, she has some mild social anxiety issues stemming from her self-esteem issues stemming from her abuse. She’s a complex and well-developed character, even if I did find the level of self-affirmation she used to motivate herself irritating. It’s not that the first two books were entirely free of repetitious elements, but this installment was worse, either because there was more of it, or because I noticed it more. How many times can she make her turtle analogies or use the word “like” and “like” about her love interest? It came across as childish, and I know she’s young, but since one of her central struggles is to have her family, and her love interest, not regard her as a child, I think that could have been handled better.

But the real problem is Gabe. I wanted to like him. He’s very likable on the surface. But that’s it, that’s his mask. And he talks frequently about that being his mask. Underneath he’s all pain and brooding about his secret heritage and the complexities of his life because he can’t claim his half-siblings. (Oh, by the way, totally called his secret waaaay before it was revealed. I don’t know what specifically made it obvious to me but it was the only thing that made any sense.)

Eve spends a lot of her time hammering away at that mask, and that’s great, and their chemistry just based on that was fine. But main story ends with us just barely getting to peek at who Gabe could be without it, and without the pain of familial separation, and then BOOM EPILOGUE he’s spilled his secret and everyone knows who he is and it’s all fine.

Um, what? Who did he tell first? Did he get everyone together like an intervention and tell everyone at once? How did they react? Who was surprised and who wasn’t? WHY DID THE MOST INTERESTING PART OF THAT CHARACTER ARC HAPPEN IN A GAP YEAR BETWEEN THE END AND THE EPILOGUE SO I DON’T EVEN GET TO READ ABOUT IT?!?

Also, it’s great to have a large man as a main character who doesn’t come across as intimidating and doesn’t get angry all the time, but Gabe is so soft and forgiving he doesn’t even get mad about things he should very well have a right to get mad about, like Eve lying to him about being Ann the app-service driver. Like, that’s such a huge part of the beginning of the book, then it’s ignored for the entire middle, then at the end he confronts her when he figures it out and one conversation later, where he doesn’t get mad, it’s all totally fine. I thought that was rushed and not entirely believable.

To make their romance worse, a good chunk of the tail end of this book was used to wrap up story lines from the previous two and leave Eve and Gabe by the wayside. Jackson and Sadia get married quietly, sure, fine. Nicholas and Livvy spend a whole chapter hashing out last-minute pre-wedding jitters in a book that’s not focused on them: annoying, but whatever. Then they have a five-month old baby, though, in the epilogue? What? At the end of book two when they get engaged, they insist she’s not pregnant. They plan the wedding for a month after that. Then a year later, they have a five-month old. The math does not add up. Okay, so that “flu” she got that kept her at home right before the wedding was actually morning sickness, then? But her mother and aunt just happened to have the flu the week before providing her a convenient lie? Am I supposed to be reading between these lines or not? Because I was fooled, I honestly thought the “I’m not pregnant” meant “I’m not pregnant,” and it pisses me off on a personal level because myself and so many other women I’ve known get those looks from idiots who think every illness we get means a secret pregnancy we’re hiding and saying “I’m not pregnant” doesn’t mean anything to them because all women lie about that stuff, right?

Okay, that’s a tangent, I haven’t even talked about the age gap yet. I told myself I wasn’t going to because I had enough other issues with this book, but I shouldn’t ignore it. Gabe is 35 and Eve is 24. The math on that barely clears the “half your age plus seven years” rule, if we ignore Gabe’s extra half-year. And there is the argument that since he’s a commitment-phobe and never had a serious relationship, it brings his effective age/experience down a little. Gabe’s single and has a successful business, no kids; Eve is single, has plans to start what will probably be a successful business, no kids. Despite the numerical age difference, they are in similar stages of life, on the large scale. But booooy does Gabe constantly make cracks about how old he is as a defense mechanism against her, which reminds the reader constantly, which either makes it creepy when it didn’t need to be or exacerbates the base level of potential creepiness. [Sudden thought: is that why Eve was such a creeper early on, narratively speaking? To balance the creep factor out between them? Do I really even want to be asking this question? I shouldn’t need to.]

The first half had issues but showed potential, then the second half let me down and the epilogue made me angry.

160 - The Wednesday Letters

#160 – The Wednesday Letters, by Jason F. Wright

  • Read: 12/2/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (105/100); The Reading Frenzy’s Holly Jolly Readathon
  • Task: A book with red and white on the cover
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

I picked this up at a used book sale, three dollars a bag, because it sounded interesting from the blurb and I was paying pennies to try things out.

I should not have bought this book, but sadly I couldn’t know that until I started to read it.

DNF @ page 30, just past my 10% personal minimum cutoff. I finished the chapter I was in the middle of. It was terrible. The chapters before it were terrible.

So we’re introduced to this about-to-die old couple for the first two pages, then immediately the author steers us off into a three-page tangent describing the life story and eccentricities of the only current guest at their bed-and-breakfast. She’s not interesting. She’s not who I was wanting to read about when I opened the book. Why am I reading three pages about her?

That’s the pattern throughout the first ten percent. Introduce a “main” character, talk about them for ten seconds, introduce a side or minor character for flavor and spend pages on them while ignoring the main character. I know less about one of the sons of that dead old couple than I do the Brazilian airport attendant he picked up for a date before his flight home. Their daughter is introduced while she’s phoning both her brothers in succession, and there’s a gun on her kitchen counter that she idly plays with while they talk, and they talk about people in their parents’ lives we don’t really know and probably wouldn’t care about. What I want to know is why their daughter has a gun sitting around on her kitchen counter, thank you very much!

It’s an endless series of diversions, and to make it worse, they’re draped in the most saccharine, pedestrian description. At one point the author spends half a page talking about a Hallmark card, just to make sure you understand that the dead old couple was Hallmark perfect, because this book is trying incredibly hard and incredibly transparently to be a Hallmark movie.

I’m sorry I let this book sit on my shelf for two years taking up valuable space in my TBR when it wasn’t worth the thirty or so cents I paid for it.

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#161 – His Christmas Wish, by Melissa McClone

  • Read: 12/2/19 – 12/3/19
  • Challenge: The Reading Frenzy’s Holly Jolly Readathon
  • Task: A holiday book
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

Bleh. I had good luck with a different McClone Christmas romance as being good without being drenched in the “magic of Christmas” like it was a bad perfume, but this is terrible.

Jake and Carly are both incredibly hot-and-cold with each other about a possible romantic relationship for the entire book. They constantly flip back and forth about what they want, both out loud to each other and internally to themselves. Their friendship is obviously strong–the moments when they’re being “just friends” or working together to provide a good Christmas experience for their friends’ kids are the best parts of the book–but despite the occasional flashes of physical attraction the story kept telling us they were having, there was no chemistry. I simply did not believe these two were actually attracted to each other.

Without that, what’s the point of a romance novel?

Even the tension of Carly moving forward from the losses of her past is mellow and easily solved. She’s consumed by anti-Christmas spirit at the beginning but halfway through, she’s totally cool again, so the story turns to trying to shoehorn her and Jake into a relationship. Then he has to go up on the mountain for a rescue and she freaks out and breaks up with him…except they weren’t even really together yet. Then she leaves town for two weeks and turns around and goes right back when she sees on the news that there’s another rescue going on and Jake could be in danger.

Like I said, constantly flipping back and forth. It’s exhausting.

Oh, and then they get married two months after getting together. Because that’s a good idea. Why is a quickie marriage the epilogue of half the romances I read? I don’t care if they’ve known each other forever, they’ve got serious communication issues and differences in expectations for a romantic relationship, both have been apparent throughout this story, so why is throwing them at an altar supposed to be a happy ending? Even if I cared about them, I’d still think they were headed straight for a divorce because the story has not persuaded me that these two are actually in love with each other.

 

End of the Month Wrap-Up: November 2019!

Writing: Since I just made a post about NaNoWriMo two days ago, I won’t rehash it here other than to say I won! and pat myself on the back one more time. In the “other” writing category, I was more consistent about blog posts than I had been (at least in the sense of putting them up a day late when necessary, rather than skipping them entirely) and I intend to be more diligent about that in the future.

Reading: With my increased project-management skills for NaNo this year, I had more time to read even as I was getting my writing done every day. I read fifteen books in November, a good turnout for a regular month and a fantastic amount for November. (The fewest I’ve read in a November since I started tracking was in 2015, when I only read three books. Which for me is pretty much nothing.) In addition, I finished Mount TBR 2019, set this year at 100 of My Own Damn Books, and the PopSugar 2019 Reading Challenge. I have one year-long challenge left to go, Virtual Mount TBR, 48 books from my TBR that I don’t own (and thus get from the library or borrow from friends,) but I only have one to go, so, pshh, easy peasy.

Crafting: I did not bother to take a new picture of the giant cross-stitch project, because I did not work on it. I haven’t ignored my crafty side completely, I’ve just been busy with Christmas gifts instead, which I won’t enumerate just in case the family members receiving them are still reading this blog. Which I’m almost certain they aren’t, but what a stupid way to spoil something! I’m taking that project with me for the traditional New Year’s visit to my husband’s family, so there will be progress made before the next update, I swear.

Exercise: I was doing great with my running, going out consistently three times a week no matter the weather, even upgrading some of my cold-weather running gear. Then I got sick, because this year’s cold and flu season is already vicious. I haven’t been running since, and I got lazy about yoga again. As soon as my lingering congestion clears up, though, I’ll be back at it.

General mental health: It’s been a good month, coming near the end of a year filled with lots of positive changes. That’s not to say I haven’t been stressed or had days where I felt down, but I can say pretty confidently that both my depression and anxiety symptoms are easing up, and that I’m looking forward to a lot I plan to do in December and in 2020. Things really do get better!

NaNoWriMo 2019: Complete!

NaNo-2019-Winner-Twitter-Header

I’m wrapping up NaNo 2019 this year with 60,761 words on an entirely new project that is not even close to finished. This is my fifth consecutive year participating, and my fifth win. (I’ve won in prior years as well, but for fun back in college, long before I adopted this pseudonym or had this blog or published anything for public consumption.)

nano 2019 progression

I was ahead of the standard curve from the first day and built myself enough cushion early on to absorb the days when I didn’t have time to write at least 1,667 words. In fact, I planned that into my goals for the first time, this year: I set the goal of only 444 words on days I worked double shifts. That’s the minimum count to maintain a daily streak on 4thewords, which I’ve been using for six months now!

nano 2019 daily word count

My daily word count ranged from 521 at the low end to 3,963 at the high end. While the new NaNoWriMo site has carried over past projects for basic lifetime totals, the daily stats for them are gone, but I’m 99% sure I broke the 4K/day barrier on past projects, so this one was not record setting. Nor is it my highest total word count (that was back in 2015 with What We Need to Decide when I hit 65K.) But I did write every day and update every day, and honestly, I think that might be a first. I usually miss at least one day somewhere along the way, but realistic and flexible daily goals helped a great deal when I was facing a lack of motivation to write.

So did bringing a journal to work, to allow me to squeeze out a few sentences here and there during down time.

I’ll be honest, from story perspective, this project is a mess. I’ve got a muddled and over-long beginning burdened with too much character introspection, a slow middle, then a huge gap of time I skipped over to get to the first culmination of the romance, where my two lovebirds finally admit something more than friendship is going on. Then I’ve got a few solid scenes following that, but no “final” conflict to threaten their happiness, and I certainly don’t have an ending.

The good thing? I’m fully aware of the flaws in this project, and I’m going to spend December filling in those gaps to finish the first draft.

This time last year, since I started my new project for Fictober, NaNo was about finishing it, so I was done by now. I wish I’d been able to do that again this year, because trying to finish a novel draft, even the first draft, around the holidays is not ideal timing for me. I’ve got mountains of cookies to bake! But I’m going to do it. I’m going to keep my same flexible daily goals depending on my word schedule. I’m going to keep updating my project on the NaNo site (assuming the new layout supports that, it did in years past); I’m going to keep myself accountable on my social media with the daily updates on Tumblr.

I am going to finish this project, dammit.

I’ll let you know towards the end of the year how it’s going, but NaNoWriMo itself is over, so that’s all for now!

 

This Week, I Read… (2019 #49)

155 - Abaddon's Gate.jpg

#155 – Abaddon’s Gate, by James S.A. Corey

  • Read: 11/20/19 – 11/24/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (102/100)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

Welcome to the Expanse, where the science is hard, gravity is always a concern, and inertia is the biggest bitch in the universe who kills more people than guns ever could.

I loved it, though being a show-watcher first, this was the first book in the series to throw me a serious curve ball, when I was like, “Wait, who’s Bull? I don’t recognize this guy.” It didn’t take me too long to figure out that he was replaced on television with Drummer, who I know from reading a comparative timeline doesn’t actually show up for a while yet. And I like Drummer on the show just fine, but I like Bull too. He’s a pragmatist in all ways except his own personal safety, and I admired that.

I was also thrown by knowing right up front who Melba really was. Her first chapter is incredibly upfront about her dual identity and her purpose, and having her as a clear antagonist from the get-go was a different story experience, one that the show (to some degree) traded for much more screen time with Captain Ashford. (Which, don’t get me wrong, was a good call, because if you get an accomplished and veteran actor like David Straithearn to play your other bad guy, keep the camera on him, please.)

What continues to impress me about the Expanse is its excellent pacing and scope of escalation. First the protomolecule is a mystery, then it’s a threat because it was weaponized via human hands, now its true purpose turns out to be opening up a gate that needs to be investigated.

Then in this installment we get the plot bomb dropped that whatever civilization made the protomolecule was wiped out by something stronger. That may seem an obvious next step, but we spent two books establishing just how powerful, wacky, and alien the protomolecule was, and thus how powerful, wacky, and alien its creators are. Only now it’s how they must have been, once, because it looks like they’re gone.

I had the same sinking feeling in my gut then that I did after reading Lord of the Rings and finding out, after the fact, that Shelob wasn’t even close to the biggest and scariest spider monster in universe. As if that weren’t bad enough, Sauron wasn’t even the strongest Big Bad, a fact I learned only moments later. It was mind blowing, and I’m not exaggerating. I bought myself a copy of The Silmarillion not too long after to find out more, only to be horribly bored by the dry and factual approach to building a mythos. But that’s another review.

So this epiphany could have read like a poor bait-and-switch, but it doesn’t. And to further appreciate the pacing, it did not escape my notice that Holden’s awe-inspiring, come-to-God-and-the-Universe moment came at exactly halfway through the book. Midpoint climax, baby! That’s some good stuff.

Maaaaybe the big battle at the end for control of the Behemoth dragged on longer than truly necessary, but if that’s my only quibble, it’s a small one. It still brought everyone’s story lines together in a convincing and satisfying way.

156 - Proof by Seduction

#156 – Proof by Seduction, by Courtney Milan

  • Read: 11/24/19 – 11/25/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (103/100)
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

Okay, but not nearly as good as I was hoping. Because of finding both this and its sequel and used book sales, but in the wrong order, I actually read the second book two years ago and quite enjoyed it, but going back to fill in the first half of Ned’s story wasn’t as worthwhile as I had hoped it would be.

And that’s only half of the “meh, it was okay” equation. Jenny and Gareth’s romance was more stereotypical than I’ve come to expect from Milan’s work, with a brooding alpha male and a secretive heroine falling in lust with each other while also seeming to hate each other’s guts. Technically it’s enemies-to-lovers, but it also kind of doesn’t feel that way, somehow? Maybe because the lust is instant, and in those types of stories I expect the enemies part to stand up for longer before they give in to the lust.

My point is, the pacing felt off. And the bit at the end when Gareth is confronted with how horrible a childhood Jenny had and that explains/excuses a lot of her behaviors…meh, I just didn’t care for it.

As for the major subplot of the novel, Ned and his mistakes, I loved Ned in his own story in the next book but he is an absolute buffoon here. I get it, he’s young and no one has expected much of him. But despite this not being “his” story overall, I saw very little of the protagonist in him that I know we get later, and if I *had* read the books in order, I honestly might not have liked the second one as much because I would have had trouble believing they were the same man. Even if, to some degree, that’s the point–Ned grows up–but still, they’re almost unrecognizable as the same character.

So reading them backwards is not recommended, but reading them correctly maybe not either? Just try one of Milan’s other series instead, honestly.

157 - Hate to Want You

#157 – Hate to Want You, by Alisha Rai

  • Read: 11/26/19 – 11/27/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (104/100)
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

A romance that is fantastic in almost every respect. Diversity, respect for mental illness, realistic flaws in both main characters, honest but confused attempts to move past their past.

The major problem I had was that their past was SUCH a big part of the story. Setting up inter-family history and dynamics this complicated, to set the stage for and justify such an unhealthy lovers-to-exes-to-yearly-hookups relationship, required a lot more page space than I think the back story actually deserved. Every time things might have been looking up for our lovebirds, their families intruded somehow and mucked things up.

Not that they didn’t do plenty of mucking up themselves, they’re both hot messes, but those internal conflicts felt much more real and developed, while the family/external conflicts often felt unnatural and forced.

The handling of Livvy’s depression, though, I really liked. Though her episodes manifest differently from mine, I still related to a lot of how she felt, and even if the experience isn’t the same it’s still amazing to me to see depression in a romance treated with gravity instead of a mere flavor to someone’s personality.