This Week, I Read… (2018 #37)

127 - The Left Hand of Darkness

#127 – The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin

The best of all the Hainish Cycle books I’ve read so far.

I first read this many years ago, and what I remembered most coming back to this was the beautifully desolate trek Genly Ai and Estraven take across the Ice, as well as the pangs of an almost-romance that had to remain a friendship, because of the alienness of each to the other.

The first time I read it, I was neither politically saavy enough, nor aware/educated enough in nonbinary gender issues, to truly grasp the magnitude of what Le Guin set out to accomplish with this novel. Years later, it turns out the politics of Ai’s status as Envoy were actually pretty simple to follow, but the vast ocean of gender politics remains deep and intriguing. This novel is one of the few in the sci-fi canon that, to me, truly embody an alien viewpoint, that has created what is undoubtedly Other.

And yet, Estraven, as a proxy for his people, is so relatable, so human, that the extrapolation of a society without true gender, and thus without gender roles, becomes possible. The Gethenians are a hard people, shaped by an unforgiving planet, and yet they are also generous in hospitality. Their societal structure is odd, even when their forms of government seems recognizable: the two countries Ai visits are a monarchy and a bureaucracy, but the peoples they oversee live quite different lives than we do, as the idea of a nuclear family is absent from both nations.

In addition, their unspoken codes of honor and etiquette, shifgrethor, never fail to fascinate me; the way Estraven and Ai can both have the best of intentions, even work toward the same purpose, and yet be at odds with each other because one can’t understand the core principles of the other. This is not a shallow culture clash, but a foreshadowing in miniature of the difficulties the Gethenians, as a planet, will likely experience in joining the Ekumen, Le Guin’s epic League of Worlds that spans all the works of the Hainish Cycle.

Every detail, every theme, stands up to close inspection as vital and thought-provoking. You could examine this story from any angle and come up with something worth further contemplation.

128 - The Professor and the Madman

#128 – The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester

The good part: the process of dictionary-making, especially something as ambitious and complex as the OED, is simply fascinating to me. Winchester provides a solid overview of the history behind it, as well as the problems inherent in Murray’s system, and a detailed explanation of how elegantly revolutionary Dr. Minor’s contributions were.

Fortunately, this was the biggest chunk of the book.

The bad part: basically everything else, but the worst to me, by far, is the end, with its rampant, unsupported speculation about Dr. Minor, the causes and triggers of his mental illness, and the tenor of his relationships to several people in his life; including hypothesizing that Minor was driven (further) mad by harboring desires for the widow of the man he murdered.

What? When did this go from “Nonfiction – History” to “Speculative Fiction?”

I could deal with the high-falutin’ wordiness of Winchester’s style, especially when the book is literally about lexicography. But I can’t deal with deliberate sensationalism, so it’s disappointing that this book is so badly marred by it at the end.

129 - A Passionate Man

#129 – A Passionate Man, by Joanna Trollope

DNF @ page 40. I wanted to stop sooner, but I try to read at least 10% of a book before I ditch it.

I didn’t like the writing style. I couldn’t connect with any of the characters. And two things revealed in the story early on bothered the *#$@ out of me.

First: the “happy couple” origin story is a major red flag. Archie meets Liza at her own engagement party, and over the next ten days he woos her away from her fiance. Then they go on a two-week vacation together, presumably to bang like bunnies, then they get married. I’m guessing this whirlwind romance is supposed to impress upon me how “passionate” Archie is? But really, stealing someone’s betrothed is terrible, and Liza’s pretty terrible for going along with it, and I’m thoroughly impressed alright–WITH HOW WRONG THIS IS.

If there were some sort of mitigating circumstances around her original fiance, like he’s abusive and she’s trapped in that relationship, or it’s a sham marriage for money or ANYTHING like that, that would be one thing, but for all we the readers know at that point, he and Liza were perfectly happy together before Archie showed up.

Second: if that near-miss adultery wasn’t enough, one of Liza’s (much younger but still adult) coworkers is depicted as fawning over her constantly. She acknowledges in POV narrative that he’s got a crush on her, and tries to tell herself it’s harmless flirting, and she even flirts back–but whatever we’re supposed to believe she thinks, the whole scene just screams incipient adultery to me.

ADULTERY IS NOT INHERENTLY INTERESTING. I WILL KEEP SHOUTING THIS IN REVIEWS WHENEVER I SEE IT UNTIL THE WORLD PAYS ATTENTION. I DO NOT WANT TO READ ABOUT IT.

So I’m not.

Maybe I’m wrong and Liza doesn’t cheat, but even so, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on a good book if I stop now, because I already didn’t like it.

130 - To All the Boys I've Loved Before

#130 – To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, by Jenny Han

  • Read: 9/19/18
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

I read this in one sitting. That’s how much I loved it.

I am not Lara, and she is not me, but I get her. I can see echoes of myself in the way her fears manifest, the way she flirts without even realizing she is (a common mistake of mine at that age,) and in her desperate need to do everything right.

When I can empathize with a character’s flaws as deeply as their strengths, I know I’ve got a good protagonist on my hands.

And yeah, Peter’s pretty cool, too.

I’m not usually a fan of love triangles, but this is barely one, because Josh was obviously never a real option; but the tension that arises out of him thinking he could be kept the story moving at a good clip.

In fact, the pacing might be my only (minor) complaint. Sometimes I would turn a page and see the chapter was over and think, what? Some scenes were short to the point of abruptness, and they didn’t always end in a way that felt natural. Compared to how much I loved everything else, though, this is just a nitpick.

131 - Queen of Broken Hearts

#131 – Queen of Broken Hearts, by Cassandra King

In media res is a valid strategy for opening a book, but not if you constantly allude to the backstory, circling around and around it, without ever explaining it.

DNF @ 10%, page 51, without a single sign of a real plot in sight.

Sure, there are tons of characters. But not one of them in ever introduced. I started to wonder if this was second in a series, because that’s how obtuse everything was–I was simply supposed to know who all these people in this small town were, just like I was the main character.

But I don’t? And it isn’t.

The most I was able to put together was that Clare, our MC, had two really good male “friends” (most of the fifty pages I read were spent in laboriously drawn-out conversation with one or the other) who were going to be the spokes of her love triangle. That was clear. But the story opens with her desperately trying to avoid this guy, this awful, terrible guy, but who he is to her is not made at all clear. Eventually she mentions that she went to college with him and Dory (his wife) and Mack (??? except that he’s dead.) But then who is Dory? Why is Clare so concerned that she got back together with her husband? Why is he so awful?

I know the answers to none of these things, but I know a lot about drinking wine at four in the afternoon in a garden. The atmosphere is so folksy I couldn’t stand it.

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Editing Notes: The Problem with “It”

Let me state, right up front, that I’m not suggesting banning “it” from all writing. There’s a reason it (the word) has its (the possessive) place in the English language. There is need for a non-personal pronoun to take the place of a longer word or phrase.

We clear? Okay.

Too often, however, “it” becomes a crutch, a convenience. How many sentences in your collective first drafts begin with “It is” or “It was” or “It seemed?”

It was sunny.

Okay, what was sunny? What thing or concept is “it” replacing here? The weather.

The weather was sunny.

Better, but still a boring sentence. If you judge this point in your narrative a good time for telling rather than showing, because you’re keeping the pace tight, you can stop here. If not, let’s take a crack at this again.

The sunlight shocked my eyes as I stepped out of the dim, dusty antique shop.

…or, you know, whatever your character was doing or experiencing that made the sun worth mentioning in the first place.

So there’s your first case of “it” problem: telling. There are times when a simple declarative statement like the original is the best choice, stylistically or in terms of pacing. But when you’re rewriting, look for instances of “it” that offer you a chance to enrich your setting or characters with description.

Problem #2: transposition.

It was hard to believe in herself.

Starting a sentence like this with “it” both renders it passive and puts the meaning of the pronoun after the pronoun itself. While this is a common and understandable construction–most readers wouldn’t quibble over it–leading with the meaning is usually stronger.

Believing in herself was hard.

Bringing the meat of the sentence forward, ahead of the verb, is the simplest solution, but again, this is a straightforward line edit; there’s further you could go.

Whenever Poppy told herself she had the strength to go on, she had to fight the constriction of her chest denying her a full breath of air.

This is another case of telling vs. showing, of course, and so another opportunity to turn an “it” into story-enriching action or detail.

Problem #3: straight-up filler.

She looked up, hoping it was a waitress finally getting around to taking her drink order.

“It” in this case refers to a shadow falling over “she”–I stole this line from my current WIP, #rockstarnovel.

So “it” is clearly referring back to something, which means it’s doing its job. But it’s also not necessary with an easy change.

She looked up, hoping a waitress had finally gotten around to taking her drink order.

Let the waitress be a person instead of a prop–give her a verb!

You could also say “a waitress was finally getting around” instead; while the tense of the overall story is past, the action the waitress takes is present tense within the narrative. That’s just a question of style–I think past perfect emphasizes the MC’s annoyance at waiting to be served.


There are more ways the insidious “it” can work itself into our writing in lazy, unnecessary ways–I’m not trying to provide an exhaustive list, and the problems any given writer encounters will depend on their style.

But in the rewriting phase, ask yourself this question whenever you see “it”: would this sentence be served better by using action or description in its place?

And when you’re down to nuts and bolts in line editing, ask yourself: can I remove or replace “it” in order to improve the sentence’s flow or make the meaning more clear?

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Fall 2018 TBR

Unread 2016 Physical Books

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Early this summer, I reorganized the bookcase in my reading nook. The top of the case became devoted to my remaining unread acquired-in-2016 collection.

Without saying anything to anyone about it, I made myself an alphabet challenge out of them–if you wanted to look back through the last few months’ worth of reviews, you might notice that the Mount-TBR-only books appear in (roughly) alphabetical order, with some letters missing. I’m on “P” now–not pictured (because it’s in a different pile, a more immediate TBR spot) is A Passionate Man, by Joanna Trollope, which I’ll get too soon, when I’m done with the TBR I’ve already set myself for September for various challenges.

The horizontal pile on the left is the rest of the alphabet:

  • 1 – Queen of Broken Hearts, by Cassandra King
  • 2 – The Secret Place, by Tana French
  • 3 – A Tapestry of Dreams, by Roberta Gellis
  • 4 – The Unconsoled, by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • 5 – The Voyage of the Narwhal, by Andrea Barrett
  • 6 – Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen

So there’s my first six, no problem.

Ideally, I’d like to get through all of these by the end of the year. Giving them their own highly-visible shelf, and setting the alphabet challenge up within Mount TBR, went a long way toward motivating myself to read these, when many of them have been languishing for almost to more than two years, depending on when in 2016 I got them. Either they didn’t fit into challenge categories (like for PopSugar) or they just weren’t as immediately appealing as their contemporaries, or even books I got in 2017 or this year.

For the first time since 2016, actually, my physical unread collection is smaller than my digital one. Only by a few books, and only since last week, but it’s progress!

From the others, there are quite a few possibilities to fill out the Top Ten, so I had to do some serious consideration.

  • 7 – Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn. I loved Gone Girl, but maybe I’ve been nervous to pick up this one in case I’m disappointed by it. I should just give it a try anyway.
  • 8 – The Birth of Venus, by Sarah Dunant. I’d actually bought three Dunant books, used, before I read a single one of them–this is the third. Now that I’ve read and quite enjoyed the other two, I should make time for this.
  • 9 – Atmospheric Disturbances, by Rivka Galchen. I picked this up out of curiosity based solely on its fantastic and unusual cover art; but until very recently, it held the distinction of the worst-rated unread book of my collection on Goodreads, with a measly 3.15 average star rating. (I bought a book, this year, that turned up with a slightly-worse 3.12.) Honestly, I’m just curious about why it’s so bad? Or if it really is, because heck, maybe I’ll like it.
  • 10 – Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett. Going by actual time on my shelves, this is the second-oldest, which means I should get to it before it gets any older. (Oldest is The Unconsoled, already on the list, and only older by a few weeks anyway.) It does sound interesting, yet, never quite interesting enough to be my next read spontaneously.

 

This Week, I Read… (2018 #36)

124 - The Trial

#124 – The Trial, by Franz Kafka

After the first fifty pages, I could see clearly that this story is a brilliant metaphor for the absolute ineptitude of governmental bureaucracy. I said as much to my husband, then added, “But I’m already bored. Does it really need to be three hundred pages long?”

He answered, quite firmly, “Yes.”

I see his point. The longer the absurdity that stands in for real plot goes on, the stronger the metaphor gets.

Of course, that comes at the cost of reader enjoyment, because my word, the stiff prose and silliness that engaged me at the beginning with that absurdity drove me half out of my mind by the time I was done.

Finishing this was an exercise in masochism, and I don’t recommend it.

125 - Saving Fish from Drowning

#125 – Saving Fish From Drowning, by Amy Tan

A book of massive contradictions.

On a page-by-page basis, I often found this quite enjoyable. By setting up the narrator as omniscient via being dead, Tan was free to dive deep into the characters’ heads in search of knowledge and emotion that the reader couldn’t have known otherwise. Some of the page-long asides about minor characters were interesting mini stories.

But that led to a disturbing lack of personality on the outside of the characters, who made few decisions and took few actions. Everything happened to them, rather than because of them. Unless you count absolute stupidity/gullibility across the board as the primary motivator.

Seriously, these idiots will go along with anything. Twelve people in an ensemble cast are all that stupid about traveling safely? Really?

Yet there’s a contradiction inherent in that too, because one of the things I did enjoy about the book, even though it’s not to my home country’s credit, is the accuracy of the portrayal of Americans abroad. The struggle between desiring luxury and craving authenticity. The arrogance and ignorance. The expectation that the world should cater to them, contrasted with the genuine humanitarian desire to help those they see as suffering–even when that “suffering” is simply not living by the same first-world standards, and not any real misery or squalor. (Though, obviously, the suffering is sometimes incredibly real.)

By the time I reached the end of the book, I was disappointed by my lack of connection to any of these selfish/stupid people (with the possible exception of young Esme and her puppy), and the movie-style montage “where are they now” wrap-ups for the major characters left me cold. Near the beginning, the tone was that of a comedy of errors, broadly winking at the audience, yet I never found any of the mishaps funny; at the end, finally discovering the cause of the narrator’s death didn’t satisfy me. I don’t know if this book would have been better if it had taken itself more seriously, but I wish it had tried.

126 - The Lace Reader

#126 – The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Barry

  • Read: 9/11/18 – 9/13/18
  • Challenge: The Reading Frenzy’s Pick It For Me Challenge
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

A lovely, disturbing, and surprising read.

Some people undoubtedly read this and predicted the twist–I did not. The clues were there, I saw quite a few warning flags for troubled waters ahead, so I knew something was up. But the shape it ended up taking was not any of the half-formed then discarded ideas I’d left by the wayside as I read.

This is not a novel for the faint of heart, dealing as it does with domestic abuse and sexual trauma. But to keep those dark aspects in balance, it’s also got a lot to say about family, sisterhood both in the direct sense and the communal one, and making peace with yourself.

It did start slowly, enough that I was questioning the pace, and the heavy reliance on place-setting the narrative in a semi-fictional Salem, Massachusetts. Once I got past the first hints of mystery, though, I was hooked–I read from page 100 to the end in one afternoon.

Many of the questions I had throughout are firmly settled at the end, which I appreciate–but quite a few things are still tugging at the edges of my brain, asking me to put the pieces together myself. Which is great–I look forward to rereading it from a more writerly perspective to study the foreshadowing, story structure, and the skill with which Barry crafted a truly unreliable narrator.

Writing Homework #17: Do Something New

scuba-diving-753009_1920

I’ve never been scuba diving, for a number of reasons. I’m a decent swimmer and I love being in the water, but diving safely requires some training and a lot of expensive equipment (even renting isn’t cheap.)

Also, it helps to live somewhere with a body of water worth diving in. Which I don’t.

If I were doing research for a book that involved characters scuba diving, I’d have to fall back on doing lots of research online; watching videos and reading articles and all that jazz. And I’m glad I have access to that–the Internet is a freaking miracle goldmine filled with rainbows.

But if I could, I’d rather experience it myself. Nothing can fully replicate the knowledge I’d gain and the observations I’d make if I really went diving.

With that in mind, here’s this month’s assignment.

Do something you’ve never done before, then write about it.

This is vague, I know, but it’s meant to be. I can’t know what you already know how to do, or places you’ve already been.

Use this as a spur to visit the zoo and participate in a feeding–I’ve never done that either, even though at the Detroit Zoo you can feed the giraffes!

Or teach yourself a new craft and document the process. Describe what came easily and what you had the most trouble with.

Go to your local coffee shop and order a drink you’ve never had before. Write about how it tastes.

Call one of your Congresspeople, if you never have, and tell the nice staffer who answers whatever you feel about a pressing political issue. Or go to a local town hall meeting. Write about how you felt getting involved; write about what other people said at the meeting and the impression you got of them.

Whatever it is that you choose to do, notice the details of as many senses as possible. Smell might be more obvious at the zoo or a garden than that town hall meeting, but what if it isn’t? The meeting room could smell like coffee, or carpet cleaner, or too many bodies packed into a small space.

When you write, focus on the personal. What did you see or hear that another person might not have noticed, or wouldn’t think to mention if they were telling you about it? How did the environment affect you as an individual? What made your experience unique?

So, if you can go scuba diving, do it for my sake, who can’t, and tell me all about it. Everyone else, take a little time to have a small adventure (even a tiny one) and write about what you did.

 

Down the TBR Hole #10

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?

It’s time, once again, to clean house. Last month I tweaked my format a bit, and now I’m going to tweak it a bit more–I’m going to pass over books I already own, since I so rarely decide to get rid of them unread.

This will help speed up the process and avoid obviously superfluous entries on the list.

Here we go!

#1 – Deadgirl: Ghostlight, by B.C. Johnson

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00030]I’m reasonably sure I stumbled across a recommendation post for this on Tumblr, and that’s why it went on the TBR. I didn’t know it was actually the second in a series, so I wouldn’t jump in here, but get the first, Deadgirl, instead.

However, despite the first book getting some pretty glowing reviews, it doesn’t seem that appealing to me. I wish I could remember how Ghostlight was presented so that the plot intrigued me, but I can’t.

That’s what this meme is for, anyway–weeding out the books you can’t remember why you wanted to read! It goes.

#2 – Shadowfell, by Juliet Marillier

8452340Marillier is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve read many of her books. Yet somehow, I missed her forays in YA.

The plot given in the synopsis seems cookie-cutter generic, but there’s still little chance I’d pass this by forever. It’s got romance, magic, the Good Folk, and an evil king to overthrow. I like all of that in her other works, so why not this one?

It stays. Not sure how soon I’ll get it it since I already have another new-to-me Marillier series on my shelves already, but someday, I will read this.

#3 – Night Owl, by M. Pierce

20646604First thing I notice, looking at this again: it’s a little creepy that the pen name of one of the characters (given in the synopsis) is the same as the author. Big red flag for a self-insert character.

Then, prominently featured in several reviews (both positive and negative) is the fact that both leads are cheating on a partner while involved in this “steamy, erotic” writing-buddies-to-fuck-buddies relationship.

CHEATERS NEED NOT APPLY FOR MY PRECIOUS READING TIME. THIS GOES.

#4 – Iron Cast, by Destiny Soria

28818313Teenage girls as stage magicians who have actual magic, set in Boston in the 1910’s?

Sign me up!

This got my attention just after its release with a great deal of positive hype on social media, and I’m always up for good YA fantasy.

It stays.

 

#5 – Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor

28145767I loved Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, enough to be excited for this release. Yet, when it came out, I was buried in Mount TBR books and this fell by the wayside.

It stays, no question of that. I’m an absolute fool for anything fictional involving dreams as a key element.

Now I’m excited all over again, and I have to invoke my book-buying ban to stop me from getting this now.

 

 

#6 – And I Darken, by Kiersten White

25324111This got a lot of positive buzz for being historical fantasy set in Romania, which doesn’t get a lot of coverage on the world stage of fiction.

However, I’ve read a lot of deeply charged criticism of it from Romanian reviewers. A few think it’s an allowable twisting of the history to suit the story, but most strongly disagree.

My friends’ reviews are across the spectrum, from “it was amazing” to “this is the slowest, most boring thing ever.”

So I’ll trust the #ownvoices reviewers and let this one go.

#7 – Lumberjanes

25088104This sounds incredibly appealing, all girl-power magical ass-kicking, so I was tempted to just keep it with no further consideration.

But comics are expensive, yo.

With the Kindle editions of each issue priced at $1.99, this would be a serious outlay.

Hoopla to the rescue! I didn’t check the availability of the entire series, but my library definitely has the first couple, which will be enough to either get me hooked or prove I’m not interested. It stays.

#8 – Once a Cop: The Street, the Law, Two Worlds, One Man, by Corey Pegues

30196003The author was a guest on The Daily Show two years ago, and I made it a point (when I was still watching it) to add the books of any guest authors who gave good interviews.

A memoir from a former drug dealer turned cop, and a black cop in New York City at that, this feels like a book I should read. My (quite small) (predominately white) community hasn’t been noticeably affected by the rising tension toward police, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t something I shouldn’t educate myself about.

It stays.

#9 – A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray

3682From what I’ve seen about this book, it’s polarizing, a love-it-or-hate-it situation. My Goodreads friends generally think pretty highly of it; all their ratings are 3 to 5 stars. But the one-star reviews are particularly scathing.

The synopsis is definitely a checklist of things I like; gothic sensibilities, a character going through displacement, supernatural elements and a mild hint of mystery.

Looks like it might be fun. It can stay.

 

#10 – Wasted Words, by Staci Hart

29589501This is a nice surprise, actually. I came across this on a rom-com recommendation list, but I didn’t buy it. Since then, I picked up another Staci Hart book for free, read it, and ABSOLUTELY FREAKING ADORED IT.

Even if this hadn’t intrigued me by being a modern take on Jane Austen’s Emma, I’d still want to read it just because I was so impressed with my first book by this author.

IT STAYS AND NOW I WANT TO READ IT RIGHT ASAP.

 


Three out of ten, this time out, isn’t bad. I don’t want to cut ruthlessly, because I was interested in these books at one point, right? As always, if you’ve read any of these and have an opinion to share, I’d love to hear it, leave me a comment!

This Week, I Read… (2018 #35)

121 - Magic Rises

#121 – Magic Rises, by Ilona Andrews

  • Read: 8/30/18 – 8/31/18
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

The farther I get into this series, the more impressed I am at how much the stakes can still be raised, both in the main story and in Kate’s romance.

Talking about anything specific at this point would be incredible spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read the earlier books, but damn, did things get interesting, especially getting to travel outside Atlanta! It’s no vacation, though.

Looking forward to the next book, as always.

122 - The Dead Zone

#122 – The Dead Zone, by Stephen King

This was a far more slow, lumbering beast of a political novel than I was expecting.

I wanted to read this mostly because of the section of On Writing where King talks about it and his oft-used method of plotting: setting two wildly different characters on a dramatic collision course (which I thought he used pretty successfully in the much-later-written Mr. Mercedes.)

So I was thrown by the inclusion of the third “main” character, the mysterious killer. It was clear to me quickly that he and Stillson were not the same person, so it wasn’t a matter of conflation, just confusion. The climax of that subplot ended up falling flat for me, though I’m not entirely sure why. Over too quickly, maybe?

I also felt this was weighed down by digressions into the political climate of the US in the ’70s. I wasn’t born until 1980, I wasn’t around then, so I only knew a few of the names that were dropped, and a little of the history–I admit, it’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around a citizenship that laughed at the idea of Reagan running for president, given that he was the Prez I grew up with. The heart of my objection isn’t that I couldn’t understand the book without that knowledge–it’s that I could. The conflict between Johnny and Stillson is perfectly understandable regardless of time or place; in fact, a lot of the political strife seemed like a mild precursor, a prediction of US politics today. And if it wasn’t clear enough why Johnny came to the end he did, there’s plenty of “would you change history if you could” speculation leading up to the climax, in case anyone had missed the point before then. Sometimes, as a reader, I do need the author to hold my hand for a while, but this was more like a death grip.

I don’t think this book has aged well.

123 - Gates of Thread and Stone

#123 – Gates of Thread and Stone, by Lori M. Lee

  • Read: 9/4/18 – 9/6/18
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (111/150); The Reading Frenzy’s Pick It For Me Challenge
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

This started out Generic as hell and didn’t show much originality until the final chapters, when I became frustrated with it for other reasons.

Plucky Heroine with early-childhood amnesia loses Important Male Figure (her “brother,” in this case) and has to rescue him from Someone Presumably Evil in a world where there’s only one of anything so all Nouns can be Capitalized.

Male Best Friend/Protector goes with her, of course, because a) he’s in love with her, and b) the plot needs him to. It turns out there is actually a reason for this, but oh, yeah, by the way, because of that reason he’s been lying to her the whole time.

So, then there’s the Infinite. Since we first hear of Death, and then the first one we meet is Famine, I hope I can be forgiven for thinking this was some fantasy world built around the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which, while not at all a new idea, is at least something I haven’t seen in YA fantasy specifically. But the world built around them didn’t really fit.

Later, others are mentioned or met: Conquest, Strife, and most notably hole-puncturing to my first assumption, Peace and Time. Turns out there’s seventy of them.

Okay, but… even with the constant reminders that the Infinite aren’t supposed to be interfering with human affairs, and that Death was just fixing the problems her rebellious youngest sibling was causing by doing just that–well, the world simply isn’t big enough to support that concept, for me. There’s one city, in a gargoyle-filled wasteland that can apparently be ridden across in a single day, and then there’s a narrow strip of forest separating them from “the Void.” (I actually laughed out loud seeing the map at the beginning, because it’s so simple and empty.)

Where are the other people? Where are the farms and ranches producing the food they eat? If they don’t grow their own crops and raise their own stock, then who are they trading with for that food, since they’re apparently completely isolated? They have a weird form of magical energy related to blood, but people can’t make blood to draw to make the energy stones to power things IF YOU DON’T FEED THEM.

So I’ve ranted a lot about what amounts to inadequate world-building. Let me take a second to focus on the one, singular good thing I found about two-thirds of the way through.

A canonically bisexual male YA love interest. I’m glad I was sitting down, because there are so few of them. At first, I was put off–Avan’s sexual history in the narrative was closely tied to the story of his abusive family life, made tragic by how he was rumored to go home with whoever wanted him, just to have a safe place to sleep. So while I’m applauding a male character having the kind of trauma usually reserved for women, I was simultaneously cringing at the idea of pragmatic, and thus not genuine, bisexuality. But then light broke through the dark clouds, and in a tender moment, Avan revealed that he truly didn’t have a preference, and that “it isn’t always about gender.”

Too bad he died. I was ready to throw the book across the room with a shout of “stop burying your gays!” but I was only a few pages from the end, so I pushed on.

Too bad he got resurrected as one of the Infinite (to replace the one his girly-love killed) and now has no clear memory of his human self and his all-too-human feelings.

FUCK THAT NOISE. After suffering through a truly transparent and pointless love triangle in order to see Kai and Avan act on their feelings, I deserved better than a deliberately bittersweet ending where Kai is clinging to the slimmest sliver of hope that maybe she can get Avan back.