#46 – Rocannon’s World, by Ursula K. Le Guin
While this is the third book in the Hainish Cycle according to the setting’s internal chronology, it’s actually Le Guin’s first novel, and it shows in the quality. The sparseness of detail and direct action I’m used to from rereading my beloved Earthsea books is there–but I didn’t see the same depth of story or worldbuilding. In fact, since one of the intelligent races of the planet is man-like, another vaguely dwarf-like, and a third vaguely elf-like, it wasn’t hard to see the strong influence of Tolkien and his (unintentional but lasting) codification of basic fantasy races.
The only stretch of the book that really kept me engaged was when the worldbuilding diverged from that standard model, introducing an insectoid species that seemed to have a considerable civilization, yet only interacted with the other beings on the planet by draining them of their life-force, trapped in the massive domes of their cities.
The story is a pressing journey cloaked with a thin layer of anthropology and a hefty dose of myth-in-the-making. I didn’t think it was terrible, but I did find myself unexcited to go back to it after I’d started, which is why so short a book still took me four days to read.
#47 – Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
There’s a lot I can forgive the text in terms of laborious exposition and slow pacing, because hey, this isn’t even as wordy as Jane Eyre and look how much I love that bloated beast.
What I found harder to take was simply the melodrama of it all. Each character, regardless of their other traits, seems to suffer the same high-strung excess of emotion. If this were limited to Victor, who by far is the worst of the bunch but also has the best reasons, I could believe it. And I don’t expect the monster to have mastered control of himself since he’s essentially a toddler trying to be an adult. But Walton, Victor’s family, Henry–they too make decisions based on nothing more than impulse and vitriol, which gave everything a kind of sameness of attitude.
The thematic elements are what stuck with me throughout this, more than its cumbersome style. There came a moment, when Victor began to relate the monster’s tale to Walton as it had been told to him when he met his creation, when I realized that the entire narrative had been (and likely would be) one character telling another their tale. We begin with Walton writing his sister letters detailing his expedition. Next comes Victor’s rescue, and his recitation of events to Walton, including the monster’s tale nested within it. We the reader can only know what has happened through the words of a storyteller sharing them, and that reinforces Victor’s crime in turning away from his creation at its birth. If Victor had not, if he had sheltered and taught the monster instead of recoiling in terror and fleeing, everything would have changed, and likely no crimes would have ever been committed, no trials, no hangings. All the monster wanted was human connection, and the structure of the story brilliantly echoes the necessity of that connection in, and through, storytelling.
#48 – With a Twist, by Staci Hart
Y’all know I’m hyper-critical of my own genre, because there are so many half-assed romances out there. But this one, guys, this one.
It soothed so many sore spots for me. It’s friends-to-lovers, but not the common unrequited crush kind–neither of them has any clue at the beginning that they’ve been falling in love for who knows how long. Both leads are from the same massive group of friends–but the friends are introduced in small batches and have distinct personalities. I cannot begin to tell you how rare that is, usually the friend-group is basically a list of names and hair colors that can talk. Both leads have jobs, and they actually do their jobs, and growth in their jobs is important to the story, not just window dressing because people are supposed to have jobs.
It’s billed as a rom-com and it actually made me laugh out loud. Even more rare.
The dialogue is natural and believable, especially between the leads. I completely buy the idea that these two fictional creations have been friends for years. And even the inevitable setups for future couples in the series didn’t irritate me, as they so often do, because the foundations are laid naturally, though friends being concerned for each other’s lives, and not because all the planning was done in a separate chunk/chapter that seemed entirely unconnected to the story.
If I weren’t on a book-buying ban, I’d already be reading the rest of the series.
#49 – Inhibitions, by Kimberly Bracco
I haven’t even read 50 Shades of Grey and I can spot this as a rip-off, thank you media osmosis. The two leads are a reporter doing an interview she doesn’t want to, and a star football player who doesn’t like doing interviews. Sound familiar?
They fall in love and start banging on every available surface almost instantly, with the whole premise wrapped up in her history of not asking for what she wants out of sex, and his alpha-male dominance opening her up to who she really is. Neither of them has much personality beyond that, and the sex scenes were cringe-worthy, especially the dialogue, which was about on the level of badly-scripted porn. I have no problem with dirty talk, but it shouldn’t sound that fake.
#50 – Faking It, by Jennifer Crusie
DNF @ 25%. In media res is a fine place to start, by all means, throw me into the deep end of the pool. But don’t drown me in a sea of names.
Everyone in Tilda’s family sounds alike, and even a quarter of the way through, I couldn’t tell you exactly how they’re all related. Maybe the information isn’t there, maybe it’s there and I missed some of it because it came in a flood. So many characters are introduced so quickly that I was completely overwhelmed.
And honestly, I didn’t like Davy at all. Con men are supposed to be sharp-witted and clever, and he was–but he was also a creep. It turned my stomach when he was on the phone with his niece teaching her the basics of buttering people up for a con, or in her case, a favor. I’m not into a romance between a chronic manipulator and anyone else, even if that anyone ends up bettering or reforming him.
#51 – One is a Promise, by Pam Godwin
DNF after the first chapter, which is far earlier than I usually give up on a book, but Trace isn’t a love interest, he’s a criminal. I don’t care how powerful you are in your own corporate bizarro world, trespassing is still trespassing, and a crime. Danni should have called 911 on him, but it’s hideously lampshaded in a paragraph about how this incredibly powerful businessmen couldn’t possibly be there to rape or murder her.
…why not? I mean, if he’s that powerful (which he repeatedly says he is, and Danni seems to believe) then why the hell couldn’t he have barged in on Danni’s date specifically to victimize her? His driver and the business associate who originally approached Danni know he’s there, but if he’s that powerful I’m sure they’d give him an alibi for Danni’s murder when the body’s finally found. Yeah, Danni’s lackluster date saw him at her place, too, but why stop at one murder? Some random dude in the wrong place at the wrong time would be easy enough to clean up, right, if you’re that powerful.
Trace is immediately characterized as a power-tripping sociopathic stalker who uses intimidation to get what he wants and isn’t above bullying someone in their own home WHERE HE IS A CRIMINAL TRESPASSER.
And Danni spends the whole time annoyed by his attitude while simultaneously lusting after him with every fiber of her body.
ROMANTICIZING ABUSIVE BEHAVIORS IS DANGEROUS. STOP DOING IT.
#52 – Crown’s Chance at Love, by Mayra Statham
I have many complaints. First off–this is simply too long. Because I DNF’d my previous two reads, I made myself finish this one, and IT’S OVER SIX HUNDRED PAGES.
If it had been properly edited, it could have easily been two hundred pages shorter. There is so much repetition of both narrative and dialogue. Both leads use the same phrases to repeatedly describe the same thing, even when they should view them differently–I mean, how many times do a man and a woman call something the exact same color name? I realize I’m generalizing, but in my experience, I’m more likely to give something a “fancy” color name (ice blue, baby blue) whereas the men of my family and acquaintance would be more likely to call the same color simply “blue” or maybe, at best, “light blue.”
And that sort of thing happens a lot. Instead of being in the character’s head, both characters are showing us the author’s brain.
If it had been properly edited, it wouldn’t have switched randomly between past and present tense, which it does as often as several times a chapter for no obvious reason; it wouldn’t have switched randomly between first and third person perspective, which it does slightly less frequently than tense shifting, but still far too often, as in at all; it wouldn’t have misplaced or missing commas, leading to unintended meanings. For example:
“I won’t do that Mike.”
From the context, the speaker obviously means that she doesn’t intend to perform the action previously mentioned; however, the actual reading is that she won’t do that Mike, but maybe she’d do a different Mike, wink wink, nudge nudge.
I wouldn’t harp on about it if it had only happened once or twice, but a lack of comma setting off a name in direct address was constant. I think there were only a handful of times the comma was correctly in place.
And it was exacerbated by the fact that the characters use each other’s names in conversation every few sentences. Sometimes as part of nearly every exchange. Just taking out some of those names would probably save five pages at least!
So, after all that, why was this a two-star read instead of just a measly one? Well, having forced myself to read the whole story, a lot of it was painfully contrived, but it did do one thing well, that I rarely see in these days of insta-love romances–an actual slow burn. Mike and Sabrina do take the time to get to know each other (even if I hate that phrase now, because that’s how they both describe their early proto-dating stage, repeatedly) and Mike even goes out of his way to learn about and befriend Sabrina’s three children.
I just don’t think he needed six hundred pages to do it.
#53 – The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros
I can appreciate the beauty and brevity of the language, but when I finished, I was left scratching my head about how this constitutes a novel. It’s not even that it’s a series of vignettes, because so is one of my favorite novels, The Martian Chronicles, where the structure works brilliantly.
It’s just that here, there’s no story. There’s a lot of characters, and a lot of snapshots of setting all around the titular Mango Street, but very little happens, and most of it has no direct connection to any other events.
I just read the book equivalent of the three-to-five-minute montage at the beginning of the movie, establishing the neighborhood that the protagonist is desperate to get out of.
But then the movie stops. Who’d be satisfied with that?