This Week, I Read… (2019 #12)

41 - Just for Your

#41 – Just for You, by Rosalind James

  • Read: 3/15/19 – 3/16/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (27/100)
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

Coming back to this after having read the first three full-length novels in the series, I found this to be bland. In the small space allowed, neither Reka nor Hemi really has a chance to develop much personality beyond the gently sarcastic tone that is apparently the way all Maori characters speak in James’ novels. Reka sounded exactly like all her sisters, and pretty much the entire rest of her family. Hemi did a decent job apologizing for his boorish behavior in the past, but eager-puppy-hounding-the-heroine isn’t much of a personality, and if that’s all he is, it’s not exactly a strong argument in his favor.

Honestly, I like these two much better as the happily married couple who shows up from time to time in the series. I didn’t need this back story, because it’s just not very interesting.

42 - Free Me

#42 – Free Me, by Laurelin Paige

  • Read: 3/16/19 – 3/17/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (28/100)
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

There were a lot of things about this that I feel like I should have hated, and yet, I found it surprisingly difficult to stop reading.

Ice-queen, emotionally shut-down heroine. Arrogant, too-sexy-for-his-own-good hero. An arrangement to have weekly sexcapades with no dating, no bonding, no falling in love.

These aren’t my tropes. I should hate this book. Or at least dislike it strongly.

But every time these two commitment-phobic lunatics opened their mouths to speak to each other, I heard rational conversation. They fought, sure, they argued all the time, but it was practical, it was realistic, it was natural. Those were the conversations and arguments I felt like I would be having in their place, if I found myself in their bizarre situation. Even though the premise was contrived as hell, once it got going, I bought it. These characters sold it to me.

Gwen did things against her better judgment, but she did them knowingly, aware of potential consequences, which saved her from Too Stupid to Live syndrome. I warmed up to her quickly and still liked her at the end–especially because of her final decision re: the cliffhanger. I want to read the next book so I can see her happy ending, because it’s fantastic to see a woman stand her ground and know what’s best for herself.

JC, on the other hand, came off as a swanky-smooth and untrustworthy playboy at first, a desirable sex god in the middle, and a complete mess at the end. I’m not attached to him at all, he’s definitely the worst part of the book for me–even in his “falling in love” phase, when he was cute more than sexy, I was on edge because I knew his secret had to be devastating, whatever it was. And now that I know what it is, I’m not entirely sure I buy his motivation for starting this whole thing with Gwen in the first place. His life would have been infinitely easier if he’d stuck to being a bed-hopping playboy, and putting Gwen in the position he did at the end is a really, really shitty thing to do. So he’s the reason I kind of don’t want to read the next book.

Still, I probably will at some point. I devoured this in less than a day, and I do want to find out how it ends. Who knows, maybe JC grows up some more in the conclusion. Maybe I’ll like him better then.

43 - The Raging Quiet

#43 – The Raging Quiet, by Sherryl Jordan

  • Read: 3/17/19 – 3/19/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (29/100)
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

I enjoyed this book immensely, but a few days later, writing this review, I feel that maybe something was lacking.

I’m glad I came across this as a lost/potential YA classic. It has a good message, simply delivered. But I think that very simplicity works against it for an adult reader like myself. It lacks depth and subtlety–people are good, or they are bad. Marnie and Raven are the only two characters allowed to be a little of both, with Marnie’s stubbornness leading her to sometimes poor decisions, and Raven’s frustration at his inability to communicate leading him to lash out violently.

I was also vaguely disturbed by how quickly Marnie manages to “tame” Raven. Someone who has lived half-feral all his life, with no real socialization, doesn’t strike me as likely to turn into a fine young man in only a few months. This isn’t to say Raven isn’t or couldn’t be intelligent, teachable, and hungry to learn, all of which he’s shown to be. But Marnie remarks on his wildness, and how she doesn’t want him to lose that entirely; but he almost does, and in an unbelievably short amount of time. (This perception of mine might be exacerbated by how quickly I read the book, I admit.)

I enjoyed it, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I’d been lucky enough to get to read it when I was the target age group; I don’t think it’s quite as strong a story for adults.

44 - Ride

#44 – Ride, by Daphne Loveling

  • Read: 3/19/19 – 3/20/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (30/100)
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

No one’s setting my heart on fire here.

While I’m not familiar with MC romances yet (I think I’ve only read one other,) this hardly qualifies. The hero is a club member but spends almost no time at the club, almost no time on his bike due to the injury that starts the plot, and very little time thinking about his club duties other than that he’ll give up his position if he can’t ride a bike anymore.

All his MC identity does is give him that hint of bad-boy flavor, which doesn’t even affect the plot that much–the heroine’s ex-husband is prejudiced against the hero because of his look, but the sweet old neighbor lady thinks he’s a fine young man regardless.

And he mostly is. I have a personal dislike for his name, Trig, because to me that’s always going to be shorthand for the school subject trigonometry, and that’s not an association I want in my romance reading. But that’s not the character’s fault, and he’s generally an okay guy.

But that’s the thing–he’s just okay, to the point where every other man in the novel (all two of them) have to be flagrant examples of the worst that adult maleness has to offer, just to make him look good. The heroine’s ex is a serious piece of work in an abusive, gas-lighting way, which I found believable, but the guy she goes on one date with at the beginning of the novel is so, so, so awful that he comes across as completely fake. I don’t believe that anyone says the things he says, or if they do, that someone hasn’t poisoned their Cheerios yet. It’s ridiculous.

My other major problem is that the conflict is thin and mostly one-sided. The heroine is hung up on a lie she believed in high school that prevented her and the hero from getting together. First, I can’t believe it took ten years for someone to point out to her that the third party involved might not have been trustworthy, and second, why couldn’t she realize that herself? Is she really that dumb? But even so, the narrative spends a lot of time on it, building up its importance while simultaneously having the heroine waffle about whether or not it actually is important, whether or not she should just let it go.

Trig, meanwhile, has no clue about any of this. His conflict amounts to “should I bang my physical therapist or not?”

The other brief, underdeveloped point of conflict is the ex-husband, who shows up in a blaze of anger at the last second to undermine the budding romance with threats. Trig threatens him back, and in the process promises to terminate the child-support arrangement WITHOUT THE HEROINE’S KNOWLEDGE OR CONSENT. Given how she’d already reacted to Trig answering her phone once, I expected her to go ballistic. Maybe even nuclear. But she didn’t! She was completely okay with Trig instigating a change in her legal relationship regarding her husband and his money! Without her knowledge or consent! HOW IS THIS OKAY WITH HER OR ME OR ANYONE.

But, like I said, Trig’s just okay, he only looks halfway decent as a man compared to the awful dumpster fires the author offers as alternatives.

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Good News, and a Partial Hiatus

Careful observers will have noticed that I missed two blog posts last week. I don’t like it when I do that, but I do have ample reason this time around–I have a new job! An unexpected opportunity fell into my lap, and time was short, so I jumped it on with both feet.

I spruced up my resumé, nailed the interview, and landed the position all in the space of eleven days. That didn’t leave a lot of time or energy for anything else.

Now I’m a week away from starting, and also, somehow, from a family vacation. (Yes, I was upfront about that with my new employer. It’s all good, I’ll finish my training when I come back.)

As I will be out of town for a bit, and very busy when I’m here adjusting to my new work and its new schedule, I may end up MIA again. I’m not having a problem keeping up with my book reviews–I do those as I go, and reading is definitely still my first choice for relaxation during this transition, so that won’t dry up. But other posts? Those will likely be sporadic for the next few weeks.

Thanks in advance for your patience with me while I rearrange my life a little!

This Week, I Read… (2019 #11)

39 - The Talisman

#39 – The Talisman, by Stephen King & Peter Straub

  • Read: 3/6/19 – 3/10/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (26/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book written by a musician (fiction or nonfiction)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF @ page 160.

After being abruptly relocated cross-country by his family, a white boy meets a black man who cares for a property, who both knows about and shares the boy’s particular type of magic irregularity, and who drops cryptic hints about the boy’s future.

Sound familiar? It’s The Talisman, sure. But it’s also The Shining. Speedy Parker is Dick Halloran, only less interesting.

In this slow-paced, bloated fantasy, it takes longer than 10% of the book for little Jack Sawyer to refuse the call of his Hero’s Journey. When he finally accepts it, the magical land he’s transported to is so bland and generic, so every-feudal-fantasy-world-ever, that I simply didn’t care. He’s got to travel it (and the real world) looking for the Talisman, only he doesn’t know for sure what it looks like, he doesn’t know how it will help him save his mother (save the world,) and the only reason he even knows it’s his quest is because Magical Black Man (a trope I wish Stephen King weren’t so fond of) said so.

Speaking of King, his fingerprints are all over this, so clearly the seams are showing where his other works are stitched together to make this one–yes, even just in the first 160 pages I got through. I’ve never read any of Straub’s work, but I don’t detect a second author in this at all; if you’d handed this to me without a cover and told me it was just Stephen King, I’d believe you. Which is disappointing.

40 - Jane, Unlimited

#40 – Jane, Unlimited, by Kristin Cashore

  • Read: 3/12/19 – 3/15/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (14/48); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A choose-your-own-adventure book
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

Really weird book.

First, as a blanket statement, I’m glad to see Cashore has continued to be inclusive of queerness, even if no one is ever given a label. I’d like to see that more in YA that isn’t specifically meant to be LGBT-focused.

Second, having grown up being told by nearly every adult in my life that creative pursuits can’t make a living and that I needed to do something practical, I deeply appreciate how supportive everyone is of Jane’s artistic talent, and how central art and the love of art are to the novel.

Now, on to the story. I love Jane. She’s intelligent and artsy and precariously balanced between fear and forwardness. A book with a structure this bizarre needed a strong protagonist to pull everything together, and that’s what we got.

But I don’t always love Jane, because in the two timelines were there’s no semblance of a happy ending, the person she becomes through her choices is noticeably less likable. There’s a point to that–Cashore highlights that possibility of alternate versions of “yourself” being terrible both through internal monologue and through making one alternate Ravi just be wretchedly awful.

As I read the first two endings, I was seeing the shape of a story where, through witnessing the consequences of Jane’s different decisions, we gradually solved all the mysteries of the house laid out in the opening. And that’s true. However, the sheer normality of those first two endings did nothing to prepare me for the sudden divergences into magical realism in #3 and sci-fi in #4 and #5. Honestly? Didn’t like them as much, even though I can see that the final ending is certainly the happiest.

It’s an interesting structure that requires a lot of craft, but in the end, I’m not sure how well it works. Having five different endings to a single beginning means none of the timelines can be developed into a full novel-length story. Okay, Cashore attempts to get around that by placing them in an order that mimics the rise and fall of a more typical story line, where the first two endings provide some closure but not nearly enough, the third and fourth are unsatisfactory to echo the increasing struggle before the climax, and the final ending is supposed to pay off everything. And she also weaves most of the same plot threads through all of them, acknowledging that all of these are happening in the same time frame by having key moments repeat in each one, if at all possible, from Jane’s perspective.

But as each miniature story gets weirder and weirder, those early plot threads feel like irritating remnants. How many times do we need to see Jane discover the location of the missing Vermeer from ending #1? She always tells herself that she’s going to let Mrs. Vanders know, but we the reader don’t see that happen, so in (most of) those other timelines I’m left to assume the painting continues to go missing, which leaves that bit of mystery unsatisfied. Not that Jane doesn’t have much larger things to worry about in those other timelines, but I began to wish we didn’t have to take time out from the weirdness to flag that, yes, Jane is incidentally “solving” the earlier mysteries as well.

I can see why readers have come to this from Cashore’s fabulous earlier work and left bewildered or disappointed–this is definitely far more experimental. And I’m definitely not saying authors shouldn’t try new things, engage in genre-bending, or follow their muses. But this is very, very weird, more than a little challenging, and definitely not for everyone.

 

This Week, I Read… (2019 #10)

35 - The Night Tiger

#35 – The Night Tiger, by Yangsze Choo

  • Read: 2/28/19 – 3/2/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (12/48); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book that’s published in 2019
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

I was completely enthralled by this novel.

It’s a mystery. It’s a love story. It’s a coming-of-age tale. It touches lightly on racism and colonial troubles, more heavily on domestic abuse and the societal limitations of being a woman. There are ghosts and myths and superstitions and murders.

The premise is weird, even outlandish, I won’t deny that. But once I got started, once I accepted that premise at face value, everything made sense. Everything flowed naturally, and I had no trouble keeping track of all the threads being woven through the story. I was sometimes surprised by never confused by a turn of events, and with a novel packing so much into a reasonably normal length, I feel that’s worth noting.

As for the somewhat taboo romantic subplot, I was gratefully surprised to find it at all–the blurb doesn’t really hint at it, and I love love–and I felt the subject was handled with more delicacy than I’ve ever found in any romance novel written to cater to that exact taboo, where the entire point is the forbidden aspect of the pairing. Are some people going to hate this part of the book? Probably. But to me, it wasn’t offensive, and it felt integral to the story, rather than shoehorned in to give the book some raciness.

36 - Magic Binds

#36 – Magic Binds, by Ilona Andrews

  • Read: 3/2/19 – 3/3/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (24/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book inspired by mythology, legend, or folklore
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

Since anyone who’s hung in for eight books already probably isn’t going to suddenly hate the ninth, I’ll spare myself the trouble of evangelizing this series and just squee over my favorite bits.

  • Christopher is now heart-breaking and I loved every second of it.
  • Slavic dragon? Awesome. A pegasus named Sugar? Also awesome. Plaguewalkers? Cool but in an entirely gross way.
  • OH MY GOD NO KATE STOP DOING THAT BEFORE YOU LOSE YOURSELF AND CURRAN PLEASE. I’LL DIE IF THIS SHIP SINKS NOW.
  • Grateful for the brief (and not condescending) reminders of who side characters are when it’s been a while since we’ve seen them. I’d honestly forgotten about Jezebel.
  • Curran getting bigger and buffer and scarier for plot reasons? Sign me up! Lions forever!
  • PRINCESS KATE QUEEN KATE I’m glad we’re finally getting more history about Roland and the family dynasty.
  • Ascanio’s sass at the wedding. That boy. Such a smart-ass.

So, yeah, loved it from start to finish.

37 - Wild Seed

#37 – Wild Seed, by Octavia E. Butler

  • Read: 3/3/19 – 3/2/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (13/48)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF @ page 88. I’m really confused as to what other people see in this, because all I found was a morally repulsive man with no redeeming qualities and the doormat woman who let herself be manipulated by him. There’s no gray area in the gender roles here: men are evil in every possible way, women are always good. Neither can be the other.

I’m a feminist, but I’m not a misandrist. I don’t hate men, and I don’t want to read about men that are nothing but hateable. Doro is the worst, but not in any interesting way, he just wants to breed a race of super-beings and never talks about anything but a) his amazing or disappointing children, and b) how he can get more of them so maybe some of them will turn out better. Which is by breeding Anwanyu, the doormat woman. He intends to father children on her himself, and maybe somewhere down the line, from one or more of his better-quality sons.

Um, gross? Eugenics is wrong no matter who does it. If that’s his motivation as a villain, fine, but then shouldn’t he be characterized as an antagonist, and not Anwanyu’s new husband? She just goes along with whatever he wants, even if she balks internally. Doro should not be one of the protagonists, and he should not be the sole focus of every one of Anwanyu’s thoughts and decisions. The book is like a shrine to him, the worst possible man ever to have ever been created, who possesses no empathy, who doesn’t hesitate to kill anyone including his family, who uses and abuses people solely for his own ends.

I lost patience when Doro proselytizes on why his slave ship is better than everyone else’s, how his slaves aren’t mistreated like the ones going over to America for sale. It sounded dangerously close in tone to how the historical slavery narrative was taught to me as a child, how everything was softened and distorted to sound “not so bad,” to hide the truth and attempt to erase history.

Doro, you’re still buying people, shipping them across the ocean, and planning to breed them for super-children. Your slavery might seem gentler on the surface but is not any less wrong than the real thing.

The blurb definitely painted this as some sort of epic, love-hate struggle across the ages, but I don’t buy it. There’s no struggle! Anwanyu doesn’t do anything but “nurture” and “heal” and let Doro have sex with her. Every time she considers fighting back, she just doesn’t, and that’s boring and stupid.

38 - The Girl in Between

#38 – The Girl In Between, by Laekan Zea Kemp

  • Read: 3/5/19 – 3/6/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (25/100)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF @ 23%. Where do I even start?

First, if the main character has a disease or other medical issue so serious that it affects every aspect of their life, and therefore the story, I would hope the name of the condition would be spelled correctly. I’d never heard of KLS before picking up this book, and I’ll admit, it sounded so “out there” that I looked it up to find out if it was real. It is. But it’s constantly spelled wrong throughout the text. I Googled “Klein-Levin Syndrome” only to discover it’s actually Kleine-Levin Syndrome. I wouldn’t take a book seriously if its main character was afflicted with AID or neumonia…just because I didn’t know the name of this condition before doesn’t mean the author should get away with getting it wrong.

I finally lost patience with the book when another medical error showed up: “What she lacked in precision she made up for in southern charm but it still wasn’t enough to coax one of my arteries to the surface.” If your nurse is trying to draw blood from an artery, she’s doing it wrong. Words have specific meanings. Artery and vein and blood vessel are not interchangeable terms.

This particular sentence also displays one of the two major grammatical failings that appeared constantly. That sentence lacks clarifying commas and is just trying to do too much at once. It’s far from the worst offender, but I’d put a comma after “precision” and “charm” if I kept the sentence that length. Were I the editor, though, I’d split the whole thing into two sentences. And fix the “artery” goof.

The other consistent problem was sentences with dangling clauses tacked on with no regard for their antecedents. There’s pronoun confusion a-plenty, one sentence where I swear the “it” meant three different things the three times it was used, but this problem seemed especially egregious whenever scenery was being described: “I looked down the beach to where the water seemed to disappear behind the tree line, and then just past the next sand dune, the beach giving way to tall grass and a narrow dirt road that spilled into a bright blue sky.”

I’m fine up until the first comma. Beach, water, water disappears at the tree line, makes perfect sense. But “and then just past…”? There’s no verb there. No subject. Is the narrator looking past the next sand dune? Does the tree line extend to the next sand dune? And what “next” sand dune when it’s the only one mentioned? Doesn’t there have to be a first sand dune in order for there to be a “next” one? Why on earth are seven different landscape features all a part of a single sentence? (1. Beach, 2. Water, 3. Trees, 4. Dunes, 5. Tall Grass, 6. Dirt Road, 7. Sky. In case you didn’t want to count yourself.) So, again, one sentence trying to do far too much at once.

And both of these issues are truly constant, to the point where I’d have to reread at least one sentence out of three to make sense of it. Some of them, I’m still not sure what the author intended to convey, and that’s a serious problem.

Okay, so I haven’t even touched the story yet. Because I’m 23% of the way into the book and there really isn’t much of one. Girl has KLS. Girl has issues with school and personal relationships because of it. Mysterious boy shows up in her “dreams” that she shouldn’t even be having, medically speaking. That’s as far as the plot has progressed in the first quarter of the book–but keep in mind, the boy shows up in the very first chapter, so the only progression of that storyline is that the girl and boy meet and talk to each other during one of her episodes. In the “real” world it’s all treading water, going to the doctor repeatedly, having episodes repeatedly, being miserable all the time, oh, and getting partially mauled in a closet at a party by her (maybe)(ex-)boyfriend.

I’m not hooked. I’m not even interested, because nothing about the story is engaging enough to make me want to wade through the constantly atrocious grammar.

Down the TBR Hole #16

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?

Between what I’m reading through and what I’m cutting, my TBR on Goodreads is finally smaller than my read books list! Let’s keep that going, shall we?

#1 – Cirque de Minuit, by Annabel Joseph

13508800BDSM erotic romance between aerial artists in a circus.

It sounds good. I have no idea how I found this book to put it on my TBR, but I’m sure that’s what hooked me.

On the other hand, I’ve got so many unread romances I already own, and if another one wants to stay on my TBR, at this point, it’s really got to wow me. I’m not sure this does.

It goes.

 

#2 – Stolen Songbird, by Danielle L. Jensen

17926775Fantasy-romance YA with trolls.

Trolls? Trolls.

This genre combination gives me trouble, because sometimes it’s amazing (like this year’s read of the entire Graceling Realm trilogy) and sometimes it’s just the worst. And I can’t reliably go by reviews because both ends of that spectrum look equally beloved, most of the time.

But it could be great, and I can get it from the library. It can stay.

#3 + #4 – The Sugar Queen and The Peach Keeper, by Sarah Addison Allen

When I read Garden Spells back in 2016, I loved it so much I immediately added all of Allen’s other work to my TBR. Since then, I’ve purchased but not yet read First Frost and Lost Lake–if those turn out to be clunkers, I’ll reconsider these two, but for now, they’re keepers.

#5 – Written in the Ashes, by K. Hollan Van Zandt

30824506Historical fiction set in Egypt, about the library of Alexandria? Yes, please!

It could be terrible, though the reviews seem to agree it’s not–my childhood Egyptology phase might be almost thirty years behind me, but I’m still interested enough to want to read this.

It stays.

 

 

#6 – In Some Other World, Maybe, by Shari Goldhagen

In some other world maybe TP Mech.inddI think I read the blurb of this when I was scanning Goodreads giveaways, so I added it? Maybe?

Anyway, the premise still intrigues me, though now that the book’s been out long enough to accumulate a solid body of reviews, I’m not particularly impressed by the consensus. Either it’s fantastic, or it’s characters we’ve all seen before in an intertwining plot structure we’ve all seen before. And one reviewer went so far as to mention that one POV is written in second-person perspective, and that’s a pet peeve of mine. It just never works for me. This can go.

 

#7 – #12 – The Escape to New Zealand series, books #4 – #9, by Rosalind James

I’m not dealing with all six covers for this, my apologies.

I’ve read books #1- #3, and I have the #0.5 novella still sitting unread on my Kindle. I liked them well enough at the time that I put the rest of the series on my TBR.

But I’ve read seven Rosalind James books altogether. Only two of them got four stars, two more three stars, and the remaining three earned just two stars. When I like her books, I like them a fair bit, but when I don’t, they’re really disappointing. It might be time for me to abandon this series, and maybe even this author, though I might have another book or two of hers lurking about that I picked up when she had them on sale. I’ll read those, at least.

So they all go. Big cut, but I’ve got too much on my plate to stick with “meh” romances.


It’s a spring cleaning week, even if there’s still snow on the ground, because I axed 8/12 this time! As always, if you’ve read any of these and want to change my mind (in either direction) feel free to leave a comment and tell me what you think!

End of the Month Wrap-Up: February 2019!

snow-2384483_1280

I feel like the winter is never going to end and this snow will never go away, but it’s March now, so by the end of the month it should be at least trying to be spring again!

Writing

Still struggling. No real progress to report. Not super happy about that.

Reading

I read twelve books in February, two more than my goal–but I’d lowered my goal significantly from my January reading in order to get more writing time in (which totally didn’t work out.)

I am still quite a bit ahead of the curve on all of my year-long reading challenges.

Exercise

My weekly walk to the library is still happening, so that’s good, and I’m getting out for other, shorter walks whenever the weather is tolerable enough. I still haven’t done as much yoga as I intended to. Not super happy about that, either.

Other Stuff

I finished knitting a sweater for my husband, and once that was done, randomly picked up an old cross-stitch kit my MIL gave me years ago. I’m enjoying being crafty again.

Also, after the book-Twitter debacle-debate surrounding Marie Kondo’s Netflix series Tidying Up and how she (supposedly) attacks book lovers, I decided to actually watch it. I’ve seen five episodes so far and don’t feel at all attacked, and while I haven’t put all my books into a giant pile to sort them, I already use the spirit of her “does it spark joy?” principle–I don’t keep books I don’t like once I’ve read them, and I have on occasion ditched books unread because I know I won’t read them.

I intend to finish the series soon, and while I probably won’t be embarking on a full KonMari journey to reorder my life, I’ve already been applying some of her storage strategies on a small scale to neaten up some parts of my home. Super happy about that, at least.

March Goals

Really, for real, get back into the habit of writing. Really. I just need to figure out how to approach it, because so far I still feel blocked/inadequate/afraid.

Start running again as soon as the weather permits, and run as often as possible. I miss it so much! Fill in other forms of exercise as necessary for crappy weather.

Read at least twelve books. I didn’t get to Assassin’s Quest in February like I hoped, so I should move that to the top of my priority list.

Buy fewer books! I did pick up three from the book sale room on my last library trip, but only three, and hopefully I won’t get any more. I’m caught between the mentality of “I have so many books already” and “but it’s here and I know I want to read it and I can buy it for pennies.”

This Week, I Read… (2019 #9)

32 - Pivot Point

#32 – Pivot Point, by Kasie West

  • Read: 2/21/19 – 2/22/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (11/48)
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

Fast-paced, engaging, intriguing. This was a legitimate page-turner–I was late coming back to work from my lunch break because I was reading. (Only a few minutes, fortunately.)

First-person narration in YA titles often irks me because it’s commonly used to make a bland stand-in character for the reader to project themselves upon, when it should be used to make a deeply distinct character, and that’s what happened here. Addie has real personality, and I appreciate that.

This is also a refreshingly interesting angle to take on a love triangle, because the guys aren’t in direction competition, but competing across two separate, hypothetical time lines. I could tell right away which one I preferred, but it revealed a lot about Addie to see her interact with the rival as well.

The foreshadowing and plot twists are handled here with a good amount of subtlety. I saw some of them coming, but others completely surprised me, and a reread some time in the future will probably help me flesh out the clues I missed, as well as letting my writer-brain determine if the “obvious” twists were made obvious to camouflage the true surprises.

Where this failed me, though, was the lack of development of the Para world. It’s a consequence of the dual-line structure, a casualty of splitting the story in two–there simply isn’t space for a deep dive into Addie’s childhood and background and the city and society she comes from. I really think there would be a lot to gain from it, but I can also see how unbalanced it could make the two plot lines, and getting those so finely tuned was what made this story’s pacing so successful. But lacking that depth did make this ability of Addie’s seem like a simple gimmick that’s necessary for the story to even happen, but doesn’t have much oomph beyond that.

Hopefully I can get more of that from the sequel, which I definitely intend to read.

33 - The Underground Railroad

#33 – The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

  • Read: 2/22/19 – 2/24/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (22/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book that’s becoming a movie mini-series in 2019
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

When I was in elementary school, I was taught the sanitized version of slavery and the Civil War, as most white Americans of similar age and background were. Even when I was studying the feats of Harriet Tubman and reading biographies of other, later activists like Mary McLeod Bethune, I was still dreadfully ignorant of what slavery truly was and the impact, even after its abolition, that it left in its wake, that still affects the country today.

Since then, I haven’t read much about American slavery, either fiction or nonfiction. Which I recognize now as part of my white privilege, that it’s something I don’t have to think about if I don’t want to.

For that reason, I’m grateful to this book for its unflinching depiction of what the life of a slave was like. The horror, the bleakness, the monotony coupled with the constant threat of brutality. When I was a child, it was easy to fall for the tale we were told–“No, they weren’t free like we are, but they had their homes on the plantations and they worked and they were cared for by their masters.” That simply isn’t true, and while I will never experience anything like it myself, at least I know better now, and I can’t believe the lie anymore.

Beyond that, though, not much about this story affected me. Cora was such a bland protagonist I wondered early on if she was a blank slate deliberately, so that readers could project themselves on to her and feel the injustices of her life more closely; but after a while, there was such an emotional distance from her, a fog of detachment, that not only could I not imagine myself in her place, I couldn’t even muster much interest in what happened to her next.

All of the secondary characters were woefully underdeveloped. Caesar seems like he’s going to be Cora’s other half, the second protagonist, then disappears. The couple that shelters Cora next is barely there before they fall victim to the town mob. Royal saves Cora later on, and maybe loves her, or would have, but then that’s over too, so suddenly. In fact, Ridgeway the slave catcher is probably the best developed of the lot, and should he be? Does a person of that temperament and occupation deserve so much investment in a story such as this?

Structurally, I found the sudden backstory inserts alternately interesting and boggling, depending on whom they focused on. Explaining Caesar’s decision to run, Mabel’s flight, Ridgeway’s family and upbringing…yeah, sure, okay. But the random chapter about the doctor-graverobber who never appeared again? Why did he get so much page time, and what purpose did that serve for the story?

Finally, I wish more had been done with the concept of the literal Underground Railroad. It felt like a gimmick, with all the hand-waving and “who knows?” built into the narrative around it.

34 - The Lies of Locke Lamora

#34 – The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

  • Read: 2/24/19 – 2/28/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (23/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book you meant to read in 2018
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

This is high-quality world-building, story structure, and pacing, perhaps a little slow to start, but once I was invested I could easily consume more than 100 pages in a sitting. Despite the complaints I’m about to level at this book, I definitely enjoyed it–it was irreverent at times, it was fun, it was serious and occasionally a little heart-breaking.

But this is male fantasy to a tee, a boy’s club of thieves pulling capers and getting in over their heads. One female “Gentleman Bastard” is given a name but is never present in the story, and is also apparently Locke’s unrequited love–so she’s a prop. I’m willing to entertain the possibility that she shows up later in the series and gets to be an actual character, but she isn’t one here. One female character I very much wish had been a larger presence in the story was fridged in the middle to provoke a specific sequence of events. Two minor female characters are villains, another is the subject of one of Locke’s schemes (along with her husband,) and finally one little old lady turns out to be a formidable opponent, but only briefly.

So it’s not that there’s no women present in the story, it’s just that they’re relegated to bit parts. The core of the story is definitely the four men and one boy of the Bastards, and what they get up to.

Regarding that, my second complaint is a lack of distinction between them. Locke is Locke–he’s the leader, the best, the smartest. He’s not the best fighter, that’s Jean. The twins are good at everything but great at no one thing. Bug is the boy in training. But they all sound the same. They all speak the same way, they all treat Locke the same way, and the evenness of tone got to me. I wanted more to grab on to than knowing Jean was the trained brawler–I saw his training in flashbacks, that was interesting, but if you stripped the dialogue tags out of the text I wouldn’t be able to tell you whether any given sentence was him speaking, or Calo, or Galdo. I might be able to differentiate Bug, since he wouldn’t know everything the men would–but sometimes, I might not.

While I appreciate all the craft and effort that went into creating the world, I wish some of it had been spared to delineate stronger characters.