This Week, I Read… (2020 #13)

47 - The Memory of Running

#47 – The Memory of Running, by Ron McLarty

  • Read: 3/26/20 – 3/27/20
  • Mount TBR: 47/150
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF at page 87. I cannot abide how grossly sexist and ableist this novel is.

Our protagonist is a fat chain-smoking alcoholic. Most of the early chapters are devoted to repeating his actual weight, his feelings about his weight, how many cigarettes he smokes and just how much he drinks; as if that’s a substitute for being an actual character. At one point, he also reminisces about how the only way he got through a hard time in his life was by being a jerk to everyone around him.

I was already bored with him, but since I knew the point of the novel was his journey of self-discovery and improvement, I can see how he has to be a complete loser to start with. And that’s not me fat-shaming him–the narrative is too busy doing that for me. His obesity is his personality.

So first we have the underlying sexism inherent in thinking this loser, this utterly mediocre-or-worse man, is worth telling a story about. I don’t see any evidence of that.

But it gets worse, because nearly every female character so far in the book is defined by their breasts, their disabilities, or both. The only one to escape that is his mother, who was introduced immediately before she died and didn’t get the breast assessment. The nurses at the hospital? Big breasts. Every woman he meets randomly? Big breasts. Every girl in every story he tells about the past? Big breasts. His neighbor who he played with as a child and meets again as an adult woman? Not so much about her breasts, but she does spend their entire first conversation with him defensively explaining how capable and clean and healthy she is despite her wheelchair. (That was a really uncomfortable scene, not just because of the insensitive treatment of the subject, but also because people simply don’t talk that way. It was beyond stilted and awkward.)

His sister? Again, not quite so much about her breasts, though one past story about how much the protagonist hated her junior prom date skates pretty close to inappropriate, talking about how hot she looked. No, she has more development, I’ll admit, but it’s entirely about her mental illness–she hears a voice that sometimes encourages her to go somewhere odd, take off her clothes, and hold strange poses. But that’s all I know about her, so yeah, she’s completely defined by that mental illness.

I wanted to keep going until the actual plot of the story began, the bike-trip across the country that transforms him (somehow) into a better person. But I didn’t make it that far, because soon after that childhood bike reenters his life, he passes out after riding it drunkenly a short (ie, non-cross-country) distance and wakes up near a community Little League game. The local Catholic priest was attending, and gets him to the hospital to get checked out, and takes him back to the church to rest afterward.

The next scene is actually one of the worst things I’ve read in my life. The priest, who has literally just met the protagonist, goes on a long, winding, bitter confessional story about how he became attracted to a divorcee in his congregation and eventually asked her sexually explicit questions over the phone, which she started recording partway through and later used to get him into trouble. The priest is also a breast man, apparently, because this is one of the actual things he told the protagonist he said to the woman:

“Why don’t you, why don’t you take off the rest of your clothes so your full, ripe breasts can cool off?”

It’s not even just that his behavior was inappropriate that bothers me. It’s that the author thinks this is a story a priest would tell someone he’s literally just met and knows nothing about. It’s an echo of the same problem from the protagonist and his wheelchair-using neighbor: they’re sitting on the porch together after his parents’ memorial and apropos of nothing she’s hyper-defensive about her disability, laboriously explaining her capabilities and routines. People don’t talk that way. People don’t immediately spill their secrets or explain their lives to near-strangers on a whim. Unless they’re drunk at a bar and need to rant, but even then, these aren’t the conversations they’d be having.

I need a shower.

48 - Starlight on Willow Lake

#48 – Starlight on Willow Lake, by Susan Wiggs

  • Read: 3/27/20 – 3/29/20
  • Mount TBR: 48/150
  • Around the Year in 52 Books: The 20th book on your TBR (it was the 20th unread physical book in my collection, sorted by date of purchase, when I made the list)
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

A solid family drama masquerading at the last minute as a romance, which is what I thought I was getting when I started reading it.

Most of the story on the hero’s side is actually about his family’s struggles after their father’s death and mother’s spinal cord injury in a skiing accident. Most of the story on the heroine’s side is actually about raising two daughters after her husband’s death from diabetes complications and being unable to move on (romantically and with life in general) because she’s still paying off the debts that incurred and she’s constantly one step ahead of homelessness.

The two of them don’t have their first date until around page 400. I can’t even call this a slow burn, because there’s no burn! They spend very little time together and have very little chemistry! He’s engaged to someone else for most of the book!

It’s not a bad story, but it’s only about 10% what I consider “romance,” and that 10% is weak. Its strengths lie in other directions, notably the two daughters being rather good/realistic representations of their age groups.

49 - State of Wonder

#49 – State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett

  • Read: 3/29/20 – 4/1/20
  • Mount TBR: 49/150
  • Around the Year in 52 Books: A book by an author on the Abe List of 100 Essential Female Writers
  • The Ultimate PopSugar Reading Challenge: A book by or about a woman in STEM
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

Though I can’t recall what book I described this way, I’m fairly certain I once reviewed something and called it “a fever dream of a novel.” Whatever book that was, State of Wonder has wrested that title away from it.

The first half of the book spends so much time dipping in and out of Marina’s memory and nightmares that following a cohesive real-time plot was more of a challenge than I wanted it to be.

I’ve only read one other Patchett work, Bel Canto, and when you read something that good, something you adored, returning to the same author comes with a certain set of expectations, one that Wonder did not live up to for me. Was it bad? No. Was it stunning and transformative? Also no.

The pace picks up and the fever-dream gloss falls away at least somewhat in the second half, which I was able to read much more quickly; yet I felt like I was missing some essential element to the story that would tie the whole thing together. A work like this must have a theme, but when I pick through my memory to find what it is, I can’t decide. Is it an exploration of the earthier aspects of womanhood and reproduction? Is it about confidence and self-doubt, or missed chances? Is it about the purity of science for its own sake, or the necessity of using science for humanitarian purposes versus exploiting it for profit? All of these things are touched upon, and I’m not saying any story has to limit itself to just one central theme, but I can’t parse what the message is, what my takeaway from this work should be.

I’m not sure my indecision is without basis in the novel, though, because Marina herself is a wishy-washy character at best, very passive. First she doesn’t want to go to the Amazon, yet it seems inevitable that she must, so she puts up no real fight. When she reaches Manaus and is waiting for the proverbial guard dogs to make their decision about whether she’ll be allowed to travel onward to Dr. Swenson, she seems constantly on the verge of boarding a plane to go home, yet goes deeper into the jungle on her quest, again, without much of a fight, but also without much gusto. When she’s at Dr. Swenson’s camp, she’s fascinated by what she finds but also always has one foot out the door, ready to abandon her tasks as impossible; yet she stays, allowing other people to make her decisions for her. Maybe that’s what I felt was missing–the protagonist’s backbone, along with any sense of urgency.

It’s a meandering story, despite having such clear goals in mind, and while I’ve been pretty harsh with it here, the good parts were quite good, and overall I’m glad to have read it. But unlike Bel Canto, it hasn’t earned a permanent place on my bookshelves.

Down the TBR Hole #29

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?

I’m making great progress on this year’s Mount TBR challenge, so the books I already own are being removed from the list with great frequency. But what about the books I don’t own yet? Let’s see what I can accomplish this month.

#1 – Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, by Caitlin Doughty

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes PBK mech.inddI saw this book in a photo on someone’s Tumblr, and I was into it. I read less and less nonfiction every year, but I’ll dip my toes in when something seems intriguing.

The reviews from both my Goodreads friends and the general reviewing population are mostly positive, so this can stay.

I don’t think I’ll be getting to it any time soon, given the current state of the world I’m not too eager to read about death even in the academic sense, but I’ll come back to it.

 

#2 – If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, by Italo Calvino

374233._SY475_I threw this on the TBR after a friend recommended Calvino to me in a roundabout way, sending me a link to a video of the actor Liev Schreiber reading a story from The Complete Cosmicomics. I loved it and eventually got the book, though I haven’t read it yet. (Story of my life, that’s why I’m doing this weeding-out process at all, so I won’t buy books I don’t read!)

So this stays for now with my usual caveat that if I read the book I already own and hate it, I’ll purge any other works by that author from my TBR at that point.

 

#3 – #7 – Five Ray Bradbury Works

  1. Dandelion Wine
  2. The Illustrated Man
  3. Zen and the Art of Writing
  4. I Sing the Body Electric! and Other Stories
  5. The Golden Apples of the Sun

So, yeah. Bradbury is one of my favorite authors in that The Martian Chronicles is one of my all-time favorite books, and back in high school when my mother unearthed her vintage paperbacks I know for sure I also read and enjoyed Something Wicked This Way Comes. (I may have also read The Illustrated Man then but I’m not positive, hence its presence on the list.)

But Bradbury has also written some real clunkers in my experience, and if I’m honest, I downright hated The Halloween Tree. So I’m aware that I’m probably not going to like all these equally, and maybe they don’t have to all be here.

Dandelion Wine appears to be a novel-of-stories much in the same vein as The Martian Chronicles, and it gets bonus points for being a story of the Midwest, my stomping grounds. The Illustrated Man I’m honestly just curious to find out/remember if I read it back then. Zen and the Art of Writing appears to be divisive on its usefulness as a how-to/inspirational work for writers, but seeing as how I am one and I do love reading about the processes of other authors, it’s probably worth a look. These three can stay.

I Sing the Body Electric! seems to be a take-it-or-leave-it collection that many people believe to be great if you’re a diehard fan but not one of his better books. The Golden Apples of the Sun gives off the same impression. Though I don’t doubt there are probably good stories in both, these two can go.

#8 – The Hidden Lives of Owls: The Science and Spirit of Nature’s Most Elusive Birds, by Leigh Calvez

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More nonfiction! I love owls and would love to read about owls, but apparently this might not be the book for it. The first less-than-stellar review recommends half a dozen other books to give a reader a better understanding of birds of prey (and I’ve read one of them, H is for Hawk) while other reviewers lambast this work as being written by an enthusiastic but obnoxious amateur. No matter how many glowing reviews this has, that’s a big, big red flag for my future enjoyment of this work.

This goes.

 

#9 – #14: Six Cookbooks I Saw When I Went to Powell’s Books

…and basically haven’t thought about since. On that trip to Portland and other points northwestern, I bought so many books I had to ship some of them home. I kept a list of the ones I was interested in but didn’t buy, for both space and monetary reasons, and I’ve just reached the block of my TBR where they all got added. (The Hidden Lives of Owls was one of those, too, but not a cookbook.)

I still do buy cookbooks sometimes, but with so many free recipes out there on the Internet a search term away, something really has to catch my eye to be worth purchasing. Of these six, which I’m not even going to bother to list because like I said I haven’t thought much about them in the two and a half years since that trip, the only one I’m keeping is The Cardamom Trail: Chetna Bakes with Flavours of the East, because Chetna Makan was one of my faves on her season of The Great British Baking Show, and I want to support her baking career. The others? Meh.


This month sees me cut 8/14 books. Progress! This brings my TBR down to 587, though the last book I’m keeping is only #159, leaving over 400 still to wade through. It’s unlikely I’ll ever actually catch up with myself here, but this is still worthwhile to me, because life is too short to read bad books when they can be avoided.

End of the Month Wrap-Up: March 2020!

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So, March. Yeah. It was weird. This isn’t really going to be a standard wrap-up post.

I’m fine, my husband’s fine, we’re self-isolating. We were already doing it as much as possible before the state closed down the bars and restaurants and such, and we got our (non-hoarding level) of food and supplies before the shelter-in-place lockdown happened a week later.

I still have my job, on paper, but I haven’t worked since the 13th, and the lockdown order runs until April 13th, so that’s at least a month off work. I can take this hit just fine, for now, but I worry about the business I work for surviving if this goes on too long. I do have a backup plan for finding a new job, but obviously I’d rather not have to. Existential uncertainty is never good for my anxiety, but I’m trying not to stress, because I can’t do anything about it I’m not already doing.

At first, all of this free time and energy did go into my writing, and #rockstarnovel, now titled Fifty-Five Days, was making excellent progress in its rewrite. But this lack of routine, and yes, the advent of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, did significantly slow down this burst of progress. I will not make my original end-of-March deadline for this draft. On one level I’m annoyed with myself for that, but on another, man, it’s hard to focus when so much is out of balance.

I’m not setting a new hard deadline; this is a “work on it steadily until it’s done” kind of goal. I am nearing the end (currently in the middle of chapter 30, probably of about 35 or 36) so I’m confident I won’t be too far behind the original schedule.

Okay, reading. I did spend some extra time on it, but I also read a string of really bad books in a row that put me off TBR-diving too hard. I finished 14 books in March, reading one more right now that I probably won’t have done tomorrow.

Crafting! I have been knitting and sewing SO MUCH. Most of it I can’t show off, though, because they’re Christmas gifts, and yeah, most of my family doesn’t read this blog, but what if they’re bored in their own isolation and decide to? They know it’s here. But the crafting is help keeping me sane, for sure.

Exercise! I was taking walks and going for runs in good weather at first, but then it freaking SNOWED again for some reason and it was easier to just stay inside. My running app extended its membership to a sister strength training app, so I’ve been lifting and doing other indoor stuff, when I feel up to it. (The first full-body workout I did killed my abs for three days, I am not in good shape.)

So this is where I would usually write out my goals for April, but I’m not going to do that this time, because any personal goals I have (beyond the TBR challenge post I already made) are completely secondary to staying healthy physically (as much as I have control over that, anyway) and keeping myself in an okay space mentally. So if that means I binge on TV or anime or Animal Crossing or knitting because writing is too taxin, I’m going to do it.

Survival mode. If I can be creative beyond that, awesome, I will be, but I’m not going to demand it of myself.

With that, I hope everyone reading this is doing alright, even though odds are against it. Take care of yourselves as best you can, keep yourself educated, don’t panic, and reach out to your friends and family remotely to stay connected, even if you can’t be together physically. I’m here rooting for all of us.

This Week, I Read… (2020 #12)

44 - Made in America

#44 – Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States, by Bill Bryson

  • Read: 3/20/20 – 3/24/20
  • Mount TBR: 44/150
  • Around the Year in 52 Books: A prompt from a previous Around the Year in 52 Books challenge (A book related to a hobby or passion you have)
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

I’ve read a few other Bryson works and been favorably impressed, and I’m both an American and a word nerd, so this seemed right up my alley.

But it disappointed. Though it’s obviously well-researched and I applaud it for that, the tone straddles the line between Bryson’s usual humor and serious scholarly engagement, which is a whiplash-inducing pairing. In addition, that humor, especially in the first half, took on a strongly condescending “so you thought you knew American history but you were wrong” attitude. Yeah, Mr. Bryson, the public school system in much of the United States (especially in the ’90s when this was written) teaches us a deeply editorialized version of events canonized as truth but only tenuously related to what facts we do have. (And I’m not even just talking about the racism inherent in both slavery and our historical relationship with Native peoples, which are both mentioned only briefly. I knew that was sanitized. This was more of a “every historical figure you were taught to revere didn’t do half what history claims they did, and/or, they were terrible people.”)

I don’t think Bryson was deliberately setting out to make his readers feel idiotic or uneducated, but that’s how I felt in the early chapters every two or three minutes when yet another thing I was taught was debunked. Being beaten repeatedly with a “stupid” cudgel isn’t any fun, especially when a lot of it didn’t seem to enrich the narrative of “this is how American English evolved.”

That issue faded as the book went on, but the more modern chapters settled into a rhythm of a few paragraphs of notable history followed by a half-page paragraph of dense word listing, showing the date which new words and phrases entered the American lexicon. This is where the well-researched bleeds into over-researched: I’d never heard of half the words or expressions listed, sometimes more depending on the subject of the chapter. Is it that useful to mark the entry of a phrase into the language that no one still uses, at least for the layman audience? I’d rather find out about expressions I know, and there were plenty of those, but a lot of the rest was dead weight.

That dead weight made a 350-ish page book of nonfiction, something I can usually read in two days, into a slog four days long that constantly tempted me to give up. But I did enjoy some of the later chapters more than the first half of the book (particularly the chapters on food and sex, go figure.) So this wasn’t a total loss, but it was definitely the worst Bryson book I’ve read so far.

45 - Shy Girls Write It Better

#45 – Shy Girls Write It Better, by May Sage

  • Read: 3/24/20
  • Mount TBR: 45/150
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

A really cute premise with charming characters, but unfortunately the story was incredibly rushed, hamstrung by the novella length.

Now, the Kindle edition I read lists the page count at 182, but the end of the story fell at 80%–the rest was composed of samples from the author’s other works and similar end matter materials. So chop nearly forty pages of story off that length. Also, rather than standard paragraph formatting as in print, the paragraphs were separated by blank lines (as is common in website text, like this review, for example) which further padded the page count. I wouldn’t actually care about that, if I didn’t think this story when from zero to happy ending in a ridiculously short period of time.

What do I mean by that? Well, I was invested in these characters pretty well for a novella, their interactions were downright adorable, and their dynamic subverted some pretty well entrenched gender roles–for example, it’s the man who decides they’re going to be friends instead of lovers at first, despite their obvious mutual attraction. Everything is going along pretty swimmingly, then all at once the story takes a trope-laden roller-coaster dive. When they hop into bed together for the first time, he’s taking her virginity (a), without a condom (b), while thinking about how it’s totally fine if he gets her pregnant because he’s baby mad and wants a family with her (c), even though they’ve only been dating for about ten seconds (d).

(a) + (d) I would be okay with separately, or even together, because maybe she’s absolutely ready to ditch that virginity even if they hadn’t been dating very long. But (b) + (c) are ridiculous/unsafe/abusive/toxic behaviors that I’m frankly disappointed this otherwise reasonably charming romantic hero decided to engage in. Functionally, that whole scene is apparently supposed to convince me how in love with her he is, how happy their ending is going to be because he’s so passionate and committed, but honestly I think it’s just gross to want to get your brand new lover knocked up immediately, and without discussing the possibility of children with her at all beforehand. Accidents happen, that’s one thing, but this is him just not using protection knowingly, asking her partway through if she’s on birth control, then going on anyway and telling himself it will be great if they have a baby. (They don’t, the denouement points his disappointment when she gets her period, and he basically says to himself “well maybe next time.” /shudder)

So the first 60% or so is a solid three stars with potential, then the rest is one star at best for how rushed and cringey it is.

46 - Erstwhile

#46 – Erstwhile, by H.E. Trent

  • Read: 3/25/30 – 3/26/20
  • Mount TBR: 46/150
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

A lot of wasted potential.

I don’t read a lot of sci-fi romance, and this particular work felt heavy on the sci-fi/politicking and light on the actual romance, but that imbalance may be actually just a different balance than I’m used to because of the subgenre. Sci-fi takes a lot more world-building space than contemporary or military or half a dozen other subgenres, so this criticism could fall under “it’s not the book, it’s me and my faulty expectations.” I honestly don’t know.

What I do know is that the world-building here is full of holes, starting with the time period it’s set in. This was published in 2016 and set in 2036. That’s twenty years out, yet apparently Earth has colonized another planet, and we’ve been there for at least a while, presumably longer than twenty years, based on the level of devastation we’ve inflicted on the native population, and the fact that the lead’s grandfather was a political agitator in the past about the colonization. (If there were hard dates given to the timeline, I honestly don’t remember them, but this didn’t feel “new” as it was happening, it felt like they’d been at this a while.)

So am I supposed to believe this is our Earth, our society that’s doing this? Because we’re not. This isn’t set far enough in the future to be a believable course of events, and if it’s supposed to rely on some alternate history where the story Earth diverged somewhere in the past and this is their future, that alternate history is not given.

Okay, so my brain pushed it farther into the future to get past that, because hey, does it really matter? It’s just a year number, right?

But the holes just keep coming. The native population was brutally crushed under the weight of colonial boots, apparently, but the fugitive men we meet and who become the protagonist’s lovers have a surprisingly deep awareness of some aspects of human history and culture, odd things that my brain kept bumping into and saying “How would they know this? What human taught them this?” And they know English and some German (apparently, it comes up once and is never mentioned again) but I never saw any evidence of the sort of formal schooling that would teach them that (they’re really fluent, this isn’t a “pick up it from the oppressors while I’m fighting to survive” kind of knowledge) and it’s all just hand-waved.

Then, let’s talk about the “romance.” I have never read any romance novel where consent is so unclear. Courtney really just does sort of fall into bed with one of the men, and yes, we the reader know he’s sick because of a hormonal imbalance that female pheromones will alleviate and eventually cure, so we know why he wants to bang her. But she never really says yes, and during that first scene and several following it, Courtney asks him (or later, the other man in their pairing) “What are we doing?”

It keeps happening, this bewildering sex they have without any sort of discussion or boundary-setting or even emotional attachment. It’s strange and uncomfortable and not particularly sexy to read, because I was as bewildered as Courtney. Yes, it’s established she finds both of them attractive physically, but there’s never really much of an emotional connection, and at one point Courtney even questions if it’s appropriate for her to “use” Murk for sex because she’s a colonizer and he’s a native. Which, yeah, dicey dynamic there.

But I called this wasted potential because the bones of a good setup were there. I wanted to read a story where these two men were suffering doubt about their attraction to Courtney: is it just their biology, are they that desperate for pheromones, or is it something beyond that? Could it be real? And I think that might be what the author was going for, but I never thought she got there. An unplanned (and supposedly impossible) pregnancy happens instead, so suddenly they’re all stuck together whether their relationship would have developed naturally or not, because (newsflash) the dominant male partner in Jekhian trios are biologically baby-crazy and territorial as all get-out.

There were moments, when the three of them were trying to hash out their cultural differences and what it meant for their expectations of relationship and family dynamics, that I keenly felt that wasted potential. This could have been so, so good, if it hadn’t fallen into the baby trap as a shortcut to keeping them together, if it had explored the power balance among them with any kind of nuance, if it hadn’t relied on keeping one character mute for most of the book because he was the one who could have explained Jekhan culture better than the one who could speak, which fueled constant and repetitive misunderstandings. (Side note: that muteness was handled poorly, which couple with a great deal of head-hopping, meant that a lot of times I honestly wasn’t sure who was speaking/thinking any given line. So that was no fun and did not help matters any.)

I did not like this book at all, but I’m left with a wanting feeling to read the book it could have been, because I think I really would like it.

Next Month’s TBR: April 2020

April 2020 TBR

  1. Fool’s Fate, by Robin Hobb
  2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
  3. The Bridges of Madison County, by Robert James Waller
  4. Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, by Jonathan L. Howard
  5. The Night Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko
  6. Trick, by Natalia Jaster
  7. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
  8. Wasted Words, by Staci Hart
  9. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
  10. Tikka Chance on Me, by Suleikha Snyder

It took one more book this month than the first three to cover all my challenges, and there are a few other next-in-series reads I want to get to soon, so April is shaping up to be a heavy reading month.

Of course, Michigan is locked down until April 13th, and I’m off work for the duration. (I do still have my job, as long as the business I work for survives the coming hard times. I’m trying not to think about that too much, besides having a rough plan for landing on my feet if things go badly.)

On the other hand, I’ve been playing so very, very much Animal Crossing: New Horizons over the past few days, it’s cutting into my reading time even if I do have extra. But I have to let my husband play too, sometimes, so I’m sure I’ll still stick my nose in books often enough, especially since there are quite a few titles on this (very strangely balanced?) list that I’ve been looking forward to.

Hope you’re all staying safe and enjoying your own reading right now!

 

This Week, I Read… (2020 #11)

41 - By Degrees

#41 – By Degrees, by Elle Casey

  • Read: 3/13/20 – 3/14/20
  • Mount TBR: 41/150
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

I didn’t exactly like it before the ending, but at least most of it made some kind of sense. Then it went off the rails in spectacular fashion.

I have a lot of problems with the main body of the story, ranging from the silly to the serious.

1. What is up with the constantly overused term “bimbot?” Why not just use “bimbo” like a normal person would? Or am I supposed to think the women referred to that way are actually robots designed to look like attractive women? If I am, that insult gets the point across, but there’s no sci-fi flavor to Scarlett or literally anything else in the story, so it’s wildly out of place and it irritated me every single time, which was often, because it’s Scarlett’s go-to word for Tarin’s groupies.

2. Where is Tarin’s personality? Scarlett gets a ton of time being built up to be this business badass in the beginning (which story totally falls down on when she is consistently unprofessional as the romance progresses, by the way) but Tarin is such a standard bad-boy rock star, and even later when he’s growing as a person because he wants to turn his life around, we’re told he’s learning to cook from the chef on Scarlett’s team, we’re told he’s taken up photography as a hobby, but a) we don’t see him doing those things in real time to see him learning, and b) they don’t seem to have any effect on him elsewhere in changing his attitudes (not that I think a few cooking lessons or photographs would have that profound an effect that quickly, but then what’s the point?) Also, related to this, when they’re separated near the end for four months, Tarin’s physical muscle growth is apparently stupendous enough that it has Scarlett in raptures, but that’s just not realistic for anyone who isn’t devoting their entire life to bodybuilding. Visible musculature change is a slow process and while I can accept he could look a little more buff, I don’t accept that his biceps are “half again as big” as they were before. Ridiculous.

3. Scarlett’s inconsistency about the groupies. One minute Jelly and Posey are the bimbot idiots and the lowest creatures to ever walk the earth, but then when someone else (ie, a man) insults them, she turns around and defends them, or at least makes excuses for them. “They don’t know any better,” “they’re caught up in the fame,” “they’re still people, you can’t treat them that way,” even though in her head she’s said far worse things about them. It would be a small thing in a different story, this sort of hypocrisy, but since Jelly and Posey are, at different times, both major plot obstacles to the romance, I don’t think I can give Scarlett (or the author) a pass on this. Posey gets arrested and Jelly dies so that Scarlett and Tarin can be together. So are bimbot groupies the worst, or are they just misguided women? What am I supposed to think of them? You can’t have it both ways.

4. That ending. God, it’s terrible. “We’ve slept together twice but I want you to marry me because the second time we had sex I decided you’re my forever girl, but also I’m dedicated to raising a dead ex-lover’s baby who isn’t mine biologically but is mine legally because I put my name on the birth certificate, so if you want me you’re it’s mother now.” Like, who’s the real father? Does he get a say? Maybe he wouldn’t want the kid, sure, the types of guys Jelly was sleeping with it’s a fair bet he wouldn’t, but shouldn’t you find out? And talk about rushed! On one level, I can commend Tarin for being committed to fatherhood and not offering to throw the baby away to have Scarlett, but that would be stronger if I understood why he’s decided to raise Jelly’s baby at all, because there’s no real reason given. And as a twist, it comes out of nowhere, because Tarin’s issues are not father issues, we know basically nothing about his family. All his tragic backstory is based around his guilt for not preventing another rock star’s death, nothing to do with his daddy. So why is he suddenly campaigning for Father of the Year?

42 - Bayou Moon

#42 – Bayou Moon, by Ilona Andrews

  • Read: 3/15/20 – 3/18/20
  • Mount TBR: 42/150
  • Around the Year in 52 Books: A book that is a collaboration between 2 or more people
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

This romance is buried under the weight of too many characters and too much new world building. It’s the worst Ilona Andrews book I’ve read since waaaaay back at the beginning of the Kate Daniels series, when Magic Bites was a pretty rough start to what was ultimately a fantastic series.

But I’m feeling those awkward, trying-to-do-too-much vibes again.

(Of course “the worst” IA book is still three stars and better than a heckuvalot of other romances I’ve read, so please keep that in mind as I move forward with its issues.)

First, I like that this jumps to a new featured couple by way of William, a supporting character from the first book. If this had been a series romance (like Kate Daniels) following Rose and Declan, I wouldn’t have been disappointed, but I’m not heartbroken it’s not about them, either. And I liked William so I’m happy to see him again.

The problem is, in introducing the new character as his love interest, we get her entire family clan as well, and it’s a big one. I’m not opposed to characters being from huge families, but there’s so much going on in this book and trying to develop so many family members takes up so much space. None of them really got the treatment they probably deserved (I’m looking at you, Lark, with your incredibly fast-told traumatic backstory that could practically be a book on its own but lasted for two pages) and it was clear to me that at least one or two of these cousins will probably be the leads of future books. (I checked after the fact, and I’m 100% right about that.) By the end, I was disappointed by this lack of reasonable development, because it meant I had no way of figuring out on my own who the traitor in the family was–there just wasn’t enough about each possibility for me to work with–and when that person is revealed, they have to go on an absolute rant explaining their motives for the betrayal in detail, because the reader wouldn’t know, because we didn’t know the character well enough beforehand to suspect them.

Parallel to that, the first book did a lot to set up the Edge and the way this strange worlds-collision works, and yes Bayou Moon does build on that, but mostly by doing an incredibly deep dive into a very small patch of land, so to speak, which functionally builds an entirely new world–the swamp–with very little connection to anything we learned in the first book. Cerise’s Edge is nothing like Rose’s, and when William goes to Declan for help near the end of the book, it’s shocking to see the Weird and the characters from the first book who seem like a fever dream now, because Bayou Moon feels so separate.

And since now I know more Mar family characters are future leads, we’re going to spend two more books building on this setting within the Edge (presumably) which makes this feel like a first-in-series book all over again, even though it’s the second. There’s enough held over from the first book to make this unreasonable as a standalone, yet it does so much to set up new territory and so little to carry on the first book that it seems like it wants to be a standalone/first-in-series.

I don’t want a series to have two “first” books fighting with each other.

Also, the end felt super-rushed, like we spend four hundred pages doing the family feud in detail, then a huge battle happens afterward in the Weird and it’s glossed over like an afternoon tea party. I don’t object to what happened, just wonder why something so major is wedged into the denouement, essentially.

So, after all that structural nonsense I complain about, what’s good? I do love William, and Cerise is reasonably awesome. A lot of the swamp magic was interesting, a lot of the Hand’s magic/creatures were interesting and revolting at the same time, and even if I didn’t want to spend so much time on Cerise’s extended family, the push/pull they had with her about her love life, and whether or not William should feature in it, was adorable and sometimes a little heartbreaking.

43 - Coraline

#43 – Coraline, by Neil Gaiman

  • Read: 3/9/20 – 3/20/20
  • Mount TBR: 43/150
  • The Reading Frenzy: Read a dark or hard-hitting book
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

Oh, goodness, this was so delightfully creepy and whimsical and frightening. I didn’t find it too scary, even though some of the things in should be terrifying, but I think as an adult, the simplicity of the language and the quick pace sort of flatten it out a bit? There’s not enough time to build the sort of dread that really gets to me and makes me drop a piece of media unfinished because I’m quivering with fear.

But the story structure is elegant, with the right level of foreshadowing that will satisfy an adult reader but possibly slip by a younger one, maybe they’ll get it if they’re clever, maybe it will be a surprise in the end and they’ll get that lovely aha! moment.

Coraline herself is a wonderful child protagonist, scared but smart, brave, and determined. And hey, look! A male author writing a children’s story with a girl as the lead! (No, I’m not still bitter about Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree. Not at all. Why do you ask?)

So, with the caveat that every reader’s tolerance of horror/spookiness is different and this could be too much for you, I can happily recommend this for everyone of any age.

The Self-Isolation Book Sale

What We Need Covers

I’ll be honest, the first time I saw someone on Tumblr with their plague/apocalypse novel on sale because of the coronavirus pandemic, I thought, “Really? Marketing at a time like this?”

But really, a lot of us are stuck at home with only our hobbies to occupy us–it’s not clear yet to me how much I’ll actually be working at my day job in the near future, and I’ve got my writing as well as a number of crafts to keep me occupied, but I know a lot of people out there are looking for new reads and are interested in whistling in the dark by reading post-apocalyptic fiction right now.

So here I am, with a sale to offer. The digital first title in my PA/romance trilogy, What We Need to Survive, is on sale today (or whenever Amazon updates it) for $0.99, down from $3.99. The omnibus edition, What We Need: The Complete Series, is on sale for $4.99, down from $7.99.

I will probably run this sale until at least the end of March, possibly longer, because in the past Amazon has been timely in updating lowered prices but surprisingly slow at updating raised prices, and not just in my experience, many authors have said the same. We’ll see!

If you want to know more about the works themselves, their blurbs can be found on the “My Books” page.

As for whether or not this stressful time is a good time to read them? I’ll be honest, it probably depends on your own personal reaction to the current crisis. The fictional and highly unrealistic plague-doomsday I wrote is meant to be the set dressing for the world I created, not the point of the story. So the actual illness plays a very small part in the plot (I never even go in depth into its symptoms!) and is entirely relegated to character backstories that get shared in the present, several months after the plague strikes.

The point of the story is the romance, and hope for the future growing out of the world that remains.

But that post-plague world is a grim one, and may hit a little too hard for anyone who’s more on the “terrified” end of the spectrum right now, rather than the milder “anxious and inconvenienced” end. I realize my privilege in this respect: I both in a low-risk group for the illness itself, and I am financially stable enough at the moment that whatever loss of income I do or don’t experience based on my day job in the next few weeks isn’t going to sink me. But that’s not true for a lot of people, and I don’t recommend indulging in post-apocalyptic fiction, mine or anyone else’s, if you’re more frightened than not.

If it sounds interesting but you’re not ready to read it now, I get that. Stick it on your TBR and read something lighter, I support you.

But if you’ve got some time to fill, and a character-driven romance in an unusual setting with some high stakes sounds like an adventure worth having, I’ve got you covered!