This Week, I Read… (2017 #43)

153 - An Echo in the Bone

#153 – An Echo in the Bone, by Diana Gabaldon

I gave up around 20%. I simply don’t care anymore, mostly because I’m tired of having my attention divided between so many POV characters, and the large amount of characters in general. It isn’t fun for me to read about a big reveal that Person X isn’t actually who he says he is, he’s actually somebody we met five books ago and haven’t thought of since. I don’t remember him! He wasn’t that interesting!

Also, while I like Roger and Bree well enough, spending so much time with them after they’ve gone back to modern times doesn’t interest me, either. And I don’t care for William’s chapters at all.

I’m just bored and worn out on this series. I should have given up sooner.

154 - Seeing Me Naked

#154 – Seeing Me Naked, by Liza Palmer

It’s more of a 2.5, really, but I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did, so I’ll give it the half star for sheer improvement as the story goes.

I’m not much of a chick-lit person–it’s distinctly different from romance, despite the many themes they can share between genres. I guess because all the chick-lit I’ve read has been about horribly narcissistic women “finding” themselves?

And this doesn’t start off any different. Elisabeth is the daughter of a famous novelist and now the sister of another one; she’s completely overshadowed by the other members of her family, and her father is deeply disappointed by her career choice as a pastry chef.

Everyone in this family is awful to each other. Even Elisabeth and her brother, who Palmer appears to want us to believe are close, are constantly sniping at each other, and not in joking, friendly ways.

Elisabeth also has an extremely long-distance, almost non-existent relationship with her childhood-friend-turned-adult-lover, Will. Who is also a patently horrible person, for not devoting any significant energy to their relationship and constantly jetting off for his journalism job with no notice to Elisabeth of where he’s going or how long he’s going to be gone.

I found this incredibly hard to believe. Will’s behavior is painted as so far beyond normal that I actually can’t wrap my head around anyone putting up with it, who didn’t sign on for exactly that sort of life. I can’t fathom Elisabeth’s acceptance of it, and the fact that her dissatisfaction with it only arises/is realized at the beginning of this story.

But it does make it utterly believable that she’d fall for someone else in the meantime.

I almost gave up on this book, but somewhere around the halfway point, I found I could hardly put it down. Sure, the plot is reasonably predictable–Elisabeth decides to take a chance on a new direction in her career and a new romance, and becomes a better person for it. The tale of chick-lit everywhere.

But she actually does become a better person. That snarky, privileged attitude she started with is something she visibly struggles with during her relationship with Daniel. She first trains herself to keep her barbs to herself, only thinking and not saying them, because she doesn’t want to be the bitch anymore. And gradually, she stops feeling like one as she stops acting like one.

I guess my bar has been set so low by other chick-lit that I’m actually impressed by real character growth–but I was.

155 - Ruined

#155 – Ruined, by M.C. Frank

Okay, so last week I went on and on about how much I loved Jane Eyre. Here’s the reason I finally read it, a Regency-era retelling by a Tumblr author buddy of mine.

Ruined captures all the angst and drama, and most of the mystery, of Jane Eyre, while absolutely gutting the plot.

Jane’s analogue, Beatrice, is the one with the mysterious past instead of Rochester’s stand-in, Ashton–and I don’t think it’s a good change, not the way it’s handled.

Throughout the narrative, Beatrice has flashbacks to abuse she suffered at the hands of a mysterious (to us) man. At first so little information is given that I wondered if it was her father; in later flashbacks it was made clear this abuser was separate from him, but had some kind of hold over him, and thus access to Beatrice, eventually marrying her.

For most of the book, given the language used in these flashbacks, I honestly thought Beatrice was being raped by this man throughout her childhood. Turns out I took an extreme interpretation of the described events, as her abuser was impotent, so the molestation was of a less violent nature. Still awful, don’t get me wrong–but the fact that I could read it that way and be wrong left me concerned.

Giving Beatrice a traumatic past certainly makes her triumph in loving Ashton, and being accepted by him despite her “ruined” status, a satisfying ending in defiance of the norms of Regency England; which is similar to Jane’s rise in stature due to her acceptance of Rochester. But this is one of the two things that I really think weakens the story compared to Jane Eyre; Beatrice’s success and happiness is dependent on someone accepting her, overlooking what was done to her. Jane’s relies on her acceptance of Rochester and his infirmities, his deception about his past, and all the harm it caused her. Jane makes an active choice in her future; Beatrice is merely lucky enough to have things turn out her way.

The second thing that weakens the story is the change in perspective. So much of what I loved about Jane Eyre was Jane’s uncompromising and unique first-person voice; Ruined uses alternating third-person perspective from Beatrice and Ashton’s POVs. While it’s a common choice these days for romances (I use it myself!) I don’t think it suits the spirit of the novel Ruined is retelling.

156 - An Acceptable Time

#156 – An Acceptable Time, by Madeleine L’Engle

Let’s start with the easy complaints first, and get them out of the way: slow-paced and repetitive–the real action doesn’t start until about 2/3 of the way through the story, and until then it’s just the same five characters having the same discussion over and over again in different combinations.

Unrelatable characters–Polly doesn’t have much personality beyond idolizing her grandparents, and Zachary is downright creepy. And it’s insane to me that Meg Murry O’Keefe, Polly’s mother and protagonist of the first book, would respond to someone so creepy by giving him the location of her daughter when he called and was like, “Hey, I’m this random dude your daughter met in Greece, I’m several years older than her and I really liked her, so can I see her?” “Yep, sure, she’s staying with her grandparents, why don’t you drive out to see her?”

No, no way. Meg would not do that.

But the real meat of my absolute bewilderment with this story is the cognitive dissonance displayed by Polly’s grandparents and their friend, Dr. Louise. None of those three “believe” that Polly and the Bishop are going through a time-gate to three thousand years ago, or that people from that era are coming to their time, despite no small amount of evidence to support it. And given what we’ve seen Mr. Murry, in particular, go through in earlier works, you’d think he’d be willing to suspend a little disbelief.

But in the same breath as pointedly not believing it’s real, they’re setting rules and precautions in place on Polly to prevent it from happening again.

IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN IT, WHY ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT IT?

How can they possibly claim not to believe in Polly’s story if they’re so overprotectively concerned about her not going through the time-gate again?

I simply could not reconcile those two warring states of being for those characters.

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