This Week, I Read… (2018 #2)

3 - The Ice Queen

#3 – The Ice Queen, by Alice Hoffman

I almost didn’t finish this, because the story started with a lifetime of tragic backstory for the adult narrator, and the first half of the book didn’t do much to make her a character I could connect to–in fact, she’s downright awful and dishonest at times.

Then somehow I found myself flying through the pages when we finally get the mystery of Lazarus underway. I didn’t think he was interesting or appealing as a love interest–the narrator’s relationship with him doesn’t seem any more like love than her self-described sex-only “relationship” with her previous lover–but I did find the questions surrounding him were enough to keep me going.

All at once, near the end, he exits the story completely and the narrative is only concerned with the revelation of her brother’s cancer diagnosis and the events leading up to his death. A quick epilogue sees the narrator paired up with her former “just sex” lover, who was basically a non-entity for most of the story, and then it’s over.

And there’s much waxing metaphorical about fairy tales and chaos theory, most of which was too patchy and incoherent for me to make much sense of.

One gripping section does not a good book make, because I think less of this for its very inconsistency.

4 - The Art of Language Invention

#4 – The Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World-Building, by David J. Peterson

I challenge anyone even remotely interested in language creation to read this book and not immediately want to start a conlang project of their own.

I know I do.

I wish my background in foreign languages and/or linguistics was stronger heading into this read, though, because some of this did go over my head. Latin was never a required course at any school I attended (it wasn’t even offered at my high school), and while I took three years of French and one, later, of Japanese, they were so long ago I’ve forgotten much of both from my lack of practice. A solid foundation in Latin (however awful a language it seems to be to learn) would have given me a leg up in some of the deeper technical aspects, like cases, because that’s just not a thing I ever learned until reading this.

It is an incredibly technical read, and not one I’d recommend for someone with little interest in the subject–this isn’t the type of nonfiction that stuns you with surface-level facts about some subject you’ve never heard of. It’s basically a textbook with occasional bright sparks of humor.

But it’s a very, very good textbook. One which I will be referring to constantly as I try my hand at conlanging myself. After I learn the International Phonetic Alphabet, first, because I’ve only got the barest grip on that…

5 - His to Protect

#5 – His to Protect, by Elena Aitken

A short and basic shifter romance about fated mating which is not all that great to start with, even before being irreparably marred by Gay Villains.

Seriously, the heroine finds out a few years into her marriage that she’s a beard for her gay husband, stands by him as he discreetly dates men on the side, then he ends up staging at elaborate coming-out plot in the media while also embezzling from the company they run together. And his boyfriend is in on the crime, and is also the heroine’s lawyer, so she can’t even continue to use him for counsel because he’s in on it.

So instead of doing the mature thing and getting a divorce, the gay villain husband and his gay villain boyfriend frame the poor, defenseless woman for their crime, not only ruining her professional reputation by making her look like an idiot for her failed relationship, but also doing their best to put her in jail.

And of course there are no positive representation of any kind of queer person anywhere else in the book. Just big, fiercely protective, insanely possessive, manly men–brothers, even–and the oldest one falls for the poor, defenseless woman.

Now, I have nothing against romantic heroes being big and strong and masculine. But when the whole point is that he needs to save/protect his woman from her evil gay ex…

Can we please stop with the blatant queer-bashing?

6 - Magic Bleeds

#6 – Magic Bleeds, by Ilona Andrews

The first three novels were good. Solid. I enjoyed them, and I was curious to see where the Kate/Curran pairing was headed, in the midst of all that blood and guts and magic and stubbornness.

The two of them finally getting together was absolutely worth the build-up. Enemies-to-lovers at its best, here. (Though I’d call it adversaries rather than enemies–Curran hasn’t really been an enemy, not in the way each book’s true antagonists have been.)

Which, speaking of, the main plot here had a better magical war than the previous books. I know the story line is working its way up to Kate’s eventual confrontation with Roland (at least, it better be) but the first three books were more of a monster-of-the-week setup than anything else. It made sense to start smaller, Kate couldn’t be too badass right away, but I’m thrilled to see this book introduce a more terrifying evil to fight while also moving the story of Kate’s family forward.

Basically, it does everything the earlier books did, but so much better. I’m kicking myself that this is the last book of the series I own, and I’m on a book-buying ban for a few months. I want to read the rest right now!

7 - Tapping the Billionaire

#7 – Tapping the Billionaire, by Max Monroe

This one plays with a lot of tropes we’ve all seen in the romance genre–billionaires, office romance, secret online lives. After I read the introduction, I actually thought I wouldn’t like it at all, as the tone is immediately hard-hitting with “look at me I’m so different from the other billionaires.”

But then, he is. The story bears it out, and our billionaire CEO is actually an incredibly sweet, down-to-earth guy who I pretty much fell in love with myself as the story went on.

The reason this didn’t get five stars from me boils down to the unrelenting “humor”. I may be an incredibly snarky reviewer who goes right for the guts of a book I don’t like, but I’m not snarky 100% of the time in my life. The dialogue did often feel like it was trying too hard, as well as the internal thoughts of the characters. (Which were also in past tense? If we’re getting their actual thoughts, they should be in present tense, even when the narrative POV is past. That’s standard for everything I’ve ever read, so it was weird here to deviate from it.)

Also, the very, very last section of the epilogue (in my edition) is marked at the head with the wrong character name. Confused the hell out of me until I realized it, especially as it’s the setup for the next book in the series–and that’s incredibly sloppy editing.

8 - Deep Blue

#8 – Deep Blue, by Jules Barnard

There were more things I disliked about this than liked, though it did tackle one issue I don’t see often enough in NA romance–a character questioning whether or not they should be going to school (grad school, in this case) for a stable career instead of following a riskier but more desirable path. And that’s a big conflict this age group faces, one that is usually handled shallowly the rare times I’ve seen it.

On to the bad things. Pacing. The first half of the book took forever and spent far too much time on petty relationship drama with the lead’s best friend, and then everything in the second half rushed by with little time to process it. I was still on board with the plausibility of the plot when Jaeger’s ex showed up claiming they had a kid together, but we raced right past that into her setting up the lead with a phony drug charge and the go-between guy who actually planted the drugs also almost killing her with a spiked mocha.

I’m not saying shit like this never happens, or that it couldn’t have been a good plot point if it was better-developed, but everything piled up on top of itself so fast I felt like a pinball, careening from one disaster to another.

Pacing also forms the foundation of my complaint with the romance itself. Cali holds out on her attraction to Jaeger for a while, no problem there, I like slow burn, but once they’re together, he’s instantly full speed ahead. He’s waaaay more serious about her than she seems to be about him, and instead of that being a hurdle in her own life she needs to clear, it comes across more as an imbalanced power dynamic. He’s not so much older than her that it creeped me out, but he’s quite a bit more financially stable, and he’s already got himself a successful business, so they’re in very different places in life despite only a few years’ gap between them. Cali does reflect on this, just a little, which is at least something, but she dismisses those concerns pretty quickly, and no one else seems to care. It left a bad taste in my mouth.

9 - The Bean Trees

#9 – The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver

Having read and loved two later Kingsolver novels, I was looking forward to this, her first work. While it shows the potential she grew into later, on its own it’s okay at best.

Too many things go unexplained, passed over with no common-sense context. A baby gets dumped on you by a stranger? Sure, take it and raise it, even though you should immediately contact the police. Taylor bumbles her way through her life, without any clue or plan, and despite being the main character she doesn’t have a clear character arc. At the end, suddenly she’s very attached to little Turtle, who mostly seemed like a grudgingly accepted thorn in her side before that; also, she’s fallen in love with Estevan? Were there actually clues about that earlier that I missed, or was that as sudden and unexpected as it felt to me? Because Taylor didn’t seem to love much of anything, or anyone.

Still, I did enjoy it. Kingsolver’s lyrical way with words is already in evidence, though it will definitely get better with practice, and I’m a sucker for the non-blood family trope.

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