This Week, I Read… (2018 #18)

61 - Unexpectedly Mine

#61 – Unexpectedly Mine, by Stephanie Rowe

As my criticisms are many, let’s start this review with the good points.

This romance does a bang-up job at keeping the obstacles coming, and snatching victory (ie, a happy ending) from the jaws of defeat. The leads only get their HEA after a great deal of change. And while I don’t care for either teenage daughter character–they’re both nothing but whiney, with no personalities to speak of–both leads do visibly struggle with what it means to be a good parent.

Also, Clare actually debates with herself whether getting involved with Griffin was a good idea and/or worth the heartache that seemed the obvious ending to their fling. Not for just a few heartbeats, like so many heroines I see, who are so overcome with lust that they make stupid decisions. Clare ends up making the choice she considered “bad” at the time, but she did it with her eyes open, knowing she’d get hurt in the end and deciding to have her fun anyway. It’s not often I see any character own their (potential) mistakes so clearly.

On to the bad parts.

1. Griffin. He’s not a consistent character. We’re introduced to him in a heroic light, then we find out he’s a millionaire businessman, but we rarely see him act as one because he’s fallen head over heels for Clare and acts accordingly. While these actions might be out of character for pre-book Griffin, we only really see him being the “good man” Clare repeatedly asserts him to be, so his character arc is pretty flat.

2. Griffin again. While we’re given extensive detail on Clare’s romantic history, I can’t recall any real detail about Griffin’s failed marriage. I don’t even know how long ago his wife and daughter left him, aside from the fact that his ex-wife has remarried and had twins by her new husband–so lowball, at least two years, unless they were super-rushing the wedding, but high estimate could be just about any length of time. Why was Griffin so set on getting his daughter back now, this instant, when she’d been gone so long? The narrative does mention that he hadn’t actually seen Brooke in person for over a year, but what was it that made him need her so badly then when he didn’t seem to before?

3. Repetitive dialogue, internal monologue, and description. Both leads have POVs, and both tend to ramble in their heads multiple times with endless questions, nearly whole pages of talking to themselves about their problems. Griffin and Clare are both described repeatedly, with only slight variations of word choice–no, thank you, I haven’t forgotten what they look like. A lot of page space is taken up talking about Clare’s friend Astrid’s appearance, with great emphasis on how quirky and free-spirited she is and how wild her hair is. I didn’t actually confirm this, but from the get-go it was obvious to me that she’s the female lead in the next novel in the series, because boy, does she take up too much room in this one.

4. Too many characters, too quickly. In the second major setting of the book, the town’s general store, Clare (and the reader) is bombarded with names and faces. I don’t even know how many new characters were introduced in a few short pages–both of her best friends, the couple who owns the store, a friend of her mother’s, and at least a few more besides. Some of them are important–some of them I don’t remember ever seeing again. I get that it’s supposed to be a bustling hub of activity, but that doesn’t mean we have to meet everyone in town at once.

5. Griffin for the third time, because the ending sucks. The reason Griffin eventually stays in town sucks. Him realizing his daughter is happier and better off with her new family is a good thing, and him not buying a business just to impress her is better, but then his alternative is handed to him on a platter in the hokiest manner possible. It’s too big a jump to believe.

62 - Fear of Falling
#62 – Fear of Falling, by S.L. Jennings

DNF @ 7%. Earlier than I usually give up on a book, but this had racism and toxic masculinity written all over it.

We learn the narrator, Kami, is not white when a complete jackass at a bar tries to guess her ethnicity. He actually uses the word “mulatto,” which I’ve never seen or heard anyone use in a non-historical context, then moves on immediately to other offensive stereotypes. But wait! An attractive bartender appears to save Kami from this racist loser!

Except he proceeds to be nearly as offensive in “guessing” her ethnicity by using apparently complimentary terms which still reduce her to an object.

WHY IS IT OKAY FOR STRANGERS TO SPECULATE TO SOMEONE WHAT THEIR BACKGROUND IS?

Eventually, it’s revealed that Kami is of Filipino descent, but it took basically the whole chapter. I mean, just tell me that to begin with? Don’t make it a mystery we have to spend a whole chapter to solve by having two characters be racist at her, especially when one of them’s obviously her love interest down the line? He’s presented as less offensive than his cousin–oh, yeah, the jackass is his cousin!–but immediately dismisses the cousin as “harmless.”

TRYING TO PICK UP A WOMAN BY BEING RACIST AT HER IS NOT HARMLESS.

BADGERING ANYONE ABOUT THEIR SKIN COLOR, FACIAL FEATURES, OR OTHER PHYSICAL MARKERS OF HERITAGE IS NOT HARMLESS.

But yeah, it’s just (racist) dudes being (racist) dudes, right? So it’s okay. And there’s where we get toxic masculinity on top of the racism, because all men’s behavior towards women is fine, as long as another man can rationalize it or dismiss it as harmless, a joke, etc. So Kami brushes off the jackass cousin because look how handsome and less-racist the bartender is!

I won’t dignify the rest of this novel by reading it.

63 - Women in Love

#63 – Women in Love, by D.H. Lawrence

DNF @ page 100, because all the characters were similarly awful, and this far in there was still no sign of either a plot, or the two love affairs that the back cover blurb assured me were the point of the novel.

When I say the characters are “similarly awful,” I mean a lot of damning things. They’re all petty and shallow; easily overcome by violent emotion which renders them dazed or speechless or, in one case, actually violent; deeply self-absorbed and without much in the way of compassion or empathy; and prone to philosophical debate at the drop of a hat, no matter where, when, or how it might contravene social etiquette. There’s abysmally little in the way of personality to differentiate between any of them.

As early as the third chapter, I remarked to my husband, “This book just seems like an excuse for Lawrence to have angry debates with himself,” because one of the characters most guilty of this is apparently a self-insert of him. In that chapter, his avatar (Birkin) goes to the classroom of Ursula, observes her lesson for a moment, proceeds to tell her in no uncertain terms how she should be teaching it and how she’s missing the point entirely, and then the woman who’s trying to gain Birkin’s affection (Hermione) appears, and she and Birkin have an involved philosophical debate. Ursula is still there, and saying nothing, and I’m pretty sure at some point the students left for the end of the day, but never is there any explanation of why Birkin came to see Ursula (in fact, he seems to quickly forget she’s even there), or how Hermione knew Birkin was there for her to barge in upon. And Ursula never shows any reaction to having her class disrupted.

If there was any point to that chapter other than making a stage for Lawrence to proclaim his values upon, I can’t find it.

Also, for a book supposedly about women in love, there’s an awful lot of homoeroticism between Birkin and Gerald, who’s supposed to have an affair with Ursula’s sister Gudrun somewhere down the line. There’s a great affection implied between them, even as Lawrence tells us there’s also a drawing-back, even a repulsion of each other. Afraid to get too close, hm?

Basically, all the characters dislike each other virulently, and I couldn’t take it anymore.

All that being said, Lawrence does have the occasional eye for beauty in his words, with frequent and powerful juxtapositions of meaning to give vivid life to his descriptions. I found myself jolted out of my boredom with the story several times just turning a particularly lovely phrase over in my mind, exploring how eloquently he could describe a state of being.

Sadly, that’s not enough to make me want to finish the book, given that everyone is so detesting and destestable.

64 - Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

#64 – Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli

  • Read: 5/7/18
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

It was amazing. I laughed out loud, I got teary-eyed, though I never quite cried. Simon is a darling, “Blue” is hilarious, and even though I went to high school twenty years ago, everything about this seemed authentic to me–technology has changed teenagers that much.

My only criticism is minor, and may have been exaggerated by how quickly I read this: I didn’t seem to get all the nuances of Simon’s closest circle of friends right away. We’re introduced to a lot of characters quickly, which would normally be a complaint for me, except this is a high school setting and (for once) the MC isn’t a loser loner. So yeah, he’s got a lot of friends. But we don’t get much about them at first, and later in the book I realized this is a deliberate sign of Simon’s cluelessness and confusion about other people, but as a reader it was the tiniest bit confusing to me.

Super minor, though. I did figure out who Blue was, but only at the very last possible minute, like one chapter before the reveal. I might have gotten it earlier if I’d had a better sense of who was who, but it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book much at all.

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