This Week, I Read… (2019 #4)

12 - beauty

#12 –  Beauty, by Caroline Lee

  • Read: 1/18/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (8/100)
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

Bland. Predictable. Repetitive.

I could only take listening to Arabella whine about how worthless she was because she wasn’t beautiful anymore so many times. Also her idea that she was “old” when she was barely past thirty–yep, you’re a crone, get in the grave already.

I know her attitudes are meant to be warped by her second husband and his impossible standards, I get it. But it’s tiresome to watch her vague attempts to unlearn those attitudes, and I’m not sure she actually succeeds all that well. It’s weird that the one thing I actually truly liked about this was the way the second-chance romance ending played out: you’re not the same person you were when I loved you then, but neither am I, and we fell in love again as who we are now. Honestly, I think that’s beautiful, and something the second-chance-romance sub-genre could take to heart. But as lovely as that sentiment is, I don’t feel like it’s attached to a story line that deserves it. There’s not much conflict aside from Arabella’s and Vincenzo’s prejudices about beauty and its relative worth; the external conflict amounts to some easily ignored nonsense about small-town propriety. It’s shallow, unsubtle, and ultimately a poor reimagination of Beauty and the Beast.

13 - jeweled fire

#13 – Jeweled Fire, by Sharon Shinn

  • Read: 1/19/19 – 1/20/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (9/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book told from multiple character POVs
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

When I pick up a Sharon Shinn book, I’m expecting a solid fantasy plot with a stellar romance subplot. It’s the formula, it’s why she’s been one of my favorite authors since I first picked up Archangel back in college.

This is 95% palace intrigue and 5% romance.

Now, the main plot is definitely solid. I was turning pages. I was fascinated by Corene’s personal growth and the friends she made–she’s come a long way from the spoiled and troubled brat she was as a child in Troubled Waters. But she doesn’t fall in love with Foley, and he doesn’t fall in love with her. They’ve already been in love, only they couldn’t admit it until it seemed like all was lost.

I wouldn’t even be so annoyed by that basic sketch of a romance, if it felt like a payoff of their development from the first two books, but it doesn’t. Foley comes across as authentic here when he insists he was never in love with Corene’s older sister, though it’s easy to think why she’d believe that, because she adores Josetta, so why shouldn’t everyone? But Foley never seemed to be in love with either of them before, and his love for Corene now seems out of left field.

At the same time, though, it’s clear she and Foley are going to end up together, which takes a lot of the punch out of the setup for putting Corene in a foreign land in the first place–the possibility of a marriage into another land’s ruling family. I’m not a fan of love triangles, so I’m glad that wasn’t played straight, but it would have been nice if I’d ever thought for a second that Corene might actually marry one of the candidates, for love or even smart politics. But I knew she wouldn’t.

So I liked the new setting, I liked the twisted, complicated intrigue, I liked the new characters. But I wanted a romance, and I don’t really feel like I got one.

14 - ella minnow pea

#14 – Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters, by Mark Dunn

  • Read: 1/20/19 – 1/22/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (10/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book with no chapters, unusual chapter headings, or unconventionally numbered chapters
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

As a writer, I can appreciate at least a small measure of how difficult this book must have been to write. (And edit, proofread, etc.) I appreciate the craft that went into this.

As a reader, though, I found that the cuteness, cleverness, and contrivance of the story got in its own way at times. Near the beginning of the book, I had a hard time telling which extravagant words were actual terms I was unfamiliar with, and which were made up by the author. In the middle, that literary surplus gives way under the pressure of the limited alphabet, which results for a while in good readability. Near the end, though, the text becomes difficult in a different way, as words take on bizarre spellings to get around the various prohibitions.

Did the extra difficultly reinforce the point of the story? Well, yes, mostly. As a broad, far-reaching satire, this touches on censorship and free speech, governmental overreach, religion-as-rule, the corruption inherent in unrestricted power. Yet, it doesn’t have space to dive into any one of these issues deeply, and because there’s little sense of character (everyone’s letters and notes have basically the same style to them, whatever stage of deterioration the language might be at the time) it’s difficult to form an attachment to any of them, and I found watching this little fictional island nation dissolve to be an exercise in detachment. Yeah, sure, it’s all horrible in an academic sense, but when someone was actually shot, I wasn’t shocked. I wasn’t moved. It was a brief stumbling block before turning the page to find a new item to add to the litany of stupid things happening.

I’m glad I read it–I did enjoy it at least that much. But even for satire, the silliness inherent in the premise and the tone made it difficult to take seriously.

15 - a man of character

#15 – A Man of Character, by Margaret Locke

  • Read: 1/22/19 – 1/23/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (5/48)
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

I enjoyed the premise, though I do question the pacing. I realize a magical manuscript that makes a person’s characters come to life is a serious suspension of disbelief for a rational person to undertake, but Cat toys with the idea for the entire middle act of the book before finally realizing it’s true at the start of the third act. Lady, I’ve been on board with this since the blurb. It’s really happening, and you sure do take your sweet time figuring it out, leading to a lot of hemming and hawing that wasn’t pleasant to wade through.

While I don’t generally go for stories involving multiple (potential) love interests, because of the nature of this particular beast, it didn’t bother me so much. All three fictional men get the development they deserve (thankfully in Ricky’s case, it’s not much) and all three fit a clear pattern in Cat’s life, though I will admit I didn’t see the Dickens/Christmas Carol reference coming, and that was weird. Appropriate, but also somewhat jarring.

Where the story really (finally) took off for me was in Eliza’s romantic subplot, asking Cat to write her a Duke to sweep her away. I like that it’s mostly left to our imagination, what Cat wrote and how she managed to make time travel work for Eliza; I love the resolution, Eliza’s gift to Cat in the future, for its thoughtfulness and obvious testament to their friendship. (Even if I found their relationship overly cutesy at times.)

What disappointed me, though, was that with so much space given to developing the fictional men in Cat’s life, not much time was left for the “real” one, Ben. Who seems like a great guy on the surface, but has relatively limited opportunity to show himself off to the readers. His happy ending with Cat doesn’t feel entirely earned, on his part, at least. Certainly Cat deserves it! But I do wish I’d had the chance to root for Ben more before the end.

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