This Week, I Read… (2019 #7)

25 - End of Days

#25 – End of Days, by Susan Ee

  • Read: 2/7/19 – 2/9/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (17/100)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

The final entry in this series had me so full of adrenaline that I had to take breaks to get up, move around, and work some of it off.

I’ve said other books are roller coasters, but this one is like, I don’t know, a super collider? Between the loving-tender-desperate scenes with Raffe and Penryn, my sudden and wholly unexpected sympathy and even sadness for Beliel, the silliness of the Talent Show at the End of the World immediately turning into the painful longing and elegance of one last ballet, followed by the battle that’s been building for three solid books–I’m a mess. A happy, jittery, sad, triumphant, jazzed-up mess.

If there’s one small flaw I found in this, it was actually the epilogue, which felt unsatisfying after the tumult of emotions I suffered to get to it. It’s not that it doesn’t cap off the plot or give hope for the future, just that it felt flat to me compared with what came before.

26 - Unfettered

#26 – Unfettered, by Sasha White

  • Read: 2/9/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (18/100)
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

I liked the clean, direct writing style, and the gravity with which the particulars of a BDSM club were handled. I didn’t like how rushed it was.

I get it. It’s a teaser novella for the first book. But even so, forty pages isn’t enough to convince me that Ronnie’s in love with Ian, or that he’s in love with her. That they’re in lust with each other, oh, absolutely, I believe that. But the ending of the novella rang false for me, especially because after all that work Ronnie went through to be a part of the club, the first thing she does is leave it to go home with Ian? Thematically, that makes no sense.

I dearly hope the first full-length novel will fix/pay off the setup here, because I’m definitely primed to like these characters, I just feel like the novella wasn’t enough.

27 - Bitterblue

#27 – Bitterblue, by Kristin Cashore

  • Read: 2/9/19 – 2/12/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (9/48); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book with a title that contains “salty,” “sweet,” “bitter,” or “spicy”
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

I enjoyed this even more than Fire, and that’s really saying something.

This one had a lot of lessons to teach, as well. Your first love doesn’t have to be your last or only love. Recovering from deep emotional wounds won’t happen if you bury them, if you pretend they never existed, but it’s possible with time and care. Personal growth can be painful but is always worthwhile.

Not everything is neatly settled for Bitterblue as queen when the story ends, yet, after three books of three young women struggling in the shadow of her father’s monstrous power, the ending does feel satisfying and hopeful.

I’m impressed with the level of craft in a trilogy that doesn’t proceed chronologically. I was often surprised in this volume at small touches that spoke of careful plotting. But I loved it even more for its emotional resonance, because who hasn’t felt lost, alone, or overwhelmed at some point in their life?

All three of these books were library books, and now, I need my own copies, because I’ve got to reread them, and study them, and treasure them. I think that’s one of the best compliments I can give a book.

28 - Let and Let Die

#28 – Live and Let Die, by Ian Fleming

  • Read: 2/12/19 – 2/15/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (19/100)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

I can’t even begin to untangle the many levels on which this book displays deep and unashamed racism. Even accounting for the attitudes of the time, even dismissing language that was socially acceptable (to white men, anyway) at the time but isn’t any longer, there is still plenty of unchallenged racism to go around, ranging from the small but frequent likening of black people to animals, to the middling depiction of black vernacular language across all characters but Mr. Big (the sole intelligent, polished “negro”, which is a problem in its own right), to the broad exotification and demonization of voodoo practices.

It’s gross, and I felt gross reading it.

But I knew, from reading Casino Royale previously, that I had to expect a certain level of sexism and racism from this series. When I finished that work, I still clung to my desire to read the whole series, learning what I could from it even if there were parts of it I despised.

Live and Let Die has me questioning that resolve. When you strip away the worst parts, what’s left is still pretty bad–from a technical standpoint, there’s a whole host of issues that have nothing to do with any moral failings of the content.

Bond and Leiter speak in precisely the same way, despite Leiter being a Texan to Bond’s classic British splendor–they both exchange information solely at two extremes of conversation, either the rapid-fire back-and-forth that probably sounds more realistic in the mouths of talented actors, or the page-long exposition dumps of one of them catching the other up to speed. Aside from Leiter’s tendency to smile more than Bond, and his notable blond hair, they might as well be the same person. They should not be the same person.

Solitaire goes beyond a mere damsel in distress that Bond needs to save. She actively causes Bond to make bad decisions while providing no real benefits to outweigh the harm she does. Even as an informant on Mr. Big’s dealings, Bond notes that she doesn’t tell him anything he didn’t already know or could guess. Her role in the story is to be a pretty girl for Bond to want to have sex with, to “fall in love” with.

Of course he doesn’t really fall in love, because he’s sworn off love, remember? The entire point of the first book’s ending was that Bond was never going to love again. So I wasn’t surprised at all by how he manipulates Solitaire. Sickened, but not surprised.

The plot is the sort of campy and improbable thing I’d expect, but in this case, more so than with Casino Royale, most of what happens seems to happen because of Bond’s stupidity or poor decisions. Mr. Suave Secret Agent is just screwing up left and right in this story, and if I’d actually cared about him, I would have been screaming at the page, especially when he decides to trust Solitaire based on absolutely nothing. I can accept Bond being an asshole, I can accept him being a sexist manipulator, I can even accept his profound British distaste for all things American (he’s constantly ragging on our food and our cars, to the point where it was interfering with the flow of the story.) But I cannot accept a stupid Bond. What’s the point of his antihero, power-fantasy appeal if he’s a blithering idiot? What redeeming qualities does he have, if not intelligence?

So what good did I find, from a writerly perspective, in this work? Not much. There were occasional moments of compelling imagery, all the more vivid for being surprises in the midst of overworked, pedestrian action sequences. And I was impressed with how much dread and tension the train-travel section was imbued with, given that traveling on the page can often be boring rather than suspenseful.

Not really enough to justify the time I put into reading this.

I’m done. 2019 being the year of me reading the entire Bond series is a failure. I won’t keep wading through this garbage any longer.

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