This Week, I Read… (2019 #35)

117 - Still Waters

#117 – Still Waters, by Viveca Sten

  • Read: 8/22/19 – 8/24/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (74/100); The Reading Frenzy’s “Bookish Treasure Hunt” Challenge
  • Task: A door on the cover or in the title
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

DNF at 25%. It takes a really gripping mystery to keep me engaged in the genre, as it’s not my thing, and this simply wasn’t interesting enough.

As I’ve read other Swedish works in translation, I wasn’t put off by the simple, blunt narrative style, though I will say this was even simpler and more blunt than I’ve seen in the past. The text quickly fell into a pattern: introduce a new character or refocus on a known one, tell the reader how they’re feeling, describe the setting a little (or a lot, if it’s a new one,) sum up any backstory relevant to the scene, and then finally let the scene itself unfold. “Telling” not “showing” seems to be typical of the Swedish thriller style–I certainly waded through more than a thousand pages of it reading the Millennium series–but I could get over that, if only the telling had been interesting itself.

It wasn’t. While two dead bodies appearing within a week of each other on a beautiful Swedish island might be enough of a hook for the fictional locals, I’m not wowed by it, and the secrets Kicki was keeping about what may have gotten her cousin killed, and probably herself as well, were so vague and formless that I couldn’t muster enough energy to care.

This isn’t my genre, and I never would have bought this book on my own–it came to me free for World Book Day last year, so I figured I might as well give it a try, but like I’ve said, I’ve read other Swedish mystery/thrillers, and this doesn’t stand up favorably to them.

118 - The Fire Rose

#118 – The Fire Rose, by Mercedes Lackey

  • Read: 8/25/19 – 8/27/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (75/100)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

So, so very bad. Even though I know this book is over twenty years old, and the fantasy and fantasy-romance genres have matured since the mid-1990’s, this is still really, really bad.

Despite the overly stuffy and “proper” narrative voice, I found the prose oddly compelling and readable–I think I finished almost 100 pages in my first sitting–but some of that interest was coming from a “what stupid thing will happen next,” rubber-necking sort of curiosity. It’s a Beauty and the Beast retelling reframed through the mastery of elemental magic. But this Beast did it to himself directly, rather than his affliction coming from an external source. Okay, I suppose we can work with that, but the redemption of Jason Cameron’s less-than-stellar qualities never happens. He’s a pretty terrible person, even setting aside the innate racism and sexism endemic to the setting and thus, his character. I mean, he knows his personal secretary is out there abusing women for fun, and has the power to do something about it, and doesn’t. Not a good look for a romantic hero.

Rosalind is less of a terrible person morally, but still a pretty boring character. Her spitfire attitude is nothing we haven’t seen from a million other “but women were oppressed at the time” stories where the One Special Woman rebels against society somehow. Rosalind does it by being smart and studious and working for her living, albeit under odd circumstances, but she spends so much time reveling in the luxuries Jason surrounds her with that her uprightness folds under a few pretty dresses and sumptuous baths. I could even get behind the “if this is what I’m offered, by golly, I’m going to enjoy it” justification, if only the author didn’t spend so. much. time. describing these luxuries; the clothes, the baths, the rooms, the food. It’s excessive detail that slows down an already thin plot.

Then the real kicker–it’s a romance, except I never once felt like either Jason or Rosalind was falling in love. They spar with each other convincingly at first, but the tension between them is more intellectual than romantic or sexual. After the revelation of Jason’s condition, he admits to himself he feels sexual attraction, but, you know, given his situation, wouldn’t he be attracted to just about any woman who could stand to be in the same room as him? Beggars can’t be choosers, and all. As for Rosalind, there’s just nothing convincing going on there. For all that she makes “uncensored Ovid” and Caligula jokes, she never managed to show me she was a sexual character, and of course, the romance ends with a marriage but no physical contact, not even a kiss? Bestiality is apparently not a line we’re going to explicitly cross, yet by not having Jason regain his human form, that’s the only road open to this romance. So it’s weird and unsatisfying and not credible.

And the villains are barely one step up from mustache-twirling idiots, they’re so ludicrously thin and dull. Didn’t want to not-mention that failing, but don’t have much more to say about it, because there’s barely anything there to criticize. They exist because Jason needs antagonists, but they’re not interesting.

118 - Break in Two

#119 – Break in Two, by M.J. Summers

  • Read: 8/27/19 – 8/29/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (76/100)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

One of the laziest and most formulaic romances I’ve read in the last year, and right down there with the most boring romances I’ve ever read.

Claire’s only personality is that she hates her ex–he’s actually given more development than she is, in the early chapters, so we can get the full picture of just what a sleazebag he is and how much better off she’ll be without him, but that comes at the definite cost of giving her page-time to have any traits of her own. She owns a lot of clothes, but even that is less about her being a clothes horse or a shopaholic, and more a setup for Cole to accidentally see her underthings, more than once.

Cole starts out with the thin character type “sexy cowboy,” to which is added, half-heartedly, “small business owner trying to make things work.” His business-owner chops are immediately undercut by how insanely unprofessional he acts around Claire, both in terms of flirting/sexual harassment and anger management issues. The first time these two idiots “fight” they’re actual just throwing childish temper tantrums at each other, and I thought, wait, are these people adults? Have they ever had jobs before?

Add to that some poorly-thought out plot points–like Claire’s ex’s affair being exposed by a phone-answering mix-up, when it’s established that Claire has her own cell phone so why would the side piece think the dude is calling when it was Claire, her coworker? They wouldn’t have the same phone number? Caller ID is a thing? It’s completely preposterous?

Oh, and the sex is rushed to, not particularly interesting, and completely eclipses the development of any emotional attachment actually forming between Cole and Claire.

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