This Week, I Read… (2020 #4)

13 - Hold Me

#13 – Hold Me, by Courtney Milan

  • Read: 1/24/20
  • Mount TBR: 13/150
  • The Ultimate PopSugar Reading Challenge: A book that passes the Bechdel test
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

I loved pretty much every page of this, which was a surprise, actually, because I wasn’t sure any sequel could stand up to how much I loved Trade Me.

But this did, with a nonstandard enemies-to-lovers arc, with science and math flirting, with both leads pointing out each other’s flaws and kickstarting real emotional growth in the other. Jay begins the book as a dismissive jerk who thinks he’s a feminist but only is in the most shallow of possible ways; Maria starts out with trust issues seventy feet deep, for good reason, but she uses those issues as a pole to prod people away from her. They challenge each other, bringing out the worst in each other at first when they don’t yet know they’re also best friends online, and then slowly, carefully changing that to being their best selves (or at least improved selves, with forward momentum) with each other in person.

And I love, love, love, that Maria being trans informs her history and personality without dominating the narrative–this romance isn’t about her trans identity. The same with Jay’s bisexuality, because his history and some of the comments he makes clearly show that, but we’re not subjected to a deep dive into what it’s like for him to be bi. Those identities are part of who they are, but not the sole focus of the story, which is the way to do marginalized representation when it’s not your own identity you’re writing about.

Even though it’s taken me quite a while to get to this book since I added it to my TBR, I’m sad to see that the rest of the series is still only in the planning/pre-publishing stage: I’ve got short story #2.5 to read, but that’s it! Looking forward to the rest of the series.

14 - The Bromance Book Club

#14 – The Bromance Book Club, by Lyssa Kay Adams

  • Read: 1/25/20
  • Mount TBR: 14/150
  • The Ultimate PopSugar Reading Challenge: A book about a book club
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

Fun, serious and yet somehow still very light-hearted, and definitely an interesting take on a second-chance romance. Also an interesting take on unlearning toxic masculinity.

Gavin is not perfect in any way, and he starts out the book almost frustratingly dense and dumb. Thea is so blithely bitter it was actually hard for me to relate to her at first, because I knew the point of the book was for Gavin to win her back, and the pouting and wounded silences on both their parts seemed melodramatic to me. But once I got past that, I got invested fast, and the rest of the story was practically a romp. Aside from the rough beginning, the things I liked least about the book had nothing to do with them.

What didn’t I like? The Russian, not as a character, but as a gross, smelly, non-character stereotype of the guy on the team no one seems to like. Did we need that kind of potty humor? What did it add to the story? Also, I didn’t actually care for the excerpts of the book that the book club was reading. I’ve discovered over many attempts to read Regency romances that they’re usually not my thing, and this one was no exception. I understand the purpose of the parallel plot, and I don’t really think the novel would be better off without those excerpts, but I can value their purpose without actually liking their style.

I did really enjoy some of Gavin’s other teammates, though, spouting their romance-reading wisdom at him in adorably bite-size pieces that sounded almost like a foreign language coming out of a man’s mouth–which is exactly the point of this story, and exactly why this book is necessary, because emotional wisdom shouldn’t be something only women are expected to learn.

15 - Red Rising

#15 – Red Rising, by Pierce Brown

  • Read: 1/26/20
  • Mount TBR: 15/150
  • Around the Year in 52 Books: The first book in a series that you have not started
  • The Ultimate PopSugar Reading Challenge: A book with a map
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF at page 50. I might have been able to get used to the old-school, classic sci-fi feeling of weirdCapitalization and an entire society being run according to a color-coded caste system, if only I hadn’t had to drop the book like a hot potato because of pedophilia.

That’s right, I said it. Pedophilia.

Now, I can accept in a situation where a 35-year-old man is considered “old,” truly old, and life expectancy is low because the upper caste is working everybody to death, that the marriage age is going to drop into the teens instead of the twenties. It’s not that our lead and his wife are sixteen that I object to, here, as a general concept. They are physically mature enough to procreate, and they’re both doing adult work and treated by their society as adults, so the actual age isn’t the issue for me.

Or it wasn’t, until the world-building showed me that the wedAge (god, I hate those weird compound words with middle capitals) for boys is 16, but for girls it’s 14.

Why? Why are girls women sooner than boys are men? This is some patriarchial bullshit, that demands maturity from girls faster than boys (you know, like real life, “boys will be boys” and the eldest-daughter-equals-babysitter syndrome and all of that lovely stuff young women have to deal with) and romanticizes and sexualizes the innocence of budding young women.

And then, it got worse. Darrow is constantly referring to his wife, his wife, as a “little girl.” She’s perfect and small and waif-like and ethereal and beautiful and perfect and please just gag me already, she’s so clearly a symbol of the beauty of girlhood and NOT ACTUALLY A CHARACTER that even if I hadn’t read the back cover and knew she was going to die, I would have known she was going to die. She was far too “beautiful” to live. And even when she’s dead, and Darrow decides to pull her down from the noose and bury her, she’s still “a little girl.”

God, at least in Braveheart they were both adults. Real adults. (Didn’t see that reference coming? I know other reviews are calling this “Hunger Games in Space” but I didn’t read far enough to get to the games part, and also I never read THG. But I did see Braveheart and this is the exact same plot, to the point where I gave up. Man’s wife gets killed and he “rises” against his oppressors.)

If the author really needed to fridge a “little girl” for the plot to work–and yes, despite the fact that her sacrifice is her own choice, she’s still in the fridge for her husband’s narrative because otherwise the rest of the story wouldn’t exist–then why did it have to be his wife? Could he have had a little sister to care about, so she was family without being sexualized as an adult while constantly described in child-like ways? Or would that be too Hunger Games?

16 - The Singer

#16 – The Singer, by Elizabeth Hunter

  • Read: 1/26/20 – 1/29/20
  • Mount TBR: 16/150
  • The Ultimate PopSugar Reading Challenge: A book with a made-up language
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

I think I would have liked this better if I had read it sooner after finishing the first book. What impressed me so much about that one was the romance and the world-building, especially concerning the magic. What most of this book was about was politics.

There’s still romance, in the sense of yearning for a lost loved one, and the contrast between Ava’s grief and Malachi’s hope is a good one. And at first, I thought their arcs, even when separated, would be parallel, as she learned to handle her magic and he relearned his after he lost it. But that was only a very small part of the plot, and most of the book was spent with various characters hopping across Europe in an elaborate cat-and-mouse hunt with their enemies.

It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t what I was expecting, really. And I am interested in the world enough to be mildly intrigued by its politics and more intrigued by the continued mystery of where Ava got her power from, which is a thread from the first book that was strengthened here. But a lot of what I loved so much about that story was missing here, and the disappointment I have at that diminished the rest of the book for me.

 

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