This Week, I Read… (2020 #21)

#79 – Sexy in Stilettos, by Nana Malone

  • Read: 5/29/20 – 5/30/20
  • Mount TBR: 74/150
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

Badly in need of an editor/proofreader. This story was riddled with errors, from poor punctuation and word choice to misspelled celebrities: one minor character was obsessed with “Patsy Klein.” I was actually confused by that at first–until I realized the author probably meant the famous singer Patsy Cline. (Which is still a throwaway detail that wouldn’t really matter if that obsession weren’t how his brother the hero found him when he was in hiding, which was strange and unsatisfying because it wasn’t told to the readers ahead of time.)

Beyond the lacking presentation, did I like the story? Not really. The characters weren’t solidly constructed, everyone’s wishy-washy in their traits. The heroine is a pushover when confronted in person about most things but when alone is doggedly determined to prove she’s not a failure, even to the point of making unwise life decisions. The hero is a committment-phobe in most areas of his life but is unswervingly loyal and obedient to his stepmother (who is actually a snarky treasure and probably the best thing about this book.) The heroine’s father is Comically Awful at the start and gets an upgrade at the end to Tragically Misunderstood, which was a pseudo-heel-face turn that was unbelievable and wholly undeserved. The heroine’s sister is a total bitch who stole her fiance but also wants her to be at the wedding and be supportive. (Like, it takes two people to cheat. If your sister and your fiance knowingly slept together, they’re both equally at fault, you can’t hate him for it but forgive her. Not if you want me to respect your intelligence, anyway.)

I never felt much chemistry between the leads, and I didn’t really think they were falling in love, just having lots of sex. The happy ending resolution jumps forward past six months of no-contact pining and concludes with a marriage proposal, and I just didn’t buy it.

#80 – Sultry in Stilettos, by Nana Malone

  • Read: 5/30/20 – 5/31/20
  • Mount TBR: 75/150
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF at 70%, hear me out, I’ll get to why.

I had lots of notes in my brain about how this book was basically the same book as the first one. Jaya was an event planner; Ricca and Beckett are both event planners, too. Alec was a semi-dilettante rich guy who was semi-obsessed by rally car racing; Beckett is far less rich, apparently, but still gets to actually drive rally cars in the story, twice by the point I gave up. Why am I reading about the same characters with only slightly different personalities?

The plot is definitely different, I’ll give it that. The first book was a fling-turned-real, whereas this is best-friends-to-lovers. Fair enough.

And the “mystery” subplot at their job is new, too, but badly executed. The culprit is so obvious I don’t even need to read the rest to know I’m right and the leads suspected the wrong character.

I could say more about that, but it’s not the reason I dropped the story when I did. Let me give you a quote:

“I’m almost done. You might as well come in and not waste your workout time. We’re headed to “Morocco landmark” at nine, and we’ll want to make sure we confirm the rest of the day.”

This book isn’t finished. The author left in a “fix me later” note from the drafting cycle. I said about the first book that it needed much better editing, and here’s the eventual culmination of it–a missed research tag that never got resolved. The work up until that point had the same sloppy, needs-editing quality as the first one, but this moment pushed it over the edge for me, it’s simply unprofessional to publish something that clearly isn’t finished.

#81 – Dragon Haven, by Robin Hobb

  • Read: 5/31/20 – 6/2/20
  • Mount TBR: 76/150
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

I did not expect to be giving this book five stars. Not after reading the first in the series, not when starting it, not even when I was halfway through. Yet, here I am.

This is some of the strongest character work I’ve seen from Hobb. Sure, Fitz is super-well-developed across his six books of first-person POV, but this series is following the Mad Ship narrative style: multiple third-person POVs. And while I enjoyed those books a great deal, it works even better here.

Every single major and several of the minor characters find themselves, in this section of the story, addressing the question that I eventually realized is the central theme of the novel: “Are you going to let other people dictate who you are?”

Alise shackled herself to a bad husband, and Sedric to an abusive lover. (Even worse, they’re the same person.) Both of them break free and find new love, while also moving the plot forward. Kudos to finally having a healthy, canonically queer relationship; it’s a nice antidote to the quasi-homophobia of Fitz’s personal disgust re: the Fool, which was clearly not meant to be a blanket statement against queerness but a deep character flaw–still, it got old and it’s nice to see positive representation.

But back to my main point. All of the dragon keepers are, by design, rejects of their own societies. Some use their exile as freedom to be who they want to be and love who they want to love; others use that freedom to try to impose new rules on the group in a bid for power. Thymara in particular understands the desire to reject the old ways but refuses to fall in line with Greft’s new social order that would continue to put her at a disadvantage.

The dragons themselves were born weak, stunted, “wrong,” and after years wallowing in that wrongness, they strike out to find a new home for themselves, one where they can be as they were meant to be–and they grow stronger on the journey, both physically and mentally, no longer limited to the pitiful existence they had as malformed hatchlings.

No one in this book is upending the social order on a revolutionary scale, but they don’t need to (and also that looks like it might be on the horizon anyway, what with founding a city of healthy dragons and everything that entails, everything that would change.) I like that this big, strange, apparently doomed journey that clearly is going to change the world never has that as the goal in mind, not really. It’s always about personal survival and personal freedom and individual stories that weave together to produce something much larger.

I liked the characters after their introduction in the first book, but I love them now.

#82 – One Perfect Night, by Bella Andre

  • Read: 6/3/20
  • Mount TBR: 77/150
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

When will novellas stop trying to be novels?

I picked this up as a freebie because I had enjoyed some of Andre’s other work. None of it set my world alight, but it was mostly solid. This premise seemed bite-sized enough to work as a novella without the number-one complaint I have about romance novellas: “this should have been a full-length novel, it’s trying to do too much.”

I got burned here with that. The lovebirds spend one day skiing together, one week apart and thinking about the other, then get reunited in a too-cute-for-reality setup through mutual friends and end up spending their “one perfect night” together.

During which they drop L-bombs and claim they’re “meant to be.” Um, excuse me? What planet am I on now? Why did a perfectly good novella set up have to rush them to InstaLove when a “this has potential, let’s give a try” kind of Happy For Now ending would have been the absolutely perfect cap to the story? Why does it have to be forever already?

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