This Week, I Read… (2020 #29)

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#109 – Your Irresistible Love, by Layla Hagen

  • Read: 7/24/20
  • Mount TBR: 97/150
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

Well, that didn’t take long. DNF @ 27%, and let me show you the quote that did it.

“Nothing. She’s a grown woman. We have to respect her decisions.”

Out of context, I’m all for this. In context, it pissed me off to no end. The hero says this to his younger brother because they’ve both been excluded from attending their sister’s divorce hearing; she doesn’t want them there, and so they’re not going.

Too bad this is a complete 180 for the hero, who has been irritating me right from the beginning with his utter inability to respect the heroine’s boundaries. She says she can’t accept his gift of a spa afternoon because she barely knows him; he refuses to take it back and insists she use it. She says she wants to explore San Francisco on her own because she’s new to town; he insists on going with her. She explicitly states that they can’t date because she’s a consultant newly assigned to his company and there’s a clause about it in her contract; he asks, “Is there really no way around that?”

He’s a control freak, and he gets what he wants. I was tolerating him even though he was acting inappropriately because the heroine a) was constantly flirting right back, which made it seem more like a game than being pursued by a creeper; and b) never stuck to those boundaries she attempted to set for more than two minutes at a time. She uses that gift card. She goes with him around San Francisco and has a great day. And at the point where I’ve given up reading, she’s actually considering how to get around that no-dating-the-boss bit of her contract. She’s clearly enabling his pursuit, despite her lip service to the contrary. So their dynamic isn’t one that sets my world on fire, but I didn’t consider it as harmful in this case as I so often do in other stories when a man thinks it’s sexy to keep pushing a woman to accept him.

But if the hero outright states that he’ll respect his sister’s decisions, while constantly challenging his love interests…

That doesn’t sit right with me.

I wasn’t really enjoying the book anyway, it’s got plenty of other issues. Stilted and unnatural dialogue, flat characters, weird pacing. I was hanging on in case things got better when they actually got together, but now I see I don’t need to, because I simply can’t respect the hero and his double standard for women’s autonomy.

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#110 – Knocking Boots, by Willow Winters and Vivian Wood

  • Read: 7/24/20 – 7/25/20
  • Mount TBR: 98/150
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

On top of everything else I didn’t like about this book, it has the absolute worst description of a penis that I’ve ever read in a romance novel: “…two soda cans stacked end to end.”

First of all, nobody’s schlong is really that big. Second, even if I’m wrong about that and this gargantuan penis does exist, that’s the least sexy way possible to describe it. I am not attracted to a man because he has a big penis, and I am definitely not attracted to the idea of two soda cans stuffed into someone’s jeans.

And that’s a microcosm for a lot of my issues with the book. The situations don’t make sense or aren’t realistic, and then also aren’t sexy. If I’m a lonely single thirty-year old woman who’s having fertility issues, you want to guess who one of the last people on earth I would talk to them about would be? The hot bartender I have a crush on. (I mean, I wouldn’t be telling any bartender, but especially not the hot one I have a crush on.)

If this is supposed to show me how close they are before their fake-then-maybe-real relationship starts, it doesn’t, because HE’S A BARTENDER. YOU ARE PAYING HIM TIPS TO LISTEN TO YOUR PROBLEMS. The book doesn’t even pretend to examine the customer/employee dynamic, the hot bartender is a totally fine target for the heroine’s lust and it’s totally okay that she starts hanging around the employees-only sections of the bar without explicit permission and no there couldn’t possibly be any fallout for the business if this relationship tanks, why would you think that?

Another supposed-to-be-sexy-but-isn’t situation: heroine paints an erotic picture, it’s for sale at her friend’s booth at an art fair. She calls him up, hey want to go on a fake date to this art fair? He sees the painting and buys it after finding out she painted it. She’s embarrassed but turned on.

A) if you’re that embarrassed by your work, why is it for sale in a public place? B) if you’re not embarrassed in general but you didn’t want Mr. Bartender seeing it, why did you bring him? C) if you allowed both of those conditions to be met because you actually did want him to see it, then why are you embarrassed at all? What am I supposed to get from this scene? Because it doesn’t make sense.

The plot is a basic case of baby lust vs. commitment-phobia, and yeah, that’s a thing, but the bartender doesn’t even really get over his “I don’t want to settle down” attitude. At one point (I forget whether this is during actual sex or just one of his fantasies) he’s “cured” by wanting to give the heroine the baby she so desperately desires, and then poof! his issue is gone. There’s no real self-examination, and his semi-tragic backstory to explain why he’s anti-commitment doesn’t really enter into it. It’s just over! Time for a happy ending!

Even if this is a trope I actually wanted to read, this is a really poor example of it. Not recommended.

#111 – The Runaway Bride, by Sandra Chastain

  • Read: 7/25/20 – 7/27/20
  • Mount TBR: 99/150
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

I did a double take when I checked the publication date for this. 1999? This reads like an ’80s romance novel.

The characters are all uniformly bland, mostly because they’re all defined by being stubborn. Both of our lovebirds are stubborn, refusing to bow to the dictates of their parents and/or society. All of the supporting characters are also primarily defined by being stubborn–the plucky little urchin Joe/Josie living a pickpocket-runaway lifestyle, unmarried Ginny with her baby on the way who refuses to give up hope that she can make a good life for herself Out West, the fathers and business partners and villains–all just stubborn with little else in the way of personality.

I picked this up originally because the setting and time period were unusual for the historical romances I’ve encountered–post-Civil-War America (not during) and at least partially set in the West, but definitely not a typical cowboy Western. I thought romance in the era of railroad expansion might be interesting, but it wasn’t. It was bland. The railroad plot drove the story far more than the romance did, aided by what I consider to be the biggest flaw of the book–absolute transparency about what the villains were up to. Every so often there’d be a scene break and we’d peek in on some rich jerk back East plotting the downfall of our hero and his father. So when the big explosion happened, derailing the train and putting everyone in danger, there was no mystery–obviously someone was out to get them. Obviously somebody set those explosives, we already watched them cackle devilishly about it. So there was no tension. And we know all along who the “spy” in the hero’s camp is, but I don’t think knowing that adds to the story in any way, despite the spy getting his own romantic subplot.

The story wanted to make sure I had every bit of information I needed to understand what was going on, to the point where nothing was surprising and I didn’t have to think at all.

Lastly, it should be said that, this being set in the era of major westward expansion, Native Americans show up in the story. Early mentions of them being obstacles to the railroad spur set my teeth on edge, despite being historically accurate; but these were mostly coming from the mouths of the villains, so it was bearable. When they appear later as actual characters, they were generally treated with the sort of racism that also appears to be historically accurate, but that didn’t make it easier to read. The hero and heroine in their own fashions work as best they can within the context of their setting limitations to be “good,” egalitarian people and treat the Native characters well, but whether or not it would have actually happened that way (surely not everyone in that time period was awful, there must have been outliers) it came across strongly as putting modern views retroactively onto historical characters. I would rather have seen a plot line that didn’t require a potential feud with a Native tribe at all, so all of this could have been avoided.

The actual romantic elements of this romance were stilted and strange at best, while the larger story suffered from a lack of tension. I’m giving it that second star mostly because it was more entertaining than the two romances I saddled with one star a piece last week, but really it’s more of a one and a half. Nothing stands out in this book as noteworthy that would make me want to recommend it or reread it.

#112 – Blood of Dragons, by Robin Hobb

  • Read: 7/27/20 – 7/30/20
  • Mount TBR: 100/150
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

[StrongBad voice] IT’S OVERRRRRR!!!

Lots of you aren’t going to get that reference, but it’s exactly how I feel so I don’t care.

I don’t really care about this ending, either. I’m honestly a little amazed that once again, Hobb manages to tie up so many plot threads so neatly; but I’m just as amazed how little it affected me after spending three books with these characters.

Maybe because each individual ending felt so lackluster within the whole.

I was tolerating the Tats/Thymara/Repskal love triangle, even though I generally dislike the trope, because it was being used to give us useful information about the characters and to show the growth pains of founding a new society that could shed the restrictions of the old one. I was still sure pretty much the whole time that Tats was end-game, and no surprise there, I was right. But having Repskal sink too far into the Elderling memories and become a different person should have been a bigger plot point than simply making him ineligible for Thymara’s affections. After her rejection, he goes off to fight the big battle at the climax and I honestly thought he might die, just to drive the point home, as Greft did back in book 2. But no, he and a few other dragons and keepers finish the book offscreen in Chelced. I’m not saying he needed to die, but I don’t think that ending is satisfying.

Introducing a “love” triangle in the dragons to mirror them (sort of) at this late stage in the story felt odd and unnecessary. Tintaglia returning to the young dragons after her absence and finding them altered by their long contact with humans was great–her bewilderment at Kalo’s treatment of her was priceless, and this is one of the stronger aspects of the book, that the human/dragon changes aren’t a one-way street. But the plot couldn’t ignore Icefyre’s existence so it either had to kill him off or give him something to do, and that something was apparently be the spoke of a mating triangle.

(Also, doesn’t it invalidate the Tawny Man trilogy somewhat that killing/releasing Icefyre was the Big Quest of the series, and releasing him meant mating with Tintaglia so dragons get to survive, only it ends up she gets another mate entirely? I know that’s not clear at the time that that’s possible, or even from the outset of this series when the new generation are disfigured runts who won’t all survive, but still, if Icefyre had been killed in Fool’s Fate instead, Tintaglia’s arc here would have been different but she still would have had a viable mate available by the end. Takes some of the narrative wind out of the TM trilogy’s sails.)

Selden’s plot was more developed here than in previous books, though still thin compared to others. I’m not sure it had the room to breathe as much as it should have, but it wasn’t bad and I’m not unhappy with it.

Reyn and Malta and their baby? I don’t know, I never felt the tension. Maybe I was too sure the kid wouldn’t die, and I didn’t really believe Tintaglia would, so it fell flat.

As for Leftrin and Alice and Hest, Sedric and Carson, it all came out pretty much exactly as I expected (and as it should.) I enjoyed Sedric’s confrontation with Hest, and honestly the high point of the book for me was Hest’s eventual fate. But Leftrin and Alice deciding to get married and stay in Kelsingra was such a foregone conclusion that having to lay it out felt weird.

Ultimately, this is a technically competent ending to the series in that it leaves few threads loose and provides clear resolutions to everything the books have been juggling, but somehow most of it failed to move me emotionally even though I was invested in these characters earlier in the series (notably book 2, which I thought was amazing and rated 5 stars.)

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