This Week, I Read… (2021 #26)

#71 – All Lined Up, by Cora Carmack

  • Mount TBR: 66/100
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

This was another “it looked halfway decent at a bag sale so I bought it for almost nothing” romance, and when I grabbed it off my shelf quite literally to have something safe to read in the bath–I don’t bring my electronics in there!–I was like, “wait, I hate football, why did I get this?”

But it’s not about football, really. Sure, one lead is on the team and the other lead’s dad is the coach and late in the story there’s an actual game as part of the narrative (which was thankfully short on strategy and eminently skimmable) but it’s about sports and sports culture far more than it’s actually about football. So the sports parts of it felt a lot like I was watching a halfway-decent movie about team-building and personal achievement, and the rest of the book felt like a slightly cheesy romance.

About that romance. It’s rushed, pretty much everything about it is rushed except them banging in the most traditional sense, but they’re definitely performing other sexual acts for each other in short order. And this is set in college, so fine, I get it. But they drop the “L” word pretty fast too.

All that being said, I did actually like their chemistry together. On her own, Dallas is a bit of a whiny brat who has obvious anger issues, and in other stories I might not like her as much, but a) she’s clearly aware of at least some of her emotional shortcomings, and b) she grew up abandoned by her mom and raised by a goal-driven, emotionally distant dad, so you know, fair enough if she doesn’t have herself totally figured out as a college freshman. It does make her skew young, but since part of her arc is about her striving for self-determination, I’ll give her a pass on that. For Carson’s part, on his own he’s a bit of a boring workhorse, who has his nose to the grindstone as much as possible for both schoolwork and the football team (seriously, Dallas was right that if he kept working out so much he was going to injure himself!) and doesn’t have much going on otherwise. But when the two of them are in a room together, sparks really do fly, and suddenly they’re both fun people having fun.

The “forbidden” aspect of the romance plot felt a little weak. Bringing up Romeo and Juliet, even to reject its premise, is so obvious that I wish stories would stop doing it. The coach as an obstacle is somewhat believable, but making a big deal about Dallas’ ex being the star quarterback at the beginning, only to have him suddenly and unceremoniously removed from the story partway through, through no action of the main characters, strikes me as a minor deus ex machina. I mean, if nothing the hero or heroine did had anything to do with those events, why include him? And it has the double whammy of opening the QB spot for Carson, who certainly has been putting in the work, but also didn’t really “earn” the spot, it got emptied for other reasons and he was there. (Yes, there were presumably other people on their huge, 100+ team who could have been chosen, so in one sense he did earn that spot. But since we never met the others and Carson was only ever painted in competition with the ex, Carson’s elevation didn’t mean much to me.)

So overall, I enjoyed this more than I thought I would when I realized/remembered it was about football, but there were definite weaknesses in the story that kept it from being great. Not planning at the moment to go on with the series.

#72 – Nightmares & Dreamscapes, by Stephen King

  • Mount TBR: 67/100
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF @ page 249, which is partway through “Dedication.”

I always try to resist DNFing short story or novella collections, because sure, maybe the ones at the beginning aren’t to my taste, but aren’t there more that might be better? Of course there are! (In this case, almost 600 pages’ worth of stories I might like.)

But because this was such a behemoth, and because I was planning to read it leisurely–a story or two a day, depending on their length, while I also read other things–I was taking notes about each story and giving it a star rating, to help me decide at the end what I thought of the collection as a whole. I finished seven stories and part of an eighth. One of those stories earned a 2, and all of the others either 1 or 0. Yes, I hated some of these stories and they got 0-star ratings.

So why on earth would I keep going, hoping other stories would be better? It wasn’t long before I dreaded picking this back up.

My overall complaints that apply, to some degree, to all of the stories I read: too long/wordy for the plot it covered, gross/gory/silly instead of scary, vaguely racist overtones to some, lack of satisfying endings to most. And in one case, putting “Popsy” right after “Night Flier” made it really freaking obvious that the second one was also about vampires, to the story’s detriment.

I’m beginning to wonder if I should just be done with Stephen King. I’m tired of playing “will I dearly love or absolutely despise this” every time I pick up a new title. Because he has, without a doubt, written some of my favorite books I’ve ever read, but it’s equally true that he’s written some of the worst books I’ve read, so I can’t help thinking it might be time to move on. (I say this with three unread King novels still sitting on my shelves, so I’m not entirely sure yet, because I could give those a try and then give up…?)

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