This Week, I Read… (2021 #34)

#98 – The Vampire’s Last Dance, by Deanna Chase

  • Mount TBR: 80/100
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

I have three major problems with this novella.

One, the humor does not amuse me. I don’t find sex-based humor at all offensive as a general category, but I do require it to be funny, and not just slapstick, crude, or juvenile. Nothing in this book made me laugh.

Two, our heroine never had any sensible motivations for her actions. The plot is driven by her helping people she barely knows for no real reason; she constantly gets distracted from what she “should” be doing by how hot her would-be vampire boyfriend is, so she’s not even very successful at helping for most of the story; and her own personal obstacle (the curse) is ignored until the very end, when fixing the problems of the people she barely knows also conveniently solves her problem as well.

The hero’s motivation for hanging around is painfully obvious at all times–he wants to get in the heroine’s pants, and never gets more motivation (or personality) than that. But at least his motivation makes sense in context. He even asks her at one point why she’s going out of her way for someone she’s only just met, so it’s not like the author wasn’t aware of how thin this plot was, it just got lampshaded instead of solved.

Problem three could be broken down into two issues, but I feel they’re closely related. The world-building is shoddy, and the overall pace of the story is too fast. These two factors combined to make me feel like this wasn’t a first-in-series book, like I should have already known most of this stuff (like how magic and curses worked, which was never really explained) and at least half the characters, many of whom are introduced as names with no description or relationships attached (I saw “Jonathon” at least twice before the narrative finally told me he was Chad’s boyfriend, only I barely knew who Chad was either, for example.) I never felt grounded. It all felt very soap-opera-ish, with a large cast of thin characters doing silly/stupid/over-the-top things for the drama of it, and for no other reason.

#99 – Listen to Me, by Kristen Proby

  • Mount TBR: 81/100
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

I think this romance is more interested in its faintly ludicrous premise, and setting up the rest of the series, than it is delivering on the actual romantic relationship contained in its pages.

I’m not against the idea of friends going into business together (they do all the time, even if a lot of people would caution that it’s a bad idea) but this restaurant situation is too cute to be true, in the interest of providing a stage for the “rock star slums it as a gig musician” setup. And a stage for constantly having Talking Heads conversations with the four other female friends who obviously will eventually get their own books, and it’s so incredibly transparent who’s next even before I got to the ending, which is a happy ending for our main couple, paired with a blatant fishhook of a cliffhanger for the upcoming couple.

The four friends are given physical descriptions and names, so they’re clearly intended to be different people, but for the most part they’re interchangeable–they’re all sassy, tough-love friends who are uniformly amazing at whatever their role is in the restaurant, workaholics who want the others to have time off but won’t take it themselves, and unquestionably devoted to the heroine in a way that I found both cloying and envy-worthy, as I am currently an adult woman with few close friends, and it’s true, it really does get harder to make them the older you get.

And notice how I haven’t said anything about the hero yet? He’s fine. I like his sense of humor, and the banter could be pretty good sometimes. He’s most of the reason this gets a second star. But he’s just fine, I’m not swooning for him, even though rock stars are definitely a thing with me.

But even though he gets roughly equal screen time with the heroine, I’ve come out the far end of this book with the impression that it’s really about her, and her circle of friends, and their not-believable business venture, and making sure the reader knows they’re all incredibly Tough Independent Successful Women who just happen to also want romance in their lives. Any minor differences in their personalities don’t really come through in her half of the book, because there’s five of them, and half the book simply isn’t enough time to make them all into real characters, apparently. (The hero’s friends fared slightly better, because there were fewer of them, just two primary friends, and their significant others, who were bit players and that’s fine. They didn’t have to try to wrangle equal screen time with each other like the Four Besties did.)

And because I want to add one more minor complaint that doesn’t fit anywhere else: these were some underwhelming sex scenes. They felt really dry and mechanical, even when the lovebirds were ostensibly professing their deep and profound love for each other towards the end. I never got any sense of passion from them, so the scenes were just awkward, until they usually ended abruptly. One in particular also started abruptly, and with a pretty inappropriate lead-in: the hero tells the heroine about his best friends’ tragic backstory, which I won’t spoil but is really seriously tragic and two pages later, minutes of story time and with no scene transition, he’s getting a blow job. Complete tonal whiplash.

Not going on with this series.

#100 – Call Down the Hawk, by Maggie Stiefvater

  • Mount TBR: 82/100
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

When I heard about this book, I was excited. Adam was my favorite character of the Raven Cycle, with Ronan being a close second, and by the end of the story I was less invested in Blue/Gansey, both as a relationship pairing and as the focus of the main plot line. I didn’t hate them or anything, I just loved Pynch more.

Of course I was thrilled at the idea of a Ronan-based trilogy followup.

But then the preview chapters dropped, and I read them, and I was just…not happy. It wasn’t that they were bad, and it wasn’t even that they messed (much) with my hopeful headcanon of a happy ending for the ship. Sure, I’d allowed myself to read snippets of Tumblr fanfiction here and there, but I wasn’t reeling from disappointment that these boys were not living the life of eternal happiness and sunshine that many fic writers were giving them.

This somewhat inexplicable unhappiness caused me to put off reading the book for quite a while.

Now that I’ve read the whole thing, I don’t have a good explanation for why I didn’t like the beginning then. Now, it seems obvious how the whole thing fits together.

While I could lodge a very personal gripe that I wished Adam got more page time, this story isn’t about their relationship (which I’m sure did disappoint some of those fic writers, somewhere.) It’s about Ronan, and dreaming, and the end of the world.

I think what I love most about this is how dangerous dreaming feels, in a way I don’t remember feeling from TRC. Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention, maybe I was focused on other characters, or maybe the danger truly wasn’t as evident from the actions of Ronan in that story–and especially in Opal which I just read recently and have much clearer memories of. Dreaming then felt experimental and wild, sure, but not really that dangerous to the “real” world.

CDtH, in true Ronan fashion, gives the finger to the idea that dreaming could ever be safe, and by extension, dreamers aren’t, either.

I started to put together some pieces early on when people with familiar faces started showing up, and I have some unconfirmed theories that will have to wait for the next book (or the one after that, but hopefully not never.) But I like the direction the story is taking, especially in the contrast between Ronan and Declan, who surprised me with how much I ended up liking him by the end.

If I have any true complaints about the quality of this book that can’t be reduced to obviously personal biases and gripes, it’s the ending. I like some aspects of the ending very much, even for being a cliffhanger, but the mystery character of Bryde is not one of them. After all the buildup to who he is and why he won’t reveal himself, I was genuinely expecting some sort of revelation upon his appearance–I won’t bore anybody with the spattering of theories I had about him as the story progressed, as apparently none of them are true. But then he shows up, and he’s just a dude, and there’s no obvious reason for him to have ever been a mystery man in the first place.

Still love it. Still want the next book in the series now-now-now, though since the third one isn’t out yet I may hold off a while just to make the wait before the end of the story shorter.

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