This Week, I Read… (2018 #32)

111 - News of a Kidnapping

#111 – News of a Kidnapping, by Gabriel García Márquez

DNF @ page 117, and for the first time, I’m not going to rate it. Usually there’s a serious flaw when I don’t finish a book, and I feel justified using that flaw to give a rating, but this time, that doesn’t apply.

The worst thing I can say about this is that I’m not politically saavy enough to understand it. Half the text was detailing the actual kidnapping of the various hostages and the conditions they were held under, and I found those passages interesting and usually horrifying. But the rest was a condensed explanation of the complicated political maneuvering that went into attempting to get them freed. Márquez, a native of Colombia, writes clearly and concisely about it, but with the assumption of familiarity that I, as an American who was ten years old when this was happening and never once heard about it on the news, simply can’t match. I couldn’t follow the leaps of logic behind the letters, meetings, and policy decisions, and without that understanding, the book was a trial to read.

That, and politics usually confuses the hell out of me, anyway, even in current times in my own damn country.

I tried, but this is a case of a book that is probably pretty great for its intended audience, and I am definitely not one of them.

112 - Our Bloody Pearl

#112 – Our Bloody Pearl, by D.N. Bryn

I was provided a free copy by the author in exchange for an honest review.

A queer pirate + siren love story that manages to cover a lot of ground for disabled representation, too. I loved the steampunk vibe, the determined iteration of Murielle in making aids for Perle, Perle’s own struggles to adapt to their new situation, and Dejean’s quiet affection and understanding. Hell, I’m a little in love with Dejean myself at this point, which is one mark of a good romance.

What I’m not as in love with is the pace. In terms of speed, this has clearly been ruthlessly edited, right down to the bone, to ensure the story never stalls; but writing even the quiet moments with the same style, one of high intensity focused on and around Perle as the narrator, means I felt like I never got to take a moment to breathe, to rest.

At times, I also found the action sequences choppy and hard to follow.

My last (minor) complaint is that Kian didn’t mean much as a villain to me, because we start the story with Perle’s rescue and only hear about her cruelty secondhand. I think the pace of the story might be to blame here too, because Perle seems to feel overwhelming dread at every thought of her, yet there’s never any time to explore that before another action sequence steals the focus away.

Still, it’s an impressive debut novel with a lot of great things going for it.

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The Benefits of Unhauling Books

August 2018 Unhaul

I’ve been making an effort for months now to both 1) reduce my TBR backlog by reading from my oldest unread books; and 2) cut back on my hypothetical TBR by pruning it with the “Down the TBR Hole” book meme.

Those efforts have been pretty successful, but when I tallied the still-unread books from my 2016 acquisitions, I came up with 90. Okay, I did pick up 330 books that year–but I still haven’t gotten to 90 of them?

I knew my TBR pile had gotten out of hand, but there was one area I wasn’t cutting back on–the books I already own.

Normally, I wouldn’t tell anyone to buy a book and then get rid of it unread. That’s a waste of money. In my case, however, these books cost me pennies at most, because they all came from bag sales at my various local libraries, so I have no problem looking at one and saying, “I’m never going to read this, it should go.”

The reasons:

Anna Karenina – I didn’t realize when I nabbed it that it was a heavily abridged version, though honestly I should have, from its size. I’d rather read the whole thing, if I ever do.

Thirst, Vol. 1 + 2 – I thought it might be fun to read pulpy teen vampire novels, but I keep passing them over in favor of other things. Not going to bother.

Love’s Rescue – Christian historical romance. I got it when I was trying to broaden my romance horizons, but by now I know I’m less fond of historical. And while I’ve enjoyed quite a few “clean” (ie, no sex) romances, I scanned this one, and it’s definitely Christian with a capital C. Not my thing.

Local Girls – I’ve picked up a lot of sets of books from the same authors, if they’re popular enough, and Alice Hoffman is one of them. I think I had three of hers before I’d read any of them, and now I’ve read the other two, and I wasn’t a huge fan. This isn’t the same as when that one Woodiwiss book was so bad I DNF’d it and preemptively dumped the others–this is more, “I know this book will probably underwhelm me.” So it can go.

The Norsemen – Since purchasing this, my husband was given Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, and we’ve both read it. While it looks like Norsemen includes a few myths Gaiman didn’t, I’m sure it won’t be as good, because how could it be? It’s redundant.


Now, I’m not going to be doing this often–it’s far more efficient to cut books from my TBR before they live on my shelves, not after. But it feels good to throw all these on the stack for donation, with all the books I’ve read and don’t want to keep. Someone else might still want them, right?

I’ve cleared out some shelf space, lightened my TBR burden, and possibly made some future readers happy; it’s a good day.

Bookish DIY: I Tried to Make a Pair of Bookends

DIY Fabric Bookend

It’s not bad enough to qualify as a Pinterest Fail, but see how there’s only one?

I’m always on the hunt for cool things I can make to liven up my shelves and my book photography. This tutorial from Design Sponge seemed simple and straightforward enough, something I could put together easily in an hour, and if I liked it, make infinite versions in whatever fabric I wanted. Right?

Always read the comments before you start. When I stuffed the first one full and prepped to sew it, I looked at it and thought, “this isn’t a pyramid at all?” One side was far, far longer, skewing the point backward. Turns out I wasn’t the only one with this problem, and I compensated by simply turning in the fabric much farther (maybe 3″ instead of 1/2″) before sewing.

Then it was nearly impossible to get my machine to sew the seam, because there was this huge, weighty sack of lentils + stuffing (I’m out of rice!) that didn’t fit under the machine’s arm. After several false starts I ended up stitching it by hand, which was not only easier, but faster than fighting the machine. Only the tutorial would never say that, because machine stitching is always faster, right?

I did not bother making up the second one I had cut out. (No loss, really, the fabric came from the sleeves of a jacket I picked up at a 50-cent sale.)

I love the idea, and in all honesty, I probably will make more, eventually. It is really cute. And it does hold up my books. But I may have to do some experimenting with the size, and if it works, I may just have to write my own tutorial.

This Week, I Read… (2018 #31)

108 - The Subtle Knife

#108 – The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman

I’m bewildered by the structural changes compared to the first book. Lyra was the focus and third-person POV character for the whole of it; then, here in book 2, we’re introduced to Will as another protagonist, as well as following the side-plots of several minor characters from the first book with their own POV chapters. Lyra is downgraded to just a handful of her own, and it’s such a departure that it was jarring.

Not that I don’t like Will, because I do, but after how much time we spent with Lyra, he doesn’t feel as developed–he can’t, because he has to share page space with so much else going on.

It’s hard to evaluate this book as its own entity, because it provides no closure at the end. As a middle installment, I didn’t expect much, but at least something should have been wrapped up. Instead we have a few character deaths that don’t have much meaning (for various spoilery reasons I won’t get into) and the knowledge that Will has possession of what’s intimated to be the most powerful weapon in existence.

Which is cool, I don’t deny that–the section in the middle of the book about the knife itself was fascinating and by far my favorite part, unlike Lyra’s awful alethiometer. Sure, Will learning to use it is still hand-waved pretty hard, but as its function is entirely different from the alethiometer and IT DOESN’T REPLACE CHARACTER INTELLIGENCE, I don’t mind nearly as much.

I’m still frustrated by the book being about 60% exposition-dialogue, because two characters telling each other vital information is not the only way to convey that information to the reader, even if Pullman doesn’t seem to know that. And I’m pretty confused by Lord Asriel suddenly being a good guy again (or at least not an antagonist to Lyra/Will/their friends) just because he’s decided to kill God. But I’ve signed on to this weird roller coaster, and I’ll see it through to the end.

#109 – The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman

I hate it. I just hate it. I kept the first two books’ reviews mostly spoiler-free, but most of what I hate about this one is spoiler-ridden, so proceed at your own risk.

It was significantly longer than the others, so it could tie up all the loose ends, and normally I would forgive that–but “all the loose ends” turned out to be most of the subplots and side characters coming together for one big battle that had no real point. Sure, the plot had to have one, the war on the Authority, because that was the direction Lord Asriel’s arc was pointing; but it didn’t really matter in the end. And it was dull to read, I was just skimming it until I saw Will or Lyra’s name come up, since they were the interesting characters. What do I care if a flight of nameless angels is swooping over there, or random armored bears charging over here?

So the entire battle was a distraction to keep Will and Lyra safe long enough for them to reenact the Fall of Man, only there was the intensely tedious part where they had to find/save/reunite with their daemons first. So repetitive. The bit where they freed the ghost from the land of the dead was okay, but both of these elements borrow liberally from better fantasy works: battle as distraction is straight-up LotR, and Ursula K. Le Guin did better justice to the dead in the Earthsea trilogy.

At the very, very bitter end, keeping Lyra and Will apart should seem like a travesty, except their friendship was always strained by culture clash and the constant stress of Being the Protagonists, and their love was sudden and ridiculous. They hadn’t been falling in love the whole time, no matter what Pullman tries to reference from book 2. Also, they’re twelve years old, and almost no one finds their true loves at twelve. Could it have been puppy love? Sure. Is it far more realistic that they’ll both move on as adults and realize that it wasn’t true love at all? Yes.

Also, I didn’t feel like the anti-religious themes really got their payoff. Most of it was inconsistent and vitriolic metaphysical mumbo-jumbo that felt out of place in a middle-grade/YA novel, because if I couldn’t make sense of it as an adult, how are the kids supposed to? There wasn’t even any obvious God-killing satisfaction, because Metatron was as interesting as a paper plate. Maybe if I’d cared at all about Asriel or Mrs. Coulter, I would have been invested in them and their eventual defeat of Metatron, but for a villains-fighting-villains scenario, it was flat, involving no sort of redemption arc (I refuse to believe Mrs. Coulter’s heel-face turn over her inexplicable love for Lyra, it’s so transparent and lifeless) and no real stakes, because, again, the entire battle is pointless.

Almost the entire book is pointless, so I just spent a week reading almost a thousand pages in order to be grandly disappointed.

110 - Fierce

#110 – Fierce, by Rosalind James

I liked how this was basically a trope-subverting, non-toxic deconstruction of what BDSM romance has become in the wake of more infamous works in the genre.

Hope is not a doormat, and while Hemi displays poor sensitivity skills at times, he’s not abusive.

It directly addresses the power imbalance inherent in any relationship they would have–a strong point in James’ work I’ve read to date. I’ve mostly gone off CEO/workplace romances because they often completely ignore this, acting like one or both of the characters involved is too stupid to understand dating a coworker could have negative consequences.

It also involves a lot of direct, honest communication, a vital part of most healthy relationships, and something I wish I saw more of in all fiction, not just romances.

But this didn’t have a lot of life to it. In working so hard to fix the common mistakes of the subgenre, the story felt a lot like it was ticking off a list of boxes: have the heroine stand up for herself immediately, have her refuse an expensive gift, walk out on dinner, etc.

In creating the character of Hope to withstand all efforts to coerce or overpower her into Hemi’s bed, she became this stubborn yet harried parody of a woman, someone just confident enough to stand up for herself in the moment, but who immediately doubted herself and her motives afterward–which was sadly necessary for the story to happen, because if she’d been any “stronger” she would have walked away from him that first time and kept going.

Leaving us with no story at all.

The July 2018 Book Haul, Part II

July 2018 Book Haul II

I’m really going on a physical book-buying ban now. For real.

To prove my determination, let me tell you, I had to return City of Illusions to the library a few days ago, and I went into the book sale room while I was there (of course I did) but I didn’t buy anything. There was one book I sort of wanted, but at $3/bag, I skipped it–there wasn’t anything else even worth throwing in to make paying for a full bag worth it!

So here’s the second part of my July shopping spree, which trickled in over the last few days of the month from places as far-flung from me as Reno, NV and Portland, OR.

  • Hate to Want You, by Alisha Rai
  • Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, and Moonraker, by Ian Fleming
  • For the Record, by Charlotte Huang
  • Dirty, by Kylie Scott
  • MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood
  • Children of Earth and Sky, by Guy Gavriel Kay

The James Bond books happened because I’ve acquired the second half of the series (#8-14) across several library sales, and though I don’t know what the huge spoiler is I’m being protected from, I’ve been warned by a friend that these MUST be read in order. Since it’s been about two years since I’ve nabbed any titles in person, I thought it was time to flesh out the early works from Thriftbooks.

The rest of them were random titles I wanted (the romances), the last in a series I’ve started (the Atwood), and the latest from a favorite author (Kay).

No more books for now! I’ve only read ten more so far this year than I’ve gotten! That’s not reading down the TBR pile!

Down the TBR Hole #9

Down the TBR Hole is a (very) bookish meme, originally created by Lia @ Lost In A Story. She has since combed through all of her TBR (very impressive) and diminished it by quite a bit, but the meme is still open to others! How to participate:

  • Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf
  • Order by Ascending Date Added
  • Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books. Of course if you do this weekly, you start where you left off the last time.
  • Read the synopses of the books
  • Decide: keep it or let it go?

My “Want to Read” shelf on Goodreads is sitting at 805 books right now, so at the current rate of five books/month for this meme, it will take me 13½ years to get through them all.

Of course, I’ll be reading a lot of them in the meantime–I do own just over 300 of those 805 book already–but I’ll be adding more to the TBR, too.

So I’m going to start doing them 10 at a time instead, not so much because I’m “feeling adventurous” but because I need to get my TBR under control!

To keep the posts themselves from being bloated, though, I will no longer be including the synopses themselves. The titles will still link to the book on Goodreads, so if something looks interesting to you, my readers, you can hit it up there and chuck it on your own TBR if so inclined.

Let’s get started.

#1 – Tone Deaf, by Olivia Rivers

25898555Young adult contemporary romance between a deaf young woman who used to be a musical prodigy, and the lead singer of a teenage rock band.

I remember picking this off a YA recommendation list for disabled representation, and since I’m still deep in the throes of rewriting #rockstarnovel, anything I read with a similar setup can only help me, whether it’s good or flawed–I’ve got something to learn from it either way.

This one looks like it also deals with physical abuse, and might be more angsty than I’d prefer, but it stays.

#2 – One True Loves, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

27189194I found this one through a Goodreads giveaway, and it sounded interesting enough to stick on my TBR, in the days before that was automatic upon entering.

Woman marries her teenage sweetheart, he goes missing. Years later, she’s moved on and falling in love with someone else, and her husband reappears!

I hate bad love triangles, but I’m honestly curious about how this one goes, because what would I do if that happened to me? It stays.

 

#3 – Maybe in Another Life, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

23492661One True Loves intrigued me enough to go digging into Reid’s catalogue, and I picked this out as well.

It’s  not an original premise at all–Sliding Doors the movie, in book form, just like Pivot Point which came up for consideration a while back–but I cannot overstate what a sucker I am for that trope.

How does a single choice affect a life? How far can two paths diverge? Is love more fate or luck? I want to see how it plays out, so this stays.

 

#4 – Holding Out, by Lila Rose

19180883A motorcycle club romance that I honestly don’t remember how I heard about. There are definite points in its favor–single-mom romance, she’s actually neighbors with the biker dude and they’ve known each other a few years–but the plot apparently revolves around him and his buddies protecting her from her ex-husband.

Meh? Also, one of my GR friends rated this as a two-star read, which doesn’t give me hope.

It’s free on Amazon now, which means I could pick it up and give it a try risk-free, but I trust my friends. It goes.

#5 – The Proposal, by Mary Balogh

12707039This is why it’s important to go through one’s TBR list. I added this after I’d seen Balogh recommended highly, and why I picked this book in particular I don’t remember.

Since then, I’ve read two of her works from a different series, and I wasn’t overly impressed.

I think I have a few more of her books in my TBR because I’d already bought them from used sales–I like her enough to probably read those, but not any I don’t already own.

This goes.

#6 – Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman

1138121ONE OF MY FAVORITE AUTHORS.

SEQUEL TO ONE OF MY FAVORITE BOOKS OF HIS.

I ALREADY OWN IT.

IT STAYS.

 

 

 

#7 – Dreams Underfoot, by Charles de Lint

186444Ages ago, when I got my first adult library card after college, I had a phase of reading three or four books a week, by whoever. I know during that time I read a lot of Phillippa Gregory, for example, though I couldn’t tell you which ones, because they’ve all blended together since then.

I’m certain I read a Charles de Lint book during that phase, but I can’t recall which one, or even what it was about–just a feeling of gentle and odd magic, a kind of melancholy.

So when I ran across his name again, I added the first book of the Newford series to the list. I’m curious–so it stays.

#8 – Children of Earth and Sky, by Guy Gavriel Kay

25938417

ONE OF MY FAVORITE AUTHORS.

HE’S TACKLING RENAISSANCE EUROPE.

I ALREADY OWN IT.

IT STAYS.

 

 

 

#9 – When I Was Puerto Rican, by Esmeralda Santiago

25419Pretty sure someone on Tumblr recommended this to me, though I can’t remember exactly why.

This would be a great entry for the #ownvoices category of my personal Expand Your Horizons challenge, so it should stay.

I’m one of the many, many white Americans who until recently didn’t fully understand what a shitty position Puerto Rico was in as an unincorporated territory of the US, without full statehood rights. This would be a great first step in educating myself about its people and the struggles they faced even before the hurricane made everything worse.

#10 – Graceling, by Kristin Cashore

3236307YA high fantasy romance, picked up from Tumblr hype. Given that the book is ten years old now but was still being hyped frequently two years ago, that’s a good sign.

I have really vague recollections of reading someone’s diatribe about problematic issues with this one, but honestly, there’s a lot of those going around, even for books I enjoyed, so without a stronger reason not to read it, it can stay.

The worst thing a skim of the reviews points to is that it might be derivative, and that’s a risk I’m willing to take for a good romance.


Have you read any of these books and want to share your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

This Week, I Read… (2018 #30)

106 - In the Company of a Courtesan

#106 – In the Company of the Courtesan, by Sarah Dunant

This might be the best male/female friendship and business partnership that I’ve ever read. Which is not at all what I thought I was going to be getting out of this book.

Having read one Dunant work before, I expected the lush detail in the prose, the well-composed characters, and the thematic examination of a woman’s role in society through the lens of a female protagonist.

Imagine my surprise that the narrator is a man, and a little person. His “deformity” does a lot to move him out of the category of men-the-courtesan-could-sleep-with, and that aspect of it would be troubling in modern times but is entirely believable of 16th-century Venice. But his height defines his character, not in the lazy and comical way media often treats little people, but in the natural, true-to-life way of informing how he’s grown up, how he interacts with the world around him, and the troubles and dangers that come along with living in a city not made to his size.

The courtesan and her life are not romanticized at all–only once do we get to peek into her bedroom for a tender moment, and even that isn’t sexually charged. Her profession is depicted as exactly that–a job. One where she has to spend hours making herself beautiful, where she has to gauge the competition, where she has to know when to play politics and when to idle on the sidelines.

What kept this from being an amazing read instead of a good one was the pacing. At first, the goal was clear–Rome was sacked, they have to survive, get to somewhere safe, and set up shop again. Once that was met, they had to become successful.

And that happens in the middle. So when a chapter ended “…we were content.”, I was wondering where the story was going. Something else had to go wrong, and while I saw some hints of foreshadowing with some of the minor characters, I didn’t have a clear picture of the direction the narrative would take.

Once I finished, I liked the book less. It’s not a terrible ending, but tonally it’s quite different from the early story, it’s rushed, almost tacked-on, and it relies on a series of revelations that solve a mystery I never realized was present in the story to begin with. I know I’m not the most observant reader in that regard, and I have a strong distaste for the mystery genre because of it, but this was basically being smacked in the face with an answer to a question I’d never asked.

107 - The Golden Compass

#107 – The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman

It’s been a long time since I read a fantasy work that felt so original to me in terms of world-building. That’s not to say that every aspect considered separately is new–the technology level described here is basically steampunk, even if it’s missing the usual trappings–but the combination of everything produced an ambience, an aesthetic, that felt fresh and interesting.

I also loved the deconstructionist theme–question everything, don’t trust adults simply because you’re a child, organized religions can do as much harm as good.

Still, there are some obvious and gaping flaws in the story I couldn’t miss, even star-struck by how much I loved the themes and setting.

The foreshadowing is obvious and terrible, so heavy-handed I had major plot events figured out light years ahead of time. I’m trying to give that a mental pass, though, because I’m an adult, and as a kid, I probably wouldn’t have seen so much of this coming. Still, I wish there had been more subtlety.

The alethiometer is the worst kind of plot device. Lyra never has to figure anything out for herself, because she can just ask it a question and it will tell her exactly what she needs to know. It didn’t bother me at first, when we saw her learning to use it, because her explanations to others of how she interpreted the symbols’ meanings was interesting. But it’s never explained why she can read it at all, when everyone else says they wouldn’t be able to without one of its books to decode the symbols; Lyra fails to consult it at key moments for no apparent reason except that the plot needs her not to have the answers; and late in the story, she gets increasingly detailed/specific answers from it that seem far beyond the rudimentary readings I was willing to tolerate in the beginning.

By the end, I hated the alethiometer more than Rowling’s Time-Turner from the Harry Potter series, which was the previous record-holder for Worst Magical Device.

And even when Lyra doesn’t magically know everything because of the alethiometer, that’s okay, because whenever she needs to travel somewhere, an adult will spend the time telling her everything they know. I get that she needs to be “taught” by a bunch of adults as part of her learning not to trust them automatically, but it was an obvious narrative pattern that quickly tired me. Whenever a new crisis arose, first Lyra had to listen to some adult exposition-dump at her. In the case of the imprisoned Scholar, I mind less because Lyra is using her blossoming cleverness to lead the conversation where she needs it to go, and that’s character growth. But that’s the only time it felt natural or useful.

Corollary to that, if Lyra is supposed to question everything, why are so many characters around her completely trustworthy? Sure, Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel are the worst, but what’s wrong with Serafina Pekkala? Lee Scoresby? As far as I can tell, they both told her the absolute truth according to their knowledge, and never betrayed her. Even better (or worse) is Iorek, who is a fantastic character, but is the most steadfast, loyal, and lovable one in the whole book. Yeah, one could make the argument he’s only protecting and aiding Lyra for honor, he was ordered to, but by the end there’s clearly affection between them, even if we only have Lyra’s love for him confirmed, and not his for her.

When does Lyra ever question or distrust Iorek? The one time she thinks he might fail her, it’s not because he wasn’t trying (he was) and the damn alethiometer even tells her twice to trust in him. So Iorek is a brilliantly written character who nevertheless undercuts one of the major themes.