This Week, I Read… (2021 #2)

#4 – Meant to Be, by Melody Grace

  • Mount TBR: 4/100
  • Beat the Backlist Bingo: Character lets out a breath they didn’t realize they were holding
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

Highly readable, very basic. It’s not even just that the tropes are worn out for me–romance writer suffers in the big city, goes to a small town to hide out/recover, falls in love–but that nothing was surprising or interesting. The slightly snarky banter between the leads had me smiling sometimes, but their physical chemistry felt forced, and the sex scenes were even more basic than the plot and read like a list of the most-used phrases for sex strung together in a row.

Occasionally it did feel like the story had something interesting to say about love or the writing process or closure–the scene I liked best was actually between Poppy and her ex, when he swings by for a “maybe we can talk through this and un-cancel our relationship” chat–but when the story did have a big point to make, it got on its soapbox and made sure the reader knew exactly what the point was with no subtlety, like the characters were megaphones for the author.

It seemed promising at first, when I zipped through the first 40% in about an hour and seemed hooked, but once the leads got together, things went downhill fast.

#5 – Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer

  • Mount TBR: 5/100
  • Beat the Backlist Bingo: A book where the woods/forest are important
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

If I had known ahead of time that this book was an expansion on a 9,000 word article on the same subject, I would have tried to hunt down the article instead, or simply passed on the material. My criticism of the only other Krakauer work I’ve read, Under the Banner of Heaven was basically that it was too long, too unfocused, and at the end dissolved into a debate about whether the subjects of the book were mentally ill or not.

While this book is much shorter in overall length, it’s still basically too long for its premise, it’s unfocused (with skittering time jumps in the narrative and many sections about people other than McCandless, including an entire autobiographical chapter on the author himself,) and narrowly avoids my final criticism, because Krakauer decides in this case, there is no debate: he flatly states McCandless was not mentally ill.

But in the absence of any medical evidence, isn’t saying definitively that he wasn’t as much a judgment call as saying he was?

I can see why this book is so polarizing, because many people come out of it hailing McCandless as a visionary who refused to let the world bind him, while others think he’s an arrogant idiot utterly lacking in wisdom, or cruel for cutting off his family, or any number of other uncomplimentary things. The text supports all of those interpretations, and what the reader believes seems to be largely dependent on their own circumstances and worldview. But my opinion of McCandless as a person has very little to do with my opinion of the book, because I do believe that Krakauer is mostly objective in communicating the facts of the story.

Mostly.

I found the autobiographical section about his mountaineering far less interesting, and when he went into detail about his relationship with his father and how it drove him to make the choices he made, I was deeply uncomfortable. The inclusion of that material changed the entire tone of the book for me, from a journalist writing about an interesting story to an insecure man projecting himself onto that story. It would have been enough for me if Krakauer had said “I was similarly reckless in some ways in my youth and that common ground is what made me so invested in this tale,” but he goes into frankly embarrassing detail about his father’s eventual decline and it was so out of place with the rest of the book, so off-putting, that I was relieved to turn to the next chapter and get back to McCandless’ story, no matter how grim it was. A young man’s slow death from starvation was actually less gruesome to me than reading Krakauer talking about his relationship with his father–I can’t properly express how disgusted I was by the tone of it.

I don’t read that much nonfiction to begin with, but I definitely won’t be reading anything more by this author. Whatever a reader thinks about the subject, the book would have been far stronger without the author inserting himself into it.

#6 – Dreams of Joy, by Lisa See

  • Mount TBR: 6/100
  • Beat the Backlist Bingo: The second half of a duology
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

When I read and reviewed Shanghai Girls back in 2016, I stated that I didn’t intend to go on to the sequel. Of course, by the time this book fell into my hands at a secondhand shop, I’d forgotten my decision and merely thought, “Oh yeah, I read the first one, it was okay, I should read this too.”

I should have stuck to my original plan. Dreams of Joy is not a particularly good book in many respects, and while it does finish the story of this family, I found it to be even more full of misery than its predecessor. (Considering the amount of rape in that book, that’s really saying something. But this time, it’s famine, which is a different and longer-lasting kind of horrible.)

I’m almost ashamed to admit that the beginning of the third act, when things are at their most dire and the suffering is most pronounced, was the most compelling part of the book for me. The tension of wondering what Joy would do to survive and protect her child, and the resulting solidification of her character and her moral compass, was a pleasure to read after watching her waffle between her capitalist upbringing and desire to embrace the Party and its propaganda. (Despite the horrid conditions surrounding this character fulfillment, which were so detailed in some cases that I wondered if I was falling into misery porn and I genuinely feel conflicted about “liking” that part of the book best.) I did not care for Joy at the beginning nor through the middle, because her stupidity and inconsistency made her difficult to root for. And I know intelligent people often fall for propaganda, no one is immune, but I don’t think that covers her decision–I think running away from a family conflict and throwing yourself at an ideal larger than yourself is very different from actually believing in that ideal, and I don’t feel that internal struggle was ever properly realized.

Pearl’s POV chapters were far easier to wade through, almost to the point of blandness. There’s still a lot of the “I wore these clothes and walked down this street” filler that I criticized in the first book; obviously this is well-researched, but how much of that detail actually needs to be included? I suppose there’s the thematic argument to be made that Pearl is more unabashedly capitalist and thus more concerned with material goods, but that didn’t make it less tedious. Still, her unswerving devotion to her daughter carried her chapters well enough.

My biggest problem is the ending, though. Not that they all live–I’m fine with that–but how it happened. Basically everything on from Pearl’s new husband “sacrificing” himself in the art show altercation in order to get Z.G. out–why would he do that? Especially when it threw a serious wrench into their plans that required laborious explanations of how they got around their lack of the official papers he was carrying? (Because the story needed to reunite May and Z.G. at the very end, not because Dun himself gave a crap about the man. Transparent plot-before-character moment, there.) The last events were a grueling series of “we got on this bus then took this ferry,” and the section about Pearl’s long-lost father being the one to drive them over the border hidden in his merchandise truck is basically the same, beat for beat, as the car escape from Green Dragon village, right down to the little boy having to hide in the trunk/a barrel. Why did we have two nearly identical escape scenes?

I’d say it was disappointing, but I wasn’t really expecting it to be great. However, I don’t think it matched even the middling quality I felt the first book attained.

#7 – Most Eligible Billionaire, by Annika Martin

  • Mount TBR: 7/100
  • Beat the Backlist Bingo: Set in a major city
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

I picked this up as a freebie a while back, and going into it I’d mostly forgotten the premise and did not refresh myself with the blurb. The first 10% was wild, WTF-is-going-on, “how on earth is this premise going to work,” and by far the weakest part of the book. Since 10% is my minimum cutoff to DNF a book but still consider it read, I was, in fact, considering it. I’m not a dog person, and this seemed too out-there for me, concept-wise.

But the female lead is a crafter (or a “maker” as this work prefers to call them) and that speaks to me. I told myself to ditch at 25% if I was still having a hard time, but what do you know, the story found itself and started getting good.

Really good, actually. Because the male lead is also a “maker” at heart, and the romance starts as they shift from enemies to colleagues-who-craft and bond over their similar creative spirit. Also, as billionaire romances go, this was atypical in focusing more on what that sort of money and privilege can deny a person, rather than what it can do for the average-Jane love interest. I didn’t feel like Henry being a billionaire was the point of his character, and plot-wise, the whole point of Vicky’s character was that she specifically wasn’t a gold-digger or scam artist and had to stand her ground about it.

Despite the book’s flaws, that’s a far more interesting dynamic that I’m used to seeing from this subgenre.

What are those flaws? I already covered the beginning being weak almost to the point of putting me off finishing at all. In addition, there are some pretty glaring darlings that needed killing (if I never see the word “blowout” again it will be too soon.) The most systemic flaw I can find for the rest of the book is that Vicky’s tragic backstory is hinted at too constantly for how late the payoff is, and her birth name, “Vonda,” becomes one of those overused darling words. Before I know who “Vonda” was or why she’s really all that different from Vicky, her name is used as a cue that Vicky is being more herself and less her current persona, only I didn’t yet know why, so I didn’t have any solid idea what that meant and why it was so significant. Which leads to my other complaint, that for all the banter between Vicky and Henry, this isn’t nearly as much a rom-com as I was under the impression it would be. The premise is goofy and their interactions can be fun, but most of the book was actually about really heavy, serious issues that were treated as such, which was not nearly as lighthearted as I was expecting.

That being said, the story’s not bad. It’s just not quite as advertised. I did enjoy it a great deal and I put the rest of the series on my TBR, so I can honestly recommend it. Just be prepared for a little emotional whiplash between the beginning and the end.

Down the TBR Hole #38

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 owned-and-unread book total is now just over 160, but my overall TBR is still 471. Let’s see what I can do about that today.

#1 – The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X.R. Pan

Magical realism in YA? Not something I’ve really encountered before. While I often don’t care for the classic works in the genre, I’m not opposed to it in theory, I just think there’s a certain well-regarded author who needed to stop including so much pedophilia in his works.

Anyway. This apparently takes a soul-searching look at depression and the aftermath of suicide in a family, and though I’m not leaping to read those sorts of books right now, this sounds like it deserves to keep its spot on my TBR.

Only a few people I know have read this, but they all think highly of it, so that’s a good sign.

#2 – The Summer of Jordi Pérez, by Amy Spalding

I keep saying I need to read more queer fiction, especially lighthearted books, especially romances. And it keeps being true. While good bisexual representation continues to be difficult to find in the wild and I’d like to see more of it, I’m down with any solid wlw stories.

A close friend whose opinion often aligns with mine loves this book, and said lovely things about it not just in regards to the romance in it, but the friendships as well. Good friendships are also startlingly hard to find in fiction sometimes!

This can stay. I should start a separate list of things available through the library as audiobooks, so I can listen while I’m crafting, and put this right at the top of it.

#3 + #4 – Behind the Scenes and Under the Lights, by Dahlia Adler

I found Under the Lights on the same wlw-romance rec list I got Jordi from, up above. When I saw that it was second in a series, I added the first book, too. I’ll be honest, though, I don’t remember that much about either one of them, and that’s why I’m doing this extended TBR exercise in the first place.

They sound like fun, still. Teen Hollywood angst and love and figuring yourself out. And it’s a quick little two-book series, so they can both stay. If I read the first one and don’t like it, well, then I’ll axe the second, but otherwise I look forward to these two!

#5 – White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, by Rogin DiAngelo

Hoooo, boy. I’ve had this on my TBR since 2018, when it first came to my attention, but I’d mostly forgotten about it until the events of 2020 pushed nonfiction on anti-racism into a more prominent space in my life and my reading.

This has always appeared to be a divisive book for a number of reasons, but the strongest impression I get of it is that it’s a book by a white author meant to be read by white people, and among those white people it’s still divisive because some of the readers feel they’re being talked down to and others think it’s brilliant and still others dismiss this as corporate sensitivity-training nonsense that doesn’t really address the actual issues.

See, this book is such a conversation piece that I already know all that and I haven’t even read it. I doubt I’m going to now. I have many (many) other books on my anti-racism reading list that aren’t so controversial in whether they should even be included in the conversation (which many people think this book should not be.) I think I would rather tackle those.

#6 – Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver

Ugh. When I discovered Kingsolver several years ago, first with Prodigal Summer and then The Poisonwood Bible, I thought I had found a new favorite author, that I might actually like at least a little of the modern “literary” landscape.

Since then I have plodded my way through most of her back catalog and been generally disappointed, even to the point of DNF’ing two of her novels.

I put this on my list when it was released simply on the strength of the author, but since then I have revised my feelings towards her work. And the incredibly brief skim I did of others’ reviews showed me far too many instances of the word “tedious” and the phrase “could not finish.”

This goes, even if it makes me sad to cut it.

#7 – This Is How It Always Is, by Laurie Frankel

A book about a family with a child who knows they are transgender from a young age, and what they do to make life work for them. I need to be reading more trans books–I keep saying it and it keeps being true–so this gets to stay, even if I have some mild concerns about the actual quality of it based on what various reviews are saying.

Even if this isn’t perfect, it’s offering me a perspective I haven’t seen before, because basically all of the works I’ve read with trans characters have been YA focused on the experience of those trans characters, or romances with trans side characters who fall somewhere on the spectrum from “just there to exist” to “their trans identities are briefly important to the story but not much.” So I’d like to read a more family-oriented tale like this one.

#8 – Vita Nostra, by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko

This came from a list of modern Russian and Eastern European fiction that I pulled several titles from–one being The Night Watch, which I was not particularly impressed with, and also The Slynx, which I own but haven’t read yet. But it’s not this book’s fault I didn’t like something else I read from the same list. (Also the titles from the remainder of this post came from that same list.)

So, dark fantasy with academic aspects, highly-regarded, incredibly well-reviewed, and bonus: available as both an ebook and audiobook on Hoopla.

What’s not to like? Sure, I might be just as disappointed when I do read it, but the story still sounds interesting and it’s readily available to me.

This stays.

#9 – Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem

Classic Polish science fiction, though I see some Polish reviewers object to using such an American concept of the genre to define it, saying it overlooks the philosophical value of the work.

I think classic sci-fi at its best is often deeply philosophical, and I’m encouraged by the Goodreads “readers also enjoyed” lineup, which includes Clarke’s Childhood’s End, a surprise 5-star read of 2020 for me.

My success rate with old sci-fi is spotty, because for every fantastic novel there’s generally four or five middling or terrible ones, but as I haven’t had the book spoiled for me by the movie–either of them, as I didn’t know there was even one, let alone two adaptations–I think this could still be a valuable read, though of course I’m prepared to be underwhelmed, as I am with any “classic.” This can stay.

#10 – The Encyclopedia of the Dead, by Danilo Kiš

Whatever made me pull this off the list for my TBR, whatever intrigued me, I’m not seeing it now upon reexamination. Sometimes I do get overeager when pillaging rec lists for future reading.

Or maybe I’m just tired of short story anthologies. I’m a novel reader. I will read novellas–they can be hard to avoid in my preferred genre, romance–but short stories are something I fell like I’ve mostly left behind in my high school English classes and college creative writing seminars. It isn’t that I think the format is inherently bad or without value–obviously it’s not–but I generally want more meat on a story’s bones than it will give me.

None of the one-sentence blurbs for any individual story are grabbing me, so this can safely go.


I cut 3/10 again this month, slow but steady progress. As usual, if you have a different opinion about any of these, good or bad, and want to talk it out, that comment section down there is waiting for your input!

This Week, I Read… (2021 #1)

First, I have one last review from 2020, because I was still reading a book when the review post went live that morning, I didn’t finish until just before dinner.

#180 – The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery

  • Mount TBR: 155/150
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

Charming and absolutely lovely.

It’s been a long time since I first met Montgomery’s work as a young girl reading about our beloved Anne, but it was only in the last few years I’d heard about this book, the tale of a repressed adult woman striking out on her own for the first time and finding love. I knew I had to read it, and soon enough I found myself a copy, but I didn’t get to it right away.

I would normally say I regret waiting so long to read a book I ended up loving so much, but this was a truly wonderful way to wrap up the year, with its soft nature scenes and beautifully domestic happiness and message of living without fear. (Some fear of course is useful and rational, but Valancy was suffering a vastly different kind of life than I ever have lived, and she definitely needed to set aside the fears she had and break free.) I read this and felt content and happy and very slightly envious for that beautiful setting, even though I like my home just fine and I’ve done a lot this year to make it prettier, more cozy and comfortable, and generally more pleasant to be in. After I finished this, it was time to make dinner and settle in for the New Year’s Eve celebration, which for me included fancy beer and my newest needlepoint project, because dammit, it’s winter and I’m nesting and this book romanticizes the hell out of nesting behaviors.

I love it and I’m sure it’s going to be a favorite reread for certain types of moods in the future.

Now, we can get started on this year’s reads.

#1 – Once a Runner, by John L. Parker, Jr.

  • Mount TBR: 1/100
  • Beat the Backlist Bingo: a genre I rarely/never read (sports fiction)
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

I chose this as my first read of the new year because it seemed like it might be inspiring in a way that wasn’t “Inspirational ^TM,” but really, as a “runner” myself, this book looks down on me.

My dad used to race. All through my childhood I was wearing old race t-shirts as “messy” clothes at home and gym clothes at school. He did a half-marathon the day before I was born, if I remember my family history correctly.

I didn’t actually take up running until my late twenties, and now, at forty, I’m older than my dad was when he had knee surgery to correct some issues from the insane distances he’d already run in his life. Despite me being merely a “jogger” by this book’s ultra-mega-elite standards, a tourist in the sport, I thought I would get something out of it.

And sometimes, briefly, I did. Sometimes the narrative would describe a certain state of mind, or the necessity of habit and how those habits can simply take over, or that feeling when you didn’t warm up properly and even though you’ve only run for ten strides your legs already feel heavy and unresponsive. I could relate, even at my dilettante, never-entered-a-race level.

But aside from those few moments of clarity, most of this story was a wandering mess with little holding it together. With every new chapter there was a strong chance the POV would switch to a side character who was either a) of little apparent importance, b) entirely new to the story, c) not obviously related to the main character’s story in any way. Sure, Cassidy’s girlfriend gets a short chapter, fine, I see her relevance. But an entire chapter devoted to talking about the dormitory building he lives in and its history? A chapter from the paramour of the football coach who was the one to push for Cassidy’s banishment from the sports program? Why on earth were those a good idea?

Also, throughout the story, I definitely felt like I was not the target audience for a number of reasons. This is a very male book, written by a man, about men, and pretty obviously (to me) for men. There are no major female characters, the minor ones are paper thin, Cassidy’s teammates speak derisively of women in general and female runners in particular (at the beginning when they’re all on about the pudgy lady joggers they pass in the streets, that stung, I’m a pudgy lady jogger.) I get that this is specifically about the highest level of running, which doesn’t include me. And I don’t expect a sports novel from the ’70s to be a beacon of feminist thought. But that doesn’t prevent me as a reader from feeling alienated by the categoric dismissal of my participation in the activity the book is about, while I’m reading it. One section in the middle details the freedom of night running through town, which depending on where you live and how your gender is perceived, is simply not possible for many people, because hey, it’s not usually safe for women to run alone at night. I had accepted that I wouldn’t be able to fully relate to the high caliber of the athletes, but I didn’t expect to have issues of basic safety shoved in my face.

If this book was as famous as the book jacket claims it to be, I had wondered why I never heard of it until a used copy fell into my hands at a sale. But given my experience with the online running community–which, no matter where I’m engaged with it, is much friendlier towards dilettantes like myself than this book is–I wonder if that’s because this work has outlived its time.

#2 – Seaside Dreams, by Melissa Foster

  • Mount TBR: 2/100
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF @ 17%, page 50 or so. I found the first red flag at only 2%, but it’s disheartening to start DNFing books so early in the year, so I held on until I couldn’t anymore.

In the first fifty pages, these are the things I found questionable or objectionable:

  1. The physical depiction of women. One of the female lead’s friends is described as having breasts “like bowling balls” coupled with a “tiny” waist that eventually leads to a unflattering comparison with Barbie dolls. The protagonist herself is then described as having a decent body for “an almost thirty-year-old”–because women past 30 aren’t apparently allowed to have good physiques–and then there’s a lazy shorthand comparing her body type to two female celebrities (Julia Roberts and Jennifer Lawrence) who I don’t really see as having the same body type, so the comparison isn’t actually helpful, and also who are generally considered pretty damn gorgeous, so am I supposed to think the protagonist is attractive or not? Because if that depiction is supposed to have a tone of “ho-hum, she’s not perfect but she’s okay I guess” but also saying she looks like gorgeous famous women is way off base.
  2. Four adult women whom the narrative unironically pronounces are “besties.” It strikes me as childish. I’ve heard women call each other that occasionally, but more often in jest or with a tongue-in-cheek tone than actually meaning it straight up, and here the first chapter is just littered with the word and I found it irritating.
  3. The male lead is a cop. That’s not automatically a problem in and of itself, especially as this book was published in 2014; while I might want to avoid cop romances more recently for their glorification/romanticization of the profession, I also don’t think it’s anathema. Okay, so he’s new to the area where his love interest lives because he moved after his partner was killed and he wanted to raise his son someplace safer. Okay, still mostly on board, the single-dad angle actually works for me. Then we find out his partner was black. The only character of color introduced so far–I’m obviously meant to assume everyone else is white even if their skin color is never mentioned–and he’s dead, and he’s a prop to motivate the white lead. This was at 16%, and I really argued with myself about setting the book down there, but I decided to finish the chapter at least.
  4. Which led me to the actual last straw only pages later. The cute cop and the commitment-phobic lady get temporarily misty-eyed over the picture of the dead black cop partner while the cop explains his reason for moving, then they’re kissing, then she’s getting an orgasm courtesy of the cop’s fingers.

What. Just. Happened.

I’m not shaming anyone for getting frisky–it’s not the behavior itself that I find questionable. It’s the timing. These two have known each other for not that many days, they were just out at the flea market together before this but she insisted it wasn’t a date even though she was constantly cozying up to him, and then first kiss leads straight to first orgasm with no buildup. AND when she offers on the next page to return the favor orally, he says no, because he “takes intimacy seriously” and she’s not looking for commitment. You do? Really? Is that why you finger-blasted a woman you only just met immediately after telling her about your dead partner? That’s “serious” to you?

The whole scene, I was reading and saying to myself, “Is this really happening? Am I supposed to find this believable?” So I’m not going to finish the book.

#3 – Jenna Starborn, by Sharon Shinn

  • Mount TBR: 3/100
  • Beat the Backlist Bingo: A non-fairy-tale retelling
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

A Jane Eyre retelling that may have crossed the nebulous border between “faithful” and “rote.”

I love Jane Eyre, but I have only read it once, several years ago, so I was not alarmed when I saw from other reviews that it was “predictable” because it followed the plot of the original so closely. What I remember far more than the basic outline of the story was the memorable character of Jane herself and her lively narrative voice, and that is something I felt lacking in this effort. Jenna is not memorable to me the same way Jane was, and while she shares many of the same traits, there is something lacking in her portrayal to endear her to me the same way.

I believe the genre grafting of sci-fi onto this classic was only a partial success. Many of the new elements are suited to reframing the tale–a rigid system of official citizenship to underpin the class system of the society being the most well-fitting. But while I found the PanEquist religion interesting enough in its own right, I don’t think it was a necessary inclusion for this story, and the question of humanity/cyborg balance on the individual level would have been better left for a work intending to explore it more deeply (as cyberpunk often did beforehand and even up until the time this novel was published, though less so lately.) The use of synthetic humanity to explain the source of the mad wife’s madness I don’t think has aged well, now that we’re in a time when technology is ever more entwined with medicine.

The first word I thought of when I went to sum up what I felt was different about this novel in comparison to its source material was “soulless,” which is unfortunate, given what I just objected to. But in a poetic sense if not a literal one, I think that position is defensible; this is a ghostly imprint of the original with a few new bits drawn in for flavor, but what it adds doesn’t do much to disguise what it lost.

Given that Sharon Shinn has been one of my favorite authors for just over two decades, and that Jane Eyre became a favorite classic several years ago, I honestly expected more of this, but ultimately I think it’s a bad match. Shinn is perfectly capable of writing both fantasy and sci-fi well, but adhering to the formal, flowery speech patterns and agonizing melodrama of Jane Eyre while attempting to create a shiny new sci-fi setting simply didn’t work for me.

2021 Goals: Writing and Publishing

Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash

It would be easy to say, like I did last year, I will publish a novel by the end of the year. It was my goal the first three years of my career as an author, then I slipped, and 2020 was supposed to get me back on track.

And it did, sort of. I got that book done, but I’m already feeling a bit burned out again.

As a romance author, and an independent one at that, there’s a simple reality facing me, that if I want to build a following I need to publish faster. (I also need to get better at marketing myself, but that’s a separate issue.) But I also don’t want to compromise my determination not to put out a book until it’s ready, and it’s good. When I read a romance novel and it’s bad, I don’t usually give that author another chance–the market is simply too big to waste time on someone I didn’t like the first time. Obviously, I don’t want that to happen to me, as an author, which means I need to only publish solid works I’m proud of. (Then, if a reader doesn’t like my work, I know it’s their tastes not aligning with my style, and not that I half-assed a project and released it before it was ready.)

So my goal, tentatively, is still to try to get a book out by the end of the year. That book will likely be the sequel to Fifty-Five Days, because that’s the project I’m working on now. I have other, older projects in various stages of drafting and rewriting, but most of those have serious flaws that may make them difficult to salvage. Someday I might recycle some of their ideas into new works, but hard as it can be to let projects go, the ones in my trunk right now should probably stay there.

Where am I on the planned novel? At least 75% done with the first draft, and working slowly but steadily on it again since the year turned over. I’m opting for the moment not to track my word count–it’s done when I run out of story–and that’s helping ease the pressure I feel to do everything now now now. Ideally I’ll be done with this draft by the end of January, but I’m not setting myself a hard deadline at the moment.

But if this ends up not working out for whatever reason, I have a few other ideas:

  1. Take my old serial Grace and the Greek Warrior, do a little edit/rewrite/polish on it, and publish it formally as a novella. I’ve learned a lot since 2015 when I wrote it, but the story’s bones are just fine, so I could shine it up, make a pretty cover, and release it into the wild.
  2. On that note, not every project has to be a full-length novel. I could easily develop smaller ideas I have into novellas and get a few more titles to my name without the same level of slog as a novel. And I’ve already got four romance serials in progress that could get reshaped into a single story, with some fleshing out.
  3. When all else fails, there’s starting a new project for NaNoWriMo later in the year.

2021 may be a new year and in some ways a fresh start, but there’s still a lot going on to put added stress on my plate, so I’m striving to find balance between working hard at my day job, developing myself further as a writer, keeping the household running smoothly, and still having time for hobbies and the other fun things that make up the rest of my life. That’s the real goal this year, and writing is only one small part of it.

This Month’s TBR: January 2021

Though I’m doing my best to be kinder to myself about the amount and type of reading challenges I take on,  that doesn’t mean I want to abandon my monthly TBRs. I simply won’t make them as long–they used to be anywhere from 9 to 12 books–and without a formal monthly challenge to plan for, I’ve put together a basic set of guidelines to help me progress my goals while maintaining some variety.

I chose six books as a manageable goal, and for the rest of my reading time I’ll pick whatever I feel in the mood for.

The guidelines I’ve constructed:

  1. A title from my 2018 backlog
  2. A book I own that continues an ongoing series, with priority given whenever possible to finishing the series
  3. Any book by a new-to-me author
  4. One nonfiction title, if I have any available (this one may run out before the end of the year, I haven’t counted)
  5. A book I own that I’m excited about, regardless of when I acquired it
  6. Any other physical book in my collection, especially if I don’t anticipate keeping it

The test run looks like this:

  1. The Lake of Dead Languages, by Carol Goodman
  2. Dreams of Joy, by Lisa See
  3. Once a Runner, by John L. Parker, Jr.
  4. Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer
  5. Jenna Starborn, by Sharon Shinn
  6. Dolores Claiborne, by Stephen King

I reserve the right to modify or abandon these guidelines at any point during the year if something’s not  working for me, but I think this is a solid start. Six books a month is well within my capabilities, even with a deliberately relaxed pace, and this will let me mood-read a great deal more than I have been in recent years.

#Sunday-Romance Serial: “A New Life Together”

Photo by Andrew Ridley on Unsplash
  • Continuing with: Mila and Belken
  • Setting: Gritty fantasy, it’s getting less generic as I world-build but I still don’t have anything like place names
  • Length: 1,499 words
  • Key Tropes: established relationship, moving in together, horny because it’s been too long
  • Content Warnings: brief allusion to Belken’s earlier torture, depiction of his healing injuries
  • Explicit?: Yes

Belken was home when Mila returned after a morning of training, which surprised her. Despite the unspoken sense they were starting a new life together, as near to married as they might be without the ceremony, he had spent most of his waking time away from their new home. She told herself not to be angry, because he must have piles of work waiting for him, but she could admit to herself a certain disappointment. After they had been kept separate for so long after the rescue, she had hoped to spend more time together.

Even her disappointment was tempered by reality, though, for she had little time to spare herself. Petralla hadn’t been jesting when she promised to work Mila harder than ever before. They were only waiting for information, for a clue to tell them where and when to strike, before going after the Bone Traders.

She set that out of her mind as she stood in the doorway and watched Belken sleep. His pose looked as though he’d been sitting up, but gradually relaxed into slumber as he waited. He was not dressed for work, in one of his fine embroidered tunics, but for a day at home, in a simple shirt and soft trousers, with bare feet.

She wondered if she should wake him, because he must still be exhausted after his ordeal, and trying so hard to make up for it since. She didn’t know enough particulars of his business to properly imagine the disarray he fought against now, but she could see the toll it was taking on him. She sighed and went to the hearth to start a pot of tea brewing. While it steeped, she fetched a blanket and lay it over him.

That was enough–he opened his eyes. “Mila,” he whispered. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep, I’m sorry.”

“For what?” she asked lightly. “Taking a nap while I was training? No harm done.”

“No, I meant to make you lunch,” he explained as he rose. “I don’t mean to be gone so much. Not when we’re getting the chance to start again. Only–“

She stepped forward to embrace him, and his words cut off when his arms enfolded her. “I know, Bel. You still have your responsibilities, and I have mine. Neither of us expected this was how things would go, and if you weren’t ready to … to live with me,” she faltered.

He squeezed her hard, her ribs flexing under the pressure. “I am. Or at least, I want to be. This will need some adjustment, I know. But I’ve been sleeping so well, having you beside me every night. I didn’t realize what a difference it would make, knowing it was our bed, instead of yours or mine.” He relaxed his grip as he chuckled. “And it’s just a fine bed itself. I wouldn’t have expected that. Aren’t you all so hardy and fierce that sleeping in a soft bed is too much pampering?”

Mila laughed. “We’re not monks, Bel, we don’t thrive on hardship. It’s much wiser, don’t you think, to be well rested when we work? Whether that’s guard duty or treasure hunting or actual battle.”

His hands began to roam her back, his fingertips pressing the texture of the loose-woven cloth into her skin. “It’s wise to be well rested for play, too. I think I’m finally caught up on my sleep.”

“We can go out for lunch,”  she offered. “Later. Just let me strain the tea–I can keep it warm on the hearth, but I can’t save it if it oversteeps.”

That simple practicality could have been a mood killer for some, but Bel let her go without fretting.  When she was done, she found him in the bedroom, turning back the bed covers. The expression on his face when she caught his eye was open and devastating. “It’s been too long since I loved you,” he said.

“Yes, it has,” she replied. “Let’s fix that, shall we?”

They undressed each other slowly. Belken marveled over her skin, pressing his face to her, inhaling her scent. “Sometime you should come home dirty and sweaty from training,” he murmured. “I like that, too, you know.”

“Sometime,” she said, not quite a promise. They did have their own little bathing room, but the communal steam baths were such a lovely way to relax after hours of weapons practice or endurance training. “Remember, though, we’d have to change the sheets, too. You have no idea how muddy I can get.”

He allowed her to lift his shirt off, only wincing slightly at the movement. All laughter fled at the shadow of bruises on his ribs, where they must have kicked him hard and often. She sketched her fingers lightly around their edges, faint and fading but still visible. “We can wait,” she said.

He caught her hand and pressed it to his heart. “No, I can’t.”  After studying her expression, which must have betrayed her worry, his face softened, some of the intensity draining from it. “So be gentle with me.”

“How gentle?” She flexed her trapped fingers, scratching lightly at his chest with her nails.

He let out a long, shuddering breath. “So much that I think I’ll die from wanting more of you.”

He meant it lightly, if not jokingly, but a shiver passed through her anyway.  “I can do that,” she breathed, just before claiming his mouth in a kiss she strained to keep soft, in control, not as wild as she felt herself to be inside. He responded with a muted groan, almost a rumble, deep in his chest. When she pulled away, they finished undressing each other, and Mila’s heart cracked open a little further when she saw the ghosts of bruises on the outer flanks of his legs, as well. Very little of him had escaped hurt during his ordeal. Again, she wanted to draw back, to wait until he was more healed, but his member was hard, jutting tall from his body, and already leaking from excitement.

Bel needed this of her, and to be honest, she needed him, too. So she would be gentle, as he had asked. She nudged him toward the bed and he went, laying himself down carefully. She straddled him, arranging herself to glide along his length freely without taking him into her. He closed his eyes, pushed his head back into the pillow, and moaned.

It wasn’t long before he couldn’t stand to be only passive, though. When she didn’t change her speed or motion, he reached for her, hands smoothing over her shoulders, her breasts, her neck. “Is your plan to drive me mad a little first?”

She smiled down at him. “Yes. Is it working?”

“Yes. Can’t you feel it?”

“Well, I’d hate to make you spill all over yourself before I get what I want,” she teased, as she raised herself higher. With one hand she repositioned him so that she could sink slowly onto him, keeping her promise to be gentle even when she wanted to slam their bodies together like swords clashing in the training yard, fast and sharp. The slow slide of their bodies was sweet torment to her.

“What do you want?” he asked, his voice rough.

“I want to see stars, and feel like the only thing in the world touching me is you.”

He let out a sharp cry when she was seated fully on him, and she shifted at once, thinking she had put too much weight on him. “Bel?”

“No, don’t stop,” he panted. “It’s only, I want so badly to roll you over and take you hard, it’s maddening.”

“I know, love, I know.” She wanted the same thing, or even just to ride him hard like this, to feel him straining up into her. She started a slow grind against him. “I don’t think we’ll have to endure this long, though.”

“You’re close? Already?” Even mostly breathless, he sounded smug.

“Can’t you feel it?” she threw his words back at him.

“Oh, I can, and that’s maddening too.” He sat up awkwardly, propping himself on one hand as he wrapped the other arm around her waist, urging her to move faster. “Come apart on me, Mila. I’m the only one touching you, I’m the one filling you up, I’m the one whose name you’re going to scream when you break into pieces.”

He was thrusting now in time with his words, taking some of the control from her, defying his own edict to be gentle. She took him by the shoulders and pressed him back onto the bed, hiking up her knees and changing her angle until she felt pierced more fully, filled more completely. He was right–she did scream his name, while he only shouted roughly, wordlessly.

A loud, rhythmic pounding on the far wall of the bedroom startled them both. “Oh, hell,” Mila muttered. “I didn’t know we had neighbors.”

End of the Month Wrap-Up: December 2020!

Photo by Joanna Lopez on Unsplash

This month, I read 14 books, baked nine different types of cookies, sent three Christmas packages, finished one of my art journals, and barely worked on the NaNo novel at all. Ideally, it would be done by now–in reality, I was too wiped out by the holiday preparations, various stressors in other areas of my life, and…

publishing my newest novel!

Yeah, that happened. And it took a lot of effort, and now I’m taking a bit of a creative break. The motto for 2021 I’m trying to adopt: “stop being so hard on yourself.” I do have goals for the new year, but I’m thinking smaller and less stressful.

I’m not going to do a whole-year retrospective, because yes, good things did happen to and for me this year, but so did a lot of bad ones, and I’m not interested in rehashing it more than I already have.

Despite everything, though, we did have a good Christmas, and while our “feast” wasn’t as elaborate as the meal we planned for Thanksgiving, it was tasty and the new recipes mostly turned out well. I finished the day with a new Kindle Paperwhite, which means I’m no longer reading ebooks on my phone, as I have been since my first e-reader, a Fire that I honestly don’t remember how long I’ve had now, got old and slow and cranky. So that’s great, especially since so much of my backlog is digital now!

Okay, that’s a year-related thing I can wrap up happily: my owned-and-unread TBR is down to 167, split 100/67 digital/physical. Down from (*cough cough*) over 400 at the peak, when I was buying secondhand books for pennies far, far faster than I was reading them. Even with my plans to relax my reading pace somewhat in 2021, that’s barely more than I read from my own collection this year (155.) Yes, I’m sure I’ll be acquiring some new books, but even so, the end is in sight–I could have my entire backlog cleared in the next two years. Seeing as how I’ve been working on it steadily now for three and feeling like I’m not actually making progress, this is great news for me.

I know that nothing is going to magically change when the clock strikes midnight tonight and the new year rolls in, but I’m choosing to be cautiously optimistic anyway. I have good things to look forward to, small plans that will turn into little victories I can celebrate. I hope you all get to do the same!

This Week, I Read… (2020 #50)

#176 – A Kiss for Midwinter, by Courtney Milan

  • Rating: 5/5 stars

I didn’t know I needed a short romance between a slightly grumpy and relentlessly honest doctor, and a determinedly cheerful but painfully in denial young society woman. Their banter made me laugh, occasionally broke my heart a little, and in general gave me life, watered my crops, cleared my skin, etc.

I also value this for being a Christmas-adjacent story without making “the magic of Christmas” its central tent pole. I found it refreshing to have this set in a time period where Christmas traditions were actually changing and the story could address, in small ways, what people thought of that. It wasn’t completely without Christmas spirit, but neither was it cloying or saccharine as contemporary Christmas romances so often are.

I’m glad I’ve come back to this series, because I so rarely find Regency/other historical romances engaging, when they’re usually focused on how external obstacles–the strictures of society in particular–might prevent the romance from happening, and after a while I don’t find that particularly interesting. Milan always manages to make the conflict about something else, and here, society at large isn’t at all standing in the way of Lydia and Jonas–their issues are entirely personal, and I think that’s a great fit for both my personal tastes and also the short length of the story.

#177 – Voyage of the Basilisk, by Marie Brennan

  • Mount TBR: 153/150
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

I felt some of the same pacing issues were present here that I had with book two–for the first half of the wandering story I was anxious to forge ahead and find “the good stuff,” and then when I got there, it was over so quickly in a string of high-adventure shenanigans.

But somehow those shenanigans also made time for a brief examination of gender roles and nonbinary/trans identities–I’m hesitant to choose between those terms for Heali’i when neither are used in the story–and also the barest hints of a possible future romance. Whatever frustrations I have with this book, I was never on the verge of giving up the series, but if I had been, I’d still want to stick around to see if Suhail is the future second husband that Isabella occasionally refers to but never names. Their friendship grows organically from their situation and the hardships they endure together, but from Isabella’s perspective, at least, there’s chemistry between them as well, despite the numerous societal obstacles that would undoubtedly plague such a match. Not gonna lie, I ship them, Suhail was my favorite new character.

I’m less sure about Jake and his presence in the story. On the one hand, I like the slowly-growing rapport he and his mother are developing; on the other, I dislike that for large stretches of the narrative, Isabella seems to forget he even exists. I suppose it’s difficult to sympathetically portray a woman who was never particularly interested in having children as a mother, and benignly/occasionally neglectful is far, far better than actively resentful. But at times I genuinely had difficulty seeing Jake as anything more than a plot device, because the mere fact of his existence made his presence on this journey mandatory–Isabella goes into that at the beginning at sufficient length–but the story never really gives him anything worthwhile to do, and his governess even less. (The narrative also forgets about her for whole chapters at a time, and that lack made me miss Natalie as a female presence in Isabella’s life.)

Some of my complaints, both those detailed here and others too minor to mention, may be an artifact of middle-book syndrome, as this is the third of five in the series. The ending feels as abrupt and unsatisfying to me as the end of the second book did, if for different reasons. Yes, it’s the end of the voyage, which was the point of this memoir, but it’s as if she dusts her hands together and says “that’s that, then,” while barely devoting any time to the fallout, both political and personal, of her journey.

#178 – Back with the Stuntman, by Amanda Horton

  • Mount TBR: 154/150
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

Yikes, DNF at 10% of the file, which apparently is stuffed with filler at the back end, because another reviewer says the actual book ends at 36%. So I thought I was reading 10% of the story but I actually read almost a third? Which just makes this seem even worse to me, because from where I left off, it didn’t feel like we’d covered much ground.

So I was immediately put off by the constant punctuation errors, poor grammar, and the tone of the characters’ conversation, which was flatly stating everything they’re thinking, to the point where they’re clearly expositing the story in a way that real people generally don’t speak to each other.

That was all before the end of the first chapter, but I didn’t give up yet. I wanted to at least meet the hero in the second chapter.

I found a serious red flag soon after the story switched to his POV. I knew he was a single dad from the blurb. What I was shocked by was that I was introduced to that fact in-story with this sentence:

“After the death of Shaun’s mom I wasn’t interested.” [in long-term dating]

So Shaun’s his son, I guess, but neither his name nor his existence had actually be mentioned prior. And I’m beyond horrified by introducing a dead woman who had some kind of relationship in the past to the hero, not by name, but by her motherhood. WHY DOESN’T SHE GET A NAME? And why, on top of that, is she only defined as the kid’s mom? Wasn’t she the hero’s wife, or at least his girlfriend at some point? Was she truly nothing more than the person who incubated and birthed his child?

But I kept going, and somehow it actually got worse. Not long after the two leads met up again in person after their many years apart, they have a reasonably good chat and feel reconnected–and we finally learn the name of the hero’s son’s dead mother, who was actually the hero’s wife, don’t understand why that wasn’t made clear immediately. At the end of the night, the hero gives the heroine a long “bear” hug (which apparently he’s “notorious” for) and gets turned on enough to just proposition her right then and there. I was disgusted, and fortunately so was the heroine, who got pissed and left. But he’s the hero! They’re supposed to get together, and he’s acting like this early on? I’m not rooting for this guy, he’s a jerk!

No, just no, to all of it.

#179 – A Duke by Default, by Alyssa Cole

  • Rating: 3/5 stars

I’ll throw in an extra half star for solid adult ADHD rep, because I’m in a similar boat to Portia and only recently wondering if that condition is the root of my problems. And overall I feel like it was better than the first book, which I also gave three stars. But like the first book, this one also has a lot of problems.

I know very little about how peerage works in the UK in modern times, but even without a solid foundational knowledge, the sudden and nearly painless fight to get Tavish recognized tested my suspension of disbelief. Other reviews I have skimmed point out the flaws with this part of the plot in far more detail than I could myself, but I see it, I acknowledge it, once again the “royal” part of the “reluctant royal” theme is questionable at best.

I felt like Portia and Tavish had good chemistry, though the push-pull, will-they-won’t-they phase seemed to last a long, long time. I’m a sucker for a tough exterior with a marshmallow center, so I liked Tav well enough even when his excessive Luddite tendencies seemed unrealistic. Portia’s emotional journey sold me on her even when I couldn’t empathize with her rich-socialite attitude towards certain aspects of life. Their personalities weren’t the problem in this romance–the constant back-and-forth of the plot was, especially the accelerated pace of events at the end, which I thought was weak. Both Portia and Tavish flip-flop constantly about what they want (or at least what they admit to wanting) and their relationship devolves into a garbled series of miscommunications worsened by outside interference. The ending tried to tie up all those ends, but it felt abrupt and even slightly unsatisfying–at one point late in the story, things had gotten so bad between them that even though I liked them both, they were doing each other more harm than good and I almost stopped rooting for them, thinking maybe they really were better off apart, that the obstacles between them were too great to overcome. And if I’m not rooting for the couple to get/stay together, what’s the point of reading romance?

So it started with a strong premise and good chemistry, I got some bonus ADHD rep along the way that resonated with me, but it mostly fell apart by the end and I was left frustrated by a rushed conclusion.

2021 Goals: Reading Challenges

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

Last year I said I was thinking about taking it easier on reading challenges, then ended up overloading myself anyway. This year, I mean it.

The 2020 Challenge Rundown:

  1. Mount TBR – read 150 of my own books owned prior to the start of the year
  2. The PopSugar Ultimate Reading Challenge – 52 prompt-based reads
  3. Around the Year in 52 Books – 52 different prompt-based reads with a recommended-but-not-mandatory weekly schedule
  4. The Reading Frenzy’s monthly Travel-a-Thon challenges – 5 or 6 prompts based around a country or city
  5. Personal challenge – getting through my entire 2017 backlog of books
  6. Personal challenge – finish the Realms of the Elderlings series

I finished everything but #4, though not with as much breathing room as usual, and it felt hard. As for the Travel-a-thon, I skipped one month over the summer, then stopped completely at the end of October, because I was burned out.

I hear you, Universe–I’m taking on too much and over-structuring my reading. I’ve been doing it for years and mostly keeping up, but now it’s time to relax.

But I’m still planning to read a lot and I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t tackle at least some sort of challenge. Here’s my 2021 proposal:

  1. Mount TBR, but only 100 instead of 150
  2. Tackle the 2018 backlog, which is smaller than 2017 was (thank goodness)
  3. Revisit Beat the Backlist, which I last did in 2017, to play bingo:

I found myself participating in quite a few minor bingo challenges on social media this year, both reading- and writing-based games, and I enjoyed them a lot, because unlike a list-based challenge, there’s very little pressure to do all the things. I’m not going to let this bingo card function as a list of tasks to do: I’m simply going to mark books off as I read them, if they fit, and we’ll see how long it takes me to get a bingo!

And that’s it. Yes, I’d like to make progress on the series I’m in the middle of, but I’m not setting myself one “big” series to read in 2021 as I have in past years. Yes, I’ll likely still participate in pop-up challenges on social media like smaller-scale bingo events and readathons, which may or may not have prompts associated with them. But those are community-driven things I can’t plan for this far in advance. (There’s actually another 1Kpages readathon starting on Christmas Day that I’m tentatively penciled in for, it’s a good motivator to get a head start on that 2018 backlog.)

One more thing: to even further lessen the pressure on myself, after having a chat with a book-friend I’ve decided to stop including when I read a book in its review. Because of the way I structured my book reviews back in 2016 when I started them, I felt the need to only read one book at a time, finishing each before moving on to the next, which didn’t allow me much freedom to read according to mood. But that’s just an artificial construct, and a self-imposed one at that–who really cares what date I read a book? I’m still going to mark them on Goodreads for my own tracking purposes, so the information is still there, but it’s not relevant to my reviews, and leaving it off will mean I can start a book in January, realize I’m not in the mood for it, and finish it in April or November or whenever I am, no harm done.

I’m never going to stop being a bookworm, I’m just allowing myself to be a bookworm who doesn’t self-impose unnecessary stress about reading.

Getting Serious About Series 2020 #4: How Did I Do?

I’m having thoughts about how to restructure these posts (again) to make them more manageable, but that’s a project for the new year and the next update; for now, I’ll stick to the format I’ve established. A few more “Oh, I forgot I was reading this series” books have been added, found when I was digging through my TBR for other reasons–I’ve accepted that I’m never going to have this concept fully organized, because some first-in-series books are probably always going to slip through the cracks of my memory, especially when I didn’t realize they were part of a series to begin with (or became so after I read them, in some cases.)

The final stats: I’m currently enmeshed in 21 series (15 active, 6 on hold while I wait for the next book.) I don’t have a firm count on series I own but haven’t started, because the list here is incomplete. As for series I’m now no longer reading, that’s also 21 total: 4 actually finished and the others started but abandoned. I’m willing to give authors a try, but I won’t commit to reading a whole series when I’m not interested!

Whatever goal I set myself for 2021, I’ve got to get this under better control. The problem is, for a lot of these series I need to buy books in order to continue reading, but 2020 was the big year of Not Buying Books so that I could work through my backlog. I acquired 32 new books this year, but first of all, most of them were free (thank you, Tor newsletter), and second, most of the ones that weren’t, I bought and read immediately for my indie book club. Next year I don’t think I’ll have to be so restrictive, so I can earmark some of my book budget for continuing series.

Waiting for the Next Book to Be Published

Series in Progress (books read/total books)

I Own The First One (or More) But Haven’t Started Yet

Off My List in 2020

  • Red Rising Saga (Pierce Brown) — DNF’d the first book, can’t/won’t go on
  • Micah Grey (Laura Lam) — read the first one, gave it 3/5 stars, but the story ended on a weird cliffhanger I didn’t like, don’t really want to go on
  • Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children (Ransom Riggs) — read the first one, gave it 2/5 stars, have no interest in continuing
  • The Edge (Ilona Andrews) — FINISHED
  • Waverley Family (Sarah Addison Allen) — FINISHED
  • The Bone Witch (Rin Chupeco) — read the first one, rated it 2/5 stars, too frustrated with its flaws to want to go on, despite some curiosity about the way it ended
  • Regency Reimagined (Megan Mulry) — read the prequel novella and first novel, gave both 2/5 stars, not worth my time to continue
  • In Stilettos (Nana Malone) — finished the first one, DNF’d the second, both were poorly edited
  • Shades of Love (Tracey Livesay) — read the first two books, both were full of plot holes, looks like the third book is based on an amnesia plot so nope-nope-nope
  • Wallflowers (Lisa Kleypas) — read the prequel novella years ago, not realizing it was even in this series; read the first novel, it was okay, but I don’t like Regency romances enough to keep reading “okay” ones
  • Gentleman Bastard (Scott Lynch) — author behaving badly in public
  • Wildwood (Juliet Marillier) — read the first one, gave it 2/5 stars. As the second book is a sequel focusing on a different character (one of the sisters, meh) I’m not going on with this
  • The Matheson Brothers (Joanne Wadsworth) –One of the many unlisted romance series I had lying around. The first book was a glorified novella that made me laugh when I wasn’t supposed to be laughing. No need to read any further.
  • The Doms of Her Life (multiple authors) — Another romance series I won’t be bothering with after the first one.
  • Dive Bar (Kylie Scott) — The first book was better than many other romance novels in series on my abandoned list, but still not gripping enough to make me keep going.
  • Imperial Radch (Ann Leckie) — FINISHED
  • No Ordinary Star (M.C. Frank) — After reading the first two (3 stars/1 star reviews) I’m no longer invested enough to finish.
  • Dread Nation (Justina Ireland) — Read the first one, 3 stars. I ended it on the fence about whether I’d read its sequel, but reviews for it seem to have readers who loved the first book disappointed by the second. And I didn’t love the first book, so…
  • Realms of the Elderlings (Robin Hobb) — FINISHED after three years!
  • The Hangman’s Daughter (Oliver Pötzsch) — Did not like it, won’t be going on
  • Yellowstone Romance (Peggy L. Henderson) — Wow, that first book was not great, and it’s my second not-great read by that author, so this is a no