This Week, I Read… (2018 #48)

171 - The Pearl that Broke its Shell

#171 – The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, by Nadia Hashimi

A potentially interesting story that got bogged down under its own weight.

The structure of two intertwined narratives is a good one for the aim of this book, but both the present and the past are treated with equal weight, though the past narrative is supposed to be an inspirational story influencing the present protagonist; it could have been shorter.

In fact, they both could have been shorter, because most pages seemed filled to the brim with dialogue that was often repetitive, either one character restating what another had said, or the protagonist in the present narrative vocalizing her internal monologue. At nearly 500 pages, this simply went on too long to really captivate me. At 2/3 of that, or maybe even 3/4, it would have been a much stronger story.

As for the tale itself? Misery piled upon misery, with our plucky heroines finding the strength to do something about it. The characterization is strong, but the plot is meandering and often predictable, at least if you’ve read any Afghani fiction before.

172 - Saga Vol. 1

#172 – Saga, Vol. 1, by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

[Challenge note: Now that I’ve read this, I’m not sure it’s much like the “cyberpunk” I’m familiar with; I got it from a suggested list, because I’ve already read most of the genre’s classics. That being said, I’m glad I did read it even if it didn’t quite fit the task, because…]

I loved everything about this, the writing, the weirdness, the art style, the color palette. I binged it in a single sitting and I’m overjoyed that my library has all of it.

Do I have any criticisms? Not really. I have a lot of unanswered questions, but that’s the trouble sometimes with reviewing pieces of a sequential work–I can’t say much about this as a finished object, because it’s not. However, I do think it serves as a solid introduction to what I assume the story is going to be–it’s full of action and tender moments both; it’s weird as all get out but in a way I groove with; the “adult” content is present but not gratuitous or merely for shock/titillation value; and it tells the story of the birth of little Hazel, overlaid with her narration, in a way that screams both “nostalgia” and “fascinating protagonist to come.”

The rest of the series is going on my TBR immediately.

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Down the TBR Hole #13

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?

I’m back up over 800 on my total TBR, and with Christmas around the corner, more are likely to be added soon. Let’s take a look at my next ten books up on the chopping block.

#1 – Tomorrow, When the War Began, by John Marsden

71865A tumblr buddy recommended this specifically to me because of my interest in post-apoc/dystopian fiction, and this is an Australian-set YA example. That definitely intrigued me.

However, my Goodreads friends who have read it all seem to be distinctly “meh” about it, and several reviews have panned the setup as laughably unrealistic.

It goes.

 

#2 – The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers

25786523Everyone has been raving about this, and I’ve seen it described as a combination of the television shows Farscape and Firefly, both of which I love (even with Firefly’s problematic elements.)

I’m a sucker for the found family trope, and that sounds like it’s in play here, plus “light-hearted space opera” will be a nice change of pace from some of the heavy stuff I tend to read.

It stays.

 

#3 – Exit, Pursued by a Bear, by E.K. Johnston

25528801I surrendered to the hype when I put this on my TBR, it was making the rounds, but rereading the blurb, I’m not as interested. The good reviews are underwhelming, and the bad ones are calling it “fluffy” and “slick,” not words I want to see used about what’s supposed to be a look at sexual assault victimization.

It goes.

 

 

#4 – A Whisper of Roses, by Teresa Medeiros

244471Not sure where this addition came from, to be honest. And revisiting it, I can see why the Beauty-and-the-Beast aspect appealed to me, but multiple reviews criticize this work for having a bewildering final act/ending, for being a romance where if the H/h could just be honest with each other one single time then there would be no story at all, and various other ’90s-era romance sins that I just don’t care for at all.

It goes.

 

 

#5 – Love is Blind, by Lynsay Sands

39403I plucked this off a romance recommendation list because of its incredibly near-sighted heroine; girls in glasses are just not a thing I’ve seen in historical romances.

I’m wary of the negative tropes this might involve, and some reviewers hate this for its anachronisms, but since I’m not a diehard Regency fan, I don’t know enough about the era to necessarily even notice them.

It can stay, for now. If I have trouble landing hands on a copy, it might get purged later.

 

#6 – Trees, Vol. 2: Two Forests, by Warren Ellis & Jason Howard

25592452I read Vol. 1 back in 2016, and I enjoyed many things about it, but it didn’t wow me. I kept #2 on the TBR anyway, figuring I’d go back to it.

Now that a moment of reckoning has come, I’m discouraged to see that there’s no #3, even two years later. Though the reviews generally seem to favor this volume over its predecessor, I’m not invested enough to bother reading this if there may never be any more (a years-long pattern with Ellis works.)

It goes.

#7 – The Bone Witch, by Rin Chupeco

30095464If I do my usual thing and look at both friends’ and others’ reviews, I have no freakin’ clue if this book is any good or not. Ratings and complaints are all over the board.

However, high fantasy that involves necromancy as anything other than purely evil and wrong is not something I’ve ever read, and given that I ended up including necromancy in my own new story universe, this will probably be a valuable read for me even if, in the end, I’m one of the reviewers who pans it.

It can stay.

#8 – Ice Massacre, by Tiana Warner

22718724I’m excited about this one–it definitely stays–because I need more mermaids in my life.

Everyone I’ve seen talking about this book on tumblr adores it. Some intensely picky readers raved about it like it was the best thing since sliced bread, a true surprise read.

Even though it’s a few pages into my TBR, it’s on my radar for purchase in 2019, because it just seems so cool. No pun intended.

 

#9 – An Experienced Mistress, by Bryn Donovan

7380771This is on the list because I follow Bryn’s blog, and have for quite some time. Eventually I was like, wait, why haven’t I actually read any of her stuff yet?

So it stays. I’m not sure when I’ll get to it, but bonus: while it’s not widely read, it’s super-highly rated and often lauded for being a steamy romance with a decidedly feminist viewpoint. Ideally, that would describe all romances, but we know it’s not true, right?

 

 

#10 – Wool, by Hugh Howey

12287209One of the biggest indie-to-famous success stories, and it’s a post-apoc story to boot. Honestly, I’m kind of wondering how I haven’t read this already?

Maybe it’s a case where the looming specter of disappointment is putting me off, because my experience with hyped works has definitely led me down some dark reading roads.

But the original short is free, and it is short, so I really have no excuse not to give it a try. It stays.

 


I cut 4/10 this time, not bad, not bad. I don’t want to be so ruthless I ditch a book I would have loved, but I don’t want to be so wishy-washy I keep books I doubt I’ll enjoy.

So as always, if you’ve read any of these and want to share your opinion or campaign for a good book to make it back onto my list, leave a comment and let me know!

#spookyromancenovel is finished!

That is, the rough draft is finished.

I didn’t mean for it to take me a week to write the end after NaNoWriMo, but of course as soon as NaNo was over, I got really sick. Because of course.

So the draft clocks in at 96K.

  • Written during Fictober: 39K
  • Written during NaNo: 52K
  • Written this past week: 5K

This has been the most productive I’ve been with writing all year, and I’m going to strain my arm patting myself on the back and all, but I am REALLY FUCKING PROUD OF MYSELF. I hadn’t been able to stick to one project since I “won” NaNo last year but never finished the actual draft I started for it. Everything since then has been me, waffling about what to write while struggling with my depression.

But my mental health has been improving steadily since summer, and things in general are looking up, and it’s definitely got me back on track creatively.

My plan for #spookyromancenovel: Give myself the rest of the month off writing entirely (except for blog posts, I’ll use the time to get ahead on those!) Do a reread focused on assembling a world-building guide over my holiday vacation. Start the rewrite when I get home.

The great thing is, all those half-baked ideas I’ve been playing with since I published the final What We Need book will fit into this new universe I’m creating, with some tweaks here and there. My lesbian witches? Probably the next book in the hypothetical series. Werewolf courtship rituals? Absolutely would work if I move the setting from tiny rural town to big city, which might actually make it more interesting. Haunted library? Oh, hell yes, and I’ve even got a librarian side character ready for her own romance novel. Plus I made her come from a rich necromancer family and I’ve introduced two of her brothers, so they’re potential protagonists, too. And one of them is definitely gay.

So I sat down on the first day of Fictober thinking I was going to play around with a friends-to-lovers story with magic, and ended up spawning a place where all of my story ideas for the past year and a half have been inevitably heading, giving me enough plot fuel for a good five or six books, at least.

I’m so excited I’m bouncing in my damn chair.

This Week, I Read… (2018 #47)

164 - Priestess of the White

#164 – Priestess of the White, by Trudi Canavan

I would have DNF’d this, if only I hadn’t bought it specifically because I picked up #2 in the trilogy at a used book sale, on the strength of a lot of people recommending Canavan’s Black Magician trilogy.

Turns out, this isn’t nearly as good that the praise for her other works led me to believe it would be.

I have a lot of complaints and basically nothing good to say.

1. Too disjointed. I’m not opposed to brief asides that introduce a new focus character, for the purpose of showing something specific that a main character isn’t present for. In fact, I can think of quite a few fantasy works I’ve read before that use this technique beautifully. Here, though, the narrative hops between characters constantly, and it got to the point where I didn’t know on beginning a new scene (or tiny chunk of scene) if the character being introduced was important or not, simply because the jumps happened so often.

2. Not a fan of theocracies. Auraya, our MC, is one of the White, the chosen of the Gods, and she’s bestowed both magical and political power because of it. The White keep saying that all other religions are “cults” because their gods “aren’t real,” the implication being that their own are, and we do see the Gods manifest in what certainly seems to be a real way. But their reasoning never sat well with me–seeing Auraya agonize over saving the souls of the Dreamweavers, in particular, turned my stomach–because of the constant insistence that the White’s religion, their way of life, was the “right” one, that they knew best and should convert/rule over others. Um, no thanks? By the time this bothered me, I hoped for a subversion at the end of the book, that the White find out somehow that they’re not fully “right.” It sort of happened, because Auraya witnessed what looked like another God manifesting to its followers. However…

3. The war is stupid. Evil heretics are coming to invade us because they hate our Gods! Okay, good reason to have a war. But then, after the entire book is spent gathering allies (with two out of the three missions to do so turning out successfully,) there’s one battle staged around one big magical throwdown that the White have with the enemy sorcerers, and that’s it. Auraya kills one of them, and then the White’s leader orders that the others be spared, and everybody goes home? Yeah, because none of the other sorcerers kept fighting? They weren’t furious at the death of their comrade and they didn’t want revenge or victory? Everything was just over? I was just flabbergasted at how anti-climactic the last hundred pages were. Especially since HEY MAYBE YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY GODS IN TOWN. Hopefully that’s addressed in the next book, which I am still going to read, dammit. (Or at least try to.)

4. Worst romance ever. Okay, that’s not entirely fair, I’ve read some awful romances, but Auraya/Leiard is a dumb pairing because a) he was her teacher when she was a child/teenager (it wasn’t clear how old she was until FAR too late in the story); b) he’s significantly older than her even as an adult, and while I could get over that age gap under other circumstances, he knew her as a child and so it just squicks me out; c) they have no chemistry; d) she’s a chosen priestess and he’s a heathen (according to the White) practicing forbidden teachings and ohmygod this is a bad idea for so many reasons, but “love” is supposed to trump that, only it doesn’t ever seem like love, just like they both get off on the secretive, forbidden aspect of their affair. It’s two people being stupid at each other for the sake of sex, and we don’t even get to see the sex (yes, I know, this isn’t erotic fantasy, but still, maybe if we actually got to see them together in any sort of romantic/sexual sense, their “love” would hold up to scrutiny better.)

5. Unclear world-building. So, mind-reading, yay or nay? Because the White, and apparently a goodly number of the lower ranks of their priesthood, can read minds. Much of what Auraya “learns” comes from skimming the brains of those around her (without their permission, might I add.) The second half of Emerahl’s subplot depends on this, because as a sorceress her mind can’t be read by the priests, so she needs to avoid or trick them to keep herself safe. Yet, about halfway through the book, Auraya expresses grave distaste for other people potentially reading minds; I forget in what exact context, but she viewed it as a violation of privacy and something no one should be doing. You know, except her, her four fellow Chosen, and however many of their priests and priestesses can do it. Because it’s okay for them, they’re the “right” religion, after all.

6. Two demi-human races, very little description. We spend a lot of time with the Siyee, child-sized flying humans, yet for a good chunk of that, I had no idea what they looked like or how they flew. And then when their “wings” were finally described, they sounded like sugar gliders, with wing-like membranes attached to their sides, and I’m sorry, but those don’t sound like functional wings for full flight at all. I had a really hard time believing that they could lift off from the ground, do complicated dance-like aerial maneuvers, or basically do anything other than glide from something tall to the ground or something shorter. And the Elai, the sea people? Webbed hands and feet. If they have any other distinctive features, I don’t remember them, because their part of the story was so short and insignificant it didn’t even need to be included–they were the race that turned down an alliance with the White, pre-war. Nothing would have been lost if Auraya hadn’t had time to go see them and get turned down.

165 - The Snow Leopard

#165 – The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen

Though the blurb did warn me that spirituality was going to be a part of this book, I had no idea I was going to spend nearly 300 pages listening to an entitled white man whine about his search for fulfillment while leaving behind all of his responsibilities to walk through the Himalayas for a while. I actually wanted to read the bits that were about natural history and science, but they were fewer and farther between than I expected, and definitely less a part of the book than I wanted.

I know it’s poor form to criticize an author directly in a review, but as this is basically a travelogue memoir, I don’t see how I can avoid it. Matthiessen goes off on a trip to find himself, on little more than a whim, about a year after the death of his wife. At one point in the narrative, when he’s flirting with death on the mountain and describing the clarity of that immediacy, he even says he was “careful” because he had young children with no mother to look after them.

So what the hell are you doing on a mountaintop thousands of miles away from those children?

Demeaning pan-mysticism and complaining constantly about the crappy job the expeditions’ porters are doing are the only things Matthiessen really offers here, and I’m struck once again by how the journey toward “spiritual enlightenment” is almost always the province of men, because if a woman (especially in the 1970s!) had left her children behind following the death of her husband to look for herself, or the Void, or whatever, in the cold snows of Central Asia, no one would be reading a book about it, because it likely never would have been written, and even if it had been, it probably never would have gotten published or won awards. That hypothetical female author would have been too busy being lambasted for abandoning her family to be a hippie.

As for the actual content of the book, I’m not a student of any Eastern philosophies or religions, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of Matthiessen’s portrayal of them, but I can say for sure that his constant need to relate their teachings with the ways of many Amerindian tribes feels like a stretch, a diminishing of the beauty and variety of cultures across the world. Just because these peoples aren’t white and Judeo-Christian doesn’t mean they’re all the same! Stop lumping everyone together because you see superficial similarities in contrast to a typical white American!

166 - 168 - Frost Family Anthology

#166 – #168: A Frost Family Christmas Anthology, by C.J Carmichael, Roxy Boroughs, and Brenda M. Collins

I’d intended to review each romance individually, but it turns out I don’t really have to. Despite being written by three different authors, the only way I could tell the books apart was by small consistency errors that should have been caught by an editor; for example, sometimes the town’s school is “White Pine High School” and sometimes “White Pine Ridge High School,” things of that nature.

All three stories are equally bland, shallow, and rushed. The first is insta-love, while the second and third are second-chance romances, but all the couples go from not-together to married or seriously committed in one hundred pages or less, as well as in roughly a week of story time. ALL THREE BOOKS TOGETHER only take the month of December, as near as I can tell.

Honestly, it’s just ridiculous.

As for the “cozy mystery” that spans the three individual stories, it’s so full of obvious red herrings that it’s impossible to figure out until seconds before it’s solved for real. Both the second and third books present solutions so clear that I knew they couldn’t be correct, especially in the second book, because if it’s solved then, what happens to the mystery plotline in the third?

I did not even read the bonus short story beyond its first few pages, when it became clear it had nothing to do with the characters and town I’d just spent three books following; I simply didn’t care at that point.

169 - One Hundred Years of Solitude

#169 – One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez

Nope, nope, nope. DNF @ page 90. I was intrigued to begin with, but I don’t read anything anymore where pedophilia goes unchallenged on the page. When adult Aureliano first falls for little 9-year-old Remedios, I was like, gross, but maybe this is a temporary plot point and nothing comes of it, he gets shamed or something–I wasn’t going to leap to conclusions. Then I remembered to check the family tree at the beginning, and sure enough, they have a bunch of children together. I kept reading anyway in case it was a matter of letting her grow up some first, which is still gross but slightly less objectionable; but no, he wants to marry her now. His family objects because she’s the daughter of their enemy, not because of her age. Her family objects mildly, because look, we have all these other daughters too! But not enough to actually stop him, apparently. One woman even jokes “you can marry her, but you’ll have to raise her first.”

I don’t care how “classic” and “brilliant” this is, it’s also vile and disgusting.

Getting Serious About Series #2

My original post about this was a year and a half ago, and I never updated! Silly me!

Anything I’ve completed in the time since will get a strikethrough, and new entries to each category, or entries that changed status, will be listed in red.

Waiting for the Next Book to Be Published

I Own Them But Haven’t Read Them All Yet [read/total]

I Own Some But Not All [read: unread: unowned]

I’ve Read the Ones I Own But Not the Rest

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

So… yeah. I finished a lot of the series I was partway through (Preacher being the notable exception) but managed, with the help of Thriftbooks especially, to gather many, many more series books to me in the past year and a half.

My series priority for this year was the Hainish Cycle, and I’m one owned book away from finishing; it’s a high priority on my TBR this month.

One of my reading goals for next year is the entire James Bond collection, which I have finally managed to acquire fully; I found the final two first at one book sale, then #7-12 together at a later book sale, before finally buying the rest from TB since I wasn’t having any crazy luck like that again locally.

I’ll try to remember to check in on my progress sometime next summer!

End of the Month Wrap-Up: November 2018!

mums-3822055_1280

In November, I read ten books, which was more than I’d hoped for with NaNoWriMo going on–my goal was only eight. Good for me!

Also, I “won” NaNo with one day to spare and finished the final day with a total word count of 52,026. Not my best showing, but I did win, and that makes this a four-year streak!

What I did not actually finish was the story, even if I made the word count goal. I’m actually in the middle of writing the final chapter today.

Other November stats:

  • Six books cut from my TBR
  • Forty (!) books added to my TBR
  • Nineteen books (both physical and digital) added to my collection (yeah, the book-buying ban is over)
  • Twenty-three books donated to the library for resale

My plan for December:

  • Take most of the month off writing;
  • Bake all my Christmas cookies;
  • Read the final four book selections for Expand Your Horizons;
  • Read eight more “old” books from my pre-2018 collection to finish Mount TBR 2018;
  • Check off the last two tasks I have remaining for the PopSugar Reading Challenge;
  • And spend the rest of the month reading the Christmas romances I’ve accumulated over the past few years but haven’t gotten to. I really do feel like I can only read them around Christmas.

NaNo ’18: I Won!

NaNo-2018-Winner-Badge

Here’s the deal. I hit my 50K today (with one day left!) but #spookyromancenovel is NOT finished. I’ve got a few more days probably on that, though I am so so close to the end.

There will not be a “This Week, I Read…” post tomorrow. Between holiday-related stuff and NaNo, I didn’t actually finish a book this week, for the first time, I think, since I started doing weekly review compilations! Also, maybe I shouldn’t have chosen a 600-page, first-in-a-trilogy fantasy to read this week. I’m more than half done, but yeah, still going to need a day or three for that.

Hopefully, I’ll have everything back on track next week. My plan for December (once I finish #spookyromancenovel) is to take most of the month off writing to let the draft settle. Then, over New Year’s when I’m on my family vacation, I’ll do the first reread and make myself a worldbuilding file, because I was definitely making it all up as I went, and if I do that before starting any kind of rewrite, I’ll have a much more consistent world and an easier time making it that way.

So, I’ll see everybody next Monday when I resume my regular blog schedule. Until then, I’ll be on the couch reading a lot. Gotta have something to review next week, right?