This Week, I Read… (2017 #8)

31 - The Dispossessed

#31 – The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin

I knew I had to read this slowly, because it’s a novel of Ideas, not of Plot. And while I found the Ideas interesting, I’m not entirely sure I always followed them–sociology isn’t even remotely my field.

And that’s what this is, a comparison of capitalism at its worst with nonauthoritarian communism at (potentially) its best–which sadly, still isn’t all that good. The part of me that loves other people and wants everyone to be happy and purposeful yearned toward the best aspects of “anarchic” Anarres, while the rest of me cringed from the idea of living entirely without personal possessions, or at least any sort of emotional attachment to the possessions I did have. Or the idea of the family unit being dissolved because monogamy/marriage isn’t a useful institution in such a society.

What I was left with, after I wrestled with the unfamiliar concepts and the characters within them, was a profound sense of “meh.” I didn’t hate it–but I didn’t love it. I feel more than slightly bewildered by it, because in the end, I can’t even tell what I was supposed to take away from it. Shevek has his new experiences by leaving his world and being exposed to new ideas, even when they disgust him; he finishes his unified theory, and (if I understood this right) that will give Le Guin’s fictional universe the ansible, the instantaneous communication device I remember from reading The Left Hand of Darkness years ago; and in his attempt to leave Urras once again, he falls in with the Urrasti anarchist movement and accidentally causes a riot.

But he does get home, and he is reunited with his family, so…all ends well? The ending didn’t give me much of a sense of satisfaction. Is the point that all structures of society are vulnerable to the worst aspects of human nature? Because both societies are shown to be deeply flawed.

And how should we view the success of Shevek’s personal, scientific journey, when his Odonian ideals hold that the end is the means, which makes me think his achievement and return home are irrevocably stained by his naive and passive position on Urras, when he allowed himself to be manipulated by those in power? While Shevek never intended harm to come to anyone, it was his presence among the revolutionaries, his speech, which sparked the government intervention that killed so many. My morality absolves him of blame–but his own doesn’t, and I don’t feel like that’s really addressed.

It’s possible I’ll like this better if I reread it down the road, and it certainly made me think–but I don’t believe it satisfied the questions it raised for me.

32 - The Color Purple

#32 – The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

The twists and turns took my heart on a roller coaster as I read this, and I loved it.

At first, I had a hard time following Celie’s terse, uneducated dialect. It got easier quickly to follow the flow of her thoughts, though, and so much of what makes her a tragic but beautiful character is how her intelligence shines through despite what her society has denied her.

Then I got to Nettie’s letters, which were so perfectly conversational it threw into sharp contrast Celie’s abrupt style. Brilliant.

What troubled me about this was actually the pacing. I had no clear idea of how old Celie and Nettie were at the beginning, except that they were young, too young in Celie’s case to already be consigned to a life of churning out babies. And by the end, I had no clear idea of how old they were, except that they were old. Years pass in the spaces between letters, and vague mentions are made of children growing up, or lovers moving on to other lovers, or changes made to houses or communities. But that’s all it is–vague. And with the short length of the book, and how fast each individual letter flies by, it got difficult for me to shift my perception of how old each character was. And so much must be happening in those gaps, for all the gossip that’s casually mentioned, so why didn’t we see some of it reported as it was happening? I think this is where the epistolary style, which does so much to convey the personality of the characters, holds back the story, by making everything a summary that can be whizzed through in minutes, despite its events taking years.

On the whole, though, still a fantastic, sometimes-terrifying, and ultimately deeply moving work.

Advertisements

Writers, Watch This: Overly Sarcastic Productions

Thanks to a discussion on Tumblr about various writing-related Youtube channels, I have a new recommendation to share, one I’m quite excited about: Overly Sarcastic Productions.

I dove straight in with the Trope Talk series, as it’s the most specifically geared towards writers, but there’s also several “[X] Summarized” series: Shakespeare, Modern Classics, History, Legends, and Miscellaneous Myths. All of which would also be useful and interesting, because as the “Write What You Know” Trope Talk says, you can always expand what you know!

I’m looking forward to watching more, because I love hearing people talk about writing, deconstructing media that works, or that doesn’t, and explaining why (the Realism video has some fascinating and piercing things to say about the modern DC Cinematic Universe), or geeking out about anything that interests and excites them. Which OSP has in spades!


If you have any recommendations for me of Youtube channels I should check out, or any other neat writing-related thing on the Internet you think worth my time, let me know in the comments!

Bookish DIY: Props for Book Photography

99 - Again the Magic

It’s no secret that I’ve developed a style for my book photography, and the base style is quick, simple, and boring. I know it is, because when I started reviewing, I was finishing the book, realizing I needed a photo of it to post, and doing the minimum work possible–which amounted to finding an article of clothing or piece of fabric that looked good with the book cover, setting the book on it at a slight angle, and shooting.

Seriously, it’s easy, and it looks decent, but it gets bland after a while.

I’d been making half-hearted attempts to do better from time to time, but at the end of last year, I decided to be more serious about it. First of all, I would do my best to incorporate more props to make the photos more interesting, and second–this is the key–I would take the photos ahead of time.

Since I organize my physical TBR (roughly) in advance of reading it, I know which books are coming up soon, so there’s no reason I can’t take advantage of an afternoon of good sunlight and take a bunch of pics at once, with props and time to lay it all out well, right?

So let’s take a look at some props I’ve been using, and in many cases making, to enhance my photos.

Stuffed animals. Maybe you don’t have any, but if you do, and their colors coordinate, or they go with your book thematically, you’ve got yourself a prop with no work.

Jewelry. Whether you’ve made it yourself or not.

Bookmarks. Obviously!

Food/Candy. Wrapped candy is great as small, individual objects to scatter. And whenever I make any kind of treat, now, I do my best to get it into a book photo before it’s gone.

Origami. Those book-page roses have featured in quite a few photos since I made them last fall, and this year I branched out and made a sectional star. The puffy stars I used for my original TBR jar are incredibly popular in the book photography I see on Tumblr and Instagram–I’m just not very good at them, really, and I don’t have a stock of brightly colored paper to work from. When I do, maybe I’ll try again.

Coffee Filter Flowers. I made the large white one with this tutorial, and it took me about six minutes, can’t beat that. The smaller, dyed one took a bit more work, but was totally worth it for the color. And if you look for them, there’s even more elaborate flowers to make, like dahlias, daffodils, and roses made from individual petals cut from the filters.

Real Flowers. I don’t have any examples of my own to share yet, we’re not a flower-buying or -growing household, and it’s winter, etc. But I have plans in the spring to pick wildflowers when I can. (There’s artificial flowers from the craft store, as well, if you don’t mind spending on them–I try to avoid buying props, preferring to use what I have or make from my existing craft stash.)

Mini lights. Again, nothing of my own to share, because I went to take a picture a few weeks ago with my Christmas lights, only to find out that between the time we’d taken the tree down, and getting them back out for a photo session, they’d stopped working. Next year, when I get new ones, we’ll see.


I hope I’ve given you some ideas to improve your own book photography, and of course, there are so many more ideas out there! If you’re looking to improve, pay attention to photos you like when you see them on social media, take notes, even save them for reference! (But reference only, don’t ever use them anywhere without permission!)

Get inspired and make stuff!

This Week, I Read… (2018 #7)

22 - The Mirador

#22 – The Mirador, by Sarah Monette

This entry in the series appears to be a jumbled mess for the first 90% of the book, with subplots springing out of every hinge and joint and dovetail, but then, at the end, everything comes together in one fantastic crash that resolves the vast bulk of the previously unrelated story threads.

I can admire the masterful plotting as a writer, juggling so many things at once, but as a reader, I was more often frustrated than not. I honestly couldn’t see much in the way of foreshadowing that would let me put together some of the clues myself, and the slow-as-molasses pacing coupled with story threads being dropped and picked up again a hundred or more pages later made this a more challenging read to follow than either of its predecessors.

One thing I’m pleased that was dropped, though, was the will-they-won’t-they incest angle between Mildmay and Felix. Rumors of that twist to their relationship are mentioned in passing by other characters, mostly as part of the complex court intrigue that carries most of the plot–but as far as Mildmay and Felix themselves are concerned, it seems to be entirely in the past for them. Felix’s tumultuous relationship with Gideon was something I was glad to see carried over from the end of the previous book–given Felix’s nature, I had no idea if that was going to last, especially when it became clear how much time had passed since.

And I did like how Mildmay’s relationship with Mehitabel, in some key ways, mirrored Felix and Gideon. Mehitabel herself was a fine addition as a POV character, leading to some of my favorite bits of dialogue and twists of intrigue, and her absolute inability to take shit from people was a nice contrast to Mildmay, who basically does nothing but.

The end really does make the book, and I’m glad I stuck with it, though I would have preferred if the insane complexity of the plot that led me there had been toned down some.

23 - A Room of One's Own

#23 – A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf

I came into this already knowing the significance of the title, and came out of it agreeing wholeheartedly with the precept, if not with the execution.

Ninety years removed from when this lecture-turned-book happened, it comes across as occasionally racist (sadly, but those were the times); and also antiquated in how it speaks of the supposed differences in the male and female brains, attributing much to them that now we can simply pass off as the lack of privilege and opportunity afforded to women of the past–nurture, rather than nature.

With all that in mind, however, it amazed and angered me how little has changed in ninety years. Yes, women write, and they write a lot–I won’t deny that that’s progress. But there is still a pronounced criticism of the writings of women, how they aren’t literary, how it’s just genre fiction, how it will never stand the test of time the same way men’s books will. Consider the derogatory tones of a man saying something is “chick lit”–even when women use that term happily for that genre. Consider how female authors still have to obscure their gender if they want to reach a male audience–I’m looking at you, JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith.

I don’t have a room of my own–my husband’s computer is five feet to the left of mine in our shared office space. Are there times I wish I had my own? Of course, just as there are times I wish I could spend another half hour writing instead of making dinner, or in fact eating at all. I’m struggling to find time to write even with him splitting the chores with me, because there’s still so much to do and so little time to “be idle” for the sort of woolgathering Woolf details near the beginning of the book. (Which was enchanting.)

I’ve come out of this frustrated, but energized. I will write the books I want to write.

24 - The Governess Affair

#24 – The Governess Affair, by Courtney Milan

I loved it, and for once, I didn’t want a novella I enjoyed to be any longer than it was. This was a whirlwind adversaries-to-lovers story, and lengthening it could only distract from its charm–the snappy dialogue, brilliant pacing, and satisfying conclusion that leads into the main series.

Which I am looking forward to reading.

In just 150 pages, Milan deals beautifully with consent issues, even in such a fast-paced premise, by contrasting consent and mere compliance, then giving our hero a system (trading hairpins! I nearly died from cuteness overload!) for ensuring true consent from the heroine. I loved that scene more than anything else in the whole story.

And the ending, as we moved past our lovers to the future, promises an excellent setup for the first novel. I can’t wait! (I have to wait, I’m on a book-buying ban. But I don’t want to wait!)

25 - Save the Date

#25 – Save the Date, by Annabeth Albert and Wendy Qualls

How do you make the accidental wedding party hookup trope better? Make it gayer, apparently.

There were so many things about this to love that I hardly know where to start. It’s a gay romance that has absolutely nothing to do with coming out, and while one of the pair is definitely shy and nervous, he’s never ashamed of his sexuality. Both of them come from (relatively) healthy, happy families and don’t have Traumatic Gay Pasts on their backs. (Hunter does have some issues weighing on him, but they’re related to his military service, not his orientation.)

THEY TALK ABOUT THEIR MISUNDERSTANDINGS. Like adults, even. I hate that I have to set the bar so low, but this is a serious sticking point in a lot of the romances I read, no matter the gender of the leads.

It’s cute and fun, but serious when it needs to be, and if only more m/m romance had actual characters like this, instead of cardboard cutouts of “men” having fantastic sex but no emotional depth or chemistry…well, that would be nice. I would like that.

26 - Winning Back His Wife

#26 – Winning Back His Wife, by Gwen Hayes and Zoe York

I like seeing a romance exploring the rekindling of a failing marriage, but this felt rushed and occasionally awkward. It hit me in the feels quite a few times with elegant prose surrounding the emotions of the characters, but the plot was fairly thin, and the flashbacks to their summers at the camp where they met, or unexpectedly reuniting in college, either needed more attention–they were all super-short–or needed to be cut as separate sections altogether and worked into the narrative as memories or conversations about their past.

27 - Second Chance Summer

#27 – Second Chance Summer, by Kait Nolan

As always, Nolan excels at crafting characters that complement each other. Hudson and Audrey were no exception, and I found their fast-paced, intense romance believable, sweet, and often moving. Neither his PTSD nor her limited mobility were treated lightly or dismissively.

The shorter format of the CFF novels (they’re so short they’re almost novellas) didn’t do her any favors, though, because I would have liked to see them have more time to truly work out their issues. I also don’t think sharing a setting with other authors as part of a series plays to Nolan’s strengths. Part of what I love about her Wishful romance series is the depth of setting as well as the complex web of interconnected characters, and we simply can’t get that here.

That being said, it was still a great, if short read, and I’m glad I picked it up.

28 - In Her Court

#28 – In Her Court, by Tamsen Parker

For someone who loves nearly everything she’s read of Tamsen Parker, I was disappointed by this one. It’s good, but it’s not what I would have expected at all.

Even if I’m glad to see more FF romance, which is thin on the ground, Van and Willa never convinced me their relationship was much more than lust. They were definitely both into each other physically, but their major emotional conflict–going into/being a part of academia–was so intense and personal compared to how well they actually knew each other that it felt grafted onto the story, rather than an organic part of it.

29 - More Than Once

#29 – More Than Once, by Elizabeth Briggs

My first problem with this is calling it a “standalone” romance in the blurb. Yes, many series have entries that can be read as standalones, or in any order. I had read the first of this series quite a while back, and I wasn’t worried too much about skipping past #2 + 3 when I found this one on sale.

But this is not, at all, a standalone. If I hadn’t read #1, I’d be completely lost. It was nice to see a minor character come back and get her redemption novel, basically, because she was such a brat when she was introduced. But without that context, this story loses a lot of its punch.

And as for skipping books? Major spoilers for them, which is to be expected in a series, but again, don’t call it a standalone then.

My second problem was the emotional extremes and wishy-washy-ness of both leads. Becca does challenge Andrew about his mixed messages, which at least lampshades how badly he doesn’t have his head together, but these two bounce around on the page like pinballs.

What made this book endurable was actually the sex scenes, strangely enough. When they get physical, it’s like they’re entirely different people written by an (almost) entirely different author. Which might be a criticism in some cases, but here, it definitely underscores how their connection started as a one-night stand both of them considered fantastic but were scared to pursue further.

Ultimately, though, it was a shallow read that didn’t impress me.

30 - When We Touch

#30 – When We Touch, by Brenda Novak

Every character in this story was a terrible, unsympathetic person and I have no idea why I should care about any of them.

If I’m supposed to feel charitable for Olivia, whose recent ex is marrying her now-pregnant younger sister, then she shouldn’t be such a doormat by being willing to plan the entire wedding to keep peace with her family.

The sister Noelle is a cartoon made up of all the worst things femininity has to offer.

The ex Kyle is an absolute idiot for having anything to do with her, and he deserves whatever life holds for him by going through with the marriage.

And Kyle’s stepbrother Brandon, Olivia’s supposed love interest, comes across as the only half-way decent person in the bunch, despite being the supposed bad boy/black sheep of the family, because while he goes along with Olivia’s lies about their supposed relationship (at least until it becomes real), he also encourages her to stand up for herself and plays the only voice of reason in the entire story.

Both sets of parents are absolutely awful, as well.

On top of all that, the extremely short length tries to pack in too much, dealing not only with the complicated family dynamics of Olivia/Noelle’s family, but Brandon/Kyle’s as well, plus a half-baked subplot about Brandon’s skiing career being sidelined by injury. The ending is supposed to be sweet, I guess, that Olivia abandons her normal life to follow Brandon to Europe for the surgery that’s apparently going to save his career, but since he ends the novella not even caring if he actually can ski again because he’s got Olivia…then why did he go to all the trouble to get the surgery in the first place?

Also, a bunch of small details that irked me, like equating skin-revealing clothes with promiscuity, Brandon addressing Olivia as “babe” when we first meet him, have no idea who he is or what their relationship to each other was/is, and also apparently they went to his junior prom together and have both secretly wanted each other ever since, but we don’t find that out until after Olivia’s POV introduces him as just Kyle’s bad-boy stepbrother? Talk about burying the lede.

Writing Homework #14 – Freewriting

pencil-1758276_1280

Don’t think–just write. Ray Bradbury

My writing hasn’t been going as well as I’d like lately, and part of it is not knowing how to begin. I need to rework the beginning of my novel draft, which includes adding a new first chapter (or two) before the original draft picks up the story…and I’m just not liking how it’s going.

I’ve got myself a block, and when that happens, I like trying new techniques to get past it. Hence, freewriting.

If this isn’t something you already do, you may want to try it. Not just to unblock yourself, like I am–many writers like to start a session with a few minutes of freewriting, to limber up their fingers and unknot their brains.

How do you do it? Set a timer, open a document, and just write. Sounds simple, yeah?

It’s not. “Just write” means don’t edit. Don’t fix typos. Don’t stop to think about what you’re writing or where it’s headed or if it’s at all related to the story you’re trying to tell in your “real” work–just write.

Will anything you get down in those five or ten or twenty minutes be usable? Bits and pieces, at best, sometimes. But it isn’t the content of your freewriting that’s meant to be useful–it’s the act of it. The cathartic release of your emotions, if you use the exercise like a journal to clear out your head. The warming-up of your hands and brain to the task of working on your project, if you use the exercise as an opening to your regular writing session. The disabling of your internal editor, who is forbidden to care how badly you mangle the words and sentences that tumble from your fingertips.

If any of that sounds like something you need for yourself, here’s your assignment: try five minutes of freewriting, now, or whenever you sit down to write next. Turn on the timer and turn off your self-criticism.

If you feel better afterward, use that, and work on your real writing. If you don’t yet, try another five or ten minutes to see if that gets some of the kinks out. And if it doesn’t? If you’re just frustrated at the end? Maybe freewriting isn’t for you, but now you know.

 

Down the TBR Hole #4

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?

In my last run at this meme I ditched more than half the books I covered, and I feel good about cleaning out some dead weight from my massive TBR. What will happen this time?

#1 – Craving Flight, by Tamsen Parker

craving flightTzipporah Berger is thirty-seven and single, which is practically unheard of in the Orthodox Jewish community she now calls home. Her increasing religiosity and need for kink may have broken up her first marriage, but she’s decided it’s time to try again. And the rabbi’s wife has just the man in mind.

Elan Klein is the neighborhood butcher whose intimidating size and gruff manner hint at a deliciously forceful personality. But BDSM isn’t exactly something you discuss during an Orthodox courtship. Will a marriage to Elan solidify her place in the community that she loves and provide the domination and pain Tzipporah craves or will she forever have to rely on flights of fancy to satisfy her needs?

So, Tamsen Parker is one of my favorite authors of contemporary romance, which, coupled with the unusual premise, was enough to get this on my TBR in the first place, and both compelling reasons to keep it there.

I am leery of paying $2.99 for a novella of less than 150 pages, when I only charge a dollar more for each of my three full-length novels. I’m much more used to seeing novellas priced at $0.99.

But, then, she is one of my favorite authors, and deserves my monetary support, even if I feel like this is a little pricey. It stays.

#2 – The Word for World is Forest, by Ursula K. Le Guin

forestWhen the inhabitants of a peaceful world are conquered by the bloodthirsty yumens, their existence is irrevocably altered. Forced into servitude, the Athsheans find themselves at the mercy of their brutal masters.

Desperation causes the Athsheans, led by Selver, to retaliate against their captors, abandoning their strictures against violence. But in defending their lives, they have endangered the very foundations of their society. For every blow against the invaders is a blow to the humanity of the Athsheans. And once the killing starts, there is no turning back.

 

It stays. No question here, I intend to read the entire Hainish Cycle (of which this is #2) in 2018.

#3 – Leviathan Wakes, by James S.A. Corey

leviathanHumanity has colonized the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond – but the stars are still out of our reach.

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, the Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for – and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations – and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

If this sounds at all familiar, maybe that’s because it became the hugely popular Syfy show The Expanse? Which I absolutely adore from top to bottom, the writing is tight, the characters well-developed and interesting, the production value quite ludicrously high, and the cast, well, they’re amazing.

Of course I want to read the damn books! So it stays. Especially since I already own it!

#4 – The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

locke lamoraThe Thorn of Camorr is said to be an unbeatable swordsman, a master thief, a ghost that walks through walls. Half the city believes him to be a legendary champion of the poor. The other half believe him to be a foolish myth. Nobody has it quite right.

Slightly built, unlucky in love, and barely competent with a sword, Locke Lamora is, much to his annoyance, the fabled Thorn. He certainly didn’t invite the rumors that swirl around his exploits, which are actually confidence games of the most intricate sort. And while Locke does indeed steal from the rich (who else, pray tell, would be worth stealing from?), the poor never see a penny of it. All of Locke’s gains are strictly for himself and his tight-knit band of thieves, the Gentlemen Bastards.

Locke and company are con artists in an age where con artistry, as we understand it, is a new and unknown style of crime. The less attention anyone pays to them, the better! But a deadly mystery has begun to haunt the ancient city of Camorr, and a clandestine war is threatening to tear the city’s underworld, the only home the Gentlemen Bastards have ever known, to bloody shreds. Caught up in a murderous game, Locke and his friends will find both their loyalty and their ingenuity tested to the breaking point as they struggle to stay alive…

I’ve had this recommended to me so many times I’ve lost count. Booklr loves it. My librarians love it. Everyone loves it. So I should read it, especially because I love fantasy, and con artist fantasy sounds like tons of fun, right? It stays. Man, I’m not getting rid of anything so far!

#5 – Shadows on the Moon, by Zoë Marriott

moonTrained in the magical art of shadow-weaving, sixteen-year-old Suzume is able to recreate herself in any form – a fabulous gift for a girl desperate to escape her past. But who is she really? Is she a girl of noble birth living under the tyranny of her mother’s new husband, Lord Terayama, or a lowly drudge scraping a living in the ashes of Terayama’s kitchens, or Yue, the most beautiful courtesan in the Moonlit Lands? Whatever her true identity, Suzume is destined to capture the heart of a prince – and determined to use his power to destroy Terayama. And nothing will stop her, not even love.

 

I honestly don’t remember where I heard about this book, and I added it on a whim and promptly forgot about it. After reexamining its Goodreads page for this post, I came across something I find troubling in the Questions section–upon a reader asking about the specific time period of Japan when the story is set, another reader quotes the author’s note at the beginning of the book:

Although Shadows on the Moon uses many Chinese and Japanese terms, the story is set in a fantasy realm called the Moonlit Land, or Tsuki no Hikari no Kuni. Most of the details of this country are pure invention, and this book is not intended to represent a historically accurate picture of any Asian country at any point in history.

This sounds to me like exactly the kind of cobbled-together faux-Pan-Asian nonsense that people of Asian descent describe as harmful and offensive. At one point in my writing history, I had a pseudo-Japan/China setting for one of my stories, and while I like the basic plot I had planned and may revisit it someday, I abandoned the story itself when I realized I’d be perpetuating the kind of Orientalism we should all leave behind with the Victorians who started it. The world doesn’t need my fake romanticized version of East Asia, and I don’t think I want to read this one, either. It goes.


Have you read any of these and have an opinion you want to share? Let me know in the comments if you think I’ve made a mistake!

This Week, I Read… (2018 #6)

19 - Dreamer's Pool

#19 – Dreamer’s Pool, by Juliet Marillier

I loved everything about this story except for the central plot.

Weird, right? But I loved the three POV characters. Grim is the BEST, Blackthorn is prickly but interesting, and Prince Oran is the kind of bookish, tender-hearted nerd I can’t get enough of.

But the “mystery” of Flidais’ true identity…I had figured out she wasn’t who she said she was almost immediately, and the revelation of where Flidais’ spirit truly was, later but not as late as the main characters figured it out.

So the story felt incredibly repetitive to me, as each one of them figured out some piece of the puzzle I’d long since solved. If the book could have been fifty or sixty pages shorter and weeded out a lot of the POV character sharing information with each other that the reader had already heard (sometimes more than once,) I would have liked this a lot better.

While I don’t think it’s as good as even my least favorite of the Sevenwaters series, I do plan to keep going with this series, because did I mention Grim is THE BEST AND I LOVE HIM.

20 - Your Inner Fish

#20 – Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, by Neil Shubin

I enjoyed this for its broadly inter-disciplinary look at the evolutionary physiology of the human body. I was already familiar with many of the developmental genetics discoveries cited in the text– in fact, since a few of them occurred during my college years, I was reading the articles on them as they were published–but I learned a great deal about paleontology and comparative physiology.

That being said, the tone of this was all over the place. Sometimes it seemed like it was trying to be a textbook, all dry and precise, and other times it was filled with personal anecdotes and dad-joke-level humor that didn’t amuse me at all. The science itself was mostly watered down to the level palatable to a layperson, which frustrated me at times with my strong science background, but I understand this is for the masses and not the specialists, or former specialists.

My other frustration was that the host of diseases and complications that have resulted from our incredibly patchwork design was relegated to an incredibly brief end chapter, when to me, that’s one of the more interesting things about the human body. But that’s a criticism quite personal to me.

On the whole, it’s a good read for anyone who wants to know why we are the way we are.

21 - Wintergirls

#21 – Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Self-Destruction: A Portrait of Severe Mental Illness

I can applaud this book for treating anorexia seriously as an illness, not glossing over the worst of its struggles with the tired variations on the platitude “Just eat more.” Lia knows she should, and yet she can’t.

I admit, I wondered how seriously, at first, to take Cassie’s appearances as a ghost, but as the book progressed I understood it’s a sign of Lia’s deteriorating condition, because a starving brain does weird things.

But the writing style is tiresome, with the heavy symbolic repetition of numbers, the use of small text and strike-through. And Lia’s illness causes her to act in ways that make her an incredibly unlikable narrator–I don’t know how much I’m supposed to care about someone who cares about no one, not even herself. I can’t really come up with any reason I should feel for her plight beyond basic human decency. Which I hope I have, obviously, but Lia’s just not interesting herself, with no investment in anything beyond her calorie counting and self-denial. She spends the whole book actively wanting to be thinner/more sick, only to have the revelation as she’s dying that she actually wants to live.

But what for? I don’t mean that callously, but honestly. She doesn’t have friends, she can’t stand her family (with the possible exception of her little stepsister, but even her, Lia only seems to tolerate,) and she isn’t looking forward to any kind of future. Her hobbies don’t consume much of her time or interest–she doesn’t decide to live because she wants to knit another sweater or read the next Gaiman book. (The author name-dropping did start to irritate me before the end.)

She’s pushed away everyone who might possibly care about her and shut herself off from any possible life she could have that doesn’t revolve around her illness, and while that makes for great drama, it didn’t make sense to me that the Lia we followed through the whole story wouldn’t just give up and allow herself to die.

Which is obviously not the point of the book, and I know that. But the book I read didn’t make its positive point–hey, maybe you should actually want to live and take better care of yourself–very well.