This Week, I Read… (2019 #31)

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#99 – Deadline, by Mira Grant

  • Read: 7/24/19 – 7/28/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (30/48)
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

I liked it, and I’m going to finish the trilogy, but this was a step down from Feed.

I just don’t care as much for Shaun as I did for George. She was a more compelling narrator, and I got tired of Shaun’s constant need to tell us how crazy he was. Yeah, I get it–but did the narrative really need to remind us, every single time he talked to himself out loud and others could hear him, that they mostly knew he was crazy so it was okay? It’s repetitive, annoyingly so. Once it’s established that he’s delusional, even if just in one relatively straightforward way, can’t we limit the reminders of how the rest of the characters perceive him to the times when they have interesting reactions, instead of letting him do his thing? Only bring it up when it matters!

So that’s my first major gripe. The second being, Kelly the helper/hostage got much the same repetitive treatment. Shaun, as a narrator, had to constantly make sure that we, the reader, knew she was guarded every second of every scene. Can’t we assume that after a while? Can’t it only matter when he wanted to assign people to tasks and realized he didn’t have enough people for them and guarding Kelly, so that he had to make some kind of important choice, either about how to reshuffle things or who to send her with? Routine logistics don’t need to be remarked upon every five pages!

With my stylistic issues out of the way, I can say the plot was mostly fine. Interesting things happen, which occasionally also means horrible things. Stuff we think we know, incontrovertible stuff, is questioned and found lacking. The ending might have included one currently inexplicable miracle-level event. I’m on this train and I want to find out where it goes. I already have the final book borrowed from the library.

I just think Shaun is way less interesting than his sister. I hope the final book finds a way to make him more palatable.

100 - How to Say Goodbye

#100 – How to Say Goodbye, by Amber Lin

  • Read: 7/28/19 – 7/29/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (65/100)
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

Okay, it’s New Adult, but it lacks the two major hallmarks of NA romances: a tone of hyperbolic angst or a scene breakdown that skirts the line between a reasonable level of smut and full-fledged erotica. There’s sex scenes, sure, but not every two pages, and not immediately after these characters meet. And there’s angst, yeah, but it’s not for its own sake, it’s actually mostly centered around the dual issues of runaways and homelessness. Which is not something I’ve really seen romances tackle with any seriousness (though of course my exposure is not universal and there are probably other romances out there in this wheelhouse..)

I enjoyed it, but not to the point where I don’t see its flaws, or to the point where I wasn’t uncomfortable with how the delicate subject matter was handled. The simple fact of the matter is: I don’t know how realistic this portrayal is of a teenager running away from an unsafe home environment and living on the streets for four years. The story doesn’t ignore the darker aspects of survival without support, but I question if they’re being romanticized or softened to be palatable to the reader. Like, on the one hand, homelessness is obviously not good for somebody and can entail a whole host of legal and moral issues, but am I projecting how awful I think it is when I read this and think, well, Dane doesn’t actually have it that tough? It’s not ideal but it could be worse? I’m not a fair judge of that, and I don’t know that the author is, either, so I don’t know how much of this serious issue is being prettied up for the romance side of things.

And if the core conflict of the story is undermined by my questionable trust in how it’s presented, that’s an issue.

That being said, I do like our characters. They’re both well-developed, with personality flaws and past issues that make for compelling conflict between them. At the same time, though, the end of the story has them see-sawing constantly between breaking up and being together, and I’m just not on board, personally, for that level of lack of commitment. Having the main couple break up once during a typical-length romance, sure. Having them constantly turning away from each other every few chapters? That got old for me, quick, and the last time they did it didn’t feel like a real ending. Nor did them getting back together for their happy ending feel like it was deserved, like it had the proper dramatic weight. It was just another “up” section of their relationship roller coaster to me, which didn’t leave a positive impression of the book to linger with me.

So I enjoyed some of the book. Mostly the scenes that focused on Amy and Dane interacting directly, because their chemistry is solid and their dynamic is pretty adorable at times. But whenever the plot got serious, I liked it less.

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End of the Month Wrap-Up: July 2019!

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Where did July go? How is it over already? I spent a good chunk of the early part of the month redoing our walk-in closet; there was a quick weekend getaway to an event late in the month; there was a lot of going to work, and working on writing. And reading. Of course, so much reading, so let’s start there.

Reading: Thirteen books this month. I finished the monthly challenge for The Reading Frenzy, though I did substitute two of the original books, one because I had a better choice when I thought about it, and the other because the original book was so long I might not have finished it in time. I’m still ahead of the curve on all three of my year-long challenges. It was a good month for good reads, too, I gave three books five-star ratings: Saga, Vol. 4; Caliban’s War; and Strange the Dreamer.

Writing: I started the month fantastic by finding three beta readers for #spookyromancenovel, via open call on Tumblr, in less than 24 hours. Which was about a week faster than I expected that to happen. I tested out BetaBooks as a service, only to be disappointed that I sent them a help request in that first week, and I still haven’t gotten an answer. (Yes, I’ve checked my spam folder.) I know this is only one negative incident, but it doesn’t inspire confidence; I doubt I’ll be using them for any future beta sessions. Because that happened, I ended up making a Google Doc anyway (just like I’d done for my previous three books during their beta rounds) which meant I wasn’t limited to any certain number of readers, and I picked up two more. The feedback is coming in, and it’s been helpful, though I’m trying not to look at most of it until I’m ready to sit down and do something about it. Because my extra readers got in late, I’m not holding them to the original deadline and I won’t be ready to start the next revision draft at the beginning of August, as I’d hoped. But that’s life for you.

I have been using some of this time not spent project-writing to get ahead on blog posts, to be more active on Tumblr (in spurts, anyway) and to start planning work for the next (possible) novel project, a romance in the same setting as #spookyromancenovel, involving one of its supporting characters getting her own love story. I want it to happen, I want to make this a series, but we’ll see. I’m already not thrilled about the plot I’ve constructed, because planning like this feels so forced to me, the perennial pantser. The more I work with the skeleton, though, the more ideas I get, and everyone knows outlines can change!

Everything else: The insane heat this year has kept me inside more than I’d like, so my running schedule fell apart. I’m forgiving myself, because a) I’m still adjusting to an entirely new life schedule, thanks to my new job–I’ve only been there a few months!–and b) because I’ve spent that time doing yoga instead. Which, since I’m out of practice, has led to its own frustrations, but the only way to get better is to keep doing it, so I am.

I’m journaling again, not every day but certainly more than I was any other time this year. Most of it is of the very-personal-don’t-share kind, so my journal sideblog on Tumblr hasn’t seen any action, but I wouldn’t rule it out in the near future.

Also, strangely enough given the demands on my time, I got frustrated that I’ve started so many video games in recent years and not finished them, so I made a list about a week ago, stuff that needs completion and games I want to start, old or new. Since then I’ve finished Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and permanently abandoned King’s Quest, which I had already given up on once because Chapter 2 was so stupidly confusing, and this time because I’ve started Chapter 5 and I’m simply bored of it. The first chapter was so strong and engaging, and everything since has mostly felt like a chore.

While I have three more unfinished games that are high-priority for returning to soon, but also, we went to see Spiderman: Far From Home last week, and the PS4 Spiderman game is high on my list to start, so I think that’s happening next. I do love me some web-slinging.

Moving on to August 2019 goals:

  1. Collect, read, and digest all the beta feedback. Formulate a plan for the next draft, and time permitting, get started. While waiting to do that, continue planning its sequel.
  2. Continue doing yoga every day (or as close to every day as I can manage without injuring myself.)
  3. Run at least twice a week, preferably three times.
  4. Complete The Reading Frenzy’s challenge for August, the Bookish Treasure Hunt. (Six books)
  5. Maybe try to finish Saga? I used up my remaining Hoopla borrows for July getting volumes 5-7, so then if I use two more in August, that’s the whole series. And I can read a volume in one sitting.

Motivation Monday: Experimentation

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While #spookyromancenovel is off being dissected by my hard-working beta readers, I’ve been cooling my heels a little in terms of project writing. I’m writing a lot of blog posts and Tumblr bits and some journal entries, but until last week I hadn’t done much work on anything book-like.

Then, after years of ignoring it after my last failed attempt to Plan A Real Novel, I dug up an article on the Snowflake Method and dove into what could possibly become a sequel to #spookyromancenovel. I tried to use it to develop a plot bunny back in 2015, when What We Need to Survive didn’t look like it was going to get off the ground and I wanted to write about a photographer finding a new model at his local bakery and falling in love with her. I wrote the first scene, the meet-cute, as it were, and had no idea where to go from there, so I turned to the Snowflake. And it failed me miserably–either it’s not suited to me, or I wasn’t ready for something so intense.

But I’m revisiting it now, four years later, for the potential successor to #spookyromancenovel.

It’s a standalone currently, and it may remain a standalone. I have vague story ideas about romances involving some of its side characters, who turned out to be a such an interesting and vibrant bunch that I’d be sad not to give them their own books, their own shots at love.

But I pantsed the hell out of #spookryomancenovel with a month worth of prompts to guide me, then another month of “I think I know where this is going now, I have to finish it.” I planned nothing aside from the fact that, as a romance, there would be a happy ending.

So why am I trying to plan the next one? And why am I using one of the most effort-intensive planning methods out there?

Well, first of all, to be entirely fair, I’ve started planning. I haven’t finished. I’ve worked up the one-sentence summary, turned it into the five-sentence paragraph, extended that into a character-based overview of the plot. What I have not done is the bulk of the expansion process–a full synopsis, a scene breakdown, rough sketches of those scenes, etc. I’m still in the shallow end. I don’t know that I’ll finish–there’s still plenty of time to jump off the SS Snowflake and try to write based on the work I’ve already done.

But the desire to arm myself for this (possible) second book in the series comes out of the frustration of the rewriting process from #spookyromancenovel. I didn’t plan anything. It makes rewriting hell to find out you forgot entirely about a plot thread a third of the way through the story and never picked it up again, because you were barreling through your first draft like hell hounds were biting at your ankles. It stinks when you have a crappy timeline that doesn’t make any sense and is a complete pain to reconcile with actual linear time because you didn’t remember that fall turns into winter when you set your story in a place with seasons but neglect to allow time to pass physically even when your narrative says “Three weeks later…”

My second draft was put-together enough to get some initial feedback, sure, and I’m happy with a lot of the plot, a lot of the scenes, but not how rough it all still feels around the edges. It’s less of a mess than it was, but it’s not done. It’s not clean.

My turn toward Snowflake planning, with its progressively more detailed structure, its rigid guidelines, is reactionary. I understand that. I also understand it might not work for me, I might do as I’ve often done in the past and get frustrated by all the pre-writing work it involves. My stories are character-driven–their personalities dictate their actions, not some overarcing plot needs. Which is not always compatible with strong advance planning, when I go to write and I realize my character wouldn’t do the thing the plot needs her to do to move along the predetermined path.

This all might be for nothing, in terms of actually getting me to write this (proposed, possible) book.

But a writer that refuses to try new things is a writer who will stagnate. Having a routine isn’t a bad thing, and having a preferred method of planning (or not planning) isn’t a bad thing. But never trying anything else means being shut off to avenues of potential improvement. Maybe the Snowflake method won’t end up helping me as much as I hope, and I’ll abandon it. Or maybe I’ll finish the planning and then find myself less excited to actually write the story–a common complaint I hear from Plotters, whereas Pantsers often get the joy of character and/or story discovery as they write and things take unexpected turns.

Or maybe, just maybe, this will all go swimmingly and I’ll have a new tool in my arsenal to help me get my stories out of my head and into the hands of my readers. Maybe doing some of the work before writing the story will cut down on the amount of work I have to do after. It’s possible, or people wouldn’t be doing it.

It just remains to be seen if I will be one of them.

Keep experimenting, writers. It’s the way to grow.

This Week, I Read… (2019 #30)

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#97 – Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor

  • Read: 7/19/19 – 7/23/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (63/100); The Reading Frenzy’s “Run Away with the Circus” Read-a-thon
  • Task: Read a hyped book
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

It’s been a few years since I read anything that came from the inside of Laini Taylor’s head, but I see her worlds are still vibrant, dangerous, beautiful, monstrous, and most of all, tender. I haven’t met another author yet who could write a single kiss that took three pages (four? maybe it was four) and keep me enthralled the whole time. She did.

I’m moved, I’m mystified, I’m glad I only have to wait as long for the sequel as it takes me to get it from the library, to answer the new questions the ending of this raised, a resolution that spawned a cliffhanger that is just. so. good.

I’m staggered by the moral complexity of many of the primary characters. While it isn’t necessarily the main thrust of the plot, this story does explore the meaning of heroism, and I love that the “heroes,” both the one that came before and the one that emerges, don’t see themselves that way, for one reason or another. I love that, once again, Taylor explores the shifting boundary between gods and monsters and humanity, between right and wrong, between love and hate. There’s so much packed into this that I’m sure I didn’t unpack fully the first time around.

I wish I hadn’t waited so long to get to this, because I loved it, but at least I won’t be sitting on my hands impatiently, waiting for the story to finish being told.

98 - Wait for Me

#98 – Wait for Me, by Samantha Chase

  • Read: 7/23/19 – 7/24/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (64/100); The Reading Frenzy’s “Run Away with the Circus” Read-a-thon
  • Task: Read a standalone or the first book in a series
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

There was a brief moment at the end of this story that almost pulled a surprise second star for this rating, but then, the very end undermined it. This was all-around dull and unpolished.

First, plot problems. The setup is more than a little ridiculous, but if it had been taken at all seriously, I might be able to forgive that. The boss of a company (which is the most unspecific and generic of companies, I haven’t the slightest idea what they do) plays matchmaker and sets up his assistant to have a “oops we’re stuck in the same place” encounter with his son (also an employee of his.)

I’m not saying old white men who think they know best won’t manipulate others, because they absolutely will. But he does it gleefully, and he does it poorly. Both in the sense that everyone around him is talking about how out of character his behavior is (when we the reader have barely been introduced to him, so that’s a red flag that he’s a plot device and not a person) and in the sense that his poor judgment puts his assistant in actual danger when she crashes her car due to bad road conditions on the errand he sent her on.

When it comes out, way down the line, that it was all a set-up, Emma the assistant gets a brilliant character moment I honestly didn’t expect from this narrative, when she quits her job without notice because of how wildly inappropriate her boss’ behavior was, and how he’s absolutely shattered her trust in him, and how she’d never feel comfortable working there again because of what he put her through. My heart was giving her a standing ovation, it was such a beautiful speech and I was so proud of her for sticking up for herself (even when I didn’t really care for her the rest of the time, but that issue I’ll get to in a minute.)

Then the ending ruined it. While she doesn’t go back to her old job (good) she basically forgives the guy for no reason. He hasn’t really apologized or done anything solid to make amends (his wife is actually the one trying to bridge the gap in their relationship) and Emma just folds and hugs them both and everything is okay again.

Now, I’ve been talking this whole time not about the romance, but about Emma’s relationship to her boss, who’s also her love interest’s father. Why am I not talking about the romance? Because it’s dull as bricks. Stubborn person A constantly fights with Stubborn Person B, but they’re also hot with lust, and after a while they fall into bed together despite both of them knowing it’s a terrible idea. I’ve seen this before, and I’m happy to read this standard plot if it’s made interesting by the characters sparking off each other.

They just don’t, here. The dialogue is so formal and awkward and in places, frankly ridiculous. Lucas, on the phone with his father/boss, at one point says “…I’m going to take a shower now, to ease the ache from my muscles.” He says that. Out loud. To his father. Who says that? Especially when Lucas is trying to hide from everyone how badly his injury is still bothering him, wouldn’t he want to constantly project strength, as he tries to elsewhere in the story?

While that’s my most memorable example of how people don’t talk in real life, there’s plenty more, and the constant awkwardness to how the dialogue sounds really diminishes any differences between characters. They can’t have characterization through dialogue, because they all sound the same, and faintly stupid to boot. Emma and Lucas really are just two incredibly stubborn people shouting at each other for most of the book, except when they’re having sex.

And the final nail in the coffin, which is minor, but telling: I don’t feel like the title fits the story. Who is waiting for whom? Is Emma waiting for Lucas to get his shit together? Meh, not really. She’s trying to move on with her life at the end, when he barges in and wins her back, but she wasn’t waiting for him to do that. She wasn’t expecting or even hoping for it. She was moving on. And if we make it about Lucas, was he waiting for someone to come into his life and call him a coward three times about how he was living his life, so that he’d get his shit together? I doubt it. Emma did that for him, and he changed, but was he waiting for her to do that? It doesn’t fit.

Bookish DIY: Painting My Book Pages

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I can’t take credit for this gorgeous idea, I found the tutorial on Tumblr. Rather, I saw the tutorial quite some time ago, wanted to try it but failed to save it in any way, and happened upon it again last week.

So I tried it. I was impatient to, so for the first book I didn’t have painter’s tape and used invisible tape, which I did have, to cover the edges of my first victim (Prodigal Summer) in scrap paper. Which worked, though it took longer to set up. Before I did the other four, we actually had a power outage and went to buy batteries, and I picked up painter’s tape too, since I was right there–and then we got home and the power was back on, despite the power company predicting it would be down for three days! (I’ll take that as a win, but if we’d known it was only going to be two hours instead, we never would have gone to the next town over to go shopping, we would have waited it out. C’est la vie.)

So my theory in choosing Prodigal Summer first was that, despite it being a first edition hardcover in excellent condition and one of my favorite reads of the last several years, it would be easy to replace. Since buying my copy, I’ve seen it pop up in used book stores and at book sales at least six or seven times–and once, I bought a second copy as a gift for my mother-in-law. So I figured, hey, if I ruin it, it won’t be long before I spot it again, probably.

But it turned out beautifully, and it didn’t take me nearly as long as I’d feared to separate all the pages.

Second victim: A Thousand Splendid Suns. Basically for the same reasons. It, too, turned out well, especially because taping the edges of the book went so much faster than covering them with scrap paper.

I moved on to a treat-for-myself project: the All Souls trilogy. Because when I read them, they were library books, and just recently I’ve managed to wrangle a set of my own copies, all hardcovers. They seemed like a perfect choice, because I’ve been meaning to reread them soon (before I read Time’s Convert, anyway) so instead of being painted and put back on the shelf, not knowing when I’ll ever read them again, I at least have a tentative plan to get to these in the next year or so, and experience the joy of reading a pretty painted book or three.

Once I finished them, I made myself clean up my craft area and put away all the supplies. I won’t be doing any more soon, because if I don’t stop now, I’ll do all my hardcovers. (Will this work with paperbacks if I’m careful? Possibly. But I’m in no rush to try, because if those covers get stuck it will be harder to separate them.)

I’ll wait until the mood strikes again, because I do have a lot of paint.

The Reading Frenzy August 2019 Challenge: A Bookish Treasure Hunt

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Next month’s challenge is a treasure hunt!

Our goal is to find books to read based on the symbols on the map: either the word or a variant of it is in the title, or depicted on the book cover.

I had actually done a Tumblr post for a different challenge about books from my collection with birds on the cover, but they were all ones I’d already read!

So, instead of actually reading one of the books I still have left to do for this month’s challenge (I’ve read four of six so far, and I have eight days remaining for the last two) I put together my proposed TBR for the upcoming challenge. No photo, sadly, because it turned out most of them are in my digital collection.

  1. Bird: All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders (both)
  2. Moon: Justice Calling, by Annie Bellet (on the cover)
  3. Flower: Moloka’i, by Alan Brennert (on the cover)
  4. Key: Keys to the Castle by Donna Ball (both)
  5. Book: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, by Meg Elison (title)
  6. Door: Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire (both)

I tried to fill this challenge from books I’d already picked out for the PopSugar Reading Challenge, as I did this month for the Circus Read-a-thon, but mostly failed. I’ve owned a few of these long enough they’ll count for Mount TBR, at least, so it’s not a problem, but I was surprised how hard it was to come up with entries for “moon” and “book” in particular, at least from my already-owned TBR. (I didn’t want to rely on library books right now, I’ve already got two out that I haven’t read yet while I’m trying to finish the Circus challenge!)


The Reading Frenzy is an open-invitation book club on Goodreads that is running a friendly year-long reading competition while also posting fun monthly challenges to shake up your TBR. Everyone is welcome!

This Week, I Read… (2019 #29)

93 - Saga, Vol. 4

#93 – Saga, Vol. 4, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

  • Read: 7/11/19 – 7/12/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (29/48)
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

Right after I said in the review for the third volume that I expected five-star ratings across the board, I end up not liking this one quite as much. I’m still trying to pinpoint why. Some of Hazel’s narration seemed off (and some of it deliberately tricksy, which I was fine with) but I don’t really like the red herring of Marko potentially cheating that got dangled in front of me. It’s not even that I’m wholly anti-cheating in general, it’s actually that it didn’t feel like a plausible turn for the story to take, so I couldn’t treat the possibility seriously.

Alanna’s drug problem, on the other hand, was totally believable and in keeping with the pressure she’s under. I liked the time we spent with her on the Circuit, and I wish we could see more without that extra time completely breaking the pacing (which it would, I know, it’s just such an interesting bunch of characters, I want more of them.)

I think the larger, systemic problem I had with this volume might be how fractured it felt. The main arc is the separation, fine, but all the subplots seem to be going in wildly different directions here, with assassinations and kidnappings and a few side characters dying (lots of not-quite-random violence in this one) but with little cohesion binding them together. To be honest, I feel like I’m missing something that makes this make sense, in the larger fashion that the first three volumes gave a satisfying tale told in each one. Here, I feel like I read a lot of loose ends.

Which, to be fair, where still cleverly written, brilliantly drawn, and full of the detail I’ve grown to appreciate so much. My vague dissatisfaction could simply be that we’ve reached the point in the overall story where things have to start going wrong very quickly on all fronts, which is why this volume in particular was hard-hit by that violence and messiness. When I have the whole story in front of me, perhaps this slice of it won’t seem weaker.

94 - Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

#93 – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

  • Read: 7/13/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (61/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge: The Reading Frenzy’s “Run Away with the Circus” Read-a-thon
  • Tasks: A retelling of a classic (PopSugar); A light and fluffy read (The Reading Frenzy)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF at page 70. This was a gimmick read, and that gimmick wore thin extraordinarily quickly.

I’m not a huge P&P fan, I’m no raging purist that thinks this is bad simply because it exists. The premise sounded awesome, and I’m down for genre mash-ups. But the execution on this is so, so poor. The only good thing I can say about the text is that, in streamlining Austen’s original prose to shorten the book and make room for the additional elements, the story is far more readable in terms of style. My major stumbling block with the source material was the archaic and bloated sentence construction–that’s what’s eliminated (mostly) here for the modern reader. Kudos for that, it let me read those 70 pages before I gave up in a single afternoon instead of several days.

Everything else is terrible. The zombies–oh, sorry, “unmentionables”–are spliced into the original text, and every seam shows. Whenever the narrative needs to address the fact that Lizzy and her sisters are accomplished fighters–which is often, because we might forget otherwise?–it completely destroys the tone of the scene and takes me out of the story.

Plus, let’s throw in a little racism while we’re at it–the Bennet girls are said to have trained with Shaolin monks in China, yet Japanese terms like dojo and ninja are used liberally. If I trusted the author more, I might be able to shrug this off as a relic of the time period, when the English were mad with Orientalism and would easily conflate all things “Eastern” into a single exotic source, destroying Asian diversity; except that China was well-known to Europe for centuries in 1797 when P&P is set, but Japan wasn’t open to the Western world until the mid-1800’s. There is absolutely no reason for any Japanese terminology or cultural influence to be in this book.

Now, Elena, you might say, why are you insisting on historical realism when this book is about zombies? Well, because the book hasn’t presented me with any reason the “strange plague” altered history enough to send British and/or American delegations to Japan more than fifty years early, that’s why. P&P is set in the real world, and P&P&Z added zombies, so unless those zombies went to Japan and started diplomatic talks, Japan should still be that mysterious island nation that little is known about and who doesn’t really talk to anyone yet.

It’s hackneyed and racist to conflate multiple Asian cultures this way, and it’s lazy not to know enough about history to make this sort of mistake in the first place. And nobody higher up the food chain caught it, either.

This is a gimmick read, and it’s a bad one.

95 - Caliban's War

#95 – Caliban’s War, by James S.A. Corey

  • Read: 7/13/19 – 7/17/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (62/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge; The Reading Frenzy’s “Run Away with the Circus” Read-a-thon
  • Task: A book about or set in space (both challenges)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

Revisiting a world I know so well is so comforting, even when the action is crazy pulse-pounding and the stakes are huge.

I came to this series as a show-watcher, and I was flabbergasted after reading Leviathan Wakes at how faithful the show was. Knowing now that the writing team behind this is also working on the show, I’m not surprised at all moving forward, but I’m still amazed by how much of the incredible character depth in the novels gets carried over.

So, book two. I was thrilled to finally meet Avasarala on the page and see the full scope of her vulgarity, because of course she can’t drop the f-bomb that many times on screen. She’s so many things that female characters are so rarely allowed to be, especially in combination: intelligent, politically powerful, manipulative, crass, insulting, cantankerous, and also deeply in love with her husband throughout a long and stable marriage, motherly/grandmotherly, and despite the outward flaws of her personality or the deliberately cultivated flaws of her political persona, she’s likeable, relatable, and most of all, a force for good in the universe.

Can you tell she’s my favorite character? Just a hint?

I loved her relationship with Bobbie on the show, and it’s only better in the book. In fact, everything about Bobbie is better in the book, simply because she’s another amazing female character who gets to do things outside the scope of normal literary femininity: be the most bad-ass warrior in any given room, but still have a personality beyond it. Bobbie is shaped by being a Marine and brings military-style thinking to every conversation, sure. But she also grows so much by being exposed to influences outside her military comfort zone, and whenever she offers an idea, she’s not dismissed as the meathead who thinks with her gun. (That position is arguably held, albeit somewhat voluntarily, by Amos, who seems to welcome the underestimation and dismissal he receives from strangers for being the big, bulky grease monkey–another subversion of the “big dumb brute” trope, because Amos is plenty smart in a lot of ways, and the story shows it even when he’s trying not to make it a big deal.)

Speaking of Amos, I also liked the extra depth to his relationship with Prax. (Whom I also welcomed as a POV character, he convinced me by the end of his first page that he was a scientist through and through, and I love reading good scientists.) In the show, I saw their bond forming, but I didn’t always understand why those two gravitated towards each other, but in the book, it’s very clear.

I have less to say about the main Rocinante crew in general, other than that Holden and Naomi’s romance still seems kind of meh, though I accept the arc of her leaving and his apology bringing her back as solid and well-done. Alex doesn’t get a lot of further development here, he’s absent for half the book for story reasons, but Holden at least acknowledges in the end that that was a shitty thing to do to him, and Alex takes it all in stride as the easy-going dude he is.

With so many new and amazing characters moving the story forward, the main four can’t be quite as shiny and interesting overall as they were back in the first book when they were new, too, so I understand that, but I hope this trend downward stabilizes instead of continuing until I’m bored with them.

96 - Teach Me

#96 – Teach Me, by Olivia Dade

  • Read: 7/18/19
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

Since this was a romance I picked up at the behest of one of my reading clubs and not by my own interest, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this. A work-place romance between an Ice Queen type and a single dad, and a sort of enemies-to-lovers arc? (They’re not enemies, not really, but she has reasons to resent his presence in her school and department at first, though she takes the high road and decides not to.) I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen to read this on my own, but I would have been missing out.

I loved Martin, I really, truly did. I’m a total sucker for a thoughtful man, and compassion is woven into his DNA. In their relationship, he shows his vulnerability first, which is definitely a rarity in your standard m/f romances, and one I appreciate. And he’s a good dad, without laying it on too thick. Showing him struggling with the anticipation of an empty nest when his daughter goes off to college the next year really made that aspect of his character work.

Rose, I liked slightly less. I can see how she’s a well-constructed character and a perfect match for Martin, but her fears came out a little too strongly for me and held her back a little too long. Maybe that’s just because in her place, I would have been doodling hearts around Martin’s name in my notebook long before she was, but I was honestly irritated by how closed-off she was, even near the end.

The payoff was cute, the relatively few kissing and sex scenes were swoon-worthy, though this story is far more couched in the Unresolved Sexual Tension stage of a relationship–that first kiss comes pretty late in the book. But it’s worth the wait.

It wasn’t perfect for me, but it’s pretty darn good, and since this is my first read by this author, I’ll be looking into more of her work.