This Week, I Read… (2017 #49)

181 - Caught Up In Us

#181 – Caught Up in Us, by Lauren Blakely

First up: formatting/editing issues. There was a noticeable lack of quotation marks and/or italics where appropriate–song titles should be in quotes (and there were a lot of them), and statements made within the narrative but not in dialogue should be either in quotes or italicized (ie, this outfit shouted “I’m looking to get laid”, or this outfit shouted I’m looking to get laid.) I was surprised to find such a systemic issue from a major author.

So, setting that aside, this was a second-chance/workplace romance, and I think it succeeded at the office shenanigans while failing spectacularly at the second-chance aspect. We do get a little bit of the backstory from five years ago, but the relationship ended when the guy ghosted the girl–no contact or explanation whatsoever–and then they’re thrown together in a mentor/student relationship as part of one of her business classes.

All we hear is that she loved him so much and she was so heartbroken and they had such a connection–but five years have passed, and they hadn’t known each other all that well before, since it was just a summer romance, plus the age difference was borderline inappropriate at 17 and 23–even though our heroine takes pains to tell us there was only fooling around, no real sex, I’m still not fully on board with that gap.

In the end, I just don’t see the instant reconnection as anything but lust (which it is, and how) and that makes the story fall flat.

182 - Parable of the Sower

#182 – Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler

  • Read: 12/22/17 – 12/23/17
  • Challenge: Crash Course Literature Season 4
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

Compelling, difficult to put down. Rather than a single cataclysmic event turning America into a post-apocalyptic nightmare, this story tells of a slow apocalypse driven by climate change, governmental apathy, mob rule and drug-induced mayhem. When the police and firefighters can’t be relied upon, trusted, or paid for, everyone has to scramble to find ways of protecting themselves, or succumb to the unchecked violence in the streets.

In the midst of all this, one young black woman writes everything down of her life, the struggles of her family, and somehow manages to “discover” a new religion, which she calls Earthseed. God is Change. Learn to shape God.

So it became, to me, an interesting blend of post-apoc fiction and Dune. The strangest thing for me was, I could almost get behind the religion of Earthseed. In a world where it was real, I could see myself becoming a believer. Given that I am not a particularly spiritual person, this book was an interesting journey for me.

I felt, however, that it ended abruptly. I know the sequel will continue the story, and that reaching Bankole’s property in order to found an Earthseed community there is a natural stopping point–but the end really was just, they show up, find out his family are dead, wait a few days to see if the police will investigate, then have a funeral and the book’s over. It ran by quickly and without much weight, considering the gravity of what Lauren wants them to become.

183 - The Long War

#184 – The Long War, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

It’s been over a year since I read The Long Earth, and as excited as I was to finally read this, it didn’t come anywhere close to as mind-blowing as its predecessor did for me.

I can only blame myself for any small details I forgot, but War did little to remind me. I felt more connected to the new characters than the returning ones, because I’d apparently forgotten about what little personality they had been given originally. Joshua was a passive protagonist, getting dragged into his adventures by forces beyond his control–I liked Maggie, the captain of the military twain, much better. At least she did interesting things and made interesting choices.

But even that wasn’t enough. I went back to reread my glowing review of The Long Earth, and found that I was so impressed by the relative originality of the concept that I didn’t once mention any of the characters. And here in the second book, the concept isn’t new anymore, and the excitement of it didn’t carry me along, so all I had were the characters–who were flat and unmemorable.

184 - American Vampire

#184 – American Vampire, by Jennifer Armintrout

This was fun but not amazing. I’m a fan of Jenny Trout’s later works, and finding one of her early novels in a pile at a used book sale was a nice treat, but for someone used to the cleaner, more polished The Boss series, this really can’t compare. It made me laugh and I’m glad I read it, but I’m not keeping it to reread.

185 - Man Hunting

#185 – Man Hunting, by Jennifer Crusie

The romance was cute and kept me engaged, but the prose style irked me. Not only were there long passages of Talking Heads, even within those, the dialogue was egregiously over-tagged. “Said” might not be dead, but if every single line ends Katie said or Jessie said, even when it’s perfectly clear who is speaking…I had to grit my teeth from time to time.

But it was a fun story about an improbable spark between a career-driven woman who’s lonely for love and a commitment-shy man who has convinced himself he’s happier being alone and doing nothing but relaxing in a simple job. They snipe at each other more than they talk, punctuated by oddly comfortable silences where they grow closer, only to fight again. Sometimes the dialogue is a bit unbelievable, and some of the references are incredibly dated (I hadn’t realized until I checked the front that this was published in 1993) but once I understood my time frame, the Yuppie factor made more sense.

I actually loved the ending, with Jake taking his sweet time to make a choice, but then going full throttle to reorder his life to fit Kate into it. That definitely made up for some of the weaker points in the story.

This Week, I Read… (2017 #48)

Cry Sanctuary.jpg

#174 – Cry Sanctuary, by Moira Rogers

Slightly better worldbuilding than the last werewolf/shifter romance series I started, but not by much. I picked this up when I discovered “Moira Rogers” was the paranormal-romance pen name of the same writing duo as Kit Rocha, whose Beyond series I loved. But this seems rushed and unpolished by comparison, not so much a story as a teaser, and an excuse to get two lusty characters into bed with each other as quickly as possible without doing much to establish why.

I do not intend to go on with this series.

 Assassin's Apprentice
 #175 – Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb

High fantasy was most of what I read in my teenage years, and this was as good or better than any of my favorites from those days. Aspects of the worldbuilding here are introduced with such subtlety that the revelation of how Fitz’s powers work doesn’t come as a surprise or shock, but feels like a memory of something I’d already been told, years ago, but forgotten. He’s an engaging narrator who ages well throughout the story, who tackles his dilemmas with fortitude but also knows when he’s in over his head and needs to ask advice or help. Viewing the politics of this realm through the eyes of a bastard royal gives the story a realism that I hesitate to call “gritty”–a word that has come to encompass the excessive grimdark tone applied to something to create edgy appeal–but it’s definitely not the high-gloss shine that you’d get from seeing the story unfold about one of the princes of the line, instead, especially if it were Regal. (Which, as a side note, I have to say is a fantastic name–all the attribute names are, and as soon as the in-world explanation was given for them, they stopped looking silly and became as natural to me as any of my friends’ or family’s names.)

This was a fantastic read, and I’m greatly looking forward to getting my hands on the rest of Hobb’s works as soon as I reasonably can.

Insatiable

#176 – Insatiable, by Cari Quinn

While I’m totally on board for best-friends-to-lovers, I do require that my leads have at least basic personalities. Shawn and Rachel are so bland that after reading this I can’t tell you a thing about them except that they fight all the time. Neither of them seems to have any traits beyond a propensity to anger, jealousy, and near-constant horniness. And in those traits, they’re basically identical, which made this a tiresome read.

Cooking Dirty

#177 – Cooking Dirty: A Story of Life, Sex, Love and Death in the Kitchen, by Jason Sheehan

  • Read: 12/17/17 – 12/18/17
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

This kitchen memoir had a rollicking style that was engaging and easy to get caught up in. The only place I really stumbled was the three-page long transcription of a galley conversation conducted entirely in kitchen slang, which wasn’t given all that much explanation; I felt like I was wading through it, so I skipped ahead until regular narration picked up again. If the point was simply that kitchen slang is a different language unintelligible to the uninitiated, yes, I take your point, did you really need three pages to make it?

However, as quick and compulsive a read as it was, I don’t feel like I came away from it with any insight I haven’t gotten from a dozen other foodie/chef/gourmet memoirs I’ve read. It feels harsh to dismiss someone’s life experiences like that, but I already knew the culinary world is rife with drugs, alcohol, and sex, and reading Sheehan’s somewhat glorifying account of them disturbed me a little. It isn’t that he ever advises anyone to do drugs, or to work high or drunk, but more of the macho attitude that embraces the fact that not only did he do it, most of the people he knew did it, and they’re also crazy bad-asses who will work through any amount of pain and injury not to let the guys in their kitchen down.

Even though I was already aware of that too, he went into such detail about both the attitude and so many injuries that it turned my stomach at times, because I’ve been looking at taking better care of myself, and if I chop off part of my finger on a dinner shift, I’m not taping it back on and finishing the night–I’m going to get proper medical care and then going home. Clearly I wouldn’t hack it on the line, and I know that, but a certain derisiveness for even the most basic-self care permeates this work, and it’s never truly challenged as negative.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00062]

#178 – More Than Pancakes, by Christine DePetrillo

An incredibly rude and shallow woman resists falling for a backwoods country dude. I can see why the California Girl/Vermont Guy premise is appealing, but from the moment we meet Lily, she is nothing but flat-out condescending about everything to do with the Great Outdoors, the state of Vermont, and Rick’s business and entire way of life. Her drive to succeed at her own career and the shockingly high-handed things she says in pursuit of this takes this beyond a mere Opposites Attract trope straight into Enemies to Lovers.

But I don’t think that’s a good thing, here. There’s really not much redeeming Lily, who spends the middle part of the story internally reminding herself to hate everything about Vermont even as she’s softening up to it. Rick, as a hero, is pretty bland and inoffensive, not much to recommend him, but I still like him better simply because when he’s an ass to Lily, it’s because she provoked him to it–she’s an ass because she’s convinced her life must be better than Rick’s.

Why would I be rooting for these two to get together when Lily is so terrible? Nonetheless, I did finish the story to find out that her boss/former paramour Drew is even worse, since he’s insanely possessive and decides to try to save their failed relationship with the attempted murder of Rick. Which, given that Drew is an offscreen/on-the-phone character for most of the story, is a preposterous escalation towards danger. And it all ends happily with Rick not being dead, Lily leaving the career/lifestyle that apparently made her such a toxic person, and them deciding to go into business together. Because you can take the girl out of California, and also manage to take California out of the girl?

Can't Help Falling in Love

#179 – Can’t Help Falling in Love, by Bella Andre

What could have been a solid romance was undermined by heavy-handed action writing. A firefighter in a dangerous rescue isn’t a convincingly tense situation when half the scene is the author repeatedly reminding the reader just how dangerous it is. Show me the flames and the fallen bits of building, don’t just have the firefighter’s internal monologue running at full speed.

Once we got that out of the way, it wasn’t so bad. It did have actual romantic tension, with a fairly successful attempt at I’m Attracted to You But This is a Terrible Idea–the two leads did actually both honestly agree to stay away from each other. Out loud. It was an adorably awkward scene, even though their agreement obviously couldn’t last. It was cute that they tried.

Points for Summer, the daughter, being a devious but mostly well-behaved child, and Gabe liking her as much as he was falling for her mother; but overall, this was only a so-so story.

Hidden Depths
#180 – Hidden Depths, by Aubrianna Hunter

CHEATING IS NOT OKAY. CHEATING IS NOT OKAY.

I can get behind the idea of a person being with the wrong partner, feeling trapped, and admitting to an attraction to someone else. That part of the premise doesn’t bother me.

Even that first kiss, yeah, people make mistakes, and Josh was clearly deeply upset about it and didn’t intend to do anything more until his best friend encouraged him to (?!?).

Dry-humping your non-fiancee to orgasm may not be clothes-off, penetrative sex, BUT IT’S STILL OBVIOUSLY SEX. YOU JUST CHEATED.

Beyond that, while the two leads were fairly well-developed, Josh’s ex might as well be a wet paper bag, because he had no problem breaking out of their relationship and she had no problem with him then starting a relationship with her best friend. Of course there’s really no evidence that Gia and Deb are friends at all, because they rarely interact, even when the entire HUGE group of friends surrounding the leads is together, which is often.

Those other friends don’t have any personalities either. They’re set dressing and plot catalysts, warm bodies that are required to be in the story because people have friends, right? But they’re given no more thought than that.

Beautiful passionate couple of young people in love.

#181 – Bennett, by Chasity Bowlin

I’m disappointed by this, because it could have been so much better. The rich-girl/bad-boy basis had the extra wrinkles of a bourbon distillery business at risk of going under, a feud between their families, and another feud within her family, with the philandering and manipulative patriarch. Everything you need for some juicy high drama.

But the writing style was dull. It was mostly expository dialogue–“Let me shout at you in such a way that explains our family history/all my problems/all your problems/how furious I am about everything!”

What little action there was was so-so, and very few of the characters any displayed any kind of body language. Everything was talking heads.

This Week, I Read… (2017 #46)

168 - The Christmas Cowboy

#168 – The Christmas Cowboy, by Shanna Hatfield

This simply went on too long. I know sweet romances generally go for the slow burn, to help mitigate the no-sex part of things, but there were multiple times from about the two-thirds mark onward that the story felt like it was coming to a close, but then didn’t. While I liked the main characters well enough to keep reading, the length definitely could have been cut down and the story tightened up.

169 - Coming In From the Cold

#169 – Coming in from the Cold, by Sarina Bowen

This nearly had me in tears more than once. I’m usually pretty harsh on romances that use unexpected pregnancy as a plot point, but here, the themes of the story are built around it, and it’s utterly believable. These two were made for each other, and I flew right through this, between the smooth writing style and the shorter length. My major complaint is actually that it felt rushed, because I think it could have been fleshed out with a few more scenes towards the end of Dane’s redemption from his extreme asshole behavior earlier on. I understand why he was the way he was, and I believe Willow would forgive him–it’s just that it happens so quickly.

170 - Magic Burns

#170 – Magic Burns, by Ilona Andrews

  • Read: 12/9/17 – 12/11/17
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

If I was thrown for a loop by the holes in the worldbuilding in the first book, this second in the series patches them up pretty nicely. It’s still clear there’s information being withheld, but this time, it’s on purpose–like the source of the power in Kate’s blood (though I’ve already put 2+2 together, I just want to know how that came about) and all manner of things about the Pack. But the (extremely) slow-burn romance going on between Kate and Curran is definitely keeping me hooked, because that ending! Holy cow! I’m going to have a hard time not diving straight into the next one, but I’ve got a library book to tackle.

171 - In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe

#171 – In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe: Classic Tales of Horror 1816 – 1914

  • Read: 12/11/17 – 12/13/17
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

I primarily read this for The Yellow Wallpaper, on the list for Crash Course Literature this season. This was the only collection available from my library system that had it, and I wasn’t terribly interested in reading the other stories.

That being said, The Yellow Wallpaper was excellent, and I read most of the other stories, which were overwritten in the style of the times–if you’re a diehard Poe fan, these are right up your alley, but otherwise I mostly found them excessively wordy.

172 - Ripley Under Ground

#172 – Ripley Under Ground, by Patricia Highsmith

DNF @ page 100, because I felt like I was rereading the first book, only worse. I did make it as far as the first murder (assuming there are more I didn’t get to, I don’t know) but I was bored by it–the stakes didn’t seem as compelling as Tom’s murder of Dickie Greenleaf, and also, we the reader already know that Tom is completely amoral and capable of killing in cold blood, so there’s no revelation. The art-forgery scheme wasn’t all that interesting, and since it made Tom so little money and he clearly lived well without it, I don’t see why perpetuating it mattered to him or why he would go to such lengths. If it were a simple matter of him not getting caught, he would have acted differently, and at the very least, probably not killed somebody with a wine bottle in his basement.

173 - Deep Down

#173 – Deep Down, by Brenda Rothert

Even though this romance dealt with deep issues, like single motherhood, rape, and incest, it felt shallow and lacking in subtlety. The heroine had something terrible happen to her, but after that, everything fell into her lap–a place to stay after her ordeal, a job and apartment when she moved, a surrogate family, a boyfriend worth having, and finally, to top it all off, a multi-million-dollar inheritance. The narrative kept saying how hard she worked as a single mom, but there wasn’t much evidence of it–her son was an abnormally perfect and well-behaved child who never caused any trouble or disrupted the charmed events of the story. Even the heroine’s desire to go back to school (accomplished in part by online classes) was barely dealt with, and the revelation that she always wanted to write felt hollow because there was no mention of it in the beginning, before the supposed dream was dashed by her inability to go to college.

This Week, I Read… (2017 #45)

162 - Sacred Hearts

#162 – Sacred Hearts, by Sarah Dunant

I often find historical fiction weighed down by superfluous detail, but that was not the case here. The picture painted of life in a Renaissance-era Italian convent was bleak and unforgiving, and yet there were moments of beauty, not just in the peace and grace the characters find through their faith, but in the support these women give each other.

This is only one of a few novels I can remember reading that had no significant male characters. There’s the lover young novice Serafina pines for, but for most of the book he’s absent. There’s their confessor, Father Romero, but he’s only mentioned in passing, never speaks, and is spoken/thought of by the nuns with disdain for his ineffectiveness. And there’s the distant bishop, who holds power over the lives of these women through the threat of encroaching reforms, but his influence in the story is small compared to the powerful movers and shakers within the convent itself.

This novel also demonstrates the paradoxical freedom the sisters had–while shut up in the convent, cut off from the outside world, some of them–our main character Zuana in particular, but also the choir mistress who wrote the convent’s music, and the sister who wrote the plays they performed for festivals–had the freedom to pursue interests that a typical life of marriage and motherhood would have denied them. This isn’t to say the practice of selling off extra daughters against their will to a convent was a moral one–it’s not–and ultimately the story agrees, as the ending makes clear. But it also depicts the ability to find personal freedoms in strange places, which I find a hopeful message.

163 - Auraria

#163 – Auraria, by Tim Westover

DNF @ 25 percent because I got bored. The entire first quarter of the book was a lather-rinse-repeat of the protagonist going to a person to buy their land, having basically the same conversation with each one until something weird happened, buying the land, and then going on his merry way while completely failing to be affected by the weird thing.

While I did like some of the weird things–the house that had more stories when you were in it than appeared from the outside, with each one getting smaller, until the top floor only had room for “thimble and thread”, that was actually pretty neat–the story as presented felt like an excuse to have a mystical, cool setting more than an actual story. The emphasis was definitely placed on how strange the town and its inhabitants were, rather than any actual plot, which was plodding and dull.

164 - Trade Me

#164 – Trade Me, by Courtney Milan

  • Read: 12/3/17 – 12/4/17
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

This book goes so far above and beyond the New Adult Contemporary romances I’ve read before that I feel like it’s on a different plane of existence.

This story covers conflicts based on relative wealth (it is a billionaire story, after all); eating disorders; cultural differences; and plain old stubbornness.

Given that I’ve been paycheck-to-paycheck working poor in my life, I found Tina’s portrayal sharp and accurate. And Blake isn’t your typical Billionaire Romance Hero at all–he recognizes his privilege and doesn’t dismiss criticism directed at him based on his charmed upbringing.

Their attraction feels real and unforced, and their budding relationship takes a whole bunch of twists and turns before it develops into love. The HFN, hopeful ending definitely makes me want to read more of this series, especially since the author’s note at the end of the book says they’re coming back in a future book!

(In fact, the extensive author’s notes at the end were a great addition, explaining the process of how such an unusual and original book came together. Definitely read those too, if you pick this up!)

165 - Must Love Mistletoe

#165 – Must Love Mistletoe, by Christie Ridgway

  • Read: 12/4/17 – 12/5/17
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (151/150) [yes I’m still counting!]
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

I don’t think this story knew what it wanted to be. Sure, it’s primarily a romance, but the tone shifted often and wildly from super-serious (Finn’s Secret Service past and recently acquired disability) to super-silly (the excessive Christmas spirit of the town and everything that happened at the shop) to super-irritating (Bailey, all the time.)

And how reasonable is it, even given Bailey’s history, for her to simply vanish on Finn with no explanation or contact–and for him never to try to contact her? She didn’t change her identity or go into space, he could have tried. But that doesn’t make for as much drama, even if it doesn’t make any sense. No, young Finn just accepted that Bailey left him and never did a thing about it.

On that footing, it makes their reunion less believable, and I found the ending anti-climactic. I also didn’t care for the subplot involving the fading marriage between her mother and stepfather, which was underdeveloped and not thematically tied to anything else in the story. Plus, I found it vaguely uncomfortable to be reading Bailey’s mother’s dramatic sex scene, both because it was poorly written–noticeably more so than the other sex scenes–and because I JUST READ ABOUT YOUR DAUGHTER HAVING SEX. Why did any of that need to be in the story?

166 - The Talented Mr. Ripley

#166 – The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith

I think this novel might be the best argument for show, don’t tell that I’ve ever read. Everything about Tom Ripley comes from his actions, not his words; emphasized by the fact that he rarely speaks, compared to the other characters. The story is told in third-person limited, centered on Tom, but despite that, we rarely hear him talking.

But we do see everything he does, and get a lot of his thought process. So much of his characterization, as well, comes from what he doesn’t think about–he suffers more anxiety from seeing Marge’s bra lying out in the open than he does from committing murder. He never thinks about sex; the few times he observes women’s bodies, it’s always with disdain or outright disgust–I’m head-canoning him as ace, because when the issue comes up with Dickie about whether Tom is queer and/or attracted to Dickie, Tom’s almost bewildered that he might think that.

No, Tom’s aspirations toward Dickie aren’t sexual or romantic–Tom wants to be Dickie, not love him. And it couldn’t be clearer, even before Tom hatches his impromptu scheme, by the way he covets Dickie’s possessions, even tries on his clothing.

It’s absolutely chilling, how logical and sane a completely amoral character can seem, when you’re getting his side of the story.

167 - Candide

#167 – Candide, by Voltaire

It’s not that I don’t appreciate a good satire when I see one, but I already know we don’t live in the best of all possible worlds, so I didn’t need to read this book to have it tell me so. I can appreciate good absurdity when I see it, and if this were a romance novel, then absurd it would be, with every character trying to outdo the previous one for traumatic backstory. But this reads much more like a fable, or dare I say a play–I could definitely envision this on stage being performed in ridiculously outrageous costumes and grandiose gestures–and as a simple, short book, I found it flat.

Even with the historical context, I think this is simply past its time. I’m sure it was witty in its day, but now it’s just dull.

Reading Challenge Complete: Mount TBR 2017!

mount-tbr-2017

For a while, there, I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get this done! I signed up to read 150 of My Own Damn Books–unread books that I owned prior to January 1st, 2017. At the beginning of the year, thanks to used book sales and free stuff from Amazon promotions, I had well over 300 books that qualified.

But I finished on December 3rd, with most of a month left to go! I’m going to keep listing books in my reviews that qualify for this challenge, counting up from 150–I have no idea how many more I’ll get through.

Usually this is where, based on previous Challenge Complete posts, I would make a list of all the books I read and link them on Goodreads…but it’s 150 of them. That’s not going to happen.

Instead, take a look at my shelf there to see them all!

To reward myself for this huuuuge accomplishment, I made a new TBR Jar with a few of the books I was looking forward to most, from my 2017 acquisitions. I drew one to celebrate!

2017 TBR Jar

My next (easy) goal for knocking down TBR books is to read the very last unread book from my 2015 acquisitions, Ripley Under Ground, one of the books I won in that Twitter contest I completely forgot about. I have read The Talented Mr. Ripley, back in college, but not since, so I’ll be rereading that first.

Once I do that, I got a few other mini-goals brainstormed, one of which is definitely to read all those free Christmas romances I picked up last December, which hopefully means I’ll be too busy to get more!

End of the Month Wrap-Up: November 2017!

nano2017

In November, in case you missed it (har har) I won NaNoWriMo! I worked on an entirely new project about a small town of non-hierarchical wolf shapeshifters. Two of whom are falling in love.

With the 60K+ I wrote (my non-official count according to the document stats is just about 61K) I’m not even halfway through the story. Not that I think this is necessarily going to be a long, long novel–just that I’m front-loading a lot of angst and worldbuilding that will undoubtedly be shortened, moved, or cut during the editing process.

But as I still have about half the story to go, I’ve got to keep writing! I gave myself the first two days of December off, because breaks are a good thing, but I’m taking advantage of the personal goal trackers one can enable on the NaNo site to institute at least 1K/day throughout December. I should be able to manage that even with holiday shenanigans, and of course I’ll be visiting family for the holidays/my own personal writing retreat for a week mid-December. I’m so productive there!

As for reading, I read twelve books this month, which blows last year’s measly four out of the water. Of course, last year I wasn’t desperately trying to finish Mount TBR – Mount Olympus (Mars): 150 of My Own Damn Books read!

(I actually have finished, as of yesterday, but that’s a separate post since it didn’t happen in November–look for it on Wednesday!)

And now it’s confession time: in November I went to the library twice, and that part of it’s a good thing, since I’ve hardly gone all year due to Mount TBR–the first time I dropped off eight books as a donation, but came home with thirteen more from the book sale room; the second time I was there to pick up a book request I need for this season of Crash Course Literature, but I hit the sale room again and found fourteen more books. And I ordered a few free or 99-cent romances off Amazon. And I have four books from Thriftbooks coming. And I gave my mother a list of about a dozen books I could use for Christmas…

All this has led to me still having acquired more books this year than I read, with the potential for a handful more.

Which means I signed up for Mount TBR 2018, again at the Mars-150 book level. And I’m running the Expand Your Horizons challenge. And I’ve already got an idea list for the PopSugar challenge. And since I’m already doing those three, I suppose I should take a look at the BookRiot Read Harder challenge list, which I skipped this year…

But I definitely missed going to the library, so I’m going to make more room in my reading schedule for that.

Here’s to a successful month, and I hope I have as productive a December, and that all of you do as well!

This Week, I Read… (2017 #44)

157 - Christmas with the Billionaire

#157 – Christmas with the Billionaire, by Amy Lamont

A cute little novella that tackles a lot in its short length–Christmas spirit vs. cynicism, lovers from different social classes, friendship and family and trust.

While my personal preference isn’t for heroines that see themselves as dumpy and unattractive, Emma still comes across as both believable and relatable in her self-doubt. Nate is a total charmer with the predatory edge of an alpha male, and while he and Emma both make assumptions and misjudgments, they do actually talk about them before flinging themselves at each other again.

I would have liked to see this story fleshed out into a full novel, to give the likable characters more time for development, and to let the weighty themes have enough space to breathe instead of being piled on top of each other. That being said, I did enjoy this and would recommend it to anyone in the mood for a quick Christmas treat.

158 - Revelation Space

#158 – Revelation Space, by Alastair Reynolds

Did not finish @ page 112. I wanted to like this, and I found the style engaging, but the timeline was too muddled and complex for me to follow. I like that the three different storylines compensated for the decades necessary for near-relativistic travel, a detail which makes the novel more “real” but also incredibly complicated. Without a clear idea of what was going on when, it wasn’t as enjoyable as I hoped it would be, despite the interesting worldbuilding.

159 - Snowbound with the Biker

#159 – Snowbound with the Biker, by Amy Lamont

Snowbound romances always strike me as contrived, and this was no exception. But what it lacked in originality of premise, it made up for in honest characterization–piling the brother’s-best-friend trope on top of the snowbound-ness was a new combination for me, and one that worked to the story’s advantage. Like the first novella in the series, I think there was enough potential meat here for a longer work, but I enjoyed the tidbit I got.

160 - The Sky is Everywhere

#160 – The Sky is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson

I’m too old for this book. I read a fair bit of YA, and sometimes, as an adult, I can’t appreciate it the same way a teen would. The kicker for me here, that bogged down what was otherwise a lovely story about love, confusion, and the grieving process–the bad poetry. Lots and lots of really bad poetry.

I wrote bad poetry as a teenager, so it’s not the fact that it’s bad that’s an issue–it’s incredibly true to both the character and the age group. But that doesn’t mean I want to read endless bad poetry when I thought I was reading a YA novel about love, confusion, and the grieving process.

My other issue, of course, since I am vehemently anti-cheating, is that grief does not give a person a free pass to cheat. I know Lennie was confused. I know she didn’t have her head on straight. But she told herself repeatedly to break it off with Toby…and she just didn’t. It’s presented in a way that doesn’t absolve her of either guilt or responsibility, which I appreciate, but Joe forgives her pretty easily.

I realize this is a deeply personal criticism, one that others might not share as strongly, but I’m always disappointed when “I can’t be with you/forgive you” turns into “but you really do love me” by the end of the book.

161 - Getting Lucky with the Rockstar

#161 – Getting Lucky with the Rock Star, by Amy Lamont

Things I loved about this novella:

  1. Jared Sloane is one stand-up guy, and sweet to boot.
  2. Having the story start with an established relationship, even if it’s only a casual one, is a plot point I don’t often see in romances–I always appreciate something that differs from the norm, if it’s done well.
  3. The conflicts in this relationship, both internal and external, made perfect sense, and were resolved without resorting to blanket forgiveness or one character ignoring their needs to support their partner.

Things I didn’t like about this novella:

WHY IS IT SO SHORT WHY CAN’T IT BE A FULL NOVEL I WOULD READ ABOUT JARED FOREVER

Reading Challenge Complete: Beat the Backlist 2017!

In this personalized reading challenge, participants were instructed to choose any number of books from their TBR that had been sitting unread for too long, and commit to reading them in 2017.

I quite arbitrarily picked 40 books, and I read 39 of them.

(But wait, the year’s not over, and you’re a book short. What gives?)

The major theme I used to choose the specific books for this challenge was finishing unfinished series, and I DNF’d the penultimate book in one of those series, so obviously I’m not going to bother with the last one, right?

Still, I tried, and I can’t really go back and say “I never had that on the list at all, I’ll read this instead!”

So here it is, my completed Beat the Backlist Challenge.

  1. Bridge of Dreams
  2. The Sandman, Vol. 4: Season of Mists
  3. The Sandman, Vol. 5: A Game of You
  4. The Sandman, Vol. 6: Fables and Reflections
  5. The Sandman, Vol. 7: Brief Lives
  6. The Sandman, Vol. 8: World’s End
  7. The Sandman, Vol. 9: The Kindly Ones
  8. The Sandman, Vol. 10: The Wake
  9. The Sandman: Endless Nights
  10. The Drawing of the Three
  11. The Waste Lands
  12. Wizard and Glass
  13. Wolves of the Calla
  14. Song of Susannah
  15. The Dark Tower
  16. Between Shades of Grey
  17. A Thousand Splendid Suns
  18. The Redwood Rebel
  19. The Princess Saves Herself in this One
  20. Blood of Elves
  21. The Summer Tree
  22. The Wandering Fire
  23. The Darkest Road
  24. Poison Study
  25. Magic Study
  26. Fire Study
  27. The Secret History
  28. The Girl Who Played with Fire
  29. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
  30. Seduce Me at Sunrise
  31. The Mabinogion Tetralogy
  32. Ruined
  33. Drums of Autumn
  34. The Fiery Cross
  35. A Breath of Snow and Ashes
  36. An Echo in the Bone
  37. Written in My Own Heart’s Blood
  38. Seduced
  39. Rocked
  40. Twisted

This Week, I Read… (2017 #42)

152 - Jane Eyre

#152 – Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë

Reading classics, for me, is so hit or miss about whether or not I’ll like them. But I have Ruined, a Regency-era retelling of JE on my Beat the Backlist challenge, because its author is a Tumblr buddy of mine.

So if I’m going to read the retelling, I should read the original first, right? And I did.

I didn’t expect to love it. But I did.

Jane is such a compelling narrator that I can easily forgive the long passages of description that, in other novels, would feel like artificial bloat.

And while I was already aware of the mid-story twist, Rochester’s mad wife in the attic, I didn’t know how the story would end, so for the second half I was racing through to see what circumstances might bring Jane back to Rochester, if any. I honestly didn’t know what was going to happen, and that’s pretty refreshing for me.

Beyond that, I’m not even sure I can describe why I loved this book so much. But I do.

This Week, I Read… (2017 #40)

142 - Just For Now

#142 – Just For Now, by Rosalind James

I’ve read five of James’ novels already, so I think I have a handle on her writing style and can say, without bias, that this is a rough and choppy novel. The scenes are exceptionally short, and almost all of them start with a line of dialogue which rarely has any context. So every page or two, the action would jump to a new, unknown place and time, and somebody would say something, and for a paragraph I’d be dizzily wondering what was happening.

The only thing I found in this story worth praising is that James acknowledges, repeatedly, the questionable dynamic of our hero sleeping with his housekeeper (ie, employee.) Not that boss romances aren’t a thing, because they totally are, but since she’s live-in help, this situation is definitely a shade more personal than a CEO and his secretary, or something more standard. Both of the leads talk it over and come to an agreement on how to keep business and pleasure as separate as possible, because of course they’re going to hop in the sack, but at least the issue isn’t hand-waved past or completely ignored.

143 - Hungry Like The Wolf

#143 – Hungry Like the Wolf, by Paige Tyler

This hits every major shifter-romance stereotype I’ve been warned about, without diving into any reasonable worldbuilding to support it. And it’s insta-love. And there are sixteen werewolves in the squad, introduced very quickly and without any personality to any of them, presumably because they get to be romantic heroes in later books in the series. That’s far too many minor characters to bother with.

144 - Mr Mercedes

#144 – Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King

I flew through this one. The writing is clean, the pace gripping, and the characters reasonably interesting–the side guys more so than our hero and his nemesis, but when an author can take a character who we meet as a throwaway relative of another character and turn her into an anxious-but-whip-smart crime-solving badass…well, I can forgive some flaws.

And there are definitely flaws. Because this is a crime thriller and not a mystery, we’re allowed to spend as much time with the bad guy as we do with the hero–and Brady’s just not very deep. He’s got all the box-standard issues a spree-killer needs (in fiction, at least) but not much more than that.

So basically, I enjoyed it, but I know it doesn’t deserve the full five stars, even if I had a grand time. And I do mean to read the rest of the trilogy, too.

145 - Arrogant Bastard

#145 – Arrogant Bastard, by Winter Renshaw

I have so many complaints about this one. First, the setup made no sense. Child services don’t handle 18-year-olds, so our hero being removed from his abusive father to be placed with his mother, who abandoned them when he was young, wouldn’t happen.

But it had to be stressed that both he and the not-quite-stepsister he’s about to fall in insta-love with are both of age, so we readers aren’t perving on children.

Not that reading about high school seniors getting freaky didn’t make me squirm. Especially because the “sister” is so cloyingly innocent, being a member of an uber-strict religious family, that (get this) is polygamous.

So she’s the daughter of one of his mother’s sister-wives, making them “family” in the loosest possible sense, but not actually related directly in any way.

And of course when she tries to assert herself a little too much (she wants to go away to college the next year) Daddy Dearest decides she’s going to marry one of his church buddies instead. Because her living situation has to be as gross as possible to make her running away with her “brother” the right thing to do.

It’s all very juvenile and shallow and woefully underdeveloped.

146 - The Exorcist

#146 – The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty

DNF around page 110. I hated the writing style from the very beginning–the semicolon and sentence-fragment abuse reached preposterous levels–but I kept going, hoping the scary parts I’ve heard so much about would actually scare me. They didn’t.

Someday I’ll get around to watching the movie instead.

147 - The Mermaid Chair

#147 – The Mermaid Chair, by Sue Monk Kidd

ADULTERY IS NOT INHERENTLY INTERESTING. ADULTERY DOES NOT MAKE THE MAIN CHARACTER MORE INTERESTING. ADULTERY DOES NOT MAKE THE MAIN CHARACTER MORE LIKEABLE OR RELATABLE TO MOST PEOPLE.

I thought, prior to this, that the mid-life crisis/affair combo was a thing Male Writers™ did in their literary fiction as a lurid form of wish fulfillment. Turns out, women authors can be that gross too!

Nothing could save this dumpster fire, not the most beautiful imagery or language (which it didn’t have) or the most sympathetic supporting characters (also absent.)

I don’t understand what’s supposed to be “moving” or “inspiring” about a selfish woman whining that she’s unhappy, cheating on her husband, then deciding the affair wasn’t what she really needed and expecting him to take her back without anything more than an “I’m sorry I hurt you.”

And he does.

Ugh.

148 - A Swiftly Tilting Planet

#148 – A Swiftly Tilting Planet, by Madeleine L’Engle

I remember enjoying this book as a kid, and I can only say that’s because I didn’t know any better. Rereading it as an adult, for the first time in probably twenty years, it’s a story that manages, somehow, to be both boring and confusing.

The confusing part is due to the rampant time-travel and the fact that all the names of the characters in the past are variations on a theme. You’ve got Madoc, Madog, Maddok, and Maddox. Zyll, Zillie, Zillah. I think there’s two Brandons, but there might be three? I’m honestly not sure. We get it, Ms. L’Engle. Family ties don’t have to be hammered down with nearly-identical names.

But that’s the skeleton on which the entirety of the story rests.

The boring part is that our two protagonists, Meg and Charles Wallace, don’t actually do much. Meg is “watching” Charles Wallace time-travel via kything, a holdover from the previous novel, and in the whole book she discovers and relays exactly one piece of information to Charles that he needs. Meanwhile, Charles himself travels “Within” people in the various points in the past, allowing the reader to experience their lives in the narrative, but all he does (sometimes) is give the most subtle nudges to his host in one direction or another. He’s supposed to be passive so he doesn’t ruin the past, yet the whole point of this journey is for him to change the ancestry of the madman who’s about to plunge the world into Armageddon in the present.

It’s honestly a little ludicrous. And dull.