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.

 

 

This Week, I Read… (2017 #40)

135 - Just Good Friends

#135 – Just Good Friends, by Rosalind James

This was a mash of tropes I love and tropes I don’t care for.

I’ve never been a fan of romances that rely on bets–even if this one was a “bet you can’t be my friend without making a move on me” bet. Because we know it has to fail for a romance to take place.

It’s an excellent example, however, of You Infuriate Me, But I’m Falling For You. Kate and Koti can hardly have a conversation at first without aggravating each other, and it’s amazingly fun to watch the angry sparks slowly turning into romantic ones.

Kate’s tragic backstory may be laid on a little thick, but this time (as opposed to last week’s Just This Once) our hero isn’t perfect–he’s got major issues with his career and life goals and his motivation to work toward them. Flawed heroes are much more interesting to me than those who never put a foot wrong.

136 - Everything's Eventual

#136 – Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales, by Stephen King

It’s always hard for me to properly rate and review short story collections, because the stories can vary so wildly. I liked more of the stories than I didn’t (only two really bored me) and several of the stories I actually loved.

The “dark” in the title is appropriate, because rather than all of these being classic horror, many of them had more of a psychological or sometimes moral creepiness. I remember reading a different collection of King’s stories as a tween (bad idea) and having trouble sleeping for the next week–but this one wasn’t frightening, just unsettling. Which isn’t worse or better than straight horror, just different.

137 - Carrie

#137 – Carrie, by Stephen King

Considering I’ve had the plot spoiled for me numerous times over the years–I think the first time I heard about Carrie’s “Prom Night” I wasn’t even ten yet–I’m surprised how much I enjoyed this. Yes, it’s clearly early work, without the level of narrative and metaphoric sophistication King has developed since–but I enjoyed it.

Mostly, I think, that’s due to the documentary-style, after-the-fact structure, where much of the information about the climax is given through excerpts from interviews with the survivors, transcripts of wire reports, newspaper articles, books, and so on. Even given that I knew what was coming, I appreciated the level of foreshadowing, and the effectiveness of the structure as a hook to keep me reading.

And it takes a heck of a hook, because not only are none of the characters likable as people, most of them aren’t particularly interesting as characters, even Carrie herself. Maybe Sue, she’s the most developed of any of Carrie’s initial antagonists, and because she gets the pseudo-redemption arc of guilt over her behavior towards Carrie and her attempt to make it up to the girl. But everyone else is flat at best and stereotypical at worst.

Still, I’m glad I read it.

138 - Crazy Sexy Ghoulish

#138 – Crazy, Sexy, Ghoulish: A Halloween Romance, by G.G. Andrew

A cute novella that might have been a better read if it were longer and more developed.

I liked Nora and Brendan’s chemistry–their text flirting was absolutely top-notch–but the development of their fledgling romance felt rushed because of the short space it had to play out in, and because so much weight was given to Nora’s ex-mean-girl angst and guilt. Not that that doesn’t send a good message, that bullying is wrong; and a side character she picked on as a kid doesn’t forgive her, which is a nice contrast to Brendan deciding to move on.

But I would have liked to see this as a full novel. Maybe a short one, the story wouldn’t need 500 pages, but I feel like it needs more than it got.

The Wake

#139 – The Wake, by Neil Gaiman

If this had ended after the first half, the three issues directly depicting the wake the Endless held for Dream, then I could have given this five stars. But there were three more issues, each a self-contained story: the first followed Gadling, and was marginally amusing; the next followed an old Chinese man in exile from court, and while I was bored by the slow pace of his story, at least it had a great art style; and the final issue concerned Shakespeare and his final play, The Tempest.

Which I have not read. Not the biggest fan of Shakespeare.

So that last issue probably would have felt like a better ending to me if I had at least read The Tempest, and better still if I actually liked it, but I find myself disappointed that a solid, satisfying ending got muddled by three extra stories tacked on to it.

Endless Nights

#140 – The Sandman: Endless Nights, by Neil Gaiman

Seven vignettes, one for each of the Endless, cap off the series with a flourish of varied art styles. The stories were short and touching (or disturbing, when that was more appropriate) and I LOVED THE ART of all of the chapters that departed from the standard comic style. “15 Portraits of Despair” was my favorite, easily, with its blend of inked drawings, photo collage and pasted-on words.

I am now fully recovered from the disappointment of the second half of The Wake.

141 - The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.JPG

#141 – The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, by Stephen King

I’m not even remotely a baseball fan, so this wasn’t for me. I know that’s an odd thing to say about a horror novel, but so much of Trisha’s story involved her hero worship and eventual hallucinations about the (fictionalized) baseball star Tom Gordon–and I simply can’t relate to that. I barely watch any sports, ever, and when I do, I much prefer individual sports (tennis, figure skating, gymnastics, etc.) to team sports.

With that out of the way, it wasn’t by any means a bad book. The more survival-oriented parts I found interesting, though my disconnect from Trisha as a character meant that I didn’t really find the horror bits frightening at all.

Reading Challenge Complete: PopSugar 2017!

  1. A book recommended by a librarian: Throne of Glass
  2. A book that’s been on my TBR list way too long: The Mabinogion Tetralogy
  3. A book of letters: The Martian
  4. An audiobook: A Short History of Nearly Everything
  5. A book by a person of color: The Alchemist
  6. A book with on of the four seasons in the title: The Summer Tree
  7. A book that is a story within a story: Wizard and Glass
  8. A book with multiple authors: Beyond Possession
  9. An espionage thriller: The Girl Who Played With Fire
  10. A book with a cat on the cover: Life of Pi
  11. A book by an author who uses a pseudonym: Rewritten
  12. A bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read: Falcon Saga
  13. A book by or about a person with a disability: The Blind Contessa’s New Machine
  14. A book involving travel: Fangland
  15. A book with a subtitle: Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness
  16. A book published in 2017: A Court of Wings and Ruin
  17. A book involving a mythical creature: The Wandering Fire
  18. A book you’ve read before that never fails to make you smile: The Martian Chronicles
  19. A book about food: The Recipe
  20. A book with career advice: Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer’s Guide to Getting It Right
  21. A book from a nonhuman perspective: Jonathan Livingston Seagull
  22. A steampunk novel: The Iron Duke
  23. A book with a red spine: Rebecca
  24. A book set in the wilderness: The Snow Child
  25. A book you loved as a child: A Wind in the Door
  26. A book by an author from a country I’ve never visited: People of the Book
  27. A book with a title that’s a character’s name: Mr. Cavendish, I Presume
  28. A novel set during wartime: Between Shades of Gray
  29. A book with an unreliable narrator: Alias Grace
  30. A book with pictures: Seveneves
  31. A book where the main character is a different ethnicity from me: Tiny Pretty Things
  32. A book about an interesting woman: Paula
  33. A book set in two different time periods: My Dream of You
  34. A book with a month or day of the week in the title: Tuesdays with Morrie
  35. A book set in a hotel: The Shining
  36. A book written by someone you admire: The Drawing of the Three
  37. A book that’s becoming a movie in 2017: The Gunslinger
  38. A book set around a holiday other than Christmas: Finding Destiny
  39. The first book in a series I haven’t read before: Poison Study
  40. A book I got on a trip: Magic Bites

The Advanced Section:

  1. A book recommended by an author I love: Fantasy Lover
  2. A bestseller from 2016: Lab Girl
  3. A book with a family-member term in the title: The Basket Maker’s Wife
  4. A book that takes place over a character’s life span: The Poisonwood Bible
  5. A book about an immigrant or refugee: Say You’re One of Them
  6. A book from a genre/subgenre I’ve never heard of: Misfits
  7. A book with an eccentric character: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
  8. A book that’s more than 800 pages: Drums of Autumn
  9. A book from a used book sale: Mélusine
  10. A book that’s mentioned in another book: Watership Down
  11. A book about a difficult topic: A Thousand Splendid Suns
  12. A book based on mythology: The Dark Wife

My final list for the 2017 challenge! (If you’re curious about last year’s list, it’s here.)

This year, 14 of these books earned five-star ratings from me–that’s 27%, more than twice the proportion of awesome books as last year. So I guess I’m more confident in my tastes now, even when stretching myself for a reading challenge? A mere six books got the dreaded single star (11%).

I’m eagerly awaiting the 2018 challenge list, because even with my desire to cut back on the reading pressure I’ve put on myself, I still want to do at least one challenge, and PopSugar is so flexible!

This Week, I Read… (2017 #39)

Sunday Tomes and Tea - Say You're One of Them

#129 – Say You’re One of Them, by Uwem Akpan

I wanted to like this book far more than I did, and at times I had to force myself to keep going. As a collection of short stories/novellas, it spans several countries in Africa and follows the lives and troubles of kids in terrible situations. It paints a bleak picture of what life for the poor can be, and is supposed to display “the resilience of children.”

The narrative voice, however, is so devoid of inflection or emotion that the horrors supposed to chill us readers feel distant and flat. I didn’t cry or laugh or feel moved or shaken…I felt bored.

On top of that, the dialogue is nearly unintelligible across all the stories. Depending on where each story is set, the patois spoken might be a mix of English and/or French and whatever local languages are spoken there, few of which are named and none of which I could identify if I weren’t told. (The few that were I’d never heard of, so at least I picked up some extra knowledge of the incredible wealth of languages on the African continent.)

I’m all for using local language/slang to add authentic flavor to a character, but this went far beyond that, to the point where I literally could not understand what the meaning of any given sentence of dialogue was. Far too much non-English was used without any sort of translation or context. It got to the point where I was only reading the English and French words (since I did study French for several years and most of the basics are still there in my head) and tried to interpret the meaning from that. It didn’t always work.

Honestly, if this hadn’t been the final book I needed to read for the PopSugar reading challenge, I would have DNF’d it, but I just did that to the second-to-last book, so I stuck this one out. I shouldn’t have, it wasn’t worth it.

Brief Lives

#130 – Brief Lives, by Neil Gaiman

Can I give this six stars? Ten? Fifty? I was absolutely blown away. Delirium is now my favorite Endless, though Death is still awesome. I was overjoyed to (finally) get so much of the history of their odd family, and so much interaction between them. Knowing what I know now, I look forward to rereading the earlier volumes (someday) and appreciating more of the hints and foreshadowing and family lore.

Especially after the relative disappointment of Fables and Reflections, this is what I needed to get excited again about reading the series. It’s my new favorite volume.

 

131 - Just This Once

#131 – Just This Once, by Rosalind James

A sweet romance about a holiday fling becoming happily ever after–who wouldn’t enjoy that? I give this story the high honor of including the most realistic instance of Heroine Moves Across the World For Her Man–Hannah has to deal with finding a new job, getting her work visa approved, selling off her old stuff and buying new stuff and everything. Deciding to do it is first an internal conflict, and once she has, the process is a drawn-out external one. Utterly believable, unlike some romances I’ve read.

However, our hero Drew is simply too perfect. I can’t find even the tiniest character flaw to pick at, while Hannah has a healthy share of them–so the dynamic between them skews heavily towards her needing to get her shit together while he’s waiting for her to realize he’s the one.

Since I like both parties in a relationship to improve themselves through their romance, that definitely irked me. But as I said for James’ Kincaids series, her writing style is so smooth and readable that it’s still a pleasure even when the story’s not perfect. I picked up the first three books of the Escape to New Zealand series in a bundle for next to nothing, so I’ll at least read the other two–then we’ll see if I buy the rest.

132 - World's End

#132 – World’s End, by Neil Gaiman

World’s End is another collection of short stories of new/side characters, only tangentially related to the Endless themselves. That format was a goodly chunk of what I disliked about Fables and Reflections, but in this case, there’s an actual bit of story tying together the characters’ tales–they’re all stuck in the inn at World’s End, hiding from a reality storm.

And at the end, when I found out what the storm truly was? I teared up a little.

It didn’t stagger me the same way Brief Lives did, but the writing and art were still solid, and it felt far more cohesive than Fables.

The Kindly Ones

#133 – The Kindly Ones, by Neil Gaiman

While I was slightly intimidated by the length of this volume compared to the others (it includes 12 issues, where the other volumes mostly range from 5-8 issues) I spent part of an evening and most of the next day plowing right through, because holy cow, this one’s gripping.

So many characters return from earlier storylines, providing some closure, often in sad or downright heart-wrenching ways. Delirium’s back and still adorable; Lucifer makes an appearance that had me laughing at what he decided to do with himself after forsaking Hell; we even get Rose Walker and Hal and Zelda back, and Larissa the Witch, and so many more. I was truly impressed by how all these disparate plots came together along the themes of loss, revenge, and longing.

And Death is still the coolest older sister in the whole Universe.

134 - Blood of Elves

#134 – Blood of Elves, by Andrzej Sapkowski

My husband adores The Witcher games, so Geralt’s been a part of my life for some time now. I read The Last Wish last year and it was… okay. But it was a collection of short stories–I wanted to see what a novel would look like.

Well, it has a lot less action and a lot more talking heads. Every character, major or minor, has an identical tendency to soliloquize. Paragraphs of dialogue often go on for entire pages, which gets soporifically boring when no one in the whole room is doing anything but listening to some dude talk about politics. No ones sneezes or coughs or even interrupts, just lets whoever say their piece for five minutes.

Not only is it hard on the reader, in what is supposed to be heated political debate (since this book is 90% politics) it’s simply unbelievable.

On top of that, this story doesn’t really go anywhere. When the narrative bothers to focus on her instead of politics, we follow Ciri’s training first with the witchers, then with a magician–but the novel ends on nothing more momentous than her leaving the temple where she’s been living, followed by a dire single-sentence cliffhanger. I mean, I know she’s in danger in a general sense because she’s a former princess in hiding, but whatever is actually threatening her is distant and vague.

I have no desire to continue reading the series to find out what that danger is. Absolutely none.

This Week, I Read… (2017 #38)

124 - A Thousand Splendid Suns

#124 – A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini

A book about a difficult topic? How about several difficult topics, like bastardy, forced marriage, domestic abuse, war, military occupation, murder, and execution?

I put off reading this for a long time because of the dreaded second-novel syndrome–I adored The Kite Runner and I was afraid Suns would be a disappointment. My fears were groundless. If anything, I loved it more–the story is profoundly feminist in its brutally uncompromising portrayal of what an Afghan woman’s life can look like, both at its best and worst.

Despite all the difficult topics, the book isn’t depressing, but beautifully hopeful, even when what’s happening on the page is graphic and horrifying.

I’m so glad now that I have a copy of Hosseini’s third novel, And the Mountains Echoed, waiting for me on my TBR shelf.

125 - Paula

#125 – Paula, by Isabel Allende

If this is what her memoir reads like, I can’t wait to get into Allende’s fiction. (I have a copy of Daughter of Fortune, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.)

Despite the inherent tragedy of reading a work dedicated to and written for a dying daughter, Allende’s incredible gift for absurd metaphor and exaggerated melodrama injects a great deal of humor into the narrative. She’s quite up front that she’s going from memory, not history, almost daring readers to take the time to fact-check her–but I would rather enjoy the roller coaster of family anecdotes and political upheaval that describes and defines who Allende had come to be as she sat at her daughter’s bedside and penned this long, deeply moving letter. Love and devotion come across in every word.

126 - Misfits

#126 – Misfits, by Garrett Leigh

It isn’t that I wasn’t aware menage romance was a thing–I’ve read and reviewed two already–but they were both MMF, whereas this one was MMM. Not a genre that had hit my radar until a friend on Goodreads rated this book and it came up on my feed. I was intrigued.

The premise laid out is that a long-term, committed couple has an open relationship, where from time to time both partners take other lovers. What’s suddenly different is that one of the hookups becomes more.

I loved how Jake, the hookup character, got excellent development not only as the third-wheel-turned-partner, but also as a person looking for a career. I love how un-rushed the timeline of the story was–too many romances take a week or two from start to Happily Ever After, whereas this one took months. I love how Tom and Jake’s attraction was instant and gratifying, where Jake and Cass took a long time to heat up, becoming friends long before they crossed over into lover territory.

What I didn’t love was the last arc of the story. An out-of-left-field external conflict throws a wrench into things and makes the worst of Cass come out, causing what is supposed to be breakup-level tension…but it felt all wrong to me. There were barely any hints of it coming, just a few passing mentions of Cass’ dark past which meant little without more context or development, then WOMP! his past is front and center…in the last 20% of the story. It was an abrupt tonal shift, and I didn’t like it.

CYS 8-7-17 Ebook

#127 – The Basket Maker’s Wife, by Cait London

DNF @ 10% from extreme mental fatigue due to the word “basket(s)” appearing 53 times in the first chapter alone. Yes, I was so frustrated I went back and counted.

Even setting that aside, the writing style was excessively repetitive. The tragic backstory was laid on thicker than a clay face mask, and how often in one day does a person really think about their employer dying? I mean, I know she’s ninety, but is she so incredibly frail you can’t go five minutes without praying she doesn’t drop dead?

128 - Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

#128 – Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, by Dai Sijie

I was completely enchanted by the exploits of the two teenage boys sent into rural China for their “re-education” under Mao’s regime; the narrator’s tone was filled with exuberance and sly humor.

But that was part of this book’s problem for me, as well–for all that dire consequences were mentioned often for every transgression the teens made . . . nothing happened. They stole the forbidden books from Four Eyes, Luo had an illicit affair with the Little Seamstress, and the narrator aided her in obtaining an abortion–and they got away with it.

The specter of prison and torture loses its very real sting if nothing comes of it.

I was also completely bewildered by the sudden jump near the end to three separate POVs–the miller, Luo, then the Seamstress. While each provided a new level of detail about the affair, not one of them told me anything new about the larger plot–it all seemed unnecessary. The transition to the ending, too, is incredibly abrupt, jumping three months forward and telling the highlights in past tense, explaining how both boys were too stupid to realize the Seamstress was going to leave.

So…I really liked the first half, and the second half fell apart for me.