This Week, I Read… (2019 #19)

58 - Prince of Thorns

#58 – Prince of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence

  • Read: 5/2/19 – 5/3/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (40/100)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

I had to make myself finish this book, just to be sure I could criticize it properly. And unlike my usual write-it-blind method, where I don’t read other reviews first, I did some digging, so I could react to them and really let what I did and did not like about this book crystallize in my mind.

Jorg is a reprehensible person, I have no argument with that. Everyone using the “worse than Joffrey” image isn’t wrong (except I think if Joffrey had been around longer, we would have seen him sink far lower, but that’s a comment on ASoIaF, not this book.) Jorg can’t go five pages without raping a girl (tastefully [ahem] off-page,) knifing a “brother” because the dude pissed him off, pushing someone off a cliff, using a weapon of mass destruction, and so on. If he’s not actively committing a crime or a sin, he’s strongly considering his next one.

Was this off-putting? Oh, absolutely, at first. And there’s my problem. Even if it’s not the author’s intention to condone any of this behavior in writing about an obvious psychopath doing these things, by putting the narrative in first person, we’re living inside Jorg’s head and seeing his reasoning and eventually, maybe, sympathizing with him. By the end of the book, I wasn’t cheering for Jorg exactly, but I did get swept up in the action and read the second half of the book in one long sitting, whereas at the beginning I had to take frequent breaks to deal with my disgust.

I won’t criticize anyone, ever, for indulging in escapist fantasies, and yes, that includes reading/daydreaming about committing atrocities. I’ve thought about killing someone before, especially back in my angry teenage years. It’s an outlet for anger that doesn’t harm anyone, as long as you understand that’s all it is. But I didn’t do it, and Jorg does. And the book makes it seem cool and edgy, and oh look, what a terrible life this kid’s had and here’s how awesome it feels to get revenge.

That, I have a serious problem with.

Moving on from the fundamental issue with “murder, yay!” messaging, there’s still a lot I don’t like.

The frequent pre-chapter character notes about Jorg’s “brothers” were a lazy way to (attempt to) give them depth, usually right before they were killed. One in particular towards the end of the book mentions a name I honestly don’t think had ever been included before, a brother the reader hadn’t been introduced to. (I may be wrong about this, because there are many brothers and they die off like flies. If Young Sim actually was mentioned earlier, he wasn’t significant enough for me to remember.) I can rationalize in my mind that making Jorg’s band of brothers interchangeable and disposable fits his psychopathy, and it does, but it doesn’t make for interesting reading. I wanted the secondary characters to have more personality. Even Makin–I mean, the dude was the head of the royal guard, and he becomes a brigand in order to stay by Jorg’s side. Why is that not given more page time? That’s a great hook! Write a book from his POV while he watches his charge devolve into a monster–how does he deal with that? What would break his loyalty?

Next up: when is this? At first, I thought it was separate-world fantasy. Then classic authors start getting thrown around–Plutarch jumped out and grabbed my neck and smashed my face in the idea that, no, actually, this is our world. Okay, alternate history then? Except eventually we get clues that this is actually a far-future world, post-apocalyptic, and the “castles” the kings occupy are skyscrapers or other modern-world structures. As far as that goes, I’m on board, except that there are very few answers given, the descriptions of those structures are so vague I can’t picture most of them (I had no idea what kind of facility the Great Stair was a part of, though some of its bits were clearly reinforced concrete fitted with a high-security steel door,) and there’s so little done with this concept that I’m afraid it’s just supposed to be cool flavor instead of real world-building.

The revelation near the end, and the ending: oh, so someone messed with Jorg’s mind, setting him up to be able to be like, all that crap I did may or may not have really been me, I was being guided, now I’m not necessarily so horrible going forward. I call bullshit on that. BULL. SHIT. If the protagonist is a psychopath, own it, don’t erase it so he can be less awful in the next book.

And finally: this is 110% male fantasy. The women are beloved but dead (Jorg’s mother,) evil (the crone, Jorg’s step-mother,) objects of desire (Katherine,) or victims (everyone else who is raped, killed, or both.) So whether or not you might be okay with the other problematic content of the book, there’s no way around its inherent sexism.

I can’t recommend this to anyone, because even as a piece of escapist fantasy where it’s okay to want to kill people, it’s just not any good.

59 - The Opposite of Wild

#59 – The Opposite of Wild, by Kylie Gilmore

  • Read: 5/4/19 – 5/5/19
  • Challenge: Challenge: Mount TBR (41/100); The Reading Frenzy’s “Try a Chapter” Mini Challenge
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

This only gets a second star because of Maggie. I know the “grab life by the balls” old lady character is a stereotype, but she is by far the best thing about this book.

Our heroine here I couldn’t stand pretty much from page one. She’s obsessed by her own childhood mistakes (The Humiliation was embarrassing, sure, but does it still deserve capitalization more than ten years later? Grow up, maybe?) The second anything goes wrong in anyone’s life around her, she tries to steamroll over them with solutions, especially her pregnant older sister. I mean, help your sis and the baby, sure, but planning the rest of your life in five minutes around being the kid’s second (and implied, better) mom? This woman is not at all reasonable. Especially later in the book when she acts like her life is ruined because her sister decided not to go along with that plan. Co-parenting in a non-standard family situation is a difficult and thorny topic, and it’s not handled with any realism or delicacy here.

Then there’s our hero. He’s actually not that bad, compared to her. I didn’t like that he uses the recently divorced women of his acquaintance through his job as a source of easy sex, because I think that’s sleazy, but it does fall under consenting adults, and all that. And I don’t think his “falling in love” arc with the heroine is convincing at all–they’re basically falling in lust. And she treats him badly, and he puts up with it for a long time before he does anything about it.

So he’s an idiot and kind of spineless, but he’s still far more mature than she is. Also, his B-plot about reconciling with his alcoholic dad felt completely pointless and tacked on.

I also don’t like the tone of fat-phobia in this. Half of The Humiliation centers on how heavy the heroine was as a teen. Her internal monologues as an adult mostly show that she’s convinced she needs to be thin to be happy, and the hero’s observations of her as an adult the first time they reconnect directly correlate her hotness to her weight, or lack thereof. It’s minor, and there are far worse problems with the plot than this, but it’s worth noting that in Clover Park you apparently can’t be overweight and happy at the same time.

60 - Split Second.JPG

#60 – Split Second, by Kasie West

  • Read: 5/4/19 – 5/6/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (19/48)
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

My expectations were reasonably high for this, and it didn’t disappoint, but it wasn’t better than Pivot Point, either. One of my complaints about the first book was that I didn’t get as much of the Para world as I wanted, and this certainly solved that issue, as Para intrigue is most of the book.

What I’m less thrilled about is splitting the book between Addie and Laila, rather than Addie and other!Addie. I know the latter wouldn’t be possible now, and I like Laila, but her romance with Connor lacked the spark that I got from Addie and Trevor.

Who I’m quite pleased with now that the story’s finished, don’t get me wrong. Trevor continues to be the A+ stand-up guy he was before, and I only like him better now that he’d pitched into the deep end of Para weirdness and swims through it like a champ.

I’m glad I got the ending, but it wasn’t as strong as the opening.

This Week, I Read… (2019 #18)


55 - Their Fractured Light.JPG

#55 – Their Fractured Light, by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

  • Read: 4/23/19 – 4/27/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (18/48)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

I am so full of feels right now.

My mental palate has been blown out so many times by big, sweeping, angsty save-the-world/galaxy/universe stories that it’s amazing to me that this ending feels earned. I care about these six idiots and their three happy love story endings. I’m invested in their ultimate fates. I cried a little. It was glorious.

About this book specifically, I definitely think it’s the strongest of the three, even separated from its being a great ending. Gideon and Sofia are vibrant, believable, and deeply conflicted characters, and I felt the story spun between them was the most deeply realized.

I’m so, so glad I came back to finish this series after letting it idle for over two years!

A Darker Shade final for Irene

#56 – A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab

  • Read: 3/27/19 – 5/2/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (38/100)
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

Good but not amazing. I loved the world-building, I loved the magic, I loved the descriptions of setting and style–I could visualize this story easily, it’s definitely a movie-in-my-head kind of book.

But I wanted stronger characters to fill this world with. Kell and Lila are great at keeping the action moving, but I don’t feel that I ever really got to know them. Both characters get thin back stories that don’t give them much depth because the consequences of their histories aren’t ever really explored; and Lila especially is only one step up from a stock character, “Tough Girl Desperately Wants to Be a Pirate.” Without that depth, even though the stakes were obviously high in the climax, I didn’t feel the sense of connection I needed to be invested fully in those stakes.

57 - Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes

#57 – Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes, by Denise Grover Swank

  • Read: 5/2/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (39/100); The Reading Frenzy’s “Try a Chapter” Mini Challenge
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF after the first three chapters, 15%. Mysteries aren’t generally my thing, but I’ve made exceptions before for romance-mysteries. However, this far into the book, the love interest has barely been introduced, and if I hadn’t bought this book because it was listed as a romance, I would most certainly think it was just a straight-up mystery.

And sadly, not a good one. The grammar is noticeably bad, and I’m honestly not sure if that’s unintentional (the author’s fault) or intentional as a way of making Rose, the narrator, seem stupid or poorly educated, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing in and of itself. However, this is set in the South, and Rose is both sheltered and emotionally abused by her terrible Momma. So piling the dumb hick Southerner stereotype on top of Rose’s situational trauma is just too much for me; if that’s the case, I believe it to be a poor choice. (And if it’s not intentional, it’s just poor writing.)

Oh, and she has visions. Because why not? But there’s nothing else in the story so far to develop this as magical realism, so it feels like a gimmick, and not an interesting one at that.

This Week, I Read… (2019 #17)

53 - The Fairy Tale Bride.jpg

#53 – The Fairy Tale Bride, by Kelly McClymer

  • Read: 4/17/19 – 4/19/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (36/100)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

Not satisfying as a romance, a period piece, or even a fluffy piece of escapism.

Our heroine Miranda definitely qualifies as Too Stupid to Live. She makes some of the worst decisions about her health and safety a woman of her era could make and manages to come through mostly unscathed, though at times there were references to some scandal in her past that didn’t really seem to be talking about the encounter she had in the prologue, because didn’t that get effectively covered up? I was confused. (Not a point in the book’s favor that the plot, weak as it was, could be difficult to follow at times because of apparent inconsistencies.)

Our hero Simon is not quite The Worst, but he’s pretty bad. Since Miranda was such a blithering idiot, Simon continuously felt it necessary to “teach her a lesson,” and those lessons included nearly seducing her, in an early scene that was, in modern-day terms, clearly sexual assault even if he stopped short of deflowering her; later he follows her in disguise, assaults her again in a less sexual way, and robs her of the trinkets she’d intended to pawn. From these incidents and a few other more minor ones, she’s supposed to learn to not be a naive girl and put herself into compromising positions, because what if the next man wouldn’t stop! Gross, gross, gross.

As if that weren’t enough to make me throw my hands up in despair, these two morons never actually fall in love. Simon’s horrible secret prevents him from asking for Miranda’s hand five years ago, but it’s never really established that it’s a love match rather than any other sort of engagement, and we don’t have any time to see them being fond of each other. In the present of the story, they treat each other like garbage and I simply don’t believe their behavior ever equates with love, no matter what their words (or their horny, horny bodies) might say.

54 - Her Fierce Warrior

#54 – Her Fierce Warrior, by Paige Tyler

  • Read: 4/20/19 – 4/23/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (37/100)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

As a military romance, I’m underwhelmed. Everyone in this secret shifter organization doesn’t seem to give a single eff about any sort of rules, up to an including the director of said organization. Yes, okay, I picked this up free and didn’t realize I was starting the series in the middle, but I quickly gathered that Angelo and Minka aren’t the first couple in this series who are breaking the non-fraternization rule.

So it’s not much of a rule at all, is it? Not even a guideline.

And without at least a token nod to military discipline, this was really just a bunch of buff dudes and shifter ladies running amok in poorly done action scenes.

I was prepared to give this a bit of a pass, in terms of plot, because it’s my own fault if I didn’t understand something because I didn’t read the previous entries in the series. But honestly, so much page time was devoted to back story that I didn’t feel lost, but it did detract from the immediacy of the romance and main plot. Also there was a B-plot romance over maybe two or three chapter’s worth of text between two semi-random people as well, who are probably holdovers from another book, or maybe a preview to a future book, but it felt really out of place. How was there room for that too?

I said the action was bad, and it was, but the non-action stuff isn’t much better. I felt talked down to. After a tense scene from Angelo’s perspective, where his observations about Minka learning to control her beast within gave me a solid handle on what she was probably feeling, the next chapter in her POV took its first two pages to rehash the scene and explain, in great detail, exactly how she felt at every point. Which was incredibly frustrating, because I already had that all figured out! Don’t tell me twice! Trust me not to be a complete idiot!

Most of the book felt the same way. I usually do fine with dual-POV in romances, but not when the author uses that structure to repeat herself in case I was too stupid to figure it out the first time.

This Week, I Read… (2019 #16)

51 - The Last Necromancer

#51 – The Last Necromancer, by C.J. Archer

  • Read: 4/11/19 – 4/13/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (34/100)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

Terrible. Maybe even the worst book I’ve finished this year.

Charlie/Charlotte is one of the most inconsistently written heroines I’ve ever encountered, bouncing back and forth from a worldly, tough “boy” from the streets to a shrinking violet who needs constant rescuing from everything and everyone, including her own stupid decisions and her “oh god why is he the love interest” rescuer.

At first Charlie’s cleverness is sort of cute, and I even appreciated early on when I saw her slip out of character, knowing that that would lead to her getting found out. But then it didn’t. She’s surrounded by adults, several of whom are specifically trained to investigate things, yet they all fall for her disguise? Fitzroy even tells her it was perfect, after the fact, when someone else figured it out. Nope, nuh-uh, not buying it. She was screwing up left and right.

Why? Because she was busy trying not to jump into Fitzroy’s pants. Instant attraction is fair, sure, he sounds all tall-dark-handsome and whatever, but she keeps wanting to jump into his pants even after he’s revealed himself to be abusive, manipulative, and downright psychotic. If you hire someone to “scare” a woman, and the guy you hired tries to rape her, guess what, that’s on you for your poor judgment. And when you kill the attacker to stop the rape, that doesn’t make you the good guy, because two wrongs don’t make a right, you unsympathetic lunatic, THE WHOLE SITUATION WAS STILL YOUR FAULT.

Fitzroy is a huge problem even separately from Charlie. In the ministry, Lord Gillingham plays the part of the truly unashamed and unrepentant Worst Man Ever–nothing he ever advocates as a plan of action takes Charlie’s well-being or wishes into account, and at the end, he wants her killed because she’s too dangerous to leave lying around, a weapon for someone else to pick up. So he’s the worst, right? And that’s supposed to make Fitzroy look better, and give him a chance to show how seriously he feels about Charlie’s safety.

But here’s the thing #1–Fitzroy’s not really that much better than Gillingham, he’s just less forthright about how awful he is. And here’s the thing #2–We’ve already got two far more appealing men in the story, Gus and Seth, Fitzroy’s henchman. Yes, they took part in Charlie’s original abduction, so they are by no means “good” guys, but whenever Charlie isn’t remembering to be pissed off at them all about her situation, she’s really friendly to both of them, and they are to her as well. Seth is actually used as a point of jealousy for Fitzroy, because he’s aware Seth has taken a shine to Charlie. (And Gus is ugly, so no one could possibly love him, right?)

I mean, I don’t actually like any of these characters at all, but if offered the same choices, I’d go for Seth in a heartbeat over Mr. Hired Someone To Scare Me Who Tried to Rape Me.

On top of all that, the language was too obviously modern to make me feel like this was really London in 1889; the action writing was clumsy; as piece of Frankenstein fan fiction, I am unimpressed, because it’s the monster that was interesting, not the doctor, so gutting the story to make Dr. Frankenstein into Charlie’s father wasn’t all that true to the spirit of the original work; and as a romance, not only does it glorify abusive behavior, it’s just not good. I didn’t feel any real romantic or sexual tension, it was all angsty and juvenile.

52 - A Natural History of Dragons

#52 – A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan

  • Read: 4/13/19 – 4/17/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (35/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book featuring an extinct or imaginary creature
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

As an avid watcher of nature documentaries, as a one-time potential scholar of biology, as a reader fascinated by the history of science and the progression of “natural history,” it only took the first fifty pages of this story to convince me it was written specifically for me. It wasn’t, of course, but so strong was my interest in it, my connection to it, that I loved it instantly.

Isabella’s dry wit and elderly impatience for propriety and formality were a lovely bonus on top of that.

My romance-loving heart was appeased by the inclusion of a well-characterized marriage, though I appreciate how “romance” wasn’t the point, and how framing the story as a memoir allows Brennan to skip the boring/tedious parts of both Isabella’s courtship and later on, larger swathes of time when nothing important to the story was happening. Most stories use time skips of some kind (and those that don’t, I usually wish did,) but I always have an eye out for when any storytelling technique, no matter how common, is used exceptionally well.

This Week, I Read… (2019 #15)

48 - This Shattered World

#48 – This Shattered World, by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

  • Read: 4/3/19 – 4/9/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (16/48); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book by two female authors
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

The good: Damn, that’s some USDA Prime anguished romantic tension. The story is stuffed full of reasons to get weepy from start to finish, and the stakes are always high and always feel real. This only took me six days to read because I suddenly have no free time, not because it’s ever slow, plodding, or dull. It’s not.

The meh: It’s been long enough (over two years) since I read the first in the series that I didn’t even connect what was happening here to the events in #1 until Tarver showed up. Even then, it never snapped together for me.

The bad: Those short dream sequences between every chapter made no sense for most of the story, and when I finally did get context for them, I was still annoyed by how they interrupted the pacing. I don’t think it was a useful stylistic choice to make them so frequent and so choppy.

Overall? I enjoyed it, though like at the end of the first book, I wish the world-building had a bit more depth. I plan to read the final book sooner than two and a half years from now, at least.

49 - 5 to 1

#49 – 5 to 1, by Holly Bodger

  • Read: 4/9/19 – 4/10/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (17/48)
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

Shallow and gimmicky. Sudasa’s POV being written in free verse didn’t do anything to enhance my understanding of her. Okay, so she likes poetry and that’s important to the story in the end (sort of) but I don’t think it justifies the loss of everything present in Contestant Five’s POV chapters. He felt much more real simply due to the extra time and word count spent on him–Sudasa felt like a prop.

When so much of the actual plot relies on her NOT being a prop in this elaborate marriage ritual in a strange dystopian society, she needs to be an actual character, and I never thought she was.

Another consequence of more than half the page count of the story being in verse was that this was a fast read, and not in a good way. I spent just under three hours reading this, and an idea this (potentially) complex, this rich with interesting moral quandaries to navigate, simply doesn’t have space here to be fully developed.

50 - The Lacuna

#50 – The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver

  • Read: 4/10/19 – 4/11/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (33/100)
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

DNF @ page 77. It had to happen eventually, that I truly wouldn’t enjoy (or even finish) a Kingsolver novel, even though I’ve had good things to say about most of her other work.

However, I simply couldn’t get into this one. There’s a distance involved with being detached from a narrator who is already almost completely detached from his own life–Will, “the boy,” is so uninteresting as to be almost entirely non-existent. Lots of interesting things happen around him, and as always, I love and appreciate the quality of Kingsolver’s detail- and nature-oriented prose; the schools of fish, the secret tunnel, the screaming monkeys. (That’s the extra star on this rating–even if it’s a DNF, it’s still got some gorgeous language and imagery.)

But as soon as Will was relocated to Mexico City and all that nature fell away, I lost interest. His struggle between finding jobs or remaining in school, his conniving mother’s demands…I just didn’t care. I had no connection to him. I also had very little idea, even more than ten percent in, where the plot was headed, at least beyond following this bland protagonist through his life. In some cases, that would be enough, but I wasn’t looking forward to it here.

This Week, I Read… (2019 #14)


46 - MaddAddam.JPG

#46 – MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood

  • Read: 3/25/19 – 3/31/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (31/100)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

I can’t tell if my reading comprehension is going up for this complicated and cerebral series, or they’re actually getting better. I enjoyed The Year of the Flood substantially more than Oryx and Crake, and while this isn’t as huge a leap forward in terms of (perceived) quality, I still think it’s an improvement. Especially with Toby’s evening story time with the Crakers replacing Adam’s Gardener sermons–it’s not that his preachings were dull or uninteresting, but I like Toby’s tone, and her tendency to veer into asides, so much more.

This conclusion to the series is so strong, so well-crafted in explaining and tying up loose ends from both previous books, that I’m honestly wondering if I didn’t appreciate Oryx enough at the time. Was it just too far outside my comfort zone? Now that I’ve followed the unusual narrative structure through three books, it’s not so intimidating. I guess I’ll find out eventually, because I do plan to reread these. Someday.

47 - On the Edge

#47 – On the Edge, by Ilona Andrews

  • Read: 4/1/19 – 4/2/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (32/100)
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

As I’m totally in love with Andrews’ Kate Daniels series, when I saw this at a used book sale, I snapped it up without even reading the blurb.

At first, I felt like Rose was too similar to Kate, because one hard-headed and physically capable woman can seem much like another, from the outside. But as I got to know her, Rose turned out to be quite distinct, with different motivations, different attitudes, and certainly different goals.

If they both love their family to the detriment of their own well-being, I think that’s a forgivable similarity.

As for the world of the Edge, it was vibrant and unusual from the start, yet still grounded enough in our “Broken” reality that I had a foothold ready to stand on while I learned about it. Given the way the book ends, I’m looking forward to learning more about the Weird as well, though disappointed to see that the rest of the series doesn’t follow Rose and Declan as protagonists throughout. I’m sure I’ll fall in love with the upcoming heroes and heroines too, but I really want to know what happens to Rose!


This Week, I Read… (2019 #13)

45 - A Great and Terrible Beauty

#45 – A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray

  • Read: 3/22/19 – 3/25/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (15/48)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

I’m really confused about what the point of this book is.

Are these girls supposed to be defying Victorian-era norms or not? Is it wrong to reach for power (mystical or otherwise) when your society expects you to shut up and be pretty, or is it admirable?

Because none of these girls gets a happy ending, and part of me is fine with that, because they’re all unabashedly horrible people. Even meek, attention-seeking Ann does her share of underhanded things. I don’t like any of them. I wouldn’t want to be friends with any of them. I didn’t enjoy reading about any of them, either–I don’t think it’s a crime for a female character to be unlikable, personality-wise, but she has to at least be interesting. And these girls weren’t. Their pettiness and backbiting and scheming wasn’t anything fresh or original.

I loved the movie Heathers and its cadre of mean girls (I’m old enough that I haven’t actually seen Mean Girls, it’s always going to be Heathers for me) but at least that movie was funny. Nothing about this book is funny. I never once laughed.

The story is also a mess of utterly obvious racial stereotypes and fetishization, fat-shaming, mild lesbophobia, shallow treatment of self-harm, and even shallower treatment of chronic illness. One could make the argument that most or all of these things are accurate to the time period and social standing of the characters, and in most cases, I’d even agree. But since this isn’t Victorian England anymore, maybe authors could stop writing about these things as if they’re normal and acceptable? Because they shouldn’t be, and it’s a bad message for YA novels to say that they are.

It’s short, this week, since my vacation started on Wednesday. Whatever I finish while I’m away will show up in next week’s post.

This Week, I Read… (2019 #12)

41 - Just for Your

#41 – Just for You, by Rosalind James

  • Read: 3/15/19 – 3/16/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (27/100)
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

Coming back to this after having read the first three full-length novels in the series, I found this to be bland. In the small space allowed, neither Reka nor Hemi really has a chance to develop much personality beyond the gently sarcastic tone that is apparently the way all Maori characters speak in James’ novels. Reka sounded exactly like all her sisters, and pretty much the entire rest of her family. Hemi did a decent job apologizing for his boorish behavior in the past, but eager-puppy-hounding-the-heroine isn’t much of a personality, and if that’s all he is, it’s not exactly a strong argument in his favor.

Honestly, I like these two much better as the happily married couple who shows up from time to time in the series. I didn’t need this back story, because it’s just not very interesting.

42 - Free Me

#42 – Free Me, by Laurelin Paige

  • Read: 3/16/19 – 3/17/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (28/100)
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

There were a lot of things about this that I feel like I should have hated, and yet, I found it surprisingly difficult to stop reading.

Ice-queen, emotionally shut-down heroine. Arrogant, too-sexy-for-his-own-good hero. An arrangement to have weekly sexcapades with no dating, no bonding, no falling in love.

These aren’t my tropes. I should hate this book. Or at least dislike it strongly.

But every time these two commitment-phobic lunatics opened their mouths to speak to each other, I heard rational conversation. They fought, sure, they argued all the time, but it was practical, it was realistic, it was natural. Those were the conversations and arguments I felt like I would be having in their place, if I found myself in their bizarre situation. Even though the premise was contrived as hell, once it got going, I bought it. These characters sold it to me.

Gwen did things against her better judgment, but she did them knowingly, aware of potential consequences, which saved her from Too Stupid to Live syndrome. I warmed up to her quickly and still liked her at the end–especially because of her final decision re: the cliffhanger. I want to read the next book so I can see her happy ending, because it’s fantastic to see a woman stand her ground and know what’s best for herself.

JC, on the other hand, came off as a swanky-smooth and untrustworthy playboy at first, a desirable sex god in the middle, and a complete mess at the end. I’m not attached to him at all, he’s definitely the worst part of the book for me–even in his “falling in love” phase, when he was cute more than sexy, I was on edge because I knew his secret had to be devastating, whatever it was. And now that I know what it is, I’m not entirely sure I buy his motivation for starting this whole thing with Gwen in the first place. His life would have been infinitely easier if he’d stuck to being a bed-hopping playboy, and putting Gwen in the position he did at the end is a really, really shitty thing to do. So he’s the reason I kind of don’t want to read the next book.

Still, I probably will at some point. I devoured this in less than a day, and I do want to find out how it ends. Who knows, maybe JC grows up some more in the conclusion. Maybe I’ll like him better then.

43 - The Raging Quiet

#43 – The Raging Quiet, by Sherryl Jordan

  • Read: 3/17/19 – 3/19/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (29/100)
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

I enjoyed this book immensely, but a few days later, writing this review, I feel that maybe something was lacking.

I’m glad I came across this as a lost/potential YA classic. It has a good message, simply delivered. But I think that very simplicity works against it for an adult reader like myself. It lacks depth and subtlety–people are good, or they are bad. Marnie and Raven are the only two characters allowed to be a little of both, with Marnie’s stubbornness leading her to sometimes poor decisions, and Raven’s frustration at his inability to communicate leading him to lash out violently.

I was also vaguely disturbed by how quickly Marnie manages to “tame” Raven. Someone who has lived half-feral all his life, with no real socialization, doesn’t strike me as likely to turn into a fine young man in only a few months. This isn’t to say Raven isn’t or couldn’t be intelligent, teachable, and hungry to learn, all of which he’s shown to be. But Marnie remarks on his wildness, and how she doesn’t want him to lose that entirely; but he almost does, and in an unbelievably short amount of time. (This perception of mine might be exacerbated by how quickly I read the book, I admit.)

I enjoyed it, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I’d been lucky enough to get to read it when I was the target age group; I don’t think it’s quite as strong a story for adults.

44 - Ride

#44 – Ride, by Daphne Loveling

  • Read: 3/19/19 – 3/20/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (30/100)
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

No one’s setting my heart on fire here.

While I’m not familiar with MC romances yet (I think I’ve only read one other,) this hardly qualifies. The hero is a club member but spends almost no time at the club, almost no time on his bike due to the injury that starts the plot, and very little time thinking about his club duties other than that he’ll give up his position if he can’t ride a bike anymore.

All his MC identity does is give him that hint of bad-boy flavor, which doesn’t even affect the plot that much–the heroine’s ex-husband is prejudiced against the hero because of his look, but the sweet old neighbor lady thinks he’s a fine young man regardless.

And he mostly is. I have a personal dislike for his name, Trig, because to me that’s always going to be shorthand for the school subject trigonometry, and that’s not an association I want in my romance reading. But that’s not the character’s fault, and he’s generally an okay guy.

But that’s the thing–he’s just okay, to the point where every other man in the novel (all two of them) have to be flagrant examples of the worst that adult maleness has to offer, just to make him look good. The heroine’s ex is a serious piece of work in an abusive, gas-lighting way, which I found believable, but the guy she goes on one date with at the beginning of the novel is so, so, so awful that he comes across as completely fake. I don’t believe that anyone says the things he says, or if they do, that someone hasn’t poisoned their Cheerios yet. It’s ridiculous.

My other major problem is that the conflict is thin and mostly one-sided. The heroine is hung up on a lie she believed in high school that prevented her and the hero from getting together. First, I can’t believe it took ten years for someone to point out to her that the third party involved might not have been trustworthy, and second, why couldn’t she realize that herself? Is she really that dumb? But even so, the narrative spends a lot of time on it, building up its importance while simultaneously having the heroine waffle about whether or not it actually is important, whether or not she should just let it go.

Trig, meanwhile, has no clue about any of this. His conflict amounts to “should I bang my physical therapist or not?”

The other brief, underdeveloped point of conflict is the ex-husband, who shows up in a blaze of anger at the last second to undermine the budding romance with threats. Trig threatens him back, and in the process promises to terminate the child-support arrangement WITHOUT THE HEROINE’S KNOWLEDGE OR CONSENT. Given how she’d already reacted to Trig answering her phone once, I expected her to go ballistic. Maybe even nuclear. But she didn’t! She was completely okay with Trig instigating a change in her legal relationship regarding her husband and his money! Without her knowledge or consent! HOW IS THIS OKAY WITH HER OR ME OR ANYONE.

But, like I said, Trig’s just okay, he only looks halfway decent as a man compared to the awful dumpster fires the author offers as alternatives.

This Week, I Read… (2019 #11)

39 - The Talisman

#39 – The Talisman, by Stephen King & Peter Straub

  • Read: 3/6/19 – 3/10/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (26/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book written by a musician (fiction or nonfiction)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF @ page 160.

After being abruptly relocated cross-country by his family, a white boy meets a black man who cares for a property, who both knows about and shares the boy’s particular type of magic irregularity, and who drops cryptic hints about the boy’s future.

Sound familiar? It’s The Talisman, sure. But it’s also The Shining. Speedy Parker is Dick Halloran, only less interesting.

In this slow-paced, bloated fantasy, it takes longer than 10% of the book for little Jack Sawyer to refuse the call of his Hero’s Journey. When he finally accepts it, the magical land he’s transported to is so bland and generic, so every-feudal-fantasy-world-ever, that I simply didn’t care. He’s got to travel it (and the real world) looking for the Talisman, only he doesn’t know for sure what it looks like, he doesn’t know how it will help him save his mother (save the world,) and the only reason he even knows it’s his quest is because Magical Black Man (a trope I wish Stephen King weren’t so fond of) said so.

Speaking of King, his fingerprints are all over this, so clearly the seams are showing where his other works are stitched together to make this one–yes, even just in the first 160 pages I got through. I’ve never read any of Straub’s work, but I don’t detect a second author in this at all; if you’d handed this to me without a cover and told me it was just Stephen King, I’d believe you. Which is disappointing.

40 - Jane, Unlimited

#40 – Jane, Unlimited, by Kristin Cashore

  • Read: 3/12/19 – 3/15/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (14/48); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A choose-your-own-adventure book
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

Really weird book.

First, as a blanket statement, I’m glad to see Cashore has continued to be inclusive of queerness, even if no one is ever given a label. I’d like to see that more in YA that isn’t specifically meant to be LGBT-focused.

Second, having grown up being told by nearly every adult in my life that creative pursuits can’t make a living and that I needed to do something practical, I deeply appreciate how supportive everyone is of Jane’s artistic talent, and how central art and the love of art are to the novel.

Now, on to the story. I love Jane. She’s intelligent and artsy and precariously balanced between fear and forwardness. A book with a structure this bizarre needed a strong protagonist to pull everything together, and that’s what we got.

But I don’t always love Jane, because in the two timelines were there’s no semblance of a happy ending, the person she becomes through her choices is noticeably less likable. There’s a point to that–Cashore highlights that possibility of alternate versions of “yourself” being terrible both through internal monologue and through making one alternate Ravi just be wretchedly awful.

As I read the first two endings, I was seeing the shape of a story where, through witnessing the consequences of Jane’s different decisions, we gradually solved all the mysteries of the house laid out in the opening. And that’s true. However, the sheer normality of those first two endings did nothing to prepare me for the sudden divergences into magical realism in #3 and sci-fi in #4 and #5. Honestly? Didn’t like them as much, even though I can see that the final ending is certainly the happiest.

It’s an interesting structure that requires a lot of craft, but in the end, I’m not sure how well it works. Having five different endings to a single beginning means none of the timelines can be developed into a full novel-length story. Okay, Cashore attempts to get around that by placing them in an order that mimics the rise and fall of a more typical story line, where the first two endings provide some closure but not nearly enough, the third and fourth are unsatisfactory to echo the increasing struggle before the climax, and the final ending is supposed to pay off everything. And she also weaves most of the same plot threads through all of them, acknowledging that all of these are happening in the same time frame by having key moments repeat in each one, if at all possible, from Jane’s perspective.

But as each miniature story gets weirder and weirder, those early plot threads feel like irritating remnants. How many times do we need to see Jane discover the location of the missing Vermeer from ending #1? She always tells herself that she’s going to let Mrs. Vanders know, but we the reader don’t see that happen, so in (most of) those other timelines I’m left to assume the painting continues to go missing, which leaves that bit of mystery unsatisfied. Not that Jane doesn’t have much larger things to worry about in those other timelines, but I began to wish we didn’t have to take time out from the weirdness to flag that, yes, Jane is incidentally “solving” the earlier mysteries as well.

I can see why readers have come to this from Cashore’s fabulous earlier work and left bewildered or disappointed–this is definitely far more experimental. And I’m definitely not saying authors shouldn’t try new things, engage in genre-bending, or follow their muses. But this is very, very weird, more than a little challenging, and definitely not for everyone.


This Week, I Read… (2019 #10)

35 - The Night Tiger

#35 – The Night Tiger, by Yangsze Choo

  • Read: 2/28/19 – 3/2/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (12/48); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book that’s published in 2019
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

I was completely enthralled by this novel.

It’s a mystery. It’s a love story. It’s a coming-of-age tale. It touches lightly on racism and colonial troubles, more heavily on domestic abuse and the societal limitations of being a woman. There are ghosts and myths and superstitions and murders.

The premise is weird, even outlandish, I won’t deny that. But once I got started, once I accepted that premise at face value, everything made sense. Everything flowed naturally, and I had no trouble keeping track of all the threads being woven through the story. I was sometimes surprised by never confused by a turn of events, and with a novel packing so much into a reasonably normal length, I feel that’s worth noting.

As for the somewhat taboo romantic subplot, I was gratefully surprised to find it at all–the blurb doesn’t really hint at it, and I love love–and I felt the subject was handled with more delicacy than I’ve ever found in any romance novel written to cater to that exact taboo, where the entire point is the forbidden aspect of the pairing. Are some people going to hate this part of the book? Probably. But to me, it wasn’t offensive, and it felt integral to the story, rather than shoehorned in to give the book some raciness.

36 - Magic Binds

#36 – Magic Binds, by Ilona Andrews

  • Read: 3/2/19 – 3/3/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (24/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book inspired by mythology, legend, or folklore
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

Since anyone who’s hung in for eight books already probably isn’t going to suddenly hate the ninth, I’ll spare myself the trouble of evangelizing this series and just squee over my favorite bits.

  • Christopher is now heart-breaking and I loved every second of it.
  • Slavic dragon? Awesome. A pegasus named Sugar? Also awesome. Plaguewalkers? Cool but in an entirely gross way.
  • Grateful for the brief (and not condescending) reminders of who side characters are when it’s been a while since we’ve seen them. I’d honestly forgotten about Jezebel.
  • Curran getting bigger and buffer and scarier for plot reasons? Sign me up! Lions forever!
  • PRINCESS KATE QUEEN KATE I’m glad we’re finally getting more history about Roland and the family dynasty.
  • Ascanio’s sass at the wedding. That boy. Such a smart-ass.

So, yeah, loved it from start to finish.

37 - Wild Seed

#37 – Wild Seed, by Octavia E. Butler

  • Read: 3/3/19 – 3/2/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (13/48)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF @ page 88. I’m really confused as to what other people see in this, because all I found was a morally repulsive man with no redeeming qualities and the doormat woman who let herself be manipulated by him. There’s no gray area in the gender roles here: men are evil in every possible way, women are always good. Neither can be the other.

I’m a feminist, but I’m not a misandrist. I don’t hate men, and I don’t want to read about men that are nothing but hateable. Doro is the worst, but not in any interesting way, he just wants to breed a race of super-beings and never talks about anything but a) his amazing or disappointing children, and b) how he can get more of them so maybe some of them will turn out better. Which is by breeding Anwanyu, the doormat woman. He intends to father children on her himself, and maybe somewhere down the line, from one or more of his better-quality sons.

Um, gross? Eugenics is wrong no matter who does it. If that’s his motivation as a villain, fine, but then shouldn’t he be characterized as an antagonist, and not Anwanyu’s new husband? She just goes along with whatever he wants, even if she balks internally. Doro should not be one of the protagonists, and he should not be the sole focus of every one of Anwanyu’s thoughts and decisions. The book is like a shrine to him, the worst possible man ever to have ever been created, who possesses no empathy, who doesn’t hesitate to kill anyone including his family, who uses and abuses people solely for his own ends.

I lost patience when Doro proselytizes on why his slave ship is better than everyone else’s, how his slaves aren’t mistreated like the ones going over to America for sale. It sounded dangerously close in tone to how the historical slavery narrative was taught to me as a child, how everything was softened and distorted to sound “not so bad,” to hide the truth and attempt to erase history.

Doro, you’re still buying people, shipping them across the ocean, and planning to breed them for super-children. Your slavery might seem gentler on the surface but is not any less wrong than the real thing.

The blurb definitely painted this as some sort of epic, love-hate struggle across the ages, but I don’t buy it. There’s no struggle! Anwanyu doesn’t do anything but “nurture” and “heal” and let Doro have sex with her. Every time she considers fighting back, she just doesn’t, and that’s boring and stupid.

38 - The Girl in Between

#38 – The Girl In Between, by Laekan Zea Kemp

  • Read: 3/5/19 – 3/6/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (25/100)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF @ 23%. Where do I even start?

First, if the main character has a disease or other medical issue so serious that it affects every aspect of their life, and therefore the story, I would hope the name of the condition would be spelled correctly. I’d never heard of KLS before picking up this book, and I’ll admit, it sounded so “out there” that I looked it up to find out if it was real. It is. But it’s constantly spelled wrong throughout the text. I Googled “Klein-Levin Syndrome” only to discover it’s actually Kleine-Levin Syndrome. I wouldn’t take a book seriously if its main character was afflicted with AID or neumonia…just because I didn’t know the name of this condition before doesn’t mean the author should get away with getting it wrong.

I finally lost patience with the book when another medical error showed up: “What she lacked in precision she made up for in southern charm but it still wasn’t enough to coax one of my arteries to the surface.” If your nurse is trying to draw blood from an artery, she’s doing it wrong. Words have specific meanings. Artery and vein and blood vessel are not interchangeable terms.

This particular sentence also displays one of the two major grammatical failings that appeared constantly. That sentence lacks clarifying commas and is just trying to do too much at once. It’s far from the worst offender, but I’d put a comma after “precision” and “charm” if I kept the sentence that length. Were I the editor, though, I’d split the whole thing into two sentences. And fix the “artery” goof.

The other consistent problem was sentences with dangling clauses tacked on with no regard for their antecedents. There’s pronoun confusion a-plenty, one sentence where I swear the “it” meant three different things the three times it was used, but this problem seemed especially egregious whenever scenery was being described: “I looked down the beach to where the water seemed to disappear behind the tree line, and then just past the next sand dune, the beach giving way to tall grass and a narrow dirt road that spilled into a bright blue sky.”

I’m fine up until the first comma. Beach, water, water disappears at the tree line, makes perfect sense. But “and then just past…”? There’s no verb there. No subject. Is the narrator looking past the next sand dune? Does the tree line extend to the next sand dune? And what “next” sand dune when it’s the only one mentioned? Doesn’t there have to be a first sand dune in order for there to be a “next” one? Why on earth are seven different landscape features all a part of a single sentence? (1. Beach, 2. Water, 3. Trees, 4. Dunes, 5. Tall Grass, 6. Dirt Road, 7. Sky. In case you didn’t want to count yourself.) So, again, one sentence trying to do far too much at once.

And both of these issues are truly constant, to the point where I’d have to reread at least one sentence out of three to make sense of it. Some of them, I’m still not sure what the author intended to convey, and that’s a serious problem.

Okay, so I haven’t even touched the story yet. Because I’m 23% of the way into the book and there really isn’t much of one. Girl has KLS. Girl has issues with school and personal relationships because of it. Mysterious boy shows up in her “dreams” that she shouldn’t even be having, medically speaking. That’s as far as the plot has progressed in the first quarter of the book–but keep in mind, the boy shows up in the very first chapter, so the only progression of that storyline is that the girl and boy meet and talk to each other during one of her episodes. In the “real” world it’s all treading water, going to the doctor repeatedly, having episodes repeatedly, being miserable all the time, oh, and getting partially mauled in a closet at a party by her (maybe)(ex-)boyfriend.

I’m not hooked. I’m not even interested, because nothing about the story is engaging enough to make me want to wade through the constantly atrocious grammar.