Expand Your Horizons: December TBR

Expand Your Horizons

It’s the final month! If you’ve just joined me recently, I’ve committed to reading one book each, every month in 2018, from Nonfiction, Banned Books, Classics, and #ownvoices.

Here’s my December TBR:

Horizons TBR December

  • Nonfiction: The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen
  • Banned Books: One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez
  • Classics: The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett
  • #ownvoices: The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, by Nadia Hashimi

If you’re curious about the challenge, you can find all the details here, and be sure to use the #horizonsreadingchallenge tag on your social media so everyone can see what you’re reading!

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This Week, I Read… (2018 #46)

160 - The Telling

#160 – The Telling, by Ursula K. Le Guin

  • Read: 11/13/18 – 11/17/18
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

A beautiful story about storytelling as a way of life, a religion, a suppressed cultural tradition.

When I started the book, I was not aware that it was inspired by Taoism and the Chinese oppression and attempted erasure of Tibetan culture. I realized about halfway through; the message is hard to miss.

But before I was hit with the real-world symbolism, I fell in love with the Telling as it’s depicted. A religion that is not a religion in any sense of the word I understand; one that does not hold sacred any kind of deity, one that does not focus on past lives or future reward and punishment, one that reveres stories and knowledge as sacred, in as much as “sacred” is even a concept to its practitioners. While I believe an individual’s spirituality is their own business and would never interfere, I can’t help but feel that organized religion, both now and throughout history, is more often a driving force for turmoil than it is for good; Le Guin seems to share that belief with me, at least in part, because she gives future Terra a deeply tumultuous history with religion, where Unism takes over and bans science on a worldwide level, instituting a theocracy and persecuting all nonbelievers, whether they are “followers” of science, or simply devotees of another religion.

I don’t find this the least bit unbelievable, since America can’t even get its act together after more than 200 years about the separation of church and state. I don’t want religion in my government at all, no matter which religion it is.

On Aka, though, the Corporation controls society, a pro-science and -technology government that has banned not only the Telling, but all of its own culture’s history, as a way of promoting forward progress and not being held back by “superstition” and “useless tradition.” Even basic social niceties went to the chopping block; there’s no more “please” and “thank you” allowed.

Both extremes are bad, and Le Guin doesn’t mince words about it.

This book is definitely about the society more than the characters, an anthropological work that does, in many ways, remind me of the earlier great The Left Hand of Darkness. But that’s where this falls flat, comparatively; TLHoD had compelling characters AND a great society.

If I had been reading a similar story from a few of my other favorite authors, I actually would have expected a romance between Sutty and the Monitor; two people from strikingly different backgrounds coming to love/accept/understand each other. TLHoD did that too, even if it went unrequited. And while I didn’t truly expect that–their interactions of that nature were too brief and too near the end to have adequate time for a romance–the actual ending was something I didn’t expect, though perhaps I should have. That’s why I dinged the fifth star off this; after all the beauty of the story and all of my emotional investment in the world, everything just kind of …ended. Abruptly. And with only a sliver of hope that things would get better.

161 - A Free Life

#161 – A Free Life, by Ha Jin

DNF @ page 101.

This narrative has no subtlety, no room for reader interpretation. Everything is a series of recited events, occasionally with named emotions attached. “This thing happened; then that thing; Nan felt angry about it. Then his wife said something; he wondered why he married her if he didn’t love her. Then he remembered how heartbroken he was over a past lover. Then he remembered he married his wife out of convenience and hope that he could forget his past lover. Then he was angry about his job again.”

I wanted to read this because it was about an immigrant man from China struggling with how to cut ties with his past and his country of origin, how to become American, how to balance pursuit of his interest (writing poetry) with the need to bring in a salary and support his family; all in all, an experience of an immigrant’s American Dream. I thought that would be a valuable story for me to read.

However, Nan is cynical about the Dream most of the time, bent under the realities of earning a paycheck, envious of those around him doing better than he is by exploiting typical capitalist behaviors. And the story is pretty critical of capitalism, which is worth examining; America is not perfect and it is not depicted as such.

But it’s just such a trial to read, because I’m being spoon-fed everything I’m supposed to think. There is no subtlety, no room for reader interpretation; there is only one way, the author’s way, to read this. If that’s somehow a metacritical comment on Chinese government and society, well, sir, bravo; but that makes the book awfully boring to read.

162 - 2001 A Space Odyssey

#162 – 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke

I went into this more than a little worried I wouldn’t like it, compared with the movie, but boy, was I wrong.

Now, reading a fifty-year-old sci-fi novel, science and technology have moved so far beyond what they dreamed possible back then it’s amusing. The first part of the book I found almost quaint in its old-fashioned view of what the future looked like. I don’t hold that against Clarke, and it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book as a whole.

I have seen the movie several times, though it’s been many years since the last time. What struck me as I was finishing this, was that the book did best what the movie did worst, and vice versa. HAL in the movie was disturbingly menacing and dominated the tone of the movie; in the book, I found him far less creepy, and though his actions are still wrong, the insight we gain into his functioning (and his malfunctioning) means I see him now as a victim of mental illness far more than an evil AI gone rogue. And I actually like that better, because that makes this story less about the perils of AI and more about the journey beyond the stars, what the “odyssey” is supposed to be about.

The big plus of the book in my personal book v. movie debate is that the entire ending makes so much more sense. Kubrick’s directorial vision gave us a trippy and memorable epilogue of cosmic weirdness that I never liked. Clarke’s novelization of the screenplay gives me, instead, a clear view of the intent of Bowman’s final journey beyond space-time, beyond human consciousness, and into/beyond the stars. The final epiphany, and Bowman/Star-Child’s status as a protector of Earth, is just so much more moving when I can understand it, you know?

163 - African Nights

#163 – African Nights, by Kuki Gallmann

Boring, clumsily written, and full of exoticism. DNF @ 15%.

These aren’t even stories, they’re hardly vignettes. Two or three pages will focus on one person, spending half a page describing how strange, short, tall, thin, naked, gaunt, or simple they are. Then there will be some brief action and a revelation or epiphany about them, then the story is over.

Gallman makes constant comparisons between her beloved “Africans” and animals. While some of them, strictly speaking, seem to be complimentary, most read as demeaning and racist.

Then there’s the fact that she frequently includes “African” words without explaining their meaning or even identifying which “African” language they’re from. Yes, after looked in the back of the book, there’s a glossary, but who wants to be checking that all the time, interrupting the flow of their reading? It should be there for reference if the reader forgets what a previously-explained word means, not the sole provider of those explanations.

The fact that her experiences in Kenya and the Kenyan people she’s talking about are all disguised as “African” strikes me as an attempt to romanticize and make “mysterious” the whole continent, adding some more of that “exotic” appeal to her narrative, but it’s another sign of racism. She does mention the tribal identity of some individuals, when it’s important to their story, but other than that everything and everyone is just “African.”

Also, Gallman makes reference by name to her family members without identifying them, either, at first; how am I supposed to know who they are? I managed to infer after a few mentions that Paolo was her husband (or at least partner, because I never saw it explicitly mentioned they were married) but I had to wait quite a while before she finally outright said her children were her children. It does’t seem like that knowledge was deliberately obscured for any reason, so why not just say it outright? Because I’m not psychic, I don’t just know the names of her family.

 

NaNo ’18, Progress Report #3

Daily Word Counts:

  • Day 15: 641
  • Day 16: 921
  • Day 17: 1,621
  • Day 18: 295
  • Day 19: 946
  • Day 20: 8,530
  • Day 21: 761

After another spell of bad days, I sat down Tuesday morning to do an “Xtreme Five Hour Word Marathon,” a tradition on the NaNo forums. I didn’t write straight through, you’re still encouraged to take short breaks, but once I set that timer for five hours, I wouldn’t let myself say man, I’ve written a lot today, I can stop early.

That caught me up completely and got me a whole extra day ahead.

I’m still hopeful I can finish and “win” this NaNo, though I admit, even if I’m super excited by this story, life (and my depression) seem to be conspiring against me finding/making time to write, and it feels harder than previous years.

I’m not quitting, though! I will do this!

Down the TBR Hole #12

Down the TBR Hole is a (very) bookish meme, originally created by Lia @ Lost In A Story. She has since combed through all of her TBR (very impressive) and diminished it by quite a bit, but the meme is still open to others! How to participate:

  • Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf
  • Order by Ascending Date Added
  • Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books. Of course if you do this weekly, you start where you left off the last time.
  • Read the synopses of the books
  • Decide: keep it or let it go?

I added so many books to my TBR since last time, because I came across several great recommendation lists, and of course my lovely booklr friends talk about interesting books and make me want to read them. I’m still under 800 on the list, but only barely, so I’m in the mood to cut, cut, cut.

#1 – Love, Chloe, by Alessandra Torre

28103957Pretty sure this came from a “romance authors you should try” list when I added it two years ago.

I’m honestly not sure why, though, because the tale of a New York socialite princess getting her life screwed up and finding love in the process doesn’t sound appealing to me at all now. The glowing reviews kept using the terms “fluffy” and “chick lit” and those are degrading terms to me, not positive ones, because they’re used so often to dismiss the work of female authors.

I know “chick lit” is an actual genre and I don’t want to bash its readers, but it’s just not my thing. This goes.

#2 – Love in Exile, by Ayşe Kulin

28090843

This stays. Pretty sure it came from a “read around the world” rec list; this is by a Turkish author, and I have read nothing about that part of the world by a native author.

Since adding this, I scored another work by Kulin for free from Amazon, Last Train to Istanbul, so if I read that and can’t stand it, I’ll prune this one at that time, but for the moment, I’m totally down for a historical Turkish star-crossed lovers tale.

 

 

#3 – The Magpie Lord, by K.J. Charles

17730586Paranormal historical MM romance mystery.

I’ve seen K.J. Charles on a lot of romance rec lists for MM romance, and while I haven’t read that many compared to my vast stockpile of MF stories, I do enjoy them, when they don’t fetishize gay relationships for the female gaze. (Which is gross and surprisingly common!)

I’m not usually a mystery fan, but I think this has enough going for it that I should give it a try. It can stay.

 

#4 – Tiger Eye, by Marjorie Liu

93479

This came from a rec list about romances with non-wolf shape shifters. Who knew we even needed that list? But we did, because since then I’ve read some shifter novels, and boy, wolves lead the pack. (Har har.)

Looking back at this, though, I can already spot problematic issues just in the synopsis, and I already have so many romances I own to read. It goes. Though I see Liu’s name a lot for her more recent work, and I’ll probably give her a try with another book in the future, this one doesn’t sound like it’s for me.

 

#5 – If You Look for Me, I Am Not Here, by Sarayu Srivatsa

29614680Picked up from another international reads rec list, it’s the story of a boy whose twin sister died at birth, while he survives to be rejected by his mother, who longed for a daughter. That sounds like it could be a powerful story about family relationships.

However, the negative reviews of this are sending up red flags like crazy, especially things that are sore points for me: one-dimensional characters, predictable linear plot, lack of grounding in the setting. I’ll pass, thanks.

 

#6 – Dead to You, by Lisa McMann

11724850A YA mystery about an abducted boy reunited with his family as a teenager. Good hook, undoubtedly why I added it.

Exactly one of my Goodread friends has read it, and she gave it five stars.

However, many reviews, without spoilers, commented on how the very end, just the last few pages, completely frustrated them. Several recommended not reading this unless/until a sequel was released, because the ending was confusing/unsatisfying/a monstrous cliffhanger.

That alone is enough to make me pass on this. Especially because there’s no sign a sequel is even intended.

#7 – Just a Girl, by Ellie Cahill

27876314I am a sucker for rock ‘n’ roll romances, and I’m sure this made it onto my list because for once, it’s the girl in the pair that’s the big star; instead of getting my reader’s wish fulfillment by falling in love with the rock star, I get to be one instead.

I’m sold. For all I know it could be terrible, but I don’t care, because I’m absolute trash for music love stories.

 

 

#8 – When You Dare, by Lori Foster

9758743This can go, not because it sounds bad, but because since adding it to my list I’ve picked up four or maybe even five Lori Foster paperbacks from used book sales. She’s another name I see on romance rec lists often, so when I had the chance to pick some up for pennies, I took it; but there’s no sense keeping a book on the list I don’t own when I can try her other stuff that’s sitting on my shelf.

 

 

 

#9 – Huntress, by Malinda Lo

9415946I see this one on queer YA book lists a lot, and on paper it sounds amazing. But this is another case where, without spoilers, the negative reviews are warning me away from a potentially good story marred by terrible writing: constant POV switching (one reviewer even said mid-sentence,) bad pacing, and the romance plot being weird and unbelieveable.

Earlier this year, I ditched the same author’s Ash, and it seems like Huntress is going to go as well.

 

#10 – The Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton

13508607Historical romance-mystery. Again, I’m not usually a mystery fan, but this is one of those time-spanning stories that I tend to love, following the same person throughout their life and bringing life to vastly different historical periods; I’ll brave a mystery for that.

Especially if there’s romance.

I’m aware it might not be right up my alley, but I’m intrigued, especially because I’m getting an Atonement vibe from it (I love the movie, haven’t read the book yet but I own it and I’m looking forward to it.) It can stay.


As always, if you’ve read any of these and want to share your opinion or campaign for a good book to make it back onto my list, leave a comment and let me know!

This Week, I Read… (2018 #45)

158 - Unmatched

#158 – Unmatched, by Stephanie Kay

Grant and Lexi meet under less than ideal circumstances, realize they have great chemistry, and decide to have a fling. After all, she’s having a hard time finding a Mr. Right to scratch her itch, and he’s only looking for some fun before he transfers to his next assignment in four months.

No problem, right?

Of course they fall in love. And it’s a hell of a fun time while they do–their banter is generally sharp and witty. I have no complaints there; despite the complaints I’m about to share, I did genuinely enjoy this book.

The sex scenes were many and somewhat repetitive. I get that these two are fire in the sheets, but certain obvious phrases popped up over and over, which detracted from them.

What bothers me most, though, is after sitting down to read this in one sitting, I can’t tell you what Lexi’s job is. Grant’s is brought up constantly–as a rescue swimmer for the Coast Guard, that’s key to both the constant “rescuing” he does of Lexi from her bad online-dating-site dates, and to their breakup, because he has to leave for his next posting. But Lexi? I finished the book ten minutes ago, and I could not tell you what she does for a living, which undermines the major conflict. She’s adamant that she won’t move to follow Grant because a) she moved a lot as a kid and hated it; b) she doesn’t want to do the same thing to her daughter; and finally c) she doesn’t want to give up her job and be separated from her friends and family, only to be entirely dependent on Grant without a job of her own or any support system.

I completely get A and B, and I’d even be mostly on board with C–the dependency part–but why doesn’t she think she’ll be able to find a job if she moves? Do they not need [whatever she does] in Florida? Why does that seem insurmountable to her?

Now, I’m not saying the information isn’t there–if I reread, I could probably find someone, somewhere, mentioning what Lexi’s actual employment is; I think she’s even at work in one of the very earliest scenes, but all I remember is that she had to shut down her computer before she left to get her daughter. However, Lexi’s career is nowhere near as present in or important to the narrative as Grant’s, which isn’t a good look for a romance novel, especially when it’s his job that’s the flashpoint for their breakup.

159 - Lisey's Story

#159 – Lisey’s Story, by Stephen King

I tried, I really tried. DNF at almost exactly 50%.

I was bored with it after the first hundred pages, but I thought maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for it, and set it aside to read a few other things. When I picked it back up a few days later, it got more interesting and engaging; I can’t put my finger on why, precisely, but I thought I’d be good to go for the rest of the book.

I was wrong.

For being a book named for its main character and her “story” this work is about everyone but her. It’s about her husband, her dead writer husband, who is depicted in flashback segments as brilliant but almost completely insane; there’s no accounting for taste, of course, but I don’t find him appealing as husband material or even just as a character. The made-up language he shared with Lisey was something that I loved at first–my marriage has its own shorthand, so I got it, even if the particular words they used struck me as irritating and juvenile after the millionth time I read them.

It’s also about Lisey’s sister…sort of? Most of the beginning is concerned with one of her sisters and the vegetative state she falls into after a fresh bout of self-harm. I don’t know how important that ends up being, because structurally it seemed like killing time until the “real” plot finally started, the one where a professor, eager for the deceased writer’s papers, accidentally unleashes a psycho fan on Lisey with no way to stop him.

That plotline sounded interesting. I wanted to see where that went. But when I got there, I was more disgusted than intrigued. After reading the first physical meeting between Lisey and “Zack,” I did not want to continue reading, and gave up after just a few more pages of torturously winding flashback about Christmas shopping.

It was time to stop fighting the boredom with this book that was making me put it down every twenty pages or so to find something else to do.

I had high hopes, based on friends’ recommendations of it, and the fact that I was reading a book by a male author I trust with a female character as the lead; but she’s not even a character really, she’s a frame through which the reader views the portrait of the character King seems to believe really matters, her dead writer husband. It’s not about her at all, and if it is, I should have more evidence of that in the first half of the book and not have to wait so long for the story to prove she’s more than a paper-thin widow whose past far outweighs her present and future.

NaNo ’18, Progress Report #2

Daily Word Counts:

  • Day 8: 407
  • Day 9: 1,878
  • Day 10: 2,933
  • Day 11: 2,233
  • Day 12: 851
  • Day 13: 2,595
  • Day 14: 698

A much better week overall, especially because I finished the last few Fictober18 prompts!

I’m on track for 50K; my cumulative count at Day 14 is 23,498/23,333, so I am just barely ahead.

Still excited about the story, things are definitely moving along. And one of my lovebirds finally confessed! Slow-burn no more! (Kind of.)

This Week, I Read… (2018 #44)

154 - Under the Banner of Heaven

#154 – Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, by Jon Krakauer

This book is obviously well-researched; I’ve never read nonfiction with so many footnotes or such an extensive bibliography. I appreciate that Krakauer made his sources as plain as possible for anyone who wished to check for themselves, because it was clear from the very beginning that this was going to be a controversial book.

What I liked far less was the lack of clear focus. I feel almost as if I were tricked into reading this by the sensationalism of the true-crime aspect; but most of the book is actually the history of Mormonism and the fracturing of its mainstream and fundamentalist versions. I found that valuable, as I didn’t know any of it–I was raised in various Christian (Protestant) faiths through my childhood, LDS was certainly not one of them, and I’ve only ever lived in the Midwest, where the presence of Mormons is minimal.

The problem is, that’s not the book I thought I was going to be reading; and the history was presented with such a high level of detail that it dragged. I understand what a rarity it is to have access to that much detail, how exciting it would be to a bona fide historian–but did it all need to be included for us laymen, when the pace suffered because of it? I would rather have been given a condensed, clear narrative.

In addition, the final chapters moved from nonfiction quickly into a quasi-medical/philosophical debate about whether or not religious belief was an indicator of mental illness, re: the Laffertys’ retrials, ordered on the basis that they were not competent to stand trial originally. While it’s an interesting question (to those it doesn’t mortally offend because of their own religious beliefs), the debate, along with the inclusion of narcissistic personality disorder as a possible explanation for a non-insanity scenario, is not a satisfying conclusion, either to the story as presented, or as a conclusion to the loose hypothesis of the book that the Lafferty brothers committed their murders because of their fundamentalist beliefs. After spending a whole book showing us the history of this “violent faith” I’m dissatisfied with a shrug, I guess we’ll never know ending, even if it’s the truth.

155 - The Lightning Thief

#155 – The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan

It was almost perfect.

I adored the chapter titles and every other bit of snarkiness, sass, and wit. I love that the hero is a “bad” kid, I love that there’s disabled representation, I love the clever ways Riordan modernized classical Greek monsters.

My complaints boil down to three things.

1. (Minor) I dislike the depiction of Hades. It’s entirely possible I’ve been spoiled by so many romanticizations of him (and other versions of Death) over the years, but in my mind, he’s much more complex than the simple evil he is here.

2. (Slightly less minor) The story heavily favors action over emotion. Which is certainly fitting for a quest, but the moments for characters to connect with each other are few and brief. I wouldn’t mind so much, except that at the end, when Percy is betrayed, I didn’t feel much of anything because I didn’t feel he and his betrayer actually had much of a friendship to begin with.

3. (Major) I have deep issues with how Smelly Gabe meets his end. Sally married him to protect Percy; she used him. I understand that motivation, and being in a loveless marriage with a guy like him was a self-inflicted punishment for her actions. Fine, as far as that goes. But using Medusa’s head on him, selling the statue as art, and making a better life for herself off the profits? Listen, I don’t care that we find out he’s an abuser, he’s still a person. Sally married him under false pretenses–if she felt trapped by the marriage, it was a trap of her own design. I’m not excusing Gabe’s behavior, because abuse is never justified, but killing him is a far more extreme corrective action than I expected, and far worse than I think he deserved. Leave him? Absolutely. Kill him? Not a good message to send.

156 - First Night

#156 – First Night, by Lauren Blakely

A quick indulgence in sexy times. Pros: communication, communication, communication. Even though this is a one-night-stand setup, they talk to each other. Cons: Not into Julia’s size-queen attitude; some of that communication I’m praising for its presence is stiff and wooden (puns certainly not intended.)

As a standalone story, it’s thin, but as a teaser for the first book in the series, it does exactly what it’s supposed to do.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00026]

#157 – Night After Night, by Lauren Blakely

It’s rare that I read a romance novel where two characters have such palpable and instant chemistry, so that’s definitely in its favor. I don’t even mind that it ends on a cliffhanger, because I knew going into this that it was part of a series romance (multiple books, same characters) and the relationship couldn’t move too fast. Clay and Julia are just beginning to realize how much they might mean to each other, if they can get this relationship off the ground.

And from a kink point of view, since I’ve read my fair share of BDSM novels, it’s fun to see two switches go at each other. The actual level of kinkiness involved is light, but the talk is plenty dirty, and the two of them bounce back and forth in control easily and believably.

My problem with this is the same as it was with First Night, the teaser novella (which I totally wouldn’t have bothered to download separately if I’d known my edition of this had it at the beginning anyway, making it less of a novella and more of just the first four damn chapters of the book)–I love that Clay and Julia talk to each other so much, and that real emphasis is placed on them getting to know each other outside of bed; but the dialogue is just so stiff sometimes. With the longer run time on this, I managed to figure out why, something I couldn’t pinpoint in the novella: body language is almost completely absent. Unless Clay and Julia are actively engaged in seduction or sex, almost nothing is said about what their body is doing during dialogue, and that makes them both read like ventriloquist dummies at times.

I applaud what this story was trying to do, and I might even read the rest of the series, I’m surprisingly invested. But I do wish it had more polish.