This Week, I Read… (2017 #49)

181 - Caught Up In Us

#181 – Caught Up in Us, by Lauren Blakely

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

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

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

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

182 - Parable of the Sower

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

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

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

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

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

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

183 - The Long War

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

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

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

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

184 - American Vampire

#184 – American Vampire, by Jennifer Armintrout

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

185 - Man Hunting

#185 – Man Hunting, by Jennifer Crusie

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

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

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

This Week, I Read… (2017 #45)

162 - Sacred Hearts

#162 – Sacred Hearts, by Sarah Dunant

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

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

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

163 - Auraria

#163 – Auraria, by Tim Westover

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

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

164 - Trade Me

#164 – Trade Me, by Courtney Milan

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

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

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

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

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

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

165 - Must Love Mistletoe

#165 – Must Love Mistletoe, by Christie Ridgway

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

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

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

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

166 - The Talented Mr. Ripley

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

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

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

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

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

167 - Candide

#167 – Candide, by Voltaire

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

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

Reading Challenge Complete: Mount TBR 2017!


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

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

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

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

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

2017 TBR Jar

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

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

This Week, I Read… (2017 #44)

157 - Christmas with the Billionaire

#157 – Christmas with the Billionaire, by Amy Lamont

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

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

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

158 - Revelation Space

#158 – Revelation Space, by Alastair Reynolds

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

159 - Snowbound with the Biker

#159 – Snowbound with the Biker, by Amy Lamont

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

160 - The Sky is Everywhere

#160 – The Sky is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson

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

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

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

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

161 - Getting Lucky with the Rockstar

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

Things I loved about this novella:

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

Things I didn’t like about this novella:


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


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.


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.

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.

This Week, I Read… (2017 #35)

116 - A Breath of Snow and Ashes

#116 – A Breath of Snow and Ashes, by Diana Gabaldon

An unexpected improvement in quality over the last two books, though it was minor. The sections of this I liked, I enjoyed a great deal–but as always with this series, there were long, boring sections where not much happened.

On the up side, we’re finally at the Revolutionary War, which book #5 felt like it was killing time waiting for. On the down side, I got a serious case of emotional whiplash in the middle of the story–first a young woman from the extended friends-and-neighbors clan surrounding the Frasers managed to get pregnant then cheerfully commit bigamy by having Jamie handfast her to one of a pair of twins, then running right over to Roger before word could reach him and having him (newly a minister) marry her to the other twin. Though the moral atmosphere of the time certainly frowns on having two husbands, I was cheering for her–look at that girl go after what she wants!

The very next subplot, though, dealt with another young woman, Claire’s apprentice/assistant in medicine, also turn up pregnant–but then she’s murdered.

Umm, what? Did I just crack a vertebra trying to follow that plot?

The whole book is like that, though. It goes from one plot point to the next with very little continuity of tone, and little foreshadowing to get a reader ready for the abrupt shifts.

Six books down, two to go. I’m going to make it. I’ve still got three months.

117 - The Martian Chronicles

#117 – The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

I haven’t read this in about twenty years–I first read it in high school and loved it–and I wondered if I would feel differently now, if it would have lost some of its shine.

It hasn’t. I think I love it more.

Knowing more now about story structure, I can appreciate the difficulty of linking such disparate stories into a cohesive narrative, one that tells the story of humankind going to Mars, ruining it as they did Earth, then abandoning it to its desolation when the final war comes to Earth. But that last story, that glimmer of hope…still so moving.

The language is beautiful, even poetic in places, though it has a touch of the absurd that I enjoy so much–asking the reader to simply accept such oddities as the “crystal buns” in a Martian homemaker’s oven, and other descriptive phrases that don’t have a logical, human sense. Plus the silliness and brilliance of the Martians’ absolute lack of reaction to the visitation of the first human expeditions. Even though I knew why, it still cracked me up.

This really is some of the best that classic sci-fi has to offer.

118 - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

#118 – The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, by Stieg Larsson

A disappointing end to the trilogy. I nearly gave up around 150 pages in–I was wading through a seemingly never-ending swamp of political exposition about the bad guys, and it was so tedious. But I did want to find out how it ended.

(I mentioned to a friend I was reading it this week, and she said she loved the first two and lost interest partway through the third. I can see why.)

On top of the sheer boredom of that section, the middle third of the book involves so many different characters investigating/spying on/sabotaging other characters that all reveals lose their punch. What do I care if the bad guys figure out Blomkvist + Co. have been duping them and running counter-surveillance, when I’ve known that for almost a hundred pages? It’s all retreading the same information with different characters again and again.

But still, I stuck with it. Things definitely pick up at the end, when Lisbeth gets to be a hacker again (and a real character too, instead of a vegetable!) Erika’s new job drama also kept me entertained, because though it wasn’t a life-or-death subplot, at least it was different.

This Week, I Read… (2017 #34)

115 - The Girl Who Played With Fire

#115 – The Girl Who Played with Fire, by Stieg Larsson

Considering how much I loved The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I’m surprised I didn’t enjoy this more. I can’t pin down the exact reason why–it might be a lot of small issues instead of a few big ones.

The narrative style is still simple and direct, which made this 700+ page tome a quicker read than its page count would suggest–but since I was familiar with the style this time, the flaws stuck out more. Do I care about all the food Lisbeth buys? Or how many sandwiches Mikael eats? There are so many mundane details clogging the text.

And at times, I felt really uncomfortable with the way both mental illness and non-straight sexualities were discussed by the characters. Yes, some of them were unredeemable assholes for many reasons, so if they’re throwing slurs around I don’t mind so much. But even the “good” characters slipped a fair bit. (Though credit were credit is due, the actual word “bisexual” does appear in the text, in reference to Lisbeth, who clearly is bi based on her in-story relationships, even if she doesn’t call herself that. Her female lover does–close enough for me, because Lisbeth doesn’t seem like the type of person to bother labeling herself, and that’s not the author copping out.)

I guess the ultimate problem for me is pacing. The search for Lisbeth by the police/media/Mikael takes most of the middle of the book, and since we the readers know she didn’t commit the murders she’s accused of, it felt really tedious. Then the actual murderer isn’t revealed by deduction, but by a POV section from his perspective where he thinks about having done it. (We did already meet him before that, so his existence wasn’t a surprise, but I felt the same way reading that passage as I did when a video game character dies off screen, in so-called “box text.” A botched climactic reveal.)

I didn’t hate it, though, and I already  have the third book in the original trilogy, so I’ll keep going. (I already don’t plan to read the extra books in the series written by another author–I just don’t do that, whether it’s the recent-ish continuation of the Dune series, or the Wheel of Time, which I gave up on long before Robert Jordan’s passing and didn’t care when Brandon Sanderson finished it.)

And that’s it for this week, because this took most of the week, and then I picked up the next Outlander book, which clocks in just shy of 1000 pages, so yeah–not finished with it yet.