#178 – Homeland and Other Stories, by Barbara Kingsolver
- Read: 12/21/18 – 12/22/18
- Challenge: Mount TBR (154/150)
- Rating: 3/5 stars
As usual for short story collections, some spoke to me much more loudly than others, and in this case, I disliked a few. But what stood out to me most was that I felt every story–even the ones I otherwise liked–ended in the wrong place. An odd, unfinished place. And yes, I know they’re short stories, they’re glimpses of an event or a short span of someone’s life, not an entire plot; but I still came away from each story feeling that I lacked any resolution. Across the board, I felt unsatisfied.
Yet I’m still in love with Kingsolver’s constant inclusion of nature, her beautiful turns of phrase. I can admire this for the language and the strength of her imagery, but also be disappointed that her style of short story doesn’t feel as complete or accessible to me as other authors’. I’m glad I read it, but I have a feeling that none of the stories will be sticking with me.
#179 – Last of the Wilds, by Trudi Canavan
- Read: 12/22/18
- Challenge: Mount TBR (155/150)
- Rating: 1/5 stars
DNF @ page 90. I gave this more than 10% before I gave up, because I wanted to at least rotate once fully between ALL THE MANY POVs. Like the first book, there are just too many, and it makes the narrative too choppy.
Basically the only thing I do like about the book is the inclusion of a new POV character, Reivan, one of the Pentadrian army. Through her I got the first glimpses of the enemy and their society, which honestly seemed to be as rigid, theocratic, and harmful as the Circlians, aka the “good” guys. Part of me was hoping for some kind of subversion, that the Pentadrians were going to turn out to be the winners/heroes/good guys after all, but if this epic fantasy trilogy is about two theocracies dueling it out to see which one is better, well, you’re both idiots, and I don’t care who wins. I’m out. For good.
#180 – Friends with Partial Benefits, by Luke Young
- Read: 12/22/18
- Challenge: Mount TBR (156/150)
- Rating: 1/5 stars
DNF @ 50%. I kept waiting for it to get funny, like all these reviews are saying it is, but it’s just crude, sleazy, and unrealistic.
In the first half of the book, I encountered a whole host of story issues: mild lesbophobia, the perpetuation of demeaning stereotypes about middle-aged women, the constant reiteration that these middle-aged woman can only be sexy/sexual if they look significantly younger than their actual age, completely unbelievable dialogue, predatory sexual behavior including numerous peeping-tom events by both the male and female characters, and constant derogatory comments about the romance-writer-character’s career, both by her and others.
Yeah, this is a “romance” written by a man, and it shows, because apparently it’s okay for the author to make a career writing “romance” but when his female character does it, she’s mocked for it. (On top of that, the excerpts of her writing that appear in the narrative are just awful, right down to more typos and grammatical errors appearing there than in the rest of the work. Though there are plenty of those, too. Did this have an editor?)
You know what I didn’t get from the first half of the book? Any emotional attachment to the characters, or any emotional development on the part of the characters. These are cardboard cutouts moving around a fancy mansion and trying to have sex with each other. Because this book isn’t about romance, it’s about sex. All the characters are constantly talking about it, a few of the characters are actually having it (though almost entirely off the page, so far,) and it’s the only thing any of them seem to care about.
All that being said, I still can’t even call it “erotica” instead, because it’s not erotic. It’s wooden, clunky, and boring. And honestly, there’s not enough actual sex in it for a good erotica (at least in the first half, but I’m not sticking around to find out who hops into bed later.)
#181 – The Bone Season, by Samantha Shannon
- Read: 12/22/18 – 12/23/18
- Challenge: Mount TBR (157/150)
- Rating: 1/5 stars
DNF @ page 135. I just can’t anymore. It’s so bad.
I didn’t hear about the problematic elements of this story until long after I’d picked up a secondhand copy for pennies. If I’d been paying closer attention to the drama the book was causing on Tumblr at the time, I would have ditched it unread. But I didn’t–an oversight on my part.
So there I am, trying to clear out some older books from my TBR and my shelves, and I pick this up, completely forgetting it’s (allegedly) a flaming pile of racism and gross slavery romance. I didn’t even remember that until more than 100 pages in, because I was so busy being frustrated at how INCREDIBLY BAD IT IS even without that.
Issue #1: Nothing is ever explained. A new concept is introduced and breezed right past as if we already know what the author is talking about. And I’ve seen writing tips that advise this: write your story as if the reader already knows your world, then pay attention to wherever your beta readers have questions or didn’t understand something. That way, you don’t clog up the story with unnecessary exposition. BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN NEVER EXPLAIN ANYTHING EVER.
Issue #2: Waaaaay too much slang. Like, 300% too much. There are already so many unfamiliar words in the text because of the world-building, then you get obscure 1800’s British slang on top of that, only some of it is apparently repurposed to mean something different in this fictional world, so even if I were an expert on British slang, I still wouldn’t have a clue? Really?
Issue #3: Info-dump dialogue. Which seems like it should be a contradictory problem, when up in #1 I was complaining that nothing is ever explained? Let me rephrase. Nothing I want to have explained is ever explained. The stuff I don’t feel like I need spoon-fed to me is what the characters endlessly chat about.
Issue #4: I can’t be invested in the stakes if I don’t understand the world. I don’t even understand what the stakes are. Was I supposed to be impressed by Paige’s abilities during her first test? Because I feel like maybe I should have been, except I literally didn’t understand how she was fighting. It didn’t make any sense.
Conclusion: This book is wretched for all sorts of reasons before the super-troubling slavery-romance subplot even begins. And then I’m assuming it gets worse, but I won’t be reading it to find out.
#182 – The Fragile Fall, by Kristy Love
- Read: 12/23/18 – 12/24/18
- Challenge: Mount TBR (158/150)
- Rating: 1/5 stars
At first I was trying to keep track of all my problems with this story, from excessively repetitive dialogue to inconsistent characterization; but halfway through, I realized very little of the technical stuff mattered beside the HUGE red flags this story was sending up. They can be summed up in few themes.
1. The romanticization of grief, mental illness, and self-harm.
2. Savior complex, ie, love fixes everything.
3. Look at how these huge problems have such a simple, shallow road to recovery.
That’s all this story is–shallow. Ryanne “loves” Will because…I don’t really know? On paper, why would a college girl fall for a younger and incredibly sheltered high school boy with no real social skills or life experience beyond a tragic backstory? Their age gap is only two years (17/19) which isn’t entirely out of the range of possibility as teenagers, but the way their dynamic works, Ryanne loves Will because a) the plot needs her to, and b) she seems to have a savior complex, which I was shy of pinning on her at first, but as the story went on, things she said and did, as well as her own family’s backstory, made it pretty clear Will was as much a possession and a project for her as he was a lover.
Will loves Ryanne, understandably, because he’s a sheltered teenage boy dealing with massive amounts of grief and isolation, and Ryanne is a pretty girl who pays attention to him. Also shallow, but from his perspective, completely believable.
What’s not believable, though, is how quickly he “recovers” from his accidental brush with death. I’m hesitant to call it a suicide attempt, because the narrative definitely paints it as his self-harm going too far, rather than a premeditated, deliberate act. But the end result is a few weeks of being institutionalized, a quick recap of incredibly platitude-filled sessions with his therapist, then back to almost-normal life with almost no repercussions.
I could actually keep going–I haven’t even touched the weird, pointless drama about Ryanne’s parents, or how her brother Jax is a terrible brother to her and best friend to Will, embodying a lot of what’s awful about toxic masculinity–but this is really the worst of it. Will and Ry “saved” each other from mental illness, family drama, and self-harm through the sheer, awesome power of their completely flimsy “love.”
#183 – At Home in Mitford, by Jan Karon
- Read: 12/24/18 – 12/25/18
- Challenge: Mount TBR (159/150)
- Rating: 1/5 stars
DNF @ page 50. My two major problems: first, there was no plot to speak of yet, 10% of the way in; and second, the fictional town of Mitford was oozing quaintness and upper-middle-class perfection in such quantities I was afraid my fingers would get sticky from turning the pages. It was so fake in its presentation that I couldn’t stomach reading about it.
#184 – Magic Breaks, by Ilona Andrews
- Read: 12/25/18 – 12/26/18
- Rating: 5/5 stars
What a wild ride.
The longer this series goes on, the harder time I have being critical of it, or even analytical. I flew through this in just over day–I didn’t find anything to nitpick. I just loved it from start to finish, and the ending has me excited to find out next, since it managed to be a great resolution for this book, yet still a massive cliffhanger for the series.
I don’t think there’s any denying that I’m a complete Kate Daniels fangirl at this point.
#185 – Tucker, by Juliana Stone
- Read: 12/27/18
- Challenge: Mount TBR (160/150)
- Rating: 1/5 stars
Great sexual tension between the leads, terrible plot.
Let’s apply a core piece of romance-writing advice to this story: Why aren’t they together now?
1. At first, Tucker and Abby aren’t a thing because they’re “friends.” Of course, this friendship is presented as incredibly shallow for most of the book; she’s a bartender at his favorite drinking spot and they talk. Eventually it’s revealed that he’s stayed after hours a few times and they played darts. So that’s “friends” to him? Because she’s literally paid to be nice to you as her job, and to get tips from you. Now, it’s revealed pretty quickly that Abby’s had a crush on him since day one, but still. None of this strikes me as being actual friends.
2. Tucker’s not ready to move on from his missing/dead wife. It’s been three years, and yeah, a presumed-dead wife isn’t the same thing as an actually dead one, so I get it. That’s an entirely reasonable span of time for someone to let go, or to still be torn up–IRL that would depend on the person. I don’t have a problem with that. I do, however, have a problem when it’s revealed that his wife intentionally got pregnant without his consent, while he believed she was taking her birth control, because she was baby-crazy. Of course she lost the baby before she disappeared–adding a child to this bizarre plot would make the simple closure we get at the end impossible–but apparently Tucker’s grief at her disappearance apparently made him forget that betrayal, which is on a deal-breaker level for me personally.
So in spite of all this, Abby agrees to be his last-minute date for a wedding, and everyone in his family there assumes they’re together, despite BOTH of them constantly insisting they’re not. Terrible family, that won’t take anyone’s word for it, because of course they know better! Anyone can see the tension and attraction between them, right? So that makes it totally okay to mock them when they swear they’re not a couple!
But of course before the wedding weekend is over, they’re having sex in the hotel room they were forced to share. Way to prove the fam right.
When they return home, we get to reason #3: Abby’s older brother is a completely toxic jerk. This story takes the “protective older brother” trope to an extreme, though in a way, since Tucker is a terrible person, it’s almost justified. Mick gives Tucker so much shit for dating/having sex with Abby, and while Tucker might be the kind of man who needs reminding not to be an ass, Abby is an adult who doesn’t need her family insulating her from having a life. But hey, it’s okay, boys will be boys, right?
So eventually Tucker and Abby sort themselves out into a reasonable relationship, the depiction of which is totally unsatisfying (the narrative even says “they fell into a comfortable routine,” which is just what I want–a romance that goes from sixty to zero in the space of a few weeks and a couple pages /sarcasm.) Then! Tucker’s wife is found in Cuba! Maybe!
I honestly expected that not to happen. Like, a missing person is gone for three years, then magically shows back up at the most inconvenient time for the plot? She didn’t have to. Tucker was moving on without that spur, and she could have just stayed missing. Or even been found dead, for real closure. But no, he has to fly down there to see if it’s really her–and it’s not, and the woman it really is gives the authorities evidence of where her plane crashed–and discover the story himself, jeopardizing his new, boring relationship with Abby. And then when he’s back and super sure his wife is really gone, he can finally say “I love you.”
I did like the banter between Abby and Tucker, and the sex scenes weren’t terrible. But mostly everything else was. Including the text itself–and I know this had an editor, because they’re listed on the copyright page. But throughout the book, there was frequently missing punctuation, as well as a sprinkling of commas “inserte,d” into words instead of after them, which is a mistake so obvious a simple spell-check will catch it. It’s minor, compared with the story issues, but nothing screams “unprofessional” like a poorly-edited book.