This Week, I Read… (2019 #26)

81 - The Secret Keeper

#81 – The Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton

  • Read: 6/19 – 6/21/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (25/48)
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

Too long for the story it told, which I found needlessly complicated. Even the inciting incident, the memory of an unknown man’s murder by the main character’s mother, was so drenched in nostalgic, atmospheric prose that it didn’t have any urgency.

I’ve been giving up on a lot of books lately, though, and enough of me did want to find out the “why” of it that I kept reading. At times, I questioned my decision, because with every new reveal, the story changed, and my theory about who the man was (before that was discovered) and/or why he was killed was supposed to change with it, I guess, and keep me hooked.

Problem was, the information we start with is so vague, and the first section of the book includes so many characters being deliberately vague, even to themselves in internal monologue, that I had no real idea what was going on, and the later theories I developed, I wasn’t particularly attached to. “It couldn’t be that easy,” I told myself. And ultimately, it wasn’t.

Granted, I was skimming by the end, because I just could not deal with entire chapters of journal entries and letters that conveniently contained precisely what the character reading them, years later, need to know. But if I’d been paying closer attention, would I have figured out the final plot twist that sets everything on its head at the bitter, bitter end? Honestly, probably not. It recontextualized everything, yet I don’t remember clues leading up to it, and I can see a different ending to the book where it didn’t happen quite easily. It’s just out of left field.

I’m not impressed.

82 - After We Fall

#82 – After We Fall, by Melanie Harlow

  • Read: 6/21/19 – 6/22/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (54/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: Two books that share the same title (2)
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

A solid opposites-attract romance in terms of the leads’ personalities, but where I felt like this fell flat was in the narrative style. The book is written in dual-POV structure, common to romances, but in first person perspective, and I thought Margot and Jack simply sounded too much the same.

Especially when they both express their anger the same way! With lots of short sentences! Punctuated by many exclamation points! And they get pissed at each other often! So I had to read these passages quite frequently!

That sort of deliberate stylistic quirk feels to me like the sort of thing one character should do while the other doesn’t, rather than just the way the author writes.

Overall, I was entertained, but I’m not itching to read it again or particularly inclined to check out the author’s other work.

83 - The Sister

#83 – The Sister, by Abigail Barnette

  • Read: 6/22/19 – 6/23/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (55/100)
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

After a hiatus of more than three years, I’ve returned to The Boss series. I bought this (and #7, The Boyfriend) when they were released, but somehow didn’t get to them. Early on, it was because I was still reeling from the events of The Baby and wasn’t ready for more potential heart-rending. Later, buried other under books. But because I’m making it a priority to wrap up partial series in my queue, here I am.

And I’m vaguely disappointed by my mixed reaction.

If I were judging this on the can-we-make-a-thruple-work storyline with El-Mudad, I loved it, but that came out of left field for me. One of my major issues with The Baby was that by the end of the book, after all El-Mudad had done for Sophie in her times of trouble, he felt forgotten about–he had declared his intention to be exclusive with them, if they were on board, but then other things happened (the entire plot!) and he got put on hold. I was thrown when there was no sort of closure for him.

Jump to this book, where they’re talking about how the last year has brought them all closer together, and I just don’t see it, he was barely a presence in the last book and now he’s a central figure in their lives. Which I’d like, polyamory isn’t something you see explored seriously in romance or erotica, it’s often a setup for sexy hijinks but the emotions involved are relegated to the background or ignored entirely. And this book is full of emotion on that score.

The other major plot thread, the titular sister(s) that come into Sophie’s life, I liked less. It felt rushed and kind of shallow, how awkward and antagonistic everyone but Molly was, while Molly was the super adorable teenage charmer for Sophie to instantly fall in love with. That isn’t to say Sophie didn’t experience character growth from it–she realized she didn’t have to justify her anger about her father’s abandonment, that she didn’t need anyone’s permission to feel how she felt, and that’s definitely something I can empathize with (as I’m sure many other women can.) But getting there felt trite.

On the other hand, in Sophie’s professional life, Deja’s blow-up at her was long overdue, with the story well-paved with hints that it was coming. Sophie’s sudden decision to give up her position felt both like something she would absolutely do (she’s been known to make impulsive decisions, even if she was deliberately taking her time pondering the kidney donation elsewhere in this book) and the culmination of her internal struggle with finding herself filthy rich, an issue threaded throughout this series.

So I liked it, except when I didn’t. Because I’m such a sucker for El-Mudad, he’s the biggest softie and I love him, I’m excited to finally get to The Boyfriend next, but also wary of how messy Sophie’s life has become and what that means for the plot moving forward. Because I don’t think this book was as good as previous entries in the series, and I’m hoping that downward trend won’t continue.

84 - Making Handmade Books

#84 – Making Handmade Books: 100+ Bindings, Structures, & Forms, by Alisa Golden

If you missed it on Wednesday, this review got its own post, check it out here.

85 - White Oleander

#85 – White Oleander, by Janet Fitch

  • Read: 6/23/19 – 6/26/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (57/100)
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

Strongly mixed feelings that are going to take a lot of unpacking, so bear with me, this is going to be long.

Pro: a “literary” novel by a woman, concerned solely and entirely about women’s lives, especially re: mother-daughter relationships. Even twenty years later, we still need more of these and less of Old White Men writing Old White Men stories.

Con: filled with ambiguous stances on problematic issues. The presence or absence of racism in the book is so complex I can’t parse it, as a white person–some characters are unabashedly racist, and Astrid doesn’t think she’s one by comparison. Yet one of her mother figures is black, and also a prostitute…but her white mother figures aren’t depicted as morally superior because of that, they’re all flawed in their own ways, so maybe it’s a wash? And then the dual symbolism imposed on the color white, on whiteness itself–beauty and death–carries its own racist underpinnings. I’m aware that I’m no scholar of racism in literature, so I’m not best qualified to really unravel this, but I couldn’t help but be both aware of it and made uncomfortable by it.

Then, there’s the sex. On the one hand, this novel acknowledges the desires of teenage girls to explore their sexuality, to even have sexuality in the first place and not be pure precious snowflakes, which I’d argue is good; but it’s debatable whether or not Fitch does enough to really portray pedophilia as immoral. Astrid’s relationship with Ray is one of her best memories for a time, something she longs for, even though they both knew it it was wrong; Ray is depicted in an incredibly sad, sympathetic light as a kindly man who knows his attraction isn’t healthy but is so unappreciated by his actual, adult girlfriend that it’s okay he’s screwing a fourteen-year-old girl. And then a slightly older Astrid goes down the same path with Sergei, though it’s not an innocent or idolized fairy tale of love this time, sleeping with a) an adult man who is also b) her foster mother’s boyfriend. I can’t make the argument here which causes me to abandon so many other works (usually by male authors, often “classics,”) that the pedophilia is normalized or even glorified. It’s not. But I don’t know that it’s condemned, either, as it should be. I don’t think Fitch is wrong to write Astrid as a troubled girl with a complex relationship with sex, but I do think it could have been clearer than Ray and Sergei were in the wrong and taking advantage of her.

Pro: Ingrid is unabashedly evil, and that’s just fun. How often do female characters get to be this narcissistic, this arrogant, this villainous, without restraint? And while I haven’t seen the movie, I enjoyed picturing Michelle Pfeiffer as Ingrid, hearing her voice delivering those acid-etched words.

Con: By contrast, Astrid spends most of the book coming off as insipid or downright bland. I understand this, to an extent–this is her journey, and she needs to find herself, so she can’t be fully formed to begin with. If her mother weren’t such a blazing light, I don’t think Astrid would be in as much shadow, but I do think it’s an issue when the protagonist isn’t nearly as captivating as the villain.

Pro: Some of the language was beautiful and memorable.

Con: Some of the language was overdone and ridiculous. (I know the appreciation of linguistic style is a matter of personal taste, but I experienced both the good and bad extremes over the course of this novel. I cringed at a line nearly as often as I stopped to be transported by one.)

Final pro: I always enjoy books that display appreciation for art. Ingrid is a poet, and while her style isn’t precisely to my taste, I didn’t hate her poetry, either. A major thread in Astrid’s journey is finding herself through her art, and while the ending fell a little flat for me in most respects, I was enthralled by the depiction of her salvaged-goods, mixed media pieces. That’s my jam, I cut things up and slap them back together differently, I made things out of other things, I get that. I knew Astrid better then, than I did for the entire rest of the book.

86 - The Boyfriend

86 – The Boyfriend, by Abigail Barnette

  • Read: 6/26/19 – 6/27/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (58/100)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

What a way to bounce back!

This time around, the story focused almost entirely on the difficulties of maintaining a stable polyamorous relationship while also hiding it from a society, and especially the family members, who won’t necessarily understand or approve of it.

I felt this book. Seriously. These emotions are strong and believable.

And I want to say this is realistic, too, though I’ve got to stick the caveat on there that Sophie is in love with two billionaires and money solves a few of the problems they might have otherwise. Not all of them, and not the big ones, but it’s a little easier to vacation as a thruple when you own your own yacht.

If the story started here, rather than having six books behind it to show how Sophie got to this relatively charmed place in life, I wouldn’t say it’s believable at all, but that’s the strength of following one character through so much of her life.

More minor bits of plot involve Sophie struggling to find direction in life (again) while adjusting her attitude towards the wealth she now has at her fingertips. I like where this is headed, but it’s not explored in depth yet–I imagine it’s going to be part of the next book.

And El-Mudad continues to be way more to my personal taste than Neil ever was, so yay for more of him.

The Reading Frenzy July 2019 Challenge: Circus Read-a-Thon

Reading Frenzy July 2019 TBR

To help me stay excited about my huge, year-long reading challenges, I’ve been participating in as many mini-challenges as I can, and one of my online book clubs, The Reading Frenzy, has just posted its July challenge!

The prompts are circus-themed, and we are encouraged to read circus-related books for them if we can, but I’ve already read several of the suggestions (Water for Elephants, The Night Circus, etc.) so I’m just going straight for the prompts.

1. Menagerie: Read a book with an animal in the title — Butterfly Swords, by Jeannie Lin
2. Big Top: Read a book with red and white on the cover — Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman
3. Cotton Candy: Read a light and fluffy book — Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith
4. Flyers: Read a book about/set in space — Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie
5. Grandstand: Read a hyped book — Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor
6. Ringmaster: Read the first book in a series or a standalone — Ship of Magic, by Robin Hobb

I’ve participated in a few of these challenges before, but failed to make a big deal of them: May’s was the “Try a Chapter” challenge, which is why I DNF’d so many books that month, and right now in June we’re reading books with color names in the title–I didn’t do a formal TBR for that because I simply had too many books to choose from! Pulling from my owned TBR netted me over a dozen, and if I factored in potential library books, I had almost thirty on the list. So I read a few but didn’t make a big deal about it.

If this sounds interesting and you want to participate, The Reading Frenzy is an open-admission Goodreads group, just hop over and ask to be added!

This Week, I Read… (2019 #25)

78 - Stories of Romance

#78 – Stories of Romance from the Age of Chivalry, by Frederick J.H. Darton

  • Read: 6/12/19 – 6/15/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (52/100)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

The only thing that got me through this was a determination to read medieval and Arthurian tales I wasn’t already familiar with. I honestly didn’t gain much by doing so. Maybe there’s a reason I’ve never heard of the ones I had never heard of? They weren’t that interesting.

Part of the problem I had with them might be the way the prose “translations” of the original poems read in the flat tone of many fairy tales, but these stories lacked the internal logic and visceral satisfaction I expect from a good fairy tale. Plot holes abounded, characters did things for nonsensical reasons or no obvious reason at all, and if I could detect any morals or messages, which I often couldn’t, they were usually directly at odds with my worldview. (Not that I expect tales from this time period, repackaged for “modern” consumption in the early 1900’s, to be feminist or anything like that. I don’t. But I also can’t agree with a world where chivalric honor is the highest ideal, especially when the idiot knights can’t even uphold it themselves.)

There’s value in these, I’m sure, to anyone more interested in the period, or in studying them for some scholarly purposes. I found no real value in reading them for fun, though.

79 - The Unbound

#79 – The Unbound, by Victoria Schwab

  • Read: 6/15/19 – 6/16/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (53/100)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

I loved The Archived far more than I expected to, so I had both high hopes and concrete worries when diving in to the sequel, especially as I already knew a third book is planned, but won’t be released for some time. (At the time of this review, Schwab has stated on Goodreads that she will likely to wait until the rights for the first two to revert to her, then publish all three. So it might be a while yet.)

For most of this book, I was enjoying myself, but still worried. I liked it, but I didn’t see how it could possibly end on anything but a cliffhanger, and while I’m not heavily opposed to those, with no third book in sight, it was going to be frustrating.

And yet! Here I am! Giving it five stars! That ending! So satisfying! Totally didn’t see how it was all going to come together, yet it made perfect sense when it did.

Also, I adore Wesley even more now than I did in the first book. Give me a teenage boy who’s not afraid to show he cares, who’s irreverent but respectful, who’s fun but thoughtful. He’s all-around awesome.

And Mackenzie! No, I don’t always agree with her decision to keep her issues to herself, to lie, to try to solve (most of) her problems without help. But I can see why she does. She’s been through so much, she’s had her trust betrayed, she’s been duped, she’s been traumatized. But she keeps going, and when push comes to shove, she does get help with some things, while maintaining as much secrecy as she can to protect herself and others. I was so proud of her, and occasionally so heart-broken for her.

I really, really, really want the next book. I’m going to set these two on my shelf and wait to reread them until book #3 is (hopefully)(eventually) announced, so that I can get myself hyped.

80 - Saga, Vol. 2

#80 – Saga, Vol. 2, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

  • Read: 6/17/19 – 6/18/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (24/48)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

The second arc of the story did not disappoint, after how amazing I thought the opening was. Hazel’s grandparents. Marko and Alana’s meeting as captive and jailer, but bonding over a (terrible) romance novel. Marko dropping everything to rescue Isabel. It was fun, it was weird, and most of all, it was full of real emotion underneath the snark and sass and action.

If it’s all this good, I think I’m in for a wild ride.

This Week, I Read… (2019 #24)

74 - Red, White, and Royal Blue

#74 – Red, White, & Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston

  • Read: 6/5/19 – 6/7/19
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

I adore this with all of my bisexual heart. I actually don’t want to read another book right now–I want to read this again. (I know, nothing’s stopping me, but maybe I’ll save it for my next bad day, when I need either cathartic angst or infectious glee, depending on which part of the book I read.)

I’m aware of its flaws, but to me, they don’t get in the way of a great love story. Is it really that easy to sneak a foreign head of state into a closet for a hookup? Probably not. Are the US politics simplified and maybe too blatantly optimistic? Yes, and as for the second, that depends on your own political standing, I guess. I found them a bit too good to be true.

HOWEVER. All flaws, to my mind, are completely outweighed by the best bisexual protagonist I’ve read yet. Alex Claremont-Diaz is the absolute poster child for issues caused by the culture of compulsory heterosexuality that he (and I!) grew up in. Even though he knew queer people, even though he’d dated another bisexual person, he didn’t recognize it in himself for a LONG DAMN TIME. That’s my deal. I took even longer to figure myself out.

I read this, and I felt seen. Even if I never fell in confusing love with a European princess for my own fairy tale.

75 - Second Position

#75 – Second Position, by Katherine Locke

  • Read: 6/7/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (23/48)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF at 25%, partially for angst without enough story to back it up, but honestly, mostly for nonsensical dialogue and complete lack of setting.

The book is divided between the POVs of its two main characters, Aly and Zed. Aly’s chapters irritated me to no end because it was literally nothing but dialogue with her therapist. No dialogue tags, no fidgeting, no facial expressions, nothing but the words they said–the worst example of “talking heads” in a story that I’ve ever seen. So they just sit in a blank room with no furnishings, completely isolated from any noises outside, Aly’s phone never rings because she forgot to set it to silent, the receptionist whom I assume exists never has to interrupt for an emergency…nothing. They sit in a blank room and talk at each other.

Zed’s chapters are actual story, in the sense that things happen other than dialogue. Of course, most of it is angsty internal monologue. But when things do happen, at least there’s physical space around the characters for them to happen in.

However, the dialogue is still a major issue in Zed’s POV, just in a different way. I couldn’t follow it, sometimes. I mean, quite seriously, that one character would say something, and the other would reply, and I would have no idea what it meant, because it seemed completely disconnected from what was said first.

For example, Zed’s teasing the barista at his local cafe. Zed’s friend Dan walks in and says, “You torturing the staff again?” Zed replies, “Only for you.”

What? What does that even mean? And I can’t use the rest of the scene to try to put it in context. Nothing comes before it that would help–this happens the moment Dan walks in. Immediately after, a more normal conversation happens, starting with “How’re you?”

Nothing earlier in the book helps, either. I don’t recall ever seeing Dan at that cafe before, just Zed and Aly at various times. Dan hasn’t revealed elsewhere that he enjoying pestering the employees of whatever establishments he frequents. So how does it make any sense that Zed is “torturing” the barista “for [him]”? If it’s a joke, why isn’t it funny? If it’s an inside joke, when was I, the reader, clued in? (Never.)

This isn’t even close to the only example, just the one nearest to where I stopped reading. In Zed and Aly’s numerous rambling conversations, they spoke elliptically of their history in ways I simply couldn’t piece together. Zed would often ask a question, then go off on an internal monologue for a page and a half, then Aly would answer and it would make no sense, even if I paged back to reread the question.

All of this, put together, means I couldn’t get invested in the characters, because I didn’t have a single hope of understanding them. The whole narrative felt very stream-of-conscious with a startling lack of continuity and no real definition between past and present, exacerbated by some places where (to the best of my understanding) the verb tense of the story got mixed up so that I honestly didn’t know whether I was in the present or yet another internal flashback.

76 - Half of a Yellow Sun.JPG

#76 – Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

  • Read: 6/7/19 – 6/10/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (50/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book written by an author from Asia, Africa, or South America
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

DNF just shy of 50%.

It’s rare that I go so long before giving up on a book, but by the time I passed 10%, I honestly thought I was going to read the whole thing. I loved Adichie’s prose style and the rich cultural and historical detail. Some of the characters, I found more vibrant than others, but I was interested.

However, the plot was so directionless. I understand the story sets out to follow the lives of our three protagonists through a decade of political turmoil, but knowing that doesn’t give much weight to the story when the most of the first half of the book is characterization–it doesn’t feel like much that happens matters, beyond setting up the stage for something awful later. A major political event does occur in the first half–the creation of Republic of Biafra–and finally, there’s some rioting and one of our characters is in danger.

I was disturbed at how relieved I was that something was finally happening, while also not wanting to pick the book up again to find out what horrible thing happened next.

I’m never hesitant to talk about why I think a book is bad, but in this case, I feel it’s more of an issue of personal taste than quality. I’ve read historical fiction structured like this before, and it’s usually a slog for me no matter who the author is.

77 - The Scribe

#77 – The Scribe, by Elizabeth Hunter

  • Read: 6/11/19 – 6/12/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (51/100)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

A totally surprising five-star read for me. Why have I been sitting on this book for so long? I put it on my TBR ages ago and bought it last year.

Anyway, talking too much about the plot would involve spoilers more major than I’m willing to include in my review for something I loved this much and want to recommend. Instead, I’ll go into the tropes this turns on its head.

Paranormal romance with between a human and a semi-immortal being: totally not creepy this time. Soulmates: believable-ish for once! Magic system: totally not bland, nor overpowered. Insta-lust : NO! Insta-love: HELL NO!

I really just can’t fathom how so many trite, overused story pieces are put together in this while feeling fresh and interesting, because I’ve read SO MANY books where all of these go spectacularly wrong, or add up to the same old trash we’ve all seen a hundred times.

This Week, I Read… (2019 #23)

70 - The Secret Horses of Briar Hill

#70 – The Secret Horses of Briar Hill, by Megan Shepherd

  • Read: 5/30/19 – 5/31/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (21/48)
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

It was sad, it was happy, it was hopeful. It was far more of a roller coaster of emotions than I’m used to crediting a middle-grade novel with. I had no trouble reading it in just under a day.

But in the end, though I loved it while I was reading it, something feels missing for me, some spark. It felt rote at times, even predictable, and that’s not just me reading something far below my age group. It never surprised me, which isn’t a requirement for a book to be enjoyable, but it never gave me much of a sense of wonder, either–and that, from a children’s book steeped in magical realism, I would expect.

I know I’m focusing on the negative, here, but I just can’t quite put my finger on why this didn’t feel like a five-star read, even though I admire its forthright language, its clear storytelling, and its entire aesthetic. When I heard about this and added it to my TBR, it seemed like it was an obvious slam dunk for me, and now, I’m feeling a little too disappointed for that.

71 - Blue is the Warmest Color

#71 – Blue is the Warmest Color, by Julie Maroh

  • Read: 5/31/19 – 6/1/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (22/48)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

What a horrible way to start Pride Month for me, reading what I’d heard was considered a new queer classic, and finding out it was a biphobic piece of trash.

Let’s start with the trash part first.

In this story, we have:
*Cheating is Okay
*Presumably College-Age Girl Sleeping with Definitely Underage Girl
*InstaLust substituted for Actual Emotional Development and “Love”
*Affair Exposed in Stupidest Way Possible
*Standard Homophobic Parents
*Standard Kicked Out of the House for Being Queer
*Bury Your Gays/Dead Gay Tragedy
*Sex Will Kill You, Literally

Why does any of this make a good story? On top of all the overused, and in some cases outright toxic, tropes this tale relies on, the huge time skips with no warning or explanation make this a difficult read to get into, because I kept having to read a new (unmarked) time period long enough to figure out when it was in relation to the one before it, then reread it in order to actually contextualize what was happening. I know the novel is short, but that’s no reason to make me read parts of it twice to simply understand what the hell is going on.

Other, more personal gripes: Don’t like the art style. That wouldn’t be a huge issue if I’d liked the story anyway, but honestly, everyone just looks ugly and the color palette is muddy and boring.

Now, why it’s biphobic.

So, Emma clearly identifies as lesbian. Cool. Clementine, our tragic dead diarist, is never given a label, and judging by other reviews, her sexuality can be defined either as lesbian or bisexual. It depends on how much weight certain aspects of her character are given by the interpreter.

Clem has a boyfriend before she meets Emma, but is clearly shown to not be comfortable with him sexually, while having sexual thoughts about women. That, to me, reads as lesbian, and plenty of self-identified lesbians have relationships with men before/while they figure themselves out. Or while they’re deliberately closeted. Having ever been with a dude doesn’t disqualify you.

However, in the end, Clem cheats on Emma (years down the road) with a man. (gasp!) So, yeah, maybe she is bisexual, if she’s sexually attracted to more than one gender. While the narrative doesn’t come down firmly one way or the other, reading her as bi isn’t a stretch at all, and given all the information, that’s certainly how I see her. (Not to mention that years pass in this novel, identity is a journey, maybe she initially identified as lesbian and later realized she was bisexual. No, that’s not lesbian erasure, that’s an actual thing that happens.)

But that’s not really the biphobic part, I’m getting there.

In the early stages of their relationship, Emma is Clem’s teenage side piece. They enter a sexual relationship both knowing that what they’re doing is cheating, because Emma knows Clem has a girlfriend. But that’s okay, and it’s okay enough that it goes on for quite a while, apparently.

However, as adults, when Emma cheats on their committed relationship, it’s the worst thing that she could have possibly done, and the thing that completely breaks Clem’s heart. She says so, out loud, to Emma. But it can’t just be that she cheated, because as we established, Clem was a cheater herself.

She states outright that it’s because Emma was cheating with a man. So that means she’s not a real lesbian, and that means she couldn’t possibly really love Clem, not if she wanted a man. And that’s consistent with her character, sadly–Clem’s biggest issue, when they were sleeping together but not “together” together, was that someday Emma would move on and find herself a man and be happy with him. Because she only saw Emma as curious about women, not genuinely attracted to them.

Now, I’m not saying this never happened. Biphobia in the lesbian community is a real problem (as it is elsewhere, but that’s a different discussion.) And especially at young ages, that sort of fear is a real thing, even if it’s not a good thing.

But why is this work so glorified as queer literature when it throws bisexuality under the bus? When it shows a probably-bisexual character in the worst light, as greedy, as dishonest, as needing “both” a man and a woman to be satisfied, oh, yeah, and also she’s dead now? Sex killed her?

Clem’s no peach, in my lights–she’s a cheater and a biphobe and the reason she and Emma are caught in the first place is because she decided to walk around Emma’s family home naked, who does that?– but she’s the one left alive. She’s the sympathetic one, the one we’re supposed to feel sad for, because look at this great love she lost.

Thank you, I hate it. I feel no sympathy for her. She’s a terrible person and this is a terrible story.

I want lesbians to have representation. I want media out there, made for them. But can it not spit on bisexuality and bi women in the process? Is that really too much to ask?

72 - The Abyss Surrounds Us

#72 – The Abyss Surrounds Us, by Emily Skrutskie

  • Read: 6/1/19 – 6/3/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (49/100)
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

What I liked: giant sea creatures. Pirates. Wlw romance subplot. Pretty much everyone being morally gray, and that having actual consequences on said romance.

Basically, exactly what everyone else likes about this book. I also think it does a pretty good job displaying enough of Cassandra’s Stockholm Syndrome experience to be believable, at first, when she’s still “good” and the pirates are still “bad.” Of course, since I’ve just said everyone is morally gray, that doesn’t last the whole book, and that’s fine. Cas’ “fall” from forced-labor prisoner to willing pirate is laid out clearly, inevitably, with no moments that make the reader question her motives or sanity.

What I didn’t like was much simpler: the pacing. And not even of the whole book, just the beginning. I went into this as blind as possible for a book that’s been out a few years–I basically knew “lesbian pirates and giant sea monsters.” Without knowing from the start how Cas’ arc would go, I found it incredibly abrupt how soon she was captured, and how out-of-left-field Durga’s death was. We barely get a opening to learn the world-building, then bam! it’s all gone to hell.

I understand, now, having read the whole thing, that getting Cas on board the pirate ship as early as possible was necessary. But because that’s tied to her failure at her job and the death of her charge, I felt like I was being asked to care about Durga with very little time given for me to do that, then mourn his tragic death with no real underpinnings for that feeling. It didn’t feel earned, but other than lengthening the beginning of the book, I don’t really see a solution for it. (And that could easily throw off everything else, so this is a fairly minor criticism.)

73 - Magic Triumphs

#73 – Magic Triumphs, by Ilona Andrews

  • Read: 6/3/19 – 6/5/19
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

It’s over. It’s over and it’s beautiful. My ability to write an objective review of books in this series sailed a long time ago, so I’ll just say, I was crying at the end, I was satisfied, Curran is the best, I’m happy with the way they solved their Roland problems, and DRAGONS. (Not that we hadn’t already met Roman’s dragon buddy, but still, DRAGONS.)

I pretty much got all the small character moments I wanted to see, because a series this long has a lot of side characters to provide endings for, if they haven’t already passed out of the story. And the epilogue sets up an interesting (potential) new story line to pursue (possibly.) If it happens, I’ll give it a try.

I wasn’t that worried I’d be disappointed, because I am so emotionally invested, but the series has truly gotten better as it goes instead of getting worse. I was reasonably confident, but I’m thrilled to be proven right!

This Week, I Read… (2019 #22)

68 - Assassin's Quest

#68 – Assassin’s Quest, by Robin Hobb

  • Read: 5/22/19 – 5/28/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (47/100)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

A bad ending can absolutely ruin a book (or an entire trilogy, if it’s awful) but a great ending can save it.

When I was halfway through this book, I did not think it would be a five-star read. I complained all through book #2 that Fitz was just being stupid and treading water and nothing was happening, and at the start of this, that seemed true as well.

Should it have taken so long to get moving? Probably not.

But once he was? Once he was on the road, on his Quest, reluctantly or even unwillingly, but finally headed towards his King and the end of the story? From there, it was all brilliant. I loved Fitz and his deepening relationships with the Fool, with Nighteyes, even the complicated and distant relationship he tried to maintain with Kettricken. Kettle and Starling were interesting new characters.

I loved the exploration of an ancient and mostly forgotten land. I loved what they found. I loved the beauty and the tragedy of how everything came together–and I definitely think I should have been paying more attention to the Fool in the first two books? Because he surprised me. Because he’s even more interesting now, and because I know we haven’t seen the last of him.

I’m a sucker for bittersweet endings, and this one might not be to everyone’s taste, but I loved it. It was always clear by the tone of Fitz’s memoir excerpts that head each chapter, that he wasn’t going to get a “happy” ending. But the trilogy does end on a satisfying note, and after all, he’s not done yet either. Several things prophesied of him haven’t come to pass, and since I’m reading this now, instead of when it was first published, I have the benefit of knowing he shows up again in the future, which I look forward to with great anticipation.

69 - First a Dream

#69 – First a Dream, by Emma Nichols

  • Read: 5/28/19 – 5/29/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (48/100)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF @ 30% for the first book, did not bother with the second and third.

Sloppy sentence construction that often matches a pronoun with the wrong noun or person–at one point it sounded like someone was going to have to drive through lemonade instead of snow, for example.

Inconsistency in character details: In the prologue, Isabella is specifically stated to be marrying at nineteen. In Chapter 1 we move forward five years, which makes her twenty-four, right? However, she loses her father at twelve, but then “even now, fourteen years later” Isabella is still hiding her sadness. 12 + 14 = 26. So how old is she?

Glaring grammatical errors: “Go salt [the sidewalks], then I’ll fixing your face.” Nobody caught that?

Overuse of stock phrases: “that fateful day,” “knock me over with a feather,” “the/his/her idea had merit,” (that one showed up several times.)

Extremely shallow relationships that aren’t explored, just stated. Isabella pouring her heart out over her impending divorce to her best friend, that I believe, sure. But to her professor that we, the readers, have only just met and barely heard mentioned? Who does that? Does the professor have some sort of mind manipulation powers, because when Gabriel has a meeting with her, instead of acting at all sensible, he’s raving about his chance encounter with a mystery woman in the hallway (Isabella) rather than trying to convince the professor to let him into the class?

Also, speaking of shallow, what’s the point of Gabriel having his own POV if all his sections are incredibly short and usually pointless? He gets far less time spent on developing his character than Isabella does, and it doesn’t do him any favors that we know so much more about her than him. He’s so “charming” that without depth he comes off as smarmy, and of course, since this is a fairy tale retelling (barely, though, nothing about this really said “Cinderella” to me) he has to be Prince Charming perfect. His last name is even Charmant.

Ultimately, I feel like I just read a first draft instead of a published work.

This Week, I Read… (2019 #21)

64 - Where We Land

#64 – Where We Land, by Abigail Barnette

  • Read: 5/17/19
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

As promised on the label, cute beta guy meets and falls in love with hardworking, frazzled but fun girl.

As usual for a Jenny Trout/Abigail Barnette work, there’s tons of healthy relationship dynamics at play, and the characters address social issues instead of ignoring them. (This is certainly a #MeToo era work in tone, even if the actual movement isn’t a part of the story.)

I loved the characters, even the minor ones, and I’ve got no gripes with 95% of the book. This didn’t get a fifth star from me because I prefer my romances not to skip to a HEA ending as soon as the lovebirds confirm they’re together. The epilogue felt tacked on instead of being a natural conclusion.

For what it is–a meet-cute novella–it’s practically perfect. I just loved the characters enough to want to see more, the meat of the relationship that got skipped near the end.

65 - Read, Write, Love at Seaside

#65 – Read, Write, Love at Seaside, by Addison Cole

  • Read: 5/17/19 – 5/18/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (45/100); The Reading Frenzy’s “Try a Chapter” Mini Challenge
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

Opposites attract, but not in any interesting way. DNF @ 60% because there was no conflict and I got tired of waiting for something interesting to happen.

Leanna is a directionless hippie (with a backup trust fund she wants to use only for emergencies, so it’s okay that she’s an adult with no direction because she’s not in any danger of starving or becoming homeless. That would ruin the vibe.)

Kurt is a stick-up-his-ass neat-freak author (who immediately loosens up at the mere sight of sexy, sexy Leanna and becomes super-perfect in no time flat. Like, before the book was halfway over, he’d already been made over into the ideal man, and not even because Leanna was trying to change him, but just because he was so damn smitten that he did it all without being asked.)

THERE’S NO CONFLICT. EVER. They get together with only a token amount of resistance, Kurt basically remakes his entire schedule to fit her into it but that’s okay because she’s SO INSPIRING that he writes faster in less time so it’s okay. When I gave up, they were talking about moving in together and also somehow making room for her burgeoning business (that he wants to take further time out of his own schedule for to help with) AND IT’S ALL JUST SO EASY.

I can’t even call this fluff, because fluff still usually has conflict! Maybe it’s low-key, but stuff still happens to keep the protagonists apart or make their relationship more rocky-road and less vanilla-silk. It’s so bland. It’s so easy. It’s so boring.

66 - A Stone in the Sea

#66 – A Stone in the Sea, by A.L. Jackson

  • Read: 5/19/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (46/100); The Reading Frenzy’s “Try a Chapter” Mini Challenge
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF @ 10%.

The prologue was overwrought and terrible. Having been introduced to both protagonists, I have no idea which POV it’s from, what horrible pain it’s meant to represent, or what its relevance is to the story. No clue at all. It’s just angst with no purpose.

Baz’s introductory chapter is too many mystery events alluded to with no groundwork laid. His band’s in trouble, or he is, or both. His little brother is important to him but also severely traumatized by something, maybe? The big European tour is canceled! …for some reason. Why? Keep reading to find out!

Too many hooks pulling my attention in too many directions. Should’ve just used one and made it more interesting instead of overloading poor Baz with so much obviously tragic backstory.

Then there’s Shea, who’s no mystery at all. She’s a gorgeous waitress working at her uncle’s bar. And that’s it. No depth.

But Baz finds her mysterious and asks her out. She says no, and does a pretty solid job laying out all the reasons it’s reckless and unsafe for a woman in a service industry to go out with guys who hit on her at work. Too bad it’s undermined by the event that came immediately afterward and made me give up on the book.

Baz assaults Shea. She’s said no, but he runs into her in the hallway before he leaves the bar, and he creeps up behind her, slides his hand from her back, around her side, and to her “heart.” Um, honey, if your hand made it from her back to her heart, then you’re touching her boobs at some point along the way, because you know, they’re on either side of her chest, where her heart is.

[Not that he should be touching her without permission at all, of course, but how he did it makes it sexual, and thus, worse.]

THEN he leans in and whispers in her ear, “Go out with me.”

The only response to this series of actions on his part that doesn’t support a narrative rife with toxic masculinity, rape culture, or abuse apology is if she immediately took him down with some sweet self-defense moves (or called her uncle who runs the damn bar for help, if she’s not able to manage Baz herself,) reports him for assault, and never, ever, ever goes out with him.

She does none of that. She’s too overwhelmed by how attracted to him she is.

I don’t need to read the rest of the book now, because it just romanticized assault. THIS IS NOT ROMANCE. THIS IS ASSAULT. THIS IS NOT OKAY. DON’T NORMALIZE THIS BEHAVIOR.

67 - The Kiss Quotient

#67 – The Kiss Quotient, by Helen Hoang

  • Read: 5/20/19 – 5/21/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (20/48); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: An “own voices” book
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

This came so close to being a one-afternoon read for me. I didn’t want to stop but had to, to engage in real life again. I finished it this morning.

I loved it. I loved it so much I checked negative reviews for mentions of flaws I obviously overlooked, found a few I agree with and a lot I don’t. None of them retroactively make me love the book any less.

It helps that I love smut, because this book is NOT shy about sex, even if Stella starts out that way.

The story is an interesting push-and-pull of communication issues. Michael is excellent at talking about sex, and gradually shows how great he is at being attentive. While that comes from his job (both of them, as it turns out,) he’s never portrayed as sleazy because he’s a sex worker, and that attentiveness is what makes his building trust with Stella believable. Stella is great at being bluntly honest, and she’s upfront about most of her issues without ever defining herself with a label. Both characters spend most of the book failing to reveal their true feelings because of personal insecurity, which makes them a great pair on the page, even if it’s easy for me, the reader, to shout “just talk to each other already!” They’re so good about that up to a point, then they completely fall apart. Which, again, is believable. Most people find it hard to open up about their deepest issues.

I’m just such a sucker for romances where I can actually see the couple falling in love, instead of just falling into bed together. I realize that’s a low bar to set in general, but so many books fail even at that, while this one clears it by a mile.