This Week, I Read… (2018 #18)

61 - Unexpectedly Mine

#61 – Unexpectedly Mine, by Stephanie Rowe

As my criticisms are many, let’s start this review with the good points.

This romance does a bang-up job at keeping the obstacles coming, and snatching victory (ie, a happy ending) from the jaws of defeat. The leads only get their HEA after a great deal of change. And while I don’t care for either teenage daughter character–they’re both nothing but whiney, with no personalities to speak of–both leads do visibly struggle with what it means to be a good parent.

Also, Clare actually debates with herself whether getting involved with Griffin was a good idea and/or worth the heartache that seemed the obvious ending to their fling. Not for just a few heartbeats, like so many heroines I see, who are so overcome with lust that they make stupid decisions. Clare ends up making the choice she considered “bad” at the time, but she did it with her eyes open, knowing she’d get hurt in the end and deciding to have her fun anyway. It’s not often I see any character own their (potential) mistakes so clearly.

On to the bad parts.

1. Griffin. He’s not a consistent character. We’re introduced to him in a heroic light, then we find out he’s a millionaire businessman, but we rarely see him act as one because he’s fallen head over heels for Clare and acts accordingly. While these actions might be out of character for pre-book Griffin, we only really see him being the “good man” Clare repeatedly asserts him to be, so his character arc is pretty flat.

2. Griffin again. While we’re given extensive detail on Clare’s romantic history, I can’t recall any real detail about Griffin’s failed marriage. I don’t even know how long ago his wife and daughter left him, aside from the fact that his ex-wife has remarried and had twins by her new husband–so lowball, at least two years, unless they were super-rushing the wedding, but high estimate could be just about any length of time. Why was Griffin so set on getting his daughter back now, this instant, when she’d been gone so long? The narrative does mention that he hadn’t actually seen Brooke in person for over a year, but what was it that made him need her so badly then when he didn’t seem to before?

3. Repetitive dialogue, internal monologue, and description. Both leads have POVs, and both tend to ramble in their heads multiple times with endless questions, nearly whole pages of talking to themselves about their problems. Griffin and Clare are both described repeatedly, with only slight variations of word choice–no, thank you, I haven’t forgotten what they look like. A lot of page space is taken up talking about Clare’s friend Astrid’s appearance, with great emphasis on how quirky and free-spirited she is and how wild her hair is. I didn’t actually confirm this, but from the get-go it was obvious to me that she’s the female lead in the next novel in the series, because boy, does she take up too much room in this one.

4. Too many characters, too quickly. In the second major setting of the book, the town’s general store, Clare (and the reader) is bombarded with names and faces. I don’t even know how many new characters were introduced in a few short pages–both of her best friends, the couple who owns the store, a friend of her mother’s, and at least a few more besides. Some of them are important–some of them I don’t remember ever seeing again. I get that it’s supposed to be a bustling hub of activity, but that doesn’t mean we have to meet everyone in town at once.

5. Griffin for the third time, because the ending sucks. The reason Griffin eventually stays in town sucks. Him realizing his daughter is happier and better off with her new family is a good thing, and him not buying a business just to impress her is better, but then his alternative is handed to him on a platter in the hokiest manner possible. It’s too big a jump to believe.

62 - Fear of Falling
#62 – Fear of Falling, by S.L. Jennings

DNF @ 7%. Earlier than I usually give up on a book, but this had racism and toxic masculinity written all over it.

We learn the narrator, Kami, is not white when a complete jackass at a bar tries to guess her ethnicity. He actually uses the word “mulatto,” which I’ve never seen or heard anyone use in a non-historical context, then moves on immediately to other offensive stereotypes. But wait! An attractive bartender appears to save Kami from this racist loser!

Except he proceeds to be nearly as offensive in “guessing” her ethnicity by using apparently complimentary terms which still reduce her to an object.

WHY IS IT OKAY FOR STRANGERS TO SPECULATE TO SOMEONE WHAT THEIR BACKGROUND IS?

Eventually, it’s revealed that Kami is of Filipino descent, but it took basically the whole chapter. I mean, just tell me that to begin with? Don’t make it a mystery we have to spend a whole chapter to solve by having two characters be racist at her, especially when one of them’s obviously her love interest down the line? He’s presented as less offensive than his cousin–oh, yeah, the jackass is his cousin!–but immediately dismisses the cousin as “harmless.”

TRYING TO PICK UP A WOMAN BY BEING RACIST AT HER IS NOT HARMLESS.

BADGERING ANYONE ABOUT THEIR SKIN COLOR, FACIAL FEATURES, OR OTHER PHYSICAL MARKERS OF HERITAGE IS NOT HARMLESS.

But yeah, it’s just (racist) dudes being (racist) dudes, right? So it’s okay. And there’s where we get toxic masculinity on top of the racism, because all men’s behavior towards women is fine, as long as another man can rationalize it or dismiss it as harmless, a joke, etc. So Kami brushes off the jackass cousin because look how handsome and less-racist the bartender is!

I won’t dignify the rest of this novel by reading it.

63 - Women in Love

#63 – Women in Love, by D.H. Lawrence

DNF @ page 100, because all the characters were similarly awful, and this far in there was still no sign of either a plot, or the two love affairs that the back cover blurb assured me were the point of the novel.

When I say the characters are “similarly awful,” I mean a lot of damning things. They’re all petty and shallow; easily overcome by violent emotion which renders them dazed or speechless or, in one case, actually violent; deeply self-absorbed and without much in the way of compassion or empathy; and prone to philosophical debate at the drop of a hat, no matter where, when, or how it might contravene social etiquette. There’s abysmally little in the way of personality to differentiate between any of them.

As early as the third chapter, I remarked to my husband, “This book just seems like an excuse for Lawrence to have angry debates with himself,” because one of the characters most guilty of this is apparently a self-insert of him. In that chapter, his avatar (Birkin) goes to the classroom of Ursula, observes her lesson for a moment, proceeds to tell her in no uncertain terms how she should be teaching it and how she’s missing the point entirely, and then the woman who’s trying to gain Birkin’s affection (Hermione) appears, and she and Birkin have an involved philosophical debate. Ursula is still there, and saying nothing, and I’m pretty sure at some point the students left for the end of the day, but never is there any explanation of why Birkin came to see Ursula (in fact, he seems to quickly forget she’s even there), or how Hermione knew Birkin was there for her to barge in upon. And Ursula never shows any reaction to having her class disrupted.

If there was any point to that chapter other than making a stage for Lawrence to proclaim his values upon, I can’t find it.

Also, for a book supposedly about women in love, there’s an awful lot of homoeroticism between Birkin and Gerald, who’s supposed to have an affair with Ursula’s sister Gudrun somewhere down the line. There’s a great affection implied between them, even as Lawrence tells us there’s also a drawing-back, even a repulsion of each other. Afraid to get too close, hm?

Basically, all the characters dislike each other virulently, and I couldn’t take it anymore.

All that being said, Lawrence does have the occasional eye for beauty in his words, with frequent and powerful juxtapositions of meaning to give vivid life to his descriptions. I found myself jolted out of my boredom with the story several times just turning a particularly lovely phrase over in my mind, exploring how eloquently he could describe a state of being.

Sadly, that’s not enough to make me want to finish the book, given that everyone is so detesting and destestable.

64 - Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

#64 – Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli

  • Read: 5/7/18
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

It was amazing. I laughed out loud, I got teary-eyed, though I never quite cried. Simon is a darling, “Blue” is hilarious, and even though I went to high school twenty years ago, everything about this seemed authentic to me–technology has changed teenagers that much.

My only criticism is minor, and may have been exaggerated by how quickly I read this: I didn’t seem to get all the nuances of Simon’s closest circle of friends right away. We’re introduced to a lot of characters quickly, which would normally be a complaint for me, except this is a high school setting and (for once) the MC isn’t a loser loner. So yeah, he’s got a lot of friends. But we don’t get much about them at first, and later in the book I realized this is a deliberate sign of Simon’s cluelessness and confusion about other people, but as a reader it was the tiniest bit confusing to me.

Super minor, though. I did figure out who Blue was, but only at the very last possible minute, like one chapter before the reveal. I might have gotten it earlier if I’d had a better sense of who was who, but it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book much at all.

This Week, I Read… (2018 #17)

60 - Leviathan Wakes

#60 – Leviathan Wakes, by James S. A. Corey

I was a show-watcher first, and I can’t fully separate my experience of that from reading the book. I saw the actors’ faces and heard their voices as I read.

However, I’m confident in saying that even if I had read the book first, I still would have adored it.

Aside from hand-waving some of the medicinal advancements (what the hell kind of drug would save Miller and Holden from otherwise-lethal radiation exposure? but hey, it’s the future) this takes an incredibly hard tack on the science in science fiction. Physics aren’t ignored in favor of travel speed, as they are in so many other space-going settings. Everything in this feels real, at times uncomfortably so.

And our heroes get hurt. They get irradiated, shot, their bones broken, their bodies compressed by high g’s. There is almost always danger, and our heroes don’t escape from it unscathed. Which I love.

Two things were definitely portrayed better in the book than in the television adaptation, for me: Miller’s inner life, which makes both his slow spiral downward and his obsession with/love for Julie much more understandable; and the complicated relationship between Holden and Naomi. In the show, I felt their “love” story was rushed and lacking a solid ground to stand on–in the book, it’s much better developed.

Also, having been a show-watcher first, I was astounded to see how faithful the adaptation was. Yes, a few minor things were changed here and there (most notably the relative balance between how often Miller’s two security partners were around–Muss was basically nonexistent in the book compared to the show, while Havelock seemed much more prominent.) It was only when I got to the end and saw that the author name is a pseudonym for a writing team who also were heavily involved in adapting their work for the screen that it all made sense.

And another thing–the pacing was killer. I was halfway through the book before I realized that the show scenes happening on the inner planets weren’t a part of this story at all. Where was Chrisjen, one of my favorite characters? But apparently that’s all in book 2, and I definitely see the wisdom of adapting the two stories to run concurrently. No shame on the book at all, because following the Miller/Holden antics all the way through to Venus made a hell of a lot of sense on the page.

Basically, it’s fantastic, and it makes me want to re-watch the first two seasons of the show (I haven’t started the third yet) as well as immediately dive into the second book (which I don’t yet own, sadly.)

Do you like space opera? Interesting and often deeply flawed characters? Hard science instead of technobabble? READ THIS BOOK.

This Week, I Read… (2017 #46)

168 - The Christmas Cowboy

#168 – The Christmas Cowboy, by Shanna Hatfield

This simply went on too long. I know sweet romances generally go for the slow burn, to help mitigate the no-sex part of things, but there were multiple times from about the two-thirds mark onward that the story felt like it was coming to a close, but then didn’t. While I liked the main characters well enough to keep reading, the length definitely could have been cut down and the story tightened up.

169 - Coming In From the Cold

#169 – Coming in from the Cold, by Sarina Bowen

This nearly had me in tears more than once. I’m usually pretty harsh on romances that use unexpected pregnancy as a plot point, but here, the themes of the story are built around it, and it’s utterly believable. These two were made for each other, and I flew right through this, between the smooth writing style and the shorter length. My major complaint is actually that it felt rushed, because I think it could have been fleshed out with a few more scenes towards the end of Dane’s redemption from his extreme asshole behavior earlier on. I understand why he was the way he was, and I believe Willow would forgive him–it’s just that it happens so quickly.

170 - Magic Burns

#170 – Magic Burns, by Ilona Andrews

  • Read: 12/9/17 – 12/11/17
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

If I was thrown for a loop by the holes in the worldbuilding in the first book, this second in the series patches them up pretty nicely. It’s still clear there’s information being withheld, but this time, it’s on purpose–like the source of the power in Kate’s blood (though I’ve already put 2+2 together, I just want to know how that came about) and all manner of things about the Pack. But the (extremely) slow-burn romance going on between Kate and Curran is definitely keeping me hooked, because that ending! Holy cow! I’m going to have a hard time not diving straight into the next one, but I’ve got a library book to tackle.

171 - In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe

#171 – In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe: Classic Tales of Horror 1816 – 1914

  • Read: 12/11/17 – 12/13/17
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

I primarily read this for The Yellow Wallpaper, on the list for Crash Course Literature this season. This was the only collection available from my library system that had it, and I wasn’t terribly interested in reading the other stories.

That being said, The Yellow Wallpaper was excellent, and I read most of the other stories, which were overwritten in the style of the times–if you’re a diehard Poe fan, these are right up your alley, but otherwise I mostly found them excessively wordy.

172 - Ripley Under Ground

#172 – Ripley Under Ground, by Patricia Highsmith

DNF @ page 100, because I felt like I was rereading the first book, only worse. I did make it as far as the first murder (assuming there are more I didn’t get to, I don’t know) but I was bored by it–the stakes didn’t seem as compelling as Tom’s murder of Dickie Greenleaf, and also, we the reader already know that Tom is completely amoral and capable of killing in cold blood, so there’s no revelation. The art-forgery scheme wasn’t all that interesting, and since it made Tom so little money and he clearly lived well without it, I don’t see why perpetuating it mattered to him or why he would go to such lengths. If it were a simple matter of him not getting caught, he would have acted differently, and at the very least, probably not killed somebody with a wine bottle in his basement.

173 - Deep Down

#173 – Deep Down, by Brenda Rothert

Even though this romance dealt with deep issues, like single motherhood, rape, and incest, it felt shallow and lacking in subtlety. The heroine had something terrible happen to her, but after that, everything fell into her lap–a place to stay after her ordeal, a job and apartment when she moved, a surrogate family, a boyfriend worth having, and finally, to top it all off, a multi-million-dollar inheritance. The narrative kept saying how hard she worked as a single mom, but there wasn’t much evidence of it–her son was an abnormally perfect and well-behaved child who never caused any trouble or disrupted the charmed events of the story. Even the heroine’s desire to go back to school (accomplished in part by online classes) was barely dealt with, and the revelation that she always wanted to write felt hollow because there was no mention of it in the beginning, before the supposed dream was dashed by her inability to go to college.

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.

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:

WHY IS IT SO SHORT WHY CAN’T IT BE A FULL NOVEL I WOULD READ ABOUT JARED FOREVER

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

ADULTERY IS NOT INHERENTLY INTERESTING. ADULTERY DOES NOT MAKE THE MAIN CHARACTER MORE INTERESTING. ADULTERY DOES NOT MAKE THE MAIN CHARACTER MORE LIKEABLE OR RELATABLE TO MOST PEOPLE.

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.

Ugh.

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.