#41 – By Degrees, by Elle Casey
- Read: 3/13/20 – 3/14/20
- Mount TBR: 41/150
- Rating: 1/5 stars
I didn’t exactly like it before the ending, but at least most of it made some kind of sense. Then it went off the rails in spectacular fashion.
I have a lot of problems with the main body of the story, ranging from the silly to the serious.
1. What is up with the constantly overused term “bimbot?” Why not just use “bimbo” like a normal person would? Or am I supposed to think the women referred to that way are actually robots designed to look like attractive women? If I am, that insult gets the point across, but there’s no sci-fi flavor to Scarlett or literally anything else in the story, so it’s wildly out of place and it irritated me every single time, which was often, because it’s Scarlett’s go-to word for Tarin’s groupies.
2. Where is Tarin’s personality? Scarlett gets a ton of time being built up to be this business badass in the beginning (which story totally falls down on when she is consistently unprofessional as the romance progresses, by the way) but Tarin is such a standard bad-boy rock star, and even later when he’s growing as a person because he wants to turn his life around, we’re told he’s learning to cook from the chef on Scarlett’s team, we’re told he’s taken up photography as a hobby, but a) we don’t see him doing those things in real time to see him learning, and b) they don’t seem to have any effect on him elsewhere in changing his attitudes (not that I think a few cooking lessons or photographs would have that profound an effect that quickly, but then what’s the point?) Also, related to this, when they’re separated near the end for four months, Tarin’s physical muscle growth is apparently stupendous enough that it has Scarlett in raptures, but that’s just not realistic for anyone who isn’t devoting their entire life to bodybuilding. Visible musculature change is a slow process and while I can accept he could look a little more buff, I don’t accept that his biceps are “half again as big” as they were before. Ridiculous.
3. Scarlett’s inconsistency about the groupies. One minute Jelly and Posey are the bimbot idiots and the lowest creatures to ever walk the earth, but then when someone else (ie, a man) insults them, she turns around and defends them, or at least makes excuses for them. “They don’t know any better,” “they’re caught up in the fame,” “they’re still people, you can’t treat them that way,” even though in her head she’s said far worse things about them. It would be a small thing in a different story, this sort of hypocrisy, but since Jelly and Posey are, at different times, both major plot obstacles to the romance, I don’t think I can give Scarlett (or the author) a pass on this. Posey gets arrested and Jelly dies so that Scarlett and Tarin can be together. So are bimbot groupies the worst, or are they just misguided women? What am I supposed to think of them? You can’t have it both ways.
4. That ending. God, it’s terrible. “We’ve slept together twice but I want you to marry me because the second time we had sex I decided you’re my forever girl, but also I’m dedicated to raising a dead ex-lover’s baby who isn’t mine biologically but is mine legally because I put my name on the birth certificate, so if you want me you’re it’s mother now.” Like, who’s the real father? Does he get a say? Maybe he wouldn’t want the kid, sure, the types of guys Jelly was sleeping with it’s a fair bet he wouldn’t, but shouldn’t you find out? And talk about rushed! On one level, I can commend Tarin for being committed to fatherhood and not offering to throw the baby away to have Scarlett, but that would be stronger if I understood why he’s decided to raise Jelly’s baby at all, because there’s no real reason given. And as a twist, it comes out of nowhere, because Tarin’s issues are not father issues, we know basically nothing about his family. All his tragic backstory is based around his guilt for not preventing another rock star’s death, nothing to do with his daddy. So why is he suddenly campaigning for Father of the Year?
#42 – Bayou Moon, by Ilona Andrews
- Read: 3/15/20 – 3/18/20
- Mount TBR: 42/150
- Around the Year in 52 Books: A book that is a collaboration between 2 or more people
- Rating: 3/5 stars
This romance is buried under the weight of too many characters and too much new world building. It’s the worst Ilona Andrews book I’ve read since waaaaay back at the beginning of the Kate Daniels series, when Magic Bites was a pretty rough start to what was ultimately a fantastic series.
But I’m feeling those awkward, trying-to-do-too-much vibes again.
(Of course “the worst” IA book is still three stars and better than a heckuvalot of other romances I’ve read, so please keep that in mind as I move forward with its issues.)
First, I like that this jumps to a new featured couple by way of William, a supporting character from the first book. If this had been a series romance (like Kate Daniels) following Rose and Declan, I wouldn’t have been disappointed, but I’m not heartbroken it’s not about them, either. And I liked William so I’m happy to see him again.
The problem is, in introducing the new character as his love interest, we get her entire family clan as well, and it’s a big one. I’m not opposed to characters being from huge families, but there’s so much going on in this book and trying to develop so many family members takes up so much space. None of them really got the treatment they probably deserved (I’m looking at you, Lark, with your incredibly fast-told traumatic backstory that could practically be a book on its own but lasted for two pages) and it was clear to me that at least one or two of these cousins will probably be the leads of future books. (I checked after the fact, and I’m 100% right about that.) By the end, I was disappointed by this lack of reasonable development, because it meant I had no way of figuring out on my own who the traitor in the family was–there just wasn’t enough about each possibility for me to work with–and when that person is revealed, they have to go on an absolute rant explaining their motives for the betrayal in detail, because the reader wouldn’t know, because we didn’t know the character well enough beforehand to suspect them.
Parallel to that, the first book did a lot to set up the Edge and the way this strange worlds-collision works, and yes Bayou Moon does build on that, but mostly by doing an incredibly deep dive into a very small patch of land, so to speak, which functionally builds an entirely new world–the swamp–with very little connection to anything we learned in the first book. Cerise’s Edge is nothing like Rose’s, and when William goes to Declan for help near the end of the book, it’s shocking to see the Weird and the characters from the first book who seem like a fever dream now, because Bayou Moon feels so separate.
And since now I know more Mar family characters are future leads, we’re going to spend two more books building on this setting within the Edge (presumably) which makes this feel like a first-in-series book all over again, even though it’s the second. There’s enough held over from the first book to make this unreasonable as a standalone, yet it does so much to set up new territory and so little to carry on the first book that it seems like it wants to be a standalone/first-in-series.
I don’t want a series to have two “first” books fighting with each other.
Also, the end felt super-rushed, like we spend four hundred pages doing the family feud in detail, then a huge battle happens afterward in the Weird and it’s glossed over like an afternoon tea party. I don’t object to what happened, just wonder why something so major is wedged into the denouement, essentially.
So, after all that structural nonsense I complain about, what’s good? I do love William, and Cerise is reasonably awesome. A lot of the swamp magic was interesting, a lot of the Hand’s magic/creatures were interesting and revolting at the same time, and even if I didn’t want to spend so much time on Cerise’s extended family, the push/pull they had with her about her love life, and whether or not William should feature in it, was adorable and sometimes a little heartbreaking.
#43 – Coraline, by Neil Gaiman
- Read: 3/9/20 – 3/20/20
- Mount TBR: 43/150
- The Reading Frenzy: Read a dark or hard-hitting book
- Rating: 5/5 stars
Oh, goodness, this was so delightfully creepy and whimsical and frightening. I didn’t find it too scary, even though some of the things in should be terrifying, but I think as an adult, the simplicity of the language and the quick pace sort of flatten it out a bit? There’s not enough time to build the sort of dread that really gets to me and makes me drop a piece of media unfinished because I’m quivering with fear.
But the story structure is elegant, with the right level of foreshadowing that will satisfy an adult reader but possibly slip by a younger one, maybe they’ll get it if they’re clever, maybe it will be a surprise in the end and they’ll get that lovely aha! moment.
Coraline herself is a wonderful child protagonist, scared but smart, brave, and determined. And hey, look! A male author writing a children’s story with a girl as the lead! (No, I’m not still bitter about Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree. Not at all. Why do you ask?)
So, with the caveat that every reader’s tolerance of horror/spookiness is different and this could be too much for you, I can happily recommend this for everyone of any age.