Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Burning Nights by Julie Wetzel — well, this one certainly might keep me up at night…

…for all the wrong reasons…

I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve read by Julie Wetzel. A lot.

That said, the latest installment in the Ancient Fire series made me rather sad. Even more sad because she’s one of my auto-buy authors.

For one thing, Burning Nights was a bit of a letdown compared to what I was expecting. Julie says at the end that it was hard for her to write, and I think it does show a bit.

There’s a lot going on with Darien and Victoria and instead of retreating and regrouping, giving the characters a bit of a respite to sort out what’s going on and make some headway with everything that’s piling on them, even more stuff gets heaped on top of Darien. It’s getting to be a bit silly, especially as what happened was almost certainly avoidable if Darien had followed proper protocol. Instead, he didn’t, which seemed rather odd for someone as worldly as he is, and of course everything goes to pieces.

There’s little to no Zak in this book, which was disappointing, because Zak was always good for a smile or chuckle. Without him around to leaven the story, it wasn’t quite the same.

I felt like Julie had fallen into the “how do I top what’s come before” plotting trap, where the writer tries to outdo herself at every turn and ends up with a frenetically paced series where the characters never quite seem to come out ahead no matter what they do, you start questioning if the MCs really get to have any life to their own, and everything starts to feel incredible because seriously, how did they manage to get to their age without all this happening and now it all comes in one big glob?

Also, this entire detour just felt…unnecessary, again. It could have been easily avoided, but no. It also didn’t feel like it did too much for the overall plotline than revealing yet more crazy waiting for them in the wings, which, again, I’m tired of things blowing up at this point.

For another thing, and this was my main sadness — I’ve my first two Asian character sightings of 2016 — and they’re the baddies.

*sigh*

To a certain extent, it really felt like Julie went, what can I possibly come up with that is cooler than what came before?, and then went oh yeah, Japanese youkai stuff is really cool and has shiny things that  I could use, and then of course if you’re using stuff from Japan, then oh yeah, the baddies are Japanese too.

What’s troubling is that in a previous book, there were the ifrit who had been being used by the bad guys. So there was already a “welp, cool, the brown people are the bad guys again” feel, but that was made marginally better because they had been forced to it.

There isn’t that solace in this book.

The main dude is a sociopathic, paranoid (wait, is that redundant?) monster and Japanese. The person helping him is a kitsune (of course, because heavens forbid we use anything else interesting from Japan), who he forced into his service, true, but still.

*sigh*

It’s just frustrating. It’s really hard to see Asian characters anywhere and it just burns when they almost inevitably turn out to be either stereotypes or the baddies or both.

So far, 2016?

Two to zero, with disappointing characterization in the lead.

That aside, I’m seriously uncertain if I want to continue this series at this point. I feel like I signed up for a mostly-sweet, playful, light romance with some paranormal elements, but right now with the new reveal of Darien’s abilities/specialness, it seems like Darien and Victoria are far, far away from just being able to to be two people making a life together. The plotline is turning out to be massively more epic than I anticipated coming in. There’s a lot of stuff going on and it doesn’t seem to show any signs of winding down or getting manageable and even if Darien and Victoria can keep going, I for one feel like I need a bit of a break.

 

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

All right. *deep breath* I’m going to try and tackle this because I feel like this is something I have to say. I feel a bit like stepping off into the abyss of privilege and ignorant obliviousness, but…

I’m not disputing that Eleanor & Park has certain aspects of it that are troubling. I do not dispute this at all. Wendy Xu has a great summation of just what was wrong about the handling of the subject matter. Laura’s take on it is also brilliant and brings up much needed historical background about that time period that sheds some light on the portrayal of Park’s life. 

I agree with 100% of what they’re decrying about the execution of the book.

What I disagree with and what I expect will get me tarred and feathered, is that I disagree with the opinion of some that this book should never have happened.

The self-hatred, the obsession with height and looks and all of that — that is something my brother went through and still deals with now. It doesn’t matter how much we tell him that he’ll find someone who will love him the way he is and that how he carries himself is more important than his height — it’s something that has made him voice thoughts like “I wish I could hit reset on my life and start over with a new body”.  It’s been a month or so since I read E&P, so I can’t recall if Park just wants to be taller and have more masculine features or if he actively wants to be white. The two I feel are different and it’s important which. One is a basic rejection of what he is and another is a very teenage “I wish I were skinnier, had tits, have a lower voice, bigger eyes” thing that I see as a phase that many go through while figuring out how to be comfortable in their own skin.

As Mike Jung says:

I love Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park. It moved me tremendously, and there were moments when I was flabbergasted by the existence of a character whose inner life so closely resembled mine, in ways I’d never found in a book before. I’m not mixed-race (although both my children are), but I spent my middle school and high school years as one of the very few Asian kids in an overwhelmingly white community. I was, and in many ways remain, deeply alienated from my Korean ancestry, and I became as thoroughly assimilated into the privileged culture of white suburban America as I probably could have been.I was confused, and I grew more psychologically distanced from my extended family by the day.

My feelings of self-loathing weren’t rooted solely in my disengagement from my racial and ethnic heritage, but they weren’t separate from it either. I think Park is a character with more than a little self-hatred, a deep sense of alienation from his own racial and ethnic roots, and a very compartmentalized, incomplete understanding of himself. And some part of me fell back and sang out in relief that a book had captured those old feelings of mine so truly and so well.

Of course, he also goes on to discuss how his feelings have since become more complex once the racism was pointed out.

I feel, for some, it might be comforting to know that they are not alone in their complicated feelings about themselves. I feel that for some, it might give them some hope that somewhere out there is a person who will love them as much as Eleanor loves Park and find them attractive for what they are, not despite what they are.

I feel that the measure of comfort that might be derived from that is worth the existence of the book. Barring that, I believe that if we say white authors aren’t allowed to write POC characters unless they get it completely right will just continue the trend of having too few books with POC characters rather than helping it. It’s like every author’s debut novel — you do the best you can and after a certain point you need to put it out into the world, learn from it, and then do better next time. And I’m not saying the first ever book you write as an author. I mean the one that’s actually worth publishing and has had more than just your friends and family’s approval.

I’d rather more people tackle POC issues than not. I just would. I believe that slightly damaging perceptions are still better than nothing, especially in this case where I believe the intent is good. Art and the improvement of it doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

Some might argue that Park’s self-hatred and Eleanor’s exoticising of him reinforces racial stereotypes and feelings of self-inadequacy and might be harmful to kids’s psyches.

I would say, yes, maybe. But then maybe we shouldn’t write novels involving the thought of suicide, depression, anorexia and a whole slew of other things.

No, maybe not entirely the same, but on the other hand, isn’t it?

They’re teenagers. The question of whether we infantalize our children for too long is not something I want to address here. I’m saying that it’s not impossible to imagine teens being that oblivious, that ignorant of the historical context of things (I especially bet most teens now won’t know the historical facts that Laura laid out), to consider their blinding Romeo and Juliet passion as something understandable if not laudable.

I do wish that Park had worked through more of his problems, but to be honest, I believe that Eleanor’s love for him helped. She let him see that he was attractive to her and that was important. Yes, she was othering him the entire time, but I saw that othering as part of the fact that he’s essentially the fairytale prince from another land come to bring light into her life. Which is not great, but if we’re going to allow Prince Charming stories from Disney…

Which, yes, I’ve heard arguments against that too.

But I believe that if our children read broadly and deeply, this isn’t going to damage them. At worst it’s going to be some of the same bullshit we see in media, but then we can’t keep them in a bubble of perfectly rendered input forever.

The only way to work toward perfection is to try and fail and try again.

*throws up a shield against rotten tomatoes*

 

Painted Faces by L. H. Cosway

I have to admit: I didn’t finish this. I read to about the 38% mark and skipped to see what the ending was. I badly wanted to love it, but it just wasn’t happening. I tried again hours later and got hit in the face again with the bat of “pathological self-deprecation” and quit.

What worked:

Viv worked. I love a hero who can talk dirty and Viv has a way with panty-dropping lines. I loved that he was a straight drag queen. I could have done without his dick moves to Dorotea, which dropped him a lot of points, but otherwise he was a character that just really did it for me.

I will repeat: straight drag queen. Viv’s got an alpha streak despite his effeminate ways and it shows through brilliantly. I think part of why it works for me is because he reminds me of Moriah Jovan’s amazing Lord Macaroni.

What made me end up not finishing:

The “pathological self-deprecation”. I don’t care how many people tell me that it’s real and it’s a show that she’s a person and that it’s … I don’t care. I eventually got ground down by the incessant negativity and self-doubt and just wanted to shoot myself or something out of sympathy. For some that may be a hallmark of great writing. For me, I just wanted to die.

There’s a lot of over explanation and telling of what she’s thinking and un-self-aware self-analysis of her thoughts because it’s in first person and so it really quickly got to be far too much. She just wouldn’t let up. It was a never-ending stream of negative consciousness. Again, I’m so tired of the “I’m perfectly fine and acceptable as I am, except I really,really, really don’t like myself” trope. Can we be done, please?

Overall, there was a lot of telling not showing. A metric ton of it.

He squeezes my wrist once before letting go; the skin there gets all warm for some reason. Despite my ambitions to be the “friend” of a cool customer like Nicholas, I’m not sure if my insecure female heart can take it. I’m doomed to feel butterflies at his touch, like a desperate old maid eager for any human contact she can find, who gets tingles when people brush past her on a crowded street.

Nicholas pays for the food once we’re finished, even though I offer to pay for half. He says he owes me since I made him dinner last night. We chat as we walk back to the apartment building, stopping to have a look around the markets at the front of the arcade. When we get home, we part ways and agree to have a drink together after his gig tonight.

Up until I quit, it was all like that.

It’s, as obvious here, written in first person present. To Cosway’s credit, I didn’t pick up on that until more than a bit in.  I was also mostly able to ignore it. I’m not certain if it’s because the witty dialog and snappy banter carried most of it or if I was too distracted by the endless self-hate going on.

What I really want to know is what happened between Viv and his father’s colleague. If anyone knows, could you tell me? My curiosity is happily, or not so happily, not stronger than the depression, so I’m unlikely to find out unless someone straight out tells me.

 

Welp. I’d give this a solid D for the witty banter, fun premise, sexy dirty talk, and a hero I’d love to know in real life. I considered giving it a C, but it was a DNF.

 

 

Once Bitten Twice Shy – C.C Wood (spoilers spoilers spoilers)

I picked up this book on Penny Reid’s rec. Which, btw, if you have not picked up Love Hacked or Neanderthal Seeking Human, you should go do that, stat.

First thing: the title is an issue.

Once Bitten turned up 2881 results on Amazon. Once Bitten Twice Shy turned up 2745. Twice Shy turned up 571.

We have what we call in Taiwan “supermarket names”. The ones where you shout it in a store and more than ten people of various ages look toward you.

You do not want one of those for a title. You have one chance to grab your audience — make it count. It will also help if when your avid fans mention your title to a friend in passing IRL, the friend can then have a good shot at grabbing the right book.

I liked the voice of the narrator. Her personality was vivid and she was amusing. However, she did have a tendency toward over-explaining. It’s in first person POV and she goes into a lot of detail over what she’s thinking and why she’s thinking it. For me, it slowed down the pace and pulled me out of the story because a lot of what she was thinking had no bearing to what was going on at the moment.

For example, she has this complex about her weight. Which, by the way, I’m tired of seeing. I’m done with heroines who are beautiful but somehow magically don’t know it or don’t believe it. I’m also done with heroines who both support their right to be curvy and think it’s healthy but have deep, abiding complexes about it. It’s been done ten million times. Let’s move on.

I stared at her blankly for a few seconds. “He said I’m losing too much weight?” I asked incredulously.

I was short, but not a small woman. In fact, my mother, who had been the same size since high school, gave me a huge guilt trip about my weight almost every time we spoke. I even had a bit of a complex about it. I had curves and I likely always would. No way in hell would I starve myself to fit what society considered the ‘norm’. Did I want to be healthier? Yes, but I didn’t necessarily think those stick-thin women were healthy either.  A person who enjoyed good nutrition shouldn’t be able to count every rib.

All right.

So couple of things:

1. Way too much info. A lot of it could have been woven in with a more delicate hand instead of being a huge chunk of text that interfered with the flow of the action/plot.

2. -ly words. Watch ‘em like a hawk.

3. Saying her mother had been the same size since high school doesn’t mean much because for all we know, her mother could be a blimp and that’s why she is so hard on Ivie because she wants her to be healthier/prettier.

4. The way she mentally speaks isn’t actually how most people think. It feels like she’s talking to the reader, so breaking the fourth wall. It’s distracting and it disrupts the flow of the writing.

5. The author tends to repeat. It’s been mentioned before, prior to this, that the MC’s mother was a nag about her weight. To repeatedly come back to it is distracting, disruptive, and shows lack of faith in the reader’s ability to read and retain.

 Note: She said she was 5 foot 4 somewhere prior. For the record, that’s the average height of women in the U.S right now. I’m not sure why she keeps insisting she’s short. 

Another thing: careful of over-description and over-writing.

That night, after Donna and I spend the day hanging out and going to the movies, we were sitting in the hot tub, drinking wine. It had been a wonderful, relaxing day, one of the best I’d had since the attack. wearing my utilitarian black swimsuit, I let my head loll back against the side of the hot tub and took a deep drink of the red wine Donna had opened. It was superb.

Since the last chapter ended with Donna suggesting a movie, repeating it is redundant.

And show, don’t just tell.

I let my head loll back against the side of the hot tub and took a deep swallow of the red wine Donna had opened. It was superb.  My muscles loosened and softened in the heat. My mind felt pleasantly fuzzy from the alcohol. I hadn’t felt this relaxed in ages, not since the attack.

Some other quibbles:

The vampire mind-reading trope doesn’t do it for me usually. Either the heroine has no privacy to speak of or she learns, really fast, how to block. 21% in and Ivie is still broadcasting really loudly.  It’s also inconsistent whether or not the other vampires can hear her thoughts, which is a little bit frustrating for me.

The “vampires can hear all the things” thing also seems to be inconsistent. Donna and Ivie have conversations that according to everything else said before, should be less than private, yet the two of them seem fine with it.

If you’re going to write in first person POV and it’s in past tense —  you cannot have the narrator describe something that they don’t remember. Can I repeat that for emphasis? If they don’t remember, and it’s in past tense, then it cannot be in the book as a “this is happening” thing. It needs to be a retrieved memory or a flashback later. Also? The “I said something but I didn’t realize it/ forgot” thing is ridiculous. If you have “no idea” you said something — you have no idea you said something. The person you said it to needs to let you know.

I don’t get the women insisting on tagging along to dangerous things thing when they’re going to be more of a liability than help. I really don’t. It makes them look stupid and makes them look like petulant brats. If they are going to be helpful, that’s fine. But most of the time that isn’t the case. The fact that usually authors have them somehow magically save the day doesn’t make it better. It actually makes it worse. Either they are competent or they aren’t.

I really also wasn’t fond of the BDSM aspect. For a while it felt like she was being non-con dominated and then sometimes it felt like the D was spilling over into daily life when they weren’t in a 24/7 D/s relationship. Didn’t work for me. Someone who really does the BDSM thing that works for me is Sophie Oak.

…and the ending gave me a cranky.  There’s this other vamp, Finn, who apparently was into Ivie and was in a way the catalyst of them finally getting together. Which is fine, although I hate the “throw another guy at the MC and watch sparks fly” trope, but at the end it turns out that he’s been dream-communicating with his real soulmate. So now I feel like he’s a skanky cheater.

 

…welp. All in all?  I’d give it a D-.

I’d suggest that C.C Wood get a content editor. There’s a good story there and it could really shine, but I feel like it’s a bit obscured. Her writing style and the plot reminds me of Kristin Ashley, so take that as you will. Personally, I’m not sure it’s a plus, but then I’m getting a bit tired of bratty, childish subs and their Doms who think they’re adorbs.

 

 

5wits adventure — Espionage and 2000 Leagues

Circumstances brought us to 5wits adventures yesterday. In a nutshell, it’s kind of like live-action role-playing where you play through a plot in fairly realistic settings and puzzle-solve your way to the end.

What was awesome:

The settings were amazing! Truly — they were very atmospheric, especially the ones for 2000 Leagues. Most of my fun was had wandering through, looking at all the little details that they put in. The rooms even smelled like what they were supposed to, which I found interesting. There was a mainframe room that definitely smelled like all the server rooms I’d been into and the Nautilus had a distinct scent of water, metal, and just a bit of musty old stuff. The special effects were also a lot of fun and were pretty impressive in how they made it more realistic.

The good:

I liked the guides. They played it up just enough to be fun and entertaining, not cheesy.

The bad:

Group sizes of 15 as a limit is way too high in my opinion. There weren’t really enough puzzle stations to go around and usually that means the less assertive members of the group will get left out. Even if you take turns, there’s not often enough turns to go around before the puzzle is solved and some of them really don’t lend themselves well to collaboration. — although the bomb defusing puzzle was definitely one that required collaboration and well-designed in that sense. Also, the elevator and one of the chambers of the Nautilus is fairly limited in size and our eleven was an ok fit, but I really didn’t want to think about having more people in there.

The puzzles were also fairly simplistic, which means that it’s not really something that you’d want to do more than once as an adult. I’m sure that kids would still have fun multiple times, but we might have aged out of the demographic for repeat playings.

Verdict?

I don’t regret going, but it’s definitely not a repeatable sort of experience.  Anyone who is interested, however, should definitely go.