Just reactions to books I read. I don't really summarize the book's content, because how hard is it to click on the cover and read the description?
So I just write my response.
I don't mean to write reviews mostly for books I haven't enjoyed, but looking back at my blog, I guess that's what I've done. These aren't going to be full reviews, though.
Robert Galbraith's CAREER OF EVIL - Another Cormoran Strike mystery and the relationship between the detective and Robin becomes more interesting as the series moves along. I did get lost a few times on the sheer number of people in this book, and the mystery gave us a nice look into Cormoran's past (along with Robin's past) but the highlight for me of these books are Cormoran and Robin themselves. The mystery part is well done, but like the frosting on the character cake.
NEED ME, MAKE ME, CHASE ME by Tessa Bailey. Okay, this "these are stories I liked" is a little bit of a lie -- I hated NEED ME. If I'd read that book first, I probably would have skipped the others. But, lucky for me, I read the final book in the series first (MAKE ME) and it was a fun romance. So was the first book in the series, CHASE ME. NEED ME had one of the worst heroes I've ever read, and although I can usually deal with student/teacher romances (it can be a fun erotic trope especially when it's done right) I just felt icky the entire time and thought the hero was a complete asshole who never redeemed himself. And the heroine was very young and she acted like it. So even though it might have fallen in the category of New Adult romance, I was just ugh over that one.
LAND OF THE BEAUTIFUL DEAD by R. Lee Smith. Smith is an amazing writer, a fabulous world builder, and is in dire need of an editor. This book is long and there are so many wonderful bits, but I'll admit to skimming through part of it, especially toward the middle when the story is bogged down by repetitive scenes with Lan's handmaiden and her lessons. Then, during the last third, the story takes off again and finishes beautifully.
Lee can create freaking magic at times. In this book, she takes a character who goes beyond "bad boy" and who is a terrible, murderous, tyrannical villain ... and makes him sympathetic. Just really amazing.
A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS by Paul Tremblay. This was an entertaining horror novel in the tradition of the Exorcist (which it gives all the nods to) and obviously written by someone who knows the genre well. There was a meta aspect to it that was fun, and the story itself well done. A slightly ambiguous ending and an unreliable narrator are used to good effect -- there's an element of distrust between reader and book, but it's never so much that I was frustrated or felt that I was just being jerked around.
So this is the kind of book I hate to run into -- a book that's well written, funny in places, where the author takes the time to really develop and look at her characters ... and yet, it doesn't take long before I want to start skimming.
Mia is jilted a week before her expensive, huge wedding and she's hiding in her apartment when the book starts. Her besties come and persuade her to go to France (since the honeymoon is paid for, why not?) and so she goes.
Still upset over the cancelled wedding (not really upset that she lost her future husband, but just upset that her plans are ruined) she's further irritated by all the lovey-dovey couples in Paris, and is prepared to fly back home the next day when she walks into a bar and meets, Lucas, who is filling in as a temp bartender (because he's really a professor at NYU). He's also a psychology major, and has the (irritating to Mia) habit of questioning everything she says and does. He persuades her to stay in Paris another day, so he can show her the city, and maybe interest her in staying longer.
He does, they have explosive sex that night, and I had a hard time staying with the story after that. But I trudged on.
It's difficult to articulate exactly what my problem with this book was -- partially because I don't want to open up my Kindle again and pull out examples.
It started with Mia. Now, I like difficult characters. So it didn't bother me that she was wrapped up in the wedding and the disappointment of having her plans smashed, or that she was wallowing in it in Paris afterward. But all I could think was: Jesus, I wouldn't want to spend more than a few seconds with this woman. I understand being selfish and self-centered and focused on your own pain (who isn't, sometimes) but the last thing I want to do is spend so much time with someone like that. And guess what we do in a first-person narrated book? Spend time with that person.
Actually, no. Let me back up. The whole problem with the whole dang story is the guy who jilted her -- because he's a rich, good-looking, narcissistic, shallow, boring piece of work. We're hit over the head with how narcissistic he is. We're hit over the head with how boring in bed he is (he doesn't like the wet spot and won't go down on her.)
So when we meet Mia, she's been with this guy over a year and was planning to marry him. She kind of knew all this stuff about him but was ignoring it because everything else was just so perfect (see rich, good-looking).
And we know she's not really upset that she's lost HIM when the wedding was called off, because we're told that repeatedly. She's upset that her plans are ruined. She was supposed to be on her honeymoon. She was supposed to be having a romantic time in Paris instead of being alone.
BUT SHE WAS WITH HIM FOR THAT LONG, KNOWING HE WAS A NARCISSISTIC TOOL and she didn't care. She didn't care.
Which means my sympathy for her is -- and my trust in her judgment regarding men -- hovers somewhere around the level of a sewer.
Anyway, the whole thing about Mia is that she likes to plan stuff out. She likes to make lists and put her ducks in order. And when things don't go the way she wants them to and people don't conform to her plans, she gets completely thrown and basically breaks apart.
...as much as I understand the need to be organized (obsessively) and how it's an issue of control, I'm sorry: that's the reaction of a freaking five-year-old. Because we aren't talking about a disorder, where if things go wrong she has to deal with anxiety and all of the terrible consequences that someone with serious control issues can have -- no, her reaction is to feel sorry for herself and basically throw a tantrum, because her plans are ruined and she hates the world for it.
So we've got a spoiled brat for a heroine. Okay. I can STILL work with that.
Except the new love interest, Lucas ... my god. Everything about him is STILL about the ex.
Lucas basically the anti-Tucker (the ex's name, I think. Not opening my Kindle again.) He's fit and lean, but he doesn't spend hours in the gym like Tucker. He plays the guitar. He's kind of scruffy. He gives orgasms.
His characterization is SO EFFING ridiculous. He's such the complete opposite of her ex that I feel like he wasn't actually his own man; he was just a composite of the qualities her ex wasn't (except fat. Because of course he could never be fat.)
And I can't even see why Lucas would be interested. She shows up in the bar, irritable and hating Paris, and he's like: I want to know more about this woman.
But even worse, I can't see why she'd be interested in HIM. He's all of these not-Tucker things, but he's not particularly witty or fascinating. They have a pleasant day together in which he basically caters to her, they have amazing sex, and yet he still comes off kind of bland and passive.
So the book goes on, they fall in love, and when the black moment comes -- guess who doesn't want to fall in with Mia's plans of love and marriage after only knowing her for a few weeks? -- she goes off the rails again. And the thing is, EVERYONE KNOWS SHE'S OFF THE RAILS. Her friends talk her down and point out how ridiculous she is.
In other words, the author knows and the friends know and I know how stupid the heroine is being, but I'm supposed to give it all a pass because ... why?
I don't know. :-(
SO IN CONCLUSION:
I tried another book by this author -- the third book in the series, FLOORED. Although in some ways it was better, there were other issues with it. I almost couldn't get over what a freaking jerk the hero was. Like, he's borderline emotionally abusive with comments that he says are only supposed to be teasing, but instead they were the kind of shit that I can only imagine would slowly tear someone down over the years they are together.
And although the heroine of that story is more sensible most of the way through, when she finds out the hero's secret (SPOILER: he has a kid) you'd think that he confessed to murdering someone. Her sense of betrayal is so over the top, it kind of killed any goodwill she'd built up with me.
We also find out that he was really freaking terrible to his ex-wife and kid, and when he finally turns his life around and falls in love with the heroine, we're supposed to believe he really has changed. Obviously the heroine believes it, but because the reveal comes so late in the book, it was hard for me to really believe it. That's the kind of thing that should be introduced at the beginning of the book so we have time to believe he'll change, too. But, nope.
WHAT I WOULD RECOMMEND INSTEAD:
For another book (with another Mia) in Paris, I'd suggest trying SWEET FILTHY BOY by Christina Lauren. It's a far superior book in every way, from the characterization of the (somewhat feeling sorry for herself) heroine to the hero, who is all the things Lucas wishes he was.
It's not often that I have a hard time following a Harlequin Presents romance. Everything is usually pretty straightforward -- sometimes the characters are more complex, sometimes they are more simple, but one of the best things about HPs is that the romances are like a square of chocolate: It's just chocolate. Sometimes the chocolate is a better quality, sometimes it's greasy on the tongue, sometimes there might be a hint of cayenne and more depth of flavor, but the story itself is pure romance, and you can follow the story from beginning to end, with emotions clearly outlined and the plot fairly simple.
This was a mess. Like Nestle Crunch got mixed up with a Reese's, but in the next minute you get an almond or some crap.
Nothing the two main characters does or feels really makes any sense. It's just OUTBURST OF EMOTION followed by OUTBURST OF ANOTHER EMOTION and there's no real link between those emotions. The writing itself is just hard to follow. The grammar is fine and the words themselves make sense, but I feel like in a single page I'm forced to jump from thought to thought without ever getting below those thoughts. People talk without really saying anything. They feel emotions without letting the reader know where those feelings are really coming from.
OMG, and the ellipses. They are ALL...OVER...THE...PLACE. It's like the return of Barbara Cartland except hers were used to denote a breathlessness and uncertainty, whereas here I feel like they are used to simply avoid delving deeper into the characters (and letting the reader know why the hell the characters are saying/feeling/doing what they're doing.) It's like the author is leaving us to draw conclusions but she never gives us enough to draw conclusions from...
So this book was just a disappointment. Because, seriously -- the premise is that, to escape the crappy life that the hero once lived, the heroine asks him to save her and to buy her virginity (to pay off her dead brother's debts.) Why is he such an asshole to her? I don't really understand it. Why does she hate him so much? I don't really understand it. There's some lip service given to how he didn't come back and save her and her brother once he made good, but her reactions and his reactions and all of their actions are just like watching a ball slam randomly against a wall. It could have been angsty and good, but instead...
So I won't read this author again. Her style is obviously not suited to my taste.
I picked this up after seeing it mentioned in a review of another book (one of those, "If you want to read something genuinely scary and well-written, try Dark Avenging Angel" type of comments). Unfortunately, it's neither scary nor well-written. The first quarter is told in a flat narrative style that all but eschews any establishment of setting or description. It's basically a recounting of a girl growing up in an abusive household, but there's nothing to place the reader in any scene or any moment. We're just told what happens.
Eventually the narrative style moves us into a present time and begins to follow the character (rather than simply recounting the past) but the writing remains terribly flat. Here is an example from a scene when she finally faces down her abusive father (and the angel kills him):
Dialogue out of a B-movie, repetitive sentence styling -- and zero emotional resonance. There's nothing in here to tell us how the character is feeling at this pivotal moment. Just some trite dialogue that suggests satisfaction and triumph in the most cliched way.
So, I put it away. Just flat and terrible.
You can pretty much feel the influence of the Walking Dead (especially in the character of the brothers, who might as well be called Daryl and Merle) but decent writing and characterization, along with a slow-burning romance make this a pretty compulsive read.
The series isn't over yet (one more book due in December) and I hope it wraps up well. There are a couple of threads hanging out there that need to be tied up, but I'm willing to trust the author to get us there.
A couple of things I really liked/didn't like: SPOILER-Y
I love the storyline with the heroine's daughter in the first book. I loved Viv's reaction to being a mother and her guilt for what happened to the girl. That ambivalence felt very real.
I really love Hadley's character, and I was a) glad to see that she and Viv became friends, rather than turning her into a spoiled selfish woman (as could have very easily been done, given Hadley's background.) On the other hand, I was sorry to see what happened to her in Las Vegas. I felt as if it had to happen to Hadley simply because the author didn't want it to happen to Viv (and the plot gymnastics she pulled to make sure it didn't happen to Viv would have earned a high score in the Olympics). But, dangit, SOMEONE had to be raped. So Hadley it was.
I'm not so sure that I like where Hadley's story is going now, but I'm holding off until the final book. Maybe I'll like how it turns out. Maybe not. For now, however, I'm enjoying the series and would recommend it to anyone who can ignore how much certain aspects of the books mirror The Walking Dead, and to those who enjoy a nicely developed romance. There's nothing new here, but what is here is entertaining and well written.
So the first -- Z-MINUS -- started out with a father finding his wife and daughter dead in his house. Basically he has zero emotional reaction. When his daughter reanimates and attacks him, he yells at her for ruining his favorite shirt.
I tried a few more pages, but figured that if a father can't work up any emotion about his dead family, I'm probably not going to work up any more interest in the book.
I stuck around a little longer for THE APOCALYPSE, but not much. There were too many POVs, too much telling, everything was taking too long to start. Throw in some blanketed racism (the "Muslims" were behind the terrorist attack, the general who is the president's advisor says. Um, no, it was a Saudi terrorist group. There's a difference -- like an "all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares" kind of difference -- but since the author and the characters apparently didn't care about that, it pretty much screamed to me that the author and the characters won't ever push beyond really lazy characterization and plot devices.)
So, blah. There are enough zombie novels out there that I don't need to waste my time with boring setups and shortcuts that rely on stereotypical representations and authors who can't be arsed to care.
Right from the first pages I was feeling a little iffy about this one. In the introduction, the narrative suffers from overstuffed descriptions of actions -- the main character barely takes a breath without it being noted. And I understand (I think) what the author was trying to do: all those sentences telling us how he opened his garage and backed into it then hit the garage door switch and the garage door slowly went down answered questions that might have come up later when the zombie attack started. Like, why was the car facing the street from the garage? How long does it take for the garage door to open?
But those are the kind of questions that can easily EASILY be answered during those action scenes. We don't need to be shown how he parked the car when little bits of info like that can just be told. It's like the author took the "show don't tell" advice to heart a little too well (except everywhere AFTER the introduction, that is, when stuff just happens and we're told all of it instead of being given enough to experience it through the characters.)
So the intro was a little bit of a slog, then after that ... it's just flat. Nothing matters. People are introduced and killed and that's just it. We see a boy make the choice to commit suicide and that's a moment that should be heartbreaking, but it's told to us in as flat a manner as possible. Although we're told his brother is torn up we're never really shown that. Everybody who dies, the reaction from the main characters afterward is just basically: Oh well, let's just keep going.
There's something to be said for pragmatism in a zombie novel, but when NOTHING really matters to the characters, it's just as hard for readers to give a shit.
And I didn't.
Add to that, the world building is just ... nothing. I felt as if I were reading The Walking Dead fanfic. I read a lot of post-apocalyptic and zombie fiction, and one thing that most good series usually do is put their own stamp on the zombie outbreak. There's something different, some little twist. They also use their own terminology or at least give a nod to other zombie fictions when they lift it. Here, the main character was calling zombies "walkers" within the first chapters. The only apparent attempt at a spin was that the zombie kids are a little faster.
Maybe this world building comes along later and I just didn't get to it, but there just wasn't anything to intrigue me enough that I was thinking, "Wow, I want to keep going to see where this leads." Instead I"d just read it all before (and in books where the writing didn't feel as amateurish.)
So, between the flat world building and bad writing, I was already thinking of just putting it down when we got to the White House.
I'm going to stop a second here and say: I've read criticisms of this author for adding politics to his zombie novel. I don't mind that. Characters aren't very interesting when they don't have any opinions, and so the background of the main character was rounded out, I thought, by the way he perceived the world.
So it's not that the author decided to add a thinly-veiled version of Obama to the book. It's not that the POTUS was turned into a zombie, either. Honestly, that's always fun when things like that happen in books -- like watching the aliens blow up the White House in Independence Day.
The problem was that this author didn't just show us not!Obama-zombie. Nope. We got to see his two girls (thinly-veiled versions) and not!FLOTUS as zombies and of course they were killed. On the page.
This could have been something that was relayed very easily through many other means. Characters find out the POTUS and his family are dead via a transmission. Or going in and realizing there was no hope for the family or anyone else at the White House. But that wasn't enough here. We had to see the bullets go into their heads.
So I stopped. It wasn't the politics. It was the fact that the author decided to take thinly-veiled versions of real life girls and a wife and kill them right in front of us.
That's enough for me.
This book was a slog. I've read a lot of overstuffed stories, but this might be there right at the top of them.
I've read Garwood books that move along at a nice clip. This one doesn't. Every introduction to every main character is endless. Every conversation is full of non-essential information and there's no sparkle in the dialogue, nothing that feels like classic Garwood. I don't even miss the historical part of it; I love suspense novels. This was about as thrilling as trudging through deep mud.
That, and the bad guy was a dead giveaway, simply because of the writing style. The first time his name popped up in the story, his full name was used in an unnatural way in dialogue. The second time he popped up in the story (with another name) again, the way it came out was like waving a red flag. There was no reason to single the person out EXCEPT that it would allow the person to be inserted into the story as a player. So despite the red herrings thrown in, there was never any twist or any surprise. Just really awkward writing that gave away the answer to the mystery long before any real clues were dropped.
There were also simply too many essential emotional bits TOLD to us later -- and not even from the hero or heroine's point of view. The first was the very long description of a suspect shooting that the hero was involved in, a shooting that was recounted in his boss's office later. A prologue would have been a thousand times more effective. Then the romantic resolution and the hero's about-face regarding the relationship (along with some other scenes that could have been deliciously angsty) were relayed by the heroine's brother to a friend instead of letting us see it happen and letting us feel the hero and heroine's emotions.
Finally, the chemistry between the two leads was non-existent. It's too bad, because a nice compelling romance might have saved the book from being such a long haul. But there was just nothing.
A terrible disappointment on both the romance and suspense fronts.
I'd read a couple of good reviews for this title, most of which focused on the diversity and realness of the characters. And kudos to the author for that, because yes, there was a diverse cast, class differences were noticed and discussed, and the overall concept/mystery behind the disease was an interesting (and believable) one.
That said, I really struggled through this book. It was one of those books that felt like a prime example of "telling, not showing" ... and because there is so much action and mystery going along with it, the telling really weighed down the narrative so that it all felt emotionally disconnected from the story. Things happened and were told to us through the main character (Shy) so although we got into his head, we never got into the rest of him. It was like being told a story after it happened rather than experiencing it from his viewpoint as it did happen.
Sometimes that strategy works (World War Z, for example, or Sarah Lotz's Three). But in this case, it just made for a rough reading experience and an ultimately bland ride, because the narrative distance sucked out all of the tension.
So, stuff happened. It should have been heart-wrenching and exciting as it happened, but it just didn't read that way.
I really enjoy this series. I've had a few quibbles with it along the way (the continual repetition of some lines that are, I guess, supposed to heighten tension or to show us what the characters are obsessing over
Who the hell are these guys?
What's in the U-Haul?
but really, just feels like padding. I also dislike how basically every POV character is God's gift to the opposite sex, because pretty much every attractive person flirts with them, and there's so much flirty banter, my God. And, although I really love the banter between Will and Danny, nowadays pretty much the entire crew is bantering in the same way. As if clever banter is an STD or something.
But, you know, overall the series is still pretty great. I have read the installment following this one, so I feel pretty comfortable when I say:
This one was pure filler. You could skip it and it wouldn't really matter. Nothing of any real importance happens.
Sure, we get to see the towns. We get to meet more blue-eyed ghouls. The thing is, we don't really learn anything new that couldn't have been shown in a few short scenes. Basically, it's the same scenario over and over and over: POV character is captured, they make an escape, they get captured again. They get a nose broken. They escape. Bad guys shoot at them, they barely escape. They try again, more bad guys shoot. The ghouls show up and make everything more difficult.
Oh, and Will promises to make it back to Lara. But don't worry, he's still promising the same thing in the next one, which starts with the POV characters making a run for it, then bad guys shoot at them, they barely escape, then MORE bad guys shoot at them...
So this was an installment where I feel like it could have been split in half, edited WAY down, and whatever is left put into the preceding and following installments. It was frustrating to read -- especially because the next one opens in what feels like basically the same point.
If you are reading the series, though, hold out hope. The next one does finally move the story forward again. I just hope Sisavath doesn't start dragging out the series with more books like this one, because this is one reader that he'll lose if he does.
Sherry Thomas writes lovely historical romances, so I was excited to try this contemporary. I barely got past the first chapter. The writing just seemed painfully stiff and pedestrian, as if each paragraph was simply a checklist of motions and emotions to get through.
Readers who enjoy romances with a smooth ride might enjoy this one a little more than I did. Jackson falls in love/lust right away with the heroine because she's beautiful. That was fine. Romance is full of men who take one look and shout "Mine!"
The problem for me was in the absolute lack of conflict. He sets out to get her and does. There are a few "But...but...buts" from the heroine which didn't amount to much. Neither of the characters really amount to much. She's perfect; he's perfect. Not a flaw to be seen in either one. So from point one, there's no real obstacle to them getting together. There's some lip service paid to his manwhore past and a stalker plot, but even that had zero tension. They're just two perfect romance people -- a virgin and a manwhore -- falling in love.
And all the while, you know exactly what they wear. Exactly. Every single person is described each time we meet them, including a rundown of their current outfit (and using exactly the same sentence structure each time). It was tedious and repetitive. I removed half a star for that irritation alone.
I thought I should finally get around to reading this. I like romance and hot romance. Really like it.
But this is terrible so far. She bites her lip and he gasps and there was actually an ARGH in the consummation scene.
I'm going to try to get farther into this, but I dunno if I have the strength*. Not when there are so many other books and so little time to read them in.
I'll probably still go see the movie, though, just for the lulz.
*I could only get through half of Twilight, too, so maybe that makes sense. The underlying story and characters just don't speak to me, so why would the fanfic? :-/
There's a lot of talking in this book. A lot of explaining and talking. It starts out well, but as soon as the initial crash/events happen, mostly everyone just talks about what happened.
This is one of those books that sounds better than the execution is. Not that it was bad -- my eyes glazed over in some of the talky parts -- but it's the kind of book that would be far far better as a television series because the visuals would make up for the talky bits and general lack of action. (Or rather, bursts of action and then talking and talking.) The characters don't really discover anything; it's just all explained to them.
It's also one of those books where I wish I'd never read the author's note at the end, in which he explains that the book is basically about his personal writing journey. Do you know what I never, never, NEVER want to be told? That I'm reading a fictionalized memoir about a writer. Thanks but no. Give me the fiction. Leave your personal journey out of it. I don't care about you. I care about your characters and I never want an author to replace his characters in my head.
I really enjoyed the first two books in this series. But this one, I don't know -- everything wrapped up okay, but maybe because I noticed the writing seemed more stilted, I just wasn't feeling the urgency and interest that I had in the earlier installments.
I don't even know if the writing was really more stilted or if I just noticed it this time.
Anyway, overall it was a solid series and I'm glad I picked it up. It didn't go out with a bang or a whimper, really. Just a nice, solid -- if not too exciting -- end.
Between the lack of indents (a line break just isn't good enough, I'm sorry. The page looks like a wall of text) and the manic first-person writing, I just can't.
Apparently reading is just not a good bet for me today.