I set my 2018 Goodreads Challenge for 24 books because failure traumatizes me and two books a month seemed achievable even in the worst of circumstances. I’m well ahead of schedule (as in, more than halfway done in two months), so barring a coma or equal/greater catastrophe, I’ve set myself up for at least one success this year. 🎉 🎇 ✨ 💪 💃 🐙 🎆 🎊 🌟
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Finished THE BROKEN EARTH TRILOGY by N.K. Jemisin and immediately bought print copies because they deserve a place in my apocalypse library (books that must be preserved when the grid goes down). I shouted so many passages across the room at my daughter, she can talk about them as if she read them herself. They’re lodged heavily in my brain, and I feel like I’ll have to read them three more times to unravel anything meaningful I could possibly say about them. I will say, for one thing, they spoke to me as a woman who finds mothering difficult beyond the “mama bear kills threats to cubs” part.
KINGS OF THE WYLD by Nicholas Eames was lots of fun, like reading an RPG, if more RPGs had coherent plots. I was bummed the sequel, BLOODY ROSE, isn’t out yet (tell me more about Rose and the Bunny Man, pls kthx), and I’m tempted to write romance fanfic for Galenon. (“I’m going to voluntarily re-petrify myself. Wake me up when the woman I love returns”—with a secret baby. Tell me that wouldn’t be right at home in Kresley Cole’s IAD series.)
DNF’d HATE TO WANT YOU by Alisha Rai. These people don’t like each other, not even a little bit. Their only thoughts about each other, past or present, involve sex. Known each other forever, and not one indication any fondness ever existed, other than liking to screw. Every time they thought “we should stay away from each other,” I agreed wholeheartedly. If you’ve had 10 years of continued contact in which to tell someone “here’s the secret reason I dumped you” and don’t so you can keep fucking her once a year, you’re a bad person and I’m not reading about you fucking her more while you withhold information that might affect her willingness to fuck you. One of those books that everybody seems to love and I’m the weirdo on the far other end of the spectrum by myself.
Mixed feelings about UNDER HER SKIN by Adriana Anders. I was there for dealing with self-loathing and post-abuse trauma and developing female relationships, but the romance felt like an intrusion most of the time. Then at the end, the type of impulsivity and bad judgment the dude demonstrates frankly scares the crap out of me. Your “violence is bad” epiphany needs to come before your violent plans are thwarted by external forces if I’m to believe you won’t beat the shit out of somebody handy (like your girlfriend) next time the urge strikes.
HIGHLAND DRAGON WARRIOR by Isabel Cooper went better for me. It’s nice to see characters with serious responsibilities not drop them all to hop on the train to Bonetown and yet manage to find moments in their busy schedules to connect and develop a relationship based on mutual respect and admiration rather than manufactured entirely around pants feelings. I’m also very pro the non-magical heroine saving the day while the dragon warrior plays the supporting role.
NEARLY A LADY by Alissa Johnson was refreshing in that the hero has war trauma, but that hasn’t become his entire personality. He’s kind to everyone and has a sense of humor (I chortled a lot) even while determined to keep the feels at bay because he can’t handle caring about anyone else who might get hurt. The heroine is perfectly happy to be a spinster farmer in the beginning, middle, and end if he can’t get his shit together, so good for her.
Back to non-romance with THE PREY OF GODS by Nicky Drayden. First of all, this cover illustration is fantastic. The look on that little girl’s face is a whole story unto itself. A creation myth story wherein all humans carry sleeping god potential and a long-awakened god wants to activate the baby gods and feast on them like veal, but my only emotional attachment was to the sentient robot revolution drama, of which there was far too little.
Jacob Tomsky’s HEADS IN BEDS: While I was a poorly paid healthcare worker, I was also often a poorly paid hotel worker. Both the book and the reviews that are OUTRAGED, I SAY that people employed in the SERVICE industry are less than ECSTATIC TO SERVE THEM were a real blast from the past. Given that 10 times the pay wouldn’t be adequate compensation to resist murdering 90% of the guests, the book didn’t have nearly enough swearing and bitterness to suit me.
Skyla Dawn Cameron’s THE SEAL OF SOLOMON: Tomb Raider with more teamwork/better relationships/more diversity and an enigmatic Korean tiger shifter. I had fun, so I added Book 2, ODIN’S SPEAR, to my tax refund no-discount-necessary mini splurge. If you’re “ugh” about the ethics of artifact theft in fantasy fiction, trigger warning for “ugh.” The heroine’s brother is on the “That belongs in a museum!” side, but… it ain’t his book, so neener neener.
C. Robert Cargill’s SEA OF RUST: (Remember when I said I wanted more sentient robot revolution drama? Well, here it is!) People are gonna people. Here, their insistence on peopling led to being exterminated by robots—which, having been born (so to speak) of people, proceed to behave an awful lot like… people. Full-blown imperialist subjugation and murder in the name of manifest destiny and all that happy crap. I was very invested in the adventures of Brittle the Cannibal Robot and her rebel frenemies, but the frame as a whole was not beneficial to my prevailing feelings of doom, despair, and futility. (+1 for sending me on a research quest about Judas goats)
In search of a little hope, back to romance.
Ann Christopher’s RISK: Older woman/younger man left to navigate the care of their mutual niece after the death of their siblings. (Naturally, in my quest for hope, I grab a DEATH AND ORPHAN book.) The heroine has a lot of childless know-it-all parenting views, but if you breathe through each one, reality delivers a corrective slap upside the head within a few pages, so what would ordinarily be a deal-breaking annoyance for me is an obvious learning/growth arc. … And those were my notes before DNFing because of the combo of slut-shaming the hero from every quarter and an “I don’t want this”/”yes, you do”/”okay, I secretly do but stop”/”this is going to happen” makeout scene that I just can’t anymore.
Ruthie Knox’s MADLY: I was saving this until COMPLETELY finally came out because I like to have an unopened Ruthie Knox book to break into in case of emergency, and then I didn’t read it right away because WHAT IF THERE ARE TWO EMERGENCIES. I got to the part where they were making their wish list, had to cover my face to muffle the snorfling, and promptly added it to my Books to Show People Who Don’t Understand the Appeal of Romance list. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the necessity (for me) of friendliness in believable romantic relationships, and this book pushed all the right buttons. Lots of snickering, lots of swiping my leaky eyes with a blanket. Oh, and completely the opposite of the above makeout scene: “I know this was my idea, but it’s not working”/”okay, we’ll stop”/”can we try this instead”/”certainly.” This book was good for my exhausted soul.
Sally MacKenzie’s THE NAKED VISCOUNT: Speedy DNF. I cannot possibly have looked at a sample before I bought this. Right off with the physical assault leading to making out and head hopping, either of which would have been a no-go if I’d done my due diligence.
Cat Sebastian’s THE LAWRENCE BROWNE AFFAIR: In both of the Cat Sebastian books I’ve read, the “bad” half of the couple has turned out to be a marshmallow. In THE RUIN OF A RAKE, Courtenay just wants his scandalous reputation to go away so he can get back into his nephew’s life. In this one, Georgie is absolutely adamant he’s a despicable criminal, but he is not having Radnor’s neglectful father bullshit (same kid as the aforementioned, by the way—lots of people in this story world advocating for young Simon’s welfare). These books are remarkably low angst, considering the acknowledgment that being gay could get them hanged. There are other conflicts to keep the story moving, but nothing that ever seems insurmountable, so good reads when you’re not looking to be chewing your cuticles over the fate of the protagonists.
Tessa Bailey’s TOO HOT TO HANDLE: DNF. I shared some thoughts recently about why I’m struggling so much with contemporary romance. (HINT: It has a lot to do with modern men and the things about them that are chosen to be romanticized.) I would have happily read the sibling road trip and the heroine’s failure to follow in her mother’s famous footsteps, but the hero… ugh. His whole internal monologue is “I’m tired of being a manwhore,” but he’s known the heroine for minutes and has already had two boners and backed her against a wall to proposition her—behavior which would put me off on its own, but how does that even make sense with the “manwhore no more” intention? Then he invites her to his bar, and while he’s waiting, he decides if she doesn’t show up, he’s going to go bang on doors at her hotel because he cannot take a fucking hint. Dude. Get some therapy and learn some self-control. Alternatively, as my favorite Domme likes to say, “Put your dick in a cage.”
I need a break from all these warm fuzzy feelings I’m supposed to have about uncontrollable erections, so…
Craig Schaefer’s THE LONG WAY DOWN: Vegas-set UF with multiple methods of magic, demons, porn, snuff, stolen souls, real estate development, misinformed zealots (is there any other kind?) orchestrating the apocalypse, a controversial romance… There’s a lot going on, which isn’t bad, but I had a disconnect with the protagonist. Maybe he’s too Good for me? (To the extent that more people would be alive if he didn’t insist on being so damn Nice all the time.) It’s not until late in the book that he does something harsh when there’s a Good Guy option available, and he just hadn’t been set up with enough moral ambiguity to make me believe he could do it without puking his guts out and crying for weeks after. Perhaps he’s meant to be a counterpoint to the shady badass antihero prevalent in the genre, but Nice Guys who live firmly inside the lines of the defender/savior zone don’t become judge, jury, and executioner (even when the defendant richly deserves his fate) without a lot more turmoil than a brief “maybe I’m the bad guy”/”nah, you’re good”/”okay, I’m over it” convo.
Multiple Authors’ THE DJINN FALLS IN LOVE AND OTHER STORIES: I take a long time to warm up to people, and the same applies to stories—I prefer novels because short stories are over before I can bond with them. Consequently, it’s no surprise most of the entries in this anthology passed before my eyes and were forgotten as quickly as a driver sitting across from me at a red light, but a few were memorable. Faves were “Majnun” by Helene Wecker, about a djinn turned exorcist; “Black Powder” by Maria Dahvana Headley, about a legendary storyteller’s quest to collect what she set free long ago (MAJOR trigger warning for a narrowly averted school shooting); “Message in a Bottle” by K.J. Parker, about possessing either the salvation of mankind or the cause of its extinction but no way of knowing which until it’s unleashed; and “Bring Your Own Spoon” by Saad Z. Hossain, about a human and a djinn teaming up to open a restaurant to feed the poor.
Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward’s WRITING THE OTHER: $6 in ebook form, which is a hell of a good investment to help your writing be less racist, ageist, ableist, sexist, xenophobic, LGBTQIA-phobic, and otherwise discriminatory, insensitive, and erasing toward every person who isn’t your “default.” Can be read in an hour or two and includes writing exercises. The Writing the Other website is full of additional resources that can be read/viewed for the low, low price of free. I have no delusions about my ability to “do diversity perfectly,” but my notes from this guide will be integrated into my outlining and revision checklists to help me do better in the future.