Posting early because I have to bring some job credentials up to date, which means studying for the rest of the month.
It’s ritual to read some writing books between drafts in hope of leveling up for the work to come. Nothing life-changing there, so moving on to the recreational reading.
Unless otherwise indicated, product links go to Amazon, and those are affiliate-coded. I buy all my books and have no involvement, professional or personal, with any party named below.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson: It was brought to my attention that some of the book’s fans harbor hateration for the 1999 movie adaptation, which my daughter and I love, so I had to check out the “unassailable perfection” of the source material. And then I had to give a TED talk about the fundamental differences between novels, which are allowed to be contemplative and cerebral, and movies, which, by design, must visually show action.
Ninety minutes of contemplation is never going to get to production at a film studio because they already know that will be a boring movie. A FAITHFUL ADAPTATION OF THIS BOOK WOULD BE A BORING MOVIE. Half of it would be Eleanor sitting/walking with a voiceover narrating her thoughts because there isn’t enough visible action present in the book to make a feature film. Doesn’t make it a bad BOOK, but good BOOKS often make poor FILMS because the two forms communicate differently to the audience.
The movie provides a reason for the house’s malevolence; in the book, it’s just a malevolent house, no conflict there. The movie provides the doctor with an ulterior motive/false pretenses; in the book, he just invites people and they come, no conflict there. The movie traps the characters inside the house; in the book, they spend quite a lot of time roaming around freely, no conflict there.
One conflict in the book I’m glad didn’t get dwelled on in the movie is Nell’s envy/jealousy toward Theo (serial killer obsession with getting close to her plus resentment that she got attention from anyone else), which is all the more remarkable because Hollywood is where it’s mandatory for any two women in proximity to despise each other.
This is a rare occasion when I prefer the movie for all its deviations.
Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine: The second Great Library book. It’s been a while since I read the Ink and Bone, and I’d have benefited from flipping through it first to refresh my memory because this one doesn’t hold your hand recapping everything that came before (hallelujah). By the end of Act I, I felt adequately up to speed with the institutional fuckery our plucky gang of youths is up against, but I strongly discourage going into this Book 2 with a totally blank slate.
Since this book doesn’t stand alone at all, it’s hard to say much about it without spoiling the hell out of the first book. It’s a prison-break story to rescue one of the friends who got captured previously. At one point or another, I suspected absolutely everyone except Wolfe and Santi of treachery (they’re exempt because I believe their love for each other has no limits, and what’s good for them as a couple aligns with destroying the bad guys). I’d be a terrible fictional team player because I wouldn’t believe one damn word anybody ever said. Part of that is me (Readers: Bringing half the story to the story since stories were a thing), but Caine also has a writer brain that knows what I like. It took ONE sentence to make me doubt a couple of otherwise lovable, upstanding members of the team, and I’ve read enough of this author’s books to trust that was a deliberate move on her part.
Quick Trick by Skye Jordan: Quick DNF. Hockey player gets butthurt when hometown girl doesn’t recognize what a legend he is and gets drafted straight to the Romancelandia Douchebags in the Don’t Fuck That Guy league. One minute he was reminiscing about how she didn’t know he was alive in high school, and the next he was like “How dare you not know what a big deal I am?” Well, chuckles, some people don’t live for hockey, and if you weren’t on her radar before, she didn’t have any reason to take an interest in it on your account. He expected her to fall all over him because he’s Mr. Pro Hockey Hometown Boy Made Good, and that kind of validation-seeking when met with rejection leads to dismembered bodies often enough that I’m not into it in a romantic hero.
I got right back on the contemporary sports romance horse because I’m not a quitter, dammit.
The Hot Shot by Kristen Callihan: I had no idea this was fourth in a series until I went to get the link, so it works just fine as a standalone, no reliance upon nor obnoxious marketing for other books. He’s the titular hot shot quarterback. She’s a photographer shooting a charity calendar full of nekkid football players. They start off sniping and not-my-typing at each other, progress to reluctant respect, decide they’d be good friends, and then oh-shit-why-are-we-flirting-friends-don’t-flirt-stop-it. He takes her in after her apartment burns down, and she returns the favor by playing his girlfriend to get his mom off his back about his loveless existence, and the fake relationship turns real, as one does.
The sex starts at the midpoint, and most of their interactions thereafter seemed to involve it. Not Using Your Words is a time-honored tradition in all fiction because delaying the inevitable increases tension, but the same method of avoidance doesn’t work more than once and just feels like stalling. Adding butt stuff doesn’t make it a different tactic.
Aslo kneaded poofreeding. There were words I couldn’t even puzzle out in context and had to give up on the sentence, missing words, who knows what (He speaks at stronger now, but more distant.), and a few gaffes like “lord of the manner.” I get paid to proofread and still pay somebody else to check my own work, so this drives me crazy.
+1 for not giving the infertile heroine a miracle pregnancy, though. I had my doubts for a while there.
The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley: I became aware of this book after a 1-star review made the rounds describing it as “murderous lesbians in space” and every single person I know stampeded to buy it due to that appealing collection of words.
The Legion is a bunch of “planets” that are fleshy and alive, with human civilizations dwelling inside them. Living planets can die, and taking over another planet to get its resources to sustain your own is the name of the game. Naturally, high demand for limited resources leads to war (hence the “murderous” aspect of the space lesbians).
The primary POV character, Zan, has lost her memory and often doesn’t know what’s going on any better than the reader does. If you need every little thing spelled out the moment it happens, this will probably be frustrating for you. If you can trust that everything you need to know will be made clear eventually and go along for the ride, you’ll be fine.
(On a semi-related note, permit me to recommend Planescape: Torment for your amnesiac computer gaming needs. I can’t tell you what happens because it’s a rare game where consequences radically alter the experience. My daughter, watching me play after her: “I had to kill that guy because he wanted me dead, how did you get him in your party and chatting with you like BFFs? I had to kill every single person in this place because they attacked me, why are you all buddies? Ooh, you’re going to regret killing that mage for being mad that you were robbing his house, he was useful. DID YOU JUST OPEN THE DEMON BOX IN THE MIDDLE OF THE MARKET? HOW DID YOU GET MAZED FOUR TIMES? OMG WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOOOOOOOOOO?” Me: “What part of ‘naturally chaotic neutral and only behave in real life because it’s in my best interests to stay out of prison’ don’t you understand?” It’s the readingest game you ever will see, and the storytelling thrilled me all the way from concept through execution. Available on Steam, GOG, and iTunes.)
Getting Wilde by Jenn Stark: This was recommended to me after I gushed about how much I love the Livi Talbot series. This book is permafree, so there’s no risk to try it if you’re even a little bit interested. Sara Wilde obtains and sells magical artifacts and then donates the money to relocate magical kids before their gifts make them targets for exploitation and/or organ harvesting. She does some work for a magical organization, and the guy who hires her for that work wants to get in her pants.
The obvious UF love interest is a power forward in the Don’t Fuck That Guy league. I can accept him being a mind meddler because if that’s how you’re made, handling it responsibly would be a never-ending challenge with no possibility of a perfect score. I can accept him putting a sleep whammy on her in order to remove her from danger she wasn’t taking seriously. SEARCHING AN UNCONSCIOUS WOMAN AND REMOVING THE TALISMAN THAT KEEPS HER FROM FUCKING HIM IS UNACCEPTABLE. She is wearing a Don’t Fuck That Guy amulet, he recognizes its purpose as a Don’t Fuck That Guy amulet (that would be an unambiguous NO, which he understood loud and clear), and he TOOK IT AWAY FROM HER. HE PHYSICALLY REMOVED HER “NO.” That’s not even a little bit blurry. The word for a man who can’t deal with a woman’s rejection of his sexual advances is rapist, and I don’t give a single damn how “hot” he’s supposed to be because I’m henceforth envisioning him skinned alive, which isn’t a good look on anybody. When she inevitably bangs him again and falls in lurve (the description of Book 4 specifies “blossoming love” for him, so you may now call me Claire Voyant), I’m going to hate her, too, so I’m noping out of this series right here.
Just to be clear, I’m fine with romancing a smug, overconfident asshole. The difference between a smug, overconfident asshole and a rapist is that a smug, overconfident asshole, upon discovering the existence of a sex-prevention talisman, would say, “Wow. That had to cost a fortune. You must want me really, really bad,” AND BECOME EVEN MORE SMUG, OVERCONFIDENT, AND ASSHOLISH. “Keep your little trinket. Your own desire will overcome it sooner rather than later. I’m going to go do some power yoga while you stew in yearning. You may watch, but please control your rampaging lust until I’m done.” A rapist can’t allow his victim to have any kind of power to refuse him; a smug, overconfident asshole doesn’t need or want to destroy a woman’s free will in order to get her. It’s not a subtle distinction!
I have a laundry list of other dislikes, but if “Sexual Predator = Hot Guy” doesn’t bother you (good news for y’all: it applies to THREE men in this book), the literal fashion in which tarot is used, the shallow treatment of things that seem like they should be a big deal, and lack of satisfactory resolution of ANY of the plot points via protagonist action probably won’t either.
Clockwork Boys by T. Kingfisher: There are many writers whose online presence I enjoy, but their books… not so much. T.Kingfisher/Ursula Vernon (of Hamster Princess fame) is on brand in both venues, that brand being cleverness, humor, gardening, and skulls.
This story begins with Slate doing a meet-and-greet in a dungeon, searching for a violent criminal to go on a special mission. Her sixth sense (which manifests as the scent of rosemary) leads her to Caliban, a paladin incarcerated for killing eight nuns (“In fairness, it was three nuns and five novices…”) and two guards while under the influence of demon possession.
There were a great many things she had prepared to say—vague explanations, stripped of any facts that could be dangerous, mentions of the Dowager’s name, promises of amnesty in the unlikely event any of them survived.
She considered them all and rejected them one by one.
“Would you like to go on a suicide mission?” she asked instead.
He smiled. It was the first genuine smile she’d seen all day.
“I would be honored,” he said.
Direct and pessimistic! Now you’re speaking my language.
The mission is to travel across a war zone into enemy territory and find out how to stop and/or copycat the clockwork army rampaging through the defenses. This merry band is the third string—the best of the best and the next best option have been slaughtered and gone missing, respectively. To ensure they have little incentive to bail on the mission when it becomes dangerous, members of our team are inscribed with monster tattoos that will literally eat them if they stray too far from the plan.
Minor wonderworkers were common enough, often possessing very specific talents. Still, what kind of turns did a life have to take before you discovered that your personal gift from the universe was making carnivorous tattoos?
To my everlasting disappointment, this question is not answered with a career path I can follow.
Not a romance, but there’s plenty of forger/paladin UST. It’s a book 1 of 2, done right—they find something they were searching for and arrive at their destination, so although the mission isn’t over, there’s a sense of closure for this volume, and plenty of questions left hanging to fuel need to read the next installment.
Hell, it was so good, I’ll go back for more.
The Wonder Engine by T. Kingfisher: The road trip part of the previous adventure is over, and our merry band of misfits has reached the enemy city. The investigation into the clockwork army begins in earnest.
Again, part twos with continuity are difficult to describe—you don’t know crucial information, and I don’t want to spoil Book 1. So I’ll extol a more general virtue.
All four members of this team are necessary. The scholar, who thinks breathing the same air as a woman will turn his bowels to water and make his genitals wither, is not only crucial to the research and gaining access to academic resources but is also the most skilled traveler among them. The paladin has a big sword, charms ladies into giving him information they wouldn’t tell any other member of the scruffy bunch, and causes decent men to bow and scrape before his glory (indecent men are less impressed, but that’s what our criminal contingent is for). The assassin… mostly kills people because his personality is ill suited for diplomacy (“Darlin’, you’d be amazed what I can murder my way out of”), but he can also be relied upon to kill when everybody else’s conscience is in the way of doing what’s necessary. The forger’s professional skills aren’t called upon much, but her nose saves them all from trouble, she has the diplomacy to negotiate with hooligans, she’s surprisingly ruthless in a fight when need be, and she’s the rallying point that keeps these vastly different personalities working in relative harmony (when they’re not actively trying to kill each other). It’s a well-designed team, which is a rare thing in these everybody’s-a-red-shirt days.
Is good. You read now.
(For chicken adventures, hilarious D&D live tweets, storytime with the Swiss Family Robinson, and other shenanigans worthy of the word “shenanigans,” follow the author on Twitter @ursulav.)