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Friday, December 15, 2017

Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe (Robinson Crusoe #1)

Robinson CrusoeOkay, first off--who the heck knew that Robinson Crusoe actually kicked off a three book series?  I did not know this.  I was not aware of this at all.  Imagine my surprise when, getting to the end of the book, I found that this is continued in not one but two more books.  Oy.

When I needed a pick for a book set in the wilderness for the Popsugar 2017 Reading Challenge, I thought Robinson Crusoe was the natural pick.  It's a classic, and I want to read more of those, and I also had a foggy memory of reading the Great Illustrated Classics version when I was little.  Of course, I didn't realize then that those versions are pared-down significantly and in fact only found this out in the past coupe of years.  Oops.  Anyway, it meant reading the original long-form was a pretty easy decision.

This is a book typical of its genre--the early seafaring or adventuring tale, in which there isn't a strong central plot per se but is more just a character relating his adventures from a point later on in his life.  For our purposes, the character is the eponymous Robinson Crusoe, who tells of his misbegotten youth and many years shipwrecked on a deserted island in the Caribbean.  I suppose you could say the "plot" is that he gets shipwrecked and spends the rest of the book looking for a way to escape, but that's generous at best as most of the book is telling us how he survived on the island, combated fears and threats of native cannibals, etc.  There is a weird segment at the end after he does escape the island and is back in Europe, but that's clearly meant to segue readers into Defoe's second volume and, honestly, can probably be mostly ignored.  It really didn't fit the pacing or themes of the rest of the book at all, and felt very disjointed tacked onto the end as it was.

Because this isn't a book with a strong central plot or a lot of characters to carry the story without a plot, it means it really can be dry and boring.  For much of the book, Crusoe is the only character on the page, and when other characters enter at the beginning and end they are much simplified.  Much of the book is Crusoe telling us of his daily tasks and, to an annoying degree, the religious awakening he underwent while on the island.  Yes, this is a preachy book, which I was not expecting.  And yes, the recitation of the daily facts of life, which are mostly the same from day to day, got really old really fast.  I was kind of hoping Crusoe would make a break for it on the open sea, but alas, that never came about.  Because there are few big, story- or life-shifting events, the book is slow and dry for long expanses at a time.  Also, Defoe kept repeating things, like how Crusoe referred to a part of the island as his castle and another part as his bower--I got it after the first five times, thank you very much.  Maybe he was paid by the word.

Overall, it was fun revisiting this and seeing how much it differed from my childhood version (a lot!) but it wasn't really a riveting read, and I don't think I'm up for two more books of it.

2 stars out of 5.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Temptation - Karen Ann Hopkins (Temptation #1)

Temptation (Temptation, #1)Things I did not know before taking on the Unapologetic Romance Readers challenge for 2017:

1) Christmas/holiday romances are pretty much all shorter than the typical romance novel.
2) Motorcycle romances basically all involve treating women terribly.
3) Amish romances are a thing!

Temptation was recommended for this category by a group member because it was cheap on Kindle.  And while price doesn't necessarily tell quality in Kindle books, sometimes it does...

The story here is about Rose, a non-Amish aka "English" girl who moves to a rural area with her father and brothers after her mother dies from cancer.  They are welcomed by the neighboring Amish family, and Rose instantly falls in love with their son Noah and he with her.  Oh, instalove.  But of course, their lifestyles are in the way of their twue whuv!  #drama  That is literally the entire plot to this book.

Noah has a Madonna/whore complex about Rose that really rubbed me the wrong way here.  He likes her because she is vibrant and different and nothing like the girls of his acquaintance--but also resents when she wears pants or makeup or talks to boys that aren't him, which are perfectly normal things for a sixteen-year-old girl to do, and Noah knows that it's normal for her and resents her for it anyway.  This is not the foundation of a healthy relationship.  Neither is Noah expecting Rose to drop her entire lifestyle and walk away from her family when he is not willing to make any concessions for her, because it's "just better" if they stay in the Amish community.  And Rose's willingness to go along with this really made me want to slap her upside the head.  You know how in The Little Mermaid movie, Ariel protests that she's fifteen and can do what she wants because she is an #adult, and you kind of want to smack her because No you are not you are fifteen!  Yeah, that's exactly what this was like for me.

This is a series, and I cannot possibly imagine how I could put up with this drama for two more books plus another that focuses on a different main character.  Yikes.  I mean, given the "climactic" events for this book, I'm very wary of Hopkins jumping the shark even moreso in the other books.  Additionally, the writing is just average and Hopkins very much does not have a good editor or clear grasp of grammar as it relates to dialogue, at all, which sometimes made it difficult to tell who was talking, when conversations began and ended, etc.  Additionally, as I mentioned before, there's no complexity at all to the characters or the plot, which actually made this a pretty bland read.

Overall, not something I think I'll be continuing.

1.5 stars out of 5.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Hunger - Roxane Gay

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) BodyHunger is up for a Goodreads award, I had it from Book of the Month, and a coworker had read it it and recommended it, and so this confluence of events led me to read it.  Gay's memoir is, essentially, about being fat.  At her heaviest, she weighed close to six hundred pounds, and while she's significantly below that now, she's still considered super morbidly obese.  Her weight problem stems from childhood trauma--after being gang raped at the age of twelve, she began eating in an attempt to make herself overweight and repulsive to men because she didn't want to be hurt again.  Now and adult, she doesn't want to be overweight, but essentially a lifetime of bad habits have made it hard to lose the extra pounds--and then, when she does start to lose weight, the old fears rear their ugly heads again and send her back into bad habits.

Gay's memoir is painful to read because of how real it is.  I am not overweight.  I am one of those skinny girls who sees a little padding on her hips (because you suddenly develop hips in your midtwenties--who knew?) and starts to agonize over it.  I chew my nails over inconsistent sizing at Old Navy because I wear different sizes in different styles of pants, and even though I intellectually know that sizing is bullshit, I still don't want to wear a 6 in one size when I wear a 4 or even a 2 in another.  And why is that?  Because I know the thing that Gay hammers home so hard--that our society treats fat people like shit, and I don't want to come even close to falling into that category.  In that way, Gay's memoir is easy to empathize with even for someone who isn't overweight, because many of us can tap into the fears of being so--we want to be young and pretty and skinny and fit, but life doesn't always work out that way.  I mean, I might want to weigh ten pounds less, even though my weight is perfectly healthy, but I'd also much rather spend my time reading books than going to the gym.

The other way that Gay's memoir connected with me was giving me a terrible feeling of guilt because, like a lot of society, I have a knee-jerk reaction when I see someone who is very overweight.  I do make snap judgments about their character.  I've become much better at recognizing these reactions, walking them back, and using logic to guide my thoughts and actions instead, but it's hard to buck what is essentially a lifetime of conditioning that fat equals bad.  At the same time, though, I can't bring myself to wholeheartedly jump onto the body positivity train, because at some point being overweight does lead to health problems, and I don't think "healthy at any size" is really a thing when someone can't walk a mile with their friends without having to worry about breathing problems or a heart attack.  Yes, this is judgey of me, and I am coming out and admitting it, because Gay admits so much in her memoir that I feel like the least I can do in a review is come out with the same honesty.

But Gay's story isn't just about a physical hunger for food; it's about hungering for so many more things, like company and love and security.  These are all other aspects on which I think anyone can empathize, because it's a rare person who is completely fulfilled and can't connect with some aspect of hungering for something they don't have.  This also isn't a book of wallowing, despite how intense and painful it can be.  Instead, it is an explanation and an attempt to make readers see how peoples' actions affect each other on many levels throughout life, and to make them re-evaluate how they see different people and situations.  In this, I think she is extremely successful.

This is a powerful story that I think can resonate with many audiences.  I only had two real issues with it, neither of which was content-related and instead were writing-related.  First, and this is the more minor issue, I don't get what's up with the constant parentheses around (my) body in the early part of the book, especially when they vanish later on.  Can someone explain this?  Second, the writing here isn't a solid narrative and is very scattered.  It jumps to and fro in time in a series of chapters which rarely surpass five pages and often don't go past two or three.  This jumping means that she often re-hashes things that have been covered before, sometimes two or three times, and it can sometimes be hard to follow the thread of thought.  At times, I thought that the chapters were being grouped by theme, particularly when there were a few close together which talked about Gay's relationship with food through cooking...but then that fell apart and went back to roaming to and fro, and I was left a bit perplexed again.

Overall, I think this is a book that serves its purpose very well, and can resonate with readers across a wide spectrum of ages, body types, ethnicities, etc.  But it probably could have done its job a bit better if it had been a bit more structured.

4 stars out of 5.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Crimson Kiss - Trisha Baker (Crimson #1)

Crimson Kiss (Crimson, #1)Vampires.  Oh vampires.  They have completely taken over pop culture ever since Twilight, and every time I think they're about to go away, they come back again.  Of course, those are new school vampires.  They can go out in sun, they sometimes sparkle, they're universally beautiful and love-worthy, etc.  Crimson Kiss isn't like that.  It predates Twilight.  The vampires here don't abide by all the vampire "laws" of old--they're bothered by garlic because of super senses, not because it repulses them for magical reasons, and they can touch crosses--but they still suck blood and kill people (some of them) and some of them are downright hideous.  And they can't go out into the sun.

This was my read for the "dark romance" category in the Unapologetic Romance Readers' challenge for 2017, and it delivered.  It starts with heroine Meghann learning that the vampire who made her into one, Simon, is alive when she thought he was dead--and he's still one sadistic bastard, and he's coming after her.  From there, the story jumps back in time to how Meghann met Simon, became a vampire, and escaped his hold.

The writing here isn't much to marvel at, really lacking emotion and finesse.  But the depravity present in this book isn't to be sneered at.  I was supposed to read a dark romance, and I got one.  This is the first part of a trilogy, and so maybe it will wrap up happily with someone who is not Simon--but this one is all about Meghann and Simon, until the very end.  Even when Meghann thinks Simon is dead, she's still wrapped up in him even though she doesn't want to be.  She can't commit to another, more positive relationship because her bond with Simon is still there, in her head even if it's not in her heart.  Baker does make an effort to show that Meghann isn't really in love with Simon--that it's magic and the bond and lust talking, and not actual emotions.  But Meghann heself stubbornly insists she loves Simon, and that bothered me so much.  I know she was in an abusive relationship, but she didn't act like one in personality.  She didn't blame herself, she knew she had to get out, she just didn't know how, because Simon was a powerful vampire.  And it seemed like, with that in mind, she should have known that she wasn't in love with him.  There was just some disconnect in the logic there.

I also didn't really like any of the characters in this book.  Some of them, like Simon, weren't meant to be likable--but I will say that Simon was interesting, whereas I didn't think everyone was.  I thought Meghann was actually pretty boring.  She had such promise--vampire psychologist who can only see patients after dark!--but the book never really dug into any of that instead just went into a Simon-spiral.  Alcuin had the promise of being sort of the Dumbledore of vampires, but that went down the drain pretty quickly once Simon showed up.  Jimmy was a pretty shitty love interest; he had his own issues, to be sure, which were also vampire-related and could have been interesting, but he went from "You're a vampire!  I hate you!" to "I love you and want to be with you!" in literally the space of a few sentences, so that was a dud for me.  And then he was pretty darn stupid when dealing with the Simon situation even though he really should have known better.

Overall, if you want a darker vampire book, I would say this is for you.  And I do mean darker.  There's repeated rape and torture in this book; it truly abounds.  But if you want a romance, it's probably not the best choice, and the writing isn't anything special.

2.5 stars out of 5.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Take the Lead - Alexis Daria (Dance Off #1)

Take the Lead (Dance Off, #1)Take the Lead was listed as one of the best romance books of 2017 by Sarah MacLean in The Washington Post, and Nenia over at Readasaurus Reviews gave it a thumbs-up, which is fairly rare for her, and it's about a dance competition, so yeah, it jumped onto my to-read list pretty quickly!  I have a weak spot for figuring skating romances and Dancing with the Stars, which I never watch on-air but binge clips of on Youtube, and this book could also fill in a category I hadn't yet gotten to for my romance reading challenge: the interracial romance.  I'd planned to read The Far Pavilions for it, but when that showed up on my Kindle with a read time of 25 hours, I backed away from that, bumped it to next year's list, and put this in instead; Alexis Daria is an #OwnVoices author, and her heroine Gina Morales is a Hispanic Puerto Rican while her hero Stone is a white guy with distant Scandinavian ancestry.

SO.  The book itself.  Gina is a professional dancer on the The Dance Off, which is basically Dancing with the Stars.  For her fourth season, she fins herself partnered with Stone, whose family is the subject of a reality TV series where they live "off the grid" in the remote expanse of Alaska.  And as soon as they meet, Gina knows what the show has in mind--a showmance between them, something she refuses to do as she tries to buck the stereotype of the promiscuous Latina and put forth a more true and positive image of herself.  Problem: she and Stone actually are attracted to each other.  And when they find out that Gina's job is on the line if she doesn't win The Dance Off this year, Stone doubles down and decides to take them all the way.  There are costumes and contrivances and glitter and of course awesome dances, though we rarely see Gina and Stone on stage; most of the action actually takes place in their rehearsals and other parts of their lives.  There's a positive female relationship between Gina and her roommate Natasha (set up to be the heroine of the second book) and just all-around awesomeness.  But that doesn't meant that Daria slacks on the drama.  Oh, no.  It's a constant stream of "We can't be together because I want to live in the city and you want to live in the wilderness!" and vice versa, and a Big Miscommunication to which, I will say, Gina totally overreacts (and everyone tells her so, thankfully).

But yeah.  This book was a riot.  It wasn't perfect, but it was very, very fun, and well-written.  Stone and Gina were both great main characters (Stone of course has a Secret that he is protecting for his family), the drama is on-point, and the "behind the scenes" dynamic of the dancing show is one I haven't seen before, showing just how much of it is contrived for the audience's amusement and consumption.  I'm definitely looking forward to reading the second book!

4 stars out of 5.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Hooker and the Hermit - L. H. Cosway and Penny Reid

The Hooker and the Hermit (Rugby, #1)While trawling Penny Reid's titles on Amazon (I was hoping for an omnibus of her Chemistry books for Kindle, but no such luck at this point in time) I came across a series she'd co-written with L. H. Cosway in which the heroes all appear to be rugby players.  Intriguing.  So of course I bought the first book and went off.  The story here follows Ronan Fitzpatrick, a rugby player who is spending time in New York after being suspended from his team for beating up a teammate, who happened to sleep with Ronan's girlfriend and brag about it.  And then there's the heroine, Annie, who is almost a recluse.  She runs a blog about poorly-dressed celebrities under the moniker of "the Socialmedialite" while also working as a reputation fixer at a New York firm where she avoids going into the office as much as possible.  And then Annie's boss assigns her to work on cleaning up Ronan's reputation, because Ronan pretty much demands it after he lays eyes on her--not knowing that she's the one that tore him apart in a post on her blog earlier in the week and consequently received a very nasty email response from him.  Oops.

Ronan proceeds to begin sexually harassing Annie immediately despite her repeatedly indicating she doesn't want anything to do with it.  This immediately struck me as strange because that is so not up Penny Reid's alley.  And then I looked at what else L. H. Cosway had written and saw Six of HeartsAnd things suddenly made much more sense.  But I forged on ahead!  Soon, Annie and Ronan's attraction (because Annie is attracted to Ronan, even though she is distinctly not looking for a relationship of any type with anyone, at least not in the physical world) lands them with pictures of them kissing in the press and paparazzi following them everywhere...even though apparently no one in the US knew who Ronan was until this exact moment and now they are all crazy about him. (?) And then Annie is congratulated on her plan to make Ronan's image better by making it look like they're dating, and they're off!  Oh dear.

This was not as good of a collaboration as I would have hoped.  The continuity is a bit scattered and the main conflict of the book--Annie trying to hide her Socialmedialite identity while Ronan pretends he doesn't know about it--is pretty flimsy at best.  Considering that Annie's boss basically lays it all out in a few sentences at the end of the book, it's pretty evident that both characters were reacting immaturely.  The plot is jazzed up with the conflict with the paparazzi, which again didn't really make sense as long as they were in the US--I can understand it when they were in Ireland, but I don't think I could name a single European sports star other than David Beckham, and he's not even current anymore, so him being stalked as famous in the US was not really something I bought into.  They try to throw in some light BDSM to spice things up and have something that can make Ronan look like a monster, but that doesn't really work out either--though I wish I'd known about this book when I'd been trying to fulfill the BDSM category for my romance reading challenge!

Ronan and Annie definitely get cuter as the book goes on, but they suck at using their words and miscommunication is the central conflict in their relationship, which is a trope that I pretty much hate.  They sometimes act more like children than adults, completely shutting down not because they are incapable of conveying their feelings, but because they just don't want to.  A few lines of dialogue could have solved this at pretty much any point in the book, but of course that would have made everything be over too quickly.

Overall, I liked this, but not as much as I wanted to.  I think this is an interesting start to a series but the way Ronan dives into Annie by totally harassing her rubs me the wrong way.  I think this is Cosway's hand in the book rather than Reid's...though there was that start to the Knitting in the City series... Hm.  Anyway, I'm willing to give the second one a chance, but maybe this is a collaboration that was better off not happening.

2.5 stars out of 5.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea - Dina Nayeri

A Teaspoon of Earth and SeaThis book has been on my to-read list for ages, and I'm not entirely sure why I added it.  It probably had something to do with the cover; I love a good silhouette cover and a lyrical title.  It might have also had something to do with the description--Iranian girl (and eventually young woman) uses her love for America to escape.  But honestly, I can't remember on that part now.

The story follows Saba, who loses her mother and her sister on the same day in the years following the Iranian revolution.  She's convinced they flew off to America, leaving Saba and her father behind.  Others insist that her mother is gone and her sister is dead, but Saba's belief that they are alive is so all-encompassing that she had me half-convinced that she was right--and there really was no telling what happened to her mother... Wrapped up in her beliefs, Saba embraces forbidden American culture through books, movies, and TV shows, and tells stories of her sister Mahtab's new life in America.  As Saba grows up and goes through love and marriage and abuse and heartbreak on many fronts, she dreams of making it to America herself, even refusing to go to college in Iran because she is saving herself for an American education.

This was somewhat of a slow book, and it took me a while to get through it even though it wasn't that long in pages.  The plot is entirely Saba's longing to escape and everything that gets in her way.  While there are definitely bad parts of her story--something that her husband does to preserve his honor and her inheritance, the laws that mean she won't get the inheritance anyway even though she has a marriage contract to preserve it, the way her friend is beaten for being "immodest" but really for being beautiful and saying "no," and various other cultural aspects that come in the wake of the revolution--are certainly reprehensible.  But there's a certain idolization of American culture that didn't seem healthy, either.  And when Saba finally does escape, we're led to believe that her life, with few exceptions, really is as hunky-dory as she had imagined it to be.  The book finishes up just after 9/11, and while Saba admits that it will make it harder for her to visit her family still in Iran or for them to visit her in America, that's really the only consequence of her life, as she's spent so long making herself American from afar that she's not really Iranian anymore.  This was a weird dynamic to me, and one that I don't feel great about looking back; it just rubs me the wrong way for some reason.  It felt like Saba was willing to just write off all of the good things--and there certainly were good things, she listed them numerous times--in exchange for books and TV and music, which seemed very shallow of her, just like one of the old woman of her town was always accusing her of being.

I wanted to like Saba as a character, but I just couldn't quite bring myself to do it.  Really, none of the characters here were very likable--I felt like they were all very self-absorbed and greedy.  The exception was probably Ponneh, but then she jumped too far into a resistance and dragged her friends into danger with her when they didn't want anything to do with it, so I kind of lost my sympathy there as well.  I think Nayeri did a wonderful job with the setting of the book, but the actual characters left a lot to be desired for me, and the slow pacing didn't help either.

2 stars out of 5.