Review: Eligible

So, I read Prep by Curtis Sittenfield awhile back and really enjoyed it.  Eligible (a modern retelling of Pride & Prejudice) has been on my radar for awhile and when the price dropped I was like, ‘Sign me up.’

Eligible
Not for me!

*Spoilers Ahead*

Yesterday was not good, so I found myself in bed and reading most of the day, and mostly devouring this book.  I will start by saying this is not the retelling I wanted…  I am not a die hard Austenite as some are, but I have always appreciated the works of this 19th-century author.  While I was relatively okay with the first half of the book, the novel takes a turn that it can never recover from.  Before we get to the point of no return, I will note that Mrs. Bennett’s open racism (among many other ‘isms’) was too distracting and disgusting for me to get past (treatment of black characters in this novel is nothing I would be proud of).  While Mama Bennett was certainly annoying (and entertaining) in the original Austen version, she’s been replaced by a horrible shrew with no redeeming qualities (she actually tells one of her daughters, ‘…life can be very hard for mulatto children.’)  Ditto the rest of the family, who, for the most part, are shallow, obnoxious assholes.  I wonder if an editor had notes, and the author just ignored them, or how Random House let this one out the door.  Liz (and to an extent Jane) are only barely palatable and certainly, at 38 and 40, old enough to know better.  Darcy turns up, as do the Bingleys and the storyline loosely follows the narrative of the book.

Until it doesn’t.

So, one of the daughters elopes with a young man…who was born a woman.  You might think the world was coming to an end, with the reactions from the characters (with the ugliest being, you guessed it, Mrs. Bennett).  While I am happy to see diversity and the inclusion of a trans character, the responses are just so…outrageous that I don’t really ‘get’ it.  As the book takes place in modern times, who honestly cares if a love interest was originally a woman?  That person is now a dude, identifies as a man, end of story.  Why does this plot point have to get so much undue focus?  Given some of the responses from the other characters, I just…  I had to skim the book because of my secondhand embarrassment.  (Read some of the reviews of this book to get a better idea how offended members of the Trans community are).

The plot goes far further off the rails when you add in an unnecessary reality show plot line (!!!).  Certainly, somewhere, Ms. Austen cannot be okay with having her name and novel attached in any way to Eligible.  Overall, with strange short chapters (that are not much more than extended scenes), this is not a book I would recommend (for free or to pay for).

As a palate cleanser, I will give you a far better Darcy.

P&P
Le sigh.

Or, you know, do it up with Amy Heckerling’s far superior modern version of Emma:

as if

 

Two Shows to Recommend and Two Books I Didn’t Like…

I’m not going into full reviews, but I wanted to bring some recent hits and misses to your attention:

Stranger Things. In case you haven’t heard of this Netflix phenomenon, let me be the first to tell you that you are most definitely missing out.  A nearly perfect eight episodes explore (in pure, unapologetic terms) supernatural events in a Michigan town.  It’s as if Stephen King and Steven Speilberg came together and did their best work.  Congrats to the Duffer brothers!  (And to my friend Nick, you can see his name in the credits).

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Catastrophe.  I heard about this one through a blog and it was so good we watched the first episode, then proceeded to finish the season (5 additional episodes) last night.  It’s been a long time since I have actively laughed out loud at a show.  Repeatedly.  Watch for the brutal honesty and smart humor.  Stay for the supporting cast.  I’ve got to figure out where to stream the second season from…

catastrophe

And two books I just can’t recommend.  Having been in something of a reading slump recently, these books haven’t helped in the least.

Court of Fives  This is the *last* time I will take the recommendation of an author I like.  Seriously, author-who-shall-not-be-named, I am deeply concerned for what you consider a ‘good’ novel, because I have struck out with EVERY SINGLE BOOK you have recommended.  With terribly clunky pacing, a romance (out of nowhere) and a protagonist I just couldn’t support, this was a skimmed read at best.  Props for diversity and some amount of world-building, but that’s about it.  I won’t be reading the sequel.

Court of Fives

Into Aether  From NetGalley, I was stoked for a good steampunk book, but at 28% in, this book is already difficult for me to enjoy.  As with above, just because a dude is put in the book does not = love interest.  Additionally, why should any modern protagonist just ‘go along’ with things?  Without any reason to, Theo (yes, that is the sound of my eyes rolling, it is of course short of Theodora) goes along with a series of bizarre events.  I guess we’re meant to feel sorry for her, and therefore interested in her story?  I won’t even get started on the supporting cast…

With both YA stories, I’m very excited that Queen Juliette has suitors who have some depth and the reason she has any interest at all in them is less about their physical attributes and more because of how they act.  Never mind she really doesn’t have time for any of them…y’know, trying to rule a country and all.  Oh, and there is that whole potential interest in the Black Queen…

Into Aether
I will not be picking up Books #2 and #3.

Onto the next!

Review: Results May Vary

So, I’ve been a member of NetGalley for about four months now and have enjoyed (for the most part) the books I’ve received.  One recent highlight came in the form of Results May Vary, by Bethany Chase.  I couldn’t remember why I downloaded it (usually, I choose books for one of two categories: research for an upcoming book or fun smut), but for the first time in awhile, it was good to go into a novel without knowing too much.

Results May Vary
The cover is the least exciting thing about this book.

And, in the spirit of not giving too much away, I’ll let you know the premise (which you can find online, this is not some sort of huge spoiler).  A man and woman have been together since they were in high school and married for years.  When the husband has an affair with a man, all kinds of everything unravels.

There are soooooo many things that are well done in this book.  The characters themselves are some of the most honest I’ve ever come across — they literally jump off the page with realistic actions, dialogue, and imperfections.  They are well-rounded human beings with emotional arcs and unique quirks.  A story of an affair has certainly been done before, but this version of it feels new.  The heartbreak is still present, as are any number of other questions — some of which are answered, some of which are not.  Furthermore, Ms. Chase has an absolutely beautiful way with language.

As someone who has been married for a wee while (13 years, not to mention the year or so and change we were together before then), there were all sorts of passages that leapt out to me.  Here’s one particularly memorable one:

You might learn that he hates bleu cheese, but you weren’t there the night he got annihilatingly sick on buffalo wings, and you didn’t spend the hours from one to four A.M. slumped against the wall outside the bathroom because he was sure he was going to die and you didn’t want to leave him alone with his paranoia and his bacteria. Patrick might have known that Adam’s father had had a heart attack, but he hadn’t seen his face when he got the news. Hadn’t held him, and felt him trembling. Hadn’t heard the words he mumbled into my hair the night Theodore was upgraded out of critical condition: “I don’t know what would happen to me without him.”

Patrick might have fucked my husband, but he didn’t know him.

And yet. He knew things I didn’t. Things I didn’t understand, because Adam had refused to explain them to me.

While I have not done so yet, I would absolutely pick up another book by this author.  I believe the novel will be released on August 9th, and if you are in the market for a smart contemporary story, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Results May Vary.

Thank you to both the publisher and NetGalley for granting me access to this title.

 

Review: The Girl From Everywhere

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig is ambitious.  There’s a big concept (time travel), which is (for the most part) immaculately delivered and the height of creativity.  Most unfortunately for Ms. Heilig, her characters can’t seem to quite keep up with the journey.  The book started very strong: motivated action, unique idea, lyrical writing, great locations (Hawaii! New York! China!) and (best of all) diverse characters (something I am really trying to work on).

And then…

It’s rare that I am straight up confused by a book.  After all, I’ve been a voracious reader since I picked up my first chapter book and I understand how the action of a book is supposed to go.  To start, I have no issue with one of the supporting characters being the protagonist’s father, but he is also the captain of their ship, resulting in said character getting referred to as her father, the Captain and Slate (awkward, especially when all are mixed up in a conversation).  I’m toeing the line of hypocrisy here, as I have my own Captain, also referred to as Jonathan and Cranleigh (his first and last name).

An additional love interest gets introduced for no particular reason, and, (spoiler alert), he gets to hang around for the sequel.  The bland third party reminded me of my own current manuscript and while I do have a love triangle, I need to do a better job of character development with my third guy.  Right now, he’s got a lot of potential, but after reading this book, I realized he needs to take up a bit more space.

As I mentioned above, there was a point in this novel where I wondered if a giant scene had been cut (I’m not the only one to think this, BTW).  Literally, I had no idea how or why the characters ended up going to a location.  An entire sequence seemed to appear, strangely, out of nowhere, which only added to an unnecessarily confusing end to the book (which I more or less skimmed through).

While I love magical realism (hey, that’s been my game for the past 18 months as I work on the Queen), having magic as a Deus ex machina doesn’t particularly do it for me.  Sure, everyone is allowed a moment of disbelief, but when a crew just so happens to have tons of devices for the sake of getting them out of trouble, instead of working through things, well, isn’t that just lazy writing?  (And yes, I see fingers pointed back at me, I mean, I pull the legendary Excalibur pretty much out of nowhere).

Overall, I think the editor should have stepped up their game by a significant margin.  The structure and bones of the book are in place, but like a strange pinball bouncing everywhere, the novel gets mired down by an uneven cast and a storyline that deviates from where it should.  Honestly, I would love to see this high concept in the capable hands of a better YA/Fantasy/Supernatural author.

Oh well, maybe there’s some good fanfiction out there…

The Girl from Everywhere
LOVE the cover, ‘meh’ about the book.  I don’t think I’ll be reading the sequel, unless it’s at a reduced price.

 

Book Review: The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason

What is this?  I read a book and wanted to write about it?!

In my ongoing research for The Queen, I happened upon The Clockwork Scarab, featuring two fictional characters based on…the work of other fictional characters (actually, props to the creativity) of Ms. Gleason (who, I realize now, I started a book by and did not finish…and while reading this novel thought, ‘Someone is ripping off this nice author’s fictional world, now things make sense).

Enter the niece of Sherlock Holmes and the sister of Bram Stoker!  There are many things I enjoyed about this book.  The steampunk elements were perfectly blended, as was the attention to many historical and other finer details.  As someone who struggles with romantic tension, there were parts of the subplots with the love interests that worked for me.

Most unfortunately, I cannot understand why the main characters — two strong, independent, and intelligent young women (yay!) HATED EACH OTHER.  Thrown together to solve a mystery, these ladies categorically are equal parts annoyed, irritated and spiteful of each other FOR REASONS I CANNOT UNDERSTAND.  Certainly, they were brought up in different circumstances, and yes, you don’t have to be friends with someone you just meet, however (and this is my biggest regret with the author’s choice), when our two protagonists constantly rip each other apart, how are we supposed to like them?  With strange immaturity, I couldn’t fathom why they couldn’t just get along.  Their friction and resentment doesn’t do a lot to serve the storyline and as previously mentioned, why would you want to tear down your characters in front of your readers?  Aren’t you supposed to like the leads in a story?

Also, of course people have accents, especially in this time period.  However, Pix’s Cockney is so over the top, my irritation level shot up whenever I had to decipher what the hell he was trying to say.

Clockwork Scarab
Eh….

So, I’m stuck.  I love the steampunk details and action, but really question why the author decided that these two could never get along.  Luckily, they are not fighting over some young man (feminism!), but it is only in the most begrudging of moments they are forced to (sort of) work together.

unsure gif

I will probably read the next book in the series — not because of the characters, but because of the background elements.

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Have you read the book?  What are your thoughts?

Book Review: Grave Mercy

Y’all, I wanted to like this book sooooooooooooo much. I’ll give you two words: assassin nuns.  Right?!  Also, it came highly recommended by one of my favorite authors.  How much more could I want in a YA novel?  Okay, before I devolve into negatives, let me highlight the positives.  As someone who is attempting a bit of historical fiction, I can say that Ms. LaFevers seamlessly covered many of the details unique to Middle Ages Europe — setting, clothing, ambiance.  Unfortunately, modern language and dialogue crept in quite a bit.  For example, with The Queen, everyone has to address my character with the correct title (you can’t believe how many times I have to write ‘your majesty’).  On more than one occasion in Grave Mercy there were a few jarring instances that took me straight out of the fictional world.

Other good stuff?  I did think the use of the supernatural was well done.  I loved the idea of Death as a character and thought the entire concept was nicely incorporated and ‘realistic’ within the world of the novel.

There were a lot of ‘real’ (and obviously well researched) characters in use here — a debate I am currently up against.  Certainly, I am working within a time frame where there were many memorable personalities in Europe, many who had a significant impact on one another.  However, as much as I want my action to ring true, I don’t want to get bogged down with politics…i.e. my story is one of a young woman’s quest to understand herself, protect her country, and act as a monarch of the most powerful country in the world — a future she could have never predicted for herself.

In Grave Mercy, I thought there were entirely too many characters running around.  The beginning of the book opens with a three page (or more) cast list — something I found very off putting.  Look, having a diverse supporting cast can add a lot, but when I couldn’t begin to keep all the names and intrigues straight, I lost interest.  Even with all the betrayals and lack of trust, the ‘surprise’ baddie really wasn’t that much of a shock.  More than anything, I found the amount of characters overwhelmed the main story line.

I’m not sure if I’ve been completely spoiled by Sarah Maas, but I was bored by the action and couldn’t find myself cheering for Ismae, Duval or the duchess.  I knew their story would be (more or less) happily resolved and thought it took about 100 pages too long to get there.

9565548As the first book in a trilogy, I can honestly say I am not interested in seeing what happens next and this book was very close to ending up as DNF.

 

 

Book Review: The Bookseller

I spotted this one as a result of a sale (through one of the many e-book newsletters I receive daily) and the general idea is close to a manuscript I hope to start at some point this year (current working title, A.U.).  As a first foray into my ‘research reading’ on the topic, I didn’t have a lot of expectations.

Spoilers below!

I feel like The Bookseller belongs among my reads for The Year of Pleasures and The Unexpected Waltz (that is, I am about 20 years younger than the intended demographic).  As the book has been out awhile, I’m going to get into some of the more specific parts of the story – you have been warned!

By definition, any time travel or alternate universe type story is big concept.  That is, in a non-linear story line or following a set of events that takes place outside of known reality, you’re going to need to get the audience on board.  I believe Ms. Swanson was able to accomplish this.  Unfortunately, with the ending revealing that our protagonist Kitty was hallucinating her entire ‘real life’ (or at least the one we were introduced to) I felt…disappointed.  While the technique was a good way to resolve the two story lines, I actually was rooting for what ended up being her dream life.  Additionally, I’m not sure I really enjoyed that the creation of the alternate universe was due to the horrific event in Kitty’s life (to be more blunt, that she has a fairly serious psychotic break).

Major mental issues aside, there were a number of things the book did well – the introduction of two separate and distinct realities.  A decent set of characters, if a kind of vanilla protagonist.  A relatively quick read.  Unfortunately, I also found the writing very simplistic and the inclusion of a severely autistic son to not have any real impact on the plot (not to mention the main character’s initial horrified response to him).  In the end, I wasn’t really rooting for anyone — I just wanted things resolved.

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Not for me, and this isn’t even that great a cover.

What are your thoughts?  Have you read a good alternate time line novel?  Recommendations please!