Linda78

The Valley of Amazement

The Valley of Amazement - Amy Tan

I did something while reading this book that I have never done before: I flipped to the last page to see if it had a happy ending. Because good lord does Violet get put through the ringer.

 

This is often a difficult read, so I'll say upfront: if sexual exploitation makes you squeamish, you may want to skip this book. I'm usually one who wouldn't touch this with a ten-foot pole, but while the tone was unflinching, the details when divulged were detached enough to not affect me too much. Everyone has different tolerance levels and triggers, though, so it's something to consider.

 

This is set in the first half of the 1900s in China in the culture of the courtesan houses. It resembles Memoirs of a Geisha in that respect and it doesn't shy away from how young girls were sold and stolen into this life, but beyond the inner workings of the courtesan houses, this is a much different story with a different focus. 

 

As with all of Tan's work, this story is about the relationship between mothers and daughters, but unlike her other stories, this one is told primarily through Violet's POV. We follow her from a young, conceited girl growing up in her mother's courtesan house - not as a courtesan though, just to be clear on that point. She can only see how things effect her, how her mother is distant and aloof, and how she doesn't feel like she's loved enough. After they're separated by a ne'er-do-well and Violet is sold to another house, she must use her fierceness and determination to survive her new life and come to terms with the many twists and turns that her life makes. 

 

It's not all dire. She has a friend in the courtesan house to help her and protect her as much as possible, and she knows how to navigate this world better than most, though she makes many foolish decisions along the way. There are good moments as well, and Violet learns how to appreciate others, the depths of love and sacrifices that we make for each other along the way, all of which helps her to better understand the choices her own mother had made. But every time she takes a step forward, she's knocked twenty steps back. It's a long hard road, but there is a hopeful ending.

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive #1) (Audiobook) - DNF 17%.

The Way of Kings - Brandon Sanderson

Technically, this is competently written, and the narrators do a decent job with their parts once I sped up the playback to 1.25 times normal speed. But... 

 

I was bored a lot of the time. It got interesting for awhile. I like Kaladan and Shallan, but they don't make up for the clunky world-building or the overall awkward tone of the writing. This reads like an opus to fanfic much of the time, and it's cringe-worthy fanfic at that.

 

And the whole lighteyes/darkeyes thing just feels weird. Like the author wanted to include something about racism, but didn't want to start up a sh*tstorm by doing it badly, so decided that eye color made a good alternative. Maybe he heard about Jane Elliot's blue eyes experiment and figured it was a good stand in. It's not though.

 

If this were only 200 or 300 pages, I might feel compelled to power through to the end, but there are another 800+ pages to this thing, so my patience has run dry. 

Reading progress update: I've read 5%.

A Dance with Dragons - George R.R. Martin

Tyrion! Dany! Jon! Bran! It's like a family reunion, GoT style, complete with arguing villagers, that weird neighbor you all try to avoid and the occasional murder. And you're sure this is roast beef that we're eating, right? :D

Lima Oscar Victor Echo and the Truth About Everything

Lima Oscar Victor Echo and The Truth About Everything - Suki Fleet

I decided to start using my lunch breaks to try to get through some of these DRitC stories I've had sitting on my Kindle for the past two+ years. This was the first one. And might be the last one.

 

It had it's cute moments, don't get me wrong. The few short scenes that Oscar and Jamie actually spend on page together, it was easy to see why they're such good friends, and why they would be great as something more. They just don't get to spend a lot of time together - even though they're best friends and work in the same record store four days out of the week. *shrug*

 

But in the end it didn't really hold my interest. If you've read even a handful of friends-to-lovers or GFY stories (though this isn't GFY but teases at it for most of the story) then you can predict every single step the plot takes from beginning to end. It has ALL the tropes, including but not limited to:

 

~Dudes who don't talk about feelings.
~Dudes who angst about not being able to talk about feelings.
~Dudes who are so terrible with feelings that they're not even sure what feelings they're feeling and they don't know how to feel about that. :(
~The female bestie who likes to meddle. Because someone's gotta move this plot forward.
~The ex-girlfriend who conveniently shows up to throw a wrench in the clockwork, though really the guys not talking to each other does that just fine on its own.

 

If you like those tropes, then you'll enjoy this story a lot more than I did.

 

On top of that, there are several dropped plot lines that really didn't need to be crammed into this novella. There are inconsistencies as well. Jamie and Oscar seem to have been besties since forever, but Oscar never met Jamie's mom even though she only died a year before, and Jamie only met Oscar's dad once. At one point, it's mentioned that Jamie opens the shop - but then later on, he doesn't have the keys to close it. Huh?

 

And then it just ends in the middle of a scene. What?!

Drums of Autumn (Outlander #4) (Audiobook)

Drums of Autumn  - Geraldine James, Diana Gabaldon

As I mentioned in my review for Outlander, I started this series with the fourth book by accident. I was just out of high school, my mom was having health issues and I was the one who was driving her around to her various appointments and spending a lot of time in waiting rooms. So when I saw this book sitting on the new releases shelf in the bookstore, the only thing I cared about what that it looked interesting and it was thick. It would give me hours and hours and hours of reading time. So I got it, started reading, and got to around a quarter of the way through when I realized this was part of an ongoing series. I kept reading though and enjoyed it. It provided exactly what I needed at the time and even got me to go back and read the first three books.

 

Now, twenty plus years later ... this got annoying. It starts off really slow and rambling. All the books in this series ramble, but it gets worse the longer the series goes on. The first three books at least have obvious plots right off the bat. This one takes over 500 pages to get around to it's main conflict, and up till then it's basically just the four main characters doing stuff. I still really enjoy Claire and Jamie's relationship, but I couldn't give two figs about Briana and Roger's courtship, especially when Roger gets all caveman about it. 

 

I was never a fan of Briana, but wow. For someone so smart, she can be really stupid. Roger's kind of a jerk but he's tolerable. Neither one is prepared for 18th century living, despite both of them being history majors. They not only lie to each other about crucial things, but they make one reckless decision after another. How in the world they survived is beyond me. 

 

Actually, the main conflict isn't exactly what I would call contrived. Considering what Bree's been through and that she just barely met her father, her decisions make sense, even if they're illogical. Given what Lizzy thinks she knows, and what she tells Ian and Jamie, their actions also make sense. What doesn't make sense is

Claire not telling Jamie what Briana told her. She could've done that and kept Bonnet's name out of it.

Also, if you're looking for someone, a physical description usually helps.

Also, both Claire and Briana went by different last names when they went through the stones, so it makes zero sense they wouldn't consider Roger doing the same.

Also, Jamie would've killed Roger based on the info Lizzy told him. But of course he couldn't because the reader - and Bree - wouldn't be able to forgive him if he had.

(show spoiler)

The Big Misunderstanding required these characters who are usually extremely good with communication to be really bad at it.  

 

And it's just a little ridiculous that these characters are all encountering the same villain no matter where they are in the world. 

 

But once I got through all that nonsense and the characters all started to act like their intelligent, rational selves again, it got way better. The last third of the book is definitely the strongest.

 

Not enough Lord John though. 

I hate that he sleeps with one of the slaves. It's not on page, but it's implied. I guess I can have a smidgeon of consolation that John wouldn't have forced himself on anyone unwilling, and he's a pretty perceptive fellow, so he could probably tell if someone was just pretending to be willing. But still. Don't sleep with slaves, John.

(show spoiler)

 

Edit: Oh, and I forgot to mention the narration. Davina Porter does her usual stellar job, but she doesn't even attempt an American accent for Briana. I guess she's the UK's answer to Kevin Costner. ;) But since I'd rather listen to a pleasant British accent than a terrible American (much less Bostonian) one, I wasn't bothered by it too much.

Interim Errantry: On Ordeal (Young Wizards)

Interim Errantry: On Ordeal - Diane Duane

Roshaun - 4 stars

 

When we first met Roshaun, he was an obnoxious prince with very little care about anyone around him. Or so he seemed. While he never really changed much, the more we learned about him and the world he comes from, the easier it was to understand him. And it's kind of hard to hate a guy who loves lollipops that much.

 

Of the three central characters here, he's the one whose Ordeal we knew nothing about prior to this collection. It was fascinating then to go back to a time prior to when we met him and see what he was like as a kid and how it was like for him to grow up in an environment where daily assassination attempts against the royal family are treated the same as picking up the mail. Unsurprisingly, the Lone Power tempts him with the opportunity to get away from it all, and Roshaun's Ordeal becomes a particularly interesting game of subterfuge. 

 

Mamvish - 2 stars

 

I wasn't sure what to expect from this, except that Mamvish had been a favorite despite not knowing very much about her. We knew already that the LP never showed up for Mamvish's Ordeal, so I wasn't surprised to see this was the shortest story of the three. I was surprised that instead of telling us the story of Mamvish's Ordeal, we got a mythical telling of Mamvish's birth and youth as she goes on a quest to fix her world after the LP ravaged it. 

 

The world-building here is both extremely imaginative and frustrating. Aside from the gross out factor (the Tuawff are forced into cannibalism to survive the extinction-level event caused by the LP), it just doesn't make a whole lot sense. The mythical style of the tale gets repetitive fast and large chunks of time go by without much of anything happening. Mamvish goes on this epic quest to become the best, strongest, fastest and smartest Tuawff ever so she can fix her planet, and the way the story ends we have no idea if she does or even if she ever attempts it. 

 

Disappointing, disjointed and not very appetizing. I admit, I skimmed quite a bit of this one.

 

Ronan - 4 stars

 

In contrast to the other two, we've gotten to know Ronan over several books in this seres and we knew a good deal about his Ordeal already from when he told Nita about it in A Wizard Abroad. This then becomes more about seeing the specific events, including the parts Ronan left out, and how exactly wizardry works differently for Irish wizards. It was a joy to see Ronan have so much fun with the Knowledge as he's first experiencing it, and of course there was the One's Champion and the LP playing an ongoing tug-of-war over Ronan's fate as both tried to influence his choices - and it wasn't always easy to tell who was goading him which way either. ;)

Red Dirt Heart 3

Red Dirt Heart 3 - N.R. Walker

Charlie and Travis are back again with Ma, George and their pet wombat, Nugget. For those of you who don't know, like me, wombats are kind of mini-pig/gopher-looking things:

 

 

Also, they're illegal to own as pets, so it's a little weird that didn't become an issue in one of the subplots in this book.

 

Oh, and they have square poop. Why wasn't this brought up? Of all the things Travis doesn't seem to know about, despite growing up on a Texas ranch, that would be the thing that should've caused a comment but didn't.

 

Anyway, I'm off topic.

 

This is a culmination of Charlie's part of the story, and it was nice to see him coming fully out of his shell, learning to communicate with those around him and rely on them. He's got a lot on his plate, but he's really settled into his skin and if he had one more challenge to face, it was learning to stand on his own. While Travis might have helped him to open up, he didn't bring out anything in Charlie that wasn't already there. There was a teensy bit of Big Misunderstanding there that felt on the contrived side that I don't think was even necessary to get Charlie to where he ended up, but eh. YMMV.

 

The family drama was...unexplained to say the least.

Why did Charlie's dad tell his mom to get rid of her pregnancy? That part was never explained. They already had one kid, after all, so what would've been wrong with having a second one?

(show spoiler)

That part really needed to be more fleshed out. As it stands right now, the answer seems to boil down to "just cuz." Still, it gave Charlie another part of himself to come to terms with and grow from, and that was neat.

 

This did start off a little slowly, since Charlie had to feed Nugget every other paragraph, which got repetitive fast. It ended strong though, so despite the fact that the editing is actually getting worse with each installment, this one still gets a four-star rating.

Lock Nut (The Plumber's Mate #5)

Lock Nut - J.L. Merrow

More fun with Tom and Phil as they get wrapped up in yet another murder mystery where everyone around them drops like flies and yet somehow their friends and family don't run for the hills. :P

 

Although maybe they did, because they sure weren't around for a lot of this book. I was hoping to see more of Mike Novak and get to know him better, and see him and Tom start to forge a relationship together, but nope! There was a sweet scene between Tom and his dad though, so that was nice.

 

The mystery was as twisted and tongue-in-cheek as you would expect from this series. There were plenty of potential suspects and motivations all around, and a couple of twists on expectations that were nice. 

 

Still hate that cover though. Seriously, it looks like Riptide is marketing this series to pre-teens, and I know they can do better. I don't know who those two blokes on the cover are supposed to be but they're not Tom and Phil, that's for sure.

A Feast For Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire #4)

A Feast for Crows - George R.R. Martin

Oh, book, I wish I could quit you. :P

 

This is the shortest book so far in the series. I originally thought I'd have it finished by early April. Yes, real life stuff got in the way and I had to go some weeks without reading even a single chapter, but I wasn't exactly pining to get back to Westeros like I was in ASOS, and I think the main reason for that was the POV switches.

 

There was too much time spent with horrible, awful characters (all of the Ironmen, Cersei) and not enough of the characters I wanted to spend time with (virtually everyone else). It was cool to see Dorne, but without a single focal point for those chapters it felt just as hodgepodge as the Ironborn ones did. As for Cersei, I had hopes for her POV when her chapters started, but good lord y'all. She is Trump in a dress. No thank you. The ending was sweet but not worth the journey to get there.

 

However, I loved getting to see Brienne's POV, though it was often depressing, because she's such an amazing character and easily my favorite of the favorites (sorry Samwell). Hell, I enjoyed being in Jaime's head. Somewhere along the way I started rooting for that turdmeister and he didn't disappoint. Watching him snark at everyone was a real treat too. I wanted to see a lot more of Arya and Samwell. Not so much Sansa, but that's mostly because of Littlefinger and not Sansa herself.

 

And what the hell was that prologue about? It set up absolutely nothing else that happened in the book until the final chapter from what I could tell. Weird.

 

I had such high hopes for a Brienne-Catelyn action duo too. :(

 

So lots of awful, which is par for the course, but not enough of the good guys to balance out the bad. 

 

The top five Worst Evers for this book:

Cersei 

Qyburn 

Lord Tarly 

Euron Crow Eye 

Victarion

Leah on the Offbeat (Creekwood #2)

Leah on the Offbeat - Becky Albertalli

Wow, I don't even know where to start with how awful this book is.

 

Terrible bi rep? Check.

Terrible girl rep? Check

Terrible fat girl rep? Check.

 

I loved Simon Vs The Homo-Sapiens Agenda and fell in love with all the characters (well, not Martin) and I felt especially drawn to Leah. So when I found out there was going to be another book, centered on Leah, I got excited. Then the blurb mentioned that she's suddenly bisexual, and I got concerned because there was zero indication or hint of that in the first book. But it couldn't be that bad, right?

 

Other reviewers have said it better: this story felt like fanfic. And not even good fanfic. It felt like the really bad fanfic that you don't admit to reading. The AU kind where everyone's gay and acts so out of character as to be unrecognizable in order to force together the writer's OTP that makes zero sense in canon but dammit they're going to make it work no matter what. 

 

On top of that, there's no plot. It's just a string of scenes that are connected only be the fact they happen chronologically (aside from a couple of flashbacks). Leah exists just to be awful and condescending and rude to everyone, yet for some reason everyone still loves her.

 

There's also no heart. We never learn why Leah acts the way she does because there's zero reflection on her actions or feelings, and so she never learns or develops. She's the exact same awful person at the end of the book as she is at the start of it, and she's taken everyone else down with her. This is just Leah referring to herself as a bitch for 300 pages because isn't it hilarious when girls call themselves slur words? There's no reason to care about Leah, so there's no reason to care about anything that's going on around her.

 

There's a really awkward attempt at addressing racism that feels more like it was written as an overhanded after-school special message than an actual examination of racism and all of its nuances. It's there solely to give Leah one shining moment of being not completely sucky. 

 

In a word, this book is superficial.

 

The first half dragged because nothing happened aside from Leah being rude, not knowing how to express herself, and constantly having brain freeze, stopped heart and flipping stomach, because that's what hormones do to seventeen-year old girls. And apparently being bisexual means you develop crushes on everyone. I couldn't take the plodding pace of non-action, so I did skim most of the second half starting around 60%. Thankfully, not much happened in that section beyond prom, Leah and her girlfriend being selfish and awful to everyone at prom, and the writer leaving a bunch of dangling threads.

 

This was a huge disappointment and read like the Ms. Albertalli just phoned it in.

Man & Monster (The Savage Land #2)

Man & Monster (The Savage Land: Book 2) - Michael Jensen

It was great (I guess?) getting back to Hugh's Lick, which is still as much a stain on the frontier as it was in the first book. I hoped that we would get to see John, Palmer and Gwennie again, and we do. Even though they're not the MCs here, we still see plenty of them as they help Cold-Hearted Cole, new to the frontier and not having a good time of it. Wendigos trying to devour you can be such party-poopers, ya know. ;)

 

I really liked Pakim (I don't remember if he was in the first book or not) and the relationship that developed between him and Cole was often humorous and sweet, even while Cole was fighting his feelings. There was some good sexual tension there too, just don't expect any mind-blowing sex scenes.

 

I didn't feel as engaged in this book as I did with Man & Monster. Cole isn't as engaging a POV character as John was, for starters. Cole is purposely closed off for various reasons, and while we do get to see flashes of who he is underneath the cold-hearted persona, it's not quite enough for me to care about him as a character. Then there's the really bad horror movie aspect of the book that involves the monster/wendigo that's terrorizing Hugh's Lick. 1) The majority of these settlers deserve to be eaten, and 2) it was like reading the equivalent of "running up the stairs in the dark" for two hundred pages. The pacing felt off, if not downright slow, and the characters barely even paid any attention to the warnings or advice they got. I also figured out pretty quick who at least one of the wendigos was going to be. The editing also could've been better.

 

Thankfully, once the show - or the characters - finally get on the road and get to doing something not phenomenally stupid, the action was pretty well-written, if just as over the top as you'd get from any blockbuster movie. 

 

It was good, and fun, but I think going through and trimming out about twenty pages would've helped a lot.

 

I do think when authors take liberties with historical figures, they really should make an author's note on their research and what they decided to change about that person for the sake of their story. So there's that.

 

In closing:

 

"Oh, the Lord is good to me.
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me the things I need:
The sun and the rain and the apple seed;
The Lord is good to me."

 

Bet y'all haven't thought of that one in a hot minute.  I know I haven't. ;)

Agent Bayne (PsyCop #9) (Audiobook)

Agent Bayne (PsyCop Book 9) - Jordan Castillo Price, Gomez Pugh

Review of book here.

 

Still as enjoyable as the first time. Gomez Pugh once again performs brilliantly.

 

I'm eager to see where this series is going to go next after the reveals made here with Vic's past and the pre-runner to the FPMP.

Red Dirt Heart 2

Red Dirt Heart 2 (Red Dirt Heart Series) - N.R. Walker

This started off kind of rocky, to the point I even considered quitting at one point since the first book was only ok. I'm glad I stuck with it though since it ends much stronger than it started. All it took was Charlie to stop acting like a twelve-year old (jealousy and angry snits are really not appealing to me) and the guys to actually start talking to each other instead of just having sex as the basis of their relationship. Go figure. 

 

There's still too much of everyone thinking the gay couple is cute, and I wanted to (lightly) smack everyone who was smiling/laughing at Charlie's discomfort at various points throughout the book. Their reactions came from a place of love, but that still wasn't cool.

 

I felt that this ended with a stronger relationship between Charlie and Travis, which helped me to care about them as a couple and as individuals. Charlie's coming out process is maybe a bit too rushed considering his years of baggage, but it was too satisfying to bother me long. :)

 

I also got a (somewhat) better sense of some of the side characters. Greg is an even better friend to Charlie than originally thought.

 

Onto the next one.

The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo #2) (Audiobook) - DNF

The Trials of Apollo, Book Two: The Dark Prophecy - Rick Riordan, Robbie Daymond

I think I've reached my saturation point with this author. As much as I enjoyed the Percy Jackson series, it was something of a struggle to get through it by the end since there's not a lot variation in the themes. I knew I needed to take a break from Riordan's writing before considering another series. I thought this would be that series, and I really enjoyed the first one.

 

But man, Apollo is an annoying self-centered brat! :P If that character type appeals to you, you'll love this series, but I just couldn't take it anymore. I didn't like Apollo, I couldn't remember any of the other characters, themes and conflicts are again getting repetitive. I was struggling to pay attention or care about anything. I even went back to the point where my attention first started wandering and tried to listen again, but it just wasn't working for me.

 

This is no fault of the narrator - or maybe in an ironic way it is. He performed wonderfully and he really got the Apollo character down pat, in all his conceited glory. :D

Lord of Ravens (Inheritance #3)

Lord of Ravens (Inheritance Book 3) - Amelia Faulkner

CW: Child abuse, drugs:

Laurence sees back in time to the first time Quentin's father beats him. The scene cuts out as his father is preparing to rape him. It's brought up a few times afterward, but no further details are given. :( Seeing this also causes Laurence to try to score heroin later, thankfully unsuccessfully.

(show spoiler)

 

Well, this certainly didn't go in the direction I thought it would, at least in regards to Laurence and Quentin's relationship, which is a good thing. They only deepen their relationship here, and grow more intimate with each other, and after the last two books of patience and hard work to get to this point, I was happy for the guys getting some happiness. They deserve it.

 

We do finally learn what Quentin's father did to him as a child, which is exactly what I thought it was going to be (see CW above). The reason for why he did it was more messed up than I thought it'd be though, and I'm dreading when Quentin remembers or finds out. He's getting stronger and more sure of himself all the time, but his father has a way of reducing him to a scared little kid again.

 

We get to see Neil again, and he's a riot as always, and I love that he just accepts Quentin and clearly understands him as well as Laurence has come to. I wish we'd seen more of Ethan, Aiden and Maryam, but the story didn't allow much time for that, what with the introduction of Amy and Rufus - and we don't even really get a whole lot of time either, but what we do get looks promising.

 

In a book titled Lord of Ravens, I was expecting ravens to be a little more prominent and important to the central plot but that didn't really happen. Instead, Laurence gets a baby raven that he has to raise, and as with babies everywhere it does nothing but eat and poop the whole story.

 

I feel like this book was just a little disjointed, or more accurately that it served more as a bridge to the next book. There is a beginning, middle and end, but the main conflict is still ongoing, so nothing really feels resolved. I do like that Laurence and Quentin actually communicate with each other (though there is a brief Big Misunderstanding), and that real life considerations are taken into account when weird mystical things happen.

 

And lastly, I suppose it had to happen eventually: the geography fail. :P
-No matter what time of the year it is, the sun never sets as early as 4 PM or as late as 9 PM in San Diego. It certainly would never be setting at 4 and fully set after 9. Most people I know wouldn't say the sun is setting until it's within a half-hour of the sundown. (There are websites that'll give you sunset/sunrise times for any location on any date you could wish to know about.)
-Americans don't use meters to measure distance (unless they're scientists). We use feet and yards. Dating a Brit isn't going to change that.

 

There were also more typos in this one than I recall in the previous installments. The most distracting one was the constant use of "noone" instead of "no one." Hopefully this doesn't remain an issue going forward.

Introducing Mr. Winterbourne

Introducing Mr. Winterbourne - Joanna Chambers

I read this as part of the Another Place in Time anthology that was released a few years back. Here's what I said about it then:

This was fun. Yes, this all happens in a day and usually that annoys me, but it doesn't here. I didn't see it as insta-love, not even really insta-like, since Winterbourne and Freeman had to get over their preconceptions of each other before they could start getting along. It was fun seeing them realize they're not so different after all.

Currently reading

Reeve of Veils (Inheritance) (Volume 4)
Amelia Faulkner
Brief Cases (Dresden Files)
Jim Butcher
A Dance with Dragons
George R.R. Martin
Progress: 5 %