Posted in Books

Reasons to DNF

I DNF (book blogger for “did not finish”) books all the time.

Last month, I DNFed 9 books.

Just this week, I DNFed 2.

I’m able to do this thanks to a high school English teacher who said, “Life is too short to read books you don’t like.”

She was right.

Continue reading “Reasons to DNF”

Advertisements
Posted in Books

Top 5 Most Disappointing January Reads

This month, I read books hyped books from my TBR. I expected to be blown away by every book I read.

For the most part, I was. I loved almost all of the books I read this month.

In fact, I positively reviewed 75% of the books I read.

THAT’S AN IMPRESSIVE PERCENTAGE.

In that remaining 25%, though, were some disappointing reads. I DNFed almost all of the following books in protest.

Here are my top 5 most disappointing reads this month. Continue reading “Top 5 Most Disappointing January Reads”

Posted in Books

10 Day Book Blog Post Challenge #7: Analyze your reading year

I don’t keep track of the books I read.

I dumped most of the books I read this year out of my memory – if I liked them, I added them to my bookshelf.

I came up with some superlatives to help me remember both good and bad experiences over the last nine months.

Here are the arbitrary awards I decided on for the books I can recall. Continue reading “10 Day Book Blog Post Challenge #7: Analyze your reading year”

Posted in Books

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee: Why I Only Lasted 9 Pages

I hate historical fiction, but I’ll read historical books that try their damnedest to be interesting.

If a book adds a serial killer, say, or some girl power, I’ll come sniffing around.

Under a Painted Sky caught my interest.

Two women of color become unlikely allies and go on the lam together?

Disguised as boys?

And they meet and fall in love with cowboys!?

I had this EXACT fantasy in the fourth grade!

The book starts out in medias  res, which I like. I prefer to get right to the action.

And WHAT A START:

They say death aims only once and never misses, but I doubt Ty Yorkshire thought it would strike with a scrubbing brush. [….] Does killing a man who tried to rape me count as murder?

WOW. SOLID beginning! I know just enough to want to know more. Until…

My mind wheels back to twelve hours ago, before the world turned on its head….

YOU’RE ALREADY LOSING ME, STACEY.

You mean to tell me you’ve just warded off an attempted rape by killing your attacker and your FIRST thought is to reminisce about the morning? I AM NOT CONVINCED. Any interest I had in the murder is dwindling.

Sammy, our protagonist, remembers being angry with her father that morning.

I strapped on the Lady Tin-Yin’s violin case and glared at my father, who was holding a conch shell to his ear. I thought it was pretty when I bought it from the curiosity shop back in New York. But ever since he began listening to it every morning and every evening, just to hear the ocean, I’ve wanted to smash it.

All right, we’re back on track. Sammy is mad at her dad and I want to know why. Is this a depression symptom? Does he lay around listening to the shell all day? I’d be mad, too.

Noisily, I stuffed a tin of peppermints into my case for the children’s lessons, then proceeded to the door. Unlike Father, I kept my promises. If a student played his scales correctly, I rewarded him with a peppermint. Never would I snatch the sweet out of his mouth and replace it with, say, cod-liver oil. Never.

Wait… Is this something you would actually do, Sammy? Is this a joke? Is this something your father would do? I don’t know enough about either of you to guess. Then again, we’re only two pages in.

Finally, Sammy gives some hint as to why she’s angry with her father:

“You said we’d move back to New York, not two thousand miles the other way.” New York had culture. With luck, I might even make a living as a musician there.

Wait a minute… Did you…not realize…where you were moving? I’M NOT CLEAR AS TO THE SITUATION. I’m imagining this girl traveling 2000 miles in the opposite direction thinking she’s headed to New York. And that makes me feel some REAL UNCHARITABLE THINGS.

Okay, we’re only on page 2. I’m sure I’ll get more context later.

Oh, it sounds like Sammy’s father moved to California for the gold rush. That gives me a LITTLE more information. But Sammy’s not having it – she leaves the house.

I want to jump in and mention that there’s an 8-hour time skip between this passage and the next. I mention this because I MISSED THE TIME SKIP, which greatly influenced my reading of the next passage.

Anyway, 8 hours pass and Sammy is walking home when she smells smoke. She runs home and finds her father’s store burned to the ground. Stacey Lee simultaneously describes the store as an ashy ruin and a wall of heat. I’m not sure what’s going on.

I would like to mention that, at this point, we’re only on page 4.

On page 5, a background character drops this bomb: Sammy’s father is dead.

This is where the time skip might have helped me.

I read this and thought, “SHE WAS JUST TALKING TO HIM TWO SECONDS AGO,” when, in reality, it had been 8 hours.

Then I realized that didn’t help the situation.

The father appears ONCE for TWO PAGES before he DIES. Oh, excuse me, BURNS ALIVE. And this in a novel that opened with a murder. TOO MUCH IS HAPPENING.

Sammy feels stabs of guilt:

I shuddered and then my chest began to rack so hard I could scarcely draw a breath. Smoke engulfed me, thick and unyielding, but the awful truth rooted me to the spot: after I’d given my last lesson of the day, I’d dawdled along the banks of the dirty Missouri, throwing stones instead of coming home directly.

Did you? Because I remember a fight between you and your father followed by the announcement of his death and NOTHING ELSE.

Oh, Father, I’m sorry I argued with you. I’m sorry I left with my nose in the air.

A little guilt is understandable, even without much context for the rest of their relationship.

Were you remembering that when the smoke robbed you of your last breath?

That’s a bit dramatic…

You always said, Have patience in one moment of anger, and you will avoid one hundred days of sorrow.

Oh, he ALWAYS said, that did he? I wouldn’t know; I only knew him for TWO PAGES.

My temper has cost me a lifetime of sorrow. And now, I will never be able to ask your forgiveness, or see your kind face again.

This. Is. Too. Much. We are only 6 pages into this novel. There’s not enough context for me to understand this relationship and not enough room for me to process what this death means to the protagonist. This whole premise feels beyond rushed.

The next chapter opens with several townspeople gossiping about Sammy:

“She’s been standing there over an hour,” a man muttered to another as they passed by.

COOL IT, BOOK. WE’RE ON PAGE 7.

The townspeople say some other horrid, racist things that STILL DON’T FEEL EARNED. Frontloading angst is a STRATEGY, but it’s not working for this book.

Sammy makes this reproach:

Fly, you crows. My father was not a spectacle. He was the greatest man I ever knew. He was my everything.

I WISH I HAD KNOWN HIM FOR MORE THAN TWO PAGES.

Things get far worse from here.

Sammy describes her astrological sign; she mentioned it once earlier, but now she goes into more detail:

A child born in the Year of the Snake was lucky. But every so often, a Snake was born unlucky.

“This is always true of Snake children…except when it’s not.”

Mother died in childbirth, a clear indication that my life would be unlucky.

OF COURSE SHE DID.

To counteract my misfortune, a blind fortune-teller told Father never to cut my hair, or bad luck would return. In addition, she said I should resist my Snake weaknesses, such as crying easily and needing to have the last word.

…did he do it? Have you been growing out your hair ever since? ARE THOSE YOUR ACTUAL WEAKNESSES? HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS ASTROLOGICAL DIAGNOSIS?

Enough of that; time to introduce Sammy’s would-be-rapist:

“‘Tis a shame about your daddy,” said a familiar voice. Our landlord, Ty Yorkshire, shook his head.

I immediately pictured Norm McDonald as Colonel Sanders. Solid association.

When was the last time a book I read featured a Southern villain? Why do I have a bad feeling about this all of a sudden.

Oh no…I remembered. Now I can’t get Kady Cross out of my head!

“My best building, too,” he said in his rapid speech that caused his jowls to shake.

Oh. So not a fancy Southern drawl, as I assumed.

“Sometimes you roll snake eyes.”

I gasped. He knew my Chinese lunar sign?

This is what did me in. I can’t deal with stupid heroines. Still, I thought I could do one more page.

Scanning page 9, I found Sammy by the river about to throw herself in.

SUICIDE. ON PAGE 9.

This is way too much drama for me to care about. So long, female friendship. Thanks for nothing, historical fiction. See you never.

Posted in Books

Book Betrayals: A List of Past Hurts, pt. 2

Read part 1 here.

I have yet more literary disappointments to unearth.

Thankfully, queer literature has never let me down.

HAHAHAHAHA just kidding.

 

Ash by Malinda Lo

I’m using Ash to represent all of Malinda Lo’s books.

Image result for malinda lo ash
Pictured: all Malinda Lo books

Malinda Lo writes excellent nonfiction; I keep entire anthologies for her essays alone.

Her fiction is just so boring.

This book appealed to my love of retold fairy tales and came out right as my interest in queer literature began. Imagine a magical, gay Cinderella who falls for the king’s huntress.

Right? Sounds awesome.

It’s not.

I just reviewed the plot summary on Lo’s website – apparently there was an evil fairy in this and I COMPLETELY FORGOT.

Nothing about this story felt urgent or exciting. What could have been a fresh take on the Cinderella tale came off as dry and lifeless as ash.

 

Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

I am often, though not always, swayed by aesthetics.

Image result for of fire and stars
Can you blame me?

If I’m going to buy a book, I need an eyecatching cover and an interesting cover blurb.

As soon as I read this book’s plot synopsis, I had to have it. You couldn’t have engineered a more perfect story for me: princesses, queer romance, elemental magic, and HORSES? Cap that off with mystery, action, and intrigue and I was MORE than sold.

Too bad the book failed to deliver on the last two points. I got almost halfway through this clunker without anything of interest happening. All the plot points felt mechanical, like the author ran through a checklist of what she thought she needed for an interesting story. It felt similar to “The Greatest Showman,” full of tropes added for manufactured authenticity.

Which, with such a refreshing plot, is a SHAME.

I go into more detail with this idea later on, so I’ll be brief: it bothers me when authors receive praise for unique ideas or props for representation with no consideration given to the story’s execution.

The romance between Mare and Denna hits so many familiar notes. You can’t rely on the novelty of same-sex YA romance to make your relationship compelling. Novelty is not enough.

This book reeks of wasted potential. Someone PLEASE rewrite this.

 

Get it Together, Delilah! by Erin Gough

Whoever designed this book deserves a medal. Overlarge, with weathered pages and a pleasing weight, this book felt right in my hand.

Image result for get it together delilah
“THIS is a coffee cup.”

Reading the plot summary, I came away thinking this book would be a zany comedy about the wacky hijinks of a gay teenager. I mean, come on – the coffee stain? The cutesy font? The exclamation point? The use of the phrase “how in the name of caramel milkshakes?”

I was so, so wrong.

This book isn’t bad so much as different from what I expected. Yes, the cover blurb mentions Delilah managing her father’s cafe while he goes on a trip. I didn’t realize he was depressed – as in, get your doctor to prescribe some Citalopram STAT. I didn’t think Delilah would hide her various struggles to keep from aggravating her dad’s mental illness. NO PART of me expected my own daddy issues to be triggered. If I’d known THAT, I WOULD NOT HAVE PURCHASED THIS BOOK.

I went in expecting laughs and found myself STRESSED OUT. The story’s combined stresses of parental abandonment, financial insecurity, failure, and hostile work environment proved too much for my psyche. Know what’s hilarious? Employees taking advantage of their teenage bosses. Here’s a joke for you: CULTURAL HOMOPHOBIA. Isn’t it hysterical when closeted lesbians make others’ lives hell? The onslaught of misery never ended.

As soon as I finished this book, I hurled it onto my Books to Sell pile and never looked at it again.

 

Zodiac Starforce by Kevin Panetta and Paulina Ganucheau

For someone with no interest in astrology, I have a pretty huge obsession with the zodiac. I buy pretty much anything zodiac-related, including fiction.

I’m also fond of the magical-girl genre, having grown up on “Sailor Moon.” As a kid, I loved watching powerful women fight the forces of evil and win the hearts of tuxedoed men. This series may have fueled my not-so-secret desire for a magical girl squad, a dream that dies a little bit every time one of my friends gets married. (#stop)

I drooled over this graphic novel for months. Star signs AND magical girls? COULD THIS BE??

Zodiac Starforce: By the Power of Astra
It’s pink, so you know it’s for girls.

The store I frequented shrinkwrapped their copies, so I couldn’t peek at the pages. I ended up buying a copy for my best friend’s birthday, telling myself I would borrow it once she finished.

A week later, I decided I couldn’t wait that long.

This novel isn’t…bad? I guess? The art is great? The concept is interesting?

I just don’t care.

My friend and I tried to play “Who Would You Be?” and found we couldn’t remember the characters’ names. A huge plot twist happens near the end and I could only think, “Wow, this would have been more interesting had I been invested…”

It breaks my heart to think this idea was only ever good in theory.

And now my squad dreams are completely dead.

Yay, adulthood.

 

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Before we talk about this book, we have to talk about infamous YA author Alex Sanchez.

Alex Sanchez wrote the Rainbow Boys series in the early 2000s. While researching my thesis, I found out his books have been banned numerous times, making Sanchez something of an anti-censorship hero. Sanchez’s books have been praised for tackling the topic of homosexuality in the mainstream at a time when not much queer YA literature existed.

Unfortunately, Sanchez doesn’t write…well.

Granted, I read his books more than a decade ago. My dislike can be attributed to my age, the timing of my reading, or my style preferences. Even though I don’t like his books, I don’t want to dismiss what Sanchez has done for the queer canon.

However, reading Sanchez’s work has left me with an impression of Sanchez as an author more valued for subject matter than skill.

What the culture considers groundbreaking isn’t always good.

(*cough cough* DAVID LEVITHAN. *cough cough*)

So, when I read Benjamin Alire Saenz’s award-winning 2014 novel about gay teens, I found myself feeling the exact same way.

Image result for aristotle and dante discover the secrets of the universe
I need to stop buying blue books…

LOOK how many awards grace that cover!

James Howe called this book “breathtaking.”

The friend who recommended it to me used words like “beautiful” and “precious” and “perfect.”

BookTubers I respect cite this book as one of their favorites.

I hated the clunky prose as soon as I started reading.

I often hear the argument that simplistic first-person YA prose “nails the teenage voice.” “Real” teenagers don’t sound like award-winning novelists; they sound like teens with underdeveloped frontal cortexes. So you can’t blame writers for coming off as awkward, dramatic, or stupid – that’s just how teens ARE.

To convince me with that argument, you better back a strong character. Well-written, believable characters can excuse “simplicity” in voice, tone, style, or plot.

I don’t find Ari compelling enough to carry an entire story. Much of the time, I found it hard to sympathize with him. I seemed to be missing the emotional connection others felt.

I also think the “teenage voice” argument misses the fact that writing is an art. It’s not enough to have your narrator say, “I feel sad sometimes.” Sure, real teens feel sad sometimes, but this narration doesn’t fully portray their perspective or capture the nuance of the teenage experience. Stating facts doesn’t make a work feel real.

So while I tried to connect, I found the writing too simplistic to enjoy. I’ll be avoiding Saenz’s work in the future regardless of the awards it wins.

The search for good books continues.