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

Book Betrayal: The Cake Therapist by Judith Fertig

After writing about so many disappointing books, it seems a bit dramatic to cite one as the Worst Betrayal of All.

Good thing I minored in drama. (Only metaphorically. Just go with it.)

Which book destroyed my reading freedom like a terrorist?

WELCOME, FOLKS, TO JUDITH FERTIG’S THE CAKE THERAPIST!!

The Cake Therapist by Judith Fertig

If you want me to like you, buy me books.

If you want me to love you, let me buy my own.

Graduating from college netted me cash and gift cards from various relatives, including my brother’s-in-laws. Because they don’t know me well, they sent me a nice note and a Barnes and Noble gift card.

I couldn’t wait to spend it.

With celebratory spirit I entered Maplewood Mall’s giant Barnes and Noble, skirting away from my aunt’s beloved used section to ogle the New Releases.

There I saw the perfect book.

Image result for the cake therapist
Oh. My. Word.

An imaginary salesman popped up next to me as I drooled over the cover: “This book has EVERYTHING: rainbow cakes, magical realism, plot for DAYS…just LOOK at that cover!”

My aunt came over to squint at the price tag. “You could get FOUR used books for this price,” she muttered.

I ignored her and bought the book anyway.

I should have listened.

I’d purchased a similar book three years earlier called The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (and I have a great story about how that book betrayed someone else…but now is not the time.) In it, the protagonist learns she can taste others’ emotions in the food they make, something she discovers after her dissatisfied mother bakes her a  birthday cake. I read that book expecting it to lean into the magical realism and found a very different story waiting for me. Though the story’s magical elements play less of a role than I expected, they still serve a purpose in exploring the emotions of the protagonist and her outlook on the people in her life.

Long story short: the flavor ability functions as an exploratory tool rather than a gimmick.

Here’s how The Cake Therapist betrayed me:

Judith Fertig used an interesting premise to sell a boring 1940’s mystery.

This gif is perfect

Much like the character I described above, protagonist Neely can taste feelings in food. More interestingly, she can pinpoint the particular flavor someone needs to either incite or quell a specific emotion. I thought that sounded PRETTY NEAT, like this decade’s Chocolat. Right? RIGHT, JUDITH?

A look at the cover reveals specific uses for different flavors: cinnamon for remembrance, orange for wake-up calls, and plum for…pep, I guess?

Surprise! Those are the only three flavors discussed in the book!

I’d pictured Neely acting as a therapist in secret; she’d listen to her friends blab about their problems and make them a “pick-me-up” that, through unique flavor combinations and witchery, would tap into their emotions and make them feel better.

I was excited to see what flavors Fertig assigned to different personalities. DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW FASCINATING THAT PROSPECT IS TO ME, JUDITH? YOU ESSENTIALLY UNLOCKED A NEW SORTING HAT. IMAGINE THE POSSIBILITIES: VANILLA LOVERS LACK DISCIPLINE, RED VELVET EATERS NEED AFFECTION, AND SO ON AND SO FORTH.

Neely pulls the “therapist” act maybe twice, though I can’t remember in what context. She spends most of her time trying to remember a flavor she just can’t recall.

But enough of that noise; there’s a mystery afoot!

The novel kept jumping back in time to the 1940s to take a not-so-interesting look at a poor Jewish family living in Neely’s hometown. I knew the flashbacks had to have some importance, but I couldn’t figure out what this gritty historical tale was doing in a chipper magic cake novel.

At the very end, Fertig tried to tie the two stories together by having Neely solve a decades-old mystery with her magic powers. I felt gypped. Where was the cake therapy? Where were the flavor assignments? If anything, the “cake therapist” portions felt like padding for a poor man’s Brooklyn.

All along, Neely’s magical reputation was a gimmick. Fertig showed no actual interest in the idea beyond using it as a framing device for her actual plot.

How DARE you, Judith.

Oh, and the flavor Neely was trying so hard to remember? Cinnamon.

Girl, how could you not remember cinnamon!? What is wrong with you!?

cute shrug.gif

Somebody solve THAT mystery.

Posted in Books

Book Betrayals: A List of Past Hurts, pt. 3

(Catch up on part 1 and part 2.)

Good ol’ genre fiction. The stories I love tend to be more plot- than character-oriented, promising a fun ride. My favorite genres include chick lit, mystery, romance, and adventure.

Meet the biggest offender for each of the above genres.

Kale, My Ex, and Other Things to Toss in a Blender by Lisa Greenwald

Most Confusing Moral of 2017

In my defense, I was going through a breakup when I bought this book.

I LOVE breakup lit. And revenge stories. And, again, I was in a bad place.

Image result for kale my ex and other things to toss in a blender
Hello, rebound.

I bought this book during the summer, the perfect season for fun, fluffy literature. Not only did I find the title hilarious, I loved the idea of two girls creating their own smoothie business as part of an elaborate scheme to destroy an ex.

I was so ready.

I ended up finishing this, partly fueled by rage. The writing offended me. Completing this book become a test of will: could I finish a novel this awful?

Listen, if you’re going to sell me a fresh plot, you better deliver. Don’t promise me a smoothie stand if all you’ll give me is gross teenage romance and friend fights. I don’t care about these characters. YOU don’t care about these characters. Why develop them at all?

Both protagonists find love in this book, which…okay, one of them just went through a break-up, but you know what? Go for it.

Both romances were disgusting. The author amped up the awkwardness of teenage boys by a thousand. Normally cringeworthy lines became unbearable. “Quirky” behaviors multiplied like rabbits. One of the guys used flashcards as his “in.”

AND NO ONE CALLED THEM ON IT. Neither protagonist said, “Huh, that was kind of gross,” or “Is he hitting on me using trivia?”

Instead, both girls found the weird pick-up lines, moves, and excuses “kind of sexy.”

I now understand asexuality.

The VERY worst part of this book (and this is a spoiler): the girls blow all their hard-earned smoothie money on a helicopter ride to school. Now everyone will know who they are!

WAS THAT THE MESSAGE THIS WHOLE TIME?

WAS THAT WHAT WE WERE SUPPOSED TO LEARN???

All that time getting revenge on the ex, hooking up with gross boys, and rewriting your friendship dynamic…the real goal was showing up the jerks at your high school!?!?

I can’t. I can’t anymore. I’m done.

 

Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You by Dorian Cirrone

Best False Advertising of 2005

Looking at this book as an adult, I can see where I went wrong.

Image result for dancing in red shoes will kill you
This is why I judge books by their covers.

I love a good mystery; give me plot twists and whodunnits and thrills. Tipped off by the symbolic pumpkins, I realize now the author never intended the mystery to be the main focus.

I missed that detail as a 14-year-old.

After one or two mentions, the promised ballerinacide gave way to:

  • the [teenaged] protagonist considering breast reduction surgery to further her ballet career
  • the protagonist’s sister fighting for the right to draw realistic penises
  • a censorship march with a chant that rhymed “rude” with “drop your pants, dude.”
  • (my favorite plot point and a huge spoiler) the love interest’s expulsion for writing the threatening note (“It was a metaphor! I was quoting a poem!”)

As a former completionist, I read the whole thing (it was a dark time.)

I remember best the disappointment. In my view, Dorian Cirrone LIED to me: if you wanted to write about censorship and body image, why didn’t you just tell me??

Can we mark this as the official moment where I lost my innocence? That seems healthy. Let’s do it.

 

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

2015 World Record Holder for Fastest Romance

I’ve noticed book reviews use the word “lyrical” when they have nothing nice to say about the story.

Everything I read about this book continued in that vein: the prose was “lush,” the love story “magical,” the world “fantastic,” all very impressive descriptions for a debut novel. From all appearances, this looked to be a whimsical romantic journey.

Image result for weight of feathers
…I just noticed the comparison to The Night Circus. I’m an idiot.

None of the reviews mentioned how harsh this book is.

I will put up with a lot if like a story enough, but I draw the line at abuse.

This book isn’t very long, only about 300 pages, and yet unnecessary acts of violence comprise most of the plot: the chemical rain that burns the protagonists; the physical deformity Cluck received from a family member; Cluck’s older brother stabbing his sibling’s hands with a needle.

The promised romance covered 40 pages. In those pages, the leads went from enemies to lovers to back to enemies. The author packed too much relationship into too few pages.

After the aforementioned needle stabbing, I couldn’t continue.

I’m torn – McLemore also wrote a trans romance that sounds great, but after this? I expect 200 pages of physical violence capped by a single kiss between the leads.

Not worth it.

 

The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

Winner of the Medal for Worst Execution

Image result for girl from everywhere heidi heilig
My copy did NOT look this cool.

Squandering solid ideas infuriates me.

Sometimes I feel like coming up with ideas is the hardest part of writing. Even if something excites me, I wonder, “Is it strong enough to fuel an entire story?” If it’s an idea with a lot of required research or moving parts, I wonder, “Am I motivated to complete this?”

I’d like to be a great little cheerleader who supports other writers and their attempts to create, no matter the quality.

Instead, I’m the slackjawed critic made sick by wasted potential.

If someone publishes a unique idea – an unusual setting, a specific historical retelling, an unlikely perspective, a speculative bent – that idea is now timestamped with their name on it. Others can be inspired by this idea or use similar elements to make their own stories, but they can’t use that idea without someone crying foul. The original, amazing idea belongs to whichever author thought of it first.

How does this relate to my rant?

Before I answer, I have a letter to write:

Dear Heidi Heilig,

WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?

Let’s take an inventory:

  • Diverse pirate crew: YES. Have I mentioned pirates at all – AT ALL – this entire rant? No? Well, I love ’em. I only read historical fiction if it has pirates.
  • Promised love story: I’m here for it. I LOVE love stories. Drinks all around!
  • Time travel: This?? This is GENIUS. And not just time travel – the pirates can travel to any time period and location, real or imagined, so long as they have an accurate map. That’s AMAZING. What a clever twist.
  • Natural father-daughter conflict: I must be getting better, because a few years ago, I couldn’t handle father-daughter conflict of any kind. This book took an interesting tack, too, with the fight involving protagonist Nix’s fate. In short: the father wanted to return to the place and time where he met his babymama so he could rewrite their tragic relationship. Doing so, however, would write Nix out of existence.

Look at all these DELICIOUS ingredients. SURELY all these separate parts would yield a wonderful recipe. Just let that tension simmer…

No? You’re not even going to turn on the heat? I mean…okay, Heidi, it’s your story.

The pirates…the pirates aren’t even gonna pirate anything? Just talk about it? Geez, hope the father-daughter conflict is better than this…

WHAT DO YOU MEAN THERE’S NO CONFLICT? Why is the protagonist RESIGNED to her fate? WHY IS SHE HELPING HIM?

At least we’ve got that love interest kicking around. Surely… Oh, he doesn’t care about her. RAD. Wait, Heidi, are you trying to push a race angle with him? Stick to sucking the tension out of your story.

Okay, we’re switching locations!! It’s time for some action!

…OR the protagonist can go shopping. That’s cool, too.

Ew, who’s that freckled kid? WHO’S THAT FRECKLED KID? HEIDI! ARE YOU THROWING A ROMANTIC FALSE LEAD AT ME RIGHT NOW? HEIDI! ANSWER ME! I’M NOT STUPID, HEIDI. DON’T TRY TO DISTRACT FROM YOUR THIN PLOT! HEIDI! GET BACK HERE!

I gave up after 80 pages. Once Freckle McPonytail showed up, I knew Heidi didn’t have anything interesting planned. With the plot at a dead halt and the characterization barely present, I couldn’t see anything promising on the horizon.

So I abandoned this book with all my hopes and dreams.

I hear you wrote a sequel, Heidi. I hear you duologied this garbage.

I wish I could go back in time to the moment I bought this book as a depressed, unemployed recent graduate. I would MOVE BACK TO BREMERTON if it meant I could ERASE THIS BOOK FROM MY MEMORY.

You betrayed me and I don’t care anymore.

Deepest regrets,

Lauren