Ah, Holidays

I don’t think I have ever had much call to avail myself of one-day shipping, other than for my medication. And I don’t pay for that. But when I ordered some replacement round looms and knitting needles, I wanted to have them right away. I had actually intended to find a brick-and-mortar and buy them that day. I haven’t tried knitting in years, so I don’t think I’ll gain enough skill to make any gifts there, but the round looms were another story. I couldn’t even size Ollie’s and Abbie’s hats with what I had.

Or should I say, with what I have. Because one-night shipping be damned. I was supposed to get my items yesterday. Instead, we got some other order (gifts) that was coming on Prime free 2-day shipping. It came on time. The stuff I paid to have quickly did not.

Maybe my annoyance is not reasonable or even understandable, but I am still annoyed. However, it got a little funny this morning.

It’s my understanding that refunding the shipping charges should be automatic, but I don’t trust anything Amazon does automatically without there being an email or five hundred. I can’t return a library loan ebook without getting an email that my loan ended. So I checked the order to see what was going on there… and found a tracking update on the package saying that it had arrived in its destination country.

Followed by BOTANY, AU.

long trip

I almost wish I still worked at the post office so I could brag about this evidence of UPS not being good enough. I should have laughed my head off. What I did was panic and rush to contact a service rep. Because I wasn’t even sure I’d get a S&H refund without doing so. What about having to get my order replaced because a derp sent it off to some suburb in New South Wales that’s the size of Bee Cave.

The rep I got was oddly chatty and apologised so much I wanted to flick his nose. Which is hard to do over the internet. I got a refund, but now I don’t even have a good idea of when I’ll get my package, other than being asked to give it ’til the end of the 20th.

Just goes to show. Practise patience, or you’ll find yourself becoming intimately familiar with Botany Bay. Or something.

Crafty

A million years ago, I was super into knitting hats with a round loom. I used to sell them in school. This is largely because I used to make them at school, often instead of eating lunch. Although I did make some with absurdly long length (and still have one of my favourite oversizes) and figured out how to add a bobble once, I never actually made more with the round loom than hats.

Recently, I dug them up out of wherever they’d been put away and found that a lot of my yarn store had survived. However, my looms did not. Some of the awesome wooden ones are still there, in a decent range of sizes, but it seems my Knifty Knitter looms are almost all gone to the great beyond.

They were also apparently discontinued by the manufacturer three years ago. I don’t think that’s changed, but I was able to find one of the 4-loom sets online.

In the meantime, I used my wooden looms to make a hat for Lucas, and one for Owen.

2hats

Friday Book Review – The Duchess War

duchesswar

Oh, the feels.

One of the hallmarks of Courtney Milan’s books is the use of very real, often very serious psychological problems that the characters have. And not just the hero and heroine either. Her alphas are damaged, possibly even broken men, who have plenty of character to develop and flaws to iron out that may not have anything to do with the heroine beyond her ability to understand his difficulties and accept them as a reality. Often, one or both of them will have a history of abuse, but not always.

That said, this is a book that demands emotional investment. It is essential to enjoying the book. It isn’t mawkish. Both of the main characters have very traumatic pasts, and you have to care. If you don’t, or you’re more interested in a light read, then the resolution may leave you behind. Or the emotional content could seem over the top.

Obviously, I didn’t have that problem. But I can see where someone else might have. In the same vein, I can see why someone might see Minnie as yet another scarred or shy girl who gets a great catch husband-wise–a bit of a stand-by trope–but I didn’t feel that way. I focused more on Minnie as a woman with a secret (a heroine trope that I like) than a mousy or scarred woman. In fact, mentions of her being mousy tended to confuse me.

Minnie is hounded by a scandal in her past, and just wants to stay out of crowds and avoid attention. To this end, she is aiming for a marriage with a man who wants a mousy wife. Robert, the Duke of Clermont, also wants to avoid attention to a degree, but his reason is due to a possible future scandal. Like many good Milan books (particularly in this series), there is a spoiler-ish thing right a the beginning, so be aware that I’ll have to bring that one out or fail to discuss most of the book.

After meeting the duke, Minnie is accosted by her friend’s fiancé, a jumped-up little trout, who accuses her of being responsible for handbills encouraging workers to unionise. This is untrue and ridiculous, since she’s trying to keep her head down and hide her past. Unfortunately, he threatens to dig into her life in order to prove his idiot theory, and she fears him finding out her real secret.

Minnie is one of those wonderful heroines who has not a mere informed talent, but actual talent and intelligence that you actually get to see her use. (For someone used to YA, this could be MIND-BLOWING.) She discovers that the duke is behind the unionising handbills very quickly, and her logic makes sense. She’s like Batman (the great detective version, not the overdone my-parents-are-still-dead version). Her genius for strategy is based on her skill in chess, which is part of her backstory.

Anyway, she takes her friend as chaperon and goes to the Duke of Clermont in order to accuse him (correctly) of being the one writing the handbills, and to ask him to cut it out because her life is on the line. He makes a counterproposal, which she doesn’t really go for, and they depart having declared a small internal war. He wants to be seen to be pursuing her, so that people won’t question his reason for being in the area, and she wants him to bugger off so she can marry a bland protector and get on with things.

The handbills and unionisation is very important to Robert. His father the previous duke was a repulsive man who abused his power in every way imaginable, and to the detriment of literally everyone around him. Thanks to this example, Robert wants to overthrow the class system and put people on a more equal standing.

Very often, I either dislike or simply tolerate heroes. Robert is one that I really, really liked. Maybe it’s a broken bird thing (I loved the hero in To Beguile a Beast, too) but I don’t think so. I loved his lack of tiresome aggression. He wasn’t exactly submissive, he just wasn’t a grunting, snorting bull all the time. He even made a point of staying away from prostitutes (again, citing his father’s disgusting example). He can’t rape or impregnate his hand.

My absolute favourite thing about this book is, of course, a spoiler. They both betray the other in the one way that for each seemed unforgivable. Forgiveness happens, and it’s completely believable. When she betrays him, he apologises for his own part in it. Which he absolutely should have done.

The story is a little marred by the fridge horror that Robert’s desire to be loved and fear of being denied it are so deeply entrenched that I’m not sure he can have a truly healthy, adult relationship with Minnie without some kind of therapy. It follows him very close to the end, and throughout the book, I could see how his severe emotional trauma affects his ability to make decisions and what those are. I guess you could say that he is a little too shaped by his past. And yet, I can’t say that I would believe it if he weren’t.

Overall, I loved this book. The conflict was surprisingly complex, the characters were strong and had a wonderful dynamic. I believed their romantic love, although I thought their physical chemistry was a little bit weak.

After having read most of the rest of the series (At present, I have yet to read the last book and Talk Sweetly to Me), I have to say that I’m less impressed with Robert. He seems more timid in retrospect, and lacking in strength in a couple of ways. His goals are important to him and he does exert himself to attain them, but when it comes to people whose love he craves–and “craves” is most definitely the word–he is weak and missish. He and Minnie were at times evenly matched in passion and drive, but her emotional health outdoes him even more than her genius over his average intellect.

I also really do not believe in his friendship with Sebastian, but I’ve already talked about that.

I really don’t go looking for these things

They just seem to find me. I rather prefer it when the things in question are in the vein of The Egyptologist, or even Royal Spyness (which is to a much lesser degree, of course). This one seems to have an incredibly strong, but accidental, subtext that may or may not have been improved by being upgraded to context.

When I read Standard Hero Behavior, I found it quite funny that just when I was wondering if I had randomly picked up a a middle grade book with a progressive romantic subplot, female love interests cropped up, and neither romantic subplot was well-developed or even interesting. It felt very, “OH CRAP THESE GUYS ARE GETTING TOO INTIMATE TO BE JUST FRIENDS UMM AND SUDDENLY THERE WERE GIRLS OKAY?” And then the relationship between the main character and his guy friend kind of vanished. Seriously, I think they either argued or just stopped talking to each other because of the girls for some reason.

It was more than a little sad after that one funny realisation.

Then yesterday, I took a break from my Currently Reading list with another Avalanche book: The Shadow Throne. Almost before I’d finished the first page, I said, “Oh, just make out already.” And then I had to explain a little, because I said it out loud. Here, I want to go into my reasoning in-depth (obviously) so there will be spoilers for the Ascendance trilogy (but mostly just for the first two books).

The False Prince is the story of Sage, a boy who is taken from an orphanage to compete with three other boys for the role of Prince Jaron. The prince has been presumed dead for a couple of years, but as his royal family are known to be dead, an advisor/regent thingy has a plan to suddenly produce the not-dead-after-all false prince and control him like a puppet. Only it turns out that Sage is a revoltingly good liar and is actually the prince the whole time.

He manages to win over two of the other boys, as well as the AR thingy’s right hand man. However, his relationship with the third boy, Roden, is tempestuous from start to finish, and Roden’s maniacal desire to be the false prince actually made me wonder at his sanity. Roden refuses to believe that Sage is really truly Jaron, because he has somehow fixated on the idea that he himself would become the false prince. Like any good madman, he rejects anything that can pop his little daydream.

But for some reason, Jaron wants this guy to be his general.

Okay.

In The Runaway King, the ENTIRE BOOK is about Jaron chasing after Roden and begging him to just give their relationship a chance. All right, that is leading language, but come on. The book is literally about Jaron’s inexplicable desire to bring into his inner circle a guy who has only ever shown strong negative feelings towards him. The first thing Roden does in the book is try to kill Jaron. One of the last things he does before magically agreeing to do things Jaron’s way is to break the guy’s leg so badly that he’s still recovering in the third book.

The way I described it to my husband was a bit like this:

Jaron: But we’d be perfect together!
Roden: Go away!
Jaron: Come on, I made a list of all the reasons we’re a perfect couple!
Roden: Stop talking to me!
Jaron: Why won’t you love me?! I am literally about to die for you!
Roden: DAMMIT FINE BUT I’M JUST YOUR FRIEND OKAY
Jaron: Good enough for now. But I haven’t given up!
Me: orz

After all of this, all of the chasing and murder attempts, and hate and torture… They are having a lovers’ spat on the first page. I have no other way to describe it. Jaron is bitching about Roden not listening to his orders, and Roden is spouting off something about not taking orders from a foolish king.

Add to everything the fact that Jaron’s official love interest is about as intriguing as a glass of water. His attraction to her is 100% author mandate, and although his betrothed, Princess Amarinda, is probably supposed to be gorgeous, Jaron could not seem less attracted to women on the whole whenever she is around or even mentioned.

This is not a reading preference I have. In fact, I very much doubt that this kind of belligerent sexual tension and completely boring and lazily-written heterosexual love interest are intentional. To me, they look like a writer who saw her characters get away from her and then papered over the cracks as if no one would notice that the window was actually a door.

Now I’m mixing metaphors.

Left this too long again.

So holidays are upon us. My sister’s birthday and Thanksgiving, then the horrifying slog through December that makes RELIEF a Christmas present for everyone.

We have successfully settled in, more or less, but there is still a lot of unpacking to do. And even more procrastinating. I find that it takes me much longer to finish a book. And somehow, I never have opportunity to write a review.

I am also trying to square away everything that made its way onto my To Be Read In Short Order list. I have also been calling it my Avalanche List or Avalanche Books because it all kind of snowballed into a ridiculous number very quickly.

If I can swing it, I would like to finish all of the books on that list by the end of December. Then, I will be able to start on my giant box of Romance as the beginning of my yearly book challenge.

What does any of that mean for my blog? Mostly that many posts will show up in the evening. I still haven’t caught up my betterised reviews with my Goodreads account, so those should continue. It isn’t likely that I’ll be able to start posting reviews concurrently, but if I do, that might be nice.

Friday Book Review – The Gathering Storm

tgs

 

I had two major impressions of this book. My favourite was, “WHOA RUSSIA. We have had a Russia crush since high school.” The cultural parts of the setting are meticulously researched, and it definitely shows. Like the best of historical fiction, the details are accurate, and presented as though everything is immediate and familiar. The historical and cultural stuff is put into a natural context, rather than seen through the veil of the modern day or another culture. Katerina is a duchess in the Russian court in a time when the court flourishes. Everyone she knows is royal, and everyone knows who is related to whom. I recognised all the named places. It was never like Die Hard 5, where Russia was actually Hungary the whole time. It’s just a good solid… part of the setting.

My other impression was not impressed with basically the entire rest of the book.

The rest of the setting was given only the vaguest, lightest possible amount of attention. I honestly finished the book unsure of what supernatural elements were definitely a Real Thing and which were debunked as far as this world is concerned. In my original review, I wrote, “There are vampires, but also no one believes in them, except that someone famously drove them away, but people are acting like vampires are only a myth, so what is even the hell.” The writing offers very weak, often incomplete information, and often backpedals and contradicts that very information.

Without the historical fiction as a background, this would have just been an embarrassingly weak entry into the paranormal genre. It borrows from notable books without really bringing new things to the table, either with plot or characters, and the supernatural elements are treated like unwelcome guests to a really loud party.

Katerina herself is not a remarkable character. She isn’t immediately annoying, but she isn’t all that sympathetic or interesting either.. Maybe there isn’t any intentional borrowing, but it definitely reminded me of other books. None of them were ones I would have rather read, but that is not a point in this book’s favour.

Anyway, Katerina is a necromancer, which mostly serves to make her scared of her power and being found out. She doesn’t do anything interesting with it, except by accident once or twice, and it’s easy to get annoyed with her concern and outright refusal to confide in anyone. She behaves a lot like the necromancer in Kelley Armstrong’s The Summoning. This is most apparent whenever she is threatened. She’s very easily cowed. The people who menace who dont’ even have to put any effort into it. She does try to stand up for herself sometimes, generally when it won’t matter.

Her silence, often held on the thinnest of pretexts, is the cause of a lot of tragedy in the book, and if you come to care for the world or any of the other characters, it’s hard to forgive her for that. She is almost directly responsible for the death of one of the most likeable characters. For a really stupid reason. To make it worse, even when she has the sense to blame herself, someone actually tells her it isn’t her fault EVEN THOUGH IT EFFING IS. I hate when characters do that. MAN UP AND TAKE SOME RESPONSIBILITY YOU ARE A FLIPPING DUCHESS.

Once I realised this kind of thing kept happening, it was impossible to enjoy the book.

I mean it. There are multiple times when she could have and should have brought someone into her confidence or just explained a situation in order to get out of trouble. There is no way to emphasize this enough. A significant percentage of the conflict is predicated on her not sharing information for no damn reason.

What makes it worse is that every single time that she actually stopped being a moron and asked for help, the conflict was resolved or at least ameliorated. Her cousin is mysteriously ill and no one will do enough to help? She goes to Dr Kruglevski and he saves the day. This is a very direct, positive result to a request for help, and she doesn’t learn from it. People died who did not have to, because Katerina deludes herself into thinking she can’t/shouldn’t tell anyone what’s been going on. Not through some bold hubris that makes her believe she can take care of things on her own. That would be an interesting character flaw. No, she’s just a wet rag who finds it easier to stand dumb than speak the hell up.

The other thing that started to grate on my nerves is that it sometimes feels like a Twilight expy. Not in a big way, but the further it went on, the more little similarities cropped up. And these little similarities were small but rather strong.

  • Katerina is crippled from action by fear of others’ opinions
  • She refrains from protecting herself from all sorts of harm and justifies it as protecting others.
  • Vampires
  • Her love interest is a fairy or something
  • He has a female relative who sees the future
  • Werewolf? (i think)
  • Vampire war
  • Poorly developed romance that results in encompassing passion

Maybe it’s not the Twilight thing that’s annoying, but that these are all overused tropes that were in that book too. Maybe this book is just not my thing. I liked the plot, I liked the part of the setting that dared to be complete, and I like this author.

This book would have been three stars, but now it’s 2.5 because I’m tired enough to not have understood all of the supernatural elements.

I still think that Katerina could use some better communication skills. I’m really tired of inaction being a character flaw. All it does is open the way to unlimited navel gazing and the only conflict coming from other characters or a timer running out. Give me the screw-ups who rush into danger back, please.

Big Reactions

We couldn’t do a bonfire today. Or burn an effigy. This makes me sad. But I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to do it next year. So instead, we played D&D. Like you do.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about that one famous guy who had a pet bear in university. He did this because he was not permitted to have a dog. A very strong example of, “If you can’t beat ‘em, hit ‘em wit your car.” Go big or go home, indeed.

I think that applying this kind of reaction to a situation to writing fiction is a great idea. Be it as small as being denied a pet, or as big as having one’s life threatened. Often, you will get advice urging you to make your characters proactive rather than reactive. However, this does limit the stories you can tell.

You can have a proactive character at least begin with a reaction. The trick is to make it a big reaction. A young lady loses her father and so finds herself penniless and starving. She could beg, prostitute herself, or die like the little match girl. What she does is stage an assassination attempt on the king, and “foils” it hoping for a reward. Without an accomplice.

Another method is to paint them into a corner. This inevitably leaves you with a reactive path–unless the character is Batman–but a very strong incentive to make their reaction incredible. Characters who get out of a desperate situation in a subtle or boring way have failed. Even a rescue can be dramatic, rather than a deus ex machina.

There is always room for rhythm in any story. Sometimes things are quiet, sometimes they are loud. Sometimes the heroes are in concert, sometimes they are biting each other’s heads off. However, characters have an uphill battle to get reader attention. A lot of people love Twilight, but Bella is not a widely loved character. Deadpool, on the other hand…