This year I stopped rating books on Goodreads for a couple reasons. One, it felt hypocritical, even though, intellectually, I know it’s not. What writer isn’t also a reader? And why shouldn’t I express my opinion of what I’ve read? Even if I haven’t enjoyed a book, I still internalize a lot of elements such as character, plot structure and pace, either as “things not to do” or “things to explore.” Every book is useful in some way.
More, though, I found that reading with a score sheet hanging in the forefront of my mind placed too much pressure on every book to perform. I was more easily disappointed and less often delighted. I was reading too analytically.
The sense of freedom that comes with deciding not to quantify a book, or qualify the experience of reading it lightened my perspective. The other upside, of course, is that if I’m reading a book inside my genre, I no longer have to wrestle with the “should I or shouldn’t I?” question. Finally, without a score, any comments I leave can be left open to interpretation.
Not rating books makes it harder to choose my usual six or seven for a “What I’ve Been Reading” post. The books I feature are usually skimmed from the top. This time I’ll be glancing at the cover and choosing from remembered impressions. To be honest, I like this idea more. While these books might not have been “five star” reads, they will be books that left me with some lingering emotion. They will be books that I want to share, even two months after reading.
King Perry (The Lost and Founds, #1) by Edmond Manning
I left a single word of review on Goodreads for this one: Beautiful.
Looking at the cover again now, I remember the feeling of wonder that captured me on every page and the breathlessness of waiting for the story to unfold. Generally, when you start a book, you have an idea of what’s going to happen, where all the pieces will end up. The enjoyment is in the journey. King Perry is structured differently. I had no idea what would happen at the end. I had hopes and wishes, but no set outcome in mind. Instead, for three days, I became absorbed by the story of Perry, and Vin’s hopes and wishes for him. In a way, I became Vin. I saw Perry through his eyes and absolutely needed Perry to complete this journey. To break through and claim his kingship.
From concept through execution, King Perry is written like no other novel I’ve ever read and I think that has a lot to do with how much I enjoyed it. While my traditional heart had certain hopes, I wasn’t disappointed by how things turned out. In fact, the story couldn’t have been told any other way, because this is Perry’s book. Perry’s story. The joy in this is that Vin’s story still has a few more chapters – and that’s only right. By the time Vin finds what he’s looking for, it’s going to be so well deserved.
One Good Dragon Deserves Another (Heartstrikers, #2) by Rachel Aaron
If you haven’t read Rachel Aaron yet, get busy. She’s not only a talented writer, but an exceptional story teller. I thoroughly enjoyed her Paradox trilogy (written as Rachel Bach) which I reviewed for SFCrowsnest. Fantastic science fiction with an interesting, multi-dimensional and capable female lead, and an interesting, multi-dimensional and swoon-worthy male lead. He was eminently capable too, but this romance reader doesn’t mind a little swoon mixed in. J
Anyway, I do not read a lot of paranormal or urban fantasy fiction. They’re two genres I have a lot of trouble getting comfortable with. Aaron’s Heartstrikers novels do it for me. For once, I didn’t feel as if I was expected to know all the lore beforehand. For another, the line between “human” and “other” is clearly drawn here and well-supported. I had no questions regarding how it worked. Rachel Aaron made it work.
The world building is phenomenal. It’s deep, intricate, believable and so much a part of the story that the reader absorbs it along with the tale of Julius, the “nice” dragon. Which brings me to the story. It’s great. From the first page, I was invested in Julius’ plight as a dragon that doesn’t quite fit the mold. The secondary characters are just as interesting and the story arc is amazing. It’s obvious this author doesn’t not sit down and say, “Let’s see where my characters take me today.” A plot this intricate could only be planned well in advance, over the course of several books, and then doled out in exciting portions. I envy Aaron’s talent, but also find her inspiring.
Do Not Disturb: 3 Short Stories of Erotic Romance by Chris Scully
I love reading short stories and haven’t made enough time for them lately. It’s rare to find three in the same volume that work so well – together and independently. Chris Scully’s premise is simple: three moments in time for three different couples, all playing out in the same setting. As a concept, it’s brilliant, because every time she has another “moment” that doesn’t quite fit into a novel or novella, she can rent a room for her guys at the Benton Hotel.
Department Zero by Paul Crilley
Do you ever wonder if Lovecraft’s account of the Old Ones was true? I’m pretty sure you have. If you’re a reader of speculative fiction, now and again your compass points toward the weird and you almost believe there’s other stuff out there: aliens, ghosts, alternate realities and Elder Gods. You’ll have wondered. When something large and dark moves behind the trees at night, You’ll have wondered.
If not for all that wondering, the Cthulhu mythos might not be what it is, a many-tentacled leviathan of ranks and names that writers have been adding to since Lovecraft’s first story. Some shape, some borrow, all in homage to an idea as old as storytelling. Asking “what if” and giving the best answer possible. In the case of tales bearing the “Lovecraftian” label, as scarily as possible.
With Department Zero, Paul Crilley approaches the mythos from a different direction. His characters do their share of flailing in fear, which is one of my favourite aspects of the original Call of Cthulhu, but they also quip, snipe and fumble from one dire situation to another. Department Zero is laugh out loud funny. I read it in a matter of hours and really hope the author revisits these characters and this world.
You can read my full review of Department Zero at SFCrowsnest.
Husband Material by Xavier Mayne
I don’t know why I love reading about reality shows. I don’t watch them. I’m fascinated by the concept of them, though. As a writer, I suppose I appreciate the difficulty in pulling a narrative out of unscripted events, or in trying to script something as chaotic as a love story.
The setting for Husband Material is a reality show similar to The Bachelor. A group of eligible young men gather to compete for one young woman. Written simply, this story could have been entertaining. The way Mayne structured it, however, made this book something I’ll think back on for a long time, and not only because I loved the experience of reading it. Nothing is a given here, not the outcome of the “games,” nor the interwoven relationships. On the surface, this is a fun book and a really sweet love story. It’s also a running commentary on our culture, on the culture of reality TV and several versions of love, faith and fidelity.
I really loved Husband Material. I felt a bit sorry for Daphne, but she took a back seat to Riley and Asher, whose love story had me laughing and reaching for the tissues. An exceptionally entertaining read.
An Exchange of Hostages (Jurisdiction, #1) by Susan R. Matthews
I came at this book sideways, or backward. I glanced at a synopsis for the forthcoming Jurisdiction novel and saw one word: torturer. I have been on the hunt for a series about a sympathetic “bad guy” forever. I tried to read The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolf and tossed it less than halfway in. I can’t pinpoint why. It should have been a book I loved and I do want to try again.
Generally, when I toss a book, it’s because I don’t care enough about the outcome to continue, and that’s usually because I haven’t connected with any of the main characters. In An Exchange of Hostages, I connected with Andrej on the first page. I quickly connected with his bond-involuntary servant as well, and happily dwelled within the lines of their complicated relationship. I found the plot interesting and did not suffer under the spare world building. Rather, I wanted to know more.
I did find Andrej’s “revelation” somewhat disturbing, but it’s handled almost perfectly. It’s plausible and sets the stage for some amazing character conflict which is going to shape not only Andrej, but all the future novels.