Saturday, January 28, 2017

Baked Fresh (Portland Heat #2), Annabeth Albert

I can read each of these books in about an hour, which isn't a complaint, but I'm not sure it's a compliment either. This is a cute book, but Vic and Robin are both so messed up, and the book needed to be about twice as long to deal with them. Vic's cousin and both recently died of heart attacks, so he got gastric bypass surgery and hasn't been with anyone since losing weight. He feels unlovable and awkward in his own body. Robin was out on the streets for a while after his family didn't take him coming out well, and he can't enjoy sex since it brings up bad memories of what he had to do to survive. They meet while both volunteering at a shelter, and when one of the kids overdoses, Robin takes it really personally. The book is a light and fluffy romance that really only hints at them dealing with all of these layers and layers of trauma and sadness.

Oh, and Robin says he doesn't want a boyfriend, which Vic takes as a challenge to try and get him to be his boyfriend, which is kind of weird to me.

Grade: C
#11 in 2017

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Becky Chambers

I was psyched to read this book, and so disappointed by the end. Maybe if I had realized it was a book that didn't have a plot I'd have looked at it differently from the beginning, but the first chapter teases a tense space escape story about a mysterious woman who has changed her identity and fled to the far reaches of space, and then the book is.... just a picaresque series of scenes on various planets, learning about various alien species and cultures. And that's it.

I just... I needed something to happen, or for actions to have some consequences, or for the exposition to stop. It reminded me a lot of reading Rosemary and Rue, where every chapter seemed to introduce a new type of faerie. Every couple of chapters goes deep into some alien civilization, all the way to the end of the book. But unless it's setting up a bigger plot, I find myself skimming and uninterested.

And there was no larger plot or conflict. They land on a planet; they meet people; they leave. Any time there's something that seems like it might be bad or tense, it's immediately resolved. They land on a planet that has periodic swarms of giant bugs; they are all safely inside when it happens. One of their crew is arrested for being a clone; they find a legal loophole to save him. A ship full of land mines docks up with them; they find the mines and diffuse them. And this all happens quickly, just like that.

It's not the book's fault that I also happen to really dislike the archetype of the wacky, adorable female engineer who's so CRAZY and ADORABLE and scatter-brained, but it drives me nuts, and I don't find it charming.

For space adventures that are exciting, feature lots of weird aliens, are creepily atmospheric, and compulsively readable, I HIGHLY recommend the Paradox books by Rachel Bach. Read that, not this.

Grade: C
#10 in 2017

Served Hot (Portland Heat #1)

Books from 1st person POV aren't always my favorite. This book felt very short and very light; Robby is an adorable guy who serves coffee from a cart, and his favorite customer, David, is his big crush. David has a pretty traumatic backstory, where his long-time partner never acknowledged him or wanted to come out, and then died, which is how everyone in his small town found out. So David doesn't really know how to be in a relationship, and Robby is willing to wait, but they never talk about it, which makes them both feel bad, and then they work it out and it's fine. The book needed to be way longer or deal with the issues it raised more, or something.

Grade: C
#9 in 2017

Status Update, Annabeth Albert

I really liked this. Noah is a little awkward and shy and definitely in the closet because his family is religious and so is the university he teaches at. Adrian, on the other hand, is his family's screw up, despite being pretty successful. Adrian gets stranded, Noah has to give him a ride to his sister's wedding, and they both make each other happier and better, and it was lovely. I wish there had been a little bit more of the happy ending at the end, but the book was warm and fuzzy and lovely.

Grade: B
#8 in 2017

Unfinished Business, Nora Roberts

This was a DNF for me. The heroine is a world-famous pianist who's come home to her small town to find out why her mother never called or wrote her after she left to tour the world with her father. It's instantly obvious that her father returned all the letters and blocked all the calls, so the heroine being furious that her mother cheated on her dad makes little to no sense. I wasn't interested in the heroine romanticizing small towns (I'm from one. They aren't great.) and the hero kept kissing and touching the heroine after she said not to. Definitely not my thing.

Grade: DNF

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Talented Mr. Rivers, HelenKay Dimon

The first book in this series was totally insane but a lot of fun to read. Unfortunately, this one wasn't. It feels like the characters make the same realizations about each other over and over again, have the same arguments, and never get to any satisfying conclusions about each other. In the first scene Hunter is insists that no one will EVER shoot Will when he's around; he has this discussion maybe twenty times over the course of the book. Sometimes it's in the context of saying he's not in love with Will, sometimes it's wondering if the mission is more important than Will, sometimes it's being mad the CIA wants to shoot Will. But someone always threatens Will, and Hunter always freaks out and slams them into a wall and announces NO ONE SHOOTS WILL, and then he's always surprised to hear himself say it. It's really frustrating.

Also, the sexual tension between Hunter and Will has no arc. Hunter is an undercover agent, pretending to be a bodyguard, hoping Will isn't evil like the rest of his family. At the beginning they want desperately to bang but have never discussed it. They they do sleep together, announce loudly that they can't trust each other, sleep together again, realize they can't trust each other, sleep together, feel betrayed by each other, sleep together, wonder if maybe they have feelings for each other... It's weird. This is the kind of romance where the characters insist the sexual tension is so overwhelming that they physically can't stop themselves from fucking over and over, but since it doesn't really ever grow or change it just gets boring.

Oh, ALSO also: the first sex scene goes on and on for a while. By which I mean about halfway through a paragraph actually begins: "The sex continued." NEVER IN MY LIFE. NOT EVEN IN FIC. WHAT.

Will was pretty sympathetic and enjoyable but he had no real arc; instead of wondering if he might be evil like his family we're told pretty early that he's not, and there's a vague idea that he needs to take responsibility and grow up, but he spends almost the entire book in a safe house just sitting around thinking about how much he hates being cooped up. He agrees to be bait at the end, and it's supposed to be a huge thing, but... he also agreed to that at the beginning, more or less. He doesn't learn anything, he just tells us the same stories about how much his family sucks over and over. This book is so FRUSTRATING.

Hunter, on the other hand, was the kind of alpha-male who is boring and angry about everything all the time. I know a lot of people enjoy that, but it's not my thing. Too many scenes of threatening to murder everyone, or slamming people against walls, or simmering with rage. Yeah, he had some backstory, but he was also a jerk.

A book about undercover agents banging the guy they're supposed to be keeping safe from his homicidal family shouldn't be boring.

Grade: D
#7 in 2017

Off Base (Out of Uniform #1), Annabeth Albert

I really enjoyed this book. Zack is a SEAL from a very religious family who doesn't want anyone to guess that he's gay but does a relatively terrible job of pretending not to be. He ends up with a friend of a friend as a roommate -- Pike, who is out and loud about it. Of course they fall in love and start a clandestine relationship, and of course this hurts Pike's feelings terribly, being treated like a dirty secret. But Zack's struggle feels sympathetic, too; if he comes out he's going to lose his family, and there are guys in his SEAL unit who aren't going to be cool about it. (There are, of course, others who will, and who keep sort of hinting Hey Zack, if there's SOMETHING you want to TELL US it would be FINE, but Zack is shy and keeps missing it.)

The happy ending is very satisfying, and Zack's resolution feels pretty realistic and hopeful. (Pike, who is offered a job as a professor straight out of grad school, feels less so to me, but that's maybe because I have lots of friends who have really struggled finding work in academia.)

The beginning is super abrupt and picks up feeling almost like I had missed something. I know it's a spin off from another book, but I've rarely felt so disoriented at the beginning of a book. Once it flashes forward, though, it settles down.

And I have already pre-ordered the next one in this series, which looks amaaaazing.

Grade: B
#6 in 2017