Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,
Rowyn
rowyn

Books by Other People

I finished Spells, Snow and Sky by CoffeeQuills a few weeks ago. It’s a polyamorous paranormal romance novella, between a human woman, a yuki-onna (“snow woman”, a Japanese spirit), and a witch.

For the most part, it’s a fluffy, low-stakes story, with a single PoV character: Sky, the human. I’ve thought about writing a paranormal romance on occasion, and one of the things that deterred is that, while I like the dramatic, angst-filled background full of adventure, actually writing the adventure takes a tedious amount of time away from the romance. Spells, Snow and Sky addresses this by supplying occasional hints about past drama and adventure, and skipping the whole part where you write it all out. It’s original fiction, but it reminded me of fanfic in this respect; I felt like I was reading a romance about characters that had their adventures in a different book. I thought this was an extremely clever way of getting right to the romance!

As is often the case with me and single-POV-romance, the romance didn’t engage me that much. But it was a delightfully atmospheric story, immersive and wintery.

After reading that, I remembered that I’d never finished O. Westin’s Micro Science Fiction, a collection of tweet-length (144 characters, from before Twitter’s doubling of the character limit) micro fics. So I finished it finally. If you use Twitter, you’ve probably seen O. Westin’s work before, as [profile] microsff. These are bite-sized and delightful as individual works. I preferred to read them slowly, because I found devouring several dozen at a time made them lose their individual weight. It’s a good collection and I recommend it.

Next, I bounced off of three different books, which I am going to complain about here because I want to whinge and also I don’t want to pick up these books again because I’ve forgotten what they’re about. But I’ll put DNF in the titles and author names so they won’t come up in vanity searches.

Also, important note: I bounced off all three for reasons that had nothing to do with the skill of the author. It was purely an “I am not having fun because this book is Not For Me” reaction.

I have a huge number of books on my Kindle where I have no recollection of why I got them or what I was thinking when I did. Many of them were free or cheap from Bookbub deals, and others were recommended.

CytheraDNF by JoDNFGraham: I think this is SF erotica/romance, with the main pairing being M/F. Which is to say “the first chapter had an M/F pair and the blurb implied the book would be about them.” The female protagonist is a “sacred courtesan” and the male protagonist is a ship’s captain in a military fleet.

If you want to read erotica and you like the “happy prostitute” trope in erotica, I imagine this book would work for you. I expect that I picked it up because SF romance that isn’t “alien warlord” style is hard to find. I do not care for “happy prostitute” as a trope. It’s not that I object to sex work so much as to the depiction of sex work as a fun sexy romp where every client is young and conventionally attractive. I feel like fiction about sex work is mostly moralizing in one direction or another -- either sex work is cruel, brutal, and soul-destroying, or it’s beautiful and sexy and uplifiting. Neither depiction feels convincing or interesting to me.

Anyway, I made it through the sex and BDSM in the first chapter, found the second chapter started with the female protagonist “testing” candidates by groping them while asking questions, went “yeah, not in the mood for this much erotica” and put it down.

LordDNFof the LastDNFHeartbeat by MayDNFPeterson

I know why I picked up this one! An author I follow on Twitter tweeted excitedly about the third book in the series being released. So I followed the link, discovered that it was the third book, went to look for the first book, and discovered I’d already bought it.

So I opened the book, and remembered that I’d already bounced off it once.

Oh.

I gave it another try. It did not work out.

It’s an M/M romance where one male protagonist, Mio, is very femme, to the point of “mistaken for a girl by rando dude who proceeds to sexually harass him.” The other male protagonist, Rhodry, is a tall strong alpha lord with magical powers. Mio is also poor, oppressed by his family, forced into crime against his will, and begs Rhodry to rescue him from his family/life of crime.

So the setup comes across as “exactly like a stereotypical M/F romance except I changed the pronouns for the female character.” I hate this trope SO MUCH. It manages to feel simultaneously misogynistic (“I’ll write an M/M romance because vaginas are gross, ew”) and queerphobic (“but I want to keep every single heteronormative quality in my characters so one protagonist is stereotypically feminine in EVERY WAY and the other protagonist is stereotypically masculine in EVERY WAY.”)

It’s the “every way” that really gets to me. If any of the qualities were swapped -- made the femme man be the alpha lord, or made the super-masculine guy short, or SOMETHING to indicate that the author didn’t think one’s physical qualities absolutely determined one’s status, standing, identity, psychology, and preferences, it would help.

Anyway, the author is trans and I am confident she is neither queerphobic nor misogynistic. She just has the misfortune of liking tropes that make my skin crawl. I tried to persevere.

Then Mio’s mother coerced him into mind-raping a random man for political power, and Rhodry came home to find a dead boy on his driveway and his reaction was along the lines of “this is so tiresome and inconvenient,” and I deleted the book from my phone.

If you don’t mind some grimdark (it’s a romance, it has an HEA/HFN, so presumably they rise above the grimdark eventually) and enjoy the above tropes, I think this would be a good book. What I saw of the dynamic between the two protagonists was good, and it’s well-written. I feel like some interesting stuff was going to happen later in the book. There was a suggestion that Mio might be intersex, which could be cool -- I seldom read intersex protagonists. But I don’t think I’m ever going to be in the mood for the tropes involved here.

NiceDNFDragons FinishDNFLast by RachelDNFAaron

No idea why I got this book. It’s fantasy + SF in the Shadowrun style: Earth several decades in the future, plus “magic returned to the world.” The main character is an unambitious young dragon whose mother got mad at him because he’s not sufficiently cruel and ambitious. She locked him into a human form and exiled him to the “Detroit Free Zone”, where dragons are killed on sight.

I got through the first fourteen pages. There was a prologue that engaged me, and then I met the exiled dragon and his sister and his mother and kind of just hated everything. There was a letter from his uncle that was amusing, though.

The mother is physically and emotionally abusive, and at some point I may be like “sure, I can put up with the protagonist being tortured periodically by his mom” and be able to read this. But. Not in the mood. NEXT.

The Fall of Lord Drayson, by Rachel Anderson

An M/F Regency romance. No idea why I picked it up. But I actually finished this one! It was short and mediocre.

So it started off with the male protagonist, an earl, evicting the female protagonist, the impoverished teenage daughter of a vicar and a seamstress. I don’t usually like hate-at-first-sight books, but I was entertained by the banter between the two as the earl tells the girl that she and her widowed mother have to find some other place to live because he’s selling the property where they presently reside.

The earl then rides off in the rain, falls from his horse, and knocks himself senseless.

At this point, I thought “oh no, he’s gonna wake up with amnesia and she’s gonna lie to him about how he promised she and her mother would never have to move, or something like that. Ugh.” But I kept going.

The female protagonist rescued him, somewhat unwillingly, from the road. When he regains consciousness, he has amnesia, and the female protagonist somehow or other decides to tell him “you are my servant!”

...

This premise is so mind-bogglingly repugnant that I don’t know how it managed to get on my Kindle. I can only assume it was free on Bookbub and that I only read the 20 word Bookbub blurb before downloading it, and the Bookbub blurb didn’t manage to encompass the awful premise.

But the premise was so terrible that I decided to keep reading just to see if the author could manage to justify a romance ensuing from this.

Short answer: no, not really.

The romance requires copious amounts of suspension of disbelief, not only for the ridiculous amnesia subplot and for the earl deciding not to hold it against her, but for the complete lack of objection by literally anyone else in the story to the eventual marriage of the two. The characters never feel like a plausible part of their period. The first half of the book has the amnesia subplot, and if you suspend disbelief it’s still cringe-inducing but more-or-less works. The last half of the book is tedious, saved only by the too-briefly-sketched subplot of a romance between the girl’s mother and a wealthy friend of the family. (The latter two would’ve been made far more appealing romance protagonists than the actual protagonists.) The earl’s mother and sister make every effort to promote a romance between the two protagonists, with no explanation whatsoever as to why they think this is a good match. The male protagonist stops being a POV character for the second half, for no reason except, I guess, to promote suspense about what’s going to happen next? When this is a romance and we all know how it ends? So tedious.

Granted, I did finish the book; it had good qualities. The characters were endearing except when they were doing the asinine things required by the plot. There are some nice romantic scenes. It’s mercifully short.

It did not make me want to throw it across the room?

I think mostly it hit the increasingly small spot on me between “awful stuff is happening and I don’t want to endure this” and “everything is fine, so I’m bored.” I am an extremely difficult audience. -_-



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Tags: book review, books
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