Review: Remedy by Kaylee Ryan

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00072]Verdict: Worst book I read this year.

My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Genre: Romance

Published January 2019.

Find it on Goodreads.

It took one night with her to know she was my forever.
It took one minute for me to climb out of bed and drive away from her.
It’s taken me three years to confess that leaving her behind was the biggest mistake of my life.

I won’t stop until she knows what she means to me. I’ll convince her to listen to her heart.

It took one night for all of my dreams to come true.
It took one morning, waking up alone, for those same dreams to come crashing down around me.
It’s taken me three years to confess that night changed me forever.

He says this time is different, but how do I open my heart up to a man who’s already ripped it to shreds?

I have not written any full reviews on the millions of romance novels I have read these last two months but this one made me angry enough that I am starting now. I found this abysmal. If that had been the only thing I thought about it, I wouldn’t have minded as much, but I also found it sexist and that just annoys me. I am not reading romance to be hit on the head with how stupid women are – the opposite in fact. I like romance because it can be empowering and because it focusses on human relationships (romantic and otherwise) in a way that works really well for me. Well-written romance is wonderful, badly written romance on the other hand is pretty much the worst thing to read.

I should have given up on the book on page 1 (so that is on me) when the book starts with these lovely sentences: “It’s been three long years since I’ve been home. Three years of blaming it on my job at the hospital, the eleven-hour drive, and a host of other “reasons” I couldn’t come home. Three years of acting as if the dick swinging between my legs is actually a vagina, when it really there is only one reason.” Kill me now, please. The book doesn’t get any less sexist from here on.

Thing is, Grady hooked up (“gave into temptation”) with his best friend’s little sister who had a crush on him forever who “gave herself to him” (I hate that phrase and the obsession with virginity some books have) – and then he ran away for stupid reasons, leaving a woman who obviously treats sex as something super important to wake up on her own and never replying to her texts. This is very much an asshole move but it’s also a reason for him having to grovel that just doesn’t do it for me. Now, I know that my more easy attitude towards sex is not a problem with the book per se, but still the endless groveling got increasingly repetitive and for me at least overly dramatic. Once they mostly resolve their problem and decide to date again, they move at lightning speed even though she has still moments of doubt. I hated that.

Other things that annoyed me because apparently this book was custom-made for me to hate it:

  • every woman who meets Grady flirts with him because every woman only sees his status as a doctor,
  • Collins cleaning Grady’s flat and going shopping for him although they have only been dating for a week or so because obviously that is her job and she (a nurse) doesn’t work as hard as he does (a doctor),
  • the phrase “my cock saluted her” (in general the weird mix of superficial sanctimoneousness and crude language really didn’t work for me),
  • both of them staying celibate for three years between their one-night-stand and them seeing each other again (I know this one is a me-thing and not a problem with the book),
  • the endless parades of “I love you” in every single conversations, often more than once, after dating for a week,
  • weird sentences like this one: “She makes a gun with her hand and pretends to blow smoke off the barrell, which is her index finger, causing us both to laugh.”,
  • and finally: Collins never ever brushes her teeth. What’s up with that?
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Mini DNF Reviews: Romance Edition

I have mostly been reading romance novels lately and for the most part, I am loving it (obviously). I have found, however, that this is a genre where I am particularly trigger happy when it comes to DNFing books – part of what I love about the genre (I can be sure to get a happy ending!) also means that when I don’t click with a book (but don’t hate it), I don’t mind just putting it down. I don’t feel comfortable giving content warnings for books I haven’t finished as I worry to miss something and mislead people (but as always, if you have specific triggers, just let me know and I will do my best).

42766256._sy475_My Fair Viscount by Jess Michaels

Published by The Passionate Pen, July 9th 2019

I should just admit to myself that Historical Romance doesn’t work for me. Even the books that are objectively well written with fun characters (like Tessa Dare’s books) do not blow me away. This one here is a good book – but really not for me. It is also too short and as such moves to quickly to hook me. I read around half of it when I decided that I’d rather be spending my time on other books. I did like the focus on consent and it is also quirky in a way that I think would work for other readers.

42831646._sy475_A Beautiful Risk by Colette Dixon

Published by Caleo Press, August 13th 2019

This one I skim-read so much that it really doesn’t count as finishing it. I could not connect with the characters and I admit I got super annoyed with the male protagonist. I thought he behaved impatiently in moments where that was really not warranted given that the female protagonist is (for a very good reason) traumatized (her kid died in an accident). I was also not super into these elaborate sex fantasies these two people had about each other instead of, you know, just doing it. However, this isn’t a bad book – but for a totally different reader (that the book’s blurb called it heartwarming should have given me a clue from the beginning that this wouldn’t be for me).

Bloom-AnyoneButRich-28144-CV-FL-v2.inddAnyone But Rich by Penelope Bloom

Published by Montlake Romance, September 3rd 2019

I felt old reading this book. I found the drama at the heart of it ridiculous and to be honest childish. The basic plot is that three girlfriends made a pact when they were teenagers to never ever date one of the King brothers again, as these three brothers nearly cost them their friendship. This obviously proves impossible when the brothers return years later and now super rich (there really is no shortage of billionaires in Romancelandia). I could not suspend my belief here – especially because Rich, one of the brothers, really doesn’t seem appealing – and not even in the normal romance way too toxic way that can sometimes work surprisingly well. He is just boring – and the female protagonist’s infatuation with him seems unfounded (she is also a virgin, something that only rarely works for me – it so fundamentally changes the power balance). I just never bought into their relationship. Do not even get me started on Rich’s twin brother whose incredible stupidity felt gimicky and unbelievable. This really did not work for me and I gave up a little after the halfway point.

I received ARCs of all these books courtesy of NetGalley and the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Recommendations: Books with “unlikable” female characters

I adore books with difficult female characters – unlikability really works for me when it is done interestingly. I also think that judging a book as lacking because a character is unlikable is a boring critique. I am the first to admit that I need to find characters compelling but compellingness can come from characters being really awful. Weirdly enough, I am way more interested in difficult women than in difficult men – although thinking about it, maybe it’s not so weird after all.

153480Medea by Christa Wolf

One of my absolute favourite books of all time, I adore Wolf’s interpretation of Medea. While she is not as difficult as she is in the original myth, her problems are very much of her own making. She is unapologetically herself and frustratingly so. Wolf tells this story from different perspectives but anchors it in a pitch-perfect characterization of this infamous woman. (in case anybody is looking for more books to read during WiT-month, this one would be a brilliant one to add!)

36136386Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

I adore Frances – but she has been called unlikable by numerous reviewers. She is pretentious and incapable of talking about her feelings, she pursues a married man and lies to her best friend. But she is also clever and hurting and I just felt for her. I don’t think I have to tell anybody here how much I loved this book. (review)

35958295Almost Love by Louise O’Neill

This book gutted me, not least of all because Sarah, the main character, painfully reminded me of myself when I was in my early twenties. Told in two time lines, the Sarah from the present is an awful friend and a pretty terrible partner. But it is past-Sarah, the one who is in a toxic relationship that I related to, too much maybe. My review got a lot more personal than they usually are.

19161852The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

One of my all-time favourite books, one I practically adore every thing of, is made even more brilliant by how difficult Jemisin lets her main character, Essun, be. She is abrasive and single-minded, she feels no need to smooth her edges, and I loved her for it. The series is, amongst other things, a rumination on motherhood and growing up. Essun is horrible towards her daughter in a way that she thinks is necessary – and the inevitable conclusion to the trilogy broke my heart and made me a life long fan. (review)

37590570The Pisces by Melissa Broder

This book. I have not been able to stop thinking about it since reading an early copy last year. I adore everything about this – but most of all Lucy. She is pretty horrible a lot of the time but I also couldn’t help but root for her. It helps that she is super funny in her meanness and really lost underneath her swagger. I also loved reading Broder’s memoir So Sad Today (review) which gave me a whole different appreciation for Lucy, who definitely, at least in parts, is based on Broder herself. Another reason why dismissing the main character simply as “unlikable” doesn’t work here. (review)

36332136The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley

I only recently finished this but I want to keep shouting from the rooftops how brilliant I thought this was. Told from different perspectives, I personally most adored Willa’s third person narration. Willa is prickly and awful and so very very brilliantly drawn. Her mask of the perfect suburban wife crumbles pretty quickly but her layers are revealed in a perfectly measured speed. (review)

What are your thoughts on unlikability? Do you have any recommendations for me?

 

 

 

Romance Mini Reviews: Slightly Off-Limits

I am not the biggest fan of off-limits romances but when they are only slightly so, I can enjoy them because they add a bit of angst without it being overwhelming. I am also old though and I just cannot with romances involving really young people, so the books I read with off-limits romances only involve people who have been adults for at least a few years.

35836021Disturbing His Peace by Tessa Bailey

Published by Avon, 2018

This is the third in Tessa Bailey’s The Academy trilogy and by far my favourite. The Off-Limits-factor is that Danika is a recruit and Greer one of her teachers but it isn’t icky because they are both adults (and have been a while) and she doesn’t take any crap from him. I really enjoy Bailey’s writing and I do love how very much into each other these two are.

4 out of 5 stars

Content warning: Attempted assault, child abandonment (backstory)

30631124Pretty Face by Lucy Parker

Published by Carina Press, 2017

I love, love, love Lucy Parker’s romances: they are funny and lovely and super charming. In this one Luc Savage casts Lily Lamprey for her first West End role after playing a rather sexual role in a TV show – and as such dating her director would be absolutely catastrophic for her reputation. These two are not the biggest fans of each other in the beginning but they have a ridiculous amount of chemistry – and I loved them.

4 out of 5 stars

Content warning: slut shaming (always challenged), harassment, heart attack, death of a loved one

43834305._sy475_The Trouble with Love by Claire Contreras

Published May 2019

This was lovely – but also kind of forgettable. Morgan is starting her dream job at the company she has always wanted to work at – but her boss’ son is not only her brother’s best friend but her one-night-stand from a year ago. Bennett is relatively newly divorced and really does not believe in love any more – and he thinks that his best friend’s younger sister is seriously off-limits for him. Obviously this is not how it works out. I enjoyed how clever and driven Morgan is and I did like how very nice these two are to each other. I don’t love this whole idea that you should never ever sleep with your friends’ sisters – because that frames sex as something at least slightly shameful and degrading you shouldn’t be doing to a woman who has any connection to a man you know and I am not here for that. I am also not the biggest fan of the “super evil ex-wife” trope though and as such could not really warm to the book as a whole.

3 out of 5 stars

Content warning: Infidelity (back story), infertility, drug addiction (back story), child abandonment (back story), prostitution (mostly respectful), stalking

 

 

Best Books of 2019 (at the halfway point)

I wasn’t going to do a post like this because I thought my reading year hadn’t been that great – turns out, I actually read quite a few books I loved and really felt like sharing those. I gave seven books 5 stars so far or 10% of my reading – which is pretty normal for me but still surprised me because my reading year has been feeling distinctly mediocre for some reason. I could only narrow it down to six books for this list though (I would have prefered a list of five but just could not do it). Below are the books in order of when I read them (I couldn’t rank them just yet but will do so when my end of the year wrap ups come around).

36332136The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley

I adored this. Everything about this retelling of Beowolf set in suburbia really worked for me. Maria Dahvana Headley has a wonderful way with words, the rhythm of her language enthralled me, her flawed and kind of awful female characters excited me, but it is her play with different perspectives (mixing first person with third person and complimenting this with a chorus-like first person plural) that made this an instant favourite for me. I am nothing if not predictable. (Review)

36136386Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

I am sorry if I have become a Sally Rooney fan blog. But she really is just that brilliant.

I don’t think I need to talk about this book anymore. I have been shouting its praise from the rooftops for months and I recently finished my reread of it. Everything about this works for me. (Review)

38470229The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

This was my favourite of the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlisted books – and I was just so very pleased to have finally loved a book (I was a bit of the grinch of our Women’s Prize group chat and I love loving books much more than snarking about them). Parker’s retelling of the Illiad from Briseis’ perspective broke my heart and excited me. I found Briseis’ endlessly fascinating and loved how Barker constructed a character that was allowed to be flawed and surprising while remaining true to the heart of the myth. Her take on Achilles also really worked for me. (Review)

29774026The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

I loved Shannon’s female centric take on a classic epic fantasy novel. I am usually of the opinion that no book needs to be longer than 400 pages but I was hooked for all 800 pages of this. Shannon carefully puts her pieces into place and builds towards a wonderful whole; her characters are wonderful: all are flawed, some are better humans than others, all are compelling. In books with many perspectives there are usually a few that don’t work as well for me but here I wanted to spend time with every single one on them and needed to know what happens next. (Review)

37920490Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World #2) by Rebecca Roanhorse

The first book in the series reignited my love for urban fantasy – and the sequel was even more incredible. I just love Roanhorse’s worldbuilding, and her prickly main character, and her language, and her imagination, and basically everything about this. I did the thing again, where I read the book as soon as it came out and now I have to wait for who knows how long until I can read the next book in the series. (Review)

38391059The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy #3) by Katherine Arden

I love this series with all my heart – and I have a particular soft spot for it because it is the first series where I got all books as review copies while they were coming out. Katherine Arden has a very particular style of sentence structure that just makes me happy; it is recognizably hers while mirroring traditional fairy tales in the best possible way. I cannot wait for her next adult series – I will be reading whatever she decides to do next.

What was your favourite of the year so far?

Review: The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley

36332136Verdict: Breathtakingly beautiful.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Literary Fiction, Retelling, Fantasy(ish)

Published by Macmillan Audio, 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

Two mothers—a suburban housewife and a battle-hardened veteran—struggle to protect those they love in this modern retelling of Beowulf

From the perspective of those who live in Herot Hall, the suburb is a paradise. Picket fences divide buildings—high and gabled—and the community is entirely self-sustaining. Each house has its own fireplace, each fireplace is fitted with a container of lighter fluid, and outside—in lawns and on playgrounds—wildflowers seed themselves in neat rows. But for those who live surreptitiously along Herot Hall’s periphery, the subdivision is a fortress guarded by an intense network of gates, surveillance cameras, and motion-activated lights.

For Willa, the wife of Roger Herot (heir of Herot Hall), life moves at a charmingly slow pace. She flits between mommy groups, playdates, cocktail hour, and dinner parties, always with her son, Dylan, in tow. Meanwhile, in a cave in the mountains just beyond the limits of Herot Hall lives Gren, short for Grendel, as well as his mother, Dana, a former soldier who gave birth as if by chance. Dana didn’t want Gren, didn’t plan Gren, and doesn’t know how she got Gren, but when she returned from war, there he was. When Gren, unaware of the borders erected to keep him at bay, ventures into Herot Hall and runs off with Dylan, Dana’s and Willa’s worlds collide.

A retelling of Beowulf set in the suburbs, Maria Dahvana Headley’s The Mere Wife turns the epic on its head, recasting the classic tale of monstrosity and loss from the perspective of those presumed to be on the attack.

This was absolutely breathtaking. Again I am finding myself in the situation that a book is so very custom-made for me that my review will definitely not be objective in the least. There was very little chance of me not loving this – and I knew this after the first chapter. Maria Dahvana Headley had me hooked. This was incredible, so as usual in such cases, this will be a review filled with superlatives.

Maria Dahvana Headley loosely retells Beowolf but in the best possible way: setting it in today’s suburbia against the backdrop of an unnamed war abroad; I found it worked brilliantly but as I haven’t read Beowolf (although I did read the wikipedia summary in preparation for this book) I cannot speak to its success as a retelling. The fantastical elements are rendered in a way which makes in unclear what is real and what isn’t. I found the reading experience disorienting and claustrophobic (I mean this as an absolute positive).

The book mainly focuses on two women: Dana, a traumatized ex-soldier living off the grid with her son Gren, and Willa who is aiming to be the perfect suburban wife to her plastic surgeon husband and her son Dylan. These two women are one of the high points of this altogether impressive book. They are both flawed but compelling in the best possible way. They rage against the unfairness of their lives while simultaneously inflicting unfairness onto their sons. Willa especially was just my favourite kind of character: she is awful but has her reasons, she is believable while still being interesting, and her voice was impeccably done.

The way in which the Maria Dahvana Headley plays with voices and perspectives was another part that worked as if it had been written with me in mind. She mixes first person (for Dana) with close third person (for Willa) and passages rendered in a we-perspective (the mothers), always making careful use of repetition and imagery. Her sentences are breathtaking and the way her language flows just made my heart hurt while never sacrificing the emotional core of her work. I might have found a new favourite author.

Content warning: PTSD, war, loss of limbs and eyes, death (of children and spouses), animal hunting, miscarriage, abortion; (I am more unsure than usual if I mentioned everything, so if you have a specific trigger, please let me know so I can tell you)

This was the first book I read for my five star predictions.

Romance Mini Reviews: Fake Dating

As I am mostly reading romance at the moment but really not feeling up to writing proper reviews for that genre, I have decided to start mini reviews, organized by theme or trope. Starting with my absolute favourite: fake dating. I am not quite sure why I am loving that trope so much but I think it has to do with the fact that it makes the story so very obviously divorced from reality that it becomes easier for me to suspend my disbelief (which seems an odd thing to struggle with as somebody who usually reads mostly spec-fic).

25750546Act Like It by Lucy Parker

Published by Carina Press, 2015

This book combines many things I apparently love in romance novels: fake dating, enemies to lovers, hilarious banter, a grumpy male character, a lovely female character, and theatre. Lainey and Richard are starring in a West End play together – and cannot stand each other. They are mostly forced into a fake relationship by their management because ticket sales are down due to Richard being a bit of a knobhead in public (and in private and everywhere in fact). The book works for me because he is not a total ass and she is funny and not a pushover. I loved Lainey’s relationship with her family and I love how Richard actually makes a effort to be nicer. There is very little miscommunication and they both are honest with each other; which I love.

4 out of 5 stars

Content warning: attempted sexual assault, suicide (in the past), death of a sibling (in the past), cancer (in the past)

39854434Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey

Published by Avon, 2019

I have been on a serious Tessa Bailey binge and I have figured out that I like her books most when they are less angsty and more fun. This one is a lot of fun. While I am personally not partial to the “in love with my big brother’s best friend”, I do love fake dating and quirky heroines. Here Georgie and Travis start fake dating: for him it’s a way of bettering his image so that he has the chance of some kind of important baseball job (I know nothing about baseball), for her it’s a way of making people see her as a grown-up for once plus she has been in love with Travis most of her life (that surely will not blow up in her face at all). I thought this was absolutely lovely; I enjoyed the relationship and their banter, I love how they inspire each other to believe more in themselves, and Georgie’s women’s club was brilliant. I did think the ending was seriously over the top, but still, as a whole this was well worth the read.

4 out of 5 stars

Content warning: none? (the main character works as a clown, in case that is somebody’s phobia; I would wish to know if the main character worked with spiders so I am mentioning this)

45183911._sy475_Faking Ms. Right by Claire Kingsley

Published by Always Have, 2019

This was the book that made it very obvious to me that I enjoy the trope. It does a few things I am not always happy with but I still enjoyed it a whole lot due to the wonderful fake dating element. Here Shepherd is fake dating his personal assistant Everly because his (gold-digging) ex-girlfriend is dating his father (it doesn’t reeeally make that much sense in the book either). Everly is wonderfully sunny and super competent and her group of friends are similarly wonderful and totally made the book for me. I am not a big fan of super rich dudes in romance novels but this time it did work for me – mostly because Shepherd doesn’t really use his wealth to win Everly – which is something that always makes me cringe. They are believable as a couple and the whole book was a lot of fun.

4 out of 5 stars

Content warning: none that I can remember.