the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for September 2021

Seems like SFF is on a trend of super high stakes for the last . . . while now.

Hyped novels are about saving the world, changing society (hopefully for the better) really good vs really bad, sympathy for baddies and morally grey characters, getting reading to change our thought processes and world views, etc. success or death!

eh, could just be me, and how I when I read a book I really get into it. Could be because authors are freakin’ amazing, could be because my brain has no boundaries, likely a combination of the two.

Sometimes high stakes in books is exhilarating! Exciting! Thrilling! The best possible escapism!

but you know what? I’m at a point (oh hello, real life!) where high stakes in what I’m reading has gotten exhausting. Real life has enough stakes right now, you know?

I am ready for some low stakes. I am gifting myself with a sabbatical from reading books with high stakes.

That said, you’ll likely be surprised by what I read during this sabbatical. I know I’m already pleasantly surprised.

Recent reads:

Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Cruzie – what a fun and sexy contemporary romance! Lots of adorable flirting, lots of very hot sex. I’m going to be going through the library’s collection of Cruzie book, that is for sure! It was nice to read a book that has a happy ending – two people who like each other get to have happy hot sex with each other and end up together. The highest stakes in the book were are they gonna have sex at her place or his place. About half way through the novel, the author throws in a murder mystery – the local asshole ends up dead – shot in the shoulder, drowned, run over by a car, and had a heart attack. This guy was a jerk to everyone and was trying to blackmail half the town. Trying to figure out who killed the guy isn’t high stakes, it’s a plot twist. This book was 100% fun to read.

Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge, translated by Jeremy Tiang – some books are fun to read, this one was fun and beautiful to read. Each chapter talks about a different kind of “strange beast”, mythological creatures who live alongside humans and can often pass for human. The Narrator had been going for a degree in biology and ended up dropped out to become an author. She is still close with her old biology professor, they have a very weird but close relationship, and she also befriends one of his current students. As she learns more about the different mythological beasts, she learns some of her closest friends aren’t 100% human. Not a high stakes story, just very beautiful and poetic. If you’re looking for translated fantasy that is unusual and easy to read, I highly recommend Strange Beasts of China.

Land of the Lustrous (vol 1) by Haruko Ichikawa – a fun, bizarre far future slice of life manga. The characters are gems and minerals (sorta, a little like Steven Universe), and their chemical make up and hardness allows them to defend the earth from the Lunarians who are trying to kill them. The first volume introduces the characters and gives some background as to why the earth is populated by anthropomorphic minerals instead of humans. I had seen some random episodes of the Land of the Lustrious anime, and the music and animation for the Lunarians was so incredible! It’s a fun story, the character shit-talk each other, form cliques, and then are secretly helpful and nice to each other when push comes to shove.

TV I’m watching – my latest obsession is Money Heist on Netflix. It’s a soap opera that thinks it is a crime drama. Such a fun, over the top, ridiculous show. I just started season 2, and one of the main characters, Tokyo, has totally invested in imitating Milla Jovovich, romance is in the air, and oh the melodrama! A super binge-able show. Great writing and it looks like the actors had a fun time filming the show. Is there high stakes? Oh sure. But I’m ignoring them. And come on, this is TV so like, who cares about stakes?

I recently finished a book that I really enjoyed. I whipped through it, thought the idea and approach was great, was pleasantly surprised by a few plot twists.

But something about the main character annoyed the hell out of me.

I’m not going to say the name of the book or the name of the author, because this blog post is not a hit piece on either the author or the book. Let me say that again for those in the back row: this blog post is NOT A HIT PEICE on a specific author or a specific book.

This blog post is about a personality trait of a fictional character that annoyed me, and I’m sure this type of character shows up in plenty of books, and maybe other people are annoyed by this as well. What’s really frustrating for me, is that the character’s annoying personality trait made the rest of the plot work. Her annoying personality trait was overused as a plot device, and her annoying personality trait is something that is usually prized in people.

What was her annoying personality trait, you ask?

She was polite and selfless, and overly kind to overly needy and lonely people.

Allow me explain.

In the novel I won’t be naming, the protagonist politely listens to other people, all the time. When a lonely person says “can I just tell you one more thing?” she nods and listens. When another side character simply will not shut up even though the protagonist is late for another obligation, she patiently listens while they ramble on for another hour, and is willing to miss her other obligation entirely. It’s a great plot device, she misses many important phone calls because she refuses to tell anyone to shut up (the novel takes place in the land before cellphones). The protagonist is also so, so, so terrible at planning. No restaurants near her workplace? Does she bring lunch? Of course she doesn’t, so she ends up working through lunch and dinner and then nearly passing out from hunger. What, because packing a sandwich, or having a box of granola bars in your desk drawer is so terrible or impossible? does this town not have a grocery store? Another plot device, that a side character is smart enough to have snacks handy. The protagonist is a researcher, someone at the top of her field, but she can’t figure out how pack a lunch?

It started to grind on me, If you can’t tell, that this woman was so polite, and so selfless, that she simply could not, or would not do anything to show value to her own self. She wouldn’t tell people no, she allowed herself to be surrounded by needy people, she wouldn’t leave work at a decent time so she could go to the grocery store after work, she wouldn’t pack a lunch to sustain herself. It really started to piss me off!

And we value politeness, don’t we? We value selflessness, don’t we? It’s considered the height of rudeness to tell someone “hey, I know this thing you want to tell me super important to you, and I know you are lonely, but now isn’t a good time for me”. We show we care about people by listening to them. And this protagonist, she was the epitome of that.

It pissed me off that she showed so little caring for herself. No one else in the story seemed to care much about her either, if they had they would have bought her an insulated lunch bag and made her leave work early one day (no one was going to die if she took an afternoon off, I promise) to go to the fucking grocery store and buy lunch stuff and learn how to make a damn peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (surprising no one, lunch is really, REALLY important to me)

Was it her choice to live her life however she pleased? Sure is. Did her personality traits make for perfect plot devices? Yup. If it wasn’t for her personality trains of being overly-polite and never saying no to needy people, the novel would have been 150 pages long instead of 500-ish pages.

She can be whatever kind of protagonist she wants, and I can be annoyed by her.

And yet, it was a damn good book by a brilliant author. Likely a book I’ll read again one day. She did actually get a chance to rest at the end, so I guess that’s good, even though having a chance to take it easy wasn’t a lifestyle she was used to.

Your turn – what character personality traits annoy you? Ever read a freakin’ fantastic book, but been hella annoyed by the main character? I’m not looking to shit on anyone’s parade or harsh anyone’s squee, so feel free to omit book titles or author names in the comments.

It’s been so hot and humid lately, almost hard to believe it is nearly autumn! the sun is coming up later in the morning, and the acorns are plink-plinking off the trees and on to the driveway, the purple cone flowers are dying, and the hostas are starting to look done. Yep, summer is over. The house is surrounded by oaks, hickories, maples, cherry trees, and is that a beech tree? I can’t wait to see all the beautiful fall foliage colors! and good god, the raking. So. Much. Raking. Even if we get a leaf blower, it’ll be hours of leaf blowing. I’ve been reading, some. watching a TON of tv. I can’t help it, there is a ton of great TV on Netflix and HBO right now! I’m also buying way too many cookbooks, buying weird squashes I’ve never heard of at the farmer’s market, watching the birds, making this recipe on repeat, and following around the toads in the front yard. We have toads! they are so cute! AND? Today I got a library card, and walked around one of the downtown parks. This city has so many nice parks. and the ladies at the library were so nice!

ok, so this picture does NOT do this park justice. ok, so it’s a teeny tiny park, with a path and a bridge over the river, and a little island you can get to from another bridge. i loved the sound of the water gurgling over rocks. and I’m pretty sure I saw a heron! DEFINATELY going to this park again!

that picture doesn’t do it justice, at all.

anyway, BOOKS! been reading slower than usual, been struggling to concentrate lately. here’s what I’ve read recently and #amreading:

I finished reading Tower of Swallows by Andrej Sapkowski, it was good, not great. Yes, I know I’m reading these out of order, I still can’t find half of them after the move. I don’t know if they are double stacked on the back of a bookshelf or still in a box that we haven’t unpacked yet. I found this one, so I read it. The Siri parts were great! and the Geralt parts were great! all the other parts were just meh. I do want to dig out the rest of our Witcher books and read them, but this likely is one I won’t read again.

#amreading Passage by Connie Willis. ok, so first I thought this would be similar to Crosstalk? lol, it is not like that book AT ALL. Good thing this book takes place before we all had cellphones in our pockets, so much of the Willis style running around and not being able to talk to the person you’re looking for because every damn person just needs to talk to you for just a minute! and the main character is too polite to tell any of these distractions to jump in a lake, so it’s hours and HOURS until she can finally get to the person she’s trying to find. if this story took place in the age of cellphones, she’d just go to the bathroom, hide in a stall, and chat via text message to the person she’s trying to reach. I’m frustrated by the main character’s passivity, but enjoying the story as a whole. And come on, this is Willis, of course I can’t put the book down!

#amreading Sharing a House with the Never-Ending Man, by Steve Alpert. Yes, this is a non-fiction book about Studio Ghibli! Steve Alpert had worked for Disney and had also lived in Japan, so he was hired to be the Disney liaison to Studio Ghibli. Much of the book is about when Princess Mononoke was released in the US, and the Disney had no idea what to do with that movie, they kept asking who was the bad guy, wanting romance to be added to it, and assuming it was a kids movie since it was animated. Alpert gives an incredible behind the scenes look of what it was like working at Studio Ghibli and trying to translate Japanese culture to Hollywood. I’m purposely reading this book as slow as I can, because I don’t want it to end! if you are interested in Studio Ghibli, this is the book for you!

I need these guys in our backyard

oh, and I also went to the library in our new city and got a library card! here’s what caught my eye:

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.