Monthly Archives: April 2018

Review of Jade City (The Green Bone Saga #1), by Fonda Lee

I borrowed a copy of Fonda Lee‘s Jade City from the library.

Description from Goodreads:
Magical jade—mined, traded, stolen, and killed for—is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. For centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion.

Now the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon’s bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation.

When a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone—even foreigners—wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones—from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets—and of Kekon itself.

I wouldn’t say I loved this, though I liked it very much. It has a really rich world, with history and depth and politics warring with duty and personal desires. It explores the consequences of violence, gender politics, and greed. There are interesting grey characters, ones who do horrible things for what they think are the right reasons, ones who do the right things only to fail, and others who can’t see beyond their won victimhood. For all that, I found it a tad ponderous and, though there are plenty of fights, it didn’t feel particularly action oriented.

Review of The Lurid Sea, by Tom Cardamone

I requested a copy of The Lurid Sea, by Tom Cardamone, through Netgalley.

Description from Goodreads:
A steamy bacchanal bending through time and space, replete with the occasional God, mythic creatures, and oh-so-many men. For centuries the godling Nerites luxuriated in a shifting sexual paradise, hopping from one bathhouse to another—from disco-era Manhattan to Feudal Japan and back to where it all started: ancient Rome. When the dark shadow of his half-brother, the sinister Obsidio, descends, his deadly kiss leaves bodies cooling in steam room corners. Nerites must adopt a new role: as defender of these hidden havens, his eternal orgy becomes a race across history itself.

I knew going in that this was an erotic book. (No pun intended.) But I suppose I’ve been spoiled by a softer sort of erotica. This starts out with, “The hot tub was a frothy mix of foam flecked with minuscule bits of fecal matter, white ribbons of semen and filmy water. I basked in this heady broth of hunger and lassitude.” That’s the first two sentences, and it never pulls back from the grit and grime of the bathhouse sex scene.

The writing is very pretty and Nerites is a lot more introspective than you’d expect from a man cursed to suck cock for all eternity. (He doesn’t seem to do anything else). And though it takes a good 1/3 of the book for anything resembling a plot to develop (just long enough to fear there isn’t one and that the Fellatiolympics is the more noteworthy thing about the book), one does eventually. Not much of one mind you, but one does develop.

This feels like someone from an academic background trying to make porny incest, pedophilia, slave sex and debaucheries intellectual. Like we’re supposed to read it as meaningful, instead of base and onanistic. And if you don’t like it, well, you just must not be intellectual enough to look beyond its purposeful prurience and “get it.” Or maybe not truly gay enough. Sure, ok, whatever. I see it, but It’s not really for me. Because even with the pretty writing and some hot scenes, 140 pages of blow jobs gets boring. I struggled to finish it.

In fact, I read 41% in one sitting, then went to bed. Having put it down, I really struggled to pick it up again, reading a chapter here, a chapter there and then forcing myself to push through and finish the sucker all at once. (Pun, again, intended.) My trouble came not with the amount of sex, number of faceless partners, frequency of orgies, the plot that just peeks out here and there, the incest, or the fact that modern ideals of age of consent don’t matter to Greek immortals. My problem sits in that first sentence.

I know this is a personal preference kind of thing. I appreciate having the fantasy of at least minimally hygienic, consensual sex preserved (or not trampled on too badly). There were just too many times Nerites sucked a cock and tasted shit—rolled it around in his mouth and considered it, even—got peed on, was the recipient in Bukkake, reveled in smegma, was borderline raped (though he’s always up for it), had sex on a corpse, etc. etc. etc. I know that for every thing that wrenched me out of what little story there was with a shudder, there’s someone out there for whom that’s a kink (and good for them), I just NOPED out on all of it in one book, after a while. I could have taken any individual thing, just not all of them all together. No doubt, that was partly Cardamone’s intent, to push people’s boundaries. But…

I appreciate the pretty writing. I read the afterward and appreciate how many books the author references (though he claims not to have done too much research, a statement contradicted by the those same recommendations). I liked Nerites as a character. And if I hadn’t so often been squinked out, I might have liked the book. In the end, I’m sure it will find it’s audience, it’s just not me.

In defense of reviews that say, “I don’t generally read this genre, but…”

This is one of those, probably ill-advised, posts in which I consider my own opinion. It came about because, the other day I was scrolling through Twitter and passed a tweet in which someone was disparaging reviews that say something along the lines of “I don’t generally like this genre, but I gave this book a try,” and then give it a negative review. There were several responses, vehemently agreeing.

As someone who has written reviews that say exactly that, I was perplexed. I considered responding, but decided to let it go. It wasn’t someone I knew enough to be certain debate on the subject would be welcome, and it’s just too easy to write what you think is a balanced polite comment, and have it come across as aggressive. In the end, I didn’t want to be that person who rolled up in someone else’s space and says, “But…”

But the tweet has stuck in my mind. The poster—who I assumed was an author, but I honestly don’t know**—is 100% entitled to their opinion. This post isn’t directed at them specifically, but the thread so reminded me of one particular review I wrote in the early days of this blog—This one—that I’ve been kind of ruminating on it ever since.

I’m not going to rehash the whole review. You can follow the link to see it on Goodreads.* But the review starts with this:

Oh God, I wish I hadn’t read that. Historically, I’ve not been a fan of contemporary romances. I often find the female leads weak-willed and the plots too sappy for me. I know that’s what some people like most about the genre, but me not so much. Despite my hesitations about the genre, I was tempted by the sarcastic tone of the book’s description…

I went on to say that I did not, in fact, like the book. And I promptly got this comment:

Then, as now, I’m confused by this opinion. Ok, that’s not true. I was then. I even spoke to someone in real life about the comment, only to have them say, “Sorry, but I agree with the commenter. If you don’t like the genre, don’t read the book.” Now, I understand where the opinion comes from, I just disagree with it.

Which is where the meat of this post comes in, why I disagree. To say that people who don’t generally like a genre shouldn’t ever read books in that genre is exclusionary and ridiculous. Life simply isn’t that black and white.

People’s opinions change, and if they never try something they might not like, they’d never know it. (Not to mention other reasons to read a book you might not like: to expose yourself to opposing opinions, book clubs, school, friends’ recommendations, cross-over, etc).

Let me give you a personal example. For most of my life, I thought I hated romance books. Every time I tried to read one, I was dissatisfied. But I was often tempted by the blurbs, especially if there was a fantasy element. So, every now and again, I’d give in and read one. 99% of the time I finished them unhappy. But there was always that one, which kept home alive.

As I got older and my understanding got more mature, I realized that I don’t hate romance. What I hate is the type of gender politics that are so common in romance books. So, if I was careful about which authors I read and/or read LGBT+ romances (which have their own problematic aspects, but not my particular rage triggering ones) I could happily read a romance book…or 400. But If I’d given up and said, “I hate romance” and never read another one, I’d have never realized my mistake and would have missed out on some of my favorite books.

So, I dislike being told I shouldn’t read a book in a genre I generally dislike. There are always exceptions, and I’m always hoping the next book will be the one. Which brings me to the original Tweeter’s point about reviewing books in genre’s you don’t like. Which is subtly different that reading them. No one would argue with, “I generally dislike this genre, but took a chance on this book and loved it.***” No one would tell that reviewer that they shouldn’t have written their review.

Reviews of such books is a topic that I take a related, but different issue with. Telling reviewers that they shouldn’t review books in genres they don’t generally choose to read presumes that reviews are written for a single purpose. What’s more, I’d assert that it positions the review in the perspective of the author and/or fans of a book/genre. It suggests “the review space about book X is only for people like us, and if you don’t share our view, you’re not welcome at the tea party.” It forgets that, while a review’s primary purpose may be to inform readers about a book’s quality (and we could argue if this should be objective or subjective quality), it isn’t a review’s only purpose.

I for one, write reviews as a sort of book journal. It’s my personal closing out the book ceremony. And as such, with very few exceptions (usually latter books in long series, in which my opinion hasn’t changed since earlier books), I review every book I read. Good, bad, indifferent, they all get a review.

So, how should I handle books from genres I generally dislike, took a chance on, and found they were not the exception to the rule? I’m going to review them. I say, “I generally don’t like this genre, but…” Why? Because that flags all readers of that review that it’s being written by someone who was not predisposed to like the book. It says up front, that the review could be considered bias. It warns readers that are fans of that genre that they can disregard the review as an outlier. I consider that sentence, and ones like it, to be a favor to future readers.

So, when people take issue with it, I’m always like, “Well, I guess I could leave it off and just let the review stand, unaccompanied, as a negative review.” Would that be better, you think? I don’t.

That single sentence also speaks to other readers who might not be regular fans of that genre, but are considering taking a chance on the book, just like I did. Maybe they’ll decide against it. Maybe they’ll see the points I make and decide they’re not the ones that bother them and read the book anyway (or because of the review). Either way, the review is still serving it’s purpose. It’s still a valid review.

I feel like telling readers that they should only read books in genres they particularly like, and should only be allowed to review books from such genres (and yes, I feel like this becomes a prescriptive, allowance issue) is akin to people claiming you shouldn’t write reviews of books you don’t like. Which means the only reviews to be written are positive ones. Which means review spaces lose their critical edge and instead become fuzzy praise boards.

This is something I REALLY disagree with. If someone chooses to only write positive reviews, that’s their choice. But the moment they say someone else shouldn’t write a negative, one I start to grind my teeth. Similarly, if someone chooses not to read or write reviews of books from genres they are not pre-established fans of, that’s their choice and I welcome to it. But as soon as they try to tell me I shouldn’t do it, we have friction.

* I don’t actually remember why I reviewed it on Goodreads and Amazon, but decided not to post it here. Maybe because it was my first year as a blogger and I wasn’t certain how to handle poor reviews yet. I don’t know, 4 years later.

**I didn’t at the time realize the tweet would still be in mind two days later. So, I didn’t think to take a screenshot. This post simply wasn’t that premeditated…or even meditated.

*** Which is basically the review I wrote last week for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peal Pie Society. I read it for book club, despite having no interest in it.