20. Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley: This came to me highly recommended by a lot of people, as well as won a few awards. It's a very short novel about teenaged boys and abuse and the blush of first love, and where it can go from there. I finished it furious that I'd read it. The writing itself was lovely, but the story itself, as well as the ultimate message it conveyed, was so frustrating and vague, there is no way I would ever tell anyone to read this. I was really impressed for the first half with the delicate grace it handled a very sensitive subject, but that ending (the whole last third of the book) completely soured any positive feelings I might've had for it. - D+
21. Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan: Another short novel, this one about a Red Lobster manager and his last day on the job when his restaurant has been closed by corporate. Great characterizations. GREAT. These were real people, all of them. Not a whole lot happens, but it's not meant to be that kind of story. - B+
22. The Adorned by John Tristan: I originally got this one because it hits a couple of my kink buttons - tattoos, hints of a slave/master motif - but it's not what I expected. It's an m/m fantasy romance - not erotic romance, as is so prevalent in the m/m market these days - about a young man who escapes to the city where he manages to survive by getting indentured to a tattoo artist who creates living art for the Blooded who rule. The prose was lyrical and solid, and it was an easy read, but man, nothing much happens for the first half of the book. There was no sense of urgency at all for over half the story. Plus, even though it's in 1st person from the young man (Etan)'s perspective, I never really got much of a sense of a personality from him. He was the empty shell of his master's art, it felt like, and it wasn't until three-fourths of the way through that he started to seem like a real person. At that point, the story went off the rails and there were massive jumps in time to justify the message the author was clearing so desperate to get across, and it ultimately didn't end up working for me, either as fantasy or romance. - C-
I'm still working on Casual Vacancy (this probably would've been a DNF if I hadn't promised someone I'd read it), and I've just started Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem (which I'm really enjoying so far) and The Secret History by Donna Tartt.