Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice

πŸ’™ I read this for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2018 Reading Challenge, for the category of: Fairytale Retelling Romance. For more info on this challenge, click here. πŸ’™

When I was a preteen, I was out with my mom having brunch or something, and I remember these two ladies sitting nearby trying reaaaalllly hard to speak quietly, so all I could really make out was "Pssst....did you hear about...psst-psst...Anne Rice...psst-psst...erotica...pssst-psst-psst...sleeping beauty...pssst...bondage." Then they noticed that I was there and doing whatever the middle school kid equivalent of a dog staring at you with one ear lifted is, and started talking about something way less interesting.

My adolescent trash senses were tingling, but this was before the internet was really an every day thing, so I put that convo on ice and years later, as an older teen on Goodreads casually looking up erotica books to read, I thought to myself, "Hmmm, I wonder what those two secretive ladies were talking about? I'M GONNA SEE IF I CAN FIND IT."

Moral of the story: erotica is NSFB (not safe for brunch).

Also moral of the story: probably not best to discuss such things in front of little pitchers with big ears and semi-eidetic memories (not that they could possibly know that - but hey, if you ladies happen to be following me now, please consider this review personally dedicated to you, mwah)


Tl;dr review

"You get a spanking! You get a spanking! You get a spanking! EVERYONE GETS A SPANKING!" 

(I tried to find a funny spanking gif to put her but when I looked at Tumblr and typed in spank, everything was all porn - so no gifs for you today, sorry.)

I'm not even going to try to pretend that Amazon is going to let me get away with this posting this review to their site, so this is going to be one of those (rare) instances where I'm not going to self-censor. I'm sure somebody has managed to come up with a PG-rated review of this book, and I'm equally sure that review doesn't mention the people staked out in the gardens with sugar syrup smeared on their genitals and insects biting their flesh as "punishment," or the people being literally pushed around on the floor by their masters by giant butt-dildos on sticks. These are crucial bits of info that I feel the public should know prior to purchase.

I'm also not a sadist. The concept of sadism in and of itself frankly repulses me a little. I get that some people are into that, and if you find someone who would like to do that stuff with you and there's consent and that's your jam, then whatever, but I find it totally off-putting and do not enjoy reading about it. Especially when there is NOT consent. And not only is there sadism in this book, none of it is consenting. So that's doubly not fun for me.

The premise of this book is really strange. Only the first chapter really follows the fairytale. The prince finds Sleeping Beauty, rapes her, and then announces to her family that he's taking her as Tribute. Apparently his kingdom is notorious for this: they get attractive princes and princesses from other kingdoms to keep as slaves as "tithes." Which begs the question: why is everyone going along with this? They seem so busy investing their treasury in things like gold ben-wa balls, bejeweled fisting gloves, and silver paddles that I can't see them investing in things like a militia, so what's to stop one of those neighboring kingdoms from being all, "Hey, no, you know what? Fuck this, I see your paddle and raise you eight hundred gentlemen on horseback armed with rifles and cannons."

Beauty is subjected to multiple humiliations: paraded about naked, where she's molested by total strangers, raped again by the prince, spanked, spanked, spanked, and yes, spanked some more, paraded about in front of all the courtiers (naked) while bound and being humiliated and spanked and also yes groped and molested some more, then she's taken outdoors and given pony shoes and spanked up and down the gardens, then she's foisted off to the prince's mother to be sexually assaulted and spanked some more, and on top of this she's fed wine and food on the floor like a dog and is only allowed to dress and undress people with her mouth, and at the very end of the book she finally gets to sleep with the one guy she actually likes - a fellow slave - and the book ends with his recollections of his punishments which include, but are not limited to, being anally raped with a whip, having numerous ben-wa balls shoved up his butt which he is then instructed to poop out, being thrown in rotting garbage while being molested, groped, etc, and oh, yes, constant spankings and rape. (FYI: Breasts are spanked, butts are spanked, dicks are spanked, vaginas are spanked, et al.)

This really is the poor man's Marquis de Sade, because as much as I freaking hate de Sade, he did it first (or at least, most famously) and he shocked the hell out of everyone. Anne Rice tries to do the same, but it's mostly just gross and depressing and sad. Beauty spends most of the book in tears, and the people around her just bully her so ruthlessly, telling her that she deserves her punishments, but also that she'll be punished when she doesn't deserve it because they enjoy punishment, threatening her constantly but then praising her beauty and saying how good she is - this book shouldn't be called THE CLAIMING OF SLEEPING BEAUTY, no; it should be called THE GASLIGHTING OF SLEEPING BEAUTY. The entire book is literally all of these fucked up people telling her that they are making her better, that they are helping her, that they are giving her what she deserves.

If it were me, I'd be like, BITCH. GIVE ME THAT PADDLE. I'M GOING TO BEAT YOUR HEAD WITH IT. (But then, if I were a character in this book, I'd totally be one of those people saying, "Um, yeah, they're so busy doing all that crazy stuff right now, maybe we should bring in our military to free those people they are CLEARLY keeping as prisoners of war and not humanely, either!")

Given that I read bodice rippers, I know some people are going to be surprised at the low rating. I should note that I don't usually have issues reading about rape or dub/non-con in romance, as long as it isn't romanticized or gaslighting the audience into thinking this is normal/acceptable behavior. In this instance, it really bothered me because I felt like the rapes in this book were being roped off with the rest of "that BDSM stuff" as typical kinky nonsense, and no, real kink is all about consent.

The writing isn't so great, either. The word "little" is used every other page, it feels like, and the descriptions of sex themselves are kind of nauseating.

Beauty's breath became uneven, and she felt the moisture between her legs as though a grape had been squeezed there (146).

Leon's quick, graceful fingers had probed her navel, then smoothed into it a paste in which he set a glittering brooch, a fine jewel surrounded by pearls. Beauty had gasped. She felt as if someone were pressing her there, trying to enter her, as if her navel had become a vagina (117).

...with his left hand felt the soft hairy little pelt between Beauty's legs... (17)

...he suckled her breasts almost idly as though taking little drinks from them (17)

Now that I think about it, KUSHIEL'S DART and CAPTIVE PRINCE both had very similar premises to this book (fantasy kingdoms whose courts/culture revolve around BDSM-like goings-on), to the point where I can't help but feel that they were probably indirectly inspired by THE CLAIMING at the very least. The difference is that both those books actually made an attempt at world-building and character-building, and there was some court intrigue beyond "OH NO! TWO PEOPLE WANT TO SPANK ME TONIGHT - WHO WILL GET TO WIELD THE PADDLE?" I actually liked CAPTIVE PRINCE.

Somebody with the ebook version seriously needs to do a word count of how many times "little" was used in this book. I feel like it was probably 100+ times, it was so noticeable.

I can't believe there are 3 more books in this series.

1 out of 5 stars

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Dark Fires by Rosemary Rogers

πŸ’™ I read this for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2018 Reading Challenge, for the category of: Bodice Ripper. For more info on this challenge, click here. πŸ’™

After doing the first book, SWEET SAVAGE LOVE, as a buddy read extravaganza, with Heather and Korey, Korey joined me for a read of the sequel, DARK FIRES. And can I just say that Rosemary Rogers is swiftly becoming one of my favorite bodice ripper authors? Every subgenre has its own reigning queen, and RR is Queen of the Bodice Rippers the way V.C. Andrews was queen of smutty teen fiction.

That said, this is my least favorite book of hers so far.

SWEET SAVAGE LOVE was almost a five star read for me. I loved the nonstop action, the love-hate relationship between the hero and heroine, the lush descriptions of the American West, and of course, Steve Morgan, who could so, so easily be the cover model for one of those pulpy men's adventure magazines that were popular in the mid 20th century. With his cheating, murderous, rapey ways, he is basically the absolute opposite of what I like in romance heroes, but he just oozes raw masculinity. He may be Satan incarnate but I was picturing him as Scott Eastwood.

(Dear Hollywood: if you ever make this series into a TV show/movie, please cast Scott Eastwood.)

The sequel starts out with nauseating marital bliss, but since this is Steve and Ginny we're talking about, it goes from Good Housekeeping to Apocalypse Now pretty quickly, and it starts to feel like Rosemary Rogers is trying to out-WTF herself in the prequel with a plot that involves the following incidents: rape, duels to the death, opium addiction, blackmail, whipping, torture, carpetbagging, typhus-induced amnesia, cheating, more cheating, still more cheating, wtf still more cheating, public affairs, sadists, secret pregnancies, and scalping. Because Rosemary Rogers has a big vocabulary, but "overkill" doesn't appear to be one of them.

My favorite scene was probably the sword fight duel, because I am trash, and occasionally raw displays of masculine douchery work for me. (Especially in puffy shirts whilst aboard pirate ships.) However, I felt pretty frustrated for most of the book because the hero and heroine are separated for huge portions of it and Steve spends it with like 5+ women who aren't Ginny (and I really, really don't like infidelity in romances, especially not wanton infidelity where the hero has no "off" button). Ginny also lost a lot of her spitfire nature that made her so easy to root for in the first book. I guess maybe it was PTSD after all the horrors she endured in the last act, but still: it made me really sad.

I'm kind of curious where the book is going to go from here. These two are pretty much the last people in the world who should be parents, so obviously, that means the sequels should be interesting.

3 out of 5 stars

Friday, February 16, 2018

Midnight Hunter by Brianna Hale

πŸ’™ I read this for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2018 Reading Challenge, for the category of: Villain Gets the Girl. For more info on this challenge, click here. πŸ’™ 

I just read this amazing book called THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR, which I've been trying to get all my friends to read. It's this amazing historical epic that takes place in Nazi Germany, which also has a love story in it - it's one of the darkest books I've ever read, but the characterization was so good, the narrative so taut, that I know it's going to be one of those books that stays with me for years. That also meant the Queen of All Book Slumps once I'd finished it. Suddenly, the other books I'd been reading lost their shiny appeal. "What would I read next?"

Then I saw some of my friends talking about MIDNIGHT HUNTER. Set roughly 20 years after the Nazis were defeated in WWII, it takes place during the Cold War, in East Germany, when the German Democratic Republic built the wall between East and West Berlins and East Germany was governed by the Stasi, or the ruthless state police.

I read this with my friend Vellini, who is amazing because she loves dark romances as much as I do, so the last couple times when I've suggested a BR, she's always been there. When she gave it five stars, I knew it was going to be good, because she so rarely disappoints me. And MIDNIGHT HUNTER is an amazing book. It's like the sequel to THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR that I didn't even know I needed, with many of the same themes of power, corruption, and love.

Evony is planning to escape from East Berlin with her father and some friends when their escape is halted by the fearsome MitternachtsjΓ€ger (Midnight Hunter), Reinhardt Volker, a Stasi officer of high rank who is notorious for always getting his quarry. After shooting one of her friends in the street, he takes her to his apartment as his "prize," where he grooms her to be his secretary and, later, his lover.

I really enjoyed this book. The pacing was excellent and it has wonderful action sequences that really keep the pace moving. It's appropriately dark and solemn when it needs to be, but it's not one of those books that's all too common these days, that revels in the unsavory just for shock value. Volker is a terrible man, but his growing affection for the heroine softens him (but not unrealistically!) and he never takes her against her will. And the sex scenes! Oh boy! They were hot!

If you like historical romances and dark romances where the villain gets the girl, MIDNIGHT HUNTER will be a great read for you. I hope the author decides to write more historical romances - this seemed wonderfully researched, and each page was an absolute pleasure to read.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Last Innocent Hour by Margot Abbott

πŸ’™ I read this for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2018 Reading Challenge, for the category of: Military Romance. For more info on this challenge, click here. πŸ’™

THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR is a WWII-era romance loosely inspired by an entry in the journals of the U.S. ambassador to Germany during the 1930s, William Edward Dodd, as edited by his daughter, Martha Dodd. In the journals, an SS agent who was an aquaintance of the family apparently broke down, sobbing, on their sofa. Margot Abbott asked herself what could possibly happen to a hardened soldier for that to happen and wrote a story around that.

The story is told in the best way to rip out your heart. It starts out impersonally, in the removed third-person narrative. Sally, now in her late twenties/early thirties, is an intelligence officer investigating war crimes perpetuated by the Nazi party during WWII. She has a particular knack for identifying faces in photographs, so she looks at photo after photo of all these atrocities, trying to put names to faces, names to uniforms. It's a terrible job, made even more terrible by the fact that she recognizes her ex-husband in one of the photos.

At this point, we don't know much about Sally, apart from the fact that she's obviously haunted by some terrible tragedy in her past, and probably has untreated PTSD. We also know that her feelings about her ex-husband are all tangled up in this mysterious tragedy - part of her wants revenge, and wants to see him hang for the horrors he's wrought upon the world, but part of her remembers the boy he was during their idealistic childhood, and the man he became who she fell in love with.

1/3 of the way through the book, the narrative style switches to first person as Sally recounts her story firsthand, and the reader is dragged headlong into Sally's narrative, up close and personal. We see her as a child, and see her close relationship with the Mayr family and her innocent love for Christian as a young man. She leaves Germany for a while, to return to the U.S., and arrives back just before WWII, when the fascist party is just beginning to catch on in Germany. Christian is now an SS agent, working under Reinhard Heydrich. Naively, Sally becomes a friend to Heydrich, forming an uncertain bond over fencing and music, and he is the vehicle by which the two of them reunite.

It's difficult to say what happens next without spoilers, but let's just say that THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR is not a book that shirks from wartime horrors or the terrible things that people are sometimes forced to do in order to survive. Two comparable romances in terms of emotional devastation and scope are OUTLANDER and THE BRONZE HORSEMAN. The dread and anxiety that hangs over this book like a toxic cloud is just exceptionally well done, and even though it's a very long book, the pages whizzed by once I actually had time to sit down and read through it. The first 60% might have taken a month to read because of my other commitments, but today I sat my butt down and finished the last 40% in a single sitting, stopping only to eat, drink, and use the restroom. There's a fencing scene towards the end that is just absolutely haunting - it's the type of scene that will stay with you.

And the villain of this book! My God, what a villain. I'm truly horrified.

I had heard about THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR through the usual bodice ripper circles, and despaired of getting my hands on a copy, but it was recently rereleased for Kindle and I was able to pick it up while it was on sale for $2.99. I'm so glad I bought this book. The heroine is the perfect blend of worldly, naive, and intelligent, and even though you know there is no way that this book can possibly end on a truly happy note, Abbott has you rooting for Christian and Sally, despite your better sense. The complexity of the characters in this book was just incredible. I'm blown away.

What a shame that this truly gifted author never published anything else...

5 out of 5 stars

Wild Texas Flame by Janet Reams Hudson

πŸ’™ I read this for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2018 Reading Challenge, for the category of: Cowboy/Western Romance. For more info on this challenge, click here. πŸ’™

This was a buddy read with my fellow Unicorn Equestrian™, Heather.

Curse you, Janet Reams Hudson! Between you and Danelle Harmon, I'm almost starting to like 90s bodice rippers, and I absolutely cannot have that. Stop appealing to my trashy, trashy heart, you ferocious writers of aggressively endearing content! Curse you! CURSE YOU!

I picked up WILD TEXAS FLAME when it was free in the Kindle store, which is how I feel a lot of these Kindle Cleanout Club stories go. You pick a book up because it was either cheap as dirt or free as air, and it chills out on your Kindle for years until you just happen to notice it one day and think to yourself, "What is this? Why do I own this? What was I thinking?"

I needed a western romance to fulfill a category on this reading challenge I'm doing, and since my friend and I both happened to have the book (snagged during the same freebie promo), we decided to do a buddy-read of WILD TEXAS FLAME. But then I got busy, and then I got sick, so she ended up finishing it way before I did. However, she enjoyed it! Which gave me hope that it was good trash!

WILD TEXAS FLAME is the story of a woman named Sunny Thornton who lives with her three younger sisters and her dad at a ranch in Texas, a few decades after the Civil War. The Mayor, Ian Baxter, is throwing his weight around, trying to call in a loan that her father took out. If her father can't pay, he's going to take their ranch. On a trip to go to the bank to straighten everything out, they have the bad luck of running into bandits who are in the process of robbing the bank. Sunny's father is killed before her eyes and she's saved from the same fate only when a man named Ash McCord tackles her to the ground, taking the bullet that would have otherwise been meant for her.

Ash McCord just got out of jail for several years after shooting Ian Baxter in the back. He claims he has his reasons, but nobody he told his story to ever believed his innocence - except for the woman who runs the boarding house, Ella. The bullet he took for Sunny hit his spine, causing paralysis, which could be permanent or temporary, nobody is sure. Sunny feels guilty, and also sees a kindness in him that is hidden by his gruff exterior, so she takes him into her home and oversees his recovery.

I'm a sucker for nursing-the-hero(ine) back to health tropes, and it's done particularly well here. I also really liked the heroine's relationship with her family, especially since family members are often shunted aside in romance stories; I feel like they feel much more realistic and healthy when the focus is on the relationships that both the h and the H have with other people, and not just one another.

The heroine also isn't totally naive about sex, which is probably pretty realistic considering that she lives on a ranch that breeds cows. Even if she wasn't having any, she'd see it done, and wouldn't be a stranger to the idea. I read a lot of 70s bodice rippers about traitorous bodies, so I have to say, it was pretty refreshing to see a heroine taking charge and the hero whining about his traitorous body for a change! Way to turn the tables on that whole equation.

This story could have been too saccharine, but a murder subplot weaves through the narrative, along with other juicy plot points, like betrayal, debt, and secret fortunes. It kept the story tight and focused, and gave WILD TEXAS FLAME a driving base that had me turning pages to see what would happen next. I was expecting an epic showdown with the villain, and I was not disappointed.

WILD TEXAS FLAME is a bit light and frothy, but beneath the froth, there is also substance. If you, like me, believe yourself to be a hater of 90s-era bodice-rippers, you should check out this book as well as some of Danelle Harmon's. I have this author's other book, APACHE MAGIC, on my Kindle as well, and while I side-eyed the title before, I think I'm much more favorably inclined to read it now. This was a good, solid read.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

In case you missed it, I recently read this fantasy romance from the 80s called SUMMER OF THE UNICORN. It was from Kay Hooper's backlist (she only writes romantic suspense now), and I probably never would have discovered it if it hadn't recently been rereleased for Kindle and Netgalley hadn't subsequently approved me for the ARC. The book was so trashy and so bad, like, picture the worst science fiction book you've ever read from the 70s (probably written by Robert Heinlein, probably TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE), only with a whole cartload of wtf, unicorns, and sexy bathing scenes thrown in for lols, and that's SUMMER OF THE UNICORN. It was, objectively, not a good book, and yet despite my better sense, I enjoyed it, being the trash queen I am, because if a book is so bad it entertains me, I give that spit a good rating, even if I take the mickey out of it in my review.

I've been working my way through Sarah J. Maas's Throne of Glass series over the last few months, and my thoughts on the series kind of mirror my thoughts about SUMMER OF THE UNICORN. I don't understand the purpose of the book, because presumably it was written in a good faith attempt to be a serious fantasy novel, but on the other hand, it also has a whole cartload of wtf, unicorns, and sexy bathing scenes (except with the ToG series, replace "unicorns" with "dragons" and "sexy bathing" with "sexy biting"). This is, objectively, not a good book, and yet I had such a good time making fun of it that I find myself becoming slightly fond of the series. It's like hating a dog that drools and pees everywhere but desperately wants to be your friend. That dog is annoying. That dog's mess is all over the place. But that dog also really, really wants you to like it. It's hard to hate that dog.


I think Throne of Glass's biggest problem is that it is gloriously uneven in terms of quality. There are parts of the book that are good, and then there are parts of the book that have me skimming like nobody's business. Durian's relationship with Fanta? Don't care. Raisin beating up Celery, over and over and over, until I wonder if I should be playing Tom Lehrer's Masochism Tango in the background? Don't care. Kale feels so bad about betraying Celery's feels? Don't care. Celery whining over and over about how she contributed to Queen Bae's death? Don't care. (Also, eff you, Celery. Your "I want to read books and sit on my butt eating cake in between having sex with Kale" was what led to that whole situation in the first place. It's just yet another episode of PoCs Dying to Make White People Give a F*ck, and that spit's so old that at this point, it's all reruns. Give it a rest.)

On the other hand, this book also had some redeeming factors that were not present in the first book. I actually like Onion Ass-river. Mutton Blackberry isn't too bad either. I'm 99.9% sure that somewhere in that girl's room is a shrine to Daenerys Targaryen filled with hair and toenail clippings and she probably stands in front of it while practicing shouting "WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS?" But honestly, I really liked her relationship with Drogon - oops, I mean, Abraxos. He was cool. I kind of pictured him as looking like Toothless, from How to Train Your Dragon - a movie, incidentally, that Mutton really should watch, because this is something that she really sucks at.

I think the worst thing about this series is the heroine, Celery, AKA Addledstar Galactica. My feelings towards her have been evolving across the series steadily. In THRONE OF GLASS, I wanted to slap her. In CROWN OF MIDNIGHT, I wanted to slap her and maybe push her off a cliff. In HEIR OF FIRE, I wanted to push her off a cliff into a lake filled with a celery-eating Kraken. She is sooo annoying, and honestly, there is only so much you can read about how perfect a character is before you start to picture some RP-er being all, THIS IS MY ORIGINAL CHARACTER, YOU GUYS. SHE HAS RAINBOW HAIR AND SIX DIFFERENT KINDS OF MAGIC POWERS. If you thought that Miss Assassin was **SUPER SPESHUL** in the last two books, just wait until you get to this book, where you find out that she isn't just a queen, she also has a magical fairy form, and two different kinds of magic powers, which leave just about everyone who witnesses them in ~awe~.

Also, Maas isn't content with the Kale/Celery/Durian love triangle in the last two books, plus the maybe Finnick O'Dair knock-off. No, in this book she has two more dudes fighting after her magical ladyparts - enter Rowan, who I'm pretty sure is knockoff Rhysand from the ACOTAR series (he even has magical fairy tattoos), and Onion Ass-river, who was Celery's childhood BFF. The Raisin/Celery ship is totally forced down the readers' throats in this book, and I'm just like, OKAY, what was the point of Kale and Durian at all in the first 2 then, if you're just going to make up new love interests when you get bored of them? Is Celery going to dump Raisin in the very last book of the series for some even more depraved, hotter dude with even better magical powers? Is she going to - *gasp* - date God Himself, because only He in all his glorious gloriousness is worthy of the holy sunlight that beams from the sanctity of her nether regions? I do wonder, because this spit is ridic.

Also, also, what's with that line about not being able to hurt your soulmate? Celery reasons that this is why Kale and she are not to be - because she scratched his face up in the last book. BUT WAIT- didn't Raisin do the exact thing to you - MANY MANY TIMES? He bloodied your face and bruised your eye, and made you fight creatures so evil that you LITERALLY peed your pants in front of him. And then at the end of this book, suddenly you're soulmates? I'm SORRY, but by your logic, this relationship you have should be the opposite of soulmates, because HE HURT YOU BAD. #NotCool

Then we have Onion.

I actually liked Onion's character, but the problem I have with him is endemic in the overarching themes of the book itself. I joked at first about the sexual tension between him and Kale, but by the end of the book, I was like, no, wait, there is actual tension here. It's like how Kale felt with Celery before, you know, she beat him up and ran off to be with someone who beats her up (ugh). Onion and Kale had actual great chemistry - the same way Celery had great chemistry with Queen Bae. I'd seen others complain about the queerbaiting in this series, but HONESTLY, it feels legit. You have all these characters who seem like they'd be LGBT+ and have these potentially awesome ships with same-sex characters, ONLY to have SJM be like, "Naaahh," and push them into cis-het relationships with characters who they previously had ZERO chemistry with in the previous books.

Take Durian's relationship with Sorscha. WHERE THE HECK DID THAT COME FROM? Out of nowhere, that's where! Last I heard, he was mooning over Celery, but now he's just consorting with the servants - and then he decides, ALSO OUT OF NOWHERE, that he loves the servant to the point that he'd offer ~anything~?? Um, wait? Also, he legit says "I love you" to Kale and there's that sexual tension, which makes me feel like Kale might possibly be bi, but I BET YOU THAT THIS IS NEVER ADDRESSED, and that Kale ends up in a cis-het relationship with some rando who SJM just arbitrarily decides he's **meant** to be with in one of the later books.

You also can't convince me that Queen Bae and Celery weren't OTP OTP, because in my mind, they totally were. The way Celery feels about Nehemia in this book is less like a dead friend and more like a lover who must be avenged. Not only was her death totally pointless, but I also felt like her relationship with Celery wasn't fully explored. The bond they had totally trumped anything Celery had with Kale, Durian, or her precious, precious Raisin; it was healthy, pure, and built on love.

On non-relationship-related notes, I feel like there was way too much random wandering around, and too much time spent on Celery and how great she is. Her priorities continue to be way screwed up. One of her crowning moments in this book is that, while imprisoned, she once more agonizes over her figure and WHILE IMPRISONED, plays around with tying her sash so as to emphasize her assets and breastets. Also, ONCE AGAIN, people die to to Celery's incompetence (this time thousands instead of, you know, just the one) and she is like OMG it's all my fault! NAH, YOU THINK???

I can tell that this is going the Girl of Fire route from THG, and Celery is going to be the figurehead for some grand revolution, but I don't like Celery nearly as much as I like Katniss. She feels way too manufactured and perfect, and apart from weeing in her trousers that one time from fear, we really don't get many human-like responses to things. She grandstands a lot and tosses off a lot of quotes that people seem to really enjoy quoting on Goodreads about how she's going to "rattle the stars", but she doesn't strike me personally as being particularly realistic or relatable. She's a Barbie in armor with magical powers, and that's hardly a 'strong female protagonist.' Particularly when stuck in an abusive relationship with some jerk who likes to tattoo all his mistakes in life on his arm. #lame

All that said, I do think this is an improvement over the two previous books, even if it gives off "I desperately want to be the next Game of Thrones vibes." The writing is better, and the parts of the book that don't involve Celery were interesting. It's Celery herself who really poisons this series and makes me want to take my Snark to Warp 5. She's just such an idiot and everyone's thoughts revolve around her, and I can't help but think of that quote from 10 Things I Hate About You where she's concerned, where Patrick asks, "What is it with this chick? She have beer-flavored nipples?"

I'll read the next book because I'm invested now, and I hear book 5 is a raging fustercluck of wtf that dissolves into bodice-ripper territory (and you know HOW MUCH I LOVE THOSE). Who knows? Maybe I'll actually love it. I hear copious amounts of smut are involved, and I am the Mother of Smut (the Unrepentant, Breaker of Convention, etc. etc.). WE SHALL SEE~

As always, you can credit this review to my friends who enjoy "encouraging" me to read books they think I'll hate, and also to the people who come onto my reviews thinking it's OK to tell me to STFU, because ha ha joke's on you, that only makes me want to post MOAR reviews. For the record, if you, or one of your friends, take issue with the way I review books, feel free to reach me at 1-800-GIRL-BYE.

Peace out, friends.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, February 9, 2018

Sometimes I Feel Sad by Tom Alexander

This is a really cute book that teaches kids a bit about depression. It's a bit over-simplified, because it's for kids (if you know anything about depression, you know that it's much more complicated than feeling "sad"). But for kids, I think "sad" works as a way of describing feelings that might be too complicated to otherwise express.

The character in this book sometimes feels sad. Being with friends can help, or it can make it worse. Being alone can help, or it can make it worse. Sometimes doing something fun and exciting can help - but sometimes, it just makes it worse. The character wants to confide in his friends and family, but he fears being judged or to "just be happy" - which never helps.

The book ends with another character - a grandparent, I think - taking him aside and validating his feelings, telling him it's okay that he sometimes feels sad. This ends up making the character feel a lot better, because it makes him feel like he isn't alone. I thought that was a really great message. I think when someone is depressed, people feel obligated to "make them feel better" or "cheer them up", but sometimes all that's needed is understanding and a sympathetic ear.

The art is pretty simplistic, but it works for the story. I thought this was really sweet, and a surprisingly deep exploration of feelings. I love that books like these are coming out. Mental health is so important.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3 out of 5 stars