Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Pirate for Christmas by Anna Campbell

Wow, this was like one of those made-for-TV Christmas specials. One of the bad ones. I've read a number of Campbell's work at this point, and while she made her name writing controversial "nouveau bodice rippers" in the mid-2000s, now she just writes slightly-smuttier-than-the-norm costume regency novels and...this. Whatever this is.

A PIRATE FOR CHRISTMAS is a love story between a vicar's daughter and an Earl, set during the holiday season. There's a donkey, a ton of terrible pirate jokes, and a bunch of kisses that are about as lukewarm as day-old soup.

I skimmed most of this book, but I read enough to get the general idea of the storyline and I just could not get into it at all. It's pure fluff, but without sweetness because there's no real emotional connection. This is the color-by-the-numbers version of fluff.

Plus, I got icky "nice guy" vibes from Rory. Rory, who I was perfectly willing to like because red-haired hero + Navy captain. But no, he decides that he wants in the heroine's knickers at first sight and talks about her like she's prey and he is the mightiest of hunters. Which is permissible if you're writing about creepy men, who you aren't supposed to like, but when Lord Nicey McNicerson of Not-a-Dbagshire is doing it... well, it just kind of rubs you the wrong way.

This was my nomination for my romance group's holiday-themed read for December - and it won. I'm glad I got it off my Kindle, but I also feel kind of bad that so many others had to suffer with me. ;-(

1 out of 5 stars

Gaming Masculinity: Trolls, Fake Geeks, and the Gendered Battle for Online Culture by Megan Condis

A while ago, I reviewed a fairly popular fantasy novel. I gave it a mostly negative review, saying that while I liked the idea behind the story, the execution left me wanting - particularly since the only female character in the story serves as an object of desire for all the male characters, and even though she rebuffs them multiple times, ultimately, the male hero triumphs and claims his prize: the woman. I received a very rude comment in response for this review that contained a backhanded compliment amounting to "you sound smart, but I'm still going to treat you like an idiot because you're a feminist and a woman" and was then informed that fantasy novels weren't written with women as the audience in mind, therefore we didn't need to be catered to.

Geek culture is on a lot of people's minds right now, because Ready Player One just made it to theaters, and it's basically a celebration of all things geek: but from a primarily white, heterosexual male perspective. I loved the book, but I recently came across a really great article by Beth Elderkin called The Trophy Woman of Ready Player One. It's a criticism of geek misogyny, and the treatment of women in portrayals of geek culture. Pop Culture Detective's The Adorkable Misogyny of The Big Bang Theory does the same thing. Basically, the argument goes, the male geek is the polar opposite of the hyper-masculine alpha male, "the underdog," and is seen as "harmless" or "amusing." Therefore, when this character stalks a female character, repeatedly ignores her "no's," and goes to outlandish and often grossly inappropriate lengths to get her attention - and a date - it's acceptable, because we are supposed to infer that the female character just hasn't figured out what a sensitive, nice guy he is, because she's too stuck up.

GAMING MASCULINITY explores geek misogyny in the gaming community. Megan Condis taps into a wide variety of concepts, from lack of LGBT+ storylines in mainstream games and censorship of gay terms in game forums, to the online bullying of feminist and female gamers like Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian, to the implicit assumption that people online are white, straight, and male by default unless they choose to "out" themselves, and the equally implicit assumption that any hate or harassment an individual who has "outed" receives as a result of said "outing" brought it upon themselves by violating the status quo and trying to politicize or polarize their identity. She also writes extensively on internet trolling, and the psychology behind provoking reactions in people with extreme and offensive (and not necessarily heartfelt) statement. The toxic environments of gaming culture sometimes aren't addressed because it's considered an inherent attribute of said culture; and that to take away this crudeness, this "locker room talk," would be to destroy gamer culture.

This is such a fantastic book. As a gamer and a feminist, I found so much to relate to. I used to play an MMORPG and let me tell you, men can be so creepy online. I was seventeen when I first started playing, and I'd have men soliciting online sex, or "cybering," stalking me from world to world, calling me names (especially if I kicked their butts), and just in general being total trash people. People are so quick to condemn women as casual gamers or attention seekers, and even with women who play with their boyfriends, there's an expectation that the woman isn't supposed to play more or better than the guy she's playing with: she's just a cool add-on, no more, no less. And yet, there's also an expectation that this woman is also supposed to be totally in the know about everything canon, lest she be called on her knowledge, trivia-style, in order to prove her "cred." It's a totally unrealistic expectation, and male geeks and gamers are not subjected to this treatment - or at least, not to the same extent as their female counterparts. But lest you ask, "Wait, what about other disenfranchised groups in the gaming community?" - Condis goes into that too. Intersectionality? Condis has you covered. She discusses how LGBT+ and people of color are affected by this Boys' Club mindset of certain geeks, and not just women. From the exclusion of LGBT+ storylines in RPG games and dating sims to the incredibly racist hate speech that can surface as "trash talk," it's incredibly effective in getting the point across that there is a problem.

The takeaway message here is that women are autonomous agents and we enjoy consuming geeky pop-culture paraphernalia, even if it doesn't reflect who we are, even if we get a lot of garbage for it - and we shouldn't have to get garbage for indulging in what we love. We shouldn't get garbage for speaking critically about what we love. I love READY PLAYER ONE, Big Bang Theory, and Revenge of the Nerds, even if they have problematic content. I love a lot of games, even though they don't have a lot of great female characters. The first time I got my hands on Pokemon Crystal, I was so excited - because finally, I could play as a character that I identified with: a female character with blue pigtails, instead of a boy with a little red cap. Am I going to talk about the problematic content and the lack of representation? Yes. Does this make me less of a geek enthusiast for doing so? No (or at least, I don't think so). Going back to my original point in the beginning, about women not being the target audiences of such franchises, I'm going to posit that that's a symptom and not the cause. Maybe the reason that women aren't as interested in games and geek ephemera isn't due to a lack of interest; maybe it's because they were excluded from the target audience from the get-go, with warped representations (or no representations at all), and storylines written entirely from a male lens, about an entirely masculine construct of the geeky Übermensch. Stop making us the girlfriend or the escort mission or the prize; make us the valued partner or the hero, and we'll come running.

P.S. Her essay on Bioshock: Infinite had me watching 2 hours of Bioshock cut scenes. #amazing

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

4.5 out of 5 stars

The Rules According to Jwoww by Jenni "Jwoww" Farley

 πŸŒŸ I read this for the Yule Bingo Challenge, for the category of Room of Requirement: favorite genre. For more info on this challenge, click here. 🌟

I read a lot of books that people would call "trash," and one of my favorite genres of these so called "trash" books? Memoirs written by celebrities, the more obscure or unconventional, the better. I especially have a thing for "tabloid fodder" D-listers and reality TV stars, which is reaaally weird, because I don't buy tabloids and I don't watch reality TV. I've never seen a single episode of Jersey Shore, and yet... somehow I ended up with JWOWW's self-help book. I don't ever buy self-help books. This is my first.

You're probably asking yourself, "WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO YOURSELF?" To be fair, it was only $1.99 on Kindle, which I feel is how a lot of questionable Kindle purchases are explained away. This book is also on the "Who Let These People Write A book?" list on Goodreads. I'm on the list as well, and I can't help but feel a certain level of kinship with her on that point alone. We both write books that people think are trashy. #TrashQueens

My expectations when picking this up were low, but not as low as you might think. One of my friends was pleasantly surprised by Snooki's memoir, and said it was self-effacing and charming in a very strange way. As much as people like to rip on The Shore, the cast never struck me as complete a-holes; they seemed self-aware, in a way that suggested that, under circumstances, they might be persuaded to have a laugh - a big laugh - at their own expense. Also, JWOWW's Goodreads author bio says that she studied computer programming and was a graphic designer before she made it big on Jersey Shore. I found that fascinating, because nobody ever talks about that. It's always about the clubbing and the partying and the fighting and the smushing.

THE RULES ACCORDING TO JWOWW is a dating book, and comes off as a bizarre cross of an R-rated version of Seventeen magazine and a pick-up artist's treatise. On the one hand, you'll have tips like "too much makeup makes you look like a ho," but on the other hand, you'll actually get really useful advice: like eating properly, being safe at night, having positivity, demanding a certain level of respect while dating, and even a few recipes on how to make a quality Italian dinner.

I found myself amused as I turned the pages, because I could imagine her saying all of this in her voice. I nearly lost it in the beginning, because there is a freaking glossary where you'll learn words and phrases like "fresh to death," "smush," and "vibin'." Also, I have no idea what "Ron Ron Juice" is, but I feel like I probably wouldn't be able to pronounce it anymore after more than two glasses.

If you have money to burn and your glossy magazines are feeling too tame, pick this up for the lols. It definitely gives you an interesting perspective on Jenni Farley, even if you don't watch "The Shore."

2.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Beginner's Guide: Love and Other Chemical Reactions by Six de los Reyes

🌟 I read this for the Yule Bingo Challenge, for the category of Weasleys: family goals. For more info on this challenge, click here. 🌟

"You are this amazing person. More than good enough. There is nothing you need to prove to anyone. Or even to yourself. You deserve more than what you give yourself credit for" (69%).

Why doesn't this book have more reviews? Just over 300? Goodreads, are you kidding me? This is a romance with everything people are looking for in romantic leads these days, and it's painfully underrated. All of you need to get on this, ASAP.

LOVE AND OTHER CHEMICAL REACTIONS has so much to offer. It's set in the Philippines with Filipino characters. It's got a heroine in STEM. Friends and family play a huge role in the story line. And it's so adorkably geeky and charming. It's like a gender-swapped version of THE ROSIE PROJECT, featuring a heroine who's a lot like Sheldon from Big Bang Theory, only waaaaaaaay less mean.

Kaya Rubio is twenty-five and has never been in a relationship. She's totally and completely involved in her genetics research, and any time she doesn't spend in the lab is spent with her well-meaning but incredibly nosy and gregarious family. When she finds out her cousin is getting married, Kaya feels painfully aware of her single status, and decides to deal with it the only way she knows how -

With cold, hard data.

She decides to date a whole bunch of people, on semi blind dates, using a set of specific categories based on what she's looking for in her partner. To establish baseline data, she also picks the most unsuitable candidate she can possibly imagine: Nero, the artsy-fartsy owner of a bubble tea cafe.

This book was cute. And not saccharine cute. Cute in the way that Meg Cabot is cute. I call it "cute with substance." I loved how smart the heroine was, and how she threw herself into her data. I spent a lot of time in the lab in college, and while I was familiar with a lot of the studies she mentioned (especially those pertaining to neuroscience), some of it went over my head - and that was so refreshing. Who says romance novels have to be frothy? This is romance with substance.

I also really liked that the heroine appeared to be on the autism spectrum, and that nobody made a big deal out of it. I recently watched Pop Culture Detective's video, The Fantastic Masculinity of Newt Scamander, and he mentioned that Newt was socially awkward and seemingly had Asperger's but nobody made a big deal of it and he never had to change for the sake of the storyline; he dealt with people on his own terms, and his true friends liked him for who he was. LOVE AND OTHER CHEMICAL REACTIONS was like that. Kaya's friends know she's a little strange, but they love her for it and they respect her smarts, even if they don't always understand where she's coming from. It was the complete opposite of another romance I read featuring an autistic character, PUDDLE JUMPING, which was condescending as all get-out. Lilly acted like she making such a sacrifice by deigning to spend time with and understand Colton, whereas Nero, in LOVE AND OTHER CHEMICAL REACTIONS, loves Kaya for who she is, and appreciates her focused brilliance.

"I might not understand everything you say, but I'll never, never tell you to shut up" (47%). 

I loved this book so much. The chemistry between Kaya and Nero was really well done, and I also enjoyed seeing her go on all her dates. de los Reyes did a really good job at capturing promising dates that go nowhere, and dates that are obviously duds from the get-go (true fact: I once accidentally went on a date with a Trump apologist, and decided to suss out the extent of said apologist behavior by giving a mini-feminist manifesto speech. Spoiler: there was no second date). I also loved Kaya's family, and the focus on her research. There aren't enough romance novels out there that show women working, and loving their work. I love my work - and I think a lot of other women do, too.

The conflict in the last act was a bit frustrating and contrived, but I get it. This was all new to Kaya and she was afraid, so she did what she always did and hid behind her data because she was afraid about the intensity of her feelings. We've all felt that terrible anxiety and fear of rejection from wanting something so much. It was a little annoying but it worked for her character, and I got the HEA I was looking for. There were also a number of typos, which surprised me, until I realized that this was a self-published effort. Girl needs to get herself an editor, I think. But apart from that, I really enjoyed every moment of LOVE AND OTHER CHEMICAL REACTIONS.

"Falling in love is also irrational. So is pi" (89%)

P.S. I can't wait for the sequels. If you need an ARC reader, hit me up! I am so, so down for that!

4 out of 5 stars

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Do you have a feminist friend with a young daughter? I have the perfect Christmas gift idea for you - THIS BOOK.

The first book I read by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS, an excellent little feminist manifesto based on one of her TED talks (which I have seen - it was excellent, and you should definitely watch it, too). WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS is a broad perspective on why feminism is important, and how its tenets benefit society.

DEAR IJEAWELE, as the name suggests, is much more personal. It's Adichie's letter to a friend who has just given birth to a baby girl, and who wants to know how to raise her baby as a feminist in Nigeria, a somewhat patriarchal and conservative society. In DEAR IJEAWELE, Adichie gives her friend fifteen suggestions to raise her daughter in an empowering way.

While I did not enjoy DEAR IJEWAWELE as much as I did WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS, it's still a beautiful and important book. I thought Adichie gave her friend very good advice.

Here are two of my favorites:

Teach her that if you criticize X in women but do not criticize X in men, then you do not have a problem with X, you have a problem with women (17).

Feminism and femininity are not mutually exclusive. It is misogynistic to suggest that they are (23).

You could just as easily take a highlighter and quote the whole dang thing, though. It's that good, and that relevant. I look forward to seeing what other essays Adichie publishes in the near future. She has a fantastic writing style and always brings up such salient points - and I adore her for it.

4 out of 5 stars

Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt

Elizabeth Hoyt is an author I keep coming back to again and again. She's like Lisa Kleypas's cooler, edgier older sister: her heroes are just as hot, but she's fonder of antiheroes and perilous situations - and I mean perilous beyond the last-minute murder attempts Lisa Kleypas casually throws into the last acts of her stories for tension.

Unfortunately, Hoyt, like Kleypas, can also be somewhat uneven with regards to the quality of the stories she puts out. I've read several Hoyt novels, and while two of them were five star reads (DUKE OF SIN, THE LEOPARD PRINCE), one of them was a one star read and one of them was a DNF that I'm still not sure I'm ever going to come back to (DUKE OF PLEASURE).

DUKE OF DESIRE starts promisingly enough with a ritualistic sacrifice being run by a depraved cult: The Lords of Chaos, creepy deviants who wear animal masks and have dolphin tattoos. Iris, the object of the sacrifice, was kidnapped for this purpose because everyone thought she was the Duke of Kyle's betrothed. She is shocked when instead of meeting her end then and there, is claimed by a man in a wolf mask who wants to use her for her own purposes.

When he absconds with her in his carriage, allegedly to take her and then kill her, she seizes his pistol and shoots him, nearly killing him. Iris is shocked - yet again - to find out that behind the wolf mask is the Duke of Dyemore, a beautiful but scarred man who appears to be made from ice itself.

As it turns out, the Duke, Raphael, is determined to infiltrate the Lords of Chaos and take down their leader, the Dionysus, because of his own tragic history in the cult. He wants revenge. But now with Iris on his hands, he determines that the best course of action to save her from falling into their clutches is to marry her (okay?) and afford her his protection while continuing out his revenge.

It's clear from the beginning that Raphael has suffered terrible abuse, which makes it even more annoying when the heroine immediately and incessantly begins pestering him for sex. That sucked a lot of enjoyment out of this book for me, because it played into the stereotype that men are sex machines who can't say "no." She constantly worked to seduce him, to get him so riled up that he couldn't say "no," badgering him all the while for sex, even when he told her he didn't want to.

Flip the genders on that. Still okay?

Raphael was a wonderful, flawed, and tragic character, and the Lords of Chaos plotline was properly creepy and would have fit into a bodice ripper from the 1970s, it was so dark. But I just couldn't stand Iris, with her sexual bullying and how it was portrayed as "healing." It just felt gross to me. I was originally going to give this book three stars, but I decided to take one off, because I disliked the heroine so much that I didn't really buy their HEA - and what kind of romance is that?


Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough

YA has lost its edge for me lately. There are only so many wallpaper fantasy novels and "first love" romance novels that I can handle before I start to feel like I've eaten too much Halloween candy. I used to read YA exclusively but lately I've mostly limited myself to romance novels and, of course, nonfiction.

But 13 MINUTES, with its unique premise, called to me. What if a girl died for 13 minutes, only to be brought back, and couldn't remember what killed her? What if she was supposed to have been murdered? What if she remembers who did it?

If I had to describe 13 MINUTES using one of those stupid marketese "X MEETS Y"-type formats, I'd describe it as Gone Girl meets Mean Girls. It has the same razor-sharp tension and suspense as Gone Girl, with the same cutting social satire and surprisingly deep analysis of teen girl culture that made Mean Girls so hilarious, and yet so meaningful for so many women.

13 MINUTES has multiple POVs, described in interviews, text messages, diary excerpts, as well as the more traditional fixed narrative style. Natasha is the leader of the "Barbies," the beautiful and popular rich girl who nearly died. Hayley and Jenny are her two friends: Hayley is the sporty one and Jenny is the glamorous one. Both of them start acting strange when they find out that Natasha isn't actually dead. Becca is one of the outsiders, who isn't popular or unpopular. She has one good friend of her own and spends most of her time having sex and smoking pot with her older boyfriend. She used to be Natasha's friend when they were kids, but was kicked to the curb to make room for Jenny, because she was heavier, not as cool, and didn't have the correct social capital to fit in any longer.

The accident ends up bringing Becca and Natasha together again because Natasha isn't sure she can trust Jenny and Hayley. Even though Becca still has bitter feelings about Natasha, she didn't have the motive or the means to push Natasha into the frozen river - unlike Jenny and Hayley. Their relationship becomes increasingly intimate as more and more clues surface, and Becca is determined to race the clock and find Natasha's possible killer before she gets her memory back -

Before it's too late.

13 MINUTES took a while to get into because of the unusual format of the story. For the first 2/3 of the book it was a gritty but fairly straightforward YA thriller. I rolled my eyes a bit at the predictability of the storyline, but appreciated the realness of the portrayal of sex, drugs, and mental health among English teens. Even if it was a bit cliche, that realism made it extra interesting. And then, in the last 1/3 of the book everything changed and I had no idea what was going on.

Don't you love it when a book surprises you, when it completely turns you on your head? I do, too. I did NOT see that twist coming, and it turned a 3-star read into a solid 4.

If you enjoy gritty YA and good mystery/thrillers, you will enjoy this book.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

4 out of 5 stars