Saturday, December 31, 2016

Castle by David Macaulay

David Macaulay is a British writer and illustrator who specializes in architecture and history. I remember I used to force my poor, beleaguered parents to sit through Pyramid (1988) with me, over and over and over. (Pyramid is excellent, by the way; if you ever happen upon a copy of it, you must watch it.) He also did another child-focused documentary called Castle, which I wasn't as interested in: this girl favored Egyptians over European feudalism & crusades, thank you very much.

Now that I've gotten into fantasy novels and bodice rippers, CASTLE suddenly feels much more relevant. Imagine my delight when I find out that my library has a copy of it in their e-book library. I checked it out immediately.

CASTLE is an account of a fictional Welsh castle called Aberwyvern. While the castle itself may be purely make-believe, the descriptions of how it was built were not. Macaulay goes into all the steps of building a castle, from the outer wall to the fortifications to the construction of the bathrooms. He includes helpful illustrations, maps, and blueprints to illustrate more complex and detailed concepts.

I loved how informative this book is. Even though it's a children's book, Macaulay uses many difficult terms, so I'm not actually sure how child-friendly this book is, or whether a child would actually have any interest in it beyond using it as a secondary resource for a history project. For an adult who loves fantasy or historical romance, it's quite useful in providing a visual concept for how many of your favorite fictional settings might have looked. If you do choose to purchase this book, though, don't go with the ebook. I read this in EPUB and many of the images were cut off halfway, which spoiled the overall effect of the book. Splurge and get the hard copy - you'll be glad you did!

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Only With Your Loveby Lisa Kleypas

Lisa Kleypas is one of the most popular historical romance authors out there, and with good reason. Her Victorian and regency stories are charming, with strong heroines and to-die-for beta and alpha heroes. But what forgotten, moss-covered tales pave the beginning of her path to success? TO THE BACK LIST!

ONLY WITH YOUR LOVE is one of Kleypas's earlier stories. First published in 1992, it's one of those "new wave" bodice ripper tales that tried to be a little less politically incorrect and rapey than their absolutely over-the-top crazy-sauce-drenched predecessors.


The heroine of our tale is the virginal Celia, who is going to New Orleans by ship to marry her husband, Phillipe Vallerand, who has waited this long to consummate the marriage. When we see them, he's about to give up all patience with that - until he's summoned by one of the crew because of pirates! Phillipe runs off, giving Celia his goodbyes and a pistol. Why a pistol? To shoot herself if the pirates invade her chambers, of course, because honor is everything.

Well, the pirates invade her chamber, but Celia doesn't have the guts to shoot herself, so she shoots one of the pirates in the guts. She's overpowered, and as the pirates are manhandling her out, she sees that Phillipe has been shot.

Meanwhile, on Pirate Island*, Captain Griffin is chilling out with his crew, and side-eying their rivals, the Legares. The two groups don't like each other, but have reached an uneasy stalemate. Griffin decides to end that stalemate when he sees the prize Legare and his men have. Griffin decides to buy her, and Legare argues with him, and then when they eventually reach a price, Dominic Legare says Griffin can't have her until his brother Andre rapes and tortures her first. They agree to fight a duel to the death for Celia, and Griffin ends up fighting someone who Legare names as his second.

Anyway, pirate honor doesn't mean much because Legare immediately tries to renege. Griffin escapes, kills Andre, and abducts Celia. After threatening to rape her a few handfuls of times, he actually does it, and Celia curses her traitorous body for liking it, says how much she hates herself, etc. Then she finds out that Griffin is related to her husband in some way, although he won't say how, and that his real name is Justin. Griffin/Justin dumps Celia off with her husband's family in New Orleans where it's revealed that Justin is actually Philippe's black sheep twin brother.

For a while, nothing really happens. Celia is with the Vallerands and mopes a lot. Then they find Justin who is all stabbed up, heal him, and lie to the authorities, saying that Justin is actually Philippe, so he doesn't get arrested for his pirate crimes. Celia angsts about her feelings, driving the family (and me) mad. Legare shows up again, wanting revenge, and claims that Philippe is actually alive and being held hostage. Celia and Justin are kidnapped, Justin is tortured, Celia is almost raped but then rescued. Legare is murdered. Philippe was actually having an affair while he was engaged to Celia, and has slept with the woman again. They decide that they weren't actually meant for each other, so Philippe marries the OW and Justin marries Celia.


The beginning of this book was more like a traditional bodice ripper, with the pirate island and the duel to the death. I didn't even really have a problem with the forced seduction because that is something that a pirate would probably do, because they lack the morals of the societies that they pillage from. What bothered me was Celia's reaction to what happened, and the way their relationship went from there. She built up Justin as this noble man, who did what he wanted and was strong and brave, but he was a pirate who raped her when she was emotionally vulnerable and then mocked and taunted her about it afterwards. It was like that was completely forgotten once it was no longer relevant to the story. I get that this story is a product of a different times, when the typical romance formula was different, but this is a perfect example of why I do not tend to like bodice rippers in the 90s: early bodice rippers were brutal, and it was usually pretty clear that the hero was not a good guy. The 90s bodice rippers tried to soften this up, but actually ended up sending some pretty uncomfortably mixed signals, because here you have a hero who rapes, but he does it because he was just so impassioned and in love he couldn't help himself? Nope! I am not buying that! I'll take the 1970s bodice ripper heroes over the 1990s bodice ripper heroes any day. They were just as full of sh*t, if you pardon my language, but at least they didn't try to sell that sh*t as chocolates and roses.

Celia is also a very unpleasant heroine. All she does is cry and mope. I also felt like the narrative really went out of its way to make her seem helpless and small, as she does not eat her food but "nibbles" it instead, and is described as skinny and child-like (several times, she's described as looking like a young boy). I did think it was an interesting touch that Celia did not speak much English and that this proved to be a difficulty for her in her exchanges with others, as that is something that was probably a big issue back then with Google Translate not being a thing, but that, too, seemed like yet another detail meant to render her dependent and helpless. I just can't help but compare her to the heroines of the Gamblers series and the Wallflowers series and come up short.

I love Lisa Kleypas, and I enjoyed this glimpse into what her early writing looked like. She has really found her voice since then, and her writing is so much more polished now. In that sense, books like these are great, because they create a compelling before and after for one of my favorite authors. However, I did not like the story - I thought it changed tone too many times, and did not find the heroine at all likable. I think this story would have been better if it had been published twenty years before, with an antihero character who actually acted like a give-no-forks pirate instead of a garden-variety douche-flower.

*Pirate island exists, by the way, and it's a terrifying place.

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, December 30, 2016

Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh

SLAVE TO SENSATION is a book that I've been asked to review for years. Literally years. It's the first book in an insanely popular series: when you check paranormal romance lists, the Psy-Changeling series is almost always somewhere close to the top.

I'll admit that the concept is fascinating. There are two classes of paranormal races in the book. The changelings are shape-shifters, who can change from human to animal and back (with some intermediate forms) with varying ease depending on their individual abilities. The Psy on the other hand, are psychics who pride themselves on being emotionally stoic and purely logical. They used to be more human-like, but in the mid-20th century decided to embark on a severe emotional conditioning process called the Silence that was meant to psychically beat out any sort of emotion like passion or fear or anger. If a Psy can't be conditioned, they're deemed flawed and either rehabilitated (emotionally broken) or destroyed.

Our heroine, Sascha, is one of those unconditioned Psy. She's spent her entire life trying to hide it, which is difficult because her mother is one of the key players in their ruling Council. Our hero, Lucas, is a changeling who is trying to find out who is torturing, dismembering, and killing local changelings. Intel has led the packs to believe it is a Psy, and he figures his best chance of obtaining more information is brokering a business deal with the Psy Council. Sascha is chosen by her mother to be in charge of this deal, and as soon as Lucas meets her he immediately realizes that something is off; she doesn't seem to be purely unemotional and - surprise - he's powerfully attracted to her.

I'm a sucker for paranormal romances where the various paranormal factions are at war. That was part of what made L.J. Smith's Night World series so much fun for me (honestly, I'm surprised they made Vampire Diaries into the TV show - they should have turned Night World into a teen-geared version of True Blood or Buffy). With the murders, there were so many possibilities to play up the tension between changeling and Psy. I mean, the forbidden romance trope has so much UST possibilities!

Unfortunately, SLAVE TO SENSATION fell short for me. Most of the focus is on the romance, which normally wouldn't bother me except the world-building in this book had so much potential, it felt like Singh had come up with this great idea and then tossed it aside. The concept of the Psy Net! It's brilliance! Show me more of these authoritarian Psy acting cold and brutal. Show me the changelings using their pack dominance to screw with the Psy and flaunt the rules.

Considering that the two groups are supposed to hate each other, everyone welcomes Sascha with open arms. Seriously - the women fuss over her, the children immediately like her, the other men think she's hot. Lucas even has "dream sex that's actually real sex" with her several times before they actually do the real thing, which is a trope that I really can't stand. The Psy were mostly shunted to the background, and the tense moment at the end was over far too quickly. Plus, Sascha was given these special snowflake abilities that let her have the perfect happy ending with minimal fuss.

I have some of the other Psy-Changeling, so I'll give those a try before deciding whether or not to give the rest of this series a hard pass, but this beginning book did not come even close to my expectations.

1.5 out of 5 stars.

Scandal in Spring by Lisa Kleypas

I'm slowly working my way through the Wallflowers series, and I have to say, this is Lisa Kleypas at her most charming. Nothing can surpass my love for The Gamblers duology, of course, but Wallflowers comes pretty darn close. It's about three sisters, and their friend, all of whom are considered wallflowers and bluestockings, and completely undesirable as wives...

Daisy Bowman is the last Wallflower, and really feeling that "forever alone" vibe now that all of her sisters and friends are married. Her expectations for what she wants in a husband are unrealistic, though, fueled by the fictional ideals in the romances she's so fond of reading, and her father has lost patience with waiting for Daisy to pair off with someone and taken matters into his owns hands. She's to marry his protege, Matthew Swift, unless Daisy can marry within two months.

At first, Daisy really annoyed me. She's spoiled and selfish and spends most of the first half of the book whining to her sisters and her friends about how much she hates Matthew. She's also hurt, because her father and Matthew (albeit in a nicer way) both imply that she's a parasite, which she is, pretty much. All she does is lounge around and take advantage of the comforts her father's wealth affords her, and she doesn't even seem particularly grateful for it.

What saves the book is Matthew. I didn't really think any hero could be better in this series than St. Vincent (I have a thing for evil rakes, I guess), but Matthew is pretty much the perfect romantic hero. He's an uptight businessman with a dry sense of humor, and he subscribes to the "I've loved you for years" trope - I'm a sucker for pining heroes, especially when they have a way with words.

Matthew actually makes Daisy into a better person, I think, because he indulges her whimsical side, while also calling her on her crap when she behaves boorishly. And she made him a better person, too, by forcing him to be less tense and making him feel loved. His backstory looms over most of the story, and I actually thought it made sense. Nothing too outlandish; it's entirely plausible.

Oh, and let's not even talk about the sex scenes. (Were the other Wallflower books this explicit? Matthew, you animal!)

Daisy may not be my favorite type of heroine, but Matthew is exactly my kind of hero.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Swans in the Mist by D.E. Athkins

He could not imagine her, could not even see her except through the eyes of his dark madness (168).

I've owned my copy of this book since I was in high school, which doesn't sound too impressive until you realize that that was ten years ago. (Fun fact: my nickname for this teen horror writer back when I was in high school was "Deathkins." Because her stories always involved death. I know, I know, I'm so original.) My bookshelves have undergone several purges over the years, but SWANS IN THE MIST always made the cut because it's such a weird book.

A very weird book.


Lyda is a seventeen year old girl whose older, glamorous model sister has gotten married. It's the classic story: pretty young thing meets suave older guy. Except not quite. Because Lilli's new husband, Jason Ducat, is more than a little creepy. His daughter, Victoire, acts more like a jealous girlfriend than his offspring. He doesn't allow Lilli, Lyda, or Victoire to wear makeup or perfume. He caresses a pocket watch whenever he's in thought. And he gets much too close to Lyda.

At first, Lyda tries to get along with Jason and his creepy family for Lilli's sake. She's only visiting Northwind for a short while before she goes back to school, and she misses her sister. But the more Lyda finds out about the family dynamic, the more she wants to leave. Jason has two children, Jon and Victoire, from two different wives. Both of those wives are now dead. He likes to go hunting, and he takes the whole family with him. And on more than one occasion, Lyda is almost positive that he's been watching her sleep. She's more than happy when it's time to go back to boarding school.

Except girlfriend just can't catch a break, because she's summoned to the dean's office to find out that her sister is dead...and Jason is now her legal guardian. That's when things get especially creepy.

He drugs her and then locks her in a tower. Every day, he visits her to give her lessons on how to act like what he considers a proper woman. Humility and obedience.

"Here you will learn what is really important: obedience, courtesy, respect, humility, neatness. Above all you will learn to be a dutiful daughter, to never give me cause to worry, or to be jealous the way" - he caught himself up, paused, and then concluded. "The way some people have" (144).

He gives her a notebook, which he calls the Book of Obedience, and forces her to write her "sins" in it every day - or she doesn't get food or water. Lyda's new father figure is determined to mold her into the perfect daughter, and if she resists, he's made it clear that she will die.

Did he sense it? Revel in it? Enjoy her submission and revulsion? (170)

SWANS IN THE MIST is so messed up, so cheesy, so over the top. You know what you're getting into with that purple cover with the bad Photoshop, and it just goes down hill from there (or uphill, if you're like me and find that kind of thing amusing). Deathkins likes to use bizarre slang, like "yo bro" or "meow mixing it up" (for cat-fighting) that gives the book a weird, sitcom-y feel. The plot is so insane, and it's precociously creepy. I mean at one point, Lyda actually catches Jason banging the housekeeper against the wall. It's not descriptive, but it's obvious what they're doing. At the same time, the story line is tense, and Lyda is a likable enough character that you're constantly rooting for her. She's resourceful, clever, persistent. You know if anyone can outmatch Jason, she can.

SWANS IN THE MIST kind of reminds me of those lurid Gothic novels from the 60s and 70s. Even the title kind of feels like it could be one of those Victoria Holt knock-offs (and I love me some Victoria Holt). I've kept this book because it's so weird, and there really isn't an audience for it because it's simultaneously too adult and too childish; like V.C. Andrews, if V.C. was a little less explicit and melodramatic. If you come across a copy of this, it's certainly worth the read.

3 out of 5 stars

Black Ice by Anne Stuart

If books were wine, BLACK ICE would be a sweet white; good at first, but man, does it not hold up well over time. I read BLACK ICE for the first time about three years ago. Several of my friends kept recommending the book to me, because they know I like dark/anti-heroes in my fiction, and I was really excited to hear that.

The antihero, Bastien Toussaint, is probably the book's saving grace. He's a compelling character, just as cold as the title would leave you to believe. His first sexual encounter with the heroine is a rape, and what's most chilling about it is how little emotion there is behind it. He doesn't care about anything, not even his own life (in fact, he's a little suicidal), and certainly not about some random woman.

When I first read the book, I didn't know what was going to happen, and I'd never encountered a romantic lead like Bastien before (this was before I started getting into bodice rippers, where pretty much all heroes are giant jerks). The hero and heroine were both on the run for their lives in France, chased by arms dealers, fighting the reluctant attraction between each had the recipe for a brilliant story.

While my original rating of the book was a 4.5, I'm reducing it to 2 in this reread because there are some pretty big problems that I didn't notice in my initial read. Problem #1 is Chloe. She's annoying and wimpy and pretty much everything I do not like in a heroine. I tried to roll with it, because her life was in danger and she was pretty sheltered up to that point, but it's really hard to like a character who seems to have no spine and does nothing but stammer and cry and whine.

Problem #2 is the pacing. The beginning of this book is atmospheric and tense. Chloe ends up in a house with all these "grocers", working as a translator for the international and mixed group. But all of them appear to be hiding something and keep issuing sinister veiled threats, to the point where even Chloe begins to think something is wrong. Then she's tortured, and Bastien saves her because he feels sorry for her, and the two of them go on the run and argue about stupid things, like whether or not he finds her attractive and whether or not he's going to kill her. The pacing really sags in the middle and doesn't pick up again until the last 70 pages. When they do fall in love, it feels sudden, because up until that moment Chloe feared him & didn't trust him, and Bastien seemed intent on ending his own life. I don't think I noticed this the first time because I was so caught up in finding out how it would end, but during the reread it stuck out to me that this love comes out of nowhere.

It's weird that Anne Stuart authored both House of Rohan and the Ice series because the two stories could not be more different. I've read a few of her older historical works too, including a Gothic novel from the 70s and a Medieval romance she published in the 80s or 90s (I can't remember). She's incredibly versatile, which is to be lauded, but for some reason, her historical heroines tend to be much more likable, interesting, and strong than the heroines in her modern romances. I wonder why?

I'll probably give the Ice series a second try, because I heard books 2 and 3 were good, but I'd rather spend my money on House of Rohan right now, because House of Rohan is totally amazing.

If you want to give this book a go, though, it's only $2.99 on Kindle at the time of my posting this.

2 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Geek-Art: An Anthology: Art, Design, Illustration & Pop Culture by Thomas Olivri

At the time of my writing this review, GEEK-ART only has 65 ratings on Goodreads and 6 reviews.


That's utterly heartbreaking, because GEEK-ART is an absolute treasure. An inch and a half thick, this coffee table book is jam-packed with glossy, full-color illustrations with dozens of artists. The subject? Geeky things of all sorts, ranging from cult classic movies to video games to anime.

My mother bought this for me as a Christmas present, and I wasn't able to get to it until now because I've been so busy. But as soon as I was able, I paged through this book for hours, admiring all the illustrations. I think she regrets getting it for me now, because I spent at least five solid minutes yapping about how it was the best present ever.

And I say this as someone who received both a Furby and a Tamagotchi at the height of the 90s craze.

I stand by my words: best. present. ever.

Part of what makes GEEK-ART so great is that there's something for everyone in here. No matter what your fandom of choice is, or what style of art you like, there's at least one thing in here that will probably manage to please you. One artist reimagines pop cultural icons in the style of 1930s art deco posters. Another artist takes My Little Pony figurines and customizes them to look like super heroes. The styles range from 8-bit to Renaissance to minimalism, but extend beyond that in all directions.

Oh, and something else I liked: the collection is global, taken from countries all over the world. So it's not just "U.S. artists", or artists from New York or San Francisco. They're from all over, and that diversity shows in both the styles and who the artists credit as inspiring their respective styles. Each section is divided by artist, too, along with links to their blogs, DeviantArt pages, and Twitter handles, so you might just find a new person to follow, too!

I seriously can't get over what an awesome book this was. Most of the art books I review are books I receive in e-book form as ARCs. They are often lovely, and I am very grateful to read them for free because I couldn't afford to buy all the ones I want, but honestly, something gets lost in the digital format. Physical copies are so much better. There's something so comforting and nostalgic about holding a heavy book in your lap that's almost too cumbersome for comfort, and being able to smell the ink on the pages and feel the texture of each page as you turn them to admire the illustrations.

If you're a fan of geeky subculture or are a fan of art, you should buy this book. If you aren't, but know somebody who is, you should buy this book for them as a present. Just be prepared for them to start yapping about how awesome the book is and forcing you to look at their favorite pictures. ;)

5 out of 5 stars!

Dissident by Cecilia London

I'm still in the progress of the Kindle purge, and DISSIDENT is another "grab it while it's free" find from the Kindle Store. I snagged this one because I liked the title and the cover, which had a mysterious, Gothic feel. It's not a Gothic book, though. In fact, DISSIDENT totally surprised me, which is rare.

You could call it a contemporary romance, but it's set in an unstable political climate where California has already seceded and Texas is about to follow suit (why isn't really explained). In the prologue, we see the hero and heroine running for their lives. The rest of the story is a flashback to how they met, until the very end, that is, when the plot comes back full circle.

Caroline is a Democrat with a lot of bipartisan influence. She's also just recently lost her husband, so all her friends tiptoe around her. Especially since she lost a lot of her sweetness during her grief, lashing out at just about anyone without reason.

One of the people who was a victim of this lashing out is the very Republican Jack, whom she referred to as a "playboy millionaire" while he was campaigning. Now that she's come to terms with her husband's death, she wants to set things straight and attempts to apologize him at a party. At first, he reacts with anger, but then he finds out that she's the agent who got a bigwig Republican candidate to endorse him, and after talking to her realizes that she's not at all what he expected - and they end up becoming friends.

It was weird reading a book about politics when, like so many other U.S. citizens I've been making a pointed effort to avoid reading or even looking at any political-related news when possible, but London did a really great job. The banter between the two characters was witty and intellectual. Both of them are well read and actually talk about things that I imagine politicians would talk about in their downtime. I sneaked a look at the author's Goodreads shelves because I'm a creep like that, and it seems like she really made an effort to research this book, which really impressed me a lot.

The romance is also well done. They start out as friends, and Caroline is reluctant to advance the relationship because of her feelings for her husband. Eventually, they start to become more, and I liked how open the communication was between them. The sex scenes are also good. There's probably more than some people would like, but fewer than the erotica fans would want. She's fairly detailed about the foreplay but most of the actual sex fades to black. The characters use condoms and there's no cheating, although at one point the hero lets it slip that he's probably slept with 500 women over the last 200 years. He's a bit snotty about it, too, calling them "salad girls", "vacuous", and talking about how they were shallow and only interested in his money. On the other hand, he also admits to using women and taking advantage of his wealthy lifestyle, and expresses a lot of chagrin about his conduct - and he never says anything overtly sexist, beyond the cliche, obligatory "you're not like other women" statements. I did like that Caroline called him on his sexist BS, though.

And Caroline is such a great character. She has two daughters, who are great characters. She has friends. She has hobbies. She has a job. It was so refreshing to read about a heroine who actually has a life outside the hero - and she's a feminist, too! Excuse me while I swoon.

My biggest qualm with the book, apart from the "I've slept with 500 women" issue, is that the plot does start to rush towards the end. It was particularly noticeable about thirty pages before the end, when the relationship reaches a particularly emotional and tense point. "How is the author going to fix this before the book cuts off?" I wondered. And the answer is, she didn't. One moment, tension, the next moment, Oh, hey, guess what readers? Everything resolved itself! Cue epilogue and helpful ads for the next couple books in the series. Subtle. Very subtle.

At least she didn't end mid-paragraph, like I was afraid she would. The ending actually makes sense.

I liked DISSIDENT, and it's been the first of my "year of poor decisions" freebie grabs that I've actually really liked so far. It's intelligent, it's suspenseful, and features a cast of well developed characters who actually act like human beings and not two-dimensional cardboard cutouts. If you're looking for something original and intelligent and interesting, with some good one liners and well-written sex, you should absolutely give DISSIDENT a try. Just, you know, mind the cliffhanger.

P.S. My Jack and Caroline are Stephen Ritts and Lauren Graham. ;)

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Mechanic by Alexa Riley

I'm slowly trying to clean out my Kindle. Over the last year, I pretty much downloaded anything I recognized from the Kindle Store that was cheap or free, and now that poor little electronic device is bursting with romance and erotica. This is a task I have put off for years, but I've resorted to bribery: I'm not allowed to buy the next House of Rohan book until I've read at least ten books off my Kindle before the end of this week. I've knocked out two other books today already!

MECHANIC by Alexa Riley is the third Kindle book I've read today (minus the bonus short story at the end, for reasons to follow). I have friends who swear by Alexa Riley and eagerly await her (or I guess I should say 'their', since this is a two-author collab pen name) next works.

I didn't realize that when I downloaded this book, it would be a "breeding" erotica - and yes, it's exactly what it sounds like.

Penelope is the rich mayor's daughter and has to come into the auto shop to get her car fixed. Paine, the mechanic, is on duty and feels an instant attraction to/possession of her, and decides that she must be his at all costs. This is a formula typical of most alpha romances, but breeding erotica apparently necessitates that the 'hero' must act like a total psychotic creep.

Nobody who looks like her, who's dressed like that, is shy. She's a rich duchess coming into a place like this and asking for it (9%)

"I'm not sure if I could pull away if she told me she's underage. It might just be worth the prison time." (10%) 

She's the type of woman who needs a firm hand (28%).

But to know I'm the first to touch her makes me want to shoot off a cannon and plant a stake beside her that reads 'This land is claimed.' (30%)

"I stopped wearing underwear years ago, getting tired of having them in the way. He always wants me, any time of day, and I just gave up trying to block him" (68%)

Further cases in point: after fixing her car, he takes her to his office, shuts the door, and closes the blinds. He then lies to her, telling her that they don't take credit cards, and tells her that he's keeping her car overnight unless she can figure out "some other way to pay him", replete with lascivious glances at her bare thighs, you know, just in case that subtlety escaped her.

After that, he decides to stalk her and then sabotages her car so that she'll have to get it towed to the nearest auto-shop - his - for repairs, so she'll be forced to see him again.

I elected not to read the "bonus" story, because it involves Penelope's brother, Law, a cop, courting (i.e. sexually harassing) one of the female mechanics, Joey. Same story, different folks.

Back to MECHANIC, the sex in this book was also crude and gross. I suppose I can see why others might find it fascinating, or even hot, but I didn't like it. Especially towards the end, where all encounters start ending in lines like "I'm going to breed you so hard." After they have sex for the first time, he actually asks her how many children she wants. I'm sorry, that's when you start running.

I respect my friends' tastes and I'm glad that they are a fan of these author(s), who, from interviews, do seem like quite nice people, but I could not jump aboard this train. I couldn't even catch it. Instead, I was left in the filthy, filthy dust as it gleefully sped away while screaming obscenities about breeding.

1 out of 5 stars.

Power of the Matchmaker by Heather B. Moore

My first thought when regarding this book was one of suspicion. Really, 12 authors wrote this 60-page novella? That can't be right. And yet, there they are, all listed on Goodreads, and stamped onto the cover as well. Apparently this is the flagship book in a series about matchmaking, and this is the principal character.

But who is the principal author?!?! I have no clue...

Let's go with the first author credited on Goodreads. That'll be you, I suppose, Ms. Heather B. Moore.

Luckily, POWER OF THE MATCHMAKER isn't quite as confusing as the author kerfuffle behind it. The writing is actually fairly decent, considering that this book was free. (I don't know how many of you regularly venture into the "free" section of the Kindle store, but you can find some really strange stuff in there. Hence all the really strange reviews you're seeing on GR from me.)

POWER OF THE MATCHMAKER is about a young Chinese woman named Mae. Mae is in love with her friend Chen and is so sure that they will be assigned together by the local matchmaker. But nope! Instead, the matchmaker pairs Chen with another girl, and pairs Mae with Bohai.

Mae decides that the best solution to this is to say "eff you!" to her parents, fiance, and Chen's parents and fiance, and run away with Chen. She goes to fields outside his house, and he meets her there, but tells her that he isn't going to run away with her because it wouldn't be fair to his family or his fiance. Mae, our charming heroine, says, oh, but that won't matter if we run away together! Chen tells her no, and gives her a beautiful jade comb as a good-bye gift, telling her that he loves her but must be dutiful.

Mae decides to run away.

What follows is a short but thorough journey of idiocy, in which Mae is too stupid to steal food and too stupid to earn food. She cries and whines a lot, expecting opportunity to fall before her, because she's Mae, don't you know, Queen of the Special Snowflakes. She could sell the comb, sure, but no, she says that selling the comb would be as bad as prostitution. Literally, she says that.


Anyway, after getting drugged by an evil madam and her evil associate, and sitting outside on the porch of this one family while crying and hoping they'll give her a job out of pity, she ends up passing out somewhere and getting rescued by a matchmaker. The horror! Mae hates matchmakers!

But this matchmaker is a good matchmaker, because she feels sorry for Mae's "plight" and tells her that the other matchmaker should have matched Mae and Chen. Anyway, matchmakers apparently have magical powers and the ability to live for about three hundred years as long as they use their powers to selflessly help others while abstaining from love themselves.

This was a lot of ridiculousness to swallow. I felt like there weren't quite enough pages in this book to explain all this, but since this is a prologue to what looks like 12 other stories, maybe explanations are forthcoming in later books. I do want to give the author credit for writing decently enough and providing an ending that isn't quite as happy as what most people would expect in a romance. Honestly, I was gearing up for something infuriatingly sappy - but the ending that the author fit.

The problem is, the heroine in this book is completely unsympathetic. It's hard to root for someone who just wants to sit and cry and whine about how things don't go her way. Also, the magic angle, when it came into play, seemed out of place and silly because it just came out of nowhere.

I don't think I liked this book.

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars.

Claiming the Duchess by Sherry Thomas

When I first got my Kindle, I became a little *too* enthusiastic. In what I call "the year of poor decisions," I eagerly acquired nearly every free romance from the Kindle Store that looked halfway interesting for about a year. Now I have hundreds of books on my Kindle, and my app is mad at me. It's time for some spring cleaning.


CLAIMING THE DUCHESS is a short story I downloaded because it was free, and because I recognized the author. Sherry Thomas writes some excellent regency and Victorian stories - THE HIDDEN BLADE is an epic story involving ninjas and scheming families, and DELICIOUS is a retelling of Cinderella involving mistaken identity and a bit of magic realism.

CLAIMING THE DUCHESS starts out promisingly enough. Clarissa is the much younger, second wife of a Duke. The Duke isn't evil, he's just indifferent, mean to their stepson, and cheats on her with other women. So basically, an a-hole.

One day, the Duke has a dinner and proceeds to insult someone in their acquaintance that Clarissa likes. She leaps to said person's defense, only to be mocked by the Duke as his sycophants haw-haw it off - all of them except the mysterious Mr. Kingston, who offers to sit by said person at dinner.

Shortly after the dinner, Clarissa takes up correspondence with one of their neighbors, a miss Julia, who always signs off her letters JMK. Julia becomes her confidant over the next two years, giving her advice, listening to her dreams, and exchanging all manners of presents. In case you haven't guessed it by now, Julia is actually Mr. Kingston writing to Clarissa under a false name.

I get that short stories are difficult, so it's hard to initiate and resolve conflict within such short parameters. Courtney Milan is the only romance author I can name offhand who appears to have mastered the art of the short story. CLAIMING THE DUCHESS has a great opening, with some good relationships (the relationship between Clarissa and her stepson, Christian, is especially heartwarming), but the conflict part of the story is done very, very badly.

I mean, I cannot swallow the fact that Clarissa would just say, "Oh, you've been lying for me for two years? That's perfectly all right. Yes, let's get married!" And he reveals this to her shortly after forcing himself on her at a party, while Clarissa is saying stop, stop. The only thing that actually does stop Kingston is Christian, who, after making sure Clarissa is all right, punches that rapist dudebro in the face. Clarissa feels bad, of course, and is like, no it's perfectly all right! I was only afraid Julia might see - which is when Kingston drops the bomb that it was him all along. That is not cute; that is very creepy. But no, the book ends on a merry little note with the two of them staying in bed for eight hours and then writing more of those adorable letters to one another about the upcoming honeymoon.

Christian is adorable, though. I love his charm and his fossil-collecting hobby. This book gets an extra half-star because of him. It'd be lovely if he has a book of his own!

1.5 out of 5 stars

Ruthless by Anne Stuart

Hey guys, remember that time I forced you all to read DUKE OF SIN by Elizabeth Hoyt & we all had a grand ol' time? Well, RUTHLESS is just as good, and it was published before, which should probably account for something. Also, the hero is the ruler of his own den of iniquity where people have orgies and Satanic rituals and is called, appropriately enough, King of Hell.

Elinor Harriman is plunged headfirst into the first circle of hell when her syphilis-affected mother gets it into her head to gamble away the last of their money. She encounters Viscount Rohan, the King of Hell, who is amused by her no-nonsense demeanor. Rohan is bored, and has been bored for some time (it's no fun when you always get what you want). Elinor is precisely what he needs to cure his ennui, and he'll do anything to have her -

Including threatening her younger, incredibly beautiful sister.

Like DUKE OF SIN, RUTHLESS has many aspects of the bodice rippers that helped make the historical romance genre what it is today. Rohan is a jaded antihero who does some very bad things. (I'm sure Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is rolling her eyes at me, going, "Nenia, did you even read my book?" Which, yes, I did, but come on - how can you resist evil when it's tall, and sinfully charming, and decked out in velvet and lace? That's Jereth territory there, and y'all know how that goes.)


The story line is also quite dark, as Elinor has gone through some terrible things that haunt her even to this day, her mother's unscrupulous behavior aside. The love between her and her sister, Lydia, is palpable and extremely well done. There's a secondary romance between Lydia and one of the men in Rohan's employ, and it is utterly charming (although not quite interesting enough to carry a plot line of its own, so I was glad it was relegated to the background). In case all the UST and drama weren't enough to spur you along, there's also a murder subplot, and it's not halfhearted in the least.

Also, Elinor is just so goshdarned awesome. Her banter with the hero is hilarious and had me chuckling. It's hard not to fall for a plucky, no-nonsense heroine who is weary and clever.

He wanted entertainment, and respite from boredom? She would provide it. So thoroughly that he'd be afraid to go to sleep at night, for fear she'd stab him (279).

And let's not forget the sneery, imperious charm that is Viscount Rohan:

"I'm not in the mood to be seconding duels or even stopping them. If they want to kill each other then let them go ahead. I have servants to clean up the blood" (24).

The only thing about this story that really annoyed me was that the hero and heroine were kept apart for long periods of time in the middle of the book, just when things were getting interesting - much too long, if you asked me. It felt like this was less for plot purposes and more for filler, although that didn't stop me from swooping through all 400 pages of this book in about three hours.


If you're a fan of gamma-heroes, you'll like this book. Anne Stuart is famous for hers.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, December 26, 2016

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Adichie manages to cram a lot of ideas about feminism in a very short space, and she manages to do it well. Apparently this essay is based off a TED talk: it shows. The construction of the essay, the way it drifts from anecdotal and personal to a more broad worldview, and the way the introduction and the ending bookend the overall topic - that's classic TED talk construction.

One of the most interesting topics in WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS is how feminism has become taboo in society. I've actually talked with women who are against feminism, and some of the reasons they gave actually support what Adichie says here: the biggest reason women don't seem to want to be feminist is because they see feminist precepts as Boolean variables:

"I can fight for reproductive rights or I can have children."

"I can fight against sexism or I can have a husband."

"I can be a feminist or I can be a real woman who enjoys putting on makeup and having fun."

Obviously, these examples are gross over-simplifications and do not represent the beliefs of everyone who is a feminist or against feminism (I apologize if they offended anyone, because they are meant as extreme examples to better illustrate the point). But the vast majority of anti-feminist arguments that come from women do seem to revolve around the fear that being a feminist somehow means losing one's femininity, which is simply not the case.

Feminism exists because there is an inherent bias in the system. That bias has faded away over the years, but it's like paint in stone. It's easy to scrape away what's on the surface; it's a lot harder to dig in deep and find the paint that's seeped into the brick. Adichie discusses some of these biases, like how women are frequently expected to do all the childcare in addition to working, how men are still expected to pay for things whether it's a first date or a new house because money has become associated with men, or how women are often treated negatively for embodying the assertive traits that would make a man a "leader."

"We spend too much time telling girls that they cannot be angry or aggressive or tough, which is bad enough, but then we turn around and either praise or excuse men for the same reasons" (12). 

Being a feminist doesn't mean that you want to dismantle gender norms - it means acknowledging that gender norms aren't hard rules. Feminism also means acknowledging the bias in the system, and engaging in dialogue to raise awareness and find solutions. And it benefits men, too, who are also victims of sexism, and expected to be sexually dominant, successful, and emotionally stoic where women are expected to be sexually submissive, non-threatening, and emotionally available. The reason it's not called egalitarianism is because it nulls out the group that it's supposed to be helping, making it far too easy to relegate women to the side and say, "Why are you focusing on women? All genders are supposed to be equal."

Because that's the problem: they aren't.


"I have chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femininity" (17).

5 out of 5 stars!

The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea by Bandi

THE ACCUSATION is amazing, and not because of the stories it contains. According to the afterword, it is a historical first: no other book criticizing North Korea has been published by a North Korean who still lives in North Korea. Apparently, his/her 750 page handwritten manuscript was smuggled out and published in South Korea. So keep that in mind, while reading.

Most of these stories have a unifying theme: they're often written by someone who is doing their best to fit into the Party, only to discover its flaws when someone they care about is impacted by the very rules that they have helped to keep in place.

My favorite story in this collection was Record of a Defection, which is a beautiful story about how far we go for our loved ones, and how far they go for us - often without speaking a single word.

I also really enjoyed Life of a Swift Steed, a story heavy with symbolism, about an old man with an elm tree in his yard. The tree is the symbol of his many years of hard work and toiling efforts for the Party he thought would save him, and ends up being a symbol of his disappointment and disillusionment instead. It's incredibly powerful and utterly tragic.

Other stories that I liked were City of Specters and So Near, Yet So Far.

Pandemonium, On Stage, and The Red Mushroom were also decent, but I didn't like them as much as some of the other stories in this collection, as they felt more confusing and difficult to follow, although Red Mushroom ends with a bang that really ends the collection in a relevant way.

If you don't know much about North Korea, or you really like short stories, or you're fascinated by politics and history, you should grab a copy of this when you can. The translator did an excellent job and the writing is utterly beautiful and movingly powerful. Make sure you check out the poem in the beginning and the afterword, too! They're both well-worth the read!

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

4 out of 5 stars

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Marmalade Boy, Vol. 1 by Wataru Yoshizumi

The book starts out with Miki Koishikawa sitting down with her parents, who are both grinning like someone told them that they both won an all expenses paid million yen vacation.

"We need to tell you something, Miki," they begin, all chipper. Which is terrifying in and of itself, because "we need to tell you something" is only slightly below "we need to talk" on the "phrases that make you sh*t bricks" list. "We're getting divorced!"

Worst Parents Ever.

The Worst Parents Ever then proceed to add, "Remember that vacay to Hawaii we took? Well, we met another couple, the Maatsuras - and we decided we wanted to sex them up!"

(Paraphrased, contextually inferred)

"It's okay, we're all consenting adults."

Which is true...yeah, but what about your kids?

"But we have the perfect solution that benefits you, too!"

Uh oh..."

"We'll be divorcing each other and marrying the Matsuuras! Except, you know, trading spouses! Like the TV show, only it's the no-take-backsies, edition! But since we can't legally change our names for six months, we rented a house where all six of us will be living together like a swingin' Brady Bunch!"


"Oh, yeah, they have a son your age! It'll be great! You'll be BFFs!"


"Just don't fall in love with him or anything."

Of course, now that the Worst Mother Ever mentions it, Miki suddenly starts to think, "Hmm, maybe all those stepbrother romances are right! He is pretty cute!"


The introduction of her new stepbrother to be, Yuu, also plays havoc with Miki's social life, as well as her emotional well-being. All the girls in her school think he's hot, and all the rest are convinced that there's something between Yuu and Miki.

Ginta, Miki's friend, is especially jealous, because he and Miki were on the verge of going out a few years ago, but then drifted apart because of a misunderstanding.

What's the misunderstanding?

He told all his friends that he didn't really like her and Miki heard him say it.


Also, it was right after she sent him a long and heartfelt love letter.


And when she walked in, his friends were reading the love letter & laughing at it.

*bangs head against wall*

THEN, as if all that wasn't enough, Yuu and Miki come home one day to find a broken vase in the middle of the floor and all the WPEs having a Westworld-esque stare-down.

"We're getting divorced again and moving out of this house!"

Miki, understandably, is like, "Wait, you put Yuu and me through all this nonsense and now you want to click the giant 'undo' button without giving it a shot? What the heck is wrong with you?"

And the WPEs are like, "PSYCHE! We weren't really getting a divorce! We just wanted to trick you into saying that you were okay with this marriage quadrangle after all, and you totally just did!"

*Miki has a mini-psychological breakdown*

WPEs: "Gee, do you think that was too much?"


WPEs: "We all love each other so much!"

And THEN, as if all that wasn't enough, when Yuu and Miki are at the fair, she gets ditched by Yuu and finds out he left her for this girl named Arimi...who he used to date!

Which would be okay, except Yuu also kissed Miki and told her he liked her.

And then Ginta kissed Miki and told her he liked her.

And I'm just sitting here, like, "Who needs soap operas or Keeping Up with the Kardashians when you have shoujo manga?"

The plot behind this story is utterly ridiculous, but I mean that in a good way. The writing is a step above most other Tokyopop creations that I have read, and I liked the relationship between Miki and her friend, Meiko. Meiko stuck up for Miki, and defended her when necessary. (I'm still not 100% convinced that this won't turn into a toxic Sae relationship a la PEACH GIRL, though.)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer

Remember those cheesy movies from the 80s? You know, the big budget ones that don't stand up to the test of time, with the bad acting, laugh-worthy special effects, and stoic action hero-esque one-liners a la Arnold Schwarzenegger? This book could so easily be one of those that I can almost picture the synth music intro and the young Matthew Broderick-cast main character.

OFF TO BE THE WIZARD has been on my radar for a while. I used to be a huge gamer when I was younger. In college, I had to choose between books and games because I stopped having time for both - I chose books, because they're the least expensive and most portable of the two, but my love for games lives on.

And honestly, who wouldn't want to read about the biggest wish fulfillment fantasy ever? Because OFF TO BE THE WIZARD is about a down-on-his-luck guy in his twenties who finds a file on his computer one day. When he makes changes to this file, he can increase his height, drop a couple thou in his bank account, and even give himself magic powers.

It seems like it's too good to be true. It is. Soon, editing the file gets Martin in trouble, so he does what any rational person in his position would do: he escapes to the Medieval period to be a wizard. Specifically, 1150, because it's the best time to be alive in the Medieval period, according to this excerpt he finds on Google Books.

I know.

Surprisingly, Martin is not the first person to get into trouble like this and flee to this time period. There are other wizards here, too. On Wednesdays, they wear robes. He's allowed to sit with the cool wizard kids, provided that he undergoes some tests to ensure that he isn't going to ruin the good thing they have going on. If he passes, he gets to stay. If he fails, he gets stripped of his "powers" and sent back to his time period to deal with the major mess that he created without any sort of help.

The beginning of OFF TO BE THE WIZARD is great. Martin did what most people in his position would probably do - experiment, rationalize it to himself, and push his luck while trying to figure out how much he could get away with. Things sort of fell apart when he actually got to "Medieval times" and I think a huge part of that is due to how historically inaccurate the time period was. I know it's ridiculous to expect a fantasy novel to stick to the facts, but having anachronistic language and behavior, and then referring to one of the greatest female monarchs of that time as "passive" (Empress Matilda sneers at your passivity, and raises you alliance to Anjou) is...well, just plain silly!

Another thing that bothered me is something that bothered a lot of other female readers - there are no female main characters in this book, and only one female character who is referred to at all, Gwen. To be fair, Gwen is a great character, and her inclusion in the story isn't as a love interest, which I found incredibly refreshing. That doesn't stop Martin from hitting on her awkwardly, though. Apparently most women who discover the file on their computers don't go to Medieval times because they don't think it would be a friendly time period for female witches (LOL, understatement). Instead, they choose to go to Atlantis...which apparently exists in this bizarre little universe.

What bothered me about this is that one of the characters - not the hero - essentially says that he wouldn't want to go there because he's afraid to see what a world run by women looks like. There's a few other cringe-worthy moments, where the characters say vaguely misogynistic things like this:

"He toyed with the idea of hitting on her by not hitting on her. He would be friendly and professional, maintaining a facade of pleasant disinterest, all the while scheming to initiate a romantic relationship. (39%)

That's Martin, in one of his early attempts to woo Gwen.

"I don't see the point in getting a woman to like you if you're not going to go out with her." (38%)

That's one of the other characters - Gary, I think. He says a lot of stuff like this. I think it's supposed to be funny, like, "Oh, you." It wasn't. He was an incredibly annoying character, and I wanted him sent back to his time period, stripped of his powers, because what a jerk.

These moments are few and far in between, and a few of the characters actually try to correct the other characters on their sexism, like Phillip, who repeatedly tells Martin to leave Gwen alone and who snaps at Tyler for his sexist comments. But Phillip also said that thing about not wanting to see Atlantis because of its being a woman-run world, so boo on you too, Phillip.

It actually made me think of this YouTube comment I saw recently, where this male commenter was complaining that this one channel I follow has gone downhill because of the female writers. He said, paraphrased, "It's because women aren't funny. Some can be, but most aren't." Which isn't necessarily true, in my opinion. I think there's just a difference in what both groups are willing to tolerate, and most women in particular just don't find crude, sexist digs as funny as some men do. I want to be clear: I'm not saying that this author is sexist, just that this book appears to be written with a mostly male audience in mind, and it shows in the humor used and the characters represented.

For the most part, I did like this story, and how it's CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT meets The Matrix. I thought it was unique and clever, and had a lot of fun and silly observations in it, and I appreciated the nerdy inside jokes, too. I wish it had just been a bit better developed, especially the third act, which although it made me laugh incredulously, felt like it had jumped the shark just a little bit.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Burning Blue by Paul Griffin

What horrors lurk in the hearts of teens?

Edgy teen suspense novels usually have me feeling pretty skeptical. There's a lot of suspension of disbelief required and at least once (but often more than once, often closer to 10+ times) I shake my head and think, "Shouldn't you leave that to the cops?" Nothing is more frustration than watching a teen obstruct justice and then be patted on the head at the end for their "good deeds."

BURNING BLUE does this, but the concept is horrifying enough that I had to finish the story to find out what happened. (Also, said cops actually call Detective Teen on the carpet for doing this and slap him with obstruction of justice charges, yay.) Nicole Castro, the pretty and popular queen of her high school, is the victim of an acid attack. Nobody knows who did it, and everyone is really nice to Nicole about it, but there's no doubt over how much the terrible incident has disrupted her life.

Jay Nazzaro is a teen hacker, who also has epilepsy. He's often teased and mocked because some jerk with a camera managed to record one of his worst fits on their phone & then posted it on social media for all to see. Poor guy. Because of this humiliation, Jay is in a better position than most to understand where Nicole is coming from. He becomes obsessed with her, determined to find out who attacked her & why, and help bring her to justice.

I thought that this was going to be one of those really creepy stories where the hero is written along the lines of "Big Alpha Is Watching." You know, his obsession would be psychotic in any other circumstances besides this one, but because he's doing it for the "right" reasons, it's okay? But Jay wasn't like that. He really does care about Nicole. He tries to anticipate her needs, even when those needs involve him giving her space, and he falls harder for her when he finds out what most of the school has already found out in one way or another: Nicole is a very nice, down-to-earth person, someone with a beautiful soul.

The mystery aspect of the story was pretty well done. I couldn't figure out who had done it, until the very end. When I found out who the person did it, and why, it made a horrific amount of sense. It's hard to guess, though, because the two of them live in a town filled with red herrings. Nearly everyone says some sinister, vaguely threatening, coincidentally relevant thing at one point or another. It's the mystery equivalent of a jump scare: "I DID IT! LOL JK."

BURNING BLUE is told through Jay's POV, emails from the perpetrator, and entries from Nicole's diary, so you never have the full side of the story. The only thing that didn't really fit 100% was Jay's hacking. I know some people can probably do this, but it felt like asking a lot to expect me to believe that this teenage guy can hack into government-level security with no formal training. Apart from that issue, though, this was a decent read. I finished it in under a day, if that counts for anything!

3.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, December 24, 2016

I Love My Computer Because My Friends Live in It: Stories from an Online Life by Jess Kimball Leslie

Are you a 90s kid? Do you remember what the internet looked like it its early days? Did you have an awkward Myspace?

I LOVE MY COMPUTER grabbed my attention because of that bright pink cover and that amazing title. "I love my computer because my friends live in it." Preach it, my fellow internet-aficionado! Anyone with an active social media presence these days can totally relate to having a friend circle that extends far, far away - especially if they're a teeny bit awkward and quirky.

This memoir is separated into several portions. The 1980s-90s describes the author's childhood, her frustration at copying things to floppy disks, the lengthy download time of Windows 95, and her internet escapades on the early chat rooms of the 90s. Watch her explore the Bette Midler forums with other obsessed fans.

2000-2005 talks about the author's adolescence and her experience with many popular websites in their early days. Oh, and by the way, she includes pictures that will have you smiling with nostalgia, remembering your own self-imposed frenzy at who to place in your top 8 and how to play songs on Winamp. She also talks about her years working as a Devil Wears Prada-esque personal assistant for a publishing firm & her years of living like a socialite on the dollar of some wealthy friends she met online. Remember the Blackberry? Oh yeah, you remember.

2005-2010 takes place in the author's later life, and talks about how she met her wife on and how she adopted a puppy that makes sounds like a microwave from petfinder. This is a cute section. Her puppy-related shenanigans are pretty hilarious (and again - there's pics! yaaass), and I also liked how she wrote about adjusting to the stepmom life, too. It cracked me up how she ran to Facebook every time there was an issue and begged others for advice/support.

2015+ is kind of a retrospective, where the author makes closing statements and manages to get in a few digs at startup culture. She also talks about how weird it is that technology allows you to stalk the people you knew when you were young and find out uncomfortable amounts of information. I agree with that. It's shocking sometimes, what people are perfectly willing to share with strangers.

I LOVE MY COMPUTER is definitely written for that gap of people that fall within Gen Y and Millennial. People who were too young to fully experience the 90s as a preteen or teenager, but who are old enough that they're often befuddled at some of the behaviors of their younger peers (like anything Instagram or Snapchat related, for example). This is the song of your generation!

It actually kind of reminds me of Felicia Day's memoir in some ways, because both are written by geeky women with unusual interests who took advantage of the internet before it hit mainstream and watched it grow and evolve along with pop culture. I felt really nostalgic while reading about Windows 95 & seeing some of the screenshots she included of websites in their early days. I kept laughing and smiling, because her observations are either totally left field or totally on point. Either way, it's pretty darn endearing!

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the free copy!

4.5 out of 5 stars!

The Memory of After by Lenore Appelhans

Can we take a moment for some cover snark? What is going on with that girl's makeup? She looks like she was trying to attempt the full face highlighter challenge and gave up halfway. I liked the original title/cover better, but I'm wondering if it was changed because having the number 2 in the title made too many people think it was a sequel to the book they didn't have. This new cover just doesn't make sense, but in a way, it fits the book perfectly because of that: this book doesn't make sense, either.

By the time I've gotten about 20 pages into a book, I usually have a pretty good idea what I'm going to rate it. THE MEMORY OF AFTER was the 1 time out of 100 that this doesn't happen. Why? Because it's a strange book. Not necessarily strange in a bad way, just...strange. It's like the author had several different story ideas and decided to utilize them all by smooshing them together.

Felicia (resist the urge to make the obvious "bye Felicia" joke) is dead. She "lives" out her days in a strange white room, replaying her memories over and over. The afterlife is basically like "YouTube": you can upload your memories, tag them, rate them, and when people watch them you can get credits, which you can then exchange to watch other people's memories instead.

Felicia's parents were both foreign diplomats, so her memories are quite popular because she has so many memories of traveling. Her favorite memories, however, are of the boy she was dating while alive: Neil, an active participant in a youth group and a member of the church choir. Felicia likes him so much that she ends up joining the church because of him, but as pleasant as these memories are, they are still hard for Felicia to watch because Neil is connected to her death.

Felicia's YouTube purgatory days are disrupted when the memory screens start malfunctioning and showing things that they shouldn't. Shortly after that, a strange boy appears named Julian, who looks oddly familiar. It turns out he's in her memories too, and part of a resistance group whose goal is to break key members out of YouPurgatory because it's being mismanaged purposely...for war.

This is why the book is so strange: 1/3 of it is a "dead girl trying to move on" storyline, 1/3 of it is doomed teenage romance with love quadrangle, and 1/3 of it is HUNGER GAMES-esque plot of resistance fighters trying to overthrow their dystopian overlords. It's like someone said to themselves, "Hey, the Matrix was a great story, but let's replace the robots with angels, and throw in BEFORE I FALL and THE HUNGER GAMES for laughs! It'll totally make sense!"

The religion angle was also odd. There's talk about commitment ceremonies, reenactments of passages for the bible, True Love Waits is name-dropped, and just all this other stuff. What really threw me for the loop was this blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment towards the end when Neil's cousin is getting married (I'm sorry, I mean commitment ceremonied) to someone - whose gender is never specified - and then Felicia refers to said cousin's "alternative lifestyle" that distanced her from the church community. I sat there for a moment, blinking in astonishment, because I could not believe it. Did I really just see the words "alternative lifestyle" being used - sincerely - to describe a gay couple?

In the end, I decided that this book was OK. The writing was good. The characters were tolerable. Neil has a mini-freakout when he thinks that Felicia might not be a virgin, but apart from that he's totally forgettable. I thought Autumn and Felicia were equal twits. Autumn is that stereotypical self-centered airhead, but I didn't think that excused Felicia from cheating with Autumn's boyfriend. At one point, they're actually making out in a taxi while Autumn is passed out beside them! And then they're shocked that they're caught!!! LOL! I can't with the stupidity. Felicia does feel bad about it, though, and I liked how you could see which of her actions were most troubling to her because they were the memories she replayed the least. I did actually like Julian, potential creep factor aside, probably because he reminded me of the Julian from L.J. Smith's Forbidden Game trilogy - and that ended up proving prophetic in some ways, which made me wonder if the author was inspired by the books. I really do have to give the author credit for coming up with something so OTT. It's a pastiche of various genres that don't quite fit together, but don't quite clash, either.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Team Human by Sarah Rees Brennan

Remember when TWILIGHT was the Big Thing in publishing and teen paranormal romance was coming out by the dozen? Dragons, mermaids, ghosts, faeries, werewolves - oh my. If it existed, it was fair game, and would be turned into a romance.

TEAM HUMAN was a reaction to all that nonsense, and at the time many of my friends were calling it a breath of fresh air. Even though TEAM HUMAN is a teen paranormal romance, it's also a parody - of TWILIGHT, but also other books in the genre, too. I've read Harvard Lampoon's NIGHTLIGHT, which had its funny moments, but it was also very self-aware in the sense that it was a parody first and foremost but wouldn't have been able to stand on its own as a novel independently of the work it was parodying.

TEAM HUMAN can, and does.

Our main character, Mel, who narrates the story, is a seventeen-year-old high school student in a world (Maine) where vampires exist and everyone knows about it. Considering what other kinds of sh*t go down in Maine, thanks to Stevie King, this is not a surprise. Anyway, Mel has three friends - Ty, Anna, and Cathy. All of them have varying opinions about vampires. Ty is related to one, so he's neutral. Anna's father ran off with one, so she's pissed. And Cathy - Cathy is obsessed, & immediately falls head over heels for the first vampire she sees on sight.

I really like how TEAM HUMAN explored the deeper issues of what it means to be human, and the risks that would accompany turning into a vampire. This was something that TWILIGHT didn't really do all that well. For most readers, I think that there was never any doubt that Bella wouldn't become a vampire eventually, and since she didn't have any doubts either, we don't hear much about the risks. It's been a while since I read the books (TEAM HUMAN actually made me want to reread them), but I recall Bella's primary worry being that she wouldn't be able to enjoy her physical relationship with Edward as intensely if she were a vampire instead of a human & that he might not like her as much. TEAM HUMAN really goes into the risks, and I liked that there were several precautions in place to ensure that humans didn't change on a whim and that they fully understood the momentousness of their decision. The age limit made sense too. I think we all remember that creepy child vampire in INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE. That was no good. No good at all.

Mel is an interesting character. At first I liked her, but my like of Mel waned as the narrative went on & she did some things I couldn't really get on board with. She is very outspoken and has clear opinions, which is nice. She also takes action, and is active, rather than reactive. She kind of reminds me of one of Meg Cabot's 90s female characters - she even has the same tendency to resort to physical violence (something that I didn't really like, especially since no one calls her on it).

What made me like her a little less was how much of a jerk she was about vampires. Mel hates vampires. Someone on Goodreads who I follow said that if you replaced the word "vampire" with another noun, Mel could easily sound very racist. People do call her on this, but she never really "gets" why everyone is telling her that she's a vampire-hater. She doesn't hate vampires, she just doesn't want them anywhere near her, and doesn't think any of her friends should date them/become them. That becomes a classic refrain when Cathy announces her intent to become a vampire and Mel launches a "Team Human" campaign, doing everything she possibly can from begging, pleading, lecturing, and even exposing Cathy to views of decayed corpses of people who did not turn into vampires successfully, all in an attempt to sway Cathy's mind. She claims that the choice is being forced upon her by Francis, the vampire she claims to be in love with.

What makes this super hypocritical on Mel's part is that she later falls for this guy who is human but wants to become a vampire, and Mel is not having that. She insults his vampire family - on purpose or accidentally through what would probably be called "microaggressions" - tells him that she won't date him anymore if he becomes a vampire, tells Cathy that she can't be friends with her if she becomes a vampire, and basically harangues them both constantly about the risks and the consequences and, most importantly of all - how vampires can't laugh! THE HORROR!

Honestly, from the way Mel talks about laughing and smiling, you'd think not having a sense of humor would be worse than becoming a rotting corpse.

At the end of the book, Mel does realize the error of her ways - SORT OF - and eventually accepts her friends' choices. Sort of. I think it was a really good allegory for examples of bigotry that happen today, but I also believe that this is part of the reason the rating for this book is relatively low. Mel can be a very unpleasant, judgmental person, and while these flaws make her realistic, they can also make her head an unfun place to be chilling out while the story unfolds.

And it is a good story. The writing is good, all of the supporting characters are good, the kids all have families that love them and whine about not having enough money and other kid things, the world building was fairly well fleshed-out and the parody of TWILIGHT was subtle but hilarious. At one point, heartbroken Cathy says something like, "I haven't written in my diary forever!" I also liked how the vampires' old age makes them relics from bygone periods of time. Francis hates cars and keeps making these semi-racist statements because of the historical context he was born in. Unlike Edward, you really do get the feeling that Francis was born in another time and mystified by it.

Time to dig out my tattered old copy of TWILIGHT for a reread, methinks!

4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, December 23, 2016

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

There are two kinds of literature in the world: the kinds that make sense & the kinds that don't. In recent years, the kind of literature that don't make sense have become popular, lining the shelves in hipster bookstores, as devoted hipster-lit aficionados have long arguments about "what the author really meant." (And don't tell me that Helen Oyeyemi isn't hipster-lit, because I was in a hipster bookstore recently, & she had an entire display all to herself.)

This is the second of Helen Oyeyemi's works that I read. The first was her novella, MR. FOX. I thought the prose was gorgeous but I couldn't for the life of me figure out what was going on in the story. Everything was so confusing! Maybe this makes me a literary pleb, but I do like my stories to be at least somewhat straightforward. Leaving things up to interpretation is all well and good, but there comes a point where you can be so vague that your reader is pretty much left behind in the dust - and that's what happened to me.

Helen Oyeyemi and I were forced together yet again when WHAT IS NOT YOURS IS NOT YOURS was chosen as our next book in my book club - yes, this is the same book club that forced me to read WHERE'D YOU GO BERNADETTE. That was a positive experiment, however, so I figured I'd read WHAT IS NOT YOURS with an open mind. After all, she was a semi-finalist in the Goodreads Choice Awards for best fiction - the public majority can't be wrong, can they? ...Can they?


WHAT IS NOT YOURS IS NOT YOURS suffers the problem that plagues virtually every short story collection that I have encountered: uneven quality. Some stories are definitely heaps better than others, and the bad ones make the whole suffer. Interestingly, she also does what Roxane Gay did in her collection, which made me like both collections less: randomly insert magic-realism into the storyline for funsies (or for hipster-lit cred, one of those two) even if it doesn't make sense to do so.

Books and Roses: ☆☆

A prime example of that old adage, "too much magic-realism spoils the broth." At its heart, Books and Roses contains two parallel love stories...but it isn't quite clear how they're tied (I know the main character & her key necklace are a part of it but I wasn't sure how). Maybe it's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment, which sucks, because I usually do my reading at the end of the evening, when my eyes are tired and I'm not at my intellectual best.

I will say that I loved the prose in this one, and it includes an LGBT love story (always good), but the overall story was like a pretty present left unwrapped. Yes, the wrapping paper and bow are lovely, but you didn't tie them together, you silly person, so it just feels unfinished and half-arsed.

"Sorry" Doesn't Sweeten Her Tea: ☆☆☆☆☆

Really more of a 4.5 rating, but I'm rounding up. YES. YES. This story was really, really good. Set in Iran, it's narrated by a man named Anton who works at a weight-loss clinic in Iran that uses valerian to knock people into a food-less coma for 3 days. He's in a relationship with a man named Noor who has two preteen daughters. Both the daughters are obsessed with this pop star, and are subsequently crushed when it's revealed that said pop star might actually be abusive when an interview goes viral about the prostitute he physically and mentally abused. Rather than being sympathetic or horrified, society turns around and blames the victim, which infuriates the girls, one of them especially, who becomes obsessed with the whole cases and seems determined to "punish" the pop any means necessary.

This story is so creepy, and so good. I also feel like it's extremely relevant, because society does tend to blame the victim, and it is horrific, so that young girl's bewilderment at the internet comments on the viral video really hit me hard, because I feel the same way. How did we, as a society, as a whole, become so numb to the problems in our own society - especially in matters of social justice?

The only reason this doesn't get five stars is because of a random, half-arsed magic-realism subplot that was thrown in at the end. It felt like a very lazy way of ending the story, using magic to solve your problems. I was hoping for a more realistic resolution. Guess we can't have it all, though.

Is Your Blood as Red as This?: ☆☆

Creepy story involving puppets and - you guessed it - magic-realism. The concept, built around a puppet school and kids learning theater, was interesting, but the plot was so convoluted, I had a hard time following what was going on. To make it worse, the POV switches several times, too. Ugh.

Pros: more LGBT characters and a character from "Sorry" Doesn't, etc. makes a cameo in here. At first I thought this was coincidence, but no: characters from each of the short stories wander around into the other stories, which gives the overall book a more unifying feel. I thought this was very clever - Stephen King does this, too - and it made me wonder how many people didn't notice!


DROWNINGS is a straight-up fantasy tale. It's the only story like this in a collection and sticks out like a sore thumb. It also has an Angela Carter/Tanith Lee feel to it, but not in a good way - as much as I adore the work of those ladies, sometimes they get too weird. This story gets too weird.

Presence: ☆☆☆

More character cameos!

Presence is a weird story about this woman's relationships, and could have just as easily come from Roxane Gay's DIFFICULT WOMEN. I wanted to like this story, because I'm a sucker for character studies, especially when portrayed through the intimate portrait of one's relationships at home, but I couldn't completely get into Presence. I think it was about time travel, but I'm not 100% sure.

A Brief History of the Homely Wench Society: ☆☆☆☆☆


That's right. This is the best story in the collection. It was amazing - cute, hopeful, beautiful, and just all around good. It's set in a prestigious college, where there is a "secret society" of all dudes called the Bettincourts. They were kind of sexist, so a group of women created the Homely Wench Society to prank them and ended up just sticking with it after the prank ended.

One of the daughters from the "Sorry" story is the main character in Brief History, and ends up becoming a member of the Homely Wench Society. She and her group come up with another prank to play on the all-boys' club, but it's actually...harmless and kind of sweet. The ending is super adorable. A Brief History would have been excellent as a full-length novel, and it made me think that maybe Oyeyemi should be writing awesome YA-lit with kick-ass female protagonists. Heck, I'd read 'em!

Dornicka and the St. Martin's Day Goose: ☆☆☆☆

I lied, Drownings isn't the only fantasy story. Dornicka is definitely a fairy tale - but it's not quite as fantastical or weird as Drownings; it's set in our world, instead. I actually really liked Dornica. Little Red Riding Hood is such a creepy story, and Oyeyemi ends up putting her own interesting spin on it, while also keeping true to the illogic of the brothers Grimm fairytales. Yes, this one is good.

Freddy Barandov Checks...In?: ☆

Nenia Campbell doesn't Get...It? Sorry, this story made zero sense and it was boring.

If a Book Is Locked There's Probably a Good Reason for That Don't You Think: ☆☆☆☆

I was afraid the collection was going to fizzle out, but it ends on a decent note with If a Book Is Locked. This story takes place in an office setting. The narrator, an LGBT character (yaass!), is as preoccupied as everyone else with the new hire, the glamorous and enigmatic Eva. She's also the only one who doesn't turn on her when it's revealed that Eva is the mistress to a married man.

This story also has unnecessary magic-realism in it, but I don't know, for some reason I liked it here. Diaries are magical. I'm a writer, and a reader, so I know how words can seem to transport you somewhere else. Magic-realism really works for meta-books about books, because the line between fiction and reality is pretty much just in the readers' minds. It felt apropos, rather than twee, here.

Also, I loved the last line in this story. Very well done.

So there you have it, my review for WHAT IS NOT YOURS IS NOT YOURS. I was honestly afraid that I wasn't going to like any stories in this collection at all, but ended up enjoying the stories a lot more than I thought I would - and even loving some of them, which was especially amazing!

One thing I especially liked was that each character has a different ethnic background and almost all of them are LGBT, people of color, or both. For those who seek that out in fiction, this collection is a must. I also liked how they wander around from story to story, so you get to check up on them and see how they're doing. I've never encountered an author who did that before and thought it was neat.

Seriously, though, Ms. Oyeyemi - get on that speeding YA train. We need more stories about bad-ass young women! ;)

3 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

It's All Absolutely Fine by Ruby Elliot

I might be the first person that applied for this book who had never heard of the author before. I inhabit a very small corner of the internet these days, and haven't had time to creep on Twitter or lurk on Tumblr. Funny story: initially, I thought that this was Allie Brosh's newest book, and just about fell over myself trying to get a copy. It wasn't, though, which is why you should read the titles of books (and actually look at the cover) before greedily clicking through.

Mistaken identity aside, it's worth mentioning that IT'S ALL ABSOLUTELY FINE is more than just passingly similar HYPERBOLE AND A HALF, and I think readers and fans of the latter will probably like the former as well. Their drawing styles, language, and sense of humor are very similar, as is the content. (I looked through the reviews, and I'm honestly surprised more people didn't mention this.) Both comic book artists use comic strips to tell slice-of-life stories that range from silly idiosyncratic tales to serious battles with mental illness.

They have their differences, too, though. I think Allie is more realistic and quirky, whereas Ruby takes the reductio ad absurdum approach, taking her points and exaggerating them to the point where they seem ridiculous, even though you get what she's saying. Such is comedy. Allie also writes mostly about depression and anxiety, whereas Ruby writes about bipolar disorder and eating disorders. Ruby also has random little sketches interspersed throughout her book that range from puns to witty observations about life. They lighten the mood and provide a nice break from the deeper stuff, like Ruby's essays. Allie is also more well known, but that could easily change once more people get wind of this book.

I really enjoyed reading about Ruby Elliot's story. After reading Roxane Gay's depressing but important feminist anthology, DIFFICULT WOMEN, I was hoping for a more uplifting read. "A comic book will cheer me up!" I thought - incorrectly. As funny as it could be, IT'S ALL ABSOLUTELY FINE got a little too *real*. Ruby is good at diffusing serious topics with humor while still being able to make her point without watering down the message in the slightest, but it's still a very serious message and should be taken seriously. (LOL so redundant.)

If it were me, I'd sell IT'S ALL ABSOLUTELY FINE and HYPERBOLE AND A HALF in a bundle, because I think they compliment each other well and would make a great gift set (and get Ruby more attention, too). Honestly, it's so wonderful to see so many people writing about mental health in such an accessible and engaging way. It allows more people to join the dialogue, and makes those who need to talk feel like they're in a better position to do so. For that reason, I think that IT'S ALL ABSOLUTELY FINE would be an excellent classroom or counseling resource.

Thanks to the publisher/Netgalley for the free copy!

4 out of 5 stars!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Reviewing anticipated works like these is always difficult, especially if you're reviewing the book before it's been officially published. I'm not sure about others, but I always feel a tremendous amount of pressure - I want to give my honest opinion, but I also want to be as objective as possible and explain, more broadly, what the book is about and who the audience is.

I'd heard stellar things about Roxane Gay's BAD FEMINIST. It's been on my to-read list for ages. I was thrilled to be approved for an advance reader copy of her latest book, DIFFICULT WOMEN. Women are told from childhood not to be "difficult": to be soft-spoken, easy-going, and unassuming. The title, DIFFICULT WOMEN, made me think of Elizabeth Wurtzel's similarly titled book, BITCH: IN PRAISE OF DIFFICULT WOMEN. I anticipated stories of women, all kinds of women, who don't fit the stereotypical mold but are still women - living breathing women - with hopes, and stories, and dreams.

What I got...was not quite that.

Ordinarily with anthologies, I'll do a breakdown of each story, provide a summary and my thoughts, and then a rating. Since I'm a little burned out on anthologies, this anthology in particular, I'm not going to be as thorough (although if you're curious, check out my status updates for this book - I assigned each story a rating there). Plus, I think I'm going to be pushing the char limit as is.

DIFFICULT WOMEN is an odd collection, with stories ranging in length from a single page to almost thirty. Some of the stories are magic-realism, others uncomfortably realistic. It felt like the unifying theme of this book was that women are victims and men are the perpetrators. There was a whole lot of rape, abuse, and objectification in this book. A whole lot. It got really exhausting after a while, and maybe that was the point. I did wonder if DIFFICULT WOMEN was a bold middle finger to the people out there who blame the victim, especially when the victims are female, and call them "difficult" without caring to understand what caused them to be that way. If that is the case, then the author accomplished that goal...but to a desolate and rather miserable end.

I Will Follow You was my favorite story, and the one that I found the most emotionally engaging. It's about two sisters who suffered a horrible trauma when they were younger. Now that one of them is married the nature of their relationship is changing, but the closeness between them is undeniable. This story made me tear up, because it's so powerful, and just great all around.

Water, All Its Weight is a bizarre magic realism story about a girl who is followed by rain all the time, and how the water pushes her away from loved ones. I'm sure it's meant to symbolize something, but I wasn't sure what. The style of this one kind of reminded me of Laura Esquivel's work. I like Esquivel, so I liked this story, even if I didn't fully understand what it meant.

The Mark of Cain is about a woman who is married to a twin. He switches place with his twin sometimes for fun, little knowing that his wife is well aware of what he's doing and secretly prefers the twin. When her husband is playing musical beds, he trades places with his twin's girlfriend, who isn't aware of what is going on. This is the first of many a-hole husband cheating stories.

Difficult Women got me really excited because it's the titular story! I think the intent of this one is to humanize the derogatory stereotypes that are sometimes used to label women by providing them with a backstory that could conceivably explain their present state. I thought this one was decent, but the whole time I was aware of the irony that many of these backstories were stereotypes themselves.

Florida is split into several different narratives, and takes place in the town of Naples, Florida, and all the wealthy women who live there (as well as some of the not-so-wealthy ones). Using these narratives, the author makes some interesting statements about race and class.

La Negra Blanca is a story about a pole dancer who is half-black, half-white, and using her career to pay for her college education (which is also super cliche, but this is possibly because I've read way too many new adult books, and this is the go-to money making scheme in that genre). She has two men in her life: one of them is Latino and poor, the other one is rich and white. It is a brutally tragic and unfair story, and I think if I had to choose, this is the story that made me the angriest.

Baby Arm is a story I blanked out on. It wasn't very good. A weird romance.

North Country was another favorite, because it's a beautiful romance that also highlights many of the nuanced and subtle acts of racism people of color experience on a day to day basis. After the first story in this collection, I think I'd say this was my second favorite.

How was a weird story. Women with sh*tty lives, surrounded by sh*tty men. One of women is a lesbian, which was kind of nice (diversity!). I wished the relationship between them had been developed more. Based on what happened in the story, I expected more of an emotional connection between them.

Requiem for a Glass Heart was another story where I wasn't sure if it was supposed to be symbolic and I just wasn't understanding the symbolism. It felt like it was about a family that was just going through the motions, and living without passion. Okay.

In the Event of My Father's Death is another story that I blanked out on. I'm looking at my status update for it right now and apparently it had a twist ending, but I don't remember what it was.

Break All the Way Down is a story about grief and loss. I appreciated what it was trying to do, but didn't really care for the execution. Basically: woman cannot cope with the loss of her child.

Bad Priest is exactly what it sounds like. It's about a priest who is having sex with a much younger woman. They have an odd dynamic. There is a lot of sex. Sex is a recurring theme in this book, too, BTW. I wasn't expecting so much erotic content. Nearly every story in this collection gets graphic.

Open Marriage was one of the very short stories I alluded to in the beginning. This one, like Bad Priest, is also self-explanatory, but it feels snarkier than many of the stories before it.

Pat felt well-intentioned, but also came across as condescending. I liked the message of befriending people who aren't much to look at on the surface, but the reason given for this is kind of insulting. It isn't quite clear of the person who is giving this message is being condemned or not for it, either. The author is really good at writing with a "poker face." I really had trouble gauging her intent.

Best Features really reminded me of the book 13 WAYS OF LOOKING AT A FAT GIRL, a book I really enjoyed despite its dark and frequently uncomfortable content. It's a story about an overweight girl who feels like she has to sleep with men to get them to be with her...but she's also self-aware enough about it to feel a biting anger that made her interesting.

Bone Density is story of two academics who are married...and cheating on each other. Despite this, they still love each other (sort of) but the proverbial spark is fading. Odd.

I am a Knife is another magic realism story. I actually liked this one more before the magic realism element came into play. After that, it got weird. And kind of gory. o_0

The Sacrifice of Darkness is another magic realism story that doesn't even feel like it belongs in this collection. It's about a miner who pulls an "Icharus" one day, and flies so close to the sun that he puts it out of the sky. His legacy lives on through his son, who has to live with all the resentment of the people in his town. It also has a love story. I kind of liked this one, despite its strangeness.

Noble Things was my least favorite. It was boring. I skimmed it. Don't ask me about this one.

Strange Gods was probably the third-best story in the bunch. One of the flaws of this book is that many similar stories are placed in close proximity to each other - such as How and In the Event of My Father's Death - so that they end up running together. I did, however, like that the two most realistic and emotionally gripping stories were placed like bookends at the beginning and the end. Strange Gods is a story about rape, and how the effects of it can ripple throughout one's life.

Like I said before, I feel like this collection is supposed to embody the anger and helplessness that arise because of sexism and misogyny. It is a hopeless and heartbreaking book. I did wish that there were some uplifting or more complex stories in this book, however, like women who are working in careers mostly dominated by men, or women who are starting major or minor rebellions, or trans women, or women who don't wear makeup or don't feel the need to be pretty. I did like the attempt at intersectionality, and appreciated how many of these stories were about women of color specifically (with a few lesbian storylines thrown in), but I felt like this collection could have been so much more.

I'm not mad at DIFFICULT WOMEN and I do think it will stir up some interesting and important discussions, but it wasn't what I was expecting or hoping for.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the free copy!

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars.