Monday, October 16, 2017

Red-Hot Lover by Rieko Hamada



Clara is the sweet girl who plays a villain on a soap opera. Her last boyfriend ditched her publicly because she had no interest in living up to her primadonna stereotype, but luckily the handsome and rich Jared Blackheath was there to pick up the pieces and whisk her away to his love mansion for weeks. She had such a good time that she forgot about her own sister's wedding.

When Clara and Jared get to the wedding, Clara finds that Jared is acting odd - he's tense and angry, and it seems to be directed entirely towards her new brother-in-law. But why?!?!?!

I bought this HQ manga because it was only $0.99. I really like the format of these books, and I think it's a great way to rekindle interest in old romance novels (the original version of this story was published in 1998). They have a fun, old-fashioned feel that makes them charming rather than outdated. Tellingly, no one in these books, not even the rich people, have mobile phones or laptop computers.

The art in here is good. It's not amazing, but it definitely suits the story and doesn't do anything weird... except for Clara's face on the cover. The derpy thing she has going on with the duck face is a little strange. Also, these manga usually open with a full-color panel and for SOME reason, the one in here looks as though it's been colored in with crayon.

As for the story... ehhhh. I've read a lot of "family sekrits" romance novels and this one is pretty stock. I felt bad for Jared, but I was glad he was able to come to some sort of closure in the end (albeit, at terrible cost). There's an incredibly insensitive old lady character in this book who oh-so-casually drops a tragedy bomb after being all, "Oh, I remember you!" ...Guess who's not getting invited to any more dinner parties?

For $0.99 this was decent, though. Manga is usually pretty pricey, and for what I paid, I have to say that this was pretty solid.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Whisper by Naomi Watanabe



Just when you thought that those Harlequin Presents romance novels couldn't get any fluffier, someone got the ingenious idea of turning them into Japanese-style josei manga. God bless that person, I say. Truly a woman (or man) after my own heart.

Genna is a lawyer hoping to make partner. One day, while sitting outside, she hears this sexy-voiced dude in the garden of her law firm sweet-talking a lady under a magnolia tree. She couldn't see them, but her imagination ran away with her and now she can't get that guy's voice out of her mind.

Nick, Genna's friend, is her friend and her boss. She likes him like a brother, but there's something between them that's not quite platonic.

When her firm has a Halloween party, Genna goes in costume and recognizes the man from the garden (wearing a mask). They end up having an affair, but always in the dark, always anonymously. Part of her wonders who it is... but she's not quite ready to shatter the illusion. I'm a sucker for mistaken identity tropes, so obviously when I realized what this was, I was like :D

I really enjoyed this manga. The art style is gorgeous (sometimes the styles can be a bit hit-or-miss). It actually reminds me of some of the manhwa I really liked in college - for whatever reason, Korean-style manga is much more elaborate and ornate, and that's the style Watanabe's work reminds me of.

I also really liked the story. It's hot. There's great chemistry, the dialogue is good, and the case Nick and Genna are working on parallels their own relationship, in a way, which I always like. Meta is the new black, and all that. I honestly would have given this five stars, except Genna punches Nick in the face and bruises his mouth when he does something that she sees as a "betrayal." And honestly, I'm so over that "women impotently expressing outrage via physical violence" shtick. Hitting is not okay, and she literally had no reason to hit him. It was an overreaction in the extreme.

Apart from that, though, WHISPER was a great story, easily the best Harlequin manga I've read so far. I'm really growing to love these. I rolled my eyes a little when I first saw them, thinking they were a silly cash grab, but some of these artists are incredibly talented and really bring the stories to life. Plus - the outfits! And the scenery! It's glorious!

4 out of 5 stars

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Portrait of M and N, Volume 1 by Tachibana Higuchi



This is what happens when you buy all your manga secondhand: you end up with really popular books that everyone has read and really weird books that nobody has read. PORTRAIT OF M&N doesn't even have an English summary on Goodreads, and hardly anyone has read it at all compared to the author's far more popular series, Gakuen Alice.

PORTRAIT OF M&N is probably one of the strangest stories that I have ever read. It's about a girl named Mitsuru and a boy named Natsuhiko. Both of them have dark secrets and connect over an incident that reveals both their dark secrets.

Mitsuri was forced to leave her last school due to a scandal. She is a masochist who is sexually aroused by beatings because her mother beat her when she failed as a child, so beatings make her feel "safe" and "valued." When a kid at her old school hurt her by accident, she came onto him and begged him to hurt her more, much to her family's chagrin. The same thing happens here, with Natsuhiko, only instead of freaking out about it, he feels... well, awkward but mostly chill, much to Mitsuri's surprise.

Mitsuri looks like an awkward, nerdy kid, but without his glasses, he's actually supermodel gorgeous. Clark Kent syndrome, I guess. His dark secret is that he's attracted to his own reflection, like Narcissus, and enjoys gazing at himself in a trance-like state. He also had a scandal at his last school. The most beautiful girl in school hit on him, and he agreed to go out with her because she was his "rival", or equal when it came to looks. But when she came to his house and saw all the mirrors, as well as the shrine he had built for himself, she freaked out and told everyone how stuck-up and perverted he was. Now he wears coke-bottle glasses of a strong prescription so he can't see how attractive he is while also hiding his good looks from other people.

The story is basically these two trying to keep other people from guessing at their issues while avoiding the bond they feel for one another out of shared "hardship." Tension arises when one of the other boys finds out Mitsuri's secret and I thought for sure that this kid was going to turn out to be a sadist or something - but no, he has a dark secret all right and it's not what you would expect.

PORTRAIT OF M&N reads exactly how you would imagine a young adult story about sexual fetishes would read like - awkward, watered down, and... weird. There's another short story called "A Girl in a Bird Cage" at the end, which seems like the textbook example of an abusive relationship at first. By the end... well, to me, it still felt like the textbook example of an abusive relationship but I think the twist at the end was supposed to make it seem sweet. Um, no, still weird and uncomfortable.

I'm giving it three stars because I found it morbidly entertaining in the vein of 70s bodice rippers and pulpy horror novel from the 80s.

3 out of 5 stars

Trump Is F*cking Crazy: (This Is Not a Joke) by Keith Olbermann



The title is self-explanatory.

TRUMP IS F*CKING CRAZY is adapted from Keith Olbermann's series, The Resistance, which can be found on YouTube if you're interested. I haven't watched it, but from what I gleaned, it's comedic political reporting in the style of Samantha Bee, intended to criticize the Commander in Tweets: DT.

I despise DT, so obviously one look at this title and I was down. Because, you know, as a liberal-leaning woman, I'm so deep in this echo chamber that all I can hear is the sound of my own "shrill" screaming.

*eye roll*

You do know why we're repeating ourselves, though, don't you? Because nobody's listening. Or else they're pretending not to.

To be honest, I'm not sure which is worse.

I should note that if you are Team DT, you will not enjoy this book. If the news reports don't change your mind ("fake news") and the words of DT himself didn't change your mind ("locker room talk"), then this book is nothing but a single drop of "alternative facts" in the great lakes that compromise your cognitive dissonance. You're welcome to read it anyway, and probably should read it anyway, but I doubt it will make you happy. However, if you come onto this review with the intention of changing my mind or "sharing your opinion," you should know that I'm going to delete your comment and/or block you. I have zero interest in hearing your opinion, because I hear it from the man himself every g-d day, and it disgusts me. He is a despicable human being who is alienating our foreign allies while running this country into the ground and hurting the people in our society who need our help and protection and support the most, and if you support him, knowingly, despite every example to the contrary that says you should absolutely do otherwise, you're despicable, too. I stand by that.

Feel free to unfriend me over this. I no longer take it personally. I have a shelf of book reviews that have caused me to lose right-leaning friends (at this point, I'm not even sure I have any left - ha ha, "left" - but it's possible), and I'm always happy to add to it. I mean, talk about good advertising: "this book is so controversial, people will unfriend you over reading it!" I'd slap that on the front cover.

Back to this book - TRUMP IS F*CKING CRAZY knows its audience and caters to it with ruthless single-mindedness. I saw someone saying that it got repetitive after a while, and I must say that I agree. Up until about 275, I thought this would be a four-star read, but I lost steam around p. 300, and after that, I grimly skimmed the chapters until I reached the end. Olbermann is great at summing up issues and articulated many passing thoughts I had but couldn't fully express, but there's just so much going on with this administration that reliving it - again - left me feeling fatigued.

What alarmed me the most as I read through this book was how much of this I had forgotten. With new scandals happening every day, it's nearly impossible to keep everything in the forefront of one's mind. TRUMP IS F*CKING CRAZY begins during the election season, when Olbermann is certain that this clown is going to lose, and by the end, he's as bitter and jaded and angry and frustrated as all of us on the left, who are watching this demagogic, deceitful administration fan (either intentionally or inadvertently through great ignorance) the flames of hatred among our nation's most xenophobic, bigoted, violent extremists, whether it's condemning the NFL players peacefully protesting racial violence or ignoring Puerto Rico in the aftermath of a terrible national disaster, or initiating a ban that targets people not just on the basis of ethnicity but also on their religion... because one is not enough.

It's depressing, when you think about it too deeply, which is probably why most people don't. In fact, CollegeHumor just put out a video called "Now Is the Time to Do Something" that criticizes all the people sitting idly by, or acting like this is the very first instance in history where acts of injustice or incompetence have been committed on the administrative level. DT is just a symptom, not a cause. It's time for Americans to take a long, hard look in the mirror and decide for themselves what kind of a country they want to be citizens in... and why.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Just Haven't Met You Yet by Cate Woods



As of 10/14/17, this book is $1.99 in the Kindle store!

For the most part, I don't like Sophia Kinsella/Wendy Markham books. Something about her heroines put me off, and for the longest time, I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was. Then one day I realized: all her female heroines lie like they breathe. They lie over unimportant things, lie whenever they're cornered, lie to avoid conflict, lie to avoid solving problems. Lie, lie, lie. They take pathological lying to the next freaking level.

And you know what reaaaaally annoys me about that?

The way it's written, you can tell that we're supposed to find these liars so quirky and adorable and awkward. "Oh no, Ella Pants-on-Fire is afraid her boss is going to find out who released confidential information to the competitors, so she lied and said an angry mime did it. How funny! How awkward! How quaint!"

JUST HAVEN'T MET YOU YET features a heroine, Percy James, who could be fresh out of a Sophia Kinsella/Wendy Markham. She's in her twenties/thirties, with relationship issues and uncertain prospects (typical) and desperately wants to achieve happiness. So how does she do this? Lies on her CV to an interviewer to make herself more interesting. Lies to her boyfriend about where she's going and who she's seeing (she's actually going on her date with her alleged "SoulDate"). Lies to her SoulDate about not just whether she's single, but also that her mother has Malaria.

The plot is interesting and was a huge reason behind why I wanted to read this. Percy receives an invitation from an online dating company that claims to use browsing and consumer data to match people with their SoulDates - all the sites you visit and the ads you click are factored in to determine your personality and interests and, from there, your ideal match.

The problem is that Percy already has a boyfriend - a long-term boyfriend who she's about to move in with and who she's practically engaged with. Her friends caution her against the SoulDate idea (sort of - some are less opposed than others), but Percy eventually decides to do it... only, when she meets who her SoulDate actually is, she's surprised as all get out.

I felt really bad for Percy's boyfriend because he's my type of guy - you know, socially awkward, old-fashioned type. I felt like she treated him really badly. And yes, on the one hand, I get it: you can't stay with someone just to make them happy if you have no feelings at all, but you also can't just drop people like garbage. People have feelings. They aren't disposable. Percy treated romance like this thing she felt she was entitled to, and all her potential love interests in this book were just pieces that would help her to her end goal of having her happiness, and to hell with whatever they wanted.

Also, while I appreciated how one of the characters questioned her sexuality, I found it annoying how badly that was handled, too. I thought one of the other characters raised a fantastic point: you can't just use people as experiments to figure out what your sexuality is - especially if you aren't up front about the fact that you're questioning. Etiquette for LGBT+ couples is exactly the same as it is for straight couples: if one person is expecting a relationship and you're just "experimenting," for God's sake, say so up front so the other person can refuse, while fully informed, if that's not what they want.

This book annoyed me quite a bit. I couldn't put it down - I was oddly fascinated by the repulsive main character's shenanigans - but I didn't really like her as a character, and her constant lying and manipulation really got on my nerves. I think if you like Sophia Kinsella/Wendy Markham, you will like this author, as their styles are similar. Otherwise, though... no.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Husband-to-Be by Kakuko Shinozaki



I'm really starting to get into these Harlequin manga. The short, breezy romances translate really well to comic book format & have plots that wouldn't be out of place in most shoujo or josei storylines. This one, HUSBAND-TO-BE sounds cheesy AF, but it's actually pretty cute.

Rachel has a degree in zoology but right now she's hopping from job to overqualified job, mostly as a temp or a secretary. One day, she meets an explorer millionaire named Grant who wants her to work for him because of her unique background.

Both Grant and Rachel are engaged to other people. Rachel's seeing this mansplainer named Driscoll who resents her for her intelligence and sees her as either a tool or an impediment to his own future, depending on what he wants from her at the time. Grant is seeing a woman named Oliva, who is the stereotypical classy blonde mean lady that is so common in romance novels, but she's also smart and runs Grant's affairs for him when he's not around. Despite this, Grant and Rachel feel a connection, & find themselves attracted to one another despite knowing they shouldn't.

I don't normally like stories about cheating and this book was no exception. I take issue with the fact that the author went out of her way to make both fiance(e) as unappealing as possible in order to make the cheating "okay." One of my friends on Goodreads actually posted a review about this pretty recently regarding her feelings on the subject and I really agreed with what she said: she said that if your relationship is that messed up, it's better in the long-term to just break up, and that having another relationship on the side just makes you the bad guy, in a way. Which I think makes sense.

I did like Rachel as a heroine, though. She has a pet tarantula, has short hair, and dresses kind of like a hipster. I liked that she was smart and into science, and she was capable, too. Later on in the story, when there's danger, she doesn't scream and panic. This story was quite a bit different from the last Harlequin manga I read, which was SALZANO'S CAPTIVE BRIDE, and that was much more in line with the stereotypical tropes of alphahole hero and uber-passive heroine.

Overall, I quite liked this book for what it was, although I don't think the title does it justice or even really conveys what the book is actually about. That is one seriously crappy title.

3 out of 5 stars

Friday, October 13, 2017

Peach Girl: Change of Heart, Vol. 5 by Miwa Ueda



Reading this book made me so nostalgic for the convenience stores in Tokyo. American convenience stores have a reputation for being dirty with greasy, unhealthy food. The ones in Japan, on the other hand, were amazing, serving things like uji matcha ice cream, whole bars of fresh tamago, soft cheeses (they were delicious!), imported chocolate, and all sorts of other amazing treats.

*sigh*

This was a fun surprise! I actually had never read volume 5 of this series before... I've read books 1-4, so those were all rereads, but this was completely new! When I got tired of my manga, I gave it all to my younger sister and it's from her that I'm borrowing these books for my little nostalgia bender. She actually enjoyed Peach Girl so much that she went out and bought the other books in the series to supplement what I hadn't given her. High praise!

Things are still rocky between Momo and Kiley now that he's revealed his feelings for another woman. Meanwhile, Sae appears to be dabbling in some unsavory hobbies - namely, prostitution and erotic photos. When Momo digs in and does a bit of harmless stalking, she finds out that Kiley's brother Ryo put her up to it and is acting as her pimp. Because he "loves" her so much.

WHAT A CREEP.

If you thought Ryo was hot, like me, you will probably hate him right about now, like me. Nothing about him is at all appealing about him to me anymore as a character. He's just an awful person who does awful things to women and I can't stand his character. He's exactly the type of opportunistic misogynistic that's been making headlines in America far too frequently these days.

Honestly, this book was all about Sae - and I actually really liked it. Ueda took her character development in a great and surprisingly thoughtful direction. It made me think about how we all say at one point in our lives how we wish that someone who wronged us will "get what's coming to them." What we mean is that we want them to hurt as we have - or worse. That they deserve this pain because of karma. Well, Sae finally "gets what's coming to her"... and it made me sad. I didn't think that I could feel bad for Sae, but I did. I felt really bad for her.

That resolution, though? Beautiful.

I'm not happy with the cliffhanger ending though. This series has been brutal when it comes to cliffhanger endings and the drama between Kiley and Momo is reaching a fever pitch. I'm not sure how much more "will we / won't we?" I can take, but pretty soon I'm going to be rooting for Toji again, or even Gigolo/Goro. I'm especially not happy because Kiley - ONCE AGAIN - acts like a total tool. I believe the common parlance is "f*ckboy." Well. That is what he is.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Peach Girl: Change of Heart, Vol. 4 by Miwa Ueda



This cover is a little strange. Something about Momo's face just looks off and the shiny lip-gloss paired with the gumball just looks really, uncomfortably erotic. When I bought this as a kid, it made me feel vaguely guilty. Like I was buying porn.

Peach Girl is strictly PG-13, though, even with the drama quotient being upped. Honestly, I think this is my least favorite book in the series so far and it put me off reading further because Kiley was such a jerk. I get that he had a first love, but the fact that he strung Momo along forever without discussing it with her really rubbed me the wrong way.

Toji has a lot of nerve lecturing Kiley about hurting people you love, considering how quick he was to leave Momo for Sae. He raised a good point (even though part of that point was his fist... in Kiley's face), but it didn't sound very convincing coming from him.

I do like the complexity of the relationships and characters in here, though, which is why I think I liked Peach Girl a lot more than some of the other manga I dabbled in at the time like Tokyo Mew Mew or... God, what else did I read... Fall in Love Like a Comic. A lot of manga characters are two-dimensional and have one setting: chipper quirky girl who occasionally bursts into tears during moments of emotional tension. The artwork in Peach Girl is gorgeous and really highlights what emotion a given character is feeling at the time, which makes it expressive and intense reading.

If you're a fan of shoujo manga, I do recommend Peach Girl. Just keep in mind that all the unnecessary drama can be annoying and practically no one is faithful.

3 out of 5 stars

Peach Girl: Change of Heart, Vol. 3 by Miwa Ueda



I love Momo's outfit on the cover of this one. If it was a solid dress and not a midriff-bearing two-piece, I'd totally wear that!

The Peach Girl saga gets even weirder in this installment. Ryo continues to outdo himself in the rapey psycho department. Sae is determined to sleep with every guy Momo likes just to brag about it later. Kiley reenacts Katy Perry's "Hot N Cold" song with Momo, trying to get into her pants one minute and then avoiding her in school like she has the plague the next.

DRAMA.

1. There are some weird messages when it comes to sex in this book, but I love how quickly Kiley came to Momo's defense when she wondered aloud if she was somehow at fault for all these men trying to attack her. He says, basically, "No! Don't think like that. You're the victim! They attacked you!"

2. On the other hand, there's this weird "honor among manwhores" thing going on here where both Ryo and Kiley "can't sleep with the one they love." Whatever that means. #RomanceLogic

3. Misao gets more of a role in this book, which makes me happy because I love her. She's such a great character - feisty and a little troubled, but also very intelligent and strong and caring. Momo's like that, too. She stabs a would-be attacker in the head - with a pen. Can you say bad-ass?

4. In addition to turning into paper, Sae can also turn into a balloon. Is she the forgotten Wonder Twin?

I'm trying to remember how I felt about this book as a teenager, and I remember thinking Ryo was hot (because I was dumb) but also really liking Toji. Now, I think I like Kiley more. He always has faith in Momo, and takes her at her word. Toji, on the other hand, feels "weak" to me: he let himself be blackmailed by Sae and now he just lets her push him around in their relationship while mooning after Momo. It's hard to like someone who doesn't stick up for the heroine when she needs him most.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Peach Girl: Change of Heart, Vol. 2 by Miwa Ueda



I forgot that Sae's magic super power is turning into 2D/paper.

The nostalgic adventures continue with Peach Girl, aka Momo. Kiley's ex-girlfriend, Morika, is back in the picture, which makes Momo jealous. On the other hand, Kiley's brother, Ryo, is getting pretty cozy with Momo... and despite Kiley's numerous warnings that Ryo is dangerous, Momo doesn't see the harm in him.

There's so. Much. Drama.

I forgot how rapey these books are. Also, the violence in here is so casual. People getting punched. People getting stabbed. People getting picked up and thrown wrestling style to the floor. And this is a graphic novel for girls (who says that girls only read "wussy" stuff, anyway?). That's not even counting the numerous death threats/physical threats Momo gets from Toji and Ryo's fan clubs.

That's right. Fan clubs. I guess popular boys in Japanese high schools are just a step removed from One Direction. I've read a lot of shoujo where the popular cute boys have "fan clubs": it's getting to the point where I'm beginning to wonder if this is actually "a thing."

Reasons why this book is awesome:

1. I always thought Ryo was hot. He's basically a bodice-ripper hero placed smack-dab in the middle of this shoujo manga. He's rapey and a little bit psychotic, but I like my antiheroes in my fiction (and not in my reality) and he certainly fits the bill when it comes to villainy. You know, for kids!

2. Speaking of kids, I love that BDSM-y splash panel on the first page where Momo's in the leather handcuffs and Kiley's wearing a chain. Some of these splash panels are hilariously racy (like the covers). It makes it seem like these books are way more sleazy than they actually are.

3. I'm still not quite over Sae's magical abilities to transform into paper.

4. Usually anime/manga villains seem like they wouldn't be able to scheme their way out of an open door, so it's refreshing to see characters that are actually (somewhat) convincingly two-faced.

I'm still enjoying this series. So far, it lives up to how I remembered it at seventeen: trashy but fun.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Peach Girl: Change of Heart, Vol. 1 by Miwa Ueda



This series was the shit when I was in high school. Screw Team Edward vs. Team Jacob - I was all about Team Toji vs. Team Kiley (and for the record, I was Team Toji, although being a fickle high school student, I often vacillated between the two depending on what plot contrivance was currently in the mix).

Momo (which means "peach" in Japanese) is on the swim team and because of her darker skin and bleached hair, a lot of people assume she's a "beach bunny" or a slut. She's bullied ruthlessly by her jealous female peers and all the dudes think they can get into her pants. After her first love betrayed her to go out with her BFF (best frenemy forever), Sae, Momo ends up with Kiley - a not-so-reformed player who might be carrying a torch himself.

DRAMA!

Reasons why this series is awesome:

1. The clothes. It's an ode to early 2000s U.S. fashions (or I guess, late-1990s Japanese fashions, which we then stole). Girls in my high school dressed like this. I even had a few of those beachy-looking shirts with obnoxious logos emblazoned across them and I had a denim mini-skirt just like Momo is wearing on the cover of this manga. #TBT

2. The mean girls. This series came out before Mean Girls did, and Sae makes Regina George look like a girl scout. She is the OG Mean Girl. Her shenanigans are so malicious and over the top, and yet she's so self-conscious and needy herself that you almost feel sorry for her. ***Almost***

3. Momo herself. She isn't as helpless as some shoujo characters. She punches people a lot... which, okay, I guess is fine and not suspension-worthy in manga-land. But she doesn't just accept her bullying as her due, the way Tsukushi from Boys Over Flowers often did. She fights back.

My favorite character in here is probably Misao though because she looks and dresses like I do, and I love the fact that she's no-nonsense and curvy and respected. Momo was who I wanted to be, but deep down I always knew that I was a Misao and I was totally okay with that because #MisaoRocks.

I hope I've sold you on this manga. It's vastly underrated. I've even watched the K-drama!

3.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer



My romance group read CINDER for our Science Fiction Romance theme read, and it was such a hit that a number of us decided to go ahead and group read the sequel, SCARLET, as well. I'm always super leery when it comes to hyped-up YA books - especially retellings with shiny covers, because 9 times out of 10 I end up not liking them - but CINDER was such an unexpected delight that I, too, was eager to read the sequel.

SCARLET beings where CINDER ends, but with a new character named Scarlet taking the lead. Unlike the last book, which is set in Beijing, this book is set in the French countryside. Scarlet delivers produce while she looks for her missing grandmother, and on one of these excursions she meets a mysterious brawler named Wolf. Pretty soon, it becomes apparent that her grandmother's disappearance has some sinister implications and that Wolf, who she finds more attractive than she should, might have something to do with her disappearance in the first place.

At the same time, Cinder is breaking free from jail with a Captain (who I think is American) named Thorne. They're flying around in a spaceship that has Iko's chip in it, so picture a gabbing, gossiping, super-happy spaceship being piloted by people who are grim and on the run, and you get an idea of what that's like. Kai, meanwhile, is in Beijing, and spends his time between mooning after Cinder and making the same damn mistakes that he made in the first book. I felt sorry for him in the first book because he was naive and didn't know any better, but what do they say about fooling you twice? I no longer feel sorry for Kai. He's hot, but man, is he incompetent. Epic fail.

Part of the reason I liked CINDER was because it really let me get to know the heroine, CINDER. I wasn't sure about her in the beginning, but then I began to sympathize with her and by the end, I really admired her resourcefulness. SCARLET wasn't like that - it has way too many characters crammed into it. Just when we, the readers, finally got an opportunity to get to know Scarlet, Cinder & co. barged in to steal the limelight. The end result is that Cinder's arc is further refined, whereas Scarlet's storyline is just kind of crammed in there, so she never really graduates beyond shouty, immature dolt, and her love story comes across as super rushed and insta-lovey.

I liked Wolf, but I think that's because his conflict is so much more traumatic and apparent. It's so awful what's been done to him. In one of Levana's POVs towards the end, you really understand why he's so F'd in the head, and it's really, really sad.

I'd read further in the series, but at this point, I have to say that SCARLET is not as good as CINDER at all. CINDER shocked and delighted me, even though it was cliche and part of the reason it did this so well is because the storyline is relatively simple and easy to follow. SCARLET, on the other hand, sets out to accomplish way too much, with way too many characters, and ends up accomplishing far too little. The action doesn't even pick up until about 100 pages to the end, and while that may be acceptable in 900-page behemoths like OUTLANDER or GAME OF THRONES, it isn't at all, here.

P.S. Iko is my favorite.

3 out of 5 stars

I Was Dora Suarez by Derek Raymond



My sister gave me this book, with the preface that it was so disgustingly graphic that it allegedly made one of the publishers who read it vomit in his office. I wasn't sure about that, but it's listed under the book's lore on Wikipedia, so who knows? It's a bit like the tales of the paramedics who were called to screenings of the Exorcist (1973) because audiences were fainting in terror: whether these stories are true or not, it's good publicity.

I WAS DORA SUAREZ is certainly violent. It is a story of a young woman who is violently killed by an axe-murderer. The nameless detective sergeant is puzzled, because a journal left behind by the victim reveals her to be a very troubled and unhappy woman who was already dying of AIDS. What was the motive? What follows is a grim chase in which the police look for a disturbing man who has compensated for his impotence with sexual self-flagellation that can only find release in murder.

The detective sergeant is your classic "Tough Guy." Quotes added, because he's tough in the same way those obnoxious brostanding dudes in bars are tough. You know the ones, who keep saying, "Wanna go? You wanna go?" The detective sergeant is constantly threatening everyone around him, just to prove who's really in charge, and scoffs at the idea of doing anything by the book. I'm sure any real police officers who read this book would hate this noir Neanderthal. I know I did.

What redeems him a little is his utter faith in Dora, the victim. Even when it's revealed that she had AIDS - in a time when AIDS was a mostly unknown and panic-inducing disease - he feels no revulsion for her at all, only compassion and a strong desire to bring her some small amount of posthumous justice. Even when it's revealed that she's a prostitute, he doesn't care. He gets angry at his colleague, when he suggests that such a fate might have been inevitable.

Suarez was killed because she was beautiful, poor, sick and at our mercy, and we showed her none, and may our country hang its head (168).

I wouldn't say this book is necessarily vomit-inducing - I managed to read it while eating chips and drinking a beer - but it is quite disturbing and if graphic sexual and physical violence disturb you, I would not recommend this to you at all.

Reading this actually made me think of a friend - I know, that's the last thing friends want to hear, right? "I was reading this book about a serial killer and thought of you" - because she used to love dark stories like these, whether they were captive romances, old school horror, classic noir, or just experimental graphic-novels and she was actually one of the first people I thought of when I was wondering who else might appreciate this mystery. Sadly, I don't think she's on Goodreads anymore.

Anyway, this is why I like it when people gift me books - they usually aren't things I would ever pick out for myself but sometimes I end up enjoying them, regardless.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatie



I read this book for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2017 Reading Challenge. For more info about what this is, click here.


He lies in the room surrounded by pale maps. He is without Katharine. His hunger wishes to burn down all social rules, all courtesy.
Her life with others no longer interests him. He wants only her stalking beauty, her theatre of expressions. He wants the minute and secret reflections between them, the depth of field minimal, their foreignness intimate like two pages of a closed book (155).

I've had this book for about five years. My mom gave it to me. Sometimes she gives me books because she thinks I should read them, and other times she gives me books because she thinks I should try to read them. THE ENGLISH PATIENT falls into the latter category. If you asked me to describe this book in one word, I think I'd chose "overwrought." Sometimes the writing is beautiful (see quote above), but other times (many times) it's purple to the point of nonsensical, for example describing a peen as a "seahorse."

The plot is kind of strange. It's about four people - a nurse, a bomb defuser, a thief, and a burned patient - all living in this abandoned villa post-WWII. That sounds like it should be interesting, but in the first third of the book, the characters drift without purpose, swimming through the heavy-handed prose like sluggish fish. The story doesn't really get interesting until the last two thirds of the story, where the eponymous English patient finally tells his story of espionage and doomed romance.

Not really my thing. There are better WII stories out there.

2 out of 5 stars

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Salzano's Captive Bride by Banana Sarusuberi



As of 10/07/17, this book is $1.99 for Kindle!

Hi, romance lovers! Great news! Did you know that Harlequin has republished some of its titles as manga? Until very recently, I didn't, either. I tried to find a news article about it, but the best I could come up with was a BBC News article from 2004 called "How Mills and Boon turned to manga comics." It's still somewhat relevant, but appears to be portraying these books as an exclusively Japanese phenomenon and that is so not the case now. I went into a comic book store just a few weeks ago and saw a couple of these puppies gathering dust on the shelf.

Honestly, the Harlequin/Mills & Boon novels translate pretty well to manga format. Shoujo/Josei manga tends to follow a simple storyline that is made complex through characterization, emotion, and various unexpected twists...just like Harlequins. The art work in this particular Harlequin manga, the cringe-worthily-named SALZANO'S CAPTIVE BRIDE, is especially vivid and lovely, and reminds me of Miwa Ueda's PEACH GIRL (one of my favorite shoujo manga series, even if it is a total soap opera).

The plot of SALZANO'S CAPTIVE BRIDE is pretty simple. It's about two sisters who live in Auckland, New Zealand. One night, Amber wakes up to find this Venezuelan dude named Carlos busting down her door. After yelling at her and manhandling her, she finds out that he hooked up with her sister, Azure (cringe), and Azure became pregnant from their one-night stand. Azure was currently "off" with her then-boyfriend and fearing the thought of raising her kid alone, sent Carlos a letter demanding money. Now that she's back together with her boyfriend, Azure doesn't want to do a paternity test or have anything to do with Carlos, because she thinks it will wreck their family.

So Carlos makes Amber a deal: he wants an heir, and he'll leave Azure alone and drop the paternity suit if she agrees to marry him and pop out a baby for him in Azure's stead. LOLwhat.

This is a romance novel, so obviously Amber falls for Carlos despite this terrible arrangement. He takes her to his love nest - I mean, mansion - in Venezuela and introduces her to his large, perfect family. The book is pretty short, and the vast majority of the scenes are about sex, preludes to sex, or emotional declarations pertaining to the two former. Also, babies. Carlos is definitely an alpha, but he isn't rapey (sexually agressive, yes but there is no dub-con, here). In fact, he explicitly says that he's willing to wait until the heroine is ready and she's the one who asks for it/makes the 1st move.

I really enjoyed this book. I bought it for myself as a fun little present because I was feeling sick last night and couldn't sleep. I loved the art work and the storyline was entertaining and easy to follow. I would definitely read more of these Harlequin manga. I've actually got my eye on one by Junko Okada/Lynne Graham that looks AMAZING: it's called THE SHEIKH'S PRIZE, but at nearly $5 for just over 100 pages it's a bit out of my budget. Let me know if it goes on sale, ASAP. Deal?

P.S. This is published Japanese-style, so yes, it is read "backwards," from right to left.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

The Killing Moon by V.J. Chambers



🎃 Read for the Unapologetic Romance Readers Halloween 2017 Reading Challenge for the category of: a romance about werewolves 🎃

As of 10/07/17, this book is FREE on Kindle!

The Kindle freebie section can be a cesspool of literary garbage, but once in a while, you dredge up a total gem. THE KILLING MOON, named after an Echo & the Bunnymen song, is like a cross between one of those gritty early 00's paranormal romances and the movie, The Silence of the Lambs.

Dana was kidnapped and tortured by a werewolf named Cole, but their relationship was complicated before that, and became way more complicated afterwards. Now he's locked up and she's a professional werewolf tracker, and she's forced to interact with him yet again because of information he may or may not have about a bunch of werewolf-related murders. It's painfully clear how damaged she is psychologically, and the struggle between the mind and the heart is clear as she struggles to resist the manipulative Cole.

I thought the murder mystery part was very well done. The pacing was excellent and the flashbacks heightened tension and improved the storyline instead of bogging it down. Dana was a sympathetic main character and even though she made some stupid decisions, I felt like they were in line with her character and they never bordered on TSTL - because she's one seriously F'd up piece of work.

Cole was actually sexy and that's testament to the author's skills, in my opinion, that she managed to turn a werewolf serial killer into an attractive love interest. The sexual tension between him and Dana was seriously off the charts. I think what makes it work is that it's clear that he respects Dana and understands her. He's not an alphahole. Avery was also a great male character and I couldn't decide whether I wanted Dana to end up with him or Cole. Hollis, on the other hand? Total slime-bucket. Hated him immediately and wanted him dead by the end. Boooo!

THE KILLING MOON has some disturbing content (rape, gore, kidnapping, etc.), but it was nothing too graphic in my opinion, and it never felt gratuitous. The pacing is tight and I was actually almost late for work one morning because I just had to find out what happened next. I really enjoyed the story and the tone of THE KILLING MOON and am definitely interested in reading the sequel(s).

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

The Protector by Jodi Ellen Malpas



I've had several people recommend Jodi Ellen Malpas's work to me, so reading THE PROTECTOR felt like common sense. Plus, that cover looks just like the iconic carrying scene from The Bodyguard. I can practically hear Whitney Houston singing...

No, not "I Will Always Love You" but "Why Does It Hurt So Bad?" And by "it" I mean my brain, because reading this book gave me one mean mother of a headache.

The plot is pretty simple because there isn't much of one. Cami(lle) is the daughter of a rich magnate-type who is getting blackmailed. When Cami becomes the focus of the threats, her father hires Jake, an ex-Sniper from the SAS, to guard her body. This being a bodyguard romance novel, pretty soon he's doing far more to her body than guarding it. Also, since this is a bodyguard romance novel, Jake is naturally hiding something from Cami about his past. And naturally, she finds out about it in the worst way.

Naturally.

Cami is kind of like a cross between Paris Hilton and Tiffany Trump. She comes across as spoiled, but she has a business acumen as well (she wants to start her own fashion line). She also has moments of kindness, even if she's blinded by privilege. I liked her at first, because I like reading about feminine women who don't feel apologetic or ashamed by their femininity (one of the reasons Elle Woods from Legally Blonde and Cher from Clueless are my faves). Then Jake hopped on the scene and literally all she could think about was "Jake, Jake, Jake, Jake, Jake."

Jake, on the other hand, reminds me of those heroes from the Harlequin Desire line - alphahole, controlling, creepy, possessive, and manipulative. Cases in point: Using the word p*ssy and what I think is a British gay slur ("ponce"?) to refer to feminine things or emotional things and getting so jealous of the male model posing with Cami during one of her photoshoots that he shouts a curse word, disrupting the set, while thinking something like "that man has his hands on MY breasts." Because Cami's breasts are apparently his breasts. He owns them. Ew. Later in the book, he decides he loves her, so he controls her eating habits (forcing her to eat fatty food she doesn't want), and then an instant later, proposes to her and draws a wedding ring on her finger in pen. Ew. I didn't like him from the beginning and I liked him even less when I found out what his secret was.

Between the bad sex scenes, bad characterization, last-ditch attempt at conflict in the third act, and the insta-love that is utterly without basis or substance, I can't say that there's much to speak in this book's favor. I guess I liked Cami's mom a lot, and I learned a new phrase: "cunny funt."

Apart from that, I'd give this book a miss - unless you find men who think of women's bodies as Monopoly boards attractive.

1 out of 5 stars






Friday, October 6, 2017

Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon


🎃 Read for the Unapologetic Romance Readers Halloween 2017 Reading Challenge for the category of: a romance with a Celtic theme 🎃

I recently reread and reviewed OUTLANDER, to see if it would hold up to my initial reading. To my pleasant surprise, it did. I enjoyed the book so much that I immediately launched into the sequel, DRAGONFLY IN AMBER. The book starts out in the present day for Claire - the 1960s. Now she has a daughter in her 20s, and she's returned back to the place where she first disappeared. After a hundred pages or so, the book slips back into the 18th century, to Charles Stuart as he holds court in France, and, of course, to Claire and Jamie's desperate attempts to avert the Battle of Culloden.

Usually time travelers do everything they can not to change the course of history. In fact, it's like a rule: don't touch anything, don't even step on anything, because if you step on a butterfly, even, the Internet might not exist, or the US might be colonized by England. Not Claire, though. Claire comes from the 11/23/63 school of history, in the sense that she doesn't just not try to avoid changing history - she actively dedicates her life to f*cking with events.

For the greater good, of course.

This is a difficult book to rate. It's so long. Longer than it needs to be, I think you could argue. Parts of it were great. I loved the parts set in France - the plotting, the intrigue, the scandals, the violence. There were duels, rape (of course), cults, assassination attempts, poison attempts, potion-making, and, of course, long and gratuitous scenes involving primitive healthcare. Parts of the Battle of Culloden were good, too (I've been to Culloden... it's a beautiful and haunting place). Jack Randall makes an appearance, and he is just as disgusting as he was in the previous book, reminding everyone that he is the Ramsay Bolton of the Outlander universe, and everyone wants him just as dead.

(Spoiler alert: he doesn't die in this book.)


I wasn't too keen on the parts about Roger Wakefield and Brianna. I also felt like there was a lot of wandering around, doing nothing - especially in the last three-hundred pages or so. Even when Claire gets kidnapped by (spoiler), I was just kind of like, "Well, okay, but what now?" Honestly, I feel like I was emotionally exhausted. Jamie and Claire's relationship consumes everything about this novel. When they're not having sex, they're arguing, and when they're not arguing, they're pledging their lives for one another, and when they're not doing that, somebody's trying to kill them, etc.

I did enjoy DRAGONFLY IN AMBER quite a bit, albeit not as much as the first book. There were fewer memorable scenes, but a handful (like the French Court) were just as good, if not better. I'm still interested in continuing this series and reading about my favorite Scottish romance hero.

I can't stop side-eying the condescending blurb on the back jacket, though.

"Diana Gabaldon is light-years ahead of her romance-novelist colleagues." -Daily News (New York), emphasis mine.

"Light-years," huh?


I mentioned in OUTLANDER that I came across an article about the book and TV series and how the author resisted the romance category because she apparently felt it would detract from the literary merits of her work. Under the FAQ section of her website, where Gabaldon says some interesting things about DRAGONFLY IN AMBER (my reason for going to her website in the first place), she also has a subheading dedicated to this same topic. I read it. The whole thing has left a sour taste in my mouth. OUTLANDER won a RITA award - although she's quick to point out on her website that non-romance books can win those too (*eye-roll*) and I believe she's a member of the RWA (Romantic Writers of America). I'm a die-hard romance fan, and I guess it makes me sad that a romance novelist whose work I respect and admire seems to be trying so hard to distance herself from the genre in a way that almost seems as though she considers herself to be superior to it.

That aside, the Outlander series has, thus far, caused me to read about 2,000 pages about the same characters without becoming utterly fed-up. Whether you agree that it's a romance or not, it's certainly a compelling and action-packed series with morally grey characters who are forced to confront their mortality and their passions, time and again. I'm looking forward to VOYAGER.

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Darkwater by Dorothy Eden



🎃 Read for the Unapologetic Romance Readers Halloween 2017 Reading Challenge for the category of: gothic romance 🎃

As of 10/04/17, this book is currently only $1.99 for Kindle.

I really enjoyed this little book. Granted, my hopes were low. I'd looked through the reviews of DARKWATER and many of them were saying that DARKWATER was dull and flat, with a raging Mary Sue of a heroine who wouldn't STFU.

To my surprise, I found myself with a rather delightful Gothic romance written in the vein of such popular favorites as Victoria Holt or Patricia Maxwell (AKA, Jennifer Blake). Better yet, I got to buddy read it with one of my new Goodreads friends, Elena.

Fanny is the ward of some awful relations. Her uncle, Edgar, is an enabler to his cold and greedy wife, Louisa, and air-headed, vain daughter, Amelia. Much to the rage and annoyance of Louisa and Amelia, Fanny is far prettier than Amelia, the heiress, and is constantly turning heads despite being poor. When Edgar finds out he has two new wards to take care of, he's the only one who seems indifferent, even pleased. Louisa is annoyed and Amelia, disenchanted. Fanny is the only member of the family who truly harbors a soft spot for the young children, and despite having planned to use their pick-up as a chance to escape, voluntarily stays on in order to care for and nanny them.

I just want to pause here, and say that I often hate seeing children in fiction because they're either way too precocious and cutesy, or else used as plot points without much in the way of characterization. These children, Nolly (Olivia) and Marcus were incredibly well-written and actually acted like children (i.e. at times sweet, at other times, bratty). They added a lot of comic relief but they also stood on their own as characters. I also thought that Fanny's family was well done. Amelia was far from being the b*tchy, jealous rival... she had moments of thoughtless kindness, and even Louisa had some humanizing emotions. I felt like that made their dynamic so much more interesting.

Oh, and then there's George. Fanny's creepy, "no maybe means yes" cousin. Ew, George. Ew.

The love interest, Adam Marsh, appears mysteriously (such is the way of the gothic romance) and leaves just as mysteriously. When he returns, he seems more interested in Amelia than Fanny (much to Fanny's devastating) and he strings Fanny along while cavorting with Amelia, which I really disliked him for. Obviously there is an explanation towards the end, but I so did not buy that.

Call me slow, but I didn't guess the perpetrator(s) until the very end. I wasn't trying to figure it out, though. I was reading DARKWATER in between reading Stephen King's IT, and this cozy mystery was the perfect balm for sleepless nights inspired by psychotic, murder-happy clowns. I just sat back and let the story carry me away, and found myself pleasantly surprised by the journey.

If you enjoy Gothic novels, this is a great addition to the collection. I want to read more Eden now!

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Ghostwriter by Alessandra Torre



You know, I was surprised (and amused) that I was given a copy of this book to review at all considering some of the things I've said about some of this author's other books. There's a scene in here, where the main character, Helena, writes a scathing four-page letter to one of the author characters in this book, detailing every single one of the book's flaws in pedantic detail. I did something very similar with one of TORRE's earlier books, BLINDFOLDED INNOCENCE (I was perhaps harsher then than I would be now - but oh, friends and neighbors, how I despised that book). I tried HOLLYWOOD DIRT, and hated that, too. It wasn't until I read THE GIRL IN 6E that I began to thaw towards this author just a little bit. She had talent, and could tell a good story: I just hated the stories she was telling. Finally, I can say that there is at least one Torre book I liked.

Helena Ross is a best-selling romance author. She's a big-name and publishing houses fall over themselves to court her. Her agent bends over backwards for her, despite Helena's lists of rules and cold and entitled approach to dealing with other human beings. They do this because no matter how high maintenance she is, Helena's a safe bet that always pays off. It seems that, when it comes to writing, at least, Helena is the poster girl for literary achievement with her whole life ahead of her. But she doesn't.

She has terminal, inoperable cancer, and a prognosis of three months at the most.

She also has a final story to tell. That's where the title comes into play. Helena decides to hire someone, a ghost-writer, to help her tell this story before time runs out. It's a grim, awful story... one that helps to explain how she became so cold and bitter, and why, even though she starts out with a vision of the perfect family, she ended up jaded and alone in her early thirties. She isn't sure whether it will succeed or fail, and she doesn't care - she just wants it done right.

Helena Ross is probably one of the most unlikable characters I have encountered in a while. It's impressively done, I thought, especially since Torre manages to portray her sympathetically. It made me sad how she poured her whole life into her books at the cost of everything else. I felt like that was a cautionary tale - that creativity can make people selfish, blinded by their vision, and that it's important that one doesn't let work consume them or harden their heart. I found it very fitting that Helena was able to forgive herself and find release only when she finally let go of that need for control.

I can't say much more without spoiling the book, which I do not want to do. I think I can safely say that if you're a fan of Jodi Picoult or Jojo Moyes, you'll probably enjoy reading THE GHOST WRITER. It's emotionally manipulative in some ways, and definitely a tear-jerker (I won't lie - I teared up at the end), but it also makes some very insightful commentary on humanity, writing, family, relationships, and the importance of living one's life in the moment instead of behind a screen.

Or in a book.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

4 out of 5 stars

The Night She Won Miss America by Michael Callahan



THE NIGHT SHE WON MISS AMERICA is "loosely" based on a true story, and written by an author who is an editor at Vanity Fair. (It's funny that he's actually a journalist, because I was thinking to myself that this has the spare, matter-of-fact style of writing you see in books like THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS.) When I read the summary, this didn't seem like something I would normally pick up for myself, but I really loved the cover and the prospect of a beauty pageant derailed by scandal was just too great to resist.

***WARNING: SPOILERS***

THE NIGHT SHE WON MISS AMERICA is set in 1949. The heroine, Betty Jane, is blackmailed by her mother into signing up for the pageant. She doesn't expect to make it to finals, let alone win, but obviously...she does. It's all terribly exciting for a girl who comes from Delaware, and she is dazzled and excited to find out that the male escort selected for her is as handsome as a movie star, and falls for him instantly.

What follows is a whirlwind romance between Betty Jane and Griffin, as Betty rises higher in the ranks of the competition. There's just one small hitch in her happiness: Griffin tells her that if she wins, he won't have anything to do with her anymore: that he doesn't want to be known as "Ms. America's Boyfriend." Betty Jane doesn't take him seriously, but when she wins, and he's more than ready to call her bluff and leave, Betty Jane is forced to give up her crown and abscond with him -

The only problem? Griffin has paranoid schizophrenia.

The moment I realized what was going on, I'll admit that I held my breath. Mental illness is often demonized in thrillers and horror novels, and schizophrenia especially gets a bum rap. Callahan does treat Griffin's character with care. Yes, he's scary, but the reader feels sorry for him - especially since this was written to characterize a time when mental health treatments were still in their infancy, and what was available often fringed on cruel and unusual. Griffin is a tragic figure, instead of an evil one, and as he slips deeper into his episodes, the book winds to its devastating finish.

The end of the book is so different from the beginning of the book in tone that it's almost like two separate stories. The first story is a small town girl making friends and enemies as she competes against girls who can be catty, sneaky, encouraging, and friendly by turns, all of them knowing that only one can win. It has a fun, snarky chick-lit vibe to it that I really enjoyed. The second story is about a doomed romance founded on instant attraction between two young characters. Also, in the background, set in the modern day, is a reporter who is determined to hunt down this isolated woman who was involved in some great scandal...hmm, I wonder who that was.

Overall, I thought THE NIGHT SHE WON MISS AMERICA was a pretty good book. I can see why it has low ratings, because the story is inconsistent in tone, but I thought the writing was quite good and the story kept me entertained, and the book went by rather incredibly quickly. If you enjoy reading about beauty pageants or tragedies (or both!), I think you'll enjoy this one.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, October 1, 2017

IT by Stephen King



I loved you guys, you know.
I loved you so much (1126).

They say you can't go back home.

The first time I read this book, I was fourteen. Just a few years older than the kids in IT. I remember it was summer, and as I read about the Losers' Summer of '58 in the Summer of '04, I remember feeling utterly absorbed. I couldn't put the book down and finished it in an entire weekend. I was terrified of using the bathroom at night, half-convinced that a gloved clown hand would come out the back of the tank when I sat down and drag me into the pits of sewer-hell. I gave the shower drain a wide berth. I had a new, respectful fear of balloons and floating.

It was a book that stayed with me over the years.

I tried rereading the book a couple times. but usually ended up giving up around the 900-page mark. This time, with the movie coming out, I told myself I was going to finish. It felt like the perfect time, in a way - I had been a young teenager (almost a preteen) when I started the book. Now, I'm an adult, just a few years younger than the "grown-ups" in this story. And, like the Losers, I returned to face IT a second time, wondering if it would be the way it was when I was a kid.

(Incidentally, the first IT movie was released in 1990, and the 2017 of the reboot is 27 years later. Let that sink in.)

IT is a really great horror story - for the most part, which I'll get to later. The atmosphere, the build-up, the gloomy Gothic vibe of Derry and its apathetic townsfolk: all of these combine to create a pretty menacing environment. And then, of course, there's IT. A killer clown that can also be a leper, a werewolf, or an abuser - whatever you fear the most, except when its Pennywise, leaving balloons like the Joker and his calling cards, and reminding you constantly that down here, everything floats.

The horror aspect is good, but what stuck with me is the coming of age aspect, and the bittersweet nostalgia of childhood when viewed through the lenses of an adult. Most of the story is focused on the relationship between the kids in this book: Mike, Stan, Richie, Eddie, Bill, Beverly, and Ben. Their interactions with each other make this story, and after spending over a thousand pages with these kids, I loved them almost as much as they loved each other - although, more on that, later. It's hard to capture that intensity of the friendship of youth, how quickly it springs, and how eternal it feels... until, one day, it stops, and you find that you can't even remember the last name of the person you would have pledged your undying loyalty to. I had a friend like that, growing up. We were inseparable, and then one day, not. Now I can't remember her last name or even her eye color.

As an adult, what struck me most powerfully this time around was the feeling of nostalgia. I'll be coming up on my ten-year reunion in a few months, and honestly, it freaks me out a little thinking about people who I knew when we were kids being all grown up, some of them with kids of their own now, looking the same but also looking completely different. When the Losers visit Derry as adults and go wandering through some of their old haunts, their wistfulness hit me hard. (And then, of course, sh*t started going down, and nostalgia ceded to "sweet Jesus in a jam jar, get me out of this place").

One thing I love about Stephen King novels is that he really has an ear for how people talk and think. And perhaps one of the most terrifying aspects of Stephen King novels is that, quite often, the real monsters in the book aren't the monsters themselves - but monsters hiding inside human skins. IT features some real doozies in the form of Tom Rogan, Henry Bowers, Mrs. Kaspbrak, and Mr. Marsh. What this means, unfortunately, is that there are some pretty terrible scenes in here involving bigoted slurs, racial violence, physical and sexual abuse, and domestic violence. There are two particularly grim scenes, one homophobic, one anti-black, and both are peppered with slurs and violence. This was upsetting to read, but it does serve to illustrate a point about Derry and the people living in it, and it was always clear to me that the people saying these things were Not Good People. (As for Richie's racist Voice impressions and the constant Jew jokes made at Stan's expense... weeeeeeell...)

So, by this point, you're probably asking yourself why I'm giving it 4-stars instead of 5, since I not only reread the book (which I rarely do), but also enjoyed it in a profound and interesting way. Well, I can give you not one, not two, but three reasons why this book doesn't get 5-stars.

1. Turtles
2. Spiders
3. Gang-bangs

I won't say any more on the matter, because spoilers, but if you've read the book you'll know what I'm talking about. I wasn't thrilled about the deadlights or Chud, either, but those were the main ones.

Here's a picture of my first edition. It was so heavy I damn near gave myself carpal tunnel holding the thing up while trying to read it.



Incidentally, I saw an article claiming that the IT movie and book are making it more difficult for professional clowns to get additional business. Stephen King, being Stephen King, had an excellent rejoinder.

Also, according to this other article I read, people think Pennywise is "hot"? I looked to see if Stephen King had an excellent rejoinder for that one, too, but didn't see one.  Perhaps he didn't wish to dignify it with a response. I'm sure there's fanfiction of it, though. That's actually more frightening to me than this book - and considering that I stayed up until 3AM last night, too wound up to sleep after reading some of this terrifying clown nonsense, that says something.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Pretty, Nasty, Lovely by Rosalind Noonan



"I am Theta born. Theta bred. And when I die, I'll be Theta dead."

I find sororities fascinating because they're so paradoxical. The bond of sisterhood and friendship is very affirming, very feminist; but the upholding of stereotypical gender norms and extreme femininity is kind of the opposite of feminism. Naturally, whenever I find something fascinating, I try to read about it as much as I can. PRETTY, NASTY, LOVELY is the second sorority-themed book I've managed to get my grubby mitts on. The first was called RUSH, and it was straight-up chick-lit that captures perfectly the party culture mentality of the mid-2000s. PRETTY, NASTY, LOVELY, on the other hand, is a thriller cast in the mold of Megan Abbott's girl noir fiction.

Emma Danelski joined a sorority because she was looking for that bond of sisterhood. She sort of found it, but only with the other outcasts; her relationship with the other girls is fraught with tension and a sense of betrayal. She was courted during Rush, only to be shoved aside as soon as she began paying her dues. Not only that, but Emma quickly realizes that the other girls have problems of their own that run the gamut from eating disorders to blackmail, and have no time for her own issues. And Emma does have issues. She is guarding a terrible secret that some of the other girls lord over her, and that secret threatens to come to light when one of her sisters, a troubled girl named Lydia, is found dead.

Everyone thinks it's suicide. But is it, really?

PRETTY, NASTY, LOVELY doesn't have a lot of reviews or hype, which shocked me, because books like these - thrillers about troubled women - have become so trendy with the success of titles like THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN and GONE GIRL. PRETTY, NASTY, LOVELY is more Megan Abbott than Gillian Flynn, and I was honestly shocked that the publisher didn't jump at the opportunity to tout that similarity in the blurb (even though I loathe such "If you liked X, then you'll just loooooove Y!"-type comparisons). The problem, I think, is that it has no clear audience. The parts narrated by Emma (and, occasionally, some of the other girls) are very much new adult. But then, bizarrely, some of the adults have POVs too, like Dr. Finn, who is dealing with an obsessive and emotionally manipulative wife as well as his guilt over being unable to prevent Lydia's death, and Dean Cho, who wants to create a suicide prevention task force, as well as help the cops with the investigation to the best of her ability, but whose heavy-handedness harms more than it helps.

There are a lot of great subjects in here, important, controversial subjects - suicide, abortion, mental health, racism, classicism, psychological disorders, family, sisterhood, friendship, marriage, etc. - and for the most part, I felt that the author handled them pretty well, which made me think of Megan Abbott again because she handles a lot of those dark, unpleasant sides of girlhood and womanhood, the grit underneath the glamor, so to speak, no matter how unpleasant it is to read about.

This book would have scored a higher rating for me, if it weren't for the fact that (1) I felt like it attempted to accomplish too much, and ended up glancing on a lot of stuff it should have fleshed out more and wallowing in material that could have been cut; (2) the predictability of the ending and the villain(s); and (3) the bad way the POV swaps were handled. They were not labeled, and sometimes occurred mid-chapter, so it could be difficult to keep track of who had the floor at the moment.

That said, I think if you enjoy Megan Abbott's work, you'll probably enjoy this. I know I did.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Warcross by Marie Lu



When I first read the summary for this book, I thought, "Wow, this sounds a lot like WarGames." Unfortunately for this book, and for me, it was more like Spy Kids 3: Game Over. I think my biggest qualm with this book, apart from the heroine Emika, who I spent most of the beginning of this book wanting to slap, was the fact that it reads like it was written by someone who has never really played an MMORPG. I gamed pretty seriously for about fifteen years, so when I get a book about video games, I judge them based on that. I think WARCROSS desperately wanted to be like READY PLAYER ONE, but the author appeared to lack that firsthand knowledge and passion for the subject, so the NeuroLink and WarCross came off as a rather pale and weak imitation of OASIS. (God, what wouldn't I give for a real-life OASIS.)

The summary is pretty simple. Emika is a teenage hacker who is poor and uses a bootleg version of WarCross to access the site. HMM, DOES THAT SOUND LIKE READY PLAYER ONE? I THINK IT DOES. One day, she accidentally blows her cover by hacking one of the championship WarCross tournaments. The inventor of the game, Hideo Tanaka, takes an interest in Emika after that, offering her an opportunity to spy on the game to catch the perpetrator of a major security breach.

Emika ends up competing in the tournament under cover and ends up bonding with her teammates while also getting to know the elusive Tanaka more. But as she chases the evil hacker through the games, she quickly learns that morality is not as black and white as she thought - particularly not when it comes to the virtual world and, especially, technology itself. Because, you know, all books about technology have to talk about ethics. I'm not being facetious. The internet has changed a lot of rules about what is and isn't okay. It's like being in international-freaking-waters all the flim-flammed time. Emika herself is acquainted with vigilante justice because the "criminal record" she keeps bragging about happened when she doxxed a bunch of kids (and teachers) at her old school who picked on this one girl. That was actually something I took issue with, because the book kind of goes like, "Well, this isn't okay, but also isn't Emika sooooo awesome for doing it, anyway?" And I kind of side-eyed that, because no, I don't think two wrongs make a right. I don't like vigilante justice. In fact, one of the most powerful moments in this book I'm reading right now - Diana Gabaldon's DRAGONFLY IN AMBER - occurs when Claire has the opportunity to get revenge on this girl who wronged her in the previous book, but she doesn't take it - because two wrongs don't make a right.

I also didn't really buy the romantic chemistry between Emika and Hideo. I didn't understand why he liked her so much (maybe because I didn't like her). I thought Hideo was interesting - I'm a sucker for brooding intellectual types - and I'd be excited to learn more about him, but Emika was not a very good character. She changes, too. In the beginning, she's edgy and angry and desperate, and then as soon as she gets involved in the games she becomes a blushing, chipper, go-getter, and I'm just like, "I DON'T KNOW WHO SHE IS." Both literally, and also Mariah Carey style, because F U, Emika.

Now that I've gotten the complaining (mostly) out of my system, let me talk about what worked. I loved the setting. I just got back from Japan, and Marie Lu portrays Shibuya as the futuristic, commercialistic mecca that it is. I was so overwhelmed by the sights and the crowds, and remember: this is coming from someone who spends all their time in San Francisco. Shibuya is so crowded and insane that even people who are used to big cities feel properly intimidated. Such is its marvel.

I also liked Hideo, and most of the secondary characters, too. There's great rep in here - tons of people of color (including both the heroine and the love interest); LGBT characters; one of the characters is in a wheelchair; and of course, I love the fact that the heroine is in STEM. I've started collecting stories about female characters in STEM, because I think that's so important. (If you want to check out what I've got so far, check out my stem-heroines shelf on Goodreads.)

Lastly, despite rolling my eyes at this interpretation of a cyber-world - I mean, she literally has the "dark net" in this book set up like an actual pirate bazaar LOL, with drugs just set out on tables like a frigging roadside stand and people betting on illegal things in virtual bars like they're picking out racehorses - the action sequences are very engaging. I wish this book was more reminiscent of typical MMORPGs...but oh, wait, I'm complaining again and this is supposed to be the "positive" section, ha. So yes, the action sequences were great, and despite my hang-ups, the pages went by pretty quickly once I got past that awful beginning. If the game parts themselves are like something out of Spy Kids, I'd say the rest of the book is 1/3 The Matrix, 1/3 The Hunger Games, and 1/3 Ready Player One.

It wasn't bad, and I'd read the sequel when it comes out. I guessed one of those twists (the big one), but not the more sweeping one in scope that came right before that. How Orwellian.


3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo



I haven't watched the Wonder Woman movie yet - I know, right - but I've heard and read so much about it that I almost feel like I already have. When I found out that YA fantasy author, Leigh Bardugo, was writing a Wonder Woman novel, I assumed it was going to be a tie-in to the film that would expand on that universe. You can imagine my shock, then, when the film has Wonder Woman as a fully grown (but still young) woman during WWI, whereas this book has Wonder Woman as a teenager now.

Um, what?

DC timelines, you're harder to follow than a private Twitter user.

Once I got over that funhouse mirror-style discrepancy in the space-time continuum and other wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey matters, it was a matter of figuring out the "canon" of this universe. Themyscira is thrown into chaos when a mortal girl named Alia washes up upon the shores. Rather than let her die, Diana decides to save her. But saving her is no simple matter, because as it turns out...like every other fantasy heroine ever, Alia is no ordinary mortal girl.

Their journey takes them into New York City, where Diana meets Alia's friends, Theo and Nim, and her billionaire older brother, Jason. From there, it's a matter of figuring out the secrets of the titular "Warbringer" and attempting to stop a prophecy before it can be carried into motion and doom the world (and result in Diana's being ostracized from the people she holds dear).

I won't lie to you - the beginning of this book is bad. The pace is gruelingly slow, and Diana comes off as a total Mary Sue, one minute sounding wise beyond her years, the next acting painfully naive. It suits her character, but it had me clenching my teeth because of how twee it felt. I didn't really care for the other Amazons, either. They were all a bunch of jerks. Oh, I'm sorry, your island is in danger? Well, so sorry about that, don't let the ocean hit you on the way out, ya bunch of jerks. They treat Diana the way Rudolph the Red-Nose reindeer was treated, pre-saving Christmas.*

The book doesn't really pick up until p.150 or so. The introduction of secondary teenager characters had me clutching my pearls in horror - MILLENNIALS!!!! - but these characters are actually pretty great. They're all people of color, one of them is LGBT+, they all have distinct personalities, and they act like the teenagers they are, only with some of the best oneliners ever. Sometimes the oneliners are a little too heavy-handed, like you can tell the author is winking at you because of how clever it all is, but most of the time it works. Nim is probably my favorite, but Alia was a close second. Female friendships are bomb, and you really don't see enough of those in YA fiction, sadly.

Also - the twist with the villain? Did not see that coming. The climax had a total cinematic feel. It was like watching a movie play out in book form.

So, one star deducted for turning Diana into a Mary Sue and being too cute with the 80s action hero lines. One star deducted for being boring AF in the beginning and almost having me DNF and miss out on the redeeming second half. WARBRINGER earned those last remaining three stars fair and square, though. Those last two lines in the book were pure perfection.

*And she doesn't even get credit for saving the world at the end. WTF.

3 out of 5 stars

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke



09/27/17: This book is currently $1.99 for Kindle.

I adored this author's District Ballet Company series, so when I found out she was writing a book about magic realism and time travel about WWII, the Berlin Wall, and romance, the question wasn't so much, "Do I want this?" as "How badly do I want this, and when will the book be out?" The story itself seems to be paying homage to Nena's 99 Luftballons; there is no way that they aren't related - especially since the English version of that song frequently appears as "99 Red Balloons." And the "magic" in this book revolves around magical red balloons. How cool is that?

Sadly, this book also follows what I call "music video logic." It would make a good video, but is a bad book. The world building isn't very good. The reader is just supposed to take everything at face value. There's insta-love, and the characters spend way too much time dressing up and going out to the club and laughing over nail polish. I wasn't a fan of the multiple POVs, since all the voices sounded so similar, and Ellie, the heroine, doesn't have much of a personality. I don't care if I love or hate your characters, just make me feel something, anything.

I read to about p.150 in earnest and then skimmed the last 100 pages, hoping things would get better. It didn't. I'm pretty bummed about this, but I guess I'll just listen to 99 Luftballons again. If there is one upside to this book, it is that it got me listening to Nena, which is always a plus. I'm shocked at how many YA bloggers are going to town over this. Did we read the same book? Was I tricked?

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

1 out of 5 stars

Dawn by V.C. Andrews



I missed out on V.C. Andrews as a teen, so I'm accumulating as many of them as I can now. You know, for science. So far, I've mostly been reading the ones that were originally written by V.C. herself and not her ghostwriter, Andrew Neiderman. The Dollanganger series was excellent and so was her one standalone book, MY SWEET AUDRINA. HIDDEN JEWEL was a Neiderman effort, but I thought that one was reasonably okay, even if it lacked that special brand of spiciness that the Dollanganger books had. DAWN is one of Neiderman's earlier efforts, published just four years after the real V.C. Andrews died. I expected it to be even better than the Landry book I read, since it was published earlier and - I figured - he'd probably be working extra hard to do her justice.

Ha - nope!

DAWN is one weird book. Parts of it are just boring and badly written, with words repeated over and over again (especially "quickly", for some reason, which seemed to appear at least once per page), and emotions being told instead of shown via dialogue tags. "Don't be so obvious," she yelled angrily. "Be subtle!"

Plus, we get gems like these:

Good-bye to my first and what I thought would be my most wonderful romantic love, I thought. Good-bye to being swept off my feet and floating alongside warm, soft white clouds. Our passionate kisses shattered and fell with the raindrops, and no one could tell which were my tears and which were the drops of rain (227).

Sounds like she's confusing an acid trip with love, don't you think?

***WARNING: SPOILERS***

The plot is one part THE FACE ON THE MILK CARTON, one part MY SWEET AUDRINA, and one part FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC. Dawn and Jimmy Longchamp have always been on the move but now their dad is determined to bring some stability to their lives: he's taken a job as janitor at a private school, which means that both kiddos get free tuition as a bonus.

Obviously the rich kiddos do not take kindly to poverty in their midst, and begin hazing like it's rush week at a d-baggy party college. People mock and laugh at Jimmy, but it's Dawn who really bears the brunt of the bullying - they stop just short of parading her through the streets with a shorn head while screaming SHAME! SHAME! The only rich kiddo who's actually nice to her is the brother of Clara Sue, the mean Queen Bee who has a rage-boner for Dawn: Philip Cutler.

"Nice guys" in V.C. Andrews books can never be trusted and Philip is no exception. He quickly begins pushing Dawn to go all the way with him, fondling her in his car, kissing her passionately in public, etc. Jimmy is, of course, super jealous, even though he's her brother. And oh, by the way - did I mention that the Longchamp parents seem to think it's cool to not only have their teen children share a bedroom, but also have them both sleep in the same bed? Also, he watches her get dressed.

Anyway, Dawn thinks she's finally gotten the better of her bullies and her evil headmaster... but then her mother dies and makes a cryptic statement about forgiveness and the police come to take her father and siblings away - and Dawn finds out that she isn't Dawn Longchamp. She's Dawn Cutler. The Longchamps kidnapped her from their employers when she was just a baby to replace a stillborn.

Dawn is pulled out of school and whisked away to the elite Cutler Cove hotel, where the grandmother matriarch (who seems to be inspired by the grandma in FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC) runs a tight ship. Think Dunstin Checks In (1996) without the orangutan-provided comic relief. While there, Dawn experiences even more bullying... this time at the hands of her new relatives: Psycho Grandma and Queen Bee Mean Girl. Psycho Grandma forces Dawn into what is basically child slave labor, forcing her to work as a maid free of charge; steals and destroys some of Dawn's belongings; gives her a new name (Eugenia) and then starves her when she doesn't use it; and when someone (*cough* Clara Sue) steals a necklace from one of the guests, she basically gives Dawn a cavity search looking for it.

Philip is at the hotel, too, and at first he seems nice, but then it turns out that he's still not over that heavy petting they did together before they realized they were brother and sis. Towards the end of the book, he rapes her, saying that it's important that he "teaches" her how sex works and that it's her fault for leading him on, etc. Dawn is so upset, because she doesn't want to have sex with this brother - she wants to have sex with her other brother now that she knows that they're not related, and even takes a moment later on to wish how Jimmy was the one who got her v-card instead of Philip.

But wait - there's more!

Dawn tracks down the maid who was responsible for her and finds out that she's the product of an affair that Mama Cutler had with a musician. Angry, Grandma Psycho had arranged for a kidnap by paying the Longchamps to take her away. She had second thoughts later, but was willing to let the Longchamps take the fall for it rather than have scandal befall the family. What a betch, right? So Dawn whips out the blackmail, and Grandma Psycho admires her balls and decides that maybe Dawn and her can reach an "agreement." Dawn gets send to NYC to study music and bought all manner of expensive clothes while Philip and Clara seethe, dreaming of the day when she and Jimmy can reunite and have it's-not-incest-anymore-let's-party style sexings.

This left such a bad taste in my mouth. It might actually be worst than the time that I ate a piece of dark chocolate for dessert after having kimchee for dinner (although that was pretty bad, too).

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons



I read this book for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2017 Reading Challenge. For more info about what this is, click here.

I read a lot of romances, so by now I have a pretty good idea of what I like and what I don't like. I don't tend to like romances about cheaters, hence my scathing review of the trash people in Molly McAdams's cringily-titled SHARING YOU, but sometimes if the story is good, I can make an exception or at least enjoy the story in spite of the cheating, like my favorable review of the trash people in Joan Dial's BELOVED ENEMY.

THE BRONZE HORSEMAN is a polarizing book among my friends and looking at the reviews, I guess what it comes down to is this: can you enjoy a book that's about trash people treating each other like garbage if the story at least is good? If yes, hop on this drama-filled train to Literary No Man's Land, where the heroine buys ice cream and caviar with her family's food money during wartime and the hero dates the sister of the woman he loves to hide their relationship from a man he knows wishes them ill.

THE BRONZE HORSEMAN is set during WII and covers the horrifying Siege of Leningrad, a period of terrible starvation in the middle of a cruel Russian winter that was the result of a German blockade. Tatiana Metanova struggles to survive with her family while also dreaming after the soldier she fell in love with on a summer day - the soldier she found out was seeing her sister: Alexander Belov. The conflict between them hinges on one of the most cowardly displays of passive-aggression I've ever seen, masquerading as selflessness. Tatiana doesn't want to hurt her sister, Dasha, who she knows is head-over-heels for Alexander... so she doesn't allow Alexander to simply break up with Dasha and see her instead. No, they continue seeing each other on the sly, eye-f*ck around her sister, and moon over each other, while Tatiana sort-of-but-not-really sees Alexander's friend, "Dimitri." Someone suggested to me that it would be difficult for Tatiana to live in the house with her family and share her bed with her sister, knowing that they all hated her for breaking up Dasha and Alexander, but that didn't go so well for Tatiana, anyway, did it? Tatiana's bitterness and resentment drove a wedge between her and her sister, anyway, and I felt like the author worked extra hard to make the cheating seem "okay" by making Dasha seem slutty, temperamental, selfish, and lazy.

To Simons's credit, the characters were all very well done, and war time does bring out the worst in people (I'd imagine) - or the best. So we see humanity across the spectrum, sometimes doing unexpected kindnesses, sometimes taking advantage, sometimes being unspeakably cruel. The "romance" aspect was one of the shakier elements to me, because Alexander wasn't my ideal romance hero by any means. He's weak and violent and full of rage, which he attempts to channel into honor. In some ways, he reminded me of Thomas Eden, from THIS OTHER EDEN. Thomas Eden was utterly obsessed with the heroine, had her publicly whipped before his people, and then went to extraordinary lengths to get her to be his by manipulating everyone around him. But he was also weak, and had only his honor to stand behind. That was how I felt about Alexander. He never whipped Tatiana, but he threw things at her, grabbed at her, yelled at her, and wouldn't listen to her when she said "no" or "stop." He had a tragic history because his parents were naive fools, and his manipulations kept him from safety and plunged him into a vicious circle of paranoia and debt.

Tatiana, on the other hand, did have some character development. She was like a pale imitation of Scarlett O'Hara, in the sense that she would survive anything and do what was necessary...but unlike Scarlett, she'd usually only do it for Alexander. (Maybe that makes her more like Melanie, who was selfless and kind of a doormat, but a doormat made out of steel instead of straw.) I liked her more when she became a nurse and started learning English, because that made her more interesting to me than the childlike (very childlike - at one point, Alexander refers to her as a "child-bride") heroine who was always bouncing up and down and clapping her hands like a five-year-old when she wasn't trying to hump Alexander's leg with the enthusiasm of a small poodle hopped up on Viagra (seriously, 200 pages of this book in the middle section are basically just smut). By the end of the book, I was having pleasant flashbacks to my first time reading Patricia Hagan's LOVE AND WAR, a bodice-ripper set in the Civil War with a female doctor as the heroine.

In short, I did like THE BRONZE HORSEMAN, despite its unlikable characters. The setting was great, and so convincing that I half-felt like I ought to perhaps conserve my dinner, too. It definitely made me extra grateful for my warm quilt that night. The antagonist, Dimitri, was also well done, and the shadow he casts over this story line is long and enduring. I didn't like him from the start, and my dislike of him only grew as the story went on. The romance, to me, felt less romantic than... I don't know, a portrait of an utterly dysfunctional and all-consuming passion doomed to end in tragedy, rather like OUTLANDER or ROMEO AND JULIET. This is not a selfless love, or a good love, or a love that ought to be emulated by others: instead, it kind of felt like a love story between two flawed characters trying to fill the holes in their soul with raw, unfiltered passion with such desperation that they didn't care who got hurt, or how they were hurting each other (and they did hurt each other quite a bit). If you don't care about cheating or selfishness or heroes that borderline on abusive, and enjoy watching literary train wrecks in action, then I encourage you - completely without sarcasm, mind - to pick up THE BRONZE HORSEMAN. It's a f*cked up ride with one hell of a view.

4 out of 5 stars