Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas

🌟 I read this for the Yule Bingo Challenge, for the category of Harry: "chosen one" trope. For more info on this challenge, click here. 🌟

This book has some of my favorite things in it: magic spells, dragons, and forbidden romance! I've had this kicking around my Kindle and finally got around to reading it because I needed a book with the "chosen one" trope. THE BURNING SKY, which reads a bit like a Victorian-era Harry Potter, more than suited in that capacity.

When Prince Titus sees a bolt of mage-called lightning come from the sky from his palace balcony, he knows it's the sign foretold by his seer mother. He goes to the site immediately and finds the culprit: a girl named Iolanthe. Hot on his heels are the evil, tyrannical agents of Atlantis, a bunch of secret police-like people ruled by the Bane and the fearsome Inquisitor.

Titus takes Iolanthe under his protection, disguising her a boy and then sneaking her into Eton where he's already manufactured an identity for her as Archer Fairfax (again, using his mother's prophecy). In between classes and cricket, he teaches her the magic she's going to need for her survival, but only at a cost - he wants her to help him defeat the Inquisitor and overthrow the Bane.

I loved this book. Okay, it's very Harry Potter like, with Latinate spells and apparating (vaulting), but mixed in with the "traditional" spells are Elemental spells, and it's historical fantasy instead of contemporary urban fantasy. Which makes sense, since Sherry Thomas is a historical romance author as well. I think her knowledge of that genre really let her take some interesting liberties with the era. The Crucible is probably one of the coolest aspects of the story... apart from the espionage and the court intrigue, that is. I can't say more because I don't want to spoil it, but trust me, it's AWESOME.

The romance is also really well done. Titus is a master manipulator, but things between them don't really come into fruition until he stops trying to control her and realizes that love can't really exist unless it's between equals. I'm also a sucker for mentor/mentee romances, which is probably why I liked Maria V. Snyder's POISON STUDY so much.

THE BURNING SKY doesn't get a full five stars for several reasons. The characters are a bit wooden. Titus is the stereotypical swoon-worthy prince with a smart mouth and Iolanthe is a strong female character who whoops a lot of butt - but that's all they are. I guess the only really human thing about Iolanthe is that she doesn't really want to be a hero at first, because she doesn't want to die, but she gets over that quickly and then it's "we must defend the kingdom" this and "you are the chosen one" that. The world building and writing more than make up for the character deficits, but it's still something I took into account when deciding to rate this book. The pacing is also slow - it takes a while to get off the ground and then towards the end, there will be intense action scenes followed by sticky-slow standing around and doing nothing scenes. But again, this wasn't that big a deal.

I really enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought it would (although maybe I needn't have worried, seeing as how I love her historical romance, too). I think I'd recommend it to fans of books like THE GOLDEN COMPASS or HARRY POTTER, traditional fantasy novels with interesting but familiar worlds and complex magic systems and strong female characters. This book had all of those things, and I'm very eager to see how the story continues in the sequel, THE PERILOUS SEA.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead

When this book first came out, I assumed it had something to do with faeries. Nope, no faeries in here. Instead, THE GLITTERING COURT is a bizarre reimagining of mail-order brides being sent to America from England, only they're not called America and England; they're called Adoria and Osfro.

The main character, "Adelaide," is a countess from an impoverished family in Osfro who is being trotted out to various other noble families to marry one of their sons. Adelaide decides "screw this!", pays off her maid, and goes to a special finishing school in Adoria called The Glittering Court... to be trotted out to various other professional-class families to marry one of their sons. ...wait, what?

Questionable logic aside, I really liked the part of the book set in The Glittering Court, even if it sounds like something a sixteen-year-old girl came up with. I'm a sucker for makeover montages, and the entire first half of the book is basically a nonstop makeover montage. Adelaide also makes two friends named Tamsin and Mira, and they help each other through the trickier parts.

Is this book sexist? Well, it's certainly no HUNGER GAMES, I'll tell you that much. It's about girls learning to change themselves to become acceptable wife material, and vaguely reminiscent of the brain-washing facilities in The Handmaid's Tale, where they train the handmaids for their new "roles", and vaguely reminiscent of beauty competitions, where all of the girls are competing for the top spot, knowing only one of them can be the exclusive "diamond" girl.

Is this book racist? Ehh. In Adoria, the Osfridian settlers took land away from these people called the "Icori" and forced them to live on settlements. It's not really discussed much until the Icori actually make an appearance in the story, and even then, that's brushed aside mostly in favor of "Oh noes! Icori attack! Run!" They're called "savages" a couple times and shoot arrows... but they're all white, with either blonde or red hair, and they wear tartans. So I'm guessing the author wanted to kind of explore racial issues without actually having the controversy of including people of color being oppressed, but I think that ends up being more controversial because it looks like appropriation and erasure. The Trail of Tears was a very dark time in U.S. history, and I don't really think a fluffy historical fantasy novel about getting married was the right vehicle to superficially explore this.

Also, the second half of the book is completely different from the first, set in an Old West kind of setting meant to mimic the gold rush of California in the mid-1840s. Adelaide spends her time panning for gold and living in a wooden shack, and then there's a freaking trial, and yeah, it's completely off the wall. I wasn't expecting anything like that, and it makes THE GLITTERING COURT feel like two half-realized book ideas got smooshed into one.

A lot of my friends really hated this book, and I can see why. But I read THE SELECTION first, and that book was much more offensive to me because it was not only worse written, but also more cavalier about serious issues like class. THE GLITTERING COURT comes off as a little insensitive, but at least it makes a serious attempt to look at poverty and doesn't go the "being poor means sometimes I have to go without my precious makeup!" route that THE SELECTION did.

I liked it...reluctantly. It's not as good as her Age of X series or Vampire Academy series, but it's a sight better than SOUNDLESS or Dark Swan. THE GLITTERING COURT might have been better if she'd gone THE RING AND THE CROWN route and made this a straight-up historical fantasy rather than just changing around the names and details of their very obviously real-life counterparts.

3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

There's an old joke about TWILIGHT that you've probably heard: that it's the story of a teenage girl's struggle between necrophilia and bestiality, hurr hurr hurr. Well, here in TWILIGHT: Team Jacob Edition - *cough* - I mean, SHIVER, Maggie Stiefvater takes that a step further by writing about a girl named Grace who has romantic feelings for the wolf in her backyard. And when I say "wolf," that's not short for werewolf - before she even finds out that he can turn human (and oh, what rapturous joy that brings), she's fantasizing about the feeling of his fur under her fingers and dreaming about his eyes. She also won't ever shut up about wolves, and chats to her two friends about wolves constantly, and then is puzzled and irritated when they want to talk about other things that aren't wolves.

I might be the only person on the continental U.S. who hated THE RAVEN BOYS, but people kept telling me to give this author another chance, and I thought, "Well, okay, I did like TWILIGHT, and Jacob was cool, so maybe this will be okay." Superficially, it's a lot like TWILIGHT - it features a heroine who is wise beyond her years with absent-minded parents who she takes care of more than they take care of her; it features a supernatural love interest who likes the way the heroine smells and must fight against his nature in order to be with her, even if it results in his own death; it features an evil werewolf who is jealous of what the heroine represents and who decides to hunt, stalk, and attempt to kill her -

You can see where I'm going with this.

But comparing SHIVER to TWILIGHT is like comparing NIKE to ADIDAS or COKE to PEPSI or CHOCOLATE to VANILLA - there is only one clear winner. And spoiler, SHIVER is not that winner. First, the werewolf love interest is so lame. At least Edward had some of that Old World patriarchal charm, even if he could come across as controlling and creepy; it was obvious why he was so attractive - he was good looking and sophisticated and mature. Sam, on the other hand, is a droopy emo boy who composes poetry while they make love, and it is bad poetry, like the kind you see on Tumblr that doesn't make any sense but for some reason has thousands of reblogs. But the main reason this book gets one star is because of the heroine: Grace.

When she's not meditating on her favorite subject - wolf-lust - she's being a raging "See You Next Tuesday" to everyone in her life. The way she talks to her parents is absolutely disgusting; she is constantly snarking at them and disrespecting them and taking over their house and their things (do you pay for those things, girlfriend? is that why you feel free to take over your dad's study and then tell him he isn't getting it back?), but when they try to implement some actual parental control, she gets all bristly, like "how they try to do their job and be parents?" It's a real catch-22. But the disrespect doesn't stop there - when she brings Sam home to meet the folks, she gets angry that her mom is nice to her boyfriend, and slut-shames her own mom. OH MY GOD, CAN YOU NOT?!

I honestly don't understand why she has friends. When she's not talking about wolves, she's brushing off her friends or being rude. Everything that comes out of her mouth - that isn't some insipid drivel about how much she looooves Sam, that is - is either mean, rude, sarcastic, or brusque. She spends a great deal of time in this book looking at people coldly or speaking coldly, especially to her parents. She's even mean to Sam, telling him to shut up several times. OMG, can she die already, please? I think the only YA character I've hated more (that I wasn't actually supposed to hate) was CATH from FANGIRL. (Yet another book that is bewilderingly popular.)

The premise behind the werewolf transformations is also incredibly lame, so bear with me because ***SPOILERS*** werewolves transform based on temperature (so the temperature is always listed right below each chapter, so you know how cold it is, hence the title, SHIVER, because it's cold, get it?? so meta, wow), and when it's cold outside they turn into wolves, and when it's hot they turn into people - only after a certain number of years, they lose the ability to turn into people and just stay wolves. While reading this, I'm asking myself, "Why are they living somewhere so cold if this happens? Why not move to California where it basically never snows unless you live in the mountains?" But the author had an answer ready for this: moving to temperate places just makes you even more sensitive to small temperature changes, and you'll transform anyway. But ***SPOILERS*** Grace was bitten by wolves as a kid and didn't turn into a werewolf, because her neglectful parents "accidentally" (I think they were actually trying to murder this demon spawn) left her in the back of a car on a 100+-degree day while she was taking a nap, and she almost died, and apparently the heat + her fever cooked the werewolfiness right out of her. I AM NOT JOKING!!! So Grace & co. get the brilliant idea of infecting Sam and this other werewolf with meningitis, so they'll get high fevers that'll cook the werewolfiness out of them, too. I am shook with stupidity. How would this work, but moving somewhere temperate doesn't, Captain Cop-Out?

I can't with this series. I'll be the first to admit that TWILIGHT is not a great book, but it was fun and addictive and didn't have self-absorbed characters wallowing around in the pretentious prose of the narrative like it was some kind of smug, self-congratulatory swimming pool.

1 out of 5 stars

My Top 10 Romance Reads of 2017

I've never done one of these yearly wrap-up posts before, but all my friends are doing it and you know what they say about peer pressure... YOU SHOULD ALWAYS CONFORM TO IT.*


Anyway, being the mod of a Goodreads romance group, I read a lot of romances, and I often have people who are new or unfamiliar with the genre(s) of romance come to me asking for romance recommendations. So for my yearly wrap-up, I'm going to share my ten favorite romance novels from a variety of sub-genres that I rated 4 stars or higher in 2017!

***drum roll pls***

10. AN UNNATURAL VICE by K.J. Charles
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]

Genre: historical romance/M-M
Crossover appeal: fans of Ripper Street


I love this author. She has such a great writing style, and even if I don't always love her books as much as I want to, I keep coming back for more. She reminds me of Lisa Kleypas when she was at the highlight of her game (think Gamblers and Wallflowers), except she writes M/M. 

This is the second book in a series (yes, you have to read them all for continuity) set in Victorian-era England that revolves around murder, inheritance, and family secrets. Nathaniel is a journalist who wants to expose fraudsters and Justin is a morally grey cold reader who sees nothing wrong with conning people out of their money. Both of them end up getting involved with a huge family scandal that could very well mean their lives. DUN DUN DUN...

In my opinion, AN UNNATURAL VICE is the best book in the trilogy. Justin and Nathaniel are great characters, Justin especially. I loved the descriptions of cold reading because I wrote a paper on that in college, and I felt like I was "in the know." Also, this book features one of the best examples of hate-sex I've ever seen done in a romance novel, so there's that. #NotAPerv

My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️] 

Genre/type: Contemporary/new adult
Crossover appeal: fans of THE ROSIE PROJECT

This is basically a gender-flipped ROSIE PROJECT, but with younger characters and set in the Philippines. The heroine, Kaya Rubio, is a graduate student studying molecular genetics. Being scientifically-inclined, she decides the best way to find a boyfriend (and get her meddling relatives off her back) is to do an experiment, weighing her findings against the most unsuitable person for her she can imagine: Nero, the artsy-fartsy owner of a bubble tea cafe.

EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS BOOK WAS SO CUTE. I don't normally like NA, but I loved this. It's got a super likable hero, a nerdy heroine of color who is neurodivergent and also involved in STEM, and a plot that seems like it came out of one of those adorably nostalgic teen movies that were so popular in the late 90s, early 2000s (why don't we have more of those? I miss them).

Apparently this is the first book in a series, and I series-ly (bad pun, sorry) can't wait for book #2.


8. TAKE THE LEAD by Alexis Daria
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]

Genre/type: contemporary
Crossover appeal: fans of Dancing with the Stars

I mean, the entire premise is based on Dancing with the Stars, so if you love that show and you also love romance, you should read TAKE THE LEAD. It's an #ownvoices romance about a Puerto Rican dancer named Gina who ends up falling for this sexy lumbersexual named Stone, who's part of another reality TV show (kind of like Survivor) that's based in Alaska. He and Gina are paired together and their evil stage manager is trying to force a showmance for ratings, which Gina resists because she thinks there's enough stereotypes about "sexy Latinas" out there and she doesn't want anyone to say that that was the only reason that she made it in her career.

Gina is a fantastic heroine - she's strong, she's interesting, she's proud of her culture, she's confident, she's a great dancer. Stone is a good hero, too, strong and protective without being domineering. Their sexual chemistry was off the charts, and the fun descriptions of the reality TV environment and energetic dances had me running to YouTube more than once to see the described dances in action.

This romance made several "best of 2017 new releases" lists for the romance genre, and it's not hard to see why. It's fun and sexy, with likable characters. (Do yourself a favor and skip the sequel though)


7. THIS OTHER EDEN by Marilyn Harris
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]

Genre/type: bodice ripper/gothic romance
Crossover appeal: fans of THE FORSYTE SAGA


Except, not really. Because THIS OTHER EDEN goes against a lot of the bodice ripper tropes. For starters, it's densely atmospheric with exceptionally beautiful prose. For another, it's extraordinarily researched, featuring many obscure historical details that hold up with fact-checking (and since this was written in the days before internet, one can only imagine the hours of library research Harris must have clocked in while in the research phase). 

The story is about a sixteen-year-old girl named Marianne and the forty-year-old lord named Thomas Eden who wants her. It sounds creepy, and it is, but it's set in Georgian-era England, so it was slightly less creepy at the time. The book opens with Marianne trapped in a charnel pit (read: where they throw the corpses of dead livestock) awaiting her public whipping for defying her lord. The next five hundred something pages are an intense character study of truly flawed characters either trying to find their place, or else trying to escape the one they already have. There is suffering, and there is also redemption, and at the end there is something approaching if not romance, then compassion and understanding. The second book is even better than the first, and I strongly recommend this series!


6. THE LEOPARD PRINCE by Elizabeth Hoyt
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]


Genre/type: historical romance
Crossover appeal: Downton Abbey

This is a really great romance about a noble spinster and a "common" land steward who find love. The romance is notable for several reasons - HRs with non-noble heroes are rare (dukes, earls, and viscounts aplenty, with a prince thrown in for luck) and so are happy spinsters. Georgina is perfectly content with her lot, and her happiness ends up transferring to the grumpy and decidedly unhappy Harry Pye. There's also a murder plot thrown in here, because why not, but it adds to the story.

It's book two in the series, but you don't need to read the first (in fact, I'd recommend against it).


5. HOLD ME by Courtney Milan
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️] 


Genre/type: LGBT+/Contemporary
Crossover appeal: Fans of Legally Blonde or PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

Courtney Milan is one of my favorite authors, but I think I like her contemporary romances even more than her historical ones. All of her heroines are so empowered, and maybe I like her modern romances because it's easier to write a kick-ass heroine in the 21st century - which HOLD ME has.

Set in the Bay Area, HOLD ME is about Jay and Maria. Jay is professor and Maria is a science blogger. She is also very girly, and when Jay first meets her, he doesn't like her because he assumes she's one of those air-headed attention-seeking women. Hilariously, Jay follows Maria's science blog and is actually a little bit in love with her online persona - ONLY HE DOESN'T KNOW IT'S HER.

HOLD ME has so much going for it - transgender WoC heroine who is involved in STEM, MoC hero who is also involved in STEM, mistaken identity romance, slow burn, relationship based on mutual respect (y'know, once they stop hating each other) and communication. It's such a fun, feel-good romance with solid characters and just enough depth to make them feel real. I loved it.


4. THE BLUE CASTLE by L.M. Montgomery
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]


Genre/type: classic romance
Crossover appeal: fans of COLD COMFORT FARM or The Last Holiday

This is a hilarious romance, although it starts off dark and depressing. Valancy lives with a cold and callous family that takes pleasure in abusing her emotionally, and she's the butt of all the jokes. One day, she finds out that she's going to die within the year, so she decides to tell her awful family to screw off and live life as her best self. It totally transforms her and she ends up meeting this guy...

I adored this romance. It's a clean romance, so there isn't much in the way of sexings or romantic interludes, but the character development is amazing and there's just so much snarky humor. If the author's name sounds familiar, it's because she was the author who wrote ANNE OF GREEN GABLES and EMILY OF NEW MOON. This is one of the few stories she penned for an adult audience, and oh, man, what wit! I highly recommend this for a rainy day read. 


3. SURRENDER TO LOVE by Rosemary Rogers
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]


Genre/type: bodice ripper/historical romance
Crossover appeal: fans of trashy 70s movies and V.C. Andrews

What has two thumbs and loves bodice rippers? THIS GIRL. 

Okay, but seriously, this was the only bodice-ripper I straight-up gave five stars this year, and here's why: it takes place all over the world (because the author herself was raised all over the world), and features a feisty heroine and a truly dark and antisocial hero. The "romance" itself doesn't happen until very later in the book, and when the hero and heroine meet and interact, it's mostly encounters of the love-to-hate-you, hate-to-love-you variety.

SURRENDER TO LOVE is truly cinematic in scope, though, with epic scenes and passionate declarations, murder, torture, rape, and just all sorts of other unsavory elements that would never fly past the publishers of today. It's a fascinating snapshot of what the standard for the genre was at this time, and even if it makes for uncomfortable reading, it's still great (and grandiose) story-telling.


2. OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]

Genre/type: time travel romance/historical romance
Crossover appeal: fans of Game of Thrones

The author can say her book isn't romance all she wants, but I calls 'em like I sees 'em and I'm calling this one an R to the O to the mance. You're probably familiar with the TV show, but just in case you aren't, it's about an Englishwoman living in a post-WWII world, who ends up time-traveling back to Georgian-era Scotland after touching some magical standing stones. Who does she encounter but Jamie Fraser, the sassy, too-macho-to-function Scot himself, in all of his tartan-clad glory.

This book is long, but I managed to get through it in just a few days. I couldn't put it down, to be honest. Gabaldon is really good at putting you into the characters' minds and making you feel invested in their well-being. I think fans of Game of Thrones will like this book because it's very dark for a romance and in addition to having a ton of sex (like Game of Thrones), it also has a lot of gratuitous violence (like Game of Thrones). There's a truly awful torture/rape scene towards the end of the book that haunted me for days. That said, it's a truly wonderful book. It has a romance that unfolds gradually, a virgin hero, an older woman/younger man pairing, and also, the heroine, Claire, is a nurse in her time, so there's a lot of fascinating trivia about healing and medical treatments, too. 


1. BURN FOR ME by Ilona Andrews
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]


Genre/type: urban-fantasy/paranormal
Crossover appeal: fans of X-Men or Brandon Sanderson's STEELHEART


Oh my God, I seriously cannot fangirl enough about this series. I don't think a series has captured my attention and imagination like Hidden Legacy since the Harry Potter series or the Animorph series. Team Andrews breaks the paranormal mold with a truly interesting and innovative world in which certain humans manifest supernatural powers, ranging from control of the elements to psychic-like powers. The heroine is a PI who ends up getting sucked into the lethal politics of the highest-ranking mages when one of her cases brings her face to face with Mad Rogan, the deadliest of them all.

The world-building, kick-ass main character, slow burn romance, and hot-as-hell sex scenes made this number one on my list. I can guarantee you this will be on the big screen or the small screen within the next few years, and I can also guarantee you that I'll be first in line, cash in hand.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Ring and the Crown by Melissa De La Cruz

🌟 I read this for the Yule Bingo Challenge, for the category of Ollivander: books with spells. For more info on this challenge, click here. 🌟

This review is dedicated to my critics who think I'm too biased/snobby: I fully went into this book expecting to hate it, but I changed my mind. (My mind can be changed, occasionally - it's only that few books are up to the task.) I had good reason to be suspicious of THE RING & THE CROWN - not only did some of my trusted friends not like it, I had also tried and loathed the author's Blue Bloods series (a sad attempt to cash in on the TWILIGHT craze, with a dash of Gossip Girl thrown in for good measure). Also, what is up with the cover? It's beautiful, but also completely ridiculous - like an Instagram model with a weird hat decided to take a selfie in a macaron bakery in downtown L.A.

The plot of THE RING & THE CROWN is a bit difficult to explain, because it has, like, four main characters and about twenty secondary characters who play a significant role in the plot. My friend Khanh made an excellent flowchart showing the relationships of the characters in this book in her review, and I actually referred to that chart a few times while writing my own just to make sure I had everyone straight. Main character #1 is a mage named Aelwyn, a bastard mage of significant power who was friends with the princess but then sent away for nearly setting the palace on fire. She's been living on a magical island for several years, but is now being sent back to court to take her position as court mage. Main character #2 is the princess, Aelywn's friend, Marie-Victoria. She's kind-hearted, but weak, and the bulk of her childhood was spent in a variety of contraptions designed for her health and posture. She's about to be married to the prince of another country, but feels ambivalent about the match because she thinks he's a creep (he is). Main character #3 is Ronan, a girl who comes from a noble but now impoverished family in America; she's traveling to Europe in order to meet a rich husband. If you looked up "spunky" in the dictionary, you'd probably see her picture there. Lastly (but not leastly), main character #4 is Isabelle. Isabelle is a dauphine, who was supposed to marry the same prince that Marie-Victoria is now engaged to; she's also been the prince's mistress for several years, and has been sexually abused by her guardian. The upcoming marriage to the princess is just the latest straw on her sore back.

I guess the main plot is RELATIONSHIP!DRAMA. Which should have annoyed me, but in this book, De La Cruz has captured that light, frothy narrative style that works so well with YA historical. It's flowery and ornamental, and paired with the constant promise of scandal, really made the pages fly by. I ended up staying up until 3am reading this book. There's also magic, attempted murder, and court intrigue - three things that never fail to get my heart singing. I also liked the alternate history element: this is set in Victorian England, but in this version of history, the Americas relied on artillery during the Revolutionary War, whereas England used its mages. The Americans lost the Revolutionary War, so America is still part of England and there are castles and nobility there.

I was totally psyched for the sequel, THE LILY AND THE CROSS, but apparently the sequel isn't happening. Or at least, it's not going to be published. On her blog, the author said this: "[the book] didn’t quite go the way I imagined it would.  After I finished, I realized I liked where the story ended in book one, that it was complete and perfect as a stand-alone. So the sequel is not going to be published." I guess she had an early draft of the story available for purchase for a while, too (I'm not sure if it's still active, or if that was a limited time deal), but I didn't really look into that too deeply. Okay. But then in a response to a question on the book's page, the author said this: "Hey guys, seems to be some wrong assumptions about an author's "choice" to end a series. IT IS NEVER AN AUTHOR'S CHOICE. All my series that were canceled were canceled by publishers and the reason is often the same: poor sales of prior books." So I'm a little confused, after all, because the blog post makes it sound like it was her choice to end the book, but her response to the question seems to be putting the blame on the publisher. So I don't know what the deal with that is, but it's disappointing.

It does sort of work as a standalone - the last chapter sort of wraps up everyone's narrative - but several people I wanted to end up together didn't end up together, and Isabelle's storyline was so depressing that it almost felt like she was being punished for her precocious sexuality. I wanted to see her destroy her abuser and end up with someone who loved her, so that was depressing AF. Ronan didn't get a very good ending, either. If you enjoyed Richelle Mead's THE GLITTERING COURT, I think you'll probably enjoy THE RING & THE CROWN, as they are very similar in many ways and there's a lot of crossover appeal, although TR&TC definitely leans more towards historical fantasy.

P.S. I took a bookstagram of this book.

4 out of 5 stars

The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

THE RAVEN PRINCE was the Unapologetic Romance Readers' December book of the month pick, and I barely scraped by, finishing the book on December 29th. But I did scrape by, and am proud of it! I was initially excited that RAVEN PRINCE had run, because I really liked the other book I'd read in this trilogy, THE LEOPARD PRINCE, and this one was supposed to be even better.

Here's the thing about Elizabeth Hoyt - she's really hit and miss. When she's on her game, she hits balls out of the court left and right. She's written one of my favorite historical romances of all time (DUKE OF SIN). But man, when she's not on her game, the results are - in keeping with the sports metaphors - foul.

THE RAVEN PRINCE isn't a bad book. Most of the members in our buddy read really liked the book, and I did, too. But it isn't a prime example of Hoyt's works by any means and suffers from some major problems which I'm going to discuss.


The plot is pretty simple. Anna Wren is a widow who is living in poverty with her mother-in-law, Mother Wren, and a loyal servant named Fanny. They're running out of money and on the cusp of making the terrible decision that no lady should make: starve in dignity like a lady or work like one of the peons? *rolls eyes* Luckily, Anna is able to secure a prestigious position as the local Earl's secretary, and he is none the wiser at first because she's hired by his man while he's on a trip. When he gets back, he admires her work before he learns of her sex (again, very luckily), and he decides to keep her on as a lark, and because she makes his naughty bits feel funny.

There's a bit of a Beauty and the Beast element to this book, because the Earl is terribly scarred all over because of small pox. I was wondering why this sounded so familiar, and then it occurred to me that I had read a book with the same trope earlier this month: Tessa Dare's THE DUCHESS DEAL, except in the case of the duke in that story, the result of the scarring was fire from explosives. Anna is attracted to the Earl but her late husband cheated on her, so she doesn't want to jump into anything with another man because she is so damaged emotionally. #notallmen

There's a side plot where Anna ends up making the acquaintance of two prostitutes named Cora and Pearl, and they end up owing an Anna a favor when she saves Pearl from dying in the road. Anna decides to go to this brothel named Aphrodite's Grotto because she knows that the Earl plans to go there and she wants to sleep with him incognito, by means of a mask. Cora makes arrangements and the Earl has THE BEST LOVINS EVAR ™, so he comes back several times, but Anna has second thoughts and ditches him on what is supposed to be the third night, bemoaning her virtue and her feelings. There's also another sideplot involving blackmail (and the woman who cheated with Anna's husband), and the Earl finds out who Anna is and offers her marriage (in anger, at first) - except he's engaged to another woman so first he has to call that off, and while he is, Anna is contacted by the blackmailer and runs away, and there's drama, but then everyone winds up happy, the end.

There were several reasons I didn't like this book as much as I should have. I don't generally like stories where the characters have sex with each other not knowing who the other is. It feels icky. There was only one book that I didn't mind that trope in, and that was a bodice-ripper; I expect those kinds of shenanigans from bodice rippers. The way Anna reacted afterwards just felt so convoluted, too. She was very emotionally vulnerable, but that disappeared whenever it was convenient to the plot, so she came across as undeveloped. Same with the Earl. Sometimes you read about characters who feel fully fleshed out and human, and you feel invested with them. These characters felt like little puppets moving around on a stage. I didn't feel invested in them at all.

Another trope this book employs that I don't like is the "I was barren until I ended up with the right man" trope. I tried to tell myself that maybe Anna wasn't barren, but her husband was - but then I remembered that her husband was cheating on her with another woman, and (it's heavily implied) got said OW with child. Of course Anna is only able to have children when she ends up with her true love. *rolls eyes* I don't know, something about this feels vaguely ableist, like it's sending the message to barren women, "Oh, you're just not trying hard enough" or "you're just not with the right person." It feels gross and manipulative, and I don't like this trope at all - but it's used a lot.

I did like the fact that Anna wasn't another virginal widow (another trope I hate), and her relationship with her mother-in-law was genuinely touching. All the secondary characters in this book are also excellent, like Hopple and his bumblebee and frog waistcoats, the cranky and mutinous Davis, Cora and Pearl (of course), and Mother Wren. They actually stole the show from the main characters, which is a problem. But the writing is good, and the garden scenes (there were several) are so magical that they reminded me of the reveal in THE SECRET GARDEN, and there were some pretty steamy moments in THE RAVEN PRINCE, so I guess I can't fault it **too** much.

3 out of 5 stars

Dance with Me by Alexis Daria

I loved everything about the first book in the Dance Off series. TAKE THE LEAD had everything going for it: sexy hero and heroine with off-the-charts chemistry, fun reality TV show setting, competition, slow burn romance, #ownvoices WoC heroine whose cultural heritage adds to the book without feeling like a "diversity tickmark," and an amazing cover. Only an irritating Big Misunderstanding in the last act kept the book from getting five stars. It was amazing.

Since I loved Gina so much, the idea of reading a story featuring her friend (also #ownvoices, also Puerto Rican), Natasha, was really appealing. And her love interest is a Russian dancer-turned-judge, with a dash of the forbidden (conflict of interest). Plus, that cover - again, super awesome. It seemed like I was being set up to love this story and I was totally down -

- and then the book went and let me fall.

Oh my God. So, basically everything I loved about the first book, this book went and did the opposite. Instead of having a strong heroine and hero who are into each other, we have a heroine who makes terrible life choices (money trouble, relationship drama, irresponsible, mommy issues, "dark" past), and spends most of the time either crying, using sex like a drug, or whining about how she doesn't deserve to be loved. The hero, Dimitri, isn't any better. He starts out as an alpha male who quickly turns into a domineering alphahole: this is a manwhore turned monogamous storyline, and he basically spends the entire book trying to "trap" the heroine into marrying him, ignoring her "nos" or her signals, pushing her into having sex with him, having her move in with him, and when she gets an injured leg, carrying her around all the time even when she doesn't want to be carried, etc. Also, he's a judge and the show and she's a contestant, and after Gina and Stone's relationship, producers are taking a zero tolerance "showmance" policy. Dimitri knows this, knows that Natasha has money problems, and knows that she's going to get fired if they get found out - and still pursues her anyway. The most alarming scene is when she moves back into her own apartment and is with friends, and he just waltzes right in because the door is open and tells everyone to "get out." I'm sorry, but no.

There is no reality TV show setting here, because Natasha is between shows and later injures herself, so she can't dance. There's no slow burn, either, because the characters are lovers from the start, and Dimitri is the one trying to make it more than it already is. The heroine's "dark past" is that she did pole-dancing and worked at a topless bar when she was desperate, and got breast implants seemingly out of insecurity (she tried to apply to a Hooters-like bar and they told her that her breasts were too small), even though she says that they were for her. Gina was in control of her sexuality, but didn't want to be objectified or play into Latina stereotypes; she came off as strong, talented, and confident. Natasha, on the other hand, is a hot mess, and her whole "erotic dancing is something to be ashamed of" attitude, and "I wasn't worth a second look until I filled out and got breast surgery" mindset was just irritating, as was her constant jealousy of Gina. Her relationship with her mother is also obviously unhealthy and the ending confused me, because it seemed to be trying to make her out as a good person to wrap up the book with an HEA when she so clearly was not.

I don't know, guys. I really wanted to love this book, because the first one was so good, but all I feel now is disappointed. It's been a while since I felt so let-down by a sequel. (I think the last time was probably everything that came after Elizabeth Hoyt's DUKE OF SIN in the Maiden Lane series). If you're going to read this series, my advice is to start with book one and then just leave it at that. I'm still interested in this author's work, but I wash my hands of both Natasha and Dimitri.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

2 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Prince of Eden by Marylin Harris

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Victorian Era: Starks vs. Lannisters edition. 

If you've been following my reviews, you'll know I love bodice rippers. I "encourage" all my friends to read them and even managed to trick my entire romance group into doing a buddy read of an especially terrible one (spoiler alert: everyone hated it).

Bodice rippers have a bad reputation. When people think "bodice ripper," they tend to picture a Technicolor book cover featuring a buxom women swooning in the arms of a shirtless hunk and a plot that contains more cheese than the state of Wisconsin. The book I tricked my romance group into reading certainly fell under that category. But while some of them are awful, there are some genuinely good ones that are either extraordinarily well-researched or else so cracktastic that the anachronisms and politically incorrect terms become, if not amusing then morbidly fascinating. (I encourage anyone interested in exploring bodice rippers for themselves to check out my bodice ripper shelf on Goodreads. Anything 3+ stars is v. good(!), and yes, I do try to discuss trigger warnings.)

The Eden series falls into both the well-researched and the cracktastic camp, which makes them extra special. The series is being rereleased for Kindle (books 1 & 2 are currently free if you have Kindle Unlimited), and Netgalley recently approved me for a copy of book 3 in the series, THE EDEN PASSION. Once I stopped screaming with excitement, I immediately picked up my ***hard cover editions*** of the first two books to binge through. The first book, THIS OTHER EDEN, is more of a traditional bodice ripper, with the hero and heroine coming to blows (literally - and it involves a public whipping) and going through about sixty different kinds of hell, before reuniting in what is more of a satisfactory ending than a truly happy one. It had its flaws, but I loved the detail and the fact that all of the characters are morally grey.

The second book, THE PRINCE OF EDEN, is a family saga - which were quite popular in the 80s, and often turned into the more "unisex" version of bodice rippers. THE PRINCE OF EDEN is about the children of Marianne and Thomas, the main couple in the first book. This book is set several decades later. Thomas is dead, Marianne is an old woman, and their two sons are middle-aged. Edward is a bastard, because despite having the same parents as his brother, he was born before his parents were married due to a technicality (read: marriage!pranks). Out of guilt, Thomas Eden bequeathed to Edward the entire Eden family fortune, as well as the estate. The legitimate son, James, received the title - and that's it. Everything he has is dependent on his brother's good will.

Obviously, there is bad blood about this, and James and his sinister and incestuous servants, the Cranfords (read: Lannisters) are planning a lawsuit with the help of the family lawyer, Sir Claudius. All of them want the Eden money for themselves, and it fills them with Impotent Victorian Rage™ that Edward is going out to the slums of London and using the money to help poor orphans and prostitutes. Edward is an idealist, and, despite seeing the darker side of humanity on a daily basis, painfully naive, cushioned by the wealth and privilege that he takes for granted and gives away freely. When that reality touches him personally with tragedy, he turns to opium for solace, and ends up having an affair with his brother's bride-to-be, Harriet Powels.

There isn't really much in the way of plot in this book, apart from the will-they, won't they matter of the lawsuit. But this book is peopled with such a broad spectrum of intriguing characters that I really didn't care. The Cranfords were so sinister and conniving. James is weak and spineless, but has occasional moments of kindness. Edward wants so desperately to do the right thing but constantly reverts to the sins of the father. Marilyn Harris is really good at making you feel things about her characters, and when bad things happen to them, it hurts. THE PRINCE OF EDEN wasn't as crazy as its prequel, but there were still a few bits of OTT that surfaced, such as baby torture, a woman who "gets off" by riding her horse without underclothes, Mr. and Mrs. Incest, Bad Things Happening in Prisons, and of course, a gritty portrayal of drug addiction, withdrawal, and relapse.

I would have given this five full stars if the ending hadn't disappointed me. I was ready to pump my fist in triumph, but Marilyn Harris yanked away my joy before my outstretched fingers had scarcely brushed it. I can't forgive her for that. I'm a very petty individual, and thieves of joy are the absolute worst criminals in the literary cannon. This is a well known fact.

Apart from that, the Eden series is amazing, and it's on Kindle, so please, please read these books, and tag me in your reviews so I can stalk your updates, because everyone knows that watching your friends read your favorite books is the next-best thing to reading them yourself. :-)


4.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Mortal Song by Megan Crewe

🌟 I read this for the Yule Bingo Challenge, for the category of Newt: book with magical creatures. For more info on this challenge, click here. 🌟

I'm giving this three stars, but it's basically an honorary four-star review, and I'm going to explain why in just a moment.

According to the author's note at the back, A MORTAL SONG took several years to complete. It shows. I'm no expert in Japanese religion and mythology, but based on the little I do know, the author got a lot of things right. This is a world based on Shinto religion, so you have kami (basically a cross between spirits and gods), torii gates (the gateways into sacred spaces); ofuda (paper talismans that repel bad spirits); purification wells (to purify yourself before entering the sacred spaces); and demons, which are bad creatures (I think they're called youkai).

All of the characters are Japanese. This is not an "Asian-inspired world." It takes place in Japan, specifically Nagoya and Tokyo, and the forested regions around the mountain. The main character, Sora, has been raised her whole life as something between a god and a princess. When you read the story, you think you're getting a typical "chosen one" plot, but Megan Crewe turns that trope on its head. Sora is actually a human "dupe": the real chosen one has been living with humans in Tokyo for her own protection for all these years. All the powers that Sora thought she had, she was "borrowing" from helpful, lesser kami, in particular her dragonfly companion, Midori.

The real kami chosen one is a girl named Chiyo, who is about what you would expect of a Mary Sue - lavender hair, cheerful all the time, incredibly popular. However, even with this, Chiyo isn't what you would expect. She is painfully naive and makes a lot of mistakes, and her constant upbeat attitude sometimes causes problems, particularly in delicate situations.

Chiyo, Sora, a boy from Chiyo's class named Keiji, and Chiyo's boyfriend Haru, as well as Sora's guardian, Takeo, have to join forces with the kami of the mountain to stop a bunch of yakuza ghosts from basically destroying the world and allowing Mt. Fuji to erupt. It sounds ridiculous when summarized so succinctly, but somehow it works. It has a very manga-like vibe to it, and the whole time I was reading, I kept getting flashbacks to Yu Yu Hakusho and Inuyasha (I'm old, okay).

There is so much that this book got right and I would honestly give A MORTAL SONG four stars if not for the fact that it took so long to get off the ground. It feels very second act-heavy, the way first books in a series often do. This means that while the first half is slow, the second half is jam-packed with action as the author frantically attempts to wrap everything up. Ironically, the story was so slow to start that the book didn't feel rushed; it just felt like a normal, action-packed pace. I really enjoyed the second half, and even teared up a little at a touching moment at the end.

The best aspect of this book, for me, was that it allowed me to relive the trip to Japan I took last summer. We went to several Shinto shrines and they are so beautiful and so mysterious. I can't really put into words what it was like standing in the middle of one of the sacred forests, except that it's an environment entirely unlike anything I've ever felt in the forests here.

Here are some of the pictures from my trip that this book made me remember:

"Floating" torii gate at the island of Miyajima:

Large torii gate standing at entrance to Meiji shrine:

Torii gate at Lake Ashi (near Fuji-san!):

Bowing sika deer at Nara:

Sika deer at Kasuga-taisa standing next to a tōrō
(probably a kami):

Little figurines outside the Arashiyama bamboo forest:

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars!

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

When I looked at my friends' reviews for THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE, I noticed that almost all of my friends who read it gave it negative reviews. After reading this book for myself, all I have to say is that this book proved to me that you can't always trust your friends. (Sorry, friends!) Reading is such a highly subjective experience, and what works for you doesn't always work for someone else (and vice-versa).

After reading the summary, I will admit to rolling my eyes a little. "Oh goody," I thought, "an all-white retelling of LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE." Of course, my skepticism didn't stop me from wanting to read it anyway. Like LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE, TPSOLC is about emotions and food, and how they influence the characters around them. Unlike LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE, the main character, Rose, is a passive individual in the experience. She doesn't cook the food and transfer her emotions to others; she receives those feelings. There also isn't much in the way of romance, so it lakes the passion of LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE.

But did I think it was a bad book? No. Absolutely not.

When Rose eats a piece of food, she can immediately tell how the person was feeling when they cooked or prepared it; where the food was from; and whether it was organic or processed. Can you imagine how bad your coffee would taste if the barista who prepared it was in a bad mood and you tasted her frustration and annoyance? As you can imagine, this often results in highly unpleasant experiences and she avoids eating her own family's cooking after she tastes her mother's unhappiness in a piece of lemon cake and, later, the guilt she's feeling about an extramarital affair in a piece of roasted meat from dinner. The only safe food is processed food, because that's food that's made by cold, unfeeling machines, and therefore doesn't result in any unwanted feelings.

Rose also has a brother named Joseph who appears to be on the Autism spectrum, and a good part of the book is about her tempestuous relationship with him. He's her mother's favorite - a fact that she doesn't even try to hide- and that gets to Rose, especially since Joseph appears largely indifferent to his mother's affection. He also is largely indifferent to Rose, ignoring her, shunning her, or sometimes even being outright mean to her. It isn't until later that Rose finds out that he has a special ability of his own, which he has been using to withdraw further and further from the world.

I really enjoyed TPSOLC. I think one of the biggest issues that people had with it is that it's largely character driven and not a lot of stuff happens. Luckily for me, I enjoy character-driven novels (assuming I like the characters) and am fascinated by people living out their daily lives (I'm really nosy). The family dynamic was incredibly well done and I really liked how Rose's ability was blended in. It was similar enough to LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE that I kind of felt nostalgic for LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE and wanted to read it again, but it wasn't similar enough that I felt like I was reading an outright copy, either. TPSOLC really provides an interesting perspective on where food is coming from and how it's prepared and distributed. Also, the sensory descriptions are amazing. There's a scene close to the end that's probably my favorite part in the story, where Rose does a "food tasting" of a quiche, and man, I have never wanted a quiche as bad as I did then.

If you enjoy stories of magic-realism and character driven stories that make you work for it a little, I think you'll like THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE. It was weird, but charmingly so, and a very gentle, pleasant story that was surprisingly deep and moving. I really liked it!

4 out of 5 stars

Monday, December 25, 2017

How to Appear Normal at Social Events: And Other Essential Wisdom by Lord Birthday

Hello! My name is Mrs. Crackles, Queen of the Potatoes and inventor of the cheese nugget. With this informative guide, I am going to teach you how to read this book, HOW TO APPEAR NORMAL AT SOCIAL EVENTS.

1. Pick up the book.
2. Carefully remove the book from your mouth.
3. Is it out of your mouth?
4. Is it?
5. No.
6. Take the book out of your mouth.
7. Look at the images.
8. Read the words.
9. Shred the book and dip it in marshmallow fluff.
10. Massage yourself with the marshmallow-covered pages and have a Roman orgy in your living room.
11. Subcontract the review to your sentient pet octopus, Mr. Suckers.
12. Frolic.

When I saw this book on Netgalley, I thought it was going to be like the Sarah's Scribbles comics, a series of delightful vignettes told in comic book form about social awkwardness and introversion. However, when I went to go read some of the preliminary reviews on Netgalley, I was surprised to see that this book had a rather dismal 1.67-average rating.

Now that I've "read" this book, I can see why. This "Lord Birthday" person is apparently an Instagram artist of some renown who has 100k+ followers. Some of his illustrations are charming, but his humor is definitely one note. If you ever dabbled in fanfic as a preteen, you're probably familiar with the term "crack-fic", but if you aren't, it's basically a fic written with the purpose of being utterly random. This is the book equivalent of that. It makes no sense and is proud of it.

If you enjoy random humor where the punchline is nonsense, then this is your book, and I'm sure it will greatly assist you in your battles against the nefarious Spinach King (just, for the love of God, take the book out of your mouth, first). If that kind of "humor" doesn't appeal to you, set the book aside and step out into the daylight. Turn your back on the book, lest it consume you.


Mrs. Crackles (cheese nugget inventor, Potato Queen)

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

My sister gave me this book along with I WAS DORA SUAREZ. I WAS DORA SUAREZ was messed up, in the vein of modern messed up thrillers, and has aged incredibly well. THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, on the other hand, feels incredibly dated, with terms and attitudes that have shifted quite dramatically over the years (it was written and set in the 1930s, so you can imagine the racism that is involved).

The plot is about a "tramp" (a homeless man) named Frank, who ends up working for a Greek diner-owner because he sees that the man has a really attractive wife. The wife, Cora, used to work at a "hash house" (which I just looked up and appears to mean a cheap diner), until she married Nick. But Cora is racist and hates the fact that Nick isn't white; she thinks she can do much better. So she and Frank have an affair under Nick's roof and the two of them decide to kill Nick and then run off together.

The story gets pretty convoluted towards the end, where there's more murder attempts and then an actual murder, followed by a trial, and I had to look up what happened because I couldn't believe it. It turns out I was sort of right, which maybe added to some of the shock. I read somewhere that this book inspired Albert Camus's THE STRANGER, and since I really didn't like that book either, I guess that makes a lot of sense. THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE is gritty and grungy, written in that way that kind of makes you feel like humanity has no hope.

It was written during desolate times, when many people's cultural identities were shifting and the economy wasn't so great, and many people were highly suspicious of strangers coming to take their jobs, so I can't help but wonder if the misanthropic POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE was written in response to a Depression-era, xenophobic America. If you read it with that interpretation in mind, it feels less like a sleazy noir tragedy and more like a brilliant allegory. I still didn't like it, but it wasn't bad, and it's short. I hear there's a movie version of it, too. Maybe I'll check that out and see if it's better on the silver screen. I doubt it, though.

2 out of 5 stars

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I'm an introvert. A lot of people don't think I am because I'm very involved in a lot of things - I'm in a lot of clubs, I host a book club (IRL and online), and I like to plan parties for people. But I am an introvert, because too much socializing exhausts me, and I need a few days to kick back and just curl up with a book to recover. It's not that I'm antisocial, it's just how I am. I love being with people, but I can't do it all the time. In middle and high school, I also had social anxiety, to the point where I would sometimes try to call in sick on days when I had oral reports. As soon as I got up in front of everyone, I'd shake so hard I could barely stand upright. I would sometimes skip lunch so I could sit in the library and not talk to anyone.

Writing empowered me to find something in myself as a young teen that made me feel really special and talented. I didn't have the best self-esteem growing up, so every review I received on my works when I posted them online made me feel really good about myself. Sometimes, I'd have a bad day, and then I'd read something really nice and then suddenly everything would be all right again, because someone had read something I'd written and found it meaningful in some small way. Connecting with the reading and blogging community also let me find people who shared my interests and reinforced that my opinions mattered. I joined Goodreads as an older teen (19) and quickly, it became a place where I felt that I could be myself. Now, nearly ten years later, I feel perfectly secure in who I am as a person. And while there are many factors that contributed to this, such as finding a good job and earning my own income, and going to a good school, I also credit my writing and my friends in the blogging community as well to contributing to that developed sense of self and self-confidence. When I read the summary for FANGIRL, I was excited initially because FANGIRL was about an introverted, socially phobic girl who found empowerment in writing and in her fandom. I am also an introverted girl who found empowerment in writing and in her fandom. I even wrote fanfiction many, many years ago - Inuyasha, if you're curious - although obviously (wink), I gave that up and switched to original fiction. I thought, "This is going to be a book about a character who is just like me! There is no way that this cannot be good! I am going to read this and feel all the feels and it will be great"

Reader, this book was some serious, mega kind of BS.

I have not hated a character as much as I hated Cath in a long time. I think the last time I encountered a trash person who achieved Dumpster-Grade status was in Molly McAdams's SHARING YOU, another book that let me seething. The difference between the two is that SHARING YOU doesn't pretend to be anything other than what it is - a guilty pleasure sort of soap opera 'romance' - while FANGIRL basks in its own inflated self of self-importance, featuring a selfish, whiny, genuinely antisocial main character who is so far up her own rear end that she couldn't find her way out with a spelunking team and a searchlight.

Cath whines nonstop about going to college. She whines about her sister, Wren, not rooming with her. She whines at the idea of being forced to socialize. She judges the heck out of her roommate, Reagan. She locks her roommate's friend, Levi, out of their room, leaving him outside to wait for hours in the hall but not before she basically calls him 'rapey.' She whines about her sister not wanting to read or help her with her stupid fanfiction anymore. She describes somebody like this: "He looked like someone with a steerage ticket on the Titanic. Somebody who'd be standing in line at Ellis Island. Undiluted and old-blooded" (31). She whines about her fanfic readers being too demanding and when she's not acting like her fic has a greater place in her life than her education or even her friends, seems totally ungrateful about her 30,000+ readership. She turns in a fanfic for her ORIGINAL FICTION class and is SHOCKED when the professor gives her an F. Then she argues with the professor over what constitutes original writing. This is a professor who has already allowed Cath to take a class that isn't generally open to freshmen, by the way. She makes fun of someone for reading a "kids' book." She bursts into tears every time someone insults her fandom, acting like it's completely off-limits, when she uses it as an emotional crutch to compensate for her lack of healthy relationships or hobbies. She is upset when her sister gets her t-shirts for Christmas and the shirts aren't fandom shirts. She makes out with her roommate's boyfriend and then says "I'm not that kind of girl." She voluntarily helps this guy in her writing class with his stories, but is condescending AF. Then when she finds out he plans on turning it in for his final assignment, she tries to stop him because it's "her" work too. Then she rats him out to her professor, he gets fired from being teacher's assistant. Oh, and guess what? At the end of the book, his story gets considered for a magazine but the professor (the same one Cath argued with) won't let him publish it unless Cath agrees. Cath refuses, while all of her friends smirk and jeer at him. Which is pretty ironic, considering Cath has her sister help her on her precious fic, and even though Wren is credited on their past works, I don't believe she isn't credited on the most recent story. Cath gets into another argument with her professor over original work, and even though her professor gives her a chance for an extension, Cath considers throwing that all away because she wants to finish her fic before the author of her precious fandom publishes the last book. She gets into a fight with Levi over it, who threatens not to talk to her until the book drops. She cries, but of course, Levi ends up relenting. I would have said sayonara, but that's me. Anyone who's willing to throw their life away over fandom doesn't have their priorities sorted out. She calls Aretha Franklin a "diva" and yet says this of herself: "[W]hen I'm writing Gemma T. Leslie's characters, sometimes, in some ways, I AM better than her." To her professor.

Oh. Oh. Oh.

And the BEST PART OF ALL? Cath decides last minute that maybe she shouldn't completely screw herself on her creative writing assignment, so she writes a last-minute story about her mommy issues (which are also done really badly, and feature a lot of Cath-whining). Her last-minute story ends up winning and getting published in the same magazine she blocked that guy in her creative writing class from publishing in. ISN'T THAT BLEEPING GREAT?

So what is the moral of this story? You can treat people like garbage and be considered adorable, quirky, and eccentric as long as you make sure to tell everyone you're an "introvert"? That all introverts are whiny, nasty creeps? That writers are high-strung, arrogant butt-clowns who should throw out all their opportunities in life and hold their craft above all their relationships? That people involved in fandoms are all using their fandoms as emotional crutches and are highly dysfunctional people? That you can do all this stuff and STILL have everything in your life turn out exactly the way you want it because the world isn't fair and life is one giant, gosh-darn wish fulfillment fantasy?

I don't know what this book was trying to say, but I HATED it with a passion - as a writer, as a fangirl, as an introvert, as an ex-socialphobe, and as a reader, who was hoping to find something to get fangirly about and instead encountered a big, festering planet of garbage populated by The Queen of the Trash People Herself: Cath Avery. Oh, and guess what - you can read Cath's fanfic now because it was published as a book

I'm honestly shocked that more people aren't complaining about the unflattering portrait of introverts in this book. I was completely disgusted.

1 out of 5 stars

Sunday, December 24, 2017

American Panda by Gloria Chao

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

This is ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET from a Taiwanese perspective. Seriously. Seriously. I have waded through disappointing YA all year - and finally, finally, I have read one that was the ground-breaking, emotionally moving experience that I was expecting. And you know what the funny thing is? That blurb doesn't do it justice. I almost didn't apply for the ARC of this book because the blurb with its "laugh-out-loud contemporary debut" I'm-so-twee bubbliness made me think this was going to be another vapid attempt to scratch at the surface of diversity without really going into any sort of conflict or detail.


Mei Lu is a freshman at MIT, despite being only seventeen (she was skipped a year). Her parents have big plans for her: they want her to be a doctor and marry the son of one of their friends, another Taiwanese doctor-to-be. The only problem is Mei doesn't want any of that. She's germophobic, and the thought of being a doctor and engaging with bodily fluids causes her to feel panicky and anxious; she wants to dance. She also doesn't want to marry anyone her parents have in mind; instead she wants to date a classmate, a Japanese boy named Darren. Unfortunately, in Mei's family, disobedience means terrible consequences. Her brother, Xing, has been disowned and erased by the family for his defiance. Mei only wants the chance to pursue her own dreams, but she's terrified of failing as the good daughter and losing her parents' affection if she does.

This is such a good book. It's saturated with Taiwanese cultural references - fashion, arts, language, food - but being Taiwanese does not entirely comprise Mei's entire identity. Even though she's proud of being Taiwanese, she fights tradition while striving to find a way to balance her American identity and her desire for independence. In addition to that, there are all the struggles of being a first-year student: living on your own; meeting new people; finding a work-life balance; studying for exams. AMERICAN PANDA also tackles the harder subjects, too, like interracial dating and marriage and racism, including racism within Asian culture.

Mei is such a great narrator. She's emotional and funny and cute, in a way that reminded me of Meg Cabot. Her love interest, Darren, is adorable. I lost it when I found out that he looked like a young Takeshi Kaneshiro - babe alert! I also really liked her friend Nicolette, and how their relationship grew stronger when Mei got over her own initial stereotypes about her roommate. Also, Ying-Na was amazing. Her storyline reminded me of the TV show, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (which you should totally watch if you haven't already). I would love to read a companion book about her journey.

Perhaps the best aspect about this book was Mei's relationship with her family. It could be painful, and even though Mei's parents did terrible things, they weren't black-and-white characters. They believed they were doing the best for Mei even as they hurt her. Watching her relationship with them change over the course of the novel was amazing - especially with Mei's mom. Her story was quite touching and sad, and by the end of the book, I felt like I liked her almost as well as I liked Mei.

Obviously, I loved this book and I think everyone should read it - especially if they've been fed up with some of the young adult offerings this year, as I have been. I can see this being one of the top nominees for the Goodreads Choice Awards next year, and I can guarantee it'll have my vote.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Level Up by Cathy Yardley

🌟 I read this for the Yule Bingo Challenge, for the category of Butter-Beer: a sweet book. For more info on this challenge, click here. 🌟 

I'm taking advantage of the holiday break to clean out my Kindle, and LEVEL UP has been a book I've been wanting to read for a while. Not only did it come highly recommended by my friend sraxe, it also features a STEM heroine of color and an adorable romance based on mutual respect and not "dat ass."

I know, right? How refreshing.

Tessa is a shy, socially anxious young woman who works at a gaming company. She would like to advance but isn't quite sure how. Her roommate, Adam, works at the same company, and when she lets him know that she's angling for a newly available position, she gets him to agree to put in a good word if she can prove herself.

The chance comes when she rescues Adam after a highly unsuccessful attempt to ask a girl (Stacy) out. Stacy and Tessa end up bonding over geek culture and Stacy invites her over to meet some of her friends. Tessa finds out that they own a brick-and-mortar bookstore that isn't doing to well, and comes up with the idea to code a game for a popular fandom contest for publicity.

I really loved the emphasis on coding and geek culture. Yardley also shows, without being too depressing, how the all-male environment can sometimes result in a misogynistic culture (think "brogrammers") and how women often have to prove themselves twice as hard. Tessa has to fight for recognition, and even when she succeeds, she sometimes has to sacrifice her pride.

The relationship between Adam and Tessa is really well done. It's fully consensual, and progresses as a normal relationship would - slowly, tentatively, with lots of talking and discussing and just hanging out. I don't think enough romance novels show couples just hanging out and having fun.

I was afraid for a moment that the ending was going to do something annoying, but what I was afraid was going to happen didn't happen. Tessa manages to accomplish her dream, and doesn't have to sacrifice her relationship (or vice-versa); I really hate when women are forced to choose. LEVEL UP is a really cute, light romance that hits the spot when you can't stand the patriarchy anymore. ;-)

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Atheists Who Kneel and Pray by Tarryn Fisher

🌟 I read this for the Yule Bingo Challenge, for the category of Moaning Myrtle: tearjerker. For more info on this challenge, click here. 🌟


Tarryn Fisher is a relatively new find for me. The first book of hers I read was MUD VEIN and I really enjoyed the suspense angle, even if it felt over-ambitious and pretentious at times. Then I read MARROW, which was close to perfect: a gritty thriller with a flawed, morally grey antiheroine done in the vein of Gillian Flynn.

ATHEISTS WHO KNEEL AND PRAY, on the other hand, is a typical new adult novel. The hero and heroine are both trash people. The heroine, Yara, is a British knockout who chooses to be under-employed despite her degree, and moves from city to city because she doesn't want to commit (it scares her). Mommy issues.

The hero, David, is an aspiring musician who also doesn't want to commit. Women inspire is music, and when he meets Yara, he immediately falls for her and jokingly-but-not-really proposes marriage. Then he stalks her, claiming that she's his muse.

"P*ssy is very inspiring, Yara" (99).

I really can't stand heroes like this. Travis Maddox is probably the most famous one, but this hero archetype goes all the way back to the alphaholes of the 70s: macho dudes who wouldn't take "no" for an answer, got into brawls to prove their manliness, and slept around like it was freaking Pornageddon until they fell in love with that one magical hoohah to rule them all.

"I was angry that other men had touched you before me. I was trying not to lose my shit" (61).

He didn't seem to care if I was having a good time either, because he was having a good time, and he assumed I was lively enough to join him (83).

What a creep.

Their relationship ends up on the rocks when an ambitious groupie named Petra appears on the scene. Petra used to sell beanies beside a bar that David and Yara frequented, and once she cast her eye on him, began showing up at all his concerts and events, even being so bold as to ask Yara about how she landed him (like, you know, she's looking for tips on how to do the same).

David and Yara end up getting married but Yara ditches him immediately after the wedding - because she can't stand commitment. He looks for her, and she finds out that in her absence David shacked up with and got engaged with Petra - even though they're still technically married. And Yara's moved in with a guy named Ethan who doesn't even know she's still married to another man. While these two jerk around their new relationships, they fight with each other, dancing around the idea of divorce while struggling to fight their continued attraction to one another.

This was some serious emotionally-manipulative BS.

Don't get me wrong, the author's other 2 books that I mentioned are emotional too, but this was some Molly McAdams trash people-level sh*t. I can't stand cheating plots, especially when the cheating is casually lobbed in their to regale the readers with drama. It's so lazy; it's the soap opera equivalent of an amnesia or dream plot. It's what you do when you can't think of anything else.

This book's saving grace is decent characterizations of trash people (beyond that 2D Molly McAdams trash people-level sh*t); beautiful descriptions of what it's like to live in a city (less savory aspects and all); on-point descriptions of artists and how pretentious and needy and pompous they can be; and beautiful writing. Apart from that, I wasn't really a fan. I liked Tarryn Fisher's previous works because they were different and stood out from typical run-of-the-mill NA garbage.

But this... this is that garbage. :/

3 out of 5 stars