Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin



Is this a feminist book?

I just read this book called YOU PLAY THE GIRL, a book of essays about pop culture written through a feminist lens, and one of the essays was about Stepford Wives - I seem to recall the author juxtaposed it against the Desperate Housewives and writing a good deal about what it means to be a "housewife," whether you're a good one or a dysfunctional one. I really liked what the author had to say, and it actually motivated me to go dig out my old copy of STEPFORD WIVES for a belated reread.

***WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD***

Disclaimer: I'm a feminist, so obviously I'm a little biased, but in my opinion, STEPFORD WIVES is a feminist book in the same vein as THE HANDMAID'S TALES. STEPFORD is set in the middle of the civil rights era, where Betty Friedan is giving her talks and NOW chapters are rallying for equal rights for women. Men, for the first time, are suddenly expected to share in the housework, and women are being empowered to seek out their own jobs and goals independent of marriage and children, becoming sexually and fiscally autonomous.

One of the biggest issues that women continue to face is objectification. You see this a lot when sexist dudes talk about women, reducing them to their parts ("grab some p*ssy," "Tits or GTFO"), or talking about them as if they are trophies to be won for their accomplishments ("I'm such a nice guy, so why don't I have a girlfriend?"). It's gotten better, but not nearly as much as it should have, and one of the more chilling aspects for me is how modern STEPFORD WIVES feels, despite being published in 1972. I don't know about you, but it doesn't speak very highly towards our society that we're still being plagued by the same exact issues almost fifty years later. Especially since the chilling climax of this book is objectification in the ultimate sense: taking living, breathing women and replacing them with actual objects: in this case, robots.

I've read this book several times over the course of my life, and with every reread I take something new from the text. I feel like I was able to appreciate it more this time because I've been reading more books about history and feminism, so I have a better appreciation for the zeitgeist of the time of this book's publication, and what the broader historical context behind it was. In fact, I would say STEPFORD WIVES actually improves with subsequent reads, because there are all these sinister hints that you pick up on while reading between the lines that make it even more terrifying.

Examples:

When Joanna first finds out about the Men's Association, she is against it. She expects her husband, who claims to be a feminist, will be, too, but he joins because "the only way to change it is from the inside" (6). The irony here is that the only changes being made on "the inside" are occurring within the context of her marriage: Walter sabotages Joanna so slowly that by the time she finally feels the noose tightening, it's already too late.

After one of his Men's Association meetings, Walter comes home late and masturbates furiously in their bed, but acts ashamed when she catches him: His eye-whites looked at her and turned instantly away; all of him turned from her, and the tenting of the blanket at his groin was gone as she saw it, replaced by the shape of his hip (15). They have sex at her insistence, which ends up being "one of their best times ever - for her, at least" and she says, "What did they do...show you dirty movies or something?" (16). This is one of those moments where, in subsequent rereads, the reader wonders: did the members of the Men's Association indoctrinate Walter by showing him what they do to their wives, and did the possibilities of that excite him instead of horrifying him?

Towards the end, after Bobbie, a friend to Walter and Joanna, "changes", Walter hesitates when it's time to say goodbye: Bobbie moved to Walter at the door and offered her cheek. He hesitated - Joanna wondered why - and pecked it (77). I took this to mean that Walter is thinking of his own wife's pending transformation and feeling guilt and uncertainty. Should he go through with it? When Joanna is worried about her friend, Walter has this to say: "There's nothing in the water, there's nothing in the air....They changed for exactly the reasons they told you: because they realized they'd been lazy and negligent. If Bobbie's taking an interest in her appearance, it's about time. It wouldn't hurt YOU to look in a mirror once in a while" (86). He goes on to say: "You're a very pretty woman and you don't do a damn thing with yourself any more unless there's a party or something" (86). That's when I felt like it became too late for Joanna. In the midst of her mental breakdown, she let herself - and the house - go, and Walter decided he didn't want to deal with that, any of it, anymore. Why settle for a flawed woman when you could have a perfect one?

When Joanna tries to run away from the women and the men from the Men's Association corner her, they hunt her down like an animal and mock her fear. I took this to mean that the objectification was complete: they no longer saw her as human - they knew she was about to become a robot, and so to them, she was just a thing. What makes this even more ironic is when they say, "[W]e don't want ROBOTS for wives. We want real women" (114). Because I've heard so many men say similar things - that they want smart, clever, beautiful women...but there's always a qualifier. As long as they don't try too hard, as long as they aren't more successful than me, as long as they aren't shrill or know-it-all.

The Men of Stepford want "real" women...but they also don't want flawed, forgetful women who sometimes let themselves go and don't want to do all the housework. They want the women of their fantasies made real: they want Pygmalion.

"Suppose one of these women you think is a robot - suppose she was to cut herself on the finger, and bleed. Would THAT convince you she was a real person? Or would you say we made robots with blood under the skin?" (114)

The ending of this book is depressing AF. I'm not sure what the message is, exactly, either - is it saying that men are inherently sexist and unwilling to move towards equality? Or is it a warning of the reductio ad absurdum variety of what objectification can lead to if left unchecked? And what of the children: are they going to groom their daughters to become robots when they come of age as well, marrying themselves off to the highest bidder? The story becomes even bleaker if you consider the possibilities. I took it as a warning, and a criticism of the patriarchy, but STEPFORD is open to so many possible interpretations, and I think that's what makes it such an interesting and lasting book.

3.5 out of 5 stars

You Play the Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks, & Other Mixed Messages by Carina Chocano



This author's name sounded familiar to me, which was odd - because as far as I knew, I hadn't read any of her works. Netgalley strikes again! As it turns out, Carina Chocano had published an essay in another feminist book I read recently, called NASTY WOMEN. The essay, titled "We Have a Heroine Problem" was about the Madonna/whore lens with which we view women in the public eye, except it's more like the paragon/demon complex (my name, BTW). Basically, women in the public eye are either put on pedestals or villanized depending on how well (or how poorly) they conform to society's gender norms.

YOU PLAY THE GIRL is a collection of essays about women in pop culture, and some of the confusing or even downright negative messages that these female representatives send to the populace. Chocano spans an impressive range of material. Just a few of the topics she hits on: Playboy Bunnies, sex dolls, Stepford Wives, Amy Schumer's Trainwreck, the Ghostbusters reboot, Flashdance, Pretty Woman, Katharine Hepburn, Mad Men, Maleficent, and the Desperate Housewives, just to name a few.

Sometimes these pop-cultural essays make me side-eye the author a little because two bad things can happen (apart from the book just being generically bad for purely technical reasons): 1) the essays are tone-deaf and either miss the point, or spend far too much time circling around it, or 2) the essays are unoriginal and make points that you could find on any blogspot or wordpress-type blog *cough*.

NOT SO, HERE!

In YOU PLAY THE GIRL, Chocano writes with vivid freshness, delivering new insights to books and movies you may have seen or watched dozens of times and never really thought deeply about. She talks about feminism, she talks about sexism, she talks about motherhood, adolescence, sexuality. There is so much ground covered in here, and I spent several nights last week getting only about 4 hours of sleep, tops, due in part to my inability to put this book down.

I really recommend this if you're a feminist or a pop culture enthusiastic. This author is just fantastic and has such an amazing way of writing in clear and concise terms. If she published another collection of essays like this, I think I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Hidden Jewel by V.C. Andrews



"V.C. Andrews" as we knew and loved her died in 1986. Subsequent titles are published by a ghostwriter hired by the estate, Andrew Neiderman. The first Neiderman/Andrews book I read was one of the later titles published in the mid-2000s, when I guess he decided that he gave no f*cks and was going to write whatever, because it was about a creepy school and not a Gothic family drama - what. It actually put me off Andrews books for a while, because it was so bad.

One of my friends intervened and told me that what I had read was V.C. Andrews in the same way that New Coke is Coke - AKA, not. So I went back and read MY SWEET AUDRINA and FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC and was blown away at the difference; V.C. Andrews is not high literature, but she writes trash with glitz and glam and rhinestones the hell out of those old musty newspapers, so even though you know that you're reading garbage, you're reading sparkly garbage (which is better).

With that in mind, I decided to go back and revisit "V.C. Andrews" (as done by Neiderman), thinking that the early books - the ones written when he actually still gave f*cks - might be better.

To my surprise...they were!

HIDDEN JEWEL is actually the fourth book in the Landry series, about Ruby's daughter, Pearl, but I decided to treat it as a standalone and just dove in and man is it insane. Pearl is a socialite with a popular boyfriend and a graduation party coming up, and she wants to be a doctor. Her boyfriend dumps her for an evil slutty type on the day of her party since she doesn't put out. After that, every male character tries to sexually molest Pearl, including her father (well, sort of - he just disrobes, thinking she's her mom, and pulls some "Paint me like your French girls"-type Titanic BS which, understandably freaks Pearl out), an interning doctor (aka, Dr. Bad Touch) who invites her to study only to lecture her about vaginismus and dyspareunia and then attempts to determine whether or not she's frigid (the leading cause of vaginismus, according to him) by undressing her and telling her she has "wonderfully healthy skin" (86), a creepy swamp dude who tries to pull some Craster-type BS by abducting her and forcing her to be his shed-wife via a chain and some beatings, and then the actual patriarchal-type love interest who's supposed to be a good guy but comes across as a not-so-smooth-talking-creep circa 1959.

It's got all sorts of wacky hijinks, like family curses, voodoo (Pearl's grandmother is a traiteur), deaths, alcoholism, and sex, all set against the backdrop of Louisiana, with some half-hearted attempts to imbue it with some Cajun culture. I fully expected to despise this book like the other "V.C. Andrews" book I read, so you could color me surprised when I actually found myself enjoying this trashy dreck. Neiderman is trying so hard and it's actually endearing, because he is almost successful at capturing that elusive V.C. Andrews Classic style and there are some genuinely beautiful descriptions in here, mostly of the food and the nature variety.

The sex? Not so much.

We exploded against each other. I bit down on his ear so hard I thought I tasted blood (279)

...it was a long, flowing stream of passion that climbed higher and higher until it burst in a waterfall, pounding rocks below again and again and again, each time punctuated with a bigger, happier Yes.

Obligatory visual interlude:


I would read the other books in this series, and maybe also the Cutler & Casteel series, too. I'm digging this early Neiderman vibe. It's not as good as the original, but at least it's trying.

Stepback pic from the die-cut Pocket Books edition:

 

I'm not sure who the creepy dude in blue is, but I think it's supposed to be Dr. Bad Touch(?).

3 out of 5 stars

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Countess by Catherine Coulter



The only Catherine Coulter books I've read prior to THE COUNTESS were two of her bodice rippers. One of them was okay (it was the "extensively rewritten" edition of one of her bodice ripper classics). The other was annoying and I hated it. This, averaged out, did not seem particularly reassuring and I told myself that if I picked up THE COUNTESS and hated it that I would simply chuck all of her books into the donation bin unread. To my surprise, however, I actually enjoyed THE COUNTESS quite a bit!

Andrea "Andy" Jameson is a headstrong heiress who has been indulged by her grandfather and has serious issues with her actual father. She falls for a young man named John who seems to like her dog almost as much as he likes her, but finds herself afraid of him (for reasons that will be explained later). She ends up marrying herself off to a much safer option - an older man who promises that he won't touch her. Unfortunately, this older man is the uncle to John. Oops.

Awkwardness abounds as Andy lives in the same house as both John and Lawrence (the uncle) as well as John's brother, Thomas, his wife Amelia, and the daughter of Lawrence's previous wife, who allegedly committed suicide by jumping out from one of the windows of the rooms adjoining Andy's. The relationships between these various family members are complex and fraught with rivalries. Plus, there's a creepy mystery surrounding Lawrence's previous wife's death. Especially since several attempts are made on Andy's own life in increasingly bolder attempts.

Andy is a great heroine. She's headstrong and brave without being an idiot (the previous heroines written by this author were both idiots). I see that this book was also published as THE AUTUMN COUNTESS and, like the bodice ripper I read, is also "extensively rewritten." I'm not sure what the author changed, but it actually works here. The plot is spooky, the heroine is brave, the hero is dashing and manly, and the supporting characters are all interesting and serve as more than just hapless plot points to pepper the story with mystery and red herrings.

Also, the villain is creepy AF:

"I have decided to take you, Andrea, as a man takes a woman. You are a virgin. I have not enjoyed a virgin in a great number of years. It will be exciting. I won't mind you fighting me, but not all that much. Just a bit to give excitement to the taming. Since you (spoiler), you must obey me. Ah, to have your virgin's blood on me, to feel my seed deep inside you. I will enjoy that. I will be the only man ever to have you" (319).

Creepy.

P.S. Since I noticed nobody else has posted it yet, here's the stepback to the 1999 edition:


4 out of 5 stars

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Happy Mail by Eunice and Sabrina Moyle



I'm going to tell you a secret: one of the things I miss most about being a kid is receiving snail mail from my friends. I grew up in a time when not everybody had internet, so if you wanted to invite someone to your birthday party you didn't send out a group text or create a Facebook event - you sent out birthday invitations and then asked people to call back and RSVP.

As an adult, there is something so incredibly nostalgic about putting pen to paper and writing to someone the old-fashioned way. I'm fascinated with Happy Mail and follow the ardent practitioners of this glorious craft with enthusiasm on Instagram. I have a hoard of unused washi tape and other craft supplies, and have been dying to use them. Maybe this book, I thought, will be the impetus to finally get me to get up the courage and try this elusive but oh-so-compelling Happy Mail project.

Unfortunately, this book...is not very good. There are three crucial steps, you see.

Step 1: Have perfect handwriting.
Step 2: Be an amazing artist.
Step 3: Copy these step-by-step templates instead of embracing your creativity.

Look, maybe it's my fault. I was hoping for a style guide that gives you ideas on how to use printed washi tape, glitter, rhinestones, and other things. Kind of like Pinterest, but in book form and only for Happy Mail. Instead this book gives you a set amount of designs and fonts to copy and send out. The back even features pre-made and pre-illustrated cards that you can punch out and send. What blasphemy is this! Pre-made? That defeats the purpose of Happy Mail, doesn't it?

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

2 out of 5 stars

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump's America by Samhita Mukhopadhyay



The last presidential election made me very upset. Like many Americans, I asked myself, "How did this man get elected?" But also, "Why were so many people willing to overlook all the terrible things he said? Why did 53% of women vote for him, despite the remarks he made about women of all kinds?" And, most terrifyingly of all: "How did we become so willing to turn a blind eye to, or, worse, actively participate in or encourage acts of aggression and hate towards those who are different?"

NASTY WOMEN is a collection of essays from various feminist writers about Hillary's campaign, Trump's victory, and what they believe the aftermath of the election means for women - and for Americans, more broadly.

Some of the essays are filled with anger, some with sadness, some with hope. Some of the essays are written by queer women and women of color. Some of the essays are written by women who were born here, and some from women who came here as immigrants. There is a lot of diversity in these essays, which really added depth to this collection and made it complex and multi-faceted.

I've included a break-down of all the essays in my status updates for this book on Goodreads (all 47 of them), but here is a collection of what I see as this book's "greatest hits."

"Are Women Persons?" by Kate Harding discusses the flaws of some of the pioneering feminists, like Susan B. Anthony, who was definitely a product of her times in that she could be racist as f*ck. It cautions that historically, feminism was a white upper-class women's issue; and while these women helped paved the road for where we are now and their frustration at being held back by condescending men still resonates for many, we must not make their mistakes by throwing people of color under the bus or failing to include them when advancing feminist issues.

"Trump, The Global Gag Rule, and the Terror of Misinformation" by Jill Filipovic goes into Trump's extremely cruel expansion of the gag rule, which basically penalizes foreign groups from discussing or providing abortions and birth control to foreign countries. It's heart-breaking, but powerful.

"Is There Ever a Right Time to Talk to Your Children About Fascism?" by Kera Bolonik is written by the granddaughter of holocaust survivors and discusses how many of Trump's supporters and campaign tactics mirror that of fascist Germany during WWII.

"Permission to Vote for a Monster: Ivanka Trump and Faux Feminism" by Jessica Valenti turned out to be one of my favorites. It's a discussion of the women conservatives champion - women who are content to play by the rules set by men and who don't want to make waves, and condemns conservative women who co-opt "feminism" to push their own agendas. It helps explain the mentality of the white women who voted for Trump.

"X Cuntry: A Muslim-American Woman's Journey" by Randa Jarrar was so weird and so unlike any of the other more traditionally formatted essays in this book that it ended up being totally memorable. It's a series of dream-like diary entries written by a Palestinian immigrant discussing her encounters with racism in the toxic sociopolitical climate leading up to Trump's election.

"Trust Black Women" by Zerlina Maxwell gives the reasons black women overwhelmingly (94%) voted for Hillary Clinton. It's a good essay. There were several other similar essays in this collection, but I felt like this one was the best. Maybe because it ends on a note of hope & I'm a hopeless fool.

"All American" by Nicole Chung ends this book on a strong, resonant note. Chung is the adopted daughter of two white people (she's Korean-American). She talks about how the aftermath of the election has affected her, and her fear for her children because of their ethnicity and also because one of them has autism. She discusses the countless microaggressions she encounters from people who are so ignorant that they don't even realize they're being offensive, and the tense discussions with her conservative parents who voted for Trump and regard anyone different as suspicious.

This really is a fantastic collection from a varied and talented group of essayists. I would honestly recommend this book to anyone who was #WithHer and is feeling angry, scared, hopeless, or sad. The editors went out of their way to include a diverse array of women with many different views when it comes to the dual but related subjects of liberalism and feminism. I heartily recommend it!

Bonus pictures from the SF Women's March:

 

 Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Lady Stuff: Secrets to Being a Woman by Loryn Brantz



I'm reading some pretty heavy stuff right now - nonfiction about politics & a work of historical fiction about the Vietnam war. It's nice to break up the darker reads with a few light ones, so I decided to crack into my cookbook and comic book ARCs for some moments of respite.

LADY STUFF won me over with the title, because I'm a lady! I do stuff! Obviously, I should be able to relate to this book on a personal level because of that, right? RIGHT?

#LadyStuff

I've read a number of these girl-geared comic books of the twenty-first century at this point. The first and probably most well-known was probably HYPERBOLE AND A HALF by Allie Brosh, which remains my favorite (where's the sequel?). Then there's Sarah Anderson and her Scribbles and Ruby Elliot's IT'S ALL ABSOLUTELY FINE, which is a lot like HYPERBOLE except less insightful and a tad more cliche. If I had to rank them, I'd probably go 1. HYPERBOLE, 2. SCRIBBLES, 3. FINE, 4. LADY STUFF.

LADY STUFF is not a bad book, but like most of the book I mentioned, it tends to touch on the usual themes. "Oh, personal grooming is such a pain, right?" "Oh, staying in bed is so great, right?" "LOL, I'm so lazy. How lazy am I? Just look and see!" "I like cats! Liking cats is so on trend!" "I like dogs! Everyone likes dogs!" "I'm so introverted! I feel so awkward around people! I'm gonna go hide, k!"

I relate to all of those things hard (especially the introversion bit), so I get why these are such overarching themes in girl-geared comic books. A lot of people feel introverted and isolated so it's fun to poke some gentle fun at that while also embracing it and even celebrating one's introversion. But at the same time, there's only so many incarnations of the same comedic material that one can take. Her makeup panels were probably the most relatable to me because I am forever messing up cat-eyes and going back and trying to make things even and f*cking everything up instead.

Overall, this wasn't a bad book but it wasn't anything new either, and other artists have done it better and more to my taste. Still, if you enjoyed any of the other artists I mentioned, you should definitely check this one out, as you will probably enjoy LADY STUFF too, because #LadyStuff.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3 out of 5 stars

Kawaii Doodle Class: Sketching Super-Cute Tacos, Sushi, Clouds, Flowers, Monsters, Cosmetics, and More by Zainab Khan



I feel like I've been on the internet for ever. Now there's so many graphics available for people who want to use them, but there weren't nearly as many around in the early days of the internet. When I was teenager (oh God, I sound so old), we used 100 x 100 icons and "sprites" or pixel art to express ourselves and show off our interests & personality.

I was naturally attracted to the art of KAWAII DOODLE CLASS because the illustrations looked so much like (and perhaps were inspired by) the pixel sprites that I loved so much when I was fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen.

Normally, I side-eye these drawing books because they are either overly simple or else way too complicated, but in this case, the step-by-step guide is really handy and very easy to do! The only ones that were too complicated for me were the flowers - especially that confounded daisy.

If you have a kid who's into Shopkins (or you're really into Shopkins), I think they'd really enjoy this book, as the author has them divided into sections: food, monsters, household items, seasonal items, nature - just like Shopkins. Plus, there's room at the end of each "chapter" for you to practice, and then at the very end there's some "I spy" type games and black and white images you can color.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

I'm really glad I applied for this after all! It was really cute.

4 out of 5 stars

Hedgehog Wisdom: Little Reasons to Smile by Carolyn Parker



This is one of those books that you can find in gift shops & the like. I think they're called "novelty books" and they don't really serve any purpose beyond giving as gifts and/or keeping on a coffee table as a cute conversation starter.

HEDGEHOG WISDOM features two African pygmy hedgehogs, one gray and one white. Interspersed with the various hedgehog glamor shots are feel-good quotes that are designed to be either comforting or inspirational.

I thought this was a pretty good book for what it was. I've read a lot of books like this, and it was no better or worse than any of the others I've read! Some of the quote parts missed the mark, but the pictures were cute. I love hedgehogs.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3 out of 5 stars

Friday, August 4, 2017

Disciplined by the Duke by Alyson Chase



I blame Heather for making me want to read this book. She told me that there was a hawt villain in it, and I'm a sucker for those. I didn't even read the summary; I went to Netgalley and applied for the book on that premise alone. I read it cold.

#HOTVILLAINSFOREVER

Now that I've finished, I'm not quite sure how I feel about DISCIPLINED BY THE DUKE. For the first sixty pages, there was a decent build-up of sexual tension, a sinister and compelling villain, and a hero who was pretty hot what with his talk of forbidden play (although what's up with the Victorian edition of the Red Room of Pain on the cover?).

BUT - unfortunately for this book, it's a mishmash of two books that took its concept (sister protecting her other sister and allowing herself to be blackmailed because of it vs. erotic BDSM historical) and did it one better.

Cases in point: RUTHLESS and LORD SAVAGE, respectively.

***SPOILERS TO FOLLOW FROM THIS POINT ON***

Elizabeth's sister is in jail for murdering her father (it's suggested he abused the sister, possibly sexually). Elizabeth says, many times, that she will do anything to save her, and this means putting herself under the employ of the nefarious and devilishly good-looking Earl of Westmore, who wants her to seduce the Duke of Montague in order to steal a letter that he desperately wants.

The Earl of Westmore is a great villain. I thought at first that he was the love interest (I have issues, I think), and then when I found out he wasn't, I thought he was going to be one of those villainous characters who ends up getting his own book later on (YAY :D). But no.

The author kills him off.

Boo.

Anyway, Elizabeth arrives at the Duke's house and is determined to achieve the letter without seduction, but she's so attractive and of course she catches his eye immediately. And of course the Duke has a policy about not tupping the help but of course he makes an exception for her.

I mean, it's a romance novel, so I think we expected that, right?

Well, what I didn't expect were the silliness of the sex scenes. Milking, tunneling (c*ck gophers, anyone?), desire (used as a noun, to refer to various fluids), and mewl are used in abundance.

Here are some quotes that I found particularly jarring:

His thumb swiped around her clitoris...(130) Because her vag is a dating app? #SwipeRight

His cock was hard enough to pound a horseshoe into shape... (129)

Marcus was so hard he could pound nails with his cock (69).

I love that one of these quotes is on p. 69, btw. But also, was the author reading a book about blacksmiths while writing this book and thinking oh yeah, dip that ingot, pound that flesh anvil, wield the mighty c*ck hammer of sexual glory? I mean, maybe I shouldn't talk, since I once wrote an erotica novel comparing a c*ck to a Christmas tree (the veins were described as the lights, or something equally horrible - "garlanded by veins" may have been the phrase), but wow. Smithing level: 69.

I was willing to forgive the bad sex scenes though, since those are part of what make erotica so fun. Bertrice Small was famous for her "coral-tipped cones" and "honey ovens" and "coral-red flowers of womanhood wet and pouting with desire", and I love Small because she truly gave no f*cks. But what I could not forgive was the dumb.

Someone tries to kill Liz and she's just like, meh, oh well. She faints for no reason. She falls down in a field and then proceeds to lie there and freeze to death. Montague finds her, and then immediately after warming her up, has sex with her half-thawed self even though she says no. What. Liz betrays Westmore and knows she must act quickly to save her sister before he takes his revenge out on her, but of course there's time for one last round of hide the hammer in the tool-shed. Surprise, surprise, when she FINALLY gets her butt to the jail, her sister's been sent off to be hung.

I think the heroine herself sums this book up best:

Damn, she was stupid (200).

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Paperbacks from Hell: A History of Horror Fiction from the '70s and '80s by Grady Hendrix



Given my love for vintage novels of all kinds, you can imagine my reaction when I saw that vintage font peeping at me on Netgalley with its classic Gothic serifs, and red-black contrast. It looked exactly like a horror novel from the late 70s/early 80s. "What on Earth is that?" my inner book goblin cried. "I must have the precious!"

It turned out to be a meta-book published by Grady Hendrix, the author of Horrorstör. PAPERBACKS FROM HELL is a celebration of horror from its early days to the 90s. It contains bite-sized reviews from his favorites - or at least the most memorable - discusses the game-changers and front-runners in the various sub-genres of horror (e.g. Gothic romance, vampire novels, splatterpunk, serial killer books, haunted houses, etc.), has beautiful, high-quality pictures of some of the cover art (and even goes into some of the more notable arists themselves), and is basically a celebration of the creepy and the wyrd.

I expected it to be good, since it was published by Quirk Books and I've liked 90% of everything of theirs I've read, but I wasn't expecting this book to be this good. Some of these meta-books can be pretentious, but PAPERBACKS FROM HELL was just pure fun. Finally, someone who gets the ironic, self-indulgent pleasure of indulging in the ridiculously dated and ridiculously fun books of yesteryear! He even gives a nod to bodice rippers, when discussing Gothic romances.

OBVIOUSLY my favorite sections were the Gothic/vampire romance sections and the sections on teen horror, because those two niches are my jam and I will spread them as thickly on toast as I can until the bread tears (or until I run out of shelf space). Crummy metaphor (ha - toast, get it?); let's just say that there's a genre of horror that I like and there's genres of horror that I don't like.

HOWEVER, even though not all of these horror novels are my cups of tea, Hendrix made me want to revisit the genre. I used to read exclusively horror when I was a teen - Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Anne Rice, Dean Koontz - THE DARKER THE BETTER, I thought! Until I started having nightmares all the time...and at fourteen became briefly too traumatized to stand too near the shower drain (or the sink) after reading IT. After that, I started to tone it down.

His enthusiasm and the amazing cover art would make this a must-read on their own, but the content is also great and I feel like he brings fresh insight and humor to the genre that is just extra. If you're a fan of horror at all, you should pick this up. It might bulk up your to-read list, but that's ok, right?

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Comic Book Story of Video Games: The Incredible History of the Electronic Gaming Revolution by Jonathan Hennessey



The other day at work, I picked up my trusty bottle of iced black coffee (lightly sweetened, no milk). I took a sip - and immediately, my mouth went whoa, something is wrong here! Did the coffee go rancid? But no, it did not have that nasty "gone-off" taste; it was just bitterer than I was used to. I picked up the bottle and eyed the label: it said UNSWEETENED.

There was nothing wrong with the coffee - it was actually so smooth that drinking it black and unsweetened was perfectly acceptable to me - but I hadn't signed up for black coffee. I hadn't mentally prepared for black coffee because it wasn't what I had asked for or even expecting.

That's kind of how I feel about this book.

THE COMIC BOOK STORY OF VIDEO GAMES caught my eye immediately when I was looking at ARCs I might want to read because of the 80s styled cover and the intriguing title. I'm an ex-gamer with a geeky streak you could right a souped-up Delorean down; there was nothing about that title that did not intrigue me.

Unfortunately, Yzabel was right on the money when she says that, for a while, at least, the focus of this book is not about video games themselves, but the various technological advancements that made the invention of video games possible. Which, okay, is interesting, but not really what I signed up to read about - and it goes on for waaaay too long. The actual video game parts don't really begin until around p. 70 or 80, which leaves a significant portion of the book being not about games. (That was a really awkwardly worded sentence, but bear with me, guys.)

I did enjoy learning about the games. Hennessey discusses most of the major systems, although I was surprised he left out Virtual Boy and the Power Glove. Also, the vintage Tiger handheld electronic LCD games don't even warrant a mention? I had one of those long before I ever had a Gameboy. He does, however, discuss the "arms race" (my phrasing) between Nintendo and Sega, the oversaturation of the game market in the 80s followed by that fatal market crash, the switch from cartridge to disk, and the emergence of Playstation and X-Box following Sega's exit. Oh - and Pokemon GO, ofc.

The art is also fun. Even in the parts that aren't about video games, the artist will have little Easter eggs placed here and there to remind you that, yes, you are reading a book about video games - or at least, you will be, soon. I was pleased to see Banjo Kazooie, the guy from Balloon Fight, and Rayman, as well as a Tapper appearance when one of the panels is set in a bar. Some of the panels will be in 8-bit or 16-bit styles randomly, too, which captures that 80s nostalgia feel.

I just wish more of the book had been about games.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3 out of 5 stars

Monday, July 31, 2017

Heathen by Natasha Alterici



I wasn't sure what to expect from a book called HEATHEN, but it certainly wasn't a bad-ass tale about a lesbian viking warrior girl who embarks upon a quest to save a Valkyrie from the curse of Odin. Which is exactly what it is, BTW.

I know.

Too often, these warrior girl tales buy into the cliche fantasy tropes established by male fantasy writers (because they were the first, so they got to set all the rules).

NOT THIS BOOK.

I loved HEATHEN. Aydis has a great backstory, and her motives are pure even if she sometimes acts too impulsively. Freyja was awesome; it's rare to see a good female character who oozes sexuality. And Bryhild was so great - tortured and Byronic in a way that few female heroines get to be. Her doomed romance with Sigurd caused all the feels.

If you love fantasy novels and bad-ass women and comic book novels and vikings, you will love this book, I think. The writing is good, the art work is beautiful, and all the female characters in here are complex and interesting and thoroughly fleshed out. I honestly can't wait for volume two.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, July 30, 2017

How the Right Lost Its Mind by Charles J. Sykes



You know a book is ~controversial~ when you begin to lose friends as soon as you start posting status updates for it. I think the last book that happened for was TOO FAT, TOO SLUTTY, TOO LOUD. Well, you know the saying - "at first, they'll only dislike what you say, but the more correct you start sounding the more they'll dislike you." #HatersGonnaHate

I've been fed up with this new administration since, well, day one. When I found out you-know-who was running for you-know-what, it was like one of those stupid jokes with an offensive punchline. "What, is this supposed to be funny?" I asked myself. "Who the hell would find this funny? Thirteen-year-olds? No, this is just dumb." But then he won, and it stopped even looking like a joke. It started to look to me like something was very, very wrong with the personal philosophies of a disturbing amount of Americans. How else to explain the sudden and mind-blowing abundance of anti-Muslim, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-minority, anti-woman, anti-LGBT rhetoric that seems to be an integral part of the platform holders?

HOW THE RIGHT LOST ITS MIND is actually written by a conservative who feels similarly disturbed by his party's willingness to, if not outright embrace xenophobic and bigoted views, than at least tolerate them for the sake of sticking it to their opponents. He says from the beginning of this book that HOW THE RIGHT LOST ITS MIND is not going to be a treatise on Trump; instead, the goal of his book is to show the shift in conservative values that led to his being elected in the first place, and chronicling the rise of the alt-right.

I did not really enjoy this book since it felt, to me, that Sykes beat the dead horse a bit. I understood from the get-go why economic turmoil left many working class people feeling disenfranchised; I also understood why the left was not a viable platform for them, because they felt that their needs were not being given sufficient priority over the social issues that make the right so quick to call us "bleeding-heart liberals". One of Hillary's biggest mistakes during the election, in my opinion, was not addressing the thousands of people who were feeling frustrated and angry and ignored.

He touches upon other issues as well, such as fake news and the Tea Party and other extremists who ended up being characteristic of the party later on. While Sykes, to his credit, never excuses his party from culpability, he does also gaslight liberals, saying that they are at fault for "crying wolf" to such an extent that people became deafened to claims of bigotry...which I thought was odd. Similarly, there's an odd quote (in one of my status updates) in which he praises Paul Ryan. Which, okay.

I suppose when it comes down to brass tacks, I agreed with maybe 60-70% of Sykes's points. He is very articulate and makes a lot of really good arguments (even making a few valid criticisms of the left). When it started looking like Trump would win, I began watching interviews with conservative voters because I desperately wanted to understand why people would vote for such a candidate, and ultimately I came to many of the conclusions that Sykes came to here. I was hoping for something fresh and new, and perhaps a more thorough deconstruction of Trump's policies, so that was a disappointment. Still, if you're left-leaning and would like to read an interesting think piece from someone across the political pond that won't have you hurling the book into space, this is your guy.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

The Innkeeper Chronicles, Volume 1 by Ilona Andrews



First, I received an advanced copy of this book through Netgalley. I reviewed each volume individually, but they were given to me as a whole in exchange for a fair and honest review. And you know me, guys - I'm always honest. To a fault, some might say (especially if said some was someone who was on the receiving end of a negative review I wrote).

Second, I love that the title of this book says "VOLUME 1." The fact that the publishers clarified that suggests a volume 2. It also suggests a certain amount of hubris, which makes me happy: I love Team Andrews, so it's awesome to see that they're confident enough (and their publisher is confident enough) in their abilities that they're paving the way for more and more future Team Andrews works.

Just, you know, don't forget what's really important here. By which I mean the Hidden Legacy series. #MadRogan

CLEAN SWEEP: ☆☆☆½

This was probably my favorite book in the trilogy. It was new and exciting and paved the way for the series in such a way that the possibilities seemed virtually imminent. I was expecting UF/PNR, so you could color me shocked when the book took a definite sci-fi turn instead. Pacing was excellent, and the threat of a cunning enemy kept things moving. I really enjoyed this one.

SWEEP IN PEACE: ☆☆☆

Honestly, if I'm being honest (which I am, always!) this was more of a 2.5. I just had to upvote it because of the interesting delegation aspect and the way that Team Andrews colored in protocols and tensions between the various alien races. It was very artfully done. What dragged down the rating here was the pacing - it s l o w e d down big time and made it very difficult to enjoy properly.

ONE FELL SWEEP: ☆☆☆½

OMG, this book was so much better than the previous book (and made me feel bad for doubting Team Andrews in the first place). This time, there's another enemy, but they're far more insidious and dangerous. There's also racial tensions between 2 alien races who are engaged in a one-sided mission of genocide fueled by their religious beliefs. The last quarter of this book packs a major emotional wallop and ends on a cliffhanger designed to make you want the new book...which isn't even published yet, and doesn't have a title! Also, that UST is finally, FINALLY, resolved. #yaasss

Also, Doris Mantair's illustrations were a real treat. I don't know if the "let's make graphic novels of everything" trend is still happening, but if it is, and this book gets green-lit for a comic book adaptation, they should definitely hire her to do the art work or at least the conceptual designs.

3.5 out of 5 stars

One Fell Sweep by Ilona Andrews



Holy second book syndrome, Batman! CLEAN SWEEP was a light-hearted, action-packed adventure with just enough conflict to keep everything steamrolling ahead. SWEEP IN PEACE, on the other hand, was totally different in tone - it was much less like the UF/PNR that CLEAN SWEEP was, instead veering more towards traditional sci-fi territory with its delegations and political intrigues among various alien beings. The pacing was also much s l o w e r.

SWEEP IN PEACE wasn't a bad book, but it didn't grip me the way CLEAN SWEEP did and I had a really hard time finishing it. It took me about a month to finish the book, and I considered DNFing several times. When I finished, I found myself to be completely underwhelmed - especially because of the Hidden Legacy series.

I asked myself, "Should I even bother reading ONE FELL SWEEP?"

Well, now that I've finished the third book in the series, I can safely say, yes, yes I should. Team Andrews found the successful formula that makes their books like crack. The fast pace is back, along with action, interesting characters, a good secondary romance, and enough sexual tension to keep everything feeling just steamy enough to make you go, "Oh, that's good."

Helen and Maud were awesome. Mrak was a great villain (and hot - why are villains always hot?) Orro continues to be my absolute favorite (in fact he kind of reminds me of Kif, from Futurama, if Kif were a hedgehog chef). Caledenia is awesome. And let's not forget the star herself, Gertrude Hunt, AKA the best house ever.

There was more of an emotional connection in this book as well, especially in the last quarter, where my heart actually started to hurt. So much happened, to the point where I began skimming the pages just to make sure that everything was going to turn out all right. And it did...sort of. But also not.

FEELS.

At this point, TEAM Andrews could write some gibberish on a cocktail napkin and I'd probably pay money to read it.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Sweep in Peace by Ilona Andrews



Hmmm. This book took me a lot longer to read than its predecessor, CLEAN SWEEP. I ate through that one pretty quickly but this one stuck in my throat. I wasn't that excited to be reading it and I was even less excited to review it because who wants to talk about a mediocre book? I don't!

You know what this means...it's time for a lazy review.

CLEAN SWEEP followed the more traditional UF/PNR plotline with the otherworldly creatures being introduced gradually as they come together to solve a conflict (in this case, deaths). SWEEP IN PEACE, on the other hand, had more of a sci-fi feel with otherworldly delegations, peace talks, and power games.

I loved the emphasis on diplomacy and thought that was a very interesting and integral part of SWEEP IN PEACE. On the other hand, since there wasn't a grim specter of an enemy looming over Dina and the gang in this book, the "conflict" was much less immediate, which meant the pacing suffered a little.

I think the Hidden Legacy series spoiled me. The heroes in this book, as much as I loved Arland, just can't match up to Rogan, and the authors have power struggles down to an art with the hierarchy of magical practitioners fighting for power and breeding for heirs. This book did it very well, but like I said, it just couldn't match up to the glory of Hidden Legacy.

Orro might just be my new favorite character, though.

3 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Brazil by John Updike



Before I get into the meat of this review (or perhaps I should say, the "yam" of this review) I want to share two funny stories about this book. First, I got this book secondhand in Japan and it's a bit of a curiosity because the book is in English but the price tag is in Chinese and I couldn't find the edition that I have on Goodreads, so I'm assuming that it's an out of print paperback edition. What a weird thing to find in a foreign country, right? (I was kind of hoping that they'd have some bodice rippers. They did not.)

Second, the sex scenes in this book are really weird. How weird, do you ask? Well, the author likes to refer to peens as "yams." Yes, that stuff that you buy by the can every Thanksgiving if you live in the U.S. of A. Crazy, right? I was telling my mother about this book and she rolled her eyes and said, "Is this one of your stupid bodice rippers, Nenia?" And I said, no, it's actually John Updike. And she looked utterly stricken: "Not Witches of Eastwick John Updike?" And I was like, "Yup. That one."

I think she's still traumatized by that revelation.

The story, as far as stories go, is pretty basic. It's the typical rich girl/poor boy story line that you've probably seen a million times. The twist is that it's a retelling of Tristan and Iseult (Tristao and Isabel) set in Brazil that attempts to make social commentary on race, class, and socioeconomics. While a worthy goal in and of itself, BRAZIL fails to do so, in my opinion, and comes off as dated, silly, trashy, porny, and even outright offensive at times.

Also, something it did that really puzzled me is that for the vast majority of the book, it's told as a straightforward tale that can sometimes be ridiculous but follows the rules of reality. However about 70% of the way in, Isabel and Tristao are captured by people who enslave Tristao and keep her on as a concubine. In revenge, Isabel meets with an indigenous dude who practices something like voodoo and actually flips their ethnicities, so Isabel goes from being white to being black, and Tristao goes from being black to being white. And this totally comes out of nowhere.

I'm still not over it. And I just read a vampire "romance" about incest and neck teabagging, so that really says something.

Here are some of this book's greatest hits:

[H]e felt his cashew become a banana, and then a rippled yam, bursting with weight (17).

His penis, so little when limp, a baby in its bonnet of foreskin, frightened her when it became a yam, stiff and thick with a lavender knob and purple-black ripples of gristle and veins (54-55).

Her cunt was to him like cream poured upon two years of aching (128).

He inhaled, with those round apprehensive nostrils she had freshly admired tonight, the basic mystery of her shit... (130).

[S]he ewanted to toy with his yam, and trace its swollen veins with the tip of her tongue, and sip the little transparent drop of nectar from its single small slit (188).

The smell of extremely stale cheese arose from his genitals (232).

[N]ow that she was no longer the color of clouds and crystal but that of earth, of wet smooth wood, of glistening dung (244).

^I thought this felt particularly offensive, as this is following Isabel's transformation from white to black. She goes from being crystalline and cloud-like to shitty and earthy? LOL, what even. #nope


Here's a picture of my edition. Yes, it was published in the 90s. Can you tell from the clashing primary colors and serif-heavy font? (1994, as a matter of fact, by Fawcett Crest.)

I can't say I recommend it - to anyone - but it was pretty hilariously awful, especially when riding on the heels of that aforementioned vampire book.

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, July 24, 2017

Crimson Shadows by Trisha Baker



Some books are bad. Some books are very bad. And some books are so bad that they take the concept of "terrible" to such deplorably base lows that it is almost avant garde. That is how bad CRIMSON SHADOWS was: bad enough that it ought to be showcased in an exhibit as a symbol of existential despair and intellectual ennui.

I've been working my way through the Crimson series since April of last year. CRIMSON KISS was good enough that I bought the entire series immediately. "Finally!" I thought. "A vampire series that isn't afraid to be dark! Complex and interesting characters and relationships, a heroine who wants to kill the hero in the name of revenge, and a 'love interest' who is genuinely dark and terrifying and seems utterly incapable of being redeemed."

Doesn't that sound awesome? I thought so too. Hence the four star rating and foolish optimism.

The second book, CRIMSON NIGHT, was where I began to wonder if I had made a terrible mistake. Simon Baldevar, the vampire antihero from the first book, was pretty solidly established as an abusive, sociopathic freak of nature whose good looks were his only redeeming characteristic. What he did to the heroine was awful (what didn't he do to the heroine? Poor Meghann). It seemed like Baker was setting the stage for a love-hate relationship of epic proportions borne of revenge and reluctant sexual attraction, because Simon was so obviously a villain. Instead, she set about ret-conning everything that had happened in the previous book, painting Meghann's abuse in a rosy light, and actively attempting to make Simon into a romantic hero, replete with candlelight and roses.  Oh, and the sex? The sex was weird. Let's just say that it involves blood, and not in an "Oh! I bit you during intercourse! I'm a vampire! I find that sexy!" way.

Since the book ended with them having children, I figured that those children were probably going to come into play in CRIMSON SHADOWS. Vampires aren't supposed to have children, but Simon is good at alchemy and managed to magic Meghann into being fertile for vampy offspring. For some reason, one of the children is human (but psychic) and the other child is vampiric (and deformed). That could be interesting, I thought. Misguidedly. Naively. Innocently.

***WARNING: SPOILERS AND DESCRIPTIONS OF GRAPHIC CONTENT***

Reading this book put me into such a weird mood, because while it was utterly bad and ruined what started out as such a strong series for me, I couldn't help but applaud the author for her give-no-f*cks attitude. Trisha Baker obviously writes whatever she wants, and on one level, I have to respect that. This book was over-the-top in a way that most books stopped being over the top in the mid-80s. It was a throwback to an era where the sex was gratuitous and awful, the heroines were infuriating and foot-stampy, and the heroes were psychotic d-bags who equated murder with courtship.

On the other hand, what the actual hell did I just read? Some of you have been following my status updates for this book and have seen examples of the sex scenes included in CRIMSON SHADOWS. My 'favorite' was this scene where Simon teabags Meghann's bloody neck before having her give him a blowjob. Ew.

Speaking of EW, Mikal. Mikal is a piece of work. He is the vampiric twin of Meghann and Simon and does some of the most heinous things I've seen a character do in a romance novel. He rapes someone to death when he is still just a child (and of course, his character is gay and his father says how disgusting this is). He rapes and kills an old lady. He tricks his sister into sleeping with him, and then later rapes and beats her and his mother (even shouting "I never got to breast feed!" before attacking her in the boob with his fangs, because that just happened).

I also hated Jimmy by the end of this book, too. Jimmy is still hanging around Maggie, even though she's back with Simon. He slut-shames her and insults her and makes her feel bad about being with a serial killer vampire (which...okay, I had mixed feelings about that - because girl, please, have some pride. He hits you and threatens you and treats you like a child - why are you still with him?). After Meghann makes it pretty clear that they're never going to happen, he decides that he's going to go after her daughter, Ellie, instead. Ellie, who is human and seventeen. Ellie, who he raised as a daughter. Jimmy looks thirty and has been a vampire for a lot longer than that. This was so creepy to me. I mean, how do you go from, "I'm your daddy" to "I'm your daddy"? (Please don't answer this. It was a rhetorical question. I don't want to know.)

Throw in a bunch of special snowflake action, additional magical powers that manifest when convenient to the plot, surprise incest, vilification of gay characters, gratuitous gore, and a bunch of stupid sexist a-holes and spineless heroines, and you get the book equivalent of a middle finger. By the time I reached the end, I was ready to flip this book the bird right on back. There's just one book left in this series and, yes, I own it...but now I'm a little afraid to pick it up.

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

White Hot by Ilona Andrews



God, I love this series. Especially that terrible cover. If it's depicting what I think it's depicting in this book then lawlz, because ain't no time for sexings when you're about to be dead. I'm not going to say anymore on that because spoilers, but seriously, L-O-L.

When I finished BURN FOR ME and found out the sequel wasn't out yet, there were tantrums. This is precisely why I avoid new series. I have zero patience. If I like a book, I want the next one in my hand, IMMEDIATELY, thanks, for the low, low price of NOW.

Instead I had to wait a month.

F**k.

And then I had to wait for the library copy to become available.

F**k.

Which it did. On the day I left for Japan.

F**K.

Luckily, I had the book for, like, 30 days, so I just saved it for when I got back and then literally as soon as I'd stowed all my travel gear and snarfed all that there was to be snarfed, I sat down and read this book in a single night - JETLAG AND ALL. After being awake for 36 hours, and then having one hell of an I-feel-like-death episode following the 16 hour time difference, I stayed up until 4:30AM PST reading this sucker, because oh my God it was so good, I could not.

I just reviewed CLEAN SWEEP and even though I didn't like that book nearly as much as this one (no Rogan, no tactile, no nada), I had to praise Andrews on her world-building. I haven't read anything stale by her, and the world in her Hidden Legacy series is no exception. In this world, certain humans have superhuman powers and are organized by House and by how powerful they are. The main character has the ability to tell when people are lying. Her love interest has the ability to have sex with people psychically. And also level buildings with his mind and kill people with quarters, but blah, blah, blah, that's not what has all y'all hollering. Let's be honest here.

LET'S BE HONEST.

Anyway, in WHITE HOT, people are being murdered and Cornelius, the animal mage from the previous book, comes to Nevada to help avenge his wife. Since the murderer might be a Prime (someone with the most magical power), they end up working with Rogan, too. Because pooling resources is good, blah, blah, blah. SORRY I CAN'T HEAR YOU OVER THE SEXUAL TENSION. So Nevada and Rogan are trying to figure out the conspiracy while also basically acting out the song lyrics of virtually every teenage pop song out there. So basically, I am like :D

:D :D :D :D :D

There's a lot of ARE THEY FINALLY GOING TO DO IT? in this book, and then a lot of NOPE, JK. And then finally, there's what's basically a chapter-long sex scene, because I think the authors felt bad for torturing us and making us wait a book and a half for these two to finally get together.

Is it worth it?

:D

If I had one qualm, it's that the world-building can sometimes be confusing. So far, it's great, just complex enough to be interesting and intriguing, but I do think that's something the authors should watch out for. It's easy to get tangled up in a too-complicated world and forget the details. But given the brilliance of these two, I'm not particularly worried. I bet this is going to be awesome.

NOW WHERE IS MY COPY OF BOOK THREE?

*moseys on over to the page for WILDFIRE*

"Expected publication: July 25th 2017 by Avon"

MOTHERF**K.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews



I actually read this a while ago but it was right before I left for Japan and I was lazy, so the book ended up in currently-reading limbo for a while as I trekked across Honshu. Now I barely remember reading it because I just finished WHITE HOT and neither Sean nor Arland can compete with the elemental powerhouse that is Mad Rogan and if you disagree with that, I'll see your disagreement and raise you one tactile. The end.

People are shelving CLEAN SWEEP as paranormal romance, but I feel like it fits more into the futuristic-science-fiction romance branch, because it's about other planets and aliens, and focuses a lot on the relationships between the beings of those worlds and those who reside on Earth, with innkeepers being the "waystations" where those various aliens interact - for better or for worse.

I really enjoyed this book, even though I am beginning to suspect that Ilona Andrews can really only write one type of heroine - the brave, snarky, ditzy, kick-butt variety that delivers one liners as casually as an 80s action hero. Meg Cabot has the same problem. It's not really a bad thing, since I like both of their books, but after a while you start to get a serious case of deja vu with each "new" heroine you encounter.

The murder mystery was done really well, and I liked the focus on diplomacy and intrigue. I thought the world-building was incredibly unique, given that this is a book about vampires and werewolves (sort of). I didn't really find either of the heroes "hawt," but they were interesting.

Honestly, though? My favorite character was the house. It reminded me of the Luggage from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Long Con by Cecilia Tan



In case you're new to the whole Geek Actually serials, GA is a collection of (very) short stories, all under 50 pages, chronicling the romantic adventures of a bunch of geeky women with careers. Think Sex and the City...only with geeks. It's a great concept, and for books 1 & 2, I was sold - hook, line, and sinker. After the glaring disappointment that was BOSS BATTLES, though, I was a little hesitant. Because here's the thing: each serial is written by a different author. I initially expressed concerns about this in books 1 and 2 but they meshed so well that I figured it wouldn't be an issue. Well, book 3 noticeably deviated in quality - like, "is this really the advanced reader copy and not a rough outline?" deviated - so I was not quite as wholeheartedly excited about picking up book 4.

THE LONG CON, however, is written the way books 1 & 2 were, i.e. fairly well. I do think that #2 is probably my favorite so far in the series, with #1 being a close second. Since the books are so short, they focus on a handful of the characters in each episode so as not to spread the content too thin. This book mostly focuses on Michelle, Elli, and Aditi. Aditi and Elli are my least favorite characters, so I wasn't too happy about that (Michelle is OK).

In THE LONG CON, Elli, Michelle, and Aditi all end up going to the same convention - a book con, modeled after BEA. Michelle is there wearing her editor cap, trying to keep Aditi (her author) in check while also editing a rather terrible manuscript from a best-selling author. Aditi is feeling anxious about the sequel to the book that she's already having second thoughts about. And Ellie - well, Elli is Ellie...immature, self-centered, and utterly obsessed with all things fandom.

I felt like Aditi's flakiness is hammered out better here. We finally understand why she's so insecure about her book, and why she's reluctant to move forward. Haven't we all had moments of self-sabotage, where we're so literally terrified about the chance to finally fulfill our dreams that we subconsciously end up screwing ourselves because deep-down we don't feel deserving? I've definitely felt that. I've felt that hard. So even though I didn't really like Aditi for being a flake in previous books, I felt like this revelation helped me understand where she was coming from better.

Michelle, on the other hand, has the stage set for some rather kinky goings-on when she attends a BDSM panel from a Dom and his slave/wife. (And I'm sure that the fact that Celia Tan has published some BDSM erotica novels had no bearing on this twist whatsoever - ha.) I was actually impressed with how it was played out, though. Despite a lack of sexual content, Tan manages to write a pretty sexy scene. I'm curious to see how this will play out in future character arcs.

Elli's story was okay. She ends up befriending another cosplayer who draws comics and also happens to be in a wheelchair (I think her name was Ruby). Ruby was really cool and I liked how the concept of able-ism was treated in this segment and some of the ways that Ruby incorporated her chair into her cosplays (i.e. using it as the pumpkin carriage for her Cinderella costume). I didn't like how Ellie immediately started pushing her for a job as an assistant, especially when Ruby says that she doesn't have all that much money and doesn't want to depend on people. It felt opportunist and gross to me, and considering how she treated her last two employers, I'm skeptical of where this goes. Honestly, it's too bad Ruby isn't a main character - she was really cool and I'd happily read more about her.

Tan teases me with cameos from my actual favorites in the story - my favorite F/F couple Vivi and Christina experiment with some rough sex, and Taneesha goes on a "date" with this cute gamer dude. However these sections are short and left me feeling more frustrated than happy. This is why I don't tend to like books with multiple POVs; I always like one set of characters more than the others...and the ones I love the most never get as much air time as the ones I can't stand. (I see you, GoT.)

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Coraline by Neil Gaiman



This is one of those rare instances where I watched the movie before I read the book. Coraline (2009) came out while I was in college and all of my friends couldn't stop talking about this creepy story; they said it started out whimsical and turned into a total mindfuck, like Mirrormask (2005) - only better.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the story, Coraline is a little girl who moves to a new apartment in this rural area peopled with colorful characters, like a retired mouse trainer and two washed up film stars who haven't gotten over their halcyon days. Her parents are hard-working and don't really have time for her, so Coraline is often left to her own devices and feeling frustrated as a result. When she finds a mysterious locked door in the wall of her new home that leads to another, magical world, she is absolutely delighted. It's like Narnia, or Harry Potter - only not.

At a glance, the other world seems to be better than Coraline's own reality. Her other mother bakes delicious meals, her other father is always willing to take the time to delight her with games and conversation. Her film star neighbors are young and still very much entertaining, and her creepy mouse-trainer neighbor is ... well, still creepy but now he has something to show for his efforts. Everything in this whimsical world is Coraline's for the asking, if she can only ignore the darker edge beneath the glamor...and the horrible, infamous catch.

I read this book in a single sitting. It's middle-grade, so the language is fairly simple, and the book itself is quite short with drawings interspersed between the text that take up even more of the page count. I liked the story, but as with most of Neil Gaiman's written works, it was lacking some crucial element to make me really love it. I'm finding that to be the case when it comes to Gaiman's works - the movie versions are phenomenal (like Stardust), but the books themselves feel wooden and three-dimensional by comparison, despite being imaginative. I kept comparing the book to the movie while reading, too. Coraline's challenges are way easier in the book than they are in the movie, and the character of Wybie (who I loved in the movie) is omitted entirely in the book.

Overall, CORALINE was an okay book but I'm sorry to say that the movie is much better.

3 out of 5 stars

Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love by Sarah Vaughn



Sarah Vaughn also contributed to Alex + Ada, which is a Chobits-esque romance between a human and a robot, so when I saw that she had contributed to "DEADMAN," I applied for it without really knowing what this graphic novel was about. I liked her work! I like spooky books! The cover of this book seemed spooky! (I thought it was about vampires, actually....)

I WAS WRONG LOL

DARK MANSION OF FORBIDDEN LOVE is a title that conjures up the campy pulp novels of the 60s and 70s, but the graphic novel is actually really surprising...and I mean that in a great way. Not only does it have a Gothic mystery surrounding ghosts and revenge, it also features a bisexual heroine of color (half-Asian, half-white) and a non-binary hero of color (black). I was shocked...in the best way! How progressive of you, DC!

The story is good, too. Bernice's fiance lives in a mansion and is working on his book. When she joins him, she's put off by the fact that the house seems to be filled with ghosts and a dark presence. One of the "ghosts" is Boston Brand (Deadman), who is trying to get rid of the dark energy as well. They meet a ghost named Adelia who was murdered but can't remember why or by whom, only that her fate somehow ties into the dark energy of the house...

DARK MANSION OF FORBIDDEN LOVE has a Scooby Doo vibe to it that I found charming. I'm sure some people will be put off by the campy vibe, but I've watched dozens and dozens of Scooby Doo, so the classic ghost story element really appealed to me. I also really liked Deadman, because I'm a sucker for brooding, angsty heroes. He's like Bruce Wayne, without the asshole-ish tendencies. You really can't help but like him...he's so awkward and adorable and too precious for this world.

ALSO - whoever designed these characters, I LOVE YOU. One of my biggest beefs with graphic novels is over the top cheesecake shots. There's a tendency in graphic novels to focus on the boobs, dress the characters in revealing costumes, and give them all 50s pin-up style figures. I get that it's a throwback to the Golden Era of Comic Books when they were all drawn that way, but it's also nice to see characters that look like you. They made Bernice curvy, gave her rather thick thighs, and she's smaller on top than she is on the bottom. Her outfits are also...ordinary. She looks like someone you'd see at a coffee shop. Let me be perfectly clear: I have no problem with women who want to dress sexy or are skinny; I have a problem with that being the only representation women get in comic books. Real women are not one size fits all and it was so great to see someone with a body type and fashion sense rather similar to mine in a graphic novel.

I'm so glad DC gave this to me as an ARC. It was actually a really fun superhero comic, and I enjoyed the dark Gothic vibe, the ghost story, and the diverse rep (this is the first graphic novel I've read with a non-binary character!). The only reason I'm not giving it 4 stars is because the storyline was just a little bit too cliche, and as much as I enjoyed reading it, it's probably not a book I would purchase for myself or keep in a permanent collection. For others, though? Definitely!

3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle



This has been the third goblin-related book that I've read this year, and while it is arguably the best of the three, I have to say that it did not hold up to my expectations. I've read The Goblin Market and assumed that the book was going to follow the Labyrinth formula - which it did to an extent. However, uneven pacing and some odd creative choices caused me to give the book a lower rating than I would have, had these issues not been present.

First, let me give credit where credit is due. The cover is lovely - it's a huge reason behind why I wanted to pick up the book in the first place. I also feel like it ties into the story well, as the wildflowers conjure up that wild beauty that many associate with Washington's lush and gorgeous rainforests. The setting of this book was also great, and like I said, I loved the concept because I love Labyrinth and Labyrinth is the metaphorical yardstick by which I measure any romance-themed faerie story I come across.

THE GOBLINS OF BELLWATER is set in Bellwater, Washington, near Puget Sound. Two siblings, Skye and Livy, have always had a close relationship with the woods. Skye is a barista/artist and Livy is a forest ranger. They get mixed up with Kit, a mechanic, and his cousin, Grady, a cook, though circumstances involving goblins. Because in addition to his day job, Kit also acts as a liaison to the fae, and when he displeases them they end up cursing one of the locals, in this case: Skye. Skye ends up cursing Grady, by giving him an enchanted kiss and claiming him as her "mate," which ends up bringing the entanglement full circle. If Kit and Livy want their relatives back, they have to outsmart the fae and they have to do it soon, before both Skye and Grady are lost forever.

The writing in this story is really great, but the sex scenes and the romance all felt forced. Especially with the enchantment, which gives the relationship between Skye and Grady an icky feel. Skye's enchantment in the beginning also causes her to no longer be able to smile, laugh, or feel joy, either, so Livy makes some weird assumptions about Skye's mental state and depression in general, which involve opinions that are based on false facts (e.g. people with tons of good things in their lives shouldn't have anything to feel depressed about). I was wondering whether this was because the author was trying to portray Livy as ignorant, or due to oversight, and the author actually commented on one of my status updates and said it was the former, so it was nice to get confirmation on that. But the whole way it was dealt with felt awkward to me and, like the issue of consent regarding the enchantment sex between Skye and Grady, I felt like it wasn't handled as well as it could have been.

I didn't really care about Kit and Livy or Grady and Skye much until the last 1/4 of the book, which is where the story turned around for me. The way Livy goes about saving her sister was really, really cool, and if the majority of the book had been more like that, I would have really enjoyed THE GOBLINS OF BELLWATER, because that was the magic and adventure I was expecting when I picked this up. It was also the first part of the book where there was some actual intense emotional content and I found myself rooting for the characters instead of passively reading about them.

This really was not a bad book, and I felt like it deals with the fae lore and mythology in a fresh and interesting way. The execution was a little iffy for me and in some ways it has the "uncertainty" of a debut novel, but the world-building and the clear writing made up for a lot of the flaws. People who enjoy books reminiscent of Labyrinth and enjoy stories about faeries and goblins will enjoy THE GOBLINS OF BELLWATER. I would read more by this author.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen



Whoa, you know a book is **edgy** when you lose a few friends every time you post a status update for it.

TOO FAT, TOO SLUTTY, TOO LOUD; THE RISE AND REIGN OF THE UNRULY WOMAN is written by a BuzzFeed writer who also published another work of nonfiction about the scandals of Golden Age Hollywood. TOO FAT also focuses on Hollywood, but Hollywood in the present day: in particular, it is a rather scathing and critical look at how various women are treated by the media when they choose to openly defy various gender roles, and what that means for us, as a society.

I really liked the structure of this book. TOO FAT is divided into segments, with each chapter focusing on a typical gender norm and a famous woman who does not follow it. There are ten chapters, plus an opening and a conclusion.

Chapter One: Too Strong // Serena Williams

This was one of my favorite chapters in the collection because I thought Serena Williams was so cool when I was a young girl. In the 90s, most "cool" female celebrities were very girly, like the Spice Girls and Britney Spears, and while I loved those ladies, too, and happily played their music for hours, I was a tomboy, so it was very cool to see a woman - a young woman - being praised for being strong and athletic and basically the antithesis of the pink bows and sparkly flowers that were being crammed down the throats of girls at the time.

But all was not as rosy as it seemed in my various issues of Preteen Monthly. TOO FAT talks about how Serena had to work every step of the way to become recognized in a sport that was rife with double standards regarding not just her gender but also her ethnicity. Her critics frequently wrote about her with coded language mocking her beaded hair and her temper tantrums, focusing on her with an intensity that simply did not happen for her male (white) colleagues. I thought this was a very thoughtful piece and it reminded me why I admired the Williams sisters so much growing up.

Chapter Two: Too Fat // Melissa McCarthy

This was another favorite chapter of mine, because I love Melissa McCarthy and live for her Sean Spicer sketches on SNL. This was also a very well-written essay that discusses how overweight and plus-sized women are treated by the media (read: mocked) and how the accomplishments of women are recognized differently than the accomplishments of men (read: they aren't - at least not as effusively, nor to the same extent). Women are supposed to deflect and be demure - they aren't supposed to openly acknowledge their accomplishments; it is really amazing to me how quick people are to tear women down when it seems like they're "too confident." I also thought it was interesting how McCarthy's persona on stage is apparently so different from her real-life persona. As someone who's also quite shy in real life, I thought it was kind of sweet that McCarthy sounds like she's soft-spoken and actually super girly off-stage.

Chapter Three: Too Gross // Abbi Jacbson & Ilana Glazer

To be honest, I have no idea who these people are. They're from a show called Broad City, which I don't watch (I don't watch a lot of TV). But the point the essay makes is clear: society has definitive ideas about what women are permitted to joke about, and women are often mocked for or excluded from participating in raunch humor or slacker humor. There was one quote in this book that summed up this idea really nicely: According to this logic, men's bodily functions are funny - but women's bodies are fundamentally obscene (86)

It actually reminded me of the Eat, Pray, Queef episode from South Park, which does a great job of poking fun at the double standards when it comes to bodily humor and gender.

Chapter Four: Too Slutty // Nicki Minaj

This was another good chapter that talks about the catch-22 situation that many women find themselves in when deciding whether or not to show skin: is having a "sexy" image in the public eye merely catering to the male gaze, or is it owning one's sexuality? Can it be both?

Like the "Too Strong" chapter with Serena Williams, Too Slutty also talks about how women of color, specifically black women of color, are hypersexualized and held to different standards than white women when it comes to beauty and sexuality (read: the shortest short end of the stick). This is a topic I've seen mentioned a lot lately, and I was pleased to see the author mention it, and defining why this double standard is so problematic in such clear and precise terms.

Chapter Five: Too Old // Madonna

"Too Old" is one of the weaker chapters in this book, in my opinion. It's about age discrimination with regards to sexuality specifically, and how older women are expected to give up basically all sexual agency and just become celibate, demure, and matronly as they grow older. Using Madonna as an example, Petersen shows how women are shamed and portrayed as pathetic and desperate when still attempting to convey a sexual and youthful image post-middle age.

Chapter Six: Too Pregnant // Kim Kardashian

This was one of my favorite chapters, which surprised me because I'm really not a fan of Kim Kardashian. But this chapter surprised me, and it actually made me like Kim a little more. In this chapter, Petersen talks about Kim's pregnancy with North and how Kim totally went against the "cute pregnancy" standards set by people like Reese Witherspoon or Kate Middleton by wearing tight, unflattering clothes and complaining publicly about her discomfort and ambivalence of being pregnant instead of yapping about how great(!) and amazing(!) pregnancy is.

I liked this chapter because, like the Too Gross chapter, it shows that women can't always be neat and cute and clean all the time. Maintaining such a pristine image is hard work and not everyone has the resources or the will to manage such a time-consuming illusion. Kim Kardashian chose not to buy into that and showed us that even famous people have bad moments - and that's OK.

Chapter Seven: Too Shrill // Hillary Clinton

I think this might have been one of the chapter updates that caused me to lose some friends, because I said that I thought Hillary Clinton should be president instead of certain **other people** and that it was a shame she wasn't given a chance. Well, I stand by that. And Petersen did a great job talking about some of the obstacles female politicians face, being mocked for wanting power and accused of being bitchy, aggressive, and shrill for the same attributes that their male colleagues are praised for.

Chapter Eight: Too Queer // Caitlyn Jenner

"Too Queer" was an interesting chapter. Most of the other chapters have a tone of "praise" or at least "admiration" but in "Too Queer" I felt the tone was more critical. Here, Petersen talks about the subject of heteronormativity (or having heterosexual norms being the de facto standard for a society) and how coming from a position of privilege can color or shape the perception of inequality for someone who is within the marginalized group in question (in this case, not realizing how bad things are for other trans people if you are a rich, gender role-conforming trans person who "passes" easily).

Chapter Nine: Too Loud // Jennifer Weiner 

MY FAVORITE CHAPTER IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE BOOK.

Jennifer Weiner novels were the staple of my young adolescence and after Bridge Jones, were basically what got me into the whole "chick lit" genre. I related to everything in this essay so hard. As a reader and writer of romance, I cannot tell you how often I have been denigrated because of my choices of reading and writing material. (One phrase that sticks out is "articulate" - I feel that is the go-to code word for people who want to find a way to tell you that they think you are an idiot if you write intelligently. Like, "Oh, you're articulate, but everything you think and feel is trash.")

I do not think it is a coincidence that the genre that primarily caters to women receives the most criticism from both within and without the industry - especially (although not always by) men.

Honestly, I would read an entire book about this topic (need a future book idea, Ms. Petersen?).

Chapter Ten: Too Naked // Lena Dunham

Ugh, my least favorite chapter. I just don't like Lena Dunham and I don't like Girls and have little interest in seeing Girls (which is a feat in and of itself, given my mad Adam Driver obsession). I thought about skipping this chapter but I wanted to read it anyway just so I could write a well-rounded review of the book...and it wasn't that bad. Basically, Lena Dunham asserts herself by flaunting a body that most people don't find attractive or "worthy." ...Okay? I think this was the least effective chapter because it was basically a combination of the "Too Fat" and "Too Gross" chapters from the beginning of the book, so I didn't really feel like we were covering any new ideas. I think a "Too Confident" or "Too Smart" chapter would have been better, because my God, have you ever noticed how quick people are to tear women down for daring to feel...good about themselves?

Overall, I really enjoyed TOO FAT, TOO SLUTTY, TOO LOUD. It helped that I already liked most of the people the author chose to write about, but the writing stands on its own. This book covers some very important topics about how women are treated by society. Even though we are moving towards true equality, there are still many areas that need improvement, and I would suggest this book to people who insist that society is equal or smugly call themselves "equalists" because TOO FAT does a great job highlighting not just where the last bastions of inequality exist, but also why they exist, and why it's important not to null these groups out.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

4 out of 5 stars

Be Like Bill: The Internet's Smartest Sensation by Eugeniu Croitoru



This is yet another one of those "let's make an internet meme into a book" sorts of deals, which I always have mixed feelings about because it takes several years to publish something so by the time the meme book gets published, the meme itself usually isn't popular anymore or is on the wane. It actually took me a moment to remember what Be Like Bill was referring to. In case you forget, too, a couple years ago, Be Like Bill reached critical mass. It was an ideal tool for calling people out in a socially acceptable way on the internet, and lord knows, we are always demanding new ways of doing that, because for as long as there is an internet, people will use it for calling out.

BE LIKE BILL is better than most meme books I've read, although like most meme books, the user generated ones are better (probably because you have a greater number of people contributing to the pool, so the ideas are more likely to be fresh). I'm not sure if the two authors generated all these memes, but most of them felt pretty safe and boring, and a couple just seemed petty (but then, we've all got our pet-peeves, so I'm not here to judge). Only one made me laugh out loud:

This is Bill.

Bill wakes up and sees it's snowing outside.

Bill doesn't feel the urge to post a status about it on Facebook because he knows his friends also have windows.

Bill is not a douche.

Be like Bill (6).

I feel like it would have been better if the authors had done a "best of" compilation, curating some of Bill's greatest hits from the Facebook pages they manage (and maybe giving the users credit at the bottom with their permission). This was just sort of bland, and while a couple were amusing and had me going, "Preach!" the vast majority of the collection barely warranted a smile. Still, it was nice to revisit an old meme that I'd half-forgotten and get a few chuckles out of it.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3 out of 5 stars