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

If My Dogs Were a Pair of Middle-Aged Men by Matthew Inman



This is exactly why I love being a book blogger - free copies of books by my favorite authors to review. (Okay, I lied - that's not the only reason; but it's a very definitive perk.)

I've been following the Oatmeal since 2009, and thought it was The Best Thing Ever. He's crude, but in a way that adds rather than detracts from his art, and somehow manages to find a way of looking at even the most tedious of life's moments and finding a way of making it either seem novel, hilarious, or outlandish.

Case in point: IF MY DOGS WERE A PAIR OF MIDDLE-AGED MEN.

We all think dogs are cute, right?

Well, it turns out...dogs are sort of creepy. And what better way to illustrate those kind of creepy behaviors than by portraying his pet dogs as...two middle-aged men.

Since I follow his website religiously (as I mentioned before), there is a major downside to this ARC: I've read all these comics before - and I didn't recognize any new ones. It seems like these were just the Middle-Aged Men comics from his site packaged into a collector's volume, either for die-hard fans who want this book for their IKEA coffee tables or as novelty gifts for people who haven't read his comics yet (but should). I felt like I kind of fell in the middle in terms of readership, here.

I always enjoy reading The Oatmeal's work, so I can't really give this less than three stars. But I think if I'd paid money for this, I'd be really disappointed. I'd be happy to be supporting such a talented artist, but also sad that my hard-earned money bought me a very short book with no new material.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Monday, June 5, 2017

Boss Battles by Melissa Blue



Things were going so well with this series - we had something good, we got each other, we were falling in love...and then I got to BOSS BATTLES, and it was like the series got "too comfortable" and stopped making any effort in the book-reader relationship.

First, let's give credit where credit is due. Geek Actually is such a great premise. It follows a group of women, of various ethnicities, creeds, sexual orientations, and job occupations, who are friends despite their differences. Their stories are told in serialized form, which I'm a sucker for, because I grew up on Questionable Content - the webcomic that gave me the stories I craved before I even knew I was craving them. Geek Actually does the same thing with women in the emergent information-technology culture. In one of my other reviews for Geek Actually, I described this series as being like Sex and the City, but for geeks. Sounds amazing? That's because it is. Or was, rather, until things began to fall apart in this latest chapter.

I think part of the problem might be that each of these "chapters" is written by a different author. The first two were cohesive and meshed well, but this one does not. At all. Because the chapters are so short, each book focuses on a small selection of the women, with the others only popping in. This installment focused on Elli, Aditi, and Taneesha. Unfortunately, the short chapters also showcase the difference in writing style between the three authors and make any flaws even more visible.

Taneesha was one of my favorite characters in the previous two books. She's a black female coder, and her company has just been purchased by a larger parent company, causing rifts within the company hierarchy and displacement of the responsibilities that previously gave her a sense of meaning. I looked forward to her chapters, because not only is she in STEM, her chapters also stirred up a lot of important dialogues about sexism, racism, and what they mean for a woman who has a job in a traditionally male-dominant environment. It was great. She was great.

In BOSS BATTLES, she's made into a stereotype of herself, and these important dialogues are only casually referenced with obligatory name-drops of black culture while sexism is treated with haughty eye-rolls (figuratively). It felt very awkward, especially since a potential love interest is introduced in BOSS BATTLES, and the two things I mentioned before play a key role in their interaction.

Aditi's chapter had similar problems, with her Indian cultural identity played on with many references to various types of Indian food and references to an arranged marriage. Speaking of marriage, in one of the previous books, it's hinted at that Aditi might not have a traditional marriage. I was curious about the mystery behind that - well, this chapter reveals all, and that was yet another thing that made me side-eye the book a little. It's something that I'm sure happens, but again, I'm not sure it was handled as well as it could have been. I'm curious what others thought about this.

Lastly, Elli - my least favorite character, which is unfortunate because she's the character who shares so many of my hobbies. Elli, who can't keep a job and shirks responsibility. In previous books, I sort of related to her, even if I didn't like her. In this book, she becomes a complete idiot. Her newest job in this book is to work at a mattress store. Elli ignores her new boss while he gives her instructions, then turns the mattress store into a freaking B&B, inviting customers to sleep on the beds between 20 minutes and an hour, while saying the most cringe-worthy things to them. Oh. My. God.

Don't get me wrong; I love this series, but this book was a major slump in overall quality. It lacked the cohesion that made me appreciate the first two books so much. I'm hoping I'll be lucky enough to receive advanced copies of the next books in this series, because I'd love to see where my favorite (and least favorite) characters go from here. I just hope they mesh better with the narrative.

Also, there's something weird going on with the text in all three books that I received from Netgalley. I got advanced copies, so my edition is probably not going to be exactly like yours, but in my advanced copy, there was something funky going on with the line spacing and paragraph breaks. This should be looked into. It definitely impacted readability.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy! 

2 out of 5 stars

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Invisible Woman by Rachel Stuhler



I just read and reviewed the first book in this fun little series, WTF. Short, sweet, and remarkably well-developed for such a short book, WTF was so good that I immediately launched into THE INVISIBLE WOMAN. Even though they are published by different authors, the writing style remains consistent (something I was worried about). They must be working from some truly fabulous outlines and have great communication with one another to keep everything flowing so smoothly! I was impressed.

In THE INVISIBLE WOMAN we're reintroduced to the characters from the previous book. Michelle is still dealing with childish authors and the end of her marriage. Taneesha feels as though she's invisible at her new job, where she's either ignored or excluded, and condescended to whenever she actively tries to contribute. Ellie faces her parents' wrath when they find out she can't even commit to a minimum wage job and give her a serious talking to about her future - beyond designing cosplay costumes and attending conventions, that is.

Aditi is not mentioned in this book, but we're introduced to a new character in THE INVISIBLE WOMAN who was only mentioned in passing in WTF, and that's Christina, Michelle's half-sister who works as a personal assistant on a Hollywood movie set. Like Michelle, she's also part Filipina AND she's a queer character, too, so three cheers for some F/F rep in chick-lit. (YAS)

The geek references weren't quite as numerous here as they were in WTF. The focus is on Christina and her torrid Hollywood fling with an actress who might as well have 'trouble' spray-painted on the side of her trailer. Each of these serials seems to focus on one woman primarily, with the other characters appearing every other chapter or so (although sometimes one is excluded to save space). It's an interesting set-up, but I'm enjoying the odd narrative style. Multiple POV stories normally don't work for me, but each character in these Geek Actually books is so compelling that I'm actually excited to see how my precious little cinnamon rolls are doing. I feel like I need to check in.

So far, my favorite character is probably either Taneesha or Michelle. My least favorite character is Ellie.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3.5 out of 5 stars

WTF by Cathy Yardley



Props to sraxe for bringing these books to my attention. This was precisely the pop-culture-laden, girl-power fueled, PoC-repped piece of chick-lit crack candy that I didn't even know I'd been craving this whole time. Emphasis 'piece,' because these stories are apparently being released serially, one tantalizing chunk at a time.

There isn't really a plot in WTF. It's more like a slice-of-life story about several different women. Picture Sex and the City, except with geeky women.

+: Michelle is a Filipina science-fiction editor for a publishing company. She does a lot of hand-holding and sometimes doubles as a bounty-hunter, tracking down clients when they go AWOL instead of submitting their drafts.

+: Aditi is one of those AWOL-going writers that Michelle deals with. She initially intended her book to be a standalone and is now stressed because she was only able to sell it as a series, and has no idea where she wants to go with it. Aditi is Indian. She has a very interesting marriage, and some very interesting relationship quirks.

+: Taneesha is a video game programmer for a gaming company that was just acquired by a larger media company. The hierarchical tree is shifting, and she's annoyed to learn that she's about to be screwed. They're keeping her on as a token because she's a woman and black, and increasing her pay to keep her happy, but they're also taking away the responsibilities that gave her challenge and meaning. She is understandably frustrated and annoyed by this. I would be, too.

+: Elli works at a coffee shop where she is routinely hounded by creeps when all she really wants to do is play Pokemon go. She is Jewish (and celebrates Purim!), but she's also the quintessential millennial slacker who doesn't want to work in a cube or follow a routine - all she wants to do is geek out and go to conventions and basically live life by her own schedule.

This was so short. Like, under 100-pages short. I was skeptical about how much Yardley would be able to accomplish in so few pages. I was wrong to doubt. I may have found a writer who rivals Queen Courtney Milan when it comes to owning the "short and sweet" side of fiction. Each character is nuanced and developed, and all the pop-culture references are seriously on fleek. Their problems are relatable, and best of all, Yardley manages to discuss a lot of important feminist issues without being preachy or relying on straw men. Please tell me this is going to be optioned as a TV show. I would watch the static out of it.

I can't wait to read the next two books (which I luckily own!)

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Broken Ones by Danielle L. Jensen



I've been feeling nostalgic for Labyrinth and David Bowie, and as if my subconscious mind registered that on some level, I've read three books about goblins over the past few months. One of them, the obvious - WINTER SONG - was a glaring disappointment. The other two (including this one) were okay. It's hard to compete against David Bowie in a mullet. (I bet you never thought you would see those words in print, huh?)

THE BROKEN ONES is the prequel to Jensen's Malediction series. Only - apparently it's not supposed to be read as a prequel because the author says that in terms of reading order, it should be read after book two. Oh, really? Because if that's the case, why is its series number #.06 instead of #2.06? That's just...silly.

Despite the reading order confusion, I enjoyed THE BROKEN ONES. The world building is a bit confusing jumping in, but I quickly got the gist of it. It's a star-crossed love story between two trolls named Penelope and Marc. Both of them are outcasts: Marc because he's scarred and unattractive and Penelope because she has a curse that will make viable offspring a difficulty. They're both painfully, idiotically, head-slappingly naive, and because of that, end up as pawns used by their noble families, to gather power and stage various coups as a rebellion of the ill-treatment of half-breeds slowly gains in pressure, ready at any moment to explode.

The way that power and court intrigue are used in this book reminded me a lot of Marie Rutkoski's Winners Trilogy. Penelope's father, especially, always seems to be two steps ahead, and will seemingly stop at nothing to find out the identity of the traitors leading the rebelling, even if it means one or both of his daughters' deaths. Anais, Penelope's sister, is the one with the spine in the relationship. Penelope is the sensitive, artistic one who always seems to be crying or being manipulated by someone else, even the people who claim to love her. Marc's voice is very similar to Penelope's, because he's torn between his allegiance to Prince Tristan and to his friends Anais and Penelope. Because of that, and his insecurities with his own appearance, he's just as easy to manipulate as Penelope. To be honest, I didn't really like either character and wasn't that impressed with their romance. It was the intrigue that made this book for me. Had the characters been even slightly more interesting, I would have loved this as much as The Winner's Trilogy. But, alas.

I recently bought the entire Malediction trilogy because it was on sale for Kindle. I'm interested in reading more of this world now that I have a handle of it, especially because Tristan is the hero in those books and based on his characterization in this book he seems like exactly my cup of tea: a brutal but powerful antihero whose ambition often makes him seem (or even act) cruel.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

Read this for the intricate plotting, not for the characters.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh



Did the people who read this book read a different book than the one I read? Because I did not get a romantic, action-packed adventure. I got a slow and plodding story with wooden characters and writing that was rife with purple prose. It wasn't even the fact that I went in with high expectations; despite the fact that Mulan is one of my favorite movies, I really did not like this author's other book, THE WRATH AND THE DAWN, and that was based off one of my favorite faerie tales. So I went in with extremely low expectations and somehow, FLAME IN THE MIST managed to be worse than TWatD. How does that happen?

Also, let's talk about the Mulan thing. I noticed people were saying that this book was a retelling of Mulan, and I wasn't sure if it was the publisher saying that or other reviewers saying that (because reviewers say a lot of things that publishers aren't and shouldn't be held responsible for), but when I went to the Penguin website, they appear to be blurbing the book as "Mulan meets Throne of Glass" and the author herself appears to be citing her love of the movie as an influence in writing this book in this Bustle interview. That made me give this book the side-eye, because Mulan is a legend from China and this is a book about Japan. China and Japan have totally different cultural legacies and at several points throughout history they have clashed in very unpleasant ways. It felt extraordinarily insensitive to me to brand a Chinese legend in new, Japanese packaging. To give a Western example, it would be like taking the struggles of the Scottish and rebranding them as English.

"Be as swift as the wind. As silent as the forest. As fierce as the fire. As unshakable as the mountain" (244).

I really don't like it when I feel like I'm being pandered to. Especially when it feels culturally insensitive. I'm sure that wasn't the author's intention, but I think that sometimes people forget that Disney stories are often based off actual folklore from actual people.

FLAME IN THE MIST is about a girl named Mariko who is the daughter of a samurai. She's on her way to be married to her betrothed, but her litter and attendants are slaughtered before she can reach her destination, and Mariko herself is saved only by sheer luck. She ends up lost and wondering, and after escaping a would-be rapist, decides to disguise herself as a boy. Lucky for her (again), because Mariko ends up in the camp of the very men who she believes were trying to kill her, a group of bandits called the Black Clan. She decides that she's going to gain their trust and learn their weaknesses so she can kill them in revenge, but this being a YA novel, she falls for the ringleader.

Mariko is no Mulan. She's one of those "strong" female characters who prove their "strength" by whining about how much it sucks to be a girl. She is constantly shooting off her mouth, even when she shouldn't (especially when she shouldn't), and of course her would-be enemies think this is so hilarious and endearing and are won over instead of gagging her and/or throwing her off a bridge. Also, the plot is very similar to WRATH OF THE DAWN in the sense that Mariko, like Sharzad, has a lot of reason to hate the leader, but never does, at least not without conviction, and gives into her lust way too quickly. Her emotions do not feel real - it's like she has an internal switch that flips whenever it's convenient for the plot, and also, what is going on with the plot of this story? It was so slow. I skimmed, and it still felt way too long. The writing does not help. Ahdieh makes an effort to write poetically, but instead it just feels blocky and convoluted and weird.

But the egg - that simple egg - was so wonderful. So perfect.
How could anyone who would take such care to prepare a simple egg truly be bad? (106)

Also, negative points for that line. Because apparently people can't be bad if they can cook eggs.

1 out of 5 stars

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige



I grew up with the Oz books. As a child, I would revisit them periodically, curling up under the covers with a flashlight to read about Tik-Tok and the Wheelers, or Polychrome and the Nome King, or Mombi and Jack. Even now, I still occasionally read them because they're so fantastically creative and the imaginative world-building continues to hold up, even now. It's one of my favorite fantasy series ever, probably more so than Harry Potter. That's why I was skeptical when I saw that there was a series coming out that was a dark retelling of the Oz books.

DOROTHY MUST DIE is about a girl named Amy, who lives in a trailer park in Kansas. One day, she ends up being stuck in the middle of a tornado and, like Dorothy, finds herself magically transported to a world that clearly isn't Kansas anymore. It isn't quite Oz, either - at least, not the way that the fans know it. Everything is dark and drained of magic, and under Dorothy's corrupt rule it's turned into a Big Dorothy is Watching dystopia with torture, murder, and brain-washing all being totally commonplace. Welcome to Oz, b*tch.

To Paige's credit, the world-building is quite well done. I felt like the horrors really are that - horrific. The Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow? All spectacles of terror that would be right at home in the jump scare-ridden world of Five Nights at Freddy's. I also liked the backstory about how Dorothy became evil. Power does corrupt and when magic is involved, that seems even more likely. Paige also portrays just how seductive power can be, even when it is evil, because in Dorothy's palace, things are beautiful, and it's all too easy to succumb to temptation.

Amy is one of those heroines I think people will love or hate. She's hilariously dated with her pink hair and emo attitude, like she's trapped in 2006 and nobody's told her that Green Day isn't cool anymore. She's also selfish and b*tchy and mean, with all kinds of snarky asides about pretty much anyone she doesn't like. She's not the villain of the story, though (yet?), and even though she's self-preserving she does risk her own life to save others at several points during the story even though cowardice or fear wins out a few times. I'm a fan of flawed protagonists, so this was refreshing; it's nice when women are allowed to be less than perfect in fiction and still be the heroines.

One thing about this book that I hated, hated is the long boring section where Amy trains with some witches to develop her powers and ends up meeting a boy named Nox. There's this weird sexual tension between them that feels awkward, because it's so forced, and I was annoyed to see bad-ass Amy lose sight of the game to obsess over some boy she doesn't even know. Seriously, at some point they pick up a wounded girl and Amy is jealous that he goes to attend her wounds rather than pay attention to her. Like, seriously, girl? Priorities, much? I'm thinking that there's going to be a love triangle between Pete and Amy and Nox, and I'm also thinking I'm not going to like it. Depending on how much focus this relationship takes in later books, it could be a deal-breaker.

This book, though, DOROTHY MUST DIE, isn't bad. As a retelling, it's decent. The writing is good and flows well (although it doesn't seem sure whether it wants to be a formal classically written fantasy novel or a breezy young adult narrative, and fluctuates wildly between the two styles). The author features characters taken not just from the Wizard of Oz, but all of the Oz stories (I'm hoping the Glass Cat will make an appearance; she was my favorite), which was nice. Even bitchy old Amy was a cool drink of water after the stale taste of too-perfect-to-be-true heroines I've been encountering in my usual YA fantasy line-ups, and that's definitely something we need more of.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, June 2, 2017

Dumpling Cats: Crochet and Collect Them All! by Sarah Sloyer



Remember Neko Atsume? Last year, I was really into Neko Atsume. I was a full time student working full time, and tending to my adorable little zen garden of cats was a nice way of relaxing between work and school. I don't have time to play it anymore, but I remember the cute game with fondness. When DUMPLING CATS showed up on Netgalley, it didn't even matter that I don't know how to crochet - all I needed to see was "inspired by Neko Atsume" in the summary, and I was like, "SOLD!"

If you're at all familiar with amigurumi, you have an idea of what the patterns in DUMPLING CATS look like. They are stuffed plushies made out of crocheted yarn. In DUMPLING CATS, Sloyer has a rather large array of cats you can create, with the beginner patterns pictured on the cover to the more difficult patterns, like a cat wearing a bee outfit, a cat wearing a flower around her neck, a witch cat, a lion cat, and even a little lady bug cat. She even provides instructions for accessories, like food bowls and a cardboard box. Are they all adorable? Oh, yes. If someone gave one of these little buddies to me, they would automatically be granted BFF-status. (Was that a hint? Maybe.) I don't know how to crochet, but man, I want to learn now. It comes with color illustrations illustrating some of the directions (written out step-by-step). I was reading them to see how easy picking up crocheting would be. Without trying out the crafts myself, I can't say for 100% certain, but it seems like the instructions are pretty clear.

Looking at this adorable book cheered me right up. I think it would be a great gift for people who like to crochet and knit. I actually put DUMPLING CATS on the Goodreads "Kawaii Culture" list - a GR list about Japanese and Japanese-inspired "kawaii" books, ranging from cute bento to cute arts and crafts to adorable manga. If you're into Neko Atsume, amigurumi, or cats, you should definitely read this book (and check out some of the other titles on my list for further reading). It's fun and it's cute. Need I say more? <3

Thanks to the publisher/Netgalley for the review copy

3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat



This was a buddy read with my friends Heather (review here) and Sarah (review here).

C.S. Pacat does with CAPTIVE PRINCE what the bodice rippers of yore did with historical romance, the differences being that (1) this is a fantasy novel and not historical (and not really a romance) and (2) it is about two men. Apart from that, the structure is eerily similar to bodice rippers, from the plot to the role that the characters play to the way sex is used within the story. Damianos was prince of Akielos until his half-brother staged a coup and gave Damianos to the enemy country of Vere as a gift-slave for lolz. Damianos, now called Damen, finds himself the position of a sociopathic prince named Laurent who is busy fighting power struggles of his own with the Regent, his uncle. Vere is an utterly cutthroat court with courtiers stabbing each other in the back, and an utterly depraved view on relationships, with a society that appears to be structured almost entirely around rape: rape as punishment, rape as entertainment, rape as a means of showing power or getting what you want ... there is a lot of rape. Bertrice Small would totally write this story.

I like bodice rippers, so reading CAPTIVE PRINCE was kind of like a modern throwback to that style of writing. Pacat's writing is seriously #WritingGoals. Seriously, she writes in this really fancy and beautifully opulent way, and I even learned a new word ("marmoreal"). Which was good, because I felt like it lent a certain respect to the content; had this been written in a trashier way, I think I might have disliked the book more. It's pretty obvious from Damianos's reactions that he thinks that Vere is a messed-up place. I did balk at the pedophilia (underage preteen slaves and hints at someone being sexually molested) and the corporeal punishment and the mistreatment of animals (horses). These are things that I sometimes have difficulty reading about in fiction. But luckily, Pacat didn't go into too much detail. The rape scenes were very unpleasant, though - especially the gladiatorial rape games that the Veretians like to play, involving wrestling matches where the loser gets raped - but again, these seemed to speak more to the corruption of a society that is slowly falling into ruin as it's blinded by its own glittering bacchanalia, and not just writing shock horror for the sake of writing shock horror. At least in my opinion. I'm sure people will disagree. Some of my friends hated this book with a passion because of the things I mentioned, and I totally respect that.

What makes this book great - apart from the lovely writing - is Damianos. It's hard not to root for him. His bewilderment and fear and anger in the beginning are so poignant. And then, his determination to survive - even if it costs him his dignity and his honor. He's a very strong character with a strong sense of right and wrong. You want him to survive this nightmare court so he can go back to Akielos and kick his brother's butt. But survival is not easy - and that's where another thing I liked comes in: the court intrigue. Court intrigue is one of those things that automatically gets me interested in a book, and here it is done really well. I'm a sucker for scheming character, and the secondary characters are all total schemers, especially Nicaise and Ancel.

Laurent isn't really much of a love interest in this book. He's brutal and mean. He reminds me of the heroes in Rosemary Rogers, Marilyn Harris, and Patricia Hagan bodice rippers in the sense that he's virtually indistinguishable from the villains of the story, except for hints of vulnerability and a slight interest in the hero in this case that borders on outright disdain. He is incredibly cruel to Damen: whipping him almost death, drugging him and then entering him in the gladiatorial rape arena, forcing him to receive oral sex from another slave while a crowd of people watch. There's hints of why he is the way he is, cold and brutal and utterly repulsed by human contact, but that doesn't make it easy to stomach or at all excusable. I know he's the love interest because I've seen the spoilers and the fan art, so I can only hope that Laurent scales the mountains of heavens themselves in order to win Damen over once he gets it into his thick skull that he likes the man, because man, does he have a lot to atone for.

My edition also had a short story called THE TRAINING OF ERASMUS. I side-eyed the short story at first but decided to read it, and it was actually good. It's a prequel to CAPTIVE PRINCE about Erasmus and how he became a slave and then, after that, how he was brought to Vere. This also has an open-ended sort of ending that leaves it up to interpretation why he was removed from his royal duties. Was it cold-hearted scheming borne of jealousy? Or mercy cloaked in the guise of betrayal?

Overall, this was pretty good. Much better than I'd expected. I'm probably going to keep my copy because her writing is so amazing and I want to have it on reference as an example of how to string words together prettily. The content on the other hand is brutally dark and unless you are a fan of bodice rippers or are not particularly bothered by sexual violence, I would not recommend this to the faint of heart. Even if the book does not go into detail, it is still not an easy read.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Followed by Frost by Charlie N. Holmberg



***WARNING - SPOILERS AHEAD***

I think this is the first story involving a redemption ARC where I actually feel that the character in question didn't need to be punished. Hear me out: yes, Smitha is not a very nice person; yes, she's spoiled and selfish and doesn't help out her family as much as she should; yes, she's vain; yes, she turns down a strange man's proposal in a rather cruel way. Smitha is guilty of being vain and self-centered...but no more so than most other teenage girls. Are we bombarded with so many eerily perfect and uncannily nice female characters that we are supposed to riot against the first portrayal of an actual flawed and selfish teenager? I mean, I was no prize when I was a teen myself. I was actually unpleasantly surprised at the harshness of Smitha's punishment - especially since it comes at the hands of a man who is essentially stalking her. Smitha makes every attempt to avoid Mordan and he doggedly pursues her, approaching her when she doesn't want to be approached, ingratiating himself with her family to get access to her...it made me quite uncomfortable, actually, because I've been in a similar position, and women are told by society that they have to be "nice" and let people down "easy." Well, sometimes that doesn't work. Sometimes you have to be a "bitch" to get the message across. Did Smitha let him down as easily as she could have? No. But then, I didn't really feel like she should have, and if it was mean of her, she certainly shouldn't have been condemned to what should have been death and wasn't only by the force of her own determination.

Apart from that rather bitter note, I really enjoyed FOLLOWED BY FROST. It has an old-fashioned feel to it, more typical of the fantasy novels I read in the 80s and 90s, like Diana Wynne Jones's work or Gail Carson Levine's. Smitha is a teenage girl who is cursed to be as cold as her heart when she unwittingly humiliates the wizard who's been stalking - I mean courting - her. She becomes a girl of ice, followed by a savage and violent storm wherever she goes, and is kicked out of her village because of the havoc it wreaks upon their homes. Poor Smitha is doomed to wander in the wilderness, seeking out either the man who cursed her or others like him and capable of removing the curse. She's hunted, chases by dogs, and then condemned to loneliness in an icy cave. Well...not quite loneliness. She is followed by the embodiment of Death, a mysterious being named Sadriel who seems determined to have her at all costs, and ends up eventually coming to a kingdom far away. A kingdom that might need her help.

Smitha's development as a character was probably the best aspect of this book. I loved her slow transformation, and felt like all of her reactions to the curse and its effects seemed very real. Character arcs are my bread and butter in fiction; I love complex characterization that develops and changes over the course of a story. And even if she is selfish, it's impossible not to root for Smitha. The story is written in first person, so we're treated first hand to all of her internal struggles, and how often she just wants to give up and succumb to her horrible fate because simply enduring it is such a trial. Her constant discomfort, her inability to eat or drink solid food (it would freeze in her mouth), her loneliness - all of these things made me feel terrible for her. I think the last book I read that tortured the main character to this extent was Donna Jo Napoli's THE WAGER, a dark and Faustian tale about a man who makes a deal with the devil that involves him not being able to bathe for a year (and let me tell you, I have never taken a longer or more thorough shower than I did after reading that book *shudder*). She is the most likable unlikable character I have ever read.

Smitha's love interest was also very likable. I don't want to spoil too much, but I will say that he is kind and sweet and considerate and caring and masculine in a way that doesn't involve being a jerk - a rarity, I think you'll agree. Sadriel, on the other hand, was intriguing but brutal...a real Jericho f*cking Barrons, if you know what I mean. I didn't like how he hit Smitha, or got violent/mean with her. I also didn't like how we never meet Mordan again, because eff that guy - I wanted to see Smitha get her revenge on him. Instead, he gets off scot-free and gets to go back to his own kind and play with magic? What kind of a moral is that? (Part of me was hoping that maybe Sadriel was actually Mordan, which would make Sadriel's obsession with Smitha make sense, and Smitha would get her revenge on them both in the end. I was disappointed. On both counts.) I also thought it was unrealistic how everyone in Smitha's village would be all, "Yay, Smitha, you're back!" They were happy enough to see her go, weren't they? At the very least, there ought to be some guilt, like, "Oh no, she's back - and now she might want revenge because we were a-holes!" I certainly didn't expect Smitha to be all happy to see the people who kicked her out cheerfully enough. Even her own family weren't particularly upset to see her leave. And Smitha's supposed to be the selfish, bitchy one here?

Part of me wants to give this book a low rating, because I didn't realize until now how annoyed I actually was by this book (really annoyed, apparently!), but I really did enjoy the story and Smitha was a great narrator. I guess I will just choose to award my stars based on the heroine and the story alone, and everyone else in the book gets -1,000,000 for being hypocritical jerk-nozzles.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Monday, May 29, 2017

Ms. Manwhore by Katy Evans



You could bowl me over with a feather after I finished Katy Evan's first book in this series, MANWHORE, and actually thought that it was not all that bad. After all the things people had said about REAL, I was loath to pick up anything by this author, but it turned out to be the perfect example of why sometimes it's good to check a book out despite its bad press. I gave it two-stars, but it was a good two-stars, a solidly okay read, and the perfect guilty pleasure read for a lazy afternoon. Rachel was insecure and annoying, and I got awfully tired of her changing color more frequently than a broken mood ring, but Saint was a decent hero and the sex in the book was - call me shallow - hawt. Repetitive, but hawt, and far better written than I expected.

I bought three books in this series to review for my romance blog, along with various other titles (including CAPTIVE PRINCE AND BAD ROMEO) and despite having low expectations about MANWHORE, I enjoyed it well enough that I was prepared to immediately dive into the companion novella to the series, MS. MANWHORE, and after that, Tahoe's story, LADIES MAN [sic] (I'm fairly sure it should be LADIES' MAN with an apostrophe; Merriam-Webster seems to agree).

First, apparently MS. MANWHORE is #2.5 in the series and I don't have book #2, MANWHORE +1. That's all right. Easy enough to figure out what happened, right? Saint forgives Rachel for the article, dangles her around a bit before taking her back, and obviously it ends with a wedding. Apparently Ms. Evans couldn't help herself, she just had to foist the wedding preparations upon her readers. Because wedding preparations are so fun and romantic. LOL, just kidding. I almost said that with a straight face. Almost. (Sorry, I've watched Bridezillas.)

If you thought Rachel was immature and insecure in the first book (and probably the second), you're going to love the raging cluster of hormones she turns into in MS. MANWHORE. While the feminist in me appreciates the Ms., the feminist in me is also rolling her eyes at all the constant 24/7 lust, jealousy, whining, and crying that went on in this book. When Saint tells Rachel he wants four children, she says, "I'd be fat for almost for years. Of my life!" (27). When they're having their respective bachelor's and bachlorette's celebration, Rachel sits in her apartment with her friends drinking wine and stalking him on social media, presumably trying to figure out what he's doing without her and whether or not he's going to cheat on her (61). I dog-earred that page, because I thought that was the saddest thing I'd ever read - and not ha ha, that's so pathetic, but actually depressingly sad and legitimately upsetting. If you're marrying someone and you're still unsure as to whether or not they're going to cheat on you, it's time for a serious, sit-down kind of adult conversation (without sex) to talk about where you see the relationship going and what your expectations are; and if you are still not appeased after this conversation, do not marry this person. Not if it's going to make you unhappy and have you monitoring their social media to ensure that they are on their best behavior. Therein lies the path to broken dishes and broken hearts.

The mistrust and jealousy continue, with Saint telling Rachel that he wouldn't get her a vibrator as a present because "Why would I want anything inside you other than me?" (82). Then on their honeymoon night, Rachel starts freaking out about her appearance(?) and tells him, oddly, "you deserve for me to smell divine..." pleading with him that "I need...to fix myself" (112). I thought that was so odd, because it's hammered in in the first book how beautiful, skinny, and blonde Rachel is - she even gloats about it herself, which is off-putting and refreshing in equal measures, because (1) Rachel is a twit and I didn't really like her to start but (2) how often do we actually encounter a heroine who feels confident enough about her appearance to own her good looks? But here in this book, it's like Rachel undergoes a complete 180, and constantly puts herself down.

If you really loved the other two books in the Manwhore series about Rachel and Saint, you might love this book. Maybe. I think you would have to love Rachel's character, though, because she's the focus here, and not Saint. I did not like Rachel at all in the first book, and in fact even abhorred her at points in this one. If I had paid the asking price of $2.99 on Amazon, instead of the $1 I got it for at the used book bin, I would have been very unhappy. As it was, $1 was probably entirely too much.

1 out of 5 stars

Manwhore by Katy Evans



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

I'm a romance blogger and sometimes my followers will ask me to review things. Twist ending: my followers did not ask me to review MANWHORE - no, I was asked to review REAL. Conflict: I have yet to find a copy of REAL in a used bookstore (yet). What I did find was one of her newer books, MANWHORE, and two of its sequels. Well, then, I thought to myself. Bring it on.

My friends really did not like REAL so I was a bit reluctant to start MANWHORE, but to be honest, it seems like the book is a vast improvement over her earlier work. Again, I haven't read REAL so I can't say this for sure, but based on quotes and excerpts I've read, it seems like the author's writing and story-telling has improved a lot. MANWHORE is well-written and actually features a surprisingly charming hero. I really liked Malcolm Saint. He was pretty sweet.

MANWHORE is a romance written in the vein of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY: an innocent ingenue-type heroine is asked to interview a Chicago playboy/billionaire for her dying magazine. The difference? No BDSM, and the guy in question is actually pretty nice for a playboy billionaire. Not knowing this, Rachel contrives to meet him to gain access to his deepest secrets for the article; he, of course, finds himself intrigued by her innocence and initial refusal of him; they obviously start hooking up after much ado, and business and pleasure become so hopelessly entangled that pretty soon the heroine, Rachel Livinston, isn't sure where one ends and the other begins.

I liked the chick-lit style of writing. MANWHORE is a speedy read and reminds me of a dirtier version of the Red Dress Ink titles I greedily devoured in my late teens/early twenties. And Malcolm Kyle Preston Logan Saint (good God, what a name), as I said before, is a great love interest with way more depth than I expected (although to be fair, I was not expecting much).

The problems stem mostly from the heroine, who is afflicted with 24/7 boner vision. The bulk of their scenes involve her waxing on about how much she loves [his] body part, or how [her] body part is reacting to him. It's a bit hypocritical of her, being as sex-obsessed as she is, because she's constantly going on about the hero's side-floozies and how she doesn't want to be one of them. Rachel also doesn't have much in the way of personality, which is always a death knell for me when it comes to romance novels. I like it when heroines have depth and character, and apart from salivating over Saint and working on her article (which I'm not sure counts as a separate hobby since the article is about Saint), she doesn't appear to be interested in much else. I think it's telling that all five of the hero's names make it to the back jacket, but the heroine's name isn't mentioned once. I get it, it's all about the raunchy sex and the attractive hero; Rachel's nothing more than a place holder for us to project ourselves into. If that's your cup of tea, then you'll love MANWHORE, as it is well written and erotic - way more so than most purely erotic books out there, to its credit. You could definitely do worse.

 2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby



It is a truth universally acknowledged that a cat lady in want of cat pictures is going to buy your goddamn book if you slap a cat on it. Also, Yaa Gyasi's HOMEGOING was kicking my butt all over the place emotionally (yes, butts can be emotional, thanks), so I decided that my ARC of WE ARE NEVER MEETING IN REAL LIFE would be just the thing to revitalize my drained repository of feels.

I WAS WRONG.

Don't get me wrong. WE ARE NEVER MEETING IN REAL LIFE is funny. It's the crude kind of funny appropriated by YouTube celebs, but unlike most of the YouTube celebs I've read, Irby knows where to draw the line. Each expletive is delivered with deadly precision, each risque phrase meant to drive home a singular point or idea. Samantha Irby swears like a pro, and like a pro, she does it with finesse.

What surprised me the most, however, was not the swearing, but the gravitas of this book. Irby talks about some very difficult subjects, like racism, dieting, body image, sex, masturbation, depression, dismal childhoods, alcoholism (specifically living with someone with alcoholism), and discrimination. I wasn't expecting something so gritty, and even though Irby delivered these topics with the same candidness and humor as she did less weighty topics, I found myself struggling to get through some of these passages - not because I didn't appreciate them, but because I wanted to appreciate them, and had to get myself into the proper mindset to take in everything fully, which sometimes meant taking breaks to absorb what I'd read.

There are a lot of really decent memoirs coming out this year. WE ARE NEVER MEETING IN REAL LIFE is one of them. I'll have to see about getting my hands on some of her other work; her style may be unconventional, but it is entertaining and thought-provoking in equal measure.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi



HOMEGOING is an amazing book, but it is not a light read. If you go into this book expecting a light read, you will be very unhappy. HOMEGOING is the history of a Ghanian family spanning the centuries, beginning in the 18th century and ending in the 20th. It begins with two half-sisters, one sold into slavery and the other married to a slaver. Each of their descendants gets a chapter, and the format of the story alternates from one sister's descendant to the other, with each individual character getting their own story that is self-encapsulating but still manages to add to the overall tapestry of the family history as a whole.

I loved the unique format of this book, how it was a family history that grew and became steadily more complex, following the characters along their respective journeys. There were so many heart-in-mouth moments in this book that it gave me relief to know that no matter how bad things got in the story (bad, bad, terrible, awful, bad), the main character of each mini-story had to survive, if only because the character in every other chapter after theirs would be their descendant. That knowledge made reading this easier, once I figured that out. 

Why? Because this book doesn't sugar-coat. Gyasi writes about slavery and injustice in excruciating detail and doesn't hold back when it comes to the infuriating cruelty that people inflicted on their fellow human-beings. Some of the contents broached in this book are rape, sexism, racism, shadism, substance abuse, child abuse, and violence. In many ways, it actually reminded me of another book, KINDRED by Octavia Butler, which is also about slavery. One of my book club members appreciated this book so much that she wanted to read more books on the subject, so I recommended KINDRED to her, because it shares the same themes, the same purpose: that even though we have come far, there is still injustice; but there is also hope, too, in the hands of our children.

Definitely a must-read.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Letting Go by Maya Banks



If you have been following me, you might be asking yourself, "What's the deal, Nenia? Why are you reading all of these books if you don't like them?" Well, here's the thing, Dear Reader. I purchased most of the author's collection at a used bookstore because I'd heard good things, and then immediately regretted this decision upon picking up the first book in the Sweet series. Stuck with 10+ books I didn't like, and a following of fellow bloggers who enjoy seeing me suffer, I decided that since I spent money for them, I was going to review them, goddammit!

The Sweet series wasn't going well for me so I took a brief hiatus halfway through the series. When I returned to Maya Banks's work, I decided to switch to the Surrender trilogy instead, thinking to mix things up a little. You can imagine my thoughts when I found out that Surrender is really a spinoff of the Sweet series. Same stories, similar characters, with regular visits to The House that is owned and operated by Damon Roche. I'll give you a hint. My exact thoughts rhymed with "clucking swell." Especially because it turns out that I've attempted reading this before. Three years, ago, in fact. Twenty-four-year-old Nenia wanted to give it the old college try, and then DNF'd 1/4 of the way through. Twenty-four-year-old Nenia was wise.

LETTING GO is about Joss(lyn) and Dash. Joss is grieving her dead husband but after two years is ready to move on. Her one wish was to be dominated in bed, which her husband could never bring himself to do because of the abuse he experienced growing up. Joss is determined to find a new man who can give her what she needs in bed. Dash is a friend to her and her late husband, but has secretly coveted Joss for all these years. When he sees her at The House, with another man, he storms in to interrupt the scene and drags her out caveman-style, declaring that he'll be the only one to do that.

Basically. I mean, I'm exaggerating a little, but not by much.

Now, to the author's credit, the writing in this book is a cut above the writing in the Sweet series. I don't know if someone took the author aside and said, "Hey, you know, I don't think women want to read about 'swollen tissues' in their erotica" but the phrase only appeared once. The extremely strange sex metaphors were also absent, which was a plus (although the humorous factor dipped).

The anti-BDSM attitude was also reduced even more here than in previous books, although Dash still can't help himself; he just has to mansplain safe words to Joss:

"Now, many people in these kinds of relationships use safe words. I'm not a fan of them myself, but I understand the necessity of them. Especially for a woman being introduced to this world for the first time. After a while you won't need a safe word because it's my job to find out your boundaries and push you to the very edge without crossing that line. Does that make sense?" (94)

And,

"[W]hen you say [your safe word], it ends and the mood will be broken. There won't be any going back. So be very sure that you truly want me to stop and aren't just overwhelmed by the moment. I'll push your limits. You want a man to push you. You've said as much. So don't chicken out the first time things get intense" (196).

The smarm...it just oozes from the page. Also, safe words are not sexual training wheels. You don't have a commencement ceremony where people give you an award and say, "Congratulations! You don't need to use safe words anymore!" They're not a sign of weakness or inexperience. They're literally for stopping a scene when it becomes too intense, uncomfortable, or scary. That's all. I can't believe he implied that she would be a mood-wrecking chicken if she used her goddamn safe word.

Banks attempts to make Dash a sweet, considerate hero, cushioning the alphahole nature with pretenses of concern and nuturance, but it doesn't really work. Not only does he appear to not understand how personal space or BDSM work, he's creepy and possessive. Literally right after they start to explore their relationship, he drops this bomb on her:

"I want you to move in with me" (104).

Why? Because he doesn't want to have sex with her in the house she shared with her husband. When Joss asks for more time to think about this decision (understandable), Dash says this:

"The only thing me giving you more time would accomplish would be giving you more of a chance to back out. I'm not going to allow that. I've waited too long. I won't let you go now. Not when I'm so close to having everything I ever wanted" (105).

I'm sorry, I seem to have wondered into a Criminal Minds episode, by mistake. What the actual fresh hell are you still doing on his doorstep, girl? Those words should have you running faster than "on your mark, get set, go!" Dude is a total psycho who's probably going to lock you in his basement.

A few pages later, he tells her that he doesn't feel comfortable with the idea of her working:

"I like the idea of you not working. I like the idea of having all your time. I'm a selfish bastard. I don't want to share you with anyone and certainly not a job" (111).

Seriously. I have two words for you: Base. Ment.

The creepiness continues, as Dash considers impregnating her.

It would suit him perfectly for her to be barefoot and pregnant in his home. Tied to him irrevocably. Maybe that made him a chauvinistic bastard, but he didn't give a damn (153).

"Barefoot and pregnant" is actually a loaded phrase with negative, sexist connotations. Not necessarily something I really want to be reading about in an erotica that is allegedly about empowering a woman to find the courage to overcome her grief and pursue her own sexual desires.

Weird sex descriptions:
-: On p.135, Dash decides to feed her pasta and sauteed shrimp. He ensure[s] it [won't] burn her by testing it first, by which I took to mean he was taking a bite out of every morsel before giving it to her, which sounds gross to me: I'm a woman, not a baby bird! But Joss finds it erotic: The idea that the food had been to his mouth first and then to hers was as jolting as if he'd kissed her (135). Or if he vomited into her mouth, I suppose. That, too. But hey, po-tay-to, po-tah-to.
-: His d*ck was about to come out of his pants. He wouldn't be surprised if his erection tore right through his jeans (142). Has that happened before? I think he needs to buy better quality pants.
-: He sucked and licked, thrusting his tongue inside her to taste her sweet honey (151).

What shifted this book to a solid one star was what I'm going to call The Misunderstanding. This whole time, Joss has been experiencing grief. On p.286, she has a dream about her husband. It's supposed to be about moving on, and getting ready to embrace her life with Dash, but when she talks in her sleep, Dash misinterprets what's happening and thinks she still loves Carson.

Which isn't a big deal. He was her husband and he is dead.

But not to Dash, who starts yelling at her when she wakes up, accusing her of using him as a "poor substitute" for the man she lost. He adds this:

"You don't want to move on. You just want someone to fuck you and play master to your submissive. Hell, it would have been just any man, or don't you remember that night at The House?" (287)

You mean the night you barged into her scene unasked and dragged her out after threatening the other Dom? That night?

"It's obvious you weren't particular and any dick would have done" (287).

Keep in mind that this is over something she said in her sleep, which he didn't even ask her to clarify.

Joss makes a half-assed attempt to try and correct him and tells him that he's hurting her feelings.

Dash retorts with this:

"Good," he said savagely. "It's about time you hurt a tenth as much as I've hurt over the last years. I'm tired of trying to live up to a dead man's memory. When are you going to accept that he's gone?" (287).

After that, there was no going back for me. Dash was beyond redemption. I mean, who says that to a woman whose husband has died? Well, I'll tell you: the same kind of man who admits that he treated her badly when she first started going out with his best friend in the hopes that they'd break up:

"It shames me that I treated you so curtly in the beginning. I actually hoped that things wouldn't work out between you and Carson because I wanted you for myself. I had planned to swoop in and claim you the minute things ended between you and Carson....I fully admit, I looked for faults. I looked for any evidence that you weren't what was best for him. Hell, I hoped that he'd lose interest or you'd do something to put him off....I wanted you to fail just so I could have you as my own" (180).

Joss is so upset that she flees - and ends up getting into a car accident. Joss's friends confront Dash when they find out she's missing, but he has no idea where she is. They find her in the hospital. He finds out that he was - surprise, surprise, a big a-hole who ruined everything with his assumptions. There are tears. They end up deciding to get back together, because theirs is a totally healthy relationship with absolutely zero red flags or concerns, nope, no sir, not at all.

The book ends with this hopeful little nugget of happy endings to come:

"Let's go start making those babies," he said huskily. "I can't wait to see you swollen with my child. As beautiful as you are to me right now, I can only imagine you'll grow even more beautiful when you're heavy with our baby" (329).


 1 out of 5 stars