Sunday, April 23, 2017

An Unseen Attraction by K.J. Charles



This is the third book I have read by K.J. Charles, and the second M/M work of historical fiction. I was especially excited to pick up AN UNSEEN ATTRACTION because not only does it feature a neurodivergent person of color as one of the heroes, it's also an exciting murder mystery set in Victorian England.

Clem is a shy, awkward man who keeps to himself. He runs a boarding house for his half-brother and has always been satisfied with that. He also has a crush on one of his tenants: an intense, quiet man named Rowley who works in a taxidermist shop. There's an attraction between the two of them that seems especially promising, given their chemistry and their sexual compatibility, but then one of Clem's other tenants shows up dead one day, and the romance is put on hold.

K.J. Charles is a very good writer, and whether she's writing M/M or het, I can always count on fast-paced spare prose that manages to fit whatever atmosphere she's writing about. When she wrote about a hostess in Japan who got mixed up with the mafia, she was convincing. When she wrote about a Victorian boarding house owner of mixed ancestry, she was convincing. That is a talent to be lauded, and I am lauding!

I really enjoyed Rowley as a character. His troubled past and strong, intense personality were very attractive. I also liked that he was sexually submissive. There's a common stereotype in fiction that people with dominant personalities want to be dominant in bed, which is not always the case, and I think this is the first time I have seen that shown in fiction. Clem, I liked less at first. I felt like he was too quick to accuse Rowley of working against him. Given his history of being condescended to or misunderstood, I could understand that, but it was annoying to see him constantly getting angry at Rowley whenever he tried to help him, or projecting his own insecurities onto someone else.

The murder was well done. I had an idea of who was behind it and was sort of right, sort of wrong. Charles paints an exceptionally vivid portrait of how unpleasant Victorian England could be. I also liked the inclusion of taxidermy, which was a popular hobby in Victorian times. There was a cutting dig at Walter Potter's cheesy tableaux, too, which made me laugh, because a few years ago my lovely Goodreads friend karen sent me a copy of WALTER POTTER'S CURIOUS WORLD OF TAXIDERMY and it remains one of my favorite coffee table books to this day.

If you enjoy M/M, this will be a great addition to your collection. It's darker than some of K.J. Charles's other series that I've read, but that really works here and sets the tone for the story. I really can't wait to see where she goes with the other books in this series.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Status Update by Annabeth Albert


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

While looking at my books a few months ago, it occurred to me how most of the romance novels I read are about straight, white characters. I've been trying to change that, by incorporating some new and different titles into my usual mix of historicals. This week, I've been focused on M/M titles in particular, and while sussing out my options, I realized I owned four books by Annabeth Albert. Which pairing should I read? The geek/geek, the military/military, or the geek/military? My goodness, it's like a Punnett square of M/M romance. (And that's probably one of the nerdiest comparisons you'll ever hear in one of my reviews, but in honor of the #sciencemarches happening today, that seems appropriate.)

Ultimately, I decided to go with the geek/geek pairing. STATUS UPDATE is about a lumbersexual archeologist professor named Noah from Utah and a game designer named Adrian from LA. They meet by pure happenstance when Adrian and his boyfriend have a fight and he gets ditched at an RV park. Since it's below freezing, Noah grudgingly invites Adrian and his little dog too to stay with him and his dog. They have an instant attraction to each other, but it's hindered by the fact that Noah is pretty religious and has internalized his religion to the point that he hasn't just not come out, he's afraid to because of what it would mean for his family, his career, his religion, and the society in which he lives.

Noah was an intensely complicated character, and reading this book made me sad, because there are a lot of people out there who can't come out because they're afraid of what coworkers, employers, family members, and neighbors would think and that really breaks my heart. I liked his sort of tsundere personality, where he seems gruff and imposing at first, but is actually super compassionate and intelligent and deep if you manage to get below the surface. That's one of my favorite character types. Adrian, on the other hand, annoyed me. He was incredibly self-centered, and I began actively disliking him the moment Noah said he felt uncomfortable with flirting and Adrian did it anyway because he thought it was hilarious to make Noah uncomfortable. No. Noah had to worry about judgment his whole life, and while f*cking with someone for any reason like that isn't very nice, it felt especially wrong to see someone as emotionally fragile as Noah be subject to this treatment.

As they get involved, this becomes a pattern. Adrian constantly pushes Noah beyond his comfort zones. He mocks Noah about his reading habits and his porn, again thinking how amusing it is with how uncomfortable he is about discussing his sexuality. He pushes Noah into having sex with him, especially after he finds out Noah is a virgin. When they do end up together, Adrian starts asking him how he feels about having kids before they're even really officially a couple, and gets hurt feelings when Noah gets uncomfortable and dismisses the topic. When he finds out that Noah doesn't really want to pursue the relationship after that because he's afraid it will complicate his job (he works at a christian school and is about to get tenure), Adrian accuses him of ruining his (Adrian's) Christmas and then tells him (Noah) that he's ruining his (Noah's) life. Wow, what a charmer.

Noah does end up giving up his job at the university because he doesn't want to live in hiding anymore. The scene when he comes out to his family is so touching, probably one of the best parts of the book in my opinion. I loved that the author pointed out that some Christians do practice tolerance, because they don't feel it's up to them to judge, and that many churches are becoming more progressive. It's a really nice idea, since so often we hear about the ones who aren't. I also loved how Noah is validated for being brave for coming out and pursuing another job in greener fields. I just wished it had been with a more likable character, because I really didn't like Adrian.

Overall, STATUS UPDATE falls into the "barely okay" category. I wasn't particularly blown away by the sex scenes (because to me, the characters didn't really have any chemistry, and reading about sex where there's no chemistry does nothing for me at all). The writing was borderline sub-par. You know what it felt like, now that I'm thinking about it, is one of those pulpy Harlequin novels from the 90s with the throwaway characters who don't really have personalities that dive into a whirlwind romance that lasts just shy of the 200 page mark, at which point they have their happily-ever-after. It was just like that, except with two male characters instead of a male and female character. Since it's branded pretty heavily about being a "geek" romance, I was disappointed that the author didn't explore the culture more. Video games and tech culture? Yes, please! But no, there was none of that. Boo hiss. If you love M/M books, you might enjoy this more than I did. It's not badly written and neither of the characters is odious. I'm hoping that the geek/military and military/military ones might be better....

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

Thursday, April 20, 2017

All About Passion by Stephanie Laurens



The Cynster series appears alongside a lot of other series I like, such as The Gamblers and Wallflowers series, so I've been meaning to get my hands on one of Stephanie Laurens books for a long time. When ALL ABOUT PASSION showed up at the local thrift store for 50¢, it seemed like the time had dawned for me to start living in Cyn(ster). That was a terrible joke and I'm sorry. But in a way that is actually perfect, because this was a pretty terrible book.

The plot is convoluted and I did not take notes, but basically it goes like this: Gyles Rawlings, Earl of Chillingsworth (heir to Dickensian surname), needs to take a bride, and what better bride than the woman whose inheritance is the property adjoining his estate? When he goes to seek her hand, he addresses not her but her uncle(?), and makes it clear that theirs is to be a loveless marriage where all he expects of her is an heir. When he spies a pretty blonde woman in the distance sitting quietly, whom her aunt calls "Franni", he naturally assumes that this is Francesca, the woman who is to be his bride. So naturally, when he crashes into a curvaceous buxom woman on his way out, he has no idea who she is, only that he wants her - immediately. He calls her "the gypsy," and waxes poetic on how his loins simply cannot even. I began to imagine him as Frollo, from Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame, singing about raven hair and blazing out of all control.

It is literally that dramatic.

***SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS TO FOLLOW YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED***

Guess what. Francesca and Frances (Franni) are cousins. If you think that this ridiculous coincidence is the pretense for a very long case of mistaken identity, you are correct. Francesca thinks that Gyles wants to marry her. So does Franni. Gyles thinks he's going to marry Franni, his biddable wife, and that Francesca is some random strumpet who is eager to lie in bed with him and plans to make her his mistress after just making the proposal of marriage to who he thinks is Francesca. If you think this is cheek, yes, yes it is. This results in 100+ pages of drahma, culminating in the wedding, where Gyles, who by ridiculous coincidence, has managed to avoid meeting his bride in any formal circumstances where someone could have corrected his error, realizes who he is marrying. Francesca, of course, figured it out when he had sex with her and referred to his bride to be in third person. She is outraged, but keeps having sex with him instead of correcting him and/or walking away. Rather than admit to his mistake, he and Francesca go forward with the wedding. They've already had sex by this point and continue to do so every other chapter (oh my God), but Gyles keeps insisting that their marriage is to be loveless. They basically torment each other for another 200 pages while Francesca succeeds in charming every member of the house staff, all of Gyles's male and female acquaintances, and every single eligible man within radius of the castle. They make each other jealous, talk about entertaining other lovers for their loveless marriage, and generally just petty the pet out of pettiness.

In the last quarter of the book, Laurens pulls a Lisa Kleypas and introduces a murder plot. Someone is trying to kill Francesca! They spend ages figuring it out when it is literally so obvious who it is that I knew from the moment the first suspicious goings-on began happening. Who is it? Franni! Why? Because she is mentally ill and has created this elaborate delusion that she and Gyles are in love, and he's only marrying Francesca for money, and he secretly wants Franni to kill Francesca for him.

Oh boy.

Oh boy.

It's getting late over here, so let me sum up some of the key issues I took with this book.

Gyles is an idiot asslord. His reason for wanting a loveless marriage is some sob story where he got hurt (his dad died when he was a child), and he decides loving hurts so he's not going to do it again. So he chooses this super selfish route of marrying one woman and then deciding to take a mistress immediately after making a wedding a proposal.

He's also a rapey asslord. Check out this swoon-worthy line:

If he'd taken her to the ground, no power on earth would have stopped him from taking her - passionately, violently, regardless of the pain he would have caused her (58).

This is after running her down through the woods on his horse. You know, like Frollo does in Hunchback of Notre Dame. (Is Gyles actually Frollo? Is his middle name Claude? I began to seriously wonder.)

Oh, but that's not the end of his charms. My no. He slut-shames, too. Check out this line:

"If you thought [Franni] was me, who did you think I was?"
...
"I thought" - the words were bitten off - "that you were a gypsy. Too consciously well endowed and far too bold to be a young lady." He took a prowling step toward her. "I thought you a bold and eager companion" (125).

Despite Francesca's boldness, she's still a virgin (or was), but the hero is blown away at how amazingly good at sex Francesca is. Unlike many other authors, Laurens attempts to provide an explanation for the heroine's knowledge. Which would be admirable, were it not this reason:

"My parents."
"They taught you?"
 "No. I watched....I was an only child....When I was young, my bedroom connected to theirs. They always left the door open, so they would hear if I called. I used to wake and go in...sometimes they didn't...notice. After a while, I'd go back to my bed. I didn't understand, not until later, but I remember" (142).

Congratulations, book. I think that is one of the creepiest things I've read in a romance in a while. And this is coming from someone who can't stay away from 70s bodice rippers, so that says something.

Later, they come back to this topic again, like it's an inside joke.

"Didn't you ever watch your parents?"
"Good God, no!"
"You've led a sheltered life, my lord" (176).

Hmm, I think I have to side with the asslord on this. That's not sheltered. That's just not watching your freaking parents have sex like it's the regency version of Skinemax. Staaaahp.

Then there's the treatment of Franni in this book. She has some sort of mental illness that is unspecified. At first, I thought she was developmentally disabled because everyone made an (annoying) point of talking about how simple and childlike she was (cringe). But then, later, they also say that she has delusions and makes up fantasies that are only half-rooted in reality. And then at the end of the book, it's revealed that this runs in her family: it's a hereditary illness that only affects the women in the family and usually only after they turn twenty. It must be deusexmachinitus.

Anyway, whatever she has, the way it was portrayed did not really sit well with me. Gyles calls her biddable when he thinks she's Francesca, and says she's the perfect "cipher." Which I just looked up, and it appears to mean "nonentity." So he's basically saying that she's this inconsequential thing who will not impede upon his ambitions. Francesca is no better, talking down to her cousin like a child, always describing her as childlike and blank.

Then we get lines like this:

She was neither cloying nor snide; she displayed none of the usual behaviors he deplored. His aversion was primitive, instinctive - not easy to explain (249).

And:

"I'd be tempted to say she's softheaded, or to use a vulgar but appropriate term, dicked in the nob, yet that's not quite it. She's perfectly lucid if a bit simple..." (262)

Since this is, what, the seventh book in the series, I thought that maybe I just caught the series on the downward trend. It's hard to keep a book series going strong, especially once you get past book #4 or so. But then I checked out reviews of the first book and happened to see my friend Daniella's review of the first book, DEVIL'S BRIDE. So many of the things I took issue with, like a crazy amount of sex scenes, inconsistent characterization, and yes, even adultery (or cheating, I suppose, since it wasn't technically adultery yet at this point) are all present in her review.

I was not a fan of ALL ABOUT PASSION. The mistaken identity thing was done fairly poorly, but I was still on board for all the love-to-hate-you UST until they started going at it nonstop and all their relationship tension started to come from "to have adultery or to not have adultery?"-type dilemmas. I was also not really happy with how Franni was portrayed, nor that she was mentally ill and that her being mentally ill was the premise for her wanting to kill the heroine Hand that Rocks the Cradle-style. She even hires some men to take Francesca away, where it is implied that Francesca will probably be held in captivity and raped until her baby is born (forgot to mention she's pregnant at this point), at which point the baby will be brought to Franni to raise (since her aunt told her she isn't allowed to have children because she's mentally ill) with Gyles. I thought that was really messed-up (and also inconsistent because if Franni is too "simple" to walk around by herself, how the hell would she think to go out and hire a bunch of criminals, trick Francesca into meeting her, and execute this plan?), and it didn't mesh well with all the other stuff was going on. Also, making the villains mentally ill is a trope that has been done to death, and really ought to stop. I thought about giving this book a one-star review, but I managed to read it in just under two days. It was so hypnotically bad that I was unable to put it down. I had to see what happened next. That ought to count for something.

1.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Punk 57 by Penelope Douglas



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

You know when you're ordering a really strong drink from a bar, and it's got a lot more alcohol in it than you thought, to the point that you can almost taste the hangover over the rum and artificial fruit, and you think to yourself, "This is a bad idea" but then drink it anyway, and order another because YOLO? That's me every time I pick up a new adult book. I tell myself, "Nenia, you're going to regret this, don't do it, you're not going to like it."

But trashy erotica novels, like booze, are easy to do to excess.

This is my second book by Penelope Douglas. The first I've read from her was CORRUPT, and that was lent to me by a kind GR friend via Kindle. I thought CORRUPT was okay, with reservations. I don't normally go in for erotica, especially erotica that reads like straight-up porn. All the men in that book were misogynistic and rapey, too, which added another level of nope. But the plot was decent and she was good at setting a decent pace, so I sort of half-enjoyed, half-wtf'd my way through the thing and at the end of the book, I wasn't mad. It was a flawed but decent read.

PUNK 57 I bought myself, which already means that I'm going to be an eensy bit more critical of it because I'm spending my hard-earned money on the book and judging it accordingly. PUNK 57 was our book of the month in the Unapologetic Romance Readers group for April, and as someone who had read her work previously, I was interested in seeing how it had changed from CORRUPT.

***WARNING: SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT***

PUNK 57 is about two characters, Misha and Ryen, who are both in high school. They are also pen pals, although they have never met face to face before. Misha is punk and in a band and has piercings. Ryen is a cheerleader and preppy and into things like TWILIGHT and HARRY POTTER. After a tragedy happens in his life, Misha ends up going to Ryen's school under the name Masen for reasons that don't actually have anything to do with Ryen. When he realizes that she's not what he built her up to be on his imaginary pedestal, he gets angry and embarks on a mission to make her life hell. This, I actually didn't mind so much. It reminded me of Hana Yori Dango. A-hole heroes are actually a weakness of mine provided that a) the heroine reacts to this behavior accordingly and b) it takes a heck of a lot of groveling before the characters finally end up together.

This does not happen in PUNK 57. Ryen is attracted to this mean behavior, despite herself, and the two of them have several sex scenes that have this really uncomfortable element that was also present in CORRUPT that is neither healthy nor entirely consensual (at least, that's how it felt to me). And it wasn't the fact that it wasn't 100% consensual at times that bothered me so much as the fact that Ryen seemed to be embracing this behavior as natural and something she needed. Example: at one point Misha/Masen breaks into her house while she's sleeping and catches her in bed naked. He assumes, naturally, that any woman who is naked must be entertaining male company, and makes an effort of looking around for that Other Man. When he realizes that she was actually masturbating, he asks her if she was thinking of him. Me, I'd be on the phone with the cops well before that point, but she lets him watch. Ew. He's also constantly getting physical with her and making her feel bad about herself, whether it's berating her for being fake or criticizing her clothes for being too sexy - because how dare she bring male attention upon herself. Like it's her fault for them looking or some BS. In keeping with this "me man, woman mine" caveman attitude, the sex is always big man alpha sex, of the cervix-slamming variety (you know the kind I mean) and I know some people enjoy this, and that's fine, but that isn't my cup of tea at all. I rolled my eyes a lot. Especially when they try anal - without lube - and all she feels is a tiny burn. Ha! Woman must have Superman's butthole if he can go in dry and not cause her any pain, that's all I'm going to say.

I will say that the twist at the end with Misha's mom took me off-guard. I wasn't expecting that, although in hindsight it explains a lot. Like I said before, with CORRUPT, plotting isn't a weakness of Ms. Douglas's. But the confrontation and the way it was carried out left a similarly bad taste in my mouth, because it was a perfect mirror of his behavior towards Ryen and how it was actually pretty abusive. Misha is one of those guys who expects women to behave in certain ways, and if they violate that way at all, they are automatically bad. Ryen failed to live up to his sweet nerdy girl fantasy, so she becomes the whore in his eyes. Misha's mom couldn't take motherhood, so she becomes the horrible bitch who is responsible for all the problems in his life. It's the Madonna/whore complex, and I hate the Madonna/whore complex. Also, I'm realizing that I kind of hate Misha. I didn't want him to have an HEA with the heroine, because in my opinion, he never redeemed himself. He played the "Baby, I'm damaged" card and she completely bought it, final sale.

Two things I did like (so this review ends on a positive note): I like how the author incorporates music into her stories. That was something I liked about CORRUPT as well, especially since her taste in music is pretty similar to mine. I also liked how she had characters from CORRUPT cameo in PUNK 57, even if it was the creeps. Am I surprised that Misha knows/is friends with those creeps? No. He's a creep, too. Creeps of a feather flock together. (No, bad Nenia - stay positive!)

I didn't hate this book. I was afraid I would, but I didn't. Bar a few typos, it was fairly well written and had an interesting story. As much as I gripe, I must admit that I wasn't bored while reading it. It also has a Colleen Hoover-esque title whose meaning becomes clear at some point in the story, which is cool. Like Colleen Hoover, I think this author is capable of writing something some day that I will really enjoy. I like dark fiction, and I like suspense novels. She just needs to fine-tune the way she writes her heroes and sex scenes, and then we'll be golden.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, April 17, 2017

MAD About Trump: A Brilliant Look at Our Brainless President by Various



Oh, Various. You are prolific, aren't you? You've written about everything from Irish folklore to books about the best jokes, the most beautiful jokes, fantastic jokes. Obviously, when I saw that this prolific author had published a book making fun of Trump, I had to have it. I blew off watching Archer to read MAD ABOUT TRUMP, that's how thrilled I was. Archer. The new one.

First, a disclaimer. This is not going to be a pro-Trump review. Imagine that. A woman with a Women's March picture as her Goodreads profile photo (the SF one, no less) and the tagline "flagrant liberal" in her username reading a book that's making fun of Trump not being pro-Trump. It seems intuitive, I know, but I actually had someone accusing me of having an "agenda" a few months ago, and I had to laugh at that, because agenda usually implies that you're trying to hide your sinister schemes under some other sort of pretense and Blue's Clues is more subtle than that.

You know what they say. Sometimes the cigar is actually a d*ck pick.

MAD ABOUT TRUMP is a bit of a mixed bag. There are some genuinely funny passages in here, and some passages like Living Dead apprentice that just made me roll my eyes and scoff. I must say that I was impressed by the range. There's everything from movie poster art to comic panels to magazine pages to fake advertisements to poems and pretty much everything in between. The humor level ranges from sophisticated to low-brow (which is typical of MAD), so in a way, that's nice, because it almost guarantees that there is something in here for everyone, no matter your tastes.

Some of my favorites were the conservative Christmas carols for post-Trump election x-mas; the new presidential seal (replace the bald eagle with the bird from Twitter); a GQ mock-up featuring the cabinet picks that gets salty AF; a pretty brilliant Family Circus parody; an equally brilliant Suicide Squad Parody called "Donald Trump's Moral Slide Squad" (featuring Kellyann Conway as "Hardly Coherent"); a fake Shopkins advert called Trumpkins; and probably my personal favorite of the collection: an Undercover Boss Parody called "Undercover Boob."

Also, to whomever formatted this book: at first my heart sank when I realized that it was basically just scanned pages of the comic book as it would be read in hard copy form with both pages spread - but bless you for having the text on each page stand alone on each page, instead of forcing me to flip back and forth. It was very readable in e-book format, so that's something to keep in mind, as well.

Honestly, with what's been going on in the world lately, I needed this collection to make me laugh. And it did, a little. Enough to count. The beginning of the collection is a tad uneven, but it gets a lot better as you get closer to the end. (For some reason, they put a lot of the cheap laughs up front.) I was afraid it would be silly, but I actually ended up enjoying this comic book quite a bit! If you're tired AF of seeing BS on the news, and are currently between episodes of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and Late Night with Seth Meyers, pick this book up when it comes out in June.

To quote Indra Devi: "Laughter drives shouting away."

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas



A lot of people say that certain books make them cry, but when I pick up that book, I feel nothing. It's like trying to squeeze a rock to get water; I just don't tend to cry when I read. Well, THE HATE U GIVE made me cry. It also made me laugh. It made me smile. It made me so angry that at times I was literally shaking. It made me uncomfortable, it made me reflective, and - perhaps most importantly of all - it made me think.

Starr Carter lives in what she calls "the ghetto," AKA Garden Heights. After she watched a childhood friend shot in the street, her mother enrolled her in a prestigious private school. Now, she lives her life with a foot in two very different worlds. By day, she's with her non-black friends and her white boyfriend in a school filled with kids who think nothing of their privilege. By night, she lives in a cramped house in a bad neighborhood where gunfire is common and gang activity is a viable source of income.

She resigns herself to the fact that she doesn't really fit into either "niche" and changes the way she acts and speaks depending on which group she's with at the time. Friends and family are a delicate balancing act, but she's happy, and she's loved, and she has friends both at school and at home. Then she drives home with a friend and gets pulled over by a cop & sees him killed before her eyes.

What follows is an incredibly powerful story that follows Starr as her friend's death ripples through the news and gains widespread attention. It becomes an allegory for the very real problem of prejudice that exists in our society, and raises important questions about racism. That racism can be internalized, or expressed by people we care about. That it can be accidental or premeditated. That it can be institutionalized. That it isn't limited by color or gender. That no matter the form or the medium, it is harmful, and has devastating consequences when it is allowed to fester and grow.

I loved Starr's voice. She is an incredibly likable character. She has hobbies, she works hard in school, and she struggles to find her voice as the adult she will one day become. I loved her interactions with her family, especially her parents and uncle. Her friends, Maya, Jess, and Kenya, were great. I side-eyed her relationship with Chris at first, but he redeemed himself, and by the end of the book I was so impressed by how their relationship developed. He was a different person by the end of the book. Because of Starr. This is a heroine with agency, who is independent and flawed but kind and compassionate. By the end of the book, I was so invested in her story. She felt so real.

THUG is an important book because it mirrors many actual real events that have happened, and serves as a sort of call to action for people to examine their own thoughts and attitudes and the effects that their actions can have on others. It also shows the importance of speaking up and being heard, and how that isn't always easy as others say it is, especially in the wake of a traumatic event (much like Laurie Halse Anderson's SPEAK).

I want to say so much more about this book, but I don't want to spoil anything or express myself poorly, so let me just say that this should be required reading and whether you love it or hate it, THUG is one of those books that is so different and so powerful and so raw that it will change the way you see the world.

5 out of 5 stars

Everafter: The Pandora Protocol, Volume 1 by Lilah Sturges



Wow, it's been forever since I finished and reviewed a book (read: days). Is it cheating that it's a comic book? Maybe. But it's a DC imprint - and an advanced copy, at that. Cue excitement, because DC has turned down probably hundreds of requests for ARCs from me over the last four years. They, and Disney-Hyperion, are responsible for crushing so many of my book dreams, that when I found out I'd been approved to read not just EVERAFTER but also SUPERGIRL, I shrieked in disbelief and excitement.

Note to readers of this book: from what I understand from the credits ascribed to this book (and please correct me if I am wrong), the original creator of Fables, Bill Willingham, does not appear to be associated with this work. That was a major bummer to me, because I loved the story of the original Fables series. It had a dark, film noir aspect to it, like Once Upon a Time meets Sin City, and the artwork was fantastic.

The art in EVERAFTER is not bad, either. I like the comic books that go for a more realistic style without super beefed up characters - not everyone has to look like an action figure. It's just as gritty as the Fables I remember, except the gore factor has upped. There were three or four disembowlings in here, to the point where I started to wonder if I picked up an AU version of The Walking Dead by mistake. There are even zombies in here. Zombies. In a Fables spin-off. What is going on?

The apocalypse.

Obvs.

I don't want to spoil too much and to be honest, I was so confused by the events in this book that I'm not sure I could do an adequate synopsis. But basically, the Fables have created this supernatural agency responsible for protecting humans against magic. The story is set in San Francisco, which I loved, because I'm from the Bay, and involves evil Native American spirits and a girl who can resurrect zombies and who has a unicorn familiar named *snicker* "Mister Prisms."

For most of the book, I considered giving the book a two star rating. The story was too dark and really confusing. I had assumed that because it was a spin-off and the first in a series, I would be able to go in cold. After finishing, I'm no longer sure that's true and am interested in seeing what people who've actually completed the series think. That said, the book started to pick up towards the end, and I loved, loved, the short story at the end about Szymon the magician. That was more what I expected from EVERAFTER: a magical character study, with depth and tragedy and humor. This book gets an extra star solely because of the awesome short story at the back that I almost - foolishly - skipped.

Takeaway points:
1. Way too many pictures of intestines outside of the human body.
2. I still have no idea what the hell was going on for 80% of the book.
3. Jordan Yow is kind of awesome and I want a Mister Prisms plushie of my own.
4. Connor Wolf is sexy AF.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Captain of My Heart by Danelle Harmon



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

Heather, Sarah, and I decided to do an impromptu buddy read of CAPTAIN OF MY HEART because it was free, and as the mods of the Unapologetic Romance Readers group, it is our job to read as many romances as unapologetically as possible. #ReadDangerously

I was skeptical about this book from the beginning and only downloaded it because it was free. Why? A) that title, and B) this book was originally published in 1992, and you guys know how I feel about 90s bodice rippers (or should by now, considering how often I complain about them in my reviews - have you been following me?!).

So with low expectations, I began reading this book, and found myself...actually impressed.

CAPTAIN OF MY HEART opens up with action. We're introduced to Brendan Merrick, a charming, half-British, half-Irish flag-captain who is beloved by all his crew. When he finds out one of his immediate subordinates is mistreating members in exceedingly cruel ways, he immediately sets out to put a stop to it. But that man - Richard Crichton - is a villain of every sense of the word. He shoots Brendan's sister, Eveleen, shattering her hand, and then shoots Brendan as well, knocking him overboard. With no one the wiser, Crichton tells his superiors Brendan turned traitor, gets his position, and continues his villain unchecked.

Meanwhile, America is currently in the midst of its Revolutionary War. Mira is an overzealous patriot who enjoys dressing in men's clothing, fighting with her fists, singing boisterous songs, rescuing stray cats and then sneaking them into her house (they're called Rescue Efforts and they have numbers), and baking inedible pies. Her brother, Matt, is a privateer who leads his men against British ships to either sink or rob. When Brendan washes ashore, everyone assumes he's a no-good British spy, but it turns out he's actually her father's newest client with a ship design that's never been done before, but will make her father both famous and rich.

The romance unfolds against the backdrop of war, as well as Crichton's revenge quest for the man he felt robbed him of both his honor and his rights. The descriptions of the ships are wonderful, and the schooner that Brendan commissions, Kestrel, is pretty much a character herself. I can't imagine how much research went into this book, but it must have been a lot. The detail is incredible, and it seems like the author knows what she's talking about (I don't know for sure, though. What I know about ships could fill a thimble, and there would still be plenty of room left over for the thumb).

Crichton was a great villain. He was scary without being ridiculous, and his obsession with bringing Brendan down really kept the plot going. I loved Brendan. He's not one of those rapey heroes who still desperately tries to pretend he's the good guy that you see so often in 90s bodice rippers. He's a genuinely nice guy, and his charm seduces its way off the pages, making the reader go, "Faith!"

When Brendan's sister, Eveleen, is introduced, she and the heroine don't like each other and there is some body shaming that made me go, "Okay, here we go..." But then Eveleen's character is developed more, and to my surprise, Harmon did a halfway decent job portraying emotional eating. Eveleen and Mira bond, and Mira actually helps her exercise to lose weight and helps give her a renewed sense of confidence in herself. She loses the weight slowly, and learns to deal with the hand that was disfigured by Crichton's bullet. I really enjoyed her story arc a lot, because it isn't often that you see female characters who aren't the heroine developed so fully.

I could never really figure out whether Mira annoyed or amused me. I loved the Rescue Efforts (because I am a cat lady), and it was refreshing to read about a heroine who was genuinely a bad-ass and not just playing at one. It was cool to see her beating the crap out of people and manning the guns on a ship with deadly accuracy. Towards the beginning of the last quarter of the book, however, she does something pretty terrible to Brendan with devastating consequences, and it was really annoying to me because I've read several books about heroines who do annoying things because of a Misunderstanding, and then end up doing something drastic instead of just talking it out with the hero. She feels terrible about it later, as she should have, but I couldn't bring myself to like her as much after that. It tipped the scales too much in favor of "impetuous" instead of "endearing."

CAPTAIN OF MY HEART is a great book, though. The pacing is uneven, but the scenes with action and romance are well done, and all of the characters stand out as individuals. You'll be amused by Mira's family's terrifying fights, Brendan's rather eccentric crew, and the personality of Kestrel, the ship who doesn't have time for your games. It's got wonderful nautical descriptions and a villain who is genuinely creepy. Okay, 90s bodice rippers, you win this time. I surrender...

Read Heather's review here, and Sarah's review here.

P.S. I see that the Kindle edition I read was "updated and revised." I'm always curious to hear what's changed from the first edition. Does anyone have an idea? Inquiring minds want to know!

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Sweetest Regret by Meredith Duran



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

I have to say, it feels weird reading a romance about Christmas in April. Kind of like if you were to go to the grocery store, looking for adorable chocolate eggs for the kiddies, and happened upon a dusty red-and-green package of candy canes. You can't help asking yourself, "How long have these been here? Is it even any good?"

I've only read one book by Meredith Duran. It was FOOL ME TWICE. I really enjoyed that book, because it employed one of my guilty pleasure tropes (Byronic hero falls in love with his servant). I couldn't wait to start SWEETEST REGRET. My expectations were incredibly high. I know they say not to judge a book by its cover, but how could a book with a cover like that possibly be bad?

SWEETEST REGRET is not a full-length book, which I could have found out more quickly if I had bothered to look up the book beforehand. I did not. The story revolves around "Georgie," the daughter of a British diplomat. He's hosting a number of European guests for the holidays but is called away to Constantinople last minute on business. In his absence, he gives Georgie the task of searching through the guests' rooms for a letter of the utmost importance, which he claims that one of them has in all likelihood stolen.

Also tasked with The Purloined Letter Caper is Georgie's father's protegee, Lucas Godwin. Awkwardly enough, Lucas and Georgie have a history together. They were very much involved two years ago until Lucas abruptly ceased all contact with her, thereby breaking her heart.

This is a second-chance romance with a "twist" ending that's reminiscent of THE NOTEBOOK and made me think that Georgie's father was an arse weasel. For a foreign diplomat to do what he did, well, that's just asking for an international incident, don't you think? It was difficult to be too angry, though. The story is much too short for the reader to get very emotionally involved in Georgie and Lucas's affairs. Short stories are difficult to pull off. Even authors I like, like Alyssa Cole, can't always pull them off. Courtney Milan is one of the few romance authors whose short stories truly excel, and yet even she has her misses as well. And Duran is no Milan when it comes to short stories.

SWEETEST REGRET is a harmless, fluffy romance with a bizarre plot that traverses the line between nonsensical and amusing. The Christmas theme makes it ideal for romance challenges like the one I am currently participating in, and the length ensures that even if it is not an enjoyable read, it will at least be a quick one. I have read worse, though, and both of these characters were decent and likable, despite their blandness. If you're looking for something short and sweet, you could certainly do far worse. Do check out FOOL ME TWICE, though. It's much, much better than this!

2 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Simply Irresistible by Rachel Gibson



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

I went through a chick-lit phrase during my first two years of college, during which time I devoured any book I could find as long as it had a pink cover. One of these books was called LOLA CARLYLE REVEALS ALL by Rachel Gibson. I barely remember what the book was about, only that the experience of reading it was surreal...and not necessarily in a good way.

SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE is also surreal...and not necessarily in a good way. It actually kind of reminds me of IT HAD TO BE YOU by Susan Elizabeth Phillips in many ways, which was another sports themed chick-lit/romance crossover book from the 1990s that I read recently and had issues with.

Our heroine, Georgeanne, is a Texas belle engaged to be married to the manager of the Chinooks hockey team. No longer content to be a trophy wife to an older man, however, she jilts him at the altar and convinces a man from the wedding to spirit her away in his car. That man is John, a player on said manager's hockey team. As soon as he realizes who he has in the car, he begins freaking out, but Georgeanne browbeats him into letting her stay at his place.

Spoiler alert: they boink.

Georgeanne falls for him immediately, and is hurt when the next day after The Boink, he puts her in a car with a plane ticket back to Texas. Georgeanne doesn't want to go back to Texas, though, and stays in Washington instead. Where she gets a job working as a caterer. And, oh, yes, is pregnant.

Spoiler alert: She neglects to inform the father.

This is where I began to feel trepidation, because I do not enjoy the secret baby trope at all.

But hey, that's okay. Maybe this will be the time that I will be proven wrong.

Spoiler alert: Nope.

Georgeanne doesn't bother telling John that he has a daughter (Lexie). He gets to find out by pure coincidence. This starts a long chain of fighting that will last until the last fifty pages of the book. Custody. Whether or not they find each other attractive. Whether or not they're allowed to find other people attractive. More custody fighting. Lawyers. Whether or not their kid can have a dog.

Spoiler alert: Some people are born to dogs. Others have dogs thrust upon them.

There is so much fighting, most of it about Lexie. And while I can't really understand personally how difficult custody is, I can certainly understand the reasons behind why this is such an emotionally charged issue. That said, I felt like Georgeanne was incredibly unfair to John about his daughter, especially when she pretty much refused to let him pay for insurance and tuition out of spite. That felt so selfish, like she was taking her own feelings of insecurity and her desire to be independent out on her daughter.

For the most part, I liked the scenes of John interacting with his daughter except for one, when he says she looks like a slut. "He stared at his little girl, looking like a tart in heavy makeup..." (40%). That line just felt so unnecessary, and I couldn't like him as much after reading that.

Georgeanne's relationship with her daughter was way worse, because of how she was projecting all her insecurities in front of her daughter. For example, she is constantly calling herself fat in front of her daughter (and other people). Georgeanne is 5'10" and weighs 140 pounds (and she's curvy, because you will hear numerous times about how large her fabulous boobs and butt are). Considering how curvy Georgeanne is, that is actually quite skinny. I am 5'10" and I weigh bit more than 140 pounds. I, too, am curvy - but I'm also in ok shape, and despite my weight, would not call myself fat. So it was annoying to me to keep seeing these measurements bandied about and hear about how fat Georgeanne is, especially when it was clear that she was doing it in front of an impressionable child.

Even though John and Lexie were cute together, he's definitely borderline-alphahole with everyone else, talking about how he doesn't sleep with "skinny" women (oh boy, more body shaming), doesn't find "skinny" women attractive, that he's at least partially only interested in Georgeanne because of her body, etc. He also threatens to beat up other men, and uses "retarded," "pussy," and "sissy."

He wasn't as bad as Hugh, though - the secondary love interest for Georgeanne's friend, Mae, who acts like an aggressive pickup artist. Even Mae herself admits that the reason she went out with him in the first place was exhaustion from too many no's.

From a technical note, there was some odd formatting going on in this e-book (I have the Kindle version). There are no breaks between POV swaps, which interrupts continuity, and sometimes the same thing happens with dialogue tags. One person will be talking, there will be a description of something going on in the background, and in the same paragraph, Gibson would have someone else talking. This could make it difficult to figure out who was saying what at times.

Also, typos and random hyphens. The funniest one I saw was a misspelling of Georgeanne's name on p. 274: "Georgeajine."

SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE is dated, and I would say that for me at least, it doesn't stand the test of time. Not even ironically. As with IT HAD TO BE YOU, there were just too many issues with the book that kept me from enjoying it fully, even if it was almost compulsively readable, and it didn't help that there wasn't a single character in here who really spoke to me. I appreciated Georgeanne's struggle as a single mom and how she had dyslexia, and I thought Mae's drag queen friends were cool (although the story about her brother was sad), and I liked John's interactions with his kid. It just wasn't enough for them to feel developed and interesting.

Points for hilariously dated 90s references, like the Macarena, jelly shoes, and Bob Ross.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Stranger in My Arms by Lisa Kleypas



Lisa Kleypas is well known for her light regency romances with smart heroines and breezy prose. But she didn't start out that way. Once you start hitting her back list and reading the books that were published, say, in 1993 or earlier, you get into some weird sh*t.

STRANGER IN MY ARMS was originally published in 1988, according to Goodreads, which makes it the earliest Lisa Kleypas book I have read to date. It's about a noble widow named Lara whose life is upended when her late husband, Hunter, the Earl of Hawksworth, presumed dead on a journey to India, returns alive and well and ready to resume his position. This means kicking out his wretched relations, Arthur and Janet, and resuming marital relations with his beautiful wife - or so he thinks.

Guys, STRANGER IN MY ARMS features one of the most unlikable, selfish, sanctimonious, hypocritical heroines I have ever had the displeasure of encountering in fiction. Even though I'm rounding up this book to 1.5 stars, please, please consider this review an honorary 1-star review because I definitely considered bestowing that honor upon it for the sh*t I was forced to endure.


**warning: SPOILERS**

Let's talk about Lara. She's disappointed when she finds out her husband isn't dead. Which is kind of jerkish, but okay, her husband wasn't a nice man, so that's understandable. When she finds out that he has undergone a personality transplant in his absence and actually become a pretty decent human being, Lara still treats him like dirt. She adopts an orphan without telling him, expecting him to accept the child's presence and then acting surprised (and not grateful) when he does. She refuses to sleep with him, which, again, is her right. But she also taunts him about it, ordering her gowns cut an extra two inches lower with the intent of torturing him, enters into sexual bargains with him (for the orphans, again) and then speculates on how to welsh on the deal (this is the term that the book uses, so please excuse the potentially pejorative phrasing). When she realizes he's not the man to force a woman into having sex, she is amused by that and tries to figure out whether she can use his honor to renege on their sex bargain while still getting what she wants. When he tells her that she's the only woman he wants, she writes a letter to his ex-mistress, inviting her to their charity ball, causing a scene, embarrassing him in front of all his peers, and then acts surprised when he's angry.

But let me tell you about the cherry that is the b*tch sundae special that is Lara.

Kleypas seems fascinated by doppelgangers and mistaken identity. In a twist that mimics the twist in ONLY WITH YOUR LOVE, it turns out that "Hunter" is actually the bastard half-brother of the Hunter that Lara married. We never find out "Hunter's" real name, so I'll just put his name in quotes when I'm talking about her impostor husband.

Anyway, throughout the book, it's hinted pretty heavily that the man who returned isn't the one who left. Lara suspects but doesn't really believe it, until a stranger - a man she doesn't even know that well - tells her his real identity: that he's a mercenary he knew in India who saved his life. At this point, Lara doesn't know that "Hunter" is her husband's half-brother, she just automatically decides - at the word of this perfect stranger - that he must be telling the truth. Her husband is an impostor.

So what does she do?

Rat him out to those horrid in-laws from the beginning of the book who basically locked her away in the servant's quarters and verbally abused her at every turn. I'm not kidding. This is Lara's immediate course of action. Does she talk to "Hunter" about this? Nope. She totally goes behind his back, and when she finds out that he's probably going to be executed, she's all, "Oh well, it's the right thing!"

B*TCH. DID YOU COME FROM THE KELLOGG'S FACTORY? BECAUSE YOU CANNOT POSSIBLY BE CEREAL. WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU THINK THAT WAS THE RIGHT THING?

What makes this even more disgusting is that there's a side-plot with Lara's sister Rachel, who is in an abusive relationship. Lara knows that her sister's husband is hitting her but does nothing. She doesn't like it, but she does nothing. She basically forces "Hunter" to go rescue Rachel after she "falls down the stairs." When it turns out that she had a miscarriage, "Hunter" sends for the doctor, lets Rachel stay in his house, and when the abusive husband (who used to be his best friend) shows up to reclaim her, "Hunter" protects her and sends him away. What does Lara do? Hide behind "Hunter" while tossing off insults and provoking the abusive husband. This results in a physical altercation that makes Lara attempt to run, fall on her ass, and watch as her husband throws the abuser out the door.

So after being a gentleman, putting up with all her sh*t, allowing her to adopt an orphan and raise it like her own child, rescuing her sister, rescuing her, and choosing his ungrateful wife over a friendship that allegedly lasted years, what does Lara do? I'll remind you.

SHE CONDEMNS HIM TO DEATH.

Obviously she changes her mind last minute and decides he doesn't deserve to die (ya think?), mostly because she's pregnant with his child (you b*tch), and mostly because she's afraid her sister will be sent down to her abuser because her horrid in-laws think he's the bee's knees. Oh, and because she loves him. Maybe. Can you see why this b*tch drove me bonkers?

"Hunter" is the only reason this book gets that extra half-star that rounds this book up to the two stars that I don't think it deserves. "Hunter" is one of the better romantic leads I've encountered in a Lisa Kleypas book, and he didn't deserve the hot mess that was Lara by a long shot. I was so frustrated, because if this book had a better heroine, I really think I would have loved the book because it has so many tropes that I enjoy: spouse-back-from-the-dead, enemies-turned-to-lovers, second-chance-romance, and, of course, sexy bargaining. And Lara ruined it all with her horribleness.

Yeah, I'm peeved.

1.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Catch Me by Lorelie Brown



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

Have you ever picked up a book and then gotten immediately, even irrationally, annoyed with the main character(s)? That was what happened with me and the "heroine," Maggie. I couldn't stand her, and reading CATCH ME quickly became unbearable.

Remember when kids' TV shows from the 1980s and 1990s began introducing token female characters? If you're around my age, you probably do. They usually wore pink uniforms (to identify them as the female character, even while in uniform), and had, for the most part with few exceptions, a single character: "plucky female." They were the first to march stupidly into danger, the first to get kidnapped. They liked girly things, and were quick to say things, "I don't need help!" and "You're just saying that because I'm a girl!"

Token girl characters were annoying to me because they didn't really act like any actual girls or women I knew in real life. They weren't usually complicated characters ("I like girly things!" / "I don't want to rely on anyone else, even though I'm part of a team!") and more often than not ended up being the foil that resulted in the introduction of the villain because of how often they got kidnapped.

Maggie reminded me of these token girl characters that grated on me from childhood. Maggie robs a bank to get money to save her ailing father. A bounty hunter, Dean, is paid by the owner of the bank to hunt her down. If I remember correctly, he starts out in jail, and bringing in Maggie will not only grant him freedom from his cell, but also reward him with the sheriff's position he's been coveting. Anyway, he finds Maggie, who immediately starts waving around her gun and posturing. Even when she's captured, she continues to smirk and posture throughout the book, constantly needling her capture because it's fun to provoke him - she thinks it's hilarious.

And let's not talk about the instant love that's going on here. Dean is the worst bounty hunter ever. He immediately starts fantasizing about his captive-to-be when he sees her wanted poster, and pretty much immediately starts "flirting" with her (if you could call it that). There's zero chemistry, since neither character has much in the way of personality apart from "I'm a tough girl!" and "I'm the strong silent type with the tortured past!" It's no small wonder Maggie managed to escape several times.

DO YOU FREAKING JOB!

The twist at the end was okay. By that point I'd checked out. Some rapey guy is introduced to put Maggie in danger, and it's revealed that Maggie's father has a checkered history of his own. Maggie, of course, is a hypocrite. "How could you do crime in the name of good!" thinks the girl who robbed a bank to "save" her father. Honestly, she gets so offended every time someone in this book points out her crime. Why are you so offended, Maggie? You robbed that bank. Unless you have an evil twin running around who is blaming you for their misdeeds, own up to your sh*t.

I'm disappointed that I did not enjoy this book more than I did. It was a really good deal and I usually love Carina Press titles. Sadly, this one was a miss for me. I did, however, enjoy reading it with the lovely ladies from my romance book club, Karly, Casey, Sarah, and Helen 2.0. Thanks, guys! <3

1 out of 5 stars

Real Artists Have Day Jobs: (And Other Awesome Things They Don't Teach You in School) by Sara Benincasa



The first thing I remember seeing Sara Benincasa in was CollegeHumor's since-retired video game series, Bleep Bloop. She was the guest star when they did the Grey's Anatomy on Wii video game. The video came out while I was in college, and I remember being so excited because at the time, CollegeHumor didn't have as many women in their videos. I remember thinking, "Oh my God, a cool nerdy girl! Who likes video games! Who likes making fun of video games! Who doesn't take herself too seriously! Oh my God, this is so cool!"

The second thing I remember seeing Sara Benincasa in was Buzzfeed's video, What It's Like To Be A Woman Online. This is a powerful video where various women, some controversial and some not, but all with social media platforms with a fair amount of followers, all talk about their experiences with internet harassment - specifically from men. This was the video that made me actually go to Twitter & follow her, because yaaass.

It never clicked until later that she was the same Sara Benincasa that was also the author of the book GREAT, which I see floating around on Goodreads a lot but never actually read. Prior to this, I suppose I just assumed that there were just several Sara Benincasas running around, equally blessed in talent. Then one day it hit me - all these awesome women who just so happened to have the same name were actually the same person. Mind = blown. Or maybe I'm just slow on the uptake.

EITHER WAY.

When I saw that her newest book, REAL ARTISTS HAVE DAY JOBS, was only $1.99 in the Kindle store, buying it was a no-brainer. I follow her on Twitter, remember, so I know that she's not just funny, she's also articulate as hell and her witticisms and pop-cultural references are on point. Plus, her coolness is at #lifegoals levels, so obviously I had to read this and see if she let any trade secrets about coolness slip.

REAL ARTISTS HAVE DAY JOBS is a collection of autobiographical essays. If you're going into this book expecting to laugh, however, you are apt to be disappointed. Her essays are witty, but serious examinations of various topics, ranging in scope from "how to get rid of the toxic people in your life" to "the importance of embracing your inner-geek" to "go adopt a dog."

Since I already sound pretty stalkery from that review intro, I'm going to quickly summarize some of my favorite takeaway points from this book.

1. I love that she validates struggling artists and writers. I am a writer, and I have been told that you can't call yourself a "real" writer unless you are doing it full time. I love that she debunks that and says, no, you are an artist, even if the art you're producing doesn't have a price tag. You can have another job that you love in addition to writing, and still be a writer. Doing both doesn't make you a failure. Choosing another career path and designating your art to being a hobby doesn't make you a failure. Not having a degree in English or an MFA doesn't mean you're not worthy of time. You can be self-taught. You can be an amateur or a hobbyist. You can still be an artist. Or a writer.

Embrace your day job and your art. <3

2. I love that she really makes an effort to point out that dealing with mental illness isn't a straight path to instant healing. It's more like one of those shitty mazes you get on kids' menus at family eateries. There are dead ends, u-turns, and backtracks. All you can do is try to forgive yourself, practice self-care, and surround yourself with non-toxic people who support you, no matter what. Oh, and medication, treatment, and therapy, too, if that's what it takes to get the help you need. #noshame #youdoyou

3. I love the part of the book about learning to embrace your geekiness instead of trying to suppress it to be "cool." I was into geeky things well before they were cool, and while it sounds like I'm bandying about my hipster cred, this actually wasn't very fun for me. I got teased for a lot of my passions, and to this day, I still have to bite back that instinctive shame when I tell people, "Yes, I love anime. I enjoy reading manga. I enjoy reading fantasy books about dragons. Pokemon are awesome." Because back in my day, admitting to these things made you a "loser." She points out that rather than trying to fit in with the popular crowd, you'll be happier and have better relationships if you live authentically and instead of trying to please everyone, do you, and look for others who share your interests with the same enthusiasm you do. It's a great message. Embrace your "loser," and you become a "winner." Because F the haters, that's why.

4. There are several essays about privilege, intersectionality, and prejudice. I love that she describes what these things are, and how she had to work to overcome some of her own biases. I love that she emphasizes the need to stay silent sometimes and let people share their stories instead of hijacking the conversation to talk about yours. These are words that tend to send some people running or have others screaming that rallying cry, "SJW! SJW!" but it really is important to understand that a lot of people out there are hurting from some truly unjust biases that are ingrained within our society (and not always in an obvious way), and they deserve a platform to address these issues.

REAL ARTISTS HAVE DAY JOBS is a pretty solid collection of essays. There is something in here for everyone, and whether you agree with Benincasa or not, her thoughts are bound to stir up dialogue - and really, isn't that the point of essays? And dialogue, for that matter? You might also find the essays incredibly helpful on a personal level, because the woman gives pretty good advice, too.

P.S. Watch the videos I linked to. I swear, even though I name drop the Woman Online video at every opportunity, I'm not an affiliate. I just really, really like that video and want people to watch it.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari



There are a lot of books that I am interested in reading but don't really get around to unless the book is selected by a book club or for a buddy read. This is because sites like Amazon and Goodreads have made the whole prospect of choosing a book so stressful. Up-and-coming books, out-of-print books, esoteric books from small presses - there are so many options. Before Goodreads, I would select books based on the cover, the synopsis on the back cover, and whether I recognized the author (usually from a magazine or a friend/family member's suggestion). Now? I have books thrown at me from all directions in the form of ebook sales, ARCs, and thrift shops, and it's so overwhelming, because there are so many books I want to read, and I have a finite amount of time to get through them all. It's frustrating, to say the least.

Why is this relevant? Because Aziz Ansari takes this same concept: the infinite permutations of options offered to us in the digital age and the difficulty of prioritizing or selecting between them. Only, instead of books, he applies it to dating and relationships. When we use dating apps, we're exposed to way more people than we would ever encounter in real life (sometimes, in the case of d*ck pics, 'exposed' in the literal sense), in cities that we have never personally been to, with interests way outside of our own social groups.

While this is compelling, and in some cases - especially in the cases of those with specific sexual needs/desires or niche hobbies - extremely beneficial, Ansari argues that this can actually be detrimental for others. He argues that in the old days, people often married someone they knew, and became complacent about their partner, with a sense of compansionship that occurred later on from shared history and interests. In the modern age, people are far less willing to settle down, he argues, constantly wondering what's behind that figurative door number two. Is it someone better? Are we missing out? Digital dating might help us find people, but it also makes us less willing to stay with people, and can enable us to cheat or indulge in flaky behavior like text breakups or flimsy plans.

I was expecting this to be a dating memoir, so you could cover me shocked when I found out that one of my favorite male comedians was writing a semi-scientific book about dating habits in the modern age (hence the title), with a focus group he created, information gleaned from a subreddit set up by him, and many, many studies cited from actual sociologists and psychologists, and literature I'm actually acquainted with, such as Barry Schwartz'z PARADOX OF CHOICE and Sheena Iyengar's THE ART OF CHOOSING (both must-reads, even if you're not a psych major). I studied psychology in college because I love finding out what makes people tick. I knew this was going to be good.

And it was!

Ansari covers a wide variety of topics, starting from how older people in his focus groups met their spouses and what their motiviations for marriage were, and what their courtship rituals looked like. He discusses various dating sites at length, as well as their humble origins in speed dating and video dating, as well as touching upon hookup culture. He also talks about what dating looks like in different parts of the world. He discusses the U.S., but also what dating looks like in Qatar, in Argentina, in Japan, and in France, and how their attitudes are changing in the modern age, as well.

While this book is drier than some would like, I think it's especially relevant to anyone who has dated in the 21st century or anyone who rolls their eyes at people who say, "I just can't find anyone" when they live in a city with several million people for being overdramatic. Finding people is hard. Finding people to settle down with is even harder. Ansari manages to take a very complicated topic and do an admirable job of examining it from multiple perspectives, while also keeping it fresh with light humor that I imagined him delivering in a Tom Haverford sort of tone.

P.S. When Ansari talks about the present his girlfriend his girlfriend got him for their 1 year, I smiled so hard my cheeks hurt.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Adulthood Is a Myth by Sarah Andersen



I was lucky enough to score an ARC of Andersen's newest book, BIG MUSHY HAPPY LUMP, and after reading it, there was really no question that I was going to give it anything less than 5 stars. Sarah Andersen gets what it's like to be a book-obsessed, introverted, shy, socially awkward millennial struggling to make it as an adult.

SHE UNDERSTANDS US, YOU GUYS.

I had received an ARC to review of ADULTHOOD IS A MYTH several years ago as well and remembered enjoying that a lot (hence why I applied for LUMP), and when I noticed that my library had a copy of ADULTHOOD IS A MYTH, I decided to check out the finished copy and see if it lived up to my memories.

ADULTHOOD IS A MYTH is very clearly a debut effort. It's very good and very funny, and still extremely relatable, but I felt like BIG MUSHY HAPPY LUMP touched on more serious issues than ADULTHOOD did. ADULTHOOD IS A MYTH is me, circa my junior year of college. BIG MUSHY HAPPY LUMP is me, post-college and newly employed. It's still me, but it's the polished, fancy me that has bragging rights and a car.

I can't wait for her next collection. I'm hoping the cover will be green.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars