Monday, July 31, 2017

Heathen by Natasha Alterici

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

I know.

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


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

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

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, July 30, 2017

How the Right Lost Its Mind by Charles J. Sykes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

The Innkeeper Chronicles, Volume 1 by Ilona Andrews

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

3.5 out of 5 stars

One Fell Sweep by Ilona Andrews

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

3.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Sweep in Peace by Ilona Andrews

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

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

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

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

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

Orro might just be my new favorite character, though.

3 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Brazil by John Updike

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

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

I think she's still traumatized by that revelation.

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

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

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

Here are some of this book's greatest hits:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, July 24, 2017

Crimson Shadows by Trisha Baker

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

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

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

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

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


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.


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


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


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.


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?


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.


*moseys on over to the page for WILDFIRE*

"Expected publication: July 25th 2017 by Avon"


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