Monday, May 29, 2023

Escape from Paradise by Gwendolyn Field


People kept recommending this book to me and it kept showing up on lists alongside my own books which made me curious. ESCAPE FROM PARADISE is one of those captivity eroticas written in the vein of CAPTIVE IN THE DARK and COMFORT FOOD. The heroine, Angela, is sneaking on a trip to Cancun with her besties after lying to her overprotective parents. But then she hooks up with a sleazebag who intends to hit it and quit it, non-con style, which leaves it up to his even creepier and sleazebaggier dad to clean up his mess.

I have mixed thoughts about this book. There were some things it did well. The whole psychology of sex trafficking, I felt, were handled with an attempt at gravity by the author (which you don't always see in books like these). I liked the time she spent on the psychology of the book and how there was a lot of metatext about rape fantasies and consent, which are still highly relevant to the dark romance discourse to this day. I also thought it was interesting how the hero was sort of an undercover agent who was fucking the heroine as a slave despite feeling kind of remorseful about it. That was an interesting dynamic I don't think I've seen except in KILLING SARAI, maybe.

I did get a little bored with this book after a while though. It alternates between edgy and cringe at times. Like there's a scene where the heroine is given an enema and made to shit in a bucket as punishment, and another where she's forced to watch a LITERAL threesome where two girls dressed up as a granny and Red Riding Hood are "raped" by a man in a wolf costume lmao. But then when Colin and Angela finally meet, it's like the author really needed there to be an instant connection between them, and all the weird and shocking stuff just kind of went out the window.

Also, not to be an asshole but the Spanish is SO BAD. I speak it pretty well and even though I'm not fully fluent, I noticed tons of errors. Angela was described with masculine adjectives, words were misspelled (dias was spelled with a Z, as in "Diaz"), the wrong tense forms were used (venga conmigo instead of "ven conmigo," which is literally a Christina Aguilera song are you not cultured? jk). She also wrote out the Spanish accent for her characters which felt a little cringe and stereotypical. Some of the Spanish was really good and I was impressed by some of what she got right, but it felt like she was using a language translator, which can always be kind of finicky-- especially since, fun fact, a lot of the time the language translator defaults to masculine forms since that's used as the default.

Overall, I thought this was ok. I think the author made an attempt to give her heroine some modicum of agency in a genre that often feels exploitative and she wrote a book that was compelling enough that I wanted to read it to the end. It looks like she's become pretty inactive now and the sequel about Josef never came to light. That's kind of sad but I get it. Sometimes real life gets in the way of the side hustle. Hope she's doing all right and living her best life.

If you enjoy captivity romances, you'll enjoy this.

2.5 out of 5 stars

How to Raise a Happy Cat: So they love you by Sophie Collins


This is a pretty basic cat care-taking guide and I don't think it will be all that helpful to anyone who already knows how to take care of their pet or who has owned a cat for a while. But for a first time cat-owner, I think this would be a nice gift. I love, love, love how the author urges against declawing and talks about what a cruel practice it is. The discussions about respecting your cat and avoiding bad interactions and the differences between cats and dogs were also very useful sections.

Also, it was nice that there were sections in the end that were devoted to the different age groups of cats, as kittens have different needs from senior cats.

Overall, super helpful for beginners and very well written with gorgeous pictures but not the most useful for me.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!

 3.5 out 5 stars

Sunday, May 28, 2023

I Want to Die But I Want to Eat Tteokbokki by Baek Se-hee


 Update: Forgot to put this in my review originally but one other thing I appreciated about this book is that the author is outspoken about her feelings about mental health and it's my understanding that a lot of Asian cultures tend to frown on this, so having such a visible figure doing this in an open way and receiving support is great.

Truly an awesome pick for AAPI month and mental health awareness month!

I WANT TO DIE BUT I WANT TO EAT TTEOKBOKKI has a fantastic, catchy title, which was what originally gravitated me towards this book. As someone who gets depressed and also has anxiety, this book sounded high-key relatable and I was really excited to read it.

However, reading it was kind of a lackluster experience. There are some really relatable things that she talks about, and I think she's really good at capturing some of the urgent, desperate, and irrational feelings someone has while spiraling into self-hatred/negative thinking cycles or having a panic attack, but the bulk of the book is literally just transcripts of her talking to her psychiatrist. It's... really not that interesting. At times it feels more like reading someone's diary than it does something that was written for consumption by the public.

As others have said, some of the psychiatrist's methods felt sus. Not like, "omg this is a bad doctor!" sus. Because I'm sure they aren't. But just like... "is this the right approach for this person?" sus. Like asking "and how did that make you feel?" during a recount of physical abuse (maybe... uh, try "bad", sis?) or diagnosing someone with a mood disorder with ADHD b/c they aren't responding well to antidepressants without considering if it's bipolar (or maybe they did, but the author didn't say). I get that therapy is to some extent an outstanding Socratic dialogue but it felt like there should have been more of a guiding influence here to keep the author from looping into these cycles. This kind of felt like the Marie Kondo version of therapy. Hey, if she liked it and it worked for her, good for her. But it triggered me b/c of my own bad experiences with therapy.

In any case, reading this book made me find out that I'm a hedgehog. So I'm awarding a bonus half star just for that.

P.S. I was wondering why this book was so hyped until I did some Nancy Drewing and realized that someone from BTS apparently endorsed this book so I guess it's true what they say: The boy bands will inherit the earth.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Not A Vampire by Auryn Hadley


This was a BR with my friend, Brianna! She has been patiently waiting for me to finish for weeks while I've just been like, YOLO. I'm not sure why people agree to do BRs with me, to be honest. I either sit on a book forever or I read it in a whole day, I am the WORST.

Auryn Hadley is one of my go-to KU authors. I think she has a lot of really interesting ideas and she's good at writing flawed female heroines. So far, I've mostly just read KISS OF DEATH and the Gamer Girl books, but I was really impressed with both-- especially since they were two such drastically different books and styles.

NOT A VAMPIRE is about vampires. Well, sort of. The hero is a guy named Thane who is a vampire slayer and the heroine is something that's like a vampire but not called an eidolon. She's also pan and has a sexual Thelma and Louise thing going on with her Chinese vampire girlfriend, Mei.

There were a lot of things I liked about this book. It has self-indulgent '90s vampire fic vibes to it, which I liked. The smut was also abundant and really great. I also liked Mei and Dahlia a lot as a couple-- more so than I did Thane, who was kind of an asshole. I actually didn't like him much at all. Like, there's this one scene where he's on a date with a Christian school teacher and sneaks away during the date and then has sex with Dahlia in a bathroom-- and the teacher hears him! WTF. This basically sets the tone for Thane's asshole playboy character.

Not sure I'd read more from this series but NOT A VAMPIRE definitely reminded me why Auryn Hadley is worth reading. I really need to get back into those other series I read from her and didn't finish. I have commitment issues lol.

2.5 out of 5 stars

A Dawn of Onyx by Kate Golden


DNF @ 17%

The FROM BLOOD AND ASH comparison people are making for this book is actually very on point, and I wish I'd seen that this book was being touted alongside that and A COURT OF MIST AND FURY because I'm not a fan of either of those books and I would have saved both the author and myself some trouble otherwise. But alas, I did not see those reviews until it was too late, and I had already started buddy-reading this book with my friend, Heather.

Here's the thing: if you like fantasies with contemporary-sounding, accessible dialogue and heroines that are basically just self-insert vehicles for moving the plot towards the villain-but-not-really love interest, this is going to be your jam. It's a very marketable jam and I'm jealous of the people who have a taste for it because they look like they're having fun when they read and squeal about these books with their friends. But I do not like the jam.

The cover game is on point, though.

2 out of 5 stars

Moonfall by Tamra Thorne


DNF @ 20%

The prologue for this book was really good. I loved the 1970s setting with the kids and at first it was giving me IT vibes because of how much it popped. I could tell that the author had a lot of fun writing it, and the Halloween/small town vibes were EVERYTHING.

I was less enamored with the "contemporary" '90s setting. It had a fun retro feel and, again, the small town setting was REALLY well done, but everything felt way too drawn out and kind of scattered. There were too many POVs and I don't really think they were adding enough to keep the tension going. Instead, in my opinion, they kind of bogged down and convoluted the storyline. I don't think this needed to be 500+ pages and a lot of that page count felt like it was probably coming from the POV swaps and the excessive details about random things.

I do like this author's writing style though and I really liked her vampire book, CANDLELIGHT BAY. She has several other titles that I'm interested in exploring, including some haunted house ones and a culty sorority, but this wasn't it. Thanks to Heather for trying to BR this with me! Sorry this wasn't it.

2 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab


DNF @ 10%

This was such a frustrating read. The writing was decent and I appreciated the author's attempts to write a selfish, quasi-morally gray heroine, because it's fun when women are allowed to be bad in fiction. But the overall execution left me wanting. This has a very YA feel to it and I know people get so pressed when people say that about adult fantasy books written by women, but this literally does feel like YA: it's accessible, it feels restrained, and it doesn't really explore the ideas it sets out to in a way that feels like it belongs in an adult world. It feels like it was toned down for teens. Which is fine but if that is the case I feel like this would have been better branded for a teen audience.

Hot villain is hot but this book was so long I didn't feel like skimming the pages looking for him. I've read other books by this author and admire her writing style but her characters kind of tend to be Mary Sues and always leave me wanting more than what I got, even though her premises and ideas are usually pretty inventive.

2 out of 5 stars