Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Regretsy: Where DIY Meets WTF by April Winchell


People often tell me that they follow me because they literally have no idea what I'm going to read next. Which is not an exaggeration, by the way. One day I might be reading an erotica about shape-shifters who can turn into balloon animals, the next, I might be reading Paris Hilton's 2004 memoir, CONFESSIONS OF AN HEIRESS. Basically the only consistency in what I read is that it's usually in bad taste. So naturally, a book like REGRETSY is perfectly on brand for me.

REGRESTY is one of those blog-to-books that was so trendy in the late 2000s, before the internet really became the gigantic meme that it is today. Memes used to be hard to find, believe it or not. In the days of the dinosaurs, you had to know the right people to meme. Regresty is apparently a blog where the creator of this book, April Winchell, shared some of the best of the worst of Etsy, including everything from reusable menstrual pads with vampire hunks printed on the crotch to photographs of doll heads posed with Brussels sprouts.

This is a pretty funny book. It's very similar to CAKE WRECKS, although I feel like the humor in this one is trying a little too hard. It's very nicely curated though and I think the author did a pretty good job cultivating items that were WTF-y but also intriguing enough that you could envision a universe where someone might want to buy these items. I especially liked that she allowed the creators to post a little rejoinder. Most of them were very good sports. My favorite was the seller who said that they didn't want to live in a world where everyone was too polite to say what they really thought. I agree.

I wouldn't say that this is a keeper but if you can find a copy for not too much, it's great for a laugh. My curiosity has been thoroughly satisfied.

3 out of 5 stars

Confessions of an Heiress: A Tongue-In-Chic Peek Behind the Pose by Paris Hilton


Like a lot of people in the aughts, I did not like Paris Hilton. She was loud and tacky and didn't play by the "rules." What these rules were, exactly, I wasn't quite sure, but I knew that she didn't fit them. In the early 2000s, a lot of magazines had "hot or not" columns, and Paris Hilton was always in the "not." Oh, how the tabloids loved to demean her for her visible whale tails and various wardrobe malfunctions. And taking our cue in this pre-internet era, the rest of us followed suit like sheep.

My thoughts on Hilton changed when I read a biography about her family (and learned, from the contemporaneous portion at the end, that she was not estranged from or disinherited by her great-grandfather, who was actually quite impressed by her business acumen). I also read interviews with her about her television cameos and the roles she played for the paparazzi and was jarred by how self-aware and effacing she was about the partygirl persona she cultivated by the cameras. I started to think Paris Hilton might actually be OK. Then I watched the TV show Cooking with Paris, where she tries out various recipes and then hosts dinner parties with various celebrity friends, and found myself... charmed.

2004-era Nenia would NEVER.

When CONFESSIONS OF AN HEIRESS went on sale, I knew I had to buy it. Even though this is a book I would have sneered at when it came out, adult me is a sophisticated and classy lady who is a connoisseur of good taste in bad taste. I'm actually shocked it has such low ratings, to be honest. I have to think that people picked this book up and took it at face-value, when the whole book is basically a parody of an instruction guide where she half-laughs at herself and half-laughs at you, the reader. It's almost a ridiculous parody of a self-help book because of how unachievable her lifestyle is (and she knows it), but peppered in is some genuinely good advice, like not treating people being broke as a deal-breaker for relationships or remembering to carry small bills while traveling to tip.

The best portions of this book are the photographs. This is a veritable lookbook of early 2000s fashion, for better or for worse. Bucket hats. Asymmetric skirts. Low, low, low-rise jeans. Micro miniskirts. She even has a gallery in the back where she discusses some of her worst fashion faux-pas. She also. WRITES. A JOURNAL. PRETENDING. TO BE. HER DOG. I also really enjoyed the chapter about her sister and the one at the end about her family and dating life. No, she doesn't really dish anything too personal, but she told you up front that she wouldn't. More fool you for not believing her.

I guess I am a Paris Hilton fan now. What can I say? I like people who are ridiculous but still real, and I don't think she's ever actually done anything super bad (apart from acting like a fool on camera). Her insights into her role on the Simple Life were interesting and actually made me want to watch the show. Her love of cooking is hinted at here and makes Cooking with Paris seem like a passion project. She also hints at wanting to create an affordable fashion line, which she did-- several times. I think she actually has a collection of Juicy Couture-esque tracksuits that are just a little cheaper than Juicy. I also own some of her home cookware which is also super affordable and surprisingly high quality. Maybe she was loud and tacky and didn't play by the rules. But it's 2020, and people are starting to realize that when it comes to how to win at being a woman, rules were basically made to be broken, anyway.

4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

WtAFW: Conquered by Clippy: An Erotic Short Story by Leonard Delaney


So I have a "weekly" feature called What the Actual Fuck Wednesday where I make an effort to read some of the weirdest shit the internet has to offer and then write reviews about it. CONQUERED BY CLIPPY was going to be last week's feature but then I got busy so that's why this is a "weekly" feature and not a weekly feature. Luckily, I had a couple hours to spare this week and was able to get this done. (Just like the heroine and her, uh, assistant.)

Christine, the heroine from the last book, has recovered from her fucking at the hands (er, blocks?) of Tetris pieces. It left such an impression on her that she wrote a blog post about it, which was read by tech CEO Phil Gates, who was really impressed by her ability to "communicate using words." A+ for patronizing compliments. He invites her down to Silicon Valley to investigate an alien artifact in a remote area. Doesn't seem sus at all, and no need to do a Google search or anything. Just hop on a plane and meet this dude in a totally deserted area. YEAH THAT SEEMS LEGIT AS SHIT.

Once there, they are immediately hit by silicon geysers and crash into a pit so hard that it makes Christine's boobs jiggle (priorities). Phil continuously hits on Christine while they examine the various artifacts uncovered while mining, which is also where they encounter Clippy. Phil gets his brain bashed in by machine parts and Clippy and Christine both agree that's how he definitely would have wanted to die. That same cave-in also gives Clippy the horny, and then his cold rod becomes a hot rod, if you know what I mean. A hot rod that Christine can spread her "lady butter" all over as he "assists her with orgasm" by doing "butt stuff," after "plugging into her lady-socket."

I'm old enough that I've used Microsoft Word with Clippy on it, and if you didn't hate him already, this book is going to make you despise the horny metal shit. NO ONE WANTS YOUR ASSISTANCE CLIPPY. Funnily enough, reading this "book" made me go to Wikipedia for some research and to my surprise, CONQUERED BY CLIPPY is actually mentioned on the Wikipedia page for this book under the section about cultural references, which I found hilarious. Even more hilarious, though, is that apparently Microsoft employees found him just as intolerable and apparently referred to him internally as TFC (the C stood for "clown" and I bet you can guess what the TF stands for).

1 out of 5 stars

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Ill Wind by Rachel Caine


I used to have to thrift all my books, so I would often end up reading series out of order, because I would only read what the stores had. One of those series was the Weather Warden. I think I had books one, three, and five, and I remember being totally obsessed with them the first time I read them but wondering what happened in between all those gaps. It was like the worst recap ever, you know? So I decided to treat myself by buying up the full series because what better time for a reread?

ILL WIND is the first book and one of the things I loved about these books that made it stick out in my mind after all this time, despite the paranormal romance genre being such a saturated market, is that it had such a fun and unusual premise. In this world, some people are gifted with affinities to elemental magic: earth, wind, fire, and air. Air and water are co-occuring and people who have these abilities are referred to as Weather Wardens. The others are Earth and Fire Wardens. They're tested and brought into a bureaucratic industry that magically lobotomizes people who don't come into the fold. For their own good, of course.

Jo is currently on the run from exactly this fate because she's been accused of killing one of the most powerful Wardens, her old boss. Also she's been infected by a demon that's slowly consuming her. There's a mystery behind both of these situations that you find out later, but I won't spoil it. To save herself, she's looking for THE literal most powerful Warden, a man named Lewis, who was her first love. But he's on the run too, after going rogue and stealing some of the djinn that the Wardens use as living resonance crystals to amplify their powers. But how do you find the most powerful man in the world if he doesn't want to be found? The answer to that might be in the mysterious hitchhiker she picks up: a skinny guy with cute glasses and nerdy shirts named David who isn't what he seems.

This is definitely dated and you can really feel the 2003 publication date-- jokes about sexual harassment, flip phones being peak technology (I lol'd), spring BREAAAAAAAAAK. But in most regards, it actually holds up pretty well. Joanne borders on Mary Sue at times, but she makes some bad decisions and reckless choices that humanize her. I also liked that she was pretty comfortable with her sexuality and her femininity and didn't go around slut-shaming other female characters or disparaging girly things like so many of the other urban fantasy "kick-ass" heroines did. I only learned about what "pick me" girls are pretty recently, but learning the definition made me realize why so many UF romances struck a sour chord with me: the so-called strength of these heroines came at the cost of other women, and embodying the traits that would make people admire a male action hero. I don't like that.

You know what I did like? This book. The heroine literally gets her clothes shredded in a storm and is like YOLO while people stare at her in fear, and she's literally just as comfortable on the beach in a bikini. Now that is bad-ass. Also the love interest is a beta hero who has pretty eyes and deadly powers, and that is an awesome combo. Actually, Lewis was great, too. And the way that their relationship was portrayed as shifting from lovers to friendship was quite well done. So if you are looking for actual feminist fantasy romance that won't come at the cost of other girls, pick up these books. They're great.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, January 22, 2023

The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston


DNF @ 24%

If I had taken the time to do an ounce more research and realized that the author of this book also wrote the Once Upon a Con series, I would not have bought this book. Because I really didn't like that series and it ended up having a lot of the same flaws that turned me off of this book. Contrary to what some might think, I don't actually enjoy writing negative reviews. I used to be a little more cavalier about it but now I really try to only buy books I'm sure about. And on paper, THE DEAD ROMANTICS sounded wonderful-- a ghost love story, a venture into the publishing world, lots of ANGST.

To be fair, THE DEAD ROMANTICS wasn't a bad book. It just pandered. A lot. I think Christina Lauren was mentioned like three times before the 24% mark. The main character tries just a little too hard to assure you, the reader, that she loves books. She doesn't have time to read them but she loves them and she'll be sure to tell you that constantly. She's also grossly incompetent and really twee. I try to be sympathetic towards heroines because I feel like SO MANY OF THEM get criticized for things that heroes would get a free pass for, but this one was genuinely unlikable. She's the "tiny" brand of heroine where she's made that her personality and complains constantly about people finding her cute. She's also really immature, to the point where she feels like she's in high school. And she's supposed to be good at her job? Uhh...

The plot is a little similar to Emily Henry's BEACH READ, in that it's about a heroine who writes romance novels who has given up on writing romance novels because she's given up on love, but BEACH READ was able to sell me on that a little better than this one did (even if it was also, dare I say it, a little too "I wear rompers and eat cake for breakfast and Zooey Deschanel is my patronus" twee).

But I'm a grumpy person who is very picky about chick-lit and contemporary rom-coms, so if you're super into that and you loooooooved BEACH READ and want more, more, MORE, you might love this. Thanks to Anniek for trying to BR this with me (I'm sorry you called it quitsies, too).

2 out of 5 stars

Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews


Is anyone actually surprised I enjoyed this book? Probably not. I have a reputation on here for curating some of the best/worst vintage books out there. I have a pretty high bar for not getting squicked out by books, but FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC really tested me because, well, if you know you know. It's gross as fuck. And SO UNCOMFORTABLE.

I was late to the V.C. Andrews game. My mother didn't keep books like this in the house, so I missed out on being traumatized by The Flame and the Flower and Flowers in the Attic at thirteen or fourteen-years-old like some of my peers. The first V.C. Andrews book I read was actually written by her ghostwriter, and if you're asking, "Well, what's the difference?" think about New Coke versus Coca-Cola Classic. One kinda sorta follows the formula, but it's clearly Pepsi in a red can, and nobody wants that. V.C. Andrews-written-as-Andrew-Neiderman has bubbles and is brown and comes in a can, but it's missing that je ne sais quoi that makes it a Classic.

The first time I read Flowers, I was in my twenties. And I liked it then, too. Sort of? I think you need to know going in that this is basically a bodice-ripper with preteens/teenagers as the characters. Child abuse is a predominant theme. Who can forget the story of the cute little nuclear family that's disrupted when the father is grotesquely burned beyond recognition in a car accident? With no one else to pay the bills (women working? Ha, this is the FIFTIES), the mother writes pleading letters to her parents, begging them for money. Which is something that many college students and college graduates still do to this day. The only difference? Your parents probably didn't disinherit you for your incest marriage and whip you for your sins. That's right, it turns out mother and father were actually niece and uncle. WHOOPS.

I'm not tagging that as a spoiler because you find it out pretty early on. But some major spoilers are coming, so hold on to your hats and get your pearl clutchers ready, because shit is about to get real.

Chris, Cathy, Carrie, and Cory (who are they? the Cardashians???) are all locked up in an attic until the mother can convince the grandfather to love her again and put her back in this will. He's on death's door, she assures them, so it shouldn't take long. In the meantime, they're at the mercy of the abusive grandmother, who seems strangely preoccupied with what kinds of sins they might get up to in the attic space she's locked them in. At first, things are basically Diet Suck. They aren't happy but they still think their mother loves them and guilt propels her to make their stay as comfortable as possible. This is what is known as the honeymoon period and don't worry, it won't last long.

It doesn't take long for things to get gross. Cathy and Chris end up wrist deep in shit and piss, cleaning up soiled sheets and backed-up toilets. When the grandmother catches Cathy studying herself naked in a mirror while Chris watches (and yes, they're both still underage at this point), Cathy gets whipped and then the grandmother drugs her and paints her hair with tar, forcing her brother to cut off all her hair for their vanity (after starving them). They get starved again at some point and Chris actually cuts his wrist and forces them to drink his blood for nourishment. Cathy gets raped by her brother after he thinks she's fantasizing about someone else, and then he's like, "Didn't mean to rape you, sorry," and she's like, "I could have stopped you if I wanted to, and also I asked for it by wearing slutty clothes." Also, pretty sure that since their parents are already related, that makes this incest-plus. Somebody gets poisoned by arsenic. There are an uncomfortable amount of passages describing young kids wearing lingerie or underwear (the youngest kid, I guess, likes to show off her fancy panties, which she also shits multiple times, forcing her older sister to wash them-- ew, ew, ew). Oh, and Cathy goes out to the roof, determined to throw herself off of it, but backs down at the last second. Yay.

Basically, anything that's there to be triggered by is in this book. I can say with certainty that there is no way something like this could get written today. Someone would 100% take the author by the hand and say, "Maybe don't do that." As they should, because there are some things that should just be hinted at in a puberty book and not used as fodder for the world's best worst soap opera, you know? The only way you can get through this book is by saying, "Oh, it was the seventies. Of COURSE it was the seventies. That was the decade that came out with Love's Baby Soft, anything written by Bertrice Small, and Brooke Shields's Calvin Klein jeans ad (okay, technically that was 1980, but that's still basically the seventies and also she was FIFTEEN, wtf). 

The best parts of the book are the intense psychology of the characters. Cathy is a sympathetic and believable gothic heroine, which is drilled into us by the books she reads (Wuthering Heights, Lorna Doone, Jane Eyre). Through her eyes, we witness the disintegration of her belief that the world is just and loving and good, first with the death of her father, then with their inability to sway the grandmother's affections through obedience, and finally, in the gradual crumbling of their mother's morality and compassion; she has been corrupted by the house and in the end, she has become as cold and callous as the grandmother. The transformation-- and the lesson-- is a brutal one.

So yeah, hopefully this arms you with what you need before going in-- if you decide to read this book at all (and if you don't, I seriously don't blame you). I for one am excited to read the sequel, which follows Cathy's life as an older teen/adult, once she manages to escape the house and get her revenge. YAAASS.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

The China Garden by Liz Berry


When I was living in the UK, I remember watching this really bad TV mini series called Children of the Stones, a horror/gothic about a town being held in thrall to a stone circle of megaliths. It was cheesy, but also kind of endearing as well, because on our weekend day trips, we saw so many small towns that had these megaliths and standing stones, and even though they were years and years in the past, the people in these towns still had so much respect for them.

THE CHINA GARDEN brought back all of those memories. It's a story about a girl named Clare and her mother, Frances. Frances is a nurse but it turns out that she lied a lot about her past. She came from a place called Stoke Raven, with a beautiful and ancient property called Ravensmere, where she was descended from one of the two great families who live there: they Aylwards and then Kenwards. Now that her grandfather is dying, she wants to go back and make things right, but she's reluctant to bring Clare for some reason. Clare, being a teenager, insists on going and is enchanted and disturbed by the mysterious old town and its secretive people.

I don't want to say too much about this book because less is definitely more going in. You don't see too many books being written like this these days: it opens up very slowly and takes its time setting the scenery and introducing you to all the townspeople. I don't think the heroine even really speaks to the love interest until about 30-40% into the book. That kind of slow-burn pacing is basically unheard of these days, with the love interests often kissing well into the first five chapters. Despite that, THE CHINA GARDEN ended up being a surprisingly spicy and steamy read for a YA. I was kind of surprised but also not because Liz Berry also wrote EASY CONNECTIONS and its sequel, which were basically bodice-rippers for teens (replete with dub-con). It just seems to be her style.

THE CHINA GARDEN is beautifully written, subtly magical, and has so many of my favorite tropes: dangerous and slightly unpredictable love interest, a headstrong and difficult-to-deal-with heroine, a small town with big gothic secrets, and a little whisper of magic. Not going to lie, I actually had chills at the end. It was that good. If you enjoy love stories with themes of redemption and inheritance, I think you'll love this book. It's even more magical if you've actually been to one of those small towns with standing stones and mazes. The only reason this isn't five stars is because it took a while to get moving, even for me, and ended up feeling quite front-heavy as a result.

4 to 4.5 stars