Thursday, June 30, 2022

My Mess Is a Bit of a Life: Adventures in Anxiety by Georgia Pritchett

 

DNF @ 18%

So as someone with anxiety who is also introverted, I was really hoping to enjoy this book. I liked the idea of this starting from an experiment that she was doing as part of her therapy. Part of the reason I started writing as a teenager was as a way to cope with my crippling social anxiety. I felt like I had no control in social interactions, and writing gave me a sense of control that I really needed, and later ended up being a source of validation, as well.

I think this author is trying to channel Jenny Lawson's brand of scattered, frenetic humor, but it doesn't quite mesh. The little vignettes end up feeling more like snippets from someone's journal, which is fine, but most journals aren't really written for the consumption of the public. It's also pretty depressing, too. Around the 12% mark there's a description of her father beating her pet parrot to death?? As someone who loves animals, I found that pretty upsetting, ngl.

Apparently the author is a writer on a number of very popular shows. I don't watch any of the shows she writes for, so maybe if you like those, the writing style of this book will appeal to you more. It always feels strange to rate a memoir you didn't like, because it feels like you're saying you didn't like the person, but Georgia Pritchett honestly seems, you know, just like any other person. I have no beef with her. I just didn't particularly like her style of writing.

2 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

We Run the Tides by Vendela Vida

 

I impulsively bought WE RUN THE TIDES without really knowing what it was about when it went on sale because it's set in San Francisco (which ended up being a huge treat for me, because I've been to about 90% of the places mentioned in this book). It was just languishing on my Kindle until my friend, Heather, told me that she was just about to read it, and then we decided to do an impromptu buddy read.

WE RUN THE TIDES is a coming of age work of literary fiction. Some people are shelving it as YA because the heroine and her friends are 13-14, but even though I'm sure this would be accessible for teens, it's really a book for adults. Eulabee is the daughter of an American father and a Swedish mother. She has three friends: Faith, Julia, and Maria Fabiola, her beautiful best friend.

The four of them attend a private school for girls, and in an era before TikTok or internet, there isn't much to do but to roam the streets of San Francisco and get into shenanigans. But as with any horror novel involving children, everyone knows that when kids get bored, they can become quite cruel. And these girls are no exceptions. As they discover themselves and their sexuality, they start to become incredibly dangerous-- but the world also becomes dangerous for them. And the book ends up tackling some pretty heavy subjects, like toxic friendships, predatory behavior, and lies.

I don't want to say too much about this book because less is definitely more, but it's pretty dark. Also, I think there's a rule in literary fiction that all sex scenes have to be gross, and there has to be at least one gnarly scene involving private parts that makes you cringe (this one had at least two). The heroine is a sort of unreliable narrator; she's cold and self-serving, and you can tell that she's definitely spinning the narrative. And since her friends are as manipulative as she is, sometimes the heroine is left in the dark, too. I think people who enjoy Megan Abbott's work will really enjoy this because she really captures the intense mean girl friendship dynamics that occur between teen girls, and how quickly it can turn toxic.

Unfortunately, since all the kids are such jerks, it means that there isn't really someone to root for. This is largely a character-driven novel, and it's as much about the city of San Francisco in its "heydey" before all the tech people moved in and gentrified it, as it is about these girls who get into things way over their heads. It's also probably going to be triggering for some people, because the author examines how creepy dudes (apparently most dudes) could be in the era before #MeToo. Literally every boy and man in this book says or does something skeevy. So there isn't really much of a plot beyond exploring that, and the girls interacting with their environment.

Despite that, I liked the book. It did some daring things and the ending was great. I could see this becoming an indie movie or a Netflix movie. It has that kind of retro cinematic vibe.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare

 

This is my first foray into the Spindle Cove series. I was a little hesitant to read it because Tessa Dare can be hit or miss with me, and while I dislike writing negative reviews, I especially dislike writing negative reviews for those authors who seem to be genuinely nice people and use their platforms to do good. Because then it kind of just feels like you're kicking a puppy. Or in her case, I guess it would be a baby goat.

A NIGHT TO SURRENDER features Susanna and Bram. Susanna is the daughter of the, I guess, squire of Spindle Cove, where there is a little village that basically caters to all things women. There, she kind of runs a sort of social club/finishing school for outcast ladies who run the gamut of being too shy or too loose for polite society, which sometimes gives the place the charming name "Spinster Cove."

Bram, on the other hand, is coming to Spindle Cove to run a militia and recruit people into his army. Because Spindle Cove is by the sea, and near France (I guess??) it seems like a place that would be good to seize control of. But when they get there, they find their path blocked by sheep, which they immediately try to bomb out of the way because men.

This is not realistic historical romance. The little village kind of reads like a Disneyland attraction as created by someone who is a feminist and likes to LARP. And I don't necessarily mean that as a bad thing. Actually, the village was one of the things I liked most about the book, whether it was the blacksmith who makes pretty lockets, the tea shop called The Blushing Pansy (gasp!) that sells little lavender tarts, or the idea of a whole bunch of women who are the black sheep of society and must bond together, in a village surrounded by literal sheep, enjoying the freedom of their independence.

Which brings me to the romance. I actually didn't really like any of the guys in this book (except the blacksmith and the vicar). Bram comes across as a jerk (although Colin was way worse). I liked Susanna a lot and the village, and it felt like Bram (metaphorically) just beat both into coming around to his preferences and way of thinking. There are a lot of sex scenes-- and the sex scenes are pretty good-- but I never really got the impression that they had much of an emotional connection, or even really much in common besides being stubborn and traumatized by medical professionals.

I loved the first half but skimmed a lot of the second half. Not super excited to read Colin's book, but Thorne and the blacksmith's have me rubbing my hands in gleeful anticipation.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, June 27, 2022

My Favorite Thief by Karyn Monk

 

I've only read one other book by this author, which was a medieval romance called THE WITCH AND THE WARRIOR. It's one of those non-rapey medieval romances that doesn't come across as too fluffy, and as someone with food sensitivities, I really appreciated seeing the food sensitivity rep in the book, and having it identified through an elimination diet. That was really neat.

MY FAVORITE THIEF is a totally different book. It's set in Victorian times and opens with a jewel thief trying to steal a necklace at a party. Weirdly, the heroine, Charlotte, helps him and encourages him to take her hostage to make his escape. Which is pretty weird, but I guess when you learn a bit more about her background it kind of makes sense.

Anyway, after she and her friends heal him, he gets away, but she's able to figure out who he is when she sees him flinch from an injury he got at the robbery during a ball: and of course, surprise, surprise, he's a dashing earl. And, surprise surprise, the heroine decides to blackmail him because she desperately needs money to pay off her evil abuser of a father.

That's a lot of the story so I don't want to say too much else because spoilers. So I'm going to talk about some of the tropes instead. There are a lot of tropes in here that I really enjoy: jewel thief characters (a trope I didn't even think I liked until I was wooed by books like  Liz Carlyle's THE DEVIL TO PAY and Meagan McKinney's MOONLIGHT BECOMES HER), found family, heroine with a dark history, hurt/comfort, and tormented/haunted hero. There's also disability rep in this book. The hero suffers from what I believe are severe migraines (his father committed suicide because of them) and the heroine has a limp because of a badly-set broken leg from a childhood beating (triggers).

There are a lot of triggers in this book for basically everything and some of the stuff happens on page and some doesn't. I felt like the author made good choices determining what to show and what to hint at. I was also really relieved that Charlotte wasn't actually sold into prostitution as a nine-year-old child (although I think it's hinted that she ended up selling herself later in life, like teens). Her father was the actual worst and I felt like he got off way too easily at the end, which was disappointing. I also felt like there was too much insta-love between the hero and the heroine. They really don't have that many scenes together, and while I liked the mystery and the thieving elements enough to continue, I wouldn't say that this is a particularly good romance, nor did the characters have much sexual chemistry.

Overall, this was a fun, quick read. I bought the first book in the series because I want to read more books set in this universe, but it's not as good as THE WITCH AND THE WARRIOR.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Just the Sexiest Man Alive by Julie James

 

Reading this book was a rollercoaster of emotions because I started out thinking I was going to really enjoy it and ended with kind of a sour taste in my mouth. In my review of Meg Cabot's SIZE 12 IS NOT FAT, I talk a little about how some of these aughts contemporary romance novels end up being a hard sell in the present day because they have so many, uh, less than ideal messages embedded in the text. On the one hand, I get it, product of the times, yadda yadda. On the other hand, eek.

So the premise of this book is actually really great. The heroine, Taylor, is a lawyer at her firm-- a very good one who apparently has never lost a case (sure_jan.gif)-- and right now, she's in the middle of a sexual harassment lawsuit she's pretty sure she's going to win. Unfortunately, her boss has a favor to ask. And by favor, I mean, she's been voluntold to let some celebrity follow her around as he brushes up on his new role.

The celebrity is a guy named Jason Andrews who is, as far as I can tell, a sort of Brad Pitt/Ryan Reynolds megastar.

It starts out with Taylor basically hating him on sight. Which made sense-- he's an arrogant asshole who wastes her time and expects her to let him just because he smiled at her. I actually laughed a couple times because of how she got him back for some of this shit. But then... the book never really graduates from that. Jason decides he likes her because she's Not Like Other Girls. She doesn't want him, which means he wants her, which feels like a toxic page ripped fresh out of He's Just Not That Into You. You also definitely get the sense that Taylor is a Pick Me girl. She thinks she's empowered, but she says and thinks pretty unflattering things about other women, and she's a lawyer who literally spends all her time defending men on sexual harassment charges and there's, like, NO cognitive dissonance. How?? I mean, towards the end, we're treated to a scene where she's essentially telling this woman "how do you know my client's sexist remarks are what offended you? you're getting a divorce and you're mentally unstable." Wow, Taylor. Why was that scene even necessary? Are we supposed to applaud?

One of the worst moments, though, is when Taylor gets a concussion and she wakes up, thinking that she and Jason might have done something. And one of the excuses she comes up with to tell him, to defend herself, is "I'm a ho." No. If someone does something sexual to you while you are passed out from a concussion, you are not loose or easy. You are a victim of a rapist who took advantage of you. And the jokey way that this was just sort of mentioned was really icky, especially considering her work. It really made the character feel like an internalized misogynist who upheld men over women, and after what happened today with abortion rights in America especially, that was a pretty big yuck.

This was written over a decade ago, so that's why it feels so dated. A lot of chick-lit from the aughts was like this-- it talked a lot about weight (BTW, Taylor is a size two who has skinny Splenda lattes for breakfast and everyone in the book thinks she's a model because no way could she be hot AND smart). Romance novels didn't used to be known for rocking the boat, so a lot of them kind of just ended up being reflections of the values that society at large deemed acceptable at the time. Sometimes I can swallow my feminist pride and sort of enjoy the story, but the insta-love between the characters and the fact that Jason never really changed, made this book a really hard sell for me. I loved the lawyer stuff (it made me wonder if the author was a lawyer herself?? it felt pretty authentic) and at first I really liked Taylor's character, but it was bogged down by aughts douchery that I would rather forget.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

From the Mists of Wolf Creek by Rebecca Brandewyne

 

DNF @ p.50

This is one of the stupid books I think I've read in a while. The heroine is such a moron. After a tantalizingly gothic prologue, we're treated to Hallie Moredumb-- sorry, Hallie Muldoon-- who is returning to her family ranch after the death of her grandmother. I guess she grew up there but was then taken away after her mother died. Now she's back to find her family secrets. But OH NO! There's a wolf in the road! And it... it... it LOOKED at her.

She slams on the brakes and then sits there in her WORKING car, trying to figure out what to do. Is the glass wolf-proof? Can it get her? Why is it looking at her? WHY IS IT SO BIG? Instead of waiting it out or, I don't know, DRIVING AWAY in her WORKING CAR, she grabs the Life Hammer (that thing you break open windows with if you, like, drive into a lake) and contemplates breaking the windshield open to SCARE THE WOLF AWAY. *

Never mind the fact that it's pouring rain.

By page 40-something, she still hasn't left the car, and we're still listening to her talk about how scary that wolf is and how golly-gee, she hopes she doesn't get lost-- there might be wolves out there. And at this point, I'm like, bitch, I hope a wolf does get you and bites your too-dumb-to-live head off. By page fifty she finally makes it to the family estate. There's a boring flashback and then she starts talking to herself and putzing around the house and I'm like OH MY GOD.

Rebecca Brandewyne is actually a pretty well-known bodice-ripper authors and I actually have enjoyed her retro works. So it's not like I'm a hate-reader. I bought this book because I liked the author and I'm actually shocked that this was so bloody awful, since it didn't read like her usual style at all. Not sure if it's the publisher to blame, or if she was using a ghostwriter, but this freaking sucked. Boo.

*Fun fact: I have lived in a rural area, and one time I had to tell my boss that I was late for work because I got blocked on a single lane road by an angry turkey. In case you have never seen a wild turkey before, those motherfuckers are huge. It was big enough to peer right over the hood of my car and into my windshield with its angry little turkey eyes, and it gave me such a gobbling that I can only assume it was cussing me out like a New Yorker at a tourist who wasn't aware that they were walking here. The turkey was apparently trying to impress its turkey ladyfriend, who was waiting coquettishly in the bushes as her man unleashed chaos in backwoods California. I've also had a bunch of prowling coyotes outside my car-- and coyotes are basically the Kirkland Signature version of wolves. And no, they could not get at me through the windows, nor did I need to reach for my Life Hammer.

1 out of 5 stars

Moonlight Becomes Her by Meagan McKinney

 

It's no secret that Meagan McKinney is one of my favorite authors of all time. Sadly, only about half of her books are in print right now. About half of her backlist isn't. Cut to me casually hunting them down one by one like an addict trying to get their next fix. When I got my hands on MOONLIGHT BECOMES HER, I was really excited, because the summary reminded me of one of my other favorite romances, Liz Carlyle's THE DEVIL TO PAY. Also, my friend Heather managed to finagle a copy, so I got to buddy-read it with someone! YAY

The book opens with our heroine, Lady Moonlight/Mystere, robbing the hero, Rafe, at gunpoint with the help of her accomplices. She then makes him strip naked, putting a cherry on his humiliation sundae. Obviously, he swears revenge-- and Rafe is the type of dude who makes revenge his hobby. Despite being part of the rich, he blames the upper-crust of society for his parents' ruin and subsequent humiliation, so hunting down the beautiful thief who left him naked by the roadside is just par for the course.

Mystere is not without sympathy, though. She's working for a crime boss posting as her uncle, and he beats her if she doesn't do what he tells her to. So she's stuck in his house, working as his servant with the rest of his household, until the next time that he trots her out to steal. There's sort of a wicked Cinderella bent to this part of the plot, which I really liked. She also is looking for her missing brother and trying to figure out who her missing family is because of a super secret letter she got from her mother. Which I guess maybe is a little more Anastasia than it is Cinderella, but whatever, I still dug it.

When she encounters Rafe at a party, he's pretty sure she's Lady M. Some reviewers seemed to find that unrealistic but to me it seemed kind of like the Clark Kent/Superman phenomenon, where people see what they expect to see, and it's easier to dupe people who aren't suspecting. Rafe, however, is definitely suspecting. Here, the book enters a sort of cat and mouse situation, which leads to some really spicy and steamy scenes. I think that the banter game between the H and the h in this book is almost as sexy as the riposting between Lyssa and Ivan from WHEN ANGELS FALL (my favorite McKinney book out of all the McKinney books, which I recently bought in paperback).

This was SO close to being a five-star read for me, but there were just a few things that kept it from being perfect. I loved the banter between the characters but I do think they fell "in love" both too late and too quickly. Rafe is pretty cruel to Mystere and even though he does redeem himself, I would have liked to have more scenes leading up to that, showing his shifting feelings. I also really didn't like the ending. It was way too abrupt. Like, when I got to the end, I was like, "Wait, is there more?" The whole book dangles Mystere's history over the reader throughout the whole book like there's going to be some kind of dramatic reveal and then... nothing. Also the final scenes with the villains felt kind of anticlimactic. I WANTED A DUEL.

That said, I still loved this book and there were parts where I LITERALLY could not take it from my hands. It was like it had been superglued to them by my own sheer will. I either love or hate McKinney's books, because she seems to be one of those authors who either dials it in or gives it her all. I've given her three two-star reviews and three five-star reviews and I believe one three. This is my first four-star review of her work, which I think is fair, because it was amazing but not the glittering perfection of which I know she is capable. It's still staying on the keeper shelf for those spicy scenes, though.

God, I wish this one had a stepback.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars