Tuesday, January 25, 2022

WtAFW: I Fucked the Puppet by Fannie Tucker

 

Welcome to my weekly project, What the Actual Fuck Wednesday, sometimes referred to as WtAFW or What the Actual F*** Wednesday if I'm cross-posting to Amazon because the Amazonians don't like it when I say naughty words. It's REALLY fucking hard to review books like these without naughty words though because they are just over the top. The point isn't even to titillate at this point, I don't think-- it's just to generate shock and outrage and clicks.

WELL IT WORKED AND HERE I AM.

Yay, capitalism.

So the wafer-thin plot of this book is that Emily wants to be in ballet but she's stuck doing this lame kids' show that has puppets and dancing. So like a low-budget Lazytown or Big Comfy Couch, I guess, IDK. Anyway, she has a wardrobe malfunction one day and goes to change out of her clothes but then randomly starts dancing around in her underwear pretending she is the Black Swan-- but oh no, there's a puppet watching her with lustful ping-pong ball eyes.

HI DONGO. WHAT ARE YOU DOING THERE? I THOUGHT YOU WENT HOME.

🤡 Dongo is not a creepy method actor. He is a creepy puppet who comes to life after everyone else leaves apparently. Wow, no thank you. I don't like this universe and I think if I actually owned any puppets (NOT THAT I WOULD BECAUSE PUPPETS ARE CREEPY), I would throw them into a box that said "FREE-- BUT CURSED!", put that box out on the curb, and then lock all my doors.
🤡 The puppet only speaks in rhymes. This does not help anything. Does he know the elves from the author's other book, GARDEN GNOME GANGBANG? Why do all inanimate sexual predators speak in sing-song?
🤡 Puppets are into rope bondage. I'm not here to kink shame anyone, but if your kink is being tied up by a green puppet who keeps going "uh-HOO uh-HOO" like he's channeling Tim Curry's Pennywise and talking about how his face belongs in your twat, uh, I'm not sure we should be friends.
🤡 His dick is covered in fur. EW. That is so disgusting. And also, so unsexy. And also, I hope someone washes this puppet. Because this is a children's show and-- UGGGHHH I SHOULDN'T HAVE TO GO INTO MORE DETAIL THAN THAT. UGGGGH. *flails* Also, apparently it's a retractable dick because he has the good sense to keep it hidden around the children. *shudders*
🤡 Rainbow sparkle jizz. Because naturally. Also it tastes like candy. Which is a running theme with a lot of these WTFeroticas actually. I read a Santa erotica where his spunk tasted like peppermint and sparkled like, IDK, fresh-fallen snow. But even if it does taste like candy, it would be like licking it off of a shag rug (so described by the book), and who would do that? Note: DON'T ANSWER THIS.
🤡 I'm pretty sure they didn't wash the puppet. GROSS.
🤡 Only 62% of this is actual book. The rest is like teasers and fillers for other books. Like, WTF. I signed up to be a masochist for the day. Don't hold out on 38% of the masochism. Give me ALL OF IT.

So yeah, this was gross and disturbing. The writing was ACTUALLY NOT THAT BAD, like, this was not M.J. Edwards where it would have been written like "their bodies slapped together like a naked gerbil humping a very horny shag carpet as their tongues tangoed like two mating shrimp," but also I want nothing to do with this Dongo character. Even the cover kind of creeps me out LOL.

1 out of 5 stars

Beyond the Black Door by A.M. Strickland

 

Who knew that an asexual romance could be so... well, sexy? I bought BEYOND THE BLACK DOOR impulsively years ago because of the Bluebeard vibes the summary was giving off and because I'd heard tell that it was a villain romance. But then I fell into the sinkhole that is my never-ending to-read list and somehow never got around to picking this up until now, which was MY MISTAKE, because this book was everything I love in the fantasy genre.

Kamai, the heroine, is something called a soulwalker. She has the ability to walk into people's souls while they're asleep and potentially see their true selves and find out their secrets. However, the one soul she can't see is her own, and no matter which soul she's visiting, she's followed around by a mysterious black door that her mother tells her she should never open. But not why. So obviously, she wonders what the heck is behind there and eventually opens the door.

I think anyone who loves Rosamund Hodge is going to love this book because it has the same sort of narrative style. Plot-wise, it reminded me a lot of Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series, because there's a lot of political intrigue and it has a sort of Ancient Mediterranean setting. And the villain love interest did NOT disappoint, BEE TEE DUBS. He's like a cross between Jareth from Labyrinth and Julian from the Forbidden Game trilogy: the perfect blend of hot, arrogant, and dangerous, in other words.

But there were so many other things I loved about this book too. As someone who probably falls on the ace spectrum herself, I REALLY appreciated this rep. Kamai is a bit more acey than me, but so many of her feelings reflected my own and I wish so hard that this book had been around when I was a teenager because I feel like it would have helped me figure out some of my own confusions. There's this great on-page discussion of sexuality, and I feel like the heroine's angst over it makes sense because her mother is a courtesan and she's grown up in a house of courtesans, and no one has ever sat her down and explained this sort of stuff to her, so it makes sense why she'd have some internalized acephobia.

There's also a trans character and he is the BEST. He reminds me a lot of Luisa from Encanto because he's a strong and sweet character, and his struggle is less about his identity and more about being what he wants to be and living up to his own expectations. For most of the book he does use female pronouns, by choice, because outing himself will cause problems, but transphobia isn't built into the world for the most part (and neither is other bigotry, really), and the author even came up with a term for it called soul-crossed, which is part of this sexuality chart explained with moons.

I could honestly see this as a movie, you know. It has the perfect blend of action, magic, mystery, and romance. Kamai was a great character but so were all the people around her, and it was lovely to see so many strong female characters. I can't wait to read more from this author. I'm so happy.

5 out of 5 stars

Monday, January 24, 2022

Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass by Lana Del Rey

 

I took a week-long vacation to catch up on my TBR and read and review some of the books I was most hyped about, because COVID is still a thing and I'm not going anywhere, and I can make it rain PTO. #adulting #nerd

One of the books I was really excited about was VIOLET BENT BACKWARDS OVER THE GRASS, a poetry collection by Lana Del Rey. I love Lana's music so naturally when I found out that she was putting out a book of poetry, which is basically music's shier little sister, I was like ummm yes please.

Now that I've read the book, I'm like... hmm. On the one hand, it wasn't bad. But on the other hand, it's by Lana Del Rey and I know what she's actually capable of, so "not bad" doesn't really slice it. It's like you think you're getting a Degas painting and instead you get something he doodled on a napkin while paying his phone bill. Like, yeah, the essence is there, but not the maximized potential.

Here's the short of it. Some of the poems were good. A few had an almost freestyle rap beat to them. Some felt like lyrical songs put to paper. And some, idk what the hell she was doing. Changing "you" to "u" and slapping random emojis in there and what have you-- it all felt very high school, whereas the cover tells me "I am a sophisticated and classy bitch who vacays in Provence." There was sort of a gap between what I expected from the presentation and her music, and what I got. Also, I wasn't sold on the photos. The random, grainy pictures felt very Myspace circa 2006. Which sort of ties into the whole high school vibe of this piece. Which is not my thing.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

 

DNF @ 15%

Well, that was disappointing. The 1920s Shanghai setting hooked me and the idea of a Romeo and Juliet retelling intrigued me, because even though I'm not keen on the play, I think it offers a lot of potential for reworking the storyline. And a retelling with rival gangs? YAS.

Sadly, this book just wasn't it for me. The writing was such a slog. It has that forced ornateness to it that a lot of the YA coming out these days has-- THE GILDED WOLVES, AN EMBER IN THE ASHES, THE PRISON HEALER-- and I know a lot of people really like that style of narration, but I really don't. It's all tell and no show, and everything is just laid out like a folded hand of cards.

Part of my project this week is knocking out a whole bunch of books that I was really excited to read that had also been super hyped up. Most of the books sort of or really lived up to the hype but sadly, for me, this one did not.

1 out of 5 stars

Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica

 

TENDER IS THE FLESH has been on my radar for a while but I was a little worried about picking it up because it sounded intense and, as I have said in previous reviews, I am a soft and jellied wimp when it comes to horror. And this is no gentle, easy read: it's a dystopian work translated from Spanish (by way of Argentina) about a futuristic world in which a plague has rendered animals poisonous to humans, so humans are being born and bred for the consumption of other humans, either literally (as meat) or consumeristically (for sport, "leather," or extremely niche and sadistic forms of fetish sex).

***WARNING: this review will have spoilers and will discuss extremely disturbing things that happen in this book***

I am not a vegetarian but I don't actually eat a lot of meat, for a combination of reasons, which resolve around health (too much meat, especially processed, can lead to colon cancer and pancreatic cancer, among other health risks), ethical reasons (mass-produced meat is often taken from facilities that don't raise or slaughter animals humanely, and takes a huge toll on the environment), and financial (meat is expensive and alternatives are a lot cheaper (it's very easy to make seitan from vital wheat protein, or soak up and fry some textured vegetable protein-- and unlike 90s alternatives, it tastes great). I've read FAST FOOD NATION and watched interviews with Temple Grandin (an autistic woman who is famous for how she has helped change meat processing plants for the better, to be more humane, because of her incredible ability to empathize with animals), so I already know that a lot of the times, knowing the secrets behind the food on your table can sometimes leave you thinking that ignorance is bliss. But it's also sticking your head in the sand, because at the end of the day, you do vote with your wallet, and I feel like people who can afford to care should care about what goes on the table and in their mouths.

In U.S. culture (and other cultures as well, I assume) there's this almost fetishistic view of meat among some people. It seems to be tied into masculinity, as if by eating meat you prove somehow either your virility, or your complete dominion over the so-called lesser beings that inhabit this world. People lob around the insult "soy-boy," as if eating soy over dairy somehow makes someone less of a man, because real men eat meat. Bazterrica runs with this premise in her book, where the government has converted the way they process meat to accommodate for human flesh, and shows, by replacing with animals with humans, how utterly inhumane the meat industry is, and how we, as a society, dissociate ourselves from the process by which an animal becomes food. We even see that removal begin in the language itself: pigs become pork, baby cows become veal, sheep become mutton, etc.

Marcos, our narrator, is a depressed man who works in such a facility. His father is dying with dementia and his wife has left him following the death of their baby. He hates the meat industry and he hates that they don't call it what it is, tiptoeing around semantics by referring to human meat as "special meat" or as "head" when they're alive. Infractions can result in death, with those who commit the crimes ending up as meat, as well. He still remembers a time when real animals were slaughtered, and he knows that some people are unable to come to terms with this. His father is one of those people, and we are led to believe that this is one of the reasons for his cognitive decline. When Marcos is gifted a premium-grade human woman as a gift by his employer, she's the last thing he wants, but he ends up raising her as a pet and then as something more, as the line between consumer and consumed becomes terrifyingly thin.

This book wasn't as bad as I was expecting it to be-- I think because I've had to participate in a biology lab and have had to be wrist-deep in organs for science. People were a little cagey on the details, so if you're worried about whether this book will be too much for you, I will say that it goes into pretty great detail on the slaughtering process. There's an entire chapter about how humans are stunned, killed, and packaged. There's a part about human experimentation, run by a pretty sadistic doctor that the hero compares to Menegle (who was a Nazi scientist, in case you didn't know). There's animal cruelty, where a group of teens beat a bunch of puppies to death. And then there's a whole bunch of minor cruelties mentioned in asides. Pregnant "head" get their arms and legs cut off so they can't damage their babies. Rock stars and celebrities can sell themselves into a hunt, where gun nuts can hunt them and then eat them. One of these freaks captures and kills a famous rock star and brags about how eating his dick will make him virile. There are brothels that let you fuck and then kill women, and one of these same freaks refers to the process of raping the fourteen-year-old he eats as "tenderizing," jokingly.

The ending is disturbing and infuriating because I feel like it implies that a lot of our moral outrage is hypocritical and results in non-action, or is a mask for our own sublimated desires and cognitive dissonance. Which is a sad and depressing thought, but anyone who's ever been on Twitter knows that sometimes people who scream the loudest (or in all caps) can be huge hypocrites. I've seen people on Goodreads try to cancel authors for writing problematic queer rep, who also have J.K. Rowling books on their shelves with five-star ratings. I guess the point of dystopians is to make people uncomfortable and force people to confront incredibly jarring aspects of society, but this message is particularly chilling. 

As a thought experiment, I think this book works, and it's no more or less disturbing than some of the classic dystopian novels I was forced to read for school, like 1984, BRAVE NEW WORLD, MAKE ROOM, MAKE ROOM! (the inspiration for the movie, Soylent Green), LOGAN'S RUN, or THE HANDMAID'S TALE. As a cohesive world in and of itself, I have questions. It doesn't really tackle some of the problems with eating human meat, such as prion disease (there was a group of people in Papua New Guinea who ended up with prion disease because of ritualistic cannibalism where they consumed their dead), or insect alternatives. For example, crickets/cricket flour has as much protein as skinless chicken. Were insects also victim to this so-called plague? (Which, the book hints, might not even exist-- the government might have made up a plague just to give themselves an excuse to legalize and legitimize cannibalism as an extreme form of population control, and yet another way for the rich to consume the poor, this time figuratively).

I feel like I need to read something happy now.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco

 

A lot of YA fantasy these days reads like it was churned out of the same word salad factory, if you know what I mean. Like, there's a vibe, and if you cobbled together a handful of quotes from a dozen or so of these authors, I'd be hard-pressed to tell you which is from where because the whole lot of them feel so samey.

That is why it is such an exceptional treat when you find something that actually cracks, if not breaks, the mold.

I was a little leery about reading the KINGDOM OF THE WICKED because I didn't really care for this author's other series, Stalking Jack the Ripper. It wasn't bad, but it also wasn't good, and I had no plans to revisit the author again. But then I started hearing whispers-- that this new series of hers was a villain romance, that it featured a ruthless heroine, that it actually had stakes-- and I was like BYE MONEY.

Now that I've read the book, I can 100% assure you that the rumors are true. This is such a good book. It's about two sisters, who are witches and twins, who are part of a prophecy about these legendary demon princes who each embody one of the seven deadly sins. Neither of them take it seriously, but one day, they cross the streams-- I mean, the amulets-- and something bad happens because of it. And Emilia, the slightly more practical of the two, ends down a labyrinth of secrets and lies and magic, as she looks to avenge a terrible wrong done against her family, with the reluctant assistant of Prince Wrath, one of the demon princes of hell.

Emilia was such a great heroine. She was every bit as ruthless as I was promised and her relationship with Wrath gave me the kind of enemies-to-lovers fix I've been craving since I finished Holly Black's Folk of the Air trilogy. The magic system in this book is interesting and we're immersed in it gradually rather than being info-dumped in. And the descriptions of food in this book? OH MY GOD. Don't read this on an empty stomach, is what I'm saying, or you'll be guzzling pasta, cannoli, and wine. The only reason this doesn't get a higher rating is because the pacing felt just a tad uneven and as others have complained, Emilia's inner monologues ran on too long sometimes. But apart from that this was truly excellent and I can't wait to read the next book in the series.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Luster by Raven Leilani

 

LUSTER is a fascinating novel and even though I didn't love it, I really liked it for what it was trying to do. Not only is it a commentary on Blackness, it is also a scathing criticism of the economy that millennials have inherited. I also interpreted it as saying that nostalgia culture is a way for millennials to return to thoughts of happier, safer times, and even that attraction to older men is more of an attraction to an aspirational lifestyle: having a family, owning a house and multiple cars, and having a career that gives you a 401k and a steady paycheck.

The summary makes you think that this book is going to be smutty, but it really isn't. There are sex scenes but most of the book is told in stream of consciousness format as she navigates her relationship with Eric, a married man who is in an open marriage. Eventually she meets his wife, Rebecca, and their adopted daughter, a Black girl named Akila. Shortly after this, she's invited to move in with them and sort of becomes a third wheel in their marriage, not quite a daughter, not quite a spouse, but something in between.

I feel like this book is trying to be Don DeLillo for a younger audience and it sort of succeeded, but at times the stream of consciousness format became too much and sometimes felt irrelevant. I also wish there had been more scenes focusing on the relationships between the characters. Not smut but scenes like when Eric takes Edie to an amusement park and it ends up being really uncomfortable and kind of infantilizing but she just goes along with it. I felt like that was quite telling of how they saw each other. I also would have liked more scenes depicting the nuances of interaction between Edie and Rebecca.

This was an incredibly good debut but it wasn't as good as I was hoping it would be, judged on its own merits. I would, however, read more by this author.

3 out of 5 stars