Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Long Con by Cecilia Tan

In case you're new to the whole Geek Actually serials, GA is a collection of (very) short stories, all under 50 pages, chronicling the romantic adventures of a bunch of geeky women with careers. Think Sex and the City...only with geeks. It's a great concept, and for books 1 & 2, I was sold - hook, line, and sinker. After the glaring disappointment that was BOSS BATTLES, though, I was a little hesitant. Because here's the thing: each serial is written by a different author. I initially expressed concerns about this in books 1 and 2 but they meshed so well that I figured it wouldn't be an issue. Well, book 3 noticeably deviated in quality - like, "is this really the advanced reader copy and not a rough outline?" deviated - so I was not quite as wholeheartedly excited about picking up book 4.

THE LONG CON, however, is written the way books 1 & 2 were, i.e. fairly well. I do think that #2 is probably my favorite so far in the series, with #1 being a close second. Since the books are so short, they focus on a handful of the characters in each episode so as not to spread the content too thin. This book mostly focuses on Michelle, Elli, and Aditi. Aditi and Elli are my least favorite characters, so I wasn't too happy about that (Michelle is OK).

In THE LONG CON, Elli, Michelle, and Aditi all end up going to the same convention - a book con, modeled after BEA. Michelle is there wearing her editor cap, trying to keep Aditi (her author) in check while also editing a rather terrible manuscript from a best-selling author. Aditi is feeling anxious about the sequel to the book that she's already having second thoughts about. And Ellie - well, Elli is Ellie...immature, self-centered, and utterly obsessed with all things fandom.

I felt like Aditi's flakiness is hammered out better here. We finally understand why she's so insecure about her book, and why she's reluctant to move forward. Haven't we all had moments of self-sabotage, where we're so literally terrified about the chance to finally fulfill our dreams that we subconsciously end up screwing ourselves because deep-down we don't feel deserving? I've definitely felt that. I've felt that hard. So even though I didn't really like Aditi for being a flake in previous books, I felt like this revelation helped me understand where she was coming from better.

Michelle, on the other hand, has the stage set for some rather kinky goings-on when she attends a BDSM panel from a Dom and his slave/wife. (And I'm sure that the fact that Celia Tan has published some BDSM erotica novels had no bearing on this twist whatsoever - ha.) I was actually impressed with how it was played out, though. Despite a lack of sexual content, Tan manages to write a pretty sexy scene. I'm curious to see how this will play out in future character arcs.

Elli's story was okay. She ends up befriending another cosplayer who draws comics and also happens to be in a wheelchair (I think her name was Ruby). Ruby was really cool and I liked how the concept of able-ism was treated in this segment and some of the ways that Ruby incorporated her chair into her cosplays (i.e. using it as the pumpkin carriage for her Cinderella costume). I didn't like how Ellie immediately started pushing her for a job as an assistant, especially when Ruby says that she doesn't have all that much money and doesn't want to depend on people. It felt opportunist and gross to me, and considering how she treated her last two employers, I'm skeptical of where this goes. Honestly, it's too bad Ruby isn't a main character - she was really cool and I'd happily read more about her.

Tan teases me with cameos from my actual favorites in the story - my favorite F/F couple Vivi and Christina experiment with some rough sex, and Taneesha goes on a "date" with this cute gamer dude. However these sections are short and left me feeling more frustrated than happy. This is why I don't tend to like books with multiple POVs; I always like one set of characters more than the others...and the ones I love the most never get as much air time as the ones I can't stand. (I see you, GoT.)

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

This is one of those rare instances where I watched the movie before I read the book. Coraline (2009) came out while I was in college and all of my friends couldn't stop talking about this creepy story; they said it started out whimsical and turned into a total mindfuck, like Mirrormask (2005) - only better.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the story, Coraline is a little girl who moves to a new apartment in this rural area peopled with colorful characters, like a retired mouse trainer and two washed up film stars who haven't gotten over their halcyon days. Her parents are hard-working and don't really have time for her, so Coraline is often left to her own devices and feeling frustrated as a result. When she finds a mysterious locked door in the wall of her new home that leads to another, magical world, she is absolutely delighted. It's like Narnia, or Harry Potter - only not.

At a glance, the other world seems to be better than Coraline's own reality. Her other mother bakes delicious meals, her other father is always willing to take the time to delight her with games and conversation. Her film star neighbors are young and still very much entertaining, and her creepy mouse-trainer neighbor is ... well, still creepy but now he has something to show for his efforts. Everything in this whimsical world is Coraline's for the asking, if she can only ignore the darker edge beneath the glamor...and the horrible, infamous catch.

I read this book in a single sitting. It's middle-grade, so the language is fairly simple, and the book itself is quite short with drawings interspersed between the text that take up even more of the page count. I liked the story, but as with most of Neil Gaiman's written works, it was lacking some crucial element to make me really love it. I'm finding that to be the case when it comes to Gaiman's works - the movie versions are phenomenal (like Stardust), but the books themselves feel wooden and three-dimensional by comparison, despite being imaginative. I kept comparing the book to the movie while reading, too. Coraline's challenges are way easier in the book than they are in the movie, and the character of Wybie (who I loved in the movie) is omitted entirely in the book.

Overall, CORALINE was an okay book but I'm sorry to say that the movie is much better.

3 out of 5 stars

Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love by Sarah Vaughn

Sarah Vaughn also contributed to Alex + Ada, which is a Chobits-esque romance between a human and a robot, so when I saw that she had contributed to "DEADMAN," I applied for it without really knowing what this graphic novel was about. I liked her work! I like spooky books! The cover of this book seemed spooky! (I thought it was about vampires, actually....)


DARK MANSION OF FORBIDDEN LOVE is a title that conjures up the campy pulp novels of the 60s and 70s, but the graphic novel is actually really surprising...and I mean that in a great way. Not only does it have a Gothic mystery surrounding ghosts and revenge, it also features a bisexual heroine of color (half-Asian, half-white) and a non-binary hero of color (black). I was the best way! How progressive of you, DC!

The story is good, too. Bernice's fiance lives in a mansion and is working on his book. When she joins him, she's put off by the fact that the house seems to be filled with ghosts and a dark presence. One of the "ghosts" is Boston Brand (Deadman), who is trying to get rid of the dark energy as well. They meet a ghost named Adelia who was murdered but can't remember why or by whom, only that her fate somehow ties into the dark energy of the house...

DARK MANSION OF FORBIDDEN LOVE has a Scooby Doo vibe to it that I found charming. I'm sure some people will be put off by the campy vibe, but I've watched dozens and dozens of Scooby Doo, so the classic ghost story element really appealed to me. I also really liked Deadman, because I'm a sucker for brooding, angsty heroes. He's like Bruce Wayne, without the asshole-ish tendencies. You really can't help but like him...he's so awkward and adorable and too precious for this world.

ALSO - whoever designed these characters, I LOVE YOU. One of my biggest beefs with graphic novels is over the top cheesecake shots. There's a tendency in graphic novels to focus on the boobs, dress the characters in revealing costumes, and give them all 50s pin-up style figures. I get that it's a throwback to the Golden Era of Comic Books when they were all drawn that way, but it's also nice to see characters that look like you. They made Bernice curvy, gave her rather thick thighs, and she's smaller on top than she is on the bottom. Her outfits are also...ordinary. She looks like someone you'd see at a coffee shop. Let me be perfectly clear: I have no problem with women who want to dress sexy or are skinny; I have a problem with that being the only representation women get in comic books. Real women are not one size fits all and it was so great to see someone with a body type and fashion sense rather similar to mine in a graphic novel.

I'm so glad DC gave this to me as an ARC. It was actually a really fun superhero comic, and I enjoyed the dark Gothic vibe, the ghost story, and the diverse rep (this is the first graphic novel I've read with a non-binary character!). The only reason I'm not giving it 4 stars is because the storyline was just a little bit too cliche, and as much as I enjoyed reading it, it's probably not a book I would purchase for myself or keep in a permanent collection. For others, though? Definitely!

3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle

This has been the third goblin-related book that I've read this year, and while it is arguably the best of the three, I have to say that it did not hold up to my expectations. I've read The Goblin Market and assumed that the book was going to follow the Labyrinth formula - which it did to an extent. However, uneven pacing and some odd creative choices caused me to give the book a lower rating than I would have, had these issues not been present.

First, let me give credit where credit is due. The cover is lovely - it's a huge reason behind why I wanted to pick up the book in the first place. I also feel like it ties into the story well, as the wildflowers conjure up that wild beauty that many associate with Washington's lush and gorgeous rainforests. The setting of this book was also great, and like I said, I loved the concept because I love Labyrinth and Labyrinth is the metaphorical yardstick by which I measure any romance-themed faerie story I come across.

THE GOBLINS OF BELLWATER is set in Bellwater, Washington, near Puget Sound. Two siblings, Skye and Livy, have always had a close relationship with the woods. Skye is a barista/artist and Livy is a forest ranger. They get mixed up with Kit, a mechanic, and his cousin, Grady, a cook, though circumstances involving goblins. Because in addition to his day job, Kit also acts as a liaison to the fae, and when he displeases them they end up cursing one of the locals, in this case: Skye. Skye ends up cursing Grady, by giving him an enchanted kiss and claiming him as her "mate," which ends up bringing the entanglement full circle. If Kit and Livy want their relatives back, they have to outsmart the fae and they have to do it soon, before both Skye and Grady are lost forever.

The writing in this story is really great, but the sex scenes and the romance all felt forced. Especially with the enchantment, which gives the relationship between Skye and Grady an icky feel. Skye's enchantment in the beginning also causes her to no longer be able to smile, laugh, or feel joy, either, so Livy makes some weird assumptions about Skye's mental state and depression in general, which involve opinions that are based on false facts (e.g. people with tons of good things in their lives shouldn't have anything to feel depressed about). I was wondering whether this was because the author was trying to portray Livy as ignorant, or due to oversight, and the author actually commented on one of my status updates and said it was the former, so it was nice to get confirmation on that. But the whole way it was dealt with felt awkward to me and, like the issue of consent regarding the enchantment sex between Skye and Grady, I felt like it wasn't handled as well as it could have been.

I didn't really care about Kit and Livy or Grady and Skye much until the last 1/4 of the book, which is where the story turned around for me. The way Livy goes about saving her sister was really, really cool, and if the majority of the book had been more like that, I would have really enjoyed THE GOBLINS OF BELLWATER, because that was the magic and adventure I was expecting when I picked this up. It was also the first part of the book where there was some actual intense emotional content and I found myself rooting for the characters instead of passively reading about them.

This really was not a bad book, and I felt like it deals with the fae lore and mythology in a fresh and interesting way. The execution was a little iffy for me and in some ways it has the "uncertainty" of a debut novel, but the world-building and the clear writing made up for a lot of the flaws. People who enjoy books reminiscent of Labyrinth and enjoy stories about faeries and goblins will enjoy THE GOBLINS OF BELLWATER. I would read more by this author.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen

Whoa, you know a book is **edgy** when you lose a few friends every time you post a status update for it.

TOO FAT, TOO SLUTTY, TOO LOUD; THE RISE AND REIGN OF THE UNRULY WOMAN is written by a BuzzFeed writer who also published another work of nonfiction about the scandals of Golden Age Hollywood. TOO FAT also focuses on Hollywood, but Hollywood in the present day: in particular, it is a rather scathing and critical look at how various women are treated by the media when they choose to openly defy various gender roles, and what that means for us, as a society.

I really liked the structure of this book. TOO FAT is divided into segments, with each chapter focusing on a typical gender norm and a famous woman who does not follow it. There are ten chapters, plus an opening and a conclusion.

Chapter One: Too Strong // Serena Williams

This was one of my favorite chapters in the collection because I thought Serena Williams was so cool when I was a young girl. In the 90s, most "cool" female celebrities were very girly, like the Spice Girls and Britney Spears, and while I loved those ladies, too, and happily played their music for hours, I was a tomboy, so it was very cool to see a woman - a young woman - being praised for being strong and athletic and basically the antithesis of the pink bows and sparkly flowers that were being crammed down the throats of girls at the time.

But all was not as rosy as it seemed in my various issues of Preteen Monthly. TOO FAT talks about how Serena had to work every step of the way to become recognized in a sport that was rife with double standards regarding not just her gender but also her ethnicity. Her critics frequently wrote about her with coded language mocking her beaded hair and her temper tantrums, focusing on her with an intensity that simply did not happen for her male (white) colleagues. I thought this was a very thoughtful piece and it reminded me why I admired the Williams sisters so much growing up.

Chapter Two: Too Fat // Melissa McCarthy

This was another favorite chapter of mine, because I love Melissa McCarthy and live for her Sean Spicer sketches on SNL. This was also a very well-written essay that discusses how overweight and plus-sized women are treated by the media (read: mocked) and how the accomplishments of women are recognized differently than the accomplishments of men (read: they aren't - at least not as effusively, nor to the same extent). Women are supposed to deflect and be demure - they aren't supposed to openly acknowledge their accomplishments; it is really amazing to me how quick people are to tear women down when it seems like they're "too confident." I also thought it was interesting how McCarthy's persona on stage is apparently so different from her real-life persona. As someone who's also quite shy in real life, I thought it was kind of sweet that McCarthy sounds like she's soft-spoken and actually super girly off-stage.

Chapter Three: Too Gross // Abbi Jacbson & Ilana Glazer

To be honest, I have no idea who these people are. They're from a show called Broad City, which I don't watch (I don't watch a lot of TV). But the point the essay makes is clear: society has definitive ideas about what women are permitted to joke about, and women are often mocked for or excluded from participating in raunch humor or slacker humor. There was one quote in this book that summed up this idea really nicely: According to this logic, men's bodily functions are funny - but women's bodies are fundamentally obscene (86)

It actually reminded me of the Eat, Pray, Queef episode from South Park, which does a great job of poking fun at the double standards when it comes to bodily humor and gender.

Chapter Four: Too Slutty // Nicki Minaj

This was another good chapter that talks about the catch-22 situation that many women find themselves in when deciding whether or not to show skin: is having a "sexy" image in the public eye merely catering to the male gaze, or is it owning one's sexuality? Can it be both?

Like the "Too Strong" chapter with Serena Williams, Too Slutty also talks about how women of color, specifically black women of color, are hypersexualized and held to different standards than white women when it comes to beauty and sexuality (read: the shortest short end of the stick). This is a topic I've seen mentioned a lot lately, and I was pleased to see the author mention it, and defining why this double standard is so problematic in such clear and precise terms.

Chapter Five: Too Old // Madonna

"Too Old" is one of the weaker chapters in this book, in my opinion. It's about age discrimination with regards to sexuality specifically, and how older women are expected to give up basically all sexual agency and just become celibate, demure, and matronly as they grow older. Using Madonna as an example, Petersen shows how women are shamed and portrayed as pathetic and desperate when still attempting to convey a sexual and youthful image post-middle age.

Chapter Six: Too Pregnant // Kim Kardashian

This was one of my favorite chapters, which surprised me because I'm really not a fan of Kim Kardashian. But this chapter surprised me, and it actually made me like Kim a little more. In this chapter, Petersen talks about Kim's pregnancy with North and how Kim totally went against the "cute pregnancy" standards set by people like Reese Witherspoon or Kate Middleton by wearing tight, unflattering clothes and complaining publicly about her discomfort and ambivalence of being pregnant instead of yapping about how great(!) and amazing(!) pregnancy is.

I liked this chapter because, like the Too Gross chapter, it shows that women can't always be neat and cute and clean all the time. Maintaining such a pristine image is hard work and not everyone has the resources or the will to manage such a time-consuming illusion. Kim Kardashian chose not to buy into that and showed us that even famous people have bad moments - and that's OK.

Chapter Seven: Too Shrill // Hillary Clinton

I think this might have been one of the chapter updates that caused me to lose some friends, because I said that I thought Hillary Clinton should be president instead of certain **other people** and that it was a shame she wasn't given a chance. Well, I stand by that. And Petersen did a great job talking about some of the obstacles female politicians face, being mocked for wanting power and accused of being bitchy, aggressive, and shrill for the same attributes that their male colleagues are praised for.

Chapter Eight: Too Queer // Caitlyn Jenner

"Too Queer" was an interesting chapter. Most of the other chapters have a tone of "praise" or at least "admiration" but in "Too Queer" I felt the tone was more critical. Here, Petersen talks about the subject of heteronormativity (or having heterosexual norms being the de facto standard for a society) and how coming from a position of privilege can color or shape the perception of inequality for someone who is within the marginalized group in question (in this case, not realizing how bad things are for other trans people if you are a rich, gender role-conforming trans person who "passes" easily).

Chapter Nine: Too Loud // Jennifer Weiner 


Jennifer Weiner novels were the staple of my young adolescence and after Bridge Jones, were basically what got me into the whole "chick lit" genre. I related to everything in this essay so hard. As a reader and writer of romance, I cannot tell you how often I have been denigrated because of my choices of reading and writing material. (One phrase that sticks out is "articulate" - I feel that is the go-to code word for people who want to find a way to tell you that they think you are an idiot if you write intelligently. Like, "Oh, you're articulate, but everything you think and feel is trash.")

I do not think it is a coincidence that the genre that primarily caters to women receives the most criticism from both within and without the industry - especially (although not always by) men.

Honestly, I would read an entire book about this topic (need a future book idea, Ms. Petersen?).

Chapter Ten: Too Naked // Lena Dunham

Ugh, my least favorite chapter. I just don't like Lena Dunham and I don't like Girls and have little interest in seeing Girls (which is a feat in and of itself, given my mad Adam Driver obsession). I thought about skipping this chapter but I wanted to read it anyway just so I could write a well-rounded review of the book...and it wasn't that bad. Basically, Lena Dunham asserts herself by flaunting a body that most people don't find attractive or "worthy." ...Okay? I think this was the least effective chapter because it was basically a combination of the "Too Fat" and "Too Gross" chapters from the beginning of the book, so I didn't really feel like we were covering any new ideas. I think a "Too Confident" or "Too Smart" chapter would have been better, because my God, have you ever noticed how quick people are to tear women down for daring to feel...good about themselves?

Overall, I really enjoyed TOO FAT, TOO SLUTTY, TOO LOUD. It helped that I already liked most of the people the author chose to write about, but the writing stands on its own. This book covers some very important topics about how women are treated by society. Even though we are moving towards true equality, there are still many areas that need improvement, and I would suggest this book to people who insist that society is equal or smugly call themselves "equalists" because TOO FAT does a great job highlighting not just where the last bastions of inequality exist, but also why they exist, and why it's important not to null these groups out.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

4 out of 5 stars

Be Like Bill: The Internet's Smartest Sensation by Eugeniu Croitoru

This is yet another one of those "let's make an internet meme into a book" sorts of deals, which I always have mixed feelings about because it takes several years to publish something so by the time the meme book gets published, the meme itself usually isn't popular anymore or is on the wane. It actually took me a moment to remember what Be Like Bill was referring to. In case you forget, too, a couple years ago, Be Like Bill reached critical mass. It was an ideal tool for calling people out in a socially acceptable way on the internet, and lord knows, we are always demanding new ways of doing that, because for as long as there is an internet, people will use it for calling out.

BE LIKE BILL is better than most meme books I've read, although like most meme books, the user generated ones are better (probably because you have a greater number of people contributing to the pool, so the ideas are more likely to be fresh). I'm not sure if the two authors generated all these memes, but most of them felt pretty safe and boring, and a couple just seemed petty (but then, we've all got our pet-peeves, so I'm not here to judge). Only one made me laugh out loud:

This is Bill.

Bill wakes up and sees it's snowing outside.

Bill doesn't feel the urge to post a status about it on Facebook because he knows his friends also have windows.

Bill is not a douche.

Be like Bill (6).

I feel like it would have been better if the authors had done a "best of" compilation, curating some of Bill's greatest hits from the Facebook pages they manage (and maybe giving the users credit at the bottom with their permission). This was just sort of bland, and while a couple were amusing and had me going, "Preach!" the vast majority of the collection barely warranted a smile. Still, it was nice to revisit an old meme that I'd half-forgotten and get a few chuckles out of it.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3 out of 5 stars

If My Dogs Were a Pair of Middle-Aged Men by Matthew Inman

This is exactly why I love being a book blogger - free copies of books by my favorite authors to review. (Okay, I lied - that's not the only reason; but it's a very definitive perk.)

I've been following the Oatmeal since 2009, and thought it was The Best Thing Ever. He's crude, but in a way that adds rather than detracts from his art, and somehow manages to find a way of looking at even the most tedious of life's moments and finding a way of making it either seem novel, hilarious, or outlandish.


We all think dogs are cute, right?

Well, it turns out...dogs are sort of creepy. And what better way to illustrate those kind of creepy behaviors than by portraying his pet dogs as...two middle-aged men.

Since I follow his website religiously (as I mentioned before), there is a major downside to this ARC: I've read all these comics before - and I didn't recognize any new ones. It seems like these were just the Middle-Aged Men comics from his site packaged into a collector's volume, either for die-hard fans who want this book for their IKEA coffee tables or as novelty gifts for people who haven't read his comics yet (but should). I felt like I kind of fell in the middle in terms of readership, here.

I always enjoy reading The Oatmeal's work, so I can't really give this less than three stars. But I think if I'd paid money for this, I'd be really disappointed. I'd be happy to be supporting such a talented artist, but also sad that my hard-earned money bought me a very short book with no new material.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Monday, June 5, 2017

Boss Battles by Melissa Blue

Things were going so well with this series - we had something good, we got each other, we were falling in love...and then I got to BOSS BATTLES, and it was like the series got "too comfortable" and stopped making any effort in the book-reader relationship.

First, let's give credit where credit is due. Geek Actually is such a great premise. It follows a group of women, of various ethnicities, creeds, sexual orientations, and job occupations, who are friends despite their differences. Their stories are told in serialized form, which I'm a sucker for, because I grew up on Questionable Content - the webcomic that gave me the stories I craved before I even knew I was craving them. Geek Actually does the same thing with women in the emergent information-technology culture. In one of my other reviews for Geek Actually, I described this series as being like Sex and the City, but for geeks. Sounds amazing? That's because it is. Or was, rather, until things began to fall apart in this latest chapter.

I think part of the problem might be that each of these "chapters" is written by a different author. The first two were cohesive and meshed well, but this one does not. At all. Because the chapters are so short, each book focuses on a small selection of the women, with the others only popping in. This installment focused on Elli, Aditi, and Taneesha. Unfortunately, the short chapters also showcase the difference in writing style between the three authors and make any flaws even more visible.

Taneesha was one of my favorite characters in the previous two books. She's a black female coder, and her company has just been purchased by a larger parent company, causing rifts within the company hierarchy and displacement of the responsibilities that previously gave her a sense of meaning. I looked forward to her chapters, because not only is she in STEM, her chapters also stirred up a lot of important dialogues about sexism, racism, and what they mean for a woman who has a job in a traditionally male-dominant environment. It was great. She was great.

In BOSS BATTLES, she's made into a stereotype of herself, and these important dialogues are only casually referenced with obligatory name-drops of black culture while sexism is treated with haughty eye-rolls (figuratively). It felt very awkward, especially since a potential love interest is introduced in BOSS BATTLES, and the two things I mentioned before play a key role in their interaction.

Aditi's chapter had similar problems, with her Indian cultural identity played on with many references to various types of Indian food and references to an arranged marriage. Speaking of marriage, in one of the previous books, it's hinted at that Aditi might not have a traditional marriage. I was curious about the mystery behind that - well, this chapter reveals all, and that was yet another thing that made me side-eye the book a little. It's something that I'm sure happens, but again, I'm not sure it was handled as well as it could have been. I'm curious what others thought about this.

Lastly, Elli - my least favorite character, which is unfortunate because she's the character who shares so many of my hobbies. Elli, who can't keep a job and shirks responsibility. In previous books, I sort of related to her, even if I didn't like her. In this book, she becomes a complete idiot. Her newest job in this book is to work at a mattress store. Elli ignores her new boss while he gives her instructions, then turns the mattress store into a freaking B&B, inviting customers to sleep on the beds between 20 minutes and an hour, while saying the most cringe-worthy things to them. Oh. My. God.

Don't get me wrong; I love this series, but this book was a major slump in overall quality. It lacked the cohesion that made me appreciate the first two books so much. I'm hoping I'll be lucky enough to receive advanced copies of the next books in this series, because I'd love to see where my favorite (and least favorite) characters go from here. I just hope they mesh better with the narrative.

Also, there's something weird going on with the text in all three books that I received from Netgalley. I got advanced copies, so my edition is probably not going to be exactly like yours, but in my advanced copy, there was something funky going on with the line spacing and paragraph breaks. This should be looked into. It definitely impacted readability.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy! 

2 out of 5 stars

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Invisible Woman by Rachel Stuhler

I just read and reviewed the first book in this fun little series, WTF. Short, sweet, and remarkably well-developed for such a short book, WTF was so good that I immediately launched into THE INVISIBLE WOMAN. Even though they are published by different authors, the writing style remains consistent (something I was worried about). They must be working from some truly fabulous outlines and have great communication with one another to keep everything flowing so smoothly! I was impressed.

In THE INVISIBLE WOMAN we're reintroduced to the characters from the previous book. Michelle is still dealing with childish authors and the end of her marriage. Taneesha feels as though she's invisible at her new job, where she's either ignored or excluded, and condescended to whenever she actively tries to contribute. Ellie faces her parents' wrath when they find out she can't even commit to a minimum wage job and give her a serious talking to about her future - beyond designing cosplay costumes and attending conventions, that is.

Aditi is not mentioned in this book, but we're introduced to a new character in THE INVISIBLE WOMAN who was only mentioned in passing in WTF, and that's Christina, Michelle's half-sister who works as a personal assistant on a Hollywood movie set. Like Michelle, she's also part Filipina AND she's a queer character, too, so three cheers for some F/F rep in chick-lit. (YAS)

The geek references weren't quite as numerous here as they were in WTF. The focus is on Christina and her torrid Hollywood fling with an actress who might as well have 'trouble' spray-painted on the side of her trailer. Each of these serials seems to focus on one woman primarily, with the other characters appearing every other chapter or so (although sometimes one is excluded to save space). It's an interesting set-up, but I'm enjoying the odd narrative style. Multiple POV stories normally don't work for me, but each character in these Geek Actually books is so compelling that I'm actually excited to see how my precious little cinnamon rolls are doing. I feel like I need to check in.

So far, my favorite character is probably either Taneesha or Michelle. My least favorite character is Ellie.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3.5 out of 5 stars

WTF by Cathy Yardley

Props to sraxe for bringing these books to my attention. This was precisely the pop-culture-laden, girl-power fueled, PoC-repped piece of chick-lit crack candy that I didn't even know I'd been craving this whole time. Emphasis 'piece,' because these stories are apparently being released serially, one tantalizing chunk at a time.

There isn't really a plot in WTF. It's more like a slice-of-life story about several different women. Picture Sex and the City, except with geeky women.

+: Michelle is a Filipina science-fiction editor for a publishing company. She does a lot of hand-holding and sometimes doubles as a bounty-hunter, tracking down clients when they go AWOL instead of submitting their drafts.

+: Aditi is one of those AWOL-going writers that Michelle deals with. She initially intended her book to be a standalone and is now stressed because she was only able to sell it as a series, and has no idea where she wants to go with it. Aditi is Indian. She has a very interesting marriage, and some very interesting relationship quirks.

+: Taneesha is a video game programmer for a gaming company that was just acquired by a larger media company. The hierarchical tree is shifting, and she's annoyed to learn that she's about to be screwed. They're keeping her on as a token because she's a woman and black, and increasing her pay to keep her happy, but they're also taking away the responsibilities that gave her challenge and meaning. She is understandably frustrated and annoyed by this. I would be, too.

+: Elli works at a coffee shop where she is routinely hounded by creeps when all she really wants to do is play Pokemon go. She is Jewish (and celebrates Purim!), but she's also the quintessential millennial slacker who doesn't want to work in a cube or follow a routine - all she wants to do is geek out and go to conventions and basically live life by her own schedule.

This was so short. Like, under 100-pages short. I was skeptical about how much Yardley would be able to accomplish in so few pages. I was wrong to doubt. I may have found a writer who rivals Queen Courtney Milan when it comes to owning the "short and sweet" side of fiction. Each character is nuanced and developed, and all the pop-culture references are seriously on fleek. Their problems are relatable, and best of all, Yardley manages to discuss a lot of important feminist issues without being preachy or relying on straw men. Please tell me this is going to be optioned as a TV show. I would watch the static out of it.

I can't wait to read the next two books (which I luckily own!)

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Broken Ones by Danielle L. Jensen

I've been feeling nostalgic for Labyrinth and David Bowie, and as if my subconscious mind registered that on some level, I've read three books about goblins over the past few months. One of them, the obvious - WINTER SONG - was a glaring disappointment. The other two (including this one) were okay. It's hard to compete against David Bowie in a mullet. (I bet you never thought you would see those words in print, huh?)

THE BROKEN ONES is the prequel to Jensen's Malediction series. Only - apparently it's not supposed to be read as a prequel because the author says that in terms of reading order, it should be read after book two. Oh, really? Because if that's the case, why is its series number #.06 instead of #2.06? That's just...silly.

Despite the reading order confusion, I enjoyed THE BROKEN ONES. The world building is a bit confusing jumping in, but I quickly got the gist of it. It's a star-crossed love story between two trolls named Penelope and Marc. Both of them are outcasts: Marc because he's scarred and unattractive and Penelope because she has a curse that will make viable offspring a difficulty. They're both painfully, idiotically, head-slappingly naive, and because of that, end up as pawns used by their noble families, to gather power and stage various coups as a rebellion of the ill-treatment of half-breeds slowly gains in pressure, ready at any moment to explode.

The way that power and court intrigue are used in this book reminded me a lot of Marie Rutkoski's Winners Trilogy. Penelope's father, especially, always seems to be two steps ahead, and will seemingly stop at nothing to find out the identity of the traitors leading the rebelling, even if it means one or both of his daughters' deaths. Anais, Penelope's sister, is the one with the spine in the relationship. Penelope is the sensitive, artistic one who always seems to be crying or being manipulated by someone else, even the people who claim to love her. Marc's voice is very similar to Penelope's, because he's torn between his allegiance to Prince Tristan and to his friends Anais and Penelope. Because of that, and his insecurities with his own appearance, he's just as easy to manipulate as Penelope. To be honest, I didn't really like either character and wasn't that impressed with their romance. It was the intrigue that made this book for me. Had the characters been even slightly more interesting, I would have loved this as much as The Winner's Trilogy. But, alas.

I recently bought the entire Malediction trilogy because it was on sale for Kindle. I'm interested in reading more of this world now that I have a handle of it, especially because Tristan is the hero in those books and based on his characterization in this book he seems like exactly my cup of tea: a brutal but powerful antihero whose ambition often makes him seem (or even act) cruel.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

Read this for the intricate plotting, not for the characters.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Did the people who read this book read a different book than the one I read? Because I did not get a romantic, action-packed adventure. I got a slow and plodding story with wooden characters and writing that was rife with purple prose. It wasn't even the fact that I went in with high expectations; despite the fact that Mulan is one of my favorite movies, I really did not like this author's other book, THE WRATH AND THE DAWN, and that was based off one of my favorite faerie tales. So I went in with extremely low expectations and somehow, FLAME IN THE MIST managed to be worse than TWatD. How does that happen?

Also, let's talk about the Mulan thing. I noticed people were saying that this book was a retelling of Mulan, and I wasn't sure if it was the publisher saying that or other reviewers saying that (because reviewers say a lot of things that publishers aren't and shouldn't be held responsible for), but when I went to the Penguin website, they appear to be blurbing the book as "Mulan meets Throne of Glass" and the author herself appears to be citing her love of the movie as an influence in writing this book in this Bustle interview. That made me give this book the side-eye, because Mulan is a legend from China and this is a book about Japan. China and Japan have totally different cultural legacies and at several points throughout history they have clashed in very unpleasant ways. It felt extraordinarily insensitive to me to brand a Chinese legend in new, Japanese packaging. To give a Western example, it would be like taking the struggles of the Scottish and rebranding them as English.

"Be as swift as the wind. As silent as the forest. As fierce as the fire. As unshakable as the mountain" (244).

I really don't like it when I feel like I'm being pandered to. Especially when it feels culturally insensitive. I'm sure that wasn't the author's intention, but I think that sometimes people forget that Disney stories are often based off actual folklore from actual people.

FLAME IN THE MIST is about a girl named Mariko who is the daughter of a samurai. She's on her way to be married to her betrothed, but her litter and attendants are slaughtered before she can reach her destination, and Mariko herself is saved only by sheer luck. She ends up lost and wondering, and after escaping a would-be rapist, decides to disguise herself as a boy. Lucky for her (again), because Mariko ends up in the camp of the very men who she believes were trying to kill her, a group of bandits called the Black Clan. She decides that she's going to gain their trust and learn their weaknesses so she can kill them in revenge, but this being a YA novel, she falls for the ringleader.

Mariko is no Mulan. She's one of those "strong" female characters who prove their "strength" by whining about how much it sucks to be a girl. She is constantly shooting off her mouth, even when she shouldn't (especially when she shouldn't), and of course her would-be enemies think this is so hilarious and endearing and are won over instead of gagging her and/or throwing her off a bridge. Also, the plot is very similar to WRATH OF THE DAWN in the sense that Mariko, like Sharzad, has a lot of reason to hate the leader, but never does, at least not without conviction, and gives into her lust way too quickly. Her emotions do not feel real - it's like she has an internal switch that flips whenever it's convenient for the plot, and also, what is going on with the plot of this story? It was so slow. I skimmed, and it still felt way too long. The writing does not help. Ahdieh makes an effort to write poetically, but instead it just feels blocky and convoluted and weird.

But the egg - that simple egg - was so wonderful. So perfect.
How could anyone who would take such care to prepare a simple egg truly be bad? (106)

Also, negative points for that line. Because apparently people can't be bad if they can cook eggs.

1 out of 5 stars

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

I grew up with the Oz books. As a child, I would revisit them periodically, curling up under the covers with a flashlight to read about Tik-Tok and the Wheelers, or Polychrome and the Nome King, or Mombi and Jack. Even now, I still occasionally read them because they're so fantastically creative and the imaginative world-building continues to hold up, even now. It's one of my favorite fantasy series ever, probably more so than Harry Potter. That's why I was skeptical when I saw that there was a series coming out that was a dark retelling of the Oz books.

DOROTHY MUST DIE is about a girl named Amy, who lives in a trailer park in Kansas. One day, she ends up being stuck in the middle of a tornado and, like Dorothy, finds herself magically transported to a world that clearly isn't Kansas anymore. It isn't quite Oz, either - at least, not the way that the fans know it. Everything is dark and drained of magic, and under Dorothy's corrupt rule it's turned into a Big Dorothy is Watching dystopia with torture, murder, and brain-washing all being totally commonplace. Welcome to Oz, b*tch.

To Paige's credit, the world-building is quite well done. I felt like the horrors really are that - horrific. The Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow? All spectacles of terror that would be right at home in the jump scare-ridden world of Five Nights at Freddy's. I also liked the backstory about how Dorothy became evil. Power does corrupt and when magic is involved, that seems even more likely. Paige also portrays just how seductive power can be, even when it is evil, because in Dorothy's palace, things are beautiful, and it's all too easy to succumb to temptation.

Amy is one of those heroines I think people will love or hate. She's hilariously dated with her pink hair and emo attitude, like she's trapped in 2006 and nobody's told her that Green Day isn't cool anymore. She's also selfish and b*tchy and mean, with all kinds of snarky asides about pretty much anyone she doesn't like. She's not the villain of the story, though (yet?), and even though she's self-preserving she does risk her own life to save others at several points during the story even though cowardice or fear wins out a few times. I'm a fan of flawed protagonists, so this was refreshing; it's nice when women are allowed to be less than perfect in fiction and still be the heroines.

One thing about this book that I hated, hated is the long boring section where Amy trains with some witches to develop her powers and ends up meeting a boy named Nox. There's this weird sexual tension between them that feels awkward, because it's so forced, and I was annoyed to see bad-ass Amy lose sight of the game to obsess over some boy she doesn't even know. Seriously, at some point they pick up a wounded girl and Amy is jealous that he goes to attend her wounds rather than pay attention to her. Like, seriously, girl? Priorities, much? I'm thinking that there's going to be a love triangle between Pete and Amy and Nox, and I'm also thinking I'm not going to like it. Depending on how much focus this relationship takes in later books, it could be a deal-breaker.

This book, though, DOROTHY MUST DIE, isn't bad. As a retelling, it's decent. The writing is good and flows well (although it doesn't seem sure whether it wants to be a formal classically written fantasy novel or a breezy young adult narrative, and fluctuates wildly between the two styles). The author features characters taken not just from the Wizard of Oz, but all of the Oz stories (I'm hoping the Glass Cat will make an appearance; she was my favorite), which was nice. Even bitchy old Amy was a cool drink of water after the stale taste of too-perfect-to-be-true heroines I've been encountering in my usual YA fantasy line-ups, and that's definitely something we need more of.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, June 2, 2017

Dumpling Cats: Crochet and Collect Them All! by Sarah Sloyer

Remember Neko Atsume? Last year, I was really into Neko Atsume. I was a full time student working full time, and tending to my adorable little zen garden of cats was a nice way of relaxing between work and school. I don't have time to play it anymore, but I remember the cute game with fondness. When DUMPLING CATS showed up on Netgalley, it didn't even matter that I don't know how to crochet - all I needed to see was "inspired by Neko Atsume" in the summary, and I was like, "SOLD!"

If you're at all familiar with amigurumi, you have an idea of what the patterns in DUMPLING CATS look like. They are stuffed plushies made out of crocheted yarn. In DUMPLING CATS, Sloyer has a rather large array of cats you can create, with the beginner patterns pictured on the cover to the more difficult patterns, like a cat wearing a bee outfit, a cat wearing a flower around her neck, a witch cat, a lion cat, and even a little lady bug cat. She even provides instructions for accessories, like food bowls and a cardboard box. Are they all adorable? Oh, yes. If someone gave one of these little buddies to me, they would automatically be granted BFF-status. (Was that a hint? Maybe.) I don't know how to crochet, but man, I want to learn now. It comes with color illustrations illustrating some of the directions (written out step-by-step). I was reading them to see how easy picking up crocheting would be. Without trying out the crafts myself, I can't say for 100% certain, but it seems like the instructions are pretty clear.

Looking at this adorable book cheered me right up. I think it would be a great gift for people who like to crochet and knit. I actually put DUMPLING CATS on the Goodreads "Kawaii Culture" list - a GR list about Japanese and Japanese-inspired "kawaii" books, ranging from cute bento to cute arts and crafts to adorable manga. If you're into Neko Atsume, amigurumi, or cats, you should definitely read this book (and check out some of the other titles on my list for further reading). It's fun and it's cute. Need I say more? <3

Thanks to the publisher/Netgalley for the review copy

3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat

This was a buddy read with my friends Heather (review here) and Sarah (review here).

C.S. Pacat does with CAPTIVE PRINCE what the bodice rippers of yore did with historical romance, the differences being that (1) this is a fantasy novel and not historical (and not really a romance) and (2) it is about two men. Apart from that, the structure is eerily similar to bodice rippers, from the plot to the role that the characters play to the way sex is used within the story. Damianos was prince of Akielos until his half-brother staged a coup and gave Damianos to the enemy country of Vere as a gift-slave for lolz. Damianos, now called Damen, finds himself the position of a sociopathic prince named Laurent who is busy fighting power struggles of his own with the Regent, his uncle. Vere is an utterly cutthroat court with courtiers stabbing each other in the back, and an utterly depraved view on relationships, with a society that appears to be structured almost entirely around rape: rape as punishment, rape as entertainment, rape as a means of showing power or getting what you want ... there is a lot of rape. Bertrice Small would totally write this story.

I like bodice rippers, so reading CAPTIVE PRINCE was kind of like a modern throwback to that style of writing. Pacat's writing is seriously #WritingGoals. Seriously, she writes in this really fancy and beautifully opulent way, and I even learned a new word ("marmoreal"). Which was good, because I felt like it lent a certain respect to the content; had this been written in a trashier way, I think I might have disliked the book more. It's pretty obvious from Damianos's reactions that he thinks that Vere is a messed-up place. I did balk at the pedophilia (underage preteen slaves and hints at someone being sexually molested) and the corporeal punishment and the mistreatment of animals (horses). These are things that I sometimes have difficulty reading about in fiction. But luckily, Pacat didn't go into too much detail. The rape scenes were very unpleasant, though - especially the gladiatorial rape games that the Veretians like to play, involving wrestling matches where the loser gets raped - but again, these seemed to speak more to the corruption of a society that is slowly falling into ruin as it's blinded by its own glittering bacchanalia, and not just writing shock horror for the sake of writing shock horror. At least in my opinion. I'm sure people will disagree. Some of my friends hated this book with a passion because of the things I mentioned, and I totally respect that.

What makes this book great - apart from the lovely writing - is Damianos. It's hard not to root for him. His bewilderment and fear and anger in the beginning are so poignant. And then, his determination to survive - even if it costs him his dignity and his honor. He's a very strong character with a strong sense of right and wrong. You want him to survive this nightmare court so he can go back to Akielos and kick his brother's butt. But survival is not easy - and that's where another thing I liked comes in: the court intrigue. Court intrigue is one of those things that automatically gets me interested in a book, and here it is done really well. I'm a sucker for scheming character, and the secondary characters are all total schemers, especially Nicaise and Ancel.

Laurent isn't really much of a love interest in this book. He's brutal and mean. He reminds me of the heroes in Rosemary Rogers, Marilyn Harris, and Patricia Hagan bodice rippers in the sense that he's virtually indistinguishable from the villains of the story, except for hints of vulnerability and a slight interest in the hero in this case that borders on outright disdain. He is incredibly cruel to Damen: whipping him almost death, drugging him and then entering him in the gladiatorial rape arena, forcing him to receive oral sex from another slave while a crowd of people watch. There's hints of why he is the way he is, cold and brutal and utterly repulsed by human contact, but that doesn't make it easy to stomach or at all excusable. I know he's the love interest because I've seen the spoilers and the fan art, so I can only hope that Laurent scales the mountains of heavens themselves in order to win Damen over once he gets it into his thick skull that he likes the man, because man, does he have a lot to atone for.

My edition also had a short story called THE TRAINING OF ERASMUS. I side-eyed the short story at first but decided to read it, and it was actually good. It's a prequel to CAPTIVE PRINCE about Erasmus and how he became a slave and then, after that, how he was brought to Vere. This also has an open-ended sort of ending that leaves it up to interpretation why he was removed from his royal duties. Was it cold-hearted scheming borne of jealousy? Or mercy cloaked in the guise of betrayal?

Overall, this was pretty good. Much better than I'd expected. I'm probably going to keep my copy because her writing is so amazing and I want to have it on reference as an example of how to string words together prettily. The content on the other hand is brutally dark and unless you are a fan of bodice rippers or are not particularly bothered by sexual violence, I would not recommend this to the faint of heart. Even if the book does not go into detail, it is still not an easy read.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars