Thursday, November 30, 2017

Under A Raging Moon: Part One by V.J. Chambers

People love to ask that question: what would you do if you had a billion dollars? The first thing I'd do is start a scholarship in my name and then probably donate money to the local schools. The second thing I'd do is spend way too much money on ebooks that I'm not going to read. I AM SO BAD AT READING THE BOOKS I ALREADY OWN - and yet, like a magpie, I'm constantly on the lookout for more lovely, shiny books to feather my nest.

UNDER A RAGING MOON is one of those books. I snagged it from the freebie section of the Kindle store, along with a selection of other works by this author. I'd liked most of what I'd read by V.J. Chambers, with one exception - although, with this particular book, there's a catch... it's a serial. Meaning only the first book is free. Subsequent installments in the series must be paid for. I have always sneered slightly at serials - it seems like the book equivalent of a "freemium" app.

I know what you're thinking. "Nenia, you got a book for free and you're going to complain about it?"


Piper is a private detective (who is also a werewolf) currently investigating this man (who is also a werewolf) whose girlfriend died. She had a necklace, which was a family heirloom with magical Werewolfy Powers and the parents of the dead girlfriend want it back. Also, it's worth mentioning that werewolf man's name is Kale, like the vegetable. KALE.

Her plan to get into his house to steal the necklace is to sabotage her own car, flaunt her assets (and breastets - old joke, I know), and then finagle an invitation to spend the night in his guestroom by playing the helpless girl. Only Kale - *snort* - seems determined to resist her.

Weirdly, she's also attracted to the repairman of the tow truck, who is NOT immune to her charms, and they almost end up doing it in the front seat of his car. There's this weirdly uncomfortable, predatory vibe at first that gave me horrific flashbacks to the ONE and only Alexa Riley book I read, which involved alternative forms of payment in exchange for services rendered, and suddenly I was like, "OH GOD, THIS IS GONNA TURN INTO SOME SORT OF WEIRD BREEDING EROTICA." Because I have been down that road, and it's a dark and scary road.

But no, this was not breeding erotica.

Honestly, for what it was, there were some pretty hot scenes in here. I also liked that it appears to be set in the same universe as her other werewolf series, Cole & Dana, because I really liked THE KILLING MOON - although the shortness of the book kind of just made me wish that I was reading that book instead. But hey, it's free, and it's inoffensive. How often can you say that of a book found in the freebie section? Word of warning, though: it ends on a major cliffhanger.


3 out of 5 stars

My Secret: A PostSecret Book by Frank Warren

The concept behind PostSecret is pretty cool. Mail in an anonymous, decorated postcard with your secret. Wait and see if it ends up on the website and rejoice in the fact that you have lessened your own burden, just a little bit.

I bought this book several years ago from a used bookstore for $1. I guess this particular version is intended for teenagers...maybe it's the way the postcards inside are written, maybe it's the bubble stickers in the back (mine still had most of them intact on the sheet, even after buying it used). When I bought this book I was only a little older than most of the people writing the cards, and I wasn't as happy with my lot in life as I am now. As I read through the postcard entries, I was astounded at how many people's secrets sounded like they could have just as easily been my own - or, if not my own, how unusual and interesting people can be behind the facades we wear for the world, and how reading something that is posted anonymously is somehow much more acceptable and less shocking than blurting it out during a conversation. I think many people are silenced by the constraints of social mores; we can't be honest because it's rude or weird, so we keep our secrets - big and small - to ourselves.

This book was published before things like the Whisper App, or the YouTube equivalent of the Burn Book from Mean Girls, "Story Time," became super popular. It shows in the photographs chosen - most of them look like they were taken with real film. Many are crafted, some elaborate, others scribbled sharpie on torn-out scraps of paper. They're all so different, and yet they form a cohesive whole. There's something beautifully symbolic about that, I think. The secrets themselves also cover a broad spectrum. Some made me laugh, like the clown who took the light-strewn xmas reindeer from his neighbor's lawn and made them "hump" and the person who anonymously mails people e.e. cummings poems. Others, like the person who felt responsible for their friend's drug overdose, or the many survivors of rape who felt like it was their fault or, worse, didn't feel like they felt at fault enough, were heartbreaking. There are contributions on all sorts of thorny topics, like suicide, depression, and sexuality. Some are hopeful, others despondent. There were a few that made my heart hurt and one or two that moved me to tears (the one about the grandmother made me so sad).

MY SECRET is a really amazing book. It made me think about myself in a different way, and also made me feel better about some of the things that were upsetting me at the time. Periodically, I'll dig it out of my "keepers" box and page through it, and each time I read it, different postcards resonate with me depending on how I'm feeling at the time. I think every high school library should have a copy of this - if only so that kids, no matter what or how they're feeling, know they're not alone.

5 out of 5 stars

The Kadin by Bertrice Small

I read this book for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2017 Reading Challenge. For more info about what this is, click here.

You know what I like best about Bertrice Small? Her work is like glorious, trashy fanfiction of historical characters, set in an AU of special specialness, where all "good people" are beautiful, unless they're female and not the heroine in which case they are "evil, conniving you-know-whats," and all ugly/fat people are slovenly villains. The descriptions of clothes and food last for pages; in my heart of hearts, I imagine Bertie and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro sitting down together for coffee, trading ideas of how to squeeze as much clothes porn into one's books as possible. #IShipIt

THE KADIN is set in the 16th century - so yes, history snobs, I realize that I'm using a Renaissance book for my Medieval challenge...and I do not CARE! Mua ha ha ha. Janet Leslie is a beautiful and feisty Scots girl who is supposed to marry a nobleman, but her Moorish slave betrays, and she ends up being sold to a slave trader who spirits her away to the Middle East. With her vibrant red hair, vibrant green eyes, and amazing bod, she fetches the price of 30,000 coins from a eunuch under the employ of Sultan Bajazet. It turns out that he's planning this great conspiracy to collect brides for Bajazet's younger son, Selim I, to put him on the throne instead of the two older brothers. The best way to do that is to have a stunning harem filled with viable wives; a sign of power.

I really liked the story of Zuleika, Farousi, and Cyra. I'm a huge fan of intrigue storylines, and the war that the women had against Besma, the evil mother-in-law, was fantastic. I read through these sections in fifty-page chunks and had a hard time putting the book down. I also liked how the focus of this story was on the friendship of the women - I've never encountered a Bertrice Small book with that theme before; she's usually all about that girl-on-girl hate. It's a unconventional love story, as any story would be where the heroines share one man, but I actually thought it was pretty well done (although, of course, Cyra/Janet has to be the favorite). Kind of like a Renaissance edition of Big Love. Honestly, the title of this book shouldn't be THE KADIN. It should be called THE FAVORITE, or THE SUE (as in, The Mary Sue), because whenever Janet/Cyra had the spotlight, she hogged and mugged it like a reality TV star wearing six inch platform heels and metric ton of bling, and saying, all sassy-like, "I didn't come here to make friends."

I've only read a handful of Small novels - this one is either my fourth or my fifth - but she has a definite theme: terrible sex scenes with all the euphemisms done in the purplest prose you can imagine; very young teenage heroines (the one in this novel was like fourteen or fifteen at the beginning); heroes who fluctuate between abusive and attentive; and That One Catty Witch character who is jealous of the heroine(s) and must destroy her At All Costs. The Catty Witch character is played out by three different women in this book, and Besma was the best. The evil daughter-in-law was pretty good too but by that point, it just felt like Besma Redux, like Small was trying to plump out the page count and was recycling the earlier plot thread. Anne was just lame, a pathetic Dickensian-order of witch-with-a-b and she had me rolling my eyes more than she had me screaming, "Bertie! Bertie! Bertie!" in a live-stage audience for a special taping of "My Sister-in-Law Thinks I'm Too Sexy for Sixty!" (seriously, was it really necessary to say - repeatedly - how even fifty-year-old Janet/Cyra looked like a teenager?)

The book falls apart in the last act, when Janet/Cyra returns to Scotland and encounters Anne of Green-with-Envy-Gables and the odious Colin Hay, love interest #2, who is such a CREEP. He takes her by force and then the next day they're cuddling. Um. Also, at one point, he tells her that she had better take her dress off because it "screams rape" - whatever that means. He also brags about how he killed one of his previous wives because he caught her cheating on him. Brags about it. Like it was his right. Oh, and just in case that weren't enough, King James also makes an appearance and takes advantage of her too, basically using the "it's not rape if you're a king" excuse, because nobody can say no to a king (*SIDE EYE*), but it's okay because he makes Janet/Cyra a countess as a reward. The book ends with the Battle of Solway Moss and that's where I started skimming, because I no longer cared about Countess Special and her Special Family. It's pretty boring to read about a woman who always gets her way and is admired wherever she goes. There's no conflict.

I highly doubt that this book is historically accurate, although it did inspire me to do some research while I was reading to get some background information, and some of the details did actually seem correct. For example, Selim I was known for killing many of his viziers, to the point that a popular curse at the time was allegedly "May you be a vizier to Sultan Selim" - something this book does mention. I always wonder if part of the problem can be chalked up to the research materials that were available at the time. The internet makes verifying information so much easier, and offers so many more tools; researchers in the old days had to venture into the stacks or delve into the microfiche, and it took so much more dedication. Based on my superficial research, I suspect that the character of Cyra/Janet was loosely based on an actual person: Hafsa Sultan. It makes sense, because Janet/Cyra is referred to as Hafise Sultan in the book. Hafsa Sultan was also probably a convert to Islam and not native to Turkey, according to the Wiki article and the linked sites used as reference, but unlike Janet/Cyra, Hafsa Sultan was not from Scotland or even Western Europe. She was (most likely) Circassian or Georgian. I guess maybe it was more "special" to have someone with unusual coloring as the heroine, as opposed to what Hafsa Sultan actually looked like. Also, Bertie Small seems to have had a thing for blonde/red-haired/fair protagonists. Whatever, it just seemed weird...

Overall, this was a pretty good story. If not for the last 25%, I would have given this a five on entertainment value. But that eye-glazing ending was so bad that I deducted a star and a half, and can't really give this book anything more than a 3.5. If I recall, ADORA - another book I really liked - had the same problem. There was more WTFery in the storyline, and more of the bad sex scenes that she was known for, but it was also marred by slow spots that had me skimming to the "good stuff." Like Stephen King, Bertrice Small appeared to have had difficulty knowing when to let her characters go and how to wrap things up with a nice and tidy bow and not, say, a tangle of shoelaces.

Still; if you're into tales of court intrigue and outlandish adventures, this book is a solid choice.

ETA: One thing I forgot to mention in my original posting of this review - THERE ARE SO MANY FREAKING TYPOS. Seriously, who ever typed this up from the paperback format to the ebook format did a really, really, really, really bad job. There were sentences missing periods, names changing (yasmak became "jasmak" and Hadji Bey became "Hadji Bay" and I'm pretty sure Bejazet became "Bajazet" a handful of times). There are self-published books that are edited better than this, many of them without the benefit of an editor. So what the heck happened here, HarperCollins?

Here are some of the book's greatest hits (emphasis mine):

Anne took another tact (383). (It should be "tack" - I looked it up to be sure. It's a common mistake people make, like "pass mustard" instead of "pass muster.")

Marie of Guise-Lorraine stared hared at Janet (439).

3.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, November 26, 2017

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

There's something so satisfying about finishing a long book, and NOS4A2 is no exception. At just over 700 pages, NOS4A2 drops you into a dark and scary world, where certain objects have powers that tie into the soul, and children disappear forever into a bright and terrifyingly cheerful place called Christmasland...

While reading, I kept thinking that this book reminded me of something and then it hit me, all at once - Stephen King's IT. Like the children of IT, we follow the heroine, Vic, from a young age. We see her first interaction with Charlie Manx and how she is barely able to escape him, but hurts him in the process. We follow her to adulthood and see how the experience shaped and hardened her, and how she struggles to prepare herself for the second dark showdown that she knows, deep down, she might not survive.

I think Joe Hill registered the similarity, too, because it seemed like some Easter Eggs were tossed in there for the fans. As a child, for example, Vic's bike has magical powers, and she chooses it over a Schwinn (the bike that Bill road in IT). Later on, when she has her magical motorcycle, she says HI-YO, SILVER, which was Stuttering Bill's rallying cry, whenever he road his own somewhat magical bike. I don't think this is a coincidence; I choose to believe that this book was Joe Hill paying homage to his dad's legacy.

That isn't to say that this book doesn't stand on its own. Between Christmasland, the Gasmask Man, The House of Sleep, and Charlie Manx, I didn't sleep all that well last night. In fact, I was pretty freaked out. Sometimes horror novels are too over-the-top ridiculous, but this book does a really good job of tapping into those subconscious fears that we all have (just like IT - sorry). It's also creative and original in a way that a lot of horror novels aren't - no werewolves or monsters in here, just a very creepy man and his very creepy henchman, and an army of terrifying little children.

Also, I loved the heroine, and if there was anything I took issue with, it was the fact that Joe Hill pulled a George R.R. Martin with her and basically tortured her every chance he got. So many bad things happened to Vic in this book, and I was hoping that her ending would be much happier than it was (ditto Maggie). There's just something about a tattooed artist with a magical motorcycle, y'know?

If you enjoy horror, and especially if you enjoyed IT, you should read NOS4A2. The graphic novel is pretty good, too. I received an ARC of it from Netgalley, and that was actually what got me interested in reading the book. The artist really does a great job bringing the book to life.

3.5 out of 5 stars

At the Argentinean Billionaire's Bidding by Tomomi Yamashita

This book was a bit of a disappointment, and is probably my least favorite of the HQ manga I've read. Tamsin is a member of the nobility, and the daughter of a man who owns a rugby team. When she was a teenager, she had a crush on the star rugby player but due to a misunderstanding following her declaration, her father kicked him off the team and he (the rugby player, Alejandro) never forgave her. Now she's a successful fashion designer and is charged with making the new team uniforms - and he is a businessman who works for the other team.

Usually, if the title of the romance novel could double as a short synopsis of the book, it means that you're probably going to be dealing with an uber alpha hero and this book is no exception. Alejandro is one of those really mean heroes who seems to delight in treating the heroine like garbage, all in the name of "revenge." It was over something so petty, too. Plus, he refers to the heroine as a "virgin flower" 3-4 times over the course of this book, and it's like, dude, stahp.

I thought Tamsin was an interesting heroine, but she wasn't really that well fleshed out. She wasn't irritating or anything, though. Just a dull, standard nice-girl prototype. Honestly, it's the story (lacking) and the hero (mean) where this book loses its stars. I'm sad that I didn't like the story more because the art is completely gorgeous, and utterly wasted on this lackluster effort.

I bought this for 99-cents, so I don't feel like I was ripped off, but I wouldn't pay any more than that for it. There are better HQ manga to start with and this, sadly, isn't one of them. I'll have to make a note to avoid any other India Grey adaptations; something about her stories just feels "off."

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Cuestión de Matrimonio de Kanako Uesugi

Muchos de mis amigos en Goodreads hablan, escritan, y leen múltiples idiomas. Tengo mucho respeto por estas personas porque muy es difícil para hacer esas cosas en un otra idioma que no es la lengua materna. Me ha inspirado a leer mas libros en Español; solía ​​hablar español bien, pero ahora me falto de uso.

Me gustan estos manga de Harlequin. Los combinan dos de mis cosas favoritas: manga y novelas de romance. La mayoría de ellos son adaptados de los novelas de "Harlequin Presents." CUESTION DE MATRIMONIO fue originamente una novela de Lindsay Armstrong publicado en 2001.

Aurora es una locutora de radio con una problema. Su padre vendió su hogar de la infancia a un profesor de universidad. Pero ella había escondido sus diarios en ese hogar, y los diarios tienen secretos que tienen el poder de arruinarla. Ella está decidida a recuperarlos, y un malentendido resulta en el profesor pensando que ella es una ladrona. Finalmente, el profesor - Luke - dice a ella que va a regresar los diarios... si tiene una cita con él.

Esta novela fue mi favorito de todos los manga que he leído. Aurora es una persona cómica y rara; ella tiene muchas reacciones exageradamentes, pero no me les molestaron. Fue una luchadora. Luke fue un carácter bueno también. No fue un "alphahole"; fue travieso y impertinente, pero no fue una persona mala. ¿Si eso tiene sentido?

Finalmente, me gustan las palabras de esta novela (aunque las tradujieron, me gustan las traducciones también). Pienso que declaraciones de amor son más apasionantes y bonitas en Español que Inglés. Yo quería enmarcar las frases como si fueran cuadros. Aprendí tantas palabras nuevas y me divertí mucho. Quiero comprar mas libros de Español. :-)

Ojalá que mi Español no sea malo. Me falta practicar (¡gracias a Dios por los diccionarios!).

3.5 a 4 de 5 estrellas

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Risky Business by Yoshiko Hanatsu

Did you know that Harlequin manga is a thing? I didn't either, until fairly recently. The premise seems to be, take vintage "Harlequin Presents" novels that everyone has forgotten about and then regurgitate them in traditional manga form. Laughable? Yes. Fun as all get-out? OH YES. I've been collecting them whenever they go on sale because they are the Crazy Romance Lady™ version of Pokemon Cards:


RISKY BUSINESS is pretty mediocre in terms of storyline, with the usual amount of suspend-your-disbelief ridiculousness (sorry, Tom Cruise does not make an appearance). Rachel and Jack had a steamy one night stand and then she vanished from his life. When he spots her one day, he impulsively chases her down - to her office(!) - and finds a picture of them together on her desk. As it turns out, she recently got hired as an architect in a "family friendly" firm and told them all that she was married - to Jack - to get the job.

Her coworkers think that Jack bursting into the office is a sign of a joyful reunion between husband and wife and not what it actually is: a psychotic clash between two compulsive liars. They get invited to go on a retreat together in the mountains, where Jack proceeds to taunt and humiliate her (not in a mean alphahole way, but still pretty rude). Rachel rebuffs him at every turn and is adamant that that one night shall not be repeated... despite her obvious attraction to him. As they continue to play out the charade, they learn a lot about each other, and about some of the truths behind the lies.

I thought this book was okay. If it was a story, I'd probably give it a 2, but I liked the art. This is not as nice or as detailed as some of the other Harlequin manga I have read - the best so far is probably Naomi Watanabe's WHISPER - and that often unadorned style, especially around the eyes - almost felt like something you would see on a higher-end shounen manga. You really have to suspend your disbelief a lot, but I liked the banter between the characters, and Jack - despite his slight stalkerishness in the beginning - is a pretty decent hero. There are even some steamy scenes in here for those of you who are into that sort of thing, wink wink, nudge nudge.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Puddle Jumping by Amber L. Johnson

You know those 90s makeover movies where the guy feels like he ought to have "first dibs" on the newly beautiful girl because he liked her when she was "ugly"? This book is basically a gender-flipped version of that, except it's between annoying brat of a heroine and a hero who has Asperger's, and she feels super possessive of him because she feels like she's the only person who treated him like he was "normal" before everyone else realized that he was just a normal, even cool guy too. You know what the problem with that is, though? You're assuming that you deserve gold stars for just treating people the way they want to be treated. And this 'heroine' right here? She wants all the gold stars.

PUDDLE JUMPING has a 4.22 average rating among my friends, so I was expecting to like it. I wasn't expecting to hate it, or have it fill me with disgust - which it did. First problem for me is that the writing style feels really amateurish and is super chatty, with tons of pointless asides from the narrator that add nothing to the plot. I was willing to roll with it in the beginning, because it's written from the POV of the 'heroine' as a child, but the problem continues - and worsens - over the course of the story. It's just bad writing.

Second problem, the treatment of the hero with Asperger's. The whole 'romance' is basically the heroine's big crusade to make the hero her big makeover project. Right away, she goes up to this other girl who's also dating a neurodivergent guy and starts asking for tips. She Googles Asperger's and is totally shocked that people with Asperger's are people, too. She gets a big stick up her bum when the hero gets a job and skips out on prom (not somewhere someone with Asperger's might want to go) to work at his new job, which he loves, and gives him a big lecture about how she is just as important as his job, and then gets his mom on his case to make sure he follows up on all their subsequent dates. At the end of the book, the hero gets an amazing opportunity to pursue his dreams abroad, and the heroine storms out of his party without congratulating him, because she had his future planned out for him and this goes against her plans. She felt like she should have been consulted first, and wants to make him stay. His mom actually has to come over and explain to this 'heroine' what a great job she did with her son, and butter her up to make her cool with it.

The constant tone of superiority and condescension hanging over this book like a cloud really put me off. At first, I wondered if I was maybe being too harsh on this book, so I kept reading, and the more I read, the less I liked. By the time I got to the end, I couldn't brush aside my qualms anymore. It had this galling "savior" tone to it, like the heroine was making it her personal mission to "humanize" the neurodivergent and it was her own personal discovery, and she expected all the awards for it. I went to look at the negative reviews for this book once I had finished and saw, to my relief, that I was not alone. Some people used the word "fetishization" and I think that's the word that was escaping me: Colton's hotness was basically used as an excuse to make him worth pursuing, in spite of what made him different, and the entire journey was one-sided and written entirely from a privileged, ableist perspective about how brave people are who bother befriending those who are different.

Thirdly, I really didn't like the slut-shaming and the way sexuality is treated in this book. It's a short book, and yet the 'heroine' is constantly making jabs at her friend, Harper. Oh, and this girl who gets chlamydia from a tanning bed is called "Chlam-face" - by the heroine, no less. Is the heroine innocent and pure? Of course. She's so innocent and pure that she's too afraid to get birth control from her parents, so she has a friend steal her some from a clinic. #InnocentAndPureFTW

For better romance novels about neurodiversity, I'd suggest K.J. Charles's AN UNSEEN ATTRACTION, and Jennifer Ashley's THE MADNESS OF LORD IAN MACKENZIE. Both are historical fiction, unfortunately, since I don't read too many contemporary romances, but I thought both did a fairly good job with this - although I will be honest that THE MADNESS (as the title might suggest) comes across as dated and shares many of the same issues as PUDDLE JUMPING.

This was a pretty terrible book. I took a nap before reviewing it so I wouldn't sound *too* cranky, but it still made me pretty irritated (as you can probably tell, haha). I wouldn't recommend it.

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars

Mud Vein by Tarryn Fisher

 I read this book for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2017 Reading Challenge. For more info about what this is, click here.

I put off reading this author for the longest time because her books were often spoken of in the same breaths as other authors whose works I couldn't stand. I assumed that they were all the same, and I am kicking myself right now, because MUD VEIN was kind of awesome and I could have gotten a head start on her books years ago.

MUD VEIN is not a traditional romance. It's dark and unpleasant, with a nonlinear story line. It actually reminds me of another book I read recently called THE GHOSTWRITER, in the sense that this damaged woman shrouded in mystery is the narrator of the tale, and it's all about her journey and her tragic love story as she tries to come to terms with herself and learn how to be human again.

Senna, the heroine of MUD VEIN, wakes up one day in a house surrounded by snow, penned in by an electric fence, and supplied with enough food to last a couple months. Also trapped with her is a doctor, named Isaac. The house is filled with clues that allude to a past that she'd rather forget, and secrets that she's never told to anyone...except for Isaac. Who captured them? And how do they get free? The answers to both questions are interlinked in a surprising way.

The story is chopped up into three seconds and it looks like my friends who DNF'd this (there were a surprising amount!) decided to do so in the second part. Which I get. The second part is where it starts to get slow and really depressing. I actually liked the minutiae, though, because it was the part of the story where we get to really know Senna as a person and a lot of the clues behind her imprisonment begin to fall into place. The first part is definitely the best, though - the gradual reveals are paced perfectly evenly, and have this "Netflix Original" vibe.

So why not five stars? That slow middle section. It was sloooow. I didn't mind reading it, but it didn't keep me locked in the way the first part of the story did. I also wasn't keen on the last chapter of the book - not because it was depressing, but because one of the twists didn't really make sense and wasn't foreshadowed sufficiently or explained particularly well. I was left feeling confused, and I don't think it was because I didn't understand what was going on; I think it was bad storytelling.

Still; this was a darn good book and I read it in a single day. One of my friends recommended this author to me because she said that her stories reminded her of my stories, and I guess that means dark and twisty - which I can totally get on board with. I love dark and twisty when it's done well, and this was done very well. I have a whole bunch of this author's other books on my Kindle and can't wait to start them, because the writing in MUD VEIN has left me feeling incredibly optimistic (although the story itself did not - yeesh).

4 out of 5 stars

Take the Lead by Alexis Daria

This is one of those books that has received a lot of advanced praise - Sarah MacLean called it one of the best romance novels of 2017 - and yet, there's hardly any reviews for it on Goodreads. What the heck, my readers? What the heck?


TAKE THE LEAD is a good book for many reasons. It's set on a Dancing with the Stars-type reality TV show. Gina is a Puerto Rican dancer who has dreamed of and prepared for "making it" her whole life. When she's paired with the wilderness survivalist star from another reality TV show, she's skeptical - until she meets Stone, and finds that beneath that strong and silent lumbersexual exterior is a good-hearted man who is determined to see this dance competition to the bitter end.

I'm a sucker for "showmance" storylines. I think it's the modern-day equivalent of the arranged marriage plots in fantasy and historical romance, which I also love. I think it hearkens to an earlier view of love, based on shared experiences and friendship, where sex comes later. TAKE THE LEAD is definitely romance of a slow-burn variety, even though both characters have instant attraction for one another. Gina doesn't want to get involved, though, and even though that's what they all say, her reasons are totally reasonable and serve as commentary on the sexist lens through which female celebrities are viewed, as well as the stereotypes of Latin American women in media.

But there was something I liked even better than the romance and the Latinx rep - and that was the freaking reality TV setting. It felt very realistic. I loved seeing the characters in the goldfish bowl, and how they dealt with that stress. I loved the descriptions of the dance costumes and the dances. I actually set the book aside - well, OK, I closed my eReader application - and went to YouTube to look up the paso doble dance after it was described in this book and holy so-you-think-you-can-dance, Batman! I don't have a graceful bone in my body, but after finishing this book I had half a mind to sign up for dance lessons at one of the local studios.

So you're probably asking yourself, "If it's so great, why only four stars, Nenia?" There's a Big Misunderstanding plot that creates some additional drama in the last act. It wasn't badly done, but I felt like it was unnecessary and made Gina look like an irrational person. And while I get that we're all irrational people who sometimes behave like jerks, it was still annoying. Also, the beginning was a bit slow, and it took me a while to warm up to the characters, and fall in love with them. (Although I did - by the end of the novel, I was totally ready to smoosh their faces and be all, NOW KISS!)

TAKE THE LEAD is one of the few romances of this year that actually lived up to the hype. It has great characters, awesome chemistry, a creative and fun setting, and an awesome cover. I'm super psyched for the sequel, which stars Gina's biffle, Natasha. Just sent that shiz to me by priority mail, ASAP. Kthxbai. But seriously, if you're a fan of authors like Alyssa Cole and Courtney Milan, you will love this book!

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

4 out of 5 stars

Friday, November 24, 2017

Dirty Bad Wrong by Jade West

Sometimes you read a book so awful that you almost need a new rating system to express how bad it really is. DIRTY BAD WRONG, which should be called DIRTY BAD GROSS, falls under that category. It reads like FIFTY SHADES OF GREY fanfic, like someone read E.L. James's book and thought to herself, "Hmm, this is pretty messed up - but I could write something even more messed up!" If you think I'm kidding, there's even a FSoG reference in here, as if the author herself was like, "Didn't you get it? Didn't you get my clever joke??"



Amazon pulls a lot of my erotica reviews for being too "racy" so let's see if I can swallow some of my rage and keep this G-rated.


Lydia works at a software company and is sad because she just found out her boyfriend cheated on her and possibly got another woman pregnant. She ends up falling hard for her boss, James, the CTO of her software company. But James has secrets, too - by night, he goes to this erotic club where he tortures women sexually under the name "Masque." Also, he gets off on making people cry and wants to lick their tears when he sees them.

The problems start pretty early on with some of the grossest sex scenes I have ever read. If you are curious, you can check out my Goodreads status updates for direct quotes, but they involve words like "squelched" and "sluprs"  and "thwacky." Oh - and my personal favorite, "a hungry baby with teeth" and, "filthy brown lips" to refer to something that isn't a mouth. Guess what it is. GUESS.

The problems continue when James and Lydia want to get together. James and his friend are gleeful over the fact that Lydia used to self-harm, because apparently to them, cutting = a sign of enjoying pain in bed. Which, no - and also, the fact that NEITHER of them expresses any real concern over this is incredibly disturbing to me, since a real Dom would either a) be reluctant or b) be hyper-vigilant about initiating a relationship INVOLVING PAIN AND HARM with someone who used to do that to themselves. But not James. James is just like, "Ka-ching." (Insert swearing here.)

But Lydia is also a jerk. When talking to James's friend, Bex - the same friend who gleefully reported to James about Lydia's self-harm, I might add - she tells Bex that she wants to get with Masque. Bex (who knows Masque's real identity), tells her that if she wants to get with Masque, she must first seduce James. Lydia makes a joke about date rape and asks if Bex has any roofies. Bex finds this so amusing and tells Lydia that she won't need them. What. The. (Insert swearing here.)

Masque is into some pretty non-standard stuff, and while I didn't find this "offensive" as the author warns in her little author's note on Goodreads, I did side-eye it a little, because that author's note does not really prepare you for women getting whacked (sorry, I mean "thwacked") on their hoohahs with metal rulers and the enthusiastic pee-drinking that happens in the last act of the book, all with some of the most unfortunate phrasing and disgusting metaphors possible. Are we all being trolled? Maybe. All I know is, I thought this book was DIRTY BAD STUPID, and I'll be giving the rest of her books a hard pass.

1 out of 5 stars

Shorecliff by Marilyn Ross

🎃 Read for the Unapologetic Romance Readers Halloween 2017 Reading Challenge for the category of: a romance set in/near a haunted house 🎃

I finished my Halloween Reading Challenge! FINALLY!

SHORECLIFF is a strange little book. The cover is deceiving, because that old skool gown and misty castle would have you thinking that this is a wallpaper Victorian about some governess who might be in love with a murderer, etc. But no. SHORECLIFF is set in the 1960s (Twiggy is mentioned).

Anita and Charles inherit a crumbly old mansion when one of his relatives kicks it, much to the dismay of some of his other relations, including his cousin and foster sister, Pat. One of the clauses of the will states that Pat gets to continue to live with them, even though the house and the bulk of the fortune goes to them.

Once there, Charles gets the idea to write a book about his ancestress, Amanda Shore, who, according to legend, murdered her husband and then went to France, where she had a beauty treatment that coated her entire face in enamel. This part was confusing to me, because the words the author used made it sound like the enamel was injected into her face, but I suspect that - since this would have been happening in the 1860s (100 years ago, from "today", i.e. the 1960s, according to the cover) - the enamel treatment was actually referring to lead enamel, the popular makeup of the day.

Anyway, Charles starts acting weird and Anita starts seeing what looks like the ghost of Amanda looming around the house. Charles accuses her of sabotage. Anita accuses him of being in love with Amanda and Pat, by turns, and claims that Amanda is coming to get her revenge, etc. Their marriage suffers. There's a psychic who appears and makes ominous comments that for some reason most people seem to take seriously. More stuff happens, then there's a Scooby-Doo style unmasking.

I read this book while drinking wine, and went through two glasses over the course of this book. Wine did not improve the logic of this storyline or the characters' actions (although it actually was a lovely compliment to that dry, sweet, "old book smell"). I see that this author also wrote some novelizations of the vampire soap, Dark Shadows, which helps explain the expositional dialogue and unnecessary melodrama. It was pretty bad. Still, it was not the worst gothic novel I have read - that dubious honor goes to MISTRESS OF THE MOOR. #IRegretNothing

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars

The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa

🎃 Read for the Unapologetic Romance Readers Halloween 2017 Reading Challenge for the category of: a post-apocalyptic romance 🎃

Far too often, YA novels lauded for their 'strong female characters' have me throwing the book across the room in frustration and asking, loudly and rhetorically, "IN WHAT UNIVERSE?"


Allison Sekemoto is a human living in a city ruled by vampires. A wall separates them from zombies ("rabids") roaming just outside the city limits. There are two kinds of humans in Allie's world: those that go willingly as feudal slaves and get fed in exchange for the tithes of their blood, and those who live off the grid, forced to scavenge in the ruins of civilization for food, shelter, and comfort. Allie was a member of the latter group, until a terrible accident results in her near-death, and she's forced to become what she hates in order to survive.

It's difficult to say too much more without spoiling anything, and this is a book that really should be read knowing as little as possible. In a way, it's a lot like ANGELFALL, in the sense that it's a post-apocalyptic world filled with paranormal characters, and a butt-kicking Asian girl who wields a sword. I actually like THE IMMORTAL RULES a lot better, though, as Allie is far more likable, the world-building is much more consistent, and the love interests - Ezekiel and, I suspect, Kanin - are much nicer, and more interesting, than the angel dude was in ANGELFALL.

I really can't wait to read the next book (which I own- what would I do if I didn't? Cry, probably). I'm really, really trying hard to be rational and explain my love for this book without spoiling the story or screaming nonsensically in all caps, and it's SO HARD, oh my god. The heroes and villains were handled with equal care, and the world was convincingly grim. I read this pretty much in a single sitting, putting it down only to eat, drink, and occasionally rest my eyes. This is such a good story and if you're a fan of dystopian novels like THE HUNGER GAMES or vampires, you should read this.

5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Rock Star by Jackie Collins

I read this book for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2017 Reading Challenge. For more info about what this is, click here.

I needed to read a "rock star" romance for this romance reading challenge I'm doing, and I figured what better way of accomplishing that than to revisit the first vintage novel I ever read? Jackie Collins's ROCK STAR. You know you're getting into something good from the very moment you crack open the cover and see the author's full cover 80s glamor shot, looking like the world's greatest bad-ass with teased hair and a denim jean jacket. RIP, Jackie Collins.

I read ROCK STAR for the first time almost ten years ago and it holds up pretty well. This book is an epic that is nearly 500 pages long that takes place mostly in the late 70s, early 80s. It is about three rock stars. There's Rafaella, who is a quarter black, a quarter French, a quarter English, a quarter American, and an amazing lounge singer. Born to wealth, she suffered many tragedies, including the death of her father, and rose to fame after having her heart broken for the second time. There's Bobby Mondella, a black soul singer, who started out life overweight and impoverished and later became a best-seller and international sex symbol, only to lose his sight in a terrible accident. Lastly, there's Kris Phoenix, the ultimate stereotype of the 80s rocker, cast in the mold of Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen. He sleeps around, and talks like a Valley Girl, but he's 100% all about that rock life.

The thing that these three stars have in common is a creepy European dude named Marcus Citroen and his wife, Nova Citroen. Both of them are 100% about that creep life, and have invested mind, body, and soul into these stars for their own personal means. Now, in 1987, all of them are about to come together in a final showdown at the Citroens's benefit concern. Only, things are about to be explosive, because there's this random group of criminals planning a heist to end all heists, too.

ROCK STAR is so over-the-top, so 80s, that it's absolutely amazing. It's the ultimate sleazy adventure. Everyone wears too much makeup. Everyone does cocaine. Everyone's a shallow jerk. The characters play musical beds. The word 'b*tched' is used as an actual dialogue tag. Even the written-out phonetic accents and racial stereotypes are done so unapologetically that it's almost not offensive. Almost. Is this book dated? Oh, God yes. The only thing more dated would be a guy wearing silver parachute pants and a mullet, dancing around in the street with a giant boombox to "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel while his Chrysler idles in the street. On the other hand, it's pure fun, and written just smartly enough that you won't be filled with morning-after regret the next day.


3 out of 5 stars

Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine

🎃 Read for the Unapologetic Romance Readers Halloween 2017 Reading Challenge for the category of: a steampunk romance 🎃

I was wary about picking this one up because two reviewers I almost always agree with, Heather and Khanh, both gave this a pretty negative review. Also, it's steampunk and YA - two genres I often have issues with. Paired together? It seemed like too much. But THEN I found out that this was a Phantom of the Opera retelling and I was like, "Dude, I love that shiz."

But did I really love that shiz? After all, I think we all remember what happened when I tried to read ROSEBLOOD.

OF METAL AND WISHES has a pretty cool concept. It's set in this industrial universe, chopped up into districts that serve out various functions. Wen, the main character, is the daughter of the doctor/surgeon who works inside a slaughterhouse.

The workers are a different race than Wen's people, called "the Noor" and are dehumanized, called animals and barbarians by the people in the more prestigious roles. But Wen quickly finds sympathy with them because one of them, Melik, is hawt. He's not the "phantom," though. That role belongs to a mysterious figure called "Ghost" who haunts the slaughterhouse, answering the wishes of those who leave offerings at his shrine. Ghost allegedly died in a factory accident years ago, and while some laugh off those claims, mysterious things happen in the factory. Dangerous things. Deadly things.

I'm still laughing about The Phantom of the Slaughterhouse. I'm trying to decide if that's better or worse than The Phantom of the Rave. Probably worse, because neon lights and strobes can be pretty freaky, but it's hard to take a phantom seriously when he's trying to push his way through a bunch of swinging meat carcasses while still trying to look intimidating (note: this did not actually happen, but oh man, it would have been hilarious if it did - like Adam Levine in Animals).

OF METAL AND WISHES tries to tackle racism and rape culture but it fails at both because of some really bad mixed messages. Wen has all kinds of bad things to say about women who sell their bodies, and the men who take them up on that offer, but from her position of privilege it comes off as incredibly insensitive. Especially when she is put into that position later, multiple times (virtually all the men in this book are creeps). She holds herself to a different standard because she is "pure": as if being virginal somehow makes you less deserving of abuse and sexual harassment, which is an absolutely terrible mindset to have.

The racism, likewise, also feels very awkward. Wen comes across as very superior and sanctimonious, and when she feels betrayed by Melik, she's quick to resort to her old, racist beliefs as a means of channeling her rage. Which is realistic in a sense - people often show their true, racist colors when they're angry. But it just seemed to underscore the fact that Wen saw Melik - and the Noor - as being beneath her, and I never really got a sense that she had changed much as a person, even at the end of the book. She was still selfish and awful and judgemental.

Perhaps that could have been forgivable if the story had been better, but it wasn't. The pacing was very slow. The world-building was original, and reminded me of the grim, caste-segregated steampunk stories that Paolo Bacigalupi is well-known for, but Sarah Fine did not flesh out the world enough, and it felt more like a backdrop than a well-developed world. What a shame that was, because a dark and dangerous factory and creepy mechanical spiders could have served as the setting for a modern day Jungle, a la Sinclair Lewis. But this ended up feeling like yet another cliche, wallpaper YA forbidden love story masquerading as a dystopian.

1.5 out of 5 stars

Devil's Mistress by Heather Graham

🎃 Read for the Unapologetic Romance Readers Halloween 2017 Reading Challenge for the category of: a romance novel with a witch 🎃

I needed a romance about witches for a Halloween reading challenge, and I figured a historical romance novel about the Salem witch trials was close enough. Because we all know that the whole point of these challenges is to skirt the rules as closely as possible, right?


The premise of this book sounded fantastic. And at first, it was. Brianna's aunt, Pegeen, is burned as a witch in King James's Scotland by a fanatical witchfinder named Matthews who is so twisted up about his sexual urges that he's decided attractive woman = witch.

When Brianna comes running up in horror, only to catch the tail-end of her aunt's murder, Matthews is struck by her beauty. And naturally, anything that makes his naughty bits feel funny must be using the foulest magics indeed, so Brianna is also declared a witch, and he and his men chase her all the way to the docks. Brianna ducks into an inn, where she encounters Sloan, our hero. He figures she's the prostitute he ordered and Brianna, fearing for her life, rolls with it. When Sloan later figures out the truth, he feels responsible for her, and decides to protect her. The two of them flee, with Matthew in pursuit, and Sloan declared witch-by-association. The chase is on.

There's definitely a Frollo/Esmeralda dynamic between Matthews and Brianna that feels super creepy. Matthews was a great villain, and I think it was a huuuuuge mistake to kill him off in the first quarter of the book, because everything after that feels like filler - especially since the h and the H have sex pretty early on in the book, and the will they/won't they? tension that keeps most romance readers (aka, "me") turning the pages is absent, since it's clear they are both super into each other. That's when Graham whips out her trump card: the hero is married to another woman and has been this whole time, which is why the h and the H can't get married. But it's not really cheating because she's a madwoman in an attic. Brianna just got JANE EYRE'D!

Brianna, meanwhile, leaves Scotland for New England - because it's totally safe there. No witch-related executions in Salem or anything. *rolls eyes* So she and her kid live with her cousin, Robert (or Rupert?) (who she married after she found out about the OW). The kid is Sloan's. Witch fever hits Massachusetts. The people featured in The Crucible are mentioned, which was a nice little Easter Egg, but the Puritan witchfinders are super lame compared to the sinister figure that was Matthews. Rupert/Robert gets accused of being a witch and kindly dies off in the last act, freeing Brianna to be with Sloan. They rediscover their carnal passions and the book ends with a happily ever after.

I wanted to like this book so badly but it was so boring that I ended up skimming the last 100 pages because I could feel time draining away with each page. The ingredients for a good story were here, but they were never fulfilled. Matthews was such an excellent villain, and he really was not permitted to go full-on crazypants by the author the way a 1970s bodice ripper-type novel would have. I also couldn't stand Brianna, who is not only TSTL, she's also foot-stompy and averse to following even the most simplest instructions (especially if they are for her own good/will save her life). It's hard to like a heroine who has two emotional settings: horny and outraged. JUST TWO. Sloan wasn't much better. He was kind of a jerk. Not really an alphahole. Just a bland, unlikable "dear john" type.

I kept hoping Matthews would return as a zombie in the third act, but that didn't happen.

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Little Book of Feminist Saints by Julia Pierpont

Wow! This has been a fantastic month for feminist reads for me. I read about five times more than normal and all of them, with one glaring exception, have been excellent. THE LITTLE BOOK OF FEMINIST SAINTS is a fun little book packing a surprising amount of feminists and strong/progressive women. Each woman gets her own mini section, with an abbreviated bio presented vignette-style, and, of course, a stylized portrait.

THE LITTLE BOOK OF FEMINIST SAINTS is actually a very similar concept to this other book I literally just read called DEAD FEMINISTS: HISTORIC HEROINES IN LIVING COLOR. Like LITTLE BOOK, DEAD FEMINIST also features a number of women, divided into sections, with mini bios and stylized art. The art style and presentation are different but there is a lot of overlap - Frida Kahlo, Virginia Woolf, Rachel Carson, Shirley Chisholm, and Sappho to name a few.

THE LITTLE BOOK OF FEMINIST SAINTS features many more women, however. Some of my favorites were Venus and Serena Williams, Anne Frank, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Michelle Obama, Oprah, and Hillary Clinton (obviously). I learned about a few new women, too, like the artist Yayoi Kusama (her aesthetic is amazing and now I'm dying to see one of her exhibits, because it is so insta-worthy) and the performer and French resistance agent, Josephine Baker.

This is a great book with some unexpected additions. Perfect for the modern feminist's coffee table.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

You're Not That Great: (but neither is anyone else) by Elan Gale

I snagged a copy of this ARC because the title made me laugh and I loved the paradox of the snappy, sarcastic title against the baby pink cover. "Mean" can sometimes be funny, as evidenced by the movie Mean Girls, and sometimes we all need a reality check. I was expecting something tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic, witty. Your best-frenemy-for-ever as she channels her inner-Dorothy Parker while sipping on mimosas at your favorite cafe.

Instead I got... something else.

First, I understand why people are not totally on board with "positivity." It gets a bum-rap in the media, and its advocates are portrayed as irresponsible hippies or culturally appropriating phonies with no drive, who spend all their time smoking pot or meditating. This is NOT an accurate representation, however, and while this book appears to have been created to take cheap shots at self-help books like The Secret, and pop psychology books like Flow, it operates on the assumption that "happy" people are delusional people who aren't grounded in reality.

YOU'RE NOT THAT GREAT is bitter and misanthropic. It encourages unhappiness, seems to suggest that you should wallow in it, and angst, hate, despise, sulk, and seethe freely. There were some passages I agreed with - the part about accepting the anxiety of your future and using that anxiety to propel yourself into action when it comes to accomplishing as much as you can before your own inevitable demise, for example. Death is uncomfortable but it happens to us all, and in a way, it's the driving force behind creativity and insight, because if we lived forever, we might all just become a bunch of dull, indolent vampires passing the days away in an endless malaise.

The part about the author's mother getting cancer and her recovery was also quite touching, and portrayed - bitingly real - insights about the pain of recovery and how much of it relies on luck as much as fortitude, and how difficult it is to be brave in suffering. Although that was the point of no return for me as well - when I realized that I wasn't getting Dorothy Parker so much as Ernest Hemingway.

And you know, I get it. I used to side-eye happy people too. I thought they were a bunch of fake, cultish people eating up their own lies like it was the most delicious thing they had ever tasted. And to some extent, Elan Gale has a point: being mindlessly, foolishly happy isn't a good way to live your life. That was one of the cautionary aspects of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World; unhappiness keeps society from stagnating; it can trigger change; it keeps pleasure from becoming a dull, drugged haze. But true positivity isn't about that - it's about learning to accept yourself, flaws and all, minimizing stress, and embarking upon the endless, and yes, sometimes futile, struggle of self-betterment.

I couldn't really get on board with this book. But maybe darker souls than I will find it funny.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

1 out of 5 stars

Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color by Chandler O'Leary

DEAD FEMINISTS combines three of my favorite things - art, history, and feminism. This creative effort uses the art of the letterpress to create gorgeous, vintage-inspired broadsides featuring literal and also figurative portraits of the women contained herein. Sometimes, books about famous feminist figures start to look an awful lot like trivia night at the local bar: you see the same faces, over and over again, and it gets old, fast. Not DEAD FEMINISTS, though! They have a pretty broad interpretation of what makes a feminist, and took care to include a number of women of color, including the former queen of Hawaii and Sadako of the 1,000 paper cranes.

I'd give this a four-star rating for the art work alone. I was at a museum recently that featured a collection of vintage protest and activist posters, and the broadsides of these artists reminded me of that style. They alter each poster so it incorporates symbols of each respective woman's culture, zeitgeist, and ideals, to great effect. All the posters were beautiful and except for one or two that I wasn't really keen on, I'd want copies of each for myself.

Here's a pic I snapped of a vintage poster. The style is reminiscent of what you can expect to see here:

Luckily for me, the explanations of the style choices and the brief biographies of the women were just as engaging. It's so clear that a lot of work was poured into this little book, and it really pays off! Plus, after each project, the authors contributed to a charity that was specific to each woman's cause, that they thought she would appreciate. How cool is that? (Uber.)

Definitely a must for artists and feminists alike!

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Killer Fashion: Poisonous Petticoats, Strangulating Scarves, and Other Deadly Garments Throughout History by Jennifer Wright

Your clothes... are trying to murder you.

Now that I've gotten your attention - no, seriously, your clothes really are trying to murder you, and they've got a rap-sheet about a mile long.

KILLER FASHION is about deadly garments - and also deadly cosmetics, deadly wigs, deadly hair dye... it takes the word "garments" and stretches it a little far. But anyway, KILLER FASHION is about things you can wear (but probably shouldn't) that are actually deadly, or...err, potentially deadly?

Some of these things are obviously bad, like the mercury that used to be in the felt of hats, which is why hatters were called "mad hatters." Or the lead that used to be in makeup. Or the ammonia and bleach(!) concoction that Jean Harlow allegedly used to get her signature platinum blonde look.

Others are... kind of lame. Like, bras - because the underwire can cause you to be shocked by lightning (seriously?). Or heels - because you might trip and fall. Or neck-ties... because some psychopath might grab you by your tie and strangle you with it. In those instances, I wouldn't say it's the clothing that's deadly - it's the weather, the carelessness, and the innate psychotic behavior in certain human beings that are contributing to one's demise.

Also, these "killer" fashion objects are arranged in alphabetical order, but certain letters are skipped. That felt lazy to me (almost as lazy as writing about deadly lightning conducting bras, hmm?). I noticed you skipped Q - you could have done qipao, which has a spot of dark history during the Qing dynasty. There was also no "P", I believe, and you could have totally done "piercings" for that, which can be incredibly dangerous if done poorly, especially if done near arteries as in the tongue. Likewise, skinny jeans (I can't remember if there was a "J") cause nerve damage if worn too tightly. This is just off the top of my head, people.

I wanted to like KILLER FASHION more than I did, but it felt like a forced and half-assed effort. The poetry in here made the book feel young (how old is the intended audience for this book?), and the collection of "deadly" clothing assembled could have been, well, deadlier. I learned some new facts, which I'm always grateful for, but this collection really fell short of my expectations.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Monday, November 20, 2017

Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate by Sue Scheff

When I was in high school, I was bullied online by several students I went to school with. It was in the early 2000s, when the internet was still a vast wilderness, and many people could say that they didn't "use the Internet" and not be given a look, like, "What, why not? What are you trying to hide?" These students said pretty much every awful kind of thing you can say to someone - vague threats, specific threats, encouragement to commit suicide, transphobic insults, homophobic insults, ad hominem attacks, slurs. They said things the types of things that go viral today, and would result in a suspension - at least. But my school simply shrugged its shoulders and said it was online, there was nothing they could do. The students got away with it.

For years.

SHAME NATION talks about many incidences of bad behavior online. Some occurred on a large scale, some on a small scale. Some involve famous people, others people who could be your next-door neighbor. The types of behavior are pretty broad in scope - trolling, abusive memes, online stalking, extortion, revenge porn, online harassment, etc. Scheff discusses the subjects in detail, with tips on reputation management, how to be safe online, how to recognize and deal with online harassment when it happens to you, and the various forms it can take. Sometimes books like these can be preachy or laughably out of date, but SHAME NATION was neither. If anything, Scheff shows just how "gray" the internet is when it comes to the mob mentality of vigilante justice/injustice, and how quickly witch hunts can develop.

Speaking as someone who has experience with this firsthand, a lot of this really hit home. I never fully understood why the students who picked on me went after me the way they did. Probably because I was a weird, insecure kid and an easy target, and it was a way of compensating for their own feelings of teenage weirdness and inadequacy. That's something SHAME NATION talks a lot about - how many trolls are often harboring deep, internal conflicts of their own, and trolling is an easy outlet to subvert some of that distress in a sadistic, but cathartic release. Obviously, I came out of it all right, but for many years, I had trouble trusting people. I blew off many people who wanted to befriend me and be nice to me because I assumed that their overtures of kindness were "traps."

Overall, I think this is a really useful book. I wish they taught this stuff in schools. The parts especially about maintaining your online reputation and not posting offensive or mean things, racy or controversial photos, and leaving a positive digital footprint. With digital technology becoming more and more integrated into our every day lives, it's more important than ever to be mindful about online behavior - especially since many colleges and potential employers are looking at these things to see what people are up to. The parts about bullying and standing up to bullying are also valuable, and I thought the case studies added that personal touch to show how real people (and not just statistics) are affected by that decision to click "post" or "upload."

I did have a feel qualms about some of the advice listed in here - I'm wondering if one of the authors is a marketer, because sometimes the tips for reputation management (linking to your personal blog on news article comments, for example) seemed a bit too promotional. I also don't think it's a good idea to always call people out by name, since some people enjoy the attention, and also, more broadly speaking, because one violation of privacy does not always cancel out another, and leading witch hunts against trolls just creates a culture of witch hunts - and does anyone really want that?

If there's a takeaway message here, I think it's that online harassment often feels insignificant to the perpetrator and to onlookers, because they are many steps removed from that hate, and also separated from it by a screen. But to the victim of the harassment, it feels immediate, real - in some ways, worse, because I think for many people (at least for me) their online persona is really the core of who they are, when they are freed from the confines of their social hierarchy, and so those attacks can sometimes be even more painful, even more personal, even more devastating. I see a lot of trolls protesting the deletion of their attacks as a suppression of freedom of speech, but bullying and harassment don't fall under freedom of speech because it's basically a form of assault or an incite to riot, and your first amendment rights (or the equivalent of them in your country) do not grant you the right to hurt people or commit acts of violence against people, physical, emotional, or psychological.

And really, how much do you lose out of your day by taking a few seconds to rethink your words before posting and thinking about the consequences of your actions and who might be hurt by your words? Those few seconds might have saved me years of misery; they might save someone else's life.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

4 out of 5 stars

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Pretty Stolen Dolls by Ker Dukey

🎃 Read for the Unapologetic Romance Readers Halloween 2017 Reading Challenge for the category of: a romance involving murder 🎃

This is one of those books that tries to be many things and ends up failing at all of them, simultaneously. Part police procedural, part dark erotica, PRETTY STOLEN DOLLS aspires to be CAPTIVE IN THE DARK and KISS THE GIRLS, but it's got too much romance to be a straight up thriller and it's too disturbing to be a romance. Also, all of you saying that "Benny" is hot... umm, wtf. It never ceases to amaze me how much creepiness people are willing to tolerate from "heroes"/love interests as long as they have abs...

Jade was kidnapped when she was a young teenager by this doll-making serial killer named "Benny." Benny kept her and her sister in cells, along with other girls, which he liked to dress and put makeup on. Jade was the only one he never dressed up. He kept her naked, and filthy, in a cell, where he repeatedly subjected her to sexual assault. During these moments, his abs are sometimes mentioned, and we get to hear about how attractive he is. The first time it happened, it seemed to come out of nowhere! Ugh.

Eight years later, Jade is a cop and - through some incredible and gross oversight on the part of her superiors - is handling the Benny case while looking for her sister. Too bad she has zero sense and by her own admission is using confirmation bias to treat every missing persons case as a possible link to Benny. She's so determined that she'll ignore direct orders from above and even resort to a bit of vigilante justice, because what's abusing the justice system if it means absolving your personal demons? The stupid was strong in this one. I literally couldn't suspend my disbelief at all. Pretty sure that if you have a personal stake in a police case, you're not supposed to be anywhere near it.

"Benny" is pretty creepy and elements of the relationship between him and Jade is done pretty well. Her PTSD is evident, and permeates her waking and dreaming hours, especially when she's getting intimate with someone else. The problem is that I didn't understand the need for Jade to have not one, but two romantic partners (Bo and Dillon). Neither of them were very interesting and the sex scenes were gross (not gross as in disturbing, but gross as in badly written). Do we really need to know how "big" Dillon is - multiple times? Dillon also struck me as an insensitive mackerel. He pursues a relationship with his colleague with very aggressive sexual overtures that border (or probably are) workplace harassment despite knowing that she's damaged. That's not cool, dude.

I did think that a lot of the disturbing stuff in here was done for shock horror. It felt pointless, just thrown in there for lolz, and reminded me of some of those pulp horror novels from the 70s where it become a gore-off between authors to see who could write the most sex-packed, f'd up material. When I looked up the second author on this book, K. Webster, some of the over-the-top-ness made sense. Apparently she's notorious for those kinds of literary stunts. I've never heard of Ker Dukey before this book, so I don't know what her writing is like when it's removed from Webster's, but yeah, the last act of the book really escalates, and it's not really foreshadowed at all - so be forewarned.

Also - that cliffhanger ends mid-scene, so if you're sticking with this book, as I did, expecting some sort of resolution, brace yourself for disappointment. This is a blatant "TBC..."-type ending that cuts off abruptly right as Benny and Jade are about to meet once more. I guess I was hoping to see Jade get some sort of closure after seeing bad stuff happen to her for almost 200+ pages.


I can't recommend this book. It isn't very good and I've read other books in this genre (THE COLLECTOR, THE BUTTERFLY COLLECTOR, THE KILLING MOON, SKIN AND BLOND) that were so much better. Give this one a miss and read any of those instead.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

Devil's Cub by Georgegtte Heyer

🎃 Read for the Unapologetic Romance Readers Halloween 2017 Reading Challenge for the category of: a romance written by an author who is dead 🎃

There might not be any sex in Georgette Heyer regency romances, but man that woman can pack more drama into these puppies than Julia Quinn at her most malicious. DEVIL'S CUB is downright soap opera-ish in terms of scope and characterization.

The plot is basically this - hold onto your bonnets: Dominic/Dominique (for some reason his name is spelled two different ways here) is a marquis and a rake and a wastrel who has resolved not to marry, instead flitting about with mistresses until he tires of them. His current prospect is a girl named Sophia Challoner. Her mother, foolishly, encourages the affair, thinking that she can use her daughter's pending disgrace as a means of trapping the marquis into marriage. Sophia is more than willing to let Dominique use her. Her sister, Mary, is the only one who thinks this is stupid.


One day, Dominique accidentally sends his plans for elopement to the wrong sister (he's forced to flee the country after mortally wounding a man in a duel). Wanting to save her sister, Mary goes in Sophia's place. At first he plans to use her as well, even making a threat of rape, but Mary shoots him with a gun. For some reason, this makes them get on fairly well and Mary even confesses (privately, in her head) to loving him shortly after....!?

At the same time, there's a character named Frederick Comyn who is in love with a girl named Julianna. They're supposed to be married as well, but Julianna thinks he's too stuffy (she's Dominique's cousin) and constantly provokes him to spark a light under his seat. Instead, she ends up offending him and rather than admitting wrong, loftily declares that being with Comyn would be marrying beneath her, anyway. Comyn ends up making a marriage proposal of convenience to Mary instead, seeing as how Dominique and his proposal to Mary have upset her (?!).

Obviously, there's a happy ending but it's a rough road getting there.

Why? Because all of the characters in this book, with very few exceptions, are odious AF.

Sophia, Mary's sister, is absolutely awful and takes an unpleasant amount of glee at the thought of bad things happening to Mary, even though Mary was attempting to save her honor. She throws tantrums, cries, and insults everyone around her, when she's not acting like a vain little slip. I really could not stand her, and thought it was odd that the book ended with her just dropping out of the plot.

Mrs. Challoner, Mary and Sophia's mother, is also awful, so keen to push Sophia into the arms of the marquis despite his reputation. She's also not very nice to Mary, calling her plan and declaring that she will be impossible to wed (which is rather Mary Sue-ish since Mary receives 2 marriage proposals and is constantly getting praise for being well-spoken and pretty).

Leonie, Dominque's mother, is utterly dismissive of her son's behavior and when she finds out that he may have abducted a girl, immediately blames the victim and makes light of the situation, basically saying, "Well, it's not like he tied her down and raped her." When people call her on her son's behavior, she insults them or their children. She's a truly awful woman. I hated her.

Julianna, Dominique's cousin, is just as spoiled as Sophia. I couldn't stand her for how she treated Comyn, who is the only other character I truly liked apart from Mary. She wants him to be forceful with him so she tries to provoke him into anger to make him "man up." I'm sorry, but that's borderline emotionally abusive, in my opinion; this is exactly how cycles of abuse are perpetuated. (And, disturbingly, several characters say how Julianna could use a beating to correct her behavior.)

Dominique/Dominic the hero was also not really a favorite character of mine. He had the potential to be a good antihero but at the last minute, Heyer pulls the punch and decides to make him fall head-over-heels for Mary (?), offering her anything she wants and basically going around acting like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. Too many romance authors want to have their cake and eat it too when it comes to alpha heroes, and it usually doesn't work. It doesn't work here.

I'm giving this book 3 stars because the story was interesting and the dialogue was witty, and Mary was a pretty good heroine (she gave as good as she got, and her properness was quite amusing). If you're new to Georgette Heyer, though, don't start with this one. She has much better books in her bibliography.

3 out of 5 stars

#MeToo: Essays About How and Why This Happened, What It Means and How to Make Sure it Never Happens Again by Lori Perkins

The #MeToo movement started originally in 2006 but really gained steam this last year, following the allegations of sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein from a number of women. Women all over the world took to social media websites to share their stories, or simply show solidarity, with the hashtag, #MeToo.

I have a #MeToo story. I was seventeen years old and walking home from school. A bunch of men in a car followed me, shouting lewd things (I've forgotten most of them, but one of the most salient was "How much do you cost?"). I was so terrified that they were going to get out of the car and grab me that I began planning several courses of action on how to either run or fight back, all the while staring straight ahead and trying to give no sign that this was bothering me, even though I was blushing and near tears. Eventually the men went away, bored, and I went home, and cried. It was 95-degrees and I was wearing a long skirt and a tank top. I never wore either ever again.

#METOO is a collection of essays written by a variety of contributors. Most are written by women, but there are a few men contributing too, and a few of the writers are also LGBT. Most of the essays are #MeToo stories about the writers' own experiences with sexual harassment, assault, or rape. Some of the essays analyze the toxic cultures that propagate misogyny and abuse. Some analyze the psychology of the abuser. Some discuss potential solutions. One of my favorite essays, written by one of the male authors, is about how important it is for men not to co-opt the movement with secondhand outrage ("this is somebody's daughter!") or the expectation of brownie points ("I would never do this!"). He is properly scornful of such attitudes. I adored him for it.

It's not really possible to say that I enjoyed these essays, because these essays were not written with "entertainment" in mind, and that is certainly not the mindset one should be in while reading them. Some of the stories just about broke my heart. I was able to sympathize with many of the essay writers, and could appreciate many of their points. I'm giving this three stars because, as with any anthology, the collection was uneven. Some of the essays were really short - less than a page - and didn't really have enough room for compelling arguments. One of the essays was sloppily written and felt rushed (it was also the only one with a typo). One of the essays by the male authors was filled with mixed messages and quickly got on my nerves. I didn't hate any of these essays but there were more than a few that I didn't really care for.

The important thing is that this collection of essays represents a fairly broad spectrum of experiences and opinions, despite being less than 100 pages long. Even if you don't like all the essays in here, what didn't work for you might be the balm that somebody else needs, the tale that makes them sit up and realize, "This happened to me, too. I'm not alone."

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity by Jennifer Weiss-Wolf

I'm side-eying the heck out of this book right now because it was a special kind of fail. First, I'm reviewing this as a feminist, and whenever I read a political book, I try to approach it with an open mind - regardless of whether it's being written from a perspective I agree with or not. In this case, I did agree with the basic premise: menstruation should not be a charged or taboo subject. It happens to 50% of the population, it really sucks for the people who experience it, let's talk about it and find ways to make the existing products for it less environmentally harmful and also suck less - especially for low-income individuals and women in other countries who don't have access to the hygienic supplies that they need at all. Totally down with that. How can you disagree?

So the fact that I agreed with this book and still didn't like it says something. What does it say? The author - in my opinion - did not write a very good book. I'd say 85% of the problem was tone. It's super ironic that she quotes Andi Zeisler's WE WERE FEMINISTS, which is a condemnation of people who commandeer the feminist movement to promote their own personal agenda, because Weiss-Wolf toots her own horn in PERIODS GONE PUBLIC a lot. We get to hear about all the projects she participates in - and yes, that's wonderful. But also not what I wanted to read about. And the way she talks about it is a bit difficult to explain, but to me it felt a little smarmy. Especially when she refers to low-income individuals as "the poor." It came across as sounding very privileged to me, which made reading this book unpleasant.

I was hoping for something more science-based/philosophical/historical, but PERIODS GONE PUBLIC is more of a collection of anecdotes and trivia. The sections about low-income individuals experiencing periods and women in developing countries experiencing periods was interesting, but Weiss-Wolf wrests control of those narratives and they feel like they're being written from a decidedly egocentric perspective. Weiss-Wolf particularly seems to like pop culture, and lists some of the celebrities she admires and credits with furthering the feminist movement. These individuals include Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Schumer, and Rupi Kaur. When I read this passage, things became clear. I thought to myself, "Ah, she's a Tumblr feminist." I call them Tumblr Feminists, but really, they're social media feminists generally, who seem to support a feminism that's bite-sized, neatly labeled, and superficially pleasing brand of feminism. It's the shiny, attractive feminism that celebrities love to embrace: sexual pride, body positivity, free pads for everyone!  I feel that this applies to Weiss-Wolf, and while these things are important, there are far more pressing issues.

Now, to Weiss-Wolf's credit, she does cover some of these less savory issues and she has good taste in books (love Zeisler, love Steinhem - Rupi Kaur? Not so much - ugh, Tumblr poetry). I also like that she took the time to write about periods from a trans perspective, and how we look at menstruation frequently from a straight, cis-gendered perspective (periods = child-bearing, heteronormative experience) . It actually made me think of this video I watched on YouTube, a how-to video for trans women who wanted to create artificial periods with cornstarch and food dye so they could experience that aspect of womanhood, too. I've read a lot of articles and watched a lot of YouTube videos about periods (BuzzFeed has really tapped that well dry - I noticed they had an article about periods today, even), and a lot of what they have said was covered here by Weiss-Wolf, so maybe that was another problem - I'm burned out on periods.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

2 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Slow Burn by V.J. Chambers

🎃 Read for the Unapologetic Romance Readers Halloween 2017 Reading Challenge for the category of: a romance where one of the characters is a murderer 🎃

Oy, this is disappointing. I really enjoyed Chambers's other two books, KILLING MOON and SKIN AND BLOND. Both were in genres that I'm generally highly skeptical about and the author managed to win me over with dark, tight plotting and stellar characterization. Even though I'm generally leery about assassin romances, I thought for sure that SLOW BURN couldn't be anything but good in V.J. Chambers's hands.

I was wrong.

For the first 1/3 of the book, I thought this would be good. It has the hallmarks of her other book - damaged men and broken women who don't really "fix" each other (in fact, you could argue that they even make one another worse), but their love persists despite or because of everything, resulting in train wreck drama that makes it hard to look away. SLOW BURN actually reads like a prototype of SKIN AND BLOND, which also featured a promiscuous heroine and an asexual (or, I guess, demisexual in this case) hero with serious emotional problems. Unfortunately for this book, SKIN AND BLOND is the better book and I read that one first.

Here's what I think the author was going for: something like Anne Stuart's Ice series, only with a sci-fi bent. Because the heroine, Leigh, nearly died in a car accident (too much cocaine and alcohol). Her father, who works for a super secret organization, stole a serum that not only heals but also results in increased strength and regenerative abilities. He gave it to his daughter, and she lived; but now that super secret organization is after Leigh. She hides in plain sight, going to college, and taking her father's calls once a month or so on a disposable cell phone. Only, one day he doesn't call, and a man named Griffin shows up in her life claiming that he's been inoculated with the same serum and that her father has hired him to protect her.

It's an interesting premise, even if it is a bit cheesy in an 80s action hero way. My problems stem primarily from the execution. Leigh is an idiot. I like how drug addiction and sex addiction are portrayed in this book but oh my god, it was so much better in SKIN AND BLOND, where you could tell the heroine was competent even though her life was slowly being torn apart. Here, Leigh lacks all sense. This is a girl who is told "lie low" and immediately throws a party and starts snorting cocaine. Not just once, but multiple times. I get that addiction isn't convenient and I understand why the author did it, but it was really frustrating to read - I don't like TSTL heroines, and it would have been easier to stomach if there was something to her character other than the fact that she was beautiful and unashamed of her sexuality and used that to "cure" the demisexual hero.

That's another thing I took issue with in this book: sexuality. This was present in SKIN AND BLOND, but to a much lesser extent. The "asexual" hero keeps referring to himself as broken. In this case, it's a result of sexual abuse, but I don't really like asexuality being compared to a disability: in psychologically healthy human beings, it isn't. Since Griffin was a victim of abuse, it's natural that he wouldn't want sexual contact but that's not really asexuality, that's PTSD. The hero in SKIN AND BLOND referred to himself as broken too, but in that book, it was clear that he was a true asexual (but not aromantic) and just felt frustrated at not being able to live up to the sexually active, heteronormative standards set by society, and that his "brokenness" was an expression of that sentiment. Here, it felt muddled and weird. There's also a strange line from the heroine about the movie, Boys Don't Cry, in which she refers to the trans hero of that movie as a "girl dressing up as a boy." Which, again, I'd like to give the author the benefit of the doubt here, and assume that this is her way of showing the heroine's ignorance (she was, very), but it came off as sounding very misinformed.

Lastly, the pacing. The story just felt way too jumbled and uneven. The sci-fi element ended up making this book really cheesy, and not in a good way. There was too much emphasis placed on the sex, and it detracted from the action sequences. The "grand reveals" felt cliche. It really upset me because SKIN AND BLOND, in comparison, was tight and perfectly paced, with great reveals, excellent sexual tension, and a really smart and flawed heroine, who I didn't always like but always secretly rooted for.

One of the things I like best about Chambers is that she allows her heroines to make mistakes. There are too many books out there that demand perfection from their heroines: they must be beautiful, pure, and good, held to completely different standards than the hero, from whom we're far more quick to forgive much greater flaws. Chambers, like Gillian Flynn, has a penchant for flawed heroines who often do the unforgivable while somehow managing to appear human and even relatable. She just needs to tighten her pacing and omit some of the weird, unnecessary asides from her books in the cutting room.

2 to 2.5 stars