Sunday, February 25, 2018

After the Night by Linda Howard

πŸ’™ I read this for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2018 Reading Challenge, for the category of: Enemies to Lovers. For more info on this challenge, click here. πŸ’™

I haven't posted a #StealthRead review in forever, and I'm absolutely thrilled that the honor goes to AFTER THE NIGHT - a book I've been wanting to read for years and lived up to all of my trashy expectations. One of my friends' one-star reviews for this book was actually the impetus for getting me to buy this. She said the hero was an obsessive creep who was lusting after the heroine when she was still basically a child. "That's f***ed up," I said to myself, while counting out dollar bills from my Kate Spade wallet. "I'll take it!"

AFTER THE NIGHT is definitely f***ed up. It takes place in Louisiana. Faith Devlin and her family are the local "trash," living in a shack at the grace of the Rouillard family because Renee Devlin is the go-to bedwarmer for Guy Rouillard, the richest man in town. One day, Renee and Guy abscond, and the oldest son Gray, in a fit of pique, evicts the rest of the Devlin from the shack, having the cops throw all their possessions in the street while threatening to torch the place. Meanwhile, fourteen-year-old Faith is scrambling around in a transparent nightie and all the cops and Gray are ogling the hell out of her and going DAT ASS.

It's super disturbing. I hated Gray for that. What a disgusting pig. I wanted to read more.

Cut to 10+ years later and Faith ("RED HEADS HAVE NO FUN") Hardy, nee Devlin, has made something of herself, and strolls back into her hometown to rub her designer clothes and professional career into all of the people who called her "trash." On the one hand, you go girl. But on the other hand, there's also a lot of "the rest of my family might be trashy hoes, but I'm not! Praise me for living up to the puritanical standards society sets for women!" and that's a no go, girl. Don't judge.

Meanwhile, Gray ("THEY HAVEN'T BUILT A CONDOM BIG ENOUGH") Rouillard is managing all of his family's affairs and has taken over his father's position as richest man in town. When he's not pooping $100 bills out of his muscular, ex-quarterback rear-end, he's protecting his delicate mother and sister from anything indecent. I swear to God, Monica and Noelle are so stereotypical that I have expected one of them to fall into a swoon while muttering something about "the vapors."

Gray plans on running Faith out of town yet again, but the little Gray (or not-so-little-Gray, IYKWIM) in his pants has different ideas, and let's just say that HORSES aren't the only thing that Gray rides without a saddle in this book, IYKWIM. Come on, guys. My eye is getting sore from all this winking. CAVEMAN SEX. Gray is literally so alpha that it hurts, and the sex scenes are alternately hot as hell and weird AF, with lines like "Anglo-Saxon sex words"and "jackhammering". "Anglo-Saxon sex words" is especially hilarious to me because last year I buddy-read a vampire romance with my friend Heather, also from the 90s, called FOREVER AND THE NIGHT, which involved the phrase "pleading, in stark Anglo-Saxon terms." Maybe this is a thing.


God this was fun. The writing was pretty bad, but the story was like an HBO miniseries. Soap opera drama, brutish alpha males, archaic gender stereotypes, rough sex, and a murder "mystery" that was maybe one level above Scooby Doo in terms of overall execution and sophistication. I loved every second of it. If you enjoy the romps of vintage romance WTFery, definitely pick up this book.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Ponyville Confidential: The History and Culture of My Little Pony, 1981-2016 by Sherilyn Connelly

I am a true 90s kid, and let me tell you, that as a girl who loved girly things, it was a great time to be alive. I watched Sailor Moon, Sky Dancers, Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders, Care Bears, and of course, My Little Pony Tales. I was particularly obsessed with MLP and as a little girl, I probably had about 50 of the pony dolls, including some from the apparently much-loathed G2 release (am I the only one who actually liked the taller G2 ponies?). When I saw that a book about the history of MLP was on Netgalley, I was super excited and signed up for it immediately, because, I mean, obviously. MY CHILDHOOD!

First, I have to say that the subtitle of this book is a bit misleading, as the majority of this book focuses on the author's own self-admitted favorite part of the franchise: specifically, Friendship Is Magic and Equestria Girls. I personally felt like she dumped on the poor G1 ponies/franchise a lot as being cheesy and inferior to her own preferred incarnation of the series, and it sounded to me like she hadn't actually watched many (if any) of the My Little Pony Tales episodes and maybe just the movie? I've seen the movie, and I will agree that the movie itself was not great, but the TV episodes actually hold up pretty well. I recently rewatched Bright Lights, which was always my favorite episode of the series (it was a two parter) - and man, it's just as creepy now!

I had mixed feelings about the focus on Friendship Is Magic. I've watched a couple episodes and I've read several of the graphic novels. I loved the graphic novels and thought the writing was smart and witty for the most part (there was only one comic out of about five that I didn't like). I also think the TV show has good writing, and in many ways it reminds me of the TV show Arthur: both create complicated characters with human-like motivations that kids can relate to, where characters are allowed to act selfishly or occasionally do bad things without actually being branded "bad" people (or ponies or aardvarks, w/e). It's also become such an integral part of pop culture in the way that the first 3 generations didn't, with wide cross-over appeal (see bronies). So, I get it. I actually own a very small collection of G4 ponies. They're really cute, and one of the better "reboot" efforts I've seen.

The biggest setback of this book is her inability to separate herself from her obvious favoritism of Friendship Is Magic and, specifically, Rarity. If you don't like Rarity, buckle up, because this author is only going to mention how Rarity is the best pony 2342323 times. She also seems to have an ill-concealed disdain for people who identify as Bronies and Pegasisters, and makes sure to say that she identifies as neither. In the chapter of the book that focuses on Bronies, she portrays them all as toxic, backwards, misogynistic people, and in particular spends a lot of time about the Derpy controversy. There was also some really weird discourse about the Equestria Girls dolls, and how they are TOTALLY different from the Monster High Girls dolls (and no, they really aren't all that different). She tries to argue that they look friendlier and their clothes aren't as slutty or something like that. I was also side-eying her for saying that the Equestria Girls aren't super skinny because HAVE YOU SEEN THOSE EPISODES? Their arms look like little noodles. And I have absolutely zero hate for skinny women, but if you are going to talk about body positivity, OF COURSE I'm going to look at you funny for championing a TV series about a bunch of Betty Spaghetti lookalikes.

The best argument in this story for me is that girls' TV shows should not be branded as stupid solely because they are TV shows for girls. A lot of the TV shows I watched as a kid still hold up, and have surprisingly good writing - especially Care Bears, Sailor Moon, and My Little Pony. I think a good comparison - and one the author mentions in the book - is the hate that women got for reading TWILIGHT just because it was something that appealed to women and didn't even bother attempting to cater towards men (and, infuriatingly for some I'm sure, succeeded wildly despite their lack of patronage). In a way, kids' TV shows (specifically girls' TV shows) and women's romance novels face many of the same problems: people are determined to deligitimize them simply because of who the target audience is, and men and boys who like these things are mocked and bullied. It really is a perfect example of where gender equality has failed right under our very noses. If both genders were truly equal, there would be no sense of shame for liking something branded for women and girls.

P.S. I'm trying to remember who my favorite MLPs were from the original. I'm pretty sure I liked Lickety-Split and Wind Whistler. Out of the new ones, Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy are my faves.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice

πŸ’™ I read this for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2018 Reading Challenge, for the category of: Fairytale Retelling Romance. For more info on this challenge, click here. πŸ’™

When I was a preteen, I was out with my mom having brunch or something, and I remember these two ladies sitting nearby trying reaaaalllly hard to speak quietly, so all I could really make out was "Pssst....did you hear about...psst-psst...Anne Rice...psst-psst...erotica...pssst-psst-psst...sleeping beauty...pssst...bondage." Then they noticed that I was there and doing whatever the middle school kid equivalent of a dog staring at you with one ear lifted is, and started talking about something way less interesting.

My adolescent trash senses were tingling, but this was before the internet was really an every day thing, so I put that convo on ice and years later, as an older teen on Goodreads casually looking up erotica books to read, I thought to myself, "Hmmm, I wonder what those two secretive ladies were talking about? I'M GONNA SEE IF I CAN FIND IT."

Moral of the story: erotica is NSFB (not safe for brunch).

Also moral of the story: probably not best to discuss such things in front of little pitchers with big ears and semi-eidetic memories (not that they could possibly know that - but hey, if you ladies happen to be following me now, please consider this review personally dedicated to you, mwah)


Tl;dr review

"You get a spanking! You get a spanking! You get a spanking! EVERYONE GETS A SPANKING!" 

(I tried to find a funny spanking gif to put her but when I looked at Tumblr and typed in spank, everything was all porn - so no gifs for you today, sorry.)

I'm not even going to try to pretend that Amazon is going to let me get away with this posting this review to their site, so this is going to be one of those (rare) instances where I'm not going to self-censor. I'm sure somebody has managed to come up with a PG-rated review of this book, and I'm equally sure that review doesn't mention the people staked out in the gardens with sugar syrup smeared on their genitals and insects biting their flesh as "punishment," or the people being literally pushed around on the floor by their masters by giant butt-dildos on sticks. These are crucial bits of info that I feel the public should know prior to purchase.

I'm also not a sadist. The concept of sadism in and of itself frankly repulses me a little. I get that some people are into that, and if you find someone who would like to do that stuff with you and there's consent and that's your jam, then whatever, but I find it totally off-putting and do not enjoy reading about it. Especially when there is NOT consent. And not only is there sadism in this book, none of it is consenting. So that's doubly not fun for me.

The premise of this book is really strange. Only the first chapter really follows the fairytale. The prince finds Sleeping Beauty, rapes her, and then announces to her family that he's taking her as Tribute. Apparently his kingdom is notorious for this: they get attractive princes and princesses from other kingdoms to keep as slaves as "tithes." Which begs the question: why is everyone going along with this? They seem so busy investing their treasury in things like gold ben-wa balls, bejeweled fisting gloves, and silver paddles that I can't see them investing in things like a militia, so what's to stop one of those neighboring kingdoms from being all, "Hey, no, you know what? Fuck this, I see your paddle and raise you eight hundred gentlemen on horseback armed with rifles and cannons."

Beauty is subjected to multiple humiliations: paraded about naked, where she's molested by total strangers, raped again by the prince, spanked, spanked, spanked, and yes, spanked some more, paraded about in front of all the courtiers (naked) while bound and being humiliated and spanked and also yes groped and molested some more, then she's taken outdoors and given pony shoes and spanked up and down the gardens, then she's foisted off to the prince's mother to be sexually assaulted and spanked some more, and on top of this she's fed wine and food on the floor like a dog and is only allowed to dress and undress people with her mouth, and at the very end of the book she finally gets to sleep with the one guy she actually likes - a fellow slave - and the book ends with his recollections of his punishments which include, but are not limited to, being anally raped with a whip, having numerous ben-wa balls shoved up his butt which he is then instructed to poop out, being thrown in rotting garbage while being molested, groped, etc, and oh, yes, constant spankings and rape. (FYI: Breasts are spanked, butts are spanked, dicks are spanked, vaginas are spanked, et al.)

This really is the poor man's Marquis de Sade, because as much as I freaking hate de Sade, he did it first (or at least, most famously) and he shocked the hell out of everyone. Anne Rice tries to do the same, but it's mostly just gross and depressing and sad. Beauty spends most of the book in tears, and the people around her just bully her so ruthlessly, telling her that she deserves her punishments, but also that she'll be punished when she doesn't deserve it because they enjoy punishment, threatening her constantly but then praising her beauty and saying how good she is - this book shouldn't be called THE CLAIMING OF SLEEPING BEAUTY, no; it should be called THE GASLIGHTING OF SLEEPING BEAUTY. The entire book is literally all of these fucked up people telling her that they are making her better, that they are helping her, that they are giving her what she deserves.

If it were me, I'd be like, BITCH. GIVE ME THAT PADDLE. I'M GOING TO BEAT YOUR HEAD WITH IT. (But then, if I were a character in this book, I'd totally be one of those people saying, "Um, yeah, they're so busy doing all that crazy stuff right now, maybe we should bring in our military to free those people they are CLEARLY keeping as prisoners of war and not humanely, either!")

Given that I read bodice rippers, I know some people are going to be surprised at the low rating. I should note that I don't usually have issues reading about rape or dub/non-con in romance, as long as it isn't romanticized or gaslighting the audience into thinking this is normal/acceptable behavior. In this instance, it really bothered me because I felt like the rapes in this book were being roped off with the rest of "that BDSM stuff" as typical kinky nonsense, and no, real kink is all about consent.

The writing isn't so great, either. The word "little" is used every other page, it feels like, and the descriptions of sex themselves are kind of nauseating.

Beauty's breath became uneven, and she felt the moisture between her legs as though a grape had been squeezed there (146).

Leon's quick, graceful fingers had probed her navel, then smoothed into it a paste in which he set a glittering brooch, a fine jewel surrounded by pearls. Beauty had gasped. She felt as if someone were pressing her there, trying to enter her, as if her navel had become a vagina (117).

...with his left hand felt the soft hairy little pelt between Beauty's legs... (17)

...he suckled her breasts almost idly as though taking little drinks from them (17)

Now that I think about it, KUSHIEL'S DART and CAPTIVE PRINCE both had very similar premises to this book (fantasy kingdoms whose courts/culture revolve around BDSM-like goings-on), to the point where I can't help but feel that they were probably indirectly inspired by THE CLAIMING at the very least. The difference is that both those books actually made an attempt at world-building and character-building, and there was some court intrigue beyond "OH NO! TWO PEOPLE WANT TO SPANK ME TONIGHT - WHO WILL GET TO WIELD THE PADDLE?" I actually liked CAPTIVE PRINCE.

Somebody with the ebook version seriously needs to do a word count of how many times "little" was used in this book. I feel like it was probably 100+ times, it was so noticeable.

I can't believe there are 3 more books in this series.

1 out of 5 stars

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Dark Fires by Rosemary Rogers

πŸ’™ I read this for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2018 Reading Challenge, for the category of: Bodice Ripper. For more info on this challenge, click here. πŸ’™

After doing the first book, SWEET SAVAGE LOVE, as a buddy read extravaganza, with Heather and Korey, Korey joined me for a read of the sequel, DARK FIRES. And can I just say that Rosemary Rogers is swiftly becoming one of my favorite bodice ripper authors? Every subgenre has its own reigning queen, and RR is Queen of the Bodice Rippers the way V.C. Andrews was queen of smutty teen fiction.

That said, this is my least favorite book of hers so far.

SWEET SAVAGE LOVE was almost a five star read for me. I loved the nonstop action, the love-hate relationship between the hero and heroine, the lush descriptions of the American West, and of course, Steve Morgan, who could so, so easily be the cover model for one of those pulpy men's adventure magazines that were popular in the mid 20th century. With his cheating, murderous, rapey ways, he is basically the absolute opposite of what I like in romance heroes, but he just oozes raw masculinity. He may be Satan incarnate but I was picturing him as Scott Eastwood.

(Dear Hollywood: if you ever make this series into a TV show/movie, please cast Scott Eastwood.)

The sequel starts out with nauseating marital bliss, but since this is Steve and Ginny we're talking about, it goes from Good Housekeeping to Apocalypse Now pretty quickly, and it starts to feel like Rosemary Rogers is trying to out-WTF herself in the prequel with a plot that involves the following incidents: rape, duels to the death, opium addiction, blackmail, whipping, torture, carpetbagging, typhus-induced amnesia, cheating, more cheating, still more cheating, wtf still more cheating, public affairs, sadists, secret pregnancies, and scalping. Because Rosemary Rogers has a big vocabulary, but "overkill" doesn't appear to be one of them.

My favorite scene was probably the sword fight duel, because I am trash, and occasionally raw displays of masculine douchery work for me. (Especially in puffy shirts whilst aboard pirate ships.) However, I felt pretty frustrated for most of the book because the hero and heroine are separated for huge portions of it and Steve spends it with like 5+ women who aren't Ginny (and I really, really don't like infidelity in romances, especially not wanton infidelity where the hero has no "off" button). Ginny also lost a lot of her spitfire nature that made her so easy to root for in the first book. I guess maybe it was PTSD after all the horrors she endured in the last act, but still: it made me really sad.

I'm kind of curious where the book is going to go from here. These two are pretty much the last people in the world who should be parents, so obviously, that means the sequels should be interesting.

3 out of 5 stars

Friday, February 16, 2018

Midnight Hunter by Brianna Hale

πŸ’™ I read this for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2018 Reading Challenge, for the category of: Villain Gets the Girl. For more info on this challenge, click here. πŸ’™ 

I just read this amazing book called THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR, which I've been trying to get all my friends to read. It's this amazing historical epic that takes place in Nazi Germany, which also has a love story in it - it's one of the darkest books I've ever read, but the characterization was so good, the narrative so taut, that I know it's going to be one of those books that stays with me for years. That also meant the Queen of All Book Slumps once I'd finished it. Suddenly, the other books I'd been reading lost their shiny appeal. "What would I read next?"

Then I saw some of my friends talking about MIDNIGHT HUNTER. Set roughly 20 years after the Nazis were defeated in WWII, it takes place during the Cold War, in East Germany, when the German Democratic Republic built the wall between East and West Berlins and East Germany was governed by the Stasi, or the ruthless state police.

I read this with my friend Vellini, who is amazing because she loves dark romances as much as I do, so the last couple times when I've suggested a BR, she's always been there. When she gave it five stars, I knew it was going to be good, because she so rarely disappoints me. And MIDNIGHT HUNTER is an amazing book. It's like the sequel to THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR that I didn't even know I needed, with many of the same themes of power, corruption, and love.

Evony is planning to escape from East Berlin with her father and some friends when their escape is halted by the fearsome MitternachtsjΓ€ger (Midnight Hunter), Reinhardt Volker, a Stasi officer of high rank who is notorious for always getting his quarry. After shooting one of her friends in the street, he takes her to his apartment as his "prize," where he grooms her to be his secretary and, later, his lover.

I really enjoyed this book. The pacing was excellent and it has wonderful action sequences that really keep the pace moving. It's appropriately dark and solemn when it needs to be, but it's not one of those books that's all too common these days, that revels in the unsavory just for shock value. Volker is a terrible man, but his growing affection for the heroine softens him (but not unrealistically!) and he never takes her against her will. And the sex scenes! Oh boy! They were hot!

If you like historical romances and dark romances where the villain gets the girl, MIDNIGHT HUNTER will be a great read for you. I hope the author decides to write more historical romances - this seemed wonderfully researched, and each page was an absolute pleasure to read.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Last Innocent Hour by Margot Abbott

πŸ’™ I read this for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2018 Reading Challenge, for the category of: Military Romance. For more info on this challenge, click here. πŸ’™

THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR is a WWII-era romance loosely inspired by an entry in the journals of the U.S. ambassador to Germany during the 1930s, William Edward Dodd, as edited by his daughter, Martha Dodd. In the journals, an SS agent who was an aquaintance of the family apparently broke down, sobbing, on their sofa. Margot Abbott asked herself what could possibly happen to a hardened soldier for that to happen and wrote a story around that.

The story is told in the best way to rip out your heart. It starts out impersonally, in the removed third-person narrative. Sally, now in her late twenties/early thirties, is an intelligence officer investigating war crimes perpetuated by the Nazi party during WWII. She has a particular knack for identifying faces in photographs, so she looks at photo after photo of all these atrocities, trying to put names to faces, names to uniforms. It's a terrible job, made even more terrible by the fact that she recognizes her ex-husband in one of the photos.

At this point, we don't know much about Sally, apart from the fact that she's obviously haunted by some terrible tragedy in her past, and probably has untreated PTSD. We also know that her feelings about her ex-husband are all tangled up in this mysterious tragedy - part of her wants revenge, and wants to see him hang for the horrors he's wrought upon the world, but part of her remembers the boy he was during their idealistic childhood, and the man he became who she fell in love with.

1/3 of the way through the book, the narrative style switches to first person as Sally recounts her story firsthand, and the reader is dragged headlong into Sally's narrative, up close and personal. We see her as a child, and see her close relationship with the Mayr family and her innocent love for Christian as a young man. She leaves Germany for a while, to return to the U.S., and arrives back just before WWII, when the fascist party is just beginning to catch on in Germany. Christian is now an SS agent, working under Reinhard Heydrich. Naively, Sally becomes a friend to Heydrich, forming an uncertain bond over fencing and music, and he is the vehicle by which the two of them reunite.

It's difficult to say what happens next without spoilers, but let's just say that THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR is not a book that shirks from wartime horrors or the terrible things that people are sometimes forced to do in order to survive. Two comparable romances in terms of emotional devastation and scope are OUTLANDER and THE BRONZE HORSEMAN. The dread and anxiety that hangs over this book like a toxic cloud is just exceptionally well done, and even though it's a very long book, the pages whizzed by once I actually had time to sit down and read through it. The first 60% might have taken a month to read because of my other commitments, but today I sat my butt down and finished the last 40% in a single sitting, stopping only to eat, drink, and use the restroom. There's a fencing scene towards the end that is just absolutely haunting - it's the type of scene that will stay with you.

And the villain of this book! My God, what a villain. I'm truly horrified.

I had heard about THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR through the usual bodice ripper circles, and despaired of getting my hands on a copy, but it was recently rereleased for Kindle and I was able to pick it up while it was on sale for $2.99. I'm so glad I bought this book. The heroine is the perfect blend of worldly, naive, and intelligent, and even though you know there is no way that this book can possibly end on a truly happy note, Abbott has you rooting for Christian and Sally, despite your better sense. The complexity of the characters in this book was just incredible. I'm blown away.

What a shame that this truly gifted author never published anything else...

5 out of 5 stars

Wild Texas Flame by Janet Reams Hudson

πŸ’™ I read this for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2018 Reading Challenge, for the category of: Cowboy/Western Romance. For more info on this challenge, click here. πŸ’™

This was a buddy read with my fellow Unicorn Equestrian™, Heather.

Curse you, Janet Reams Hudson! Between you and Danelle Harmon, I'm almost starting to like 90s bodice rippers, and I absolutely cannot have that. Stop appealing to my trashy, trashy heart, you ferocious writers of aggressively endearing content! Curse you! CURSE YOU!

I picked up WILD TEXAS FLAME when it was free in the Kindle store, which is how I feel a lot of these Kindle Cleanout Club stories go. You pick a book up because it was either cheap as dirt or free as air, and it chills out on your Kindle for years until you just happen to notice it one day and think to yourself, "What is this? Why do I own this? What was I thinking?"

I needed a western romance to fulfill a category on this reading challenge I'm doing, and since my friend and I both happened to have the book (snagged during the same freebie promo), we decided to do a buddy-read of WILD TEXAS FLAME. But then I got busy, and then I got sick, so she ended up finishing it way before I did. However, she enjoyed it! Which gave me hope that it was good trash!

WILD TEXAS FLAME is the story of a woman named Sunny Thornton who lives with her three younger sisters and her dad at a ranch in Texas, a few decades after the Civil War. The Mayor, Ian Baxter, is throwing his weight around, trying to call in a loan that her father took out. If her father can't pay, he's going to take their ranch. On a trip to go to the bank to straighten everything out, they have the bad luck of running into bandits who are in the process of robbing the bank. Sunny's father is killed before her eyes and she's saved from the same fate only when a man named Ash McCord tackles her to the ground, taking the bullet that would have otherwise been meant for her.

Ash McCord just got out of jail for several years after shooting Ian Baxter in the back. He claims he has his reasons, but nobody he told his story to ever believed his innocence - except for the woman who runs the boarding house, Ella. The bullet he took for Sunny hit his spine, causing paralysis, which could be permanent or temporary, nobody is sure. Sunny feels guilty, and also sees a kindness in him that is hidden by his gruff exterior, so she takes him into her home and oversees his recovery.

I'm a sucker for nursing-the-hero(ine) back to health tropes, and it's done particularly well here. I also really liked the heroine's relationship with her family, especially since family members are often shunted aside in romance stories; I feel like they feel much more realistic and healthy when the focus is on the relationships that both the h and the H have with other people, and not just one another.

The heroine also isn't totally naive about sex, which is probably pretty realistic considering that she lives on a ranch that breeds cows. Even if she wasn't having any, she'd see it done, and wouldn't be a stranger to the idea. I read a lot of 70s bodice rippers about traitorous bodies, so I have to say, it was pretty refreshing to see a heroine taking charge and the hero whining about his traitorous body for a change! Way to turn the tables on that whole equation.

This story could have been too saccharine, but a murder subplot weaves through the narrative, along with other juicy plot points, like betrayal, debt, and secret fortunes. It kept the story tight and focused, and gave WILD TEXAS FLAME a driving base that had me turning pages to see what would happen next. I was expecting an epic showdown with the villain, and I was not disappointed.

WILD TEXAS FLAME is a bit light and frothy, but beneath the froth, there is also substance. If you, like me, believe yourself to be a hater of 90s-era bodice-rippers, you should check out this book as well as some of Danelle Harmon's. I have this author's other book, APACHE MAGIC, on my Kindle as well, and while I side-eyed the title before, I think I'm much more favorably inclined to read it now. This was a good, solid read.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

In case you missed it, I recently read this fantasy romance from the 80s called SUMMER OF THE UNICORN. It was from Kay Hooper's backlist (she only writes romantic suspense now), and I probably never would have discovered it if it hadn't recently been rereleased for Kindle and Netgalley hadn't subsequently approved me for the ARC. The book was so trashy and so bad, like, picture the worst science fiction book you've ever read from the 70s (probably written by Robert Heinlein, probably TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE), only with a whole cartload of wtf, unicorns, and sexy bathing scenes thrown in for lols, and that's SUMMER OF THE UNICORN. It was, objectively, not a good book, and yet despite my better sense, I enjoyed it, being the trash queen I am, because if a book is so bad it entertains me, I give that spit a good rating, even if I take the mickey out of it in my review.

I've been working my way through Sarah J. Maas's Throne of Glass series over the last few months, and my thoughts on the series kind of mirror my thoughts about SUMMER OF THE UNICORN. I don't understand the purpose of the book, because presumably it was written in a good faith attempt to be a serious fantasy novel, but on the other hand, it also has a whole cartload of wtf, unicorns, and sexy bathing scenes (except with the ToG series, replace "unicorns" with "dragons" and "sexy bathing" with "sexy biting"). This is, objectively, not a good book, and yet I had such a good time making fun of it that I find myself becoming slightly fond of the series. It's like hating a dog that drools and pees everywhere but desperately wants to be your friend. That dog is annoying. That dog's mess is all over the place. But that dog also really, really wants you to like it. It's hard to hate that dog.


I think Throne of Glass's biggest problem is that it is gloriously uneven in terms of quality. There are parts of the book that are good, and then there are parts of the book that have me skimming like nobody's business. Durian's relationship with Fanta? Don't care. Raisin beating up Celery, over and over and over, until I wonder if I should be playing Tom Lehrer's Masochism Tango in the background? Don't care. Kale feels so bad about betraying Celery's feels? Don't care. Celery whining over and over about how she contributed to Queen Bae's death? Don't care. (Also, eff you, Celery. Your "I want to read books and sit on my butt eating cake in between having sex with Kale" was what led to that whole situation in the first place. It's just yet another episode of PoCs Dying to Make White People Give a F*ck, and that spit's so old that at this point, it's all reruns. Give it a rest.)

On the other hand, this book also had some redeeming factors that were not present in the first book. I actually like Onion Ass-river. Mutton Blackberry isn't too bad either. I'm 99.9% sure that somewhere in that girl's room is a shrine to Daenerys Targaryen filled with hair and toenail clippings and she probably stands in front of it while practicing shouting "WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS?" But honestly, I really liked her relationship with Drogon - oops, I mean, Abraxos. He was cool. I kind of pictured him as looking like Toothless, from How to Train Your Dragon - a movie, incidentally, that Mutton really should watch, because this is something that she really sucks at.

I think the worst thing about this series is the heroine, Celery, AKA Addledstar Galactica. My feelings towards her have been evolving across the series steadily. In THRONE OF GLASS, I wanted to slap her. In CROWN OF MIDNIGHT, I wanted to slap her and maybe push her off a cliff. In HEIR OF FIRE, I wanted to push her off a cliff into a lake filled with a celery-eating Kraken. She is sooo annoying, and honestly, there is only so much you can read about how perfect a character is before you start to picture some RP-er being all, THIS IS MY ORIGINAL CHARACTER, YOU GUYS. SHE HAS RAINBOW HAIR AND SIX DIFFERENT KINDS OF MAGIC POWERS. If you thought that Miss Assassin was **SUPER SPESHUL** in the last two books, just wait until you get to this book, where you find out that she isn't just a queen, she also has a magical fairy form, and two different kinds of magic powers, which leave just about everyone who witnesses them in ~awe~.

Also, Maas isn't content with the Kale/Celery/Durian love triangle in the last two books, plus the maybe Finnick O'Dair knock-off. No, in this book she has two more dudes fighting after her magical ladyparts - enter Rowan, who I'm pretty sure is knockoff Rhysand from the ACOTAR series (he even has magical fairy tattoos), and Onion Ass-river, who was Celery's childhood BFF. The Raisin/Celery ship is totally forced down the readers' throats in this book, and I'm just like, OKAY, what was the point of Kale and Durian at all in the first 2 then, if you're just going to make up new love interests when you get bored of them? Is Celery going to dump Raisin in the very last book of the series for some even more depraved, hotter dude with even better magical powers? Is she going to - *gasp* - date God Himself, because only He in all his glorious gloriousness is worthy of the holy sunlight that beams from the sanctity of her nether regions? I do wonder, because this spit is ridic.

Also, also, what's with that line about not being able to hurt your soulmate? Celery reasons that this is why Kale and she are not to be - because she scratched his face up in the last book. BUT WAIT- didn't Raisin do the exact thing to you - MANY MANY TIMES? He bloodied your face and bruised your eye, and made you fight creatures so evil that you LITERALLY peed your pants in front of him. And then at the end of this book, suddenly you're soulmates? I'm SORRY, but by your logic, this relationship you have should be the opposite of soulmates, because HE HURT YOU BAD. #NotCool

Then we have Onion.

I actually liked Onion's character, but the problem I have with him is endemic in the overarching themes of the book itself. I joked at first about the sexual tension between him and Kale, but by the end of the book, I was like, no, wait, there is actual tension here. It's like how Kale felt with Celery before, you know, she beat him up and ran off to be with someone who beats her up (ugh). Onion and Kale had actual great chemistry - the same way Celery had great chemistry with Queen Bae. I'd seen others complain about the queerbaiting in this series, but HONESTLY, it feels legit. You have all these characters who seem like they'd be LGBT+ and have these potentially awesome ships with same-sex characters, ONLY to have SJM be like, "Naaahh," and push them into cis-het relationships with characters who they previously had ZERO chemistry with in the previous books.

Take Durian's relationship with Sorscha. WHERE THE HECK DID THAT COME FROM? Out of nowhere, that's where! Last I heard, he was mooning over Celery, but now he's just consorting with the servants - and then he decides, ALSO OUT OF NOWHERE, that he loves the servant to the point that he'd offer ~anything~?? Um, wait? Also, he legit says "I love you" to Kale and there's that sexual tension, which makes me feel like Kale might possibly be bi, but I BET YOU THAT THIS IS NEVER ADDRESSED, and that Kale ends up in a cis-het relationship with some rando who SJM just arbitrarily decides he's **meant** to be with in one of the later books.

You also can't convince me that Queen Bae and Celery weren't OTP OTP, because in my mind, they totally were. The way Celery feels about Nehemia in this book is less like a dead friend and more like a lover who must be avenged. Not only was her death totally pointless, but I also felt like her relationship with Celery wasn't fully explored. The bond they had totally trumped anything Celery had with Kale, Durian, or her precious, precious Raisin; it was healthy, pure, and built on love.

On non-relationship-related notes, I feel like there was way too much random wandering around, and too much time spent on Celery and how great she is. Her priorities continue to be way screwed up. One of her crowning moments in this book is that, while imprisoned, she once more agonizes over her figure and WHILE IMPRISONED, plays around with tying her sash so as to emphasize her assets and breastets. Also, ONCE AGAIN, people die to to Celery's incompetence (this time thousands instead of, you know, just the one) and she is like OMG it's all my fault! NAH, YOU THINK???

I can tell that this is going the Girl of Fire route from THG, and Celery is going to be the figurehead for some grand revolution, but I don't like Celery nearly as much as I like Katniss. She feels way too manufactured and perfect, and apart from weeing in her trousers that one time from fear, we really don't get many human-like responses to things. She grandstands a lot and tosses off a lot of quotes that people seem to really enjoy quoting on Goodreads about how she's going to "rattle the stars", but she doesn't strike me personally as being particularly realistic or relatable. She's a Barbie in armor with magical powers, and that's hardly a 'strong female protagonist.' Particularly when stuck in an abusive relationship with some jerk who likes to tattoo all his mistakes in life on his arm. #lame

All that said, I do think this is an improvement over the two previous books, even if it gives off "I desperately want to be the next Game of Thrones vibes." The writing is better, and the parts of the book that don't involve Celery were interesting. It's Celery herself who really poisons this series and makes me want to take my Snark to Warp 5. She's just such an idiot and everyone's thoughts revolve around her, and I can't help but think of that quote from 10 Things I Hate About You where she's concerned, where Patrick asks, "What is it with this chick? She have beer-flavored nipples?"

I'll read the next book because I'm invested now, and I hear book 5 is a raging fustercluck of wtf that dissolves into bodice-ripper territory (and you know HOW MUCH I LOVE THOSE). Who knows? Maybe I'll actually love it. I hear copious amounts of smut are involved, and I am the Mother of Smut (the Unrepentant, Breaker of Convention, etc. etc.). WE SHALL SEE~

As always, you can credit this review to my friends who enjoy "encouraging" me to read books they think I'll hate, and also to the people who come onto my reviews thinking it's OK to tell me to STFU, because ha ha joke's on you, that only makes me want to post MOAR reviews. For the record, if you, or one of your friends, take issue with the way I review books, feel free to reach me at 1-800-GIRL-BYE.

Peace out, friends.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, February 9, 2018

Sometimes I Feel Sad by Tom Alexander

This is a really cute book that teaches kids a bit about depression. It's a bit over-simplified, because it's for kids (if you know anything about depression, you know that it's much more complicated than feeling "sad"). But for kids, I think "sad" works as a way of describing feelings that might be too complicated to otherwise express.

The character in this book sometimes feels sad. Being with friends can help, or it can make it worse. Being alone can help, or it can make it worse. Sometimes doing something fun and exciting can help - but sometimes, it just makes it worse. The character wants to confide in his friends and family, but he fears being judged or to "just be happy" - which never helps.

The book ends with another character - a grandparent, I think - taking him aside and validating his feelings, telling him it's okay that he sometimes feels sad. This ends up making the character feel a lot better, because it makes him feel like he isn't alone. I thought that was a really great message. I think when someone is depressed, people feel obligated to "make them feel better" or "cheer them up", but sometimes all that's needed is understanding and a sympathetic ear.

The art is pretty simplistic, but it works for the story. I thought this was really sweet, and a surprisingly deep exploration of feelings. I love that books like these are coming out. Mental health is so important.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3 out of 5 stars

BLAME! Vol. 1 by Tsutomu Nihei

I just read the new Cardcaptor Sakura book and this manga could not have been a harder contrast to that if it tried. Cardcaptor is a shoujo manga intended for young girls and Blame! is a seinen manga intended for older guys. It contains not a single dash of cuteness or romance or magic; instead it is a grim post-apocalyptic, like J.G. Ballard's HIGH RISE, as populated by genetically mutated cyborgs that are something like The Matrix as done by the creators of Silent Hill, with a hero's journey straight out of Birdy the Mighty.

This is one of the longer graphic novels I've read, clocking in at just over 400 pages (which I guess is what makes it the "Master Edition") but it goes by really quickly because there isn't a lot of text. Most of the pages are just illustrations of the terrifying megalith where all of these characters live, in all of its monstrous, cyberpunk glory. The details of the architecture truly are incredible and is probably BLAME!'s biggest strength.

Kyrii is a human who is searching for something called "The Net Terminal Gene" which is what causes some humans to see retinal displays and interact with the "The Adminstration"; the dystopian overlord robots of this world. Along the way, he encounters a number of beings, spanning the whole continuum of robot and human, although the scientist mentioned in the Goodreads summary who seems like she'd be an integral part of the story doesn't make an appearance until the very end.

I thought this book was more interesting than good. The world building is confusing. All of the characters are in the dark about their origins, so you get a sort of CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ thing going on, but that, paired with the lack of dialogue, kind of gives this story a dull, claustrophobic feel. By the end of the book, I didn't really feel like I knew Kyrii any better than I did in the beginning of the story. I know the summary says that he's stoic, but there's stoic and then there's a block of wood, and Kyrii resembles the latter way more than the former.

I guess I've read too many similar stories to this one that took a concept like this and did it one better. If the sequel goes up on Netgalley, I may apply for that to see if this story is worth pursuing, but the cyberpunk constructs and blood splatter seem to be this story's two main claims to fame, and I'm not particularly into either one of those things, so it might just be a case of it's-me-not-you.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

2.5 out of 5 stars

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card, Vol. 1 by CLAMP

The back of my ARC version of this copy says "The success of this book depends on influencers like you." Look at you, book, trying to get on my good side by making me feel like I'm the book blogger equivalent of Kyle Jenner - it's working, BTW. Don't stahp.

I haven't actually read any Cardcaptor Sakura, which is a travesty, because she's supposed to be the quintessential magical girl and I hear she's got great cross-over appeal for people who like Saint Tail and Sailor Moon (I love both). This is apparently a relaunch of the series, taking off where the previous story ended.

Sakura is now in middle school and embarking upon the next journey of her life. It seems like her magical days are at an end, but then one day she has a dream that results in her finding a mysterious key and all of the cards turn to crystal. She has to use new powers to discover these new cards, as strange things begin happening and a mysterious, hooded (and probably hawt) figure stalks her in her dreams.

I don't know if you're familiar with manga, but the rules are very similar to paranormal romance - unlike real life, if a mysterious figure stalks you in your dreams, there is a 99.9% probability that it is some hot dude with supernatural powers who thinks that this is how courtship works.

I thought this was really cute. Sometimes manga comes across as very "young" but Cardcaptor, like Sailor Moon, really didn't feel that way at all. I think that's because, like Sailor Moon, it features a cast with a wide range of ages and there's a focus on interpersonal relationships. Between the adorable animals that can "plushie" themselves, the cute nerdy dudes that turn into hot angel dudes, and the squee-worthy interactions Sakura has with friends and family both, there was a lot to enjoy.

Also, manga depictions of food are just - well, unparalleled. It's really bad, because I usually end up wanting cake or pudding by the time I finish reading these things. There's several panels in this book devoted to the making of a mouth-watering cheesecake, and it sounded so good I wanted to cry.

If you enjoy manga, you will enjoy this. And based on what I read so far, reading the previous books in the serious is not mandatory in order to understand what's going on, so that is good, too!

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, February 5, 2018

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

It's not easy being Queen of Literary Trash. Between YA and bodice-rippers, I read more "bad" books than most elitist snobs will see in their entire lifetime. But then, I consider myself a connoisseur of the so-called trashy arts. There are two kinds of "bad" books. There are the books that tell good stories and while they aren't highbrow literature, they are still fun to read and if you can let go of your snobbery long enough to enjoy them, will perform quite serviceably as quality entertainment. Then there are the books that are just bad, and have no redeeming value at all.

I had friends warn me about SHATTER ME. It's apparently infamous for the "creative" metaphors that the author likes to use. It's also yet another attempt to cling to the coattails of THE HUNGER GAMES (although it's more like DIVERGENT than THE HUNGER GAMES, which if you know my thoughts on DIVERGENT, you will know is not a compliment, coming from me). The premise is pretty undeveloped. Juliette has been in captivity for just under a year when she accidentally killed a boy by touching him. Her touch, you see, is deadly. She's like Rogue, from X-men. One touch, and your life force is hers.

It's set on a dying Earth but why and how it's dying are incredibly vague. We've apparently allowed a fascist-tolerant (if not outright fascist) regime to gain power, which I would say is not really giving the world a whole lot of credit, but on the other hand I'm a liberal living in the United States right now, so on the OTHER hand, maybe future Earth is totally stupid enough to do that. It seems to happen a lot in YA dystopians, to the point where the reader begins to wonder if all it takes to start a fascist regime is a kickstarter and a special license. What matters is that resources are thin and there is not a lot of food and there are parts of the world that are radioactive(?) and for some reason, some people (especially Juliette) have mutant-like powers for Reasons and this is the world we live in.

Both love interests are, conveniently, immune to Juliette's power. Because I guess it wouldn't be much of a romance if the book took the MC Hammer "Can't Touch This" approach to courtship. There is instalove up the wazoo in here, and even when Juliette finds out that Adam was put in her cell to spy on her under the guise of being a fellow prisoner, she forgives him stunningly quickly, and is constantly telling us how much she wants to touch him. She wants to touch the villain, Warner (I'm sorry but I can't take you seriously when I'm picturing the dancing frog mascot of the WB), too, although it's a traitorous body sort of desire to touch, the I-love-to-hate-how-I-hate-to-love-you type. Warner was the biggest potential sell of this series to me because I love villainous love interests but he's too creepy, even for me. Between the constant unwanted pet names and the really disturbing "I could just take a bite out of you"-type comments, this dude was about one villain notch away from singing a Tim Curry song.

Then there's the writing itself, which can be broken down into three categories: OMG, WTF, and LOL.


Every organ in my body falls to the floor (68).

I want to rip up the carpet and sew it to my skin (163).

My jaw is dangling from my shoelace (310).


I'm wearing dead cotton on my limbs and a blush of roses on my face (6).

There are 15,000 feelings of disbelief hole-punched in my heart (40).

My throat is a reptile, covered in scales (172).

I'm blushing through my bones (326).


I wondered if your eye color meant you saw the world differently (151).

My heart is parasailing in the springtime (286).

The author also makes two other attempts at being creative, which are overuse of the strikethrough tool and overuse of numbers, written as numerals instead of being spelled out. Which, if you ask me, is 1 bad idea because not only does it look unprofessional as 0 other writers do this, but 2, comes across as overly gimmicky and makes you feel like you're reading cast-offs from a teenager's poetry journal as she tries - and fails - to channel Ellen Hopkins and/or Rupi Kaur.

If you like this book, good for you, I guess. I personally couldn't stand it. It felt incredibly derivative, and from the woe-is-me beginning to the yay-I've-got-a-hypersexualized-supersuit ending, there was just way too much I ended up side-eying in this book for me to enjoy it. I don't think I'll be reading the sequels, not even for the lols.

1 out of 5 stars

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas Cinestory Comic: Collector's Edition by Walt Disney Company

Sometimes people send me books as gifts. This book was a spontaneous gift from my younger sister, along with a Deadpool key chain. Even though I'm pretty choosy about what I will and will not read, I do make exceptions for book gifts because if someone cares enough to send me something they think I'm going to love, I make an extra concentrated effort to read it.

The Nightmare Before Christmas came out when I was a really young kid, and while I liked it, it was a bit too dark and spooky for my taste. It had a revival in the early noughties, because of how well the premise synced up with emo culture. I used to have a Nightmare Before Christmas t-shirt with a split neck that I wore until it faded and stained beyond repair. I think it's a movie you appreciate more as an adult (or a teenager) than as a kid.

Here's why I like The Nightmare Before Christmas. A lot of teenagers who like weird stuff are ostracized by their peers and branded as "freaks." In a way, the people of Halloween Town are kind of like the anime fans and goths; people who don't look and act like other people and prefer darker things. They're not bad people - in their own way, most of them are actually quite kind - but many find them off-putting.

Jack feels a sort of malaise about his role as Pumpkin King. After years of celebrating Halloween, he's grown weary and the spookiness of the holiday has begun to wear on his soul. One day, while playing with his dog, he ends up in the middle of a forest that serves as a gateway to all the other holidays. The Christmas door appeals to him and he opens up and finds himself in the middle of a magical wonderland. The color palette completely changes. It's like when Dorothy opens the door of her cottage and finds herself in the middle of Technicolor Oz. For the first time in a while, Jack feels alive, and thinking this to be the answer to his ennui, he decides to replicate Christmas.

I think The Nightmare Before Christmas is a perfect allegory to teenage angst. Many teenage identities are superficial, and focused on labels and basic concepts, like "jock," "prep," or "outcast," and they think that their worth can be judged in physical, concrete terms like # of followers on social media, how many people find them attractive, or the amount of spending money they have per week. Maybe not all teenagers feel this way, but a lot do (and I'll admit it, I did). Depressed teens often find one or two flaws to focus on, and blame for their emotional state. They think, "If only I could change this one thing about myself, I would be happy..."

Jack decides to change himself and do something that is completely contrary to his nature. His friends humor him, but it's clear they have no idea what they are doing, and their attempt at Christmas is a total disaster. Happiness comes to Jack only when he accepts who he is, and learns that the people who care about him care about him for who he is, weirdness and all. It's a touching story that I think a lot of people (especially teenagers) can relate to, and it speaks to so many relevant teen issues like depression, angst, and wanting to find who you are in the maelstrom of an identity crisis.

This graphic novel seemed like a bit of a cash grab because it's literally just stills from the movie with dialogue pasted over it in comic book bubble format (yes, including songs - eye roll), but I actually really liked it. The photos are high quality and really let you appreciate the detail that went into this stop-motion movie. For example, I never realized before that Jack's dog, Zero, has a glowing nose with a Jack-o'-lantern face. It's so faint, you would never see it unless you paused very carefully. There's a whole bunch of other small, seemingly inconsequential details like that that were super fun.

If you liked the movie, this book is a nice thing to have for the glossy photographs, song lyrics, and fairly thorough recap of the storyline. I never would have picked it out for myself, but reading it made me feel curiously nostalgic for my high school emo self, and as an adult I was able to appreciate the story in a new way for how it reaches out to teens who are a part of the counterculture.

3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Eden Passion by Marilyn Harris

πŸ’™ I read this for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2018 Reading Challenge, for the category of: Gothic Romance. For more info on this challenge, click here. πŸ’™

THE EDEN PASSION is a literary Dementor: it will suck all of the joy out of your life, leaving you feeling empty and desolate inside. I thought, after reading the two previous books in the serious, that I was adequately prepared for the emotional despair of THE EDEN PASSION, but I was sorely mistaken. THIS OTHER EDEN is a dark, Gothic bodice ripper with a few horrific scenes peppered along to spice up the obsessive love story, and THE PRINCE OF EDEN is a tale of doomed love set amidst a backdrop of petty rivalries and greed for land in the vein of Philippa Gregory's Wideacre trilogy.

THE EDEN PASSION is a different beast entirely.


There are three parts to this novel, which I'm going to describe as parts I, II, and II in the breakdown to follow. Oh, and for the record, this book isn't a standalone. You need to read the first two books in the series, not just for characters and important background information, but also because each book builds off the former, and sometimes you can't appreciate the gloomy doom and horror properly if you don't have the information provided in the previous books. You will have a nebulous sense that something is wrong, and you might suspect, but you won't know why, with that same level of sinking, open-mouthed horror that you would have if you read the other books.

PART I of the book literally opens with the last chapter of book 2, THE PRINCE OF EDEN. After his father's death, John comes to Eden, broken and bedeviled. The occupants are shocked, obviously, not just because his return is unwelcome (it is), but also because he's the spitting image of his father, Edward, who caused quite a scandal with his affair with his brother's wife, and his rather casual selling of Eden-owned land to fund his schools for the poor and underprivileged in London. At first, he is treated as a servant and forced to shovel manure, pending the authenticity of his claim to Eden ancestry, but Harriet Eden, the current lady Eden, has a change-of-heart, and invites him into the castle. Her motives aren't exactly pure, though, and John's entrance to the castle sparks a dark retelling of Oedipus Rex, in nearly every way, and let me tell you, the author knew what she was doing. She even alludes to it, sneakily, by having one of the children (one of John's half-siblings), refer to Sophocles and one of his plays in the schoolroom. Yeah, I see your game.

When the inevitable tragedy happens, PART II begins. A stunned and traumatized John stumbles from Eden and ends up meeting a manic pixie dreamgirl named Lila, who I'm half-convinced is actually Luna Lovegood in disguise (she's the blonde woman on the original 80s cover). Lila is known for being weird, as she makes up stories and talks to her pet cat, Wolfe, and seems to conceive of herself as being a bit mystical and touched with supernatural powers. John and Lila hit it off, and agree to exchange letters. Meanwhile, John ends up going out to pull himself up like his bootstraps but ends up being enlisted into the Crimean War. After being wounded and recovering in a hospital where Florence Nightingale makes a cameo appearance, he goes to India just in time for the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Another tragedy strikes the Indian woman he meets there, Dhari, also in the form of gruesome mutilation, and he ends up taking both her and her son, Aslam, with him out of guilt. Jeez, at this point, I'm thinking, "Are any of the women in his acquaintance NOT going to have anything bad happen to them? Lila is imprisoned in her room by her overprotective parents and John's foster mother, Elizabeth, is brutally raped and beaten by the villain, King Asshat himself.

Part III brings everything full circle. Elizabeth and John reunite and he forgives her for returning to the Oldest Profession in the World. Dhari smilingly steps back as John marries his new, white wife. King Asshat is whipped and sent home in his carriage in disgrace. All the happy people return to a now impoverished Eden Castle, where the madwoman in the attic awaits their return. It begins as it ends, with John coming home, but both Johns are very different people - for better, or for worse.

THE EDEN PASSION was a really intense read and I actually had to set it aside for a week or two around the 200-page mark because there's a scene of self-mutilation in here that's pretty graphic. Likewise, PART II in India is also pretty hard to swallow. The N-word is bandied around a lot, and the hypocrisy of the Christian missionaries is shown with how they say their prayers even as they take advantage of the locals, and Dhari herself was almost a victim to the practice of Suttee, something the ex-missionary who takes her as he pleases tells the table with relish despite her obvious mortification and shame. The portrayal of British Colonial India is portrayed, naturally, with all of the cultural sensitivity of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. There weren't ninja Kali worshipers with scimitars and questionable buffets of leech-filled snakes and monkey brains on ice, but I feel like those could have just as easily been ideas that Marilyn Harris was keeping on the back-burner. You know, just in case all the surprise incest and character tortures weren't enough. I think the last time I read a bodice-ripper that was so dark and so cruel to the characters inside was when I read Parris Afton Bonds's DUST DEVIL. That was another book that also had me needing to set it down, but unlike THE EDEN PASSION, it petered out in the end once the cruel deed was done.

THE EDEN PASSION is not a bad book. It is definitely my least favorite of the three, though (book 2 was my favorite, but I think the first book had the most poetic writing). The quality of the writing and the complexity of the characters pales somewhat here, and I got the impression that Harris was trying to overcompensate for that with more shocking twists and horrific tortures. There's a real Game of Thrones vibe in this book, where the wars and the relationships play a foil to some truly horrific scenes that appear to be done specifically to horrify and scandalize. I couldn't help but wonder what the public at large made of this book when it came out. Was it banned from certain venues? Or, because it was packaged as a romance, did it just end up becoming a best-kept secret that sat on the check-out racks at local grocery stores like a ticking time-bomb of general wtfery?

I don't know, but if you feel like you're too happy in life and want to take yourself down a few pegs, check out the Eden series and enjoy the greatest ritualistic act of literary suffering since embarking upon the Game of Thrones series. Endeavour publishing has been rerelasing these books for Kindle and you can get a fair number of these previously out-of-print books on the cheap, and they don't appear to be censoring out or rewriting the questionable parts like other rereleases, either.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3.5 out of 5 stars