Saturday, March 31, 2018

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

After reading some of the five-star reviews for this book, I'm reevaluating how much I trust some of my friends. This was a terrible book. I don't think I've been this disappointed since picking up FLAME IN THE MIST or THRONE OF GLASS. What the hell were you guys reading? Is there a "good" version and a "shitty" version? What happened?

I specifically chose to read CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE after AMERICANAH because I thought they would complement each other well and lead to some interesting parallels that I could discuss in my review. AMERICANAH is a book that discusses the racial and cultural issues of real-life Nigeria, and CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE is a book that discusses racial and cultural issues of a fantasy-inspired country based on Nigeria. I loved AMERICANAH and I was so sure that I would love CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE because it's exactly what so many readers have been asking for: Diverse Fantasy!

CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE is a fantasy novel inspired by Nigerian mythology, specifically focusing on the Orisha. In this world, magic is forbidden and those who are descended from the maji are called "maggots" and systematically oppressed, if not killed outright. It's narrated by three characters, Zelie, who is a maji and a target of these genocidal tactics employed by their ruler, and also Inan and his sister, whose name I can't remember, who are the children of the evil king, but also maji, so uh-oh, nobody better find out or anything because that would be awkward.

Zelie runs away, accompanied by that sister, and Inan hunts them down while fighting his unwanted (of course) attraction to her. Because he can see her in dreams. *eye roll* All the people saying this book is action-packed must either never read good fantasy, are reading a completely different edition from mine, or are lying outright, because this was the LONGEST 500-something pages I've ever read BECAUSE IT'S SO SLOW-PACED, OMG. I didn't care about any of the characters. When the climax happens, we're supposed to be so worried for poor Zelie, but I didn't care because her voice is completely interchangeable with the other two. Characters appear whenever it's convenient for the plot, and there's a romance thrown in haphazardly because what's a YA without mediocre romance?

Because that's what this is. Just another generic fantasy story with cardboard cut-out characters and a tepid romance that lacks chemistry. The only thing that sets it apart is the setting and mythology.

I want to close with these thoughts. I get why so many people are excited about this book. It's thrilling to read books about people who are like you and have a narrative that you identify with. I emphasized that (more nicely) in my review of TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE. Even if I thought it was a bad book, I can appreciate the meaning and importance it has for people who are seeking out those stories. Fantasy novels are notorious for having bad rep, and when you do see characters of color, they often fit neatly under the cringe-worthy Magical Negro umbrella, which is not cool. That's a huge reason behind why I was so ready to embrace this book: I want those diverse stories too. Stories that give a new perspective and delve into territories that aren't explored nearly enough.

However, I have seen people on Tumblr and Goodreads posting status updates about how they don't think people should be allowed to write negative reviews for diverse books because the intentions of the author supersede the quality of the writing itself. I am 100% NOT OKAY with that, and here's why: if you do that, you're going to create a culture of mediocrity, where people will feel comfortable churning out poor-quality books while using diversity the way you might use a checklist. I'm not saying that TYLER JOHNSON and CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE fall into that category, but by shutting down valid criticism and enabling poor story-telling, this is going to be a problem.

Part of me kind of wondered if the publication of CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE may have been rushed so the release date coincided with that of Black Panther. That could explain some of the problems. I wondered the same thing about CARVE THE MARK (a book that was seemingly inspired by Star Wars) and the closeness of its release date to Rogue One. For reference, CARVE THE MARK was published January 17, 2017 and Rogue One was released on December 10, 2016. Likewise, Black Panther came out on February 16, 2018 and CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE was published on March 6, 2018. From a marketing perspective, it's a brilliant move, but a rushed release date could explain some of the pacing issues and the not-so-great writing.

I apologize if this seems harsh, but I am a book blogger who has always tried to be 100% honest even if that opinion is not popular. I have had people tell me that they will or won't buy books based on my reviews because they know I won't deceive them or sugar-coat. I rate on a purely entertainment-based rubric and don't take things like literary merit or the author's intentions into account. CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE had wonderful intentions... but I thought it was a really sloppy, generic fantasy novel, and I am rating it as such. Maybe you'll get the "good" version everyone's raving about. ;-)

1 out of 5 stars

The Questionable Behavior of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone

Note: this is the third book in the series but it works as a standalone. Thank goodness for that, because I haven't read the other two books in the series (although now I kind of want to!). The Dahlia Moss mystery series fills the niche in hobby/career-themed mysteries that are populated heavily by knitters, bakers, and antique shop owners - old-fashioned, fuddy-duddy-type jobs - instead of the new and shiny modern careers, like tech.

In THE QUESTIONABLE BEHAVIOR OF DAHLIA MOSS, Dahlia gets hired on to be an industry spy for a game company after an anonymous whistle-blower posts a condemning blog on Reddit about how poorly the company treats its employees. Working undercover as the new secretary, Dahlia quickly figures out that the whistle-blower wasn't wrong when half the employees seem to be in a fugue-like state from sleep-deprivation, and the other half are celebrating their dysfunction by indulging in weird - and possibly illicit - behaviors.

Then somebody turns up dead and the writing's on the wall. The writing, of course, says GAME OVER.

I liked this book. It has the light-hearted, wacky vibe that the Stephanie Plum books have, only instead of celebrating the weirdness of New Jersey, it celebrates the weirdness of the tech industry. These characters aren't very likable, but I do think there are some things it gets right about tech: deadlines and the casual workplace environment, being two. In some ways, this is an Office Space for the 21st century, with some murder and corporate scandals thrown haphazardly in.

The female narrator was also well-done. Sometimes dudes write female characters and the voice just sounds wrong. Dahlia Moss sounds like a lady for the most part. The only "tell" that really gave this book away was the fact that Dahlia, when riding in an Uber, accepts the mint that the Uber driver gave her and eats it. Um, nope. Nope. Nope. Nope.

If this book has a flaw, it's that it's sometimes too kitschy and self-aware, throwing heavy winks at the audience that quickly become tedious. Also, I felt like it jumped the shark at the end, particularly with the phone call to Morgan Freeman and the roofies incident(s). I'm surprised they don't have HR permanently on speakerphone, to be honest.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3 out of 5 stars

Wonderful by Jill Barnett

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

WONDERFUL is a medieval romance from the 90s that has been rereleased for the Kindle Store. It was free recently, so my fellow romance lovers, Korey, Maraya, and Heather, decided to do a buddy read of it, Kindle Clean-Out style! Historically speaking, my luck with 90s romance novels has been mixed. There are some authors who I actually really enjoy - most notably, Danelle Harmon - and then there are those who seem to exemplify the genre in all its terrible glory: by which I mean authors like the one who wrote WONDERFUL.

WONDERFUL is basically the classic example of why I don't like 90s romance novels. Clio, the heroine, is one of those heroines who acts in a way that is incredibly unrealistic for the times, with foot-stomping, childish crying, and petty "defiance" that had me rolling my eyes rather than cheering for her. I don't know why people seem to think throwing a temper tantrum = girl power, but it doesn't.

Merrick was actually a pretty decent hero. There's no rape or dubious consent and the worst thing he does is burn down her brewery towards the end after she puts everyone to sleep with her ale (which she didn't even seem to particularly care about, which was weird because earlier on in the book she drains the castle well dry while they're renovating it, nearly putting her castle's structural integrity into question). He makes a few casual threats about shaking her or throwing her out the window, but since I wanted to do both those things to Mrs.-I'm-independent-and-enjoy-running-headlong-into-danger-and-getting-shot-in-the-heart-by-Welshmen and Mrs.-I'm-going-to-cry-and-whine-and-throw-a-hissy-fit-over-my-own-wedding-like-a-medieval-bridezilla, it was hard to feel bad about that.

I can't really credit WONDERFUL. I hated Clio and the storyline too much. Her writing style is very much like Danelle Harmon's, but Harmon's heroes ooze charm and protectiveness without being brutish, and while her heroines sometimes toe the line between annoying and rebellious, I usually end up liking them by the end of the books. The best parts about WONDERFUL were probably the historical tidbits about foolish superstition and bad medical advice, but that was the whole of it.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Dark Dance by Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee died on May 24, 2015. I was devastated, not just because she was so talented and I loved her books, but because she's one of the few authors out there I would have loved to have sat down with over cocktails and chatted with about anything - her books were indicative of an unusual, creative mind. I wish I could have found out more about how she saw the world, what books she liked to read, what inspired her, what chilled her (the other is Rosemary Rogers).

I don't always enjoy Tanith Lee's work, but I always appreciate her books. She has a writing style that is completely her own and some people like it, some people don't. I like it. Obviously. I like purple prose, when done well. Especially dramatic, overwrought prose. (Which is probably why I also love Rosemary Rogers and Victoria Holt.) Lee writes a lot of dark fantasy and sci-fi and Gothic novels, so this flair for the dramatic refines, rather than bogs down, her narratives and lends to the overall atmosphere of her dark worlds.

DARK DANCE is part occult horror, part vintage gothic, and part vampire legend. The main character, Rachaela Day, lives a dreary life in shades of gray. She grew up in a home where her father was absent and her mother was indifferent, and after her mother's passing, she just started going through the motions. She lives alone, has no friends, no hobbies, and is woefully underemployed. She's content with this until one day, people representing her father's family, the Scarabae, request that she return home. To her family.

Rachaela refuses initially but fate - and the Scarabae - have other ideas, and before she's really aware of what's happening, she ends up in a private car to a small British town in the middle of nowhere where the names are always changing and the train never seems to run. In a large manor in the moors, where all of the windows are brilliant stained glass, the Scarabae are there to welcome Rachaela with open arms, including her father, Adamus Scarabae. He's fascinated with her, and hasn't aged a day since Rachaela's conception nearly 30 years ago. But his interest is sinister, as magnetic as it is repellent, and Rachaela's efforts to escape the sinister family might not be enough.

It's been a while since I read a vampire novel that was so unapologetically disturbing. There's shock horror, and then there's "I'm going to tell this story the way it should be told, even if it offends a whole bunch of people and has the censorious members of our community pounding down my door." This book is the latter. Trisha Baker's CRIMSON KISS is like that as well (indeed, Trisha Baker is one of the recommended authors for fans of DARK DANCE. Big surprise, there). What this means is that none of the characters are likable - especially Adamus, Rachaela, and Ruth - and this book features some very disturbing content, like the sexualization of children and incest.The upside is, it's not at all romanticized, in my opinion, and feels more like inevitable doom than a fetish.

New adult authors, take note. THIS is how you write a dark and disturbing story. Save your cutesy "don't read this if you're easily offended" mock trigger warnings. THIS is disturbing and gritty as it was meant to be: inevitable, alluring, and impossible to put down.

RIP, Tanith Lee. I hope you're raising terror among the angels up there in author heaven.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Americanah by Chimanada Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is probably best known for her short but powerful essay, WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS. The essay is based off one of her TED talks and despite being short, really packs a punch in the feminist feels. She had a second essay, slightly less popular, called DEAR IJEAWELE, which I have also read. While not as popular or as powerful as WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS, it still has that personal, poignant element that made her first essay so popular. Adichie was clearly an author To Watch. That's why I was so excited when my book club voted to read one of her full-length novels, AMERICANAH. I'd wanted to pick up one of her works of fiction but didn't know where to start. My book club did me the favor of making the choice for me.

AMERICANAH is a very different beast from her other two works. WE SHOULD and DEAR are both essays written by Adichie herself, and she is a very likable woman who talks a lot of sense and makes very good arguments. In AMERICANAH, both of the main characters, Ifemelu and Obinze, are complicated, flawed, and not always easy to like. The plot is a bit difficult to explain, but if I were to summarize, I'd say it is about two young Nigerian lovers who break up and then try to make something of themselves in the West, only to find out that much of what they'd heard about both the UK and England is spin. Some things are better, others are worse, and when the two of them return to Nigeria, their Western experience has made them different, and colored their view of Nigeria in an irrevocable way, making them both feel like outsiders. Neither has forgotten the other, and their unique experiences bind them together when they finally reunite.

I liked Ifemelu a lot more than Obinze. I don't like cheaters and it bothered me how Obinze treated his wife, Kosi (although I didn't particularly like her, either). I feel like these two characters were meant to be criticisms of Nigerian cultural and gender stereotypes, particularly Obinze's entitlement and Kosi's hypocrisy, made more significant by the fact that Obinze is able to somewhat overcome cultural expectations and norms by the end but Kosi is unable or unwilling to. Ifemelu was amazing. She's the type of character that you either want to be friends with or can see yourself in, or both. I loved her blog, because it reminded me of Justina Ireland and Phoebe Robinson's writing (particularly the parts about racism, colorism, and the politics of black hair).

Ifemelu made so many great points about privilege, racism, colorism, white guilt, cultural stereotypes, and dog-whistling. There were so many things that made me think hard, and even made me feel uncomfortable, because it forced me to examine some unfortunate terms or phrases that I've employed in the past. That's a good thing, though. It's important to read books that make you feel uncomfortable and force you to reexamine how you interact with others, in my opinion, particularly since so many people are reluctant to discuss "race" or ethnicity, and even think the very act of doing so is racist in and of itself(!). I kind of wondered if Ifemelu's feelings of hypocrisy about writing controversial, inciting pieces and then giving "safe" workshops and talks was a reflection of the author's own experiences; I also thought it was interesting how she (Ifemelu) said that the workshops had different people, people who probably hadn't read her blog and would never consider doing so.

I feel the book weakens a little towards the end. I was not 100% on board with Obinzie and Ifemelu's reunion, since like I said before, I didn't really like Obinze and didn't consider him fully worthy of Ifemelu (although he tried at the end - quite hard, for him). I do think that their similar experiences made it that each of them was the only person capable of understanding the other, since being black and foreign in America/the UK made them an outsider to the people in those countries and having those cultural, "western" experiences made them outsiders to their own people when they returned home. It's the double-edged sword of the expatriate; you're always the outsider looking in. I've heard this sentiment expressed by my own friends who have lived abroad and it was bittersweet, seeing it here, in two desperately lonely people who only wanted solace and understanding.

If you enjoyed Yaa Gyosi's HOMEGOING, I think you will enjoy this book as well. This book isn't as nearly as dark as HOMEGOING, but it does confront many of the same uncomfortable topics, and it does so as written by a person of color, which I find that I actually prefer, as historically speaking, many of the books about Africa I've read that were written by white people are utter misery porn, in which the tortured main character is rescued by their own personal white savior who spirits them away to the magical paradise of the West. Blech, no thank you. This book felt honest, in that it portrayed both Africa and America as having their own unique problems, and confronted a lot of negative stereotypes and truths about both white and black people. If you can stand to read books that aren't comfortable, books that will make you think hard about stereotypes, books that will make you examine yourself, I recommend AMERICANAH. I can't wait to read Adichie's other books.

4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Devil On Horseback by Victoria Holt

Holy #StealthReads, Batman! It's been a while since I sneaked a book past GR's radar, but I've been so tired lately that I've mostly been napping on public transport instead of reading on it. I finally finished my most recent purse book, and that book was THE DEVIL ON HORSEBACK by Victoria Holt (because you know that with a title like that, I couldn't help but buy it).

Victoria Holt is one of those authors I keep coming back to again and again, even though I have a love-hate relationship with her books. When she's on her game, she is on her game; but she also churns out a fair number of misses. For me, THE DEVIL ON HORSEBACK was one of her misses.

Unlike most of her Gothic romances, which are set in Victorian England, THE DEVIL ON HORSEBACK is set in Georgian England with the French Revolution looming close-by.

The heroine, Minella, is the daughter of a school teacher who has lofty aspirations for her daughter. These aspirations come to a bitter end with her untimely death - especially when the nobleman who was angling after Minella is corralled back into his family's clutches, basically leaving her alone and penniless. Minella has a friend named Margot who is the daughter of a Comte, and she ends up pregnant (out of wedlock). Her angry father sends the two of them away (blackmailing Minella into going by saying that the scandal would threaten her school) until Margot gives birth.

Minella continues to live with Margot and her father, much to the perplexity of their rich friends. She starts hearing whispers that make her uneasy - whispers whose truths are confirmed when the Comte asks her to be his mistress! She is attracted to him despite herself, traitorous body, etc. etc., but cannot give in to such wicked urges because propriety! So she tells him no, because he is married and she is not that kind of woman, etc. etc. How convenient then that the Comte's wife dies shortly thereafter, overdosing on her own medicine! How coincidental! Surely the two are not related, right? RIGHT?

Meanwhile, the French Revolution is happening and stones are thrown at glass houses and people are being attacked and executed. It's really more of a backdrop thing than an actual addition to the setting until the very end, and only when it directly impacts one of the two main characters. This plot twist fails to capture the horror of the French Revolution, however, and is resolved bloodlessly and quickly.

I am disappointed by this book. My friend Naksed said that this book reminded her of a watered down DEMON LOVER, and even though I did not like DEMON LOVER, I think that is true. The plot and the writing were so much better in DEMON LOVER, and if it weren't for how spineless the heroine was and how unrealistic her reactions were to the brutish hero's actions, I would have given it a much higher rating. The wicked Comte had a few good lines:

"When we transgress," he went on, "we must pay for our sins. This is the payment I ask." He took my face in his hands and kissed me on the lips - not once but many times (22)


"I assure you I am the tireless hunter. I never give up until I have my prey" (157)

But mostly, he just came across as a creepy older dude who was obsessed with the best friend of his daughter, at the expense of his still-very-much-alive-until-one-point wife. I spent most of this novel feeling very bored, and that is a very terrible way to feel while reading a book.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

Boys that Bite by Mari Mancusi

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

It's been so long since I read a "bad" book that I had almost forgotten what the experience was like! Thank goodness BOYS THAT BITE came to remind me, lest I grow soft and foolhardy in my ignorance.

BOYS THAT BITE is about two sisters named...Sunny and Rayne. Sunny is a prep and Rayne is a goth. (This book was written in 2006, when such distinctions were important.) One day, Rayne drags Sunny to a Goth club and Sunny accidentally gets bitten by a vampire named Magnus. It turns out that he was actually supposed to bite Rayne, who has spent years on a special waiting list for the privilege, but because they're twins...oops!

The next two hundred something pages consists of plot devices that can be summed up with statements that start with "OMG" and end with exclamation points:

OMG, now I'm totally going to be a vampire and that sucks because I'll miss prom!

OMG, but the vampire that bit me is kind of hot, though!

OMG, now there's a vampire slayer but she's totes fat you guys, ew yuck! But also LOL!

OMG, but what about that sexy jock that I like! OMG, being a vampire means excreting pheromones that make EVERYONE like me, including dirty old man teachers, ew yuck!

OMG, so it turns out that maybe I can become a human again if I drink from the Holy Grail!

OMG, but that hot vampire though!

OMG, flying on a private jet to England!

OMG, prom with my sexy jock boyfriend!

OMG, that hot vampire guy though!

OMG, my twin sister is a selfish meanie and I hate her so much!

OMG, I'm a vampire!

This is one of those books that was clearly written with the idea that teenagers are vapid creatures who see all other girls as rivals to be jealous of (Rayne), slut-shame (Rayne), or fat-shame (the vampire slayer). Sunny was intolerable as a narrator, and a useless trash person as a human being. It's been a while since I read a character who was so selfish and shallow who I wasn't supposed to hate. The attempts to inject pop-culture and teen-speak into this book also feel really embarrassing and dated. I grabbed this book when it was free for Kindle a few months ago and I kind of wonder if it was rewritten to be more "modern" and "hip"? Because this book was written in 2006, mind, and yet, the book mentions Taylor Swift (and calls her "T-Swizzle"), the Kardashians are mentioned, and at one point, Sunny says she looks like "Jennifer Laurence." None of those things were hugely relevant in 2006. Those are more like 2016 pop culture references. On the other hand, the references and pervasiveness of Goth culture and punk culture and bands like Green Day make this book feel way more like an early 2000s effort. If this book was edited to be more "modern," it failed miserably, because now it comes across as this Frankenstein effort written by an alien who only understands teenagers from what they have seen on reruns of after school specials.

I'm really annoyed because I wanted to like this book. I love vampire stories, and I even love teenage vampire stories like TWILIGHT. This book wanted to be TWILIGHT but it also wanted to be edgy, and ended up sacrificing the love story that made TWILIGHT so epic for annoying teenage drama and ended up sacrificing the edginess for "OMG, I'm so relatable you guys! G to the whizzle! I'm hip and I'm straight-edge and I'm here to shake the scene, tubular-style!"-type shenanigans that kind of made me feel like I was watching a friend's dad try to sound cool at a barbecue. Oh, and that insta-love. That insta-love. It made TWILIGHT look like A Very Long Engagement.

I think I'll be giving the rest of this author's books a miss.

1 out of 5 stars

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith Duran

After reading Maire Claremont's THE DARK LADY, I needed a palate cleanser to wash down the angst. I looked at my virtual to-read pile and selected THE SINS OF LORD LOCKWOOD by Meredith Duran because the title promised sexy times and the cheeky lady on the cover promised saucy adventures. Well, I was right about the sexy times, but wrong about the saucy adventures - this book turned out to be just as dark and angsty as THE DARK LADY, if not more so. I was tricked, gosh darn it! Tricked!

Dastardly tricks aside, however, I really enjoyed reading THE SINS OF LORD LOCKWOOD, in no small part because it revolves around a dark revenge plot that appears inspired by THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO. Liam and Anna were engaged to be married. On paper, it was a union of convenience - he is an impoverished earl, and she is a rich countess heiress who wants to keep her freedom and her properties. However, they had an understanding and affection for one another that transcended what they were bringing to the table. Or at least, that's what Anna thought...until he ditches her on their honeymoon.

As it turns out, Liam was held captive and tortured in unspeakably cruel ways for reasons that become clear as the plot unravels. Scarred and stricken with PTSD, he is no longer the naive and untouched rake his wife fell in love with, and he's rather cruel to her in his efforts to push her aside and keep from opening up to her in his feverish attempts to destroy the person who would have destroyed him, if he hadn't been able to fight his way out of hell and return back to England.

Once I realized what kind of story I was reading (note: not a light-hearted frothy wallpaper historical), I quickly got on board. I love me a good tortured hero, and Liam was exceptionally well done. Sometimes I roll my eyes at "tortured heroes" in romance novels, because their misery is entirely manufactured and completely idiotic, i.e. "I'm just too manly to have feelings, dammit! How do I tell her that she's not like other women?" This was not like that at all, and while Big Misunderstandings often have me wanting to jump ship, it actually worked here because Liam was suffering and slow to trust and Anna was stubborn and prideful.

If you're a romance reader, you're probably nodding along impatiently and thinking to yourself, "Yes, that's all well and good, but what about the chemistry? What about the sexy times?" As a romance reader myself, I salute you. Also, you won't be disappointed. The sexy times aren't only steamy, they're a little kinky, as well (and the heroine's WTF IS GOING ON reaction was priceless).

A lot of historical romances coming out these days feel interchangeable but Meredith Duran has a signature style that I really enjoy and is quickly becoming a fast favorite with me. The stories I've read from her pack an emotional wallop and she's not afraid to take the narrative down a few dark alleys to keep things interesting.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3.5 out of 5 stars

Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

Wow, I really wasn't a fan of this one at all and that bums me out, because I was fully expecting to love TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE. Since my feelings about this are so complicated and the subject matter is so delicate, I'm going to list out my thoughts in bullet points. (Bullet points are so much easier!)

Some thoughts:

1. I loved what this book was trying to do, and even if it didn't quite succeed, the publication of books like THE HATE U GIVE and TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE not only gives the Black Lives Matter movement more exposure, it puts books featuring kids of color into the hands of actual kids of color with stories that they can relate to (whether in a good or bad way). That's nothing to sneeze at, and I can appreciate the value of books like TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE even if I don't enjoy them.

2. Comparisons to THE HATE U GIVE are going to be inevitable. They are very similar stories: two high school kids of color who feel a lot of pressure to "act white" in order to be successful, who live in a low-income/racially diverse area with lots of criminal/gang activity, whose lives are torn apart by police brutality spurred on by racial discrimination that ends up starting a local movement. I don't think the similarity is a bad thing, because like I said before, Black Lives Matter is a movement representing real victims of police brutality, and those narratives are important. But it's my opinion that THE HATE U GIVE is a much better book, and handles the subject matter better.

3. The characters in here feel very undeveloped. I didn't get much of a sense of who Tyler was, whereas the main character in THUG all but leaped from the pages. I would have liked to have gotten a better sense of his character, because that might have made me like him more. He just felt very bland and passive to me, and I couldn't figure out if that was meant to be intentional or not. His choices, particularly the one at the end involving his future, didn't make sense and seemed to be fueled for the sake of keeping the story moving. All of his friends are very one-note, and his sort-of love interest, when she appears, kind of just feels like the generic manic pixie dreamgirl type.

4. All the white people in this book are assholes. This kind of ties into the third bullet point - all the bad people in this book, like the cops and the mean principal and the well-meaning, but white guilt apologist "I-have-a-diversity-checklist-in-my-back-pocket-and-that-checklist-says-I-must-be-nice-to-you-for-diversity-related-reasons" MIT representative are just hilarious stereotypes of white people being shitty in various shitty ways. That cop, man. What the actual fresh hell was he doing. What a psychopath. I couldn't help but compare the cop scenes in here with the cop scene in THUG, where the cop did what he did because his racism surfaced during a snap decision he made because he was afraid. Here, it was just like the cop decided he was going to be all, "Yaaaaay! Power abuse is fun!" Ditto the principal, with his constant attempts to sabotage poor Tyler. I was just waiting for that dude to start twirling his mustache and tying people to train tracks. Subtle this was not.

 Edit: Removed Principal Dodson from the "white people are assholes" section because apparently he was black and I missed this is my skim-a-thon. My bad.

I'm glad I was approved for an advance reader copy of this book and I'm sorry I didn't like this more. I see that at least some of my friends on Goodreads really enjoyed this book, so maybe you will, too.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

The Dark Lady by Maire Claremont

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

A couple years ago, I won a giveaway of the second book in this series, LADY IN RED, but I never read it because I am a trash person. It's not even that I lost the book: I can literally see it sitting right on my bookshelf across the room at this very moment. You see, I hadn't realized when I signed up for the giveaway that it was the 2nd book in the series, and that freaked me out a little. How could I read book 2 if I hadn't read book 1? What if there were...spoilers?

Fast forward to late last year, when THE DARK LADY finally went on sale for Kindle. I say "finally" because I was literally stalking this book for years, waiting for the price to drop because I'm a cheapskate. If you're thinking to yourself, "That seems excessive, waiting several years for a price drop of a few dollars," welcome to Nenialand, pal - where I can spend $5 on a cup of coffee but have trouble rationalizing the purchase of an ebook for $4.99.

THE DARK LADY is a fun book and really tries to follow in the footsteps of its Gothic predecessors from the 60s and 70s, but with the edgy modern twist of sex, scandal, and drugs. I'm a huge fan of Gothic Romances but they were notoriously tame and scarcely escalated beyond kissing. It's a shame, because some of them - Victoria Holt, in particular - were very sensual about their passions, and you could totally tell that they wanted to write a dirty story but probably didn't feel as though they were allowed. Well, you needn't worry about that in THE DARK LADY. There are several rather steamy scenes at various points in this book, floating atop the murky sea of angst like bits of erotic driftwood. Mostly, though, the focus of the book is on the angst of the two leads: Ian and Eva.

I don't want to say too much about these characters, but Ian is an ex-soldier who served in India and Eva was recently imprisoned in a Bedlam-style madhouse. Both of them carry the burden of dark secrets and the sense of responsibility for things that really weren't their fault. These experiences have warped them considerably, and impact their ability to relate to one another, even though they were close as children. This relationship-focused angle of the book, set amidst the backdrop of filial obligation and responsibility, smacked of yet another one of my favorite Gothic Romance authors: Marilyn Harris. Harris is quite a bit darker and depraved when it comes to fleshing out her characters, though, and even though Ian and Eva are cast in a darker mold than many other contemporary romance heroes and heroines, they still pale in the shadows of that truly glorious madness that is the Eden family, Marilyn Harris's main claim to fame, and one of my favorite yet-to-be-completed-by-me series.

The atmosphere of this book is dark and lovely, with many wonderful passages. Sometimes the writing can be a bit plodding, but I liked it for the most part because it was in keeping with the Gothic style. Like others, I thought the matter of Eva's opium addiction was resolved too cleanly (as soon as it was no longer convenient for the plot, really), but that's par for the course with most issues in Romancelandia, sadly. If it's no longer convenient, it's no longer in the plot. Bye, and don't let the deus ex machina hit you on the way out! The whole thing with Mrs. Palmer also seemed anticlimactic. I wanted to find out about her history and what turned her into such a revenge-getting, torture-happy crazypants-wearing individual. But no. Maybe this is dealt with in later books.

I guess I'll finally be checking out LADY IN RED now!

3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Market Street Cinema by Michele Machado

Honestly, it's getting to the point where you only have to wave a trashy book in front of my nose before I tear into that sucker the way the velociraptors did to that cow in Jurassic Park. A new adult book about a girl who doesn't want to go to college and ends up stripping to pay rent and solve all of her self-created problems? Logical brain says, "No, Nenia, don't do it." Stupid brain says, "YAAAS, GURL. READ THAT BOOK - AND WHILE YOU'RE AT IT, PASS ME THAT MOSCOW MULE."

I applied for MARKET STREET CINEMA because the title is based off a real place in San Francisco. I've walked by it (hard to miss the bright colored building with the racy pictures of pretty ladies). I don't believe it's standing any longer; it went the way of many unsavory SF "historical" sites: torn down to make way for Big Business.  Still, the prospect of reading about places I've actually been was irresistible and 90% of why I bought this book.

Lita is eighteen years old and starting her first year of college that her parents are paying for. However, being used to coasting in high school, she decides she isn't cut out for the rigors of the academic life and drops out - a fact her none-too-pleased parents discover when the notification from her college comes in the mail (*tries to imagine how her own parents would have reacted to such wtfery*). Her dad is especially angry and kicks her out of the house, so Lita works at a lingerie store while planning her next move. One day, a woman comes into the shop who tells Lita that she works at a dance club in SF and that the dancers there would be thrilled to see a catalogue where they could buy new costumes for their acts. One things leads to another, and pretty soon Lita is dancing and stripping at Market Street Cinema herself, because, obviously.

My expectations for this book were pretty low since I don't have a whole lot of faith in the new adult genre - I've been burned too many times. MARKET STREET CINEMA came as a pretty nice surprise. The writing quality is decent and there's no half-assed romance thrown into the mix for "drama." The entire story is just Lita trying to make it on her own in the ridiculously expensive Bay Area, trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life, and her developing friendship with Liberty. I feel like this book also took a pretty realistic view of stripping for money: the competition between the girls and the caginess of their responses when confiding how much they really made, the men who come in and pay well, the creeps who come in and bend the rules, and the fact that while some women enjoy it, others see it as a kind of trap with an expiration date all felt grittily accurate. I mean, from what I would guess. I don't know any strippers. Maybe real strippers would react to this book the way real army people reacted to The Hurt Locker.

I think my favorite aspects of this book were the observations on the city and the Bay Area at large. It's set in the 90s, so it's a little dated (GOOD LUCK buying an apartment in San Ramon on a stripper's paycheck now, my friend), but many of the observations made me laugh. Yes, it's as expensive as Christ to live here. Yes, BART commuting is an eternal frustration. Yes, NOBODY but the tourists call San Francisco "Frisco" and you will be judged if you do (FRISCO IS A CITY IN TEXAS, FOOL). I did side-eye Liberty having a really nice apartment in the Haight with what she made on her stripper paycheck, though, because that area has always been desirable and expensive, and the price for a studio apartment there now would run you over 3k/mo. By contrast, apartments in the Tenderloin (which is a lot closer to Market St., and probably where a stripper would live, since I can't imagine wanting to walk far, alone, at night, in the pre-cell phone era) are about 1.7k/mo.

My least favorite aspect of this novel was the ending. It felt like a shitty way to get Lita on the "right" path. I don't want to give spoilers in this review, but it really bummed me out. I think I understand why the author did it, and it does offer some pretty valid criticism on how sex workers are viewed and treated in our society, but man - talk about cold.

Sex work seems to be a common theme in this author's novels. I see that she has another book called MAY AT THE PEACOCK RANCH, which I suspect is based off the BunnyRanch in Carson City, Nevada (it's a legal brothel - prostitution is legal and regulated in certain parts of Nevada). I'm interested in checking that book out eventually, because I read a book about the BunnyRanch a few years ago while researching the sex industry for a novel that never actually came to fruition. It's a fascinating topic and one that's often stigmatized by society, so I'm interested in seeing her take.

If you enjoy gritty books about unsavory topics, you should check out MARKET STREET CINEMA. It paints a rather interesting portrait of the San Francisco that the tourists don't often see, and the subject matter is handled mostly inoffensively and with some degree of finesse.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Mister Tender's Girl by Carter Wilson

When Alice was a little girl, two of her friends stabbed her and left her for dead because they believed that the character from Alice's father's famous comic books, Mr. Tender, would grant them their hearts' desires if they used Alice as a sacrifice. Now a young woman, Alice finds herself a victim to her father's comic books once more, as figures from her past start resurfacing in mysterious and sinister ways. Somebody is watching her - and they want something from her. Something dangerous.

There was a great story buried inside this merely good story. I loved the premise. Mr. Tender kind of reminds me of the creepy owner of Christmasland from Joe Hill's NOS4A2, or the proprietor of Stephen King's eponymous NEEDFUL THINGS. The murder that nearly killed Alice and scarred her for life was obviously inspired as well by the Slenderman myths, and the murders that periodically surface that were inspired by those myths. There's also a dash of MISERY in here, as well, lightly seasoned with some of Gillian Flynn's "damaged-girl-returns-home-to-confront-her-demons" existential crisis turned domestic horror vibes, as well, and even some of Marisha Pessl's NIGHT FILM in the sense that explores what happens when art and obsession go dark and twisted.

MISTER TENDER'S GIRL is definitely an ode to the horror drama and for most of the story (I'd say about 60%), it succeeds admirably. I only got 4 hours of sleep last night because I didn't want to put the book down: it sucks you into its bleak and chilling atmosphere, and doesn't let you go. It's like literary quicksand. The last 30% is where the book suffers because, in my opinion, it jumps the shark. Things just become too ridiculous, and it becomes like this crazy version of the Gong Show, where every one wants to out-psycho everyone else, and I'm just sitting here, like, "Wtf r u doin? Stahp."

I'll give it 3 stars because it was well-written and I think the author has the makings of a truly memorable story under his belt. This one just wasn't it, sadly. Still, it's fun and worth a gander.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Lavender Blue by Parris Afton Bonds

I love vintage romance novels. I can't get enough of them. The way I see it, we all need a vice, and mine is reading the types of books that most people try to forget exist - I SEE YOU, BACKLISTS. Usually, I read these types of books alone (shamelessly!) but this time, my two friends Karly and Heather joined me for the ride.

LAVENDER BLUE is set in the South Western United States, during the Civil War. In terms of setting and scene, it's actually very similar to Rosemary Rogers's SWEET SAVAGE LOVE: Juaristas, Emperor Maximilian, blockade runners, haciendas. Oh, yes. I didn't realize I was still craving that sort of edgy, Western setting until I picked up this book and was hit with the fond, nostalgic vibes of picking up SSL for the first time and sinking into some Rosemary Rogers goodness. This is a very different story from SSL, though.


Jeanette was married to a French guy who died young, in the Civil War. I think she owns a cotton plantation near the Mexican border, and she gets the brilliant idea of selling her cotton and then fencing it through a blockade runner in order to purchase arms for the Confederacy, because that was the Cause that her late husband championed. Jeanette is an unconventional lady in many ways, and her only true friend was also a friend of her husband and herself since childhood, Cristobal, the son of impoverished Spanish nobility.

When Jeanette meets the blockade runner, it's in the dark, bound, and blindfolded, and his terms for fencing her cotton is that he wants her. All she knows is that he's French and his name is Kitt - and he's really, really unconventional and attentive in bed (hee-hee). He also says the most amazing things to her in French. I had Google translate open so I could actually figure out what he was saying, since I don't speak a lick of French, and oh my God, be still my heart. *fans self*

What Jeanette doesn't realize is that Cristobal - the foppish, prissy, affected man she often finds herself being alternately disgusted and exasperate by and at one point even believes to be gay - is actually the Frenchman who's using her body for leverage. Not only that, but he's been secretly in love with her for years - basically since they were children. BE STILL, MY HEART.

This makes it all the more frustrating when Cristobal undergoes a total change of heart around the 80% mark and inexplicably becomes cruel, raping the heroine and slapping the heroine and saying all manner of cruel things towards her. He doesn't seem to get why Jeanette might feel betrayed, instead mocking her and basically making light of her misery until her anger reaches a fever pitch that pushes him over the edge and causes him to hurt her.

I read a lot of cruel heroes in bodice rippers so this didn't upset me as much as it did some readers, but it definitely felt out of character and the rating took a hit because of it. I still loved Cristobal's character and I guess you could argue that the things that made him so obsessive and impulsive could just as easily work against him, kind of like Stanley's animal passions in Streetcar Named Desire. Still, this was a lot better than the other book by Bonds I read, DUST DEVIL. Nobody gets their nose cut off in this book. I always consider that a plus.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Ultimate Doll Book by Caroline Goodfellow

I bought this at a boot sale in the UK a number of years ago. If you don't know what a boot sale is, that's where a bunch of people park their cars in a lot somewhere and then put a bunch of things they want to sell in their "boot" (or, trunk if you live in the US). It's a lot like a garage sale, but has the advantage of both being a fun social event for the community and not showing a bunch of total randos where you live.

The illustrations in this book are really great - all of the photographs are of high resolution and clearly show the fine details of the dolls, like the painted glass eyes or handmade accessories like manicure sets. The author covers a pretty broad timeline, too, with dolls from the 1700s to what was the present day when this book was published (early 1990s).

Even if I don't collect/am not interested in the things being showcased in these types of books, I still love them, because they're often published by collectors and you can see their passion for their hobbies radiate through the pages. Such is the case, here. It's nice to live vicariously through a doll collector who clearly finds these monstrosities charming because let me tell you right now: ain't nobody putting a bunch of creepy-ass plastic people* in my house. I've seen too many movies. I know how that shit goes down.

I'm NOT going to be murdered by dolls, thank you very much.

*Actually a lot of dolls weren't made out of plastic, but things like bisque, composite, or wax. And if the dolls aren't actively trying to sneak into your bedroom with a knife, they're unarguably trying to kill you another way: with the white lead that was mixed in with the wax to pigment it to approximate flesh tones. Lead used to be put into everything. Women's foundation contained lead in the 19th century; it was called "enamel" and I believed mixed with wax so that it would "melt" on the face.

This book does feel dated, though, because of several noted omissions that would probably be included in a similar book published today: Bratz dolls, Baby Alive, American Girl dolls, and the Monster High and Equestria Girls dolls. Also, when it comes to the matter of addressing dolls representing people of other ethnicities, it sometimes feels... awkward? The Asian dolls are often referred to as "oriental" dolls, for example, and while the descriptive passages note that many "black" dolls were made using the same molds as "white" dolls and just painted differently, they fail to note that "painted differently" in these instances tends to look an awful lot like "blackface." A similar uncomfortable moment arises when a WWII-era doll from Germany is very, very simply described as depicting "German ideals" (or something like that) with its blonde hair and blue eyes.

This is an interesting book if you can find a copy. I wouldn't say it's worth seeking out unless you're a serious collector, but it's fun for passing the time and learning a bit about the history behind one of the world's most widespread and popular toys.

3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Wild One by Danelle Harmon

💙 I read this for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2018 Reading Challenge, for the category of: Historical Romance (Any). For more info on this challenge, click here. 💙

Dammit, 90s bodice rippers - how can I keep making fun of you if you keep being so...good? Earlier this year, I read a 90s Western romance about two ranchers called WILD TEXAS FLAME that I fully expected to dislike, and now this book, THE WILD ONE! Maybe only 90s bodice rippers with the word "wild" in the title are exempt from this rule...but clearly, I have to do some reevaluating of my stance when it comes to 90s bodice rippers; some are good!

This is actually my second experience with Danelle Harmon. Last year, Heather and I buddy-read one of her pirate romances, called CAPTAIN OF MY HEART. With a title like that, I wasn't expecting much, but the story was a well-researched romp on the high seas set during the Revolutionary War, featuring a spitfire heroine and one of those charming, gallant alpha-heroes, who is both gentlemanly and protective, but not an a-hole.

THE WILD ONE's hero, Gareth de Montforte, is cast in the same mold. Gareth was the third Montforte brother, with his older brother, Charles, standing to inherit the dukedom if anything should happen to their older brother, Lucien (God forbid). Unfortunately, when Charles dies in the Revolutionary War, Gareth becomes the heir. And he's the one nobody expected: the rakehell and the wastrel, who would rather get drunk and paint the peens of statues with purple paint with his buddies (true story) than do anything approaching real work. He meets the heroine when he acts rather out of character, and takes charge to stop a group of highwaymen from attacking a carriage.

The heroine, Juliet, is shocked when her rescuer is none other than the brother of her late, would-be husband. Unfortunately, since said would-be husband perished before he could marry her and left her with a babe born out of wedlock, she's forced to throw herself upon the mercies of the cold and icy duke, who doesn't really see her as a person so much as an opportunity to force Gareth to behave. Let's just say that old habits die hard, and Gareth's pride leads both him and the heroine to many thorny situations, involving but not limited to dens of iniquity and the criminal underworld.

I really enjoyed THE WILD ONE. Danelle Harmon has a very fun way of writing that flows very naturally and unfolds as though you were experiencing everything firsthand yourself (she has a knack for describing things in the order and the way that someone experiencing those situations would probably notice them in real life, which I love), but without the historical anachronisms that often riddle such chatty-style narratives. I think Sarah said in her review that the only word she noticed was "barf," which wasn't actually used commonly until the 1960s. Oops.

If this book has a weakness, it is the sex scenes. They are rather flowery and terrible. There was a particular noteworthy scene in which Juliet's parts are described as a pink cradle, and Gareth's parts often resemble Ms. Perky's writing efforts in 10 Things I Hate About You, with the word "engorged" and "tumescence" actually being used 3 times altogether on one page (it kind of makes you wonder if one of the writers of 10TIHAY had just read this particular book, and was feeling salty).

I'd read further into this series, though. I'm starting to really enjoy this author's works because I know she can be counted on to tell good stories, and I desperately want to read Lucien's book. #IcyDukes

Thanks to my buddies, Draco, Harry, and Hermione for participating in this BR with me!

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Soft Limits by Brianna Hale

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

There are things that I love in erotica and things that will send me running from the room, and of the things that will send me running, sadism, spankings, and Daddy-kink rank pretty high up there. My most recent brush with sadistic erotica came in the form of Anne Rice's THE CLAIMING OF SLEEPING BEAUTY, which held all the sexual appeal of having a pap smear or getting a cavity filled. I know it's wrong to judge a genre by a single example, and I am constantly railing about that on behalf of bodice rippers or the romance genre in general, but I've also seen a number of Daddy-kink and sadistic erotica novels in the "free" section of the Kindle store, and the samples that I've read there were... well, terrifying. And not in the "good" way, but the "holy shit, why?" way.

I recently read another book by this author called MIDNIGHT HUNTER, the only work of hers that isn't Daddy/little BDSM kink. The story was set in East Germany, when the wall was still up, and communism had filled the vacuum left by the defeated Nazis. MIDNIGHT HUNTER was incredibly well-researched, and while a romance between a would-be "traitor" and a Stasi officer should have had me running in the other direction, I actually really found myself enjoying the story because of how the characters were written and how true it felt to the times in which it was set. It felt believable.

I enjoyed the book so much, I sent the author a message telling her so, and she suggested SOFT LIMITS, as it was, in her opinion, the best of her three erotica novels - although she was pretty clear about what sorts of kinks were involved. I was skeptical, but the premise of SOFT LIMITS sounded very intriguing. A hot French stage performer who specializes in... villains (OH BOY) who also wants to do naughty stuff to the ingenue he's unwittingly hired to write his biography?

YES, YES, YES, YES, and also YES.

The sample for the first two chapters of this book is actually included in the back of MIDNIGHT HUNTER, so I read the sample (still skeptically) and instead found myself charmed. The book was a bit pricier than what I normally spend on ebooks of that page count, but I'm sick, dammit, and wanted to do something nice for myself, so I bought SOFT LIMITS...and ended up finishing it in a single sitting, in just under three hours. It was so good that I literally could NOT put it down.

I'm still not sold on the whole "Daddy" thing, but it worked within the context of the story. Hale took scenarios and endearments that I thought in no way could possibly hot and made them hot. How she did that, I don't know. Dark magic? Possibly. It also helped that I liked both characters immensely. When E.L. James sat down to write FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, I feel like she wanted to write something like this. In some ways, they are similar stories. Evie is an Anglophile who is studying English literature in her university and ends up conducting an interview with the man who ends up being her lover later by chance. Frederic is an older man (in this case, much older - 18 years older) who is charmed by the innocence and artlessness of the heroine, and wants to indoctrinate her into his wicked ways of love. The difference is that Frederic doesn't force Evie into anything, he doesn't belittle or control her, and he always makes sure that she is happy (whereas Christian is like YOU MUST PLEASE ME AT ALL TIMES, 24/7. Lol, how about no). Evie also isn't a blushing dunce who must be dragged into the dark realm of Kink; she's had the fantasies for years and Frederic merely provides her with the outlet that she needs to explore them fully. Also, the heroine has a pretty good relationship with her family and they make several appearances in here! Nobody is abusive or using BDSM as an outlet for things that they should be seeing a psychologist about. Hooray!

As an Anglophile and Francophile myself, I must also say I appreciated all the references to British and French literature: JANE EYRE, Georgette Heyer, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME - I have read and adored all of these, and seeing them in here was like catnip. Like Evie, I also think that villains are hot, which is why I have a villain-gets-the-girl shelf on Goodreads. Also, yes, Phantom/Christine, Jareth/Sarah, Julian/Jenny and Kylo/Rey are all ships that I sail joyously and unapologetically. I even shipped that one chick with the psycho hitman in that Red Eye movie with Cillian Murphy, because I have problems (but apparently so do other people, because there is a hell of a lot of fanfic for that movie). It was nice to see villains get some love here.

The only thing in this book that I wasn't really keen on was that trope that I just can't stand generally but is so prevalent in romance novels: The Idiotic Misunderstanding of the Last Act. There's always a misunderstanding and I could smell the one in here coming a mile away. Evie totally overacts and ended up making me like her a lot less. I could see why she felt the way she did, ultimately; she put herself in a very vulnerable place, for the sake of trust, and having that trust betrayed made her feel as though she had perhaps been betrayed in other areas, as well. I got that, but it was still annoying.

Apart from that, I really enjoyed this book and look forward to seeing what this author comes up with next. She's becoming a fast favorite of mine; it's truly rare to see erotica that is *this* good.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, March 9, 2018

Bizarre Romance by Audrey Niffenegger

When I'm sick, the most comforting things for me are books and tea. So I'm parked in an armchair right now with a giant fleece blanket, a Big Gulp-sized cup of unsweetened iced tea, and a pile of books, trying not to feel so much like poop. What better way to do that than to work my way through a bunch of ARCs that aren't coming out until later this month? Ha-ha-*cough cough cough cough*-ha-*cough*-ha, suckers!

*cough* *cough* *blows nose*

I was really excited when I saw BIZARRE ROMANCE pop up on Netgalley because I really enjoyed THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE, even (especially!) if it was like Dr. Who meets TWILIGHT (and you might say to yourself, "There is no way that premise would work." WRONG!). I was excited to see what new and interesting ideas she would explore using graphic novels as her medium, with the assistance of the talented Eddie Campbell, whose surreal illustrations really complement the bizarre stories.

BIZARRE ROMANCE is an anthology-like collection, with each "chapter" being a different story. The problem with anthologies is that, unless they are carefully curated, there are always some stories that stand out way more than others and a couple that actually drag the collection down as a whole. One of the few anthology collections I have read that was close to perfect was John Scalzi's MINIATURES, and even that one ended on a sour note with a wtf-is-this finale.

Thursdays, Six to Eight p.m.:

Comic format. This was easily one of my favorites in the collection. I'm a huge fan of fairytales and this one has an almost Bluebeard's Castle vibe to it, but there's a surprise twist that's actually quite funny.

The Composite Boyfriend:

Prose format. The title illustration was amazing, which sadly only highlighted the mediocrity of the story itself. This short story gives off a pretentious, twee vibe that I really did not like.


Comic format. Wow, what a mouthful. This is a strange, surreal story that is clearly inspired by tales like Alice in Wonderland and Narnia, but the bittersweet ending makes it feel more adult.

Secret Life, with Cats: ½

Prose format. Ooh, I did not like this one at all. A creepy cat lady story? No, thank you! Also, this one ties into the "romance" theme only very peripherally. Definitely a detriment to the collection.

The Ruin of Grant Lowery:

Comic format. After Thursdays, Six to Eight p.m., this was probably my second favorite in the collection. An old school fairy tale, where the fairies are manipulative and sneaky. 

Girl on a Roof:

Prose format. I hate giving this one a one-star, because it was the only LGBT story in the mix, but it was so boring, my eyes glazed over. 

Jakob Wywialowski and the Angels:

Comic format. Kind of a surreal story about angels invading somebody's attic. I liked it, in spite of its strangeness, although it sticks out because it isn't about romance. 

At the Movies:

Prose format. This one was forgettable but inoffensive.

Motion Studies: Getting Out of Bed: ½

Comic format. Cool short story about life drawing and photography. The art really makes it work.

The Wrong Fairy: ½

Prose format. One of the better prose stories in here. Like The Ruin of Grant Lowery, it's also about making bargains with fairies, but the fairies are nicer in this one. Nothing to do with romance, though.

Digging up the Cat: ½

Comic format. Literally what it sounds like. A seemingly autobiographical story of the author digging up her dead cat from the front yard of her old house to rebury it in front of her new house.

The Church of the Funnies:

Prose format. Bizarre, also seemingly autobiographical story about art as religion. Not a fan.

Backwards in Seville:

Comic format. One of the sadder stories in the mix, about a woman on a cruise with her elderly father. The topic is more about familial love and regret than romance.

As you can see, the stories done in comic format tended to be much better than the ones told in prose format, with a handful of exceptions. There were also quite a few stories that had little to nothing to do with romance, which made the anthology feel disorganized - particularly in the case of Digging Up the Cat and The Church of the Funnies, which took away from the surreal, fairytale-like theme.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

2.5 out of 5 stars