Monday, June 29, 2020

The Beloved One by Danelle Harmon

DNF @ 7%

I was so excited for this book because I did a BR of the first book in the series, THE WILD ONE, with my friends, and we really enjoyed it. I couldn't wait to read further into the series and managed to convince my very good friend Heather to join me. God, just look at that original 90s cover. Doesn't the hero look like he's taken the heroine to a park for the express purpose of appreciating his man boob next to a scenic backdrop of Doric columns?

I'm sorry to say that this is the first Danelle Harmon I didn't like, however, so-bad-it's-good cover or no. I think there's actually a couple reasons of this. First, the original appears to be a tidy 360+ pages, whereas the Kindle edition I had (republished with a not so great cover) has 500+. It kind of seems like maybe this was rewritten and repackaged, but I'm not so sure it should have been because this feels overwritten in a way that some of the author's other novels didn't, and I hope she didn't do this to all of her books, because I actually thought some of her other ones were really, really great.

1 out of 5 stars

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Voice in My Head by Dana L. Davis


I actually really hated this book, and ended up putting it off for days because reading it was so unpleasant. It's a shame, because even though I knew it wasn't going to be a happy book, the topics it dealt with sounded so important and relevant that I really wanted to give it a chance, despite my gut saying, "No, no, no, no, no, you're going to regret this! No, no, no, no, no."

I should have listened to my gut.

This is a story about two sisters named Violet and Indigo, who are twins. One of them, Violet, is terminally ill and wants to have medically assisted death because the act of breathing itself has become so painful. Indigo is 100% NOT okay with this, and the book literally opens with her deciding to take her own life because she is so upset about this decision.

Somehow, she survives jumping off the building, and when she awakens, she can hear the voice of God. God tells her that if she drags her terminally ill sister up a mountain in Arizona, she'll live, and for some reason the family agrees to go along with this, and it's road trip time, which ends up forcing the family to unpack a lot of the issues they've only tiptoed around.

If you've read books like THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, MY SISTER'S KEEPER, and ME BEFORE YOU, you'll understand what this book is trying to do, and what it's supposed to achieve. Indigo needs to learn how to come to terms with her sister's decision, and that death is what is supposed to push us all to live-- because, you know, mortality is what makes life precious and worth living, etc. I get the message and it's something I actually agree with. For me, I took issue with the bizarre handling of Indigo's mental health problems, and the way the Voice of God angle was presented, and how the tone of this oscillated between oddball quirkiness and incredibly depressing.

Maybe some people will really enjoy this but I found it frustrating and upsetting.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review! 

1 out of 5 stars

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Midnight Waltz by Jennifer Blake

The only thing more fun than reading a retro romance novel is scamming one of your friends into reading said retro romance novel with you (thanks, Heather). Jennifer Blake has long been one of my favorite vintage romance novelists because of her interesting, epic plots and settings; her penchant for dangerous, villainous, and/or rakish heroes; and the luscious architecture, fashion, and food porn that really add a lot of texture and context to the story.

Warning: Spoilers abound because it is necessary to have spoilers to appreciate all the WTF in books like these. (Plus, they often have a lot of problematic content and I think it's important that people go in knowing about the content warnings with books like these.)

MIDNIGHT WALTZ is set during the time of slavery in Louisiana. Amalie is the wife of a rich plantation owner named Julien, who, despite his manly physique and prowess with the sword, has been unable to consummate their marriage. The fact that she has remained a virgin all these years remains a shameful secret between the two of them (and, presumably, the mother-in-law and servants).

One day, Julien's equally attractive and manly cousin, Robert, arrives, and the two of them have a moment involving wet t-shirts (I think she saved a child from drowning or there was a flood, I don't really remember-- too much heaving, bosomy action :D). Shortly afterwards, Amalie's husband finally starts paying her nightly visits to do the dirty and OH BOY IS IT FUN.

Only... whoops, it turns out that Julien is actually gay and her frustrated mother-in-law basically hired Robert to act as a stud to get her pregnant with Julien's heir with his miserably tacit knowledge. It's only when Amalie actually starts to fall for him and lower that "everything's 100% all right" facade that Julien calls out Robert, who challenges him to a duel at dawn. OH NOES.

But Julien never shows up at dawn, and it turns out that... whoops, the mother-in-law hired someone to get rid of him, and when he proved too difficult, took it upon themselves to PERMANENTLY get rid of him, if you know what I mean. And the knowledge of what she's done makes the MIL super sick with guilt, literally and figuratively, and she essentially ends up dying from it at the end.

And then there's a flood and MIL gets pushed off the door or whatever that they're floating on, Jack-from-Titanic style (I think it's actually a "whirligig" and not a door), and no, I am not kidding, but it's okay, because the heroine sneaks into the hero's bedroom and does naughty stuff until he wakes up and then is like, "Oh there's a priest in the other room, let's get married."

The end.

So, content warnings:

❌️ Multiple attempted rapes
❌️ Actual rape (in that heroine consents to sex with one person thinking said person is someone else)
❌️ Slavery, and no, given when this was published, it's not handled in the most PC way
❌️ Use of the N-word (1-2 times by the villain only)
❌️ Negative stereotypes of gay men + pedophilia (heroine's husband is gay and has sex with teens 🤢)
❌️ Self-harm (the MIL puts on a hair shirt as penance for her crimes)

I think those are all the ones that jumped out at me, and I know they'll probably keep some of you from reading the book. I might be missing a couple that I didn't think of, though.

There is one thing that this book does really well, though, which I was texting back and forth with Heather about, and that is that all of the sex scenes are written from the perspective of the female gaze. In a lot of sex scenes, even ones written by women, the heroine is often written as a passive object that receives the hero's attentions. This book has a lovely passage where the hero strips while the heroine watches, and then they have a really tender (and steamy) sex scene, where both are equal participants with equal agency, and it's surprisingly sensual.

I mean, I go into these with pretty low expectations because a lot of them are flaming dumpster fires that I read mostly to make fun of, and it's not uncommon to find euphemisms like "honey ovens" or "love grottoes" and no, I am not joking. Read some Bertrice Small and you'll see what I mean. But the sex scenes in this book were better than a lot of sex scenes I've read in modern historical romance, and I think the only other steamier vintage sex scene I can think of was in LAVENDER BLUE.

Is this book problematic? Yes. Was it fun to read anyway? Yes. Did it surprise me in some interesting and unexpected ways? Yes. Would I recommend it to others? Eh, probably not... unless you know what you're getting into and want to dive into a trash pile that isn't offensive as its counterparts.

In that case, feel free: jump in.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Night Shift by Lilith Saintcrow

NIGHT SHIFT was a pretty disappointing read for me and I ended up skimming my way through large swaths of it. It's kind of like the early Anita Blake books, with more fighting and less sex, with the goth noir vibes of the movie Underworld. Only with demons and demon hunters.

Jill Kismet has a pretty crap life. She was taken off the streets (working as a prostitute, I believe), rescued by her trainer, Mikhail, from the oldest profession in the world to work the second oldest profession in the world (murder-for-hire). But Mikhail was murdered by a demon, so now she is all alone, working as a demon cop while benefiting from a twisted demon who has a connection with her: he gives her favors and she tortures him sexually as payment.

Meanwhile, people are dying and there are demons (called "hellbreeds") in the book to blame, and as the body count rises, so does Jill's stress. She races around, trying to seek out answers, while in a bizarre love triangle between a werewolf named Saul Dustcircle and that aforementioned masochistic demon, Perry ("Pericles"). Neither of those relationships really go anywhere in this book, bar a kiss.

I wanted to like NIGHT SHIFT, as I said, but the writing wasn't all that great. I felt like it was too chatty in an effort to get us inside Jill's head, and it felt like she swung wildly between super depressed and super untouchable jaded cop. I get how the two could be two sides of the same coin, but it didn't really work here, imo. I also found the world-building very confusing and since the story hinges largely on understanding how all of the pieces fit together, that further sullied the book for me.

If you like Anita Blake like a lot, you might enjoy this book. Sadly, I did not. I won't be continuing the series.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keyes

DNF @ p. 51

The idea of a trashy mid-2000s chick-lit about the magazine industry sounded incredibly appealing given my current mood. I've been devouring trashy reads like a trash hurricane whirling through my bookshelves. Even better, it's set in Ireland, where I've finally been, so now I feel like I can appreciate the descriptions and the setting even more, because I've actually been to Dublin! Whee!

Marian Keyes is most famous for her Walsh Family series but she also did a lot of standalones. I was a huge fan of her in high school and college and used to buy up all her shit like an addict. The standalones were typically not as good, and I felt like a lot of books were way too long. This one is 500+ pages which seems excessive.

It's about three characters: Clodagh, a beautiful girl turned reluctant mom and housewife; Ashling, an eager beaver who enjoys her job until she meets her bitch boss; and Lisa, the bitch, who will do anything to claw her way to the top with her manicured talons. The last character is named Jack Devine, head of the new magazine and a dick, which, given when this was made, probably made him the love interest because that's when dicks were all the rage.

I'm not really feeling the characters and there isn't a lot happening. Plus, I don't really get the title. Not a single mention of sushi or beginners. I'm sure the connection happens later but I don't really care to read to the end. It's not a bad book but it's so slow, and I am just remembering that I took this book with me on the airplane to Ireland, and ended up leaving it in my bag and sleeping instead, so that probably should have been the sign I needed that this was no good. RIP, attention span.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

Catch a Falling Star by Kim Culbertson

I'm kind of a sucker for the "fake dating" trope, so even though this seemed like it was going to be fluffier than my usual fare, I was like "FAKE DATING?? YAAAAASS." Because I am weak.

CATCH A FALLING STAR is set in a beachside town in California called Little. The type of town where everyone knows everyone's business, and the local celebrities are descendants of the original founders. Until one day, a troupe of real celebrities arrive, to take advantage of the scenic views and quaint Victorian houses for a modern retelling of The Christmas Carol.

Shot in summer. Because of course.

The film's star is named Adam Jakes, a favorite of the tabloids because of his recent messy breakup and stint in rehab. This new movie is supposed to serve as his launchpad from troubled childhood star to serious adult actor. A fact made clear when the heroine, Carter, is cornered by his agent to act as his "fake girlfriend" to show that he really is on the up and up.

Since Carter has a brother who's struggling with an addiction of his own and their family desperately needs the money, she agrees to the job. And it's all fun and games until the lines between real and fake inevitably get blurred and she gets way more invested than she ever wanted, because dating Adam means going out into the big world beyond, and she's afraid to leave the city limits.

I used to read a lot of books like these in high school. Most of them were written by Sarah Dessen and Elizabeth Scott and Deb Caletti because I am old now, but I did once consider myself quite the connoisseur of YA fiction. They're fun, but if you read too many of them, they start to feel a little empty. It's kind of like eating entire bags of potato chips for dinner-- once in a while is okay, but do it everyday straight for a week and you're going to start feeling pretty sick.

CATCH A FALLING STAR does have some surprisingly insightful passages on sacrificing for relationships and what it means to set aside the familiar to pursue your dreams, but it is pure fluff. It's well-written fluff and I enjoyed it, but by the time I finished the story, I'd already half-forgotten it. This is definitely what you'd call a "mood read," and I think if you're in the mood for light and slightly angsty romance, you've found your true calling with this book.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, June 15, 2020

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

Some of you are mentally well-adjusted creators who have never tried to use your art as free therapy and it shows.
-My interpretation of a passage in this book

Somehow, I ended up with THREE copies of this book? How??? Two were gifts (one from co-worker, one from family) and one I bought on sale in the Kindle store, so clearly, the fates really, really wanted me to read this book. Which I did, finally. You're welcome, universe. Also, thank you, universe, because it turns out that THE ANIMATORS was exactly my cup of tea. Reminiscent of authors like Hanya Yanagihara and Donna Tartt, it falls into a genre of fiction that I have lovingly coined Literary Soap Opera™ and no, that's not a bad thing. I love my stories and this is a particularly good one. Mel and Sharon are both independent animators who met in college and bonded over their disturbed personal lives and working class lives in a Jeff Foxworthy-like interpretation of the south. Starting out as struggling artists, they eventually become key figures in the indie art movie scene.

Gradually, they become incredibly successful, their gritty, grungy autofiction sort of like cinéma vérité for cartoons. But of course, this is Literary Soap Opera™ and success does not walk hand in hand with happiness. Mel has many problems, including substance abuse and mother issues, and Sharon has a stroke that leaves a permanent impression on her body. Also, Sharon is haunted by a terrible and traumatic incident in her childhood that has left an indelible mark on her psyche. As they confront their inner demons, the bond between them grows more dependent and toxic, even though the two of them rely on each other not just to create but also to lean on, like kindred souls.

This closeness pushes away their partners and families, as they always come before each other, and their friendship is fueled by this relentless drive to create and fuel all of their passion and energy into their creative projects, even at the cost of their own mental and physical health. But with that closeness comes doubt: Sharon, our narrator, never feels like she's enough next to the vivid, larger-than-life Mel, who's brash and daring in a way that Sharon feels like she never will be. And even though they love and understand each other in a way that no one ever will, sometimes they find each other infuriating, and that artistic jealousy and insecurity might just become their undoing.

So yeah, I was trash for this book. As an author, I totally related to that push-pull need to work, work, work, exhausting all limits. When I was a teenager and in my early twenties, I would sometimes stay up all night writing. There was one day where I wrote about one hundred pages in a twenty-four hour period with, like, no sleep, and then edited and published the book in under a month. Was that healthy? No. Did my brain care? Also no. I saw from the reviews that some people took issue with this manic, dysfunctional portrayal of the Tortured Artiste™ and while I understand the criticism of that trope, there is also an element of truth to it. I think a lot of people are driven to create because they're seeking a means of catharsis for their personal demons. Maybe not all people, but some. I certainly used writing as an outlet for that; and there is something cathartic about that.

There was a post I saw a while ago, admonishing people who glorify an artist suffering nobly through illness for the sake of creating and YES, hard yes, I completely agree. Seek help if you need it and don't suffer in silence while using your work as a crutch. That was something young me had to learn the hard way, when I was feeling isolated and depressed. Looking back on some of my earlier works, I think it shows up-- they have a desolate, claustrophobic feel. When I did stop writing for a while, I wondered if I would never write again-- kind of how, as Sharon tries to recover from her depression and trauma, how she will ever function on her own with her changed circumstances. Art does not necessitate suffering; your art might slow or change with your state of mind, but it will return. My writing did change over time-- I think for the better, but it's definitely different. Because I'm different. So in a way, I think you could interpret THE ANIMATORS both ways: you could see it as a cautionary tale or a note of hope, depending on how you feel about the characters.

I think it's a little of both. You can't let your inner demons roam unchecked, and the worth of what you create is not and should not be measured by how much you've suffered through it. Even separated from that, I think THE ANIMATORS is a brilliant portrayal of the intensely passionate (but platonic) relationship between two women, and all of the joy and suffering and tragedy that comes with loving and living by art. I loved all the passages about drawing style and cartoons. I loved their brainstorming sessions, and how Sharon's work shaped the way she thought about things. She thought in panels, I think in narratives. It was so relatable, even if it was different. If you enjoy literary works about messed-up people and are also passionate about art (or a creator yourself), I think you'll really love this as much as I did, with the caveat that these women are not to be emulated.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Know My Name: A Memoir by Chanel Miller

Usually, I can finish a book in just a few hours. This book took me over twenty days to read. Reading it was a highly unpleasant, emotionally exhausting experience, and I kept having to put it aside. Chanel Miller, in case you don't know who she is, is the woman who was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner whose victim impact statement went viral when she was still "Jane Doe." Like many other women, I was following that trial closely and was shocked and disgusted at how many people leaped to Turner's defense because he was a Stanford boi and a good swimmer, whereas the girl he attacked was drunk and wearing a dress. When Chanel Miller revealed her identity, the fact that she was a person of color and he was white added a whole new layer of discrimination to an already heinous and unforgivable act.

Chanel Miller is brave. Not just for writing this book (although, also that), but for confronting her attacker, for facing him in court, for undergoing the rape kit test, for doing everything she did while trying to get herself some justice. She was brave for making it through her horrible ordeal, for her poise when internet commenters tried to tear her down. She was brave for owning her life and trying to reclaim herself.

KNOW MY NAME gives the details of the night as Miller remembers it, as well as some of the accounts from people who remember the parts of it she didn't. In KNOW, we get to know Chanel Miller as a person, apart from her attack, and how the assault, the shock, the trial, and its aftermath affected her. The trial is honestly one of the hardest parts to read. I started crying in some parts because I was so angry for her. When the defense tried to play her off as some silly little girl, I wanted to scream. Her outrage at Trump's infamous "grab 'em by the pussy" statement, and how horrifically similar it was to her own attacker's cavalier attitude toward women and consent, was truly nauseating, and reflected the outrage a lot of survivors felt at seeing that boor take office.

There are also a few bright spots. Joe Biden wrote her a touching letter. Hillary Clinton used a quote from Miller's statement in her memoir, WHAT HAPPENED. Many women spoke out in support of her, and her family and boyfriend were so lovely and wonderful in how unequivocally they stood by her side. I also got that sense that she felt powerfully vindicated by the #MeToo movement and seeing so many women come forward, even though the sheer number has grievous implications on how we, as a society, protect victims from abusers and prevent infrastructure that facilitates abuse.

So, after all this, I'm sure you're wondering-- if the book is THAT important, why only three stars? Because this book is so weighty, so harrowing, so dark, reading it made me feel incredibly shitty. And while I think that shitty feeling is something to hold on to, and think about, and remember whenever a woman comes forward about her abuser, I really did not enjoy the book all that much. I'm giving it three stars because I loved the message and that Miller felt like she could share it-- and herself-- with us, and I liked the writing style, but this is not a book that should be read for pleasure, and I would strongly encourage rape and sexual assault survivors to read this with caution, as it contains many potential triggers that I think could be incredibly upsetting.

Like other critical reviewers of this memoir, I also felt that it was long and unevenly paced. I get that real life does not always move linearly like a story and that a sexual assault survivor shouldn't have to edit or "censor" their account to benefit the public, but as a reader, the length made it very difficult to get through, especially considering the heaviness of the content. I definitely think this memoir should be read by many others, but please make sure you're in the right mental space to do so.

I'm glad Chanel Miller told us her name.

3 out of 5 stars

Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran by Roxana Saberi

Roxana Saberi is an Iranian-American journalist of Iranian and Japanese ancestry, who moved to Iran for several years while gathering materials and conducting interviews for a thorough book about the country. Shortly before she was due to leave, however, she was arrested by four men accusing her of espionage and taken to prison, where she remained for 100 days, under "white torture," where they used intimidation, threats, and coercion to obtain a false confession.

BETWEEN TWO WORLDS is about the days prior to her arrest, the time she spent in prison, her trial, and an epilogue. Saberi did not speak completely fluent Farsi, and her discomfort being made to write and sign things in a language she didn't have a complete grasp on was so heartbreaking, as was her obvious terror and isolation, especially when her captors refused to let her speak to her boyfriend and family-- or when they did, forced her to lie to them-- and threatened to keep her imprisoned for many years if she didn't do exactly as they said, only to deny it later.

Saberi credits her relatively quick release to the privilege of being an American citizen, and prominent enough that her arrest and captivity became an international incident that created a lot of bad press for the country. Her parents were also tireless in their advocacy, doing everything they could do to expedite her release. At the end, she talks about how there are many who aren't in this position, who don't have anyone to speak on their behalf and might not have the resources to leave. Even so, 100 days in captivity is no picnic, and she spent a lot of them terrified of her fate, especially with rumors of guards who had assaulted prisoners who didn't cooperate.

It's hard to say that I "enjoyed" this memoir when it deals with such tough subjects. Saberi is an excellent narrator, however (her journalism shining through, no doubt), and when she tells the story of her captivity, you feel like you're there with her. I loved her obvious passion for her work and her love for the country and the people of Iran; it is the extremists, she is careful to point out, who make it so difficult to explore and travel there, and who keep it from flourishing. I hope she decides to publish her book about Iran because I've always felt like it gets demonized here in the United States, and I would love to read her nuanced take on a country that in many ways is quite conflicted.

Anyone who enjoys memoirs about faraway places to learn more about the culture and the people who live there, or who like memoirs about stranger-than-fiction situations that are almost cinematic in scope, will enjoy BETWEEN TWO WORLDS. Granted, this is not showing Iran from its best side, but as Saberi's tale unfolds, we do see what attracted her to the country in the first place, and how many people were kind to her or tried to help her. It was nice to get an update on some of the people she met in jail in the epilogue, although it was sad to hear that they were still imprisoned at the time of her completing the work in 2010. That was ten years ago, so hopefully they are freed now, but given the duplicity of the guards/interrogators Saberi encountered, I do worry....

4 out of 5 stars

Friday, June 12, 2020

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

DNF @ p.101

Me going on a date with The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

Me: So what do you like to do for fun?

TBoSaS: Cabbage soup.

Me: Uh huh.

TBoSaS: Roman names.

Me: Uh huh. *signalling desperately to the waiter for a glass of wine* Those aren't really hobbies you know.

TBoSaS: Hobbies?

Me: You know, things that give your life meaning.

TBoSaS: Oh.

Me: Yeah.

TBoSaS: Does hating on the poors and being surprised that they have feelings count?

Me: This date is over.

So, nobody was looking forward to THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES more than I was and if they say they are, they are liars. Even though a prequel with Coriolanus Snow seemed a bit like a cash grab, I was still willing to put down a "soul of my firstborn" down payment to get my grabby little hands on a copy of this book because I love a good villain origin story.

Keyword: good.

I think the problem here is that it feels so impersonal and boring. The first three books were all narrated in first person and had tautly written action scenes so everything felt very in the moment and urgent. We see the Capitol from Katniss's eyes as this glittering bacchanalia of conspicuous consumption while she and her people are literally starving and she is horrified that she has to compete to the death for the entertainment of these awful people who don't care whether she lives or dies as long as she puts on a good show. Children, for these people, are just another commodity.

Here, it doesn't really work. We already know that the Capitol looks down on the other districts. Seeing Coriolanus bitch and moan about being in genteel poverty while in the same breath whining about how his mentoring Tribute is from the grodiest district doesn't really add anything new to the narrative. And it doesn't help that Lucy Gray is a manic pixie dreamgirl who literally arrives on stage in a frilly ruffled dress, singing stupid songs that take up waaaaay too much of the page count.

And if I heard Coriolanus talk about his fecking cabbage soup one more time.

I can't. I just can't. RIP my untarnished memories of the original series, because this bloated 500-page mess crapped all over it. I think the author would have been better off writing about the first Hunger Games, or one of the games that took place in extreme conditions (like the arctic one), or maybe about a more sympathetic character, like Haymitch or Finnick. I would LOVE to read about Haymitch or Finnick's competitions in the Games and seeing how they got to be the fucked up and jaded individuals that they were in the books. That is the kind of subtle darkness that I expected from the series. I wish it had panned out with this one, but I was mostly just really, really bored.

Date over. And I hope you know, you're paying for that wine, TBoSaS.

1 out of 5 stars

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Seven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse

Okay, so the idea of a bunch of white kids in Japan (well, one of them is Japanese) had me rolling my eyes a bit. But I'm a sucker for books set abroad, and since I went on a trip to Japan myself a few years ago, I was excited to relive my trip vicariously since, you know, with quarantine happening, I ain't going nowhere.

I read in another review that this is a very loose retelling of PERSUASION by Jane Austen and I can kind of see that. Heads up that the storyline is very dramatic and confusing, so there are going to be lots of spoilers, not just so you can keep everything straight, but so I can too, because there is a LOT going on.

So, Sophia's parents are both teachers but split when she was young. Now her dad lives in Paris with his new family and her mom teaches as a professor in Japan but is about to move back to the states to teach at Rutgers. This is Sophia's last week in Japan and she's kicking it with her Japanese friend Mika, and their friend, David, who is the son of the Australian ambassador.

But plans sour when Sophia finds out that her childhood friend Jamie is returning. Jamie, who she stopped being friends with when he accidentally sent her a cruel text intended for Mika that was making fun of her for having a crush on David, who's kind of a playboy with a cruel streak. Sophia told him off and never wanted to have anything to do with him again after that so why is he HERE?

As they club it up and go to karaoke bars, alcohol makes the truth come out. David and his girlfriend, Caroline, seem to be on the rocks, which gives Sophia hope (she hates Caroline). But Jamie is way cuter than he was when he left and no longer seems to be as awkward or mean. Mika, on the other hand, seems to be hiding something, and David has actually gotten indiscriminately crueler (or maybe she's just never taken the time to notice his character). So it turns out that David and Mika have actually been hooking up, despite David having a girlfriend and despite Mika (and David) knowing how Sophia feels about David, and then Sophia finds out that her dad doesn't really want her to move with him to Paris, and when Jamie makes his move, he gets totally caught in the crossfire.

This book was OH MY GOD, SO MUCH DRAMA but I actually enjoyed it a lot. Unlike ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS, which made me want to slap all the bitches, Sophia is respectful of Japanese culture (for the most part) and Tokyo exists more than just as a backdrop. I've been to the exact two-story Starbucks in Shibuya that they went to, I've seen the Hachiko statue, and I've definitely made late-night runs to konbini, which, if you've ever been to one of the Japanese ones, will make you cry in shame when you compare them to what convenience stores are like here.

So, part of my review is definitely biased by the fact that huge swaths of this book were a big old nostalgia rush. But I also felt like all the drama felt realistic. Teens are d r a m a t i c. And one of my quotes is that I'm down with stupid decisions if it's a character flaw and not an author flaw. I think people sometimes forget how stupid they were as teenagers, and how incestuous friend groups can be when it comes to dating. I was in band, and there was always so much drama when couples broke up. I remember on one of our trips, people were sending envoys in one of our hotel to deliver messages to each other because they were too mad to talk in person post-breakup. #drama

And also, this book really captures what it's like to be on the cusp of adulthood, wanting change, but fearing it; feeling nostalgic for childhood while anxious to leave it; making mistakes just to feel the rush. It's a tumultuous time, and I feel like SEVEN DAYS OF YOU really captures the yearning feeling that so many teens have, even if they're not quite sure what they're yearning for.

I read this fully expecting to hate it and it ended up being exactly what I needed. Even if you're side-eying the white kid cultural tourism angle, I feel like it's done pretty well and the author seems to have a passion for all elements of Japanese culture beyond the anime ones. The descriptions of the food, the shrines, the karaoke parlors, and even the convenience stores, are all so lovingly done, it makes me want to go back there asap, even though the summers are hell (and this book portrayed that quite well, too-- and God help you if your AC craps out). Definitely recommend this for anyone who wants to go to Japan, has been and is feeling nostalgic, or enjoys YA with older characters.

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat by Patricia Williams

If you take away one thing from this book, make it this: she called President Jimmy Carter the N-word and gave him a free cheeseburger.

Okay, so I totally forgot I had this book until I was cleaning out one of my storage cubes. My friends and I have been exchanging bags of books over quarantine and somehow this one got away from me. It's actually really amazing, though, and if you're looking for Black authors to read in solidarity of BLM, this is a great one to add to the list because not only is it really fucking funny, it also is a serious reminder of how much poverty is influenced by racist infrastructures that perpetuate segregation on an institutional level and let people "slip through the cracks."

Jeannine Amber, who co-wrote this memoir, has a great author's note at the back where she says that part of the reasons she wanted to be involved with this memoir was because she felt like there were way more books that showed what it's like to be young, Black, and poor, but often, the female perspective was omitted. And I think that's often true across the board, but probably especially for Black women.

Patricia Williams is now a comedian named "Ms. Pat," and Rabbit was her childhood nickname turned street name when she was selling drugs in the street. She talks about her bootlegger grandfather who kept a chain around his fridge and didn't think twice about shooting people who interrupted his favorite television shows; this is the first story and it's told with fondness because she says it's the only time in her childhood that she never went hungry.

Williams's mom was abusive, physically (firing guns in the house to get their attention, beatings) and neglectfully (no food in the house, facilitating child abuse). One of her mother's boyfriends touched her and her sister when they were kids, and when, at twelve, she was seeing the twenty-year-old who got her pregnant with her first two kids, her mother basically just lifted an eyebrow and decided it was none of her business. Shortly afterwards, she turned to selling drugs to keep her and her kids fed, which eventually landed her in jail. One of her caseworkers turned her to comedy, which she became a raging success at, both because of her candor and for her penchant for turning tragedy into humor.

I loved the positive influences in her life-- the teacher, Ms. Troup, who brought her clothes and personal hygiene products for her to use before class so she wouldn't get bullied by other students, broke my heart. That is the epitome of good teaching and I wish all teachers were that compassionate. I also loved the social worker who was so good to her when she was thirteen and pregnant and really tried so hard to get her all of the information and options she could. It made the bad influences even more awful, like her creepy adult boyfriend and the molester who groomed her as a child.

This is a pretty depressing story but it has a happy ending, and it shows why it's so offensive to romanticize a hard-scrabble life. I think there's a tendency in the U.S. to think of suffering as "the way of life," like it's the first step in a long stairway that leads to success, when actually it's more like a trapdoor without a ladder. And that trapdoor is often way bigger and steeper for people of color than it is for white people. Selling drugs is obviously not great, but when that's the only option other than starving, it becomes pretty clear why people turn to crime for lack of better solutions.

I really enjoyed this book and loved her sense of humor and honesty. I think others will, too.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Hello, Sunshine by Leila Howland

I'm kind of shocked that this doesn't have more reviews or a higher rating because, on the surface at least, it seems to be exactly the kind of book most of my friends are clamoring for. Becca Harrington is coming to Los Angeles to become a star. She arrives there with her preppy New England boyfriend who, while letting her off, drops an "I think we should take a break" bombshell.


With no belongings apart from a single suitcase, no job, no prospects, no car, and no agent, she rents an apartment in the not-the-best part of town and tries to check off her list of goals, ranging from getting her boyfriend, Alex, back, to making it. She quickly makes friends with two people in her complex, another aspiring young actress named Marisol, who is Latinx, and an aspiring director/filmmaker named Raj, who is Indian.

While I feel like part of their relationship does feel a bit "insta-friends," spontaneous connections do happen and I liked how their relationships gradually built out over time, becoming less awkward, so I'll give that a pass. Becca also has a creep in her complex that she nicknames "Oh Fucky," because he chants "fucky, fucky, fucky" when he's upset. Oh Fucky is a forty-something Scientologist who stares at Becca's ass and propositions her creepily multiple times.

Some parts of Becca's acting journey feel too easy, but I liked how she had multiple failures getting there, as well as a handful of faux pas. The fairy godmother trope towards the end did make me raise an eyebrow, but everything else seemed okay. I've read a lot of celebrity memoirs and one of the recurring trends was that big breaks seem to happen all at once once they finally start happening.

So here are some of the things I really liked:

This is an older, college age YA. There's blurred lines between what constitutes YA and NA and this falls smack dab between them. Characters are all college age and there is some reference to sex and adult content, but it isn't as explicit as NA. Most parents probably wouldn't freak out if their sixteen-year-old was reading this, and the writing style does feel slightly younger in tone (not as many swears, for example). I honestly love college-age YAs and I'm glad to see more of them.

Asian love interest who isn't played off as geeky/passive/comic relief. I watched this great video on YouTube recently which critiqued how Asian-- and especially South Asian-- men are often portrayed in media (usually as geeky, socially inept comic relief). Raj was a great love interest and just an all around nice guy. His culture really isn't mentioned all that much though, and bar a handful of references to his ethnicity, if you changed his name, he could just be a white character. But he's never fetishized by the heroine, and there are no cheap jokes at his expense, and I really liked him.

A likable narrator. I liked Becca. Is she an idiot? Yes. Moving to LA and not researching agents, jobs, apartment costs, and food budget first? Pretty stupid. But I could totally see some romantically inclined teen moving to LA with just a suitcase because she saw it in a movie or a Vanessa Carlton song and thought it sounded adventurous and romantic. The money issues are also pretty typical of a teen. I said in another review that I can handle stupid decisions if it feels like a character flaw and not a flaw of the writer, and this felt like a character flaw rooted in Becca's immaturity. She grows more responsible as the story goes on and learns from her mistakes, and I really appreciated that.

Somewhat realistic portrayal of scratching it out as an actor. I mean, I think?? It's not all glitz and glamor, based on what I've read and watched in interviews, and the author makes a point of showing Becca taking on unappealing gigs and even falling for some shady ones. I'm not an actor, so I can't personally speak to the rep, but it felt realistic enough to me, a layman, that I was like "ok."

Things I didn't like:

Big misunderstandings EVERYWHERE in the last act. Why?? This is seriously the worst trope ever, and Becca has one not just with Raj, but also with Marisol, her best friend. The Marisol one was slightly more understandable (even though I didn't like the twist), but I didn't understand why she went off on Raj like that. It felt very entitled and selfish to me. Jmtc.

The one night stand with Reed. I don't mind it when heroines get down and dirty, and since she was off with Alex and not official with Raj, I didn't care too much. But I wasn't sure what the point was. It felt like it was just for dramatic purposes and to make things awkward on set.

The fairy god agent. Pretty sure this never happens and is pure wish fulfillment on behalf of the author.

Apart from those niggling annoyances though, I quite liked this. It reminded me of those early 2000s teen movies that were all about girls finding their dreams, like A Cinderella Story (2004) or What a Girl Wants (2004). This is just a feel-good story that is drowning in wish fulfillment but you can totally imagine on the big screen along with a kick-butt soundtrack. It was also exactly what I needed right now, psychologically, and went down pretty smooth with my plum margarita.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, June 8, 2020

Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann

DNF @ 28%

So in case you missed it, I came out as asexual earlier this week. (Yay!) This is not exactly a new revelation; my sexuality has always played a pretty significant role in my life, and because nobody ever talked much about sexuality in any of my high school or college classes (bar a gender studies class that was definitely a bit out of date), I spent a huge part of my teenage and adolescent life very, very confused and frustrated, indeed.

Part of the reason it took me so long to figure out what I was is because 1) sexuality exists on a continuum so it's not a black or white "I am 100% this" situation, and 2) because of that, and because of all that gray area, I was afraid of being mistaken and wrongfully appropriating an identity that isn't mine. As I got older and more sure of myself, I felt comfortable enough claiming that identity because the more I learned about it through research and life experiences, the more it really felt like me, you know?

So I figured, what better way to celebrate Pride Month and coming to terms with my being "out," than by reading my first book with an asexual MC? It should have been awesome-- but unfortunately, it was not. Mostly because this doesn't exactly feel like the best ace rep. All my ace buddies disliked this book and I'm sorry to say that I am falling into the same camp. This doesn't feel like me.

Forced cuteness. This book feels very juvenile. The main character is NINETEEN. She acts like she's twelve. The way she behaves is simply not what you would expect of a college student and the writing feels like middle grade, or maybe a young 14-15 tops. All the "sarcastic" asides in parenthesis don't help. They are clunky and awkward and usually make the heroine seem like a snot. (She is.)

So shallow. For someone who has no sexual attraction (more on that), this is the most looks-obsessed individual I've ever encountered in fiction that wasn't a sexist dudebro in some old sci-fi novel from the 70s. She describes everything around her with a "Cutie Code" and tells everyone where they rate on it (shallow). When talking to a therapist, she describes herself as "having an intense aesthetic attraction," and having "an intense obsession with aesthetics" in the beginning of the book. Her whole attraction to the love interest starts because he's so hot, he shorts out her Cutie Code. The highest on her code was red, but she calls him "code black" and freaks out at how hot he is.

The portrayal of asexuality. I am so confused about some of the choices the author made. I thought this was #ownvoices, and it is for the heroine's Black identity but not for her identity as an asexual, I don't think. At least, it doesn't appear to be based on this interview I found with Bustle. The heroine has no sexual attraction to anyone and doesn't react to sexual imagery, which okay. But then looking at some dude's face is enough to make her go OMGGGGGG. What??? How does that work?

I mean, at least for me, I can objectively look at someone and say that I find them attractive. You can react to erotic media and feel a sexual reaction but that doesn't mean you want to race out and put it into practice. I read this great book recently that nailed what it's like to be asexual: the author compared it to everyone around you eating spiders and talking about how great they are, and you're just sitting there with your sad spider bowl and thinking to yourself, "Yeah, I could make myself eat these spiders, but I would much rather not eat these spiders." Taking that genius analogy a step further, you might really enjoy looking at pictures of spiders or watching videos of spiders, but you still don't want to eat spiders yourself. The enjoyment of looking at spiders is separate from the eating of spiders, even though most people in that analogy enjoy doing both. That's asexuality for me.

Going even further, maybe someone you really care about and want to be with loves eating spiders and wants to eat spiders with you. You still don't like eating spiders, but you love your partner and eating spiders with them is an activity that you decide to do together after some discussion, and even though you would probably not eat the spiders if you were alone, the love and happiness you have for your partner makes eating spiders tolerable, and maybe even pleasant at times.

The book tries to go into the nuances of that, and there is some discussion about the difference between attraction and arousal-- which is fair. I feel like one is a matter of biology and one is a matter of psychology. Arousal is more like a reflex, but attraction is a psychological component that is really complicated, and ties in to how you identify and what you're looking for in potential partners. But because of the way it's portrayed, that comes off as muddled. Especially since the author kind of seems to be saying that maybe asexuality is just a matter of not finding the right person.

The portrayal of Asian men as love interests. So this is something that I am a little more unsure about, being a white lady and not an Asian man, but three of my exes were Asian men (one was half-Korean, and two were Chinese) and I've dated about three more Asian guys casually, and this is something that nearly all of them brought up to me as an annoyance when dating Western girls: Takumi is portrayed as passive and sexless, even though I don't believe he's asexual, and it's like he's willing to brush aside all of his needs and feelings for Alice, which doesn't really feel like a healthy relationship to me. In the beginning of the book, Alice's girlfriend breaks up with her because Alice can't give her what she wants (a sexual relationship). She's villanized for this and Alice's friend wants to drive down to where she lives and beat her up for this. And the way she talks about him is kind of super aggressive, all focused on how pretty he is, the way some girls talk about Korean pop stars. It's kind of... infantilizing and doesn't seem like the basis of a healthy relationship.

Takumi, on the other hand, seems to be willing to go completely without sex for Alice, which makes him the good person in this scenario. I guess, like my other ace friends, I'm confused like this. It isn't like Alice's girlfriend cheated on her; she was up front with Alice that the relationship wasn't right for her based on their mutually exclusive needs, and the narrative portrays her like she's a slut for this. I feel like it would have been a much better story if maybe Takumi was ace or demi, and they could have talked about how hard it is to be attractive (bleh) and have people want sex from you all the time, when that's the one thing you'd really rather be absent from your relationship. THAT might have been a really interesting narrative in the book, and it would have brought up a lot of interesting talking points about objectification that ended up thwarting it instead of, you know, feeding it.

I'd be curious to see how an Asian person feels about this rep since it seemed so awkward for me. I did wonder if maybe I was reading too much into the narrative text, or if it was just more of Alice being typically vain to everyone, but I always try to mention anything that bothered me personally.

So yeah, I guess this book fell kind of short for me. I'm sad, because I was really looking forward to seeing "myself" in these pages, and while there were some things the author got right in this book and made me go "YEAH!" there were a lot more that she got wrong and that, combined with the cheese grater levels of irritation I felt while reading this hyper-cutesy writing style made me pretty put out.

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, June 7, 2020

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

CITY OF BONES is a very interesting book. When I began reading it, half my friends were like, "Oh my God, it is the best thing ever, I love Malec!!!!, this series is TEH BEST." And the other half were like, "Oh my God, this book is the putrescent dump that the spawn of Book Satan took after 'all you can eat chili night' at the God It Sucks Cafe, and did you know that it started off as fanficion probably? FUCK THIS BOOK!!!"

So obviously, I was intrigued. *monocle emoji*

CITY OF THE BONES was... ok. I'm not sure if this was fanfic or just inspired by the author's fic, but it definitely has the same breathless "fan service-y" tone as fic, and the author seems to try to cram as many "witty" one-liners in here as possible to be put on mugs, stationery, and Tumblr profiles (much as how other authors Who Shall Not Be Named seem to spend inordinate amounts of time describing various characters' attire as if envisioning the fanart that will be drawn for them).

Clary is an ordinary girl with a Cool Mom™ and a Secretly Hot Geeky Best Friend™. One day, after going to a club, she sees a group of Hot Goth Kids™ who end up capturing someone they say is a vampire. Shortly afterwards, Cool Mom™ gets kidnapped and Clary finds out that she isn't an ordinary girl after all-- no, she's one of the chosen ones, daughter of one of the Hot Goth Kids Queens™, and her mother has just blocked out all of her ability to detect this with Hot Goth Kid Magic™. Also there's a Magic Hot Goth Kid Cup™ that everyone wants for some reason, and did you know that werewolves are just demon plagues and vampires are just demon plagues, and they hate each other, and also faeries are half angel, half demon, and wizards are also half demon, and Hot Goth Kids™ aren't wizards but they can do magic, and everyone likes to go clubbing???

Well now you do.

Because I am bored now, here's the other stuff you need to know in bullet format.

✨ Lots of similarities to Harry Potter, which I guess supports the "this is fic" theory. J.K. Rowling kind of sucks right now, though, so it's hard to be mad on her behalf, and it seems like if it was fic, Clare changed enough up that it only feels derivative and not like an outright copy anyway. I feel like Clare wins for having actual LGBT+ characters who are out, instead of just ret-conning people's sexualities after the fact, like it's behind the scenes commentary and not, you know, in-book canon.

✨ World-building is very confusing. The "everyone is half of something or a demon plague" mythology had my head spinning. I'm still not really sure what the difference is between a wizard and a Shadowhunter, except that Shadowhunters seem to like clubbing and knives more than wizards.

✨ The Silent Brothers were fucking creepy. They reminded me a little of the Inquisitors from the Mistborn trilogy.

✨ I don't ship Clary x Jace. They're both whiny, moody twats and Jace starts to get REALLY inconsistent as a character as soon as the ship begins to sail. Malec, on the other hand, I'm more inclined to ship because I actually felt pretty bad for Alec and Magnus was cool.

✨ Things get a little "Shadowhunters in the Attic-y" if you know what I mean.

✨ Teen Nenia probably would have liked this more than Adult Nenia, because everyone in this book likes to get crunk and go clubbing, when they're not zooming around on Flying Vampire Motorbikes™, stuffing Chinese food into their mouth, or playing with pointy objects. It just felt like a little much, although I did end up finishing it and liking more parts of it than I thought it would.

So, sorry to disappoint anyone who was hoping that I'd take a strong stance one way or another, but I'm giving this three stars. I appreciated what I understood of the world-building, was entertained enough to read it to the end (all 480-something pages of it), and didn't get too annoyed with any of the teen characters, even though at times it felt like a magical version of Saved by the Bell.

Will I read more of these? Only if you make me. And you probably will.

But I love you anyway.

3 out of 5 stars

Bitter Heat by Mia Knight

DNF @ 27%

I know, I know-- if I were a knight, my name would be Sir DNFs-a-Lot. But if you're not enjoying a book, why read it to completion? I can't tell you how freeing it is to just drop books that are annoying me and focus instead on the ones I like. I've felt so much happier, and reading is way less stressful.

This was a buddy read with a friend. I got BITTER HEAT as a freebie from the Kindle store last week and I was really excited because people kept recommending it to me. I love dark romances and the sample I read of it looked really promising. The heroine, Jasmine, is a millionaire's daughter who divorced her edgy husband, James. James is now a billionaire and fit to be tied in his quest for revenge against Jasmine.

Oh boy. That sounds like the plot of one of those old Harlequin Presents novels, only way more menacing. I'm down!

At first, I loved the tension between them and thought the writing was decent. Kind of like Skye Warren when she's at her best. But then it just spins out into a mess of sex scenes that last forEVER and sound really gross. I also feel like none of the characters in this book act the way real people would. Heather calls them "insane people" in her update, and I agree with that. I don't have to like all the decisions a character would make but it should feel reasonable.

Nothing about this book was reasonable.

This was a buddy read with my friend Heather. Make sure you check out her review.

1 out of 5 stars

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

DNF @ 6%


NINTH HOUSE: Oh my God, I love you guyssss, can I hang with you?

TM & TSH: No, go away Ninth House.

NH: But you guys are so coooool. Come on guys, let me hang.

TM & TSH: You're so annoying. We don't want you hanging around.

NH: But I have so much in common with you!

TM & TSH: You mean you shamelessly imitate us to get people to like you

NH: ...But Yale, tho

TM & TSH: Go away, peasant. You bore us.


I actually tried to return this to the Kindle store to get my money back because I disliked it so much but apparently I kept it past the return window, so whoops, that was a waste of $3 and about an hour that I'll never get back. Stupid, self-important, Yale-worshipping piece of trash!

1 out of 5 stars

Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts) by Lev A.C. Rosen

I. Freaking. Loved. This book. And I plan to use all of my influencer powers to tell my followers (i.e. the 10-20 people who actually care about what I say on Amazon and Goodreads) to read this life-changing book and give it the love and attention it deserves. Seriously, not only is this #ownvoices book very sex positive, the hero also has wonderful friends (who are diverse and have a healthy (albeit somewhat turbulent at times) relationship with him), and there's a creepy mystery element to the book that will keep you desperately turning pages until the very end.

Jack is a young gay man attending his high school. He enjoys sex and isn't ready to be in a relationship yet. Which is fine! But that has given him a reputation at his school and the gossips love to talk about him. His friend, Jenna (who is Latinx), is the daughter of a journo and runs her own news blog, and she wants Jack to have his own column where he serves as a sort of "Dear Abby" columnist for people with questions about sex. At first, he's reluctant... but then he starts to really enjoy the platform it gives him not to answer others' questions, but also his own.

But there's a shadow on all this happiness. Jack is receiving creepy notes in his locker from a secret admirer. At first it seems innocent, but it quickly becomes clear that the person sending these notes is not a very nice person at ALL and they quickly shift to threats and blackmail. Jack soon begins to feel trapped, and it's up to him, and his friends, Jenna and Ben, and the sympathetic art teacher, Nance, to help figure out who his stalker is-- especially since the bigoted principal is of no help.

JACK OF HEARTS really reminded me a lot Camryn Garrett's FULL DISCLOSURE, another LGBT+ sex positive YA book that I really, really loved. I said in my review of her book that I learned more from reading it than I ever did about health class and I honestly felt the same about Lev A.C. Rosen's book, too. In Jack's column, he talks about everything from gender identity to "clean up," and I really, really wish I had something like this in high school because this information would have been so useful to know. The question he received from the asexual individual really moved me because I recently came out as ace myself and the analogy of sex to eating spiders (unpleasant but possible) made me laugh, but also nod, because yes, TOTALLY ACCURATE.

I saw a lot of people giving this low ratings because of the sexual content and while I get that people feel uncomfortable about the idea, I think it's really important for kids to see healthy sexual behavior in books that answers the hard or awkward questions that their schools or parents might not. I thought the author did a fantastic job at this, and I loved the positive plus-size rep of his friend Ben (who is Black) and I loved that Jenna was such a feminist and an advocate for Jack. This book also portrays trauma well, and shows the effects of bullying and how it can be facilitated by a school that is unwilling to take the next step (I was in a very similar position as a high school student), and the criticism of women who fetishize gay men was refreshing and totally called for.

So yes, I loved this book and it's now one of my new faves. I would recommend it to ANYONE and even though there is sexual content, it's never so explicit that I felt embarrassed or uncomfortable while reading it (and I'm ace, so, you know, you can trust me *wink*), and I feel like it serves a valuable purpose. I honestly feel like this book should go on a required reading list for teens because of its willingness to tackle the hard questions and portrayal of a teen boy who doesn't exactly play by the rules of what's expected for him but is still a great human with loving friends and an awesome mom as he figures himself out. At the end of the day, what more can you ask for from a YA?

5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, June 6, 2020

If I'm Being Honest by Emily Wibberley

DNF @ 10%

So, 10 Things I Hate About You is like the holy grail of Taming of the Shrew retellings. It's one of my favorite movies and it was my gateway drug into the deluge of "teen movies" of the 90s and early 2000s (side note, #bringbackteenmovies2020). When I saw I'M THINKING OF BEING HONEST on sale last month for the low, low price of $1.99, spendy me was like YAAAAASS.

Frugal me is now giving spendy me the death glare and muttering, "Oh my God, you are literally the reason why we cannot have nice things." Because this book was... ummmm... not great.

emma wrote a very concise review of how I felt about this book. I didn't click with any of the characters and Cameron is less a shrew and more of a jerk. One of the things I loved about Kat Stratford in 10TIHAY is that she was so relatable to any woman who was tired of dealing with jerk guys. She was a feminist who supported underground women's bands, and sought to be a disruptor against the toxic masculinity that served as the de facto status quo.

10TIHAY has a great cast with strong female characters and likable love interests who let their love interests stand up for themselves while also offering support. The supporting characters are also great, and everyone has really interesting personalities. By contrast, Cameron's friends are walking stereotypes who basically feed into the stereotypes of snobby L.A. people. I didn't really like any of them, and didn't think that Cameron had much chemistry with her love interest.

I'm trying to Marie Kondo my Kindle, so since this wasn't really wowing me at 10%, I figured it was probably a lost cause. I'm sad because I'm out $1.99 with no entertainment to show for it, but at least it was cheap and I tried, and I now know that this author is probably not for me.

2 out of 5 stars

Own to Obey by Zoey Ellis

DNF @ 33%

**contains: mild spoilers and content warnings** 

After reading and enjoying CRAVE TO CONQUER, I was really excited to read more books in the Myth of Omega series. It seems to be like the Kushiel series in that, even though it's one overarching series, there are several standalone trilogies contained within the main series that focus on different characters. Trilogy #1 is about Cailyn and Drocco, and trilogy #2 is about Kardos and Shaya (Katashaya).

I hated this book, though. First, the writing and world-building is of a lower quality than the first book but that's fine. I was prepared to acknowledge that and give it three stars instead of four. Three stars means I liked it. The hero accepts Shaya as payment from Malloran for doing him an Alpha solid. He was supposed to get Shaya's sister, but since Kyus was engaged and crying, Shaya pulled a Katniss Everdeen and volunteered as tribute. And Tribute she certainly is because it's painfully obvious that Kardos sees Shaya as an object from the get-go.

Here's the thing about Omegaverse novels. They're not feminist-friendly and hinge on dubious consent and abuse, because they're basically alternate universes where humans have personality traits and cultures that are taken from now-debunked theories about wolf hierarchies that originated in the M/M fanfiction world. Alphas are the top dogs, Betas are the second in command, and Omegas are the exploited class that serve under and mate with the Alphas. I understood that all going in and normally none of those things upset me while reading, but OWN TO OBEY was so despicable that I just found myself getting more and more upset while reading.

In CRAVE TO CONQUER, Drocco was cruel to Cailyn but it was also clear that he did respect her in a weird way, and their attraction to each other was so powerful on a primal level that it became easier to "forgive" the bad things that Drocco did (and there were many). Cailyn was also an excellent subversion of your typical Omegaverse female protagonist: she was smart, capable, brave, and resourceful. Some of the things she did to thwart the love interest made me laugh. By contrast, Shaya is totally helpless and Kardos sees her as chattel. He forbids her to speak her own language or practice her own culture, rips off her headscarf multiple times (which I imagine would be triggering to Muslims reading this book), and "corrects" her mistakes with torture and physical abuse.

After like the third or fourth torture scene (not counting the initial scene where he takes her without her consent), which included hurting her hands with a rock, locking her in a sensory deprivation chamber, and forcing her to work until she collapses and then stringing her up by her arms when she can't move, I was D-O-N-E. I can't root for a hero like this. Drocco was probably about as cruel as I can stomach in a romance novel with no groveling, but Kardos crosses that line about five dozen times and then defaces it. I want no more to do with this "hero." Thanks.

1 out of 5 stars

Friday, June 5, 2020

The Taming of Jessi Rose by Beverly Jenkins

It's been a while since I read a historical romance, and I figured what better way to get back into the groove of things than with Beverly Jenkins, one of my favorite historical romance authors. This is the third book I've read by her and so far none of them have disappointed. She writes strong, empowered women who fight for their dreams, and the caring, powerful men who love them.

*heart eyes*

Jessi is a fierce tomboy who can ride and shoot better than any man. When her father is killed on their ranch before her eyes, she's determined to get revenge. The killer of the foul deed is the most powerful man in town, Reed Darcy, who wants to bully her into selling her land so it can be sold to the big railroad companies.

Griffin Blake is a train robber who's just been released from prison, and the federal marshal tells him that he can either look into a problematic case as honorary marshal or go back to jail. Something is sour with Reed Darcy's schemes and the marshal wants it solved.

When Griffin arrives, Jessi is under siege by Darcy's men. He helps her out and is impressed by her capability, as well as how protective she is of her nephew, Joth, who she treats like a son. But nobody else in the town of Vale feels the same. Women look at her askance and call her bad names. Men make ribald jokes at her expense. Nobody sells her supplies, and her only friends in town are her old teacher, Gillie, the bartender, Doyle, and the local madam, Auntie.

As Jessi and Griffin grow closer, the stakes for bringing Darcy to task grow higher. Especially since he isn't doing his dirty work alone. His son Roscoe and his wife Minerva are his spies, as well as his hired hands, including the evil and cowardly Percy, who think nothing of shooting out a window or two and threatening a woman and child as they sleep. There's nothing that keeps you turning pages like a villain who's easy to hate, and the villains in this book are ODIOUS.

I liked this book a lot. I loved that it was an African American-founded town in Texas, and the author incorporated SO MUCH INFORMATION about Texas history, African American history, Mexican and Native history, and all sorts of other fun trivia. As you can imagine, all the characters are incredibly diverse. The hero and heroine are both Black and the hero's close friends, Two Shafts and Neil, are biracial (Black and Native ancestry). (He also has a friend called Preacher, who is Black.) My one peeve is that the cover model looks nothing like the hero, who is described as having gold skin and red hair (including a red beard and mustache). The heroine is a much closer match, although she's described as having close-cropped hair in the book and on the cover her hair is long.

This was such an action-packed story and I loved the heroine's strong personality and how the hero slowly won her over (hence the title). One thing that may turn some readers away is the fact that the hero is a playboy who has been with a lot of other women and his past dalliances are mentioned many, many times over the course of the book. The heroine is seven years older than the hero and has been with a few other men herself, which I personally found refreshing. But I know a lot of my friends are safety readers who cannot stomach the idea of H or h (but especially H) having any sort of sexual history brought up apart from the one that they have with each other.

Honestly, the only thing that annoyed me about this book were the sex scenes which were not quite Bertrice Small levels of cheese, but close. If I never see the phrases "love-gentled" or "berry hard" again, I will be very happy, but since I have about eight other Beverly Jenkins books on my kindle, I'm probably going to see them at least a few dozen more times. They were also all very repetitive, and many of them seemed to be exactly the same in terms of how they played out, which made the book feel tedious towards the second half. Which is a shame, because her flirty banter is totally on point and the characters had great chemistry. Luckily, the plot more than made up for it.

Also, both the child and the horses end up safe. You're welcome.

4 out of 5 stars

A Luminous Republic by Andres Barba

Set in Argentina, A LUMINOUS REPUBLIC is the bizarre story of a town on the edge of the forest, called San Cristobal. One day, a group of about thirty feral children appear, sowing destruction, stealing, inflicting violence, even murdering. The town is horrified and bewildered by their presence, and our narrator is the hapless social worker who is tasked with their capture.

Through his eyes, we get a feel for a sort of double consciousness: a criticism of the system that facilitates poverty and neglect even as it condemns it for existing where all can see. A blurb on the cover says that this is like Lord of the Flies "from the other side," which I guess it sort of is, though, but the focus really isn't on the children themselves so much as what I interpreted to be a criticism of society's willingness to turn a blind eye to those who fall through the system, and this sort of eager thirst with which people greedily consume chaos.

A LUMINOUS REPUBLIC is maybe supposed to be ironically named because this city is hardly luminous. The children are a shadow on the city, and the way that the social worker fails them ensures that the shadow will linger. I'll be honest, this probably isn't a book I would have chosen for myself, but I received a copy of it as an ARC and I found the subject matter interesting enough that I was curious to read it and find out more. I do think it's an interesting story at heart, but there was far too much ruminating to make this a solid win for me, and it's probably worth noting that *spoiler* the ending is not a satisfying one.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!

2.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, June 4, 2020

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell

While reading this book, I kept thinking about this article I read once while crammed onto the packed and sweaty train. In one of many social media influencer scandals, a raw vegan lifestyle influencer was coming under fire because she was caught eating a meat dish while out at a restaurant with friends. Needless to say, it was the internet and people were MAD. And yes, you might say that she had every right to eat that meat-- it is her life. But when you are manufacturing your entire brand around the idea that eating meat is bad, and raw vegan is better, the message starts to ring a little false if you don't walk the walk (or veg the veg). You know what they say-- talk is cheap. Her life was her brand and she went off-brand, and people felt duped.

Jenny Odell doesn't do anything so deceptive in her book, HOW TO DO NOTHING, but the message rings similarly false for a wide variety of reasons. It isn't that I don't believe she isn't living her brand: it's that her brand comes at a cost that is really not affordable for a very large number of people.

First, a caveat: on Goodreads this is shelved as self-help and psychology-- it is neither. This is a philosophical treatise on how the author feels that we can live in a better world by disengaging from the attention economy and finding authentic, meaningful things to focus on instead of spending all our time on social media (more on that to come). It reads a lot like the lifestyle influencer's hot take on THE SUBTLE ART OF NOT GIVING A F*CK, another book that cherry picked its way into an argument and really annoyed me. (Maybe I just shouldn't be reading philosophy self-helps.)

✨ The author is an artist and an art teacher at Stanford (which she will mention several times). One of the things she suggests focusing on instead of social media is art (as well as nature). There are many passages where she waxes on the transformative nature of art and the many museums she's had the pleasure of exploring in the Bay Area. There is a sort of intellectual snobbery placed here in the subtext: things like social media are reduced to "shouting into the void," and one can't help but feel like one is down in the stands while the author sneers from her the sky box in her high tower. "Oh the rabble!" one can't help but feel she is projecting with this mindset, "Mired in their Facebooks and their Pinterests like the opiates of the masses!" as she waters an artisinal fern. Art and nature are wonderful, but those are things that are not readily consumed by all, and often require privilege to access, and I think it's offensive to deduce that there are no meaningful conversations or discoveries occurring on the internet, where discourse and art are shared freely. Plus, not everyone is going to get something out of nature and art, and they will not enjoy it to the same degree. The internet offers many opportunities to those who might otherwise have none, and even though social media is by no means a perfect democracy, it has helped democratize information and resources, and help others be seen who might not otherwise have been seen.

The author is a proponent of bioregionalism, which I had to look up and is apparently, according to the Oxford dictionary, "belief that human activity should be largely restricted to distinct ecological and geographical regions." Which again, smacks of privilege because this is coming from someone who lives in the Bay Area and freely consumes the fresh produce, natural parks, abundant artworks, and cultural diversity that thrives here. But what if you live somewhere where there's a food desert in a low-income region of a big city where getting fresh food, let alone local food, might be difficult or even impossible? What if you live in a climate with frequent poor weather conditions, or where resources to better oneself are few? Bioregionalism only really works in regions that thrive already: regions, in other words, with privilege. 

✨ The author seems to place a very high premium on authenticity and unique experiences (hence the nature and art). She frowns on algorithms for being too comfortable and for preventing those outlier experiences that may prove to be transformative (the example here is that Spotify gives her a "chill" mix, but she finds enjoyable songs from other genres on the radio). She bemoans how Burning Man has essentially become a glamping corporate retreat, and yearns for those rustic days of illicit bonfires and bare bones exchanges of gifts and resources. But this too is a sort of privilege; it implies that one has the time and resources to risk a purchase or experience that isn't familiar, comfortable, or safe. Not everyone can afford such a luxury, and while algorithms have their problems-- I'm thinking of that article that showed how watching right-wing videos on YouTube gradually takes you down a rabbit hole of extremism that results in racist, fascist rhetoric-- they are not completely evil. I actually found this author's book through Goodreads's recommendation algorithm: it was suggested reading for Marie Kondo's Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which is hilarious, because that is another book that also fails to check its own privilege, and probably appeals to the same demographic as this one.

✨ To her credit, the author does make a last-ditch effort in the conclusion to say that she understands that nature and art are not readily accessible everywhere, and that one should not finish this book leaving with just one conclusion. So it's clear she does have some degree of self-awareness when it comes to the accessibility of her message. But when the entire book is built on condemning everything that makes social media easy and addictive, and building up luxuries as necessities, it's hard to swallow that message and not grimace. At the end of the day, social media is like medicine or a tool: something that can be abused and become dangerous in the wrong hands, but that serves a purpose and is essential for carrying out certain functions or making things run well. I recently received a digital detox workbook which I ended up discarding because I found it too frustrating. With the work that I do, I can't afford to just step away from email for the day.

With Black Lives Matter happening right now, there's been a lot of controversy about creators, influencers, and social media presences who have chosen to step away from social media rather than get involved. And I get that refusing to get involved in protests against civil rights violations is a VERY different matter from turning off Spotify or not using email for the day, but both scenarios carry with the the same basic fundamental elements of privilege: the only people who can afford to step away from the conversations are the people who already know that they won't be negatively impacted by the outcome. Black individuals can't step away from the Black Lives Matter movement. They don't get to block and curate their way to a "safe space" where the unpleasant discourse goes away: Black Lives Matter is their reality, their conversation, and it's one that they are fighting to change. Similarly, people who don't have land lines, or who might not live near a library, and rely on Facebook and the web for their important day to day communications and essential information can't afford to "go dark" for their own mental health, and the transformative experiences that await them in the wilderness or the financial or artisinal districts of their nearest cities might be too far to drive to. Those living in rural or low-income places, devoid of natural or physical resources, can't step away from the conversation that keeps everything running.

There's a chart in psychology called Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs that basically states that you can't really focus on self-actualization until all of your basic needs are met. This book would have you skip right to the top, and while it's nice if you're at that point and things are working so well for you, a lot of people aren't at that place and some of them never will be. HOW TO DO NOTHING is a book that only appeals to a very niche demographic, and it appeals to a demographic with a very specific range of hobbies and interests which might not be shared by all. I found it incredibly frustrating and irritating by turns, and only finished out of a sense of stunned awe. I'm sure this author is not advocating a total cessation of social media, and maybe if she had framed her points better, and focused on points that were more relatable, this would have been a much better book. But in the beginning, she issues a caveat essentially saying that this book wouldn't be linear and doesn't take you to any specific conclusion, and that she changes her mind several times (paraphrased). Which, okay. That sounds like a cop out to me, and if you're not sure what the message is of the conversation that you'd rather we'd have instead, why should we bother to listen?

Of course, this is my reading of this book and your own opinion may vary drastically from mine. I write this as someone who loves art and culture, eats locally, and tries to enjoy nature whenever she can, but also as someone who understands that it is my privilege that enables me to enjoy these things. I also write this as a blogger and creator who heavily relies on social media to do my work and has perfected the art of "shouting into the void" to achieve meaningful discourse. I can see why HOW TO DO NOTHING appeals to so many, but I also completely sympathize with every negative review where the writer found the book too pretentious or too privileged to relate to.

For many, it will be.

1 out of 5 stars

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae

Issa Rae is many things, but one of those things is Awkward. This book caught my attention when I saw that one of my Goodreads pals had read it, and I found myself wondering just how awkward the author actually could be when she looked so polished on the cover. The answer: very.

Rae takes us through many of her Awkward Greatest Hits: her teenage stint "cybering" in internet chat rooms until she got bored and blocked the creeps; her "she who cheats first cheats last" dating philosophy partially inspired by her own acknowledged daddy issues (her father cheated on her mother); her feelings of being too Black, not Black enough, or not the right kind of Black (which is further illustrated by a very funny essay on Black stereotypes); her first up-close experience with political corruption in Senegal (where her family is from); and so much more.

I enjoyed MISADVENTURES OF AWKWARD BLACK GIRL. I liked her commentary on Blackness and pop culture, and I felt like she really did an amazing job portraying herself as being vulnerable but also confident, if that makes sense. Even though she still seems to feel embarrassed about some of the wacky things she did when she was young, it's clear that she's learned so much from her experiences and is proud of the person those experiences made her into today.

I'm giving this three stars because this was a somewhat uneven collection of essays. Some of them were much funnier than others (oh my God, her dating one cracked me UP, but the one about bad coworkers just kind of felt anticlimactic-- I'd rather watch The Office). The beginning is particularly rocky, until she gets comfortable writing and her character begins to shine through. I can see why so many people felt a little ambivalent about MISADVENTURES. But it was fun and I enjoyed what she had to say, and the humorous parts really made me grin when everything was on fire.

3 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Strange Planet by Nathan W. Pyle

I do not follow the Strange Planet comics but I keep getting exposed to them anyway because they're constantly showing up in my Twitter feed. I always found them amusing, so when I found out that Nathan Pyle just released a collection of his work, I was excited to read it. How do I even begin to describe Strange Planet? Through the medium of aliens who talk like Vulcans, Pyle examines some of the strange things we do on the day-to-day, turning the ordinary into the extraordinary through the humorous lens of an outsider.

As these aliens act out human tasks as if by pantomime, we're introduced to a hilarious lexicon of new words for familiar things. Neckties become "seriousness cloths," honey becomes "plant liquid partially digested by insects and then stolen," sunscreen is "star damage limiter," and vacuum cleaners are "rollsucks," some of which have "filth windows," so you can closely monitor the rollsuck's progress as it sucks up the alarming amounts of filth from your foot cushions.

I find that it's hard to review graphic novels like these because they don't really have a cohesive "plot." But I think if you enjoy comics like Cyanide and Happiness and Sarah's Scribbles, you'll really enjoy Strange Planet. It brought a smile to my face after an exhausting day, and I can't say that about too many books I've been reading lately. I hope it warms your heart, too.

4 out of 5 stars

The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story by Marie Kondo

Reading this book actually high key stressed me out because I am just as messy as Chiaki in this book, and I haven't done a damn thing about it. Get rid of my books? NO THANK YOU. But Marie Kondo was really getting pushed hard by pop culture outlets like BuzzFeed and social media influencers, so when the manga version of her popular book showed up in the library, I thought, "Why not? Perhaps this will be the impetus to change my slovenly ways and discover cleaning magic!"

Well... no.

I like Marie Kondo. She seems adorable and I hope she's as nice as she seems on TV because it would be a shame if it was all actually an act. I don't think it is, though. She seems sincere, which makes it harder to criticize her tried and true method. I'm glad it works for her and so many others but this system really does not work for me for a wide variety of reasons.

First, I don't really like how the book talks down to the audience. Marie Kondo talks to her would-be disciples the way a preschool teacher instructions their children. She has you "clap" to wake the books up after you set them down on the floor because they've been sleeping, or something like that. Then you have to thank everything as you get rid of it, because it brought you joy at some point in your life (enough so to buy it, anyway). This felt really silly to me and I could never in a million years see myself doing any of these things without feeling like a fool. Maybe that says more about me than it does about Marie Kondo, but still--

Second, I'm not really sure I agree with her method of getting rid of books. Instead of reading through them (which she discourages), she suggests putting your hand on the cover and seeing how it makes you feel. Honestly, the best method (for me) has been to read the first 50 pages and then toss it if you're not feeling it. Maybe if you're just going off of cover appeal and nostalgic value of books you've actually read this might work, but I'm not sure how productive this exercise is if you're not allowed to read the inside pages or look at the book jacket in the decision process.

Third, there is a definite privilege element to this book. Getting rid of things you don't need now with the argument that you can always get them again later is a very upper middle class sentiment. I remember seeing an article which I wish I could remember now which was picking apart the class disparity between the people on Marie Kondo's show and the show Hoarders. Hoarding is an element of OCD, but I think there is a tendency for people who don't have as much to want to keep what they have, because they can't afford to just give away and re-buy things. You want to keep things around "just in case," because you never know when they might become necessary. Reusable, repurposeable, and replacement things are a necessity when you don't know if you'll be able to buy another one of the things you had, and it might be cheaper to fix. The luxury of getting rid of everything you own for aesthetic purposes is a very privileged concept that not everyone can share or appreciate.

Rather than the straightforward instructional format of her book, this one is told in narrative format with Marie befriending the aforementioned Chiaki, a bit of a compulsive hoarder. Her home is a mess and when her cute neighbor sees it, and complains about the garbage on her balcony, she is humiliated. Marie gives Chiaki "tidying lessons" taking her through the Konmari method step by step. At the end, people are praising her for looking cuter, she gets compliments on her home, and the neighbor guy next door asks her out and then brings her a housewarming pie. This too, can all be yours, if you buy in to the Konmari method. The emotional manipulation!! I lol'd. It reminded me of this self-help book I had in high school called THE FABULOUS GIRL'S GUIDE TO GRACE UNDER PRESSURE, which portrayed this highly idealized aspirational life of a specific socioeconomic status with all these rules. Clearly it made an impression; I remembered it over ten years later, because I remember reading it and thinking, "I have to do ALL THIS??"

The manga is cute and if Konmari's method works for you then that's great. But I can also see why so many of my friends disliked this book (especially for the section on books, lmao). It's not for everyone and I think it's important to keep that in mind when making the purchase.

3 out of 5 stars