Monday, November 30, 2020

Guardian's Key by Anne Logston


This book sent me into a book slump because I was so fucking disappointed. It was actually hard to find because it was recently pulled from ebook and I had to buy a used copy of it like a total book bitch. But someone told me that this was basically ill-concealed Labyrinth fic, and that sort of shit is my fangirl kryptonite so I was like shut up and take my $$$$. I ordered that shit used from Amazon like a champ of ordering used books and stalked the mailbox until it arrived in its little wrapper, before spritzing it with some sanitizer.

GUARDIAN'S KEY started out okay. It's about this girl named Dora/Dara (can't remember her name??) who is going to this place called the Crystal Keep to learn how to be a magician because she's poor and in love with this high lord guy whose family is a bunch of snobs that doesn't want him marrying with the poors (although it's fine when the poors serve the toast, etc.). Anyway, the Crystal Keep is owned by this hot dude named Lord Vanian who is basically Jareth with dark hair and it's pretty hot how he taunts her and pops up where he's not wanted... until he rapes her. Oops.

Honestly, I have no problem with the rape but what I DID have a problem with was one of the characters, Granny Good (e.g. Granny Gaslight) telling her that it wasn't really rape because only mind tricks were involved and not physical force (paraphrasing). I was so mad that I immediately began texting all my friends and raging about this book (as one does) and stopped reading it for a few weeks. If you're going to have non-con or dub-con FUCKING OWN UP TO IT. Don't be an apologist in the narrative subtext. I was mad. But every time I went into my bathroom, this book sat there mocking me, for my failure, and my lost hopes, and so I decided to sit down and skim-read it to the end.

GUARDIAN'S KEY is like half-plucky 90s heroine fantasy in the vein of Tamora Pierce or Catherine Asaro and half-bodice-ripper fantaporn adventure, but it does things by halvsies, so it ends up feeling really inconsistent in tone. There are dark scenes, like the heroine's near gangbang at the tiny hands of a swarm of rapey elves, and then of course, the rape by Lord Vanian, and then there's her Hoggle-like companion Gespry and all of her fun little traipsings through the Keepyrinth that feel much younger in tone and there's no explicit sex scenes, so I was like, omg, it's like Scooter's Magic Castle but with dub-con and rape apology. Hooray.

I'm not giving it the full one star because LV was hot and in the hands of another author, I think I would have been like hnnnnng. Also, the Labyrinth nostalgia of the Keepyrinth was pretty fun. I'm just pissed that this book went hardcore wack on my expectations and also I'm drinking some pretty strong wine right now and am therefore naturally inclined to become more forgiving.

1.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Anti/Hero by Kate Karyus Quinn


A little young but super cute. This graphic novel is about two girls with opposite problems-- one with a big family struggling to match academic expectations, who is very physical; the other with a small family, struggling with financial problems and lack of coordination.

I thought this was an interesting take on the superhero genre because it is so targeted towards young girls and the problems they face. To the point where the superhero stuff nearly takes a back seat. I also liked how the "villain"-- or at least, the person you think is the villain-- ends up being surprising.

It's very light fare and a little forgettable but I enjoyed reading it a lot.

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

3 out of 5 stars

Monday, November 16, 2020

The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida by Clarissa Goenawan


When I was in high school, I started getting into literary fiction because I thought that was what you had to read to be "smart." From there, I got really interested in Asian literature, and one of my favorite authors to read back then was Banana Yoshimoto. Her trademark style of dreamy, wistful tragedies was just so compelling to teen me, and I haven't really found an author that came close... UNTIL NOW.

For some reason, I had gotten it into my head that I wouldn't like Clarissa Goenawan's work. I must have seen a friend's review that put me off. But when an ARC was extended my way, I accepted greedily because such is the nature of me, Queen Trashcan. I will read pretty much anything because I'm always willing to be surprised. And this. Was such. A surprise! Like, reading it instantly transported me back to the angsty high school/college days of yore, being an awkward teen ridiculed with uncertainties, paying more attention to the environment than to the people because I didn't like the people...

It was transportive, basically.

THE PERFECT WORLD OF MIWAKO SUMIDA may sound all cute and adorable because of the title and cover, but it's actually a very dark story. When Miwako, the main character, goes missing, her three surviving friends, Ryusei, Fumi, and Chie, decide to find out what happened to her. They find out that she committed suicide, and even though the stories revolve around that, the book is less about her death than about her friends discovering themselves and learning who they want to be as adults. Ryusei's was the story that felt most "Yoshimoto" to me, but Chie's was probably my favorite because she reminded me so much of me. Fumi's story was the weakest because the author introduced a magic-realism element with her character arc that didn't really quite work with the rest of the story, in my opinion.

Overall, though, this is really, REALLY good and I want to check out RAINBIRDS now, as well as whatever else this author writes. I think you'll especially like this book if you've ever traveled to Japan because it mentions several places I've actually been to in my travels, which gave this book an extra level of depth. Definitely recommend if you enjoy books that are well-written and a little tragic.

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

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Sunday, November 15, 2020

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson


DNF @ p.45

I'm quitting because I'm finding the writing style to be nigh intolerable. This is written in such a way that the reader knows right off the bad that the author wants all of us to know that her main character, "Pip," is quirky. Very quirky. Extremely quirky.

The premise of the story is basically that Pip is working on a capstone project where she has decided to investigate the murder-suicide of an Indian man and his blonde girlfriend. She doesn't think he actually did it because he was "nice" to her and she has a feeling. This being a young adult book with a presumably happy ending, I'm assuming her feeling paid off and he was actually innocent. Iunno.

It's told in a mixed media style, with Facebook posts, interviews, and excerpts from Pip's notes, along with normal narratives showing Pip living her every day quirky life in between research. The writing style makes it feel like she's much younger than she actually is. I think she's supposed to be a high school senior but she acts like she's in middle school. It kind of reminds me of the Sammy Keyes books, if you remember those.

I feel like maybe I would have enjoyed this more if I were younger and hadn't read so many other YA mysteries that I enjoyed better than this one. I'm giving it two stars because I feel like I could probably force myself through this if I really tried, but I don't really want to try. Life is too short.

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

1.5 out of 5 stars

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna


High key obsessed with the cover. Low key disappointed with what was inside it. The first 100 or so pages had me thinking that this was going to be a four or five star book and then it loses steam. I think that part of that is because the opening made it seem like this was going to be sort of a YA Handmaid's Tale sort of tale, about subversion within the patriarchy, and while this is partially that, it becomes more of a journey/military-style of fantasy, which is fine, but took some adjusting since it wasn't what I was mentally prepared for.

I like how colorism and racism and sexism are tackled in this book and the female friendships that develop within Deka's ranks are heartwarming and positive to see in YA, a genre which is often criticized for the girl-on-girl hate that runs rampant in the books. Looking at some of the other ARC reviews, I have to say that I agree that the narrative is a bit weak and unstructured. It starts out strong in the beginning of the book but then peters out, and I ended up skimming pretty heavily in the second half. Especially because of a forced love interest that, in my opinion, became too intense, too quickly and wasn't even really that convincing.

I think a lot of kids are going to love this book when it comes out, because of the surprisingly gritty battle scenes and, yes, the romance. But I wish the world had been developed a bit more and the narrative more compelling. I'm not sure this needed to be 400-plus pages. I think the first half is four stars-worthy and the last half is two-stars worthy, so I'm averaging those two together and giving this a three, even though I'm feeling that this is more of a solid two in terms of final execution. I'd read more from this author but I probably wouldn't read more from this series.

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

2.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Empty by Susan Burton


This was an incredibly difficult read for me and I think it will be even harder for people who have actually suffered from eating disorders, as it contains major triggers for eating disorders and anxiety. I actually think the author went about EMPTY in as healthfully a manner as she could, and I agreed with her that sometimes memoirs about the topic can read (accidentally) as sensationalist instruction manuals if they rely too heavily on numbers and tactics to get the point across.

Susan Burton has enjoyed a life of privilege, but privilege does not lessen or eliminate the onset of psychiatric illnesses. It can make getting good treatment better and prevent the onset of environmental stressors that come with poverty, but sometimes what happens is a sort of cognitive dissonance where people feel guilty for not being happy or healthy despite having so much. Mental illness is an equal opportunity disease that can affect anyone or everyone and I think that is something important to keep in mind when reading memoirs like these, that we don't get to choose how our brains are wired, any more than we can choose who we are, and what we look like.

Burton describes her childhood in Colorado and her college years at Yale with a frankness that borders between self-effacing and brutally honest. She really captures the hormonally-charged uncertainties of high school and adolescence, and how that gets magnified with anxiety spectrum disorders. Over the years, she vacillates between anorexia and bingeing and talks about her body dysmorphia and the way she repeatedly turned to food as both a means of comfort and control. I can't imagine sitting down and writing about myself with such introspection; memoirs are tricky, because they almost require that you have to be removed from yourself, and look at yourself as you might a stranger. I think it necessitates an incredible amount of self-awareness and self-honesty and I'm not sure I could do that, even as a writer.

This is not an easy read or even a fun one, but I found it incredibly fascinating. As a psychology major, I was required to read a number of memoirs written by people with mental health disorders and since college was a while ago, the language and vocabulary employed by some of these authors was not as sensitive as it is now. I like how the author chose to structure this memoir, and I liked how it ended on a hopeful note with how she ended up being able to tell others about her disorder and seek treatment. It's raw and it's honest and it really tries to do as little harm as possible without pulling back the punches.

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

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Wildflower Heart by Heather Crews


The best part about having friends who write books is reading their books. The worst part about having friends who write books is reviewing their books. Like if you agree. Also, hi, I was a beta reader for this book, but it's been edited and reworked so much since I saw it that it's basically a different books and I paid money for it.

WILDFLOWER HEART is the second book in the Aecoria series, although it can be read as a standalone. I think it's actually ten times better than the first book in the series, SEA AND SKY, which I felt ambivalent about. It's honestly amazing how much better this book is in terms of character development, complexity, and prose. It's filled with gorgeous passages, and the two leads, Arun and Fenella, are such well-rounded characters. I loved spending every moment with them, especially Arun, who has supplanted Tristan and Branek, my favorite vampire duo, as my favorite Crews-written hero. #bye

The plot is pretty simple in that it's just a character-driven marriage of convenience, but it ends up being so much more than that because of the writing. Fenella is flighty and headstrong and Arun is gruff and stoic. I think the best part of the story is getting to see them slowly fall in love and finding out what makes them tick. There's also an interesting secondary romance with Fen's wastrel brother, Emyr, and one of the forest sprites. The sexual tension is off the charts and the writing descriptions are so immersive. When Fen and Arun go to Seaside, I actually felt a physical ache, because it reminded me of the small, oceanside towns I visited in Portugal.

This is definitely one of Heather's best works and I'm so glad that we're friends because it's honestly been such a privilege to see her learn and grow as a writer (and also because she's basically the best human ever for putting up with me). I can't wait to see what she writes next.

4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Take Me With You by Altebrando

 DNF @ p.181

Officially, I threw in the towel at p.181 but I skimmed to and read the end because I wanted to see if the journey was worth it. Spoiler: it wasn't. I'm actually pretty disappointed because I thought TAKE ME WITH YOU had a really interesting premise and what sold me on the book was its superficial similarities to Danny Tobey's THE GOD GAME, which was basically the YA version of a cheesy potboiler.

Basically, the premise of this book is this: four teens are summoned to a classroom under mysterious circumstances where they find a device. The device tells them that they must take it with them, trading off every 24 hours. They are not allowed to talk about the device, they can't abandon the device, and they cannot get it wet. The first one hundred or so pages are mysterious and creepy because the rules give the appearance of dramatic stakes should the rules be defied.

I guess my problem with this book is that it didn't really go anywhere. It had all these opportunities to be either a bit ridiculous but fun like THE GOD GAME or a cheesy techno-thriller like Paycheck, where even if the science doesn't make sense, you can at least tell a good and compelling story with some emotional stakes. It's never really clear why these four teens were chosen and none of them really leaped out at me, personality-wise. The ending is anticlimactic and it just seems like this book goes on for way too long with way too little payoff. Very disappointing.

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

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars

Lost on Planet China: The Strange and True Story of One Man's Attempt to Understand the World's Most Mystifying Nation, or How He Became Comfortable Eating Live Squid by J. Maarten Troost

I'm a little bummed after reading this. I loved this author when I read him in high school and college many, many moons ago when I was not a thirty-something-- I thought he was so funny and his madcap journeys to the far corners of the world were like getting to travel vicariously without any of the annoying things that make travel so unbearable: long flights, checking your baggage, finding hotel accommodations, figuring out what to eat, etc. Now, though, I'm beginning to second guess young me because this book doesn't really hold up as well as I remembered. Like, at all.

Before reading this, I urge you to check out some of the negative reviews for this book written by actual Chinese people who have good reason to be upset with the way Troost portrayed the people and the culture of China. That was how I found them: because something about his writing was really rubbing me the wrong way and I wanted to see if it was just me. 

LOST ON PLANET CHINA is a travel memoir of a Dutch/Czech man who now lives in America but decided to travel to China. He's written other travel memoirs about Kiribati and Vanuatu, and there is an almost colonial vibe to all of his writings, I'm realizing now: like, oh, look how craaaaAAAAazy the natives are, while he parades around with all of the smugness of a white dude on vacation and tries on the various trimmings and trappings of their culture as if it is a funny hat. Cases in point: most of this book is 1. talking about how dirty China is, 2. talking about how oppressive China is, 3. making fun of the food, and 4. making fun of how greedy the Chinese are, and 5. making fun of people.

1. China does in fact have a huge pollution problem but it doesn't exist in a vacuum. There's a fascinating video I watched on YouTube that was all about Chinese factories working to satisfy the needs and desires of global capitalism. I believe there's an entire province whose factories focus exclusively on Christmas decorations which are then exported to Western shopping centers. For many years, also, much of the U.S.'s waste was exported to China: plastics, e-waste, and other things. But now that China is becoming an emerging global power, they raised the purity standards of materials that they would accept, so a lot of U.S. plastics don't actually meet the standards to export anymore. Some of the dirtiness comes from other factors, but a lot of the pollution that he bitches about in this memoir was aided by the United States. I don't know about the peeing on the streets or the hocking of loogies being a Chinese-exclusive thing either; I live in San Francisco and I've watched people drop trou and shit on the buildings, and pre-COVID there were plenty of people who spat on the sidewalks.

2. I don't deny that China does have a totalitarian government but the way that Troost writes about it fails to capture the strange dichotomy of China that I've read about in better books and by talking to friends who actually came from China. One book that I really liked was SHANGHAI FREE TAXI, which is a Chinese travel memoir written with respect (in my opinion) that really focuses on the people who live there. Troost's is largely self-referential and doesn't really move from himself, which is a shame because I felt like the parts where he was writing about the actual Chinese people he encountered were some of the best parts. His tour guide, who he calls "Meow Meow" (I'm guessing it was probably Miaomiao) was a really interesting persona and I would have liked to have learned more. It feels like a lot of people see the totalitarianism of China as an inevitability, and if not fighting against it, are jaded and complacent because they have to be. There's a grim scene in here where the Chinese police come to drag a protester away and it's chilling because he kind of jokes about/makes light about it, but after reading SHANGHAI FREE TAXI and learning about the "black jails," this made me so uncomfortable because what happens to arrested protestors in China really isn't a joke. Which actually takes me to the Hong Kong chapter, where he's like, "Wow! It's so nice here! It's like Europe!" And he mentions their English colonialist history before their return to China but says basically nothing about the protests or the resentment about that, which felt like a pretty glaring omission from the narrative.

3. The food part was a little ridiculous, since he's traveled so extensively and it feels like he'd probably be used to weird food at this point? It felt like just another reason to be disrespectful, especially since he didn't even really talk about how it tasted. If I'm going to travel vicariously, I'd like to know how cow veins and pig knuckle taste, especially if it's surprisingly good! (Or bad.) That said, I was genuinely horrified by the portion of the book where he ripped apart a live squid and ate it. This is something that personally sickens me and I will never do, because it feels like such a blatant act of animal cruelty. Eating squid and octopus like this is especially cruel because they are INCREDIBLY smart (some of the smartest animals on Earth), so you're torturing these intelligent living creatures who are probably aware of what is happening to them and terrified and it honestly makes me want to cry.

4. Going on and on about the bargaining and the cheapness of the Chinese, which is at conflict with their desire for luxury goods and status was the only thing he said that really reflected what friends and family have told me about their experience in China. The scene when he bargains his way down to a cheap stay in a hotel was genuinely funny and I think it worked because it felt like a joke that everyone was in on, because he was actually playing along with the social mores of the culture instead of doing that "this is so ridiculous and beneath me that I'm just going to laugh instead" thing, which can either give his books a subversive, pithy humor or be outright offensive depending on what he writes. China is in a period of incredible flux and I think that conflict between tradition and innovation is one of the most interesting things about China and its people, and it's one of the things I've loved reading about in the books I've gotten about China that really show that growing divide between the new generation and the old.

5. I get that writing a comedic memoir is probably very hard and the line between humor and insult is margin-thin and doesn't always evolve with the times. I did keep in mind that this memoir is over ten years old, so of course it's going to feel dated. That said, the way he made fun of their English and their names, the way he cheekily waved at the North Koreans at the border (ugh), and the numerous Nazi jokes he made about the Naxi people, and all these other things... it felt irreverent and not in a good way. It probably also wasn't so great to make fun of the Chinese's anger over the Nanjing massacre, which the Japanese apologized for after this book was written (several years after).

Parts of this book were really good. I thought the parts about the history, the little vignettes with the random Chinese people he met and walked around with, and the parts where he actually went along with the culture and settled down were really fun. Parts didn't age well at all, like a line making fun of the Chinese for wearing masks (welp) and the Nazi jokes, and parts aged a little too well, like this line where he says that rather than China becoming more like America, America is becoming more like China. I was thinking about that line a lot, because it was one of the deepest parts of this book-- especially now. I guess this is the perfect example of why it can sometimes suck to reread your faves.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Admission by Julie Buxbaum

Like other pretentious people on the internet, one of my favorite things to do is watch TED talks. That was how I found out about Jon Ronson and his many fascinating discussions on internet shaming. The video I watched was called How one tweet can ruin your life, but he also has a book about the subject as well, and it's all about the pile-on effects of internet vigilantism and how a single misstep can result in devastating consequences for a person, even if their intentions weren't necessarily evil or bad.

I thought about that video a lot while reading ADMISSION, which is a VERY direct parallel to the 2019 college admissions bribery scandal that was all over the news just last year. Our heroine, Chloe, is a rich girl who, apart from her mom's celebrity and her fabulous wealth, is painfully average and ordinary. Not exactly the type of person colleges fall over to admit in other words-- especially since, as Chloe herself whines a handful of times-- her parents aren't rich-rich, just really well off, so it's not like they can afford to donate a library wing to guarantee her admission. Her parents can do other things with their money to help, though, like private tutors, special doctor's notes to give her exemptions to take her SAT tests in private, consultants, and so much more. Chloe basically just accepts it all as her due, while whining about all the work and how she's just not smart enough, so nobody is really more surprised than she is when she scores a 1440 on the SAT and gets accepted into SCC.

Because as it turns out, her parents-- but especially her mom-- did some very shady things to get that score and that admission. Things that cheated the system and probably ensured that someone who was actually deserving and did put in the extra mile work to get there didn't get accepted. And because of her mother's fame, and Chloe's own blithe, ignorant privilege, people are mad, and the other people involved in the scandal feel the need to backtrack and cover their tracks to prevent getting painted with the same brush. Her admission is revoked, her best friend and boyfriend won't talk to her and refuse to see her, she can't go to school because it is no longer safe, and people have turned her into an ugly meme online while baying for her mother to go to prison.

I think it's always interesting when an author chooses to make an unsympathetic character the narrator of the book and I thought about Jon Ronson's video a lot because I think it does beg the question: how should people talk about things like this? In this book, Chloe has no idea about what her parents are doing, but she's still blind to her own privilege, griping about how her boyfriend has a touching cancer story to put in his college essay and assuming her Nigerian friend will get in anywhere she wants just because she's Black and different. She doesn't realize how offensive she's being, and everything else is so easy for her that real work just seems to send up immediate mental blocks, because it's like she's just never had to flex those muscles before, so she can't really summon up the motivation to really try.

Unlike some of the people Jon Ronson talks about in his talks, I don't think Chloe is guiltless and it's really hard to muster up much pity for her because she does go about so totally up in her own universe. But she isn't an evil person and neither is her mother, and I don't think the author made too many apologies for people in these kinds of situations (which was my primary concern when I heard about this book). This book is a pretty good cautionary tale about self-entitlement and privilege, while also showing how toxic mob justice can be (even if that isn't the primary message). It doesn't have a total HEA but to be honest, that is probably best. Since Chloe is the villain of her own story, it doesn't really seem fitting for her to end the book walking off in the sunset when she's only really just started out on her own path to redemption.

I'm giving this four stars because it's well written and the story is very dramatic and as hard to look away from as a train wreck, but the CONSTANT flips from "then" to "now" weren't really that well done in places, especially in the beginning, where it felt very choppy. I also didn't like the romance between Chloe and Levi much at all. I stayed away from some of this author's other works because I don't typically get on with fluffy YA romances, seeing as how I am neither a young adult or a fan of fluff, and the way their relationship was written out makes me think that's probably wise.

I'll be back if she writes more timely dramas, though.

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

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Poisoned Water: How the Citizens of Flint, Michigan, Fought for Their Lives and Warned the Nation by Candy J. Cooper

POISONED WATER is about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Most of you are probably familiar with it because for a while, it was splashed all over the news. To save money, residents were switched from Detroit-routed pipes fed by Lake Huron to a direct line piped in from the Flint River. Soon, residents were getting disgusting-looking water in various colors of brown, and started suffering conditions ranging from skin rashes to Legionnaire's disease. It turns out that not only was there microbial contamination from the water (gross), the chemicals that were being added to treat the water (at the ridiculously underfunded facility-- $8 million budget to upkeep something that should have cost a conservative $60 million) were being added without chemicals to prevent corrosion, which was resulting in all the metals from the pipes filtering into the water, including lead.

What makes it worse was that the officials responsible for the change from Huron to the Flint River were, in the words of the book "aggressively dismissive" to residents voicing their concerns over whether the water was fit for themselves and their families to drink. One woman was accused of dying the brown water in her bottle herself at what I believe was a council meeting. A dossier of scientific data collected by a leading expert in water safety was brought in to officials who even refused to touch or accept it. To save the town money, they switched to water that already had indications of being unfit to drink, and in an ironic twist of fate, anything that was saved was lost in the legal fees from the investigation of the mismanagement.

According to the back of the book, this is middle grade nonfiction. I don't really think this is middle grade-appropriate, just because the writing level is very science- and data-heavy, and it uses language that I, a thirty-something millennial with a Bachelor's degree, needed to think about. I certainly wouldn't discourage a kid from reading this who wanted to learn more about Flint and social justice, but I also think that it would be a struggle for a lot of kids. That said, I think it's definitely worth the read-- for kids and adults-- because it really delves into Flint's sad history as a racially segregated town (and race was probably a factor in why Flint was ignored; institutional racism is a huge problem, and even if it isn't the root cause of a given issue, it can help foster the symptoms and keep them lingering), its brief boom in the peak of the automotive industry, and then its collapse and penultimate ruin when GM went under (before being bailed out).

It's a depressing and hard book to read, but in a sad, twisted way, it's also inspiring. Seeing how the community banded together and refused to listen to the officials who were very clearly in the wrong was an incredible feat. Especially when they managed to get scientists and experts on the phone who, in turn, helped the people of Flint gather the incontrovertible evidence of the harm that they needed to force the switch back to Lake Huron water. It was grassroots community activism, and it's a shame that it came at such a terrible cost. FWIW, the book does end on a hopeful note, though.

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

4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars

Loudmouth by Robert Duncan

I think this book is going to appeal to people who like Martin Amis, Bret Easton Ellis, and other 70s-era authors who fall into the canon of what I think of as "dude-lit." I got this because I noticed that the author was a writer for Creem and I was envisioning some sort of male-centric version of a Jackie Collins novel. Instead, it's a sort of tragicomic coming of age about a middle-class dude with high aspirations, caught up in the web of punk culture and cheap glamor.

I found it pretty boring, but I think people who lived through this time period and aspired to that kind of lifestyle might enjoy this. I just couldn't relate to the main character much at all.

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

1.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, November 7, 2020

World Wild Vet: Encounters in the Animal Kingdom by Evan Antin

Evan Antin is often referred to as "the world's sexiest vet," and while it's true that he's a good-looking man, I think to reduce him to that is an insult to the work that he does, which I really had no idea about until I read this memoir. Unlike some other popular White Guy Travel Memoirs™ (WGTM™), Antin is incredibly respectful of the places he goes to, the cultures he interacts with, and the animals he works with. At no point in this book did he ever come across as insensitive or anything less than humble, and his enthusiasm for travel, new experiences, and helping out animals in need was truly contagious.

Honestly, WORLD WILD VET, for the most part, gave me the same cozy vibes as playing a round of Animal Crossing with friends. I know it sounds silly, but it has the same wholesome message of befriending animals, respecting the land, and having new experiences that make Animal Crossing so much fun to play during quarantine, and I really enjoyed my spontaneous bit of vicarious travel through this memoir, which covers everything from South America to Fiji to Asia to Africa.

There were several really stand-out moments in this book. I liked his cautionary tale about being bitten on the nose by a copperhead snake as a kid, and how it taught him from a young age not to push his luck with wild animals and to treat them with proper care. I learned about binturongs (bearcats), which are basically the cutest things I've ever seen (but unfortunately lots of other people feel the same way and they are major poaching targets). I don't share his fascination with creepy crawlies, but I do like how he used his snake handling abilities to try to educate local populations whenever he had the chance, not only to prevent needless killings but also to help protect people by showing them how to move a dangerous reptile safely without harm to the snake/lizard or the handler.

One of the most devastating passages in this book is a fairly graphic description of a murdered rhino and her baby (by poachers). He worked with a group called Rhino 911 that moved orphaned baby rhinos to a care facility and sawed off the horns of fully grown rhinos safely and humanely to prevent murder by poachers, but the carnage he saw clearly got to him because it was such a waste of life. He used it as a teaching moment, as he apparently does with everything else, and this is extended to other misconceptions like animals people think are cute and so assume (mistakenly) are safe (like hippos and chimps) and animals people think are scary and so assume (mistakenly) are incredibly dangerous (like snakes and sharks). He also points out that interacting with social media posts of people who have exotic animals as pets feeds the habit and that an easy way to prevent poaching on an individual level is not to encourage, through clicks or views, the driving of engagement of exotic animal pets.

I wish there were more animal pictures in the middle of the book (some people seem to be hoping that they would be Magic Mike: Wildlife Edition-- they are not, so if you got the book for that, you are going to be very disappointed). He had so many great stories, I was hoping to see pictures of EVERYTHING. I know that pictures are expensive to print, which is probably why the gallery was relatively small, but I am one of those people who will just sit and watch several hours of cat videos on YouTube, so obviously I am big on pictures-- especially cute animal pictures. Like bearcats. (Which apparently smell like popcorn!!!! Wait, am I contributing to poaching with my admiration and accolades? DON'T POACH IT'S WRONG. APPRECIATE WILD ANIMALS FROM AFAR ONLY.)

Overall, this was a really great read on all levels. Kind of like a Bill Nye episode crossed with a travel memoir as told to you by a really cool guy you knew from college over a beer. His narrative is honestly so chill and I don't know what his secret is, but I hope he writes a follow-up to this book because it's so soothingly wholesome, it's basically the ASMR of animal-related science.

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

4 out of 5 stars

Bites of Terror: 10 Frightfully Delicious Tales by Cuddles And Rage

I'm not familiar with Cuddles and Rage but apparently they are a husband and wife duo who make these little anthropomorphic dioramas of food and other inanimate entities. I checked out their Instagram page as research before posting my review and the content they post seems consistent with this book. Looking at some of the other reviews for their work, I quickly noticed that some people seemed confused about the audience for this book and others. Even though it looks cartoonish, I would say that the age for this book is probably teen and up as it's pretty disturbing.

BITES OF TERROR reads kind of like a mash-up of Robot Chicken and one of the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror Halloween episodes. A cupcake comes to the dilapidated mansion of an evil cake scientist who is in the process of creating something wondrous and terrible, and to pass the time, he tells the cupcake stories ("bites") of horror, ranging from strawberries turning into mold "zombies," to using growing from seedlings as a Pet Sematary-esque allegory for reanimation of the dead, to a story involving marmalade that was right out of something you might see on The Twilight Zone.

I was pleasantly surprised by the stories in this book, which were a cut above some of the other web-to-book cash-ins I've seen as a blogger. The quality of the photographs was excellent but the stories were great too, the perfect blend of twisted and tongue-in-cheek. I'm not surprised that this was published by Quirk Books, as they seem to publish a lot of these sort of "niche" books that end up being so odd and interesting that you find yourself wanting them for the premise alone.

This definitely isn't appropriate for young kids, but adults who like cartoons and teens with a dark sense of humor will probably love this a lot.

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

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Secret for a Nightingale by Victoria Holt

DNF @ p.118

I've been pecking at this one for weeks but I'm just not feeling it. Victoria Holt is probably the most famous Gothic romance writer of the bunch, but I also feel like her books, as a whole, tend to be the most milquetoast. She has a couple that are more like bodice-rippers in terms of subject matter-- this is one of them-- but the writing just didn't grab me at all because the heroine was so bland.

SECRET FOR A NIGHTINGALE is set during the British Raj, and no, it's not at all PC. The heroine discovers that she has magical healing powers when she lays hands on a wounded boy dying of something (I forget what) and he takes comfort from the touch of her hands.

She ends up marrying this dude named Aubrey who rapes her on their honeymoon. She thinks it's because he's out of sorts from some sort of night trauma but it turns out he's a drug addict and a devil-worshipper who's into voodoo and orgies, and also he hates her and might have purposefully caused the widow of the previous heir to miscarry so the legacy of the estate would fall to him. Such a great guy, is Aubrey. I'm pretty sure that he's the red herring love interest, though, and the "real" hero is his witch doctor, Dr. Damien. Incidentally, Damien is like the most popular name for demon and vampire guys, and at one point one of the characters is like, "Gasp! Damien! What a horrible name! It sounds just like Demon!" Like, duh, Sharon. Thus the appeal. Gawd.

I applaud the author for taking so many wild and crazy risks with this story but major thumbs-down for making it all so tedious to read. It doesn't help that the heroine seems to tend towards inaction and her general philosophy regarding matters like these seems to err on the side of "let's just sit around and see how this plays out." If you're going to read a Holt, there are better books to read than this one.

1.5 out of 5 stars