Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Perfect Poo: A Fiery Fecal Romance by M.J. Edwards

 

Stella picked up her poo and rocked it in her arms. She tapped it, shook it, gave it the kiss of life (19).

Some of you may know M.J. Edwards from her coronavirus erotica that went viral. Enough people heard about it that even non-book YouTubers used it for talking points. Well, now she's moved on to poop.

Our heroine, Stella, is petite and perky-boobed and has the personality of a water faucet. She has two hobbies: cartography and being constipated. Her BFF is totally sympathetic and takes her out to a pizza place to order a pie called the "Vesuvius" which is an irradiated bioweapon filled with hot throbbing peppers and more juicy phallic symbolism. It does the trick, and when Stella comes home, she takes the shit of her life.

Who's also the love of her life.

Okay, so here's the thing. If you tell me how smooth and warm the poop is like ten dozen times, I'm going to think that she's going to fuck the poop. And when you describe your book as a "fiery fecal romance," I'm going to be expecting the heroine to fuck the poop. I'm not going to like it, but it's what I came here for.

Instead, Stella buys a pram for the poop and takes it out to the store and all sorts of other places, like it's a cute kitten in a bonnet and not a scatological midlife crisis. People just don't understand their love, but that's okay. They have each other-- until they don't. Sob, sob. It's like ME BEFORE YOU... with poop.

I am so disappointed by this book, okay. I was expecting I FUCKED THE POOP MAN and instead I got MR. HANKY'S VALENTINE'S SPECIAL. I didn't think it was popular to troll while trolling, but Edwards set this up like it was a porno, only to not deliver any payoff. It would be like the pizza man delivering the box to the negligee clad actress and then walking away and going to Quiznos. Who goes to Quiznos? AND ALSO, WHAT ABOUT THE PORN? It would be ingenious if I weren't so mad.

P.S. This was the best/worst line in the book:

they both were wearing nice tops that showed off their boobs, because both of them had nice boobs and when they stood next to each other it looked like this: OOOO (7).

1 out of 5 stars

Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Deep End of the Sea by Heather Lyons

 

This book made waves a while ago when it came out and I somehow never got around to reading it?? All I knew was that it was a romance between Medusa and Hermes and a lot of my friends really liked it. THE DEEP END OF THE SEA starts off with Medusa on her banished little island of sadness. She has a truly tragic backstory: after Poseidon took her against her will in one of Athena's temples, where she served as a handmaiden, Athena cursed her into a hideous monster to live out her days unable to make eye contact with anyone.

The beginning of the book is pretty strong. Medusa is lonely and a bit of a shut-in. She calls her snakes her "Girls" and her only companions are a blind sailor, a blind kitten, and Hermes. Hermes is the only god she's in contact with and it took him centuries to win her trust. He's basically a warm cinnamon roll in humanoid form and when he tells Medusa that there's a way to get her off the island, she thinks it's terrifying and also probably too good to be true.

I don't want to say too much about this book because there are some great twists and I DID enjoy it but I also did a lot of skimming. The romance was a little fluffier than I would like and there's this part where she hides out in Wyoming (lol) that was so tedious that I skimmed basically all those chapters. Hades and Persephone were absolute GOALS though, and I loved them as characters-- in fact, there's a part of their storyline in here that actually made me tear up. Aphrodite and Hephaestus were also fun. Zeus's character, on the other hand, is way toned down, and Poseidon and Athena are portrayed as raging psychos. It was weird how the author picked and chose who was nice and who wasn't, because even though Hades and Persephone were pretty chill, I recall Aphrodite having a LOT of issues lol.

Overall, this is a romance about healing and comfort, so if that's a trope you really like, I think you'll enjoy this a lot. With Greek mythology romances making a comeback in the wake of popular romances like A TOUCH OF DARKNESS and NEON GODS, it felt like a great time to revisit this one. I can definitely see why it struck a chord with so many of my friends but I also agree with some of my darker romance-loving friends who said that too much of this romance just felt like fluff.

I would read more from this author, though! I hope SHE writes a Hades/Persephone romance! 10/10 would read.

3 out of 5 stars

The Favored Queen by Carolly Erickson

 

I bought several books from this author a while ago and recently read THE UNFAITHFUL QUEEN. It was really good! Packed full of drama, cattiness, and court intrigue-- just the way Tudor fiction should be, I think you'll agree. The last book was about Catherine Howard, who King Henry VIII had executed for adultery. This book was about Jane Seymour, the mother of Edward, who died from complications in childbirth. One of the "lucky" wives Henry VIII didn't kill.

The book opens with Catherine of Aragon being married to Henry VIII. Catherine has just had another miscarriage and Henry VIII is furious because he has no male heirs. Jane is one of Catherine's handmaidens and disapproves of the flirtations between Anne Boleyn and Catherine because she is loyal to her queen. Unlike UNFAITHFUL, where the bulk of the book is about Catherine's relationship to Henry, most of Jane's narrative is that of a passive observer as she serves as handmaiden to Catherine and then, later, to Anne throughout her rise and fall as the harlot queen.

A lot of people seem to dislike these books for some reason. Maybe because they're heavy on the drama? I actually like that about the book because it brings back warm memories of my fond Philippa Gregory obsession from the aughts. The only thing that kind of put me off this one a little is the introduction of supernatural elements. There's this nun who hates Anne and starts prophesying these biblical curses that end up coming true and then she gives birth to a stillborn demon baby. What. The crazy in this one is over the top and I enjoyed it, even though it made me roll my eyes a little.

If you enjoy light and breezy historical fiction that's heavy on the drama and maybe plays with the facts a little for sensationalism, you'll probably really enjoy these books! I breezed through them and plan on checking out more from this author soon.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, October 15, 2021

Rampant by Diana Peterfreund

 

This is my second time reading RAMPANT and I think I actually enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time. RAMPANT is the story of a girl named Astrid Llewellyn who is descended from unicorn hunters. Her mother, Lilith, is obsessed with them and has been teaching Astrid her whole life that unicorns are evil. Astrid thinks her mom is pretty crazy until she's out in the woods with her boyfriend and the two of them are attacked by a rogue unicorn.

After that, Astrid is sent off to a special unicorn killing school in Italy that's masquerading as a religious order. Once there, she meets other girls who are descended from other lines of unicorn hunters. They even have a pet "house unicorn" named Bonegrinder. Astrid learns that there are different kinds of unicorns, ranging from the small, goat-like zhi to the Persian karkadann, which is the size of a tank. All unicorn hunters are apparently descendants of Alexander the Great, who rode to victory on a giant karkadann of his own: Bucephalus.

I loved this book so much. Sometimes the mythology didn't really make sense but most of it, I was like, okay, I can roll with this. I loved the Italian setting and the bond between the girls. This is surprisingly diverse for the time it came out: one of the girls is Black and the other is Singaporean Chinese. The way they rally together and train together and fight and protect one another was so well done. You just don't really see many YA fantasy books these days with that kind of theme of sisterhood, which made me enjoy this book even more than I did.

I think if you enjoyed VAMPIRE ACADEMY, you'll enjoy this book. It has the same themes: kick-butt girls, dangerous paranormal threats, secret magic schools abroad, forbidden love. I'm honestly surprised the reviews for RAMPANT are so mixed because it feels like the type of book so many readers are begging for. The only things that I think would put people off are a few throwaway remarks about sexuality that don't age well, rape (off-page, but the victim is gaslighted by an authority figure, although the main character stands up for her and a pretty interesting and heartfelt discussion follows), and the fact that the heroine is kind of spoiled and bratty (but in an age-appropriate way, tbh).

I LOVED this book and can't wait to read book two. Thank goodness I already own it!

4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Slam Book by Ann M. Martin

 

Most people know Ann M. Martin from her popular series, The Baby-Sitters' Club, or her preteen one-offs, like BUMMER SUMMER or ME AND KATIE (THE PEST). I had never actually heard of SLAM BOOK before, until I saw it mentioned in Gabrielle Moss's fantastic book, PAPERBACK CRUSH, where she lists some influential paperback books aimed at preteens and teens from the 70s-90s, when publishing began to discover that not only was there a niche for kids in the double-digits but also that it was $$profitable$$.

SLAM BOOK appears to be geared towards an older audience than some of Martin's other books. The "heroine," Anna, is just starting out as a freshman in high school. Right before she begins at her new school, she has a visit with her cousin, who introduces her to the concept of a "slam book." For those of you who are old (like me) and don't know what a slam book is, it's like the burn book from Mean Girls or like those apps people can download where people can anonymously ask you questions (I think one of them is called ASKfm), only it's all done in physical form, like a yearbook, where anyone who has the book can see it.

***SPOILERS AND DISCUSSION OF TRIGGERING CONTENT TO FOLLOW*

Anna's burn book is an instant hit and she and her three friends, Jessie, Randy, and Paige, get really into it. The book is passed around to the entire school where everyone gets things written out them. WHAT FUN you are thinking, because you are a fool. If you're not a fool, you're probably thinking THIS IS NOT GOING TO END WELL, and you would be correct, my non-fool friend. It does not end well. Not that any adults get involved. Adults weren't invented until the 2000s. Anyway, things come to a head when Paige, the rich mean one, decides that she wants a boy, so she spreads a rumor that results in him breaking up with his girlfriend. When she tries to hit on him, though, he's like EW NO, and asks Anna out instead. WHAT. DON'T YOU KNOW HOW RICH AND AWESOME PAIGE IS? SHE WILL HAVE HER REVENGE. Suddenly, Anna is being called boy-crazy and a boyfriend-stealer! That's so hurtful! It's only ok to insult OTHER people but it HURTS when you do it to Anna! DON'T YOU KNOW HOW COOL AND AWESOME ANNA IS? SHE WILL HAVE HER REVENGE.

Anna decides that the best way to humiliate Paige is by siccing the unpopular heavy girl on her. Cheryl. She tells Cheryl (through the slam book, in Paige's handwriting) that a boy named Kirk likes her. This goes on for a while until eventually Anna sets up a fake double date between Paige, Kirk, and Cheryl. Cheryl goes to Paige's house on a bicycle, dressed up in her dead mother's prom dress, and Paige answers the door and basically unleashes the power of the slam book on Cheryl in person (basically, you know, insulting her looks, her body odor, her fashion sense, her poor person poverty). Cheryl ends her life. Paige feels guilty about this and ends up trying to take hers also.

But OH NO Anna feels guilty when someone who isn't unpopular and heavy almost dies. The truth must out! SO she tells Paige, who has just had her stomach pumped or something IDK, that SHE was the one who wrote all that stuff in the slam book. Paige gets mad and Anna is like HEY I'M JUST TELLING YOU WHAT I DID OK YOU DON'T HAVE TO BLAME ME. Also, Anna confessed to her mom first and her mom said-- THIS IS LITERALLY PARAPHRASED FROM THE BOOK-- no Anna it's not your fault, these girls just aren't "well-adjusted" (actual word used) and you aren't to blame if you didn't hold the razor or the pill bottle. WHAT. WHAT. WHAAAAAAAAAT. *head explodes*

So anyway, Anna is like neither of us are at fault, hooray no consequences, and everyone who isn't Cheryl lives happily ever after.

This book was published in the 90s when bullying really wasn't treated the same way it was now. I grew up in the 90s/early 2000s and I can tell you that administrations liked to keep a hands-off approach when it came to bullying and harassment. When I was the same age as Anna, actually, I was being bullied. I had a group of people following me around, calling me several slurs, threatening me with physical violence, shoving me in the halls, and encouraging me to end my life. They harassed me online and offline and when my mom complained to the administration and told them I'd been keeping logs, they were like IF IT DOESN'T HAPPEN ON CAMPUS WE CAN'T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT SO GOOD LUCK WITH THAT BYE. Because-- remember-- adults weren't invented until the 2000s.

It wasn't until a number of high profile cases of MySpace harassment and bullying that culminated in suicide went viral that adults started to think, WOW, I GUESS ONLINE BULLYING ACTUALLY FOMENTS IRL BULLYING AND VICE-VERSA? WE PROBABLY SHOULDN'T TOLERATE THIS. Because it's finally the 2000s and adults remembered that not only were they invented now but that teens probably shouldn't be left to their own unsupervised devices on the wild west of the internet. You see all these people on Twitter boo-hooing about how X slur or Y harassment kept them from getting into their college of choice because boo hoo hoo it was the internet and everyone's mean. Anyone who's well-adjusted with a sense of humor understands an LOL or an internet funny JEEZ. But the fact of the matter is, words have consequences and sometimes they leave wounds that can outlast any bruise. Part of growing up is learning how to be accountable for one's treatment of others.

WHICH IS WHY THE ENDING OF THIS BOOK WAS SO INFURIATING TO ME. Because it's basically like "welp, she was weak and sad so sucks for her but also not our fault, BYE." No one really gets any real consequences for their actions and the only one who experiences REAL guilt over what she did is Paige, who is then immediately told not to worry about it. In some ways, it's a rather keen snapshot into how bullying and accountability was viewed in the 90s and 00s. But it's also a pretty toxic and infuriating mess, too, because it ages so badly that it almost seems to suggest that the kids who get bullied are asking for it in some way. The way that Randy's ethnicity (Black) was handled was also pretty clumsy. She's bullied for being an "Oreo" (a pejorative term for someone who is Black but acts "white") but nobody is ever punished for this and Randy just sort of ends up sucking it up. Also, there's an infuriating scene in the beginning of the book where Paige is shoplifting and like lalala FREE STUFF and Randy is like NOT COOL and the other girls are like OH MY GOD WHAT A SPOILSPORT WHY IS SHE STORMING OFF? Which would be a great teaching moment for how Black people are stalked in stores while people like Paige get off scot-free but NOPE. Paige isn't punished and Randy is just way lame, you guys, omg. At the end of the book, Randy is talking with her mom and she's like I'M GLAD MY CLIQUE DISBANDED and I'm thinking, Randy is literally the only sane person in this entire book and why is she not the heroine??? #RandyForPresident2024.

*exhales deeply*

So obviously I hated this book. Until about 80% I liked it just fine but then it went all "NO REAL CONSEQUENCES LALALALALALA" and I wanted to launch it into a solar flare.

Ann M. Martin, you make me sad. I thought we were cool.

1 out of 5 stars

The Unfaithful Queen: A Novel of Henry VIII's Fifth Wife by Carolly Erickson

 

Remember when Philippa Gregory was at the peak of her popularity and everyone was falling over themselves to see who could write the Tudoriest Tudor book that ever Tudored its way onto the best-seller's list? I DO! And this book-- I'm pretty sure-- is one of those. NOT THAT THAT'S A BAD THING OH NO. I love me some trashtastic reads and nothing is quite as fun as diving into a fictionalized down and dirty account of real trash people living their trash lives in trash history. #TRASH

I bought this and one of this author's other books, THE FAVORED QUEEN, a while ago, but then I glutted myself on historical fiction and got bored with the genre, so this book has just been chilling in my room, gathering dust... UNTIL NOW. To be honest, I don't actually know that much about Catherine Howard, Henry VIII's fifth wife. I've read a ton of books about Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon, but not so much about the others. I think it's always interesting to read books like this because the author usually goes into it with some bias (like how Philippa Gregory seems to think that Anne Boleyn is the sluttiest slut who ever slutted). Interestingly, Anne of Cleves (here called Anna) is portrayed as a jealous and childish harridan who wastes no time in Mean Girling poor Catherine into an execution *eye roll*.

I actually did enjoy this book, though! Actually I enjoyed it for the reasons that a lot of people seemed to hate it. It's so OTT, like a bodice-ripper. Like, it opens up with Catherine living as a ward or something in her Grandma Dearest's House (NO MORE WIRE HANGERS) where one of the girls-- a total ho-- teaches them how you can use lemons as spermicide by shoving it up your coochie. The book literally opens-- AND ENDS-- with a beheading. Catherine is Anne Boleyn's cousin and she's just watching her cousin get murdered like it's NBD. Then she ends up almost engaged to two dudes, both of whom are using her, before capturing the eye of the king. He gifts her a monkey and annuls his marriage to gross ugly Anna for her sake, and then she can't even get pregnant. Whaaaaaat.

Hilariously, the part about Henry getting angry at Anne for not recognizing him in disguise totally did happen, according to history. Like he dressed up as a peasant or something and got all up in her face and she was like EW WHO IS THIS PEASANT. As one does. Hilariously, he also did give her her own lands and estates, friendzoning her as graciously as was possible back in the day by referring to her as his dearest "sister." LOL. I honestly think she got off the best out of all his wives, tbh. She got all the riches and she didn't have to play to his ego or, you know, get her head chopped off.

I would classify THE UNFAITHFUL QUEEN as a trashy historical. It's almost literary but not quite and I think it will appeal to people who like romance novels even though this doesn't have a happy ending. The fun, gossipy tone and the WTF factor made it a delight to read. I'm glad I have more from this author and will definitely be keeping an eye out for more of her books!

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

A Star Is Bored by Byron Lane

 

It's kind of sad that this book is called A STAR IS BORED because a Nenia was bored while reading this book. It was me. I'm the Nenia. I wanted to like this book because I kept seeing it all over Instagram and it looked like so much fun (although weirdly, even though everyone was posting PICTURES of it, I wasn't seeing all that many reviews). I guess Byron Lane was the PA to Carrie Fisher before she died so this is his fictionalized account of that with a dude nammed Charlie Besson becoming PA to an actress named Kathi Kannon who is eccentric and a little crazy who is famous for-- you guessed it-- staring as a priestess in a science-fiction movie ages ago and is now basically a has-been.

But, you know, it's not Carrie Fisher. *wink*

The tongue-in-cheek IT'S NOT CARRIE FISHER YOU GUYS STAHP shtick got pretty old after a while, to the point where I wasn't sure why the author didn't just do a tell-all memoir and call it a day. Maybe because he'd signed an NDA and this fictionalized account offers some plausible deniability about what and how many details were blurred/changed? IDK.

I also wish I hadn't known that this was kind of a parody (homage?) of Carrie Fisher because this just felt like such a caricature of her. I've read several of her memoirs and they were SO FUNNY and clever and witty. She just had a really unique, quirky view of the world, and she was so open about her struggles with addiction and bipolar, so seeing her reduced to this, like, stereotype was a little sad. I'm sure the author got to know her really well as a person but that just wasn't coming through in this book-- both the narrator, Charlie, and Kathi, came across as feeling flat and 2D.

I'm sorry to say that this is a miss for me but my friends seemed to like it so maybe you will, too.

1 out of 5 stars

The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

 

I'd been wanting to read THE BLACK KIDS ever since I heard about it in some listicle about new YA releases. It's set in the early 90s against the backdrop of the Rodney King riots and our heroine is an upper class African American teenager who doesn't really feel connected to her Black heritage at all-- until other people kind of force her to confront it by boxing her into stereotype after stereotype.

There was just so much to love about this book. Obviously the 90s fashions and cultural references were near and dear to my heart, but Hammonds Reed also does such a great job talking about things like intersectionality, cultural identity, taking a stand, dealing with toxic friendships, owning up to your own mistakes, and growing up. It's a coming of age story as well as a snapshot of history that is, sadly, still very much relevant today. You can't really shrug and say, "Well, at least things are better now" because when it comes to the treatment of people of color, our society is still dealing very much with infrastructural racism on a pretty large scale.

Ashley is such a great heroine. I loved how she was spoiled and difficult and made bad choices without the author making her out to be a bad person. She was just a flawed teenager with a ton of stuff on her plate, which is honestly one of my favorite kinds of heroines. I also loved how she starts out kind of timid and passive and ends up totally changing. The character development was fantastic and by the time you get to the end, you really feel how much she's grown as a person without being told. I also loved her family, her family history, and her new set of friends once she ditches the toxic ones.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed THE HATE U GIVE. I'm honestly shocked it isn't as popular because I think it's almost as good and would make a fantastic movie with an amazing soundtrack, too.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

The Sky Atlas: The Greatest Maps, Myths and Discoveries of the Universe by Edward Brooke-Hitching

 

I bought this book on impulse because it was on sale and the picture on the cover was so pretty. Would this be a book of celestial maps? Well... sort of. SKY ATLAS actually ended up being more-- and less-- than what I thought it would be. In the beginning, there are a number of pictures of maps created by indigenous people and early civilizations (and even later ones!) as part of their mythological/spiritual beliefs about the sky, but then SKY ATLAS catapults into the scientific discoveries of the great minds from antiquity to the present day.

I actually haven't taken all that many hard sciences so some of this book was over my head, but I thought the author did a great job taking difficult subjects and simplifying them for the layman (layperson?). For example, comparing the theory of relativity to lying on a trampoline and then shooting a marble at the person (#rude) and the marble getting caught in the dip created by your mass. I understood that! There were also some really fascinating, tell-all-your-friends facts in here, too, like how an Egyptian vizier was executed for allegedly communicating with Saturn or how Venus apparently rotates at the speed that most people walk. Facts like these I could totally get down with and made the book totally worth it IMO, because knowledge is power! (Or... something.)

One of the best things about this book, though, is how inclusive it is. By including spiritual and mythological discoveries, Brooke-Hitching doesn't exclude indigenous people and THEIR observations of the sky. He also talks about the Middle East and Asia, and there are a TON of women scientists featured in here. Some of the things he talked about I had never learned and it was kind of cool to see how many women star-gazers there were and what their contributions to astronomy were.

Overall, SKY ATLAS ended up being a really fun and interesting read, kind of like Bill Nye for adults, and I think that the author has a really fun and accessible narrative "voice" that makes the book even more engaging, despite the difficulty of some of the subject matter.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, October 11, 2021

Perfected by Kate Jarvik Birch

 

DNF @ 25%

I'm currently trying to audit my book collection and get rid of anything that doesn't strike my fancy. PERFECTED is a very strange book, kind of in line with those chick-lit dystopians that were popular a while back-- books like THE SELECTION, THE JEWEL, or MATCHED. In some ways, PERFECTED is like the poor man's HANDMAID'S TALE: it takes place in a dystopian near-future where genetically modified human girls are bred in special "kennels" as pets for the super rich.

Our heroine-- who is named "Ella" by her adopted family-- is taken in by the very congressman who approved this rule. He's also creepy as all get out. Like, right away, Ella starts getting warnings from both his children about his creepiness, which is super awkward and uncomfy. I don't think this is supposed to be a comfortable read but the tone in which it's written (light, breezy, vapid) doesn't really fit with the dark subject matter. The result is jarring and doesn't really work.

Some of my friends really hated this book and some thought it was an underrated gem. I think how you feel about it will depend on whether you really like those girl-targeted dystopian novels I mentioned. Maybe a teen girl would enjoy this more than I did. I didn't hate it and I didn't think it was bad, but it's also really not to my taste and the writing style didn't work for me at all. Next.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Tease by Amanda Maciel

 

UGH. What do I even say about this book? Talking about things I love is so hard because I just want to be like, "It's amazing. Read it." Which is obviously not helpful, but I've already expended SO MUCH BRAIN POWER into the feels this book made me feel, and now I have to relive that all over again as I try to explain in coherent words why you should read this blistering emotional mess of a book.

First, I just want to say that I actually was bullied in high school. My bullying was just as intense as Emma's was and like Emma's, it occurred online and offline. The idea of writing from the bully's POV is not exactly novel and I think far too often it comes across as apologist. What I liked about TEASE is that it's pretty clear (well, to everyone except our MC Sara) that what the "heroine" did was wrong. Is she a total cackling villain of a girl? No, but most bullies aren't. There were shades of nuance to her life and being around her meaner friends made her a much worse person. I think that's probably true. It was the case with my own bullies: one of them was much meaner than the other and the less mean one eventually wrote me a (very nice) apology letter years later saying she was sorry for what she did.

The premise of TEASE is simple and complicated all at once. Emma has taken her own life after months of continuous bullying and now the parents are taking the kids involved to court. There are two timelines. One is in the present day, with the approaching court date. The other is in the past, building up to the inciting event. Emma is a pretty girl who hooks up with a lot of boys-- allegedly. There's definitely some unreliable narrator business going on and it's not exactly clear whether some of these boys are just friends who aren't discrediting the salacious rumors, or, you know, the opposite. Sara and Brielle hate Emma straight out of the gate, but when Emma starts getting close to Sara's boyfriend, Dylan, things start getting really bad. Sara, an insecure mess, can't stand the idea of this pretty girl with the bad reputation hanging out with her man. So she starts to make Sara's life a living hell.

This is paced like a thriller, even though it isn't. The characters all behave like real teens and they talk like real teens and they make bad decisions like real teens. Once I got into the book, I read through it in a single day. Even though I didn't like her as a person, I loved how the heroine of the story was a true morally ambiguous character and I liked how complex the author made her as a person. I think that's part of the reason the reviews for this book are pretty low. Most people want a character they can feel comfortable rooting for and Sara, who is the literal villain in her own story, is anything but that. 

If you like YA with mature themes that deep-dives into serious issues, I think you'll really like TEASE. The hilarious blurb for this book on Goodreads says, " If you gulped through reading or streaming 13 Reasons Why, Tease is the book for you." What does "if I GULPED" mean? Like, if I swallowed nervously? I actually think that comparison is kind of bad because 13RW is more of a revenge fantasy and the hero of that book is more of a generic nice guy character. TEASE, on the other hand, feels like it's more about exploring serious issues with nuance while also holding people accountable. One is a vigilante story and the other is an analysis of morality and justice. They feel different to me, IDK.

Anyway, this book was awesome and if you can stomach the content, you should read it.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Night Head Genesis, Volume 2 by George Iida

 

THE FUCK WAS THIS.

Night Head Genesis is a manga series about two psychic brothers, Naoto and Naoya. Naoto, the older one, is a powerful telekinetic. Naoya, the younger one, sees visions and when people touch him, he can read their minds. In the last book, they save mankind from a postapocalyptic plague, but this volume takes an extra big turn for the weird with the introduction of yet another villain and a bizarre magic forest scene that's a total WTF moment.

The villain is a psychic named Sonezaki who can perform mind control and he's a huge dick about it. If you have seen Jessica Jones, he's a lot like David Tennant's Kilgrave. He travels around with this creepy hooded guy who is basically a living psychic video camera. After getting into a psychic dick-swinging contest with our boys, they end up speeding off to the psychic research center where they were raised after their parents sold them into psychic slavery. We find out that it's been destroyed by MORE evol psychics who want to punish him for basically being a Nazi scientist. And he's like HELP. And Naoto and Naoya are like WHY THO. Which is a totally valid question to ask a Nazi scientist.

Anyway, they save him and then Naoya finds out that he has even moar psychic powers! And also people apparently only use 30% of their brains (as someone who tutored neuroscience, this literally pains me) and people who use more actually become psychic batteries that lose the need for corporeal bodies. So if you become psychic enough, you turn invisible! Or something. Also forest magic deus ex machinas are totally a thing. ALSO civilizations were MORE advanced in the past, apparently, and people from Atlantis and the Mu Continent came from space! (I feel like I'm quoting an anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorist's Twitter posts or something, but here we go.)

I finished the book and I was entertained but I don't think I'll be seeking out the other books in this series. Night Head Genesis is FUCKING WEIRD, y'all.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Night Head Genesis, Volume 1 by George Iida

 

NIGHT HEAD GENESIS is a very strange seinen manga. I noticed a lot of people are shelving this book as yaoi-- possibly because one of them is more masculine looking and the other is more androgynous, and it does kind of look like a romance cover, but the heroes are actually biological brothers so the cover art is kind of weird and doesn't fit the story at all.

Naoto and Naoya are brothers with psychic powers. When they were kids, their parents sold them to a research center but then they ran away and staked out their own living. Nayoa, the younger brother, seems to have "visions." Naoto, the older brother, is a powerful telekinetic. One day, Naoya has a vision of the world ending in a sea of corpses. His vision ends up taking them to a prophet, where their powers amplify and they learn that scientists researching an AIDS/HIV vaccine are on the verge of corrupting their own research by mistake, creating a mutation that will kill basically everyone. Oops.

This story is pretty dark. It's seinen manga, which is the male equivalent of josei: manga meant for college age men and up. I felt like the characters were interesting and the story-telling was decent, although the female scientist was pretty lame. Like, we're talking insta-love in the extreme. She basically existed only to throw herself at Naoto and serve as a rape foil plot device later on in the story. And she's the only female character of import who isn't a villain.

I liked the art and the two brothers, and the ending actually gave me chills, but I'm probably not going to keep this around. It's pretty gloomy and I'm curious to see what the second book does, plot-wise.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Ophelia by Lisa M. Klein

 

I'm doing an audit on my book inventory, which is basically fancy-talk for "read all the book shit I have accumulated and see what I want to keep and what I want to sell/toss." OPHELIA is a book I bought over ten years ago back when I was still obsessed with YA. The idea of a Hamlet retelling that accorded Ophelia full agency was just too good to pass up. Especially since she's such a passive character in the play.

Here, we see Ophelia and Hamlet's love story and how they are schemers who end up playing people for fools, which ends up foreshadowing Hamlet's infamous "the play's the thing" scheme. We learn that they even secretly get married-- but they never tell anyone and Hamlet basically lets everyone think that she's just a spurned lover when he goes full emo, much to Ophelia's distress.

In OPHELIA, we learn that the madness was just an act and the suicide was also just an act-- she took a page out of Juliet's book with a "JK! It's just poison to make me look dead!" The third act ends up with her literally in a nunnery, which I only just realized is ironic AF. The nunnery part is really weird. Nuns are also kind of emo and boring.

I don't really know what to think about this book. I liked the romance part in the beginning and the court intrigue in the middle, but then it just falls apart with the dramatics and the nuns. This is a pretty mature work for YA and I don't really think younger teens would enjoy it at all, as the language and vocabulary is difficult and the mature themes are potentially disturbing (rape, faking your death, giving birth, poison in the ear, etc.). I feel like a solid 2.5 kind of covers how I feel about it. It was slightly better than okay but not enough to be good. I won't be keeping this one.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Finlay Donovan Is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

 

When I first say FINLAY DONOVAN IS KILLING IT, I was a little worried because it seemed like it might be one of those quirky, trying-too-hard-to-be-funny mysteries that inexplicably end up topping best-seller charts despite being, um, not all that great. But the hook of the story kept living rent-free in the back of my mind. I mean, I'm an author who also writes dark and gritty things and HOW OFTEN have I had conversations with others about what I write that could actually sound preeeeeettty terrible if taken out of context? Which is exactly what happens to Finlay, when someone overhears her talking to her agent about her murder mystery and mistakes her for a contract killer, which results in a paycheck filled with dirty money and a whole lot of trouble.

The whole time, I kept picturing this book as a movie in my head. It has the perfect blend of suspense, witty dialogue, and action. I've read one of this author's YA mysteries and quite enjoyed that, but this one was even better. Which makes sense because she published the other one a while ago. If you were reading the reviews for this one and also thinking, "Oh no, here we go again," don't. It's actually a lot of fun and I'd recommend it to anyone who's into books like Katherine St. John's or Gillian Flynn's. Gritty beach reads, I call them. For the morbid goth who enjoys sitting poolside.

Finlay is a really likable and relatable protagonist. Her life is pretty suck. Her husband has left her for a prettier, more successful woman. She has two kids who are high-maintenance and don't really appreciate her sacrifices. She has bills to pay and a job that nobody takes seriously or respects. Her struggle will resonate with literally thousands of women, and obviously, it's made her a little crazy. Crazy enough to actually take up the mysterious murder contractee? Maybe. I found myself really invested in her story from the beginning and ended up breezing through the book in under a day. THANK GOODNESS THERE'S A SEQUEL because that cliffhanger is... whew.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, October 8, 2021

Insatiable: Porn - A Love Story by Asa Akira

 

This is actually my second go-round with this book. I received a copy of it when it first came out as an ARC and felt like rereading it, so I bought a copy not too long ago when it went on sale and decided to revisit INSATIABLE. When I first read this book I was in my mid-twenties and easily shocked. Now I'm, well, not. In my twenties or easily shocked. In fact, I was able to read through all of the grittier portions of this book while eating, gory details and all.

I've read a couple other memoirs by adult film stars, most recently Linda Lovelace and Jenna Jameson, and I feel like their stories were a lot sadder and it seemed like they had more regrets about getting into the business. Asa Akira, on the other hand, enthusiastically loves her job and unequivocally embraces her sexuality, which makes this memoir fun to read and, I guess, makes her very popular with her fans. She writes about her wild but happy upbringing, and about her parents, who seem bewildered with her career choice but still try to be supportive. But the bulk of the memoir is about sex work and being an actress in adult film.

Since I'm hoping to cross post this to Amazon, I can't go too into detail in this review, but let's just say that too much detail doesn't seem to be a phrase that exists in Ms. Akira's vocabulary. She is remarkably open about everything, whether it's about catching an STD on set, her stress about developing cystic acne, or what it was like dating and being married to another adult film star. She's not PC at all but it adds to, rather than detracts from, her charm, and I found her candor refreshing. Especially since she talks so much about an industry that is largely hush hush. I found it fascinating to learn about the hierarchy of different adult film actors/roles, what clean-up looks like on set, and what it takes to become successful in the types of role(s) she had.

Sex work is something that is still largely stigmatized in the U.S. so it's great to see a memoir that tackles the subject without (m)any regrets. It's a job, ultimately, and like most jobs, you won't get very far if you aren't a consummate (pun intended) professional. I think it's also important to note that people working in adult film seem to have fans with major boundary issues. She talks about an upsetting incident in an airport where a fan touched her inappropriately; I was watching an interview on Cracked with adult film stars and a lot of them talked about how people (mistakenly) assume that since porn actors make movies where their bodies are on display, that means they're basically fair game. I am sure that there are a lot of similar #MeToo stories about women (and men) working in adult film, and people need to understand that this really is NOT okay. That these men and women are doing a job and whether they're on or off the clock, consent matters, and being unclothed is not a substitute for consent.

Overall, this was just a really, really good memoir. I think I actually enjoyed reading it more this second time around than I did the first time. Asa Akira is a really interesting woman with a really interesting job and I feel like she'd be super fun to sit down and have drinks with because I bet she has the BEST stories. I can't wait to pick up her other memoir.

4 out of 5 stars

Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

 

DNF @ 15%

I'm sorry to say I didn't really care for this book and maybe part of that is because I read THIS POISON HEART first, which I really liked. By contrast, CINDERELLA IS DEAD comes across as woefully unpolished and boring. I do really like the idea of a dystopian society that has essentially made the Cinderella fairytale their doctrine in a bizarre Bachelorette like ball culture, but this story mostly feels like it's all ideas and no execution. I didn't find the story or the characters compelling enough to continue. Her follow-up is much, much better, which is only testament to the author's skills as a writer.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

The Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran

Meredith Duran is an author whose works I really like but wouldn't really say I love. That said, I've had so many people recommend this book, THE DUKE OF SHADOWS, to me, that I kind of felt like I had to read it. THE DUKE OF SHADOWS was Meredith Duran's debut work and an incredibly daring one: in some ways, it's a throwback to the globe-trotting bodice-rippers of the 80s, when everything was tinged by the threat of violence, and love and war often walked hand in hand.

This is a Victorian-era book, and the first quarter or so of the book is set in India just before the Rebellion of 1857. The heroine, Emma, has already been tarnished by tragedy. In a shipwreck that killed her entire family, she was the sole survivor. Now she is an artist who chafes at the bridles of English society. At a party, she encounters an unlikely guest: a marquess named Julian Sinclair, who has a reputation as a rake, as well as a traitor: he is one quarter Indian himself and sympathetic to his people.

The attraction between the two of them is instant and restrained. Emma is casually engaged to another man but he's a dick of the first order-- classist, racist, sexist, abusive. It's not really a contest if the other man wins from the start, right? And Julian is one of my favorite romance heroes that I've encountered lately. He's devoted and dangerous, which I think we can all agree is the best combination. The things he does for her left me on the floor, ready to give up the ghost for Julian Sinclair. I mean, a man can't say things like "You are the second person I have held down today. I will be more gentle with you, but I will not let you go. Do you understand?" and not expect every straight/pan woman and/or gay/pan man in the vicinity to drop dead of thirst.

I MEAN REALLY.

Emma is also an amazing heroine. I felt like the author did a really good job showing how her biases colored her views of India, and how she gradually came to realize how problematic colonization was. Her PTSD in the aftermath of the war was also really heart-wrenching and I liked how she poured her feelings into her art since she was so ill-equipped to deal with them. (Stiff upper lip and all that.) Some people didn't like her as a character because she was immature and cold, but she was young when she met Julian and she had to endure things that would push anyone beyond the human limits of endurance. She ended up being a really tortured heroine, almost Gothically so, and the perfect match for Julian.

Oh-- and the sex scenes in this book are about an 11/10 on the spice scale. JUST SO YOU KNOW.

I loved everything about this book. The descriptions of India. The cold parlors of the English upperclass. The murder mystery and the danger. The art. The heists. The sexual tension. The hero. The heroine. The side characters. The villain(s). The smut. Basically everything. This is a keeper.

Thanks so much Heather for reading this with me! (Make sure you check out her review, too.)

5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

 

CEMETERY BOYS is quite good but I think it's being a little over-hyped (which is not the book's fault, but it does work to this book's detriment). It's the type of book that would make an amazing movie but feels a little flat on the page just because of the expositional writing style. That said, I did really enjoy it and I'm so glad my friends wanted to buddy-read it with me for Halloween! The best way of describing this book in my opinion is a cross between Coco and Meg Cabot's Mediator series. It is steeped in Mexican culture and takes place in the fall, leading up to the Dia de los Muertos.

Yadriel is a young trans boy who has just recently come out. He wants to be a brujo (basically a medium/witch) but his family is not keen on the idea because they're still coming to terms with his identity and they feel like he missed the window since he didn't complete the ceremony as a bruja. Yadriel, however, isn't about to take no for an answer: he's determined to have his own ceremony with the help of his friend, Maritza, but what should be a night of success ends up becoming a night of tragedy when it ends in murder-- and ghosts.

Julian is a boy from Yadriel's school who recently died. His death was apparently gruesome but he doesn't remember who killed him or even what happened. But he doesn't want Yadriel to send him on his way to the afterlife until he knows for sure that his friends are safe. Julian ends up accompanying Yadriel around as they look into Julian's past and seek answers, which ultimately leads them on the path to discovering the truth behind the murders.

I loved the cultural elements of this book and all of the on-page Spanish. It made me feel pretty good about the language I retained from all my years of study! But even if you don't understand Spanish, the context makes it easy to guess what's going on. The Dia de los Muertos elements were beautifully rendered and I liked how the author referred to brujos collectively with the gender neutral term, brujx. It shows the need for creating gender neutral and inclusive spaces in languages that are heavily gendered, where every article, adjective, and noun can end up feeling like a blow when used incorrectly. I also liked how Yadriel's family wasn't mean about his being trans-- it seemed more like they were trying to understand and just didn't really get it. Not that this is less hurtful, but it feels more realistic and maybe easier to relate to for a lot of people who might struggle with getting their own families to understand.

I'm giving this a three because it was not quite as... I don't know, weighty... as I would have hoped. It's a very generous three because I did enjoy the book! I just felt like the pacing was a little awkward at times and there were a lot of portions where not a lot was happening. Also, the villain? Super obvious. Literally AS SOON as they set foot in the story I was like WHOOMP (THERE THEY ARE). And sadly, I was not disappointed. It's also fluffier than you would expect for a book about death, which is maybe a nice thing. But for a book that is focused very heavily on the romance, I will say that this is the rare YA book where the romance actually feels natural and not artificially constructed.

So over all, this is a solid debut and I can see why so many people love it, even if I didn't end up fully buying into the hype. I think it's best to go in cold and approach it for what it is: a feel-good book that's basically a PIXAR movie in print format. Geared towards a younger audience, but appreciable by all.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The Wicked House of Rohan by Anne Stuart

 

If Anne Stuart writes it, I will read it. I don't make the rules here, that's just how this works. THE WICKED HOUSE OF ROHAN is, I think, the prequel to her House of Rohan series. The hero in this short, Alistair, is the cousin to the hero in RUTHLESS. The heroine is a waif who is on the verge of starvation and agrees to sell herself as the virginal sacrifice to the Heavenly Host's sinister midnight games.

Unless... someone else gets to her first.

I really wanted this to be a full-length story because I think the premise was really great and the whole childhood friends to lovers trope is kind of a weakness to mine, especially if they make a pit stop to enemies land before they become lovers. This kind of read like someone ripped out the sex scene in a full length romance novel and was like, "Here you go!" and while I have no complaints about that given that this is currently free to read, it did feel... lacking.

I think you'll appreciate this short story more if you're already a fan of Anne Stuart's work but it's not a bad introduction to her style and it was pretty steamy for what it was.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

The Princess Stakes by Amalie Howard

 

DNF @ 37%

I feel like you can't really discuss this book without bringing up the controversy that happened prior to its publishing. When THE PRINCESS STAKES was still in ARC format (and I think under a different title), some reviewers-- #ownvoices and not-- expressed anger and frustration that the hero, Rhystan, owned a plantation and was essentially a British colonist, and the heroine, Sarani, who is half-Indian, half-British, had internalized British colorism and racism in her own views about the world.

While I don't wish to invalidate the very real and visceral reactions this might have caused to some readers, I also don't think that such content itself is inherently problematic. Why? Because those things actually did happen in history, and the author herself is of Indian descent, and people have different ways of reclaiming their history and pain, and if it was empowering and validating for the author to express those feelings in the characters in a constructive way while also spreading awareness of REAL events and their repercussions in history, then I don't personally see a problem with that. Just because a character feels something doesn't mean the author endorses it. And history is problematic. Talking about it is how we learn.

History is also all about framing and I think there is a mistaken assumption among some readers that (1) authors who write about characters doing bad things somehow endorse those bad things and (2) authors of color end up being inadvertent ambassadors to their culture and are put up on a pedestal until they misstep and then people are remarkably quick to push them off. Something similar happened with Amelie Wen Zhao's BLOOD HEIR, a book that was also delayed from publication while the author "fixed" the problematic content that was being called out. Also, (3) people seem to think that a black vs. white view is necessary for history, with one side clearly being "good" and the other side clearly being "bad." And while you can pretty clearly state that colonialism is bad, the people participating it were real human beings and human beings existed on a spectrum, operating within the framing of morality that existed at the time which unequivocally stated that colonialism was acceptable (even though that's gross). Sticking your head in the sand doesn't negate the fact that there were people going around who believed themselves to be good people and might have even performed acts of good who were nonetheless acting as oppressors on someone else's native land. Whether you want to read about that or not is up to you, and whether it's endorsed or not by an author can be subjective and up for debate, but in this case I really don't think the author was going "Yay, colonialism!" (based on the quotes I read from the ARC) and I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing to try and historically and accurately portray that sort of sentiment as long as the author exercises caution.

What makes the case of THE PRINCESS STAKES really sad for me is that the author issued an incredibly gracious apology (that I personally don't think she should have needed or been required to give) and a lot of the people who jumped on the anti-PRINCESS STAKES bandwagon don't even seem to be aware of this. People are still shelving this book as problematic and telling others not to read it, because it seems like very few of them have actually gone back to check on the situation to see if there was an effort to fix the problem. So that sucks, and after reading and loving this author's other work, BEAST OF BESWICK, I was completely rooting for this author to succeed.

Sadly, I didn't enjoy this book. I loved the beginning, which opens up with an assassination and a daring escape, but everything went downhill as soon as Sarani ends up on Rhystan's ship. It feels like a very gutted work and part of me wondered if that's because the author sanded all the edges off out of fear of being controversial. Rhystan is a huge jerk who secretly holds a torch for Sarani, but this actually just makes him look like even more of a jerk because of the way he treats her. Instead of owning a plantation, we now learn that he turned it over to the people who owned the land, which puts him at odds with the actions of someone who forces her to shovel waste on deck and fights with crew members to release aggression. Is he noble? Or is he a brutal antihero? Which is it?

Sarani had so much potential because she is fully capable of seeking out her own agency and fighting for herself, but being around the hero seems to turn her into spineless jelly. One of the reasons I loved BEAST OF BESWICK is because the heroine doesn't let the hero get away with anything and calls him out at every turn. This book, on the other hand, feels like it's full of mixed messages. I really tried to stick it out because the author seems so nice and I'm loving her Everleigh Duology (I'm reading RAKEHELL OF ROTH and so far it seems just as good as BESWICK), but this is such a miss.

I was trying to think about why this book felt so familiar and it actually reminds me a lot of TILL DAWN TAMES THE NIGHT by Meagan McKinney. They have the same sense of inconsistency and uneven characterization. The upside is, if you like one, you'll probably like the other, so there's that.

2 out of 5 stars

Monday, October 4, 2021

One Touch of Scandal by Liz Carlyle

 

So after reading this author's other book, THE DEVIL TO PAY, and absolutely loving it, I waltzed right over to her backlist on Amazon and bought every single book that was under $3.99. As one does. Liz Carlyle had quite a few titles fitting this description, and among these were the first three books in the Fraternitas Aureae Crucis series. ONE TOUCH OF SCANDAL is the first book and the premise is a little confusing at first and it takes a while for the story to really get rolling.

First, there's a prologue that takes place two hundred years before the main story and doesn't really come into play until the end. Then we cut to the "present" day, in Victorian times, where the heroine, Grace Gauthier, has just found out that her employer/fiance has been murdered. As if that's not bad enough, the circumstances make her look guilty, 

Before her father's death, he told her the name of a man she could seek out if she ever needed help. And seek him out she does, except instead of encountering Lazonby, she finds herself nose to nose with the dark and inscrutable Adrian Ruthveyn, instead. A dark and tortured and, yes, dangerous man, he is nonetheless moved to assist Grace and keep her out of the clutches of the police. But such help can only come at a high cost.

So let's talk about why this book was great!

πŸŒ™ The spicy sex scenes! As with THE DEVIL TO PAY, this book had incredibly written sex scenes that were the perfect blend of emotional and intense. An added bonus for some readers is that while DEVIL TO PAY had a scene of forced seduction, this book did not. The heroine actually initiates a lot of their interactions, which I think many readers are going to find incredibly refreshing. YAY.

πŸŒ™ Supernatural secret societies! I actually wasn't expecting a paranormal romance when I got this book but it ended up working for me. The hero is part of a group called Fraternitas Aurae Crucis, and their missions statement sort of confuses me, but basically they are guardians who protect women and children with Gifts that descend from this woman who had magic powers-- I GUESS. The only downside is that men with the Gift have to protect themselves. SORRY SUCKER. Our hero is one of these and his powers seem to be empathy (the ESP kind) and clairvoyance.

πŸŒ™ Biracial hero! The hero is half-Indian. And yes, the cultural ramifications of this are actually mentioned and discussed in some detail.

πŸŒ™ The hero's relationship with his sister and nephews! I mean, we all know why they're there. To show that the stoic and tortured hero has real emotional depth. But Anisha, the sister, was so cool. Single mom who's mega into astrology and not in the "oh my God, I spilled my coffee and told my boyfriend I hate him, I am SUCH a Gemini!" sort of way, but in the mystical, mysterious way, because she has the same psychic gifts as her brother maybe. Whatever. IDK. The friendship she ends up forming with the heroine, Grace, is really nice and made me think of the one in DEVIL TO PAY.

πŸŒ™ Murder mystery! I am a sucker for a good romantic suspense and this has some great ~fall vibes~. I actually think swaths of it take place in fall because I think the book ends in winter. The suspense kept me turning pages during the slow points and the Gothic, looming feel of the whodunnit combined with the yellow and orange covers of the cover really made me feel those pumpkin spice fuzzies.

So what about this story DIDN'T work? It was slow. Slow to get into, slow in the middle, slow to wrap up. Just slow. I don't mind slow if it fits the pacing of the story but it didn't really feel that great here. I also actually wished that some of the side characters had gotten more air time, like Bekeldi, one of Ruthveyn's associates, and Lazonby, who has a secret that makes him really interesting.

I also felt like Grace was pretty passive. She was just kind of there, whereas Sidonie from THE DEVIL TO PAY stole every scene she was in. I liked that she had agency in the sex scenes but everywhere that wasn't the bedroom she kind of came across as a dolt. Adrian was hot, but he got a little too angsty to really make him a favorite, and the fact that she was the only person he couldn't read really gave this book some TWILIGHT vibes-- especially with his "stay away from me, I'm bad for you/but also, I love you more than life itself" angstlord diatribes, which had me rolling my eyes despite his hotness.

ALSO-- the writing... kind of felt lazy. We're told that the hero has a raspy voice so many times that I actually did a search in my Kindle for "rasped" and it showed up over twenty times. There were other repetitions too but that was the one that stuck out the most. I guess you might say... they rasped.

I liked this book a lot and do plan to continue but it could have been so much better than it was with a little more editing. Why yes, I do hold my faves to higher standards. #sorrynotsorry #istillloveyou

3.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, October 3, 2021

POPism: The Warhol Sixties by Andy Warhol

 

Things Andy Warhol wants you to know about the 60s, basically:

♦️ It's not stealing if it's aaaaaaaahrt.

♦️ California is not as cool as New York.

♦️ POP isn't a style, it is life.

♦️ Jim Morrison is really, really nice but he stole his trademark look from one of Andy's friends and no, he never shut up about it.

♦️ Jasper Johns might be a big meanie for not thinking Andy Warhol is cool enuff.

♦️ Everyone cool does amphetamines and LSD is lame.

♦️ Edie Sedgewick was bad with money.

♦️ Everyone in the 60s was bad with money.

♦️ The Velvet Underground threw poop out the window.

♦️ If you grew your hair past a certain length in the 60s, buttoned-up squares lost the ability to see gender.

♦️ Women are more interesting if they have psychological problems.

♦️ Paper dresses are definitely going to catch on one day.

♦️ You can't gossip about yourself.

♦️ The best way to set Judy Garland off is to tell her she can't act.

♦️ Always travel with an entourage.

This book was fine. I bought it on sale because I love Andy Warhol's art work and I wanted to learn more about the person behind the art. He's a good writer but tends to ramble, and after about halfway through the book, I finally started to skim. You can definitely tell he has an ego, and while maybe that's warranted, it becomes a little exhausting to read. POPISM is a tome of name-dropping, self-congratulation, and highlights of the 60s zeitgeist, with famous people flitting in and out before a backdrop of excess, psychedelics, and, yes, art. I did ultimately end up liking this but I probably wouldn't read this again. My ultimate takeaway is that Andy Warhol is a gossipy jerk but he's the gossipy jerk you want to sit next to, although you probably wouldn't want to invite him over to your house or he might nick your sugar bowl and/or sign his name on your soup cans.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, October 2, 2021

The Last Time I Wore a Dress by Dylan Scholinski

 

A note on this book: Daphne Scholinski is now Dylan Scholinski. I wrote in to a librarian on Goodreads to get this fixed, but that doesn't change the fact that the book-- and the blurb-- use the author's deadname and incorrect pronouns. So if you are blogging or reviewing this book, that is something to keep in mind! Don't misgender/deadname him. :)

THE LAST TIME I WORE A DRESS has a very similar format to GIRL, INTERRUPTED, in that it focuses intensely on what psychiatric treatments and institutionalizing were like in (what I believe) was the 70s or 80s. In this book, however, instead of talking about borderline personality disorder, Dylan writes about being institutionalized for gender identity disorder, a psychiatric "condition" that was later removed from the DSM because it is incredibly transphobic (basically punishing people for having gender dysphoria for being trans). Dylan is, in fact, a transman, and this book is all about him essentially being gaslit for being a bad "girl."

As you can imagine, this book is incredibly triggering. Especially since it also deals with other topics like substance abuse, parental abuse/neglect, and sexual abuse. Dylan was also involved in a gang at some point, too. He had a really interesting upbringing and is a compelling but blunt author. I saw a number of reviews that didn't care for his writing style but I actually really liked it: it really captures the zeitgeist of the times, y'know?

I read this when I was a teen before I knew that the author was trans, so having that perspective this second time around made the book even more interesting-- and painful-- to read. I did ultimately end up liking it but I had to put it down and come back to it again because it was a lot to read. The format of the book also didn't really work for me-- the notes from the doctors are in typewriter font that is hard to read and for some reason he decided to italicize the chapters about his home life. Definitely recommend this if you are interested in LGBT+ issues or the history of psychiatry, but it is not for everyone.

3 out of 5 stars

The Beast of Beswick by Amalie Howard

 

Even though Beauty and the Beast retellings have been done to DEATH, I am still a sucker for them. Especially when the authors find a way to subvert the trope somehow. THE BEAST OF BESWICK does this admirably, taking a fairly misogynistic fairytale involving Stockholm syndrome and Nice Guy-isms and turning it into an empowering feminist love story about sacrifice and redemption.

Astrid Everleigh is considered "ruined" due to a tragic incident that happened about ten years ago. Her sister, however, is of marriageable age, and when she finds out that her greedy, horrible aunt and uncle are planning on marrying her off to the same man who ruined her own future, she decides to take matters into her own hands. To protect her sister, she will ally herself with the one eligible man in the area capable of standing up to the evil Earl: the Duke of Beswick.

After being grievously wounded and scarred in what I believe were the Napoleonic Wars, Thane Harte has been wallowing in self-seclusion, playing cricket with priceless pottery and generally terrorizing his servants. When Astrid approaches him, he's completely taken off guard-- not just by the fact that she doesn't fear him, but by his attraction to her, as well.

So let's talk about why this book was awesome.

🌹 The strong heroine! I loved Astrid so much. I felt like the author did such a great job espousing her with feminist principles without being anachronistic. She was so compelling and true to herself and her morals and I really loved her for it. It was easy to see why Thane did, too. Especially her wicked sense of humor and her ability to back-talk the Duke whenever he was being a jerk.

🌹 The secondary characters! For me, a romance novel ends up being so much stronger if it has a good cast of secondary characters. I loved Thane's lascivious footman-chasing aunt (what a QUEEN) and all of his staff. The relationship between Astrid and Isobel (the sister in question) was also really loving and sweet. Especially how their relationship ended up shifting at the end, becoming more equal.

🌹 Spicy sex scenes! There were actually way more than I was anticipating, tbh! I would classify this as an erotic romance, so if that is something you love, I think you'll really enjoy this-- especially since all of the scenes are very sensual and well written. Sometimes books can make me cringe a little but not this one! There's a fantastic scene involving a door in a study that is just πŸ”₯πŸ”₯πŸ”₯

🌹 So many emotions! I need my romances to have real emotional stakes so all of the angsting and pining and tragic backstories REALLY worked for me. It grounded the romance and gave it depth and urgency, which I really liked. Both the hero and the heroine had things they needed from each other, which made it feel MUCH less unequal than the original fairytale, which brings me to...

🌹 Marriage of convenience! Something about an arranged marriage or a marriage of convenience really appeals to me. Maybe it's because usually a book ends with marriage as part of the HEA, so when two virtual strangers marry and have to forge an emotional connection with one each other and fall in love, it feels more like a partnership and less like insta-love?? Whatever it is, it's my kryptonite.

I wasn't really sure what to rate this but ultimately I'm going to go with a 4 to 4.5. It was so, so, so close to being perfect, but the pacing was just a little off. Halfway through the book, it already felt like it was wrapping up, so the plot felt a tiny bit stretched out. Not that I'm complaining hugely. It was padded with some great sex scenes and excellent banter, and considering that this was her debut in the HR genre (I think she mostly wrote YA before this), I'd say that Amalie Howard comes out way ahead of even more seasoned authors who've been doing this for years. What a fantastic experiment.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

 

I've had SHRILL on my to-read list since 2017, so it feels really good to finally check it off my list. I've now read all three of West's essay collections and she's quickly become one of my favorite feminist essayists for her writings on body positivity, intersectional feminism, pop cultural commentary, and general amusing (or not-so-amusing) observations about how the world works. Also, I'm not entirely convinced that we aren't secretly the same person. For starters, we're both super awkward and like to shout in all-caps.

SHRILL is her first book and also the weakest, which makes sense because essays are hard and finding your voice is hard, and it feels like the two things in tandem can be like trying to learn how to ride a bike and juggle at the same time. Even so, it's still fantastic. There were slow portions but some of the essays were so, so good. Like, the one about her father made me tear up a little-- and the one about the troll who terrorized her using her father's death as a weapon, only to apologize later and offer reconciliation was... WHEW.

She writes quite openly about what it is like to be overweight in a society that only accepts thin bodies as healthy, attractive bodies. She brings up some pretty harsh truths about what it is like to be a woman on the internet. I watched a clip of the debate she did with comedian Jim Norton on YouTube and the comments section made me sick. Women are not supposed to take up space. They are not supposed to be loud and opinionated. They are not supposed to rejoice in the things that society says they should find shameful. Lindy flips the bird to all of that and says, YES THEY CAN, YES THEY ARE, YES THEY SHOULD, AND ALSO, YOU ARE DUMB.*

*I mean, I would imagine.

I'm really sad she doesn't have much of an internet presence. She talks about why in THE WITCHES ARE COMING and I get it. At the end of the day, your mental health should be your number one priority, and if social media is becoming an emotional sinkhole that drags you deeper every day, then yeah, maybe social media needs to exit stage left. It shouldn't be this way, and Lindy talks about this, too, about how women (and also PoCs/LGBT+) are basically told to grow thicker skins and not disrupt the status quo because THE INTERNET IS MEAN YOU GUYS AND THAT'S JUST HOW IT IS. Why is that how it is? IDK, but it is, and is apparently meant to stay so until the ends of time. SHRILL challenges that, and encourages people to push for courtesy and really own themselves, flaws and all. Parts of it are devastating, parts of it are funny, but ultimately it's a pretty satisfying and empowering read.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, October 1, 2021

Life on Earth by David Attenborough

 

It's impossible to read this book and not hear David Attenborough's voice in your head. He's, like, the quintessential life sciences narrator. I guess this was originally published in the 70s but I'm guessing-- hoping-- it has been updated since then, since science is constantly evolving, and things are always being renamed and reclassified as we understand our world better. For example, slime molds used to be classified under the Fungi kingdom and have now, I believe, been reclassified into three classes under-- I think-- under the kingdom Protozoa.

There are all sorts of fun and interesting facts in here, like how the Grand Canyon is a sort of living timeline set in stone for scientists to peruse, or how scorpions do a fun little mating dance as they join claws, or how electric eels aren't actually eels, or how sea cucumbers launch their organs at you as a defense mechanism, or how hyenas casually talk about what's for dinner tonight, Zebra? before attacking a herd.

I'm giving it a three because sometimes the text can be incredibly dry and it's often disorienting how Attenborough starts out talking about one animal before flowing into another, or six, sometimes leaving you a little disoriented. The paragraphs are also incredibly long and dense, which makes this book feel more like a textbook and less accessible than his shows/movies. The pictures are lovely and break up the text in a nice way and part of me wishes there were more of them, even though I understand that full color pictures ramp up the costs of the book and sporadic insertion means less money.

3 out of 5 stars

What Happened to Cass McBride? by Gail Giles

 

This is an older YA that came out while I was still in school and I remember wanting to read it SO badly. So obviously when I went to a thrift store and saw it sitting there, I had to think for about 2.5 seconds before going um, YAAAAASS.

WHAT HAPPENED TO CASS MCBRIDE? is a pretty edgy and fucked-up book with loads of trigger warnings. It's about a pretty popular girl named Cass who wakes up from a drug-induced sleep to find herself in a box. Specifically a coffin, buried under ground. The boy who buried her did so because he blames her for her brother's suicide, and the clock is ticking until she dies-- unless she can keep him talking and figure out why he really put her underground.

There are three POVs in this story-- Kyle, the would-be murderer; Cass, the girl in the box; and Ben, the cop who's leading the investigation into Cass's disappearance. None of these characters are likable but the pacing is fast and the page count is short, so it still ends up being a pretty quick read.

I think the thriller/suspense angle is the best part of this book. You get invested and want to find out what happens to Cass. She's selfish and a little cruel but also a pretty typical teenage girl. It's the parents in this book who are the WORST. It ends up being really complex and there are all these layers as to why David, Kyle's brother, killed himself, and why Kyle buried Cass. I'm not sure it holds up all that well at this point in time but it was a brisk read and kept me entertained.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

The Wave by Todd Strasser

 

Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white male teacher who thinks he can "address" the question of why people join totalitarian fascist dictatorships by... creating his own totalitarian fascist dictatorship. Cue facepalm, followed by several good hard headbangs against the wall.

THE WAVE is a book that has been on my radar for years. It's kind of like a cross between Robert Cormier's CHOCOLATE WAR with a heaping dose of the Stanford Prison experiment. After teaching a class on WWII-era Germany and showing a gruesome video of the camps, the students are horrified and ask, "Why would anyone do such a thing?" Ben, this brilliant, understated genius, decides he's going to SHOW them why, and it never once occurs to him that this could be dangerous.

I thought this book was executed fairly well, but it was incredibly frustrating to read. Everyone in this book was so stupid. I guess that's the point, though. People come up with ill-conceived ideas all the time. Every week, there's a BuzzFeed article or viral Twitter post about some adult human who got a "great idea" that really wasn't so great, and it took millions of people saying so before they saw the writing on the wall.

What didn't work for me was that the teacher never really seems to take full responsibility for his actions. He's reluctant to part with his precious experiment, and even at the end when he FINALLY puts a stop to it, his first order of action is to gaslight the kids and make them feel bad about themselves for the movement that HE put in motion. The only likable character in this book, really, is the Nancy Drew-esque plucky teen reporter, Laurie, who risks quite a lot to take on the Wave as it reaches critical mass.

It's worth a read if you want to learn about the mechanics of fascism and human stupidity on a scalable level, but I don't think I'd revisit it. This is definitely an author you'll enjoy if you like Robert Cormier, though, as the two have a fairly similar writing style and seem to enjoy taking on edgy subject matter.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Sweet Black Waves by Kristina PΓ©rez

 

DNF @ 15%

The sequel is on sale today so I thought it was probably time to pick up SWEET BLACK WAVES from my Kindle and give it the ol' college try. I bought it because of the sumptuous Gothic cover and the fact that it was a fairytale retelling of sorts: a reimagining of Tristan and Iseult.

This is mostly a case of "it's not you, it's me." The writing is perfectly fine, and about what you would expect in a basic YA fantasy novel: a bit bland, ornamental in the way that people typically expect of fantasy books. There is insta-love, which is true to the legend I guess but doesn't really add any new depth to the story. I just found myself sitting here, waiting for action, or emotional engagement, and found neither.

I do not think this book is for me.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

Thursday, September 30, 2021

The Devil to Pay by Liz Carlyle

 

INFINITE STARS. This is now one of my new favorite romances and I shall heretofore be embarking upon my own personal goal to force it upon everyone in my acquaintance. You see, one of my personal favorite tropes is that of a reformed rake, and if that reformed rake is paired against a no-nonsense woman with a backbone of titanium who sees right through all of his shenanigans and refuses to give him an inch of slack, SO MUCH THE BETTER. And if said woman also happens to be a lady thief who encounters the hero by tying him up and hoisting him by his own petard in every sense of the word... EVEN BETTER...ER.

That is how Aleric Devellyn meets the heroine, you see. Sidonie is a teacher of decorum by day and a lady thief called the Black Angel by night, where she punishes bad men who do wrongdoings to vulnerable women. In case that wasn't nifty enough, she also donates heaping amounts of her ill-gotten gains to women's charities. The rakish marquess is just the latest in her checklist, only-- he isn't quite as bad as all that. Dissolute? Yes. Tortured? Yes. Furiously angry about being tied up and left for humiliation in a tavern? Totally. But bad? Not really.

The story gets even more interesting when the marquess takes up residence across the street from Sidonie and they meet after he nearly runs her over. Sparks fly and he basically inserts himself into her alter ego's acquaintance, which makes her verrrrry nervous because when she saw him last, he was calling her all sorts of names and promising the darkest sorts of revenge. You just know that eventually the two worlds are going to collide and that it's going to be totally explosive when they do.

WHICH IT IS.

I just loved this book so much. The banter was witty and intelligent and delightful. The cast of side characters was bountiful but didn't take too much page time from the main couple. I loved Devellyn's friend, Alasdair, and Sidonie's friend, Julia. Both of them had such wholesome friendships and it was great. Devellyn's mother was HILARIOUS and Sidonie's brother, George, was intense and scary-cute. I hope he's the hero in one of the other books in this series because he kind of reminded me of Derek Craven from Lisa Kleypas's Gamblers series, only rougher around the edges. What else did I like? The sex scenes were great (although there's one scene that is definitely forced consent/dubious consent). The backstories of both Devellyn and Sidonie were so angsty and INTENSE. The groveling and the pining was A+++. AND CAN WE TALK ABOUT THAT GIFT AT THE END? MY HEART.

There is just so much I loved about this book and absolutely nothing I hated. Cut to me immediately buying everything up by Liz Carlyle, an author I have never read before but now fully intend to stalk.

5 out of 5 stars

Legend, Vol. 01 by Kara

 

I used to be really into manga/manhwa when I was younger. There's a couple that still have my heart-- Black Bird, Hana Yori Dango, Red River, Bride of the Water God, and so on-- but it's not really something I seek out quite as much anymore. This was a title I bought when I was younger and never got around to reading, and since I'm trying to clean out my shelves a bit, I thought it would be nice to give it a go and see if I wanted to keep it or get rid of it.

LEGEND kind of reads like an INUYASHA clone (there used to be a lot of those). The heroine is a hapless schoolgirl who ends up crossing paths with an otherworldly warrior after he pushes her out of the way of a moving train, Twilight-style. Faster than you can say, "Do I dazzle you?" he whisks her off to a museum where he performs some sort of magic doohickey ritual that ends up transporting the two of them into what I think might be Joseon era Korea judging from the abundance of elaborate hanboks. And of course, this being what it is, they immediately run into whatever the Korean equivalent of Wickerman is, where people are sacrificed to a giant lake. YAY.

And that's... literally the end of book one.

You're welcome.

So, like, I honestly don't know what to make of this book, or what I was thinking when I bought it. There's a potentially promising evil dude in the beginning of the book, but we never see him again. Warrior dude is an even bigger angstwhore than Cloud Strife, but the heroine (I forgot her name already, let's just call her Plucky) is the real star of the annoying bandwagon. First of all, her mom is a homicidal maniac and it's supposed to be funny. Plucky seems to get all of her murderous impulses from her mom because she's constantly getting into fights, and she literally reacts to situations the way a robot would. There's no real emotional connection or reactions. It's all just played out for lolz. The heroine even breaks the fourth wall at some point and says something about the hero like, "I should ask for his number since this is a girl's manhwa." Like, girl. #PRIORITIES

Also, and this is just a personal beef, it's mentioned casually how ugly the heroine is several times. She's also called short and stubby. But then at one point, we're told that she looks like Ji-Hyun Jun, who is a Korean actress/model. Can we just let the "haha let's call this totally attractive and cute looking girl ugly because god forbid we have a plain or actually ugly heroine" trend die? If you call someone like Gianna Jun ugly (which is not nice), what's that supposed to make ME? Grotesque? It's just so bad for self-esteem, you know? And this is a manga geared at young girls. STOPPIT.

I don't think I will be keeping this book. Giving it one and a half stars because the art was ok and the Wickerman storyline was actually really interesting, but minus everything else for acting like robot people, perpetuating toxic beauty standards, and being a complete WTFest of the first order.

1.5 out of 5 stars