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.


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

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Cast in Shadow by Michelle Sagara


I have the terrible habit of leaving half-finished books around (either literally on the floor or figuratively on my Kindle) and since I'm gearing up for not one, not two, but THREE buddy-reads(!), I figured I probably ought to get my ass in gear and finish some of these bad boys before I get started. And lest you think I'm some sort of book wizard (which, in fact, I am), no, I didn't just read seven books in a day. I read seven half-finished books in a day. Which rounds out to maybe 3.5 books, which I still feel like is pretty impressive.

CAST IN SHADOW is actually a reread for me. I read it the first time when I was young (when the Great Wall of China was only half-built and people still talked to each other on the telephone). I remembered giving it a two, which I thought might have been a little harsh. Young Me was a lot harder to please than Old Me in some ways. Chiefly because Young Me labored under the belief that you were only as smart as the books you liked to read. Whoops. Bad Young Me! Bad!

Anyway, I started this book again for funsies and at first I was like HMMM THIS IS REALLY INTERESTING. It's one of those fantasy novels that feels vaguely medieval but the language is super modern so you're like Robin Williams in Jumanji when he's like, "WHAT YEAR IS IT." But I dug the leather pants and the court intrigue and the fact that there are not one, not two, not three, not four, but FIVE hot guys to ogle, plus magic tattoos, dragons, and a murder plot. What's not to like??

Well, this book is 500 pages. Officially I nope-quit at p.279 but I skim-read to the end because I wanted to see what would happen. Not much. It's also super confusing because there are all these names for everything with a lot of overlap (like, you can be a Leontine breed who speaks Barrani and is still a Hawklord-- decipher THAT, you peasant), and none of it ever felt really all that well-defined. The heroine is also an unquestionable Mary Sue of the "I wear leather pants and will beat you to death with grumpy sarcasm" variety that was so popular in the oughts. She also bears a pretty stark resemblance to Celery Saltine-thin from the Throne of Glass series, so actually if you like those books, you might like this as it has the same "peasant dragged up through hell and back, gone through some shit, now serving a hot prince while the kingdom potentially falls to magical ruin" vibes. #noshade

I guess I just got tired of waiting for things to click. You win this one, Young Me.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Stuff Every Tea Lover Should Know by Candace Rose Rardon


So one thing you might not know about me that is probably oversharing but oh well is that I like to tipsy shop on Amazon. I know other people who do this too, but whereas they usually end up dropping $1,000 on clothes or whatever, I spend $10 on weird ebooks about lizard men erotica or the history of the tyrannosaur. And the funny thing is, because I am like pathologically averse to spending any amount of money on myself, I think we probably both feel equally as guilty and unentitled to our purchases LOL.

Anyway, one of these items I tipsy shopped recently was this book, STUFF EVERY TEA LOVER SHOULD KNOW. I impulse-bought it because I noticed it was published by Quirk Books and they are one of my favorite publishers ever and I will literally read anything they put out because there's a 99% chance that it's going to get a 3+ rating. Their acquisitions team is just, IDK, a team of Olympic gold medalists in the sport of Finding Books That Are Weird AF That You Still Want to Read.

STUFF is about tea. The history of, how it's made, how to tell good quality from bad, how to prepare it, how to serve it, and even how to drink it. In this book you learn about all the different kinds of teas, including fermented (like puerh) and tisanes ("tea" that doesn't actually contain any tea, like Korean flower teas, of which I am quite fond). At the end of the book, there are even guides for throwing tea parties yourself (for kids AND adults) as well as how to make tea cocktails (not for the kids).

I thought this was a pretty fun book and I'm actually going to keep it on my Kindle for reference because I want to make some of those tea cocktails. It has some really interesting information (I didn't know there were tea sommeliers or that they used a lot of the same lingo as wine connoisseurs like terroir), but it's not really a pleasure-reading book unless you're really, really into tea. There were swaths that weren't really applicable or interesting to me so I skimmed. I do think that this would make an excellent gift, though-- especially if you paired it with a nice box of tea and a cute mug.

3 out of 5 stars

Enticing the Prince by Patricia Grasso


So every once in a blue moon I remember that I have a Kindle Unlimited subscription and I'm like, "Oh shit, I better use it or lose it," and I hightail it to my nifty and extensive Goodreads list, where I proceed to glut myself on books until I forget about my KU sub again. Luckily there's no shortage of books to be had so the cycle basically perpetuates itself.

ENTICING THE PRINCE intrigued me because it's a royal romance and surprisingly you don't really see that many royal romances-- maybe because viscounts and dukes are easier to imagine and less intimidating? Anyway, I was all for it-- and for that sexy Zebra cover-- so I dove right in. GIVE ME ALL THAT HOT RUSSIAN PRINCE ACTION, OKAY? I haven't had my fix since Susan Johnson's SEIZED BY LOVE.

Katerina is a Russian jeweler posing as a contessa. When the book opens, she's pointing a gun at someone and demanding satisfaction. Then the book zooms back into the past, where we see her planning her revenge on a Russian prince named Drako whose name her sister called in her final moments. Katerina blames Drako for the death of her brother and sister and is determined to find out what the extent of his culpability is and, if so, how best to punish him.

The beginning of the book was really good and filled with all of the things I love in romance-- witty, sparkling banter; alpha heroes; conniving heroine; interesting secondary characters, etc. But things started to fall apart around a third of the way in. There were just too many characters to keep track of and I started getting really confused about who was who. Also, the sex scenes were... um, not the best. Actually, I thought they were very unsexy, especially when Drako decides to impregnate the heroine to trap her into marriage, which is not my fave. Also, THERE WERE WAAAAAY TOO MANY CHARACTERS. Which made this book waaaaay too long.

I ended up skimming to the end because I wanted to see what happened and I was hoping there would be a good twist or something to make the reading worthwhile but no. The villain was totes obvious and the ending ended up being anticlimactic so I was kind of disappointed all around.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Book Nerd by Holly Maguire


So I think it's pretttttty obvious at this point that I'm a book nerd, but just in case you didn't know, I am, in fact, a book nerd. Which is why I definitely needed this book, BOOK NERD, in my life asap. This is like one of those books you can get at a Therapy store or similar gift shop, like Urban Outfitters or the hipster corner of Target. It's a small book with very little actual print and is meant to grace a coffee table or be given as a gift. Interspersed with all the illustrations are book facts, a handful of activities, and lots of quotes about loving books. It took me all of five minutes to page through it. Clearly, this book is lovingly made and it's really cute and fun but I'm not really sure you can get all that much out of it apart from just being like, "Aww, books!"

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

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The Big, Bad Book of Botany: The World's Most Fascinating Flora by Michael Largo


I bought this on impulse because it was on sale in the Kindle store and whenever I see something having to do with SCIENCE, I immediately flash back to grade school, when my teacher would roll out the AV equipment and I knew that it was going to be a Good Day because we were about to watch a video. About SCIENCE. Because science rules.

THE BIG, BAD BOOK OF BOTANY is a collection of plant facts about various plants, organized in alphabetical order. I'm not really sure how the plants in here made the cut-- maybe they were just ones the author thought were particularly nifty?-- but they were all pretty interesting. Like, I didn't know there was such a thing as cyanide grass or that avocados are considered berries(??) or that there are extant trees that are still alive that date back to pre-Bronze age. CAN YOU IMAGINE BEING 5,000 YEARS OLD? Only two things live that long: vampires and trees. (Maybe that's why wood kills vampires?? They're rivals.)

I see that a lot of botanists rage-quit this book because the author got some minor details wrong. I'm guessing that this is a layperson's book for people who are just looking for trivia to tell their friends and family. The only thing I really picked out in this book that made me unhappy was the tobacco section when the author was like Columbus discovered tobacco! No, Columbus columbused tobacco from Native people who were using that tobacco way before that jerk swaggered his way into America.

Overall, though, this was fun and informative and I'm keeping it on hand for reference because it had so many interesting facts that I think I might like to revisit another time.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta


I don't actually usually like novels written in verse, so I'm kind of glad I went into this cold because if I'd known what I was getting into, I wouldn't have bought it and I would have missed out on a pretty great story. THE BLACK FLAMINGO is the coming of age tale (yes, told in verse) of a young gay man living in England. He's half Jamaican, half Greek, and starting from childhood, we see how he begins to form his identity as a biracial man of color who is attracted to men.

BLACK FLAMINGO does a lot of really great things, like showing how people in the LGBT+ community can be (either consciously or not) racist or have biases against other types of LGBT+ members that should be called out for the safety and well-being of others in the group. It also goes over the fetishization of gay men by women, so-called straight guys who identify as straight but sleep with men but refuse to call it what it is because of internalized homophobia, and also-- ultimately-- what it is to stand up for yourself and stand out.

I liked how drag culture ended up being what gave the hero, Michael, his confidence. I also liked his relationship with his mom and half-sister a lot, and how the author approached blended families. The verse also ended up working for the story because it made it feel more like a journal. The author also did some interesting things with language and repetition and sometimes even rhyming, which made it feel less gimmicky than it could have been. Even if you don't normally like novels written in verse, I'd encourage you to give it a try. BLACK FLAMINGO is a very mature, thoughtful work about a lot of important subjects that are very relevant to teens and the way the title comes into play is fun.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher


Carrie Fisher was so funny! I really had no idea how funny she was until I read her memoirs and was treated to her potty mouth and quick wit and thought, "Aha! Here is a woman who would be very fun to sit next to and swap stories with!" After reading and loving SHOCKTASTIC, where she talks about her dysfunctional family, mental illness, and, yes, celebrity at large, I dove right into WISHFUL DRINKING which is basically more about the same.

There's a little overlap with SHOCKTASTIC and she does share some of the same anecdotes, but the stories are mostly different. I feel like SHOCKTASTIC is more focused on mental health and some of the ways it impacted her personal life. This book is more focused on celebrity gossip and her family, with some segues into her addiction and mental illness. I think I liked this one a little better because it didn't have the super slow parts of SHOCKTASTIC, but it also has fewer pictures I think, and the pictures are obviously the best part.

One thing I really love about Ms. Fisher is that she is so unequivocally herself. She seems to embrace everything she is-- at least on paper-- both good and bad, and she can laugh about it. I also liked the afterword where she talks about the importance of reducing the stigma against mental illness, and I loved her for that, too. Even though memoirs like these really show the dysfunction that mental illness can create, it also shows that the people who have these illness are just people like you and me-- they are funny! They have people thoughts! They grew up in a mansion with three pools and were the child of Golden Age Hollywood celebrities! --Wait.

Okay, so maybe not exactly like you and me (unless you're much cooler than I am), but it definitely goes a long way towards normalizing mental illness IMO to see that people you respect or admire also have the disease and are able to cope with it if on medication. Or drugs.*

*And not all of us are lucky enough to have a Cary Grant on stand-by to talk us down from acid.**


If you like books about celebrity gossip and mental health, I believe this is what you'd call a "twofer."

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Some Velvet Sin by Heather Crews


Disclaimer: I was the beta reader for this book but I paid $$$ for the final copy. Kindle Unlimited? I don't know her. I pay with my coin, THANKS.

Heather has a way of writing the stories I didn't know I desperately wanted to read, which is (just one reason) I'm glad we're friends, because I get to see these stories in their bare bones versions before falling in love with them all over again in the final draft.

SOME VELVET SIN is a dual timeline fantasy story. Part of it is set in the American 1950s, during the peak of rock n' roll and greaser culture, and the other half is set in a nebulous underworld. Each timeline features a different set of characters, and I actually don't want to say too much about them because this is one of those books where knowing less is more going in because you get to figure out all the way the characters connect with one another in all of these exquisite constellations of meaning that slowly begin to make sense.

I will say that at its heart, this is first and foremost a romance, but it also plays with some of my favorite tropes, too, like difficult and morally grey heroines; dangerous boys; unanswered questions from beyond the grave; gothic and punk elements; and, of course, dangerous boys. Oops, did I already mention the dangerous boys? Well, it bears repeating because it is my FAVORITE.

SOME VELVET SIN was such a great book. It actually ended up haunting me a little and making me feel kind of sad (CURSE YOU, HEATHER), so now I've got to go through all my books and pull out something happy while I try to get over these characters and their incredible, poignant love story.

5 out of 5 stars

Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher


I feel like there are three different types of older famous people. There are the has-beens, who can't let go of their fifteen minutes of fame and insist on reliving it over and over until it almost becomes a form of self-satire. Then there are the rolling stones-- no, not the band, although also maybe the band-- who continue to churn out content and charm while flipping the bird to anyone who even utters the words, "But what about retirement...?" And then there are the people who seem to become almost fermented by their fame; it changes them, making them more complex and interesting, but also sour and maybe a little bitter.  Celebrity vinegar, if you will.

Carrie Fisher is celebrity vinegar.

I picked up SHOCKAHOLIC because I heard that Ms. Fisher is incredibly transparent about her mental health struggles in this book which I, as someone who also has a mood disorder, really value. Because transparency! Also, it seems like she had the sort of bipolar that didn't respond so well to medication, so she actually had ECT (known in the common parlance as "shock therapy"), although in this book she actually tries to reduce the scare factor a little while also acknowledging the memory loss.

The beginning is kind of disorganized and a little boring, with strange, circuitous rambling and long passages about symptoms and treatments. I did like the way she talked about her bipolar and was so utterly comfortable (at least on paper) with owning her illness without letting it own her, but it was also not all that fun to read. The first quarter or so of the book is like this and THEN.

Things get good. Really, really good. Here's what you can expect to find inside this gem. ✨

⚡️ Lots and lots of celebrity gossip. Oh man, is there tea in this book. Carrie Fisher has opened up her own tea shop and just goes full ham, swinging around a giant mallet of IDGAF to smash and spill that tea just about everywhere. She talks about her parents' marriage(s), her stepmother, Liz Taylor, and her friendship with Michael Jackson which is probably the most awkward chapter in the book as she struggles to defend him without sounding like she's defending him. And it is kind of YIKES.

⚡️ Her relationship with her parents late in life. It was interesting to see the contrast between her parents' American Sweetheart origins and what they were like in their old age. Carrie's relationship with her father as an adult was especially weird and interesting (dysfunctional but also, a relationship). You sort of get the vibe that neither of them-- but especially Eddie-- were really prepared for parenthood and Carrie's relationship with both of them improved when she was an adult who could see them as flawed human beings that existed separately from the realm of parental responsibility.

⚡️ A scorn of Hollywood glitz and glamor. You know all those romance novels about the jaded rich kids? That is Carrie, all grown up. She has a lot of good things to say about how fame is so short-lived and addictive, and how utterly fake and ridiculous and superficial it all is. The Hollywood schmooze, as it were, seems to simultaneously amuse and depress her, and she seems to have an especial bitterness for the way that her role as Leia has both immortalized and condemned her, all in one neat stroke.

⚡️ Did I mention the SNARK? She has such a witty, clever way with words. The dismal first quarter of this book is hard to wade through but as soon as you get to the Michael Jackson chapter, it really picks up and she becomes this dazzling, firecracker of a writer who sucks you into her stories like a Scheherazade on crack. Her canny observations and self-effacing humor are pure gold.

I've read several of this author's books at this point and I've liked almost all of them (except THE PRINCESS DIARIST, which just made me sad). This book strikes the perfect chord between bitter and funny and I think if you have that same sort of dichotomy inside you (i.e. inside you are two wolves: one is depressed, the other likes bad jokes and memes), I think you'll really enjoy this book.

Also, the photographs (and their captions) are EVERYTHING.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, September 24, 2021

Fattily Ever After: A Black Fat Girl's Guide to Living Life Unapologetically by Stephanie Yeboah


I'd never heard of Stephanie Yeboah before but apparently she is a UK-based plus-sized beauty blogger of Ghanaian descent. This book is kind of her memoir and her manifesto, and deals with all kinds of subjects, from the way that being overweight can get you ignored or misdiagnosed by health professionals to how to construct a profile on a dating site that will make you feel good about yourself. Each chapter is organized into sections and sometimes Yeboah includes interviews with her own followers or, when applicable, from professionals.

I haven't read a lot of books about body positivity, but I have definitely noticed what Yeboah talks about-- that even within a community that's allegedly about promoting every skin color and every size, you usually only see one kind of aesthetic. As with feminism, Yeboah really drives home the need for inclusivity and intersectionality, with chapters on how to be a good ally and examine your words for potentially hurtful language, and also about the history of misogynoir and how people have historically viewed Black bodies.

Yeboah has a really engaging voice and I think she did a really great job balancing the personal with the instructional. The passages she shared from her own life, about her family, her history with bullying, and her mental health (including a history of depression and EDs) were incredibly emotional and made me feel really invested in her story. The infographics and illustrations are cute, and fit in with the overall vibe of the book, and I loved that Yeboah cites her sources with links at the end of every chapter so you can check her sources for the points she's making and also read more about them if you want.

Whether you're getting this to feel seen or to educate yourself, I think you'll most likely really enjoy this book. It's authentic and engaging and it's coming from a great place.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, September 23, 2021

A Kingdom of Ashes by Rhiannon Thomas


This is the ending that Daenerys Targaryen deserved.

People feared her, towards the end. A girl who could talk to naure and make the land welcome them was sweet, useful. A woman with those powers, bold and fearless and unbowed by anything, was something else (90).

A WICKED THING blasted all of my expectations out of the water and then exceeded them with KINGDOM OF ASHES. It is a messy, beautiful story of a princess who wakes up after a hundred years of sleep to find out that everything she knew about the world is a lie. Worse; the prince who rescued her is part of a family that plans to use her to solidify their own rule and are willing to pay the cost in blood.

If the first book was about a princess, this book is about a queen. In A WICKED THING, I thought the book was gearing up for a love square, but that wasn't the case at all. The bulk of the story is about Aurora gaining agency, and in this book, she becomes a motherfucking sorceress who has a mysterious bond with dragons. Um, YAAAAASSSS.

I am honestly so shocked that this series has such low ratings, because it's basically EVERYTHING people claim to want in YA. There's a tauntingly attractive prince, fire magic, deadly dragons, daring escapes, strong women (good, bad, and morally gray), friendship, character development, and more. The writing is gorgeous and exactly what you would want in a fairytale retelling, and Thomas doesn't dumb down the story at all, so adults would enjoy this book just as much as children.

So often, I start a series with a great premise only to find the sequel disappointing, but this duology is self-contained perfection. I blew through them both in a couple days and finished this book feeling incredibly satisfied. If more YA fantasy were written like this, I'd read a ton more YA fantasy.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Heaven in His Arms by Lisa Ann Verge


My friend Heather was raving about this book which naturally made me want to read it, too, because I think she has excellent taste. I got HEAVEN IN HIS ARMS years ago when it was free on Kindle and then it ended up being just another book on my to-read long list. But I decided to bump it up and give it a shot because I was in the mood for something historical and epic, and I'm so glad I did.

The premise is really interesting. The heroine, Genevieve, is living in the Salpetriere in France, which is kind of like an orphanage/working house for girls. She switches places with a king's girl, Marie Duplessis, who is slated to be shipped off to Quebec to marry a fur trapper who needs a wife to keep his license. Marie is in love with a Musketeer. Genevieve, on the other hand, simply wants a way out. Marie is a noblewoman and even in a place like the Salpetriere, she receives special treatment. Genevieve, on the other hand, knows far too well what life on the streets is like and has absolutely no desire to go back to it.

Cut to Andre who is NOT happy about his wife situation for ~reasons~. When he sees the girls fresh from their boat trip over, he picks Genevieve because she looks sickly and he figures she'll do him the favor of dying before he has to really commit himself to the relationship. I know what you're thinking-- WHAT A CAD. Well, so does Genevieve, who tracks him down and does the 1600s street waif version of "ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW?" which goes down about as well as you'd expect.

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

❄️ Marriage of convenience AND enemies to lovers. I don't think I need to elaborate on this one, but just in case I do, OH LOOK IT'S TWO OF MY FAVORITE TROPES COMBINED. And what makes it better is that they're both on even footing and the way they try to get revenge on one another is utterly hilarious. Genevieve doesn't let Andre get away with anything and has some of the best one-liners in the book. You just have to love her. You just have to.

❄️ Sensual sex scenes. Yes, sometimes they delve into purple prose territory, but that basically comes with the genre. I thought the author did a really good job ramping up the sexual tension between the hero and heroine and making the attraction based on more than just physical stuff.

❄️ Beautiful, lush descriptions of the Canadian wilds. Honestly, some of the best passages of this book were the vivid descriptions of nature. Whether it's dense forests, virgin snowfall, or icy lakes, I was eating all of this nature love up with a silver spoon. So beautiful, and it really made the setting feel unique and personal in a way that a lot of wallpaper parlor historicals don't. I loved that.

❄️ The heroine has a pet beaver. I'm a sucker for the animal sidekick trope when done well. Also, the beaver gets his own HEA at the end with a beaver wife and beaver kids. HEARTS.

❄️ Also-- can I say how refreshing it is to see a non-virginal heroine in romance? Seriously, even though I'm guilty of this myself in my own writing, I really appreciate books that actually DARE to make the heroine experienced or, at least, you know, not a total innocent. Especially when it would be totes unrealistic for their given situation, which it would have been in Genevieve's. Which brings me to one of the last FAVORITE THINGS about this book for me.

❄️ Dark, angsty backstories. I'm such a sucker for this. GIVE ME ALL THE ANGST. If a book makes me feel feelings, the book has done a good job. It's as simple as that.

So why didn't this book get a full five stars?

It took me a while to get into and sometimes I found the book a little tedious. I really enjoyed reading this book a lot but I'm not sure I'd pick it up again. It just didn't quite click with me on the level that guarantees a book on one of my favored spots. That said, I'll definitely be checking more out from this author. Man, can she WRITE.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

New Year, Same Trash: Resolutions I Absolutely Did Not Keep (A Vintage Short Original) by Samantha Irby


This is pretty short for a "book," but all of the positive reviews said it was worth it. So I was like, "Here Samantha Irby, have my coin." NEW YEAR, SAME TRASH reads kind of like a published blog piece in which Irby details some of her new year's resolutions and how she failed to keep them. Whether it's eating healthy, traveling more, or learning how to adult properly, sticking to your goals is #hard.

I honestly found this pretty humorous and found myself chuckling several times. I feel like Samantha Irby is me, only she's, like, a superior evolution of me. Like, she is the anxious Charizard to my anxious Charmander. I found it incredibly relatable how she cancels plans to stay at home and read trash in dirty socks (YES), and harbors an unreasonable fear of speaking on the telephone (I let everything go to voice mail and then just text people back). I also have a Tumblr, allegedly, because I receive emails about my Tumblr, but I never use it because people on Tumblr scare me and also I'm seriously uncool and don't feel like I'm funny enough or young enough to be posting on there. The only thing I can brag about is eating pretty healthfully but that's only because I have some pretty serious food sensitivities that are conveniently found in most processed or fast food, and because of what happens to me when I eat them, I've developed such a taste aversion to these things that just smelling them can make me go UGH.

It's less than fifty pages long but I consider this 99 cents well spent. I think it would be especially fun to read at the end of the year when you're planning out next year's resolutions while contemplating last year's failures. And by "fun" I mean masochistic, but hey, whatever works, right?

3.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

How to Be Fine: What We Learned from Living by the Rules of 50 Self-Help Books by Jolenta Greenberg


My thoughts about HOW TO BE FINE ended up being really mixed, partially because there was a bit of a divide between what I thought this book was going to be about and what this book was actually about, and partially because of my own (negative) feelings about self-help books in general due to my own personal feelings on the subject matter (which I will elaborate on and clarify later in the review).

I thought this book was going to be a gentle satire and summation of top self-help books in the field with social commentary, kind of like what Gabrielle Moss's PAPERBACK CRUSH did for YA. This book is not that. Apparently, these authors have a podcast called "By the Book" where they read and digest self-help books and discuss what worked, what didn't, and what they wished the books discussed, and this book is basically an extension of that. The book is divided into sections, by topic, where they talk about various overlapping themes presented by the various books they read, and there are three sections divided into their blog format: the beginning (what they liked), the middle (what they didn't), and the end (what should be talked about).

I personally don't really like self-help books and there are several reasons for this. First, I have depression, and when you have depression your friends don't like seeing you unhappy and sometimes try to help you in endearing but ineffective ways. One of the ways some of my friends did this in the past was by gifting me self-help books. I have received (unsolicited) books about dating advice, meditation, dealing with depression, and even philosophy. The self-help books were inevitably new age books written from a perspective of privilege by well-adjusted successful people who perhaps once may have been unhappy twenty-year-olds working in dead end jobs and struggling with mental health at some point in their lives, but in the wake of all that fabulous self-help book money seemed like they had lost touch with what it is like to feel as if you have literally no control over anything. "IT'S SO EASY!" they all seem to say. "YOU CAN DO IT TOO. JUST LIKE ME!"

Well, the thing about that, Mr./Ms./Mx. Self-Help Guru, is that if it were so easy to be just like you, then all of us would be self-help gurus. Checkmate.

Second, I am a psychology major, and a lot of the self-help books I have glanced at or paged through seem to enjoy touting their own various brands of pseudo-science. They will parrot folksy wisdom and armchair psychology that has trickled down into the common lexicon without any actual science to back it up. (BuzzFeed wrote a particularly salty article-- for them-- basically accusing Rachel Hollis of doing almost exactly this.) And sometimes, they are wrong. Case in point: self-help books seem to be wildly focused on external, visible measures of success, things like vision boards and journals and carefully curated work spaces, but those things require energy to put together, and, often, physical objects, which unhappy people often lack the energy and sometimes the funds to produce. This is just one example, and I'm sure I could probably write a book of my own about all the things about self-help books that annoy me (guilt and blame) but luckily for me, the authors of HOW TO BE FINE seem to agree with most of these things, so this actually isn't a beef with the book itself.

Looking at the reviews for this book, I actually found a lot of them to be incredibly unhelpful, because half of them seemed to be from fans of the authors' podcast writing to support their favorite creators (which is touching but not all that useful for people who don't watch the podcast), and the other half seemed to be taking issue with the authors' politics (yes, they are liberal, and yes, they dare to point out that a lot of self-help books are written for white, cis-heterosexual people who-- gasp-- come from a certain level of privilege). Again, not useful, and also, way to miss the point about open-mindedness. It actually made me stop and have a think about what the sociodemographic (ha-- told you, social science major) profile of self-help audiences actually look like from a political, ethnic, and religious standpoint.

Personally, I think this book is probably going to be the most helpful to people who are OPEN to using self-help books and would like a sort of litmus test that will help them gauge where they would like to begin. I actually did see one or two titles I might like to read now-- the one about zero waste living sounded fascinating, especially as I am trying to reduce my environmental impact (side note: I'm part of something called the Buy Nothing Project, which encourages members of the community to trade or gift old items to neighbors to keep things from going to overflowing landfills or donation facilities). I also liked the emphasis on mindfulness and self-care, and not just self-care in the vapid, "let's blitz out on the couch while watching The Good Place and wearing a face mask" sense, but in the "living in the moment, treating others the way they want to be treated, practicing sincere apologies and acknowledging your own wrongdoings while also not taking blame for things that aren't your fault" sense, which is definitely a best practice for everyone, in my opinion.

I do think this is a very personal, very emotional book. It seemed like every chapter, the authors ended up crying over something, figuratively but also literally. They also definitely overshare, as others have pointed out, but usually for a point, and they try to make it entertaining or funny. I personally didn't think it ever crossed a line, but I'm pretty hard to shock and have a pretty high tolerance for things like that. There are definite triggers for discussions of abuse and mental health, but it is usually done in a constructive, affirming way. 

I liked that the authors had a section devoted to not seeing taking medication as a weakness (especially since this is something that, they claim, a lot of self-help books do imply). I take medication for my psychological well-being and I feel stronger and more like myself because of it, and yes, people (note: not family, luckily, but people I considered friends) did try to make me feel weak for this when I was younger and feeling vulnerable about it, and yes, it hurt and led to me trying to go off the medication as a result. I also liked the section on body positivity, although I do think that some diets can be beneficial as long as they are presented as long-term, lifestyle changes that aren't supposed to burn off the weight quickly, but instead enable you to pursue mindful eating and more beneficial choices when it comes to obtaining the vitamins and nutrients you need. Most diet books don't present food in this way, however, and it can quickly end up being toxic.

So overall, I did like this book. I didn't love it, but I liked what the authors were trying to do and they seemed like really nice people and had good rapport with one another. I also thought that they were trying to do a pretty good thing with this book, which is why it was sad to me to see so many reviews mocking and shaming them for this, but then, this is what a democratic review platform looks like, I guess: you agree with someone's right to say something, even if you think they're a jerk for saying it. (Is that not how the saying goes?) Definitely this is a book aimed more towards enthusiasts than at skeptics, but for what it was, I ended up liking it way more than I thought I would.

3 out of 5 stars

Again and Again by Susan Johnson


DNF @ p.104

Susan Johnson is the author of several erotic romances, including SEIZED BY LOVE, which is probably one of my favorite bodice-rippers of all time. She has a unique style which is very wordy and sometimes delves into purple prose, but I really like it because when she's on her game, it's a delight to read, and she has a fantastic vocabulary. Also, her banter game can be A+.

I'm not sure what went wrong in AGAIN AND AGAIN but I just wasn't feeling it. Maybe it's because Simon is more of a jerk than an alpha hero, with the way he keeps throwing his other women into the heroine's face and calling her a bitch. Caroline, the heroine, was actually interesting and I would have liked to have learned more about her past, how she met Simon and jumped into her bad marriage, but because the book starts off where it does, it kind of feels like you've been catapulted into the middle of a book. Like, someone ripped out the sexy parts and was just like, "HERE!"

The sex scenes were okay. Some were even great. I think this is the first time I've seen role play acted out/discussed in a historical romance book. This is basically porn with some plot, and if you're into erotic romance/erotica, you'll probably love this-- especially if you like brutish cad heroes as part of the fantasy. It also involves the two of them meeting in a snowstorm again for the first time in years, which was the hook on the blurb that drew me in. Close proximity is such a mood. I just wish I'd liked this book more than I did.

2 out of 5 stars

Monday, September 20, 2021

Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock


I've had this book on my Kindle for ages but never got around to reading it until now and I am kicking myself for that because this book was so good. I tore through the pages feeling an incredible emotional investment because the way Janet Mock writes really sucks you in. REDEFINING REALNESS is Janet Mock's memoir about womanhood, and, more specifically, womanhood as told through her own unique perspective as a BIPOC/Native Hawaiian transwoman.

There were so many passages in here that I wanted to quote. Her writing is gorgeous and she brings up a lot of really good points. She writes about what it was like for her to be raised as if she were a boy and her gender dysphoria and body dysmorphia. She writes about sexual assault (TW!) and the ways it psychologically damaged her for years to come. She writes about sex work, and the male gaze, and how the whole framing of "passing" is harmful because it holds up cis-gendered people as this lofty ideal, while also enforcing toxic beauty standards. She also writes about coming out, self-love, and what it was like for her to get her various therapies and surgeries.

At times, this was a very difficult read because she goes to some very dark places. But juxtaposed against every painful section is a friend or group of friends who supported her or a passage of self-affirmation about how she likes who she is. I also thought it was interesting about how she wrote on privilege, and underscored how no woman (trans- or otherwise)'s experience is going to be the same. Many things for her were difficult, but as someone who is conventionally attractive and had a family who mostly (with mixed success) supported her transition, she automatically has certain advantages that made her situation easier than someone who is not as conventionally attractive, doesn't fit the Western gender norms for what is considered feminine, and doesn't have familial support.

I would recommend this to anyone who is looking for a solid memoir that deals with important subjects pertaining to feminism, trans issues, coming of age, and womanhood in a fresh and engaging way. Less topically but perhaps most endearingly, I kind of fell in love with all of the early 2000s cultural references. Destiny's Child, perfumed lotion, Lipsmackers, TRL. My childhood.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, September 19, 2021

A Wicked Thing by Rhiannon Thomas


I've been stealth reading this book on the DL because I'm trying to purge more of my physical copies from my overflowing collection. A WICKED THING is a book that I kind of put off reading for a while because it had such mixed reviews and Sleeping Beauty is one of my least favorite faerie tale retellings because the heroine is so passive. But ironically, that passivity is what makes this book such a delight to read-- because the heroine is basically a clean slate for the author to mold as she wishes and ask the question: what if the heroine isn't all into that creepy sleep kiss? What if she doesn't want to be controlled?

What if she decides to take matters into her own hands?

When Aurora wakes up to a strange boy kissing her, she isn't like, "Wow, that's hot!" She's like, "Who the fuck are you and what happened to my family?" When she finds out that one hundred years have gone by and everyone she knew and loved is dead, she's utterly heartbroken and has a panic attack. Which is probably the most realistic reaction I've ever seen in a Sleeping Beauty book. Of COURSE you would freak out. Any normal person would.

Anyway, Aurora and Prince Rodric-- AKA, the prince charming-- go to a public that is super excited to see the long-lost princess. They've built up all this lore around her, and have decided that she's the figure who is going to herald the return of magic to the kingdom. All of these weighty expectations don't do much to lessen her emotional load in the slightest. Especially when she finds out that the king and queen expect her to marry Rodric, a blushing, stammering buffoon. It's only natural that she'd try to escape her rooms and explore the town that has changed so much in her sleep.

I don't want to say too much about this book because less is definitely more when going in, but I really, really enjoyed A WICKED THING. It actually reminded me a lot of DAMSEL, which is another book that didn't really take too well with some of my friends. It's not really a romance in the traditional sense and the bulk of the book is about the princess learning to trust herself and take her own counsel. The cute boys have motives of their own that don't really make them all that cute, and Aurora's whole heroine's journey is about learning to make her own decisions and impress her own internal strengths. It's surprisingly feminist and empowering and I absolutely loved that about this book.

A WICKED THING is a book with real emotional stakes and real dangers, which is a rarity in YA these days. I'm so happy I have book two already because the book ends on a slight cliffhanger and I am so eager to see what Aurora does next.

4 out of 5 stars

The Lass Wore Black by Karen Ranney


This is my first Karen Ranney book but it isn't going to be my last. I'm a sucker for Beauty and the Beast retellings and I was really interested that this was a gender-swapped one where the woman is the "beast." Catriona is apparently the spoiled sister of the heroine in the first book. Renowned for her beauty, she is accustomed to men dancing attendance on her. All that changes when she gets into a carriage accident that damages her face. Suddenly, she becomes "the lass in black," veiled and locked in the shadows, willing herself to simply fade away.

Catriona's aunt is obviously super concerned about this, and since her niece refuses to see physicians, she hires one on and tells him to pretend to be a footman. Mark Thorburn complies, because he studied under Catriona's father and remembers her for the beauty she was. He's both intrigued and frustrated by her childish bitterness and decides that he's going to help her eat again and regain her former strength.

So this book ended up being a really pleasant surprise for me. I love hidden identity tropes when they're done well and Dr. Mark Thorburn is actually a pretty nice guy for the most part, even though he isn't perfect. Looking at the reviews, people were much harder on Catriona, but I honestly felt like her depression and grief was portrayed very realistically. People only ever paid attention to her because of her looks, which allowed her to coast on her bad personality. When she lost her looks, she felt like she really had nothing to offer, and wallowed in her selfishness. A big part of her getting over her grief was learning that she had so much more to offer than what was on the surface, and part of that was learning how to give to others and volunteer and do charity work, which was actually really, really sweet. She realized that even though she had scarring, she still came from a life of privilege, and had tons of opportunities open to her that she was squandering. I actually loved her character a lot and it made me sad that so many people were anti-Catriona.

As for the story, it was really well done too. It's largely character-driven as Catriona learns to find value in herself again, but there's a mystery element too revolving around Catriona's carriage accident and a sinister figure who wants to take revenge on her for past wrongs. I felt like Ranney struck the perfect balance of tension and romance and I am really looking forward to checking out her other books.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Snow Falling by Jane Gloriana Villanueva


DNF @ 10%

I used to be a really big fan of Jane the Virgin and I bought this book when I still watched the show. And then I got frustrated with the pro-Michael storyline and got bored and stopped watching.

Jane is an aspiring author and SNOW FALLING is the book she is working on and ends up publishing. I do think it's clever that the book was released when Jane "publishes" but I'm starting to think romance novels as cash-ins maybe shouldn't be done (*stares at KFC*). I mean, props to the studio for actually hiring a real romance author to ghost-write this book but I don't know what kind of outline they gave her to follow because this wasn't very good.

First, the characters are obvious self-inserts, which makes "Jane" look like a bad writer. The heroine literally has her initials (J.V.) and the love interest "Martin" is clearly supposed to be Michael. The writing is kind of a parody of how people who don't read romance novels think romance novels read like and there are all these italicized sections where an omniscient narrator tells you what's going on between the lines, because obviously you, the reader, are probably going to be dumb to take anything beyond face value.

Not for me.

1 out of 5 stars

A Little Bit Wild by Victoria Dahl


DNF @ 39%

At first I was really into this book because it literally opens with the heroine compromising herself "just for fun." Which-- is a twist. Unfortunately, it becomes an extra twisty twist when it turns out her bed partner has only compromised her to force her into marriage and grab hold of her fortune (cue mustache twirling mua-ha-ha here).

Obviously, the heroine, Marissa, is not happy and immediately starts insulting his manhood (in every sense). Which is HILARIOUS. But her brothers are not amused and say she has to marry. And since she won't marry Mr. Mua-ha-ha, that leaves very few options.

Enter Jude.

Jude is the recognized but illegitimate son of a duke. He's also a groundskeeper, I think? Anyway, he likes Marissa and since his mother was a lady of the night, he kind of has a soft spot for woman who compromise themselves (a little Freudian but ok). Unlike some reviewers, I actually thought it was interesting that the author was playing up the fact that he wasn't super attractive, and maybe that could have gone somewhere if he didn't come across as such a Nice Guy. And not the good kind, either. The kind you find on Reddit.

I just couldn't stand this smarmy, patronizing oaf. And this story lacked the tension and atmosphere of Dahl's previous historicals that I adore. There was always *something* missing in some of her books for me but I usually enjoyed them despite that. With A LITTLE BIT WILD, I found my eyes flicking between the pages read and my watch. You'd be better off reading her Somerhart trilogy.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, September 17, 2021

What I Did for a Duke by Julie Anne Long


I read this book while wearing a K-beauty face mask. I read this book while sipping on wine. I read this book while eating chips, while cuddling with my cat, and while doing half a dozen of my other favorite things because this book, WHAT I DID FOR A DUKE, is now one of my favorite things.

I've been wanting to read WHAT I DID for a while because it showed up on a whole bunch of interesting list, like grumpy sunshine, villainous hero, and revenge-themed, which are some of my FAVORITE tropes (notice a theme here), so obviously I was intrigued. As soon as it went on sale, I snapped it up and was hooked immediately from the beginning when the titular Duke, Alexander Moncrieffe, catches his fiancee in bed with another man. That man, of course, is Ian Eversea.

Furious, Moncrieffe breaks off the engagement (in a really intense, darkly funny way) and swears his revenge. But rather than calling Ian out directly, he decides he's going to ruin one of his sisters as well. But which one?? He has two.

Genevieve Eversea has just had her heart broken when her unrequited childhood crush, Harry, announces his intentions to propose to Genevieve's friend, Millicent: the curvaceous, pretty drawer of kittens and all things good. When Moncrieffe starts to flirt with her at the ball, she's immediately wary and suspicious and TOTALLY not in the mood, but their cagey banter is so interesting. It's like watching someone juggle chainsaws, how neatly they sidestep all the danger. And then-- just when I thought the story was going to go one way, it went in a totally unforeseen direction.

I. Loved. This. Book. The banter was so good, and so intelligent. The humor was really well done, without making the book seem too silly or too forced. The way Moncrieffe tortured Ian continually was utterly hilarious and made me laugh out loud several times. The sex scenes were fire. There was literally nothing I didn't like about this book and honestly, if you ask me (which you totally didn't, but I'm gonna go ahead and give my two scents anyway), instead of making Bridgerton a TV series, they should have adapted Pennyroyal Green instead. #MakePennyroyalGreenATelevisionShow2022

I can't wait to read the other books. Alex Moncrieffe is going to be living rent-free in my head for a while.

5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Broken (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawson


I read and loved FURIOUSLY HAPPY when I was in a pretty bad period of depression and it did for me what HYPERBOLE AND A HALF did-- it made me laugh, even as it made me feel seen. When one of Jenny Lawson's follow-up memoirs went on sale, I bought it immediately without even checking to see what it was about, because the warm, glowy feelings I had from FURIOUSLY were so strong.

Sadly, I didn't really enjoy this one much at all. There's a scene in the TV show The Critic where Jay's boss, Duke, wants the ratings to go up and starts harassing Jay to be more funny. After a pretty lame pun, Duke demands, on-air, "Where's the joke?" to which Jay sheepishly says, "It's really more of a bon-mot." Duke is not amused. I felt a lot like Duke while reading this book, waiting for a joke that never arrived. Especially since the author's zany, stream-of-consciousness humor felt so forced and unlike her previous book.

There were a few sections about this book that were really good. I think her open letter to her insurance provider should be printed out and everyone should be made to read it (especially politicians and law-makers). I also liked the sections where she talks openly about mental health and chronic pain, because those are things that should be normalized, and the more people do that, the more natural it seems. The cringe compilation she got from her followers sharing some of their top embarrassing moments was also pretty great-- although in that section, the humor really wasn't hers. Bits and pieces of the writing in other sections wrenched a smile or a raised eyebrow but overall, this was a miss for me.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Pure Invention: How Japan's Pop Culture Conquered the World by Matt Alt


Japan has contributed significantly to Western nerd culture, and while many nerds and otaku to this day continue to see the country as a sort of full scale Anime Amusement Park that just happens to be a nation, we (by which I mean, most westerners-- specifically white westerners) don't really take into account the broader historical contexts that framed such innovations, or what they meant for the country that invented them in the first place. And sometimes that can lead to a lack of sufficient appreciation or offensiveness.

PURE INVENTION takes a number of Japanese inventions that ended up migrating over to the U.S., and in this collection of essays, Alt provides that framework. It starts with WWII, when artisans repurposed their shops and factories to contribute to the war effort, and how exporting toys and the like revitalized their sunken economy, and ends with the 2000s and the early days of the internet, when a site of message boards for lonely guys on the internet called 2chan ended up providing the source code for a popular site everyone knows the name of now: 8chan.

The essays are varying degrees of good, although I'll admit I skimmed most of the Walkman chapter because I found it way too technical and boring. I loved the essay on Hello Kitty and the burgeoning kawaii culture among girls with shoujo manga (shout-out to Poe Clan) and pretty stationery and trendy schoolgirls, although the chapter on schoolgirls themselves ended up feeling redundant as a result because it was basically just a remix of the Hello Kitty chapter. I thought it was really interesting to blend Pokemon and kaiju into a single chapter that basically ended up being about the marketability of monsters, and the section about Tamagotchis gave me serious nostalgia vibes (and helped me find this amazing essay, the TAMAGOTCHI DIARY).

There are two anime chapters, old and new. The old chapter talks about Astro/Atom Boy and some of the early dubbings that were renamed in the U.S. (like Speed Racers). It also talks about the pulp anime movement (gekiga) and how that tied into Japanese counterculture/protest culture at the time. The more recent anime chapter is about things like AKIRA, Hayao Miyazaki, and Gundam (of course), which provides a neat segue for the otaku chapter, and how it went from being an incredibly unfavorable term to something that was pretty much heartily embraced and reclaimed by nerds and geeks alike.

The strongest chapter by far is the 2chan/8chan chapter and I think you could honestly make a whole book about that on its own. This chapter is also probably going to be the hardest to read for a lot of people because it highlights some of the big controversies that came from that site, you know the ones. I don't want to say too much about this chapter because I found it so upsetting, but it was also really fascinating and this was the chapter I ended up speeding through the fastest.

Overall, I really, really enjoyed this book. The cover was super cheesy and I'm always a little worried when someone who isn't part of a culture writes a book about a culture, but this author had fantastic credentials (and he's a localizer, which are the people who translate and also adjust references to Japanese products that are being marketed to the U.S.; side note: for many years, I thought doughnuts in Japan were triangular because Pokemon localizers didn't seem to think that kids would be able to understand what onigiri were, so in the original American TV show, they were called "doughnuts"). It's clear Matt Alt has a real passion for Japan and also for geek culture and that is reflected in the writing and his thoroughness in interviewing key planners and providing a substantive bibliography.

On a more personal note, one of my big dreams as a teen nerd was to go to Japan (although I'll admit, I was guilty of thinking it was going to be Anime Amusement Park in my youth). In my twenties, I was finally able to go and I'm glad I went as an adult and not a kid because I'm not sure I could have contained my enthusiasm and approached Japan with the respect it-- and all countries you, as a foreigner travel to-- deserves. It has a very old history, filled with both good and bad things, and even though Alt has mostly showcased the good, some of the items in this book are tarnished by tragedy. Rarely do you see a pop-culture book written with this sort of gravitas, and even though I was expecting a fun, personal romp through some of the author's favorite hobbies, like my sober trip to the country taken in my twenties, my reading of this book ended up feeling so much richer because of that solemnity.

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Tamagotchi Diary: Requiem for a Digital Egg by Joe Hutsko


I'm currently reading this book about Japan's contributions to pop-culture and one of the phenomenons it mentioned was the Tamagotchi. I took a break in my reading to search Goodreads and see if there were any books about Tamagotchis and this book immediately popped up. TAMAGOTCHI DIARY is a collection of reprinted essays that were originally published in The New York Times in the late 90s, at the height of the virtual pet fad. Curious, the author went out and purchased two Tamas (one for him and one for his friend) and for two weeks, kept and published a diary of his Tamagotchi parenting.

Writings like these can easily come across as patronizing, but this was honestly one of the most wholesome things I've read in a while. I found it hilarious how quickly the author went from hesitant to "don't touch him, he's sleeping" to his friends. It brought back all these memories of playing with my own Gen. 1 Tamagotchi as a kid, trying and failing, many, many times, to raise my pet to adulthood.

In addition to his pet, the author also writes about a Giga Pet he received (Digital Doggie) and some Aqua Babies he bought on impulse (which seem to be kind of like Sea Monkeys). As he enthusiastically rears these simple pets, he talks about his work in San Francisco, the letters he receives in response to his articles from other Tamagotchi enthusiasts, and his grief about his deceased older brother, Tommy, who he decides to name his Tamagotchi after.

Recently, I obtained a whole bunch of watch batteries and I decided to use them to bring my own Tamagotchis back to life. I don't have my original ones anymore, but I have a whole bunch of Giga Pets, and some of the later incarnations of Tamagotchi: Tamagotchi Connection and Tamagotchi Music Star. They used to have a website that went with them, called Tama Town, where you could enter a code and "play" as your Tama Character, and then when you left you would receive another code that would transfer any items and currency you obtained while playing. It was like Club Penguin meets Neopets and it was one of the ways I did self-care in college. Playing these newer iterations as an adult, I was surprised at how fun and strangely sophisticated they were. The original was very cut and dry-- newer ones had multiple games, shops where you could buy toys and accessories to have your pet do these special cut scenes, and career paths that you could put them on, and have them succeed at.

I really enjoyed reading TAMAGOTCHI DIARY. It's a window into a simpler time and simpler technology, and feels very cozy and self-contained-- kind of like a Tamagotchi.

Definitely recommend.

5 out of 5 stars

Gudetama: Mindfulness for the Lazy by Wook-Jin Clark


All right, listen up you bitches. Gudetama is here to teach you how not to be a dick. You thought this was a meditation guide? Pfffft. It's actually an online enrollment course called Don't Be a Dick 101, featuring such topics as "Arguing About Stupid Shit on the Internet Is Stupid," "Maybe Don't Send Your Liberal Niece That Ben Shapiro Podcast, Aunt Mildred," "Stealing Phones Is Wrong, Even if You Need the Money," and "Stop Stealing All the Office Cake, Gretchen, You Bitch."*

*Not the actual chapter titles

This was fine and the art was cute, but I'm not sure who the target audience is? Like, if you're arguing with people on Twitter while sitting atop a mountain of stolen phones, I'm not sure this book is going to help all that much. It seems like one of those novelty cash-ins that people sell at gift stores and airports. Yes, it's cute, but it doesn't really serve any purpose. I was going to give it two stars but the twist ending made my icy heart thaw an eighth of a degree so I'm rounding up. Don't tell anyone I'm soft, okay?

2.5 out of 5 stars

Aggretsuko: Stress Management by Daniel Barnes


These comics are SO cute. Aggretsuko is a portmanteau of "aggressive" and Retsuko, the main character's name. Retsuko is an adorable little red panda who turns into this demonic looking monster when she's angry and also when she intensely sings heavy metal songs. Unlike a lot of Sanrio characters, Retsuko seems to be geared towards an older audience, as all of the scenes are set in an office where she is the equivalent of an overworked twenty-something.

These comic collections are pretty short, so I'm not sure it would be worth shelling out for them full price, but they are so cute. And honestly, a lot of the situations are high-key relatable. There are three stories in this one. The first is about how much it sucks to come into work when you're unwell and how your work place should allow for you to take time off. The second is about the horrors of over-air-conditioned offices (agree). The third is a sort of office field day, where various teams compete in office-themed sports for bragging rights and the big gold ring: a paid day off.

As with all of the other installments in this series, I thought this book was super cute. The art is adorable and all of the characters are fun. It kind of reminds me of a less mean-spirited version of The Office, only with animals. Ms. Washimi and Director Gori are especially cool. It's neat to see such strong women looking out for more vulnerable women, especially since they're basically at the executive level. They are so protective of Retsuko and her friends and I love that dynamic.

If you're looking for something feel good and fluffy, these comics are seriously great.

4 out of 5 stars

Aggretsuko: Metal to the Max by Daniel Barnes


These Aggretsuko comics are kind of the best! I had never even really heard of this character until my friends started recommending the books and the show to me. It's about a little red panda named Retsuko (the title of the book is a portmanteau of "Aggressive Retsuko") who is a struggling office worker who lets off steam by singing metal band karaoke in the evenings (and she's really good, too!). Also, SHE IS SO CUTE. <3

One thing I am really liking about this books is that they capture the fun, wholesomeness of Saturday morning cartoons but updated to reflect adult situations. This short comic book is spliced into three storylines. The first one is about how annoying it is when sick people come into work, only this problem has been reworked into a fun zombie parody. The second story is about annoying friends who are richer than you and conspicuously display their wealth while expecting poorer friends to do the same. The last story is about well-meaning HR flunkies trying to boost morale without really getting to the root of what employees are used to or might want. There's an unexpectedly sweet and wholesome twist at the end.

Prior to this book, the only comic about cube culture that comes to mind is Dilbert, and I don't watch or read Dilbert anymore because Scott Adams is an asshole. This book has the same sort of jaded ennui but it's less cruel. It's also set in Japan, and reflects Japanese cultures and attitudes when it comes to work (bowing, obeying superiors, etc.) but I think it translates really well to Western culture too-- especially for overworked millennials who might feel burned out and powerless. I'm two comics deep now and thinking that I really need to watch the show. Anything this cute and smart deserves attention.

4 out of 5 stars

Aggretsuko Meet Her Friends by Cat Farris



One of my friends recommended the Aggretsuko books to me. I'd never heard of her before but it's one of Sanrio's properties and now it's a Netflix show. Retsuko is a red panda who works in an office job and relaxes afterwards by doing karaoke (where she sings metal). When she's angry, she gets all intense looking, like a demon.

This is an anthology collection where you get to meet her friends: a bird, a gorilla, and a fennec fox. In the first story, they postulate about the mysterious origins of their yoga teacher. In the second story, Retsuko says something stupid that goes viral and one of her coworkers tries to blackmail her over it. In the third story, it's the battle of the sexes in a men versus women golf tournament that ends up taking an empowering and wholesome turn.

I ended up enjoying this a lot more than I thought I would. The writing is mature, which I guess you would expect from a story that's set in an office for twenty- to thirty-somethings. Interestingly, one of the people who worked on this project was Cat Farris, the illustrator for the incredibly weird romance graphic-novel, MY BOYFRIEND IS A BEAR. I'm assuming she was the illustrator here, too, and if so, she did a really good job capturing that kawaii style while making all of the characters dynamic.

I'm definitely going to be checking out the Netflix show!

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Art of Atari by Tim Lapetino


I think I'm older than a lot of my followers by about ten years, so I actually am old enough that Atari games were still in circulation when I was a kid. I also played some old skool arcade games when they were still being placed organically and not as a gimmick in a barcade (note: barcades are awesome-- there are at least two super fun ones in San Francisco and they are AMAZING). Naturally, when I saw that a book of Atari art was free to read on Kindle Unlimited, I flexed that subscription hard and dove right in.

First, a note. Some art books translate pretty well to ebook but this one does not. I couldn't easily get the pages to enlarge and the contrast of the white pages and the gray text wasn't great. Especially since the text was SO SMALL. So this is not a book I would recommend getting in ebook, but I would recommend getting it in hard copy if you can find it, because it is A-MAY-ZING.

This book features really high resolution pictures of advertisements, game box art, and even a bonus section in the back with pictures of prototypes. There's artist profiles that feature samples and quotes from a lot of famous Atari artists, and behind-the-scenes tidbits like office memos and alternate game box designs that really make you feel like you're getting some serious insider info. Even though I couldn't read a lot of the text, the art alone makes it worth it, IMO. It's peak 70s cheese, but what gorgeous cheese it is!

As others have mentioned, this book is not exhaustive. It doesn't go super into detail about the game crash (although it does mention it, replete of photos where they excavated E.T. games from the dump where they'd been, well, dumped) and for some reason, it doesn't mention the X-rated Atari games that were basically an open secret at certain game stores. One of my favorite YouTubers, the Angry Video Game Nerd, does a video where he tries some of these out. It's hilarious.

If you like video game art and coffee table books, you'll love this. Just maybe don't get it on ebook.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Cursed Objects: Strange But True Stories of the World's Most Infamous Items by J.W. Ocker


Quirk Books is one of my go-tos for weird entertainment, so when I saw that CURSED OBJECTS was on sale in the Kindle Store, I naturally had to buy it. Joke's on me! This book is apparently cursed and it's bad news bears for you if you pirated your copy, according to the author. After all, you were WARNED.

This is a collection of cursed objects and their histories. Most of them are pretty famous, like the Hope Diamond, Ötzi the Iceman, the Dybbuk box from eBay, Annabelle the Doll, and the like, but there were some that were new to me, like the taboo Maori treasures that pregnant and menstruating women were initially soft-banned from seeing pending a curse apocalypse of doom and I-told-you-so, and something called the Silvianus ring, which, LEGEND has it, inspired the One Ring from LotR. Gollum not included.

I thought this book was pretty fun and it was clear that the author was having a great time (you gotta love a passion project), but this fell a little short for me for several reasons. First, when they say that it's "illustrated" they mean with little drawings. There are no photographs. I'm not sure if it was too expensive to buy the rights to repost the photographs or if maybe taking photographs of cursed items felt like it was pushing your karmic chances (probably true), but either way, it made me feel like I was being deprived of part of the experience of looking at the cursed abyss and having it look back before I run screaming from the room because the abyss is a DOLL.

Second, this kind of feels like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: Nonfiction Edition. I feel like I would have been wowed by these if I were a preteen or younger (which is maybe the target age for this book?) but as an adult and a believer in SCIENCE, it was mostly an exercise in credulity. Curses, as the author even points out at the end of the book, become a kind of ourboros of their own lore: once you set the idea of a curse in motion, confirmation bias takes effect and people start to only remember incidents that conform to the idea of their being a curse in the first place. I also wondered if part of the reason so many British and American people thought their (stolen) Egyptian and Indian treasures were cursed was a sort of projected feeling of cognitive dissonance over colonist guilt for stealing cultural artifacts. I mean, you have these items that are of serious cultural and ceremonial import and you are taking them and I'm sure, deep down, that made people feel a bit funny. And maybe "it's cursed!" was easier to swallow than "I am a jerk who is thieving the cultural vaults of other countries!"

Anyway, this was a fun, quick read-- Quirk rarely disappoints-- but not a keeper. Still, why tempt fate? I'm steering well clear of any cursed boxes, dolls, or totems I find on eBay, THANKS.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains: Oddball Criminals from Comic Book History by Jon Morris


I bought all three of the books in this series when they were on sale because even though I don't actually know much about comic books, I find nerd and geek history fascinating and comic books have a surprising amount of controversy and lore surrounding them. In this trilogy, Jon Morris has delved into the archives to produce a collection of superheroes, supervillains, and sidekicks that are, well... regrettable.

In the foreword of each of these books he says that regrettable means different things and this is true. Some of these supers are actually really good ideas and they just didn't come out at the right time. On the other hand, some of them are ham-fisted PSAs and others are racially insensitive stereotypes. So the books end up being a whole mixed bag of oddballs that are poorly thought out or ill-conceived at best and a horrific snapshot of society's unforgiving attitudes towards anyone who was different at worst. Poh-tay-toh, poh-tah-toh.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, September 13, 2021

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West


Lindy West is a relatively new author for me. I've never seen or read Shrill, the work from which she drew fame; the first thing of hers I read was her collection of essays about popular films. That collection of essays was one of the funniest things I've ever read. I don't think I've laughed out loud so much since reading David Sedaris's DRESS YOUR FAMILY IN CORDUROY AND DENIM. That collection of essays was the impetus that finally got me to watch The Fugitive. Obviously, I needed to read more of what this woman wrote, asap.

THE WITCHES ARE COMING is quite a different beast from her other book. It's still funny, in parts, but the overall tone is much more despairing and serious. This book was written during Trump's presidency and reflects a lot of growing frustrations shared by people who ended up further marginalized under his callous leadership. A lot of the complaints about this book are about the fact that it's too political and too depressing, but I think that's the point. It's a call to action. Nobody listens to a polite whistle. You need an air horn.

Luckily for me, West has very similar views to me when it comes to politics and pop-culture (the only thing we majorly disagree on is pockets-- I'm sorry but dresses with pockets are the BEST and I will fight you, Lindy West). I found myself agreeing with a lot of what she was saying and also the way she said it. Some might find her essays long and meandering and they do circle around a lot, making multiple loops sometimes before she finally goes back to her original point, but the journey is part of experiencing the destination and some of her side-tangents ended up being really engaging.

Some of the topics she writes about that were particularly noteworthy to me: society's tolerance with problematic or flawed men while condemning women for basically breathing too loud and not being nice enough; bad and/or limited female representation in media-- either in the roles or the production of; why Gwyneth Paltrow is ridiculous (although honestly, this essay was the weakest-- you should check out Cynical Reviews on YouTube for his takedown of both Gwynnie and Goop Lab); South Park and why its creators actually suck a lot; reproductive rights and why they matter; men feeling marginalized even though they're not and how that can lead to violence and bullying of women; and the importance of combating climate change and participating in causes you care about.

It's a pretty big mixed bag of subjects but I really enjoyed most of these essays, and I liked that she chose to end the collection on a note of hope after dealing some pretty emotionally intense truths. My friends had a lukewarm reception to this book on the whole, but I'd honestly recommend it to anyone.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, September 12, 2021

White Tigress by Jade Lee


WHITE TIGRESS has been on my to-read list for ages for several reasons. First, it is historical fiction set in a non-European country (China) where one of the main characters (the hero) is not white (he's Chinese). Better yet, the author is half-Chinese (from Shanghai) where this book is set, so it's also #ownvoices-- and it's an #ownvoices book from a time period when such books were not really marketed all that well and therefore not championed as they should have been.

The premise is also pretty interesting, and the first hundred pages or so were good enough that I was convinced I was going to love this book and immediately splurged on the whole series on Kindle. The hero, Ru Shan, comes from a wealthy merchant family that is surrounded by tragedy and ruin. Now the business is failing and he's haunted by a murder in his past that he must atone for. He's also a mystical Taoist and his mentor says that he has too much yang/fire in his soul and must find a water woman brimming with yin to "milk."

You'll find that the word "milk" is going to be very crucial here. Also, I'm about to drop a ***SPOILER*** the way Skrillex drops the bass, and yes, I just made a Skrillex reference in 2021. 


ANYWAY, Lydia is on her way to China to meet her colonizer husband-to-be when she foolishly stops to talk to strangers and ends up with some drugged opium tea. Faster than you can say "oops, didn't mean to" she winds up in a brothel as the exotic flavor of the month, chained to a bed. As one does. Ru Shan stops by and his mentor says, "That's the one, just look at those tits, they're full of yin." And Ru Shan is like, "She's white, tho. Gross." And mentor is like, "BUT TITS." And Ru Shan is like, "Good point. I'LL TAKE HER." And just like that, Lydia is a slave. Hooray.

This is when the book starts to get really weird. It's almost like lactation erotica, except instead of pregnancy milk, it's magic boob spirit juice. In the book it's called "woman water" and "yin milk" and several other things. Ru Shan does these "breast exercises" to release the yin (e.g. boob spirit juice), because according to his Taoist doctrines, boobs = Yin Grand Central Station. He also gives her a dildo shaped like a dragon to do more exercises in her "cinnabar cave." The dragon is symbolic; his status in the Taoist group he's in is jade dragon and that is also-- literally-- what he calls his dick. It's where he keeps his yang. My man is stuffed so full of yang, you can see the gleam of it in his eyes.

I don't know if this is apocryphal or if this is actually similar to the tantric sex practices that are a (slim, very slim) element of Hindu and some Buddhist practices, but it was very strange. And very silly-- to me. I guess I wasn't really sure what I was getting into with this book. I was expecting a captivity romance and instead I got something very, very similar to lactation erotica. Poh-tay-toh, poh-tah-toh.

Anyway, in addition to all this weird sex stuff... there's also a lot of weird other stuff. Like what's really going on with Lydia's white fiance (hint: colonizer bullshit). And what the secret is that Ru Shan must atone for (hint: toxic traditional bullshit). Also, EVERYONE is racist. I don't think I've ever seen the words "ghost people" hurled around so many times in a book. Which, to be fair, probably was hurled around a lot in Victorian times because of all the resentment about said colonizer bullshit. And Lydia definitely refers to Chinese people as barbarians and Chinese rats, so everyone is a dick!! YAY

Is this offensive? IDK. Probably. I feel like the author wasn't really glamorizing any of this and both of the characters realize that racism makes them huge dicks at the end, while also having a serious discussion about the responsibility of bringing a biracial child into a world that is filled with racist dicks. Which, considering when this book was published (2005), feels pretty progressive. Especially since there really weren't a lot of books around talking about stuff like this at the time. Plus, how seriously can you take a book that LITERALLY ends with the hero and heroine fucking each other to heaven? They. Actually. Fuck. To. Heaven. And then they're like "oh hi god." WHAT.

Until this moment, the weirdest romance novel I have ever read was Robin Schone's AWAKEN, MY LOVE, but I think this book might win that race. It's pretty close, though. Maybe you can read them both and tell me what you decide. They're both pretty cheap on Kindle.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars