Sunday, October 31, 2021

Next Level Basic: The Definitive Basic Bitch Handbook by Stassi Schroeder


I got this book from my sister who enjoys reality TV and I think she watches Vanderpump Rules. I do not, so I didn't know who this woman was until I looked her up. I have, however, had people call me basic, which I kind of find hilarious because after reading this book, I'm no longer sure if I'm basic or not. I mean, yes, I do have crystals in my purse, but I think anything bought at a Seven Eleven is disgusting and the idea of a vajazzle makes my "flower" want to wilt.

To be honest, I'm not even sure what this book is supposed to be. It's not really self-help, because it's not really solving or fixing anything (except, maybe, distress at being white and basic?), and it's not really a memoir, because so much of it feels impersonal and it isn't really a "story time" sort of book. And it's not a parody or a satire, or if it is, it failed, because it didn't make me laugh and it ended up getting so lost in its own joke that it became the joke.

Schroeder's book is weird because in trying to become self-effacing, she ends up revealing her privilege. Her talking about all-day pool parties and insisting that La Mer is the best facial moisturizer made me roll my eyes. Also, PLEASE DON'T GET A COLONIC. Most proctologists will tell you that they are dangerous and terrible for you, for so many reasons, and unless you need one for some sort of medical procedure, they will absolutely have the potential to do more harm than good. DON'T. Also, I am LOLing that she thinks wearing a "Free Winona shirt" and cheap sunglasses made her a goth when she was a kid. Girl, talk to me when you have a studded belt, spiked bracelet, and bondage pants. Also, how can you hate cats?

I ended up skimming through most of the book. The lists were the funniest parts of the book, but I was a little squicked out that she had a "favorite serial killers" list. Ew. Also, her taste in makeup? QUESTIONABLE. No K-beauty? Also, let's have some talc and paraben awareness, shall we? She gets a bonus point for pointing out how unflattering the Kardashians' clothes are and how it all feels like a joke or a scam or both, but I'm taking away said point because she doesn't think men in sweaters are hot and she's trying to shit on athleisure wear (WHICH IS THE BEST-- IT'S LIKE SOCIALLY ACCEPTABLE PAJAMAS, which, incidentally is why Juicy Couture tracksuits were also the best).

So meh. I think I'll be passing this one along.

2 out of 5 stars

Saturday, October 30, 2021

A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet


DNF @ 10%

The sequel went on sale today and since I've had this sitting on my Kindle for years, I thought it might be a good opportunity to (1) find a new favorite series to binge or (2) delete a book from my filled-to-bursting Kindle. Obviously, (1) is always the ideal scenario, but if I do find myself facing (2), I don't want to splurge on a sequel I don't want.

Sadly, this book was (2). I went into this book with pretty low expectations because it seems to be a love it or hate it kind of book, and I noticed a lot of the people rating it highly were people who like books by authors like Jennifer Armentrout or C.L. Wilson or S.J. Maas, authors I've tried to like but just can't get into because I think their books are too silly.

The world-building in this is kind of ridiculous. It's a fantasy world but the heroine talks in a really modern way (think ball-busting paranormal P.I.) and even though it's in a fantasy realm, the author has for some reason decided to take GREEK MYTHOLOGY and incorporate it into her world, Greek names and all. Also, non-magical people are called "Hoi Polloi." Wat.

This book is not for me.

1.5 out of 5 stars

I Married A Naga by Regine Abel


I picked up I MARRIED A LIZARDMAN fully expecting to hate it, so you can imagine my surprise when it ended up being an utterly charming and well-developed alien romance that was basically like a typical marriage of convenience plot with dashes of Harvest Moon in space. I was prepared to snark and struggle my way through the book and instead I was like WHERE'S THE SEQUEL I NEED IT NOW.

I MARRIED A NAGA is a totally different, uh, kettle of snakes than LIZARDMAN. Sequels like this can be hard because book one snags people in for the novelty, but then you don't want to just churn out the same cookie cutter plot for all the sequels, either. That gets old. To my surprise, though, I MARRIED A NAGA has a totally different and, yet, no less exciting plot than the other book in the series.

Serena is a hunter for the federation and they've just been granted exclusive access to a planet filled with snake men called Trangor. The snake men (Ordosians) are allowing them to hunt these menacing scorpion creatures called Flayers that, as the apex predators on the planet, are causing population issues with more vulnerable species. They can hunt in any area that isn't "off-limits" because land is sacred to the Ordosians and punishment for trespass is severe (read: death).

This totally seems fine until Serena sees a Flayer chasing a female Ordosian and her baby. Obviously she can't just stand by and let them both be killed, so she traipses into the forbidden zone to save their lives. And how do they repay her? By hauling her into the clan to punish her for her trespass. Luckily, the Ordosians aren't assholes and the male, Szaro, actually had been watching her hunt and quickly sized her up as a pretty chill lady. So they tell her that there is technically a loophole: if she marries an Ordosian and becomes one of them through marriage, she won't have to die. Hooray!

Like LIZARDMAN, this is also a marriage of convenience, but the circumstances are totally different. I liked that Serena was a hunter and physically active (yoga, rhythm gymnastics). She's also a beast of a woman, standing at 6'1", which as a tall lady (although not that tall!), I really appreciated. The way that Szaro and Serena bond over hunting and their mutual love of the land is honestly enchanting. It's like an interstellar park ranger romance. How can you hate on a park ranger? YOU CAN'T.

There's some intense last-act drama involving some poaching where you get to see just how shit-in-your-pants terrifying Szaro can be when his fangs are bared, along with some relationship tension (no spoilers). I love all the creativity that goes into these books and the world-building. It really makes such a difference and makes the books feel so much more immersive. All the anatomical details (ribbed for her pleasure, ladies) and the cultural misunderstandings were really interesting, and unlike some of these bizarro romances where I don't get the hype (I'm looking at YOU, MORNING GLORY MILKING FARM), with these books I can totally understand why people love them as much as they do. I can't wait to read the follow-up, I MARRIED A BIRDMAN.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Bagged by the Groceries! by Fannie Tucker


Welcome to Literary Criticism 34, the lower division course where if you can analyze it, you can probably fuck it.

WHY is nobody talking about the social commentary in BAGGED BY THE GROCERIES? It literally opens with a privileged woman named Ashley (Karen's slightly up-market cousin) refusing to give groceries to a homeless woman on the grounds that she could easily get food stamps (no, seriously), and then getting fucked by the same (literal) fruits-- and vegetables!-- of the capitalist system that has screwed this woman. It is sexual karma in an erotic short.

Usually, the women in these books are as two-dimensional as paper dolls, but Fannie Tucker actually gave Ashley a personality. She's a woman who shops at the Piggly Wiggly, who gets turned on by shooting a firearm and feels a blend of white guilt and white fear about living in her gentrified neighborhood. She's dreamed about being a housewife all her life and is quick to tell you how many poor families her taxes pay for annually (several), but will also add that she isn't so out of touch that she doesn't know what street music is.

Even more weirdly, the groceries in this book are apparently the living embodiment of A(zaka), a loa (Haitian god, basically) of agriculture. Because naturally the homeless lady knows voodoo and naturally the homeless lady feels that some cucumber dick is a fitting fate for some privileged twat ramming her in the Piggly Wiggly (had to look that up, we don't have them here-- seems like it's basically a Southern Trader Joe's). Ironically, getting rammed in the Piggly Wiggly is exactly what happens to the heroine in this book.

So I know what you're asking. Is Zaka HAWT? Well...

Between those whole-grain thighs hung a long, thick cucumber and a pair of smooth, ripe nectarines (37%).

Licking his lettuce lips with a tongue that might have been a thick slice of the ham she picked up from the deli earlier, Zaka bored into her with his black eyes (46%).

Her fingers traced the bag of flower [sic] as she reached around back, sliding down to feel the pebbled texture of two cantaloupes that formed his tight, hard buttocks. She pulled him forward, deeper still, until the bulge of his plums pressed against her crotch (55%),

No? Not unless you've gone to a Golden Corral salad bar and thought to yourself, I wanna fuck that hot, throbbing salad bar. And then-- maybe. 

I AM VERY UPSET ABOUT THE INCONSISTENCY, THOUGH! First the author said that he has nectarine testicles, but then she changes her mind and calls them plums. Which are they, author? Golden nectarines or big purple plums? Also, the sack of flower [sic] that makes up his back-- earlier, you said his back was a loaf of bread. Did seeing her get him so hot that she-- ahem-- raised his dough? And if so, where did the yeast come from? Actually-- don't answer that. PLEASE.

Anyway, I'm sure we all know what's coming next.

Or, maybe I should say WHO'S coming.

"Come on, baby," she pleaded. "Gimme them groceries! Gimme them fucking groceries!" (60%)

But how does she know when he's finished? Well, remember that dripping yogurt carton in the beginning?

Now she knew where the yogurt had gone (61%).

That's right-- IT'S CHEKHOV'S YOGURT.

Anyway, being banged-- sorry, BAGGED-- by the Haitian grocery god and being seeded by his fertile love yogurt is apparently an irresistible aphrodisiac, because her lawyer husband comes home and seeing her lying in a bed filled with spilled flour (sorry, flower) and dripping, soured yogurt like a sundry seductress and can't resist. He bangs her, and BOOM. She's pregnant now. The baby is a probiotic smoothie. (Not really, but also-- MAYBE.)

After reading M.J. Edwards's erotica, I feel like nothing can shock me anymore. I mean, I've read dinorotica, COVIDrotica, and even poop man erotica (very disappointing), so groceries don't really feel THAT shocking. People play dirty with food all the time. Every ER tech I've befriended had at least one story about someone who got too creative with a cucumber. This just feels like the next level. I will say that Tucker's book at least reads like she put some thought into it. There are some metatextual levels to this and there's even some wry, tongue-in-cheek humor (oh where has the yogurt gone WINK).

I guess the moral of the story is, never insult a voodoo homeless lady unless you wanna get lucky.

1 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The Saxon Outlaw's Revenge by Elisabeth Hobbes


I just realized that the guy on the cover kind of looks like Alex Moffat and if you are going to be kidnapped by someone in Medieval England, I suppose you could do worse than an Alex Moffat lookalike. And Aelric, the hero, is definitely a medieval bae in the extreme. 

THE SAXON OUTLAW'S REVENGE is easily one of the best Harlequin historicals I've ever read. Partially because the story is so much darker and more unique than the paint-by-the-numbers ones that grind through the mill. The story starts out with a brutal execution as a corrupt Norman lord seizes the lands of a Saxon family. Constance, the heroine, is the sister in law of the lord and the lover of the youngest son of the now-ex-noble family, Aelric. She saves him from death and helps him escape and suffers mightily for it. They were going to run away together but Aelric doesn't know she's been wounded and thinks that she turned on him or sought comfort in favor of betrayal.

Years later, Constance is traveling with escort to-- I think a nunnery? Anyway, they're set upon by Saxon rebels, led by a fierce and Robin Hood-like figure named Caddoc. Surprise, Caddoc is actually Aelric and he hasn't forgotten Constance's portrayal. Unfortunately, he also hasn't forgotten that love thing. He's still attracted to her and she to him, but they both feel betrayed by the other and her now vulnerable position makes her reluctant to trust him at all.

There's also a great plot involving treachery and revenge, tons of will they/won't they? and some truly tragic backstory for the heroine and hero, both. I liked that Constance was disabled, because you don't really see too many disabled heroines in HR (she had a twisted/deformed leg). I also liked all the cartloads of angst that delivered equal cartloads of feels. The only thing that kept this from getting a higher rating was the fact that the story just dragged a little too much and I felt like sometimes the characters could feel a little flat. But overall, I really liked it! I'll definitely be reading more from this author.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Sushi Modoki: The Japanese Art and Craft of Vegan Sushi by iina


Is there anything more stereotypical than being a Californian who enjoys vegan food? Maybe if it's vegan sushi. Hence this recipe book. My mom and I are foodies and we've gotten into making our own sushi over quarantine since we can't really go out to eat as much. Sushi is surprisingly easy to make and we're trying to eat more vegetables and less meat, which is why I snapped up this cookbook when it went on sale.

Modoki is apparently a Japanese word for mimic, and the first quarter or so of these recipes teach you how to make vegan lookalikes for fish sashimi. So, for example, making fatty tuna roll out of red bell pepper or tomato, or "shirako" out of DIY tofu cream cheese (there's a separate recipe for that). There are instructions on how to make all the condiments and toppings, as well as soups (like clear broth or vegan dashi) and drinks (I saw one for matcha lemonade). In addition to maki and sashimi rolls, there are also recipes for dishes like chirashi. Some of them get really fancy!

Obviously I haven't had time to try all these out but the recipes look totally feasible and I love that there are tons of pictures and it gives instructions on how to make everything from the sushi rice to the toppings. I used to eat a lot of raw fish in college but I worry about the freshness of the fish now-- especially with the supply chain issues. I don't want to get sick! Now when I go out, I order vegan and vegetarian rolls almost exclusively because I feel so much safer doing that, but that's expensive and I'd love to learn how to make my own. This is going to be so much fun to try. Yay, veggies!

5 out of 5 stars

Monday, October 25, 2021

The Field of Wrongdoing by Lili St. Germain


I don't think I've ever read a book I disliked so much and yet felt so compelled to finish. I guess I kept hoping it would lead to something meaningful, something more. Here's the thing; I like dark books. Sometimes I like very dark books. But a little pinch of dark goes a long way and with THE FIELD OF WRONGDOING, the author decided to use the whole dang jar. Apparently this book was originally self-published under the title, GUN SHY, but the author changed the name for some reason when she published it with this small publisher, so if you've already read GUN SHY, apparently it's the same book.

THE FIELD OF WRONGDOING starts out as your typical Gillian Flynn-esque "girl in small town confronting past wrongs" sort of format. At first, I thought it would be like JAR OF HEARTS, where it's a whodunnit that questions who is really innocent and who is really guilty, and how far people go to protect those they love. But this book isn't really like that at all because EVERYONE in the book is awful except maybe Cassie (and even her, too, but she at least has her reasons), and I would argue that nothing in this book is loving. Not even the relationship(s) that are supposed to be.

Also, here's another thing. None of the reviews I saw really give you an idea of how bleak this is going to be. My copy had no trigger warnings and neither did the blurb. In fact, the blurb and the cover make you think it is going to be a typical dark murder mystery. No, this book has literally every trigger warning under the sun. I am not kidding. We have: self harm, child sexual abuse, incest, animal death, animal abuse, substance abuse, statutory rape, rape, torture, and a whole host of other things I've probably forgotten. I can stomach some or all of these things if they are meant to contribute to the story in some meaningful way but here, it just felt like everything was being stacked on everything else for shock value. Also, the "hero" is repellent. In a story like this, if I'm going to buy the romance, I need something to relate to or root for in the love interest, and I did not find that here. Leo was gross.

I made it to the end because I wanted to find out what was going to happen and was hoping that maybe the ending would give me some sort of closure or meaning. It did not. I'm pretty disappointed and now I feel bummed out because this book was depressing as all get out. I was hoping for a dark and brutal love story and instead I got an epic saga of trash people being trash human beings. Would not recommend this to anyone, unless they are specifically seeking out something shocking that's edgy for the sheer purpose of being "controversial."

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

The Hunger by Alma Katsu


DNF @ 12%

I have a new policy that I drop books I'm not feeling and this is one of those books. I have enjoyed some of Alma Katsu's other books, specifically The Taker trilogy, but this one just felt so flat and wooden. I actually had the pleasure of going to a talk about the Donner party recently and it was really interesting because their ill-fated journey was kind of a blend of bad luck and misinformation. They weren't bad people, they just did what they needed to survive and it was awful. The exploitative paranormal twist (I read spoilers) felt kind of distasteful to me. Maybe I wouldn't have minded so much if I hadn't gone to the talk, but after reading spoilers and seeing the direction in which this was headed (I was getting Old West Game of Thrones vibes), I was like, "Nah."

2 out of 5 stars

The Rakehell of Roth by Amalie Howard


I breezed through the first book in this duology in one day. THE BEAST OF BESWICK was the perfect beauty and the beast retelling and it grabbed me from the opening and didn't let go. It had a scarred and brooding hero, a capable and headstrong heroine, and a chilling villain who hung menacingly over the plot and kept the pace moving. It wasn't quite perfect but it was close, because it was a romance that knew exactly what it wanted to be and where it wanted to go.

Conversely, THE RAKEHELL OF ROTH meanders its way through its way-too-many pages. There were some things I did like about it but for the most part it was a slog. I barely managed to get through the book and it took me eight days to finish. This book is about Astrid's sister, Isobel, who has hurriedly married the Marquess of Roth to escape her marriage to the evil Earl of Cain. A wedding night filled with fireworks leaves Isobel feeling hopeful, but then he abandons her the next morning to go to his gaming hell, leaving her alone for years.

In the interim, Isobel and her friend, Clarissa, have been writing serialized advice columns under a fake name that are basically the regency equivalent of Fifty Shades of Grey. But now she's fed up and has decided to march over to said gaming hell to teach her husband a lesson. The next hundred pages are kind of a mess. Like, Isobel poses as a male groom named "Iz" to spy on her husband and HE NEVER PUTS TWO AND TWO TOGETHER. There's a villain and a showdown but it all comes out of nowhere because it wasn't foreshadowed very well. Isobel and Winter (the marquess's name) go to a kinky lounge but it doesn't feel at that sexy because they don't really have an emotional connection.

I think that's what really bothered me about this book. The bond between them is based entirely on trickery, deceit, and miscommunication. By the end of the book, I never really felt like things were settled between them. It was like they decided to mutually just ignore all the ways they lied to each other because the sex was good, but that's not very healthy. By contrast, Astrid and Nathaniel came at each other from a position of mutual companionship and respect. Their relationship started as a sort of friendship which ended up making the romance much more sexy. The dialogue in this book also felt way too modern. I was going to try and ignore it but it bothered me.

I did like this better than THE PRINCESS STAKES and was originally going to give it a three-star rating, but there was just so much about it that bothered me that I think I'm going to give it a two. Amalie Howard is a very talented writer when she's on her game but this just wasn't it for me.

P.S. The fem-dom scene and the sexy strip tease at the end almost make me want to round up, though.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, October 24, 2021

People Like Her by Ellery Lloyd


The court of public opinion was not super kind to PEOPLE LIKE HER. A lot of popular bloggers really did not like this book, and after reading it and seeing how hard it comes down on influencer culture for being a vapid and pointless exercise that basically attracts the worst of the worst, I'm wondering if maybe it left a lot of people feeling attacked? There's definitely a "not all influencers" knee-jerk reaction that comes to mind when reading about the piece of work heroine, Emmy, who really is the WORST. But ultimately, that's what ended up making the book such a win with me. The dark humor, grim satire, and totally unlikable characters who nonetheless make the book feel real.

There are three narrators in this book. One is Emmy, a mommy blogger who goes under the name Mamabare, and is fake as all get out. Everything she says and does is content, done for the sake of driving traffic and making money. She's kind of sociopathic. Maybe she even is a sociopath. But she's good at what she does and is basically the queen of teflon spin.

The second narrator is her husband, Dan, a washed-up writer who is quietly resentful of his wife's success but nonetheless claims the moral high ground in his narration. He thinks the whole thing is ridiculous even though it's clear that he'd like to be the one in the limelight. He mostly plays the role of stay-at-home-dad/voice of reason, and the constant push and pull between him and Emmy is clearly leading to some strain.

The third and final narrator is a mysterious stalker who hates Emmy and wants revenge. It's not immediately clear what Emmy did to make this person so angry, but we learn their story through a gradual unspooling that is chilling and just as disturbing as I'd hoped it would be. The stalker drives the narrative tension and really adds a dark slant to the story, as Ellery Lloyd tackles a number of subjects, such as sexism in parenting, conspicuous consumption, bystander effect, and all sorts of other grim and not-so-cheery subjects, all with a slightly tongue-in-cheek tone that keeps it from being too grim.

This is a British book so I think whether you're going to enjoy this book depends on whether you like and understand British humor, which is subtler than a lot of American humor. I actually prefer it and watch a lot of British mysteries, which tend to feature these unlikable, hit-too-close-to-home sort of protagonists. If you don't like unlikable protagonists, you probably also won't enjoy this book. Personally I do, as long as they are the fun kind of unlikable, in the "love to hate them" sort of way, especially in thrillers where that dislike can remove the emotional stakes and make the book feel less intense.

I'm sad this book has such low ratings on Goodreads because I really enjoyed it. If you liked Janelle Brown's PRETTY THINGS or Katherine St. John's THE LION'S DEN, you'll probably enjoy this book! The ending was just *chef's kiss*.

4 out of 5 stars

Ascendant by Diana Peterfreund


After reading and enjoying RAMPANT, I was super excited to dive back in to Diana Peterfreund's world of Killer Unicorns. The book begins where the last one ended: a battle-hardened Astrid is meditating on how much her life has changed since she took to the sword (and the bow) and became a warrior-nun/unicorn slayer.

But every book needs a conflict/antagonist, and it turns out that the baddie of RAMPANT has an ex-wife who is continuing his work. Only-- she's not quite the baddie he was. In fact, she makes Astrid an offer to work with her, giving her the opportunities to play scientist that she craves, and all she has is to watch over some lab specimen unicorns in the South of France. SEEMS SIMPLE RIGHT? It should be. Only, it turns out that her ex-boyfriend is there, too. Uh-oh.

After enjoying the first book so much, I was surprised that so many people were ambivalent about this sequel but after reading it I can see why. The biggest beef: the series was apparently cancelled. What was supposed to be, I believe, a trilogy ended up coming to a dead stop at book two, and book two ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, so there's no closure.

What makes it worse is that ASCENDANT is a confusing maelstrom of new and conflicting ideas that are diametrically opposed to the first book. Like, we're told how evil unicorns are from day one. But now, maybe unicorns aren't all they seem??? There's a build-up with the romance between Giovanni and Astrid in book one, but in this second book he's hardly there at all except for a couple fights. Brandt is rolled out as what appears to be the Jacob to Astrid's Edward, but he's so skeezy that you just can't buy him as a love interest at all. And since Astrid is all by herself in this French facility, it lacks the camaraderie that I loved about book one, with all the girls working together.

So even though I'm sad this series was discontinued, I guess I can see why it was. Maybe book three would have brought everything back together... maybe not. But this was a slog to get through. :(

2.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate by Zoe Quinn


I've been interested in reading CRASH OVERRIDE for a while but I was also wary of picking it up because even though the subject matter sounded incredibly important, it also sounded like a lot. Like Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn was the focal point of targeted online abuse from trolls that ended up disrupting her life. This memoir is all about what happened to her, but it's also kind of a self-help book about practicing good internet hygiene, acting with civility online and offline, and also about her passion for games and web culture.

CRASH OVERRIDE is very well-written. I'm honestly amazed that she could write such an emotional story and still seem so calm. I felt so bad about what happened to her and I think this might be a hard read for anyone who has depression or has experienced bullying. Even if you haven't, it's a lot to take in, and I kept having to take breaks to process what I was reading.

Content-wise, it's kind of like a cross between Felicia Day's YOU'RE NEVER WEIRD ON THE INTERNET (ALMOST), Chanel Miller's KNOW MY NAME, and Lindy West's THE WITCHES ARE COMING. It's simultaneously a love letter to gaming and geek culture while also condemning the bad actors who make it an unsafe space for women, the LGBT+ and people of color, and it analyzes the sociopolotical topography of the communities who make up said bad actors and how they relate to gatekeeping in the geek and game industries and contribute to the alt-right political scape.

Overall, I liked this book a lot, although I do think it fizzled out a little at the end. I got the impression that maybe Quinn wasn't sure how to end her book-- on a self-promotional note, a hopeful note, or a cautious note? I think it's great what she does with her nonprofit community (?? actually I'm not sure if it was nonprofit, or if she just does a lot of pro bono work, but that wasn't the most interesting to read about. It was definitely helpful to end on a note about how to respectfully support people who end up being the targets of this kind of abuse, though. So a 3.5 feels fair to me. I'm not sure I'd read it again but it's the type of book that everyone should read, if that makes sense.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, October 22, 2021

On the Edge by Ilona Andrews


On a scale of five Hidden Legacies, ON THE EDGE rates 4.5 Hidden Legacies. It is not quite up to par with Hidden Legacy but it is very, very close. One of the things I love so much about the Andrews's books is not just the world-building (although also the world-building!) but the heart. They build these huge casts of characters with complex relationships and you can just picture them so clearly in your head, like scenes from a movie. I loved Hidden Legacy because of Nevada's relationship to her family, but I think I love Rose and hers just as much-- if not more.

The world of the Edge series is really unique and interesting. There are three realms: The Weird, The Edge, and The Broken. The Weird is a fantasy realm filled with magic that is a mirror of our world. It has a similar but alternate history to ours, with different outcomes paralleling our own historical events. The Broken is our world, as we know it. No magic. Just drudgery and electricity. The Edge is the narrow band between them where anything is possible and the two worlds can commingle. The people who live there take care of their own and have a complex hierarchy of family grudges and debts to pay.

Rose Drayton has always lived on the Edge. She has a very messed up family and now she is the sole guardian for her two brothers, a shape-shifter and a necromancer. Rose is also incredibly powerful; she has the ability to flash white, in powerful bursts of magic. But because of her lowly origins, people have been trying to force her into marriage contracts or even sell her into servitude and she's had to learn to fight to keep her freedom. Which is why, when a noble from the Weird, walks into her life, Rose's first instinct is to attack first and ask questions later.

Declan is arrogant and dangerous and has magical abilities that rival her own. He claims he wants to take her as his bride and ends up forcing her into a bargain where she has to give him three "impossible" challenges to prove his worth. The challenges end up taking an interesting turn when a new threat other than Declan rears its literally ugly head: "hounds" that devour magic and people with equal fervor. The secret of the hounds is related to Declan in a mysterious way, and Rose must fight her growing attraction to Declan even as she battles the evil that threatens to consume her entire home.

So I loved this, obviously. It's nearly two in the morning and I stayed up all night to finish this book on a work night because it was SO FREAKING GOOD. Like, I don't know what I was thinking only giving this four stars the first time I read it. It's a five, easy-peasy. Rose is such a great character. She's the epitome of a butt-kicking heroine, and I loved the way she stood up for herself and her brothers, and how much they loved her in return. The romance was slow-burn and a DELIGHT. The action was cinematic in scope. The tension and the suspense were A+. And the villain was pee-in-your-pants terrifying. Literally the only flaw was that Declan didn't quite make it to my "best heroes ever" list and the final battle was a little anticlimactic. But everything else was amazing. Especially that ending.

Thank goodness I own all the other books in the series! BAYOU MOON, here I come!

4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

I'm Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi Jones


One of my friends recommended I'M JUDGING YOU to me ages ago and I haven't gotten around to reading it until now. I knew Luvvie was internet famous for something and for some reason I thought she was a YouTuber, but I looked her up before reading and I guess she's an old school blogger, as well as a public speaker. As an old school blogger myself, YAY. As someone who is deathly afraid of public speaking, I salute you. Anyway, I was excited to read this book because it looked like it was going to be a scathing collection of essays about judging people, WHICH IS MY FAVORITE THING TO DO. And not in like a gross, bigoted way, mind you, but in a secretly wishing that people who smack their gum on public transit fall out the window sort of way, or hoping the asshole in the pickup with the Truck Nutz fishhooks into that one creepy bar off the freeway after he cuts me off for the FIFTH TIME, because where do you think you're going, it's a red light?!

I'M JUDGING YOU is a pretty ambitious collection of essays, ranging from the soft-hitting to the hard-hitting. The book opens up with what I was expecting: Luvvie delivering judgement on toxic friendships and people doing things she thinks are really annoying. She has a really unique voice because in addition to using AAVE she also throws in some Nigerian words and slang, and some phrases I think she made up herself (like minuswell, instead of might as well, and summagoat, which apparently means "son of a goat"). Looking at the reviews, I guess some people didn't like this but I found it endearing and entertaining for the most part. I like it when people write in a chatty way.

In the middle, things get serious. Luvvie talks about discrimination of all kinds and what that looks like, as well as the history of infrastructural racism in the U.S. and the consequences of denying one's privilege and refusing to "see color." She also talks about intersectional feminsim, the failures of white feminism, rape culture and its consequences, religious tolerance and diversity (from her perspective as a Christian, which I thought was interesting), and the discrimination that the LGBT+ community faces. Her essay on Blackness and racial privilege was really strong and a lot of the one-star reviews on Amazon seemed to be fixating on this chapter in particular because it made them uncomfortable. I think some of those people seemed to be missing Luvvie's point. Having privilege doesn't mean that you're racist but denying your privilege and walking from conversations about how you can make things better for other people kind of, um, implies that. I think some people feel inherently uncomfortable acknowledging inequality, especially if they don't feel like they're part of the 1%, but privilege is comparative and it's a simple statement of fact that someone who is lower middle class and white is still going to have more socioeconomic advantages than someone in the same bracket who is Black, and that's true at all levels of the economic continuum. Her essay on rape culture was also excellent. I felt like the LGBT+ essay was the weakest, which might be because Luvvie self-identified as straight and maybe didn't feel quite as comfortable speaking to issues that she didn't have an inside perspective on? I appreciated the religious chapter, though, and I think if more people had her liberal interpretation of Christian faith, Christianity would be all the better for it.

The book ends on a light-hearted note again, with Luvvie tackling influencers, social media dramatists, reality TV, oversharing, and Kim Kardashian. I enjoyed these chapters a lot, mostly because I agreed with a lot of her opinions, although EXCUSE ME. I am very proud of my follower count, thank you very much, and I don't care who knows it. I liked the epilogue, but the postscript is sad and it's because she said she wrote this book originally with a mixed sense of frustration of hope and then 2016 was kind of like, "Oh yeah, you know all that stuff you were concerned about? GUESS WHAT? Enough of the American people didn't care about that stuff that they put the embodiment of all you hate in office! YAYYYY." (Paraphrasing, but you know, that's the gist.) This book ended up being a rollercoaster of feelings and emotions and for me, that was the most difficult thing about it-- it goes from amusing shade to serious business to amusing shade to downer reality. And I guess that's life and all, but it made for interesting reading. And not necessarily interesting in the good way, because the serious stuff trivialized the shady stuff and then made me feel guilty about enjoying the shady stuff more than the serious stuff, and then after the serious stuff, getting into the shady stuff made me think, hmm, shouldn't we be giving more gravitas to the serious stuff? MY BRAIN IS SO CONFUSED RIGHT NOW.

Overall, I did like this book. It was a lot to process and a bit mixed in tone, but Luvvie is a good writer and funny when she wants to be, and I think if you enjoy writers like Lindy West and Phoebe Robinson, you'll like Luvvie Ajayi Jones. As other reviewers have said, when it comes to the social justice stuff, Luvvie doesn't really say anything new, but it's a good introductory piece for white people who need the truth hammered in (hello, white person here), or people who maybe want to see some good examples of talking points for serious social issues that aren't couched in legal or political jargon. As for her personal pet peeves, I don't judge. I get irrationally annoyed when people suck their fingers or smack while chewing (SERIOUSLY IT IS THE WORST), so I don't begrudge people for their petty peeves. I have plenty of my own and Luvvie is SO FUNNY the way she talks about hers. The part about Nigerian culture and how she's always late cracked me up.

So, if you enjoy comedy essays with a serious streak, this is the book for you.

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.


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



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.


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