Sunday, December 5, 2021

We'll Never Be Apart by Emiko Jean

 

DNF @ 8%

So I'm pretty sure I already know what the big twist is. Even if I'm wrong, though, this book just isn't cutting it for me. The writing style is perfectly fine but it's a bit too heavy on the drama with too little happening. Sometimes that works for me if it's a slow and gradual build that's heavy on the psychological horror, but this is more like E. Lockhart's WE WERE LIARS, where it seemingly tries to create confusion by inconveniently omitting info and masking this with purple prose as if washi-taping the plot holes.

YMMV.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want to Come: One Introvert's Year of Saying Yes by Jessica Pan

 

I'd been curious about this book ever since I heard about it because I do identify as an introvert, but a lot of books about introverts end up really annoying me because they either (1) act like introverts are secretly better than other people-- especially extroverts, God we hate those guys, ammirite? or (2) conflate introversion with things that sometimes but don't always accompany introversion, like depression, social anxiety, social phobias, anxiety, OCD, and agoraphobia. Number one is annoying because introversion is just a personality trait and not a defining personality characteristic-slash-secret-club that some people think it is, but number two is especially annoying because it pathologizes normal behaviors and makes it seem like being an introvert is a type of neruotic behavior (it isn't).

I liked SORRY I'M LATE, I DIDN'T WANT TO COME because it acknowledges that introverts come in a veritable crayon box of colors and flavors. It's also a fun thought experiment and as a psychology major, I'm big on those. Pan doesn't say that this is what SHOULD be done or preach from her soapbox, she just decides to live her life as if she were a bit more extroverted and see where it takes her.

This is the introvert book I think I relate to most strongly. I used to have really bad social anxiety/social phobia but now a lot of people tell me that they think I'm an extrovert and they're always surprised when I say that I'm not. Throughout my life I've been exposed to situations that required me to step out of my comfort zone and while I didn't make a systemic project out of it the way Pan did, these experiences also changed my perspective and shaped me as a person, sometimes in big and sometimes in small ways. I hesitate to label this as a self-help book because it isn't really trying to fix anything or provide a solution to something, and she says as much; SORRY I'M LATE is more of a guide to enriching your social interactions by either big or small choices, which I like.

I'm giving it a three because the second half of the book loses steam. I wasn't all that interested in the travel sections or the parts about her stand-up/improv sessions. Others might be if they're more into that, but I think Pan is better about writing about her emotions and inner-thoughts than she is about travel and events. It did make me think, though, and I quoted a lot of passages in my status updates on Goodreads that I really liked. If you're an introvert looking to read a book about introversion, I think I'd pass right over QUIET and go to this one instead.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents by Pete Souza

 

First thought, well, DANG. Can I hire Pete Souza to follow me around and make me look good? Second thought, GOD I MISS OBAMA SO FREAKING MUCH. Third thought, thank goodness he's (Trump's) not my "president" anymore. Fourth thought, OH GOD BUT HE COULD BE AGAIN. NO ONE IS SAFE. NO. ONE.

I was first acquainted with Pete Souza's work through his other book, OBAMA: AN INTIMATE PORTRAIT. He's the man behind the lens for some of the most famous pictures of Obama. So when I saw that he had created a follow-up work juxtaposing Trump tweets and articles against some of these famous pictures, I was all over that like rice. I mean, I don't need to make fun of the man but lord, DO I WANT TO. And apparently, so does Pete Souza.

Now, look. Was Obama perfect? No. But he was a man of dignity and compassion who did his best-- or tried to. I didn't agree with all his policies but I also didn't think he was going to run the country into the ground. A claim I simply could not make with the orange menace. This book compares and contrasts the highs of Obama with the multiple lows of Trump and it's honestly pretty chilling. I liked that Souza ends with a call to action imploring people to vote and talk to their congressmen (and women) if they want change.

Pretty good book but I'm not sure this is something I'd want to keep around, as reading it made me both bittersweet and sad.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

The Rainbow Atlas: A Guide to the World’s 500 Most Colorful Places by Taylor Fuller

 

Vicarious travel? Yes, PLEASE. With COVID, I haven't been going anywhere, so I thought the idea of paging through colorful rainbow-filled places around the world sounded delightful. Especially since this book was one of the monthly deals on Kindle. I got this to page through and go "OOH!" but there were actually quite a few locations that I really, really want to see in person now, like the lavender fields of Provence, or the Tulip Festival in Canada, or the cheese museum in Dresden, Germany, that looks like a little palace. Also, I knew Singapore was clean and culturally diverse, but I had no idea how AESTHETIC it was. My god, the street art! The buildings! THE GREEN!

This was really fun to look at and I liked how it was a collab between a number of Instagrammers who all like posting colorful things on their travel-themed pages. There were like six of them, I think, and between them all they covered most of the globe. Love.

4 out of 5 stars

If I Disappear by Eliza Jane Brazier

 

I seriously don't understand why this book has such low ratings. I bought it on impulse when it went on sale because I was attracted to the premise and the gorgeous cover. The heroine, Sera, is a divorcee with a litany of psychological and emotional problems who finds solace in listening to the voice of her favorite podcaster, a woman named Rachel who has a channel called Murder, She Spoke, where she talks about crimes and mysteries, solved and unsolved, interspersing them with a seemingly feminist bent and commentary on her own life. When she goes missing, Rachel decides that she's going to find her, so she goes to where Rachel lives, a rural California town called Happy Camp, and even gets a job at Rachel's family's ranch.

IF I DISAPPEAR has so many of my favorite tropes. It has a troubled narrator who may or may not be unreliable. It has stalking, obsession, and secrets. It's set in a small town, and better yet: a California small town. I've been to ranching towns that were like this, so it was so easy to envision the setting in my mind. The claustrophobic setting, surrounded by woods, makes this book have a veil of paranoia that really mirrors the heroine's own emotional state. I'm surprised that so many reviewers claimed that this book was boring. It's slow-paced but I felt like the psychological uncertainty inside the heroine's own mind built a setting almost as compelling as the ranch.

EVERYONE in this book is so creepy. It's clear the people in the town know something. It's also clear that Rachel's family has some issues. There are the usual Gothic tropes, too-- missing woman, filthy and oddly run-down buildings, mysterious warnings, dead animals (trigger warning)-- so it felt like a really interesting, rural ranch throwback to some of those 1970s Gothic romances I loved so much. There's even a suspicious hot guy (with a Texan accent) who has some interesting tensions with the heroines. I wish more happened with that, but we don't always get everything we want.

Overall, I would say IF I DISAPPEAR is an excellent book. I'd read more by this author in a heartbeat. Psychological thrillers are so hard to do, especially when most of the horror takes place in the heroine's own mind, and I feel like she did an excellent job capturing how we, as human beings, "hype" up our own fear, taking seemingly innocent and unconnected phenomena and building it into a kind of conspiracy. As someone with anxiety, I do this, and I could see myself freaking out like the heroine did. It makes me really sad that more readers didn't seem to see and appreciate this, but I think if you approached this book looking for more straightforward thrills and chills, you'd be disappointed.

4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Ancient Egypt: The Definitive Visual History by D.K. Publishing

 

As a kid, I had two-- okay, three-- great loves: virtual pets, dinosaurs, and Ancient Egypt. In fact, I still think all three of those things are pretty neat today. But I only have a book on one of them, so today I'll be talking about ANCIENT EGYPT: THE DEFINITIVE VISUAL HISTORY, which is a coffee table book about... Ancient Egypt.

The production of this book is really, really nice. It's museum gift shop nice. It retails for about what you would expect to see it retail for in a museum gift shop, too, but I actually think it's worth it if you're really interested in the subject. This book covers early, middle, and late kingdoms, as well as the Greco-Roman period, and there's full color illustrations of everything from jewelry to statuettes to the tombs themselves.

There's also a ton of information packed in here. I skimmed through it pretty quickly, but thought it was interesting how even though people liked cats in Egypt, most of them weren't named (although some ancient cat ladies and cat men gave shout-outs to their kitty friends in their tombs), and I don't think they started showing up in art until about the middle kingdom and also the word for cat was "miw" (which I think is pronounced mew, lol). I also thought it was interesting how silver was apparently harder to find than gold (and therefore more prized).

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

4 out of 5 stars

Crap at My Parents' House by Joel Dovev

 

I got this book on impulse because the title made me laugh. When I was young, I was seeing this guy and I swear, his parents were the "whitest" white people I've ever met. They had an entire fridge in the garage just for diet Cokes, put Cool Whip and margarine and mayonnaise on everything, and every viable surface was covered with crochet and doilies. He had a senile grandmother who said the N-word to me at Thanksgiving (cringe), and at their Christmas party, there was chestnut-roasting and everyone wore matching sweaters. I thought I was white until I met this family and then I realized... well, I'm still white, but not the kind of white people make memes about.

This book is a celebration of that weird, vaguely Midwestern (but possibly Southern) breed of whiteness that macrames covers for toilet paper, has shot glasses with Hulk Hogan on them, and keeps fifty-year-old vials of Bengay in their medicine cabinet. It's tacky, but endearingly so, and the captions are utterly HILARIOUS. I think the author did such a good job pointing out things that were problematic (racist statues and figurines), gently mocking poor taste, making clever and genuinely witty puns, and just in general celebrating the weirdness. In one of my reviews of a similar "found/submitted" book of content, I said that a lot of these don't hold up because the dated humor ages poorly and ends up being really, really offensive in hindsight, but this book is really well done. It's just funny.

I'd recommend this to anyone who likes going thrifting and laughing at tacky decor, or enjoys having a quiet chuckle at things done in poor taste. It's not a mean-spirited book at all and this is one of the rare examples of a book where the captions are basically as funny as the photos. So much fun.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Cake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong by Jen Yates

 

A lot of these "found and submitted" collections of humor books can be really mean-spirited and the jokes in them doesn't always age well from their origins of being meme dumping sites/blogs. But CAKE WRECKS actually holds up pretty well. Part of that is the author's good-natured sense of humor, which ends up being wholesomely sarcastic, and part of that is the subject matter, which conveys a kind of innocent obliviousness. We've all given or received cakes, and some of those cakes have been ugly. It's hard to be mad at someone who gives you a cake. Even if said cake is ugly AF.

CAKE WRECKS has several sections. There's one of blatant misspellings and errors, one for sexual cakes, one for chocolate frosting jobs that look like literal shit, creepy baby cakes, creepy animal cakes, and cakes that will have you going WTF. I didn't know divorce cakes were a thing, for example, but I guess there's enough of a market for them that they actually have a name. In the beginning the author has a funny foreword where she talks about how this is a curation of her sense of humor, and I did agree that most of the selections were pretty bad... except the "May the Fourth" cake. She seems to think that it was a typo and jokes about how the person who wrote that caption must have had a lisp, but May the Fourth is an actual thing. It was even a Star Wars themed cake. It was a May the 4th cake.

BUT I DIGRESS.

If you're going to get one of these meme books, I'd have to say that this is the best one so far. The captions are funny, the images are hilarious, and I like the efforts that went in to keep this from feeling like a total cash-in. She includes interviews and behind-the-scenes stories about some of the submissions, which I really liked. It definitely feels like some work went into polishing this up.

4 out of 5 stars

WTaFW: Headless by Aveda Vice

 

Whaaaaaaat did I just read?

So I have this weekly feature where I review the weirdest eroticas and romance novels I can find, and when my friend Heather told me about this Headless Horseman-themed erotica she found for free in the Kindle store, I knew what my next pick was going to be.

HEADLESS is a very strange story about Ichabod (who goes by Abe) and Katrina (Katrin) whose friend that is obsessed with the Headless Horseman (Brom Bones) ends up going missing, only to come back as the horseman himself. Every year, they wait for him and they have a-- you guessed it-- smoky threesome while his pumpkinhead watches.

There's not much to say about this one. M.J. Edwards, this is not. The writing is actually earnest and not that bad. If it were more than just fourteen pages, this could actually be a half-decent romance

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The Pleasures of Men by Kate Williams

 

This was like being lost in a feverish nightmare: a bleak swirl of the dark underside of Victorian England, and how predators can easily hunt girls in the night. I remember reading THE PLEASURES OF MEN years ago and loving it, and also being shocked by the low rating. I didn't like it quite as much this go-round but I'm still kind of shocked at how low the average rating for this book is. It feels undeserved considering how lush the writing is, how tortured the character is, and how elaborate the Gothic scenery is.

Catherine is a girl haunted by tragedy. She lives with her morbid uncle and is fascinated with the Jack the Ripper-esque killer stalking the streets, who goes by the name "the man of crows." Catherine keeps a journal, imagining what their deaths must have been like, although the POV swaps kind of give this book a magic realism bent. Are we really reading the POVs of the murdered girls, or just how Catherine herself imagines what their last moments must have been like?

THE PLEASURES OF MEN is another book that basically has all the triggers. I feel like there's a lot of uncertainty-- and also a lot of typos, considering this is a traditionally published work-- but I did like the twist, and I felt like Catherine herself was pretty relatable. Who doesn't love a morbidly depressed Wednesday Addams type character? Also, that COVER is so Instagrammable, I can't. Why don't more people like this book? I don't know.

Anyone who loves Gothic vibez and spooky Victorian thrillers will probably love this book.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Watch the Girls by Jennifer Wolfe

 

My sister and I have been trading mysteries back and forth and when she gave me this one, I was so excited. It sounded kind of like NIGHT FILM, one of my favorite thrillers, with an L.A. gothic vibe. And it ended up being all of that and more, with a creepy small town setting, a damaged and tortured child star, a cold case investigation, and a sinister tale of cult horror, obsession, and the worst kind of fame.

First, big ups to my friend, Heather, for BRing this with me. We texted back and forth while I was screaming inside (and possibly outside) over this glorious nightmare of a book. I am not exaggerating when I say that it's one of the best thrillers I've read in ages. This is a keeper and I'm SHOOK that more people aren't devouring WATCH THE GIRLS with the bated breath it deserves.

The story is dual timeline and both of those timelines revolve around Liv, former child star, now semi-washed up L.A. actress. She's just been fired from her job on a ghost hunters type show and with no other palpable avenues, she decides to start a sort of Kickstarter project to do her own cold case work. She's shocked when one of her backers ends up being a cult director of lurid horror, Jonas Kron, who wants her to look into the Dark Road in Stone's Throw, a place where several girls disappeared over the years, including his own niece, Annika.

As soon as Liv gets to Stone's Throw, creepy shit starts happening. Despite their charming little apple festival and cute little houses, there's also a ton of Kron fanatics and a wolf sanctuary that eerily mirrors one of the scenes in Kron's own psychodramas. And it also becomes pretty clear that there are people who are way more involved in Liv's investigation than they should be. Who maybe don't want her to succeed. Who are maybe much, much closer than she could have ever guessed. DUN, DUN, DUN.

I read this book in a single sitting and stayed up until 1AM to read it. The ending left me SHOCKED. But the whole book is studded with twists that kept making me go OMG OMG OMG OMG. There's triggers for pretty much everything in here, but a lot of the really bad stuff is either off screen or only alluded to, so this book doesn't feel exploitative; it's just a sultry and sinister work of art. Apparently Jennifer Wolfe is a YA author and this is her first adult thriller and all I have to say is holy shit. Sign me up for a copy of whatever nightmare sundae she decides to create next because I am STARVED.

5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, November 28, 2021

A Far Wilder Magic by Allison Saft


 DNF @ p.53

I always feel like such a shit when I get an ARC of a book and don't like it. Especially if it's a hard copy. I know a lot of money goes into producing those copies and dispersing them, so I really try to only ask for books I think I'm going to like. And I totally thought I was going to like this. That cover! That premise! No, don't take me on a coffee date, I want to hunt mythical monsters through a moonlit wood. That was my first impression and I totally stand by it.

Sadly, this book didn't really do it for me. The writing is clear and very pretty but the characters just felt really bland. Especially Wes. I didn't really get what his deal was. It felt like the author was trying to make him seem quirky but he just kind of seemed like a dick. The author does something I personally really don't like, where she writes what is basically historical fantasy but changes all the names around. So the "Irish" become the Banvish (with signs that say "Banvish need not apply" on New York-- I mean, "New Albion"-- shops), and Katharists (Catholics?) with fancy churches who seem to hate the Celtic-inspired religions. These stand-ins feel like a short-cut for world-building but taken out of context from their real-world counterparts, they don't really have the same significance. So I wish authors would either set a book in our world and make it actual historical fantasy or bite the world-building bullet and go the extra mile in crafting their own settings. The "wild hunt" angle which hooked me in also didn't feature in the 50+ pages I read. It was more of a Victorian-esque steampunk setting, and if I had known that, I probably wouldn't have requested a copy of this, either, because I'm not really a fan of steampunk.

I think if you like authors like Maggie Stiefvater and Emily Duncan, you'll enjoy this book. I don't particularly care for either of them, unfortunately. I know some people really like their characters and writing style but I don't. For teens who really vibe with steampunk and like those deliberately "quirky" characters that seem to be vogue among the YA set these days, you'll probably love this. I wish I had too, but I just found myself setting this book down every time I picked it up and eventually I just gave up. Thanks so much to my friend Heather for reading this with me (sorry I bailed!).

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

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

The Hunting Wives by May Cobb

 

This was one of the hit books of the summer and I remember thinking that the cover and premise both looked so good and being absolutely steaming hot jealous over everyone brandishing their shiny ARCs on Instagram. I wanted a copy soooo badly, but because I am a book peasant, I had to wait until it went on sale to finally read this gem.

And OH MY GOD, I am still reeling from the wild rollercoaster that this book was. It's everything I love in a thriller-- gossipy in tone, with a damaged and morally grey heroine, small town politics, seriously messed up twists, and bad people doing bad things. I read most of it in a single sitting and couldn't put it down once it started gaining speed. It was everything I'd hoped for and then some.

Sophie, the heroine, is a lifestyle blogger who has moved to a small East Texas town to escape the fast-paced city life of Chicago. It doesn't take long for her to quickly grow tired of her earth mother friend, Erin, and develop a woman crush on one of the society princesses in town, a woman named Margot, and her cliquish group of friends: Jill, Callie, and Tina, who have a secret club called "The Hunting Wives."

Eventually, Sophie gets an "in" and the book becomes a whirlwind of long nights in the woods, parties at the pool, and a constant flow of wine and liquor. Sophie's husband isn't keen on it but he wants to be the "cool dad" who's okay with his wife having fun. But pretty soon, The Hunting Wives move beyond "fun" into seriously debauched behavior and Sophie ends up lying and rationalizing her way into spending more and more time with these people who she simultaneously admires and fears.

I don't want to say too much more because the less you know going in, the better. I will say that there is some shady stuff that happens with minors that will probably be uncomfortable for some readers, but everything that happens happens with characters who are of the age of legal consent in Texas. Also, Sophie has a seriously messed up, WHITE OLEANDER sort of childhood with a mother who neglected her, which plays into a lot of her issues and secrets. I mention that because people in a lot of the negative reviews are hating on her, but with what she went through, it kind of made sense why she came across as such a self-destructive flake. She was basically emulating her mother.

Anyway, TL;DR I loved this book and will read anything this woman writes next. LOVE.

4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars

Enthralled by Tiffany Roberts

 

HOLY SHIT WHAT EVEN WAS THAT ENDING.

ENTHRALLED takes place right where the last book ends. Ketahn is still being hunted by the evol spider queen who wants to make him her mate. They also plan to wake up the rest of the humans who crash-landed on the Vrix planet and are still in cryosleep. Throughout all of this, Ivy and Ketahn's relationship deepens as they navigate their own growing feelings for one another amidst all these obstacles.

I didn't expect to like these books as much as I do. I hate spiders, okay? Hate, hate, hate. When I found out this was an alien spider romance with SEX, my ovaries shriveled up and wailed, "NOOOO." I'm still not 100% on board with that, but I fell in love with the world-building, which is some of the most inventive I've seen in an alien romance, the realistic behaviors of all the characters (human and non), and the high stakes. The spider queen is one of the most terrifying villains EVER.

Major warning that this book has some unexpectedly brutal moments. For every lovey-dovey scene between the leads, there's attempted sexual assault, gory battle scenes, and bad people (and spiders) doing bad things. It's never gratuitous, but you also definitely spend more time than you might like biting your nails over these characters and their fates.

I can't believe I have to wait until fucking January for the sequel. *sobs*

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, November 27, 2021

What Storm, What Thunder by Myrian J.A. Chancy

 

The way this story is told kind of reminds me of this movie called The Laundromat. WHAT STORM, WHAT THUNDER is set in Haiti just before and then just after the big earthquake in 2010. Through multiple POVs, which all intersect neatly like puzzle pieces, we get an understanding of how the disaster affected people who were just trying to live their day-to-day lives, as well as a kind of overview into the working class and the upperclass, the disparity between them, and how the people are coming out of the shadow of their colonialist history and how they are affected by things like colorism and poverty.

Part of the fun for this book was trying to guess how each relationship would lead to the next. Each chapter is a different POV and some of them are written better than others. I think my favorite POV was probably either Richard, Didier, or Anne. The book both opens and closes with Ma Lou, a fruit vendor, who takes everything full circle. One word of advice: if you enjoy being surprised, don't read the blurb on the back of the book or on Goodreads. In describing the characters' roles, it also sort of spoils some of the relationship twists.

I thought WHAT STORM, WHAT THUNDER was beautifully written and it provides an intimate look at a devastating disaster that a dispassionate news anchor can't really express. It's not a happy book but most of the characters are interesting in their way, and I enjoyed getting to know them. I'm giving it a three because the premise began to wear a little thin after a while and not all of the POVs were equally interesting. By the end of the book, I began skimming over the ones I didn't enjoy as much. I was also kind of confused about how Sonia and Dieudonne were allegedly seeing the specter of death and was unsure if that was supposed to be magic-realism or not. It was very strange.

Overall, though, this is a really good book and I'll be looking for more from this author.

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

3 out of 5 stars

How to Survive a Horror Movie: All the Skills to Dodge the Kills by Seth Grahame-Smith

 

DNF @ 13%

I normally don't review books I return for a refund because I feel like it's a double-kick in the pants for the author, but I'm stupid enough to accidentally buy this book again so I'm writing this as a note to myself not to purchase HOW TO SURVIVE A HORROR MOVIE a second time. I actually didn't see when it was published and if I had, I probably wouldn't have purchased it. It came out in the mid-2000s and the humor reflects that. As others have pointed out, it doesn't really age all that well and comes across as, uh, "dated." Take that how you will.

1 out of 5 stars

The Happy Inbox: How to Have a Stress-Free Relationship with Your Email, Teamates, and Communication Network by Maura Nevel Thomas

 

As someone who works in project leadership, I think I'm in the target demographic for this book. Unfortunately, I also didn't really find this book as useful as I think the author hoped it would be. In fact, I actively disagreed with some of the points she made, and didn't think others were necessarily feasible or desirable outcomes. But your mileage may vary.

My coworkers are always teasing me about my bad email hygiene. I think I have thousands of unread emails in my inbox. Whenever I'm presenting and my inbox is up, people are always like "NENIA." And I'm like, *shrug emoji*. YOLO. The author says that inboxes are for receiving emails and not storing them, BUT GUESS WHAT. Whenever someone on the team wants to find an old email thread or locate some specs, who do you think has those threads and specs? ME. The unrepentant email hoarder. If your email has a search function you can easily locate such documents by using keywords and searching in quotes, even if your inbox is a hot mess. And that's how I do.

Second, the author talks about delegation. As an example, she says, "If you are spending all day working on yard work on the weekends you might hire a landscaper to take care of your yard for you so you have your Saturdays free." Which gives you a peep into who she thinks is reading this book *cough upper-management cough*. Delegation is all well and good but unless you're a CEO or something and you have a personal assistant, you should probably be writing your own emails. ALSO, she mentions possibly having a family member being delegated to handle your correspondence? LMAO, really. That sounds like a terrible idea, having Grandma Mildred field your Match-dot-com notifications.

Third, she says you shouldn't be monitoring your email constantly and you should not have a tab open to do exactly this. Depending on what field you're in, I STRONGLY DISAGREE. She's like, if it's really important, someone will come by your desk to talk to you about it. MA'AM, if the boss is at your desk, asking, "Did you read my email?" you've probably just done an oops. Also, this is quarantine a lot of us are partially/fully remote, so also no. In tech, you need that email open constantly. It is the altar at which you worship because it gives you important updates and can alert you to status changes on projects. YOU KEEP THAT EMAIL OPEN. Especially if you work remote, as it's often the primary mode of contact people use in remote workspaces.

I feel like I've spent a lot of time talking about why this book was not good, so I will now talk about what I liked. The section on writing emails and leading meetings had very good advice. Don't jump the thread, CC on a need-to-know basis, bullet when possible, consider tone-- all very good advice. I would highlight this section and recommend that everyone read it BECAUSE YAAASS. I actually gleaned a few useful tips from this section that I plan to employ, so thank you, Maura Nevel Thomas.

Overall, I would say that there are much better books out there on the subject than what this one offers but it's not bad as an introductory guide. It's kind of pricey though. They probably could have cut down on costs by omitting the full color stock photos of people staring bewilderingly at their screens.

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

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars


Cruel Idols by Sorcha Black

 

I almost didn't get this book because the blurb really put me off with its use of the word "alphahole," which made me think that this was going to be one of those edgelord dark romance novels that seem to be in vogue these days. But my friend Namera's review intrigued me. As a writer myself, I really enjoy reading books about writer characters that go in-depth into their processes and motivations, and the idea of a dark sadomasochistic polyamory story revolving around "method writing" for erotic horror novels sounded fascinating.

The premise requires a bit of suspension of disbelief but it isn't totally implausible. Sadie, a destitute aspiring author, finds out that one of her idols, Vandal Stokes, has a summer cottage in her town. She bikes up to his house with a copy of his book, hoping for an autograph. Somehow, she ends up in his house and finds him half-naked and angry. He's convinced that she's a spy who wants to steal his ideas, and she ends up in a weird contract where she's basically his consensual prisoner until the book is finished so she can't spill his secrets.

While imprisoned in his house, Sadie finds out that Vandal has a lover named Zero. Both of them are pansexual and involved in a Dom/sub relationship (Zero is a switch). Part of that involves Zero writing X amount of words every day or being subject to (ahem) sexy punishments. Sadie, a kinkster herself, finds this very appealing and ends up becoming both of their submissive as she begins writing her own twisted messed up horror erotica. The three of them end up in a pretty intense sexual dynamic which would be toxic if it weren't fully consensual. CRUEL IDOLS is dark but weirdly, it's also funny AF and surprisingly tender and I really ended up loving all three of the characters.

I was actually having a really great conversation with one of my friends just the other day about how I wish more dark romances had an emotional component to them that goes behind "me alpha with big dick who wants to bang heroine." It just feels so superficial and empty, like it's all about the sex. Maybe some people are into that, but it's a big turn-off for me. I really need the characters to have some sort of connection. In CRUEL IDOLS, it's about their mutual love of writing and willingness to explore dark places, but also about how all of them are missing a key component of affection in their personal lives that their interactions with each other feeds. It feels very nuturing and when they're not engaging in knife-play or pet play or what have you, they tease and support each other and banter and have fun, so it never feels abusive or too scary, even when things get dark.

So basically, I enjoyed this book. It actually had a similar dynamic to another M/F/M book I read not too long ago, called VICTORIOUS STAR. I liked this book better, though. It had less dub-con, no body modifications, and the writing was much better. I'll definitely be checking out more of her works.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, November 26, 2021

The Archer by Shruti Swamy

 

I follow a lot of artists on Twitter and sometimes I'll see furniture that would make terrible furniture but interesting art, which begs the question of how far functionality ought to be sacrificed for aesthetics before the object in question ceases to be the thing for which it has its name. I mean, you know those terrible-looking chairs that are covered in twisty spikes and made of fiberglass and metal that just scream "lower back pain!" Sure, it looks cool, but would you want it in your living room? Some books are like that. In their quest to become AAAHRT, they sacrifice readability and even the reader's enjoyment, and at some point it ceases to become entertainment because it sacrifices clear and concise prose for literary merit.

It is, in essence, an uncomfortable chair.

THE ARCHER felt a lot like that for me. It has incredibly affected prose and why I can see why the author made some of the artistic choices she did, it didn't always work for me. The beginning is disorienting and I think it's supposed to capture the rapid blur of childhood, and how it comes at a clip, but it also made the writing hard to follow. Later, as the main character, Vidya, grows older, her writing becomes clearer and more introspective, but there's still a whirl of chaos and commas that makes the prose feel like the spinning of a dervish, and I think that's intentional, to capture the chaos of dancing, but it is A LOT.

Also-- the story is pretty depressing. Vidya has a hard life, and a mother who struggles with mental illness. The title comes from a story in Indian mythology about an archer who wants to become the very best and promises his guru anything, and the guru demands the severance of his thumb so he can't become better than his own favored pupil. It's a book about sacrifice and from the moment I read that passage, I knew it wouldn't have an ending I like, because as an artist, reading about artists who give up everything for their art only to have their stories end in tragedy is pretty disillusioning.

This is an interesting coming-of-age story set in 1960s/70s India and I think the author has interesting things to say. I found myself entranced by the descriptions of dancing and how the main character poured herself into it as a way of expressing herself in a socially acceptable way, but it was hard to read and not really all that fun to read, so even though it wasn't a bad book I'm not sure I'd recommend it.

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

2.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, November 25, 2021

The One by John Marrs

 

I found THE ONE in a Little Free Library. It's an airport thriller in every sense of the word, the sort of book with large print and whisper-thin characterization that you read in a couple hours and then never think of again. It actually gives me a kind of throwback techno-thriller vibe, like some of the Dan Brown, Dean Koontz, and Tom Clancy books I liked to read when I was younger. It's very readable but it relies heavily on stereotypes and the premise requires some suspension of disbelief.

In the near future, there is a dating app called Match Your DNA which matches people based on a genetic/pheromone component. Each chapter features the POV of a different person who is meeting their match. There's Christopher, a violent psychopath; Maddy, an older woman who finds that her younger male match might be dead; Jade, who finds out that her match has a terminal illness; Alex, a man engaged to be married to his longtime girlfriend who finds out that his match is a man; and Ellie, whose match is hiding secrets that she can't possibly guess at, but might affect all the other couples.

I read this from start to finish in just over three hours. I was invested enough to find out what happened but I really didn't like any of the characters. They were all pretty awful in their own way. I don't know if that's the message. If the sort of people who would WANT to buy into a Gatica-like dating service might not be the best people. It did sort of feel like it was intended to be a dystopian cautionary tale, kind of like Dave Eggers's THE CIRCLE (which I also had issues with, for different reasons). I guess this is becoming a Netflix series and this book does seem like it would be easy to adapt to film because of how chopped it is with all its various POVs, but I'm not sure I'll be watching it.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Out by Natsuo Kirino

 

After reading and feeling like REAL WORLD was a pretty mediocre book, I approached OUT with tempered expectations. The premise sounded fascinating though. OUT is about a group of Japanese women working in a lunch factory. One day, one of them kills her abusive husband and enlists her friends to help her to dispose of the body. What ensues is a dark and pretty twisted story that involves morbid descriptions of corpse disposal and involvement from the yakuza.

I liked OUT a lot. I felt like it lost steam at the end, but 80% of the story kept me turning pages like nobody's business. I find Japan fascinating and I actually really liked the descriptions of the factory work and the lunches. The women were also all interesting in their own way, because I felt like each one embodied a woman at a various stage of womanhood and dissatisfaction. There's Masako, a middle-aged housewife with a shady history who is estranged from her husband and son. There's Yoshie, the single mother with two ill-behaved daughters and a mother-in-law she is indebted to. There's Kuniko, a spoiled and overweight young woman who struggles with body image and her desire for material things. And then there's Yayoi, a woman who embodies the ideal of the "perfect wife" to no avail.

I'm surprised that the ratings for this book are so low. I've read about three of Kirino's books at this point and I feel like this is the best because it shows the sexism and frustration that arise from the so-called traditional gender roles, and what happens when women get sick of fitting into those cramped little boxes and decide to break free in a truly graphic and unconventional way. None of these women were likable, which is maybe why so many struggled to finish, but I found them all interesting and relatable, and I appreciated the feminist social commentary through the dark thriller lens.

If you enjoy female-centric thrillers with antiheroines and shocking moments of horror, I think you'll like OUT. Just be prepared for it to fizzle a little at the end.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Covid Claus is Coming to Town by M.J. Edwards

 

M.J. Edwards is at it again with the crazy sauce sundaes. COVID CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN is the story of Holly Mistletoe, an expert zoologist and resident penguin hater who just wants to be fucked. And she gets her wish when Santa comes down her chimney, horrifically infected with what we can presume are all the active strains of the Coronavirus, which create a sexual cocktail that mutates him into a mean, green love machine. DUN, DUN, DUN.

I don't know why I keep coming back to these books. Maybe because every time the author publishes a new one, at least four people immediately recommend it to me as my next read. COVID CLAUS is seasonally appropriate, as the heroine's festive name, and the "hero's" ahem seasonally appropriate attire make it ideal for the holiday season.

The sex scenes are about what you would expect in an M.J. Edwards original. Gloppy, messy, and cringe-worthy, with too little plot and too much descriptions that sound something like "he crammed his dick into her open vagina hole like a train speeding into a tunnel." Also, when he comes, he cleans himself off with his Santa hat. Classy.

IDK, guys. This was pretty horrible, but it's the kind of horrible I like. After THE PERFECT POO, I came to this with pretty low expectations, but this is the M.J. Edwards brand of crazysauce that keeps me coming (eek) back for more.

1 out of 5 stars

Ascension by Kara Dalkey

 

This is an older YA that I remember wanting to read as a teen but my library didn't have any of the books. I guess you can say I'm making up for lost time by reading it now. WATER is the story of a mermaid named Nia. Mermaids (mermyds) in this world are pretty unusual-- some of them have tails, some don't. Some are more fish-like, others more human. They live in Atlantis and there's some pretty confusing world-building around that and how it sunk into the sea.

WATER takes a while to get rolling and at first it feels very middle grade in tone, but then the story gets much, much darker, with surprising amounts of court intrigue and deaths. The mythology is also pretty complex, with mermyds completing trials to become "Avatars," which basically turns them into psychic magi who become bonded with alien squid familiars. Sound weird? IT IS.

I liked this book but I skimmed portions of it because the pacing was so uneven. I admire the author's creativity, but this felt like an unpolished work that wasn't sure what it's target audience is.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

WTaFW: Ensnared by Tiffany Roberts

 

This book was recommended to me as part of my What the Actual Fuck Wednesday project where I seek out weird romance and erotica novels and read and review them on a weekly basis. I was initially pretty skeeved out by ENSNARED because I am a bona fide arachnophobe. I hate spiders and the idea of reading about some plucky heroine fucking one as part of her interstellar sexcapades sounded like nightmare fuel. But I made the sacrifice and prepared for everything to be spiders.

And everything was spiders. But-- surprisingly-- I did not scream or pull my hair out or run away or anything else I thought I might do. In fact... I was slowly drawn into this spider romance the same way I was drawn into Regina Abel's snake, bird, and lizard romances. Because the "spider" in this book is really more of a spider/centaur/man hybrid (at one point, the heroine refers to him as an "arachnotaur") and yes, he has a dick. But it's a retractable dick that comes out of a slit. Whoopee.

Lest you think that this is purely porn, it is not. In fact, it features one of the best developed worlds I've seen in a science fiction alien romance. The hero is a spider man creature who is part of this spider colony. Their species is actually called the "vrix" but you know, spiders. Anyway, the females are bigger and more powerful and the queen is the most powerful of all and she wants to mate with our hero, whose name is Kehtan, and she is willing to beat, bully, and blackmail him into it, whether he wants it or not (not).

The heroine, Ivy, was a colonist who was meant to go to another planet but crash-landed on this one. Her backstory is incredibly sad and actually tugged at my heart. You can tell why she was so desperate to get away and why she was willing to leave behind everything. Kehtan accidentally awakens her from her cryosleep and she (understandably) freaks out, but once she realizes he doesn't intend on eating her, they gradually reach an understanding and even start to communicate and, gasp, like each other.

So some thoughts about the book. I thought it took a LONG time to get moving and sometimes it could be really slow-paced and dense. There's a lot to cut your teeth on in this book and even though I really appreciate all the details and how much thought went into them, it affected the pacing at times. I loved the language, though, and how Ivy and Kehtan gradually start to communicate. It was done so well, and so realistically, and I was really impressed. I also really liked the heroine. I felt like people were really hard on her. I mean, you find out that everyone you know and love is probably dead AND you're face to face with a spider man AND all you have to eat is weird food and grubs that you have no idea will make you sick AND you have no clothes and no supplies AND you have to learn a new language AND you're traumatized by past shit AND also all of your friends and loved ones are dead?? Like, yeah, she whined and cried and complained-- BUT SO WOULD I. So would anyone, honestly. Really, people are so hard on heroines, am I right? If anything warrants emotional breakdown, it is this exact situation.

The romance was also really well done and kind of slow-burn (not super slow but it's not insta-love either). Kehtan kind of goes from thinking of her as a sort of pet to feeling something more for her once he realizes how sentient she is, which-- again-- makes sense. The erotic scenes were also-- decent? I found it interesting that these spider people have rope bondage as part of their mating ritual. Weirdly, it makes sense and weirdly, it was sort of hot. Until I remembered he was a spider and not just a dude who had as many arms as he has six pack muscles and then I may have freaked out a little. YAAAAAH.

Overall, this was really good. Much better than I was expecting it to be, and the cover is a really fun homage to the clinch covers of bodice-rippers of yore. I was kind of torn between a three and a four and ultimately I'm rounding down to a three just because it didn't quite hit the mark for me but it is a very high three and I'm totally reading the sequel. My God, I can't believe this author made me like spiders.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Blindness by José Saramago

 

My sister and I have started trading books back and forth during quarantine and this is the one she wanted me to read first before giving it to her. This is one of the instances where I read the book after seeing the movie. It's a grim dystopia/post-apocalyptic book where a "blindness" plague infects an unnamed society in an unnamed city. Rather than plunging into darkness, the victims find themselves inhabiting a strange, misty whiteness-- and it's highly infectious.

The main characters are never named except for their characteristics. So we have "the first blind man," who stops traffic when he gets out of his car panicking because he is blind. We have the thief who takes him home and offers to wait for him-- and then steals his car. Then we have the blind man's wife, the ophthalmologist, a woman with dark glasses who moonlights as a prostitute, a boy with a squint, a man with an eye patch, and the doctor's wife who, miraculously, remains immune.

One of the chief complaints of this book is the punctuation style and it does make things book very hard to read. The author, for whatever reason, made the choice to not include quotation marks or normal sentences, so dialogue is marked by writing paragraphs that read like this, And then the next branch of dialogue is donated by a capital A, Even when someone else is talking, you ask? Yes, even when someone else is talking, But that sounds confusing you say, Yes, it is, and it results in paragraphs that last for multiple pages, Oh my God, you say, That sounds terrible, It is.

The story itself is equally unpalatable. The blind are shepherded into an empty mental asylum which quickly disintegrates into chaos. The conditions quickly become unsanitary. The military guards shoot up the inhabitants out of blind (if you pardon the unintended pun) fear, and then they stand by and do nothing when an opportunistic gang forms demanding first money and loot as payment and then women and sex in exchange for the food that they have immorally co-opted. Even when freed from the asylum, those who escape find themselves in a society at its very last dregs, where all humanity is lost.

I liked the book okay and thought it told a compelling albeit depressing story, but I probably wouldn't read it again. So many descriptions of vomiting and shit and human waste, and humans performing inhuman acts at the cost of their own survival. It didn't occur to me while reading this book that a dystopian epidemic might not be the best choice of reading material during COVID, but here it is and here I am. It's not a book I'd recommend, but it's a book you won't forget.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, November 22, 2021

Glint by Raven Kennedy

 

DNF @ 27%

Jumping ship on this series, I think. The first book laid some pretty decent foundational groundwork but there were a lot of things I didn't like. Auren, despite being convincingly brainwashed, definitely felt TSTL at times. And I hated the names of the characters. They felt really silly-- there are characters named Rip and Sail. It's a little silly. I kept waiting for this book to build from the previous book but it was happening at much too slow of a rate. ALSO be careful reading reviews for this book. A couple of them have big fat spoilers straight out of the gate. I'd already decided to quit so it wasn't too bad for me but for people who are genuinely engaged in the series, that could be devastating.

2 out of 5 stars

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Real World by Natsuo Kirino

 

REAL WORLD is a very strange Japanese noir thriller. Apparently I read it years and years ago, but I didn't really remember it at all. The premise revolves around a murder: a boy named "Worm" (I believe his real name is Ryo) who has killed his mother and run away. He ends up drawing several high school girls into his web: Toshi, his neighbor; Yuzan, a closeted lesbian; Kirarin, a bubbly girly-girl with a dark side, and Terauchi, the depressed pragmatist.

As the story rolls on, we get to read from the POVs of each of these characters. Most of them sound pretty similar, but Yuzan and Toshi were my personal favorites. I think the title comes from the dissociation that comes from depression and having a psychotic break. These characters, because of their actions, feel like they're living in a sort of heightened reality from their peers. Murder has peeled back the skin of society to reveal a festering underside they can't escape from.

I think this book is pretty depressing. It has trigger warnings for murder, suicide, violence, sexism, bigotry, and a couple other things. Also, as with a lot of Japanese fiction, there are trans characters who are misgendered. Natsuo Kirino's books often have one or multiple of these themes, so I think it's pretty important to equip yourself before going in, because the result is usually bleak.

2.5 out of 5 stars

7th Circle by Tate James

 

So I didn't think I liked motorcycle/gang romances but apparently what I really needed this whole time was a motorcycle/gang romance with a bad-ass female crime boss of a lead who totally owns her sexuality and feels 100% comfortable showing instead of telling us that she's a bad-ass. Who knew?

You know this book is going to have you knee-deep in smut from the very beginning when the heroine, Hayden, ends up conducting an-- ahem-- very personal interview with a guy who wants to be a male stripper at one of her clubs. From there on out, it's a journey to ass-kick-landia as we follow her into this messy tangle of plotting and scheming as a ghost from her past attempts to fuck with her in the worst possible way, bringing up old demons and new blood.

I really liked this book a lot. It was totally extra but the heroine ended up selling the book for me because I am just so sick of the "pick me" girls in the genre. You know the ones-- they have no personalities or hobbies outside of the heroes and just bend to the litany of abuse they're subjected to. Sometimes I can get on board with that, but it's exhausting when it feels like it's your only option, so when a bad-ass like Hayden appears on the scene, I can't help but inwardly scream YAAAAAAAAAAAAASS.

I guess this is going to be a reverse harem book. She only really hooks up with one guy in this one though and the other two relationships are mostly just foundational. I didn't mind that relationship #1 was consummated so quickly since there were some interesting (and kind of fucked up) twists with that, and I kind of liked that one of the guys is so much younger than the heroine, while one of the others is quite a bit older. I think that will be an interesting dynamic that plays out over the next couple books. Overall, I'm impressed. I went in with low expectations and ended up stanning.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch

 

This is one of those books where I wring my hands and ask myself, "What will people think of me for liking this?" Because at its heart, DEAR MR. M is about some pretty horrible people doing some pretty horrible things and also reveals a bleak and cynical reflection of an unkind world. His other book, THE DINNER, was like that, too, and I think that unless you are a bit of a jaded pessimist with a dark sense of humor, you probably won't like his books. Which is probably why their Goodreads ratings have tanked.

I personally loved this book, but it wasn't quite perfect. Like THE DINNER, it started out as what I thought would be a five star read but ended up losing a star as the story wore on. Part of that is because this story is just so needlessly complex. There are multiple narrators. The POVs all revolve around a writer, M, and a book he has written called Payback that is about a real crime (in this universe) about a teacher who had an affair with one of his students and was then (allegedly) killed by the student's boyfriend when he started stalking her.

The book opens in a really strong way with someone stalking the author M and his wife. Then there are other POVs. The wife. M himself. The "real" teacher and students as the doomed affair takes place. The writing is bleak but gorgeous, when the author doesn't ramble. The translator did a really good job converting this from English to Dutch. I mean, I'm not sure about how well the ideas themselves were preserved but all the writing flows really smoothly and feels really natural. I loved the settings. The icy freeze of the (alleged) murder setting contrasted against M's carefree days as a middling writer.

Where this book fell short for me is that, like THE DINNER, I didn't feel like the payoff was worth it. I read the story and was spinning out my own theories, wondering how all the different POVs and events would intersect... and I was disappointed. It just didn't feel as shocking or WOW! as I'd been hoping for. I also don't really get the point of making one of the characters a (I'm assuming) Nazi apologist, unless it was to show he was an awful person? I felt like the author (the author of this book) was trying to show how there's all this simmering classism and racism lurking beneath the surface in Europe but everyone puts on a show of being shocked and outraged when someone blatantly puts it out there, but it was weird. There were a couple other weird things like that where they didn't really feel relevant or necessary except to be like, "Whee, look how shit everyone in this book are! Don't you HATE them?"

Obviously, the answer is yes.

That said, I loved about 80% of this miserable book. It says some interesting things about writing, humanity, and the dark reaches of the human psyche. They aren't particularly nice things, but they feel honest, and there's something compellingly chilling about that.

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Covid-69: Taking the Effects on the Side by Jessica T. Lawson

 

So I have a project called What the Actual Fuck Wednesday where I collect bad romance and erotica novels (intentionally bad or ridiculous ones, mind-- not ones where I'm just hate-reading books that were good faith efforts to, you know, not be bad). This book crossed my radar because someone sent me an appropriately titled Goodreads Listopia list called, simply, "What the Actual Fuck."

With the brief popularity of COVID-themed erotica, we've seen pretty lady scientists fucking the anthopomorphized versions of disease and cure alike. COVID-69, on the other hand, is just about two scientists looking for the cure-- and maybe, also, for love. Also, it's INSANE.

Someone needs to tell M.J. Edwards to up her game because THE PERFECT POO just didn't cut it, but Jessica T. Lawson clearly understood the assignment. She knows that a certain level of, ahem, finesse is required when writing WTFerotica, and she did not fail to deliver. And she didn't even have to write about green dicks! No, Pamela, our heroine, is a scientist working on the COVID vaccine, in between masturbating in the bathroom to naughty thoughts of the hot Brazilian COVID scientist, Roberto, the brawny beefcake of questionable judgement but noble SCIENTIFIC aspirations.

One day, while walking around with the almost finished vaccine, Roberto runs into another scientist, carrying an almost finished vial filled with "bonobonate," a sex stimulate made from, IDK, horny bonobos. The vials get mixed up which is a big whoops because Roberto walks into the lab and makes a big show of injecting the "vaccine" into his veiny arm because "I TRUST OUR SCIENCE." Animal testing? I don't know her. Just inject it straight into my veins.

Well, it was the horny bonobo serum (seriously, why are these two VERY DIFFERENT labs next to each other? active virology and sex therapy drugs do not mix), and Roberto has a big throbbing problem that can only be eased by tearing off his lab partner's and doing her in the lab. Eventually they run out of steam-- and bonobo chemicals-- and develop the fucking COVID vaccine, but Pamela says, "Hey, just for funsies, let's add some bonobo to the vaccine because people are probably going to be horny after being cooped up for so long." So they do, tee hee, naughty secret! The end.

This book... was so extra. I mean, the quotes in my status updates were just something else. This literally reads like it was written in an afternoon by someone who was indulging in a glass of after-work libations, and I'm not even mad because it was funny AF. Terrible, but oh my god. Even the accidental LGBT+ erasure at the end couldn't diminish the warm fuzzy glow I got from reading something that was truly, comedically awful. I don't recommend this, obvs, but you know you'll read it anyway.

1 out of 5 stars

WTaFW: Saving Askara by J.M. Link

 

So, this was recommended to me for my What the Actual Fuck Wednesday project where I read and review weird romance novels and erotica and then talk about them. I always post a review and sometimes I post a video on Instagram. Originally, I intended to do a video for this one but (baby) it's cold outside and I started reading this late and also... there's just not a lot to talk about this one. It's an alien romance and really not all that weird, apart from the fact that the aliens in question drink blood, eat grubs, and seem to resemble lizard rock demons with, like, sentient metal armor. Maybe it's weird I don't think that's weird.

Anyway, this is a first contact book and Tori, the heroine, is a doctor dammit, not a diplomat (as a Star Trek fan, I'm high key disappointed that no one made that joke). Which is why she's not all that happy to be roped into negotiations with the Demons. Her point of contact is the hero, Aderus. He and his people are fleeing an invading threat that basically threatens to decimate their world. All their females are captive and they need medical intervention and also military backup. And the humans want their fancy-pants technology because humans gonna hum.

The whole time I was reading this, I kept thinking about Regina Abel, who, apart from the X-rated Star Trek fanfiction I read on fanfic dot net (because Ao3 didn't exist yet), she was the author who kind of opened the gates to alien romance/erotica for me. I really like her heroes and I think that (most of the time) they have good chemistry with the heroines. I didn't really feel that here. Aderus was kind of a dick. He's mean to Tori and I wasn't all that happy that he basically slaps her with biotech without (1) asking for her consent or (2) telling her what it is beforehand. Courtship in their species also seems to be kind of rapey. There's sexual dimorphism and females are incredibly vicious and aggressive and males are basically subordinate, and I guess males are supposed to fight the females during to prove their worthiness to "breed". And it adds some weird undercurrents to their relationship that are mostly just glossed over, except for the hero basically thinking, "Hmm, it's hotter when the female is willing and this hits different!"

Uhhh...

This wasn't a bad book but I wasn't really a fan of it. I thought the author was inventive in her world-building but it could have been explored better, and Tori didn't really have much personality. She kind of reminded me of those painfully naive heroines from 90s futuristic/paranormal romance, where even in more traditionally "masculine" job descriptions, they still have to remind you "oops, I'm just a woman, tee hee" every five seconds. Like, I never really got the impression that Tori was allowed to exist as a character with motivations that really went beyond how they intersected with the hero and his people. She felt both interchangeable and replaceable. I don't think I'll be continuing with the series.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, November 15, 2021

Gild by Raven Kennedy

 

I haven't been reading as much lately ever since those new Animal Crossing updates came out, but I wanted to make time to finish this because GILD has been haunting my Bookstagram feed for a hot minute and I wanted to see what all the fuss is about. The best way to describe GILD is like if Game of Thrones had just a *little* less rape and graphic violence (but basically the same amount of smut), or if FROM BLOOD AND ASH were less ridiculous, or if ACOTAR was solely set in the under-the-mountain scene and was even heavier on the douchebag males and mixed messages. 

I think you get the point.

But just in case you don't, the book literally opens with an orgy, so you know what you're getting into straight away. Which is an ADULT book. Despite the YA-looking cover, and its striking similarity in title and design to the Marissa Meyer book GILDED (which I keep mixing it up with), this is not a book for the kiddies. 

BASICALLY Auren is the king's favored, and her thing is that she's solid gold (cue Austin Powers memes). In fact, I'm just going to refer to King Midas as Goldmember because I'm pretty sure only oversight kept him from making his dick a twenty-four karat dildo. Goldmember's thing, apart from the gold, is power. He wants it. Lots of it. And he's going to fuck and hack and treason his way into getting it, because that's how he rolls. He's the ultimate Rebel with a Cause. The cause being that he causes a lot of unseemly shenanigans within his kingdom.

Auren is half-convinced that she's in love with this leather pants-wearing orophile, but she's brain-washed as fuck. And when she's not being a gold-plated sex toy for the man who casually uses her love for him like a bartering chip, she's Mithridates-ing her liver with continuous doses of wine. All that changes when Goldmember sends them away-- I forget why. Safety? Scouting? Anyway, they're ambushed by bad people (Snow Pirates, actually, which sounds like a character you'd see on Neopets, only, you know, cuddlier and without the sexual sadism and rape). I don't want to say too much more, but let's just leave it as sometimes help comes from the unlikeliest of places, and also if you like Rhysand from ACOTAR but thought to yourself, "You know what would be even hotter? If he lost the wings and looked more like a scaled orc with Bowser spikes," then you're going to love this book. And Commander Bowser, which is what I'm going to call Spiky Rhysand, because that's better than Rip.

Rip is what you do when you fart. Or put on your gravestone when you die. It is not what you scream while having (I imagine) orgiastic spiky faerie sex. Sorry, but I'm just calling it like I see it.

Personally, I thought it was okay. It wasn't as good as the first ACOTAR but was leagues better than the second ACOTAR and FBAA. The writing was good and it actually felt like a fantasy book, even though the dialogue was modern-ish, and the story was just compulsively readable for me to want to find out what happened. Actually, this book ticks a lot of the boxes of what I DON'T like in a book, so the fact that I didn't hate it is nothing short of a miracle. I had similar thoughts while reading Royals of Forsyth, which was a series that rang all of my NOPE alarm bells and somehow became a guilty pleasure read. I will say that Auren is a hard character to like because she's so damaged but inconsistently so, because she'll back-chat and front-- even when it's stupid to do so-- and the ribbon thing was so WEIRD. I applaud the author for creating an unreliable narrator who is so convincingly brain-washed that some readers actually seem to take her lust for Goldmember at idiotic face value, but there wasn't really a lot else going for her or that made her relatable, and that's hard as a reader. You need SOMETHING.

Will I read the next book? Yes, because I'm trash. But I'm not going to rush for it. I'm going to walk-- very slowly-- in its general direction while pretending I don't actually give a damn (but I do).

3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Before She Was Helen by Caroline B. Cooney

 

Caroline B. Cooney was my jam in middle school, so obviously when I found out that she was writing mysteries for adults now, I smashed that buy button. BEFORE SHE WAS HELEN is set in a retirement community. The main character is a woman named Clementine ("Clemmie"). When the book opens, Clemmie is checking on one of her neighbors, a recluse and partial invalid named Dom. Dom hasn't been seen for several days and she is suspicious. When she uses his spare key to get in, however, she notices that he has a garage built into his neighbor's (illegally and against code) and sees what appears to be a unique art piece that she thinks her great-niece and -nephew will enjoy. She sends them a picture without a thought that ends up embroiling her in an intrigue that will dredge up memories of her past.

When you start out reading a YA author and they make the transition to adult fiction, it can be weird. But Cooney managed to keep everything I loved about her style intact while graduating to a surprisingly edgy adult thriller. I liked that the heroine was older (in her seventies), as a lot of mysteries usually feature characters who are in the 20-40 age range. I also thought her past was SO sad (major triggers there, but they're spoilers so I don't really want to go into detail; abuse is involved). I actually wasn't expecting this book to be as dark as it was, so that really took me off guard.

I liked BEFORE SHE WAS HELEN. The fact that it was set in a retirement community was novel and gave it a sort of small village feel, which is one of the things I love about British mysteries. There were a lot of characters to keep track of and I am still not entirely sure I managed to sort out who was who by the end, but it's a really great plot, even though the ending lacked the closure I wanted (if you read the book, you'll understand what I mean-- would it really hurt to have had an epilogue??). I'll definitely be checking out any more adult mysteries she writes, though!

3.5 out of 5 stars

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

 

Jane Eyre is one of my favorite literary classics, so when I found out that this was a (loose) retelling of the story, only as a murder mystery, I was so excited. And it's really good, too. Jane is living in the South, working as a dog-walker for a snobby suburban community, when she is nearly run over by a man named Eddie. Eddie is good-looking, rich, and single. Surely, it must be too good to be true. How could a man like him be alone? Well, he wasn't always. He had a wife, and then one day, she and her friend disappeared, never to be found.

Jane and Eddie have a whirlwind romance and she enjoys lording her new-found power and status among the people who used to look down her noses at her. But the more she learns about her new, soon-to-be-husband's past wife, who lurks in every shadow of their home, the more she wonders... what really happened to Bea Rochester?

So, some of my friends weren't crazy about this one but I LOVED it. There are three narrators, told in parts: Jane, Bea, and Eddie. I loved the decision to make Jane kind of a jaded and bitter opportunist. I love morally ambiguous women and her character felt totally believable to me. I loved the Southern Gothic vibes of the setting (that flooded forest beneath the lake! POETRY). I even liked Bea, who was hardly a saint herself. And Eddie-- well, maybe he's not the Mr. Rochester you're looking for, but his relationship to both Bea and Jane was both complex and, sometimes, HOT.

I would say this is more of an homage than a straightforward retelling but I think it fits comfortably in the niche of domestic thrillers that seem to be so popular these days. It actually reminded me a lot of Rebecca Reid's THE TRUTH HURTS, so I think if you enjoyed that book, you'll love this one.

4.5 out of 5 stars

A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena

 

Hmm. I feel a little torn on how to rate this one. On the one hand, it kept me turning pages until the end wanting to find out what happened. On the other hand, all of the characters were extremely unlikable, and not in the fun way where even though they're total assholes you can sort of see yourself in them. No, they were all total garbage human beings and I kind of despised them all.

The beginning is really good. It opens with a woman driving into a pole. That woman is Karen. Karen, who now has amnesia. Karen, who might just be a murderer. Or is she? Deus ex amnesia, man. We don't know. Her husband doesn't know. The cops don't know. The friend doesn't know. Even Karen herself doesn't know. Because amnesia.

I'm a sucker for a good amnesia plot and I thought it lent an interesting unreliable narrator bent to the story. The problem is that it all just feels SO DRAWN OUT and REPETITIVE. Like, all of the cop scenes could have been cut. And Brigid's menacing sitting-across-the-street-and-spying scenes probably could have been cut, as well. All of their scenes are either too expositional or too boring. Or both.

The ending didn't annoy me as much as it annoyed other people, although FUCK BRIGID (there, I said it), but it wasn't a BOOM! MIND BLOWN moment, either. It was fine. Not entirely satisfying, but fine. I just really, really hated these characters to the point that I didn't really care what happened to any of them, so that made it hard to read this book, which made it feel much longer than it should have. Although I must say it's refreshing to read one of these domestic thrillers where it's the wife, instead of the husband, that you're not sure you can trust.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, November 11, 2021

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

 

DNF @ 18%

Hi, my name is Nenia and I have too many books. Lately I've been trying to cut down on the number of books I've hoarded by reading as many as possible (either wholly or in part). Especially ones I was really super excited about. I was really super excited about THE HUNTING PARTY because THE GUEST LIST was so good. I didn't care that it basically sounded like the same formula, only in a snowy lounge in the woods instead of a chilly mansion on an island. Who DOESN'T want to read about a party that basically turns into a locked-room mystery? It's like Cluedo, only SCARIER.

THE HUNTING PARTY came out before THE GUEST LIST and it shows. It's almost like the author knew she didn't get things quite right and THE GUEST LIST was her attempt at a reprise. If so, it worked. Her second book is much, much better. This one isn't bad, but it isn't gripping me, and I am not invested enough in any of the characters, or the story, to finish.

2 out of 5 stars

My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

 

MY LOVELY WIFE is about a married couple. They've been together for fifteen years. They have two kids. They keep house. They're just like any other family... except they kill people. The narrator, whose name we never learn, looks for women for him and his wife to murder together. They call it "date night." It's all just a fun game for them. But then one day, the body of one of their victims is found and suddenly things start to go terribly, terribly wrong.

I thought this book was OK! It was suspenseful enough that I wanted to find out what was going on but it was also much, much longer than I felt it needed to be. I mean, it's almost 400 pages. So much of this book could have been cut out. All the passages with the child psychologist felt pretty unnecessary. I also predicted several of the big twists that I think were supposed to shock me.

Overall, MY LOVELY WIFE didn't live up to the hype. It passed the time and entertained me but that was all it did and I probably wouldn't recommend it to anyone. I would, however, read more from this author. She has a pretty accessible writing style.

3 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Life's Too Short by Abby Jimenez

 

This book was a rollercoaster of feelings and I enjoyed almost every moment of it. I'm not the biggest fan of "chicklit" or fluffy romance. Part of the problem, for me, is that I need a book to have high emotional stakes or I get bored, and too many of the light and fluffy romances just feel exactly that... light and fluffy, with no substance. LIFE'S TOO SHORT threw all the emotional stakes at me that I could handle and it was one of the few friends-to-lovers romances I've read that wasn't saccharine, where the meet-cute didn't feel contrived and I actually bought all the affection-- and tension-- between the couple.

Vanessa is a popular YouTuber and travel blogger. She lives a life that many would envy but beneath the surface she has a lot of problems. Her father is a hoarder, her sister is a drug addict, her brother is a fuck-up, and she's been appointed the temporary guardian of her sister's baby, Grace, which has been keeping her house-bound in what might be her final moments: because early-onset ALS runs in her families and she might be experiencing some of the first symptoms.

Adrian is a lawyer who has just found out his girlfriend is a married woman who's been cheating on him. He meets Vanessa when he goes to complain about her crying baby, only to feel like a total dick when he sees how stressed she is. He offers to watch the baby while she showers, discovers that the crying was due to a plastic tag in her clothes, and a truce is formed between them. More than a truce, actually. They talk, get to know each other, and become fast friends.

I just loved the way the relationships built between these two. It felt natural and authentic in a way that a lot of chicklit does not. I also really liked Vanessa. She didn't come across as a dick at all. You could actually see why so many people liked her. She had the personality of a magic pixie dream girl but her reasons for being so spontaneous-- knowing that she might only have a year left to live-- really sold her determination to keep things as fun as possible. And her family's drama tore at my heart. Adrian has his fair share of drama, too, and part of that is coming to terms with Vanessa and her disease. This book tackled a lot of difficult subjects and it did so beautifully, without short-changing the gravitas of the situations but also not portraying them as hopeless, and I liked the emphasis on therapy, sober companions, life coaches, and counselors. Many books gloss over on the options for mental health.

The only things I didn't like about this book was the third-act couples fight (although I bought it) and the sex scenes. I'm sorry, but if you're going to string out the unresolved sexual tension, the pay-off better be good and comparing the heat coming off the hero's dick to a lightsaber just doesn't do it for me. Those things were the only obstacles between this book and a five-star rating because they really bothered me, but it was still a fantastic book with great characters, and if you're going to read one friends-to-lovers romance this year, I would strongly urge you to make it this one.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy by Talia Lavin

 

CULTURE WARLORD is a really intense and depressing work of journalism in which Talia Lavin, a Jewish reporter, goes undercover in the farthest-right bastions of the internet to interview, write about, and in some cases, catfish, some of the worst of the worst. Each chapter is an essay on various topics, ranging from millennial alt-rightists to "white" dating sites to incel forums to Christian extremists.

Like other people, I was a bit put off by the way this was organized and the way the subject matter was presented. With an author branded as "acerbic" in the book's blurb, I was expecting a more tongue-in-cheek style of writing to balance out all the awful, something in line with CONFEDERATES IN THE ATTIC, only less sympathetic: personal experiences and character portraits that build to the broader topics the author is trying to convey. I can see why she maybe chose not to do this: personal safety, perhaps, and a desire to not inspire more sympathy for these people by portraying them as "real" humans, but at times it made for some seriously dry reading.

I agreed with most of the author's points and I think this is a book that people should read if they want to learn more about some of the terrifying implications the rise of the alt-right means for the people they target. I'm also in awe of this author's bravery. Some of the people she encountered sounded legitimately terrifying; it just goes to show how far people go sometimes in the name of truth. But it's also a downer of a book, perhaps best read in small pieces. I binged it and I probably shouldn't have done that, as I'm seriously feeling the need for something light and happy now.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Den of Vipers by K.A. Knight

 

DNF @ 10%

I know some of you were hoping I'd struggle through all 600+ pages of this book to write a rant review, but I'm not really about that life anymore. Even in the name of entertainment. Unless the book is of the "haha bad" variety, I just dump it at 10-15% (sometimes less). Because life is finite and my to-read list is not.

Second, a caveat. I went into this book actually really wanting to like it. This was not a hate read experience. I actually do like really dark stories and the fact that so many of the negative reviews were complaining about it being too dark made me want to read it more. I can tolerate a book with some pretty gruesome content as long as it fits within the parameters of the story and isn't just done for shock value. Even the gun thing that had people noping out, I've seen in two other books I've read. (Because I guess I read fucked up shit.)

I am giving this a bad review because I thought it was boring and the writing was pretty bad. It reads like something a teenager would write on Wattpad, and I know that's comforting for some people but it doesn't work for me. We're told over and over how bad-ass the mafia dudes are and how special the heroine is because she's not like other girls and wears biker girl clothes, and it took me right back to the heydeys of Quizilla in the early 2000s with all of those "pick me" goth girl heroines. Obviously this book is doing pretty well and the author can laugh her way to the bank, criticism aside, but her style is not my thing at all. YMMV.

1 out of 5 stars