Friday, December 31, 2021

The Duke Goes Down by Sophie Jordan


My sister knows how much I love historical romances and she keeps an eye out for them whenever she thrifts. This was one of the books she came back with and I was really excited because I almost bought the book when it went on sale on Kindle but didn't because I'd read one of this author's YA titles and did not like it, which made me Afraid.

THE DUKE GOES DOWN is actually a really great concept. It's enemies to lovers (YES) and the heroine is the one who is the real dick in the equation (which is kind of refreshing). Imogen is the daughter of the local vicar and helps take care of him and write his sermons. She hates Lord Peregrine, the duke-to-be of their lands and has ever since she heard him and his friends shit-talking her. There was also an incident where she out-fished him as a kid in front of his sister that ended up with her being humiliated. Imogen kind of has a sore spot when it comes to entitled men taking advantage because of her own ill-use by a dude, so the entitlement of Perry really galls her.

Which is why she's not all that unhappy when he's revealed to be illegitimate and loses all of his prospects/titles. And when she sees him suddenly deigning to court the wealthy but untitled ladies in town, kind of starts spreading rumors about him, everything from how he has twelve toes to how he's bad to how he can't kiss to how he has the pox. And when Perry finds out, man, is he pissed. He's decided a bitch must be taught: and that bitch is Imogen.

So often in historical romances, I'll be reading a book where the story is great and the characters have great chemistry, but the sex scenes are shite. I'll be reading along, and be so excited for the moment when the characters FINALLY do it, and then I'll be like "ew, why did you call his peen a flesh sword?" or, "nooo, don't call it cream." It is SO DISAPPOINTING. That did not happen here. The sex scenes were great! But the chemistry between the two characters was sorely lacking and there really wasn't much in the way of plot. The ending felt super rushed, almost blink and you'll miss it. And then there's an epilogue and I was like, "Okay, wait, so they love each other now?" WHY.

This isn't a bad book but it does feel unfinished. I probably won't continue the series.

2.5 out of 5 stars

The Initial Insult by Mindy McGinnis


THE INITIAL INSULT has been chilling on my Kindle for a while but I never actually got around to reading it until now. Apparently it's a retelling of The Cask of Amontillado but there's all sorts of other Poe references too. Set in an Ohio town where last names are everything and reputations are built on decades of heritage and clout, it's told in alternating POVs from two ex-friends, Felicity and Tress.

Tress wants to know what happened to her parents, who went missing the night they took Felicity home from a sleepover and ended up in a wreck. Since then, she's tumbled from being the daughter of one of the town founders to being a cast off, living with her grandfather on the outskirts of town, selling drugs for money and helping to run his illicit zoo. Felicity, on the other hand, despite being "new money," is reaping the rewards of being in the center of the social scene. Life seems pretty good until they meet again at a party and Felicity ends up locked in a basement, with her friend slowly building her tomb brick by brick.

There are so many secrets in this book and it is DARK. The pacing is excellent and kept me turning the pages, wanting to find out how their friendship fell apart and what really happened to Tress's parents, all the while being saturated in this sort of Gothic small-town setting where everything is politics. In some ways, this was like a checklist of some of my favorite tropes and it could have easily been a five-star read for me, but there were a few things I didn't really like. (1) The lack of closure (although since this is a duology, I get it, I just don't like it) and (2) Giving the animals its own POV and having it be in poetry. That just felt a bit too gimmicky for me and it pulled me out of the narrative.

This is a pretty solid book, though. Nobody can write female antiheroes like Mindy McGinnis.

4 out of 5 stars

Private Lessons by Cynthia Salaysay


PRIVATE LESSONS was a tough read because it's about a teacher taking advantage of a student, but it's also a story of a girl's coming of age and dealing with her loneliness, insecurities, and inability to fit in. Books like these always make me feel extra haunted because I really see myself in vulnerable female protagonists like Claire. When I was in high school, I was also very driven and very lonely. I had pretty bad anxiety and I channeled it into my school work and my music (I was also a music student), and I did well, but I was still unhappy.

Claire works so hard to please her music teacher, Paul, but the way he withholds praise makes her feel bad and pick apart her playing until she half-drives herself mad. As music consumes her life, she pushes her friends and her mother away. A bad sexual experience makes her insecure about her appearance and her love life. So when her teacher begins to act less like a teacher and oversteps the boundaries between teacher and student, it's basically the perfect recipe for disaster.

I feel like in some ways this book is similar to MY DARK VANESSA. It's not quite as gritty or disturbing-- it's a MDV for the YA set. I liked the elements of Filipinx culture embedded into the story and I felt like the author did a great job showing how she lashed out or pushed people away to subvert her own feelings. I also felt like in addition to being a sort of #MeToo story, the book did a good job showing some of the microaggressions Asian Americans face and how Asia is treated as a monolith.

This book wasn't quite what I was expecting and I think it would have impressed me more as a teen, but it's still very well written and it spoke to my inner-teen me and her passion for music.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Awkward Family Pet Photos by Mike Bender


This book is so CUTE. Sometimes "meme" books like these can be a little off-putting because the captions can be super mean (see: PEOPLE OF WAL-MART and LOOK AT THAT FUCKING HIPSTER), but this collection of photos is honestly so wholesome. The captions are simple and understated and let the photos speak for themselves. And the photos are funny! Dogs humping in the backdrop of someone's professional photoshoot! A rat dressed as a turkey! PEOPLE WHO LOOK WAAAAY TOO SIMILAR TO THEIR PETS. It's comedy gold.

AWKWARD FAMILY PET PHOTOS is the sort of book that cheers you up as soon as you read it. And actually, it was exactly what I needed after reading a pretty dark and depressing thriller about the daughter of a serial killer. This book didn't just deliver on the cuddly cat photos-- there's even things like capybaras and cougars, too.

If you like animals and wholesome memes, you'll love this book. It's a keeper.

5 out of 5 stars

Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land


GOOD ME, BAD ME is so good. It's one of those books where even though it's a tiny bit predictable, you keep reading because the plotting is so tight and the characters are really well done. Milly is a fifteen-year-old girl who is living with a foster family while she awaits her mother's trial, where she is a key witness. Her mother is a serial killer known as the Peter Pan Killer who murdered young boys of the shelter she worked at. Milly was also a victim of her abuse and one day she decided she couldn't take any more and risked it all to escape.

Her new foster family is no walk in the park, though. Her foster dad, Mike, is her therapist (conflict of interest, much?) and seems a bit too involved in her mental health. Her foster mother, Saskia, is a hot mess. And her foster sister, Phoebe, hates her on sight and immediately launches a bullying campaign against her at their exclusive private school that results in all kinds of abuse, physical and sexual.

GOOD ME, BAD ME is one of the most disturbing books I've read in a while. Because of the young narrator I think older teens might like this book but it is a book for adults. I've read a lot of twisted, messed-up things and this book was a lot, even for me. It has triggers for basically everything and even though the author withholds graphic details, it is still a LOT. That said, I think it was incredibly well done. The psychology of Milly and her mother, her internal war between nature versus nuture and her obvious trauma at what was done to her-- it's all brilliant.

I also thought the school scenes were really good too. Milly's desperation to fit in and to be liked mirror her mother's cold charm, but there's something more needy about Milly. It's heartbreaking and scary at the same time and I white-knuckled my way to the end of the book, needing to find out what happened.

Time to read something happy now.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace


DNF @ 15%

One of my 2022 goals is to clean out my Kindle and this book has been sitting on there since September. I've been really looking forward to it because of THAT COVER and also because there's just a serious shortage of good nautical fantasy, and I was hoping this would be The One. Sadly, it was not. I couldn't get into this book at all. There is so much info-dumping that I really felt like I was being bludgeoned over the head with the world building and it didn't feel organic at all. I also didn't really care for the main character. I appreciate what the author was trying to do with her character-- instead of the more passive heroine that's typical in YA, she was trying to make her an arrogant antiheroine that's more like a lot of the heroes in YA. I applaud the subversion of the trope and the attempt to make a female antiheroine but I did not like the way her character was done. She felt like a Celaena Sardothien clone, and maybe if you're into that I'M SO TOUGH LOL LOOK AT ME brand of girl power, you will like Amora's character, but I was not #TeamAmora at all.

The biggest obstacle for me, however, was the writing style. ALL THE STARS AND TEETH is written in that overly ornate style that feels really forced to me and I couldn't get into it at all. I tried to find a passage to illustrate what I mean and I think this one kind of shows what I'm talking about:

Sprawling mountains of ripe green and lush cliffsides stretch before us as the sea tugs our ship towards the docks of Arida, my home island. The cliffsides are thickly shrouded with bioluminescent flora, which, while beautiful in the daylight, will steal a person's breath when they spread their brilliant purple and pink petals beneath the moon (2%). 


1 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Dipped in Holly by Dana Isaly


DIPPED IN HOLLY kept popping up in my review feed but I didn't really have any inclination to check it out until my friend Heather told me it was FREE. And I think we can all agree that the only thing better than an erotic romance is a free erotic romance.

Despite the, um, interesting title, this is, for the most part, a pretty tasteful erotica. It's mostly all erotica, though. Holly was just dumped by her jerk boyfriend and she's at a bar dressed like Mrs. Claus, which is pretty freaking humiliating. Luckily, the owner of the bar, Nick, is willing to cheer her up with some "Christmas Spirit." By which I mean, the ol' boom-chicka-wow-wow.

This has daddy kink and light bondage and apart from a few word choices-- particularly one involving "milk"-- I was actually pretty impressed at the flow of the writing. This felt much more polished than a lot of erotic short stories that I've read and I think the cover is really, really pretty. THAT DRINK LOOKS AMAZING.

If you like daddy kink and pointless fluff, you'll like this.

3 out of 5 stars

Unspeakable Things by Jess Lourey


Wow! It's been a while since a book made me so uncomfortable. Jess Lourey writes thrillers set in the 80s that take a decidedly unglamorous look at the decade that everyone loves to fetishize. In UNSPEAKABLE THINGS, she doesn't shirk from portraying how secrets can fester in close-knit communities, and how people could casually be racist and homophobic while also facilitating creeps of all kinds and flavors with the patriarchal sexism that was kind of embedded in society at the time and taken as the status quo.

After reading the author's other book, LITANI, which is about cults, I was excited to read this book with my friend, Heather, who is the person who pointed me towards this author in the first place (thank you thank you). The book is narrated by thirteen-year-old Cassie who is excited about high school and just living her best life, but that joy of growing up is tarnished by her creepy alcoholic father and an even creepier pervert who is raping and molesting kids in her town. Rumors abound and there's no shortage of suspects, and the real horror may be closer to home than anyone would like.

Lourey did such a good job making me worry about Cassie and her sister, Sephie. Through Cassie's naive eyes, we see a town that is suspicious of outsiders but also way too forgiving of its own townsfolk's sins. I have no trouble believing that small towns in the 80s really were like this. You hear so many #MeToo stories from people who were the victims of those that people never held accountable and were sometimes permitted to operate in plain sight. A story like this easily could have felt exploitative or done for shock value, but I was relieved that the author went light on the details.

I'm giving it a three star rating because there were things I really liked but the pacing felt off and I wasn't quite as engaged with the narrator as I would have liked to be. I agree with Heather, who said that this story felt more polished in some ways, but I think I liked the story and the creep factor of LITANI better, even though it did end up being more predictable. I don't know, I just kind of vibe with a creepy cult tale. Some people will probably find this book very triggering, so please keep in mind that child sexual abuse is a theme of this book, as well as scenes depicting grooming and threatening behaviors. I would also disagree that this is YA. Even though the narrator is a kid, I feel like the tone and the story are very much adult in theme and geared towards adults.

Jess Lourey might be one of my favorite new discoveries of the year. All of her books feel like episodes of some sort of horrific TV show that could be called "Why 80s Minnesota Sucks." I'm two for two so far in liking what I've read by her, and I can't wait to see what other thrillers she has under her belt.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, December 27, 2021

WtAFW: Strange Love by Ann Aguirre


I bought this because it was recommended to me for one of my weekly features: What the Actual F*** Wednesday, where I ask people to recommend some of the weirdest erotica and romance novels out there. Also, Strangelove by Depeche Mode is one of my favorite songs ever and I like my romances with a generous side of pew pew pew.

STRANGE LOVE is a must-read for anyone who likes Regina Abel because the premise is pretty similar. Zylar, who sounds like something balloons might be made out of despite being a lizard man with a ruff, is seeking a mate as part of this pair-bonding program. However, his AI takes him to the wrong planet and he ends up rounding up a human and her dog from, you guessed it, Earth.

Beryl and Snaps are implanted with a primitive translation feature that allows the three of them to understand each other. Snaps's dialogue is BRILLIANT. My friend told me that it was like the dog from Up and she wasn't exaggerating. Snaps is seriously one of the best things about this book and his dialogue had me laughing so hard.

Unlike the Abel books, however, the alien bonding isn't that simple. Beryl has to go through a series of competitions and anyone can make a play for her, really. Including Zylar's jerk brother, Rhyzen (??? I forget his name-- mostly because I kept thinking of him as That One Flavork). TOF will do anything to get the strongest mate for himself, including playing dirty, which means Zylar's in danger.

I liked this book a lot-- although I did think it slowed down in the last act. I also really didn't care for the sex scenes. I'm sorry to those who liked them but I thought they were gross. My favorite things about this book were Snaps (#SnapsForPresident) and what a sweetheart Zylar was. HE WAS THE BEST AND WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR HIS WOMAN. Beryl was also a really strong heroine and I respected that, although I did think it was a little unrealistic how chill she was with her situation.

Overall, this was a relatively short and sweet book and I liked it. Not sure if I'd read further, though.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Bath Haus by P.J. Vernon


BATH HAUS was a book that I desperately wanted ever since I first heard about it, but I was not cool enough to get an ARC. So I am just now reading it and OH BOY it matched virtually all of my hopes and dreams of what it would be. It's got all of the paranoia of a Hitchcock movie, with the smuttiness of a 90s erotic thriller. It's so ADDICTIVE.

So obviously, I read the whole thing in less than twenty-four hours.

Less is definitely more going into this book because it's essentially constructed upon layers of twists, but there are two narrators: Oliver and Nathan. They are a couple and refer to themselves as husbands even though they haven't been married yet. Nathan is a successful older doctor. Oliver is a recovering addict with an addictive personality and when we meet him in the beginning, he's on the verge of giving in to all of his impulses, meeting a man at a bathhouse to cheat.

Instead of a hook-up, however, the man he meets-- Kristian-- tries to strangle him to death, and Oliver barely escapes with his life. With healing bruises on his throat, he can't hide what happened from his partner, so he constructs a ruse of a story involving a mugging. But Nathan is suspicious and Kristian-- well, Kristian wants to finish what he started. And suddenly, everything becomes incredibly complicated.

I really liked the pacing of this book. It got a little slow in the third act but it was still REALLY good. Oliver is a very sympathetic antihero. He makes terrible choices but he's also been through a lot, so even though some of the things he did made me cringe, I felt really sorry for him. Nathan, on the other hand, is a total cypher, and acts as a foil for Oliver's more neurotic personality. It was interesting to see the plot move through his eyes, but honestly, Oliver was the real star of the show.

Anyone who likes those gritty/edgy thrillers that are so on-trend right now will love this book. It's honestly one of my favorite tropes, and I really enjoyed seeing P.J. Vernon's LGBT+ take on it. 10/10 would read more from this author in a heartbeat.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart by Sarah MacLean


DNF @ p.128

One of my new projects is trying to get through the books I have. Including my historical romances, of which I have both way too many and not enough. Sarah MacLean is one of those authors that frequently makes the tops of people's FAVORITE AUTHORS EVER lists which obviously made me intrigued. And when one of m friends gave me a bag of her old romance novels, I obviously wasn't going to say no. Especially when it had more than a couple Sarah MacLean titles in it.

At first I was really into ELEVEN SCANDALS TO START TO WIN A DUKE'S HEART. Julianna is everything I love in a heroine-- she's strong, she's feisty, she's unapologetically in control of her sexuality, and she's a bit of a pariah. Simon is everything I love in a hero: he's icy and sexy while also a bit of a prude and is the perfect foil to the heroine.

The problems I had with this book are basically what bothered everyone else. I didn't like that Julianna is the other woman. And I didn't like that Julianna seemed to be continually fat-shaming the other woman, referring to her as "the grape." I found that really off-putting. Especially since the OW didn't really do anything but exist up until the point that I read. Julianna didn't annoy me the way she did some people but the pairing just didn't work for me. MacLean also does something kind of weird where she continually italicizes various sentences for emphasis.

I'll definitely be reading more from this author but this story didn't really work for me.

2 out of 5 stars

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Self Care by Leigh Stein


DNF @ 26%

One of my goals for 2022 is to clean out my Kindle. I have over a thousand books on there right now, which is the product of over half a decade of ebook hoarding, and I'm desperately trying to read as much as I can and delete everything that I don't like/don't want to reread. I don't remember how SELF CARE came across my radar. I probably saw an article about it somewhere because that's typically how I end up finding "hip" books like these. As someone who works in tech, I'm always a little amused by books that parody start-up culture because even though I think it's fun, there are definite flaws in the structure.

SELF CARE is a tough book to rate because I did find parts of it really funny and spot on... there just isn't a point? There's two ways of doing satire. There's satire with a point (some sort of end goal: a message, a funny story, an unexpected twist) and then there's the Antiques Roadshow sort of satire, where you just point at it, maybe laugh, and then you call it out and just move on to repeat steps 1-3.

This book is the Antiques Roadshow version of satire. It doesn't really do anything except do the literary equivalent of pointing its finger and going "ha ha!" After getting through a quarter of this book where all of the punchlines seemed to boil down to "MILLENNIALS, THEY'RE SO RIDICULOUS, AMMIRITE?" I started to get bored. I kind of feel like Self Care is for people who publicly brag about leaving Facebook and are also subscribed to The New Yorker. You know who you are.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

The Obsession by Jesse Q. Sutanto


Wow! This was a solid rollercoaster of twists and turns, replete with some feminist underpinnings, morally gray heroines, and serious stalker vibes. I feel like this is almost one of those 70s revenge-sploitation movies softened up for a YA audience with shades of YOU. If that sounds like fun, it is. Logan is a creep who could give all of r/niceguys a run for their money.

THE OBSESSION is a dual POV story about Logan and Delilah. Logan was obsessed with a girl named Sophie and now he's refixated on a girl named Delilah. Delilah is a good girl with some dark secrets and one of these secrets is that she's responsible for the murder of her mother's abusive boyfriend. Logan knows this and because of all his stalking, plans to blackmail her into a relationship for it. Delilah is sick to death of abusive entitled creeps who see her as a passive object and she's ready to take matters into her own hands.

Who will win?

This is a fast-paced story with two very compelling and equally scary narrators. There were some twists I was expecting and some twists I wasn't, which kept guessing fun. I had to suspend my disbelief a lot, though. I don't think this is intended to be super realistic. Think of those Point Horror thriller novels from the 90s, and you'll have an idea of the tone of this book. Even the title is reminiscent of those early Scholastic pulps. It just needs to be written in dripping red letters!

I liked this book and would definitely check out more from this author but I'm not sure I'd revisit this book. For a similar story that did it just a tiny bit better, I'd recommend THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES by Mindy McGinnis. If you liked that book, you'll probably like this one, as well.

3 out of 5 stars

Sigh, Gone: A Misfit's Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fit In by Phuc Tran


I bought SIGH, GONE on impulse because I'd heard so many great things about it from friends. SIGH, GONE is the memoir of Phuc Tran, who moved to the U.S. from Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in the Vietnam War. It's a pretty intense memoir filled with his experiences with culture shock, racism, punk culture, 1980s nostalgia, and, of course, his passion: literature.

One thing he does that I really liked was tie so many of his key experiences to some of his favorite works of literature. I probably would have appreciated this even more if I actually liked the books he was referencing but sadly his taste is pretty canon and mine is, well, not. My taste in lit-fic runs more to things like JANE EYRE and I CAPTURE THE CASTLE and DOCTOR ZHIVAGO.

Which leads me to what didn't really make this memoir work for me. Parts of it were so tedious. I loved the parts of his childhood, like his rise to skater boy fame among his peers or his angst over selling his comic books for punk gear, but oh my god, it was the longest three hundred pages ever. There was just so much extra padding.

I think if you grew up in this time period (he's about ten years older than me), like literary fiction, and have a really deep nostalgia for punk culture, this book will feel like coming home. I appreciated a lot about this book but I also ended up skimming a lot of what I didn't. Your mileage may vary.

2.5 out of 5 stars

In My Dreams I Hold a Knife by Ashley Winstead


Look at me handing out four and five star ratings left and right. Who even am I? Surely not Nenia, because Nenia is a book snob who is as stingy with her ratings as Ebeneezer Scrooge is with money. Clearly, there are only two possible explanations: either I've been replaced with a pod person version of myself OR I've just been reading some really, really exceptionally amazing books lately.


Anyway, let's talk about THIS book. IN MY DREAMS I HOLD A KNIFE is basically a collection of all my favorite tropes in books. It has a morally grey heroine who may or may not have done something bad. It has a close-knit group of friends who are splintered up by secrets and toxic relationships. It's dark academia. It's a locked room mystery. It's dual timeline. It's a little bit smutty. And, best of all, it has a woman coming back to confront the dark shadows of her past. Hallelujah, the angels are singing.

Jessica was such a great narrator. When she started at Duquette, she felt a lot like the poor relation at a fancy get-together, only to end up with a sort of "Breakfast Club" group of friends: Heather, the rich girl; Mint, the golden boy; Coop, the bad boy; Caro, the good girl; Frankie, the good-natured jock; and Jack, the wild card. Hanging out at the fringe of their relationship is Courtney, who's roommates with Heather, but unlike them, she isn't part of the Seven. The holy, uh, sevenity.

Except... one of them was murdered. And one of the remaining seven probably did it. Which they end up finding out when they go to a class reunion ten years later only to find them all in a "whodunnit" parlor mystery situation. Obviously, when I heard that this was the premise of the book I screamed. I've literally spent most of quarantine watching Midsummer Murders and old episodes of the 1980s Poirot, and this is basically the book equivalent of those things, splashed with a heaping dose of 2000s party culture and Hey, Look at Me NOW I'm Drunk with Power at My Class Reunion energy. 

I don't want to say too much more because less is definitely more going in, but this was very nearly a perfect book. I thought the POV swaps in the second half were a bit weird and there were some mild pacing issues, but apart from that I devoured this book like it was a box of savory chocolate truffles.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Pretty Little Wife by Darby Kane


Oh look, it's a stealth read! I've been reading this on the DL for the last week or so because I wasn't sure at first if I wanted to continue it. This book was a gift to me from my sister who knows how much I love my fucked up lady thrillers, as I call them, and PRETTY LITTLE WIFE had such a fascinating premise that I was really hoping it paid out. Plus, all I want to read lately is thrillers, apparently, and this totes fit the bill.

The story, on the surface, sounds pretty basic. Lila is the perfect wife with the perfect marriage and the perfect living in the perfect little college town. EVERYTHING IS SO PERFECT Y'ALL. But perfect is as perfect does, and when her husband, Aaron goes missing, things get sus on a bus. Especially since there have been other disappearances in town, too. Young women. The two events seem totally unconnected until it seems like maybe they are. And suddenly, oh noes, everything isn't perfect after all. BUMMER.

There are several plotlines in this book. There's Ginny, the police lady investigating the case, and Lila herself. There's also dual timelines, with Lila before and after her husband's disappearance. It gets a little confusing in the beginning but all the switching is necessary for gradually dealing out info like a literary PEZ dispenser. And just like a PEZ dispenser, you aren't going to settle for one tiny piece of candy. You want alllll the candy. So you keep turning the pages, hoping for more, even if it gives you a stomachache.

Ultimately, I did like the book. There's a bit of a feminist spin on this story, which I really liked. Lila is such a cold and compelling heroine and I found her pretty refreshing from the frazzled and messy heroines that usually populate these sorts of books (even though I relate more to the frazzled and messy characters on a personal level). The twists were truly fucked up and one of them honestly shocked me, so props to the author for that. I found the story a little long-winded and started skimming at several points. Multiple timelines usually work for me but I didn't really like how it was done here and I kind of wish we got more action and maybe even a little smut to make the plot juicier. I kept hoping Lila would find hot and sexy romance with a dangerous murderbae (hi Heather) who understood her needs.

IDK, maybe it's the dark romantic in me. Anyway, I SO did not get that, so boooo.

But the lack of romance fit the story, too, and so did the SERIOUSLY, FUCK MEN narrative. I know, I know, #NotAllMen. But Lila just seemed like such a shit magnet, and you could really feel her frustration on page as she is thrust into this horrible situation that she might or might not be a part of. Which makes the ending even more satisfying. No, no spoilers. Just read it and see.

3 out of 5 stars

Friday, December 24, 2021

My Lady's Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel by Kitty Curran


I bought this on impulse a while ago because I used to be crazy for "Choose Your Own Adventure" stories. I'm pretty sure they were a rite of passage among 90s bookworms. This one, MY LADY'S CHOOSING, is a CYOA story for adults-- specifically, adults who love romance novels.

It proceeds along as a regency-inspired wallpaper fiction, replete with all the usual suspects: sexy Scotsmen, brooding lords, and meanie old crones. I imagine there are several outcomes, but the paths I chose ended up with me getting paired up with the Scotsman.

First, I have to say, I admire the way that this book was put together. In some ways, the CYOA story works better as an ebook because you don't accidentally see spoilers while turning to the correct page and you can't cheat quite as easily. All you have to do is click the hyperlink to be transported to the next magical stage in your journey.

Mechanics aside, the story itself was pretty bland and the sex scenes featured descriptions like "arch your valley to meet his throbbing tor" and "You kiss like moss growing, wet and lush and full of secret direction." Um, yuck. No, thanks.

This would be a fun gag gift for someone who really loves romance novels, or a neat thing to bring to a White Elephant gift exchange, but apart from that I wasn't really keen.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Litani by Jess Lourey


I was inspired to read this after checking out my friend Heather's review, although I recommend doing what she said and skipping over the foreword, which is very spoilery and spoilers are totally Not Fun in a mystery like this where 95% of the fun is figuring out the Bad Things that are happening. And oh, what Bad Things they are.

Litani is a small town in the midwest. Our heroine, June, moves there from California after her father dies: an event for which she feels mysteriously responsible. In Litani, June is living with her aloof mother, a lawyer who separated from her dad long ago and who June visited only once, on an occasion that ended pretty miserably.

Right away, June realizes something isn't right in Litani. She's ambushed by a group of girls who beat her up and steal her shoes after telling her about something called The Game. All of the adults are either secretive or cagey, and her mother gives her some weird warning about not playing games with adults. The signs point to something incredibly fucked up happening. But what? And why?

So I ended up liking this a lot although not as much as I would have liked to. I loved June's voice and I think the author did a really good job having her sound like a teenage girl. I also loved the 80s setting and all of the 80s nostalgia (as well as the 80s playlist in the back of the book). The small town atmosphere and general aura of creepiness was also done well and kept me turning pages well into the night. Also, there's a kitten... and it DOESN'T die! WOOHOO! No on-page animal deaths!

Where this book fell a little short for me... June's obsession with plants came across as a little cheesy and there were some things going on that didn't really make sense. (I feel like I can say without spoilering anything major that her mother seemed to have some kind of personality disorder and no, this is never really addressed.) I guess I was expecting more of a revelatory twist, but the foreword and the summary kind of spoil too much, so it was more like just sitting here and waiting for the end.

I do like this book though and I think if you enjoy a lot of atmosphere in your thrillers, you'll like this too. Especially if you prefer psychological horror to on-page violence and gore.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Feminasty: The Complicated Woman's Guide to Surviving the Patriarchy Without Drinking Herself to Death by Erin Gibson


FEMINASTY was an incredible book that I bought purely on impulse. While I adore books on feminism, it was the comparison to Lindy West that sold me. Those are some mighty big shoes to fill, since West is an essayist goddess, but Erin Gibson understood the assignment. In this collection of essays, she tackles subjects such as Mike Pence, high heels, Planned Parenthood, teaching abstinence in lieu of sex ed, period politics, and so much more.

I loved this book. It made me laugh out loud multiple times even though the subjects inside were so grim. She's just so darn funny and I agreed with (almost) everything she had to say (CHUNKY NECKLACES ARE AWESOME, GIBSON, I'M SORRY). I would definitely recommend this book to fans of Lindy West, though, as tonally and politically, the two of them are very similar. The unapologetic feminism and ribald commentary were complete wins for me and now I'm thinking I probably have to check out Throwing Shade.

5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Look What You Made Me Do by Elaine Murphy


LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO seems to have escaped the notice of a lot of my friends. Most of them haven't read it, which surprised me, because usually when I pick up a thriller there's at least 2-4 people I can reliably count on to have read it. I was really intrigued by the premise of this one because it's about a girl with a serial killer sister who's been blackmailed into helping her dispose of the bodies. It sounded kind of like Oyinkan Braithwaite's MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER, only with two white girls, so obvs I was down.

Carrie has known that something has not been quite right with her sister for years. The thefts, the hidden cruelties, the lack of remorse. Under their parents' lack of authority, Becca blossoms into a full-blown psychopath, and Carrie goes from unwitting patsy to unwilling disposer of bodies. With her sister threatening to frame her for her crimes lest Carrie ever narc, it seems like Carrie is trapped in this cycle forever. Until a new serial happens on the scene.

I liked the first half of this book better than the second, although I liked both halves. Part of me kind of wishes that this was a YA because I felt like the dynamic between Becca and Carrie when they were young was really interesting, and how often do you read a YA mystery with a female psychopath? The second half was good but took some wild turns I wasn't expecting and kind of ended up becoming a "suspend your disbelief" rollercoaster.

LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO is a really fun book and I read through it in just two days. I'd definitely check out more from this author as I think she does morally gray female characters really well. If you enjoy books about disturbing ladies doing disturbing things, this is your jam.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Call Them by Their True Names by Rebecca Solnit


Rebecca Solnit is a very strong essayist but I find that some of her collections can be better than others. Personally, I found MEN EXPLAIN THINGS TO ME to be one of her more middling efforts, and THE MOTHER OF ALL QUESTIONS to be the strongest, simply because it was so raw and so powerful. CALL THEM BY THEIR TRUE NAMES falls somewhere between the two. There are some incredibly powerful essays in this book, like the one comparing Trump to the fable of The Fisherman and His Wife, or the one about the shooting of Alex Nieto and the gentrification of San Francisco.

As with all of her essay collections, Solnit isn't afraid to tackle tough subjects, whether it's about why we should get rid of Confederate statues (hard agree), or how female politicians are treated to ridiculous double standards (hard agree), or that the United States has a very uncomfortable habit of disenfranchising people of color, whether it's building a dangerous pipeline through Native lands or heavily gerrymanding areas where people of color live so as to make their votes count for less.

I feel like this book is written for people who are either clueless about the political system or who already agree with everything she says. But apart from a "YEAH, THAT'S RIGHT," I'm not really sure what this book accomplishes apart from supplying people who are less articulate in political matters (i.e. me) with a toolbox of vocabulary to talk about the issues that they wish they could change and want to hold others accountable for. That said, I think it's a worthwhile read. Especially her essays on Hillary Clinton and Alex Nieto. Both of those really touched me and one nearly brought me to tears.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, December 20, 2021

We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz


I was a little hesitant to pick up WE WERE NEVER HERE because the only other book I'd read by this author was a one-star read for me. But the gorgeous cover and the amazing premise hooked me in and didn't let go until the very last page. The book literally opens with a murder. So you know that there is a Very Bad Thing going on from the start. Despite that, I found myself avidly reading through the next 300+ pages, my eyes glued to the words like I was watching a train wreck. It's easy to keep people reading because they want to find out a mystery. It's a lot harder to keep people reading because they just want to find out more about the characters, and what happens to them.

Emily and Kristen are best friends, but their relationship isn't exactly the healthiest. I found myself relating to Emily really strongly because of her anxiety and her low self-esteem. That's the kind of internal dynamic that can make you a magnet for toxic friends and I'm sorry to say that kid and teen me had more of those than I wish I'd had. I cut them loose, but Emily doesn't have that luxury. Kristen is all she has, the lodestar for all of her emotional burdens. Which is why, when one of them kills a man, they're both in it together. Or are they?

I kept thinking what a great mini series this would be. There's so many mind games. The characters of the two women were so well done. And I really liked Emily's boyfriend, Aaron, and how he ended up being such a grounding presence in the face of all Emily's trauma. I also liked how you're never really sure what's going on. I found myself fearing for all the characters at some point. Bartz was careful to never make it clear who the "bad guy" in this equation really was. And at the same time, there's all this amazing rhetoric about victimhood and feminism that ended up making this book exactly the kind of thriller I love: female-centric, breezy, and populated with complex characters. Love.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda


WHERE THE WILD LADIES ARE is yet another book that I desperately wanted when ARCs were being handed out-- and lo, I did not get a copy. That's okay, though. Eventually, it went on sale and I was able to obtain a copy with the rest of the book peasants.

This is a collection of Japanese story retellings. At the end of the book, the author talks about some of her inspirations for the stories, so I did feel a little left out, as it seems like these folktales might be better known to Japanese people and those who study Japanese folktale. All of the stories revolve around female youkai, or spirits and demons and ghosts. Many of them are morbid, but in a weirdly wholesome way that reminded me of Tim Burton and some of the Cartoon Network shows like The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy and Courage the Cowardly Dog.

As others have pointed out, the strongest stories are in the beginning and the collection begins to taper off towards the end. My favorite was definitely the opening story, which is about a woman being haunted by the ghost of her aunt and also criticizes depillation and beauty standards, but some of my other favorites involves a sapphic romance between a woman and the spirit she dredged up while fishing, the story of a kitsune, and two pushy door-to-door lantern saleswomen.

This is a very strange collection of short stories but they were fun to read and I liked the feminist slant a lot of them had. There's nothing too off-putting or gory in here, so I think this would be a great Halloween read for people who want to join in on the fun but don't want to be too scared (e.g. me).

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

The Good Kings: Absolute Power in Ancient Egypt and the Modern World by Kara Cooney


This was such a frustrating read for me because I really wanted to like it. Unlike some of the reviewers for this book, I do share the author's politics, and I appreciated the way that Cooney discussed the colonist appropriation and whitewashing of Ancient Egypt, and how the way that we, in the modern world, glorify it is analogous to the way we (generic we) fetishize strongman leaders and absolute rule.

Unfortunately, some of these comparisons ended up feeling a bit like a stretch, which made the book feel like a painfully long TED talk or a padded-out op-ed piece. Learning that Cheops/Khufu was a jerk and Ankhenaten was just shy of a cult leader, for example, was really interesting, but it couldn't really carry the whole book, which had the dry tone of a textbook. It's clear that the author is passionate about her research and her views and I think that really comes across in the writing, it just wasn't as engaging as I would have hoped.

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

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand


 DNF @ 18%

There's been an increase in horror novels being targeted at young women and I'm super into that, because they tend to be less focused on gore and more on psychological and atmospheric elements, which are the two things that I really love in my horror stories when I choose to read them. It's more Gothic and less, you know, splatterpunk.

I've read four such books pretty recently. WHAT BIG TEETH, WILDER GIRLS, HOUSE OF HOLLOW, and now SAWKILL GIRLS. I loved HoH, I really liked WBT, I hated WG, and I was really bored by SG, sadly. It's not the worst of the lot but it felt very over-written to me because unlike some of the other stories, which gradually build up to the dark reveal, we're spoiled pretty early on into seeing what's really happening and then we're just expected to sit around and wait while it unfolds. I think my friend jade said it best in their review, when they describe the pacing as "glacial." There's three POVs and they're all filled with this purple prose style of writing that I might have liked when I was fourteen but feels slightly embarrassing now. I tried to stick it out but I'm not feeling this one. Your mileage may vary.

2 out of 5 stars

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips


With so many books about Greek gods trending these days, I'm honestly surprised that nobody has rediscovered this hilariously British 2007 publication that's kind of like a mythological version of Dogma. In present-day Britain, the gods have headquartered themselves in London in a mouldering old Victorian mansion. Aphrodite works at a sex hotline, Artemis walks dogs, Dionysus runs a risque nightclub, and Apollo works as a television psychic-- when he's not seducing women and turning those who rebuff him into trees.

Artemis gets very, very cross with her twin brother when she meets a talking Eucalyptus with an Australian accent that was one of his failed conquests. She ends up swearing her brother to an oath that he will no longer harm mortals until their powers come back. Unfortunately, Apollo has also pissed off Aphrodite, who gets a very evil idea of getting her own form of revenge on him. One that involves a human girl named Alice and her son, the newly Christian pastor, Eros.

This is a very dark comedy that manages to capture the Greek gods in all their petty fuckery. A lot of the romances I've read really smooth over their faults. Not here. The Greek gods are dicks, and Phillips isn't afraid to show them at their pettiest. It makes sense, in a way, that if you live forever and have superhuman powers, your best source of entertainment would come from one-upping/humiliating those who have similar powers to you. It's also a hero's journey, which features Alice and her friend and maybe more, Neil, who is a very unexpected but still very endearing hero.

Be forewarned that this book does contain content others might not like. These are Greek gods, so there's allusions to sexual assault (on and off-page), sexual content and situations, lots of drinking (I feel like Dionysus's wine is probably grape Everclear), murder, dismemberment, and more. Nothing is particularly graphic but it's there. There's a happy ending, though, and some incredibly funny moments to balance out the darker stuff, so I would still recommend this to lovers of Greek mythology.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson


The first time I read this book was as an ARC when it first came out and I couldn't stop thinking about it. THE SUMMER PRINCE was one of the first diverse sci-fi-fantasy books I ever read and it totally blew me away. It's set in a dystopian matriarchal society in a futuristic Brazil, where all of the leaders are women and everyone old expects to live to two hundred. They elect their kings in an elaborate, Hunger Games-like ceremony every five years, and the king, in turn, chooses his new queen one year later: on the day of his sacrificial execution.

Our heroine, June, is an activist/artist, kind of like a female Banksy. She does all of these elaborate art pranks and one of these is at the very beginning, with her friend Gil, to help elect the underdog choice: a boy from the very worst parts of Palmares Tres named Enki. The prank works and the three of them end up first as glamorous poster children for the opulent party scene, and then as icons of rebellion. As the year goes on, the three of them become incredibly close: Gil and Enki become lovers and June starts to fall for him too, all the while, his fate hangs over the three of them like the sword of Damocles.

I think I loved this book just as much the second time. I loved the way Brazilian culture and the Portuguese language are woven into the story. I liked the heroine's passion for art, and how it ends up taking a more political bent as she sees more of the injustice that's inherent in the system that she's been blind to because of her privilege. I liked how there wasn't really a lot of slut-shaming, and how all of the characters in this book felt like real people making real decisions in this fantastic backdrop. It takes a while to get into, but I think the heroine sells the world-building, and her melancholy and wistfulness end up making this a pretty devastating read, especially as the story winds to the end.

I was a bit torn on whether to give this a four or a five. It's not a perfect book, but it's still a very, very good one, so I've decided to round up because I've never read anything like it before and I still love it.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Wilder Girls by Rory Power


DNF @ 11%

What even was this book? It was weird as all get out and I'm not really sure what genre it was trying to be because it was so many things. I didn't really like the narrative style at all and the world-building didn't work for me at all. I bought this because I'm on a creepy YA bender and a lot of my friends really liked WILDER GIRLS-- but a lot of my friends also really didn't like WILDER GIRLS and I think I side with them.

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars

House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland


HOUSE OF HOLLOW is one of the best horror stories I've ever read. I don't even normally like horror because I am a soft and jellied wimp, but I do like fairytales, and this is like the darkest of the lot: a story of three girls who went missing at the stroke of midnight while their parents fretted and worried, only for them to return, not quite the same, with matching scars on their throats and discolored hair and eyes. Ten years later, Vivi, Grey, and Iris Hollow are beautiful and exceptional girls, but beneath all of the gloss is the dark shadow of their shared pasts and the truth of why they really went missing.

Part of what made this such a win for me is the beautiful prose. It's like biting into a truffle, only to find it filled with rot. The exquisite writing masks the horrors until it's too late to run and by that point, you're so invested, you probably won't even want to. And don't be fooled by the dreamy teen narrator and the flowers on the cover: this book has triggers of all kinds, with many scenes of body horror, and some pretty emotionally devastating blows. There's one scene towards the end that really wrecked me and nearly made me cry.

I would recommend this to people who like really dark stories that explore deep topics and horror that goes beyond splatterpunk and gore. The whole time I was reading this book, I kept picturing it as a movie, with the same visuals as movies like Velvet Buzzsaw, Paradise Hills, and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. I think if you enjoy those things, you'll probably like this book, too.

4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars

56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard


Okay, so officially I read to 40%, skimmed to 75% and then read to the end, because I could feel myself becoming really annoyed with this book and I wanted to find out what happened but I didn't want to have to wade through all the padding to do it. 56 DAYS has the bones of a really good story and there were parts of it I liked. It opens up with what appears to be a murder at an apartment complex. We don't know who-- or why.

Flash back in time (56 days ago) to the meeting of Ciara and Oliver. They chat at a grocery store and end up going on first one date, then many, before ultimately moving in together. We see their relationship progress in the past interspersed with the SLOWEST PROCEDURAL SCENES I HAVE EVER READ in the present. These parts are all padding and they are a chore to read. I wanted to find out what happened between Ciara and Oliver, but I didn't want to read 300+ pages to get there. I feel like this would have been a stronger book without the padding and I wonder if maybe an editor or someone told this author that no, her book needed to be longer. That person was a fool.

I wasn't all that satisfied with the ending or the big "twist." I will say that I went into this book expecting one thing and it ended up being another, and I'm not really sure I liked that "another" thing it turned out to be. Catherine Ryan Howard is not a bad writer and her descriptions of Dublin made me ache to go back and visit Ireland (after COVID, of course), but this book wasn't it.

2 out of 5 stars

Friday, December 17, 2021

The Girls Weekend by Jody Gehrman


Picture The Hangover but smooshed up with THE HUNTING WIVES like it's a bunch of murder guacamole. If that sounds like something you think you might enjoy with a beer and some chips, you'd be so, so right. Jody Gehrman has had a major glow-up since her YA writing days. I remember I had so much disappointment when I read BABES IN BOYLAND. By contrast, this book is incredibly sophisticated and kept me totally guessing what really happened until the very end.

June is an English professor with a lot of regrets. Some of those regrets revolve around her college friends, who she's meeting with this weekend because one of them is having a baby and the Queen Bee wants to throw her a baby shower. The Queen Bee is, of course, Sadie: the most successful in their friend group, who sold a YA fantasy series that became an incredibly popular movie series and landed the hot Scottish guy who just so happens to be June's ex. AWK.

Also starring at this party are Kimiko, who owns a cannabis dispensary; Amy, the pregnant friend who is also bipolar; Em, the steady and reliable friend with secrets; and Dakota, Sadie's teen daughter. The party kicks off to a not-so-great start as past resentments simmer and alcohol gets poured. The next thing they know, they're all waking up with hazy memories and remnants of a night gone wrong surrounding them-- and Sadie is missing. What really happened last night? And did it end in MURDER?!

This book was so fun. It's one of those books that you just get totally immersed in because of the good story-telling and characterization, even if it feels similar to a number of other books out there. It's really well-executed and FUN. I regretted absolutely nothing when I put this book down. It felt like I'd worked my way through a box of fine chocolates. Yes, I feel like I overdid it and need a nap, but was it satisfying AF? OH YES. Part of the fun with books like these is trying to figure out WHODUNNIT. And when I read books like these, there are always two wolves inside me: one wants to be right, and one wants to be surprised. Being right is gratifying but being surprised is way more fun. 

This book... it SURPRISED me!

I would recommend THE GIRLS WEEKEND to anyone who really enjoys these sort of gossipy-toned murder mysteries that kind of read like Desperate Housewives on steroids. I seriously can't get enough of the genre. It's like my kryptonite. If it's yours, too, then you'll probably like this.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Influencer: Building Your Personal Brand in the Age of Social Media by Brittany Hennessy


I've been curious about this book for a while because I would like to take my blogging and Bookstagramming to a more professional level. Over the past couple years, I've inexplicably gained a bigger following and to be honest, it doesn't always feel deserved. The sense of impostor syndrome is real, y'all, and I'm always trying to better myself personally and professionally. I thought this would help with the latter.

First and foremost, this is not really a "how to get followers and influence people" type of book. There's a little bit of that, but INFLUENCER seems primarily geared towards people who are already on the cusp of influencer fame and trying to get monetized and therefore assumes that they have some sort of following already. So this book is about what to charge, how to negotiate, and how to manage your following. That is so not me at this point in my life. I'm not even a micro-influencer. I'm, like, a micro-micro-influencer. And if you're at the same level as me or below, this book is probably going to make you feel like trash. After reading this, I scrolled through my Instagram and I definitely felt those trash vibes.

Second, this book seems to be primarily marketed towards people who want to go into lifestyle, fashion, and makeup influencing which is, again, so not me. I don't think I'm bad to look at, but I also don't think any 18-40 year old with disposable income is going to be looking at a picture of me in jeans and sunglasses and think to themselves, "I WANT TO LOOK LIKE HER." Maybe they'll think, "I want those jeans and sunglasses," but that says more about the jeans and sunglasses. I'm a book blogger, dammit! 90-95% of my content is book related, which makes some of the advice in this book super unhelpful to me. Like, there's this one passage that kind of made fun of people who don't have other people in their pictures for not having any friends (not in those exact words, but that was the gist), and it just didn't sit well with me. Introverts can influence too! We just do it... quietly.

Which brings me to point the third, there's like this brisk tone to the book that I didn't really like. The author is obviously super competent at her job and I guess she deals with more bullshit than she would like in a given day (I could never be a director of influencer talent), and I'm sure the tough love vibes this book gives off will appeal to or be necessary for some, but I didn't like it. I don't know how to describe it exactly, but it gave off Big Shot L.A. Movie Producer Talking on a Cell Phone energy. For an inspirational book, there sure was a lot of, "Guess what? You just missed your big break." It felt demoralizing. Maybe it's supposed to. Fame and influence are not for the fragile-ego'd.

There are a number of talking points that I think are really great, though. Like, professional influencing is a job and it's not quite like being a celebrity, so if you are in this sphere, it makes sense that nobody will want to work with you if you're a diva or unprofessional. She has a section at the end of each portion called "Don't Be That Girl" which is about someone who pulled a foolish or dickish move that blew their big shot. And I actually enjoyed these portions in the same way that I enjoy YouTube "tea channels," but, again, they weren't all that helpful for me. I'm happy when people send me free books in the mail and the idea of being like, "Book me for this campaign and also pay for my pet to travel" is the kind of peak entitlement I just cannot fathom. Like, who are you? I also liked the emphasis on how good content takes time and money and work, and it's not easy to make it look that easy. Which is common sense, but easy to forget if someone's doing a good job. I remember taking a photo of a pile of books and shuffling around for almost twenty minutes trying to get them just the right amount of casually disarrayed. I felt like a fool, but did that stop me from trying to get the perfect shot? No.

INFLUENCER is a quick, breezy read and it gives a mix of general advice and specific advice, but it is important to keep in mind that this is more for someone looking to monetize their content and not really a guide to getting more followers. It also doesn't have any photos; all of the examples of success are either from influencers the author has reached out to or examples from the author's own work experience on the brokering side. So if you're looking for a sort of bookish mood board to better curate your content, there's absolutely none of that in here. I'm not sorry I read it but it wasn't quite what I was hoping for, either. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go post some poor-quality photos on my Insta.

3 out of 5 stars

WtAFW: The Haunted Vagina by Carlton Mellick III


So I have a project called What the Actual F*** Wednesday where I read the weirdest of the weird. My friends and followers nominate books they want to see me read, and this title was recommended to me by like three people this week, so I guess I just had to read it.

Steve, the hero, has an eccentric girlfriend. She has all these "cute" quirks, like the fact that she stayed in college until she was thirty majoring in useless things, or the fact that she's fluent in Russian even though she's Thai because she was adopted, or that she goes to seafood restaurants and orders steak, or that she likes to lick-- yes, that's right, LICK-- her glasses clean. Like she's a cat or something, IDK. I don't make the rules.

One day, while Stacy, Ms. Quirkycentric, and Steve, are doing it, he hears strange noises coming from "down there," and there's a skeleton hand "down there," and suddenly she's birthed a skeleton. The whole thing weirds them out so much that they immediately go out for a drink, and Stacy decides that the thing to do is to have Steve go up "there" on the most horrible spelunking journey ever to figure out what's really going on in her chamber of secrets if you get me.

Well, he does... and it's horrible. Like, the description of it is horrible and what goes on in there is horrible. I'm not sure I can actually describe it all in detail since I'm cross-posting this review to Amazon, but, like, the plastic girl on the cover is Stacy's imaginary childhood friend Fig who's, I guess, made out of plastic. And there's like a whole demonic "Narnia" in there. And eventually Steve ends up putting down literal and figurative roots in there, becoming a permanent plastic resident of this horrible Narnia, shacking up with Fig and treating us to some of the worst sex scenes I've ever read.

Don't even get me started on the scene when Steve finds out Stacy is cheating on him WHILE HE'S IN "THERE." I've read some truly messed up stuff for the sake of this project, but this was some serious nightmare fuel. You've heard of manic pixie dreamgirls? Well, these are manic demon nightmaregirls.

I can't believe I spent five bucks on this. The things I do for y'all, I swear.

1 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic


I'm new to project leadership so I've been trying to read at least one book about managing, data, and design every month to get fresh ideas about how to do my work and where to take my career (hence my new Goodreads shelf, tech-boss-babe-reading-list). STORYTELLING WITH DATA went on sale recently for $4.99 and I decided to snap it up since graphs and charts aren't exactly my strongest point as someone who tends to be more verbal and less mathematically inclined.

Some of the complaints for this book are that it teaches the basics. That might be disappointing for people who take to this sort of thing easily or have been doing it for years, but for newbies like me, it's really great. I like how the author included "before" and "after" examples, as well as examples of what "good" and "bad" displays of data look like.

My one complaint is that she doesn't really talk about tools. She says it's to make the stuff he talks about more relevant to everyone, by keeping things simple, and she does link to templates and other sources that give more in-depth how-tos with specific software, but I guess I was kind of hoping for a "Graphing on Excel for Dummies" checklist, so I will admit to being a little disappointed.

Overall, though, this has some really great lists of what to do and what not to do and it will help people who do not think abstractly or mathematically tell "stories" with data in a way that makes sense.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

This Is Not the Jess Show by Anna Carey


Le sigh. The Truman Show is one of my favorite movies, so obviously when I heard that THIS IS NOT THE JESS SHOW was being compared to it, I was all over that like white on rice. And at first, I was really intrigued. Jess is your stereotypical 90s girl and the book is awash in 90s nostalgia, which I was super into. But then one day her friend drops a mysterious glowing device with an Apple logo on it. What could it be?! Suddenly, things start happening that have Jess questioning her reality, which is on the verge of shattering.

I liked the beginning of this book but the second half was such a slog. I felt like the author had an interesting idea about how people fetishize the past, and the book was kind of like Truman Show meets Pleasantville. But it was like all her inspo stopped at the concept and she wasn't quite sure how to have her story pan out.

Quirk Books usually delivers on the fun, but this was a bit of a disappointment. It's not a bad book but if you've seen The Truman Show already, there's no real surprises and it just kind of feels like an urban 90s version of what Truman was doing with 60s middle America. I'm not a fan and probably won't be continuing.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

The Marriage Lie by Kimberly Belle


I can't remember the last time I read a book where I wanted to slap the heroine every other page. THE MARRIAGE LIE is that center part of a Venn diagram where the two interlocking circles are labeled "domestic thriller" and "book I bought at the airport because they were all out of Tom Clancy." Iris thinks she has the perfect married life with her husband, Will, until there's a big airline crash and she finds out that, contrary to what she thought, her husband was on the plane. A plane going in the wrong direction of where he said he'd be.

More and more inconsistencies pile up and Iris realizes that her husband wasn't the man she thought he was. That he might have done something terribly wrong. As she works her way through her grief, she basically acts like the worst person ever, screaming and blowing up at everyone while refusing to hear a negative word about her husband or deal with his death. Which I totally understand is a part of grief. But it did not make it easy to like this heroine, especially when she trumpets, "I'M A PSYCHOLOGIST!" before barging into every stupid interaction she puts her in. Like, lady. I'm not sure you know what psychology IS.

The whole book kind of feels like a low budget direct-to-DVD action movie for women. Which isn't a bad thing. But it also didn't deliver the twists and intensity that I was hoping for. It ended up becoming pretty predictable, and while I was invested enough to read the book to the end, I was kind of mad when I put the book down. What even WAS that ending? It's like the author thought Iris needed to be even more unlikable, just to really hammer down the point. The writing style is clean and easy to follow and the pacing was done well (hence why I couldn't put it down), but there were a lot of questions left unanswered and it's not clear where Ms. I'M A PSYCHOLOGIST will end up now.

I'd probably read more from this author but I wouldn't recommend this book. Also, I just realized that even though I said it's basically "airport fiction," what with the whole plane crash subplot, I'm not even sure I'd recommend this for airplane flights, unless you're a masochist with a sick sense of humor.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Nice Girls by Catherine Dang


DNF @ 54%

I'm sorry to say that I wasn't really into this book at all. I wanted to read NICE GIRLS because it showed up on a recommended list for people who enjoyed WATCH THE GIRLS, which is probably one of my all-time favorite books that I've read this year. I noticed it had a low rating but that didn't really bother me because unlikability of the heroine is one of those negligible points that I can put aside if the story is good and the heroine seems to have reasons to act the way she does.

I was delighted that Heather agreed to BR this with me, because in addition to BR-ing WATCH THE GIRLS with me, she was also there for BEAUTIFUL BAD, which was another twisty thriller with a problematic female lead that ended up being really good. NICE GIRLS starts out strong with the heroine being kicked out of her Ivy League school due to a physical altercation with a younger girl. She goes to her hometown, where she was known first as the unattractive chubby girl and then as the success story. Now she's the prodigal failure.

Drama quickly ensues because a girl she knew as a kid who's now a successful influencer (Olivia) goes missing. A body is found in a lake but testing reveals it to be the arm of a young Black woman named DeMaria. Our brilliant heroine Mary assumes it's a serial killer and promptly starts doing investigating of her own, which includes going to the home address of the DeMaria's grieving mother and asking for an interview, pestering her ex-childhood friend's father at his restaurant, and prying for more info from the police. (1) this makes no sense since I didn't really get what the emotional stakes were here. It's not like the book IF I DISAPPEAR, where the heroine was a morbidly curious true crime aficidionado, or a Gillian Flynn book where she's looking into a friend or relative. This was just... because I felt like it. (2) this is the kind of unlikable I don't like because it's done without basis or purpose. It felt like the plot was making the heroine do things instead of her character.

I'm really not enjoying this book at all so I'm dropping it at just halfway through. I could forgive the unlikable thing but I can't forgive boring and baseless. Every time it seemed like a twist was going somewhere, it would fizzle out and eventually, so did my interest.

1.5 out of 5 stars

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor


I loved AKATA WITCH so much. It was so different and yet it also shares so many similarities to the dark academia fantasy books I love. I guess with a young adult book about magical children, comparisons to Harry Potter are inevitable, but this reminded me more of VITA NOSTRA, a dark work of speculative fantasy penned by a Ukrainian husband and wife duo, where magic is intensely philosophical and transforms you physically and mentally the more you learn.

Even though I would classify AKATA WITCH as dark academia, I like that it solidly rejects that classist European boarding school structure. Sunny first learns of her abilities when she sees the end of the world in a candle frame. Her friend, Orlu, takes her to his friend, Chichi, who recognizes the magic in her and takes her to their mentor, who helps her unleash her powers and start on her training journey.

Sunny is albino, and there are a lot of superstitions about albinism being magical in Africa, so I thought that was a really interesting choice for the author to make-- especially since we see how Sunny is discriminated against and rejected by her peers for being different and sounding different and looking different, since she has an American accent from being brought up in the U.S. One thing I really liked about this magic system is that innate ability is tied to the physical, usually in some sort of equal or opposite measure. So people who are physically disabled might be able to shapeshift, and people who are blind can have the Sight. This idea of compensating people for their physical "flaws" and making it part of their power was really cool.

The magic system is also really interesting. I liked how their juju knives sort of "choose" them (yes, like Harry Potter). Here, that covenant feels more sacred though, since Sunny bonds with her knife with blood. I like how the magical money works in this world too (chittim). They receive chittim for gaining knowledge-- it literally falls from the sky-- so when they try out a new spell, fix a problem, or even learn something new about themselves, they are rewarded with this magic money that can be used to buy magical goods in magical shops. Like Harry Potter, there is also a magical world and a mundane world. They call themselves "Leopard" people and people without magic are called "Lambs" and the two worlds are supposed to be separate but obviously, there are slip-ups, and there are people in charge who dole out punishments for offenses.

The main source of conflict comes from an evil man named Black Hat Otokoto who is using children for dark magic. Some people will probably compare him to Voldemort but honestly, he reminded me more of Rose the Hat from Doctor Sleep, what with the children sacrifices and the hat and all that. I think he's a really sinister villain and he really adds a real sense of stakes to the book, which is so much darker than any other magical children fantasy book I've read. Messing up a spell can lead to death, and magic can also conjure up spirits and gods, so it's really important not to go beyond one's level or act with malice, especially since magic can turn around and kill the person who performs the spell.

One thing I also really liked is how we are introduced to the world of Leopard people alongside Sunny through excerpts from her guide book, "Fast Facts for Free Agents," and how it's also acknowledged to be an imperfect work that has classist, sexist, and racist undertones. There's a discussion about how knowledge doesn't always lead to wisdom and how motive has to be analyzed when considering a source, which I thought was a really refreshing take from the "read this book and take it at complete face value" dialogues that usually emerge from books of this type.

AKATA WITCH was really fun and really unusual and I loved the Nigerian setting. Sunny, Chichi, Orlu, and Sasha are pretty young teens (13/14) but the book doesn't feel young, and I'm not sure I'd necessarily categorize this book as middle grade because the characters and the concepts feel like they're being targeted at an older audience. It's immersive and epic in scope, and I managed to burn through it in just a couple days because I was having such a good time. I really can't wait to read further into the series. I hope we get to see these characters grow up as they come into themselves.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor


DNF @ 38%

I'm reading AKATA WITCH right now and it is fantastic, so obvs that meant that I when I realized I had BINTI on my Kindle as well, I gave it a quick look-see to see if I wanted to dive right in after I finish AKATA. Sadly, I don't think this book is for me. Lest you say, "Well, you're not a sci-fi reader," you would be totes wrong. When I'm not reading bodice-rippers, I read a lot of sci-fi, and I grew up on both of the big "Star" franchises as a kid. And actually, one of the things I admired about this book was the integration of the pseduo-African culture of the heroine into this world and how it uses this to call out racism against Black people (hair politics, assuming poverty and lack of intelligence, colonizer mentality, etc.). I just think it's too small of a vehicle to do what it wants to do. AKATA is a full-length book (albeit a short one) and everything flows beautifully. In this book, the pacing is off and we're kind of just thrown into the world-building. I think Okorafor is an incredibly talented and imaginative writer, but this is not really her best work (in my opinion).

2 out of 5 stars

Monday, December 13, 2021

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors


Whoa. This was absolutely fantastic. In case you didn't know, Patrisse Khan-Cullors is one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement (a movement I totally support, BTW). When this book went on sale recently, I snapped it up without a thought. I wanted to know more about this woman who started a movement to call out the broken systems and infrastructural injustices that deny Black people the "unalienable" right to life, but also impose oppression and segregation through societal structures rife with racial biases, with disproportionate arrests that carry hidden lifelong sentences, keeping people of color down by preventing them from getting jobs or subsidized housing and then condemning them further when they have no choice but to resort to crime. It's sickening and it should be called out, and the voices of those doing so ought to be amplified.

But this book is so much more than a manifesto. It's also a memoir in which Khan-Cullors talks about what it was like growing up poor, and how her educational system gradually began to fail her as she got older and less adorable. More "dangerous." She writes about her relationships and her love for her brother, who suffered from schizoaffective disorder and manic episodes and instead of getting the care he should have received during one of these episodes, was tased and shot with rubber bullets and delivered to his court hearing strapped up like Hannibal Lecter. This insight into her life allows us not to just get to know her as a person, but also understand the anger and despair that led her, and others, to found the Black Lives Matter movement in the first place.

This book is hard to read but so, so worth it. Even though it has trigger warnings for basically everything across the board, I felt like Khan-Cullors only gives details when relevant and necessary. She is a powerful and compelling story-teller and her words carry real emotional weight. I honestly don't understand how anyone can read these words and not empathize and not understand that the United States has a major injustice problem that needs to be addressed here and now.


4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen, and Candy Stripe Nurses: Roger Corman, King of the B-Movie by Chris Nashawaty


This book was so fun! I actually don't watch a lot of movies or television (I prefer books), but I do have a major soft spot for camp. So the idea of reading CRAB MONSTERS, TEENAGE CAVEMEN, and CANDY STRIPE NURSES really appealed to me because Roger Corman was a huge producer of pulpy horror, exploitation films, and cheesy Westerns, which are all things that I grew up watching (and still watch) with my brother and dad.

I really liked the production of this book. It's got a ton of amazing color photographs so you can see things like lobby cards, movie posters, and behind-the-scenes shots of iconic movies. I thought it was really cool how super famous actors and directors worked with Corman before they made it big. So many of these movies were low budget but ended up making quite a big profit because they gave the people what they wanted. And the people responded by joyously forking over their cash.

It's an oral history, so huge swaths of the book consist of interviews with actors, directors, and even the Ramones (who starred in one of Corman's films-- I think it was called Rock n' Roll High School). Fair warning: one of the people interviewed was Harvey Weinstein (luckily, I think he only appeared once). That didn't really age all that well. I should also point out that some of the photos depict gore or nudity.

I liked this book a lot more than I thought I would! One of my ongoing projects is trying to clean out my Kindle and I have so many weird books like this because I just impulsively buy whatever looks even remotely interesting as soon as it goes on sale. I went into this book mildly curious and came out of it with a watch-list and another book about Roger Corman that I picked up with my Kindle Unlimited sub: Beverly Gray's BLOOD-SUCKING VAMPIRES, FLESH-EATING COCKROACHES, AND DRILLER KILLERS. Sounds like a blast.

4 out of 5 stars