Friday, August 12, 2022

WtAFW: Bear by Marian Engel

 

BEAR falls into a genre of fiction called "scatlit," which is my name for authors who clearly would rather be writing erotica but decided to write literary fiction for the $$$, and instead of being lambasted for being gross or smutty, they are instead praised for being "brave" and "daring," and win awards and even get their books blurbed by Margaret Atwood.

I have a weekly challenge called "What the Actual F*** Wednesday" where I let my readers pick something that's really weird for me to read and review. The rules of the challenge clearly state "please pick something under $5" but my friends and followers are evil people and they kept telling me to read "the bear book," AKA "Canada's Secret Shame." So I ended up spending $10 on this dumb book, and it wasn't even the version from the 70s that looks like a bodice-ripper.

I don't even know how to describe this book. It's like the pretentious meanderings of a hipster with some smut thrown in. Like, did I really need to know about how the author-- oops, I mean the main character-- ranks certain classic works of fiction, or that she considers morels superior to truffles? I mean, we've all got to soapbox and this book was published before blogs, so I get it. But on the other hand, you just wrote a book about bear smut, so was there any cognitive dissonance at all when penning this treatise criticizing other peoples' taste?

Speaking of bear smut, it takes forEVER to get to the "mane event" (pun intended). Like halfway through. And it's gross. First of all, we're told how ugly the bear is for most of the beginning of the book, and there's lengthy descriptions of pooping, peeing and farting. The heroine pees in the freshly fallen snow, the bear and the heroine take dumps together in the morning, the bear farts when he walks away. We're told that he has piggish eyes and looks kind of pathetic. He also lives in a shed on a chain. And the previous owner of the cabin has all these weird notes that he's been leaving in his books that suggest that he might have secretly been a furry.

The sex scenes are gross, and the heroine also has an affair with a married man who's also a sexist jerk. The bear doesn't like it when he smells the man on her, and when she and the bear actually try to do it, the bear gets over-excited and claws up her back so badly that she gets a fever and has to lie down in her blood-soaked shirt. I'm not sure if this is supposed to be some sort of allegory for a woman's sexual awakening, but if that's what it was, it was stupid. This book was stupid. No shade to the people who enjoyed it... but WHY did you enjoy it??

If a bear dumps in the woods, I don't want to know about it, Marian Engel, you big weirdo.

1 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Hawk O'Toole's Hostage by Sandra Brown

 

People in the romance community keep trying to shame people from using terms like "guilty pleasure," but there is literally no other way to describe the entertainment I get from books like old skool Sandra Brown, where I know that they're problematic and it's embarrassing to talk about them, but I still shell out coin for them, anyway.

The thing is, nobody writes sleazy-hot alpha dudes like Sandra Brown. Her leading men are a little like Linda Howard's, but way more gamma, which I prefer, because I stan an intelligent man with dubious morals (*whispers* IN FICTION). Nowadays, Brown mostly writes romantic suspense that's heavy on the suspense and light on the romance, but back in the day, she wrote these pretty hardcore villain romances. 

HAWK O' TOOLE'S HOSTAGE is about a woman named Miranda who is on a train tour with her son when it gets hijacked by "bandits." At first they think it's part of the entertainment, but it turns out the bandits are real, and when they start to make off with her six-year-old son, she basically throws herself after them and makes herself such a nuisance that they take her too, as one does.

It turns out that the "bandits" are a bunch of angry Native Americans who plan on using the son, Scott, as a hostage to appeal to his father's mercy. His father is a bigwig politician and they think he can be pressured into reopening a silver mine that they depend on as part of their tribe's income, but was closed as a tax write-off by the greedy people who swindled the land from their grandparents. Hawk is a Native man of Irish ancestry who resents his "Anglo" heritage almost as much as he resents the heroine for traipsing in like a tall drink of water that he wouldn't mind chugging like a man dying of thirst in the desert.

This actually really reminds me of this other Native romance she wrote under her Erin St. Clair penname, called HONOR BOUND, from the captivity theme to the half-Native hero, to the annoying kid. This is a much better book, though. I found HONOR BOUND uncomfortable and offensive. This one was a little squirmy and definitely hit a lot of negative stereotypes about Native people, but here, I felt like the author was kind of trying to be respectful, whereas with HB, it was like she was veering well out of her lane as an author while screaming "YOLO!" with her hands off the wheel.

Hawk was hot and the sexual tension was off the charts. I can definitely see why this hasn't been rereleased for Kindle, though. It probably wouldn't get published today without some major revisions.

3 out of 5 stars

WtAFW: Pounded In The Butt By The Sentient Manifestation Of My Own Ignorant Climate Change Denial by Chuck Tingle

 

Chuck Tingle writes the kinds of books where you take one look at the title and think, "No way is this real." This book was included free with his other erotica about the sentient manifestation of the blue wave, and if you thought that was weird, just wait until you read this book: the story of a Donald Trump-- sorry, I mean, Domald Tromp-- supporter who ends up being pounded in the butt by the physical manifestation of his own climate change denial, which also happens to look like a tree.

Chuck Tingle must have access to some pretty amazing weed where he lives.

Not really sure what to say about this book. I think the title says it all. If you're at all familiar with the WTFerotica genre, you'll know what to expect: everyone is horny, there's some pretty over the top scenes, and nothing makes sense. The dialogues about climate change and selflessness seem especially out of place here, but just by looking at the title, you'll know that this book is going into things with an agenda. And unlike some books with agendas, Tingle's at least seems to be a positive one.

I'm not sure how I feel about a dude being fucked in the ass by a tree, though. The sphincter splinters I'm imagining are about the furthers thing from sexy that I can fathom.

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

WtAFW: Pounded in the Butt by the Blue Wave by Chuck Tingle

 

It's my first Chuck Tingle! I can't believe it's taken this long to get here but here we are, Pounded in the Butt by My Own Slow Reluctance to Accept True Genius. Because I'm now convinced that Mr. Tingle is, indeed, a genius. Reading this Vox article gives you a better idea of his motivations as a person, and honestly, how can you not like a person who refers to his fans as "buckaroos" and trolls the alt-right for charity?

Yellon is a pollster dressed in spiffy pollster clothes, but he has a not so spiffy pollster problem: despite all of the media articles out there touting the rise of the blue wave, the poll data is looking pretty, uh, flat. And not flat in a poundable way, but flat in a distinctly unsexy way. Yellon goes out in the world to figure out what's wrong, only to come face to face with the physical manifestation of a sentient concept, the blue wave itself, cruising around in its fancy voter mobile.

After a lunch date where they hit it off, Yellon realizes two things: one, he's only been polling people likely to vote and hasn't taken into account people, especially young people, who have historically not shown up to the polls (and now are! in droves!), and two, the blue wave is a consent king who desperately wants to take him to the poles-- the bed poles, that is-- so he can be pounded in the butt.

I'm not really sure what to make of this book. It's pretty bad, but it's a step up from other bad erotica that I have read in terms of writing style (even if there are some hilarious typos that I'm not even sure were an accident). The social commentary is pretty on point, even if it's buried in porn music and splooge, and like I said before, I can't be mad at a secret genius who revels in his own chaotic good. 

That said, there's no way I can give this a positive rating because it was so horrible, and lacked the certain je ne sais quois that I expect from stories of this type. But I love that this book apparently is a double feature, containing a free copy of POUNDED IN THE BUTT BY THE SENTIENT MANIFESTATION OF MY OWN IGNORANT CLIMATE CHANGE DENIAL.

This sounds promising.

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, August 7, 2022

That Can Be Arranged: A Muslim Love Story by Huda Fahmy

 

I just read YES, I'M HOT IN THIS by this author, only to realize that THAT CAN BE ARRANGED was on sale (I think as the Deal of the Day, so sorry if you're reading this and it's not on sale anymore). I really like this author's voice. She's the perfect blend of funny and relatable and it doesn't come across as too contrived as some memoirists do when trying too hard to be funny or likable. Huda Fahmy just is likable.

Her other book tackled some of the questions she gets as a Muslim American woman living in the United States, while also discussing some of the things that were universal to the American experience (first crushes gone awry, awkward teen years), while also divulging things that were unique to her and her cultural background. It also debunks a lot of the harmful stereotypes that people-- especially people in the U.S.-- have against Muslim and Middle Eastern people.

THAT CAN BE ARRANGED is a little less serious than the other book. It's basically a true love story about how she met her husband, Gehad. She also talks about dating within the parameters of Islam, which I found really interesting. She actually compares it to being in the ton of Regency England, and says that she liked it because it made her think of Jane Austen. I also thought she brought up the good point that having your parents vet your relationships helps prevent some of the mistakes that we make in our youth, which isn't something I really think about. But mostly, I was just here for the cute, fluffy romance. I realized I was more invested than I thought when the book ended and I was like, WAIT, WHAT? WHAT COMES NEXT?

I could listen to them argue about Pokemon for another hundred pages. No, I'm not lonely, dammit. Cut to me sitting alone, crying into a tub of ice cream while drafting out my own plans for a cat hotel.

Definitely recommend this book if you like cute graphic novels.

4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Kind of Coping: An Illustrated Look at Life with Anxiety by Maureen "Marzi" Wilson

 

A couple years ago, I read this author's other book, INTROVERT DOODLES. It kind of rubbed me the wrong way because the author did what a lot of introvert writers do: they conflate introversion with social anxiety and social phobia. While the two do and can coexist, they are not necessarily mutually inclusive. People can be introverted without being anxious, and this conflation can lead to people thinking that introversion is a mental health disorder, something that needs to be treated.

I imagine I must not be the only person who made those criticisms because in this book the author walks that back and talks about how for her, the two exist in tandem, and how it's hard to parse out which of her behaviors are introverted and which are anxiety, and how much anxiety exacerbates her existing traits, making them pathological. The end result is that this book comes across as much more introspective and honest than INTROVERT DOODLES, and I really respected her for that. Part of the fun of reading an author is seeing them grow as they learn more about themselves, as well as their craft.

Her humor is still a little too twee for my liking but I enjoyed KIND OF COPING a lot more than her other book. I've suffered from anxiety my whole life, and I used to be social phobic (I still am a little, but not nearly as much as I was when I was younger). I've suffered panic attacks and unwanted compulsive thoughts, so a lot of the things that this author talks about resonated really strongly with me. I think if you enjoy Sarah's Scribbles, you'll probably like this book too.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Yes, I'm Hot in This: The Hilarious Truth about Life in a Hijab by Huda Fahmy

 

Huda Fahmy is one of those comic book memoirists with the childish cartoony illustrations that are so popular, but hers has an unusual spin. In her books, she writes about being a Muslim Egyptian-American living in the United states, whether it's the good (pretty scarves, lovable husband, people who "get it") or the bad (microaggressions, racists, sneaky pork).

I liked this book a lot. She has a fun sense of humor and she talks about her religion and culture in a way that could be either informative or relatable, depending on where you're coming from. Books like these really underscore the need for diverse rep, which she even talks a little about in the book. It isn't enough to have a laundry list of generalizations you know about a group of people. You need to sit down and listen to them, consume their media, and, you know, treat them as ordinary people with agency and worth. 

YES, I'M HOT IN THIS is a cute, wholesome read that would be as fun for teens as it would be for adults. It talks about feminism, religion, identity, and all of these other important topics in a light-hearted and accessible way. Definitely recommend.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You by Matthew Inman

 

I'm on the verge of finishing my next book and whenever that happens, I kind of get reading-fatigued (because I'm reading my own book literally hundreds of times, over and over), but I still also want to read, which is why I tend to turn to comics. Then I'm still reading stories but there aren't as many words. So it's like, I'm giving my brain a little bit of a staycation.

I've been following the Oatmeal for years and I love his weird, inappropriate humor. Sometimes he is a little too gross/crude for me, but for the most part, I feel like he has a good feel for where "the line" is, which is why I'm kind of shocked that this book had so many awful reviews on Amazon. I guess people didn't like the sex jokes or the "how to know if your cat is a raging homosexual" portions of this comic, but here's the thing-- he's never SUPER explicit and he doesn't punch down, so it doesn't bother me. I guess I could see how people might not like the gay jokes because they resort to stereotypes, but I personally didn't think he was trying to be dehumanizing or demeaning. YMMV.

Most of these comics are on his website, so there isn't a ton of new material. You're basically paying to support the author and to have a personal copy of his best-cat hits. As a cat owner myself, a lot of the cat jokes were pretty on point. My favorite comics were two of the more wholesome ones: if humans acted like cats and this other one about a kitty who was desperate for attention/petting. The Oatmeal is an adult comic book illustrator so these books definitely aren't for kids, and whether you'll be offended or not by these panels is really up to you and your personal standards for crude and rude, but I thought it was a fun, quick read. I wouldn't buy it, probably; some of his other collections are better.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Wreck the Halls: Cake Wrecks Gets "Festive" by Jen Yates

 

I liked the other Cake Wreck book enough that I decided to get this one as well when it went on sale. Here's the thing: a lot of these meme dumping books don't age well because they're mean-spirited; but I like these because it's clear they're all in good fun. Someone was trying to do a nice thing (i.e. make a cake) and they just, well. Messed up a little. Or a lot.

Most of the cakes in this book are Christmas-themed but there are a couple other holidays as well, like Halloween, Thanksgiving, and New Years (so all Western/American holidays). It felt like the longest section was about ugly Santa cakes.

This was amusing and passed the time but I don't think I'd recommend buying it for more than like $5. Her other book was better.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

TMI: My Life in Scandal by Perez Hilton

 

So brief disclaimer: I've never been a fan of Perez Hilton. Even when I was in his target demographic (and I was in the aughts), the tone of his posts was too acerbic even for little ol' me. Over the years, Hilton has faced a lot of criticism for the way he reported on celebrities for his blog, chronicling their struggles with addiction and psychological issues for literal fun and profit, and sometimes even outing them. As a result, his public image, which was never tarnish-free, seriously tanked and he became probably one of the most hated celebrities ever.

TMI, from what I gleaned from this memoir, is supposed to be both an apology and an explanation. It's less of the former and more of the latter, though; in my opinion, he spent a lot of the book skirting personal accountability. Which I get. Personal accountability sucks... but also, if you want to take your image to rehab, it's something you have to have. Instead, the book is basically divided into three sections: his childhood, growing up in a Cuban household and dealing with the struggles of childhood obesity while also being a closeted gay boy; his coming out and his rise to celebrity blogging fame; and his post-fame life becoming a father and hopping on whatever reality TV show will have him.

I always struggle with reviewing memoirs because it's really hard to not feel like you're reviewing the person. And even if you like the person, sometimes their memoir is boring (usually if they're a likable person, they often are-- because nice people don't start drama). But here, it's kind of hard not to judge. It's like he basically hands you the gavel personally when you pick up the book. Over the course of this book, he recounts making the same mistakes over and over in his career. Female celebrities who allowed him into their inner circles-- Amanda Bynes, Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga-- didn't like it when he ignored their friendship to talk about their personal failings and dark secrets on his blog? You don't say. They "used" him to get promotion and then left when he started being an impediment to their careers? So shocking. Why does this keep happening? I dunno, chief.

It would be easier to take this as a sort of apology if the book wasn't coated with this layer of arrogance. He heavily implies that he made Lady Gaga into the success that she is. He brags about being the first to break Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's relationship and coining their moniker, Brangelina. At the end, he talks about how he paved the way for YouTube tea channels, and how there was no one like him. And really problematic things that he did are kind of glossed over, like participating in what felt like a really dubious consent sex prank on Howard Stern's show (he seemed to still think it was funny), or leaking an upskirt shot (posted by someone else, I believe, while she was wearing underwear-- thank God) of Miley Cyrus while she was still seventeen. I know, it was the aughts, everyone was toxic-- but Perez Hilton always seemed to revel in it.

I'm a blogger myself, so I know the power that words can have. As I've grown, I've started to choose my words with more care and choose what I review more carefully. I don't particularly enjoy writing negative reviews now-- unless I'm reading one of those books that was written to be purposefully terrible (like, you know, dinorotica) or something that's so obnoxiously popular that one negative review from a mid-tier reviewer like me will be a drop in the pond. But about seven years ago, my reviews weren't as great. I was a lot meaner and freer with my criticism (even though I believed I was being honest-- and I was). I was also way unhappier seven years ago than I am now, and I believe that my dissatisfaction seeped into a lot of what I was reading and how I comported myself online. I lost some online friends over that, which makes me feel bad, but I understand that even though I was hurting inside, that doesn't invalidate the hurt that other people might have felt because of the tone of my reviews and comments. 

I can't speculate on what Perez Hilton was feeling at the time, but given his early attempts to become famous, his admitted issues with his body image, and his admitted loneliness and difficulty with relationships, I feel pretty sure that he probably experienced a pretty similar catharsis when it came to using his blog online to deal with his own personal stuff. At one point, he even says in the memoir that he could forget that the celebrities are people, too. He seems to be enjoying fatherhood a lot and towards the end of the book, TMI starts to feel more like what I was expecting, with self-effacing humor, discussions about his family life, and a tiny bit of self-awareness that what he was doing was wrong. So it's nice that he has some new meaning in his life that doesn't come from a screen.

Clearly a lot of people are still mad at him and I think the current GR rating for this book reflects that. It's pretty abysmal. But the wishy-washy subject matter and tone of the memoir don't quite hit right, so I think it's a case of people wondering what, exactly, this book was supposed to do. I don't know. But I was expecting a lot more from a book that literally opens with will.i.am's manager punching him in the face.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, July 31, 2022

WtAFW: Having The Dinosaur's Baby by Jane Rowe

 

HAVING THE DINOSAUR'S BABY was recommended to me on Facebook for my What the Actual Fuck Wednesday challenge, along with several other dinosaur romances and eroticas. When I picked this one up, I wasn't sure what to think, because it's 200+ long. That's pretty long for a WTFerotica, which usually wrap up before fifty pages because they know their premise is thin. They're just there to shock. What, I wondered, could the author pack in here for 200 pages?

Apart from, you know, the obvious thing.

The book opens with a team of scientists sailing a ship through the Bermuda Triangle, as one does, on their way to Bermuda to look for dinosaurs. But oh no, they're shipwrecked and they end up on a mysterious island filled with with dinosaur fossils but actual living, breathing dinosaurs that shape-shift into cavemen.

I know.

The hero in this story is a velociraptor shape-shifter named Vel. Vel kind of gives off Brendan Fraser/George of the Jungle vibes, as he is a horny doofus who speaks "caveman speak." Jean, our heroine, is immediately taken in by him, despite his insistence that they mate or else she'll get claimed and then eaten by the evil T-Rex shifter in the group, Jerris.

I actually wasn't sure what I'd rate this book until the end. Maybe I've been reading too many books by Christie Sims, but I was actually kind of relieved that the heroine wasn't speared with dino dick in this book. The worst that happens is this King Kong moment where Jerris carries off his love interest in his little T-Rex hands (which is actually kind of hilarious). There's some surprisingly feminist messages, and despite the insta-pregnancy and magic immortality/evolution water that Tuck Everlastings these dinobros, I didn't actually hate the story.

The problem is that it's too silly to be good straight-up romance, but it's also too serious to be good troll romance, so it ends up in this weird limbo where it kind of feels like half of what could have been either a really good or a really bad idea. Not sure I'd read more from this author but it was a fun ride.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

WtAFW: Ravaged by the Gingerbread Man by Fannie Tucker

 

So I run a weekly feature called What the Actual Fuck Wednesday, where I read and review some of the weirdest romances and erotica around that people send to me. Fannie Tucker has been featured several times, because her erotica involves everything from gnomes to puppets to bags of groceries. Somewhere, that woman is literally laughing to the bank, notepad in hand, composing an outline for her next book "I FUCKED THE ATM."

RAVAGED BY THE GINGERBREAD MAN could also be called "OSHA WOULD NEVER" or "DON'T ASK WHAT'S IN THE FROSTING." It's about a girl named Kara who foolishly makes too much dough in the bakery she works at with her friend. "Whatever will I do with all this much dough?" she asks coyly, like we don't know it's going to end up in her vagina twenty pages later.

She molds the dough into a lifesize gingerbread man with a monster cock and foolishly wishes that it were alive. And faster than you can say, "Not my gumdrop buttons!" her wish is horribly granted. 

The gingerbread man only speaks in rhymes. He fucks her with a rolling pin to prepare her for his gingerdick, which is just a yeast infection waiting to happen if you ask me. His come tastes like cinnamon frosting and of course, after they finish fucking, she commits the faux pas of asking him for the recipe. The recipe is basically, "Hey, fuck the food before you bake it! Your customers will love it!"

Pretty sure this gingerbread man is actually an undercover FDA agent conducting a sting operation on unsanitary conditions, because of course, Kara is like HAHA INGENIOUS.

Yikes.

1 out of 5 stars

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Real Easy by Marie Rutkoski

 

I think I applied for an ARC of this like twenty times when it was first coming out. I didn't get an ARC, which made me sad. And some of my friends who did were saying it was disappointing, which made me sadder. And also annoyed, because they got ARCs and I didn't, and I was pretty sure they must be wrong because Marie Rutkoski is a goddess among women and the author of some of my favorite YA books of all time, and surely the criticism was just that she had diversified and people were expecting more of the same?

...Nah, fam. They were right and I was wrong.

It's a shame because parts of REAL EASY were five-star good. And parts of it were two-star bad. I liked the focus on the dancers/strippers and what their lives were like. I thought it was neat how some of them really liked what they did and others resented it or did it because it was an easy way to make money under the table. I liked that one of the characters was intersex and I thought it was great that there was a sapphic couple revealed towards the end (wish it had gotten more page time, but we stan an enemies-to-lovers, regardless of orientation).

What I didn't like-- I actually didn't really like any of the cops. I felt bad for Holly, whose child died when he was locked in the back of a car in summer (by the dad, I believe). As some police do, it felt like she did what she did because every time she saved someone, she was redeeming her lost child. And I get that. But I didn't really like or relate to any of the other police characters, and I felt like their narratives on the whole took away from the more interesting backstories of the dancers.

The twist about whodunnit surprised me, so I did like that, but this is a pretty basic serial killer story if you take away the 90s setting and the fact that it is set mostly at a strip club. Normally, that wouldn't bother me, but Rutkoski is an author that I have praised for shocking twists and intricate plotting, so I was a little disappointed to read a storyline that felt so basic and meandering from her. I also HATED that she killed off one of my favorite characters. She didn't have to die, imo, and as soon as she did, I lost a lot of interest in the story. I won't say more because of spoilers, but reader beware.

I actually picked this up towards the end of Pride Month and it took me a month to finally get around to finishing it, which shows you how invested I was. It wasn't a bad book and I would 100% read anything else this author writes, but this is my least favorite work of hers and I can see why it disappointed so many of her other readers.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Titus Gamble by Peter Gentry

 

Oh man. This actually started off kind of decently and then plunged into "holy shit, WTF am I reading" territory. TITUS GAMBLE came in a box of old pulpy romance and historical fiction that I bought in bulk. It's the story of an ex-slave named Titus who ran away from his plantation after sleeping with his master's daughter. After that, he enlisted in the Civil War, where he kicked confederate ass and became a decorated veteran, whose fellow soldiers helped teach him to read and write. As a "reward" for his service, he was made sheriff of the same town where he used to be a slave. Uhh, thanks, I guess?

After the Civil War, the town of Brennanburg is kind of a clusterfuck. Land that used to be part of plantations was parceled off and given to some ex-slaves as reparation, while others were forced into actual ghettoes, where they are continued to be exploited by the same people who used to own them on a political, social, and economic level. Part of Titus's new job isn't just to keep the law and order; he's basically there to keep the Black people in town from (rightfully) getting pissed off at the slave-owners and rebelling. Which is kind of a shitty position to be in, because everyone resents him. The worst thing is, he knows it.

Titus actually reminded me a lot of Cleavon Little in Blazing Saddles. I think TITUS was trying to achieve that same sort of social commentary, as well, but Peter Gentry is no Mel Brooks. And I started really not liking TITUS GAMBLE because it started becoming exploitative at the expense of people who are already being exploited. The N-word is literally used hundreds of times in this book, sometimes multiple times per page (with other slurs as well). A Black woman is raped by an overseer. There's incest (including surprise incest, which I think we can agree is one of the worst surprises of all).

I was on board for Titus punching racists in the face (white racists punched in the face: 4+). And I was there for Titus killing white racists (at least 2). I was even there sort of for his relationship with bitchy Fianna, even though she has more issues than an entire bookshelf of FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC. Actually, the whole family is fucking crazy. One of the sons literally spends all his time wearing an old Confederate uniform, pretending to be a war hero, when he actually got his arm shot off by a prostitute he wouldn't pay and all of his medals are stolen from the dead. Whaaaaat. But the rape of Dulcey really bothered me because it felt so unnecessary, and I didn't like that Titus was thrown together with a completely different woman at the end of the book that there was no indication he was going to end up with in the first place.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Sex, Murder and a Double Latte by Kyra Davis

 

DNF @ 15%

I've talked before about why a lot of older chick-lits don't hold up. Sadly, SEX, MURDER AND A DOUBLE LATTE is one of those. There's a lot in here that made me think I'd love it. The heroine is Jewish and Black. She's an author. It's one of those chick-lit mysteries, which I've always had a soft spot for, even when they don't age well.

Sadly, this one was a hard miss for me. The heroine is pretty awful. When she finds out the person who was going to adapt her book into a movie unalived himself, her first response is seriously, "What about my screenplay? Why couldn't he have waited?" And the whole passage about his death is just so ick. I get that sometimes heroines are supposed to be unlikable but I'm not so sure that was the case here. I think it was just a poor attempt at humor that aged like cheap vinegar.

I skimmed to the 15% mark to see if it got better and found the dialogue to be pretty artificial and the narrative to be dull. I'd try some of this author's more recent works but I'm not a fan of this one.

1 out of 5 stars

I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie by Roger Ebert

 

When it comes to how I consume and review media, Roger Ebert is one of my inspirations. I love his large and rich vocabulary, his colorful turns of phrase, and the ways he tries to be sensitive to things like racism and sexism, harmful tropes, and excessive use of the male gaze through the camera lens (especially when inappropriate or tasteless). A lot of people conflate negative reviews with meanness, but there's a difference between criticism and punching down

I HATED, HATED, HATED THIS MOVIE is a collection of some of Roger Ebert's least favorite films. Some of them appear to be a matter of personal taste, and others appear to be truly, objectively, flops. The title is taken from his review of North, which has the dubious pleasure of being one of the most racist children's movies I've ever seen outside of Song of the South. In fact, it may be worse, because as bad as SotS is, it doesn't have the sour streak of maliciousness that North has. On the other hand, I disagreed with his review of the Spice World movie. I'll have you know that I watched that brilliant work of art at least twenty times, and whatever slander Ebert is dishing out here is wrong.

This book is more fun if you have actually watched the movies he's talking about, or at least heard about them or seen other people reviewing them. I Spit on Your Grave is mentioned here, as is Switchblade Sisters, two exploitation films that feature bad things happening to "bad" girls. Home Alone 2 is in here, also known as "the stupider version of the first film that Donald Trump was in." And THANK GOD he also hates A Thousand Acres. I read the book because my mom told me it was a literary masterpiece and at the time I was trying to become more well-read. Nope. Hated it. Hated it lots. His Ace Ventura reviews were probably my favorite because I love those movies but I'm very open about how problematic they are. They're the literal definition of cringe-watching, and yet something about them grips you so compulsively that at the first sight of cleverness, you're completely entrapped.

I also relate to Ebert on a more personal level. I think he's a guy who got slapped with labels like "arrogant" and "pretentious" a lot, and I do, too. There is a certain affectedness that goes into writing and talking like these and you can-- with effort-- "turn it off." But at the end of the day, I feel like me and Ebert are just two people who have shit going on in our lives, and watching and dissecting creative content lets us not only escape, but to sort out our own feelings between the snippets and parsings of all that heavy cinematic effort. The movies that claim you, even when they're weird or unlikable. The shocked joy of finding yourself reflected in a character who sees you deeper than you see them. These are all incredibly satisfying moments that can be had with books and film, and they are like balm to the weary and lonely.

If you are a fan of Z-movies and trash films, and enjoy the likes of MST3K, I think you will really enjoy these collections. I actually found some movies I want to add to my own watch list just because of this book. There's nothing wrong with enjoying the trash you consume as long as you hold it accountable and don't beat around the bush when it comes to calling it what it is. Acknowledging toxic tropes, pointing out surprising moments of cleverness or beauty-- I think these are all really important elements that reviewers can and should incorporate into their reviews.

Jeez, what a good book. Thank goodness I have two more of them.

3 to 3.5 stars

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

WtAFW: Ravished by the Triceratops by Christie Sims

 

The soundtrack for this review is Kesha's "Dinosaur."

I have a weekly feature that I just brought back from hiatus called "What the Actual Fuck Wednesday," where I read and review some of the weirdest romance novels and erotica out there. Some of the previous entrants have featured humans fucking everything from El Nino to Santa Claus.

Christie Sims is actually a repeat offender in this challenge. The first book that was recommended to me by this author was called TAKEN BY THE T-REX. I thought they would be pretty similar, but they're actually very different. TbtT is kind of an erotic monster movie type book, where the T-Rex starts out as the monster that is raiding the caveman village and the heroine and some other guys want to kill it (but when she's getting ready to deliver the killing blow, the heroine becomes horny instead, etc., etc.).

RbtT, on the other hand, features the caveman village as being the violent instigators. As part of a coming of age, the women in this village strip naked, arm themselves with weapons, and go out into the wilderness to kill innocent animals in a bloodthirsty fashion. What is this, a Republican rally? (JK, but not really.) The heroine of this book, I think her name is Belira, has her eye on the chief's son and in order to really cement herself as A Person Not To Be Fucked With(TM), she announces to everyone that her kill of choice is Triceratops, and if microphones were invented, she would have totally dropped one in the deathly silence.

The thought of killing animals gets her so horned up that she gives the chief's son a beej before walking off, and then she meditates on how attractive she is to men (so much so that her own father got an erection while hugging her one day, which ew). This thoughtful meditation on the body dysmorphia that can occur from being objectified from one's looks feels out of place in this book, especially when she fails to kill the Triceratops (only succeeding in cutting off one of his horns and ruining him for the ladies) and he knocks her out, dragging her to his love cave where he intends to use her for cockblocking him. Because fair's fair. She is literally fucked.

TAKEN BY THE T-REX was just as bad, but at least it had some interesting sex scenes. Who can forget when the heroine folds herself up as a human-sized vagina for the T-Rex to fuck? Here, the heroine just grins and bears it, despite the fact that the Triceratops apparently has a *checks notes* dick the size of a large muscled arm and testicles the size of a pregnant woman's pendulous breasts. Like the heroine in TbtT, she's afraid he's going to kill her with that dick, but also like the heroine in TbtT, it ends up being the best sex ever. And to bring both books to a parallel, they fuck and run before returning back to the village and acting all coy. In this heroine's case, she's like, "GUYS. GUYS. I FOUND A GREAT NEW WAY TO BRING THESE BEASTS TO HEEL."

Not sure what else to say about this one. It was bad. I think it was supposed to be bad. Despite that, the writing was actually pretty clean. I mean the author dropped a "foetid," which is vocabulary we don't normally expect to see in these types of books. Which actually reminds me-- this is written in a much more modern style than TbtT, which I seem to recall tried to use a sort of Cavemanese. Apart from the fact that it's about dinosaurs, it's pretty bland and not particularly memorable except for the jarring shifts in tone. There's a time and a place for unpacking trauma and this wasn't it.

If you have other books you would like to see me read for this challenge, you can recommend them to me here.

1 out of 5 stars

Freak by Jennifer Hillier

 

FREAK is the sequel to CREEP, and yes, you have to read the first book first. It takes place after the events of the last book with the characters trying to recover from their trauma. Sheila is struggling to remain stable in her career as her involvement in the murder trial becomes increasingly public, and Jerry is suffering from serious PTSD after getting attacked by a killer. He recovered, but has a grotesque scar to show for it and his marriage is on the verge of failing.

Meanwhile, Abby Maddox is in jail and not happy about it. And other people aren't happy about it, too. Dead bodies are showing up, demanding that she be freed. There are creepy fansites devoted to her crimes and beauty. The news calls her Angel Face, because the news is gross, and society doesn't really think women can be soulless killers-- especially not if they have pretty faces. Everything basically seems like a total hot mess that's going to drag all people involved down like they're standing in a sinkhole full of shit.

And that's this book in a nutshell.

At first I was pretty into this book. I initially wasn't super happy that the focus shifted to Jerry because I don't really like police procedurals, but I thought that his trauma and insights were really interesting and he grew on me as a character. But I never liked him as much as I did Sheila. Sheila was problematic as all get out, but I felt like her situation was way more relatable and I liked the dichotomy of her teaching psychology while also suffering from a serious psychological condition herself. That was kind of going on with Jerry, too, but I felt like he was way more one-note as a character.

 ***ONE MILD POTENTIAL SPOILER TO FOLLOW***

FREAK is a lot more violent than CREEP. The ending especially left me feeling a little wince-y. My least favorite genres of horror are splatterpunk and torture porn and I kind of felt like this verged on being in that genre. There was also a twist at the end that I didn't like. It feels a little cheap, making your villains LGBT+ as a shock, you know? That was pretty common in the 70s and 80s, and it's disappointing to see it now. I'm not saying that no villains should be queer or queer-coded, but when the only queer character in a book is the villain, that's not a good look.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, July 18, 2022

No Bed in Deseret by Nickolae Gerstner

 

NO BED IN DESERET came in an assortment of retro books I bought for cheap from a thrift store. I've barely read any of them, though, so I'm trying to get through some of my book hoard as I decide what to keep and what to sell or give away. I was really interested in picking this one up because it's historical fiction about a gentile woman who marries into the Mormon faith, only to get screwed over-- repeatedly. The "bad Mormons" trope is not uncommon in bodice-rippers-- Jennifer Blake had some and I think Mormons were the villains in a Sherlock Holmes book-- but this book seems to be trying to take a more nuanced approach.

***WARNING: SPOILERS***

Okay, so Olive is living in Colorado with her parents when a Mormon convoy or whatever comes in and she ends up falling for a man named Dr. Percival Terry. He courts her and charms her parents, who think, "Huh, I guess Mormons aren't so bad!" Until they find out about the polygamy business. And then they're like, Olive, you can date him but you aren't going to marry him and he isn't allowed in the house. But then Percival saves Olive's younger brother with an experimental medical treatment and Olive's parents are like, "I guess he isn't so bad." And Terry's like, "I will never choose any other wife but you, Olive." And that's good enough. They're married and she goes off to live her HEA.

Except... Percival is a bastard who looks for language loopholes. When they hitch up with another Mormon convoy, there's a pretty sixteen-year-old girl named Sophia. And when her father dies, the other bishops of the Mormon faith decide that Percival just has to marry her-- even though Percival's younger, seventeen-year-old brother, is in love with Sophia and everyone knows it. And Percival is like, "I just gotta do it, Olive, and I'm not technically breaking my vows to you. I didn't choose her! They did!" And Olive responds to this by trying to run away, which results in a caning.

Anyway, the marriage goes through and Olive is forced to endure Sophia, who isn't that bad. But Olive's misplaced spite gave me life. I liked that she held a grudge because honestly, I would too. When she refused to share the glass her father gave them as a wedding present, I guffawed. So when Percival builds them a house, Olive demands a wall dividing the cabin in half, and her half has all the glass windows, while Sophia is stuck with the pig bladder windows. LOL. There's also a Evil Native American Raid(TM) which made me think that this book was going to operate in flagrant defiant of the PC Police. But apparently the Mormons would buy up Native American slaves and then "free" them by taking them on as servants or whatever, which seems sus but okay. Anyway, we get to know Lekatoni and Shokup, who are part of the Shoshoni tribe, and they were actually really cool. And Lekatoni's introduction in the plot ends up coming full circle later, which I really liked.

At the Mormon settlement, Olive endures many things in addition to her husband's plural marriage-- hostile Danites, famine from locust infestation, illness, a near-drowning, and so much more. And then Sophia dies and it seems like Olive is finally going to have her husband all to herself like he originally promised. But then Percival is like, "Olive, babe, people don't like it that I only have one wife and Brigham Young just chose his niece for me to marry, so if I wanna get that religious promotion, I gotta marry his niece and btw, technically I'm not violating my promise to you because Brigham Young chose her for me, and I didn't choose her myself lolz."

Olive, finally, has enough. She decides to leave this spineless, manipulative jerk and return to her parents in Colorado. Which is where the story kind of takes a wilderness survival bent that I really liked, and haven't really encountered since buddy-reading HEAVEN IN HIS ARMS with my friend Heather. I don't want to say too much else because spoilers, but let's just say that eventually, Olive meets someone who wants her to be the only woman in his life, and Percival finds out and is like, "How could you marry another man?" And OUR QUEEN responds, "You married another woman."

And.

She.

Shrugs.

👏👏👏

So I enjoyed this book a lot. Obviously. It was written in first person, which is pretty unusual for vintage books (unless they're Gothic romances), and I liked how immersive that made this book feel. It also seemed very well-researched regarding the Mormon religion and I liked how the heroine said that the Mormons weren't bad people just because she didn't agree with their way of things, it just wasn't for her, and she felt like her husband had abused her trust and his honor by putting her in the position he had. Which is totally fair. She converted to the faith and made countless compromises, while he repeatedly violated the only request she and her parents ever made.

The girl power element was also really prominent and I loved what a strong character Olive was. She kind of reminds me of the Natasha Peters heroines-- she's dramatic and a little bratty, but she can also overcome whatever life throws at her, and she's super street smart. Plus, she learns and grows from her mistakes, and becomes a lot stronger and more complicated as a human being, which I love to see. You can actually read this book as an ebook on Amazon, and it's FREE if you have Kindle Unlimited (100% recommend). Not sure if the author made any changes or revisions, but I had the original 1981 paperback copy and I'm honestly shocked and pleased by how progressive and modern everything feels. This could have been published today, I think, and that's not something I can say about everything I read.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, July 17, 2022

My Husband's Wife by Jane Corry

 

There's a Little Free Library near me that always has good mysteries in it and the last two I read were both four star reads. This is one of them. I'm actually surprised that MY HUSBAND'S WIFE has such low ratings, but on the other hand, I'm also not, as the little girl character in this book is an unlikable little shit, the likes of which I haven't really seen since fucking Briony in ATONEMENT. Both of them never really "atone," and we're supposed to feel sorry for them in the end because their mistakes lead them to tragedy. Which I do, because I'm an emotional patsy. But also, I still didn't like them as people.

It's difficult to summarize this book without giving anything away. It's dual POV and dual timeline (part one takes place in the aughts, part two takes place ten years in the future). Lily is a criminal defense lawyer married to a painter, Ed. Ed's career is shaky and he's also an alcoholic. Lily makes much more money and she's in the middle of a case that could make her potentially famous if she succeeds. The two of them also have an autistic son named Tom who lives away from them, going to a boarding school that can accommodate his needs.

Carla, on the other hand, lives next door to Lily and Ed. Her mother is a beautiful woman and an immigrant from Italy. The two of them have come to England because her mother is estranged from her family, for reasons that also have to do with the man who comes over weekends to have sex with her mother (but no, he's not The Reason). Carla has a lot of emotional issues. She's a liar, a thief, and possibly sociopathic. What she wants most is what other people have, perhaps because her own life exists on such a shaky foundation. When she crosses paths with Lily, she sets the two of them on a collision course that will come full circle ten years in the future.

I really liked this book a lot. It's not really a thriller-thriller; the focus is the book is more on the complex relationships between all the characters, and ALL of them have done terrible things. Which I think is why maybe people don't like this book. It's hard to read something and not have someone to root for. On the other hand, I always have a healthy amount of respect for authors who can write about unlikable people and still make them interesting, realistic, and complex. The ending was pretty satisfying, albeit bittersweet, although I wouldn't say it was particularly happy, either.

If you enjoy reading books that show people at their worst, and what they do when they get backed into a corner and desperate, this will be a great book for you. I'm definitely interested in reading more of this author's work. This would make a great TV mini-series, imo.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, July 16, 2022

9 More Romances Where the Villain Gets the Girl

 There's a great Toni Morrison quote that says that if the book you want to read doesn't exist, you should write it yourself. I took that advice to heart when I started writing because-- and if you're reading this, you probably agree-- there is a serious DEARTH of villain romances out there, and when a villain canon does make it into the main stream, our ships have a tendency to be ruthlessly destroyed (*stares in The Rise of Skywalker*).

Now I am the author of several villain romances and erotic thrillers, such as Quid Pro Quo and Fearscape, but I also read a fuckton of other villain romance and erotica, too, because those are the stories that I love. And when I'm not writing them, you can bet your ass that I want to be reading them.

A couple years ago, I published a blog post called 9 Romances Where the Villain Gets the Girl, which remains my most popular post to date. Even to this day, I still get comments on it from my fellow villain loverinos, who share my passion for the mad, bad, and dangerous-to-knows. So today, I'm sharing nine more villain romances because can there ever really be enough? I certainly don't think so.

9. LORD OF DANGER by Anne Stuart
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]  

Lord of Danger

Heads-up that as far as my social media is concerned, I'm basically an Anne Stuart stan account. She's one of the few traditionally published authors I can think of who consistently churns out really good villain and antihero romances. Nowadays, she mostly publishes romantic suspense, which I also enjoy, but a lot of my favorites are her historical romances. LORD OF DANGER is not only a villain romance, it's also an arranged marriage romance, and it features an innocent heroine with a man regarded by many to be some kind of sorcerer. Picture Jareth from Labyrinth with a pinch of Mozenrath from that old Aladdin TV show from the 90s. Also they have sex in a lightning storm! YAS.

8. STORMFIRE by Christine Monson
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]

Stormfire 

Let me tell you that I had a devil of a time searching for this book. I actually finally found a copy in a thrift shop (or, at least, my mom did), which made me SCREAM because paperback copies of this bad boy go for $150-$200 if you buy it secondhand. STORMFIRE is the epic of Catherine and Sean. He kidnaps her en route to boarding school and, well, you've probably heard the rest. Rapes her and sends her blood-stained underwear to her dad, punches her in the face, forces her to slave away, attempts to have her gang-raped, IT'S QUITE THE JOURNEY. This book punched all my buttons and I'm still not fully convinced that it's really a romance, but man, Sean suffers for his transgressions, and also they have sex in a THUNDER STORM (Anne Stuart, do you also stan?), and the writing in this book is absolutely transcendent at times. If you can find a copy on the cheap and have a psychological stomach of steel, it's honestly worth the read.

7. SAVAGE SURRENDER by Natasha Peters
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]

Savage Surrender 

This is another book that gets a little pricey-- which, actually, might be my bad guys, because I noticed that until I reviewed it, you could still get copies for $5. I'M SORRY. But honestly #sorrynotsorry because this book desperately needs an ebook Renaissance. It's so good. Elise, like the heroine in STORMFIRE, is just a teenager when the story begins, but she's bratty and hilariously dramatic. The hero rapes her when he catches her bathing in the nude, and is quite surprised when her brothers end up forcing him to marry her at practically swordpoint. From then on, their relationship takes a tumultuous journey, where Elise ends up aboard a slave ship, becomes a mistress to Jean Lafitte, and even ends up getting sold as a slave herself, only to escape. The relationship between her and Garth reminded me a lot of the back and forth between Han Solo and Princess Leia, so if wastrel rakehell and bratty firebrand is a dynamic that appeals to you, I would recommend this book 1000%. It's definitely not-PC but unlike many authors of this era, she makes an attempt to give PoC characters nuance and doesn't romanticize the horror of human slavery at all, so go her.

6. THE MISTED CLIFFS by Catherine Asaro
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]

The Misted Cliffs (Lost Continent, #2)

Honestly, it is SO RUDE that this book is out of print because it's basically everything I want out of the fantasy romance genre. It features a marriage of convenience between a tomboyish mage-soldier named Dawn and the would-be conqueror of her parents' kingdom, Cobalt the Dark. This is probably the softest villain romance on this list because the hero's only flaw is that he really likes to conqueror people (I know, right?? SUCH a softie), but he is so respectful and sweet towards the heroine and so awkward anytime that he is out of his armor or without a sword that my heart melted. I enjoyed reading this book so much that I immediately bought all of the other books in the series, which revolves around a color-based magic system where mages use shapes as focuses. It's really interesting and so much fun.

5. RITUAL SINS by Anne Stuart
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]

Ritual Sins 

If you had told me that I was going to enjoy a romance novel with a cult leader as the hero, I would have laughed and told you to GTFO. But then my friend raved about how good it was and I was like, "hmm, maybe." And then I read it and was like OMG. The heroine comes to this cult compound to investigate the cult leader as a fraud when he scams her mother out of all her money. And then he ends up being both more and less than she thought he was and it kind of ends up becoming a real wild ride. Toxic AF? Oh yes, but I still loved it. Anne Stuart is at her best when she pairs a no-nonsense but damaged heroine with a villainous, morally grey bastard of a hero. 

4. EASY CONNECTIONS by Liz Berry
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]

 Easy Connections (Cathy, #1)

 For a long time this book was out of print and copies were wildly expensive (think STORMFIRE). But then it was released on Kindle and I could finally read this very controversial YA book. I am honestly shocked that it was YA because it has more of a new adult feel to it (and it would probably be categorized and sold that way if it were released today). It's the story of an English artist named Cathy. One day, she falls asleep in a field and captures the attention of a rock star named Paul Devlin who has just taken up residence at the house. He and his friend bully her into coming into the house and feed her, dress her up, and then basically flip a coin over who gets to rape her. And when she ends up pregnant from this, Devlin hunts her down and manipulates her into doing what he wants. It actually reminded me a lot of UNTOUCHABLE by Sam Mariano, except with an 80s hair metal-type rock star instead of an All-American football player. I think if you like one, you'll like the other. EASY CONNECTIONS is such a toxic, problematic read-- but it's so much fun. So is the sequel. (Yes, there's a sequel!)

3. MANSIONS by Whitney Bianca
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]

Mansions 

One of my Instagram followers recommended me this one and it was everything she told me it would be. It's a dark, luscious story about Dorian and Adrienne. Two disaffected rich kids who gradually become obsessed with each other. Or at least, the hero does. Dorian has never forgotten that encounter and when he sees Adrienne at a gallery several years later, he pursues her relentlessly. She runs, and then tragedy strikes, making Adrienne incredibly vulnerable. And what does Dorian do with this vulnerability but treat her with the utmost emotional care-- nah, just kidding. He kidnaps her and makes her his live-in mansion bitch, and the book starts to feel like one of those disturbing French films where you're not sure if it's going to end toxicially-ever-after or with one or both of them dead. But don't worry, this IS a romance. It's just not a particularly healthy one. And yet, somehow Whitney Bianca made me buy that they were right for each other and no one else. I know, I'm shocked, too. 

2. A PALE SHADOW by Heather Crews
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]

A Pale Shadow

Okay, so full disclosure, I was the beta reader for this book and I'm friends with the author. That said, I would 100% give this book full marks time after time even if she wasn't my BBBF (Best Book Buddy Forever(TM)). For starters, remember when I talked about cult leaders in romances? Yeah, this book made me look like a fool for a second time for thinking that I wasn't into that shit. I'm also not normally into cheaters or horror in my romance, but this book made me like both of those things too. Heather Crews habitually makes me eat my words when it comes to Things I Didn't Think I Liked in Romance(TM) and this book in particular is a dark delight with the vibes of an 80s occult thriller that somehow manages to straddle several genres at once while simultaneously excelling at all of them. Also it's a sexy blackmail romance WHICH IS MY FAVORITE. Need I say more?

1. WHEN ANGELS FALL by Meagan McKinney
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]

When Angels Fall

Here it is, folks. The book I'd walk through fire for. It's one of my top five desert island books and it's one of the few books I've read multiple times (I think I'm at 4x now) and never gotten tired of. I own it in ebook and paperback (IT HAS AN AMAZING STEPBACK) and I'm probably going to have to buy a back up because it's just that good. Whether you consider Ivan Tramore a villain or not is up for debate, but regardless of his intentions, he is a man obsessed, and the object of his dubious obsessions is one Lissa Alcester, whom he will stop at nothing to possess. The scenes in this book live rent-free in my head and this has some of the sexiest, cleverest banter I've ever seen in a historical romance. The latter part of the middle section drags on just a tiny bit too long but the ending is one of the most heart-in-your-throat emotionally satisfying endings that I've ever read. My only regret is that I read this book of hers first-ish, because nothing else of hers has quite lived up (although she has some REALLY good ones that I may end up featuring on another post someday).

So there you have it, my fellow villain lovers. Nine more romances to whet your palate and keep you just as obsessed as I am. Did I miss one of your faves? Should I do a part three? Have you read one of these and want to gush about it (PLEASE SAY YES)?

⬇️ Let me know in the comments below! ⬇️

Lady Fortune by Anne Stuart

 

Anne Stuart is one of my favorite authors but I never know what I'm going to get with her. Even though all of her heroes are basically facets of the same character model, they operate on a grayscale of morality and evilness. LADY FORTUNE is interesting because the author decided to make a court jester the love interest, so he's almost a beta hero, except that she also tried to retain some of the menace and danger that her other heroes have. And I'm sorry to say this, but it's really hard to be menacing when you're wearing brightly colored mismatched clothing and bells.

The story is interesting, sort of. Unlike Stuart's other medieval romances, which were darker and had more of a threat of danger, LADY FORTUNE is almost like a semi-dark comedy of errors. Julianna is a young widowed bride being booted from the estate to live with her mother, who is also widowed and is now to be engaged to a large menacing looking knight named Hugh who she fell in love while still married to her evil first husband.

Meanwhile, Nicholas the fool is being sent along with Julianna, ostensibly as a wedding gift but actually as the world's most conspicuous spy. At Hugh's estate is a saint's chalice that King Henry thinks should belong to him. He wants Nicholas to steal it, but he's also conscripted several other people to steal it as well, you know. Margins of error and all that. But Nicholas didn't count on falling for Julianna (sir, this is a romance novel), or that the other would-be chalice thieves would end up being quite so annoying and dangerous.

I guess this book was fine. The tone was kind of all over the place. On the one hand, it talks about how vulnerable women of medieval times were and how they were completely at the mercy of their husbands. Julianna's mother, Isabeau, learned to dissociate her dislike of her husband from her pleasure in the marriage bed, which is a valid coping mechanism, but it also makes her feel guilty because she's a pious woman and women aren't supposed to enjoy that sort of thing. Julianna, on the other hand, was basically a child bride and has learned to hate what goes on between men and women in private because her lack of experience made her think that acts of abuse were totally normal.

There was the potential for villains in the Abbot and Gilbert, but neither of them were really explored to their full potential, and the hints of menace are eclipsed by scenes such as when Nicholas compares certain parts of Julianna's anatomy to tripe or a series of "gotcha" moments where the chalice repeated gets Carmen Sandiego'd by all of the would-be chalice thieves and they basically just scratch their heads or shake their fists and go "CURSES!" or whatever the medieval equivalent of that is.

Not my favorite Anne Stuart book but also not one of her worst.

3 out of 5 star+s

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

 

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS is almost everything I love in a thriller. There aren't a lot of twists-- the main conflict reveals itself very early-- but it's the type of book that gets you emotionally invested in the characters, desperate to find out what happens. This book is the story of Grace and Jack, the perfect couple. Grace is the consummate hostess, a real life Stepford wife, and when she entertains, everyone is in awe of her grace and poise. They want to get to know the mysterious woman who charmed her good-looking husband into settling down permanently, but Grace never goes out alone. Only out with Jack.

It's clear from the beginning that something is wrong and that's because something is. Maybe you'll guess what it is and maybe you won't. That's part of the fun of it. I kind of ended up being shocked because I wasn't prepared for the reality of it. This book goes to some very psychologically dark places. Also content warning for a pretty horrible animal death. It's not gory or anything, but it's pretty traumatic and it sort of happens on page (or at least, the reveal of it does). It wasn't really done for shock, though, imo. This is not one of those "omg, I'm SO edgy" thrillers that gets off on toeing the line. It's brilliantly paced and brilliantly written and that's what makes it so disturbing.

I'm giving it four stars because I really, really wish that there had been some sort of smut or romantic element. I feel like thrillers have more of an emotional stake when the heroine is permitted to get down and dirty. I also wish that there was more backstory on the characters, particularly with Jack. We get to know about Grace and what her motivations are, but not as much about Jack. I also have mixed feelings about Millie. She's Grace's younger sister and she has Down's syndrome. There's a lot of unpleasant stuff surrounding her narrative, like their parents having a violently negative reaction to having a disabled child and trying to put her up for adoption until Grace physically harms herself to prevent it. It really sucked that the parents were so giddy about letting Grace become primary caretaker, and how eager they were to distance themselves from the child. I get that some people are not emotionally or psychologically equipped to care for a disabled child, but it's still unpleasant to read.

I do like that the author made Millie clever in her own way, though. I have met some people with Down's and many of them can be incredibly self-sufficient and clever. Millie was spontaneous and in some ways, a little childish, but I like that the author made a concerted effort not to resort to stereotypes with her. She felt real to me, based on my limited interactions with people with Down's syndrome, and volunteering in Special Ed. classes when I was younger. However, I do think the parents' reaction to her care might be triggering to the neurodivergent or parents of children with mental disabilities.

Overall, I loved this book. I finished it in one day. It's the type of book where, when I wasn't actively reading it, I still found myself thinking about it and wondering what was going to happen next. I'll definitely be checking out some of her other books soon!

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Apple Black, Volume 1 - Rockport Edition: Neo Freedom by Odunze Oguguo

 

The concept behind this publishing imprint is pretty neat. They take manga-inspired comics from diverse sources. The author of this one is Nigerian, the other of one of my other titles from this imprint is Italian. So the end result is that you, the reader, end up with all of these pretty cool manga-like stories that come from places other than Japan or, more recently, the United States. And I really liked that.

Apple Black is a fantasy series that revolves around the magical school trope. Some people will probably compare it to Harry Potter, but it actually reminded me more of AKATA WITCH (which was also penned by a Nigerian author), especially with the chaotic magic school, the "world is your classroom" vibes, and the way that "wands" manifest. But it has a shounen manga bent, and really reminds me of some of the manga and anime I read and watched in the 90s. There's a really nostalgic vibe.

The story and world-building were a little more confusing. Magic was originally sourced from fruit called "black," which gave people powers that were later diluted over time. The hero, Sano, is the chosen one and was trained by an Yzma-like sorcerer and her Kronk-like pretty boy subordinate, but now they are offloading him to a magic school to further develop his powers. His father was also killed over his research into magic, but rather than seeking revenge over it, Sano is hoping to bring about peace.

I liked all the different characters in this book. I think people who like manga with assembled casts, like My Hero Academia and One Piece, will probably enjoy this a lot. That's not particularly a go-to of mine, personally. When I read manga, I tend to read slice-of-life josei or older shoujo dramas that go heavy on the crazysauce, or dark fantasy manga like Red River and Inuyasha and Black Bird. I was confused about the relationship to gods with the black, and I would have liked a little more backstory on the students in the school and where they were coming from. The author did his best to introduce them one at a time, but I'm still not really sure what the school is for, or how the magic system works.

This is a manga that will appeal to middle grade and up. It's pretty text-heavy so it might be too much for younger audiences, but I could definitely see die-hard stans of MHA and OP really going for this one to get their fix. Not sure I'd read further in the series but I really appreciated the art, the diversity of the characters, the strong women characters (Naomi was hilarious and Opal was so sweet), and the fact that the author wrote a male lead who is peace-loving, naive, and emotionally available and open about his failures with the opposite sex. He was a refreshing change from the brash pervy creeps of this genre.

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

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

White Hot by Sandra Brown

 

Sandra Brown can be hit or miss with me but when she is on her game, she is ON her game. I especially love the stories she writes about fucked-up family dynasties, like this one and SLOW HEAT IN HEAVEN. She really has a knack for family politics. Which makes me surprised why this book seems to be so unpopular with her fans. I read some of the negative reviews and I think I understand why, though. First off, it's long AF. My edition was 500+ pages. I personally enjoyed the small town setting and getting to know all the characters enough that it was worth the wait, but if you're in it just for the romance and the smut you're going to be disappointed because this is super slow-burn. The couple don't even really do it until the last one hundred pages. The primary focus is the mystery.

I love romantic suspense but it's hard to find ones that aren't police procedurals (which I don't like). This one starts out with Sayre, our heroine, finding out the family's youngest brother, Danny, might have taken his life. Except, as the local cops look into it more, it kind of starts to seem more like murder. Sayre is the black sheep of her family and has cut off the rest of them for years, so through her, we get to know the older son, Chris, his lawyer and best friend, Beck Merchant, and the family patriarch, Huff, who is probably the most cartoonishly pompous poor man's rich dude I've ever seen apart from Donald Trump.

WHITE HOT was an interesting book because it went so much deeper into the story and setting than a lot of romances do. I loved how the author deep-dived into labor unions and some of the shit that big businesses pull to avoid paying out damages or how they cut corners with safety. The Hoyle family have the whole town in their pockets because the foundry/metalworks plant provides jobs for most of the people in town, and they leverage that ruthlessly. Huff Hoyle, because he grew up poor, thinks that getting underpaid and treated like shit is just a stepping stone that people should have to endure to become rich, and it's interesting how wealth has made him lose all sympathy for the working men who come from the same background as him. This "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality is a common refrain among republicans when defending big businesses and nixing social programs, but the fact of the matter is, it just doesn't work. It didn't even work for Hoyle. He didn't get rich by working; he married into wealth by taking up with his boss's boss's daughter, and that's how he got his money.

The Louisiana setting was really well done and brought a nice pop of color to the story, with mardi gras, Cajun cuisine, and hot swamps. I also really liked Sayre. She's no-nonsense and cold, but I really liked that about her. I don't think that all heroines should have to be warm and extroverted to be worthy of being liked. She was competent, brave, witty, and funny, and it was cool to see her try to crusade against her family to help the people they were fucking over, and I liked that the author even talked a little about her privilege in doing so. The love interest was pretty great, too, for the most part. He's a fast-talking lawyer but it seems like there's more to him as well. And there is, but I'm not telling.

***WARNING: SPOILERS AND TRIGGERS AHEAD***

So, now we get into the problem areas of this book that might keep some people for reading it-- and warning: triggers for people unaliving themselves and abortion. But before we get into that, the slurs. This family is not nice, and when we get flashbacks to Sayre's father in the 1940s, he and his dad say the hard N-word several times. We're obviously not supposed to like him for it, but it's there, in print and maybe you don't want to see that. Knowing is power, and all that. What's a little more upsetting is that the hero of this book uses the R-word to talk about someone. He uses it twice (in the same section). But he's a bit of a dick too and this was written in the 1990s, so I guess it's not quite as shocking as it would be if it were used in a contemporary romance today (but you might not want to see that in print, especially from the alleged hero of the book, so there it is). The story also focuses on Danny's alleged suicide and speculates on reasons he might have wanted to do so. There are fairly graphic descriptions of the aftermath of the crime scene that probably won't be too much for anyone who regularly reads mysteries that have crime-related gore.

What was most upsetting to me-- although probably not for the obvious reasons-- is that there's this subplot about why Sayre hates her father. He broke up her relationship/engagement to her childhood sweetheart, and not only that, but he made a point to ruin the boy's life: getting his scholarship revoked, blackmailing his parents, forcing him into a deadend job where he ended up becoming an alcoholic to self-medicate for his obvious misery. Which would be reason enough to hate someone but Huff, being the world's biggest dickhead, decides to take it a step further. He has his daughter violently dragged from the house (she's literally clawing at the floor) and has the doctor that's in the family pocket tie her down to a table and forcibly give her an abortion. Obviously this is horrific and incredibly abusive, but it came across as even more of a slap in the face now because abortion is often a necessity for women (or, you know, anyone with a uterus) who need it (for fiscal, health, or even just "I'm not ready to be a parent" reasons), so seeing it used for shock value in this way as such a viscerally negative thing kind of came at me in a bad way after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. She tells her father (in very explicit and violent language) that the doctor was so rough he left her barren. Apparently, this was a lie. And that was annoying too because at the end of the book she's like "I CAN STILL MAKE BABIES" and it's like, what is this, anti-abortion propaganda? I don't know, the amount of page time devoted to Huff's baby lust (not in THAT way) and the use of abortion as both a punishment and a potential ending of one's value as a woman (as soon as Huff thinks she's barren, he's immediately like, WELP, you're of no use to me) left a bad taste in my mouth.

That said, I liked the book. Despite all the fucked-up shit, I think the characters were believably fucked-up enough that their actions made sense for who they were as people (and yes, that's an insult, fuck you, Hoyles). I doubt this book could have gotten published today without some revisions, but that's the price you pay when you like to read vintage books like I do. Oh, and the Hoyles also have a Black live-in housekeeper who definitely feels a little bit like a stereotype. But at least Brown didn't try to give her a blaccent like she did with her Black characters in FRENCH SILK, so you know what? Good for her. Yes, my standards are very low.

3.5 out of 5 stars

The Silent Rose by Kat Martin

 

DNF @ 34%

This review makes me really sad to write because Kat Martin is one of my favorite authors and I hate slamming my faves. Granted, I've mostly read her historical romances and this is a paranormal contemporary, so it's a bit different than what I'd usually read from her, but I loooove haunted house stories and I thought the idea of a woman falling for the reluctant heir to the haunted house was super intriguing.

THE SILENT ROSE starts off really well. Devon is a romance novelist who is engaged to be married to some corporate desk jockey. They go to a rustic BnB, which her fiance, Michael, does not even bother to hide his distaste for. They have a weird night. The room has a menacing presence and Devon thinks she sees apparitions. When she talks to the proprietress in the morning, the house's surprisingly gruesome history holds up to the apparations that she thought she saw. SO she does what any enterprising young writer would do: she decides to write a book about her experiences.

Here's where the book gets, uh, kind of weird. The love interest is not the heroine's fiance but the heir of the house, Johnathan Stafford. Which is fine. I'm used to this author having other men and other women in her books. It's kind of her thing. But the hero also has a mistress, a Japanese woman named Akemi, and what makes it really weird is that he clearly has a fetish for this. Like, he speaks (bad) Japanese, collects what he calls "Oriental" art, and he makes his mistress wear a kimono and hair combs and bow to people in greeting when they're in public. When he invites the heroine over to his apartment, he mansplains sushi and art to her, and when she sees him at a Brazilian art exhibition, for some reason he just randomly starts speaking Japanese to her there. He is, in short, a weeb. And that's kind of... gross. I mean, when I read a romance about a hero, I don't really want him to be perpetuating in the exotification of women of color. That's not really very "heroic."

The book also falls a little short with how it portrays the hero's young disabled son, Alex. I didn't get far enough to figure out what his ailment was, but he is in a wheelchair and the way it's described is cringe. The hero describes him as not being "whole" and the heroine says something to the effect that he is being overpowered or overwhelmed by this cold metal, like the chair is a nest of tentacles or something consuming him alive and not, you know, what he uses to get around in his normal day to day. This was written in the 90s, so I get that it's a dated reference and the author is probably leagues more sympathetic now, but I think the language will put a lot of people off because it comes across as ableist.

I'm not one who reads books with the intent of grading them on a "how woke is this book?" scale but I will call out problematic elements as I see them, even if I end up liking the book, because I know that some of the things that don't bother me will bother other people. Usually, I kind of grudgingly gloss over them (especially if they are older), but here there were just SO many things that rubbed me the wrong way that it was like trying to gloss over verbal tree bark.

If you're interested in trying out this author, I'd recommend BOLD ANGEL and DUELING HEARTS, as those are my favorites of hers to date. But this one, I'd say you can probably give a miss.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

Sunday, July 10, 2022

The American Association of Patriots Presents: How to Talk to Your Cat About Gun Safety by Zachary Auburn

 

My sister gave me this book as a present and it looked really cute. I thought it was going to be like the Tea Consent video, only with cats and guns. But this wasn't that. Apparently, this is satire, but if something becomes so satirical that people actually take it as face value, is it even good satire? There's a Reddit thread called r/AteTheOnion dedicated to making fun of people who didn't realize The Onion was satire and fell for their gleeful parody articles-- but my parents and I were just having a discussion about how The Onion doesn't really work as well as it used to now that the news is just so insane. Like, I just did a quick search using some keywords and turned up ACTUAL ARTICLES with the following headlines: "Marjorie Taylor Greene Addresses ‘Gazpacho Police’ Gaffe, Makes The Mockery Worse." And, even more recently: "Pregnant Texas woman says unborn baby should count as car passenger after receiving HOV ticket." The United States's political system is literally like some sort of bizarro system of how political systems actually ought to work and for the past ten years, our news is so bad that it sounds like satire.

HOW TO TALK TO YOUR CAT ABOUT GUN SAFETY manages to channel the survivalist, gun-hoarding, Alex Jones-watching mentality of people who would actually probably try to train their pets to shoot weapons. I didn't even think people like this existed outside of the internet until I was out running errands in the central valley and I saw a man wearing an oregone pyramid on top of a MAGA hat, with an Info Wars shirt, and what appeared to be a necrotic left toe. And then I was like holy shit. He was even holding his phone in one of those EMF protection bags. I guess in case the CNN satellites that are definitely targeting him decide to count the number of hate crimes in his web history, idk.

Anyway, my point is, for a book that is allegedly satire, it comes a little too close to the truth. I read this and immediately was like, "Who is this for??" Because honestly, it feels like the only people who will actually like this book are the people it's ostensibly making fun of, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. It's like being so ironic about Rebecca Black that you end up buying tickets to all of her concerts and becoming webmaster of her largest fansite. At that point, are you still an ironic hater? Or do you just stan Rebecca Black?

1 out of 5 stars