Wednesday, March 30, 2022

WtAFW: Spermjackers From Hell by Christine Morgan


Well, I guess it's official. My WtAFW Challenge broke my brain, because I actually thought this book was good. And to be fair... it kind of is, when it's not being so disgusting that you want to manifest some clean brain energy with some bleach and purifying crystals.

This is kind of like a tongue-in-cheek horror movie in book form. Like the first two Leprechaun movies or Evil Dead. It's weird and it's schlocky, but the book knows that it's being weird and schlocky and revels in it. And unlike a lot of the books I read for this challenge, which are usually pretty badly written and read like the rough draft was written out in five minutes on a napkin, in crayon, by someone who was getting tipsy on wine, this book is actually really well written.

The story is simple. A group of sexually frustrated older teens decides to summon a succubus. And they succeed, but not in the way that they hoped. Also, succubi apparently don't look like demon Barbie dolls. So that's kind of a downer, too. More than that, though, this is also commentary on gentrification, the problem with Nice Guys, and a really chilling insight into the evil that lurks in the hearts of men.

This book is very explicit and very gross and contains trigger warnings for basically everything you can think of, including a very literal interpretation of animal husbandry. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. But if you can look past the grossness, it's a really interesting, really original take on the classic monster horror story and I'm honestly shocked that I'm giving this such a high rating.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller


So first, a disclaimer: with a lot of my one- and two-star reviews, I'm like, "I thought this book was dumb and a waste of my time." With this book, I actually just feel like it's a matter of me not liking the style. It's beautifully written and the plot is interesting, I just couldn't get into it, so if you are a fan of fantasy, in particular the type of fantasy that Orbit books is well known for, you'll probably love this.

I spent most of this book being really confused. And I'm going to mention a spoiler here that will probably help you understand what's going on so if you hate those, scroll past, but it took me forEVER to realize that huge swaths of this book revolve around the idea of fugue states: both DID (dissociative identity disorder, previously known as multiple personality disorder (MPD)) and dissociative fugues. Fugues are a psychological coping mechanism in which the brain essentially locks itself down to prevent trauma. Another fugue state that is commonly represented in media, for example, is dissociative amnesia.

I'm actually not really sure how to describe the plot of this book because there is so much going on. But the heroine is a girl with freaky-colored hair who has an entourage of "boneghosts," or serving girls that she creates in vats. Each girl looks like her, but has a different function. One is named Pain, for example, and she can absorb others' pain. One is called Desire, and she has a lot of desires, and so on. The heroine is named Charm and she's a witch who works with the emperor, but the emperor is a suspicious son of a bitch and he's implanted something called a mindlock in her head, which is basically a psychic combination lock that forces obedience.

When the emperor dies, his final wish is that she has to find his murderer and bring him (he assumes it's one of his douchebag sons) to justice. If she does that, she's free. Gee, thanks Emperor Mind Rape, but also, what a tall order. You kind of suck. Charm immediately sets to work with her boneghost brigade and a lot of court intrigue ensues. Again, I thought this was interesting, but the writing style and the incredibly dense prose didn't grip me. I think I've said this in other book reviews, but I prefer fantasy stories that are all about the characters and the immersion into the storyline, so something like this, where it feels more removed and more political, is not really my thing. A lot of reviewers don't really talk about what a book is like, they are more about their feelings and what is happening in the book, so for someone like me, who loves fantasy but is picky about the telling, it's hard for me to look at reviews and tell what I'm getting into and whether I'm going to like the book.

So in short, this is a densely written fantasy novel heavy on the court intrigue that features a strong and interesting heroine, some pretty graphic body horror scenes, and has virtually no romance. If that appeals to you, and I know a lot of my followers probably will be like YESSS NO ROMANCE, you'll probably like the book. For a debut, it's a really impressive and ambitious work and I'm sorry I didn't enjoy it more. I wanted to DNF multiple times but I forced myself to finish it because I really wanted to like it, but for some reason forcing yourself to finish something you're not enjoying doesn't change your mind about the book. Fancy that (sarcasm). Moral of story: don't force yourself to finish things you aren't enjoying because life is short.

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

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, March 28, 2022

My Own Way: Celebrating Gender Freedom for Kids by Joana Estrela


This is the English translation of a Portuguese book called Menino, Menina. As a book, it's pretty mediocre, but as a tool to use to talk to kids about gender identity, and what it means to be a boy, girl, or even non-binary, it's wonderful. I think the message here is very pure and the crayon-like illustrations give it a fun 90s vibe that I really like. The rhymes are sweet, too. I think you just have to go into this thinking not "story time" but "educational tool."

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

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, March 27, 2022

When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen


WHEN THE RECKONING COMES is so good, I'm honestly surprised that it doesn't have way more reviews. It's kind of like a cross between Octavia Butler's Kindred and Stephen King's Rose Red, in that it's a haunted house story, but also a scathing criticism on the cruelty of slavery, and the way that future generations pave over the past, reimagining it as a picturesque idyll instead of what it really was.

Mira grew up with childhood friends, Jesse and Celine, but then they grew apart and she moves away. When Celine gets married, she phones up Mira and asks her to come to her wedding, which is being held at a recently restored plantation house. Mira is obviously like, what the heck, Celine, are you crazy, and initially refuses, but a phone call from Jesse changes her mind. Jesse, her childhood crush, who grew distant from her as well after one night in a haunted house went so, so wrong... So she decides to go to make things right.

Parts of this book are incredibly disturbing. I have a pretty high bar for disturbing content. This book flung from that bar and did somersaults over it. At the dark core of the Woodsman House is a gruesome history of some of the worst crimes against humanity, which are gradually revealed in pretty horrifying ways. I'm not particularly superstitious but some of my favorite ghost stories revolve around the idea that places of extreme anger or tragedy or pain can become psychic vectors, where all of that bleak emotion seeks into the walls and the floors and turns the house into a place of living, breathing hate and vengeance. I feel like WHEN THE RECKONING COMES buys into that sort of haunted house story, and man, is the payoff good.

My only qualm is that I would have liked more romance between Jesse and Mira, since I really shipped them as a couple, and I felt like the "present" portions of the book weren't quite as compelling as the scenes about their childhood and the historical passages, apart from the scene when Mira comes to the plantation and sees the Disney take on plantation life. It's physically sickening and I thought the author did such a good job with how understated it was, letting it all speak for itself.

This is a horror story, a ghost story, a coming of age story, and a lesson on the importance of social justice, all wrapped up in a bleak and oddly compelling parcel. I'd recommend it to anyone who has the stomach for it, which unfortunately won't be everyone. Read at your own risk.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies: And Other Rituals to Fix Your Life, from Someone Who's Been There by Tara Schuster


DNF @ 30%

Okay, so I've been struggling with this book for a while. I originally bought it because I loved the title and I struggle with getting myself nice things because deep down, I kind of feel like I don't deserve them. And I actually agree with a lot of the things the author says, like how when you have depression and anxiety but you also come from a background of privilege, you might actually feel a lot of guilt over being so depressed and anxious because you don't feel like you "deserve" to. This book also emphasizes the importance of self-reflection and self-care, which I also think are really important.

I think this book fails, though, because in trying to relate, the author came off as pretty unrelatable to me. I can't afford theater tickets and I'm not on any first-name bases with celebrities. She does come off as very privileged and while I love that she was up front with that, I couldn't really relate to her life, and the pop psychology/girl, I got you vibe of this book kind of made this feel like a secular version of GIRL, WASH YOUR FACE, which I really can't stand.

For some people this might be a good book but I didn't really like it. It's a self-help book, with memoir elements, and if that's your jam you'll probably like this. Personally, she lost me when she started talking about how much she loved journaling and the merits of positive psychology. I have a very toxic relationship with journaling and no longer do that, and I don't really like positive psychology because I feel like it's been co-opted in the social media sphere by people who practice toxic positivity.

2 out of 5 stars

Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit


DNF @ 40%

Rebecca Solnit is one of my favorite feminist essayists and when she's on her game, she is on her game. But sadly, I did not like HOPE IN THE DARK at all. First of all, disclaimer. I'm a California liberal, exactly the variety that so many people in the rest of the U.S. find so obnoxious, and to be honest, I don't really care. I was raised to treat all people with respect, to view people as people and not tokens, and to not hold everyone to the same creeds that I live my own life. I believe in free elections and democracy, and I think that foreign policy shouldn't stop at the Northern border, and if that makes me controversial, then I guess I'm controversial.

That said, I really didn't like HOPE IN THE DARK. Not only is it dated and depressing, I just don't really believe in the hope anymore. I honestly believe that the conservative party is keeping us from progressing as a society, socially, politically, and technologically, and I no longer share her optimism. Maybe I did once, but you know what they say about fooling someone twice. After three stolen elections, I don't have a lot of faith in the system anymore. I do what I can with my platform and try to raise awareness and do good, but I no longer hold much faith in a unification of the two party system.

1 out of 5 stars

Aim High in Creation!: A One-of-a-Kind Journey inside North Korea's Propaganda Machine by Anna Broinowski


Even though this is basically a publicity stunt masquerading as a book, I was so intrigued by the premise. I love reading books about North Korea because I find it such a fascinating country. Do I ever want to go there? No, absolutely not. But would I like to learn more? Yes. And Anna Broinowski is an interesting woman. Apparently she is a fairly well-known Australian documentarian well-known for debunking the book published by the Jordanian author, Norma Khouri, which proved to be a hoax about the frequency of honor killings in Jordan.

AIM HIGH IN CREATION! is her memoir/journalism piece about traveling to North Korean to learn about propaganda from North Korean filmmakers. When fracking came to her city, she wanted to produce a movie about its dangers and thought what better way to learn to manipulate an audience than from the country that makes propaganda one of its primary focuses? It sounds like a stunt and I kind of wonder if it was. Especially since this idea came to her after her husband left her for a younger woman (by her own admission in the text) and the decision seemed irresponsibly impulsive.

Luckily, the journey ended well. Most of the people she met with were kind and she learned a lot about how and why they make the films that they do, as well as what the modern North Korea looks like, post-famine, under the rule of Kim Jong Un. I was a little on the fence about reading this book, but the negative reviews for it ended up selling me on the concept. First, people said that this book was too critical of capitalism. I personally think capitalism has a lot to answer for, and a truly capitalistic society can end up looking and feeling rather cold-blooded and sociopathic. There is definitely a lot to criticize and I think people who staunchly defend that structure are probably part of the problem.

Second, they said that she was too nice to the North Koreans. I think a quote from one of her Western contacts sums it up best when he said that at the end of the day, they're people like us, who are trying to take care of their families and survive the day. No country is truly evil. Its leaders might be, but the people make up all kinds, and I think villainizing countries as a whole ends up leading down a slippery slope of dehumanization and bad foreign policy. Would I categorize North Korea as a hostile nation? Yes. Does that mean that no good people live in that country? No. Even though I had some issues with Broinowski as a journalist, I really do feel like she came to DPRK from a good place and she really tried to portray her subjects from a uniquely humanistic perspective, so props for that.

I do feel like the memoir was a bit unevenly paced and I wish there were more pictures (I loved that she included photos of the people who worked with her, and of some of the DPRK scenery), but I feel like a lot of the criticism this book received was excessively harsh. At the very least, it was an interesting read.

3 out of 5 stars

Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown


I bought this a while ago thinking it might be a funny, quasi-informative collection of essays about the struggle of being adulting, but no, it is an actual step-by-step guide separated into various categories about how to "adult," ranging from things like setting boundaries with your parents to treating LGBT+ and people of color with respect to basic and easy recipes on what to cook alone.

I thought this book was fine. It would be a good gift for someone 18-21, I think, but I can think of plenty of older people I know who would probably benefit from such a gift (although giving it to them might be construed as passive-aggressive, so I'd refrain). Some things in this book are common sense but it does seem to skew white, middle-class, and cis-het (see the section on how to treat trans people). Also, I have an edit to suggest on the off-chance that the author or the pub sees this: ending the how to be PC section with a "this book's spirit animal is a thank you note" joke comes across as a little tone deaf. I've tried to remove that phrase from my vocabulary myself because apparently a lot of Native people find it offensive.

So yes, this would be a great book for someone who is off to college or leaving home. The collection of recipes and list of basic pantry items is especially helpful and I like that ADULTING tackles difficult topics, like being there for others in times of grief, talking to your parents about wills and trusts, and how to measure the health of your friendships and remove toxic people from your life. I probably won't be keeping this one but I can definitely see the merit in it.

3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Camgirl by Isa Mazzei


Whoa. This is honestly one of the most brutal memoirs I've ever read, and even though it basically has triggers up and down the board for everything, from mental illness to explicit sexual content, I couldn't put it down. I don't think I've ever read a memoir that felt so much like fiction, in that the author really felt so much larger than life that she was like a character in her own movie. The way she writes about her experiences with so much brutal honesty sucks you right in.

Isa Mazzei grew up in an abusive household with two parents who were mentally ill. Their4 glamorous jobs put her in peripheral contact with celebrity, but she was kind of starved for affection and ended up socially manipulating her peers to get the accolades she wanted. As an adult, this behavior became magnified and she first started getting paid as a sugar baby but then started camming. And rather than being toxic, both these things gave her money and also allowed her to achieve sexual agency in a way that she really hadn't been able to do before.

I know a lot of people like to take cheap shots at sex work, and the people who do it, but at the end of the day, it is a job. And she really communicates that in this book, whether it's having to be "on" even in the middle of some personal crisis, to managing the needy and emotionally dependent men who claimed to be fans but constantly wanted to skirt the boundaries of what was professional and what was not, it was honestly draining to read. I can't imagine having to actually live and manage to that sort of lifestyle.

What a thought-provoking and interesting woman.

5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Hello, Please!: Very Helpful Super Kawaii Characters from Japan by Matt Alt


After reading and enjoying Matt Alt's other book, PURE INVENTION, I was dying to get my hands on HELLO, PLEASE! Alt works as a localizer, which is someone who translates and adapts media from one country for consumption in another, which includes updating or providing reference for cultural differences, translations, idioms, and more. PURE INVENTION was a book about some of Japan's biggest contributions to global culture as a whole, and when I found out HELLO, PLEASE! was authored by the same dude, I was super psyched.

HELLO, PLEASE! is a publication from Chronicle Books. It seems to be out of print, since I didn't see it on their website and it didn't seem to be available in ebook or new. It's also a little dated. You'll get a kick out of the images of cell phones in here; they're all old flip phones with touch-press keypads. I actually follow this person called "Mondo Mascots" on Twitter and Instagram, who shares new images of Japanese mascots every day. This book is pretty short but contains tons of full-color illustrations, depicting mascots intended to advertise, warn, or convey helpful information.

I actually had the pleasure of going to Japan several years ago. There were mascots everywhere, on everything, and every city has its own. I didn't recognize any of these, except for Mr. Custom, who was on the wall of the Customs office in the airport I flew in from, and the train ones for Suica. The book is pretty small; about the size of a mass market paperback but a little shorter and wider, so it's not quite a coffee table book, even though that's basically what it is. I think it will appeal most to people who are already interested in Japan or who really enjoy looking at the funny and interesting mascots. I did.

4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Clean Air by Sarah Blake


DNF @ p.229

At first I was kind of into this book. It reminded me of old school female sci-fi by authors like Sheri S. Teper or Octavia Butler. But then the book got weird. First of all, the premise is one of the most unusual post-apoc premises I've encountered in a while. Climate change has triggered a pollination event that has caused the air to have unhealthy levels of pollen, killing off the young and old and causing respiratory failure in basically everyone who doesn't have precautions in place.

Izabel and Kaito are an interracial couple with a young daughter named Cami. One day, they go to bed and wake up to find their daughter not breathing. Someone has slashed into their protections, leaving them vulnerable to the toxic air. It turns out to be a serial killer who is murdering other families in this way.

I liked the thriller element at first but then this book started getting really weird. The author chose to make people psychic for some reason, maybe in homage to how so many 70s sci-fi novels inexplicably had people being psychic, but there's no explanation for it. And yet, the police have an on-call psychic to make people give psychic confessions and people Medium in their sleep, so idk. It felt like a deus ex machina to me, and really left a big gaping plot bunny in the narrative.

The writing is very clean and I liked the diverse cast of characters. At one point, Izabel and Kaito end up taking in a Muslim girl who wears a hijab and there are numerous other PoC characters in this world. I think if you like trippy vintage sci-fi you'll enjoy this more than I did. At least the cover is super pretty. My copy made the dew drops on the blueberries a different kind of plastic so they glisten as if the cover is actually wet. I love the cover and the premise and wish this had worked for me more than it actually did.

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

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, March 21, 2022

Showgirls, Teen Wolves, and Astro Zombies: A Film Critic's Year-Long Quest to Find the Worst Movie Ever Made by Michael Adams


There are only a couple ways to be a really good movie, but boy, are there a ton of ways to be a bad movie. And we get to see just how inventive failure lets people be in SHOWGIRLS, TEEN WOLVES, AND ASTRO ZOMBIES, as Australian film critic, Michael Adams, decides to spend exactly one year trying to find the worst of the worst, in his quest to find The Worst Movie Ever Made.

Some movies I really enjoy are considered "bad" movies. Like, Dungeons and Dragons, a schlocky fantasy fest based on the table-top game by the same name and has 90s low-budget effects. Or Glitter, which is Mariah Carey's very very semi-autobiographical movie about her rise to fame, only with toxic romance thrown in. Whatever, my inner-preteen still thinks it slaps. And then there's Batman & Robin, which is like if Batman were filmed at an LGBT+ ball event... and I mean that in a positive way, because it has the over-the-top costumes and drama of performers like RuPaul and I'm still obsessed with it. It's literally my favorite Batman movie.

I think there are good bad and bad bad movies, and I think what makes something good bad is (1) either self-aware or (2) not self-aware at all. The first one gives a movie heart and kind of makes you feel like you're in on the joke. The second one is funny. It's like when you see your enemy do something stupid and you can laugh at them without them knowing. It's malicious and probably makes you a little bit of a bad person, but you can still feel good about it because you convince yourself that they set themselves up for their own fall. 

Adams is a good writer, but the book did come out a while ago, so the movies he discusses peak at the mid-aughts. You can tell when he's having fun and you can tell when he's dialing it in a little. I did some skimming through some of the less memorable passages, but when he really loves or hates something, the pages practically quiver with energy and I liked that. Directors like Ed Wood and Roger Corman are mentioned, of course, but he also talks about bad movies famous actors were in either before they were famous (Angelina Jolie was in a bad cyborg movie) or after they ran through their careers (Mae West was apparently in a terrible erotica, although Adams didn't see that one... yet).

There were parts of this book I loved and parts I loved less. I do think I'm going to keep it around as a reference because some of the movies in here sounded really fun, and at the end of the book Adams includes a list of his Worst of the Worst, along with a list of movies and some notes that he didn't really feel were noteworthy enough to be crammed into a full chapter of this project. If you enjoy books about movies and pop culture, you're going to love this. Especially if you enjoyed THE DISASTER ARTIST.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

WtAFW: I Don't Care If My Best Friend's Mom is a Sasquatch, She's Hot and I'm Taking a Shower With Her by Lacey Noonan


Double-feature time! So I have this project called What the Actual F*** Wednesday where I devote one day a week to reading and reviewing the weirdest of the weird and, why yes, I do take requests. This book in particular came from my buddy, Mark, and I originally meant to review it several weeks ago, but then I got all wrapped up in my own publishing endeavors and basically let it fall to the side along with everything else.

I DON'T CARE IF MY BEST FRIEND'S MOM IS A SASQUATCH, SHE'S HOT AND I'M TAKING A SHOWER WITH HER is one of those books where the plot is neatly summed up in the title, 50s pulp movie style. The hero is acquainted with the she-squatch as a child when he goes to his buddy's Luke's house and sees that his mom, uh, is different. But then Luke moves and he kind of forgets about her until he sees him in a bar and goes back to his house to confirm.

And uh, yeah, there she is. But it turns out that she's being held prisoner and also she's in heat and also there's a twist at the end and also it's the new millennium so anything can happen. M.J. Edwards, is this you? Because after reading this book, I'm not so sure that it isn't.

As far as titles go, this one is pretty lit. I laughed for a good couple seconds when this showed up in my recs, and it made me shell out actual cash for this book (I know, I'm a fool). The writing itself is pretty bad, but I liked all of the 90s nostalgia. I felt like the author went the extra mile trying to differentiate this book from the legions of other Z-movie style bad erotica out there, and in this, I feel she succeeded.

It was still pretty bad, though.

1 out of 5 stars

WtAFW: Love, Laugh, Lich by Kate Prior


Welcome to What the Actual Fuck Wednesday, where I review some of the weirdest romance novels and erotica books out there, and YES, I do take requests. I've been so busy lately that I've actually skipped over a couple weeks, but now I'm back with a vengeance, and this week I'm reviewing LOVE, LAUGH, LICH courtesy of my friend, Brooke.

LOVE, LAUGH, LICH is about Lily, who works a corporate desk job for her lich boss. And when she's not working on spreadsheets or participating in ritualistic sacrifices, she's wondering what's under her boss's robes. Which, spoilers: three tentacle cocks. Or coral cocks. Personally, I think they sound more like polyps than Squidward, but whatever it is, he's got a colony of them and they love anal play.

I guess this is a neat twist on the usual "spreadsheet jockey horny for hot boss" genre of erotic fiction, and the whole undead dark lord vibe give it a Beetlejuice in Bureaucratic Hell vibe that I found pretty entertaining, especially with the inclusion of Janice from HR, some much-needed comedy relief who is proof that yes, underqualified people still are getting hired, thanks, and that there are lots of "bone" jokes you can make about skeletons or liches or whatever, because the undead isn't a protected class-- yet.

As a romance, this was a no. The three cocks with their sucker prongs grossed me out. Also, the heroine's vajazzler doubles as a supersoaker apparently, which scored an eye-roll and a cringe from me. He's also a little toxic. I'm pretty sure even if you're an undead zombie with a heart in a cave, you're still not supposed to fuck your underlings, or banish their would-be love rivals to bleak, eternal hell pits. He comes around at the end, of course, but I still wouldn't wear a red shirt in this office, if you get me.

In terms of unintentional hilarity, this gets a five. But in terms of would I bang the lich, this gets a negative nope-thousand. I'm pretty sure that averages out to a two, but don't check my math.

2 out of 5 star

Sunday, March 20, 2022

The Vampire Queen's Servant by Joey W. Hill


DNF @ 9%

This was a BR with my GR friend, Audrey. THE VAMPIRE QUEEN'S SERVANT was on my to-read list for many years and when the author made it free on Kindle, I was naturally all over that like white on rice because I love a good dark romance and if it's about vampires, so much the better. And that cover!!! Do we stan? Yes, we stan.

Sadly, the book was not for me. It's fitting that the cover is purple because this book is literally drowning in its own purple prose. And the heroine is the thirsiest character I've ever met, and I'm not just saying that because she's a vampire. Literally everything gets her hot, from a foot massage to a sultry look, and I'm just like okay. Chill, girl. We get it. You have a thirst that cannot be denied, etc.

If you like Anne Rice's erotica trilogy-- you know the one-- you'll probably enjoy this book. Otherwise, maybe not...

1 out of 5 stars

Pencils You Should Know: A History of the Ultimate Writing Utensil in 75 Anecdotes by Caroline Weaver


Chronicle Books had a whole bunch of books go on sale and they were all about really weird and interesting things, and I like weird and interesting things, so I was there snapping up everything I could get my hands on. A book about pencils? Oh yes. Don't mind if I do. Never mind that I haven't written with a pencil since I was in school, and haven't done anything approaching collecting pencils since I was probably in grade school. YOLO.

This is exactly what it purports to be. A woman who is fanatical about her pencil collection writing about the history of pencils, and some of the standouts in her collection and others. It's honestly rather wholesome, to be honest, and I mean that totally not-sarcastically. I love seeing people get passionate about their niche interests, especially if it's not something I share or know a lot about. These are the sorts of people who edit Wikipedia into the incredibly cool knowledge collective that it is.

I liked the pictures and some of the pencils, like the Japanese pencil with the, uh, questionable French on it, and the fun 40s and 50s pastel and neon novelty pencils, were really cool. The artsy and historical ones went over my head, but they were nice I guess. Also I learned that the metal part at the top of the pencil is called a "ferrule," which I think I knew at some point and probably forgot.

The premise wore a little thin after a while but it's an interesting and unusual premise, so I did like it.

3 out of 5 stars

Monsters You Should Know by Emma SanCartier


I'm still slowly getting back into reading after taking a bit of a hiatus to publish my newest book, and lucky for me, Chronicle Books seems to be having an online book sale as of my writing this because a pretty considerable amount of their library was $1.99 and $2.99 each when I checked, so cut to me immediately snatching up all of these amazingly weird books about fashion and art and other weird things, like the history of pencils.

MONSTERS YOU SHOULD KNOW is an illustrated beastiary of monsters from all over the world, from South America to the United Kingdom to Africa. The illustrations are gorgeous watercolors and it comes back full circle from the beginning in a fun and unexpected way that serves as a really nice callback.

I think this is probably being aimed and targeted to children, but adults will like it too, just because some of the creatures in here are so fascinating. My only qualm is that it's too short-- I wanted more monsters! More illustrations! More everything!

Hopefully there will be a follow-up.

4.5 out of 5 stars

The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex by Kristen Schaal


DNF @ 10%

I feel like this is the type of book a frat guy might write with his friends, and if that appeals to you, you'll probably like this book. When I saw a joke that would probably considered semi-racist now, I went to look at the pub date and I wasn't really surprised to see that this came out over ten years ago-- it already feels incredibly dated. But even despite its off-color jokes, it still isn't very funny. The humor is that "so random!" style of comedy... and that's it, and it kind of basks in its aughts-era raunch. I am so not a fan.

1 out of 5 stars

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Corrupt Idol by Dinah Harper


I've been wanting to read this for a while because my readers kept telling me that this book reminded them of something I wrote, and as a writer, I think that's always really exciting because (presumably) you write the sorts of stories you want to be reading yourself. When I finally decided to treat myself to the book, I had really high expectations-- and honestly, I ended up enjoying it way more than I thought I would, considering that it contained some elements that I don't normally seek out.


❤️ The psychology of the characters. When I read a dark romance, it's not enough that it has smut. I want a book that really plunges the depths of the characters, exploring the horrors lurking in their psyche. I noticed in the critical reviews of this book that a lot of people were super hard on Violet, the heroine, but I actually felt like the author did a really good job capturing her stepbrother's betrayal, and her torn feelings over holding him accountable and giving in because giving in was easier. I felt bad for her, especially with Jesse manipulating her when she should be devoting all of her cognitive load to self-care for her grief.
❤️ The hero is one dark mother. A lot of dark romances claim to have scary heroes but they often just come across as sounding, uh, kind of desperate. Jesse is terrifying, maybe because in his mind (I would assume, since we never see his POV), he thinks he's being perfectly rational. I honestly think he's a high-functioning sociopath. The way he gaslights his stepsister and can act like he really is a "good man" while doing what he's doing-- that is not normal. But he thinks it is. *shudders*
❤️ I felt things while reading this book. No, not like that, you pervs. What I mean is that, when Violet finds out about her stepmother's cancer, the shock felt real. When her stepbrother immediately takes advantage of her when they first meet, immediately rekindling all of her worst doubts and fears, I genuinely felt her outrage and terror. When Jesse figures out that emotional manipulation is the key to her heart and he unleashes this pretty gruesome confessional, it hit different. It hit hard.


💔 The religious elements in this book didn't really work for me. I am not religious, so some of the things in this book, like equating godliness with goodliness, having being a good wife and mother determining whether or not a woman is a "good" person, and the weirdly prudish attitudes about sex before marriage-- it was very odd for me. Especially with what the dad does to Violet at the end, and how he compares her to her mother. I really didn't like that.
💔 The abrupt ending. This doesn't really have an HFN or an HEA. I mean, maybe it sort of does depending on what you think about that, but I don't think it does. The author did say in her note that this is going to be the first book in a series, in addition to the other book she has planned, but I left this book wanting more closure than what I got.
💔 Who "is" Jesse, really? As I said before, I read Jesse as being a sociopath. But then towards the end, it kind of felt like the author was trying to take his character in a different direction. Maybe the book would have been better with his POV (I personally liked the mystery), but his characterization felt a little inconsistent. I don't really feel like I really understood what made him tick, apart from his obsession with Jesse, or what made him into what he is.

Overall, I'm not sorry I read this book. I think people who like those really dark and taboo romance novels will enjoy this one, and I am really curious to see what the author does next. I hope her next book is longer and really goes into deeper detail with her characters. She doesn't have much of a social media presence so I was kind of bummed about that when I tried to peep her out and see what she's working on, but hopefully there is something and she's living her best dark romance life.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Guerrilla Girls: The Art of Behaving Badly by Guerrilla Girls


The Guerrilla Girls are a group of anonymous activists who wear gorilla masks when they appear in public, and campaign against social inequality, inequality w/r/t the wage gap, and inequality in the art industry (especially when it comes to representation by women and people of color). I'd heard about them before in some of my other readings but I didn't know of any of their specific work, so it was cool to read a collection of their "Greatest Hits" and see how they put up flyers and did demonstrations to further equality and diversity.

It's worth noting that in the ebook, only about half of the "book" is actual content. The other half is a bibliography and index. This didn't factor into my rating but I know other people might be bothered by that. I liked the book but after a while, some of the campaigns started to feel redundant, especially with the most famous one (the one about how women have to be posing for a nude to appear in an art museum) being shown multiple times. I get it, it was a bomb campaign, but it started to lose its punch after the tenth time or whatever.

I think this is a better resource than it is a book of pleasure reading. If you're writing a paper on art or the history of feminism, I would highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of this because they're cool. And it's important to illustrate (literally and figuratively) that the work of feminism is still NOT done, that women and people of color are still grossly underrepresented across multiple fields, including art, and that there are powerful people in politics who still campaign daily to not only prevent their rights from advancing but also to strip away the extant ones.

3 out of 5 stars

Chinatown Pretty: Fashion and Wisdom from Chinatown's Most Stylish Seniors by Andria Lo


Chronicle had a whole bunch of their books on sale so I decided to indulge myself. CHINATOWN PRETTY is a book written by a pair of bloggers who manage an Instagram account by the same name, showcasing the fashions of elderly Chinese people living in various Chinatowns in the U.S. and Canada. In this book, they feature the Chinatowns of San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Vancouver, replete with photographs and brief interviews that give you a little taste about how these people came to the U.S. and what inspired their looks.

I think this is a really cute and wholesome book. Some of the women in here were SO stylish that they honestly made me feel like I needed to up my game. I also like that both authors featured their own grandmothers (or stepgrandmother in one case) in this book as well. Even the stranger and quirkier looks were really fun, especially because of the stories.

I do wish that we got to know more about each individual person. Every city opens with a brief history about how Chinatowns were formed, and some of the people they talked to mentioned things like fleeing the cultural revolution in China or working odd jobs to make a living (like the lady who worked for an engineer who made her wear a Chinese blouse while she cleaned his house, wth). There were some people who seemed reticent or reluctant to speak about their pasts, but for those who were willing, I would have liked to have known more. Polka Dot, especially, really stole the show, because she got so many pages.

If you're lucky enough to have a Chinatown near you, I recommend you visit. I've been to the SF Chinatown a lot and it's really beautiful and so amazing to walk through and explore. Some of the best Taiwanese style boba places I've been to are in this area (including a corgi-themed cafe called "The Boba Butt Cafe"). And yes, you see a ton of really great and fun outfits while walking these streets.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Well-Read Women: Portraits of Fiction's Most Beloved Heroines by Samantha Hahn


Books-about-books often end up disappointing me because I think too often they rely on the hype of whatever it is they're writing about, rather than bringing something new to the table. WELL-READ WOMEN is not that sort of book, though. Each page features a quote from a heroine of some beloved classic that the author felt captured her personality in a snapshot, and is paired with a beautiful watercolor (yes? watercolor?) of the author's interpretation of that heroine.

I got this on Kindle but I bet it's a gorgeous coffee table book in person. The illustrations were truly lovely and I liked that the author didn't just, you know, base her illustrations off the character models/actors that played the movie adaptations of the works (for example, her Scarlett O'Hara does not look like Vivien Leigh at all).

Definitely a must for anyone who loves both books and art.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Am I Overthinking This?: Over-answering life's questions in 101 charts by Michelle Rial


AM I OVERTHINKING THIS? has been on my radar for a while as someone who has chronic anxiety. This is a hilarious and brilliantly constructed book consisting of charts, sometimes with found objects, about various worry-worthy (and not so worry-worthy) moments in life.

The illustrations were so funny. The author used things like tweezers, candles, bag handles, and matchsticks to make bar graphs and Venn diagrams. I'm not sure people who don't have anxiety will get the same level of "I feel seen!" enjoyment out of this as those who do, but speaking for myself, this made me cackle aloud at least twice and I think I might keep this on my Kindle for my next bad day.

Also, major props to the formatting team for making an image-heavy book that is actually readable in the Kindle app. I can't tell you how many books I've had to return to the store because the labels on the pictures were too small to read. The effort really matters!

4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Men to Avoid in Art and Life by Nicole Tersigni

 I've been so busy lately that I've just been like, "What even is reading? Books? I don't know her." So when I noticed a whole bunch of Chronicle Books were on sale in the Kindle store I was like YAAAASS. Because everyone knows that the best thing to get you back into reading are easy books with lots of pictures.

MEN TO AVOID IN ART AND LIFE is a comical art/coffee table book consisting of classical works of art that have been captioned to make fun of mansplainers. The concept is pretty played out by the time you get to the end of the book but I felt like for 95% of it, the humor was totally on point, and I found myself giggling out loud more than once. I also liked how a list of the paintings used and where they were sourced is included at the end, in case you find one that tickles your fancy and want to see more.

I think people who love feminism and art will enjoy this. As far as feminism goes, this is strictly playing in the shallow waters, but it still got a smile or two and it was exactly what I needed at the time.

4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, March 12, 2022

The 2000s Made Me Gay: Essays on Pop Culture by Grace Perry


I've been wanting to read this ever since I heard about it. The concept! The premise! The Myspace-blue cover! The stylized iPod Nano! When it went on sale, I snapped it up faster than you could say the title of the book. THE 2000s MADE ME GAY is a collection of pop culture essays about the aughts, by Grace Perry, a lesbian woman, who recounts how pop culture influenced not just her coming out, but also the way she expressed her gender, the way she perceived gender norms and sexuality, and the ups and downs of all those things.

For me, one of the stand-out essays was the one about Mean Girls and how it expresses some pretty harmful double standards about being gay as a woman versus as a man. I also liked her essay on being a tomboy and how a lot of tomboy characters seem to be coded in a way that could be perceived as sapphic, even though they usually end up being paired with a male love interest (examples: Spinelli from Recess and all of the movie, Cadet Kelly). She also wrote a really interesting essay on what she calls "Banter Boys," which are kind of the male equivalent of manic pixie dreamgirls, in my opinion.

Overall, I really enjoyed this collection. There were some chapters that didn't resonate quite as strongly for me-- I never watched Glee (because when it came out, I was firmly entrenched in my goth metal phase and thought that it was a show for the evil prepz) and I'm not really a fan of Taylor Swift-- but for the most part, this ended up being nostalgic in the best way and I think I'm going to keep it around on my Kindle so I can revisit the essays that spoke most strongly to me.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

WtAFW: Catnapped by the Catman by Jade Waltz


DNF @ 11%

So I have this weekly feature called What the Actual Fuck Wednesday where people recommend me weird books just to see me review/react to them. I feel pretty good about this challenge for several reasons. The books are usually short, so setting this weekly reading goal feels super attainable. The authors writing these books are doing so in good fun and seem to be pretty chill with receiving all kinds of feedback, positive and negative, because they're just doing it as a sort of lucrative experiment to see what people will let them get away with. And because people have been recommending these books to me basically ever since they started caring what I say in my reviews, so I figured I might as well provide a constructive outlet for their evil.

CATNAPPED BY THE CATMAN is a book that I have been awaiting anxiously for months. I feel like the publication date was pushed back several times because my friend Patron Saint Fitzwilliam recommended this to me all the way back in December and I remember thinking "Oh! Cool! It comes out in January!" NOPE. But as a fellow postponer of release dates, I get it. If you're not ready, you're not ready, and taking the extra time to polish up your work and setting reasonable goals is something to be admired (not sarcasm). BUT I WANTED THAT BOOK, THO. And so I waited. Impatiently. Stalking the book's page and waiting some more.

When it came out, I downloaded it instantly... and was immediately bored. I didn't really like the narrative or the writing style and it felt like there were a lot of scenes that should have been cut for time. Blocks of paragraphs about what the cat likes to eat, for god's sake. Oh, and it's a talking cat, and I didn't figure that out until I saw someone else's review. I thought maybe the heroine was so crazy she was just basically making up conversation for her cat to hide her forever-aloneness. 

I liked the cover a lot. It kind of looks like it was done by the same artist as the one who did those spider romance covers. I'd hoped that because I'm not squicked out by cats the way I am by spiders that I would enjoy this even more, but it was just a total miss for me.

1 out of 5 stars

Monday, March 7, 2022

Perpetual West by Mesha Maren


This isn't the sort of book that I'd usually read but I ended up enjoying it both more and less than I thought I would. PERPETUAL WEST has a great beginning. It's about a married couple-- Elena and Alex-- who are living just north of the border, but make frequent trips to Juarez. Alex, who is adopted, was born in Mexico, and in order to learn more about his culture and feel more connected to it, he's gotten involved in the local punk scenes and learned Spanish while also writing his thesis on masked Mexican wrestling.

What Elena doesn't know is that Alex is having an affair with the very wrestler he's been studying: El Vengador, who goes by Mateo. Your identity as a luchador is apparently super top secret, which I actually remember from watching Mucha Lucha as a kid (did anyone else watch that? It was in the same line-up as Jackie Chan Adventures and Avatar: The Last Airbender). Mateo is hot but he's also in deep with the local cartels, and he ends up dragging Alex down with him.

I liked the cartel bits because, you know, obviously. But Elena's story became tedious, and the Kasa de Kultura people ended up seeming kind of abhorrently pretentious (although I think that was the point). I ended up skimming through a lot of her scenes. Major trigger warnings, BTW, for drug use and eating disorders. The 2000s setting and the Mexican punk culture scene were fascinating and the cartel elements almost felt reminiscent of Scarface, but at the same time, this almost felt like multiple books crammed into one. I did finish because I wanted to see what happened and I didn't really like the ending. I do like this author's writing style, though, and will definitely check out more from her.

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

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Barely Functional Adult: It’ll All Make Sense Eventually by Meichi Ng


When I heard about the concept of BARELY FUNCTIONAL ADULT, I felt personally attacked by the premise-- in a good way. Adulting is hard sometimes, especially if you're feeling depressed, have just switched careers, are struggling with impostor syndrome, or are in the middle of overcoming some sort of personal hurdle. This graphic novel essay collection covers all of that and more, with charmingly simplistic doodles reminiscent of Allie Brosh.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, especially the introductory essay about her pet dwarf frogs, and the essays about the difficulty of making friends as an adult and realizing you're getting older and therefore aren't as "cool" or fun. I think there's a lot to relate to in this book and for the most part, I found it quite charming. I just wish there had been a little more humor and maybe the stories were a bit more personal. Meichi Ng makes some very interesting connections about the universe and it would be cool to get more insights into her mind.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

These Hollow Vows by Lexi Ryan


DNF @ 22%

Hi my name is Nenia and I am fae trash. When I heard about this book and that the blurb was being compared to THE CRUEL PRINCE, I may have screamed. I was even willing to ignore the part of the blurb that also compared it to A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES. Now that I've read the book and tried to, however, I would have to say that the only thing it has in common with either is, uh, faeries.

I buddy-read this with the wonderful Casey, so make sure you check out her review. Normally I DNF books that don't grab me by the 15% mark, but I pushed a little farther for the sake of science. Structurally, there's nothing wrong with the writing in the book, but the storyline was very bland and derivative and the heroine was very much a raging not-like-other-girls Mary Sue. 

I just couldn't get into this one at all and I feel bad about that but eh. At least I've scratched another book off the ol' bucket list.

1 out of 5 stars

Saturday, March 5, 2022

On Cats by Charles Bukowski


So I went into this book not liking Charles Bukowski, and I went out of this book still not liking Charles Bukowski. I feel like Charles Bukowski is a misogynist and a misanthrope, and a lot of the people who like him tend to be angry white men. Despite all that, when I saw that there was a collection of his cat related works, I was like, "Well, maybe he has a soft side to him. How can I fault someone who loves cats?" And at first I was sort of into it. It opens with a story about how he's trying to get his cat to do a trick and the cat is like "haha no." Which I TOTALLY RELATE TO. My cat is always pulling shenanigans like that, like she enjoys painting me for a fool.

But after this endearing cat trick story, the book delves into what Bukowski is more well known for-- writing about how he hates everyone and gross poems about bodily functions and also how he hates everyone. The unique twist in this collection is that now he actually sort of likes something: cats! And I'm going to be honest, some of these poems were okay and I loved the pictures of all his cats. It was a more endearing look at an author I hate. I just still don't really like him lol. If you don't either, don't expect this to change your mind.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Shop Cats of New York by Tamar Arslanian


This book is so cute and just what I needed to get back into reading after several intense weeks of focusing on my WIP. SHOP CATS OF NEW YORK is a photo heavy book of businesses in New York that have pet cats roaming the premises. The businesses range from cat cafes to cigar shops to, hilariously, dog grooming facilities. The book is divided up by shop. Every section gives the name of the cats and has pictures. In some sections, the authors were able to score interviews with the shop owners and we get in-depth interviews on how the cats came to the shop and even the stories behind their names and how they interact with clientele.

I thought this book was really cute. People who aren't cat-lovers probably won't enjoy this, but if you do enjoy kitty-cats, this is going to be right up your alley. 

3.5 out of 5 stars

The Big Book of Tiny Cars: A Century of Diminutive Automotive Oddities by Russell Hayes


One of the best things about being a book blogger is getting books that you normally might not pick up and then finding out you really enjoyed them. I'm pretty far from being a car fanatic, but the car on the cover of this book was so cute and ridiculous looking that it made me laugh. THE BIG BOOK OF TINY CARS is basically a compendium of, yes, tiny cars throughout history, separated by decade. It's beautifully laid out with tons of photos, with specific models getting their own headlines. Scattered throughout are a number of little trivia facts about the cars, as well, such as the fact that Ned Flanders drives a Geo Metro, or that Google basically developed a self-driving car for display purposes only. (Why? To prove they could?)

I think this would be a great gift for the car nut in your life. It's also just a really nice coffee table book and would be sure to capture the interest of guests. 

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

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, March 3, 2022

The Marakaios Marriage by Marito Ai


I was such a liar to myself last weekend. I was like, "I'm going to read SO MANY BOOKS," and then I basically read nothing and spent the whole time proofreading my WIP and drinking wine and obsessing over the imaginary people I'd already decided would hate it. Because this is what it is like being a writer with anxiety.

Anyway, I finished this book earlier this week but I've been so busy I forgot to review it which literally like NEVER happens, so you know that the world is basically ending if I don't review something ASAP (and if you read the news, which I don't suggest you do, you'll know it basically is), but at least I fucking published that book and now I feel like I can breathe again, and what am I going to do in all my "copious" free time... but write reviews of other people's works? I know right. The struggle. It never ends.

So THE MARAKAIOS MARRIAGE is an adaption of a Harlequin novel by the same name, with art and storyboarding by Marito Ai. Ai is one of my favorite mangaka and prior to this, everything I've read from her has been 4- or 5-star worthy. I don't know how these books get assigned, if the manga artists get to pick what they work on or what, but everything she's worked on has been just the right blend of angsty and romantic and I SWOON.

I've already forgotten the names of the people in this book, but CEO and Normal Woman were married and are now separated pending divorce. CEO's mother has terminal cancer and doesn't know they're separating and it's her name day so he wants Normal Woman to come to Greece with him to celebrate and perpetuate the ruse that they're still together because it's very important to lie to people with cancer who have made peace with the world because-- you know-- cancer.

So NW and CEO go to Greece and she immediately has a panic attack at dinner. And then CEO finds out that he's kind of been a douche and NW fell in love with him but not his lifestyle and he's always been too busy to listen to her every time she tried to talk about how he was making her uncomfortable. Obviously, he feels really bad about this like a normal human being would and is like wow, I was a jerk. I love you. So I will step down and no longer be CEO. Now I shall be Ordinary Man and we shall live our humble life together while you support us with your professorship. THE END.

I honestly felt like this was a bit anticlimactic. Loved the fact that the heroine was in STEM and that the book was so casual with the anxiety/panic attack rep. It wasn't really milked for drama either and I thought it was a refreshing change that the miscommunication wasn't a big misunderstanding so much as just them not really talking things out until it was too late. That felt more realistic than a lot of the manufactured hammy drama that normally comes my way in these books. But the story and the characters just felt so blah to me. Especially considering the other works I've read from this author.

So I give it a three. It was entertaining but not memorable. 

3 out of 5 stars