Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The Golden Cage by Camilla Läckberg

 So I bought SILVER TEARS not realizing it was book two in a series, and when I saw it was only $4.99 to buy, I was like SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY. It was purely an impulse buy just because I hate not getting closure, but OH MY GOD. Best purchase I've made in a while. THE GOLDEN CAGE ended up basically being a checklist of all of my favorite mystery/thriller tropes. Like, it's dual timeline, it's a little bit smutty, it has an antiheroine narrator, and it deals out some TRULY BRUTAL emotionally charged scenes. But at the same time, I never felt like I was being manipulated, either. All the scenes spoke for themselves.

Faye is the wife of a billionaire named Jack who co-owns the firm that she helped build. But she stepped down to raise their child, and now he treats her like trash. He demeans her looks and her weight and calls her stupid. He throws temper tantrums when he doesn't get his way and goes out of the way to make her feel small. And Faye takes it, because the alternative-- being alone, being without everything-- is too terrifying to bear. But when Jack goes too far, she finds herself exactly in that position, and she decides to punish him by taking away everything.

First of all, I am shocked that this book has so many negative reviews. And that people are actually defending her emotionally manipulative boyfriend and her abusive husband? That sort of internalized misogyny is LITERALLY what this book is crusading against. But go off, I guess. Personally, I thought it was an excellent revenge story. I thought both men were awful and that Lackberg did an exceptional job showing why women stay in toxic relationships, and how they really can feel like a golden cage. There are also some really good female relationships in this book. Faye's friends, Chris and Kerstin, were wonderful. I loved them almost as much as I loved Faye.

Less is definitely more going into this book so I actually don't want to say too much, but if you like female antiheroes, revenge stories, and women who are just plain old tired of taking life's garbage head-on, then you're going to love this book. I got burned out on Scandinavian thrillers a while ago because I felt like they were too dark and too film noir for my tastes, but this is much more in line with books like GONE GIRL or WHITE IVY; beach read thrillers tinged with darkness. Oh yes, momma like.

Ta-ta, off to read the sequel!

4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Credence by Penelope Douglas


Penelope Douglas is one of those authors where I always think the premise of her books sounds AMAZING but then I read them and I'm, like, virtually disappointed every time. Katee Robert is like that for me, too. I've liked some of their works, but most of the time, I read their stuff and just end up feeling seriously disappointed.

I bought CREDENCE at a thrift shop for a quarter, which seemed like a good deal. Especially since this seems to be the most controversial of her works. I remember when it first came out, my feed was filled with people DNF-ing and going "EWWWW" which obviously made me want to find out what the fuck was going on, because I'm a glutton for punishment like that.

Tiernan is the daughter of a film producer and his starlet wife. When they find out that the father has cancer, the mom and the dad both kill each other-- and they don't even leave Tiernan a note. They're just like BYE BITCH. And they Romeo-and-Juliet themselves. Which is in standard keeping with what we find out about their personalities. They're garbage people who resented their kid because she took time away from their One True Love, and as soon as she was old enough to be foisted upon someone else, they totally did that. Honestly, it was completely fucked up, and added a whole other layer to Tiernan's already-existing emotional damage, because she didn't really mourn her parents because there wasn't much to mourn.

In a last ditch effort at parental responsibility, we find out that her parents have dumped Tiernan off on her step-uncle, Jake, a mountain man who builds dirt bikes and lives off the land, swinging his cock around like an axe as he pees on everything he owns to mark his territory. Or something like that. The drive to his remote cabin is appropriately tense and suspenseful and actually kind of reminded me of TWILIGHT with the cold, privileged girl "exiling" herself to somewhere forested and remote and filled with hot guys. Except I'm pretty sure Bella didn't bang her uncle. Renesmee, on the other hand...

ANYWAY, Jake has two sons, Noah and Kaleb. Noah is honestly the only one I kind of liked because I'm a sucker for the fuckboy with the heart of gold trope. Kaleb was fucking creepy though. I felt like he crawled out of an Omegaverse book and nobody ever told him to go back home, so he just stayed in this book, creepily sniffing people's hair and sexually assaulting women and basically just making me want to slam the book closed every time he or Jake appeared.

So here's the thing. This book made me feel gross. It's the kind of taboo I really don't like. Parental guardians abusing their privilege? Gross. I can take daddy kink and stepbrother erotica, but girls or boys banging stepfathers or stepuncles or teachers?? NO. And what adds an extra layer of gross to this is that they're total misogynists. Like, when Tiernan fixes the fridge to please them and has to take out all the fridge contents and put them back, he doesn't notice she fixed the fridge; he just assumes that she wanted to, like, rearrange the contents like it was a dollhouse. There's all kinds of "not like other girls" type lines, and naturally, Tiernan is a gold star virgin that they all fight over, and some sexual stuff happens well before she turns eighteen, although they don't bang her until she is eighteen, thank GOD.

The brothers doubling up on her and the creepy uncle sexfests just really put me off. I think the book was pretty well written for the most part but I just wish it had been about her and Noah and maybe the rapey uncle could have been the bad guy that Noah saved her from in my ideal version of this story. The setting was great, the girl-on-girl hate was tiring, and the alphahole caveman dickslinging made my vagina pack up its bags and move to that iconic dry desert town known as Nopeville.

*insert kombucha meme here*

1.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Scarecrow by Richie Tankersley Cusick


Richie Tankersley Cusick was one of those Point Horror authors from the YA horror boom of the 80s and 90s. I've been gradually working my way through her whole backlist and her YA titles hold up surprisingly well, but the real gems in her collection are her two adult titles, BLOOD ROOTS and SCARECROW.

The titles and covers are very similar to her YA books, even more so in the rebrand, where it seems like the new publisher is trying to keep all her work in the same theme. However, BLOOD ROOTS and SCARECROW contain some very dark themes that would not be appropriate for really young kids. Like, at all. BLOOD ROOTS is like an old skool V.C. Andrews book set in the South, and SCARECROW is kind of like a disturbing cross between Midsommar and Wickerman, with a dash of messed up family drama.

Less is definitely more going in but basically, Pamela Westbook is newly widowed and lost her child in the same car accident that killed her husband. While driving to St. Louis from California, she gets lost in the Ozarks and then she has a car accident of her own. When she wakes up, her memory is super patchy and she's at the house of this super weird family, the Whittakers.

There's Seth, the gruff patriarch who knows more than what he's willing to reveal. There's Rachel, the godly and silently suffering wife with dark secrets. There's Franny, Rachel's much younger sister who's practically going crazy with the need to sow her wild oats (we won't talk about her relationship to scarecrows). There's Micah, Seth and Rachel's oldest son who comes and goes and is missing a hand. And then there's Girlie, the youngest child, who allegedly has some kind of "Gift."

Their house is super rustic. They house an outhouse with magazine toilet paper and grow and sow everything they eat and drink. It's claustrophobic and quaint... except for the scarecrows. Every year, they set up five scarecrows, and at the end of the season, they burn them. But this year, Franny's decided to hold hers back. And when the scarecrows don't burn, things go WRONG.

(I should totally write blurbs.)

I really liked this book a lot. It was weird and got kind of depressing, but as with BLOOD ROOTS, it had really solid atmosphere and kind of played out like one of those old 70s occult horror movies. I also really liked Pamela as a character. She was damaged and obviously super creeped out, and I think the author did a really good job showing how so much of the horror was in her own paranoia and fears of the unknown as she's literally trapped in the middle of the woods with the creepy family.

Also, wow! What a reveal. I'm still reeling.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

WtAFW: The Initiation by Jena Cryer


So in case you're new to my friends list, once a week, I let my followers suggest some really weird or bizarre work of romance or erotica for me to review, and then I read and review it. This week's is called THE INITIATION and it's... um, a work of hucow erotica.

And hucow, in case you didn't know, is a portmanteau of "human" and "cow."

Do you like milk? Not after reading this book, you won't. Lucky for me, I'm lactose intolerant. This work follows Julia Dorne, an American in England who would like to extend her visa. She does this by "entering the service" of some member of the British nobility, brought to Lord Ashe by the creepy finder, Brandon.

But the service is unspecified until Julia drinks a drugged glass of milk that basically turns her into a human cow for a week. Oops.

I'm not sure how to feel about this book, to be honest. I don't like erotica that has body modifications, it squicks me out. The writing was a cut above some of these other WtAFW offerings, but at the same time, it ended 60% of the way through the book and all the rest of the book were samples of the author's other works.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

The Corpse Flower by Anne Mette Hancock


I bought this impulsively a while back when it went on sale. I actually don't tend to like most Scandinavian thrillers-- they tend to be too dark for little old me, and normally they have stuffy old man protagonists. But I loved the title of this one and I was really intrigued by the fact that the protagonist of this one was a wrongfully disgraced journalist. So I picked it up and began to read-- and couldn't put it down.

Heloise got into big trouble with her paper when she accidentally used a bad source to write a bad article. Now her paper is trying to placate some extremely powerful people while also doing damage control, and Heloise is on thin ice. To make matters worse, she's getting vaguely threatening text messages and letters from a woman who is wanted by Interpol for the murder of a golden boy lawyer, Christopher Mossing.

Erik Scháfer, a Danish homicide cop, ends up working on the case, and is disconcerted to find that the facts don't add up. Why would the murderess Anna Kiel reach out to Heloise, of all people? What is the connection between them? Because it does look like there is a connection, and it involves corpse flowers, medieval history, and crimes committed by the very dregs of society who will do anything to prevent their coming to light.

When rating and reviewing a book I like, it's always difficult to compare a book to others I have liked. Yes, I liked it, but HOW much did I like it, how does it compare to other books in the genre, and would I recommend it to other people? Does it have reread value and will it stick with me for years to come? Or is it just a passing piece of fluff that I used to satisfy a brief hunger before moving on to something more substantial? These are all questions I ask myself every time I read the book, no matter what the genre.

With regard to THE CORPSE FLOWER, I thought it was exceptional. I normally don't like police procedurals at all because I feel like they tend to glamorize and romanticize a rather flawed justice system, but the characters in THE CORPSE FLOWER own that, acknowledging that justice can often me too lenient for the privileged, and too harsh on the undeserving, while also letting serious convictions slip through the cracks in favor of lesser crimes. It has several of my favorite tropes, too: strong but damaged women, a Suspicious Hot Guy (hi Martin), and all sorts of really interesting side-tangents about history, culture, and science that end up tying symbolically into the plot.

Compared to other books in the genre, it's a stand-out. It's dark and disturbing and parts of it genuinely tore at my heart, but it also has an incredibly satisfying ending and I seriously can't wait for the English translation of the sequel to come out in November. I've already recommended this book to two other people and I think it's going to haunt me for a while. Anna and Heloise are both wonderful characters and as a feminist, I just love seeing flawed women characters being allowed to exist and act with agency, even if their agency propels them to do things that aren't necessarily just, moral, or right.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Whisper Network by Chandler Baker


DNF @ 10%

I wish I'd seen my friends' reviews before buying this. I was expecting something gritty and edgy: a #metoo book for the professional set. Instead, this was pretty tedious. Women being catty to other women.

Not for me.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

Brother by Ania Ahlborn


Who asked for the Deliverance/American Psycho mashup? Not me, but boy am I going to read that anyway. BROTHER is honestly one of the most disturbing books I've ever read. I normally hate horror novels but the kind that suckers me into traumatizing myself every time is the intimate, character portrait sort of horror novel, which is how I ended up being scarred for life by books like Misery. Once I get invested, I can't put the book down, no matter how much I want to.

Less is definitely more when it comes to BROTHER, but it definitely has TWs for basically everything under the sun. This is one of those books that not only shows people at their worst, but also kind of how they got that way. The two stars of this book are Michael, a not-so-ordinary teenage boy who hates his family (for a good reason). And Ray/Rebel, Michael's adoptive brother who is filled with a driving need for vengeance, poisoned by a hate that will literally stop at nothing.

The claustrophobic setting, high emotional stakes, and you-could-cut-it-with-a-knife level tension made this a gripping book, a real white-knuckler for sure, but I will also never read this again because it's so dark and so depressing. It's the sort of book that just kind of leaves you feeling dead inside. Brilliant story, brilliant writing, and daring author. I'll read more from her but it won't be this.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Chi's Sweet Home, Volume 1 by Kanata Konami


I found a full-color version of Chi's Sweet Home in a Little Free Library and it was honestly just the thing I needed after a slew of books about dark shit and murder-joy. A book about a family that adopts a lost kitten? Be still, my heart. I actually have a cat that we rescued as a kitten. She came to our house starving and shivering, and you could see all her little kitten bones through her fur. Now she's a lazy fatty who-- I kid you not-- has her very own chair, and a toybox where she keeps enough toys for like five cats. Spoiled? I think so.

Anyway, Chi is distraught when she's separated from her mama cat and embarks on a series of misadventures that culminate in her winding up with a family that consists of a mom, dad, and toddler. They are not allowed to have pets in their apartment but nobody wants to adopt Chi, so they kind of end up stuck with her. Also, "chi" apparently sounds like the Japanese word for pee, which is funny because when they're trying to box-train her, they keep yelling "pee" at her while taking her bag to her box after every pee incident, to the point where she thinks it's her name. WHOOPS.

(Hi there, Pee the Cat!)

This mangaka has done another kitten-related comic called FukuFuku which is about an orange and white kitten who lives with a sweet old lady. I think I actually like that one better because they humor is slightly more subtle and I just really loved the way that the kitten kind of brought joy and youth to this old woman's life, while at the same time, she gave the kitten nuturance and a home. That said, this was still super sweet and very cat-like and I laughed out loud at least four times.

4 out of 5 stars

Beach House by R.L. Stine


I'm pretty sure I read this when I was a kid but I didn't remember the plot at all, so when I found this in the garage while cleaning I was excited to give it a reread. If you've been following some of my vintage YA pulp reviews, you'll know I have ~thoughts~ about R.L. Stine. Namely, that he seems to have two modes: gleeful vicarious murder-joy and I'm-dialing-it-in-for-the-paycheck ennui. His Fear Street books can be hit or miss and most of the Goosebumps books don't hold up at all, but his standalone Point Horror releases are actually usually pretty good.

BEACH HOUSE in particular is balls-to-the-walls insanity, with numerous dated pop culture references, a dual timeline, and a grand reveal that is on par with The Langoliers in terms of redonkulous. So obviously, I loved it.

In the 1950s timeline, we have a bunch of teens who hang out at the beach. Maria, Amy, Stuart, Ronnie, and Buddy. They all decide to prank Buddy by stealing his pants when he's in the water and forcing him to come out to the beach naked, and then Maria stands him up on their date for Stuart. Buddy is pissed and then bad things happen. You also get references to Jackie Gleason, the Crewcuts, record players, Marilyn Monroe, and Tab Hunter.

In the "present" timeline, there's Ashley, Ross, Kip, Lucy, and Brad. All of them are summer visitors to the beach, except for Kip, who's a poor townie, and Brad, who's a rich townie. Lucy and Kip are together. Ashley and Ross are together, but Ross is like psychotically jealous and she's got a thing for rich Brad, and his big... tennis court. Here, in the "present," you will be treated to hot guys who look like Matt Dillon and Vanilla Ice, MTV and Coca-Cola towels, and day-glo sportswear. Also remember when people used to call sandals "thongs" and swimtrunks "baggies"? These were simpler times.

It would have been better if we didn't know who the killer was from the beginning and the connection between the two timelines was pretty lame. Also, this book kind of showed its ass with the "whoops, it's the 90s and we're not exactly tolerant to people who are different" mentality of the times because at the very end, one of the characters actually says "I was too ugly to have friends." LOL.

But I'm giving it three stars anyway because I had a genuinely good time laughing at this. It was almost four stars because it was surprisingly mature for a Stine book but the ending was really stupid and I'm afraid I can't condone that.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Dark and Shallow Lies by Ginny Myers Sain


DNF @ 28%

I bought this book a while ago when it went on sale, started it, and forgot about it, which is why I was delighted when Heather offered to buddy-read it with me. You can check out her review here when the time comes, but as you can see, I called it quitsies just over a quarter of the way through, because I suck like that lol.

There were a couple reasons this didn't work for me. Psychic-themed books usually put me off from the get-go unless there's something really special about them. And I thought the intro for this book was good, as was the Louisiana setting, and the way the author wrote out the patois of the region. What I didn't like was how precious the writing got, how ridiculous some of the names of the characters were (Wrynn? Zale? Hart?), and how... well, over-wrought it all was.

Points for atmosphere and a good setting and not condescending to the YA audience but minus points for literally almost everything else.

1.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Teacher's Pet by Richie Tankersley Cusick


It's a shame that Tankersley Cusick didn't write more adult horror because she has such an amazing style and I feel like when she tries to sanitize it for her young adult audience, so much of the vitals are lost. I mean, when you compare this book to the magnificence of BLOOD ROOTS, it's almost like apples and oranges.

That said, across all her works, this author does many things that I love. Her attention to atmosphere is truly incredible and reminiscent of those old gothic novels from the 60s and 70s that are all towering castles and mist-tossed moors. She also understands my (that's right, me, personally-- obviously this author writes for MEEEEE alone) personal need for villainous love interests, because her books always offer not one, but at least TWO suspicious hot guys. And best of all, she just has some really wonderful passages of writing, whether it's descriptions of nature, wistful meditations on human emotion, or obsessive teen passion.

At first I thought this book would get a much higher rating from me. he heroine, Kate, is a high school student on her way to a writing retreat with her teacher. Right away, though, things are weird. She's greeted at the train by an ominous dude who immediately tries to warn her away. Then there's another ominous dude who claims to be the brother of the famous writer who headlined this retreat, and he starts talking about how important fear is, how it's such a necessary drive, and just generally skeeving everyone out, but because he's hot it's ok. And then there's the way-too-friendly teen cook who is Kate's accomplice but maybe also an assailant. Who is the bad guy and who is the good guy? I guess you'll just have to find out.

What ended up making this a bit of a slog for me was how circular it all felt. I felt like in my favorite YA Cusick book, HELP WANTED, there were some really chilling scenes and some really impressively colorful characters. But that was a different teen horror imprint and maybe Point Horror wants their authors to reel it in, because this felt reeled in. The ending was ridiculous, in the way that some of those 70s and 80s teen slasher movies could be ridiculous (I'm thinking of one in particular), and I found myself rolling my eyes a little at the drama of it all. Also, there's a girl in here named Tawney who's also working in the kitchen and I think she's supposed to be developmentally disabled, but she also ends up being the butt of a lot of jokes. WHOOPS. HI 90S. DIDN'T SEE YOU THERE.

So overall, this was kind of eh. I mostly just skimmed it to read her interactions with the suspicious (but hot) guys and to get to the actual passages with creepy horror. You could definitely give this one a miss.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, April 16, 2022

The Replacement Wife by Darby Kane


This was a buddy read with my friend Heather, and you can read her review here. THE REPLACEMENT WIFE, in some ways, reminds me a lot of a grown-up version of the Point Horror books I read as a teen. Hear me out; it's a layer cake of twists, one piled on top of the other on top of the other, until the whole structure becomes an unstable mess of chaotic whodunnitry. I thought it was fun, and there a couple twists that literally made my jaw drop, but there was just SO MUCH.

Elisa is married to Harris and has a little boy named Nathan. Their picture perfect life is its own little solar system, satellited by her brother-in-law, Josh. Josh has terrible luck with women. His previous wife died mysteriously, and now his current girlfriend, Abby, Elisa's best friend, has disappeared. Now he's moved on... much sooner than she thought he would, and she's starting to suspect he's a murderer.

Major triggers in this book for gaslighting. Honestly, this works better as social commentary than a thriller in some ways, because of how it shows how casually dismissive we are when women turn up dead, and how quick we are to reduce women to shrill or mentally ill, when they're either justifiably upset, or justifiably traumatized by something terrible that happened. As a thriller, it's fine and it kept me turning pages, but it felt about a hundred pages too long.

I liked this book more than my friend and I think it was better paced than PRETTY LITTLE WIFE, which had a good twist but the journey was tedious. I actually think the emotionally distant narrative works here, because it's like Elisa is trying to remove herself from her trauma (something she even admits to herself at one point). But the writing was also very much all tell and no show and surprisingly clunky for a professionally edited work. It almost felt like a high quality self-published work in some ways, like it was missing that one final pass that would make everything perfect.

3 out of 5 stars

Who Killed the Homecoming Queen? by R.L. Stine


R.L. Stine is sometimes called the children's Stephen King, and just like Stephen King, he has his share of both swings and misses. This one, sadly, was a miss-- and it doesn't even have the benefit of nostalgia on its side, since this is one of the Fear Street books that I've never read as a kid.

The summary of this book is incredibly misleading, as it makes it sound like Tania is going to be the main character. The main character is actually one of Tania's friends, a girl named Eva. Eva is a living lie detector test with "the shining"-- but, for the sake of trademarks, let's call it "the deus ex machining." It's high school, in the 90s, or what someone who went to high school in the 50s thinks high school in the 90s is like, so there's a lot of "hey gang" and "let's meet up at the pizza parlor" with the hint of a "golly gee" or a "holy crow" hanging seductively on the wind.

Tania is a beautiful girl who has been crowned homecoming queen. And this is a Big Deal(TM). Suddenly, everyone can't stop talking about Tania, and she's being offered a starring role in an independent movie by a high school creep who just wants in her pants. The movie's title? Who Killed the Homecoming Queen? (Go ahead and roll credits, now.) It's a-- you guessed it-- horror movie where Tania gets murdered. Except, somebody didn't get the memo that art echoes life and not vice-versa, because Tania shows up dead.


I've really enjoyed some of R.L. Stine's books, but not the "golly gee" sorts. I think Stine is a lot better when he's writing for more of a YA than a middle grade audience, because in books like these, it really feels like he's pulling all the punches instead of the stops, and really dialing it in. The deus ex machining was a really lame twist, and the ending ended up being a cop-out sundae (with cop-outs on top of cop-outs on top of cop-outs). I was pretty disappointed, tbh.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

Friday, April 15, 2022

Help Wanted by Richie Tankersley Cusick


A gothic family melodrama for the YA crowd, HELP WANTED is a surprisingly grim and gritty book about secrets, tragedy, and what happens when the past repeats itself. Robin is just an ordinary girl, looking to make some extra money to live her life. So when she sees a "help wanted" ad promising quick money, she jumps.

It turns out the ad has been put up by Hercules Swanson, the patriarch of the creepy old Manorwood house, and grandfather of the hottest boy at school, Parker Swanson. Herk wants Robin to categorize the books left behind after his daughter-in-law's mysterious death. But the house is intimidating and filled with mysterious and unexplained happenings, and Parker's half-sister, Claudia, claims that she's been seeing her mother's ghost.

Richie Tankersley Cusick is honestly one of the better YA horror authors out there, imo. She has a formula she tends to stick with and it works: girl with single mother walks into a creepy haunted place filled with family drama that goes back generations. Girl meets two creepy and suspicious hot guys who may or may not be involved. There's always a creepy doomsaying old person who is also suspicious and may or may not be involved. Cusick also delivers on the chilling scenery, surprisingly humorous inner monologues, and some zinging one-liners.

This really reminded me pleasantly of some of my favorite 70s gothic romances, especially with the tug of war between the rich brooding guy and the working class brooding guy, and the crumbling manor in the middle of the woods. There are some pretty chilling scenes in this one that you wouldn't see in a Point Horror imprint (this isn't Point Horror, BTW), but the gruesome stuff is mostly implied.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The Lifeguard by Richie Tankersley Cusick


Is there anything more 90s than a horror novel set at the beach? I don't think so. So far this is my least Cusick book I've read as part of my experiment. The heroine, Kelsey, goes to this beachy island with her mom to meet her mom's boyfriend and his kids. There's townies and tourists and all the hot young things are lifeguards, and it should basically be 90s teen paradise. Which it is... except for the murders.

Richie Tankersley Cusick writes a lot of my favorite tropes. Hot dangerous guys, strong but kind of dreamy heroines, and sort of a modern gothy vibe. I don't think this one works quite as well as THE DRIFTER did for a couple reasons. One, it just didn't have the same level of suspense and drama and atmosphere. Two, it's way more dated (party lines?? LOL), whereas, THE DRIFTER felt kind of timeless. Three, I don't know, I was just really bored. There were some great lines in here about grief and getting over trauma and also some good zingers (check my Goodreads status updates), but apart from that, it was pretty bland.

Will 100% be checking out more of her stuff, though. She seems to have a really good formula going and, like Caroline B. Cooney, one of my other favorite Point Horror authors, she has way more hits than misses, which can't be said for other authors. Also, fun fact: a lot of these rereleased Point Horror books have little mini biographies about the authors in the back with pictures, so that's neat. I love that this author writes at a desk that's allegedly haunted! #goals

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

The Drifter by Richie Tankersley Cusick


After reading and loving BLOOD ROOTS by this author, I immediately decided that I had to binge all of her books. Never mind that BLOOD ROOTS is adult and most of her other stuff is YA. When I love an author, it's a ride-or-die sitch. I will read literally anything they write.

THE DRIFTER is an old Point Horror-esque novel from the 90s. It's about Carolyn and her mother, and their move to an old house by the New England sea. Everyone around them, from the housekeeper to the librarian, swear it's haunted. The house is called Glanton House and it used to be the home of a sea captain and his wife. But when he was off on a mission, she had an affair, and, as the legend goes, when Michael Glanton returned, he murdered his wife and her lover, after the lover first tried to murder HIM by cutting off his hand in the middle of a storm.

Right away, creepy things start happening. There are accidents and strange footsteps and mysterious lights. Also there are two shady hot guys and one or both of them might be up to no good. Basically, this was everything that would have been total catnip for middle grade me. Even adult me was pretty impressed at the 90s thirst traps and some of the sensual passages that were age appropriate but still exciting in a non-threatening way. I stanned.

For anyone who loves old skool YA pulp, this basically checks all the boxes. Strong heroine, creepy house, ghosts, town legends, mysterious hot guys, and a solid ending.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Savage Flame by Betty Brooks


DNF @ 13%

The summary of this book tells you exactly what you're getting into. I've talked before about how I don't really gravitate towards Native American romances because they tend to be inherently problematic in a way that's hard to stomach. Especially the ones that have "Savage" in the title. 

SAVAGE FLAME starts off with a bang as Rebecca and this one guy are casing out their ranch, and then there's a raid and the guy gets scalped and Rebecca gets abducted and almost raped. She's saved from her rape by Black Bear by Lone Wolf, who is about to take her home, until Rebecca opens her Karen-ass mouth and starts talking about how she's going to sic the U.S. Navy on him and all his people. Obviously, being a sane dude, he's like, better not take her home then. Cut to him making her his wife in every sense of the word, with the incentive of some oral sex.

I did not like the writing in this book at all. Sometimes I love purple prose but this is an ultraviolet too intense for me. I also feel like the book was pretty heavily implying that Lone Wolf was biracial (with his gray eyes and English language skills), which is something else I've talked about in other Native American romances and sheik romances, because the implication in these books is always that their whiteness somehow makes them better, smarter, and more attractive than their non-White peers. And that's just a really tough message to swallow, even within the context of historical fiction. I've seen maybe one book that went with that and pulled it off because it was a deconstruction of racism and colonialism as a whole (JADE by Pat Barr), but this book was a no.

Thanks to Audrey for reading this with me!

1 out of 5 stars

Monday, April 11, 2022

Blood Roots by Richie Tankersley Cusick


BLOOD ROOTS was an impulse buy for me because I've read and really liked Richie Tankersley Cusick's Point Horror novels. This book-- this book is quite another type of beast. First, people are shelving it as young adult-- a danger whenever a YA author branches out into genre fiction. This is NOT YA. It is an incredibly disturbing, genre-defying book that I would probably classify as erotic horror. It's a haunted house story, a doomed family story, and a coming of age story, wrapped in the rotted, maggot-crawling shroud of a crumbling Southern Gothic. The best way of describing it, I think, would be saying that it's like a cross between Tanith Lee's DARK DANCE and Amy Engel's ROANOKE GIRLS.

The plot is deceptively simple. Olivia returns to her family's Louisiana mansion after the death of her crazy mother. But once she gets to the mansion, she's creeped out and has second thoughts. Too bad that the cab driver is a jerk and drives away, with her purse and wallet no less, leaving her there with literally nothing but the clothes on her back. Once inside, she meets the family matriarch, Miss Rose, an uncomfortable matronly Black servant stereotype named Yoly, an evil Black voodoo seductress stereotype named Mathilde, and two guys named Jesse and Skyler. Skyler is a cruel and sadistic rake, whereas Jesse plays the role of the consummate gentleman.

Instinct warns her not to tell them who she is, so she pretends that she was just an innocent tourist who was taken advantage of by an unscrupulous cab driver. She gets a job as a servant and does light housework while exploring the grounds, and I literally cannot convey to you how brilliantly done the swampy, claustrophobic backdrop of the house is, and how utterly smothering it makes the story. The stereotypes date the book, but I did kind of wonder if it was meant to be a parodying homage. Even if it wasn't, it certainly reads that way, replete with all of the melodrama that made Cusick such a popular teen horror author. This is honestly my favorite type of horror-- the kind that's psychological and leaves most of the real horrors to the reader's imagination. I think this is a keeper. Just don't get it for your kid.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao


So I think I've developed a reputation on this site for being a bit of a hard-ass, but when I pick up a book, all I really ask for is to be entertained. To me, if an author can't deliver on that one note, they deserve to get a low rating. I was a little leery about picking up IRON WIDOW, even though I really liked the author's YouTube videos, because the YA fantasy genre has basically been serving the disappointment as regularly as an Amazon delivery truck. So ironically, when I saw that this had such mixed reviews among the people who usually five star all the books I hate, I was like HMM.

I actually disagree with a lot of the criticism that this is not a feminist book. Zetian, the heroine, is oppressed, and she lives in a world that actively oppresses women, but it doesn't really feel sensationalist. Foot-binding happens. People do put out propaganda and fake news about what women can and cannot do. People treat women like they're not worth more than the sum of their parts. So to see a fantasy novel where the female protagonist actively smashes the patriarchy, was really fucking cool. After being forced to swallow down heroines like Calen't-pronounce-her-name Sardothien for years, who spent most of the series being a slut-shaming idiot in a dress, this was so refreshing.

The summary of IRON WIDOW is basically this: put Hunger Games, Power Rangers, Edge of Tomorrow, Ender's Game, and Mulan in a pot, stir in a pinch of polyamory and a hefty dose of "no fucks" and then light the whole thing on fire while stirring vigorously. That's what you get in IRON WIDOW, a book that is set in a China-inspired country where men pilot these Zord-like metal things powered by qi called "chrysalises" and have female copilots that usually end up dying from, like, qi overload. Either you get conscripted into sacrificing your mind and body to the chrysalises and the boys who fly them, or you end up as a baby maker and the cycle continues. Zetian thinks that's a big fuck no, and decides that if she's going to die, she's going to kill the boy who murdered her beautiful older sister. So she does that, but it ends up-- uh, not going as hoped.

The rest of the book kind of feels like a big middle finger to THE HUNGER GAMES series in the best way. Why should the heroine have to choose in a love triangle? Why not both? Zetian gets her Peeta (Yizhi) and her Gale (Shimin), and lucky her, they like each other almost as much as they love her. The romance doesn't overshadow the plot at all and it feels pretty mature considering some of the other romances I've seen in YA books. I also liked how Zetian was pretty emotional (as you'd expect from a teen) and ended up succumbing to her unwiser impulses more often than not, although they frequently ended up becoming a learning lesson for her, and she ended up growing from her mistakes, rather than making the same stupid face-slap-worthy mistakes over and over and over again.

So yes, I liked it a lot. The only downsides for me was that the beginning felt a little clunky and took a while to get moving, whereas the end felt slightly too drawn out. Still an incredibly fun book, though, and I seriously can't wait to get my hands on the sequel. YAAAASS.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Forbidden Falls by V.J. Chambers


OMG, this was so good. I didn't even mind that it was so short, except that I kind of did, because I wanted more. FORBIDDEN FALLS is the story of seventeen-year-old Blake, a seventeen-year-old psychopath who used to be a weird nerd until he hit a growth spurt and became a weird hottie. He's got one of his classmates, Macy, wrapped around his finger and he's slept with most of the cheerleading squad, but that's not enough. His parents still own his life. So he's decided he's going to seduce his boss and get her busted for molesting a minor. After that, both her-- and her business-- will be his.

This is narrated in first person and I was honestly so impressed at how Chambers captured the logic of a psychopath like Blake. He was both terrifying and entertaining, and I read this novella in an entire sitting, desperate to see what he was going to get into next. The ending was a surprise, but not an unwelcome one, and I'm eager to see what happens with the other installments in this series, which are all set on the same fictitious Liar's Island.

I don't want to say too much else because less is definitely more with this book, but if you like smutty thrillers and unhinged narrators, this is going to be your jam.

4 out of 5 stars

What Will I Do with My Love Today? by Kristin Chenoweth


I don't actually read that many children's books, but I really like Kristin Chenoweth and I was curious to see what her take on a kids' book would be. WHAT WILL I DO WITH MY LOVE TODAY? is from the Tommy Nelson imprint, which is Thomas Nelson's kids' lit imprint. I think Thomas Nelson is a christian division of Harper Collins, for inspirational or religious-influenced works. The influence here is pretty light, apart from a few references to God. As a secular reader, if I hadn't already known it was Thomas Nelson backing this book, I probably wouldn't have noticed.

The art by Maine Diaz is gorgeous and the message of the book is wholesome, albeit mixed. It starts out talking about how being openly happy and content can inspire others, which I think is true for some people. Others will resent you for that, but since we're lying to kids, sure. Happiness begets happiness. Got it. The message shifts when her parents are like, "Hey, let's use all that excess love you have and get a dog!" And then it becomes all about having a dog, and how great dogs are.

As I said, it's a cute book. Not all kids can get pets, so I do feel like some kids might be like, "Wait, so if I don't get a pet, does that mean I didn't love hard enough?" So making it all about some sort of external reward, I have mixed feelings about. But it's cute and harmless, and it's pretty sweet.

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

3 out of 5 stars

Death Note, Vol. 1: Boredom by Tsugumi Ohba


When I was in college, I used to read a TON of manga, and this series was one of my favorites (until they introduced that weird manic pixie dreamgirl character and the whole series started to fall apart, that is). The Death Note series is one of the darker manga I have read, and it's kind of sad that all of the attempts to bring it to the big screen have failed, because it's got so many disturbing and sensational twists that I think it would do really well if they got the right team on the project.

Light Yagami is a brilliant high school student and star test-taker. Ryuk is a shinigami, or a "death god," or is bored AF living in the shinigami realm doing nothing but gambling or napping. All hell breaks loose when he casually drops his Death Note into the human realm and Light picks it up. Suddenly, Light has power over human life and human death, and he thinks he's going to create his own personal eugenics paradise by killing off all the bad guys, psychos, and murderers.

I feel like this manga tackles a lot of really tough philosophical questions about good and evil. The cat and dog relationship between Light and L is also really fascinating. Both people are brilliant and think they are working on the side of good, but they're also super manipulative and willing to do pretty terrible things in the greater name of justice. A lot of manga doesn't hold up, but this series really does. It was fun to revisit one of my old favorites and still feel myself getting shocked by the twists.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, April 8, 2022

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell


So #funfact: FANGIRL is one of my least favorite YA books of all time, to the point where I almost felt like I needed to sign up for anger management classes after reading that book, because of how much it pissed me off. After finishing it, I was like, I'm not subjecting myself-- or the author-- to this, ever, ever again. No more Rainbow Rowell for me. And then this book showed up for twenty-five cents at a library book sale and I was like *puts on clown makeup*. ...UNTIL NOW.

This was actually on my radar well before I'd even heard of or picked up FANGIRL. I'm a sucker for 80s nostalgia porn, and I was really curious to see how this book handled interracial dating and biracial characters. Based on what I've seen from #OwnVoices reviewers who got their hands on this book, the answer to that is, uh, not reassuring. It's definitely a dated book, and it kind of puts itself into a tight spot, in a way, because the 80s were totally un-PC. People said and did all kinds of problematic shit out in the open, which they still do, but back then, the status quo was basically, "Ain't nothing wrong with that! Let's keep doing this!"

You see the same thing with 50s nostalgia porn, actually. Because on the one hand, people are like "Elvis! Poodle skirts! Rock n' roll!" But then on the other hand, there was also segregation and women were literally not allowed to wear pants, and being fine with sexual harassment was basically something you had to put on your resume to get hired, so whenever you read a book like this, where it's like a hyper-idealized sort of retrospective of a specific time period, there's this little Jiminy Cricket voice whispering, "You know this isn't right, and by liking this, you are basically admitting to your own privilege because you can selectively step back from the conversation and just 'look past it.'"

To her credit, Rowell tries to kind of add an air of realism to the book, but she does it in some very weird, pick and choose-y kinds of ways. Like using the R-word (which people did use, even in the 90s), or having people make weird jokes about Park being able to do karate, or having the heroine refer to his mother as a china doll, or call Park the "stupid Asian kid" multiple times. But then on the other hand, Eleanor has two black best friends who at times seem to speak with a blaccent (or what the author thinks is one), but then at other times, they're just generic besties who could be anyone. And I get that code-switching is a thing, but at the same time, their inclusion felt very awkwardly handled-- and they don't seem to face any racism at all, and nobody makes any comments about their Blackness, whereas Park's Asianness is commented on by basically just about anyone, especially by Eleanor.

Eleanor also has a super abusive and predatory stepdad and the way he abuses her openly and people just kind of step back and mind their own business also felt kind of truth-y. It reminded me of Stephen King's IT actually, in how a lot of the parents were just as big of a monster as the psychotic clown. But this just made the book feel super depressing, and so did Park's father's hyper-masculinity and how he was always comparing his son (unfavorably) to his white-passing son, Josh, which was portrayed in a much more wishy-washy way than Eleanor's abuse was. It kind of felt like there were a lot of toxic views being thrown around about being Asian versus being masculine in Park's house, and it didn't really feel like that was touched upon or resolved in a satisfactory way (at least, in my white opinion).

Regarding the story and the love story-- meh. I actually thought this was a MUCH better book than FANGIRL. All of Rowell's heroines so far seem to be really antisocial and prickly and not in a fun way (more like a WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU STAHP sort of way), but whereas Cath made me want to throw all of the pages with her name on them in a paper shredder, I could actually sympathize with Eleanor since it felt like she felt like she HAD to shut people out, to keep from getting hurt, and this was an ingrained behavior that she had learned from living with an abuser and an enabler (her mom).

Without the fun 1980s setting and the interracial dating and the abuse, this is just a pretty lackluster teen romance. It doesn't even really have an HFN or an HEA unless you use your imagination and read between the lines, so, like, it's not even satisfying on that level. I didn't hate this, but I didn't love it either, and I remain unswayed in my conviction that Rainbow Rowell is simply Not For Me.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

The Wrong Family by Tarryn Fisher


I really enjoy Tarryn Fisher's books, even though they all kind of have a "samey" vibe to them. You know what I mean. The plot of every Tarryn Fisher book ever can basically be summed up like this:

F***ed up individual meets another f***ed up individual and then reader discovers that FUI #1 has been grossly downplaying how f***ed up they actually are to FUI #2. But FUI #2 has also been grossly downplaying how f***ed up they are to FUI #1.

Both FUIs become suspicious of each other, and the suspense builds, only for the reader to find out that FUI #1 and FUI #2 are BOTH F***ED UP INDIVIDUALS... BUT in a COMPLETELY different kind of f***ed up way than we, the reader, have been led to believe.

And you know what? That's exactly what happened in this book.

THE WRONG FAMILY is about the Crouch family: Winnie, Nigel, and Sam. On the surface, they're basically your average boring WASP-y family, but all of them have secrets, and Winnie's might just be enough to rip the threads of the family apart. Add to that a dysfunctional brother-in-law who's self-medicating his issues with alcohol, and you've got a ripe recipe for disaster.

But there's one more narrator, and that's Juno. Juno is staying with the family too, but not with their knowledge. She's a homeless lady who's made herself right at home, and before she lost everything, she used to be a therapist, so she's decided that maybe she knows what the family is hiding and how to fix their problems. Orrrr she might just make everything worse. Your guess is as good as hers.

A lot of people are hating on this story but I actually liked it. It's got a mean-spirited, defeatist view on humanity that I actually see a lot in German mysteries and thrillers, particularly Herman Koch (an author I LOVE that a lot of Americans hate because he writes despicable and unlikable characters really, really well). I personally don't mind reading about unlikable characters as long as they are interesting and the author wrote them that way intentionally. Here, it definitely feels intentional, and I found myself engrossed in the deconstruction of two very different sets of lives, through a set of very unwise choices that ended up having a magnifying effect.

No, this isn't like Fisher's other, smutty thrillers, but I ended up liking it anyway.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, April 7, 2022

The Girl in 6E by A.R. Torre


Whoa. There was a lot going on in this one. I actually don't like most of Alessandra Torre's romances, but her thrillers have all been so entertaining so far, without exception. This one, despite being a little out there, engrossed me from the beginning and I finished it in a couple hours.

THE GIRL IN 6E is about a woman named Deanna Madden, a camgirl who works under the name "Jessica." Deanna lives in an apartment all alone, where she has her super lock her in at night, because she has an exceptionally dark past and obsesses about all the murders that she'd like to commit. For the good of humanity, she keeps herself in a cage.

The camgirl stuff seemed really well-researched. I actually just read Isa Mazzei's memoir, who was one of the most popular camgirls on the site that she used, and a lot of the stuff that Mazzei said or talked about (numbers, clients, the difficulties, perks, etc.) matched up, so I feel like Torre really did her research. Maybe she even sat in on a session or two for research. I was really impressed.

One day, one of Deanna's clients disturbs her with his request. He's into ageplay, but the details he gives her are so specific that she begins to wonder if he's imagining her as a specific girl. One he might be moving to hurt very soon. And that starts the rundown on a clock, which might just result in all of Deanna's very worst instincts coming out. The cage door is open... and the predator must be stopped.

(I should write book blurbs.)

So obviously, I really enjoyed this book. I think I actually read this as an ARC when it first came out but I didn't actually read that much about it. Recently I bought the sequel but since I couldn't remember what happened, I bought the first book again, too. I think it really holds up. The weakest element for me in this book was the romance (I didn't like Jeremy), but Deanna was awesome, and both the mystery and the camgirl sessions were really cool.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

The Maid by Nita Prose


THE MAID is a book I dithered on buying because I'd heard such mixed reviews about it from my friends. So I was delighted when I found a copy of it in a Little Free Library and ended up "stealth reading" it for my Hype Week challenge, since I remember it was getting a lot of talk time among bloggers when it first came out.

If you've read books like CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME or WHEN WE WERE VIKINGS, you'll have an idea of what this book is like. It features a neurodivergent character, Molly, a young woman working as a maid in a fancy hotel, who ends up witnessing a murder. Ever since her grandmother died, she's been forced to navigate life and its many confusing social elements all alone. And the fact that she is on the autistic spectrum means that she doesn't always get what's going on around her, or what's being left unsaid, which ends up making her a sort of unreliable narrator in her own story.

I thought this story was fine although the mystery element wasn't quite as compelling as it could have been. It was more fun kind of figuring out what was being said between the lines, but that kind of reduced Molly to a passive vehicle in her own narrative. As with the character in WHEN WE WERE VIKINGS, I felt like Prose also worked too hard to make Molly too twee. I could buy the fact that she valued order, and therefore her work as a hotel maid was totally occupying most of her sphere of interests, but the fact that she was raised by her grandmother ended up making her sound like she was talking like, well, somebody's old grandmother, and it just felt like an awkward way to give her "character."

THE MAID was an interesting story but I also feel like it was a bit bland in some ways too. Reading it also made me kind of sad because of how shittily so many of the characters treated Molly. I do think there's a bit of a humanistic element in it too because some people are also really nice-- CURIOUS INCIDENT was like that too, with many of the characters being pretty patient with the main character, even if he was behaving strangely or having a tantrum. I don't know. This just wasn't what I, personally, am looking for out of most of my thrillers/mysteries. But I passed it along to my mom who loves CURIOUS INCIDENT so much that she went to see the play/musical, so maybe I'll post an update with her thoughts when she reads it, since that was another book I could take or leave.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

WtAFW: Nostril Fucked by the Micropenis by Fannie Tucker


Fannie Tucker is basically the female Chuck Tingle, so she has become a regular feature in my What the Actual F*** Wednesday challenges because of how over-the-top her books are. Most of them are available for free on Kindle Unlimited, but I actually had to shell out three whole bucks for this, which I could have spent on coffee, or a bus fare to the pharmacy to pick up some brain bleach. The fact that I spent so much on a mere thirteen pages hurts me.

I can't say the title of this book if I want to cross-post this review to Amazon, but let's just say that it's about exactly what you think it is and the Amazon blurb even says "Yes. Really," in big bold letters, which I found hilarious. I also find it hilarious that this book is set in Miami because if something like this were to happen, of course it would happen in Miami. We've all heard the popular meme about Googling "Florida Man" and seeing what kind of crazy stuff pops up.

Naomi, our heroine, is a beauty with wide, flaring nostrils and a secret dream. When a man pulls up in a souped up car, with more muscles than the Liver King, flexing and strutting his way past the velvet rope by means of a gratuitous tip, Naomi's friend leans over and is like "Wow, he must be overcompensating for something," and Naomi's heart flutters because she realizes he must be the man of her dreams.

At the club, she finds out that Overcompensation has never gone home with a woman before and she gets up in his lap and tells him that she knows why, but then she tells him what she's looking for in a man, and the two of them race to his love nest, where she sees that he has a massive house, a massive TV, and also a powerboat, for some reason. She tells him she doesn't want to play with his big toys, and I was massively disappointed that she didn't follow that up with "I want to play with your Micro Machine." Because they do exactly that, in case you were wondering. He becomes her Neti Pot of love, and it's actually sort of sweet in a messed up way, I guess, if you're into that sort of thing.

Weirdly enough, this isn't even the most weird of her books.

1 out of 5 stars

Untouchable by Sam Mariano


DNF @ 47%

So before I dive into this review, a quick disclaimer. I'm friends with the author, which is why I didn't touch this book for so long. I don't usually read author friends' books unless I'm sure I'll like them because I refuse to lie about how good or bad I find something, and since I've lost friends over this in the past, it's just easier to not read anything by buddies unless they're already a fave so I don't have to deal with fallout. But UNTOUCHABLE is popular enough (hello, Hype Week!) that I figured one negative review wouldn't make a difference or not, and I really like the author as a person, so I figured, why not? After all, it seemed like something I would love.

(Thank you, Heather, for reading this book with me.)

I have a lot of thoughts about UNTOUCHABLE. Unfortunately, most of them aren't positive, but some of those reasons are a me-thing and not an author-thing. I actually did like the beginning of this book. I thought it was super brutal and portrayed how much privileged guys think that they can get away with when they're held up by a town. It was super uncomfortable to read, but it felt accurate, and the heroine's responses mostly did, too.

Shortly after Zoey Ellis (why is NO ONE else talking about how she has the same name as a popular Omegaverse erotica author? Every time I heard her name, I kept thinking CRAVE TO CONQUER?) is sexually assaulted in a classroom, Carter comes a-courting. By which, I mean, he comes to basically deliver her a treatise on what he'd like to do to her in bed while threatening her some more. This, too, felt pretty creepy (in a good way) and I liked that she told him off. It also felt realistic that she'd want to stay home from school after it all happened because that shit is traumatic.

What didn't work for me is that just a few chapters later, Zoey decides she likes Carter. And they start going out as boyfriend and girlfriend and joking about her near-rape. Which makes it even more uncomfy because their first time basically is rape because Zoey agreed to "just the tip" and Carter decided it was going to be full penetration without a condom. Yikes. Now, to be clear, dub-con and non-con don't bother me at all. I actually like it when done well. What didn't work for me here was the tonal shift, and how they went from what happened in the classroom to almost being like one of those teen Netflix romances (one of the more problematic ones). It felt like a big swath of character development was missing to take these characters from point A to point B.

Later, Zoey decides that she likes rape play, and she starts kind of goading Carter to get him to be rougher. So I felt like the metatext in this book almost started becoming an analysis of female sexuality and fantasy, and how rape and fantasy rape are different. But that wasn't really touched on here, nor, really, was the angst that Zoey should be feeling about engaging in these kinds of behaviors with a man who tried to and then did rape her for real. I also feel like there are real gaps between Zoey being a feminist in a toxic football town that seems entrenched in 1950s gender ideals, and the uncomfortable way that Carter is sexualized by everyone, including adult women. Those women are predators, if they are having sex with a minor, and apparently (if I understand the spoilers that I read right) Carter got one of them pregnant when he was thirteen. WHAT. Considering that Zoey is a feminist, this is something she really could have talked about with Carter-- how his sexuality could have been seriously fucked up by having sex with adults as a minor, and how he was applauded for it as some kind of stud making just another kind of conquest, instead of what it actually was: him being the victim of statutory rape.

I do think the author is a good writer, and there were some pretty great passages and quotes in here, but I just hated the romance between the main couple for what it was that I could not continue. Also, apparently there's teen pregnancy in here, too, and that is a trope that I am seriously NOT a fan of. There's actually a very similar YA story (I know, right??) from the 80s called EASY CONNECTIONS. A rockstar and his buddies trick a girl who's accidentally trespassed into their mansion into coming inside, where they wine and dine her-- and then rape her. She gets pregnant and the psycho rockstar guy stalks her and manipulates everyone around her into giving them what he wants: her. She lives in a toxic old school English town where everyone gaslights her into staying with him, but she's a feminist creative and wants to pursue her own agenda, so she keeps refusing him, which only makes him angrier.

I think if you're a huge fan of EASY CONNECTIONS and looking for a book with similar themes, or you like that rapey shoujo manga from the 90s like Boys Over Flowers and Peach Girl, you'll probably enjoy this book, and since I think a lot of people did and do, that probably accounts for why this book is so popular. I'm sorry I didn't enjoy it more but I think I will maybe check out some of her mafia books at some point since that's a genre I've been starting to get into again and I know she can write a psycho.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, April 4, 2022

Layla by Colleen Hoover


From a purely clinical, technical standpoint, this story is an easy four star review. But from an emotional standpoint, this was a one star experience and I am still pissed. As you may or may not know, this week, I'm doing a project called "Hype Week" where I am reading the books that are constantly parading around my feed on Goodreads and Instagram. And LAYLA has been batting its bookish eyelashes at me for a hot minute, and I've been like, "IDK, babe. I've been hearing some red flags about you." LAYLA is the fuckboy of books, and its "hero" is a supreme dirtbag skeaze.


So it's going to be impossible not to discuss this book and my thoughts in detail, and while I'm going to try not to spoil too much, there are a few twists I have to talk about so you know why I think this hero belongs in a clown college somewhere. Or maybe even jail.

First, imagine a story where a dude is a sleazy, wannabe musician. He dates women who make him feel good about himself. Like, his first girlfriend was a starfucker and saw him as the next Johnny Cash, or whatever, and he broke up with her because he thought her obsession with him was starting to get too needy and pathetic. Then he falls for a manic pixie dreamgirl who makes him literally feel like he's high all the time because she's such a hawt nympho. And then his jealous ex finds out about the new relationship and shoots MPD in the head. Suddenly the manic pixie is recovering from a head injury and not herself anymore. She's needy, too. Goddamn it, he didn't sign up for a relationship where he has to do any kind of legwork. But one day, post-brain trauma MPD gets possessed by a ghost and sleazy musician is like, "Wow, this ghost who's mind-raping my girlfriend right now is pretty hot." Suddenly, he's slipping sleeping pills into MPD's drinks to knock her out so he can get at that good ghost pussy, gaslighting MPD, and even telling the ghost "she looks prettier when you're inside her" because goddamn it, he's a man, and he just wants someone without problems.

And you don't want to know what he does to the MPD when she decides she wants nothing to do with this haunted house they're in, or the dude who seems to be keeping her there. But I'll give you a hint. It rhymes with jalse jimprisonment. In any other storyline, this dude would straight-up be the villain and would probably be killed off or sent to jail at the end of the book. But in this book, he's the "hero" and his psycho clown actions are justified to us, even though BY HIS OWN ADMISSION, he didn't actually realize he was doing a good thing. He was totally down to mind-rape just to feel an emotional connection to someone else, using his girlfriend's body as a dial-up server for supernatural phone sex. Whoop-dee-doo. An asshole is you.

The feminist in me was hoping that this was going to be a feminist deconstruction of the manic pixie dreamgirl trope, or that Leeds Gabriel (*snort*) was an intentionally unlikable character, kind of like the guy from Caroline Kepnes's YOU, and at the end of the book there was going to be some kind of comeuppance. Several reviewers mentioned a twist that CHANGED EVERYTHING and I was like, okay, bring it. And then the twist happened and I was like, "Ohh, so you're just gonna try to justify it to me and do me dirty like that CoHo?" After 300 pages of gaslighting, I was not ready to have the gaslight turned on me, the reader. Oh no. Fuck Leeds Gabriel and his stupid name. He sucks.

I don't want to spoil the ending but let's just say that if you accidentally do the right thing for the wrong reasons, you're not a good person. My envisioned ending would have been so much more satisfying for me but then it wouldn't have been a romance and this author's fans would have been mad. Books like these, to me, are just solid proof that people are willing to take just about any amount of shit from a male character as long as he has abs, but if a female character is even the slightest amount of grumpy, difficult, or bitchy, everyone starts hating on her in the reviews and saying how much she sucks.

C L O W N.

3 out of 5 stars

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley


This week I'm doing a project called Hype Week, where I read the really popular books I've been putting off reading for years. Since graphic novels are pretty niche, this one might be cheating, but it was a nominee for the Goodreads Choice Awards in 2014, which I'd say at least nudges it at least partially into the mainstream.

SECONDS is a really good book and it wasn't what I was expecting at all. It's also totally different from the Scott Pilgrim series, which doesn't really age all that well. This standalone is about a woman named Katie, who's twenty-nine, and is a chef at a pretty successful restaurant and is now on the verge of opening her own. One day, one of her staff suffers a horrible accident in the kitchen, and she sees a mysterious girl in her room perching on an old dresser. Inside one of the drawers is a notepad for writing down mistakes, a list of instructions, and some mushrooms. When Katie eats the mushroom, the server is no longer burned. Everything is completely different.

...or is it?

This is like a cross between Groundhog's Day, Mirrormask, and Coraline, and I really, really enjoyed it. Katie is a perfect flawed heroine and even though she behaved selfishly, you could see how she was really trying to get her life to be the way she wanted it and how her perfectionism and impulsivity were constantly at war with each other, and how quickly that mix turned self-destructive. There's also a fairytale bent to this story that starts to turn really creepy towards the end. There were a couple parts that gave me actual chills. Less is definitely more going into this book, but I loved how strange it was, and I could totally see this being a movie, especially a creepy stop-motion one.

Also, Hazel is too precious for this world.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Crave by Tracy Wolff


DNF @ 7%

You know that voice in your head that says "don't fucking do it"? I cheerfully ignored that voice, downloading books 1-3 in this series from Kindle Unlimited just in case it turned out to be the most amazing thing since sliced bread. I liked TWILIGHT, okay, and I love vampires, and sometimes, a thirty-year-old bitch is in a ~mood~ for vampire trash because thirty-year-old bitches have aesthetics, too.

But this was a mistake. And now I have a headache shaped exactly like this book, which is basically what would happen if you let someone write John Green/Smeyer crossover fic and that person also had a Wattpad account. The only thing more painful than the bad romance was its attempts to break the fourth wall.

1 out of 5 stars

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki


Welcome to Hype Week, where I review all of the books that people in my feed won't shut up about for one week only. LAURA DEAN has been popping up in my feed for a while. Even though it keeps obnoxiously saying, in text, that it's like an indie rom-com, that's exactly what it feels like. The kind of movie that Michael Cera and Kat Dennings would be in. THAT type of indie movie.

Freddy is a seventeen year old Asian girl living in Berkeley, CA. She's also dating a girl named Laura Dean, who's kind of like a frick-boy in girl form. Laura uses her when she wants something and then drops her like she's hot, stringing her along, shoving her other hook-ups in Freddy's face, and basically forcing her constantly to choose between her and her friends, her and her own mental health, her and basically anything else that isn't Laura Dean.

I've actually been in an emotionally toxic relationship like this when I was young so it makes me sad to see so many people hating on Freddy for not seeing the light. When you're depressed and have low self-esteem, it can feel like you're lucky to have anyone give you the time of day, even if that person is a total jerk. I felt like Tamaki did a really good job showing how hard it can be to leave that sort of relationship, and how much personal development it takes to do so.

Some other critics have said that this feels too woke, but the California I know really is like this. People are out and proud, and they talk about their personal identities just like this. It's one of the things I love about San Francisco: the celebration of diversity. A lot of authors who don't live in California but write books here anyway make everyone white and straight and that simply isn't realistic-- of anywhere, but especially the Bay Area. So seeing that kind of rep was exceptionally lovely.

LAURA DEAN KEEPS BREAKING UP WITH ME is a surprisingly emotionally intense graphic novel. I'm pretty picky when it comes to YA but I think this book is really, really good.

4 out of 5 stars

Comfort Me with Apples by Catherynne M. Valente


I normally read some pretty weird things that are off the beaten path of what most book bloggers read and review, but this week is Hype Week, and I'm going to be reading a lot of the things that EVERYONE reads and see for myself whether or not the books are Worth the Hype™.

COMFORT ME WITH APPLES has been on my radar for a while. Every time I saw the cover, it freaked me out. I was also intrigued by the premise, which gave me STEPFORD WIVES/Bluebeard vibes, and when I read the sample on Kindle, I loved the writing style. I am not a horror fan at ALL, but I love fairytale horror. One of my favorite recent horror novels was called HOUSE OF HOLLOW, and this seemed to cater to those who enjoy that same goth fantasy aesthetic.

The premise is pretty simple. Sophia lives in a beautiful house in a gated community with a husband who adores and spoils her. But then one day, she starts noticing little things-- locked doors, mysterious items-- that hint at a dark rot of uncertainty tainting her perfect life. She starts to question not just her husband, but also herself. And that is dangerous, indeed.

I don't want to say too much more about this book but I think it is a feminist tale (although it's couched in tragedy), and I think it's also a criticism of the misogyny that's latent in a lot of subsets of Judeo-Christian religions. I personally am not religious, so this didn't bother me at all, but I did wonder if this critique was what caused this book to have such mixed reviews among my friends. The fairytale aspect will also not appeal to everyone but I personally loved it. Can't wait to read more from this author.

4 out of 5 stars

Docile by K.M. Sparza


DNF @ 14%

To be clear, unlike some of the people who didn't like this book, I'm not giving this a one-star rating because of the premise (although I do think it's totally fair for people to have that kind of visceral response to something that is basically slavefic, since slavery was and continues to be a very real and inhumanly cruel issue that impacts many people on a global scale). I personally don't have a problem reading that trope if it's handled well... but here... I'm not so sure it was handled well. Eek.

I used to refer to this book as "The Book That Never Goes on Sale" because I swear, it was always $10+ in the Kindle store for years after its publication. I respect the hustle, but I also respect my wallet, you know? And it's nice when books eventually go on sale so those of us who balk at expensive book purchases can still support the author in a small way without also breaking the bank. When it finally went on sale, I may have screamed. I wanted this book SO badly, and didn't get an ARC, so finally, finally, THE PRECIOUS WAS MINE. I was literally so excited, I one-clicked it without reading the sample first, which might have been a mistake.

But I really didn't like this book. For multiple reasons. First, Elisha lives in a world where people can sell themselves into slavery to pay off their debt... which sounds like something that Elon Musk might semi-ironically propose, tbh, just to fuck with people on Twitter. How did this happen? What drove humanity to this vastly questionable decision? Surely, not everyone who is forced to do this ends up as a glorified human sex doll, and, as other reviewers have pointed out, this doesn't even really scrape at the surface of the uncomfortable fact that poverty is rife with infrastructural racism, so this "sell yourself into slavery" scheme would disproportionately impact people of color.

I get that this is a fantasy... and I think C.S. Pacat made it work with CAPTIVE PRINCE. But that was set in a fantasy land whereas this is set in our present day, and the inclusion of mind rape drags and Alex's wholesale buying in to the system (the way he eagerly anticipates turning Elisha into a sex robot with the mind rape drugs is fifty shades of gross). I really wanted to enjoy this book but I ended up just feeling bored and squeamish by turns. Nothing about this book was sexy to me, and if there was supposed to be social commentary about Big Capitalism, I think the book missed the mark. I should have listened to my friends' reviews... a lot of people whose opinions I trust didn't like this book. But hey, maybe you will love it. That would be awesome too. Maybe just read the sample first.

1 out of 5 stars

Thy Kingdom Come by Monica James


I got this impulsively when it was a Kindle cheapie because one of my friends raved about it in her review (hi Chelsea). Mafia romances aren't usually my thing but I really liked the title and the premise seemed interesting, although why an Irish mafioso would be wearing sugar skull face paint made me wonder if something went horribly wrong in the cover art consultation department...

But no. We learn right from the prologue why Punky (ugh, I hate his name lol) wears his weird face paint. It's so morbid it's a little along the lines of the Joker's "you know how I got these scars..." spiel, and considering the subject matter, it works. THY KINGDOM COME is set in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and is about a war between two Irish crime families, who, in addition to territory disputes still harbor lingering resentments over the troubles. Punky's family is Protestant and the Doyles, their bitter enemies, are Catholics who reign over Dublin. But now things have escalated and it's practically become an out and out war, which might just provide Punky with the perfect opportunity to avenge his mother's death.

Enter Babydoll (hate her name too lol), the mysterious blonde chick who catches his eye in a way that no other girl ever has (OF COURSE). Suddenly, she starts popping up everywhere he looks, and even though he knows she's a thief, Punky starts to wonder what else she might be-- and what she'll do to get it. The cat-dog pursuit between them kind of reminds me of the relationship between Batman and Catwoman (lol so many Batman references in this review), so I kind of dug it. And although it took me a while to warm up to Baby(doll) as a narrator, I did end up finding her more and more interesting as the book went on, although Punky was really the show-stealer in this book.

I actually think, story-wise, this is a better mafia book than Danielle Lori's. The Irish cant, the locations (Belfast and Dublin, both places I've actually been-- although not with people like this lol), the spicy romance, and the political machinations of the bad mafia people were all so fascinating to me. This book deserves like a thousand times more reviews than it had. The only things I didn't really like about it were that, at times, the writing could feel a bit sloppy (the author kept making her characters say words that I'm not sure working class crime dudes would use, like commence, and there were a lot of clunky or repetitive passages, like at one point "I ride her hard" was used in two paragraphs on the same page). I also really, really hated the characters' names. Punky and Babydoll? I sneer.

But everything else about this book was AMAZING and I will 100% be reading that sequel. Even though I predicted that twist, it was SUCH a mind-freak.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Friday, April 1, 2022

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel


When Heather told me about how amazing this book was and that I needed to read it, asap, I popped that sucker on my to-read list immediately. That's why I was so excited when she agreed to a re-read with me. THE ROANOKE GIRLS is an ambitious, brave, love-it or hate it sort of book that, in many ways, is kind of a throwback to the big, bloated Gothic novels of the 60s and 70s. While reading this book, I kept thinking back to other Gothic favorites of mine, like V.C. Andrews's MY SWEET AUDRINA, or Stephen King's DOLORES CLAIBORNE (arguably my favorite of his books).

One caveat. While reading reviews for this book, be VERY careful. A lot of them contain untagged spoilers. One person spoiled a major twist in the first sentence of their review. While I understand the reasoning-- this book has triggers for basically everything-- I do think that TWs should be opt-in, so people who need/want them can have them properly tagged, without spoiling the book for others who either feel confident enough that they can read without feeling anxious or who have a psychological "stomach" of steel.

THE ROANOKE GIRLS is a dual timeline story that features several of my favorite tropes: messed-up families, tortured FMC, toxic romance, and dark secrets. When Lane's cousin Allegra goes missing, she goes back to the one place she swore she would never return: Roanoke, Kansas; her family's crumbling estate in America's heartlands. And just like she feared, her return brings back all these memories to surface that she would rather stay buried: memories about the summer that nearly broke her, and what it means to be a Roanoke girl, and the price that some people are willing to pay for love.

I really think that, unless you have specific TWs that you need to have addressed, less is more going into this book. It's so densely atmospheric and beautifully written, and despite the ugly subject matter, I felt like the author handled it all with grace, not giving too much details, and taking what could have been sensationalized and tawdry and, frankly, crude, and turning it into a brilliant psychological Petri dish of dysfunctionality. After I finished, the moody atmosphere clung to me like swamp water. This would make an amazing TV series in the vein of SHARP OBJECTS.

Also, one more side note: the cover makes this book look kind of YA and this author previously published some YA, but this book is NOT YA. I did not realize that going into this book so I was like, wow this sure is explicit for YA. But it is NOT YA.

5 out of 5 stars