Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Prince of Magic by Anne Stuart


Okay, so here's the thing. All Anne Stuart books are basically varying degrees of sameness. There's always the prudish and possibly tortured, but still determined heroine who meets the mysterious and possibly evil, but still ultimately noble hero amidst some sort of sinister backdrop of nefarious circumstances. The hero probably seems like he's going to be the villain for a while-- and sometimes he even is-- but there's always some greater evil that makes him realize that, sigh, he has to abandon his nihilist ways to care about something, so it might as well be her, I guess.

This is literally the formula in every single one of her books-- and to be honest, I don't even care, because when it works, I love it. Unfortunately, not all Anne Stuart books are created equal. I actually think, for the most part, her older historical romances are the best. PRINCE OF MAGIC is one of the really good ones, and it comes across as kind of being like a cross between LORD OF DANGER and RITUAL SINS.

Lizzie is forced to leave Dorset after shaming her family by being caught dancing in the woods in her underthings, thus terminating her engagement with a hypocritical lecher and earning her family's scorn. She's sent to live with a cousin who lives in this idealistic woodsy town with a crumbling abbey and a sinister forest. The cousin's family consists of a prudish aunt and uncle, her good-hearted cousin Jane, spoiled twins named Edwina and Edward, and the mysterious Gabriel, a recluse known as the Dark Man who lives in a tower.

Gabriel used to be a monk but then he became more interested in druidism and paganism, much to the interests of the pathologically sadistic couple, the Chiltons, who have a rather, ahem, incendiary plan for Beltane. Gabriel thinks they're idiots who are basically just using the trappings of a religion they don't understand as window dressing for their own debaucheries-- which is actually excellent and still-relevant commentary on cultural appropriation that continues to happen to this day to Native and Eastern religions-- but anyway, he's basically doing his best to stall and rebuff them, while still holding on to his "I don't care" mentality, but obviously, this being a romance novel, that doesn't work.

The villains in this book were appropriately twisted, as befitting a book that has cults and ritualistic sacrifice. There were scenes in this book that gave me chills, and the climax was like something out of a horror movie. I also actually really liked the secondary romance. Anne Stuart includes a lot of those in her books and sometimes they take up way too much page time, but I actually loved Peter and Jane almost as much as I loved the main couple. The forbidden romance, high stakes, and sense of danger really added a lot of spice to the romance, and the sex scenes were hot. Plus, there's a heavy Gothic atmosphere and two rather hilarious ghosts. I ended up loving virtually everything about this.

I think I have a new favorite Anne Stuart book to grace my god-tier romance list.

4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars

Monday, May 30, 2022

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen


It's AAPI month and I've been trying to read as many Asian-authored books on my Kindle as possible. THE MAGIC FISH was a book I was really excited about because it's a graphic-novel that interweaves fantasy with the story of a boy's coming of age.

Tien is the son of Vietnamese immigrants. His parents are loving, but they had to struggle for and give up a lot to become U.S. citizens, and their English isn't very good. Sometimes, it feels like there is an emotional barrier between him and them, because Tien feels like his struggles are nothing compared to theirs. He also knows he's gay and he's afraid of coming out to his parents and having him reject that or not accept him.

In between all of this, we see Tien and his parents and friends interact on a day to day basis, interwoven with all of these beautiful fairytales, like Cinderella or the Little Mermaid, but with a little twist. It's fascinating how the stories parallel the events going on in the main timeline and I just loved how intricate that was.

This is such a beautifully emotional book. It made me tear up several times. Sometimes the fairytales could be a little horrific-- especially the Cinderella one towards the end-- but I think a lot of fairytales are pretty morbid. Tien was a very likable character and so were his mom and dad. I really liked when we started getting these little snippets that showed them as people, outside of being parents.

What a beautiful, haunting read.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Stormfire by Christine Monson


STORMFIRE is a very difficult book to get in physical form. In terms of price, it's right up there with THE SILVER DEVIL. I despaired of ever getting a copy of either, and then my mom found a cheap copy of STORMFIRE at a thrift shop. Obviously, I started reading that shit immediately, because wouldn't you?


It's easy to see why it's become such a cult classic. Not only does it have a beautiful cover, it's also got a unique story and setting. STORMFIRE is set during the Napoleonic Wars/Georgian England, but set in Ireland, during the British's violent colonization of the people. The hero, Sean Culhane, is out to get English viscount, John Enderly, for leading the genecide that wiped out most of his town and resulted in the violent death of his mother, as well as other people he knows. He does this by kidnapping Catherine on her way to school and raping her, before sending her blood- and semen-stained underwear to her father by courier.

After that, the story becomes a chaotic maelstrom of ups and downs. Catherine is brutalized and treated as a servant and a whore. She's beaten and starved. At one point, the hero makes her nose bleed by hitting her in the face. Even when he starts to fall for her, he's still impossibly cruel. One minute they might be having sex in a lightning storm or he's buying her sexy lingerie; the next, he's slathering makeup on her face and ordering his men to gang-rape her, or letting one of his mistresses starve her to the point that her baby dies in the womb and gives her sepsis(!). Both the hero and the heroine sleep around gratuitously, and sometimes it feels like they spent more time with other people than they did with each other.

What ultimately sort of ended up making this book a win for me was the passionate, beautiful writing, and the emotion clotting the pages. Sean also has some pretty terrible things happen to him, as a sort of poetic justice for his mistreatment of the heroine: he's partially castrated, whipped with iron spikes, and shot and stabbed several times, at least one of those times with poison. Other people have said that the book was about one hundred pages too long and I agree. The gratuitous smutty intrigues with Napoleon and Josephine, I could have passed on. I was ready to wrap up after Sean's torture, when Catherine helped rescue him. It really felt like both characters suffered way more than they had to.

The ending also kind of felt abrupt. When I finish a romance story, I like to imagine that the couple will last. I didn't really get that feeling with these two. It felt like they'd be off-again and on-again for the rest of their lives, which wasn't all that satisfying. Still an incredibly memorable story, though.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Lost Roses of Ganymede House by Constance Walker


A while ago, I found out that a bunch of old Zebra gothic romances had been released on Kindle, and I bought a couple that looked the most interesting. Zebra publishing is one of my favorite umbrella imprints, and their gothic line was somewhat new to me. LOST ROSES OF GANYMEDE HOUSE has an amazing title and an amazing old skool cover, but the execution, for me, wasn't all that impressive.

There are three schools of gothic premises: heroine coming into an inheritance, heroine entering a marriage, and heroine taking on a new job. This is the latter category, where the heroine, Sara, is to take on the governing of two young children. The love interest is their widower father, Mr. Grayson, who is the most uptight dude I've encountered in a while as a hero of romantic fiction. He didn't really have much chemistry with the heroine at all, which is disappointing in a romance.

Virgil and Antonia are the two children and they were fine. There's also the adult cousin, Mr. Moore, and the dead wife, Rosamunda, whose presence still haunts the property in the form of roses and a Greek maze.

The set-up was interesting but it was honestly really dull to read about. I didn't really feel like Sara had much personality and it was painfully obvious who the bad guy (or girl) was. I ended up skimming pretty heavily until I got to the end, just to see if my suspicions were right. They were.

2 out of 5 stars

Seducer by Kayla Gray


DNF @ 30%

I really wanted to like SEDUCER and at first it was really good. It had an amazing set-up with the heroine, Madelaine, essentially being sold by her father to be a cruel man's bedslave so he can have more money for drink and gambling. She manages to escape and saves another woman named Olivia from the attentions of yet another awful man. The two of them end up bonding over misfortune, as women do, and Olivia tells Madelaine to come with her as her chaperone as a favor, to which Madelaine agrees.

But oh noes, it turns out the American ship they're on is actually a British ship in disguise, and when they change their flags at Barbuda (then British-owned), a pirate ship manned by the terrifying Captain Angel sets upon them. After surrendering, Angel dispatches the crew, except for Madelaine, who has swapped dresses with Olivia last minute. Now he thinks she's the lady who's engaged to a Virginian plantation owner (at least I think that's what he is??) and he's planning on kidnapping her for ransom-- and also bonking her, because he says that he'll spare her maid from being set castaways if she shares his bed, to which she reluctantly accepts.

This had such a good set-up and I was actually in the mood for a darker romance with some dub-con, but the pirate immediately lets her renege, which I thought was a little ridiculous. Also, he's the most incompetent pirate ever. Terror of the high seas? Somehow she manages to steal his knife (which she threatens him with in front of all his men) and his gun (which she threatens him with in his chambers), and despite near-being assaulted by a man who is not all that unlike Angel in terms of forcing his attentions on her, she's just like "well, he didn't handle me CRUELLY" and falls for him. Immediately.

I was hoping for something like Rona Sharon's MY WICKED PIRATE, which had a very nice balance between a forceful alpha hero who still respected the heroine's boundaries sometimes, but instead he came off as wildly inconsistent in terms of personality, like Vashon in Meagan McKinney's TIL DAWN TAMES THE NIGHT. I don't think I'll be finishing this one.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

The Lost Duchess of Greyden Castle by Nina Coombs Pykare


A while ago, I found out that a bunch of old school gothic romances had been released to Kindle, so I snapped a couple of the more interesting ones up. Right now, I'm not feeling super well, and one of my go-to reads when I'm feeling poorly is the gothic romance. I'm not sure why, but something about crumbling castles, terrified governesses, creepy children, cursed families, and mist-tossed moors always make me feel better.

THE LOST DUCHESS OF GREYDEN CASTLE is a pretty crazy little book. Basically, Vanessa is the younger sister to a beautiful blonde woman named Caroline. She sort of falls in love with this duke named Richard when he comes to their house to take Caroline away. Five years later, her sister dies, and Richard comes back and is like, "Hey, your sister's dead and I need a mother for my child, marry me." And Vanessa is like HE'S IN LOVE WITH ME! I DO! Because she is dumb.

Right away, it's clear that things at Greyden castle aren't right. Richard has an identical twin named Roland and they seem to hate each other. Richard's sister, Rosamund, has gone mad because she thinks their father paid someone to kill her impoverished fiance. Pregnant out of wedlock, she also has a sinister emo boy son named Penrose who idolizes Lord Byron (as one does). And Caroline and Richard have a child as well, a little girl named Sarah, who will do anything to make Vanessa love her. Oh, and let's not forget the creepy old disapproving dowager, whose sole purpose in life now seems to be to stir the pot.

I'm sure you thinking, THIS FAMILY IS CRAY-CRAY. And you would not be wrong. And of course, it isn't long before the death attempts start. Screams in the night, beaches full of quicksand, and old mementoes of her sister's popping up like a bad dream. It's a recipe for disaster, and Vanessa, being rather not-so-smart in this equation, hurdles towards doom with the eagerness of a kid being told he can pick out "two toys" from the store.

So I thought this book was fine. Vanessa is very much Not Like Other Girls and even though her sister really did sound evil, it was kind of gross that she kept being slut-shamed. Especially when Vanessa did some questionable things herself (frenching her new brother-in-law on the first day, for example, and then spending hours obsessing over it-- or being surprised that her marriage with Richard is a marriage of convenience-- GIRL, you didn't even KNOW him). I found myself skimming and rolling my eyes a lot, but there were enough creepy shenanigans that I wanted to know what happened next.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, May 28, 2022

A Hoboken Hipster in Sherwood Forest by Marianne Mancusi


DNF @ p.41

Okay, so Love Spell is one of those publishing imprints where their books are either good bad or bad bad. And I thought this was the later. The premise is REALLY weird. The main character, Chrissie, is at a RenFaire with her annoying coworker, Kat. Kat makes the age-old mistake of antagonizing a "gypsy woman," who sends her one thousand years into the future. To get her back, Chrissie has to go back into the PAST and secure the Holy Grail. Because you know, wibbly wobbly timey wimey.

Anyway, Chrissie goes back into the past and runs right into Robin of Lockley, AKA Robin Hood, and I really need you to know that the back blurb of the book I have refers to him and his merry men as "boyz 'n the wood." Book, your 2007 is showing. It shows its 2007 in a lot of ways, actually, because the book is narrated in first person and Chrissie is about as hip as Marci X with her references to still SUPER relevant (sarcasm) things like Baywatch or Charmed.

I will give points for Chrissie ingeniously telling Robin that she's a male eunuch to explain her height and high-pitched voice. I don't think I've ever seen that done in a time-travel book, although she keeps "OH NO he thinks I'm a boy because I'm flat-chested and my hair's in a ponytail-ing" and pride makes her want to correct him, even though being a woman in medieval times is like being the lobster dish at an all-you-can-eat buffet. You don't want to be the lobster at an all-you-can-eat buffet, is what I'm saying. I loved the title of this book but I am not keen on the execution. Next.

1.5 out of 5 stars

My Wicked Pirate by Rosa Sharon


Zebra romances are so much fun. Unfortunately, a lot of their best imprints are now defunct, but I believe a lot of the rights reverted back to the authors and you can get them pretty cheap on Kindle. Like this one! MY WICKED PIRATE is everything I love in a non-dark romance. There's adventure and swashbuckling and banter and forbidden romance and a hero who understands What Women Want™ (answer: dinner, a lavender-scented bath, and a cold glass of Lambrusco).

Alanis is on her way to see her fiance when she is kidnapped by the terrifying pirate, Eros, who is known as The Viper. Don't worry, I think his name is silly too. BUT HE'S HOT, even if he is named after the naked love angel of the Greek gods. Anyway, it turns out that her fiance has been keeping Eros's sister as his mistress and he's in love with her, but he was going to marry Alanis anyway to keep up appearances. Gross. So after an exchange is done for the two women, they go to the bad fiance's Jamaica estate, and basically end up switching back when Eros tricks Alanis into joining him once more as he flees for his life.

It turns out the pirate is not all that he seems though. Even though he is every bit as terrifying as his reputation claims (in all ways), he has a dark and honestly rather tragic secret. He's also involved in some very high-level political machinations which involve the House of Sforza, King Louis of France, and the Dey of Algiers. And the book takes us to all of these places, dealing out angsty romance and court intrigue by the handful, and I ate up all of it on a silver spoon. The romance was prolonged but really well done. By the time they finally did it, I wanted to bang a gong in celebration. I also really liked the chemistry between the H and the h, and how you could really feel how high the stakes were.

I do feel like the book was a little too long, though. By, like, maybe about one hundred pages. It also employs a trope I really hate: Pretending I Don't Love You for Your Own Good. The hero is also a bit of a Sad Draco in Leather Pants, which can be a trope that I enjoy, but sometimes the way he levered his emotional issues against the heroine was so frustrating that I wanted to scream. Maybe it worked for me because you could tell that he really did care for the heroine, even if he didn't always know how to show it. Also, some of the sex scenes are not so great. Most of them are, but towards the end, when the book started to lose steam, it lost steam in other places too. MAJOR KUDOS, however, for casually finding excuses to make the hero shirtless, multiple sensual bathing scenes, and exquisite descriptions of food that had me craving Middle Eastern feasts at 2 in the morning.

Never read anything by this author before but I'll definitely be checking out her other stuff.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Unforgettable by Leigh Riker


DNF @ p.47

This was a buddy-read I did with Heather, and initially, I was pretty into it. I love second-chance romances where a tragedy separates the h and the H and they reunite years later, full of angst. It's literally my favorite trope, so of course, when I found out it was in year, I was like YAAAAASS.

UNFORGETTABLE is about Jess and Nick. Something happened to sour their relationship and now that an illness in the family has brought them back together, they're forced to confront one another. I thought this was a pretty good set-up but there were a lot of things I didn't like. First, this was published in the 90s and it has some very dated references (like a reference to Bill Cosby). Second, it has some very weird views towards age-gaps. Like the son of one of the adults has graduated from high school but he's dating a teenager, and one of the adults refers to her as a twitching miniskirt and slut-shames her, but in a creepy way. And it turns out there's also a huge age gap between the h and the H and her being caught with him while underage is part of the Big Misunderstanding, but it's handled in a really weird and stupid way.

Add to the fact that every chipped plate and rotten apple sets off a wistful emotional reverie, and this kind of ended up feeling like one of those bad Harlequin novels that everyone likes making fun of. I'm really sad I didn't enjoy this more because it had so many tropes I usually love, but I guess this is just proof that tropes are not enough to save a story that is, dare I say it, FORGETTABLE.

1.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Awkward Family Photos by Mike Bender


When I was in high school and college, these sorts of "found and submitted" photo dumping sites were very popular, and a lot of them eventually landed book deals. Some of the most famous were hosted on icanhascheezburger, but there were others, like People of Wal-Mart Awkward Family Photos.

A lot of these memes don't hold up very well. I feel like people were getting away with making off-color jokes well into the aughts, shaming people in ways that were classist, racist, fat-phobic, or misogynistic. But Cake Wreck and Awkward Family Photos both stand the test of time pretty well, because (1) the content they're hosting for the most part is inherently wholesome (people who care about family photos usually do so because they love their families) and (2) the hosters let the images speak for themselves and even invite posters to share the stories behind the photos, which I really enjoyed.

The best thing about AWKWARD FAMILY PHOTOS the book is that a lot of the pictures are cute and just kind of funny but in a way that doesn't really make the people the butt of the joke. Like, there's a picture of a Star Wars-themed wedding that I adored. And there's an Xmas pic where a family is dressed up in their pajamas and everyone matches except the dad, who's wearing boxers. And there's another pic of a family at the lake where the dad (AGAIN, the dad) is wearing a zentai suit for some reason. 

My favorite pics were probably the ones of kids misbehaving in a funny way (torturing their dolls, or holding up an Etch-a-Sketch that says I HATE THIS during a family gathering while grandma looks on in disapproval), the funny pet photos, or the ones that have kids who are obviously in some sort of rebellion phase dressed up like goths, emos, and punks. YAAASSS. Especially if it looks like they're kind of secretly having a good time and are just living their best goth/emo/punk lives.

This is the perfect pick-me-up for whenever you need something light to cleanse the literary palette.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Savage Surrender by Natasha Peters


OH MY GOD. I don't throw the phrase "best romance novel ever" around a lot, and I honestly can't remember the last time I read a romance novel that literally made me let out a huge gust of a sigh by the time I got to the last page. SAVAGE SURRENDER starts off at 99 on a scale of 100, and proceeds to repeatedly break the metrics as the plot zooms off at breakneck speed. How do I even begin to summarize everything that happens in this book? I can't. So this is going to be a bullet review.

⚜️ I love this heroine. Elise starts out seventeen or so and definitely acts her age. I honestly loved this about her. She's so dramatic and hilarious, even when she's being a twit. And her character development was just amazing. This is a woman who refuses to bow to anyone. When she is abused at the hands of her tormentors, she tricks some pirates into teaching her how to fire pistols and duel so she can handle any further attacks on her person PERSONALLY. Girl, yes.
⚜️ Villain love interest. Her first encounter with the hero is non-con, which sets the stage for their relationship. He's a user and a taker. But he's also not without charm, and if you like that old skool style of alpha hero who doesn't take no for an answer, well, he's that guy. He tomcats around and is crude and manipulative and kind of awful. But he's also funny, and it's hilarious how out of touch with his feelings he is. I don't know how Natasha Peters did it, but she wrote a likable jerk.
⚜️ Enemies to lovers romance. The whole time I was reading this, I kept picturing the couple as Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher as Han Solo and Leia. He's an immoral mercenary, she's nobility and a firebrand. AND ALL THEY DO IS FIGHT. I ate that up on a silver spoon. The back-and-forths they had were profoundly epic. Was that romance toxic AF? Yes. Did I care? No.
⚜️ So much action. Whether it's treachery on a slave ship, gallivanting around and partying with pirates, or accidentally entangling oneself with the Southern Old Money equivalent of the Lannister family, there's so much going on. It's brutal and it's un-PC but it's never boring. I liked how characters kept popping up again when you least expected it, sometimes scarily, sometimes awesomely. For example, a slave that that Elise saves in the beginning of the book ends up being able to return the favor later, and he has a pretty cool trajectory character-wise that didn't feel stereotypical at all.
⚜️ That ending though. It was perf.

SAVAGE SURRENDER has been on my wishlist for years and I finally decided I was going to treat myself and buy some of the books I've been waiting for. I liked this so much that I immediately went out and bought several other titles from her backlist. It's such a shame that she didn't write more books because I think I'd gladly read everything she wrote. LOVE.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, May 20, 2022

Rules for Heiresses by Amalie Howard


DNF @ 31%

Well, it's AAPI month and I'm reading all of the Asian-authored books that are on my Kindle that I wasn't able to get to during the rest of the year. I had high hopes for RULES FOR HEIRESSES even though I didn't like THE PRINCESS STAKES. For starters, childhood friends to enemies to lovers. Also, a Creole hero who's ambivalent about assuming the dukedom and a heroine who likes to dress in drag. There was a lot about this book that I felt I should have loved, but it didn't really work for me. I just didn't feel like there was enough tension and it kind of felt like it was too modern and too precious. I loved THE BEAST OF BESWICK but so far nothing has hit the same. I keep buying her books because I want to recapture that same high, but the last three books I've read of hers really didn't work for me. Alas, the search continues...

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Peach Blossom Pavillion by Mingmei Yip


It's AAPI month and I've been trying to read as many Asian-authored books on my Kindle as possible. Obviously you should read diversely year-round but there's always a couple books that slip by me, so I thought I'd try to binge through them. Today I'm going to be telling you all about PEACH BLOSSOM PAVILION, a sort of MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA-esque story about a woman's rise, fall, and escape from a brothel in China.

First off, a caveat: this book is NOT for the faint of heart. Animals are killed. Bad things happen to minors. There is graphic sexual and physical violence. The book literally starts out with Xiang Xiang's father being unfairly tried and murdered by a warlord who was abusing and subsequently killed his own daughter, and then thought, hey I think I'll frame that one guy. And this forces Xiang Xiang's mother into monkhood, and she basically just donates Xiang Xiang to a brothel. #YOLO. I bet they don't make hallmark cards for that.

The rest of the beginning is Xiang Xiang getting groomed to auction off her innocence, just like in MoaG. What makes this a bit easier to read is that Xiang Xiang/Precious Orchid is not passive. She literally karate kicks one of her would-be patrons in the nose. And then when she won't sleep with this one guy, he tries to steal from her, but she shames him into giving up. It's brilliant. Unfortunately, Yip makes up for this agency by dealing all kinds of bad things out to the heroine, at one point even having her boobs skewered by bamboo in punishment by her madam.

The second half of the book, when she flees the brothel, is where the book gets kind of dull. There's a lot of running around. Xiang Xiang gets into some F/F action, which I thought was interesting, especially considering when this was published. Her female lover also drops a mega bombshell that ends up bringing the book full circle, culminating in a rather satisfying act of revenge. I could have gladly left the present-day interludes, which alternately have Xiang Xiang horn-dogging it up over her granddaughter's fiance, or bemoaning her long-lost beauty and sisters. It's very much Rose from Titanic going "it's been eighty-four years." Or whatever.

I didn't really like this book all that much. I think it was a mistake making the beginning so wild, because it kind of sets the expectations for events high, and people are going to be sad that the second half is such a yawn-fest. Assuming they make it that far and weren't alienated by the teen brothel/dog-eating/bamboo-as-torture-implement business. 

I read another book by this author, SKELETON WOMEN, and liked it way less than this book so it doesn't feel fair to give it the same rating. I will bump up one half-star for sheer no-forks-given.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, May 16, 2022

Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon


SILVER PHOENIX has been on my to-read list forEVER and I finally caved a couple months ago and bought it but never read it. Now that it's AAPI month, what better time than now to pick it up? And I'm so glad I did. SILVER PHOENIX came out at a time when there really weren't a lot of diverse YA books and the ones that did come out weren't really being marketed properly to see that they would get into the hands of those who would truly enjoy them. One of my friends (Wen) said that this book probably would have done much better if it had released today and I wholeheartedly agree.

SILVER PHOENIX is an epic Chinese-inspired fantasy story that reminded me a little of a YA-friendly version of THE GHOST BRIDE. The whole time I was reading it, I kept thinking what a great C-drama it would make. Ai Ling is a strong determined girl with mysterious powers. Her love interest is a tortured stoic boy with secrets named Chen Yong. There's a hot and evil bad guy, the lovable comic relief, and an exciting portion set in the realm of the Immortals, which was probably one of my favorite portions of this book.

There's a lot to credit SILVER PHOENIX. I loved the heroine and how she could be difficult and that she wasn't some perfect girl character. I loved the monsters and how dark they were-- at times, it almost gave me Inuyasha vibes because of all the creepy monster-murders. And can we talk about how I wanted to eat literally all the food in this book? The food descriptions are everything. We stan.

Where this book failed a little was pacing. The beginning was great, but the middle was peppered with slogs. I found the ending ultimately satisfactory, but hearing that info dump from the dad for closure was... IDK, a take, I guess. There were parts of this book where I couldn't put it down and parts where I was like, "Agh, go back to the good parts!" Because there were a lot of those. ALSO, let's talk about how this doesn't feel all samey as the Fantasy of Tumblr canon does?? It's totally different and it's lusciously dark, so mad props to this woman for pushing the YA envelope. (Now pls do adult fic.)

If you love Asian-inspired fantasy, you will love the Kingdom of Xia.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Frankie Comics by Rachel Dukes


This comic is so cute. I didn't realize how badly I needed a kitty-themed comic in my life until I picked this up. Frankie is my cat. The obsession with rubber bands, the incessant need for cuddles (she spends half her day on my dad's lap and then sleeps at the foot of my bed at night), the begging for food. It was AWESOME.

The drawing style and sense of humor reminded me a lot of a more mature version of Chi's Sweet Home with a dash of Questionable Content. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if both of those comics are favorites of the author. Frankie was absolutely adorable, and I liked the afterword dispelling some myths about cats and advising people on how to adopt.

If you like cats, you'll love this.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food by Jennifer 8 Lee


Happy AAPI month! My project for this month is trying to read as many of the Asian-authored books I have on my Kindle that I hadn't been able to get around to for the rest of the year. THE FORTUNE COOKIE CHRONICLES has been on my to-read list for the longest time because it's a collection of linked essays about the history of Chinese food in the United States.

First, a caveat: this was published in 2008 so it comes across as a little dated. Some of the statistics about immigration and demographics are probably no longer accurate now, but that's because it's a product of its times and not bad writing. Second, it bounces around a lot from subject to subject as a lot of other readers have complained. I think that was pretty typical of nonfic at the time, because that meandering style was kind of popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, but it doesn't really work quite as well here.

The hook for this story is about this year where there were 110 Powerball winners. When people looked into it, expecting fraud, they found out it was because the Powerball numbers were a match for the numbers on the back of a Chinese fortune cookie fortune. Everyone who played those numbers who got fortunes produced by that factory won. From there, the author does a deep dive into the history of American Chinese food, delving into the stories behind popular menu items like General Tso's Chicken, Chop Suey, Peking duck, fortune cookies, and even the takeout boxes themselves.

My favorite part of the book was actually near the end, when the author goes to the most famous Chinese restaurant in a variety of countries (Brazil, South Korea, Mauritius, UAE, etc.) and talks a little about how the culture they are in influenced the take on Chinese. I also liked the chapter on Peking duck, which talks about kosher Chinese food and the relationship between Jewish people living in New York and Chinese cuisine. I was a little disappointed that chain restaurants that do Chinese, like Panda Express or Pick Up Stix, weren't talked about, as well as the ubiquitous but entirely inauthentic dish, orange chicken, but I guess in a book like this it's hard to cover everything. The book also covers Japanese history a bit, talking about how the Chinese fortune cookie is probably Japanese in origin.

I think people who like nonfiction books about food will really enjoy this book. I certainly liked it a lot and thought that Lee was a great writer and had an engaging writing style. I just wish there had been a more uniform aspect to the book, though, as it jumped around a lot and some essays were better than others.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, May 13, 2022

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang


It's AAPI month and one of my goals was to try and get to some of the Asian-authored books on my Kindle that I haven't read yet. THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER has been on my radar for a while because I heard it was a super adorable graphic novel that addresses a non-binary identity in an accessible and fun way. And all those people who said that were totally right, because it DOES.

Frances is a seamstress. When she makes a risque dress for a girl who despises convention, she is fired from her job, only to be hired by a mysterious person claiming to represent a wealthy patron. It turns out the patron is the Belgian prince, Sebastian, who secretly likes going out and wearing dresses. In a touching moment, he tells Frances that sometimes he likes being a prince, but lately he's felt more like a princess and he wants her to make dresses for him.

At the same time, Sebastian's parents are putting pressure on him to get married and secure the throne. He's meeting princesses by day and going out on the town by night. When an opportunity arises for Frances to meet the designer of her dreams, it might risk Sebastian's big secret kidding out. And it tests the limits of Frances's and Sebastian's relationship: are they patron and creator? Are they friends? Or are they something more?

Obviously this is literally and figuratively costume fiction. There's a bit of wish fulfillment fantasy in it, too. But I don't mind that when it's done well. The themes of embracing your inner-self and accepting others for who they are is really beautiful, and there were at least three times that my eyeballs came pretty close to parting with some of their precious tears. The fashion show at the end was high key the best part. If you're looking for a feel-good book, this is it.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

The Donut Trap by Julie Tieu


It's AAPI month and I've been trying to read as many of the Asian-authored books on my Kindle as I can. I bought THE DONUT TRAP when it went on sale on Kindle a while back... and then never read it! I know, right? The shame! Especially since it's a food-themed romance and I tend to really love those, even though I'm not usually a fan of fluffy romance (food ones being the obvious exception).

Now that I've read it, I'm kind of surprised it has such low ratings! It's very cute and well-written and I really related to Jasmine, the heroine. The many donut references were also on point. That said, there were a couple flaws, so this ended up being a three star review. And you know what that means... it's a bullet-point review! HUZZAH!


👍 The anxiety rep. Honestly, I was surprised at all the hate Jasmine got as a heroine. I felt like her worrying and fretting and stalkerish tendencies were actually pretty accurate for someone (i.e. me) who obsesses over things. I could get on my soapbox and rant about how people take way less from heroines than they do from heroes, and basically seem to look for any excuse to hate on women in fiction for being too-too anything, but we'll save that for another time, yes?
👍 The donut references. I want a matcha donut right now, and let's leave it at that.
👍 The anxiety of being the person in your social circle with a "bad" job. I've been that person. It sucks when people you know are either happily married and/or working at a tech company, and you're the person who can't "adult" working minimum wage with a bunch of teenagers. Sometimes it's literally the only option apart from being unemployed and people judge you so hard for it. So I appreciated seeing that rep here, especially since the heroine went to a four-year college. A four-year college is not a guarantee of a job right after school.
👍 The romance. Alex was really cute and I liked his interactions with the heroine. I also like how they fight about realistic things and not ridiculous things for the sake of drama.
👍 The way the heroine's cultural heritage is integrated into the book. The heroine's parents are Cambodian refugees of Chinese descent who lived briefly in Vietnam, so they can speak Mandarin, Khmer, and Vietnamese. There's lovely descriptions of food (YAS FOOD), and the heroine also talks about the struggle of growing up and finding her own path while bearing the weight of her parents' struggle and hardships, and I feel like that message is probably going to resonate with a lot of people who are the children of immigrant parents. So that was kind of cool.


👎 The writing feels kind of immature. I think this is a reflection on Jas, who is immature, and that's okay because people grow and develop at all stages, but that being said, there is a very "YA" flavor to the writing that's kind of reminiscent of Meg Cabot's flighty, super breathless style of narrating. Everything is OMG!SUCH A BIG DEAL, even when it's not, and that can get exhausting.
👎 Fade to black sex scenes. Do they bang in this one? No, dear reader, they do not. I know some people don't like explicit romances, so if you're a younger teen reader looking for a mature romance without the spice, or just someone who doesn't enjoy graphic scenes, this is the book for you. For me, it was a bit disappointing to read a romance that didn't really delve much into the "romance" side of things.
👎 Um, closure? The whole Michael thing was weird and I felt like the whole sitch with Alex's ex-girlfriend was kind of glossed over. I kept waiting for something to happen but it didn't. 

Overall, this was a pretty fun book and I'm really happy I read it. I think people who enjoy food-themed romance books will really enjoy this one, although WARNING: it will make you crave donuts.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

A Song of Secrets by Jayci Lee


A SONG OF SECRETS was an impulse buy for me. I saw that Jackie Lau had a post of Asian-authored romance novels for under $5 in ebook and I went through and bought a whole bunch of things that looked interesting to me. Ultimately, I didn't really end up enjoying this one all that much, even though I love the cover and the premise.

Basically, Angie and Joshua were lovers in college, until her father forced them to break up (in a really cruel way). Now he hates her, but he also carries a torch for her, and when Angie discovers a secret about him that has the potential to save her floundering orchestra group, she sucks up her pride and asks him to help him: by blackmailing him.

I normally love blackmail romances because I think they add a lot of angst and tension. It's like forced proximity that has leveled up with dark runes. But this was one of the strangest ones I've read because it was fluffy and it didn't feel like there were a lot of emotional stakes. I saw a reviewer who said that they wished their past had been shown and I was like YES. I wish this was dual timeline because I really don't think enough substance was there to make this second chance romance work.

Since this isn't ALL negative, I will say some things I liked. The references to Korean culture, food, and family. The music references were beautiful and some of my favorite passages, especially when Angie is talking about how music made her feel (she had more emotional connection to music than Joshua, imo). Also, the sex scenes were pretty well-written. I don't think this author is for me but I'm glad I gave her a try. People who like kinder, gentler, blander romances will probably love this a lot.

2 out of 5 stars

Dragonborn by Jade Lee


DNF @ 36%

DRAGONBORN kind of feels like a direct-release softcore fantasy porn in some ways. I went into this book kind of expecting that because of her Tigress series, which is weird religion-based erotica. Sometimes her books are so weird they end up being fun and this was almost that, but I just hate how condescending her heroes usually end up being, even though the heroines are often pretty likable. Girlfriend can't carry the whole book alone, you know?

The premise behind this book is so interesting, too. There are people who bond with dragons (kind of like the Pern series), and they share a psychic link and all that jazz. Currently the evil overlord of the kingdom is busy killing off all of these dragonborn people, lest they pose a threat to his rule and if that doesn't sound like the plot of a JRPG, you can spray me in a pan and call me Pam. 

Anyway, the hero of this book is the evil governor, Kiril who murders the dragon people for the evil emperor. And the heroine, Natiya, carries a dragon in her actual bellybutton which she wears why she belly dances. Because why not? Anyway, she gets kidnapped and Kiril decides he wants to bang her so he helps her escape from jail so she can take him to the dragon egg clutches and also so they can bang. AND THE SEX IN THIS BOOK OMG. If I never see the words "prock" or "belly-horn" again, I will be very happy.

I thought about reading forward because Love Spell is cheesy-- I know that-- and it was so bad it was entertaining and I actually really liked the world building, but Kiril's mansplaining and the bad sex scenes were a no from me.

2 out of 5 stars

Monday, May 9, 2022

Edin's Embrace by Nadine Crenshaw


I've been slowly working my way through my bodice-ripper collection. EDIN'S EMBRACE has been on my radar for years, but I haven't really liked most of the viking romances I've read (90% of which were written by Johanna Lindsey), so I was a little leery about picking it up. Finally, though, I decided to bite the bullet and give it a try... and I am so glad I did.

Edin is an English lady who is engaged to her childhood best friend, Cedric. She's feeling ambivalent about the nuptials, however, since she isn't really attracted to him and she's also a virgin. Unfortunately for them, they never have a chance to work it out. Vikings come and murder Cedric and a whole bunch of other people, and Edin and a lot of the people who used to be her servants are all taken as slaves.

The hero in this book is Thoryn and he is a bad-ass motherfucker. I am a sucker for icy heroes who give zero fucks, and he fits that bill to a T. He murders the heroine's fiance right in front of her-- while he's in the middle of molesting her, in fact. He attacks his own men if they defy him, and rules with an iron fist and a massive blade. The only person who actually really dares to defy him is the last person who should: Edin herself.

This book was so amazing for a variety of reasons. First, Thoryn actually walks the walk of badassery, so when he humbles himself for the heroine, it usually happens in a subtle way. He doesn't kill her for running away, even though that's the punishment for runaway slaves. He pretends to give her the illusion of consent when he finally beds her (it's forced seduction, but both of them know he could have forced himself on her violently). And Edin has a valid reason for acting the way she does. She's a sheltered noblewoman who is used to being obeyed, so she has a lot of pride, and when she's subjugated in front of the people who used to be her servants and now revel in bullying her, it hits different.

EDIN'S EMBRACE is not without the usual litany of 1980s purple prose. Her pubic reason is described as "gently mossed" and I lost it when the hero compares her blonde pubes to "yellow parsley." But the book also feels exquisitely well researched, and when there are raids or descriptions of the viking homelife, it really felt transportive. ALSO, one of the villains-- a freeman who ends up as a "cripple" and therefore shamed-- kind of ends up with a pretty sweet redemption arc, and the other villain, the hero's mother, Inga, is 100% pure grade A batshit crazy. We're talking Mommie Dearest/Flowers in the Attic levels of crazy. And the way the author foreshadows her madness and drags it out-- GOLD.

Sadly, this book, like all of her others, appear to be out of print. I hope it gets rereleased, though, because it's really fun and the romance is so meaningful and emotional and fraught, and I actually loved the heroine just as much as I loved the hero. I can't wait to read more of her books!

4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Wildsong by Catherine Creel


WILDSONG is a medieval romance set in Ireland that I picked up impulsively at a thrift shop. As far medieval romances go, it's pretty tame. There's some talk about what dickheads the English are, but the focus of the story is on the romance between the Irish Ceara and Sir Brian, the English knight who has been given an Irish castle to manage. Manage probably isn't the right word, but basically, if the king was the CEO of the United Kingdom, I feel like the knights and lords in his favor basically ended up being general managers of the lands he gave them.

Anyway, the hero and the heroine meet when he sees her playing her harp in the woods one night. And he's like HAWT. And then they kiss. There's several more encounters like that, despite the statutes of Kilkenny, which basically say, "No listening to Irish music, no fucking Irish chicks, etc." Sir Brian doesn't care for your rules, ENGLAND.

I liked this romance, okay? It's cute and sweet, and yeah, not very historically accurate. Everyone's clean and there's no breath of plague and the cruelest thing one of the English dudes does is try to force himself on Ceara like a drunken frat boy, but that is resolved with no consequence. Maybe I've been reading too many old skool bodice-rippers, but I kept bracing for some sort of grand villain finale. Even the thing with the OM, Padraig, Ceara's ex-fiancee, felt anticlimactic.

I'd recommend this to people who like the vibes of medieval romance but not the realism. If you want the Medieval Times/Disney version of a medieval romance, this is your jam. Very little violence, no OW drama, a cute secondary romance, and pretty tepid acts of villainy. Also, it has a beautiful stepback, which I'll be sharing to Instagram later. It's the H and the h in a moonlit glade!

3.5 out of 5 stars

To Covet a Countess by Sapna Bhog


DNF @ 18%

I'm sorry to say I really didn't enjoy this one, especially since I absolutely loved DARE TO BE A DUCHESS. (Seriously, I may actually purchase that one in hard copy.) TO COVET A COUNTESS, however, really didn't work for me. First, there's insta-love, which I really don't like. DtBaD had that, too, but it worked there because the heroine grew up with the hero as her sort of big brother and one day he realizes he's attracted to her. So they had a lot of emotional connection to base their attraction on. Here, Sania and Nicholas literally JUST meet-- and they meet while she's trying to break into Lara's and Wolf's house (she's Lara's cousin). Their meet-cute is her holding a dagger to his throat. Which-- don't get me wrong, that's why I bought the book-- is a total mood, but then they go right to puppy rescuing and making out? Nuh-uh.

Apparently, the third book in this series is coming out in December and I am VERY excited for that. And I would also 100% recommend DARE TO BE A DUCHESS, which is probably one of my favorite contemporary romances I've read since Amalie Howard's BEAST OF BESWICK or Meredith Duran's DUKE OF SHADOWS. It was almost a perfect read for me and I'd gladly recommend it to anyone. Sadly, this one... wasn't.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

Friday, May 6, 2022

Blackmailed Bride by Sylvie Kurtz


DNF @ p.82

 So I'm slowly working my way through some of my romance hoard and this is the recent book in my experiment. BLACKMAILED BRIDE was kindly obtained for me by my sister, and at a glance, it seems like it would be everything I'd love. Suspicious hot guy who may have killed his wife? Check. Blackmailed into a relationship? Check. Gothic vibes? Check. Hint of the occult? Cheeeeeck.

But pulpy gothic this is not. We're treated to a special snowflake of a heroine who meets the hero when she's desperately trying to buy back a family heirloom. When someone else buys it, she's like BUT THAT'S MINE, even though she doesn't have the money to pay for it, but because Karen-- oops, I mean Cathlynn-- is a dead-ringer for Jonas Shades's missing wife, he's like okay if you pretend to be my wife for a week to appease my nosy lawyer, I'll GIVE you the heirloom.

And then Karen-- oops, Cathlynn-- is like FINE. But you CAN'T call me by your wife's name. And he's like-- rightfully so-- but that's stupid. And she's like whatevskis, I don't care. So he calls her Cat. And they basically proceed to botch and fumble every inch of this "clever" scheme of theirs. We're supposed to think Cathlynn is spunky, but she's just incredibly annoying and dumb. There's also a dash of that obligatory 2000s fat phobia where the heroine whines about how she's ten pounds overweight. Because of course, nosy lawyer is like "Lol, you look FATTER, but I always thought you'd look better with more meat on your bones."*

*Not exact dialogue

I was going to give this a two but as I'm typing this out, I realized I was pretty annoyed by this book.

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars

Desert Captive by Penelope Neri


So I have an Instagram where I showcase books from my collection of vintage romance novels, and people are always leaving me comments asking me if I've read this or that, and to my shame, the answer is usually NO. Which made me sad. So I've decided to rectify that by picking out books in my collection that have intrigued me and working my way through them. DESERT CAPTIVE, I decided, would be the first, since it's probably in my top ten favorite clinch covers of all time.


👍 Childhood friends to enemies to lovers. Alexa and Sharif knew each other as children when her archeologist father was working in Egypt. They were separated for twenty years but neither forgot the other, and Sharif, in his obsession, is determined to get his precious at all costs.
👍 Hero is totally obsessed with the heroine. As soon as he has his precious "wild apricot," his previous mistress gets the boot. He barely looks at other women and doesn't cheat on her at all. And it's honestly hilarious, the lengths he would go to seduce, trick, and manipulate her into loving him. He was arrogant, yes, but he had a heroine-shaped weakness that was rather painfully obvious to everyone around him-- except the heroine. Whoops.
👍 Hero is hilariously arrogant and theatrical. I LOVE this man, okay. At one point, when she's being carried off into the desert, she thinks his erection is poking her. And he's like, "Nah, that's just my dagger. My dick is even bigger, praise God!" And at another point, he's like, "SERVE ME MY JUICE NAKED BECAUSE I WANT YOU TO." He recites poetry in his bedroom when he knows she's outside because he's hoping to make her think he's with another woman. This man is hilarious and I love him. If you're going to do a campy alpha hero, this is the playbook.
👍 He calls the heroine his "wild apricot." Just... PLEASE.
👍 It's surprisingly dark. The central conflict is that Sharif's friend (Kedar, I think?) wants to murder the heroine's sadistic brother, Keene, for raping his bride-to-be and killing her escort. Keene flees, so Kedar wants to take his revenge out on the heroine, since she's his blood relative, which obviously Sharif will not allow. There are some torture scenes, people are left to die in the desert, there are some descriptive plans of revenge, and there's an OW who's willing to stoop to murder to get what she wants (i.e. the hero). So that's fun.
👍 Random BDSM. When the heroine tries to run away, the hero punishes her by treating her like a slave in some weird consensual non-consent roleplay. He puts her in revealing clothing, then forces her to strip. He makes her serve him juice naked, and then he ties her to the bed and licks juice off her whole body. Also, he smacks her with a flogger before giving her a spanking. Kinky.


👎 Holy purple prose, Batman. There are meticulously pruned and tended flower gardens in England that are somehow less flowery than this book. The author knew how to spin a setting and create sexual tension, but boy, did she not know when to stop sometimes. At one point, the heroine's "flower" moistens with "honey" under the hero's tongue. When she climaxes at one point, it's described as if she were about to explode into a shower of flower petals.
👎 Uneven pacing. I wish there had been more action scenes and a lot of the I love him... no! No! I hate him! scenes were cut down. This book was 500 pages and I felt EVERY page of that. Someone needed to go through this book with a red pen and leave some of those purple prose sex scenes on the cutting room floor.
👎 Closure? What closure? Don't get me wrong, there's an HEA-- but what happens to the OW? And to Sharif's evil cousin? Also, I feel like the whole thing with Keene was super weird. The ending and what happened with him was not satisfying. He was a serial rapist, okay? You can't redeem him. And I'm sorry, but the "my brain tumor made me rape and murder people!" excuse really didn't work for me.
👎 I mean... it fetishizes Middle Eastern culture. I've said before that sheikh romances are the last lingering bastion of Victorian Orientalism. And I stand by that. Romance authors try to get around that by making up countries to-- I suspect-- a) avoid doing research and b) avoiding anyone specifically, but that doesn't really work because a) you look lazy and b) people are still going to be offended. Sharif is less rapey than most, and he's not a sexist, so yay. But this is set up in a pseudo-Bedouin like environment in what is basically a cross between Algeria and Egypt, and people ululate before killing people and Allah is thrown around in every other sentence, and it's honor this and honor that, and everyone loves the heroine's white skin and green eyes, and also I feel like the author must have tried camel milk at some point and hated it, because there's this long running gag about how gross camel cheese is and she makes a point of saying that one of the bad guys smells like rancid camel butter. It's basically like a *slightly* less offensive version of E.M. Hull's THE SHEIK or Johanna Lindsey's CAPTIVE BRIDE, which kind of worked but... yeah, I side-eyed a lot of things.

In short, this book is basically bodice-ripper lite. There is forced seduction and some weird OW and villain drama, and naturally, in the vein of Bertrice Small and internalized 80s homophobia everywhere, bad guys are effeminate Joffrey Baratheon wannabes who like doing it in the butt. But the hero is surprisingly sweet in a fucked up way and unlike 95% of sheikh romances out there, where I feel like I'm committing a hate crime just by looking at the covers, I felt like the author was at least trying not to be completely over the top offensive. For example, the heroine thinks nothing of converting to Islam while staying with the people, thinking to herself that there is just "one God" and people just worship him differently, so she goes with it out of respect to the people who have taken her in. Which I actually thought was super progressive and sweet considering when this was written. She also learns the language and ends up forming a pretty deep friendship with several of the women there, and there were lots of little moments like that where it's like, "Okay, author, you TRIED."

I'm keeping this book mainly because of the gorgeous cover but there are definitely some Sharif's Greatest Hits(TM) scenes that I would like to revisit, either because they were funny or hot or both. Thanks to my friend, Meredith, for reading this with me.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Dare to Be a Duchess by Sapna Bhog


While reading this book, I kept thinking that this is what THE PRINCESS STAKES could have been, if it hadn't been utterly gutted by the book's (I personally felt, incredibly unfair) cancellation by the romance community. When it comes to rep, I feel like authors of color are held to near impossible standards-- they have to be relatable, interesting, and inoffensive, all at the same time, but that is incredibly difficult to do, because relatability looks different for everyone, even within a specific community or ethnic group, and as for being inoffensive-- well, good luck with that. As ugly as our current reality can be, history is uglier still, and I think glossing over that and ignoring how much it really sucked to be anything but a white man with land and a title in history is, well, dangerous.

So that's just part of the reason why I was delighted to read DARE TO BE A DUCHESS, which also features a biracial heroine of Indian decent. She is privileged, but her life still kind of sucks in some ways. She has two loyal friends and the protection of a noble family, but most of the idiots in the ton tolerate her at best to her face and spend all their time gossiping about her and being scandalized by her when she's turned the other way. Her father was disinherited by her grandfather for marrying an Indian woman, and he refuses to recognize her, despite the fact that she is, and ought to be recognized, as a lady. The racism and fetishization she faces can be hard to read, but they do feel real, and even though Lara is not bogged down by them, they do color her world and frame some of the choices she makes. Because she knows that if she marries the wrong person, she'd just end up locked in a house somewhere while her husband frolicked around with white mistresses and partook freely of her money.

Despite this, things are still pretty great for Lara. She has two wonderful friends-- Cammy and Anne-- and the protection of Anne's family, especially her guardian, Robert. Anne's older brother, Wolf, also acts as a sort of reluctant protector, even though he's aloof and standoffish and snobby. When he goes to a very naughty masquerade party that Lara & co. have sneaked off to, though, he finds himself seeing her as a woman for the first time. AND THEN THEY KISS and my boy immediately becomes obsessed, and I think we can all agree that an obsessive hero who occasionally toes the line of Psychoville is a hero for the ages.

Wolf is honestly such a great hero, because he's brooding and a little bit dangerous (although not to the heroine, obvs), and his "SHE IS MINE" and "TOUCH HER AND I KILL YOU" mindset really spoke to my toxic heart. But like all arrogant alpha heroes, he makes mistakes. He pushes her away For Her Own Good(TM) and he hurts her, also For Her Own Good(TM). And this really fucks things up between them. Until my boy makes good on the grovel (which, indeed, he does). The way his cold and tortured nature is juxtaposed against Lara's goodness and flightiness is so well done, and there were several moments in this book that I almost teared up because ~that emotional connection, tho~.

It's like someone handed this author a list of my favorite tropes and was like, "Go forth!" Naughty masquerade parties, aloof and tortured hero, flighty and difficult heroine, SEXUAL TENSION, insidious murder plot, evil asshole villain man who is obsessed with the heroine, family drama, female friend squad, serious BROMANCE, and just basically everything you could wish for in a romance to make it interesting and angsty and not too fluffy. When I saw that the sequel for this book, which is about one of Wolf's friends, features Knife to the Throat as one of the tropes, I threw down that $3.99 like a big shot placing a bet at a high stakes poker game, because that's how I roll.

Definitely recommend this author to anyone who likes Amalie Howard.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, May 2, 2022

Hungry Tigress by Jade Lee


DNF @ 37%

Well, it's AAPI month, and as I do every year, I've started to binge-read some of the Asian-authored books on my Kindle that, for whatever reason, I hadn't gotten around to reading. Jade Lee is not a new author to me. Earlier this year, I read the book WHITE TIGRESS, which kind of awed me with how bad it was. It was basically an enemies to lovers romance that went pretty in-depth into Victorian racism while also indulging in a bit of magical lactation porn featuring terms like "yin milk," "jade dragon," and "cinnabar cave." And you may be thinking to yourself, "I really hope that's referring to a bubble tea cafe, a Chinese restaurant, and a jewelry shop." BUT YOU WOULD BE WRONG, DEAR READER. SO WRONG.

But somehow, none of that was enough to prevent me from reading further in the series. I bought every single book in this wacky paranormal romance series, and the first book in her fantasy dragon series. Why?! I don't know. I feel like I'm being held hostage. And to be fair, HUNGRY TIGRESS starts out really good. Joanna is a well-meaning but privileged white lady who wants to help the Boxers overturn the Qin dynasty, but all the ends up happening is that her white saviorism gets her into trouble. She's saved by a monk who immediately starts berating her for how she treated her horse, insisting that she's going to be whipped. Okay, Christian 灰色. Just don't take her to your red room of pain, or whatever.

BUT OH NO. It turns out Fifty Shades of Monk is actually an imperial prince on secret assignment, and to keep her from talking he THROAT PUNCHES HER IN THE TRACHEA and then takes her to this perverted sex cult where, I KID YOU NOT, rubbing your boobs and jerking off are both considered purification exercises. Especially when you do them in front of someone else. Or have someone else do them to you. I could say more about this, but I already feel like I'm toeing the line of what Amazon allows in a cross-post pretty finely. This review might not even get posted, it's that racy, and it's not even my fault. How can I, the reader, be blamed for simply recounting the perversions of this book?

Anyway, Joanna and Prince Pervy Monk end up "partners," and then they listen to the Sex Cult Queen give this long and boring lecture with Powerpoint Slides (read: scrolls with dirty pictures on them). And afterwards she's like THANKS FOR COMING TO MY TED TALK. Also, she hates Joanna because she's white and keeps insisting that Hot Prince Pervy Monk pick another "purification" partner, but he's like, "Nah, we good." Even though he also hates her for being white. He thinks she has nice... uh, yin.

I'm sorry, but I can't get over the throat-punching, okay? That's the worst meet-cute ever. And he literally does it so hard that she can't swallow food or talk without going into these painful spasms that make it so she can barely breathe. Look, I get that it's historical. A lot of people were angry that in the first Outlander book, Jamie hits Claire for disobeying him. I didn't like it, but it's easier to stomach stuff like that in historical fiction than in modern day stuff just because that's what happened (even if it wasn't okay). But throat-punching crosses over the line in a pretty horrible way, and it's mentioned so much that even I started to feel vicariously uncomfy because it was so descriptive.

No matter how ragin' Prince Pervy Monk's jade dragon is, I don't think I can endorse a throat-puncher.

1 out of 5 stars

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Radically Content: Being Satisfied in an Endlessly Dissatisfied World by Jamie Varon


Okay, so I have a love-hate relationship with self-help books. Like, I appreciate what they are trying to do, but I feel like they tend to be geared people who are almost there in terms of happiness and not, like, wallowing in their own misery the way I am. And most of them seem to boil down to JOURNALING * NEW EXPERIENCES * LOVE YOURSELF * STOP COMPARING. And it's like, gee, thanks, if it was that easy, I guess my depression would be cured.

I know this is not fair, but that is why I tend to dislike most self-help books on principle. They just feel so braggy, like they're dangling happiness just out of your reach. And to be fair, RADICALLY CONTENT is not as irritating as some of the other books of this type I have read. For starts, she opens the book by acknowledging her own privilege (which, you know, falling in love in Paris-- I mean, obvi). And she has some really good advice, like not following people on social media who make you feel bad about yourself and not comparing your success to the perceived successes of others.

RADICALLY CONTENT feels very short and even though I did like most of the advice in here, a lot of it felt obvious. I think if you have a friend who is super interested in self-help, this would be a great book to give them. It's got a great aesthetic and pretty endpapers and the author seems to be coming from a good place. Which makes a world of difference.

3 out of 5 stars