Sunday, July 31, 2022

WtAFW: Having The Dinosaur's Baby by Jane Rowe


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

Apart from, you know, the obvious thing.

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

I know.

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

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

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

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

WtAFW: Ravaged by the Gingerbread Man by Fannie Tucker


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

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

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

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

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


1 out of 5 stars

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Real Easy by Marie Rutkoski


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

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

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

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

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

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

2.5 out of 5 stars

Titus Gamble by Peter Gentry


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

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

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

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

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Sex, Murder and a Double Latte by Kyra Davis


DNF @ 15%

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

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

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

1 out of 5 stars

I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie by Roger Ebert


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

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

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

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

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

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

3 to 3.5 stars

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

WtAFW: Ravished by the Triceratops by Christie Sims


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 out of 5 stars

Freak by Jennifer Hillier


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

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

And that's this book in a nutshell.

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


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

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, July 18, 2022

No Bed in Deseret by Nickolae Gerstner


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


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

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

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

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

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





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

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

4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, July 17, 2022

My Husband's Wife by Jane Corry


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

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

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

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

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

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, July 16, 2022

9 More Romances Where the Villain Gets the Girl

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

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

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

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

Lord of Danger

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

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


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

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

Savage Surrender 

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

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

The Misted Cliffs (Lost Continent, #2)

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

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

Ritual Sins 

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

My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]

 Easy Connections (Cathy, #1)

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

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


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

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

A Pale Shadow

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

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

When Angels Fall

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

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

⬇️ Let me know in the comments below! ⬇️

Lady Fortune by Anne Stuart


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

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

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

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

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

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

3 out of 5 star+s

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris


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

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

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

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

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

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

White Hot by Sandra Brown


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

3.5 out of 5 stars

The Silent Rose by Kat Martin


DNF @ 34%

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

Sunday, July 10, 2022

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


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

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

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

1 out of 5 stars

Shadow Lover by Anne Stuart


I got an ARC of this when it was first rereleased again on ebook and it stayed with me for years. I kept thinking about it and finally, I caved and bought myself a new copy. SHADOW LOVER is a beautifully gothic romantic suspense about the rich and WASP-y MacDowell family. Eighteen years, the family foundation was cracked when the family matriarch's golden child disappeared on the beach. Now, eighteen years later, Sally MacDowell is dying from cancer and her son has returned-- back from the dead.

Only Carolyn isn't convinced. Carolyn lives with the MacDowells on goodwill. Supposedly, she's the daughter of one of the maids and Sally kept her on out of pity and affection. Never formally adopted, she's been living among them like a changeling, part of the family but also not. She was also desperately in love with Alex MacDowell when he went missing and she's positive that the man who has returned to take his place is an evil impostor intent on seizing the family fortune.

The atmosphere of this-- the cold, the snow, the harsh beaches-- is absolutely magnificently done, and it features some of the best sex scenes I've ever read in an Anne Stuart book. I also thought the is he?/isn't he? tension was really well done. It was fun to see Carolyn struggle against her attraction to this stranger. Enemies to lovers? Yes, please. Especially when it's mixed in with a whole bunch of family drama, murder, and gamma hero shenanigans.

I'm giving this a four because I wish there had been more background between Carolyn and Alex. This is a very short book, and it would have been really cool if there were some past sections hinting at more of the family tensions that are revealed throughout the book. But it's a very high four and I still really loved this book. Anne Stuart is such a talented writer and it's always amazing to me how her style can stay so consistent throughout her works, and her heroes so similar, and yet there are special nuances in each one that make every book stand out. The fact that she was able to condense this one so much and still have it be so emotionally intense is truly awe-inspiring.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates


Exhausting. Infuriating. Demoralizing. These are just a few of the words that came to mind while reading EVERYDAY SEXISM. And despite being published in 2014, in many ways things have gotten worse and not better. The overturning of Roe v. Wade, the anti-LGBT+ laws being passed in southern U.S. states, the gleeful and shaming articles posted about any woman who steps out of line by not conforming to society, whether it was Hilary Clinton's campaign against Trump or Amber Heard's testimony in Johnny Depp's defamation trial, it seems like we live in a world that just really hates women. And that, to put it lightly, sucks.

I like the Everyday Sexism project a lot because I think it did an amazing job showing how so many women have these stories to share, either randomly or regularly, either interpersonally or institutionally. With this book, I was kind of expecting essays written by these women about these experiences. Instead, we're given quotes from the Everday Sexism submissions followed by very dry essays tying to these quotes, sorted by subject, and backed by statistics and real life examples.

Overall, I think this is an important book but it seems more geared towards clueless people who don't know how harmful sexism is and less towards people who have a very good idea of what sexism is. For these latter, each chapter of this book is like being beaten over the head with a mallet. The content starts to feel very samey after a while, and some of it is even repeated. Which, again, works well for people who are still learning but isn't so great for people trying to learn more. It was also a little sad to see the chapter on intersectionality kind of lumping together all forms of intersectionality into what felt like one rushed and harried chapter. I feel like the exotification and othering of women of color could have been an entire chapter on its own, for example. The same goes for women with disabilities. Also, I think I would have liked to have seen a chapter about internalized misogyny and TERFs. There's a chapter about men and how men can be victims of sexual harassment and unfair gender standards (which is important, because the same sexism that puts women in victim boxes also makes it so that society believes women are incapable of being the perpetrators of violent crimes or assault), so I think it also would have been good to point out how women can help perpetuate these self-harming standards as well, and how trans-women can be marginalized by bad actor "feminists."

This is a good resource but I fear it's probably already dated... and it's honestly pretty awful to read, so I recommend reading it when you're in a good and healthy emotional space. Triggers for virtually everything apply and the author doesn't hold back.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Desperate Measures by Katee Robert


So I knew about this author from her Dark Olympus series, but I only recently found out that she's also pretty well known for her Disney villain erotica series. And obviously, as soon as I figured out that some of my villainous faves were going to be doing the nasty with the heroes and heroines of my childhood, I figured out why these books are the series that launched a thousand shameful inner-fanfictions. Villains rule.

DESPERATE MEASURES is a story about Jasmine and Jafar. It's a little confusing since the world-building in this book is so vague, but Jasmine's father is some unspecified big shot and Jafar coups him to take his power. But he also wants to take Jasmine. The two of them have apparently been attracted to one another for years, and for some reason they have a safe word even though they've never done it, which is handy because they're both into consensual non-consent.

For some reason, Hades is in this book. (I thought for a moment, it was Dark Olympus Hades, but apparently this is the Disney version of Hades because these books have him paired up with Meg-- which I find terribly confusing.) Hades, as he does in the Dark Olympus books, basically owns his own underground sex club and he's into exhibitionism (and all sorts of other stuff.) Apparently this club is where all the movers and shakers go, so Jafar takes Jasmine there as a neener neener (but also as a weener weener, if you get me), and basically things heat up from there.

I thought it was interesting making Aladdin the bad guy. I never did trust Aladdin and the way he lied to Jasmine in the movie was always super sus, so I could totally see all that pathological lying masking an evil side. The chemistry between Jasmine and Jafar was great, but I REALLY wish we had seen them before the coup. I would have liked to have seen the dynamics between Jasmine and Jafar, Jasmine and Aladdin, and Jasmine, Jafar, and her father on page. I also feel like the politics of Carver City were really vague. This is basically porn with plot and I get that, but since that's what the book was going for, I wish the plot had been just a little bit better. I wanted to know more about these weird politics.

In some ways, I actually enjoyed this more than NEON GODS. Maybe because while I was researching Aladdin and ending up down various Wikipedia rabbit holes, I ended up finding about this movie called The Thief of Bagdad which apparently Disney's Aladdin took some inspo from. That movie also has a Jaffar (with two F's) who was played by this dude named Conrad Veidt. And if you look him up, he definitely gives off villainous "Daddy" vibes, so that's basically who I was picturing Jafar as in this book. DESPERATE MEASURES had its flaws, but I still enjoyed reading it.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Creep by Jennifer Hillier


Jennifer Hillier might be one of my new favorite thriller authors. I think this is the third book I've read of hers at this point, and they've all been SO GOOD. I've been wanting to read CREEP for a while because I like the Radiohead song and it would be the perfect soundtrack for some creepy erotic thriller like this one. I'm happy to say that Ms. Hillier totally does it justice.

Sheila Tao is a distinguished professor of psychology. She's engaged to be married to a rich banker who's an ex-football player and she's well respected in her career. She's also got a sex addiction and she's been having an affair with her teaching assistant, Ethan Wolfe. But not anymore. She's decided to break things off. But Ethan doesn't take kindly to that. In fact, he's decided that if he can't have Sheila, nobody can.

This was just so good. The pacing was excellent and the author kept up the tension for the whole book. I found myself gripping my computer, desperately clicking to the next page, wanting to find out what happened next. I usually read romances, so with those, 99% of the time, you know you're going to get a happy ending. But with thrillers, it could go either way. There are stakes. I desperately wanted to find out what was going to happen next, and I'm happy to report that things didn't always go the way I thought they would. There were more than a few moments that made me gasp.

At first, I didn't really dig Morris as a love interest, but as we learned more about him, we could see why Sheila decided to marry an older guy who was kind of a drawling teddy bear. His devotion to her, and the way that he overcame his own personal struggles, ended up making him really endearing. In a way, this almost feels like a critique against women who date the hot, noble young studs, where the villain is always a tubby older guy who lusts after the hero. Ethan has the arrogance of youth with the guile of a sociopath, which ends up making him a really terrifying villain.

If you enjoy erotic thrillers, I think you'd enjoy this one. It's smart and snappy and absolutely chock-full of suspense. My only critique is that some of the multi POVs started to feel like thriller towards the end and the author totally sequel-baited the heck out of that ending. Luckily, I own the sequel or I'd be mad. ;)

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

I Know What Love Is by Whitney Bianca


I enjoyed MANSIONS by this author so much that I immediately bought I KNOW WHAT LOVE IS. It's difficult to describe this book without spoilers, but it reminded me a lot of Skye Warren's WANDERLUST, only better executed. The first interaction between the H and the h is non-con and triggers a pretty dark and obsessive relationship between the two of them.

Elliott is straight up crazy. I can't say that I liked him as much as I liked Dorian from MANSIONS. I did really like Joan, though. I'm a sucker for female antiheroines. I just wish that the obsession had been based off more than a single interaction and two days of captivity. I get that sometimes crazy people just snap and fixate on a person, but since this is sort of a romance, I was hoping for more.

Overall, I did enjoy this book but I'm not sure I enjoyed it enough to want to read the sequel.

3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Like a Sister by Kellye Garrett


DNF @ 18%

I'm really sad to be writing this review right now because I wanted to love this book. The author seems really nice on social media and I loved the premise. Difficult and uptight heroine investigating the death of her party girl reality TV sister? Um, YES. I also thought the writing was really good. It's just, as other people have complained, REALLY slow-paced. The point where I just kept wanting more. I feel like, when it comes to pacing, I'm more relaxed than other readers. I actually don't want instant gratification and I'm willing to wait, but you have to give me something. Even if it's all in the character's head-- I need to feel some sort of thrill in a thriller. LIKE A SISTER was starting to pick up a little, finally, near the 20% mark, but I kept finding myself setting this one down because it was boring to me.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, July 1, 2022

LEGO Still Life with Bricks: The Art of Everyday Play by Lydia Ortiz


I'm surprised at some of the critical reviews for this book. I'm pretty hard to please and I thought STILL LIFE WITH BRICKS was a lot of fun. Some of the concepts were executed a little messily, yes, but I thought the overall execution was really fun and colorful. If this was an Instagram account, I'd definitely smash that follow button in a hot minute to get some color in my feed.

I don't think this book has a preview function on Amazon, which almost made me not get it. (Because in the past, sometimes that's a bad sign.) But the photography was beautiful and the pictures were really fun. One of my favorites was the illustration on the cover, with the circular LEGO pieces as gumballs, but I also really liked the LEGO cupcakes, sushi, and Baskin Robbins-style ice cream bins.

There isn't a lot of substance to this book but it's a fun conversation piece and would be great for any coffee table. For me, it was the palate cleanser I needed between some pretty heavy reads, and looking at all the fun, whimsical pictures really cheered me up. I think this would be a great gift in particular for anyone who loves both art (esp. pop art) and LEGOs.

4.5 out of 5 stars