Wednesday, August 31, 2022

WtAFW: Snowballin': I Fucked Frosty by Auralie Vierge


Every week, I condescend to read one messed up work of erotica or romance recommended to me by you, the readers. This week, as an out-of-seasonal theme clearly designed to mock me in the middle of this triple-digit California heat wave, I am reading SNOWBALLIN: I FUCKED FROSTY, one of the early members of the wtferotica trend.

First of all, WHERE is all the dashing through the snow in a one-horned open lay? For 70% of the book, the heroine is just banging her Chad boyfriend after they build a snowman. It takes nearly until the end of the "book" before the heroine places the magical fedora on top of the snowman's head and brings his Oreo-eyed self to life.

But not before her BF totally leaves her orgasm in the drafts. #rude

I actually found SNOWBALLIN to be pretty boring. There were a few great WTF lines, like the heroine fretting about the snowdong getting stuck inside her like that kid's tongue did to that flag pole in A Christmas Story, or talk about riding his "South Pole." And then there's the line about how "Eskimos" (her word) have hundreds of words for snow, but the only two she needs are "fuck" and "yeah." But apart from that, dullsville, population: me.

I give props to this author for being one of the earlier hangers-on to this trend, and I don't think I've ever seen a Frosty the Snowman erotica before this one, but 11/10 would not recommend.

1 out of 5 stars

Monday, August 29, 2022

Mackenzie's Mountain by Linda Howard


I've said this before, but if Sandra Brown and Linda Howard aren't friends, they should be, because they write like they're the same people. The parallels between AFTER THE NIGHT and SLOW HEAT IN HEAVEN are numerous, as are the parallels between this book and HAWK O' TOOLE'S HOSTAGE and HONOR BOUND. If you've read one author and haven't read the other, do it. You'll become an instant fan.

That said, I have to say that I am not really a fan of these ladies' Native American romances. One of my friends said this book comes across as a bit fetishistic and, uh, yeah, it kind of does. The heroine imagines Wolf in a loincloth at some point, and he's described as warrior-like and primitive several times. Actually, the way this hero is described with his bronzed warrior-like mien and incredibly luscious dark hair really reminded me of how Rhysand is described in ACOTAR, which I found hilarious.

I don't think that Howard was trying to be offensive with these descriptions, however. As with HAWK O' TOOLE, the author seems to be trying to debunk a lot of the negative stereotypes around negative people, although I didn't like Wolf as much as I liked his son, Joe. Kudos to making a teen boy responsible and communicative about sex, btw. That's a nice change of pace to see.

The plot is pretty basic. The heroine, Mary, is a petite little woobie muffin of a character who you will be reminded is teeny-tiny fit-her-in-your-pocket-and-carry-her-home sized several times. The hero is a foot taller than her, and one hundred pounds heavier (yes, we're told this explicitly), and she can wear his son's clothes from when he was a preteen (also). When she's not moonlighting as Polly Pocket, she's the local elementary school teacher, and she's extremely concerned that Joe has dropped out of school. So concerned that she marches out in inclement weather in seasonally inappropriate attire.

As Mary gets involved in the Mackenzies' lives, she becomes aware of the animosity they face from the townsfolk. Wolf is an ex-con (unjustly accused) and Joe is treated as a bad influence. Mary advocating for both these men ends up changing the way the townsfolk view them, however, and her saviorism seems like it might just lead to acceptance-- until bad things start happening to the women in town, and the police naturally turn to Wolf, because, you know, plausible deniability and all that.

I started getting annoyed with this book about halfway through and skimmed to the end because I wanted to see whodunnit. Whodunnit was disappointing, I must say. I also really didn't feel the chemistry between Wolf and Mary, although they seemed to like each other, so yay, I guess. The ending was sweet-- it's always nice to see a positive spin on blended families-- but lord, was Mary naive. She's a full-grown woman and she's never heard anyone say the F-word in real life? Is this Wyoming she's living in, or a LDS space station? HOW DO YOU NOT HEAR THE F-WORD EVER?

I don't think I'll be reading the rest of the books in this series...

2 out of 5 stars

Sunday, August 28, 2022

The Sea King by Jolie Mathis


I've been on a bit of a viking kick lately, so I was excited to pick up SEA KING. It's the only book Jolie Mathis ever wrote, which makes me sad, because it's not bad for a debut but it also suffers some of the usual beginners' jitters, and I think it's a shame that she didn't keep up with the craft because I would have loved to read some of her later books after she'd had time to improve. But some of us only have one story in us, so if she just wanted to write the one and check the list, that's fair, too.

SEA KING is about Isabel, a Saxon princess, and Kol, a Norse warrior. When her horse throws her as a young woman, she falls into a river and nearly drowns, but the young viking saves her. As it turns out, he's on her way to the hall-- where he is promptly treated like a prisoner, and tortured. Isabel frees him, and when they reunite years later, she regrets doing so, because what does he do, but immediately sack her village, thus causing everyone to brand herself as a traitoress. Plus, her half-brother, Ranulf, has told her that the child she mysteriously bore was the result of him raping her as she slept, so she thinks he's an ignoble, rapey bastard.

As the story goes on, it starts to become clear that this might not be the case. One, because honor would have prevented it. Two, because he didn't really have time. And three, because due to a curse from his witch-mother, he believes himself to be impotent. Also, several people have cast their rapey eye on Isabel, including, maybe, her own brother. So with the paternity of her son up in dispute, and fights breaking out all over the kingdom, SEA KING starts to look and feel a lot like a medieval episode of Jerry Springer with multiple people screaming, "YOU ARE NOT THE FATHER!"

Initially, I liked this book a lot, but it quickly started to feel like a pale imitation of a viking book I enjoyed a lot more (Caitlin Crews's THE VIKING'S RUNAWAY CONCUBINE). The FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC vibe and court intrigues kept me reading, but the twist with Godric (Isabel's son)'s real parentage was weird. I hated most of the characters in this book, too, including Isabel. I felt so bad for her, but boy, was she thick. After a while, I just wanted to shake her for being such a wishy-washy character. Also, the surprise "hey, guess you're not impotent after all!" ending felt vaguely ableist? I was kind of hoping that the hero was unable to have children, because that's just so rare to see. But ofc, it was just a case of right dick, right person. Isn't that always how it goes in these romances? *eye roll*

I'd recommend this book for people who like vikings or are stuck on planes, preferably both, but that's a pretty small Venn diagram.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Haunting Adeline by H.D. Carlton


DNF @ 36%

This is a difficult review to write because I'd been looking forward to HAUNTING ADELINE for a while and it came so highly recommended to me by some of my friends. I ended up being really disappointed, though, and even after letting the book sit for a bit, I still couldn't bring myself to come back to it. It has some elements that I really love. It's a very dark gothic romance, set in a big spooky house. Adeline is staying in her grandmother's creepy old house, where she learns some dark secrets about one of her relatives (a mysterious affair, woooooo). She's also being stalked by a man who has his hand in some dark things. A man who enjoys torturing people-- and that includes her.

Oh boy, I thought. Cat and Mouse duet? Let the games begin. I really liked the beginning. The author obviously has some talent, because she did a really good job setting the atmosphere and that sort of writing is really hard to do if you aren't skilled. I was even intrigued by the hero at first, who is incredibly brutal but devotes his life to hunting down monsters who are worse than him, Kind of like Dexter.

Where the book kind of fell apart for me is that there's not really any emotional connection between the H and the h and I need that. He literally starts obsessing over her when he sees her author photo outside a bookstore where she's giving a talk. And then it's just like, "Yeah, she'll do. TIME TO OBSESS." But, like, why?? I get that he's an unhinged psycho, but even if he doesn't know her, I still expected him to project some kind of expectation or connection onto her. When people get obsessed with celebrities or strangers, it's because they're forging that sort of intimate connection-- a glance becomes "she sees me," and an innocent blog post is an attempt to reach out to a kindred soul, i.e. them. There wasn't any of that here, so I guess I didn't really understand why Zade would go to all this effort just to bang someone.

The writing also wasn't really to my taste, but that's a personal preference, and if I had vibed with the characters better, I probably could have overlooked that.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

The Viking's Runaway Concubine by Caitlin Crews


Mad props to my friend Meredith for pointing me towards this book. I actually don't normally read Harlequin novels, so when she said this book really dived deep into the emotional and sexual connections between the two leads, without shirking the broader historical contexts that framed their respective cultures, my ears pricked. Especially when she said that it contained some pretty intense BDSM scenes.

Really, Harlequin? I'm SHOCKED. SHOCKED, I say!

I read THE VIKING'S RUNAWAY CONCUBINE in less than twenty-four hours. Despite the cheesy cover, it is one of the most beautiful, angsty love stories I've read in a while. Eithne is an Irish woman who lived in Dublin before it was taken by vikings (I'm suspecting this is set in, like, 800 CE). To spare himself, her brother sold her as a slave, and she was picked up from the block by a man named Ulfric.

I pictured Ulfric as looking like Henry Cavill or Charlie Hunnam, but the dynamic between him and Eithne is a lot like the one between Khal Drogo and Daenerys. He's a big warrior dude with braids who was attracted to the tranquility of the girl he saw as much as he was by the defiant fire in his eyes. And rather than ill-use her, he gradually acclimated her to his preferred style of love-making, which involves ropes and canes and other things. The author really goes into the psychology of why he and Eithne do what they do and it was both fascinating and sensual.

But then Eithne slashes his face with a knife to get away, and when the story begins, Eithne is enjoying her waning days of freedom before Ulfric reclaims her as his captive once more. The story moves forward from there, with her being forced to confront her feelings about being attracted to a man who holds total and complete power over her life, and Ulfric wondering how he can be so happy and furious with her, and still feel like something is missing. The past of their relationship is woven in between these present scenes in a really masterful way that never feels like an info dump, and by the end of the story, I was fully convinced that these two were truly perfect for each other.

It's a complaint of mine that in this age of marketing books by trope and buzzwordy concepts, that a lot of the more important things like emotional connection and character development are sometimes sacrificed to get the two characters together as fast as possible. But this story didn't do that at all. I found myself tearing up at several parts, especially towards the end, and despite the unequal power dynamics and the consensual non-consent, I felt like Eithne and Ulfric really were equals-- at least, when it came to one another. I can't wait to read her other viking book. It's about the hero's brother, Thorbrand. If it's half as good as this one, I will be well pleased.

If you are a fan of Nadine Crenshaw's EDIN'S EMBRACE, I think you'll love this, too.

5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Slow Heat in Heaven by Sandra Brown


If anyone ever asks what my villain origin story is, it's that I specifically tried to buy a 1980s edition of this book with the stepback art inside and the seller gave me the wrong edition. So when I'm burning down Gotham or Metropolis or whatever with lasers, you know who to blame. It's the person who didn't give me the version that has the fancy art of Cash and Schuyler kissing in the swamp roses.

SLOW HEAT IN HEAVEN is an old skool potboiler of the book that drips with vintage sleaze. Plot-wise, it actually has a lot in common with one of the author's later books, WHITE HOT, replete with murder, family drama, icy heroine still stinging from being estranged from her once-devoted father, and a rugged Cajun bad boy type who drinks beer from the bottle and isn't afraid to get down and dirty.

I'm actually sad that none of her other books quite match this one because it's SO good. It's got so many of my favorite tropes. Heroine comes back to her small town for closure. Bad boy love interest who's secretly obsessed with the heroine. Grisly murders. Family secrets. Musical beds. ATMOSPHERE. Also this book features one of the hottest kissing scenes I've ever read in the book, where the hero is just chilling in the humid summer rain with a cigarette on his porch, shirtless, with unbuttoned pants, when he grabs the heroine and pushes her up against a post. And then they bang.

This book isn't perfect, though. Some of the evil people in this book don't get the comeuppances they deserve. The hero is a bit douchier than I normally like (although he isn't quite Steve Morgan or Sean Cullhane, so there's that). Also, if I never see the phrases "crotch throb" or "wetter than a mouth" again, I will be very happy. Likewise, what's with all of Cash's "clumps of hair"? Is he molting? I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS. I also really hated how the two Black characters in this book had so many awful things happen to them. It was a seriously disproportionate amount compared to the other characters, which made this book really hard to read. Also the N-word is used several times, as well as several gay slurs. I guess it's the 1980s in the Deep South so not exactly out of place, but still.

Despite all that, I loved this book and I'm kind of shocked that I only rated it a three the first time I read it. But when I first read this book, I was new to romance and still felt like it was something that was bad to read because for so many years I had been told that romances were insipid and that reading them was an insult to one's intelligence. Obviously now I realize that that's wrong, and that books are an entirely subjective experience that you either enjoy or don't, and that enjoyment is separate from the measure of one's equally subjective intelligence. So now, I can rate this book a four and feel comfortable about enjoying it, even if it contains some problematic or uncomfortable elements. The story was good and ultimately, there was an HEA for all the good people and most of the bad people suffered.

I'll take it.

P.S. Almost forgot to mention this but there are ANIMAL DEATHS. Two cats are killed and left to someone as a warning, and one of the bad characters has pitbulls that he abuses for dog fights. The heroine actually kills several of these dogs because she deems them a menace to society after one of them rapidly attacks her (and someone else). She doesn't get any enjoyment out of it, but it's still kind of awful, and so is the description of the dog fight, which involves animal cruelty and torture.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

WtAFW: Pokebutt Go: Pounded By 'Em All by Chuck Tingle

 This cursed book was recommended to me by one of my friends for my What the Actual Fuck Wednesday challenge, and I am actually pissed that I had to spend $2.99 on this book, even though I said I'd read anything under $5, because it was just so bad. Let's just say that our hero isn't the only thing around here getting reamed. My childhood just took a pounding, too. (Future book title: Pounded in the Butt by the Physical Manifestation of My Childhood TV Obsessions? A My Little Pound Ponymon Pounderday Morning Cartoon Super Special Pounding Episode. Please credit me, Chuck Tingle.)

Written in 2016 at the height of the Pokemon Go craze, POKEBUTT GO: POUNDED BY 'EM ALL is about a man named Torbit who is just minding his own business when he sees a bunch of people wandering around in a park like zombies. They're playing the hit new cell phone game, Pokebutt Go, where you look for magical creatures that you then consensually "catch" with your balls. Once you pound 'em, they apparently live on inside your balls forever. WHAT.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think this world-building needs expanding on. (And that's not the only thing getting expanded, when Torbit's bending over, getting-- NOPE. NOPE NOPE NOPE. CANCEL. CANCEL CANCEL.

Here's the thing I'm finding about Chuck Tingle. Often, his titles and his sense of ironic comedic timing are the best things about his books. For example, this book also contains the short story, LEONARDO DECAPRICO FINALLY WINS HIS AWARD AND IT POUNDS HIM IN THE BUTT. A story that takes celebrity fanfiction to a whole new terrifying level. I wonder if anyone has shown Leo this short story? BTW, Leo isn't the only one who *almost* got an award. That "Hugo Nominated Author" at the bottom of the book? It's real, and there's a hilarious story behind it (look it up).

1 out of 5 stars

Monday, August 22, 2022

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala


I meant to read ARSENIC AND ADOBO for AAPI month but that month went by in a blink and then I got super busy, but that's okay, since diverse books should be read and championed year-round anyway, and after several heavier books, I was in the mood for something light.

This is the story of Lila, who has just moved back home after a terrible breakup. Her parents are dead, so her family consists of her aunt, grandmother, and a group of "aunties" called the Calendar Crew because they're all named after months of the year. Lila is a baker and has been working in her aunt's Filipinx restaurant, which is a popular fixture in the community. Unfortunately, it's under attack by an evil food blogger (who is also Lila's ex) who seems determined to ruin their restaurant's reputation just because he can. Which is why it's so suspicious when he drops dead right after finishing his meal.

What at first seems like a horrible accident starts to look like a conspiracy when it turns out that the blogger, Derek, was poisoned. And to make it worse, their small suburb has a hotshot on the case from Chicago's vice squad, who seems to think that Lila is some kind of evil kingpin who has the whole town wrapped around her criminal finger. Add to that more delicious food porn than you'll know what to do with, two hot guys (a lawyer and a dentist! oh my), one cute dog, and a bunch of nosy, meddling aunties, and you end up with a pretty incredible cozy mystery that perfectly toes the line between cute and thrilling.

This has the vibe that DEATH BY DUMPLING was trying to accomplish but couldn't quite reach. I think because Lila comes across as such a dimensional character. She's both self-aware and delusional, which is a contradiction I think most of us can relate to. I felt like I really got to know her as a narrator, as well as what motivated her, and the community element of the book was really well done because of how all of the characters interacted with each other, as well as Lila. The last book I read that did this sort of chick-litty mystery this well was SIZE 12 IS NOT FAT by Meg Cabot. So I think if you find yourself attracted to cozy mysteries but don't like that the heroines often feel like "hip and sassy" twenty-year-olds as penned by someone who is kind of out of touch, you'll love how fresh this feels.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Happy Kitty Bunny Pony: A Saccharine Mouthful of Super Cute by Michael J. Nelson


This book has been on my wishlist for over ten years and I decided to treat myself because 1) life is short and 2) I'm trying to shorten my to-read list by finally getting to some of the books I've been metaphorically drooling over that-- for whatever reason-- aren't available on Kindle. I'm actually high key shocked HAPPY KITTY BUNNY PONY didn't get a Kindle release, because it's written by one of the dudes from Mystery Science Theater 3000, and the high-quality glossy images featuring creatures that wouldn't look outlandish in a Five Nights at Freddy's backstage concert, is a pretty appealing hook. I mean, it worked on me, and I'm stingy AF.

HAPPY KITTY BUNNY PONY kind of fell short for me, though. I liked the cute animal pop art (I guess this is published by an art design publisher??) but the commentary was limited and read like it was being written by someone who thinks he's much funnier than he actually is. I was hoping for more of an actual (but funny) history about how cute become a must in commercial advertising, and how what was considered cute has changed over time.

"I liked the art" is basically the "she has a nice personality" equivalent for books like these, but I did like the art. 

2.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Candy by Mian Mian


Look, I am both very predictable and very contrary, okay? Tell me a book is banned and I'm going to go out and get it, because I'm going to figure that it was so good it scared the heck out of people who would like to oppress intellectual discourse and radical thought. When I found out that CANDY was banned in the author's native China for its frank and unvarnished approach to sex, drugs, and rock culture, I thought for about half a second before slamming the "to read" button. When I happened to remember it years later, I saw that it was on sale in the Kindle store. Serendipity, obviously! I slammed that "buy" button.

Reading this book made me think of Western Gen Y cultural touchstones, like Elizabeth Wurtzel's PROZAC NATION, Susanna Kaysen's GIRL, INTERRUPTED, and the movie, Reality Bites. Basically, the counter culture movement with messy, neurodivergent women who didn't want to fit into society's mold, who were both inert and catalystic, who sought alternative realities through passive observations and escapism through drugs. CANDY was just as edgy, and it definitely delivered on all the provocative material it was banned for, including two things not mentioned in the blurb: prostitution and the AIDS scare.

My favorite portions of this book were the beginning, when the heroine is a messy teenager talking about her coming of age in the changing landscape of China as it recovers economically from the Cultural Revolution and starts to become the global superpower it is today. The middle section that provides intimate details of the heroine's prostitute friends and acquaintances was also really fascinating it to me. It reminded me a little of Marie Rutkoski's REAL EASY, where some of her stripper characters had various reasons for getting into the business and loved or hated it to varying degrees.

I do think this book felt a bit disjointed and sloppy. Maybe some of that was the translation, but sometimes the writing felt too awkward. I also felt like the ending started to get really depressing (although not as depressing as it could have been). But I feel like that's also typical for these types of stories, where people who are neurodivergent or suffering from mental health disorders might be self-medicating and bad things can happen from overdose or from the results of risky behavior. And it wasn't a tear-jerker or anything like that. It just featured a cast of really unlikable and messy people, some of whom sort of turned out all right, and others met with less than satisfactory ends.

I think it's worth the read just to see what the late 80s/early 90s were like from the perspective of China's then-youth and counter-culture scene. Often, when Asian countries are represented in media, they tend to be portrayed as a monolith, with the culture there being very homogeneous. This shows that this is very much not true and I think that's one of the things I liked most about it (apart from it being so different from other books I have read). Books with similar but slightly less edgy subject matter that I enjoyed slightly more about China's youth scenes are Wei Hui's SHANGHAI BABY and Fan Wu's FEBRUARY FLOWERS (a favorite of mine, actually).

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The Silent Girl by Kelly Heard


I was a little nervous about picking up THE SILENT GIRL because the author is one of my Twitter friends and I really like her a lot. But when I found out that she wrote books in one of my favorite genres-- thrillers about messed up ladies-- I just couldn't resist.

THE SILENT GIRL has several of my favorite tropes. It's a bit of a romantic suspense, it's got amnesia and gothic elements, HAUNTED HOUSES, and a dark and convoluted history that is only revealed a bit at a time. The heroine, Sophie, starts out as a Jane Doe, but takes her name from the symbol of a pendant she's found with, which has to do with Sophia, a goddess of knowledge (or something like that). You know, something totally normal and ordinary to be found with. *cough*

Sophie is found posed in a strange way, with severe injuries. The police are suspicious and seem to suspect she must have gotten involved in something super messed up to end up like that (booo). But she can't remember what happened to her, or what caused her injuries, or what she might have been running from. When she's released from the hospital and police custody-- with reluctance-- she goes to a place called Dovemorn, where she overheard a man talking about how he needed help. Dovemorn is a creepy gothic mansion where the dove-obsessed wife went missing and never came back, Creepy, creepy.

The caretaker, Nathaniel, is the sort of love interest. He might also be suspicious and maybe evil. He is a caretaker of a creepy gothic mansion after all, and he's gruff as all get out, which could be sinister and could not be. Who knows? Not you. You'll have to read to find out. As Sophie heals and learns more about Nathaniel and maybe even starts to recover her memories, past and present collide, and what Sophie learns about herself-- and her past-- might just be her undoing. DUN DUN DUN.

So I did really like this book. I thought it had a very clean writing style for an earlier book (it was not a debut, but it seems like it might have been the author's first foray into a solid thriller). I liked the heroine and thought the author did a good job making her sympathetic and interesting, without resorting to bland character tropes. She felt like a real person and her confused and disjointed perspective suited someone who had amnesia and was struggling to remember herself.

The ending-- was such a trip. I suspected it was something like that but I still liked it. I wish the author had done more with the gothic house angle. I was expecting more connection there, but it was mostly just a setting that looked nice and set the mood (and ofc, provided the heroine a meet-cute for the maybe love interest). I liked the romance elements and thought they both had an interesting, flawed connection. I wish that their connection had been a little sexier, but that's okay. The end result was kind of like a modern version of a Phyllis A. Whitney novel, and I'm into that.

Overall, I liked this book but didn't love it. I'd definitely read more from her though. She seems to enjoy playing with the same tropes that I enjoy reading, and that's always really exciting.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, August 13, 2022

10 Western Romances You'll Vibe with if You Love Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon

 You know, I didn't even think I liked Western romances until one day, I picked one up and realized I did. Like all genres, Western romances have their goods and their bads, and my favorite ones are all about the joys of living off the land, filled with action and adventure, and the uncertainties of settling a new place.

I grew up playing the Harvest Moon franchise (which recently split, and is now being published as Story of Seasons), and ever since I bought my Nintendo Switch at the start of quarantine, I've been obsessively playing Stardew Valley. As I unlock more and more cut scenes with the characters, it's making me realize that the best farming sim games out there share a lot of traits with the best Western romances out there: living in harmony with nature, being kind to animals, and learning that sometimes that a hardened and prickly exterior houses the most tender of hearts.

So with that being said, here are nine romances I think you'll enjoy if you have a soft spot for farming sims and are asking yourself, "What next?" after marrying every single villager for the seventeenth time.

10. WILD TEXAS FLAME by Janis Reams Hudson
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]

This romance has a cute cover and it's also super good. The heroine, Sunny, lives with her three sisters on her father's ranch. This greedy landowner is trying to steal it from her, and when she's at the bank trying to settle things out, someone opens fire on her and the hero, Ash, takes the bullet for her. The story is a little dark for a Zebra romance, with the hero suffering temporary paralysis and the heroine's father getting murdered, but at the core of the story is a love of the land and the closeness of family.

9. BAD COMPANY by Carol Carson
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]

This was a BR I did with a number of my friends on Goodreads because the ebook, as of my writing this, is FREE. BAD COMPANY is the story of a woman named Trixianna who moves to a Kansas town after a falling out with her relatives, where she lives her best life baking pies-- until the sheriff, thinking she's secretly an evil bank robber-- attempts to arrest her, only to get shot in the arm by the heroine in self-defense. Faster than you can say "I Shot the Sheriff," the book devolves into a campy series of plotlines involving quirky townsfolk and mistaken identities that's vaguely reminiscent of that 1970s classic, Goin' South (Jack Nicholson's best movie if you ask me, which you totally didn't).

8. WANTING YOU by Nan Ryan
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]

Picture Don Bluth's Anastasia, but with an Old West stepbrother romance bent. Mary, the heroine, was kidnapped in a Native American raid, only to be sent to a convent. Later, this rich Western family gets word of her and what she looks like, and thinks she must be their missing daughter. Mary, freshly rechristened Anna, goes to the ranch where the family matriarch, LaDextra (THE NAME), welcomes her with open arms. The stepbrother, Brit, is a little more skeptical. Definitely a fun read if you're a fan of the "long lost heiress" and "enemies to lovers" tropes.

7. THE TAMING OF JESSI ROSE by Beverly Jenkins
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]


Honestly this is probably my favorite Beverly Jenkins romance. It's got a pretty similar plot to WILD TEXAS FLAME, with the heroine determined to hold on to her land at any cost. When she meets the H, she's at a literal stand-off with the men who are determined to pressure her into selling her land at any costs. It's action-packed and features a strong and capable heroine who doesn't take any shit from anyone, and a strong hero who, rather than being threatened by this, ends up falling head over heels.

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

In this book, a woman answers a query to become a housekeeper on a ranch and ends up finding love. But more than that, it's also a romance about racial identity, what it means to "pass," and so much more. I think this might have been my first romance by Ms. Bev, and it ended up hooking me. I've read about 60% of her backlist at this point and it's my goal to one day get them in the original paperbacks. If you enjoy learning about Black History with a side of Old West swoon, she's going to be your jam.

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

I compared another book on this list to Goin' South, but this one is even more like it. Three women are accused of murdering a man (who deserves it) and end up being kicked out of their wagon train, leaving them at the mercy of the elements-- and even more abusers. When they kill another man, they end up being tried for murder, only to be auctioned off as brides in a town that doesn't have enough women. This is a beautiful marriage of convenience story that features lavish descriptions of farming and the deep affection that can arise between two similar lost souls.

4. HAWKE'S PRIDE by Norah Hess
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]

This is a crazy bodice-ripper of a romance and definitely not for the faint of heart (even though it's not as bad as most). The heroine, Rue, is the daughter of a prostitute and lives with an abusive stepfather who wants to sell her into slavery. When she appeals to her grandparents for help, their idea of helping is arranging a shotgun wedding between her and the hero, who thought he was just looking for an assistant on his ranch (HAHA, sucker). Even though this book is long AF, there's no shortage of action, and I'd recommend it to people who don't mind their romances with a side of un-PC.

3. DUELING HEARTS by Kat Martin
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]


Heads up that this is probably the most problematic book on this list but I loved it anyway because of the enemies-to-lovers romance between Molly and Sam. They're two rival loggers living on adjacent land, and the tension between them and their family's interlocked histories was just A+++. 

2. ETERNITY by Jude Deveraux
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]

Carrie is a spoiled heroine who ends up selling herself into a mail order bride program because she's feeling the wanderlust and because she thinks one of the guys is hot. In fact, she actually steals him from her friend, because she's a bit of a straight-up bitch that way lol. Joshua, the hero in question, is less than pleased when he finds out the woman he expected to help him with the land is actually a spoiled and coddled heiress who intends to pay herself out of any trouble she finds herself in. The heroine is pretty unlikable in the beginning, but I felt like she had a really satisfying character arc, which is why Jude Deveraux is probably one of my favorite guilty pleasure reads.

1. FIREFLY by Linda Hilton
My Goodreads review: [⭐️]
My blog review: [⭐️]

Probably one of my favorite Western romances of all time, FIREFLY is the beautiful slow-burn romance between Del, an alcoholic doctor who never recovered emotionally from the loss of his first wife, and Julie, the unloved and unwanted daughter of an emotionally abusive family engaged to a total cad. She helps him get on his feet and he helps her believe in herself, and their relationship is one of personal, as well as emotional, growth. I love this book so much, and the large cast of characters is as much a part of the story as the hero and heroine. Everyone I've recommended this book to has really enjoyed it, and it saddens me that more people haven't heard about it.

What's your favorite Western romance? And do you prefer Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon?

Friday, August 12, 2022

WtAFW: Bear by Marian Engel


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

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

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

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

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

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

1 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Hawk O'Toole's Hostage by Sandra Brown


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

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

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

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

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

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

3 out of 5 stars

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


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

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

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

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

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

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


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

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

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

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

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

This sounds promising.

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, August 7, 2022

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


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

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

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

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

Definitely recommend this book if you like cute graphic novels.

4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, August 6, 2022

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


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

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

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

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

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


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

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

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

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

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


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

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

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

2.5 out of 5 stars

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


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

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

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

2.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

TMI: My Life in Scandal by Perez Hilton


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.5 out of 5 stars