Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Anti-Racist Art Activities for Kids: 30+ Creative Projects that Celebrate Diversity and Inspire Change by Anti-Racist Art Teachers


This would be a great resource for any teacher or parent who wants to use art as a learning tool for their kids. I'm not going to lie, a few of the initial art projects were pretty ugly and I was worried, but there are some pretty amazing ones later (so if you're flipping through this, don't be alarmed). Some of my favorites were self-portrait collages, encouraging kids to make a 3D mixed media display of their native dish, drawing expressive landscapes (such as a view from their window), or illustrating their favorite/most important day of the year.

Some of these projects would probably be frustrating or difficult for younger kids but there are projects in here that reflect the abilities of virtually every age group, from K all the way up to high school. And it's a great way to touch upon all kinds of subjects, from respect of the elderly to appreciation of native plants to understanding inequality/injustice.

Also I learned the phrase "affirmation animal" as an alternative to spirit animal hehe.

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

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Product Management for UX People: From Designing to Thriving in a Product World by Christian Crumlish


Half of this wasn't useful for me and my career goals, but the other half had me highlighting everything like crazy. This is a great book for anyone who wants to go into product management. It has examples of what "a day in the life" looks like, suggests programs and training you might want to have under your belt, talks about delegation and how to work with other teams in a constructive and compassionate way, and all sorts of other good stuff. I actually stuck several Post-Its into the book to keep track of useful sections and terms that I want to incorporate into my vocabulary for my next review. Also, there's a funny section that made me laugh out loud. I think it was called something like "44 Ways You Know You're a PM" and it was hilarious. The author struck a great balance between chatty and instructional, like a great business professor. I loved it.

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

4.5 out of 5 stars

For Such a Time by Kate Breslin


DNF @ 12%

I feel like people more qualified to speak on this subject have already addressed why this book is potentially problematic, and since I'm not Jewish I can't really speak to the quality of the representation in this book regarding Jewish culture, traditions, and history. Reading this book didn't really give me an impression of deliberate desire to do harm, however; it felt like it had a Christian agenda because it was a Christian romance and definitely probably came from a place of ignorance or privilege, but I personally don't think the people who liked this book are necessarily contributing to a culture that is toxic unless they are also participating in deliberate misinformation or erasure.

I'm not denying that Nazi fetishism or Holocaust denial is wrong. Those things are definitely both wrong. But I think it's dangerous to force people to portray history with a total lack of nuance. Evil people are evil but they're still humans, and I think decreeing that all villains have to be obvious villains with no redeeming traits veers dangerously close to propaganda. Should this book have been written? Probably not. But it seems like every time a book of this nature is cancelled, a lot of people do it because they're seeking clout. Some do it to inform, and they do it well, with many detailed points about why they felt the book is wrong-- and I do not think those people should be attacked for their opinions when they are trying to speak and educate on why a subject was done poorly and potentially harmfully. But the people who made this book the posterchild for "Nazi romances = bad" and go out and attack the reviews of people who enjoyed the book for being Nazi sympathizers aren't really helping their cause as much as they think they are, and I think this upends the whole (again, very valid) debate into a toxic cycle of finger-pointing in a zero-sum game of who's more moral than whom.

I recently watched a YouTube video that talked about how people approach toxic or problematic content. And it had some great points that I really loved, including the point that it isn't necessarily a bad thing to enjoy something problematic as long as you might consider why it is. I personally didn't even enjoy this book that much. I found it a little boring. The heroine felt like a Mary Sue character in a very romanticized portrayal of a WWII setting. After letting this book sit unread for several months on my Kindle, I'm finally throwing in the towel.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

From Solo to Scaled: Building a Sustainable Content Strategy Practice by Natalie Marie Dunbar


I was a little torn on how to rate this at first because it wasn't super useful to me, personally, but I think for other people it will be an easy five-star rating. I found it a little too dry, which makes sense since this is intended to be more instructive, but I read this other Rosenfeld publication recently I liked a little better because it had so many examples in the text. I wish there had been more samples of what good copy/content looks like in this book.

The author clearly knows her subject well and is very passionate about that and I admired her in-depth knowledge of her subjects. I also appreciated the reminder to be familiar with and able to define specific terminology, and the emphasis on being diverse and inclusive. She talks about something called The Culture Trap, which is basically how an industry's "culture" can actually gatekeep against diversity because people are more likely to cater to people who resemble themselves.

Also, she includes little mini-interviews/blurbs from other professionals working in the tech sector. Two of the companies represented were Bumble and McAffee.

If you're in tech, I think this has principles and ideas that will help you no matter what part of the org you work in. However, this book is written assuming that you already 1) work at a rather large and successful company and 2) know your work already and simply want to become better, so I would not recommend this to people who are new or small.

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

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, May 29, 2023

Escape from Paradise by Gwendolyn Field


People kept recommending this book to me and it kept showing up on lists alongside my own books which made me curious. ESCAPE FROM PARADISE is one of those captivity eroticas written in the vein of CAPTIVE IN THE DARK and COMFORT FOOD. The heroine, Angela, is sneaking on a trip to Cancun with her besties after lying to her overprotective parents. But then she hooks up with a sleazebag who intends to hit it and quit it, non-con style, which leaves it up to his even creepier and sleazebaggier dad to clean up his mess.

I have mixed thoughts about this book. There were some things it did well. The whole psychology of sex trafficking, I felt, were handled with an attempt at gravity by the author (which you don't always see in books like these). I liked the time she spent on the psychology of the book and how there was a lot of metatext about rape fantasies and consent, which are still highly relevant to the dark romance discourse to this day. I also thought it was interesting how the hero was sort of an undercover agent who was fucking the heroine as a slave despite feeling kind of remorseful about it. That was an interesting dynamic I don't think I've seen except in KILLING SARAI, maybe.

I did get a little bored with this book after a while though. It alternates between edgy and cringe at times. Like there's a scene where the heroine is given an enema and made to shit in a bucket as punishment, and another where she's forced to watch a LITERAL threesome where two girls dressed up as a granny and Red Riding Hood are "raped" by a man in a wolf costume lmao. But then when Colin and Angela finally meet, it's like the author really needed there to be an instant connection between them, and all the weird and shocking stuff just kind of went out the window.

Also, not to be an asshole but the Spanish is SO BAD. I speak it pretty well and even though I'm not fully fluent, I noticed tons of errors. Angela was described with masculine adjectives, words were misspelled (dias was spelled with a Z, as in "Diaz"), the wrong tense forms were used (venga conmigo instead of "ven conmigo," which is literally a Christina Aguilera song are you not cultured? jk). She also wrote out the Spanish accent for her characters which felt a little cringe and stereotypical. Some of the Spanish was really good and I was impressed by some of what she got right, but it felt like she was using a language translator, which can always be kind of finicky-- especially since, fun fact, a lot of the time the language translator defaults to masculine forms since that's used as the default.

Overall, I thought this was ok. I think the author made an attempt to give her heroine some modicum of agency in a genre that often feels exploitative and she wrote a book that was compelling enough that I wanted to read it to the end. It looks like she's become pretty inactive now and the sequel about Josef never came to light. That's kind of sad but I get it. Sometimes real life gets in the way of the side hustle. Hope she's doing all right and living her best life.

If you enjoy captivity romances, you'll enjoy this.

2.5 out of 5 stars

How to Raise a Happy Cat: So they love you by Sophie Collins


This is a pretty basic cat care-taking guide and I don't think it will be all that helpful to anyone who already knows how to take care of their pet or who has owned a cat for a while. But for a first time cat-owner, I think this would be a nice gift. I love, love, love how the author urges against declawing and talks about what a cruel practice it is. The discussions about respecting your cat and avoiding bad interactions and the differences between cats and dogs were also very useful sections.

Also, it was nice that there were sections in the end that were devoted to the different age groups of cats, as kittens have different needs from senior cats.

Overall, super helpful for beginners and very well written with gorgeous pictures but not the most useful for me.

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

 3.5 out 5 stars

Sunday, May 28, 2023

I Want to Die But I Want to Eat Tteokbokki by Baek Se-hee


 Update: Forgot to put this in my review originally but one other thing I appreciated about this book is that the author is outspoken about her feelings about mental health and it's my understanding that a lot of Asian cultures tend to frown on this, so having such a visible figure doing this in an open way and receiving support is great.

Truly an awesome pick for AAPI month and mental health awareness month!

I WANT TO DIE BUT I WANT TO EAT TTEOKBOKKI has a fantastic, catchy title, which was what originally gravitated me towards this book. As someone who gets depressed and also has anxiety, this book sounded high-key relatable and I was really excited to read it.

However, reading it was kind of a lackluster experience. There are some really relatable things that she talks about, and I think she's really good at capturing some of the urgent, desperate, and irrational feelings someone has while spiraling into self-hatred/negative thinking cycles or having a panic attack, but the bulk of the book is literally just transcripts of her talking to her psychiatrist. It's... really not that interesting. At times it feels more like reading someone's diary than it does something that was written for consumption by the public.

As others have said, some of the psychiatrist's methods felt sus. Not like, "omg this is a bad doctor!" sus. Because I'm sure they aren't. But just like... "is this the right approach for this person?" sus. Like asking "and how did that make you feel?" during a recount of physical abuse (maybe... uh, try "bad", sis?) or diagnosing someone with a mood disorder with ADHD b/c they aren't responding well to antidepressants without considering if it's bipolar (or maybe they did, but the author didn't say). I get that therapy is to some extent an outstanding Socratic dialogue but it felt like there should have been more of a guiding influence here to keep the author from looping into these cycles. This kind of felt like the Marie Kondo version of therapy. Hey, if she liked it and it worked for her, good for her. But it triggered me b/c of my own bad experiences with therapy.

In any case, reading this book made me find out that I'm a hedgehog. So I'm awarding a bonus half star just for that.

P.S. I was wondering why this book was so hyped until I did some Nancy Drewing and realized that someone from BTS apparently endorsed this book so I guess it's true what they say: The boy bands will inherit the earth.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Not A Vampire by Auryn Hadley


This was a BR with my friend, Brianna! She has been patiently waiting for me to finish for weeks while I've just been like, YOLO. I'm not sure why people agree to do BRs with me, to be honest. I either sit on a book forever or I read it in a whole day, I am the WORST.

Auryn Hadley is one of my go-to KU authors. I think she has a lot of really interesting ideas and she's good at writing flawed female heroines. So far, I've mostly just read KISS OF DEATH and the Gamer Girl books, but I was really impressed with both-- especially since they were two such drastically different books and styles.

NOT A VAMPIRE is about vampires. Well, sort of. The hero is a guy named Thane who is a vampire slayer and the heroine is something that's like a vampire but not called an eidolon. She's also pan and has a sexual Thelma and Louise thing going on with her Chinese vampire girlfriend, Mei.

There were a lot of things I liked about this book. It has self-indulgent '90s vampire fic vibes to it, which I liked. The smut was also abundant and really great. I also liked Mei and Dahlia a lot as a couple-- more so than I did Thane, who was kind of an asshole. I actually didn't like him much at all. Like, there's this one scene where he's on a date with a Christian school teacher and sneaks away during the date and then has sex with Dahlia in a bathroom-- and the teacher hears him! WTF. This basically sets the tone for Thane's asshole playboy character.

Not sure I'd read more from this series but NOT A VAMPIRE definitely reminded me why Auryn Hadley is worth reading. I really need to get back into those other series I read from her and didn't finish. I have commitment issues lol.

2.5 out of 5 stars

A Dawn of Onyx by Kate Golden


DNF @ 17%

The FROM BLOOD AND ASH comparison people are making for this book is actually very on point, and I wish I'd seen that this book was being touted alongside that and A COURT OF MIST AND FURY because I'm not a fan of either of those books and I would have saved both the author and myself some trouble otherwise. But alas, I did not see those reviews until it was too late, and I had already started buddy-reading this book with my friend, Heather.

Here's the thing: if you like fantasies with contemporary-sounding, accessible dialogue and heroines that are basically just self-insert vehicles for moving the plot towards the villain-but-not-really love interest, this is going to be your jam. It's a very marketable jam and I'm jealous of the people who have a taste for it because they look like they're having fun when they read and squeal about these books with their friends. But I do not like the jam.

The cover game is on point, though.

2 out of 5 stars

Moonfall by Tamra Thorne


DNF @ 20%

The prologue for this book was really good. I loved the 1970s setting with the kids and at first it was giving me IT vibes because of how much it popped. I could tell that the author had a lot of fun writing it, and the Halloween/small town vibes were EVERYTHING.

I was less enamored with the "contemporary" '90s setting. It had a fun retro feel and, again, the small town setting was REALLY well done, but everything felt way too drawn out and kind of scattered. There were too many POVs and I don't really think they were adding enough to keep the tension going. Instead, in my opinion, they kind of bogged down and convoluted the storyline. I don't think this needed to be 500+ pages and a lot of that page count felt like it was probably coming from the POV swaps and the excessive details about random things.

I do like this author's writing style though and I really liked her vampire book, CANDLELIGHT BAY. She has several other titles that I'm interested in exploring, including some haunted house ones and a culty sorority, but this wasn't it. Thanks to Heather for trying to BR this with me! Sorry this wasn't it.

2 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab


DNF @ 10%

This was such a frustrating read. The writing was decent and I appreciated the author's attempts to write a selfish, quasi-morally gray heroine, because it's fun when women are allowed to be bad in fiction. But the overall execution left me wanting. This has a very YA feel to it and I know people get so pressed when people say that about adult fantasy books written by women, but this literally does feel like YA: it's accessible, it feels restrained, and it doesn't really explore the ideas it sets out to in a way that feels like it belongs in an adult world. It feels like it was toned down for teens. Which is fine but if that is the case I feel like this would have been better branded for a teen audience.

Hot villain is hot but this book was so long I didn't feel like skimming the pages looking for him. I've read other books by this author and admire her writing style but her characters kind of tend to be Mary Sues and always leave me wanting more than what I got, even though her premises and ideas are usually pretty inventive.

2 out of 5 stars

Monday, May 22, 2023

Marriage Deal with the Devilish Duke by Millie Adams


DNF @ 77%

This was a BR with my friend, Heather, one of my favorite people on BR. Millie Adams is one of my favorite Harlequin authors. She has an ability to instill a lot of characterization and backstory into her heroes and heroines in a very short amount of time, and I love that she isn't afraid to inject a little bit of kink into her romances. Sometimes she gets panned for it but I honestly love seeing anything that isn't just pure vanilla repped by Harlequin. It used to be quite bland.

There's some wonderful things about MARRIAGE DEAL WITH THE DEVILISH DUKE. I liked that the hero and his son were both neurodivergent (I think they're autistic). I liked that there is some D/s and S/M stuff. I liked that the heroine was utterly enthusiastic despite her inexperience. And in the beginning, I felt their backstories went a long way towards explaining why they were into what they were.

The problem with this book is that the bar of my expectations was ALLLLL the way up here and the author decided to lie on the ground. The S/M was mostly just biting and pinching and Briggs spent soooo much time mansplaining sex to Beatrice that I was getting flashbacks to FIFTY SHADES OF GREY and its pseudo-kinky ilk. Beatrice also was a little bit problematic in how she was willing to force men into marriage to escape her fate (and was never really called out for this by anyone but her brother, the quasi-villain of this book) and headbutted her way into being co-parent for an autistic child she really didn't know anything about. She's just like "Routines? Who dat?"

Millie Adams is still an auto-buy author for me and I love what she brings to the Harlequin collection as a whole, but this ended up being a miss for me. First book was okay and third book was AMAZING, but this one might have just gotten disinvited from my birthday party.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Life and Death Design: What Life-Saving Technologies Can Teach Everyday Designers by Katie Swindler


This book, LIFE AND DEATH DESIGN, seems to fall under the Human Factors umbrella, which is basically where psychology and engineering intersect. Designing technology and interfaces for people can be difficult, because computers are rational and algorithmic machines, and people are intuitive and emotional messes.

I work in this field and picked up a whole bunch of these types of books that I thought would be relevant and interesting for my job. I think this book will work best for people who are new to the field of psychology and don't have a lot of experience in it, bar a few introductory classes, because the case examples described in here are pretty bare bones basic.

My favorite parts of this book were definitely about the dangers of projecting your own biases in design and the importance of language when communication instruction or coaching. One of the best, most useful classes I ever took in college was actually a course in communication and technology, which covered everything from how to construct various kinds of business emails, to how to do an effective PowerPoint presentation.

I'm not sure I'd keep this book but it had some incredibly helpful lessons and ideas that I might jot down for my own reference. Books like these should be required reading for everyone in the digital age.

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

3.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Big Swiss by Jen Beagin


DNF @ 4%

I don't normally write reviews for books that I don't read to at least 15% but this book was especially frustrating because I had hyped it up so much in my mind that I was SURE it was going to be amazing, and then when I realized I wasn't liking it and hadn't even gotten to 5%, I was going to return it rather than leave a negative review but I was literally ONE DAY TOO LATE TO RETURN THE BOOK. I'm actually kind of surprised that more people aren't frustrated with BIG SWISS. It felt like it was trying to be purposely edgy, but it ended up being flat and wooden instead. Kind of like Sally Rooney meets Nick Hornby but without the charm of either. I looked at the negative reviews and they all seemed to be taking issue with the same things as me, so I am clearly not alone, just very much in the minority. We all know my book opinions are trash and that I am not to be trusted anyway, but I am just shocked at how much I did not like this.

Thanks to Ro for reading this with me-- or trying to. I'm sorry I'm such a bad buddy-reading friend. Make sure you check out her review, though!

1 out of 5 stars

Friday, May 12, 2023

Candy Hearts by Tommy Siegel


This is the perfect example of a simple premise being highly enjoyable if executed well. CANDY HEARTS is a series of one-shot comic book panels featuring conversation hearts depicting relationships boiled down to their most rudimentary and ironic parts. I'm not sure this will work for people who aren't cynical, since it does take a pretty cynical look at human relationships, but I thought it was really, really funny.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Woman of Iron by Sheila Holland


Hooray, I actually remember who inspired me to read this vintage bodice-ripper. Thanks to Naksed for her glorious review of WOMAN OF IRON because without it, I'm not sure this book would have come to my attention, even though Sheila Holland is apparently one of the pennames of THE Charlotte Lamb, of Harlequin fame. IKR. Her Harlequins are often pretty spicy for Harlequins, but the bodice-rippers she wrote for other publishers apparently like to get down and dirty.

WOMAN OF IRON is such an intense read. Any book that starts out with the hero whipping the heroine is automatically suspect (I see you, THIS OTHER EDEN). It's kind of a cross between THIS OTHER EDEN, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, and LEMONADE, although it's not really as "romantic" as any of those books, as most of this love-hate relationship is spent with the dial resting firmly on "hate" and the hero and heroine don't even sleep together until twenty pages from the end (although the hero sleeps with plenty of other women, and the heroine has, like, two other dudes who want to get with her).

The plot is a little to complex to summarize, but basically the heroine is the illegitimate child of an ironworks owner and is raised by her uncle when he dies. The uncle's wife HATES her and everything she represents because when the dad died, uncle stepped in to be the mistress of wifey, and real wifey resents that on a deeply personal level, so she just spends a ton of time whipping the heroine. (Don't worry, she later dies of small pox lmao.) Then the hero whips the heroine because she won't call him sir and apparently defiance is his love language because the fact that she won't give in just makes him smile like a fool, even as he plans to break her. What a psycho.

I would love to get into the litany of misdeeds that happen in this book but I want to at least try to cross-post this book to Amazon. I will say that it has a lot of triggers, and there is violent assault and rape, and also small pox, and unpleasant deaths, and also murders. Midsomer would never. Part of me is in awe at what Charlotte Lamb was capable of under this imprint, and part of me is like, "Okay, but maybe also at least try to make some romance?" I wish there had been just a little more obsession of the passionate kind and some more scenes between the H and h beyond the one dub-con scene they had. The ending was SO abrupt also and didn't really provide any closure.

Brilliant characterization and a true bodice-ripper but not really a romance.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, May 7, 2023

The Awkward Yeti Presents: Heart and Brain: Onward to Good Things!: A Heart and Brain Collection by Nick Seluk


ONWARD TO GOOD THINGS is a collection of Heart and Brain comics, which I would say are kind of in the vein of Sarah Scribbles and The Oatmeal: they're a childlike representation of the things that adults feel, done in a way that is relatable, amusing, and larger-than-life, all at once. The two main characters in this book are brain, the logical but anxious one, who is often held hostage by his addiction to caffeine and dopamine, and heart, the playful but irrational and chaotic entity who just wants to be happy... sometimes at terrible cost.

I thought these comics were cute. I remember getting a virtual ARC of one of Awkward Yeti's earlier collections a long time ago so it was fun to get a physical copy this time. As someone who does have anxiety and often feels torn between the desire to be happy and the desire to, you know, get lost in my own head, this was very relatable. I think this would be a fun read for a lot of anxious introverts, though I think I'd be careful giving this one as a gift.

P.S. Tongue and Colon cracked me up. God they're terrifying.

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

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, May 5, 2023

Creep: A Love Story by Lygia Day Peñaflor


Okay, first of all, I don't know why this is being compared to TO ALL THE BOYS I'VE LOVED BEFORE because literally all they had in common is a slight voyeuristic component and the fact that they are both written by Asian authors, so I'm not sure that comparison holds water. Second of all, thanks to my BBFF (best book friend forever), Heather, for reading this with me. Lately I've been so bad at finishing books that, without her help, my TBR would be a lot longer.

I don't want to spoil too much about this book but basically, CREEP is the story of a teen girl named Rafi who is OBSESSED with her school's senior golden couple, Nico and Laney. And I'm not just talking about your ordinary "oh my god what are they doing on social media?" nosiness, no. She finagles a job as Nico's kid sister's baby-sitter, threatens to beat up one of the kid sister's bullies (who's in grade school, BTW), oh, and YEAH. Watches them have sex. CREEP.

Reading this is like watching a car crash in slow motion. You know it isn't going to end prettily, but how isn't it? What is going to happen that finally causes the gasket to blow? I read this book to the end wanting to know exactly that, and when I found out, I was like... huh. The ending almost felt like the author wasn't sure how to end it and just pulled something random out of her pocket. I wasn't mad at it, but I also feel like it raised more questions than it actually answered. Especially since I was already pretty sure I had figured out the twist and was wrong (mine was good).

CREEP really is a lot like a gender-swapped teen version of YOU, except, you know, PG-13, obviously. So if that appeals to you, I think you'd probably like the book. It really captures the fishbowl vibes of high school and because social media isn't mentioned all that much, it also kind of feels old-fashioned and timeless. In some ways, CREEP actually feels like an edgy throwback to the YA of the aughts, when it felt like everyone was trying to out-grit everyone else writing something real and raw, and I kind of liked that. This felt like the YA of my childhood so reading it was almost nostalgic. And the book certainly lived up to its title (even though it wasn't the way I thought).

It's honestly surprising how few ratings this author has. She's an underrated gem, for sure.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars