Friday, June 30, 2023

Cruel Shadows by Harper A. Brooks

 Meh. Going into this, my first thought was that maybe it was going to be too dark... but it ended up being the opposite: too fluffy

CRUEL SHADOWS is about a girl named Stella who works as a waitress. But her job is shitty and it turns out that her boss is a creep and the waitress who gets away with treating her like crap is banging him. She rage-quits while inwardly despairing at her lack of job, falls asleep in front of the TV, and finds herself in the shadow realm that she made up when she was a kid, with a place called Dark Castle.

I actually really liked this premise because R. Lee Smith has a similar portal fantasy sort of story about a girl whose fantasy realm ends up becoming kind of dark and fucked up when she gets older and y'all know I love me some R. Lee Smith. Plus, it's an opportunity for a coming of age played out as fantasy. Obviously I didn't expect that level of world-building from a light reverse harem book but I do wish more thought had gone into its development. Maybe more scenes from her non-shadow realm life and portrayals of what it had been like for her to go there as a child. Especially since she was supposed to have a developed relationship with Airric.

There's three guys in this book: Wels, Reis, and Airric. I actually liked Wels the most as Reis and Airric felt pretty interchangeable except that Reis seemed a little more stoic and Airric was a little meaner. Most of the book is just sex scenes and I found myself skimming a lot of them, although they were well-written and I liked the feminist themes of the book. Especially when Stella meets another hot girl named Lilith and actively checks her internal misogyny when her gut reaction is to hate her for flirting with one of the guys she admits to herself that she shouldn't have any deigns on. I liked that.

I probably won't continue with the series but I love the premise and the cover, and I think if you're just looking for harem smut, you'll probably love this book. Heads up that the heroine is eighteen, though, so if you don't like erotica with (LEGAL!) teenage characters, that might be an ick for you.

2.5 out of 5 stars

WtAFW: Shifter's Destiny by Anna Leonard


POV: You got this wereunicorn book to laugh at it and ended up loving it. Who had that on their 2023 bingo card? Because I didn't.

I found out about this book because my friend, karen, shelved it and I thought HAHA THAT'S SO RIDICULOUS. I MUST READ IT. I have a "weekly" challenge called What the Actual Fuck Wednesday that I've become fairly well-known for where I read and review weird romance and erotica books that people recommend to me. Most of them are just lolwut funny and I don't actually enjoy them, but some I end up loving.

Like this book.

Maggie and Elizabeth are two sisters who are on the run from an evil cult that's been up to weird culty shenanigans that involve murder and other shit. When they're cornered, something saves them from being dragged into a van: a big white unicorn.

Enter Josh Thee Unicorn, the hero of our story. They're basically wereunicorns who live normal lives except when they all convene together every few years. However, if they don't mate with a virgin, they end up losing the ability to become human. Too bad Elizabeth, the older sister, isn't a virgin. Anyway, apart from this one incel-y tradition, Josh is a stand-up guy, a consent king, who is so comfortable with his masculinity that at one point he refers to himself as a "pretty pony." The Mustang community is matriarchal and Josh is a stan for the strong women he feels compelled to protect: in this case, Maggie and Elizabeth, his honorary herd.

I don't want to say too much more because spoilers, but this was such a great romance with the perfect amount of tension, and just enough weirdness to make it memorable rather than wtf. I loved Elizabeth and Josh and even Maggie, the kid sister, was a great character. It's not spicy and the couple doesn't even do it until the very end of the book, but I loved that the heroine wasn't a virgin and I thought the author tweaked her nose at the virgin/unicorn myth in a funny way.

P.S. Anna Leonard is apparently a pen name for the fantasy/pnr author Laura Anne Gilman, who I LOVE, and I didn't even know that before buying this book. So if you're a fan of her work and you ran out of books of hers to read, now you have a new backlist to explore.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Yagi the Bookshop Goat by Fumi Furukawa

 This is cute. I have no actual memory of buying it but I probably got it when it was on sale. The premise is pretty unique: the younger hero, Yagi, is a goat who wants to work in a bookstore. But goats aren't allowed to work in bookstores because they eat all the paper. He's tried every shop in the "Herbivore Zone" and finally finds success in the "Carnivore Zone" working for a wolf guy named Ookami.

Tokyopop was the publisher that made a lot of the manga I read as a kid, so I was surprised that this is an 18+ title. There are rather explicit drawings of sex scenes in here which SHOCKED me because I was literally reading this on my Kindle next to my mom when we were watching TV and then I was like GAH. So just an FYI: this is NSFW.

It's a pretty cute one-shot shounen-ai manga. I also like how it has LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE vibes in the sense that Yagi can "taste" a story, so romances taste sweet, mysteries taste spicy, and porn tastes cloyingly sweet with a bitter aftertaste. His synesthesia abilities give him the ability to put books that complement each other in surprising ways in little displays around the shop, to much acclaim from the customers. Even cuter, when he eats one of Ookami's notes, that's when he realizes that his boss is in love with him. Hehe.

Would recommend this to manga readers who want something cute and gay. Also, some shounen-ai and yaoi can be quite rapey, but Ookami definitely puts consent first and does some aftercare, too, after they bang, which I thought was extra sweet. We stan a wolf dude who takes care of his little goat man.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean


DNF @ 15%

Sometimes when you hype a book up for yourself for literal years, it ends up disappointing you because of how much you've built it up in your brain. TAM LIN was that book for me. When I tell you how long I have been waiting to read this book, I am not exaggerating. It's been over a decade. Tam Lin is one of my favorite ballads and I am always looking for retellings of it. Sadly, I did not like this one at all. It's dark academia but it's the sort of dark academia I can't stand, overly concerned with its own importance, like IF WE WERE VILLAINS.

If you liked IF WE WERE VILLAINS, you'll probably like this.

But I did not.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

Ashbourne House by Ann Owen


I can't remember the last time I felt so repulsed by a book and yet so utterly determined to continue. There is definitely a bad fanfiction vibe to this book which is maybe why I continue to read it; it makes me feel a little nostalgic for all of the bad "lemons" I used to read in my fics when I was but a wee teen. Sadly, it doesn't hold the same appeal as an adult because now I know what good erotica reads like. But dammit, I'm just so fascinated. If this weren't the penname of Nina Pennachi, I doubt I'd feel this utterly compelled.

The premise for this serial is pretty simple. Jane's father suffered a terrible injury in the accident that killed her stepmother and his business is falling into ruin. She goes to her stepbrother to beg for money and he demands that she be his sex slave in return. Which sounds compelling, right? And initially it is... but the stepbrother, Guy, has no redeeming qualities. He hates Jane because she used to love him but eventually got tired of him being an asshole ALL THE TIME and stopped talking to him. Wow, so he's mad at her for having self-respect? Quelle surprise.

There's no self-respect in the present timeline though. As I said before, this is basically a sex fantasy for people who get off on humiliation and coercion. It's definitely CNC but the hero drags the heroine there, every step of the way, and she cries so much it's hard to convince yourself that she's enjoying it in any sense of the word. In this book, there's a scene that verges on pet play where he has her get on all fours so he can inspect her as if she's cattle at the market (his words), and he makes her lick his hand like she's a dog. Maybe you're into that. I'm not. I did not like this scene.

The sex scenes and dialogue are also kind of cringe and anachronistic. The heroine, despite being a virgin, uses the word "pussy" in her mental narrative. The author seems overly enamored with the phrase "ball juice," a phrase which I would be very happy if I never saw again. Since I believe her native language is Italian, I did wonder if maybe this is a literal translation from some Italian phrase. I didn't see a translator listed so I'm wondering if she did it herself or had a friend do it for her, because the writing in this feels clunkier than it did in her book, LEMONADE. I also hate that the dad calls his stepson "big boy." It just gives me the ick.

Why the fuck am I still reading this? Your guess is as good as mine. (Blink twice if you need help.)

2.5 out of 5 stars

The Deal by Ann Owen


The way I literally raced to the Kindle store when I found out that Ann Owen is a penname of Nina Pennachi. In case you don't know who Nina Pennachi is, she is the author of the cult classic bodice-ripper nouveau, LEMONADE, and the as-yet-to-be-published-in-English book, CAPITAN SWING. I've never been more tempted to pick up Duo Lingo to learn Italian, let me tell you. Watching my European friends reading that book has left me jealous as fuck.

Anyway, the Slave for Revenge series is in English and it's serialized into bite-sized installments, AND it's about a stepbrother blackmailing his sister into a relationship. Well, that sounds familiar... and exciting. And it's set in Victorian times, you say? SIGN ME UP, MA'AM.

After reading this book, though, I feel conflicted. I'm giving it the same rating that I gave LEMONADE but for vastly different reasons. LEMONADE was a story of emotional depth and complex characters with some passages of truly beautiful writing, but it was a little too clunky and long-winded for me to love it, even though I think about the story all the time. THE DEAL, on the other hand, is what I would call a sex fantasy. It has some pretty extreme CNC and a hero who truly despises the heroine and himself for being attracted to her, so the entire foundation of their relationship is based purely on revenge, as the title promises, and exploitation.

Now, I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong with this. I wrote an essay in defense of dark romance recently about how authors shouldn't necessarily be held responsible for the actions of the characters, and how you can write about things that you don't endorse. I think this is a fantasy for people who enjoy CNC and coercion and that is fine. But it makes for some uncomfortable reading and I would be very unlikely to recommend this book to anyone unless they specifically asked me for something forceful and degrading, because it's pretty clear that the heroine is unhappy and conflicted.

Also... the sex scenes were very unsexy. At one point the hero tells the heroine to drink the "juice of his balls." And you might argue, "well, it's VICTORIAN, Nenia, what else are they supposed to say?" But if you're going to take the "it's historically accurate route" how the fuck would the sheltered, man-fearing, church-going heroine know what the word "pussy" means? Like I said, it's a sex fantasy. You're not supposed to really read it beyond the surface level storyline I guess (although will that stop me? noooo).

I'm probably going to keep reading because it reminds me of some of the adult fanfiction darkfics I read as a kid who was definitely not supposed to be reading fics like that. But don't go into this expecting LEMONADE: PART TWO. The only thing that is the same is her slightly rambly writing style. I can see why she published this under a penname, probably to prevent such comparisons.

3 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Scarred by Emily McIntire


DNF @ 25%

I know a lot of people probably envision me writing my negative reviews whilst cackling in a towering, villainous lair, but shitting on somebody's work is (usually) not fun. I do feel bad when I don't like something but I'm also not going to lie about it-- and by the way, I am 100% stupid enough to re-buy something I read and didn't like, which is why I always consult the Goodreads now before making a purchase.

SCARRED is, to be fair, a much more sophisticated work than HOOKED. I think the writing is better and the story had more depth. I think this is loosely inspired by The Lion King and part of the fun is figuring out who is who and what is what. It's like a darker, edgier version of Katee Robert's books where she does the exact same thing.

That said, I just couldn't get into this book. Tristan's two personality quirks were smoking marijuana and torturing people. And btw, I have never seen a stoner with this big of a chip on his shoulder. Isn't weed supposed to make you chill? Not this guy. Sara, the heroine, was OK. She's supposed to be a bad-ass but we're told this more than we're shown this. I think Clarice was right in that Wendy from the previous book at least had some other dimensions to her character (like being a big sis, etc.). I'm still interested in her Frollo and Jafar books but now I'm scared lol.

2 out of 5 stars

Blackmail by Amelia Wilde


Amelia Wilde is a new author to me. I think I came across BLACKMAIL when it was cheap or free in the Kindle store. I remember reading the sample (which I ALWAYS do, now) and thinking, "Oh my God, this sounds hot." Also, it was nice to actually see some emotional depth and a quasi-realistic office environment from the get-go. So many office romances feel like they were written by someone who saw one episode of The Apprentice and thinks all CEOs go around telling people they're fired in rooms that look like mausoleums designed by Liberace.

ANYWAY, this book was great. I loved the hero and the heroine. Bristol is the daughter of a con artist and working at a temp agency to support her younger siblings, but when her dad screws over the wrong guy and needs 50k fast, she decides to embezzle it from her boss: Will. Will is a corporate hardass who is cold and a little cruel, the sort of guy who sends people running the other way when they encounter him in the hallway. But he appreciates Bristol's attention to detail and likes her cheap TJ Maxx suits a little too much... until the theft.

Then he decides to make her pay. With her body.

Dun dun dun.

This was almost a perfect five star read for me. The pacing was great and it did a good job balancing emotional development with the relationship. Will has a pretty tragic backstory and so does Bristol, and I liked how both of their pasts provided opportunities to connect and provide for each other in ways that went beyond the bedroom. That said, I felt like the author kind of foreshadowed Will to be way kinkier than he actually was. If you keep hinting that a guy is a sadist and then just have him do a bit of light biting and humiliation, well, ma'am, you have not served up what was promised on the menu. Also, I do not like the name "corporate whore." I was going to let it slide but it kept happening. Apparently the author liked calling the heroine that as much as Will did. I, however, did not find it hot. At all.

For those who plan on reading the series, it does end on a cliffhanger and there is no HEA/HFN in this book. That said, I found it a pleasant surprise and I think this author is going to be a new favorite of mine. I can't wait to read Emerson's book. It's so rare to find an author who can write a tortured hero so well.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Lace Vengeance by Eve Dangerfield


Did I stay up until 2am on a work night reading this? Yes.

Do I regret it? No.

The Snow White trilogy has honestly been such a fun surprise for me because it made me enjoy a lot of tropes I usually hate. Dangerfield's writing is snappy and consumable, like a book in saltwater taffy form. I don't know how she came up with a Snow White retelling in mafia form but it worked out pretty well as a reverse harem, especially since the "dwarves" in this book are actually a bunch of psycho men who are ride or die when it comes to the heroine.

LACE VENGEANCE was a pretty satisfying conclusion to the series. I feel like this book had more fan service than the previous two books, because huge chunks of it were just domestic scenes and lots of fucking instead of plot. I didn't mind the fanfictiony vibe, but the last act of this book and the confrontation with Zachery reminded me of how good Dangerfield is at high-octane and how much more of it I wished there was in this book.

The best part of this series was seeing January grow into her own, tbh. She went from being laughably, satirically naive to honestly pretty cutthroat. And it was satisfying to see her one-up the men who treated her like she was just a pretty painted object. Also, the group sex scene in the middle was like a four-point-something on the spicy scale. I wasn't expecting that.

Here's my tier ranking of the dudes, not that you asked. 

1. Doc and Daddy Eli, tying for first.
2. Adriano
3. Bobby (dead last, boo, #sorrynotsorry)

Doc is the only guy who's allowed to make me a "pussy juice" cocktail and not get mace sprayed in his eyes.

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

3 out of 5 stars

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Trick or Treat by Richie Tankersley Cusick


RTC is one of my favorite YA horror authors. She's a little bit up and down in terms of quality but for the most part, she writes exactly the sorts of stories that I went. The best ones have multiple hot guys, gothic elements, and some dramatic one-liners that wouldn't be out of place in a dark romance.

TRICK OR TREAT is set during Halloween. Martha's father has just remarried and they've moved to a big house out in the countryside and she has a hot and brooding stepbrother named Conor. But pretty soon, things get kind of weird. Apparently there was a murder in their house, and the girl who used to live there looked a lot like Martha.

As the book goes on, Martha starts receiving creepy phone calls and feels like she's being watched. Just like Elizabeth did before she was murdered by her ex-boyfriend... who was never found. Is it her stepbrother who has a secret passageway that leads into her room? The sexy young creative writing teacher with boundary issues? The golden boy? Or someone else?

This is one of the better RTC books I've read but the ending falls into a twist that I've seen this author do at least three times. Now I almost always see it coming and it kind of spoils the surprise. Also, I wish more had come from the stepbrother element. I thought that was kind of risque for a YA novel. If this had had a stronger ending and a better twist, I would have given it a five.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Fatal Secrets by Richie Tankersley Cusick


Richie Tankersley Cusick (gee, what a mouthful) is one of my favorite YA horror authors. I've read most of her work that is still in circulation and a handful of her books that aren't. She's probably one of my favorite Point Horror line authors, even more so than Christopher Pike and Caroline B. Cooney, whose works tend to be more uneven (even though I love them both). There's something about Cusick's work that just speaks to me on a profound level: hot bad guys, gothic undertones, female gaze, and surprisingly poetic writing that just makes me really wish that I'd devoured more of her books as a young teen. I MISSED OUT, Y'ALL.

That isn't to say that she doesn't have her duds, too. I don't like all of her books equally and sadly, FATAL SECRETS is one of her books that I liked the least. I think it's because it kind of feels like an R.L. Stine book: cheesy and formulaic with a bit of a ridiculous ending (although the subjects in this book are things I don't even think Stine would touch-- even his contemporaries felt like timewarps to the 1950s). Basically, Ryan's sister Melissa dies under the ice while they're in the woods and after that, Ryan is haunted by images of her supposedly dead sister. But if Melissa isn't dead? Where is she? And if she is... who's doing this?

The set-up has everything I normally love in an RTC book: hot bad guys, lots of mystery, narrative gaslighting, etc. But like I said, the ending jumped the shark (the ice shark, shall we say?) and I just didn't feel like we got to know the sinister guys for me to really care about them as will they/won't they love interests. SILENT STALKER and HELP WANTED were kind of peak RTC as far as I'm concerned, and SUMMER OF SECRETS had great love interests. This one fell flat on all counts. Now that I'm thinking about it, I think I liked this even less than THE DRIFTER. Bummer.

Still, it's a Christmas-themed YA horror novel so if you're burned out on Hallmark movies and you're one of those chaotically evil people who consider Die Hard a holiday movie, you might like this.

2 out of 5 stars

Ghost by Kat Blackthorne


DNF @ 10%

Man, if you're going to write gothic smut, having a last name like Blackthorne is like winning the lottery. Hardcore. I had high hopes for GHOST. I loved the skull mask and the creepy neons. I felt like I had just been invited to the world's coolest Halloween rave. And speaking of Halloween, the town where this book is set is OBSESSED with it. Um, same??? I was all but ready to commit on the spot.

Sadly, I could not get into this book. I feel like GHOST is one of those dark romances that feels like it needs to remind you that it's a dark romance every other page by being super edgy. I know some people are super into that and that's fine, but I am not. I like a little more subtlety. Making the hero a creepy therapist from the get-go kind of spoiled the mystery. (Also he's like, ethical? I hardly know all.)

Not my cuppa, but maybe it'll be yours.

2 out of 5 stars

Friday, June 23, 2023

Like Neon Mornings by Shiloh Sloane


This book crossed my radar because the author's other book, THEN, EARTH SWALLOWED OCEAN was showing up as a suggested read for people who enjoyed my own work. LIKE NEON MORNINGS feels like one of those 2000s-era indie movies, specifically Away We Go. Luce and Isaiah are both in their 30s and are messy, imperfect people, but the focus of the book is on meaningful connections, and those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that can end up changing our whole lives.

Luce is an ex-prostitute and Isaiah is an ex-con. They meet at an autoshop in Las Vegas, and have the misfortune to be there during a stick-em-up. Stranded, and desperate, Isaiah offers to help her make the money she needs to fix up her car and get out of there. Lawfully, of course. I don't want to say too much because I don't want to spoil it, but the writing was gorgeous and I found myself wanting to highlight everything. Their characters were just so perfect, and this is proof that you can have two people fall in love in a day and not have it feel like instalove. I'm just so impressed by this author and her writing.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Hooked by Emily McIntire


I've been wanting to read this ever since I saw the Read with Cindy review for it on YouTube and trust me when I say that the book did NOT disappoint. Thank you so much to Clarice for joining me on this reading journey. Books like these are always so much more fun when you're reading them with a friend.


So Hook/James is like this drug cartel/crime boss dude who runs a glorious empire out of his bar, the Jolly Roger. He's also the victim of CSA so if that's a trigger for you, read this book with caution, as there are a number of flashbacks to these traumatic events. I personally felt like the author tried to handle this part of the book pretty well. She didn't go too much into detail and it was as gross as it probably should have been. I actually felt pretty bad for James because of this and I thought it added an interesting reason as to why he wouldn't like clocks. So kudos to the author for going there but not, like, having no shame. I applaud her restraint.

Wendy is the daughter of Hook's enemy, Peter. I guess he, like, fucked over Hook's dad and also there's more drama (THAT WILL COME LATER) and huge swaths of James's narrative are about how he can't wait to kill Peter, and how he wants to cuck him by impregnating his daughter and then doing her on his corpse. It's pretty crazy, honestly, how horny James gets imagining sex with Wendy while Peter's somewhere in the vicinity. They even have this super awkward dinner later in the book where James is like hehe I banged your daughter hehe. And after all the talk about cucking, I was expecting DRAMA but Peter barely even blinks. WHAT. Part of the appeal of Hook in the beginning was how he talked SO BIG. I was expecting follow-through. Instead, I got follow who?

They have their meet-cute at a bar where Wendy is the killjoy in her group of promiscuous, party-going friends. And one of them is pissed when she finds out that James likes Wendy because she likes James. But James has himself a little stalky-stalk and goes to Wendy's place of work, where he murders a male Karen for giving her shit about not being a good enough employee (new kink unlocked). He keeps talking about how he's going to tarnish her and take away her innocence and RUIN her before leaving her at the feet of his SWORN ENEMY and I'm like, WHAT YEAR IS THIS? THE 1840s???  The ton doesn't give a shit who you're fucking unless you're a conservative lawmaker or a Kardashian.

Anyway, once they bang, they bang a lot and it gave me flashbacks to FIFTY SHADES OF GREY where everyone was like oooh it's so RACY and NAUGHTY and... he just, like, ties her up and spanks her with a paddle? James chokes her a few times and makes her wear a collar but never once does he follow through on any of his threats. AT THE END OF THE BOOK, WENDY KILLS HER DAD, and I was like, oh here it comes, he's going to fuck Wendy on top of Peter's corpse JUST LIKE HE PROMISED IN THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOK but nah. It. Didn't. Happen.

The tonal shifts for this book were actually all over the place, because on the one hand we have a hero who will knife people for looking at him wrong and kill people by having them eaten alive by rats. But then he describes his funny little feely-weels as being like "Pop Rocks under his skin" and say things like how his stomach flips and twists and I'm like..................... why though. Also you can't forget the heroine saying her thoughts were "scrambled like eggs." There's the CSA and the gang shit and murder most foul, and then there's Hook and Wendy being like, "You kidnapped me, but nobody understands me like you do and I'm GLAD you locked me in the bedroom because at least now I have someone to talk to." And James is like "I may be a murderer, but I hear you and I see you." (Paraphrasing.)

This was just so silly and over the top but I read it to the end so maybe I'm the clown. I'm just kind of shocked at everyone saying this book is dark. It really isn't. This is the gateway drug of dark, I guess, where you read it and then you're like, "Okay, but what if the hero actually did something with the knife." Which is maybe why HAUNTING ADELINE is so popular.

Anyway, no hate to this author for doing her thing. Parts of it were really good. It was just so weird. And the half-sibling twist at the end was kind of unnecessary and messed up. I am kind of curious about her Jafar and Frollo inspired retellings but since this kind of felt like a slightly porned-up version of Katee Robert's villain retellings, I'm wondering if those are just going to be more of the same. Someone tell me if it gets better.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Shifter Wars by Kelly St. Clare


One of my friends went to a book con and got all these paperbacks from indie authors. She gave all the ones she didn't want to keep to me, and I was like YAS. I shall REVIEW them post-haste. First on my list was SHIFTER WARS by Kelly St. Clare because I actually had this one on my tbr anyway, and because I'd heard good things about the author, and because I kind of loved the idea of werewolves and werewolf hunters fighting out territory disputes with laser tag.

Andie was a decent heroine. She reminded me a little of Kate Daniels, but younger. You know, the vulnerable bad-ass character archetype. I'm a sucker for that in paranormal fiction. Also, as an ex-band geek, I appreciated her love for her saxophone. I don't say this enough on here but it's always great to see a heroine with hobbies and interests outside of the hero.

Sascha actually reminded me a lot of Curran from the Kate Daniels series, too, including his ideas of courtship. So I think actually that if you enjoy that series, you'll probably enjoy this author as well, as the dynamic is similar, although there's more of a YA/NA flavor to this book. Sometimes I felt like I was almost getting late-2010s/post-Twilight paranormal romance vibes.

I didn't actually care for the romance that much. For me, the best part of the book was the mystery about her heritage (kind of a disappointment, tbh), the setting, and the heroine. I felt like the descriptions of Sascha were pretty redundant. I didn't read this on ebook but part of me wants to download it on KU just so I can count up how many times "honey" was used. I feel like it had to have been at least fifty times. Definitely a lethal drinking game.

I'm not mad at this book, though. And I think the author has a really fun and accessible writing style. I would read more from her in a heartbeat, just probably not from this series. Although maybe I will, who knows? I think she has a vampire book series out and I'd be more inclined to read that, since I like vamps way more than weres.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, June 16, 2023

WtAFW: The Second Cumming of Christ by L.M. Whitehouse


THE SECOND CUMMING OF CHRIST was the first thing I saw in my DMs this morning while I was checking my Instagram. This is what happens when you become notorious on the internet for one specific thing. People want you to do the thing, over and over and over. My thing is reading weird erotica and then telling everyone else about it. Because suffering is like a can of Pringles: it's meant to be shared.

Anyway, after receiving this DM, I took to Amazon to download the book from KU and as soon as I got off work, I read this book about Jesus getting off... with one of his flock. Gloria, who has been praying to feel Christ inside her. And what is it to have a little death for someone's sins after you've already done The Big One? No offense to all my Jesus girlies out there. You might think I'm going to hell for reading this but I'm not actually religious, and you can't hell-ban what's already damned.

Speaking of damned, WHY wasn't this book... funny? I found myself thinking of Fanny Tucker or, hell, even the guy (or girl?) who wrote EL NINO CUMZ!!! I mean, at least they put effort into their books to make them ridiculous and kind of funny. How can you write a horny Jesus fanfiction and not make a joke about him rising?? Or a joke about being nailed?? (I'm sorry, I'm sorry!!! Don't be mad at me, I didn't write this book.)

I mean, you were going to piss people off by writing this either way. Why not make it fucking hilarious? What's the point of writing trolly erotica if it isn't ~a moment~? I went into this expecting for it to be bad, but not for it to be boring.

P.S. There's a typo where Gloria refers to him as her Lord and Savoir. At least I think it was a typo. It might also be a clever joke, in which case, I add a half point star to my rating.

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Mel by Liz Berry


I've been feeling kind of down lately and one of my favorite kinds of comfort reads is retro romances. I don't know why, I just love how dated they are. It's like peering into a small window into a whole other universe; I love it. MEL is a book I've been wanting to read for a while, too, because Liz Berry is one of my favorite retro YA authors. A lot of her love interests are villainous antiheroes and I love that for her (and for me, when reading them). I also appreciate how she makes her heroines fully dimensional beings with real flaws, even if they are "unlikable."

MEL is probably my least favorite book that I've read by this author even though I still liked it. I'll get to why later but part of it is because it tries to do a little too much and the ending feels a little overextended. The book opens with the heroine trying to unalive herself, so right away, there's no punches pulled. She doesn't succeed thank goodness and isn't actually all that motivated, but you really get a sense of her despair. Her mother is severely depressed and also a hoarder, so she lives in squalor in their small English town and has no friends, or anyone to rely on in her community, so she feels isolated and completely helpless.

When her mother is taken away into care, she gets defensive and hostile. Especially when social services tries to place her with her elderly aunt. Instead, she goes to live with one of her neighbors, a Black woman named Mrs. Miller, who lives with her husband and two children. While there, she decides to clean up and refurbish her mother's house as part of her senior year project. This results in her going to the thrift store and befriending the man who works there and, later, his grandson-- who just so happens to be a famous rock star named Mitch (lol). Mel and Mitch became friends and then they become more, because obviously. but there's also a sort of love triangle between Mel and her creepy teacher, Keith Edwards, too.

The summary for this book on Goodreads makes it sound like this is self-insertion fantasy but it is a lot deeper than rock star wish fulfillment. It launches some well-aimed criticisms at government bureaucracies, and how social services fails the people it's supposed to protect. It also paints a nuanced but sympathetic picture of mental illness, and what it can be like to be a child with a parent who is mentally ill. The romantic relationships are probably the messiest since they are dated, although Keith is definitely not the hero of this book, but the way everyone kind of treats his perving like bad manners as opposed to, you know, an actual crime probably dates this book worse than the boots and big hair.

As a love interest, Mitch is OK. Assassination (the band) feels like a toned down version of Easy Connections, and Mitch is like a toned down version of Dev. Mel is an intense and sympathetic heroine and I liked her a lot, but I felt like the way she ended up romantically entangled with Mitch was rushed and kind of half-assed. And why did it need a pregnancy scare? Especially a shamey one? Perhaps most upsetting is the fact that Mel's mother ends up dating a nurse from her psychiatric facility. Because that's definitely not an abuse of power. And unlike the teacher business, there's not really any metatext about maybe not predating on one's patients.

Overall, this was fine but if you're new to Liz Berry's work I wouldn't recommend starting out with this one. 

3 out of 5 stars

Monday, June 12, 2023

Dark Across the Bay by Ania Ahlborn


DNF @ 15%

This is a sad review to write because Ania Ahlborn is clearly a very talented author. Anyone who could pull BROTHER out of their brain is clearly a twisted genius with a sadistic joy for good storytelling. I would LOVE to sit down with the author and hear how she came up with that gem, which still traumatizes me to this day.

Sadly, DARK ACROSS THE BAY was not that book. BROTHER fairly popped off its pages, but this book felt flat. There were too many characters thrown in my face all at once before I'd been given proper time to care about them. This ended up feeling like a very generic sort of airport thriller as a result. 

I'd read more from this author but I can't personally recommend this book. However, if you're a fan of the domestic sort of thriller and found BROTHER too dark for your tastes, you may enjoy this one.

Thanks to Heather for trying to BR this with me.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite


Whoa. This book was... something else. The first half of it was fantastic-- character development up to here, settings and atmosphere that had me feeling jealous, and the perfect blend of character-driven and story-driven elements propelling the book forward. The second half was... weird. Very, very, very weird. I was trying to think about what this book reminded me of and then it hit me: Stephen King's ROSE MADDER. The ending was like something out of a fever dream and I wasn't sure it worked. There was also some major insta-love between the two characters. They were both so broken, I wish there had been more time for them to build a rapport with each other on an emotional level before deciding they were in love after they did it once. I mean, really.

The story is very dark and I would advise anyone picking it up to go in with caution. It opens up with a violent murder-suicide scene and there are graphic depictions of self-harm. Towards the end, there's a lot of gore and emotional trauma. I didn't see many reviews warning people about this. The self-harm passage was particularly visceral and had me feeling a little light-headed (I think it occurs around 25% in the Kindle version).

Our two heroes are Zach and Trevor. Zach is a computer hacker and the son of abusive parents. Because of this he has major emotional intimacy problems and can't sleep with anyone he loves (or love anyone he sleeps with). Trevor, on the other hand, is the sole survivor of his father's murder rampage in their home. His father was an artist and an alcoholic before he just became an alcoholic (and then a murderer). Now Trevor himself is an artist and has become numb after a life spent in and out of foster homes. To anchor himself, he has returned to the scene of all of his traumas: the house in Missing Mile.

I think this book is worth reading because it is a work of LGBT+ horror, it is chock-full of '90s fringe culture references, and does a great job with atmosphere and setting. If the romance and the story had been just a little more fleshed-out this could have been an easy five-star read. I'm a little shocked that so many people were condemning this book for being too sexually graphic. Apart from being a little too descriptive about bodily fluid, this is more story than it is sex scene. I found the violence way more frequent and off-putting (funny how way fewer people are talking about that).

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, June 9, 2023

The Fall by Bethany Griffin


THE FALL starts out great but kind of ends up being a tangle of non-answers and lack of closure. Family madness ends up being a sort of Macguffin for this book and while I liked the vibes, I can see why so many people found the story-telling frustrating. The story is nicely written, though, and Madeline is a sympathetic heroine. I also thought the yo-yoing alternative timelines were pretty well-done. It ended up being a sort of interesting, beautiful mess. I still really liked it though but I wish it had been a little more solid.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Anne: An Adaptation of Anne of Green Gables by Kathleen Gros


The best retellings renew your appreciation of the original work while also making you fall in love with the story all over again with brand new eyes. ANNE, for me, was exactly that. It's a modernized version of ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, where Anne is interested in art and zines (instead of reading) and falls in love with her best friend, Diana.

I thought the author did a great job maintaining the core of who Anne was as a person. Matthew and Marilla were wonderful and I thought it was very clever to turn Avonlea into an apartment complex in Canada called Avon-Lea. Also, in keeping with modern perceptions about bullying, there are now discussions about why Gilbert's behavior isn't okay and how it isn't fine to harass someone even if you're doing it because you like them.

This is just such a wonderful adaption. I actually teared up a little while reading it because it was so good and so cute.

I need to reread the original.

5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

The Cipher by Kathe Koja


Clerks but make it body horror, THE CIPHER is the story of two 90s slackers living on the edge of counterculture, working the grind as they struggle for their art on the fringe. Nicholas and Nakota have discovered a black hole in the basement of Nicholas's apartment. They call it the funhole and worship it like some twisted altar god. But it's not enough that it merely occupies their thoughts: first they put a jar of bugs into the funhole, then a mouse, and then a corpse hand. After that, it's only a matter of time before something larger goes down there, too.

None of these characters are likable but they are the vehicles that propel the plot. The toxic relationship between them, and the way their drug fugues propel the surreal horror of the funhole and its physical improbabilities ends up becoming the worst kind of biofeedback loop. Also, Nicholas and Nikota are ex-lovers, and the dynamic between them is toxic and abusive. Nikota isn't above using insults and hurtful words or even sex as leverage to feed into what she wants: exploration of the funhole and all of its mysteries. And the fact that the hole seems to "prefer" Nicholas ends up fueling her hatred and her madness.

The writing style of this book took a while to get used to but I did end up liking it. It's greasy, sleazy, and gross, but in a way that feels poetic rather than exploitative. I liked the comparisons some people made to Poppy Z. Brite. I think Tanith Lee is another similar author in terms of style choices. How you feel about this book is going to depend on your tolerance for body horror and unlikable characters. The ending is inevitable but not particularly happy. Perhaps there's a funhole inside all of us, just waiting to be unlocked...

3 out of 5 stars

How to Stay Productive When the World Is Ending: Productivity, Burnout, and Why Everyone Needs to Relax More Except You by Reductress


There's this writer for the New Yorker who does satire and I keep thinking his stupid satire posts are real because this is the kind of world we live in now. HOW TO STAY PRODUCTIVE WHEN THE WORLD IS ENDING is a lot like that. It's high-level satire but so dry that you could almost take it seriously. This is basically a parody of a self-help book but with just enough good advice thrown in that you might find yourself Googling, "Can satire give you stress dreams?"

The answer, in case you were wondering, is yes.

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

3 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves


SLICE OF CHERRY is a YA publication from 2011, and even though this book was released while I was on Goodreads, I hadn't actually heard of it or this author before listening to a Teen Creeps podcast episode about the author's other book, BLEEDING VIOLET. In some ways, this book is a product of its time. It reminds me of the gothic nlog-centered stories that I used to see on Quizilla in the early 2000s. There's something very Tim Burton-esque about this story, but without the humanistic whimsy that made Tim Burton more fantasy than horror. It's like someone curated one of those emo girl Xanga pages with the razorblade and fallen angel aesthetics and decided to make a portal fantasy out of it. Which means that it ends up feeling very precocious for a teen novel and not always in a good way. There are passages in this book that are incredibly triggering, even for an adult reader.

I don't want to say too much about this book because spoilers, but basically, Fancy and Kit are two sisters who live in a town in Texas called Portero. Portero is the land equivalent of a piece of Swiss cheese except instead of being filled with air, its holes lead to other worlds and inhuman monsters, which are sort of guarded against by a roving magical police force called Mortmains. I am literally so jealous of this concept and wish that I'd thought of it. Points for imagination. Fancy and Kit are also the daughters of a serial killer called the Bonesaw Killer who murdered all of his victims in their basement. But lest you feel too sorry for them, the psycho gene runs strong in these two and they are more than eager to carry on their father's work, "unzipping" old perverts and torturing a would-be prowler in the cellar.

At some point, one of them realizes that she has the ability to go to this other world that she calls "the happy place" which is basically one of these Swiss cheese portals. Except in this world, she's basically a god. The other sister thinks that they ought to do public works for the greater good. And these two conflicting desires end up fusing rather gruesomely with their bloodlust: they decide that they will take people to the happy place to torture and murder BUT ONLY IF THEY DESERVE IT. There, random act of kindness done. Send these two the Nobel Peace Prize already.

The murders are pretty violent and often ironic. It's like a more graphic revenge story in the vein of Jigoku Shoujo where you're introduced to some horrific abusers and would-be murderers who end up getting a bloody serving of rough justice. Child abuse (sexual and physical) are themes in this book, and there are graphic descriptions of gore. Someone is called the F-slur for gay people at one point. Also, people who aren't from Portero are called "transies" which was mentioned in the Teen Creeps podcast and which I thought was a transphobic slur but it's actually apparently an in-town slur for people who are tourists and I think it's short for "transients" but that's never gonna catch on like muggles or mundanes, bestie.

Ultimately, the story was SO WEIRD that I almost couldn't help but like it. I could tell the author had a lot of fun writing it and the idea of two Black heroines getting to be so unapologetically bad while also being themselves in this twisty fantasy world where they had total control was honestly refreshing and unique. And again-- I had major jealousy over the setting she created because it was so fucking cool. I just wish it had been fleshed out more. You know a book needs more time on the editing book when you read 500+ pages of it and get to the end and think, "But I still don't really know how any of this works and also none of this gives me closure." Like, the ending was pretty unsatisfying and I don't think there was ever a concrete explanation for how the portals worked or what the Mortmains did, or how people became Mortmains or what the townspeople did to protect themselves from monsters. This is what happens when you get a story that's all vibes and very little payoff. It can work and here I think it actually did, but how do you market it? To WHOM do you market it? 

That said, I'm kind of itching to read the companion book lol.

3.5 out of 5 stars

The Scandal Behind the Italian's Wedding by Millie Adams


DNF @ 58%

I feel like I'm living in a weird bizarro universe where I like Millie Adams but for some reason every time I pick up one of her books, I end up being like, no. I absolutely adored THE DUKE'S FORBIDDEN WARD but it's like every subsequent book of hers I pick up fails to live up to the mark. I can see echoes of it-- experienced older dude, young virgin heroine-- and there's attempts to make a connection, but nothing has reached that same peak of excellence. For example, in this book, the thing that connects the h and the H is, I kid you not, Swiss Family Robinson. Also, the hero spends way too much time telling the heroine that she's plain and not his type and it started to feel like gaslighting. Also how do you steal a baby that easily with no one asking questions?

I'm sorry Millie. I think your writing style is great and I want to love you but I haven't found the next FORBIDDEN WARD yet.


2 out of 5 stars

Monday, June 5, 2023

Look for Me by Moonlight by Mary Downing Hahn



LOOK FOR ME BY MOONLIGHT was so good. It reminded me of other edgy YA books I read when I was younger, like THE SILVER KISS or UNCLE VAMPIRE. I think it shares traits with those books too: vampirism as an allegory for abuse, "unlikable" female main characters with real and relatable problems, and-- oh yes-- a seriously dark storyline that doesn't pander to its young audiences or take the easy way out.

I don't want to say too much about this book because less is definitely more going in, but I loved how much this follows the sort of classic vampire horror route. It reminded me of movies like Dracula and Fright Night where the vampires are charismatic and sexy but definitely very much not morally in the right. The vampire in this book had some pretty sexy dialogue that definitely would have had Teen Me writing fanfiction in her journal (hey, I stanned the Caroline B. Cooney vampire too lol), but this one was also, uhhhh, kind of a CREEP. I genuinely felt uncomfortable while reading this and I think I was supposed to.

What actually kind of makes me sad is how many people were hating on Cynda as a main character. She could be a little bratty but I didn't think she was that bad. She was desperate to be loved and lonely and still trying to figure out who she was as a person. She was in a vulnerable state which made her easy to take advantage of. I'm high-key shocked at the amount of reviews saying they hated her because she reminded me a lot of me when I was young and depressed and feeling misunderstood. I think a lot of young kids internalize their feelings like that. It's selfish but part of growing up. Cut the kid some slack.

Less forgivable are the stupid parents who basically serve up their kids on a silver platter to the vampire because they are SOOOO accommodating to the guests of their inn! Please, take what you want! My son? My daughter? No, no, no, YOU GO RIGHT AHEAD. These parents were the actual worst. Writer Dad bringing the goatee-stroking "I'm not like Stephen King, I am a REAL NOVELIST" energy to the table, and Homewrecker Stepmom had basically totally checked out The twist at the end kind of made what happened a little more understandable but still. Fail parenting.

I am SO creeped out right now; I've got chills. Bravo.

4.5 out of 5 stars

The Silence in the Garden by William Trevor


Beautifully written with a beautiful cover but sadly, I found it boring. Beyond the prose, there wasn't really much to carry the story. I found the characters flat. Loved the descriptions of the old Irish manor home and this family that is, like, minor nobility. But the summary makes this book sound like it's going to be way more exciting and scandalous than it actually is. YMMV.

2 out of 5 stars

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Winter of Fire by Sherryl Jordan


DNF @ 31%

Sherryl Jordan is a New Zealand author who wrote one of my childhood faves, THE JUNIPER GAME. I had always, always, always wanted to read more from her but her books were never in the stores when I was a kid (maybe there wasn't enough of demand to import?), which is sad because I think she has some really unique stories and ideas and she really made an effort to write strong heroines in an age where that sort of character archetype was sadly lacking.

As with all my negative reviews, I urge you to take this one with a grain of salt. I'm not out here trying to yuck anyone's yum. Even when I don't like a book, I can usually see why others would. This book in particular would appeal to fans of McKinley's THE BLUE SWORD or SJM's THRONE OF GLASS. The heroine's are kind of Mary Sues and it takes big concepts and touches upon them kind of shallowly, but there is female empowerment of a kind and the world building is interesting. I also really thought the intro was sweet, about how the author's work had gone out of print for a while and how happy she was that people could now get it again on ebook (and on Kindle Unlimited, no less).

I personally found the heroine to be too one dimensional and the world building was a little too flat and didn't grab me. I might have enjoyed this more when I was younger maybe... but also maybe not? My tastes in fantasy haven't changed that much since I got older. In some ways, I'm actually a more tolerant reader now than I was when I was twelve (thank god I didn't have Goodreads then, I was such a little shit, actually). If you're a fan of '80s female fronted fantasy, I urge you to check this one out.

Hopefully more of her books end up rereleased on ebook again. I've been having the most delightful time working my way through Liz Berry's backlog (another previously out of print author from the '80s and '90s). It's so much fun to see retro YA and how it's changed from the YA marketing powerhouse of today.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Dear Diary by Lesley Arfin


I thrifted this book recently, which was really exciting for me because I remember really wanting this book when I was in my edgelord hipster phase and none of the stores around me carried it and then I basically forgot about it for years and years and years until I picked it up this weekend, saw the VICE publishing imprint on the back, and was like, "Oh, hey, it's you."

Here's the thing. Normally I don't like reading people's diaries. People are rarely as interesting or as clever as they think they are, and packaging something that was written for your private introspection and selling it to the public usually results in broken hearts all around. I know some people don't feel comfortable rating memoirs because it's someone's life... but at the same time, as soon as you slap a price tag on that little piece that you're selling, it becomes a consumable good, in a sense. At least in that framing.

DEAR DIARY is actually pretty decent for what it is and what it's trying to do. I think what makes it better is that Arfin posts her diaries as excerpts and then follows up with commentary from her now, often interviewing the people she was writing about and asking them why they did what they did when they were kids, and what they're doing now, and asking for their perspective, etc. It reminds me of this video I saw on YouTube where this person tracked down people who unfriended them on Facebook and then asked why they unfriended them? And I was like THANKS I HATE IT, but I cringe-watched it anyway.

What I liked best about this book though is the portrayal of the '90s and '00s alt culture, and what it felt like to be a grungy, edgy kid who didn't quite fit in. The pop-culture references were so much fun and even though I couldn't relate to the drug stuff at all, I loved how this felt like a period piece. It's like a weird and fucked-up time capsule and I think I might quasi-stan.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Castration Celebration by Jake Wizner


DNF @ p.46

CASTRATION CELEBRATION has been on my to-read list for literally years. I thought the title was hilarious and I loved the idea of a bitter heroine who decides "fuck men" after walking in on her dad being blown by a grad student. Sadly, premise and concept was basically all this book had. It has aged pretty badly and none of the female characters were that great. I think I'll be passing this one on.

1 out of 5 stars

Sundial by Catriona Ward


This is a frustrating review to write because when I first picked up the book, I thought this was going to be a five star read. It employs so many of my favorite tropes-- creepy small towns, dark family secrets, toxic relationship dynamics, evil children-- and the author has such an accessible, suspenseful writing style. The idea of a creepy hippie commune out in the middle of the desert was SO good and I was excited to figure out what was going on with Rob and her family.

I ended up getting really put off by the animal and child abuse that are themes in this book, though. I didn't see a lot of reviews warning people about that, and it is BRUTAL. I'm not particularly put off by animal deaths in the sense that while I don't like them, they aren't deal-breakers for me if they aren't gratuitous, but this felt gratuitous. The child abuse and dangerous situations for the children in this book are also pretty brutal. Several people in this book are straight up psychos.

Which brings me to another point: it's hard to root for anyone in this book because everyone is so awful. Towards the end, I felt like the book kind of jumped the shark and I began to think, Really? REALLY? It felt like it was trying so hard to be weird and edgy that it ended up not being cohesive. Is it paranormal or isn't it? What is going on with the family? These questions are never answered in a satisfactory way. And while I liked the vibes, you can't write a whole book entirely based on vibes. GIVE ME ANSWERS.

I'm giving this a three. I didn't hate it and there were several things I loved about it, but the ending left me wanting more than I got (and this book seriously needs to come with a warning-- yeesh).

3 out of 5 stars