Sunday, December 31, 2023

What We Harvest by Ann Fraistat


This is one of my favorite YA titles I've read this year. I actually don't really like horror that much, but apparently I do like horror as long as it's folk horror and the dog doesn't die. WHAT WE HARVEST is a gorgeous, lyrical novel about four magical founding farming families: one of them raises red horses and dogs, one ghost melons that glow in the dark, one glittering golden yams, and the last, a field of rainbow wheat that each has its own distinct flavor.

For years, they've been the toast of the farming community, world-renowned and celebrated, but Hollow's End holds a dark secret. A mysterious quicksilver blight has overtaken the crops and whatever it touches doesn't come back the same. Strange animals watch from the woods with glowing white eyes, tinged by rot. If Wren and her family can't figure out how to hold the blight at bay, their farm and their loved ones will all fall into corrupt and blackened ruin.

I loved this book so much. There were things about it that pushed my suspension of disbelief a little, but the story was so good that I didn't care. It has all the elements I love: magic-realism, dark family secrets, childhood friends to lovers, angst, sinister rituals, and high stakes danger. Some YA feels like it's pandering to the parents, rather than its teen readers, but this book was beautifully teen, whether it was the wistful longings for adulthood, or the mistakes we make while impetuously trying to be adults.

I can't wait to read more from this author. This was an INCREDIBLE debut.

4.5 out of 5 stars

The Fae's Bride by R.L. Medina


I'm still slowly working my way through the last two Stuff Your Kindle cycles. THE FAE'S BRIDE is a cute, low-stakes palate cleanser of a book that's set in a fantasy version of Italy called Zamerra. It's a little like Little Women meets Princess Bride meets ACOTAR. I think this is a romance for adults but it's very low spice, so I think it would be fine for young adults, too. I liked Alessia just fine and even though I wasn't a fan of Massimo's name, it was refreshing to read about a romantic lead who was kind of introverted, enjoying cats, coffee, and solitude.

The only reason this isn't getting a higher rating is because it fell a little flat. I would have liked more chemistry between the leads, and I wish that everything had been fleshed out a little more than it was. It's a very charming universe that the author has created and I'm excited to read the next book in the series the next time I read something heavy and want to take a break with something that's pure fluffy goodness.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Such a Good Girl by Amanda K. Morgan


So funny story, when I picked this book up I thought this was a discreet cover for a Daddy kink erotic romance novel. Then I started reading it and was very worried and confused when I saw that it was set in a high school. Then I looked at the publisher and saw that it was Simon Pulse and I was like, Oh

And then I read the book and I was like, You know when you think you're picking up a perfectly ordinary YA novel and it ends up devolving into blood pacts and rendezvous with a teacher?


This book was insane.

I can kind of understand why it has the low ratings that it does, but I don't think it's deserved. Without going into spoilers, SUCH A GOOD GIRL is the story about an all-achieving cheerleader who comes from an emotionally distant family that's way more interested in her fuck-up brother and his pregnant girlfriend than they are in the fact that she just got accepted to Princeton. Obviously, that is not received very well.

Riley, said all-achieving cheerleader, begins flirting with and later, starting a relationship with, her married French teacher, Alex Belrose. Alex is an old friend of her fuck-up brother but then he got his life together to teach high school kids. And, apparently, try to fuck them. Ew. Things quickly get very toxic, very quickly, and if you think you know how this book is going to go down-- you don't.

I predicted one of the twists but that's only because it was foreshadowed really well, and it went in several directions I wasn't expecting at all. SUCH A GOOD GIRL isn't a cautionary tale so much as it is a psychotic road trip of people behaving like evil lunatics. I think the author did a very good job writing a compelling psychological drama. Is it realistic? No, but I don't think it's supposed to be. I think this book deserves a much better rating than it has, but maybe it needs a title that won't confused used bookshop employees and compel them to file it with the adult books.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Medusa's Sisters by Lauren J.A. Bear


MEDUSA'S SISTERS was so good. It's actually the first Greek mythology retelling I've read in a while that stands up to the Madeline Miller comparisons. In this beautiful story about friendship, womanhood, sisterhood, and revenge, Bear tells the story of Medusa and her two Gorgon sisters, Stheno and Euryale. Before the curse that doomed them, the three girls were the beautiful children of sea monsters, wandering from city to city as they tried to explore their burgeoning desires-- in art, in sex, and in love.

This is a pretty heavy read but I thought Bear handled her subject well. The mythology and fantasy element was stunning, and I thought it had great messages about what it means to be a woman in a patriarchal society, and how fucking unfair it can be. 

I would definitely read more from this author!

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Wannabe: Reckonings with the Pop Culture That Shapes Me by Aisha Harris


This was an impulse buy because I love pop-culture, especially '90s pop-culture, so essays about pop-culture are basically my kryptonite. WANNABE is a fantastic collection of essays written by Aisha Harris, a co-host of a pop-culture-themed podcast and ex-Slate columnist.

In this collection of essays, she writes about '90s nostalgiacore, yes, but from the perspective of a Black woman whose millennial identity was shaped, like all of us, from the pop-cultural sphere she resided in. Some of the topics she discusses are as follows: how Black art is critiqued differently (and often unfairly) from non-Black art, tokenism in TV shows and movies, the politics of "Black"-sounding names, conservatives getting mad about stupid shit being "woke," and the questionable decision production companies make when deciding to cannibalize their old intellectual properties into remakes.

Harris has a very engaging voice and I really enjoyed almost all of these essays. The only thing that made me side-eye her a little is when she quotes a very personal caption Britney Spears had posted to one of her photos and then later deleted. Harris had apparently screenshotted it. That feels a little icky to me, but she was a journalist and nothing is "private" on the internet so IDK. I don't think she did it maliciously, though. The vibe I got from her writing is that she's a deep thinker who consumes all of her media very thoughtfully.

Overall, this collection is great and I'll definitely be looking into that podcast, Pop Culture Happy Hour. So many people think of pop-culture as being frivolous and trivial, but it's so crucial in shaping identities and changing the way we see ourselves and even the world, so it's always exciting to find a new creator who enjoys discussing pop-culture in a critical and in-depth way.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Friday, December 29, 2023

Men Who Hate Women by Laura Bates


MEN WHO HATE WOMEN is a very good book, but as other reviewers have pointed out, the incendiary title is a little misleading. The focus of this book isn't really about women-hating men so much as it is about alt-right groups that aim to target men who feel uncertain or terrified by shifting paradigms of masculinity and gender rights, and essentially scapegoat and dehumanize women-- often in the abstract-- to gain what they see as a toehold in the fraying fabric of society. But that title isn't as catchy. :P

Laura Bates, through exhausting research and even some undercover stints, discusses some of the primary groups that are responsible for these regressive stances on sexuality and gender roles, including pick me girls and impressionable teenage boys. She also discusses some work that feminist men are doing to further quality, and how some men who were once caught in the crosshairs of these movements ended up having changes of heart (and she shares their stories, too).

This is one of the most disturbing and upsetting books I've read in a while and I would urge people to be cautious reading if they are sensitive to violent language aimed towards women. I can't imagine what sort of headspace the research for this book might have put the author in at times, and I hope she indulged in some major self-care after finishing. I think this book is informative but probably not transformative. Looking at the reviews for this book, it seems like MEN WHO HATE WOMEN will appeal most to people who already believe in feminism and just want better talking points for understanding and repudiating the other side.

I would have given this a higher rating but it ended up being a bit of a slog. Parts of the book felt very repetitive. The "Men Who Fear Women" chapter, for example, was very similar to the MGTOW chapter, and there were a lot of arguments that felt very circular, even though I agreed with them. However, I still appreciated this book a lot, and I'm grateful for the work that Bates is doing to both highlight the inequalities and abuses many women face as part of their day-to-day lives while also trying to be inclusive towards men and boys, showing how sexism hurts men as much as it does women, often in sadly ironic and unexpected (for the men) ways.

Definitely read this if you feel up to it.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick


This is one of those books where even though it was beautifully written and did everything technically right, the story just didn't hook me. Some YA books feel like they're an adult trying to sound like a teen and this book, and the way it kind of kept breaking the fourth wall with its little philosophical asides, vibed a little like that. I kept reading, wanting to find out the twist, but the surreal way it was being told and the clearly unrealiable narrator made me suspect that the mystery was trying to be more than it was and I wouldn't like the twist.

I probably should have DNFed but I really wanted to find out what happened. As a REBECCA retelling-- or maybe a REBECCA homage-- I'm not sure I would have been able to put the pieces together myself if I hadn't been told beforehand that this was inspired by REBECCA. Other people seem to like it, though, so I could well be the odd one out here. Strange book.

2 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Anon Pls. by DeuxMoi


I'd never actually heard of DeuxMoi before reading this book. Apparently it's a real gossip distributor on Instagram, which I guess makes ANON PLS. autofiction. The real DeuxMoi operators are anonymous but in this book, the site is managed by an abused fashion intern named Cricket. The comparisons to Gossip Girl and Devil Wears Prada are honestly pretty on point. You get the bitchy boss and celebrity adjacent juiciness, with the "xoxo just dropped devastating truths about your personal life, love GG" suspense.

This was purely an impulse buy but I couldn't put it down. It's chick-lit without much romance, although there is a bit of romance and some spice. Cricket is a flawed FMC who is likable but also a little bit morally grey, and I liked her friends. There's something almost nostalgic about this book that made me think about the 2000s-era chick-lit I used to love... I think because often, in those books the heroine was just as focused on her career as her relationships (maybe because of Sex and the City?). Now, it feels like in a lot of rom-coms, there really isn't as much focus on the heroine's corporate life.

The first half of this book was fantastic and the second half, while good, wasn't quite as good. The vampire stuff and the overly neat resolution didn't 100% work. It was fun trying to figure out the real-life allegories some of this stuff must be based on, though. I also wondered how much of this autofiction was actually fiction, and how much is rooted in truth. Deny, deny, deny.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Monday, December 25, 2023

Property Of: A Novel by Alice Hoffman


PROPERTY OF is a story about an unnamed young woman who is in love with a gang member in 1960s New York. In this book, there are two rival factions who fight in territory wars for drugs, and they are the Orphans and the Wolves. The "hero" of this book is McKay, a beautiful young man who's held in thrall to the Orphans and is determined to hold on to his spot as president of his gang.

This is kind of like a cross between Lost Boys, West Side Story, and Grease. I liked the fast-talking morally grey heroine, and how this sort of starts out as a dark romance but ends up being way more gritty and realistic. It's kind of a downer, but the visceral setting and interesting characters kept me reading even when things started to drag.

3 out of 5 stars

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak


DNF @ 19%

Ugh, this was so boring. I used to love the Nancy Drew series as a kid but too much of this book is focusing on the rich entrepreneur who founded the imprint that managed the ghost writers who wrote for the property. I have zero interest in the Stratemeyers. It's clear that this was a passion project for the author and it seems very well researched but I'm not feeling this at all. Sorry.

2 out of 5 stars

Fishing for Tigers by Emily Maguire


Nobody does fucked up taboo subjects like Emily Maguire. She's a lit-fic author and not a particularly happy one, so don't go into her books automatically expecting a happy ending (you might not get one). That said, this might be my favorite one from her yet. FISHING FOR TIGERS is a reverse age-gap love story about a woman in her mid-thirties having an affair in Hanoi with an eighteen-year-old Vietnamese boy who is the biracial son of one of her fellow expatriates.

I thought this book was fascinating. Mischa, the heroine, is the survivor of an abusive relationship, so it makes sense kind of why she would fall for a man (a boy, really) she sees as non-threatening. When he challenges her, or triggers her, however, she has trouble dealing with him without shutting down due to her trauma, and his constant fits of pique are an uncomfortable reminder of his age.

This could have been really icky but it wasn't. Instead, I felt like it was a really insightful look into interracial relationships, age-gaps, colonialism, culture appropriation, and what it means to try to salvage pieces of yourself when a traumatic life event has left you broken. 

I can't wait to read more from this author.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Geisha, a Life by Mineko Iwasaki

 I have wanted to read GEISHA, A LIFE, for a while. Mineko Iwasaki was one of Arthur Golden's sources for his book, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, where he then proceeded to get everything wrong, apparently, to the point where Iwasaki even tried to sue him. She then wrote this spite memoir to tell her own story, in her own words. Good for her. I think we can all agree that this is a level of pettiness that is truly aspirational in nature. Living well isn't the best revenge unless you also write a fuck-you memoir about it, too.

I can 100% see why Golden's story pissed Iwasaki off. The virginity auctions and child grooming were not at all what happened in Iwasaki's life. She was brought to the okiya at a young age, but not to be prepped for work as an escort. The owners of the okiya wanted her to be the successor, so everything she was taught was all business. There were no virginity auctions and when she came of age, she was free to sleep with whomever she liked. Mizuage actually refers to (1) the total of a geisha's profits or (2) their non-sexual coming of age ceremony. The mizuage that is one of the climaxes of MEMOIRS is actually something the oiran, or prostitutes, did. Not the geisha. Whoops.

For the most part, GEISHA, A LIFE, is very slow-paced. but there were some moments I found very interesting/amusing. For example, when King Charles visited in the 70s, he asked to borrow her fan and then autographed it without her permission because, I guess, he figured she'd fangirl over him. She made no secret of her distaste and immediately had it tossed into the trash afterwards. Then, a few years later, she got pissed off that his mother, Queen Elizabeth, wouldn't eat the food at an event she was hosting, so she decided to flirt with her husband in front of her just to fuck with her. She also dated the actor Shintaro Katsu, but he wouldn't leave his wife for her, so she cut up his wife's fur coat with scissors and leaves it on the bed of the hotel she was supposed to meet him at. Bad-ass.

Smashed in between the who's-who in 1960s Japan and endless recounts of virtually any facet of geisha life you would want to know (or not know), we get a little window into some of the in-fighting and cattiness that happened in such a competitive industry. Again, it wasn't nearly as bad as what happened in Golden's book. It actually reminded me of Holly Madison's memoir about living in the Playboy Mansion, where there's jealousy over resources, looks, and attention. I feel like both geisha and the Playboy Bunnies occupy this grayspace that isn't quite sex work but feels like maybe it because of how everybody fetishizes them, even when things are technically above board.

If you enjoyed-- or didn't enjoy-- MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, you should read this book.

3 out of 5 stars

Friday, December 22, 2023

An Italian Affair by Laura Fraser


AN ITALIAN AFFAIR reminded me a lot of that episode of Sex and the City where Charlotte has to explain to Carrie why sleeping with a married man doesn't make her a girl's girl. In this memoir, Laura Fraser details her two-year-long affair with a married man, a professor of aesthetics from Paris, who she meets on vacation while in Italy after a disastrous end to her own marriage. Hashtag gatekeep, gaslight, go for another girl's man.

I remember reading this in my early twenties and enjoying it then, although I was a little more judgmental of the author's choices, I think. Now, closer to the author's own age at the time she wrote this book, some of her choices make more sense. Actually, AN ITALIAN AFFAIR is a lot like how I expected EAT, PRAY, LOVE to be like (but wasn't); it's a little smutty, it's introspective, and it's also a fun travel memoir about food, culture, and romance. But there's none of the precious pseudo-spiritualism of EPL, thank god. The author knows that she is being selfish and self-indulgent. She just doesn't care. Which, paradoxically, makes it easier to tolerate.

The nameless Bob Dylan-looking Professor is not very PC and is very clearly a product of his times. He and his wife, according to him, both have an open relationship with lots of affairs, but who the hell knows if he's lying. He definitely gives off strong daddy vibes, and the whole memoir kind of feels like a Lana Del Rey song, but, like, in real life. She definitely manages to show why he's charming and also why he feels safely emotionally unavailable, too. And as someone who reads romance novels with heroes who have this sort of coding, it's kind of a rude wake-up call as to why sometimes fantasy should stay fantasy. I mean, I knew that, but still. Rude.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with the author's personal choices, she tells a fascinating story, beautifully. I'm definitely interested in reading more of her travel writing now.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Alena by Rachel Pastan


I'm honestly shocked that this has such low ratings because it fulfilled the scandalous dark academia void left by Donna Tartt's SECRET HISTORY. It's a Rebecca retelling, set in a pretentious New England art gallery, with a naive ingenue who wants art that is beautiful and makes her feel things, and his horrified by the darker avant-garde tastes of her predecessor and the people she associated with.

ALENA is a decent retelling, I thought, as long as you give it proper leeway and don't expect it to be a cut and dry reenactment. I actually thought the commentary on art was even more interesting than the thriller elements. Pastan perfectly captures the snobberies of the artist, questioning when the metaphorical becomes nonsensical or just purely self-indulgent. So much of art is up to interpretation, and I thought this was a fascinating examination of the boundaries of art, and when and how beauty becomes ugliness (and vice-versa).

This is like a cross between THE SECRET HISTORY and Kathe Koja's SKIN. And since neither of those books are for everyone, I guess I can see why this book was panned by critics. The core message is ugly and it's not a particularly happy book, but the way it was told was beautiful, and I liked the unnamed narrator, too, and how desperately she wanted the world to be beautiful, and how sad she was to see her vision of her perfection shattered in the faces of the people whose respect she craved. Sometimes art is cruel.

5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The Ghost and the Goth by Stacey Kade

 Oh, I loved this so much. THE GHOST AND THE GOTH is one of those books that manages to make you feel nostalgic without being too dated. Set in the 2000s, it's a story of a popular cheerleader who dies suddenly and unexpectedly when she's hit by a bus filled with band geeks. Rather than going to the good or the bad place, though, she's stuck here on Earth, doomed to watch her boyfriend move on (with her best friend) and people get over her like she's so yesterday.

However, one person in the school notices that Alona, Miss Pretty and Popular, is still hanging around. And that person is Will, resident school outcast and reluctant mall goth. Everyone thinks that he's mentally ill because he can hear "voices," but the voices he can hear are the voices of the dead.

This was so great. I love difficult and spoiled heroines who get neat character arcs, and that was Alona to a T. Will is also difficult in his way, and I felt like his struggles with his abilities as a mediator were really well done. The constant threat of him losing control and being involuntarily confined felt like a great allegory for people with mental illness who have periods of self-awareness and lucidity, and the very real fear of having that taken away. Likewise, Alona's image consciousness, and her unhappiness at being "perfect" all the time felt very real in a painful way.

If you like feel-good books that are a little bit morbid and a little bit whimsical, you'll love this. It's like Freaky Friday meets Odd Thomas and that combo really worked for me. I wish this had been made into a TV show or movie. The banter was excellent and the author has a great sense for dramatic irony and comedic timing. This would translate so well to the big screen.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, December 18, 2023

Angel's Mask by Jessica Mason


I thought ANGEL'S MASK was a lot of fun. Phantom of the Opera is one of my favorite musicals, and it's also one of the franchises that got me really into dark romance as a genre. I'm sorry, but an obsessive, jealous, devoted man who wears a mask and has a weird and fantastical home in the catacombs beneath an Opera? That is SO EXTRA.

ANGEL'S MASK reminded me a lot of some 90s bodice-ripper authors I have enjoyed, that kept some of the edge from their racy 70s counterparts but veiled the dangerous men in some trappings of morality, however tenuous. Erik never abuses Christine but he does deceive her, and I felt like the tension of that deceit really hung over the two of them until the story's climax. It also adds a lot of angst and tension to the smut because Christine thinks she's fucking an angel-- we, however, know better. Dramatic irony at its finest. Perfect for a stage musical.

It was a lot of fun to get to see Erik being horny on main. I'm going to be honest, one of my favorite Phantom adaptations is the Dario Argento version. ANGEL'S MASK had just the tiniest bit of that film's extraness, but just enough to add spice. This Erik is way too classy for a rat orgy. Mostly, the version that this one made me think of was the Joel Schumacher one-- beautiful, showy, seductive, and DRAMATIC.

This version of Christine was also great because she's not just docile and sweet, like she is in other versions. She's also a sensual woman, who is compassionate (giving food to rats!), naively stupid (yeah, I'm going to masturbate because my mirror told me to!), a little malicious (pranks on Carlotta!), and just a really fun and well-rounded character. It's nice to see a "good" person to be allowed to be a little mean when the situation warrants it, you know? Especially when they're standing up for themselves.

So if you love PotO, I would heartily recommend ANGEL'S MASK. Especially if you love classic romance novels and musicals with a little cheese. I definitely want to find out what happens next.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, December 17, 2023

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry


DNF @ p.86

I remember when the READY PLAYER ONE movie came out, there were all these memes about what the 1980s would look like if viewed through the lens of girl culture. WE RIDE UPON STICKS is kind of like that, mixed with a bit of witchcraft. Unfortunately, like READY PLAYER ONE, I think it is overly reliant upon its pop-cultural references in its attempt to endear itself to readers and this comes at the cost of clarity and readability.

I wanted to like this so badly that I stuck it out for way longer than I wanted to. I liked the writing and the pop-cultural references and I appreciate the girl power vibes and the care the author took in making this feel "80s" without being too offensive, but the story itself just wasn't that interesting, and I'm not sure it's worth wading through.

Pre review:

This sounds like one of those 90s sports movies, only with a dash of Satanism.

"Salem's hockey team lost every game they ever played. Just when they felt like they were all out of puck... they received a little help from an old friend..."

*record scratch*

"The DEVIL."

2 out of 5 stars

The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton


So I didn't have "deranged female sociopath stalks ex-boyfriend and roofies him into a Vegas wedding" on my 2023 reading bingo sheet, but that's probably a me problem.


ANYWAY, in case you needed to know more about THE PERFECT GIRLFRIEND, step #1 is that the title is a lie. Juliette is not the perfect girlfriend. She is, in fact, the opposite. I know, you're so surprised.

Nate broke up with Juliette because he needs "space" and Juliette takes that to mean (1) get hired at the same airline company Nate works at, (2) buy a house next door to him, and (3) stalk his little sister while conspiring to break up her wedding to her fiance. 

Oh, and the Vegas wedding thing.

The build-up is actually incredibly boring because Juliette is so narcissistic that she's just like, me, me, me, me, me. The derangement was impressive enough that I wanted to see where this went, but the ending felt like a bit of a fizzle. Also, I didn't appreciate the implication that Juliette was doing all of this because of ~trauma~. Plenty of people have trauma that don't go on to be rapists and kidnappers. I would have liked it better if she was just, you know, psycho.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, December 16, 2023

The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea


I was OBSESSED with the first half of this book: Bluebeard vibes, plucky heroine, Icelandic setting, literal witch hunts. The second half of this book, I liked less. Shit got weird. And DEPRESSING.

But god, the writing and the descriptions of this book were amazing. If you're looking for a wintry read and don't care if the book you're reading is going to bum you out or not, you'll love this.

P.S. There's some pretty nasty gory scenes in here.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

In the Cut: A Novel by Susanna Moore


This book feels like a cruel trick because it does a lot of things right but in combination they don't really work. IN THE CUT is an edgy thriller that kind of feels like Dangerous Minds if it was written by Andrew Vachss. The heroine, an inner city high school teacher in New York, collects slang the way other people collect coins and has suspect relationships with her low-income students. When a woman turns up murdered in her area, she also starts having kinky and equally suspect sex with the Irish cop on the case. Because a girl in her hoe phase has to be in her hoe phase.

IN THE CUT feels like a very mean book. The non-ending doesn't give closure, it throws around slurs and racial stereotypes like rice at a wedding, and the heroine makes all kinds of foolish choices for no apparent reason. Also, someone just straight up gets their nip sliced off, and it's just another day in the park as far as this book is concerned. 

I feel like I have whiplash and not in a good way.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, December 10, 2023

The Leftover Woman by Jean Kwok


I found this in a Little Free Library and decided to pick it up on a whim since it was a Goodreads Choice Award. I wasn't sure how I would feel about it when I first picked it up, but it ended up being kind of like if SUCH A FUN AGE were written by Harlan Coben. So, basically an intimate dissection of privilege, racism, generational pain, and culture shock-- with thriller elements!

There are two narrators in this book: Jasmine and Rebecca. Jasmine has come here from China illegally and is struggling to support herself while seeking the daughter who was stolen from her years ago. Rebecca is a white woman who works at a publishing firm that used to be her father's. She's trying to acquire the hottest new book written by a woman of color, but there are dark secrets dogging her past.

I liked how the two stories intertwined. I guessed most of the twists but I really liked how the author did them and I think this would translate well to the screen. My only qualm is that the last act felt rushed and a little messy, but the ending made me tear up.

4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, December 9, 2023

Kill for Love by Laura Picklesimer


DNF @ 52%

I really tried to stick with this one because the writing style is very good. This is basically a gender-swapped AMERICAN PSYCHO, with a shallow and sociopathic sorority girl as the killer. One day, she decides that she just really wants to kill the guys in her life, and embarks upon a stabby, slashy spree.

One thing I didn't see anyone talking about is that the heroine has an ED, and calorie restriction and purging feature pretty heavily as themes in this book. I feel this is supposed to be juxtaposed against her feral appetite for killing and savagery, as well as the consumerist LA culture she lives in. If you're reading deeply into this book, I think you could say that Tiffany is a violent rebellion against the patriarchy and the societal standards that said patriarchy has imposed upon women. 

I probably would have liked this more if I hadn't read so many other female serial killer-fronted books that took this concept and ran with it slightly better. Would recommend this to people who enjoyed books such as SWEETPEA, HOW TO KILL MEN AND GET AWAY WITH IT, and BOY PARTS.

2 out of 5 stars

The Woman in the Dark by Vanessa Savage


I made a TikTok recently where I was talking about two of my favorite gothic romances, and in the video I said that one of my favorite microtropes is, "Is the house really haunted, or are they just crazy?" THE WOMAN IN THE DARK is that microtrope, only without the romance. Well, there's hints of romance. But it's fucked up.

This is my first book by this author and I thought it was really well done. She nailed the intensely psychological element. This is paced like a movie and had me gripping the pages (metaphorically, since it was an ebook) with white knuckled hands. I will say that you should be careful reading this going in, though. It portrays emotional and physical abuse quite gruesomely, and also has on-page rape.

I wasn't sure where the author was going with this book until the very end, although I had my suspicions. It was pretty well done, I thought, although the ending felt a little rushed and kind of surreal.

I still liked it, though.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, December 7, 2023

The End of Everything by Megan Abbott


So I almost DNFed this in the beginning because I wasn't sure that I liked the writing style, but once I got used to the ornate and flowery prose and the slow beginning, I couldn't put this book down. THE END OF EVERYTHING is quietly devastating and absolutely heartbreaking to read. It's a coming of age story about grooming, girlhood, toxic masculinity, and the viciousness of first friendships. For almost the entire book, dread sat like a hot coal in the pit of my gut, and I feared so much for these poor, poor girls.

I don't want to say too much, but basically this book is set in a small town in the 1980s. Lizzie is friends with two sisters, Evie and Dusty, but Evie is her best friend. Dusty, the older sister, fills Lizzie with awe, because she's older and beautiful and in a way, aspirational. But Evie is her ride or die, and she spends as much time at the Verver household that she does at her own.

Then one day, Evie goes missing and everyone suspects it was an older man. A pervert with a taste for young girls. Lizzie decides to look into her best friend's disappearance, but the closer she gets to the Verver family, the darker and more convoluted the evil truth becomes.

I'm a little shocked that the ratings for this book are so low. I have to figure it's either the writing style (fair) or because people didn't understand that all of these girls are unreliable narrators. I see the same problem in books like LOLITA or MY DARK VANESSA, where if you don't have media literacy and take everything those narrators are saying at face value, you could read those books and think that they're actually defending the abuse of children. But that is REALLY not the case here. I feel like THE END OF EVERYTHING is a cautionary tale more than anything: not against girls needing to be more careful because fuck victim blaming, but about the desperate need for society to protect girls who, in their innocence, might conflate abuse with love.

God, this was heartbreaking. I feel like I need a hug. That ending. Woof.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers


DNF @ 15%

Not for me. I went into this expecting something like GIRL, EATING and instead I got something that felt like BIG SWISS. The author manages to capture the pretensions that a sociopathic food critic might have, but I realized I don't actually want to read 200+ pages of that.

2 out of 5 stars

Icebreaker by Hannah Grace


Ngl, I'm kinda shocked that this has like two pages of one-star reviews after you get through the first page of mostly four stars and fives. They are seething, too. For a while, that and all of the TikTok hype kind of put me off the book. That, and I don't like sports. Eek. But when this went on sale, I picked it up out of morbid curiosity and because I thought the sample was really intriguing... and to my surprise, I really liked it.

ICEBREAKER is about a figure skater and a hockey player who end up having to skate together after (1) someone damages one of their college's two rinks and (2) Anastasia's skating partner is injured because of someone on Nate's team, resulting in him being benched. 

This is really cute and REALLY smutty. I'd say the plot-to-smut ratio is 50/50 which is about as high as you can get without being erotica (more smut-focused). The sex scenes are hot (minus the cooing), although this is geared towards people that have a size kink, I think. I am in no way shocked that the Ali Hazelwoodinos love this book. Anastasia and Olive are probably in the same "OMG, Will He Fit?" bowling league.

So many people have reviewed this book already so here are some shorthand notes:

-I LOVED the focus on therapy and mental health. It is so amazing to see a new adult book be so positive about getting help for yourself and talking through things and self-searching.

-Nate is a wonderful love interest. Golden retriever in the streets, sex Daddy in the sheets. We stan.

-The friend circle of both the FMC and the MMC were so cute. I loved all of them.

-Fuck Aaron, like seriously. I was praying for a bus to run him over the whole time.

-This really didn't need to be 400+ pages. I ended up getting really bored in the middle. I'm so, so sorry to say this but if a book affects the pacing of the story and the reader's engagement, it's probably too long. (And that's not the only thing that's too long, hehe.)

-Loved the portrayal of emotional abuse in this book. It felt real and not at all sensationalized. It also eventually gets called out.

-I thought it was great that the hero had severe migraines, as well as several on-page episodes. I mean, not great, migraines suck, but representation is important. And I especially liked seeing a vulnerability like that in a hero who is very clearly strong. Give me all the men with relatable issues.

-It was so refreshing to see a fuckgirl heroine who was having one night stands and living her best life and actually stayed friends with her ex-fuckbuddy (who was also a doll?). Consent and sexual agency both played such a premium role in this book. It was absolutely fabulous.

-Stassie is a terrible, terrible nickname.

-Why did the MMC and FMC have sex while the hero was dressed as Gru? Dickspicable.

I was going to give this a three, but as I was listing all of this out, I remembered how much I loved the beginning and how much fun I had talking about this book, so I think I'm going to round up.

Also, I simp these boys so I'm almost certainly going to be reading the other books.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Bad Sign: A Short Taboo Hitchhiker Romance by Kate Rivenhall


I'd seen a TikTok about this novella and I was really curious because the summary was so vague. Basically, a woman is driving through the rain with her abusive husband in the car, and they happen upon a hitchhiker with his hood pulled down. Maire, the woman, doesn't want to stop because she thinks that he could be dangerous. She's right.

I don't want to say too much about this book because I don't want to spoil what happens, but it made me like a story that has a taboo in it that I normally avoid, which is pretty amazing. My jaw dropped at two of the twists. I would only recommend this to the darkest of dark romance readers since it basically covers all the bases, but I felt like it handled its content pretty well. There are some interesting discussions that could be had about this book, like how coming from a broken home causes you to depend on people you shouldn't, how trauma bonding through a shared and painful history can transcend social mores, and even how one can be so blinded by one's own so-called moral righteousness that it can cause a person to be more compassionate to a stranger than they would their own wife, just to keep up appearances.

So yeah, I liked this book. The ending was great. Pay attention to the trigger warnings and note the "taboo" label, but definitely read this if you're looking for something different and super dark. My only wish is that it was longer. I feel like a full length novel about all of these characters would have been really interesting. There's an epic and fucked-up saga in here that's screaming and begging to get out.

Disclaimer: I'm friends with the author on socials but she didn't ask me to read this.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Sweetpea by C.J. Skuse


SWEETPEA is one of many female serial killer books that's come out recently but of the ones I've read so far, it's my favorite. Picture HOW TO KILL MEN AND GET AWAY WITH IT or AMERICAN PSYCHO, except narrated by a grown-up Georgia Nicholson-turned-card-carrying-psychopath who works as a newspaper assistant editor and hates her job only slightly less than she hates everyone else.

As you can imagine, this book is pretty violent. Rhiannon thinks of herself as a vigilante because at first her victims are rapists and abusers. She has rules for masking in public, which she refers to as The Act, but it's pretty clear she has little regard for human life. Every chapter opens with a list of people she'd like to murder, alongside a list of their "crimes." And it's interesting that, to someone like Rhiannon, bagging your groceries wrong warrants the same punishment as child abuse.

I would also caution readers who don't like intentionally unlikable characters not to read this book. In true fashion with someone who has no empathy, Rhiannon is very superficial and makes very cruel fat-shaming, bigoted, and ablelist remarks, including a few minor slurs (like the R-word). I think it fits the character, but not everyone may agree.

This would have been a five in the beginning, but I think the book was too long and the last 20% of the book got weird. The fortune-telling and the talking fetus were just a bit much, you know? It felt a little like the author was in a rush to wrap things up, and so the ending felt a little choppy. I still really liked this book though and I think I saw the author saying on Instagram that it might become a TV series, and that makes me happy because the pacing of this would be perfect for a TV series.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Prince of Wolves by Susan Krinard


DNF @ 10%

Susan Krinard is one of my favorite authors but this one is quite a departure from her Fane series. I didn't like the hero. People who like Christine Feehan's Carpathians series will probably like this, as Luke fits more into that sort of dated alpha male archetype.

2 out of 5 stars

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens


I just finished this book and I swear my jaw is still unhinged from that twist. First and foremost, though, this book needs to have a solid page of trigger warnings because it is one of the most psychologically intense books I've picked up in a while, and the first half basically sucked my soul into a black and desolate void. DON'T pick this up if you cannot read about on-page rapes or you're feeling depressed and miserable, because this book will make you feel so much worse.

That said, it's brilliant. The first person narrative feels so raw, and Annie is a survivor in every sense of the word. While on Threads, we were talking about strong female protagonists and how some authors like to shit on weak or traumatized female characters in order to boost able-bodied and emotionally stoic women who kick butt, possess sexual agency, and mostly have their shit together. And that's all well and good, but while reading this book, I kept thinking about this comment someone left on my thread, about how sometimes survival itself is strength. And that's this book. Strength in survival.

STILL MISSING is a lot like ROOM by Emma Donoghue or Roxane Gay's UNTAMED STATE. It shows the psychic aftermath of abuse, but also has a woman regaining her sexual agency after trauma (with a pretty hot scene) and some genuinely shocking and memorable twists. I don't want to say more, because less is more going in, however I will say that there is infanticide, mentions of child sexual abuse, and also animal deaths (graphic and upsetting ones). I will definitely be checking out more from this author but I probably won't ever read this one again. I  sure won't forget it, though.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, December 1, 2023

Morbidly Yours by Ivy Fairbanks


MORBIDLY YOURS is a profoundly romantic book that manages to tackle friends-to-lovers (one of the hardest tropes to do well, in my opinion), grief, death anxiety, enrichment of life, self-advocacy, and interesting and nuanced relationships, all with equal mastery.

Callum is a mortician who is going to lose his funeral home if he doesn't get married because of a stipulation in his grandfather's will. Lark, on the other hand, is a grieving widow who has come to Ireland to work as an animation director in Galway. When they meet, it's a clash of personalities at first, but they quickly end up getting to know each other better than they expected because they're neighbors.

This book was pure perfection. I'm going to overlook the cruelty of Ms. Fairbanks making me fall in love with a man who doesn't exist. I loved the way that the OW and OM ended up being delightful people who furthered the story in interesting and unexpected way. I liked how Callum wasn't traditionally masculine, and that he had a stutter. He's also demisexual and I thought that rep was handled beautifully.

I am absolutely seething with jealousy that this was a debut effort. It is so good, and I will absolutely read whatever this author puts out there next. There aren't a lot of romances that feel so real, that you can just totally lose yourself in the story because they feel like your friends, but this is one of them.

5 out of 5 stars