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

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The Silent Woman by Minka Kent


I call books like these FULTs, or fucked up lady thrillers, and the requirement is basically that the female narrator hasn't got her shit together and there's a Suspicious Hot Guy (SHG) who might or might not be the villain. FULTs are the best kinds of thrillers and you absolutely cannot change my mind.

I found THE SILENT WOMAN in a Little Free Library and loved the cover and thought the summary sounded amazing. It actually sounded a lot like Freida McFadden's THE WIFE UPSTAIRS, and there are a ton of similarities, but I think this is because they're both clearly inspired by Jane Eyre. The twists and some of the core elements are different enough that they don't feel exactly the same.

If you're familiar with stories like Jane Eyre and Rebecca, you know the score. A woman marries a charming and rich man only to find out that he has baggage in the form of an ex-wife who's still kind of in the picture. I liked that Jade was a biographer and met her husband through her work. She felt fleshed out and competent and nice. Don't get me wrong, I love messy ladies, but I like nice ladies, too.

I don't want to say too much more because I don't want to spoil any of the twists, but if you enjoy books written by authors like May Cobb, Lindsay Marcott, or Emily Carpenter, you're probably going to enjoy this.

4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars

Food as metaphor in R.F. Kuang's YELLOWFACE

 So I just read YELLOWFACE by R.F. Kuang and it was the type of book that you can't stop thinking about once you put it down. And one of the things that I found most fascinating about it, that I didn't see too many people talking about, is the theme of metaphorical and literal consumption, specifically revolving around food.

Just in case you don't know what YELLOWFACE is about, I'll fill you in. YELLOWFACE is about a white woman who steals her dead Asian friend's manuscript for a book about Chinese laborers in World War I and then passes it off as her own. She "edits" the work (making it more palatable for the largely white publishing community and high profile reviewing community), and basically devours it, turning it into a product that she considers more "hers" than Athena's.

She consumes this untold story about Asian suffering and pain and, in turn, makes it easy to consume for her (white) audience. It becomes a best-seller because stories about minority pain that uphold and uplift the (white) status quo almost always do well. But what is really interesting while all of this is going on is how this woman reacts in every scene where she is presented with Chinese food.

Food is often how someone is introduced to a new culture. Food is prepared in the home and passed down from generations. Food is tied with family, home, tradition, and love. And Chinese food has a very rich and storied history, especially American Chinese food (check out Jennifer 8 Lee's THE FORTUNE COOKIE CHRONICLES, if you want to learn about the history of some popular American Chinese dishes). And June, the antiheroine of this book, cannot stomach Chinese food.

On an Asian panel she is invited to, that's devoted to Asian excellence and showcasing diversity, it makes her nauseous. When she goes to a hole in the wall Chinese restaurant run by two Chinese immigrants supporting their family, June once again feels ill. And when she goes to her mother's house, and her mother tries to feed her takeout, once again, June balks. To me, I feel like this is supposed to symbolize that June is only willing to accept the parts of Chinese culture that she can profit from (pain, specifically), but the parts of it that are tied into actual tradition, excellence, and joy, she has no interest in and literally recoils from.

Food, in YELLOWFACE, is the symbolic manifestation of June's unwillingness to look at or confront her own secret disdain for Chinese people and their culture, even as she profits from it by consuming the other parts.

At least that's how I interpreted it.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Bittersweet in the Hollow by Kate Pearsall


This is a pretty solid Southern Gothic. There's elements of Practical Magic and dabs and dashes of Roanoke Girls, but it's got too much Sarah Addison Allen in it to be truly creepy. What it ends up being is a pretty teen-friendly novel about first love and quiet scares that verges on but doesn't quite succeed at being horrifying.

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

3 out of 5 stars

Yellowface by R.F. Kuang


I'm not the biggest fan of R.F. Kuang's work but I was so drawn into the premise of YELLOWFACE, which asks the question, "What would happen if a white woman literally stole an Asian woman's work and then published it as her own and sort of got away with it (maybe)?" It's a daring and troubling question that splits open the way the publishing industry works (and doesn't work), while also showing the desperation and bottomless need for approval that some authors feel while milling away in an industry that moves at a pace far faster than most authors are capable of writing at.

June Hayward is an interesting character. She's racist (but doesn't think she is), privileged (again), and incredibly narcissistic, but in her story, she is the tragic heroine fighting against the odds. I think it's always a challenge writing an unlikable character who still feels chillingly human and relatable, and reading YELLOWFACE actually gave me the same high I felt while watching House of Usher. There's something very Faustian and self-damning about June that feels like it could have come right out of a story by Poe.

I liked the ending but it wasn't quite the ending I was hoping for. I think it fits, though. And I think the discussions around this novel, because of the subject matter and also because of who wrote it, are interesting. The writing style is so beautiful and it's clear how much Kuang has grown from THE POPPY WAR, which also had a female antiheroine championing An Agenda. Unlike TPW, however, this feels like a very nuanced work.

4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt


REMARKABLY BRIGHT CREATURES is such a cute story. Honestly if you had told me that I was going to fall in like with a literary fiction book where one of the POVs was narrated by an octopus, I would have rolled my eyes. But this was actually quite cute.

There are three primary narrators: Tova, an elderly woman who works at an aquarium who lost her husband to cancer and whose son mysteriously disappeared; Marcellus, the octopus, who is nearing the end of his life in captivity; and Cameron, a fuck up, who has just lost his job and doesn't know anything about where he came from or what he's going to do next.

I don't want to say too much about this book because that might ruin it, but REMARKABLY BRIGHT CREATURES is a very sweet, humanistic read. The ending is kind of bittersweet and made me tear up a little but I wouldn't say this is sad. It reminded me a little of A Man Called Otto, but way less tear-jerky.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, November 25, 2023

The Lady Upstairs by Halley Sutton


The premise of this book totally lured me in. A group of women blackmailing bad men in the era of Me Too? Um, hell yeah.

I thought the beginning was really well done but it felt like the author didn't really know how to end her book. I found that the beginning really slogged and it ended kind of disappointingly. At first I was like, "Oh my god, why does this have such a low Goodreads rating? What didn't people like about it?" but by the end, I was like, ahh.

Writing style isn't bad and I thought Sutton did a great job writing believably morally grey heroines. I just wanted more depth and sparkle from the story itself.

2.5 out of 5 stars

My Darling by Amanda Robson


I got MY DARLING on the cruise ship. It's a British thriller about two couples, Jade and Tomas and Emma and Alistair. All four of them have secrets and all four of them are unreliable narrators. When they have their narrative POVs, they alternate between first and second person, using the "you" form to talk to their partner or one of the people who are part of the other couple. It's an unusual format, which I've never really seen before, and I was intrigued by the blurb, which seemed to promise a smutty tale of obsession and murder.

MY DARLING is an okay read. It's definitely the throwaway kind of book that you can buy at an airport bookstore, but I was invested enough in the murder subplot that I wanted to see what happened. I feel like this is one of those books that will probably appeal to people who enjoy antiheroes. The writing is not the best but the chapters are ridiculously short which makes it a very quick-passed read. I'd recommend this to fans of B.A. Parris and Dan Brown. You could totally read this on a four-hour flight.

2.5 out of 5 stars

The Last One by Will Dean


DNF @ p.137

I found this in a cruise ship library and thought to myself, "Oho, what fun, a thriller set on a cruise ship! HOW DROLL." Going off the summary, I was kind of expecting something like Triangle of Sadness (2022), which I highly recommend, btw. This book started out that way, like it was going to maybe be a satire of cruise ships and how they work and how ridiculous the passengers can be, but then it ended up being something else entirely that wouldn't be out of place on one of the worst episodes of Lost. WHAT EVEN WAS THAT TWIST.

You might enjoy this book, so don't take my word for it. I will say that this author also wrote THE PINES and I did not realize that when I picked this up that this was by that same author. So maybe if you liked THE PINES you will like this book.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

Friday, November 24, 2023

Happy Place by Emily Henry


DNF @ p.53

I can't do it. It's been a while since I wrote a DNF review but this book drove me to it at knifepoint. I couldn't stand these people. Miscommunication and second-chance are two of my least favorite tropes when done poorly, and this book basically wallowed in them like a dirty bath. Didn't help that the friend group was super WASP-y and pretentious, either. They reminded me of the families that were in E. Lockhart's book, WE WERE LIARS. So if you're into the coastal grandma aesthetic, you'll probably like this.

Sorry, guys. Hate to be a hater, but HAPPY PLACE just felt like a crowning example of a couple who broke up and probably shouldn't have gotten back together. I liked the last Emily Henry book I read and will definitely read more from her but this one just wasn't my cup of tea.

 2 out of 5 stars

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Normal People by Sally Rooney


This is my first Sally Rooney book and I wasn't really sure what to expect since she seems to be the kind of author that people either love or hate. NORMAL PEOPLE is a coming of age story set in the 2010s that follows Connell and Marianne, first as high school students from opposite ends of the social strata, and then as adults who are trying to navigate their increasingly unsatisfying and fucked-up lives.

I thought this book was really good. It reminded me of the depressed counter-cultural lady-lit that was popular in the early 2000s, which is maybe why reading it felt so nostalgic. But it's entirely character driven and pretty depressing, so unless reading about two moody and horny people avoid happiness like that little ship dodging the aliens in Space Invaders has any sort of appeal to you, I might not recommend this book. Luckily, I happened to be in the mood for literary-lite.

I'll probably read more from this author. 

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey


I'm only just getting back into reading after a several month-long slump and I happened to be in a mood for a rom-com. This certainly rom-commed, and I think I enjoyed more than I would have if it had been something I'd picked up while craving something else, but it also had some problems that prevented me from giving it the much higher rating I'd initially planned.


First, things I loved. The heroine was great. She reminded me of those spoiled and ditzy heroines from the 90s/early 2000s, like Cher Horowitz or Elle Woods. Piper was so fun and I loved her a lot.

Piper's relationship with her sister, Hannah, and, later, her grandmother were so wholesome and well done. I was never close to any of my grandparents so seeing lovely grandparent characters in books (especially romances) always makes me feel so nostalgic for something I never had, which sounds sad, but it's very satisfying.

I also learned a lot about crab fishing, I guess, which I'm not mad at. I like it when heroes and heroines have interesting jobs.

That brings me to the things that I did not enjoy. The spicy talk was... not my fave. At one point Piper compares orgasm to being in a place that rains gumdrops, and at another Brendan tells Piper to "whine for his cock." Some of the words and euphemisms used made me cringe. Also, these two were doing it everywhere. They did it in a HOSPITAL, ffs, and also a changing room. Ma'am, those workers are not paid enough to listen to your throes of gumdrop ecstasy.

I also got really mad at Brendan. He kept telling Piper that he liked her for who she was, but then he also got mad at her for who she was?? Like?? I KNEW there was going to be a last-act breakup and that it would probably frustrate me, but I didn't expect it to make me smack Brendan upside the head. This is a dude who demanded to know the deets of her phone call with her friend, but then threatened to rage-quit their relationship because she wanted to have, I quote, a "fail-safe."

Meaning that she was still a little hesitant that their relationship would work out and wanted to not cut all her ties to LA in case she decided to move back there instead.

OK, Captain Brendan "Red Flaggert" Taggert.

Anyway, this book was fine except for the last-act thing. The first 70% was great, even though Brendan wasn't my type (I liked him for her). The last 30%  was eh. Averaged together I suppose this was a three-star book. I like Bailey's writing style a lot and this definitely won't be my last book by her. I'm especially interested in Hannah and Fox's story because I just loved her so much.

3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Lady Tan's Circle of Women by Lisa See


Wow, it's the second book I've read this month! Go me!

LADY TAN'S CIRCLE OF WOMEN is a Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee and I can kind of see why it was picked. It vibes like one of those literary-lite books that are always so popular in book clubs, and has just the right amount of scandal to titillate the people who don't like scandal, replete with some gross-out cringe moments.*

*Oh yes, more on this.

Tan Yunxian is the granddaughter of two doctors and has learned a lot about medicine from her grandmother. Like SNOWFLOWER AND THE SECRET FRIEND, there's an element of forbidden friendship in the form of Meiling, a girl who is destined to be a midwife (which is looked down upon since they touch blood).

The book follows Tan from childhood to old age, and we see her endure marriage, childbirth, and the family drama that comes from being immersed in a new dynamic where women must grasp for whatever power is given to them. In this sense, the book is similar to basically every other See book I've read, including that gross cringe stuff I mentioned earlier.

See really does not hold back on describing the process of foot-binding. In this book, we're treated to the full process, including what happens when infection sets in. Given Tan's background in medicine, there's lots of other gross tidbits, including the consumption of smallpox scabs for inoculation (called variolation), the removal of a parasitic worm through emesis and chopsticks, and descriptions of miscarriage/abortion and the use of abortofacients. It's honestly pretty gnarly and by the time I got to the worm bit, I was like naaaaaaurr.

The pacing in this book feels way off and it doesn't feel like there's much happening. It also lacks the emotional depth of her earlier books, like SNOWFLOWER AND PEONY IN LOVE. This one felt quite removed and cold in comparison. Maybe it was meant to be that way to show composure, idk. But it ended up making the book really hard to get into. I liked the mystery towards the end, and the court trial, but then after that, it was a slow and grueling slide back into when-is-this-book-going-to-pick-up.

I didn't hate this book and voted for it in the GCA because I didn't read anything else, but I'm not sure I'd read any more of her newer books unless one of them just really jumped at me.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Friday, November 10, 2023

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus


Wow, it's the first book I've read in like a month.

I found this in the library of a cruise ship after my friend had just finished hyping up the TV show based on this book and it felt like kismet. I'd heard of the book but not actually anything about it, so I went into it completely cold, expecting it to be light chick-lit.


LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY is one of those women's fiction/bookclub type books, where it's like literature-lite. It's also very dark. There's like two attempted sexual assaults and a pretty tragic and graphic on-page death, as well as a tragic and semi-graphic recount of a loved one deciding to unalive themselves. Luckily, someone on Instagram warned me about the trigger warnings but I could see someone taking a look at that cutesy rom-com looking cover and being totally taken off-guard if they didn't know what they were getting into.

I would have given this a higher rating if the author hadn't made the questionable decision to narrate parts of this book from the dog's POV (a preternaturally smart dog who knows over 600 words of English and can talk to babies in the womb) and create a stereotypically precocious child character who is eight years old but reads Nabokov and Norman Mailer, and argues with her teacher about science.

The best part of this book was unquestionably the hilarious joke about poisoning douchey husbands with poisonous mushrooms and then claiming it was an accident. That's the kind of dark humor my sick and twisted brain finds funny. But that kind of dark humor is also at odds with child wizards and magical dogs in a story about historical girl-bossing that kind of feels like it also hates women.

But hey, I read it. Yay me.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, October 23, 2023

Dukes of Ruin by Angel Lawson


I just looked at my reviews and apparently I haven't posted one since *checks notes* October 4th? WHOOPS. 

I BR-ed this with the lovely Briana and I'm so glad she was with me through this adventure because I'm not sure I could have finished this book on my own. For context, I loved the original trilogy. The first book was not my favorite since it starts with a pretty graphic sexual scene when the heroine is underage and she felt very passive, but Story's emotional development, along with the three Lords, was honestly one of the best things of the first trilogy. It was dark and edgy but not darker or edgier than it had to be, and I ended up really loving the direction the authors took the story in (bar the fact that the last book had two too many epilogues and too much back to back sex).

By contrast, this new trilogy is very different, both tonally and also in terms of writing style. It opens with a graphic non-con scene that was very hard for me to read (and this is not something that normally bothers me). The Dukes are also way less likable. There's Nick, who's been Lavinia's handler and obsessing over her the whole time; then there's Sy, Nick's brother, and relevant incel, whose personality can basically be summed up as has-a-big-dick-and-is-mad-about-it; and Remy, a tattoo artist who seems to be coded as having Bipolar II (mania with psychosis).

Lavinia was hard to like but I didn't hate her as much as some readers because she has had an incredibly shitty life and I feel like most people would probably be bitter and defensive in her position, and I come from the camp where women don't have to be "likable" to be interesting. I did like Story better as a heroine because she had more control over her narrative; it's harder to be engaged with a heroine who basically just has (bad) things happen to her throughout the book. My opinions about the guys fluctuated a lot while reading. At first Nick was my favorite, and Sy my least favorite, but Briana actually got way ahead of me and was like haha fuck Nick, Remy for life, and I did NOT get it. Until about 92% in, when I was suddenly like, okay, yeah, actually. Fuck this guy.

These guys are just so awful. Sy and Nick did things that were just completely unforgivable, imo. I can take a lot of abuse from the heroes in a dark romance, but there has to be some sort of emotional connection, and when that doesn't happen, I just feel completely turned off. Remy was actually the most interesting and developed character, and during that tower scene, I felt genuinely bad for him. The only emotionally intimate scenes happened between Lavinia and Remy, and it almost felt like this would have been a better book if it weren't a Why Choose? and Nick and Sy stayed the antagonists, because I would have totally bought a ride-or-die bond between Lavinia and Remy. Their fucked-upedness was complementary, even if it was toxic. Not so much with Sy and Nick. I also really hated that the Dukes called their women "cutsluts."

More things I did like: the fight scene, the introduction of more Royal "lore," a few cameos from the original cast, and Sy having a little bit of a redemption arc in the last act of the book. I don't think this was a bad book, but the sex to plot ratio felt off to me and a lot of things were overexplained without much actually happening. Books one to three in this series had a ton of action and it felt like there was a clear antagonist for the characters to sort of unite against. I spent most of book two, for example, with my heart in my throat, white-knuckling my Kindle. I spent most of this book skimming. I'm not sure I'll be reading more from this series, although I will be checking out this author's cult book, since I love cults.

Also, this is completely random, but at one point one of the dudes penetrates the heroine with a marker. I have never read a romance book that did that before and it amused me so much I posted a status update about that, which actually made some people go ADDING IMMEDIATELY.

So I thought I'd mention that here, since that seems to be a selling point with some people.

Don't worry, I won't judge.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

A Taste of Sage by Yaffa S. Santos


Happy Hispanic Heritage Month! While you should ideally read diversely year-round, I'm trying to supporting Hispanic/Latinx authors by reading all of the Hispanic/Latinx-authored books on my Kindle that I couldn't get to throughout the rest of the year.

A TASTE OF SAGE was an impulse buy for me (aren't they always?). I'm a sucker for food-themed books, and the idea of an enemies-to-lovers romance between two rival chefs who both favor the cuisines of their childhood really spoke to me. Also, it's a bit of a workplace romance, too, because when Lumi's business goes under forcing her to job hunt, she ends up being forced to work for Julien.

I was shocked at how low the ratings were for this book... until I got to the halfway mark. You see, throughout this book, recipes are interspersed at key points so you can make the food the characters are talking about-- which is a great touch. Or it was, until one of the characters gets grievously injured in a kitchen and this horrendous accident is followed by... you guessed it. Another recipe.

Talk about tonal whiplash.

I think books like these are actually the perfect examples of situations where illustrated covers don't work. I saw a TikTok (I believe it was by chels_ebooks) that talked about how old skool romance covers were usually a pretty good indicator of the spice level (although not always). If the lady looked prim and dainty on the cover, it was a likely bet that it was going to be a "clean" regency romance. And if the lady was bursting out of her top in the aggressive embrace of the hero, the likelihood of spice (and probably dub-con) goes up in the mind of the person looking at the cover, and they can make their purchase accordingly.

When people look at illustrated covers, they picture light and sweet, so when a book has a cutesy cover but actually has really dark and depressing moments, readers can feel consciously or subconsciously cheated. I feel like a better cover for this book would have been a wooden table with photographs of food, and the table could be covered with chopped herbs. Maybe a picture of a knife in the foreground. I think that would have hinted at the food, the magic-realism, the homeyness, and also a little hint of menace (subconsciously) because of the knife. The illustrated cover here really does not work.

I actually really liked both characters and loved the recipes. I don't think this book is as bad as everyone says it is, but the tonal shift was definitely a game-changer that impacted my overall enjoyment of the book as a whole. But ultimately, the magic-realism, the ode to Dominican fusion, and the premise of two flawed and headstrong characters falling in love ended up saving the book for me. Just go into this book knowing that it gets a little miserable for a while halfway through, and if you or someone you know recently suffered from a bad burn, this could potentially be triggering.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Sunday, October 1, 2023

The Wife Upstairs by Frieda McFadden


This showed up on a list of Jane Eyre retellings. I've said in other reviews that the original Jane Eyre was kind of half-romance, half-thriller, so retellings tend to go either way since most authors can't capture the gothic ambiance of the original... and that's fine. I'm not a purist and I'll happily read either iteration of one of my classic faves.

THE WIFE UPSTAIRS is about Sylvia. The book opens with her saving a woman from choking in a restaurant... but the woman is a scammer who then threatens to sue her for saving her life. A man witnesses the whole thing, stands up for Sylvia, and then they get to talking. He finds out she's looking for a job and guess what? He's hiring. He's a famous novelist looking for a companion for his wife, who was in a terrible accident. She spends all day in the attic room, alone, receiving drugs and food through a tube. Isolated, except for her nurse and the housekeeper.

Sylvia agrees and receives free room and board in the couple's remote estate in Montauk. And right away, things seem fishy. Sylvia finds a notebook in the wife, Victoria's room, which turns out to be Victoria's journal. And what she finds in the journal doesn't quite add up with the account that she's received from the husband, Adam. Worse, it paints a rather dark picture.

Because Victoria might be lying too.

This book was pretty hard to read for a lot of reasons. I just read DRAGONWYCK by Anya Seton and talked about how it had a lot of fat-shaming. This book, THE WIFE UPSTAIRS, has a similar problem, in that it has a lot of ableism. The way that Sylvia talks about Victoria, and the language she uses, is pretty dehumanizing and awful. There's a lot of talk about how pathetic she is, and how she's a shadow of her former self, and how "lucky" she is that Adam didn't "stuff" her in a home. None of these characters are supposed to be particularly likable, so I'm sure that was a deliberate choice to show what assholes the characters are, but it's still jarring to read, and I thought I'd mention it here just in case someone doesn't want to read that, coming from the protagonist.

As for the story itself... it was fine. Other people have said this was a lot like VERITY and I agree that they had a lot of the same tropes. The core stories are different, though, and so are the endings. I personally thought VERITY was a little better and did the whole suspense thing a little better. I found myself skipping THE WIFE UPSTAIRS a lot. Some of the twists are the same, too, so I think if you read VERITY, you probably won't be as impressed with THE WIFE UPSTAIRS. I found myself guessing what was going to happen pretty early in the book. It wasn't exact but it was close enough.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Dragonwyck by Anya Seton


The fact that this is shelved as a romance by so many people shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how romance novels work. DRAGONWYCK is a genre-crossing gothic with romantic elements, but I'd say it's closer to a dark love story with a nontraditional HEA. People coming to this book expecting gothic romance in the vein of Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart are going to be incredibly disappointed.

I picked this up as part of my Jane Eyre derivatives challenge that I'm doing. I would say that this is more derivative than straight-up retelling, because it's more of a collection of the same tropes that were in Jane, but Seton makes the novel completely her own. Miranda is the beautiful, idealistic daughter of a farmer, who looks down on her family and envisions a fairytale sort of life for herself (as all teens do). When her rich Dutch cousin, Nicholas Van Ryn, sends for her to be a governess/nanny for his child, it feels like a dream come true. Of course, her religious father is against it, but she ends up tricking him by thumbing to a bible passage at their family reading that makes it seem like it is her God-given destiny to go.

Once she is at Dragonwyck, things are immediately sus. First off, a caveat: there is so much fat-shaming in this book. Nicholas is married to a heavy woman named Johanna, and the narrative wastes no time in immediately portraying her as a sickening human being. Which is doubly awful because it's clear from the story that she is suffering postpartum depression and emotional abuse, and has turned to food as comfort. She is ruthlessly shamed for it, by the narrative, by Nicholas, by Miranda, and virtually everyone else who looks at her. Her young daughter, Katrine, who is plump, is also repeatedly fat-shamed. It was honestly hard to read, and a little infuriating, so I think people who are sensitive to this shouldn't read this book at all. I was honestly surprised more people weren't discussing this, tbh. I had to comb through the negative reviews before I found someone mentioning it. So be forewarned.

Right away, Nicholas begins flirting with his cousin, and Miranda is only too happy to flaunt their relationship in the face of his wife, because she thinks Johanna is pathetic and doesn't love Nicholas the way she would. When Johanna dies suddenly and conveniently, Nicholas tells her literally the next day that he'll marry her instead, and gives her a betrothal ring before sending her home. For a year, Miranda angsts and sulks, and drives her family crazy with her selfishness and her new airs, wondering if he's actually going to marry her, or if she was just yet another thing that he became interested in before exchanging for a new and shiny bauble. But send for her he does, and that's when shit gets weird.

Nicholas is basically a straight-up sociopath and Miranda is very vain and self-centered, so if this is a Jane Eyre retelling, it's a retelling that explores the dynamic if it occurred within a vacuum of moral bankruptcy. That dynamic is interesting but not particularly romantic. Which is why I feel like this is less a romance than it is a morality play. Seton comments on a lot of things in the metatext, like the hypocrisy of the rich, the double standards of decency for rich versus poor, people's reluctance to overthrow systems of oppression even when it would benefit them because the fear of change and flouting tradition is worse than the abstract pain they receive from it now, and the soul-crushing emptiness of a sociopath's inner-workings when they run out of things to live for.

It's a chilling book, and an interesting one, but I had to set it down halfway through because it was just so frustrating. I think most contemporary readers would find this work off-putting, and even people who enjoy vintage romance might not like this because, as I said, it's HEA is definitely non-traditional. This honestly reminded me of a happier version of Marilyn Harris's BLEDDING SORROW, another gothic tragedy that shows a doomed family in all of its deterministic horror.

3.5 out of 5 stars