Friday, June 28, 2024

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass


I've never read a book about synesthesia before. One of my psychology professors recommended this book in a cognition class a long, long time ago, and the concept sounded so fresh and exciting that the title of the book (which is a great title) stayed in my head rent-free all these years. I thrifted this book, which ended up being an additional joy, because my copy was annotated by the teen who read it before I did, and they were funny AF. I started keeping an eye out for their little notes in the margins because they were always on point. It felt like we were having a buddy-read.

Also, speaking of, I got to buddy-read this book with my friend, Ari!

Now that I've finished the book, I'm a little disappointed. I can tell the book did a lot of research into synesthesia, but I'm not sure how much of it is still true or relevant. For example, in this book, the heroine, Mia, can "see" other people's emotions and sense their pheromones as a color trail (why does that give me the ick). When I Googled this, the first thing that came up was the author's website, and the second was some kind of new age-looking website. I was immediately leery of this, because I feel like a lot of pseudoscience hypes up pheromones, and while it's been a while since my introductory neuroscience class, I remember my professor telling us that in most animals, chemoreception is done through the vomeronasal organ, which is considered a "vestigial" organ in humans (I seem to remember most people don't even have one).

Synesthesia in this book is also treated like a disability, with Mia's parents asking about cures and how it will affect her study. She gets bullied for it at at school and talks a lot about how it makes it difficult to function in certain situations from sensory overstimulation. I was looking through the reviews and it seems like synesthetes and neurodivergents took issue with this representation. (So did the little annotator of my book). This book came out in the aughts and a lot of these "single issue" YA and MG books were written like afterschool specials, not written so much for representation so much as to inform a normative audience (sometimes with unfortunate and now-dated stereotyping) that this reputation exists. When I think about some of the aughts era books with trans rep that I read, for example, it was always clear that the audience wasn't trans kids so much as cisgendered kids, because usually these stories were written from the perspective of a cisgendered kid who needed to learn that "trans kids, they're just like us." Synesthetes: when they're not stabbing themselves with acupuncture needles to experience a color high, they're just like us (oh yeah, THAT happened).

Also, this book is really sad. All the adults are mean helicopter parents who are like BUT SEEING COLORS WILL KEEP MY KID FROM GETTING INTO YALE, Mia's friends are pretty unsupportive, the cute boy with synesthesia that she meets only wants her for bad reasons (and she's THIRTEEN, ugh), and both animals in this book die in pretty traumatically descriptive scenes. I cried both times, for the dog and the cat. Two animal deaths feels excessive for a middle grade book that was supposed to be a fun journey about a kid who sees colors with words, numbers, and sounds.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green


I have historically had very mixed thoughts about Green's work, most of it not favorable, but I'd heard the anxiety rep in TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN was fantastic and that made me really want to read it... and it did not disappoint! Honestly, this is the first time that I have ever felt so seen with my crazy. The invasive thoughts, people thinking you're unlikable because you bring down the vibe, the spirals and the obsession and the despair. It was brilliantly done, I loved it. He either has firsthand experience with anxiety disorders or he did a fuckton of research. It was so validating. Also we love a book that shows the benefits of therapy to teens.


The premise of this story is pretty bonkers, though. Aza, still mourning the death of her dad, and dealing with her intense anxiety, finds out that her childhood billionaire friend, Davis, has a missing dad. He skipped town after doing bad stuff and there's a $100,000 reward for information that leads to his arrest. Aza's friend, Daisy, wants that money, and tells Aza that she should rekindle her friendship with Davis to get closer to him to see if they can get any information that might help them tip off the police (Daisy is kind of gross).

As the story goes on, and Aza starts talking to Davis, we learn that his billionaire dad is a huge asshole. He's a crazy biohacker who has left all of his money to his possibly illicitly-obtained pet tuatara, convinced that the long-lifed living fossil will be the ticket to his immortal life. SO Davis actually isn't all that keen on his dad and would probably be first in line to tip off the police... if he knew anything. But to Aza's pleasant surprise, Davis is actually a super chill softboi and she and him start hanging out.

I was a little torn on how to rate this because I loved the rep, and excuse me, a SHOUT-OUT for Jupiter Ascending, one of my favorite and much-maligned movies? HELL YES I WOULD. But this book also had some of the things that put me off Green's books sometimes, too, like unrealistically pretentious beleaguered-academic-style dialogue between the teens (why do all his characters sound like grumpy old European men arguing in a coffee shop?) and a romance that lacked chemistry. I also thought Daisy was a TERRIBLE friend. When I found out that she turned Aza into a character in her fanfic exaggerating her mental illness for rage bait and comedy, which she and her thousands of fans then basically made fun of together, I felt sick. It was believable mean girl behavior, but honestly, what wasn't believable was that they stayed friends. After all that? I mean, REALLY. That's yeet-to-the-moon behavior, right there. Daisy was also pretty terrible for using Aza to exploit Davis for one hundred grand, and it really bothered me that Aza was basically forced to apologize for not paying enough attention to Daisy and her problems while she is literally drinking hand sanitizer until she gets physically ill because she thinks that she needs to kill the bacteria mutating in her stomach.

After reading out all my thoughts, and being like, "Well, the rep and the fangirl culture and the lizard inheritance were great, but the romance and ultimate resolution of the mental health stuff were eh," I'm going with a three-star rating. I did like this book, and I didn't hate anything about it, but for a book where romance was so integral to the core story, I wanted more emotional connection. I also wanted more Daisy punishments. It is definitely very true that mental illness can make people self-centered in their pain, so that is a valid call out, but some things are definitely unforgivable.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

The Sun Sets in Singapore by Kehinde Fadipe


Choo! Choo! All aboard the Unlikable Heroine Express(TM). Color me shocked-but-not-really that this has an average rating of 3.39, because it's basically CRAZY RICH ASIANS but with posh Nigerian expatriates living in Singapore and being messy AF. THE SUN SETS IN SINGAPORE revolves around three women specifically: Lillian, an ex-pianist with marital problems; Dora, a cutthroat lawyer determined to make partner, who is now forced to compete against another Nigerian: a man; and Amaka, a bastard who lives under the shadow of her dubious parentage, who compensates for every anxiety in her life with her shopping addiction... although now, she's ready to jilt her fiance and go running into the arms of the wrong man.

THE SUN SETS IN SINGAPORE was like a literary soap opera and I ate it up like it was on a silver spoon. I found this in a little free library, which felt like serendipity because I almost bought this when it was a Kindle Daily Deal but still wasn't 100% sold on the concept. Now, I totally am. I loved this book so much and even though all of the women were fully capable of being awful, they were also SO real, and the Singapore/expatriate setting and details were fascinating.

4 out of 5 stars

The Dark Queen's Apothecary by Cassandra L. Thompson


I follow this author on Threads and quite like her posts. When I saw that she had a gothic erotic horror novella out about vampires, I knew I had to have it. I mean, just LOOK at that cover! THE DARK QUEEN'S APOTHECARY is set in medieval Eastern Europe. At first, it starts out feeling very much like an episode of Castlevania, with Andrei, an apothecary, being summoned to the queen to perform a task that defies the rules of life itself at the behest of a sinister Queen.

Viorica was such an interesting and dynamic character. She reminds me a lot of the heroines in Tanith Lee novels: she is a selfish creature of passion, flawed and a little sadistic, but very insecure and flawed, in a way that makes her fascinating rather than unlikable. Her sort of relationship with Andrei after he (SPOILER) becomes a vampire like her was really interesting to read. The way their roles warped and changed as they did was quite well done, and there are callbacks to numerous other gothic works in the storyline, whether it be Island of Doctor Moreau, Frankenstein, or the legend of Lizabet Bathory.

Fun read and quite dark but not overly so. Mind the TWs.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, June 24, 2024

He Used to Love Me by Dorothy Brown-Newton


I thrifted this on impulse and it was just like a soap opera! It opens with a murder and everyone is cheating on everyone. There are multiple POVs, although the main one is Jakiyah, a woman who lives in New York but comes down south to be with her family after the death of her sister. Other narrators are Qua, her high school ex-boyfriend, German, her most recent ex-boyfriend who left her for Tamia (who is crazy and has an even crazier sister), and Tyhiem, Jakiyah's brother, who has a long term girlfriend he refuses to tie the knot with and is also German's best friend.

At first I thought this was going to be a romantic suspense but the mystery wasn't much of a mystery and they figure things out halfway through the book. HE USED TO LOVE ME kind of defies genre category, because it's a little bit of everything but it doesn't really commit to anything. In some ways, it feels a lot like one of those 80s potboilers-- kind of like a Jackie Collins novel, but with all Black characters. I'm not usually into cheating romances at all but this one was pretty entertaining and there was even a hair-pulling fight which is a plus. If you're going to serve up drama, commit to the dish.

3 out of 5 stars

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Food For Thought by Ariana Ferrante


FOOD FOR THOUGHT is a sapphic Greek myth about Limos, the goddess of famine, and Demeter, the goddess of harvest. Long ago, the Fates decreed that they should never meet, because their powers were great enough, and diametrically opposed enough, that they could be responsible for one another's destruction.

Limos is obsessed with the specter Demeter plays in her life. When people approach her to bargain, she is always second best. When a poor farmer has a poor harvest, he turns to Limos to spite his competitors. She is used as a weapon against people, an instrument of suffering. One day, Demeter comes to her, asking her to do the same.

I thought this was a great tale of obsession, with two morally grey women who are too powerful to be controlled. It really did feel like one of the Greek myth stories I used to read in my copy of D'Aulaires as a kid, especially with what happened to the king who was foolish enough to kill one of Demeter's favorites in this book. Truly chilling.

What a great short story. I hope she writes a novel.

4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, June 22, 2024

The Merchant's Daughter by Rebecca Hardy


This was a buddy-read with my friend, lacy! We actually started it a while ago but then I had a death in the family and forgot I was reading it. Oops. I picked up THE MERCHANT'S DAUGHTER because I loved the first book I read by this author, THE HOUSE OF LOST WIVES, a book I would describe as Bluebeard meets Mediator.

THE MERCHANT'S DAUGHTER has a similar gloomy atmosphere as its predecessor, and even has a few shared character cameos, but it didn't grab me the way LOST WIVES did. It recycles some plot points from LOST but doesn't have the same level of suspense. I thought both characters were likable but there wasn't enough background conflict to add tension, since they weren't really getting that in their relationship apart from the fact that Erasmus is clearly hiding something.

Beautifully written but just not a particularly interesting story to me, personally. I would definitely read more from this author, though.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The Mourning of Leone Manor by A.M. Davis


I bought this because I saw a video about it on TikTok and it looked really fun. I just can't say no to gothic romances, especially not if they have my favorite trope: is the house actually haunted or are we just slowly going mad? ALSO, the author failed to disclose that this is basically a stepmother x stepson romance because the heroine was actually married to the hero's father, which I think was a HUGE mistake, because there are people who are VERY into that (like me). Marketing, marketing, marketing. :p

Anyway, before she married his dad, Remi was in love with Ben. They were childhood friends on the cusp of becoming more, but her uncle kind of pressed her to marry Edgar. Then Edgar dies and things get weird, because his death might be connected to a couple other deaths that all seem to revolve mysteriously around Leone Manor. Ben is also a little bit of a fuckboy, which was giving Bridgerton Boy vibes. In some ways, this book is like Bridgerton if Bridgerton was having a goth phrase. Which you might be into.

The prologue and beginning were AMAZING. However, I really wish the pacing and atmosphere had been a little more intense. There were some fantastically creepy scenes scenes in here but I personally wanted more, although I did love how unlike traditional gothic romances, this one is very much open door. I wouldn't call it spicy but there is descriptive sex.

The ending was great and made up for some of the saggy middle. Like I said, the premise was awesome and reeled me right in and I happen to love this publisher a lot. It was just a bit cozier than I was expecting, based on the summary and the reviews, which made it feel blander than it probably would have felt if I were in the right mood for it. I would recommend this book to people who are fans of cozy horror/gothic authors like Chasity Bowlin and Darcy Coates.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Fake It Till You Bake It by Jamie Wesley


Oh my gosh, how have I not read anything by this author before?! I don't read a lot of romcoms because I am so picky about them, but FAKE IT TILL YOU BAKE IT delivered on all counts. It's a romance between Donovan, an NFL player who bakes (I knoooow) and Jada, a reality TV star and fuck up who made the public had her when she said no to the bachelor who wanted to give her her happily-ever-after.

She literally meets the hero when she's shit-talking his cupcake business to her friend in his hearing. So it's enemies to lovers, but like, in a funny way, because they're both stubborn fools who can't be wrong. Then she ends up working for him because her grandmother actually manages his team, so it's forced proximity, too. And THEN, they end up fake-dating, so she can be a little less hated and he can get the PR that he needs to keep his business firmly in the black. So it's fake dating, but like, the reasoning actually works.

If you were a little intimidated by the sports romance angle, sports is barely mentioned at all. And I loved the refreshing idea of a guy in a macho career having a domestic side hustle. We love our grumpy little spreadsheet daddy Donovan. I also loved how the heroine was dyslexic, and how we got to see her struggles with that. I also liked that she was actively seeing a therapist (therapy rep ftw). This is also a Black romance, with mostly Black characters, and it's set in San Diego (which is SO FUN). I've been to a lot of the places they mention in here. I love books that feel like they're set practically in my backyard. (Or my vacay backyard.)

Definitely recommend this to romcom lovers as it ticks all the boxes and it's pretty fun, even when it's being silly. People who love messy and difficult heroines will love Jada, and Donovan has the vibes of a stern Daddy hero but without the actual "call me Daddy" elements. HOT.

4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, June 15, 2024

I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are by Rachel Bloom


I thrifted this and was pretty excited to see it because I loved the title and I'm kind of a sucker for celebrity memoirs. I saw someone call this "a memoir that isn't a memoir" and now that I've read it, I can see what they were talking about. I WANT TO BE WHERE THE NORMAL PEOPLE ARE has some great elements-- like her dealing with bullying, her crush on a mean boy who ditched her when people thought they were "together," and her anxiety whilst doing Famous Person Things(TM). But then there was also a lot of really strange and not-so-interesting things, like her adolescent poetry and old fanfiction.

I would probably only recommend this to die-hard fans of Rachel Bloom. It was a little too out there and self-indulgent for me.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, June 13, 2024

The Last Tale of the Flower Bride by Roshani Chokshi


THE LAST TALE OF THE FLOWER BRIDE is such a bizarre and surreal story, like an Angela Carter tale: the beauty of the prose masks darkness and biting social commentary that gnaws at the reader like the gouge of teeth on bone. I actually didn't care for the last book I read by this author, but this gender-reverse fairytale is marvelous and the things that it did well, it did phenomenally well. 

Basically, a man meets a woman named Indigo while on vacation and ends up falling in love with her. They get married, but in return, he must never ask about her secrets. In this other narrative thread, we meet Azure, Indigo's childhood friend, who falls under the same seductive spell that our narrative bridegroom has. We are unsure if either of them escaped the spider-like snare of their shared seductress, however, although the numerous analogies to Bluebeard, The Robber Bridegroom, and Melusine hint at tragedy, despair, and doom.

For the first half of this book, I was really into it. I thought the weaving of the fairytale mythos into the magic-realism elements was great, I loved the diverse characters, and I'm also a huge fan of a good female villain. I do feel like the second half was a little confusing, and not necessarily in a good way. However, I was still invested enough in the writing and the story that I didn't care too much.

Despite the three-star rating, I highly recommend this to anyone who loves gothic horror, magic-realism, and fairytales. I'll definitely have to check out more of Chokshi's work. This book is hard proof that even if you really didn't like a book by an author, sometimes, they totally deserve that second chance.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, June 10, 2024

Honor Bound by Brenda Novak


After reading and five-starring THROUGH THE SMOKE by this author, I knew I had to give her other books a try. As before, this was a buddy-read with my friend Sarah.

THROUGH THE SMOKE was a traditional gothic romance told in the mode of Jane Eyre (in fact the author lists it as an inspiration in her foreword). By contrast, HONOR BOUND feels like one of those 90s bodice-rippers. The author's style actually kind of reminded me of a cross between Danelle Harmon and Meredith Duran in this, so I think if you enjoy either of those authors, you'll like this a lot.

The story starts out with a wedding, as Jeanette is to be wedded to an older member of British aristocracy to provide money for her titled but land poor family after fleeing the Revolution. However, as she waits for her wedding night, Jeanette learns that her husband is an impotent creep who plans to have his friends gang-r*pe her on the wedding night. And as if that weren't awful enough, they plan to place bets on who will successfully impregnate her! UGH.

She runs away, which is how she meets the hero, Treynor, who is a lieutenant aboard a ship. He and his men are at port and preparing to sail away. They have their meet-cute in an inn where he at first mistakes her for a prostitute when she accidentally ends up in his room, which I thought was a great homage to the bodice-rippers where this was a surprisingly common trope (SWEET SAVAGE LOVE definitely had this!). Unlike the bodice-rippers, he doesn't succeed: she knees him in the balls.

The bulk of this story takes place aboard the ship with Jeanette in drag. This part of the story seems to have bored a lot of readers but it reminded me of one of my favorite books, THE TRUE CONFESSIONS OF CHARLOTTE DOYLE. I can't imagine how much research the author poured into this book to make the nautical setting so vivid and larger than life. She did the same thing with her coal mining community in THROUGH THE SMOKE and I am just amazed. It made me an instant fan and I'm happy to report that this second effort from her did not disappoint.

Only nitpicky things I can nitpick about are that the pacing wasn't quite as good as THROUGH THE SMOKE, especially towards the end, where it dragged a little, only to end up kind of abruptly. I really wish there was an epilogue even though I don't think the ending dissuited the story. I loved Jeanette and Treynor was a great hero, but I also wanted more from him. He sometimes felt like a somewhat stereotypical tortured bastard hero who hates the rich/titled folk for being what he's not, etc., although I will say that I liked how the book ended with him making amends with his estranged mom.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Angel's Kiss by Jessica Mason


The author was kind enough to gift me books two and three in her Phantom Saga series after my father was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer. It was such a wonderful present and a great pick-me-up, but I've been so slow in reading anything that isn't easy because I've been so depressed. Anyway, I finally finished ANGEL'S KISS and I'm happy to report that it is a wonderful sequel to the phantom. 

ANGEL'S MASK was more of a straightforward retelling of the Phantom story we know and love, but ANGEL'S KISS takes more liberties with the story. What happens when the Persian Daroga continues to dog Erik's every step in an attempt to avenge the Shah he worked for? What happens when Christine begins to make it big and endures the jealousy of La Carlotta and the suspicions of those who believe in the curse of the Ghost? And how does Erik reconcile his jealousy and obsession with learning to treat Christine as a person?

There was a little bit of second book syndrome with this book, as most of it is character and relationship building. It has a little less action and suspense than the first book, which was a lot of will they/won't they with Christine discovering the identity of the man seducing her through the mirror. However, what this book lacks in tension, it makes up for in atmosphere and smut and exquisitely researched depictions of Paris and its opera house. It is also delightfully gay, with Erik and Raoul being canonically pan/bi, and several queer side characters. Also Christine gets her femdom on! Girl, you RIDE that phantom D.

I'm excited to read ANGEL'S FALL. Hopefully it doesn't take me as long to get through as this one did but they say genius can't be rushed, so if I have to take my time fangirling over my obsessive masked strangle king, then so be it.

Thanks to the author/publisher for sending me a copy!

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Sunday, June 9, 2024

You Shouldn't Have Come Here by Jeneva Rose


My dad is in his last few weeks of a terminal illness and finding things to read has been a struggle. I don't want anything too happy and I also don't want anything too sad, so I've kind of just been starting and stopping books before leaving them in TBR limbo.

YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE COME HERE is the first book I've read in a while that I zipped through. I finished it in less than a day. It's dual-POV the story of Grace and Calvin. Grace is going to an AirBnB in rural Wyoming, looking for a little bit of a getaway. Calvin is attracted to her at first sight and doesn't think that the week she's booked is going to be long enough considering his instantaneous attraction. But both of them are hiding secrets, and neither of them are what they appear to be.

Did I guess the twist 10% in? Yes. Did I care? No. The vibes were vibing and there was a fun, almost borderline-sense of comedic timing that would crop up every now and then, making me smile in amusement. The idea of going to an AirBnB with no wi-fi where the male owner lives on the property really is a horror story and it's no surprise to me at all that a female author came up with that premise.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Bigger is Better: Real-Life Wisdom from the No-Drama Mama by Big Ang


BIGGER IS BETTER is a fascinating read written by the late Big Ang, of Mob Wives fame. I've never actually watched the show, but it was basically a reality TV show about a group of women who were famous for being related to the Genovese crime family. So basically, "The Real Housewives of the Mob." Apparently a lot of them have memoirs out, and several of them are on KU. This was one of them.

I wasn't sure what to expect with this one and it was much odder than I expected. It actually, bizarrely, has a fairly similar format to THE RULES ACCORDING TO JWOWW, in that it's like a combination of recipes, life advice, memoir, and random observations. Kind of like an R-rated version of Seventeen magazine.

She was a very interesting woman and if you get this book for one reason, get it for the anecdote about the bat that flew into her 36JJ boobs and immediately died on impact.

2.5 out of 5 stars