Saturday, May 14, 2022

Frankie Comics by Rachel Dukes

 

This comic is so cute. I didn't realize how badly I needed a kitty-themed comic in my life until I picked this up. Frankie is my cat. The obsession with rubber bands, the incessant need for cuddles (she spends half her day on my dad's lap and then sleeps at the foot of my bed at night), the begging for food. It was AWESOME.

The drawing style and sense of humor reminded me a lot of a more mature version of Chi's Sweet Home with a dash of Questionable Content. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if both of those comics are favorites of the author. Frankie was absolutely adorable, and I liked the afterword dispelling some myths about cats and advising people on how to adopt.

If you like cats, you'll love this.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food by Jennifer 8 Lee

 

Happy AAPI month! My project for this month is trying to read as many of the Asian-authored books I have on my Kindle that I hadn't been able to get around to for the rest of the year. THE FORTUNE COOKIE CHRONICLES has been on my to-read list for the longest time because it's a collection of linked essays about the history of Chinese food in the United States.

First, a caveat: this was published in 2008 so it comes across as a little dated. Some of the statistics about immigration and demographics are probably no longer accurate now, but that's because it's a product of its times and not bad writing. Second, it bounces around a lot from subject to subject as a lot of other readers have complained. I think that was pretty typical of nonfic at the time, because that meandering style was kind of popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, but it doesn't really work quite as well here.

The hook for this story is about this year where there were 110 Powerball winners. When people looked into it, expecting fraud, they found out it was because the Powerball numbers were a match for the numbers on the back of a Chinese fortune cookie fortune. Everyone who played those numbers who got fortunes produced by that factory won. From there, the author does a deep dive into the history of American Chinese food, delving into the stories behind popular menu items like General Tso's Chicken, Chop Suey, Peking duck, fortune cookies, and even the takeout boxes themselves.

My favorite part of the book was actually near the end, when the author goes to the most famous Chinese restaurant in a variety of countries (Brazil, South Korea, Mauritius, UAE, etc.) and talks a little about how the culture they are in influenced the take on Chinese. I also liked the chapter on Peking duck, which talks about kosher Chinese food and the relationship between Jewish people living in New York and Chinese cuisine. I was a little disappointed that chain restaurants that do Chinese, like Panda Express or Pick Up Stix, weren't talked about, as well as the ubiquitous but entirely inauthentic dish, orange chicken, but I guess in a book like this it's hard to cover everything. The book also covers Japanese history a bit, talking about how the Chinese fortune cookie is probably Japanese in origin.

I think people who like nonfiction books about food will really enjoy this book. I certainly liked it a lot and thought that Lee was a great writer and had an engaging writing style. I just wish there had been a more uniform aspect to the book, though, as it jumped around a lot and some essays were better than others.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, May 13, 2022

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

 

It's AAPI month and one of my goals was to try and get to some of the Asian-authored books on my Kindle that I haven't read yet. THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER has been on my radar for a while because I heard it was a super adorable graphic novel that addresses a non-binary identity in an accessible and fun way. And all those people who said that were totally right, because it DOES.

Frances is a seamstress. When she makes a risque dress for a girl who despises convention, she is fired from her job, only to be hired by a mysterious person claiming to represent a wealthy patron. It turns out the patron is the Belgian prince, Sebastian, who secretly likes going out and wearing dresses. In a touching moment, he tells Frances that sometimes he likes being a prince, but lately he's felt more like a princess and he wants her to make dresses for him.

At the same time, Sebastian's parents are putting pressure on him to get married and secure the throne. He's meeting princesses by day and going out on the town by night. When an opportunity arises for Frances to meet the designer of her dreams, it might risk Sebastian's big secret kidding out. And it tests the limits of Frances's and Sebastian's relationship: are they patron and creator? Are they friends? Or are they something more?

Obviously this is literally and figuratively costume fiction. There's a bit of wish fulfillment fantasy in it, too. But I don't mind that when it's done well. The themes of embracing your inner-self and accepting others for who they are is really beautiful, and there were at least three times that my eyeballs came pretty close to parting with some of their precious tears. The fashion show at the end was high key the best part. If you're looking for a feel-good book, this is it.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

The Donut Trap by Julie Tieu

 

It's AAPI month and I've been trying to read as many of the Asian-authored books on my Kindle as I can. I bought THE DONUT TRAP when it went on sale on Kindle a while back... and then never read it! I know, right? The shame! Especially since it's a food-themed romance and I tend to really love those, even though I'm not usually a fan of fluffy romance (food ones being the obvious exception).

Now that I've read it, I'm kind of surprised it has such low ratings! It's very cute and well-written and I really related to Jasmine, the heroine. The many donut references were also on point. That said, there were a couple flaws, so this ended up being a three star review. And you know what that means... it's a bullet-point review! HUZZAH!

LIKES:

👍 The anxiety rep. Honestly, I was surprised at all the hate Jasmine got as a heroine. I felt like her worrying and fretting and stalkerish tendencies were actually pretty accurate for someone (i.e. me) who obsesses over things. I could get on my soapbox and rant about how people take way less from heroines than they do from heroes, and basically seem to look for any excuse to hate on women in fiction for being too-too anything, but we'll save that for another time, yes?
👍 The donut references. I want a matcha donut right now, and let's leave it at that.
👍 The anxiety of being the person in your social circle with a "bad" job. I've been that person. It sucks when people you know are either happily married and/or working at a tech company, and you're the person who can't "adult" working minimum wage with a bunch of teenagers. Sometimes it's literally the only option apart from being unemployed and people judge you so hard for it. So I appreciated seeing that rep here, especially since the heroine went to a four-year college. A four-year college is not a guarantee of a job right after school.
👍 The romance. Alex was really cute and I liked his interactions with the heroine. I also like how they fight about realistic things and not ridiculous things for the sake of drama.
👍 The way the heroine's cultural heritage is integrated into the book. The heroine's parents are Cambodian refugees of Chinese descent who lived briefly in Vietnam, so they can speak Mandarin, Khmer, and Vietnamese. There's lovely descriptions of food (YAS FOOD), and the heroine also talks about the struggle of growing up and finding her own path while bearing the weight of her parents' struggle and hardships, and I feel like that message is probably going to resonate with a lot of people who are the children of immigrant parents. So that was kind of cool.

DISLIKES:

👎 The writing feels kind of immature. I think this is a reflection on Jas, who is immature, and that's okay because people grow and develop at all stages, but that being said, there is a very "YA" flavor to the writing that's kind of reminiscent of Meg Cabot's flighty, super breathless style of narrating. Everything is OMG!SUCH A BIG DEAL, even when it's not, and that can get exhausting.
👎 Fade to black sex scenes. Do they bang in this one? No, dear reader, they do not. I know some people don't like explicit romances, so if you're a younger teen reader looking for a mature romance without the spice, or just someone who doesn't enjoy graphic scenes, this is the book for you. For me, it was a bit disappointing to read a romance that didn't really delve much into the "romance" side of things.
👎 Um, closure? The whole Michael thing was weird and I felt like the whole sitch with Alex's ex-girlfriend was kind of glossed over. I kept waiting for something to happen but it didn't. 

Overall, this was a pretty fun book and I'm really happy I read it. I think people who enjoy food-themed romance books will really enjoy this one, although WARNING: it will make you crave donuts.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

A Song of Secrets by Jayci Lee

 

A SONG OF SECRETS was an impulse buy for me. I saw that Jackie Lau had a post of Asian-authored romance novels for under $5 in ebook and I went through and bought a whole bunch of things that looked interesting to me. Ultimately, I didn't really end up enjoying this one all that much, even though I love the cover and the premise.

Basically, Angie and Joshua were lovers in college, until her father forced them to break up (in a really cruel way). Now he hates her, but he also carries a torch for her, and when Angie discovers a secret about him that has the potential to save her floundering orchestra group, she sucks up her pride and asks him to help him: by blackmailing him.

I normally love blackmail romances because I think they add a lot of angst and tension. It's like forced proximity that has leveled up with dark runes. But this was one of the strangest ones I've read because it was fluffy and it didn't feel like there were a lot of emotional stakes. I saw a reviewer who said that they wished their past had been shown and I was like YES. I wish this was dual timeline because I really don't think enough substance was there to make this second chance romance work.

Since this isn't ALL negative, I will say some things I liked. The references to Korean culture, food, and family. The music references were beautiful and some of my favorite passages, especially when Angie is talking about how music made her feel (she had more emotional connection to music than Joshua, imo). Also, the sex scenes were pretty well-written. I don't think this author is for me but I'm glad I gave her a try. People who like kinder, gentler, blander romances will probably love this a lot.

2 out of 5 stars

Dragonborn by Jade Lee

 

DNF @ 36%

DRAGONBORN kind of feels like a direct-release softcore fantasy porn in some ways. I went into this book kind of expecting that because of her Tigress series, which is weird religion-based erotica. Sometimes her books are so weird they end up being fun and this was almost that, but I just hate how condescending her heroes usually end up being, even though the heroines are often pretty likable. Girlfriend can't carry the whole book alone, you know?

The premise behind this book is so interesting, too. There are people who bond with dragons (kind of like the Pern series), and they share a psychic link and all that jazz. Currently the evil overlord of the kingdom is busy killing off all of these dragonborn people, lest they pose a threat to his rule and if that doesn't sound like the plot of a JRPG, you can spray me in a pan and call me Pam. 

Anyway, the hero of this book is the evil governor, Kiril who murders the dragon people for the evil emperor. And the heroine, Natiya, carries a dragon in her actual bellybutton which she wears why she belly dances. Because why not? Anyway, she gets kidnapped and Kiril decides he wants to bang her so he helps her escape from jail so she can take him to the dragon egg clutches and also so they can bang. AND THE SEX IN THIS BOOK OMG. If I never see the words "prock" or "belly-horn" again, I will be very happy.

I thought about reading forward because Love Spell is cheesy-- I know that-- and it was so bad it was entertaining and I actually really liked the world building, but Kiril's mansplaining and the bad sex scenes were a no from me.

2 out of 5 stars

Monday, May 9, 2022

Edin's Embrace by Nadine Crenshaw

 

I've been slowly working my way through my bodice-ripper collection. EDIN'S EMBRACE has been on my radar for years, but I haven't really liked most of the viking romances I've read (90% of which were written by Johanna Lindsey), so I was a little leery about picking it up. Finally, though, I decided to bite the bullet and give it a try... and I am so glad I did.

Edin is an English lady who is engaged to her childhood best friend, Cedric. She's feeling ambivalent about the nuptials, however, since she isn't really attracted to him and she's also a virgin. Unfortunately for them, they never have a chance to work it out. Vikings come and murder Cedric and a whole bunch of other people, and Edin and a lot of the people who used to be her servants are all taken as slaves.

The hero in this book is Thoryn and he is a bad-ass motherfucker. I am a sucker for icy heroes who give zero fucks, and he fits that bill to a T. He murders the heroine's fiance right in front of her-- while he's in the middle of molesting her, in fact. He attacks his own men if they defy him, and rules with an iron fist and a massive blade. The only person who actually really dares to defy him is the last person who should: Edin herself.

This book was so amazing for a variety of reasons. First, Thoryn actually walks the walk of badassery, so when he humbles himself for the heroine, it usually happens in a subtle way. He doesn't kill her for running away, even though that's the punishment for runaway slaves. He pretends to give her the illusion of consent when he finally beds her (it's forced seduction, but both of them know he could have forced himself on her violently). And Edin has a valid reason for acting the way she does. She's a sheltered noblewoman who is used to being obeyed, so she has a lot of pride, and when she's subjugated in front of the people who used to be her servants and now revel in bullying her, it hits different.

EDIN'S EMBRACE is not without the usual litany of 1980s purple prose. Her pubic reason is described as "gently mossed" and I lost it when the hero compares her blonde pubes to "yellow parsley." But the book also feels exquisitely well researched, and when there are raids or descriptions of the viking homelife, it really felt transportive. ALSO, one of the villains-- a freeman who ends up as a "cripple" and therefore shamed-- kind of ends up with a pretty sweet redemption arc, and the other villain, the hero's mother, Inga, is 100% pure grade A batshit crazy. We're talking Mommie Dearest/Flowers in the Attic levels of crazy. And the way the author foreshadows her madness and drags it out-- GOLD.

Sadly, this book, like all of her others, appear to be out of print. I hope it gets rereleased, though, because it's really fun and the romance is so meaningful and emotional and fraught, and I actually loved the heroine just as much as I loved the hero. I can't wait to read more of her books!

4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars