"Do not be so quick to dismiss the responsibilities of your life, for they march in hand with your privileges" (34).
I am a sucker for books about Tudor England. I hoard them, and even though so many of them are terrible, or little better than wallpaper historicals, I scarf them like ill-gotten chocolates and only experience remorse and self-loathing when they are gone.
THE VIRGIN'S DAUGHTER had an irresistible hook, though: what if Queen Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen, had a daughter?
Andersen takes that topic, and runs with it: and to be honest, I had a little trouble keeping up with her, because she makes it all so believable, so interesting, that I kept wanting to stop and look around at this amazing world she'd crafted.
TVD is set in the middle of Elizabeth's reign, during Mary Stuart's imprisonment in England. Elizabeth has learned of something called The Nightingale Plot, a plot whose purpose is to free Mary and make her queen once more--even if Elizabeth must die.
My reaction, on finding out what this book was about, can be summed up thusly:
The two main characters in this book are Lucette Courtenay and Princess Anabel (Anne Isabel).
Lucette Courtenay is actually the Queen's niece, but was adopted and raised by the Courtenay family. Her sisters, Pippa and Charlotte, and brothers, Stephan and Christopher, also have roles to play in the storyline, and are all very well fleshed-out. I actually ran to Wikipedia to look them up and see if they existed, but apparently they do not, which made me sad.
Princess Anabel is the daughter of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. She is just as strong and clever as her mother, but also vulnerable and passionate, too. She does not play as large a role as Lucette, but has some of the best lines in the book.
She did not want a marriage of balanced equals, always pushing against one another for the advantage. Better to marry a man who would owe everything to her, for then at least there would be a chance of personal affection--or at least a good imitation of it (102).
"I am the daughter of the two cleverest, wariest monarchs of the last hundred years, and though I may have instincts, I will always consider carefully before making my choice" (157).
When Elizabeth finds out about the Nightingale plot, she has it investigated and learns that one of the chief conspirators seems to be coming from Blanclair, the household of one of the Courtenays' oldest friends in France, the LeClercs. Her intelligencer suspects it is one of the sons, Julien or Nicolas.
Stephan is sent to Queen Mary's household to ingratiate himself with the Scots Queen. Lucette, on the other hand, is sent off to Blainclair to spy. Because she is a woman, both the Queen and the intelligencer know that she is less likely to be taken seriously and therefore more of a threat. She is determined to do whatever it takes to get information, even to seduce the brothers, to save her queen.
My reaction at this point resembles something like this:
The two brothers are as different as night and day. Nicolas is a reclusive widower with a young son named Felix. Julien is an aloof and brooding womanizer. Both brothers fall for Lucette, but neither of them is what he appears to be: they both have dark secrets, and both of these secrets are dangerous.
Sometimes romance in books like these threatens to overtake the plot or lead to out-of-character decisions. Instead, the romance added even more tension to what was already a very tense plot, and added another dimension of feels to the writing.
"I want to be undone by you. I want to be the one to come to pieces in your arms, to forget there is anything in this world but the two of us" (196).
My reaction, at this point, looks something like this:
I started to suspect from the brilliant characterization and wonderful writing that this book would at least be a four-star read. But when the sexual tension led to some rather steamy things, and Laura Andersen delivered some choice wtfuckery that wouldn't be out of place in one of those golden age bodice rippers (castration!), and when that epic showdown towards the end happened and made me realize that even I didn't know how this story would end, I realized it might be a five-star read.
And it was. THE VIRGIN'S DAUGHTER was an excellent work of alternate history that takes one of history's most famous queens and makes her even more interesting and awesome. There is scheming, girl power, court intrigue, betrayal, dark secrets, and even romance.
I haven't read any of the other Tudor Legacy books, but THE VIRGIN'S DAUGHTER works as a standalone. I really want to read the other books now, though. Like, really, really badly. Even if they're only half as awesome as this book is, I'm sure they're great. Because this was awesome.
Seriously, why aren't you reading this yet? Oh, right. Because it doesn't come out until May 19th. Well, bookmark your calendars and place your pre-orders, then. BECAUSE THIS IS AWESOME.
Hello blurb from Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger Games!
I feel like after the success of the HUNGER GAMES series, people took that T.S. Eliot poem to heart and started asking themselves, "How can we make the world end with bangs and whimpers, and all that jazz?" The authors found a way.
And one of them wrote this book.
THE ELEVENTH PLAGUE, as you might imagine, has the world ending from a plague. I BET YOU WEREN'T EXPECTING THAT! But it is true, my friends. The world got into a war with China, and after we nuked them, China was like, HOW DO YOU LIKE THESE APPLES? Except instead of apples, it was a super flu called P11H3.
Stephen Quinn is a scavenger who trades the remains of humanity along with his dad. His abusive grandpa used to travel with them, too, but then he died, and Stephen is sad but also kind of relieved because yay! No more beatings! Which was an odd twist to this already very grim book. I mean, this is a Scholastic imprint, and those are usually marketed to very young children, and biological warfare and abusive grandpas is pretty gritty for the kiddies.
You know what else is gritty? A narrator who's such an asshole, he borders on antihero.
I spent most of the novel wanting to punch Stephen in his little scowly face. He's so mean. He treats his dad like a child, and steals and thinks only in terms of "what can I get for this?" which makes sense, because he is a scavenger/trader and his life depends on it. But it doesn't make him a likable character, and it's hard to root for a character you don't like.
Anyway, one day Stephen and his dad run into slavers (guess what they do?) and are chased right off a cliff face into a gorge. Stephen's dad goes into a coma and then he runs into more people who he thinks are slavers, and they hit him unconscious with a gun. When he wakes up, he's on his way to a place called Settler's Landing, a post-apocalyptic community that reminded me of the Mayor's city in Walking Dead (oooooh, foreshadowing).
Stephen's greedy little eyes get all big at all the things there are to steal. Oh boy! Medicine! Weapons! Books! And he's also mad, because how come these people deserve all this shit? On the other hand, this is civilized society -- something he's never experienced -- and Thanksgivings, baseball, and blueberry pie all have their appeal. Plus, there's this girl (of course there's a girl) who is also an outsider (of course) because she's Chinese, and they are the Enemy! (Okay, seriously, people. Did the Japanese internment camps of WWII teach you nothing?)
This girl, whose name is Jenny, also has a bone to pick with society (i.e. Society) and after becoming dysfunctional friendos, she has an idea to get back at the people who made them feel like Outsiders.
What a puzzler this book was. The world building was kind of half-assed, and I feel like Hirsch left the option open for a sequel, but maybe changed his mind, so now there's just this very vague and frustrating book that could have been more than it was. I've read so many apocalyptic books, it's kind of hard to impress me anymore, and there's just way too many copycats or clingers-on in this book.
Also Stephen -- he was such a jerk. I really hated his character, and he doesn't really come very far in terms of development. I'd even go so far as to say that he's a Gary Stu, because despite being a total asshole, and treating people like shit, and stealing, everyone welcomes him into the community and wants to be his bff even though he waves around a knife at every opportunity. Ha, no thanks, psycho.
Are there any 90s children who didn't grow up reading the Goosebumps books? If there are, I haven't met them.
In addition to the Goosebumps books, Stine wrote a middle grade/teen-targeted series called the Fear Street series. They were horror/psychological novels, and while some of them were quite twisted, for the most part they weren't too scary. Fear Street was horror with a signed permission slip from Mom.
When I found out that R.L. Stine was writing a reprise, I was really excited. There's a new Goosebumps movie coming out starring Jack Black and now another one of my childhood favorites is coming back? Nostalgia Jackpot!
DON'T STAY UP LATE was kind of lame.
The thing I liked about the Fear Street series is that most of them weren't supernatural (and the ones that were were like L.J. Smith's NIGHT WORLD series...diet urban fantasy, very fun). They were about teenagers going crazy and murdering each other for petty (or not so petty) vendettas.
In DON'T STAY UP LATE, Lisa is a teenage girl. One day she sneaks out to have dinner with her friends. Her parents find out, drive down there, and take her home...but on the way back, they get into an accident and her father dies in the car crash.
After the crash, Lisa keeps having these hallucinations. Scary demons running around, breaking into homes, and possibly committing murder. She sees them so clearly, but nobody else does, not even her friends, and her psychiatrist is making thinly veiled threats to send her to an institution. 51-50, bitch.
To help ground Lisa, her psychiatrist suggests that she babysit a little boy who lives on Fear Street with his mom. But there are all kinds of stories about what happens on Fear Street...and Lisa can't help but wonder if Fear Street might just provide a focus point for her "personal demons" (did you see what I did there? Did you?).
DON'T STAY UP LATE took a lot of time to get started. The set-up was a significant portion of the book, and left the book feeling "beginning heavy" in terms of pacing.
I also feel like this reboot falls in ambiguous category. Fear Street was pretty clearly teen, and most of the books hold up well. Goosebumps was obviously for children, and most of the books hold up less well, because they are more fanciful, more in line with a child's line of thought. Fear Street Relaunch, based on this book, is a bizarre blend of the two that (I think) attempts to appeal to both age groups, but will really end up isolating them because the characters are teens doing teen things and aren't very childlike, and yet the writing itself is very juvenile, and very childlike.
I didn't really like that.
I also didn't like the twist. I've been reading a lot of psychological thrillers with mindfuck endings, so maybe I set the book up for failure that way, but even so, the ending was pretty lame.
Also, it feels so weird to me to see R.L. Stine mentioning iPhones and "swiping" and Facetime. I still remember how inconvenient it was traveling anywhere without cell phones. God forbid if you deviated from the plan and got separated from your group. That was part of what made the original Fear Street books so scary, in my opinion. That sense of isolation. 21st technology just makes everything much less scary.
5 TO 1 is set in 2054, Koyanagar, India. Men outnumber women five to one, and women are a valuable commodity. But they are no longer treated as second-class citizens. In Koyanagar, women rule, because they provide children, and men scrape and serve for a chance to leave behind their lives of poverty and debasement.
In a weird cross between The Hunger Games and the Bachelorette, five men compete for the opportunity to become a husband.
Sudasa, however, is not enjoying her challenge. Especially when she finds out that her grandmother, the president of Koyanagar, may have done some subtle manipulations to influence the outcome.
When I found out that parts of this story were written in verse, I lost some enthusiasm for this book. I really don't like poetry, especially not free verse. Something about it is so pretentious.
Bodger has a way with words, though, and luckily, Kiran's POV is not written in verse. It was interesting comparing the two characters, seeing how similar they were in spite of the differences between their stations. Sudasa is a bird in a gilded cage, and Kiran is a dirty chicken trussed up for the chopping block. But both of them are unhappy, and might just be each other's salvation.
I also have to say that it was nice to read a book set in a foreign country with foreign characters that didn't smack of appropriation.
5 TO 1 is a pretty good book. Not a great one, and not particularly memorable, but okay.
A year ago, I was approved to read Asa Akira's memoir on Netgalley. The book was called PORN - A LOVE STORY. Akira's memoir was fantastic because it deconstructed so many taboos and stereotypes and presented a lot of really interesting, relevant, and, yes, dangerous questions about sex, women, and feminism that often get ignored in mainstream media.
Questions like: what is it like working in the adult entertainment industry? Does sleeping with the same sex necessarily mean that you're gay? Is porn star interchangeable with slut? And, perhaps most relevant of all: why is so society so uncomfortable with a woman taking charge of her own sexual gratification, especially in a non-monogamous, non-binary context?
I bring up Asa Akira's memoir because THE COMPANION CONTRACT touched upon a lot of the same issues, and it did so with the same amount of succinct nonchalance. I can't help but wonder if Solace Ames was even inspired by Asa Akira's memoir and films when creating the character of Amy Mendoza, because their stories and personalities were so similar.
It was uncanny.
Amy Mendoza works in porn, although she wants to quit. Not because she feels any shame, but because she knows she's getting older, and out of her prime, and she wants to leave before the industry leaves an indelible mark on her. One night, she goes to a party with her lesbian friend, Chiho, and encounters an albino Colombian named Emanuel, whose supernatural appearance freaks out her friend (who is high on drugs).
Emanuel recognizes her and makes Amy an interesting proposition. He is the lead guitarist of the band Avert, whose singer, Miles Davis, just got out of rehab again. He wants to pay her to be a "sober companion" to Miles, distracting him from the temptations of drugs with sex, providing emotional (and sexual) support, while also keeping an eye on him.
After a lengthy interview, Amy accepts. There are a lot of perks. Obviously, getting paid to fuck a hot rock star is one of them. But she also gets to live in a beautiful beach house with the band (and a crazy ocelot(!) named Gabriel). She gets to go to their parties, their rehearsals. And she gets to spend a lot of time around Emanuel, too, with whom she feels a very intense connection.
There were so many things about this book that I loved.
Amy is Japanese-Filipino. Emanuel is a Colombian albino. Xiomara is Colombian. There are two bisexual characters, a lesbian character, and a transgender character (MtF). Sexism and racism are discussed a lot, as well as the consequences, but not in a way that sounds preachy.
With a female lead who is active in the porn industry, it would be difficult to write a book that didn't have any sex. This book has a lot of sex, in a lot of different ways. I loved how the D/s relationship in this book was played out, and how the author showed the difference between submission in the bedroom versus constant submission in all life choices a la "you must obey me in all ways, Ms. Steele." Emanuel was very respectful about boundaries and made sure they stayed clear-cut.
Ames also shows the darker side to the porn industry (again without being preachy -- and many of her points mirrored those of Asa Akira in her memoir). She shows safe sex, even without condoms (STD tests! Printed out and shared with the participating parties! yes!). She shows how open relationships do not equal infidelity, if there is consent. She shows how fluid sexuality is, and how labels can sometimes do more harm than good when it comes to choosing sexual partners.
And the sex is not only hot, but well written. There is some good dirty talk in here.
This is a story about rock stars, and there are a lot of those. Too many, IMHO, not that you care. But Ames manages to bring something fresh to the genre. The sexuality, the drug addiction, and the struggles to maintain a normal life in addition to the fame life really gave THE COMPANION CONTRACT a real "behind the music" feel that so many of these other books lack. THE COMPANION CONTRACT is actually a pretty dark story, about broken people with gritty issues who try to resolve them in the best way for them (even if it isn't the most PC, or the most tasteful).
Two of my friends who normally abhor erotic novels gave this book a very high rating, and after reading it for myself I can see why. Easily. Ames fearlessly tackles subjects that would send most writers running for the hills, and she does it in a way that is not only authentic, but also interesting. I came into THE COMPANION CONTRACT fully set up for disappointment, and instead I found a very good character driven novel about what it means to find happiness, love, and sexual gratification (and not necessarily in any particular order).
Anne Stuart is one of my auto-buy authors but she doesn't always hit the mark. NOW YOU SEE HIM is one of these latter affairs, which is unfortunate because it had the potential to be quite good.
The book starts off hastily, right in the middle of the scene. I have to admit it took me off-guard and made me wonder if this was a sequel, or if I was missing some pages. Frances Neeley is at a parade, filled with horror, as she realizes that her charming Irish boyfriend is actually a member of the IRA and plans to assassinate a political official. She watches as he is gunned down to death, and his 'cousin' (who isn't really his cousin) is hit by a car.
Anyone would find this traumatic, and Frances is no exception. She ends up staying at a semi-tropical resort run by her cousin called Belle Reste. Also staying at Belle Rest is a man named Michael Dowd. He believes that Frances had more involvement with the IRA than she admitted, and plans to do anything he can to find out more.
Some users have drawn comparisons to Stuart's Ice series, and yes, I think it's fully possible that Michael Dowd served as the prototype for some of the gamma leads in the Ice series. NOW YOU SEE HIM isn't even close to being half as good as the Ice books, though. Which isn't really surprising, considering that this book was a lesser-known Silhouette title published in the 90s. Just look at this trashy cover and blurb!
I prefer my romantic-suspense to be more suspense than action, and there was a little too much pining in NOW YOU SEE HIM for my taste. Insta-love, a TSTL female lead, a bland hero, and cardboard cutout villains who manage to fulfill almost every homophobic/misogynistic stereotype you can imagine, and yeah, you can see why NOW YOU SEE HIM had me skimming huge chunks of the book at a time. Snore.
But that's okay. I'll still devour Anne Stuart books like cheese and crackers.
I love old furniture and knickknacks. There's something so cool about seeing the classic staples of various time periods being put to new use in the modern era. I don't have a home of my own, yet, but I love thinking about how I'm going to decorate it and make it my very own space.
STYLE ME VINTAGE is a how-to guide that covers the 1920s through the 1970s. In each chapter, Keeley talks about some of the staples of each time period, how to obtain genuine articles, how to find good replicas, and very vague approximations of what price range will look like (obviously 1920s art deco is super expensive).
Reading through this book allowed me to pinpoint what I really like. Some of the things in here were really tacky (oh God, 70s furniture! The horror! The horror!) but I loved the sunbeam kitchen motifs from the 1930s, and the shabby chic bedroom from the 1940s. So cute!
I was really glad this book had as many pictures as it did, but it still seemed way too short. In addition to all the pictures of the homes and rooms, it would have been nice to have more pictures of the knickknacks, furniture, and appliances that were hallmarks of their respective time periods, too, but maybe the author feared that if she did that, she'd have a super thick antique book on her hands.
The last couple chapters are about how you can mix and match these various styles, but Keeley didn't spend as much time on these. Which is a shame. Also, I think the author is from the U.K., so these seem to be the U.K.'s interpretation of each of these time periods, which many of the furniture made or coming from Europe. Whenever she talked about the prices it cost to get these items, I couldn't help but thinking that that location adds a pretty hefty price tag for Americans looking to do the same.
Overall, I really enjoyed STYLE ME VINTAGE. It's more handy as an inspirational guide than as a guide as to where to actually find vintage furniture, but it's a fun read, nonetheless.
I have not seen a single episode of Bob's Burgers. To be honest, I don't really watch a lot of TV. But I do like comics, and that hugenormous blurb at the type said that this particular comic was created by some of the staff who worked on the show.
One thing I've noticed about comic books based on TV shows is that the panels are full of very aggressive intertextual writing. There are tons of inside jokes for the show and characters, which are meant to declare "WE ARE FANDOM!"
Bob's Burgers is no exception.
I have to say, it went better than I expected. Sometimes when I jump into these comics blind, I find myself totally lost or completely annoyed. That wasn't the case here. It reminded me of what my sister told me when I asked her about this show:
"It's not as dumb as it looks."
BOB'S BURGERS revolved around the Belcher family -- Dad Bob, Mother Linda, Daughters Tina & Louise, and Son Gene. The stories are all totally AU, kind of like the episodes of Futurama featuring Professor Farnsworth's "What If?" machine. What if Tina was a horse? What if the Belcher family lived in space and was at war with robots? What if Gene turned into a burger? And so on.
I think fans of this series will probably be able to appreciate BOB more than I did, but it wasn't bad. The creators clearly know what it's like, loving cartoons as an adult.
That said, the chapters that were written entirely in musical number (and there were a lot of them) were incredibly annoying.
Apparently this is a retelling of PRINCESS AND THE PEA.
Oh, book. I wanted to love you. I wanted us to have frolicsome adventures together, that ended with the two of us tromping drunkenly down the beach into a beautiful sunset. I wanted the memories of you--of us--to stay with me always.
The first two hundred pages were wonderful. Penelope is the heir to a Mafia-like organization that deals in stolen human body parts. Creepy. So creepy! I dug it.
But Penelope is hampered from learning about the family (and Family) ways because of a platelet disorder, idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpra, which causes her to bruise easily and bleed easily, and necessitates constant complete blood counts and an endless supply of transfusions. Also, everyone treats her like she's made of glass and is about to shatter at any moment.
The build-up was very slow, very meticulous. I thought Penelope was the perfect blend of sheltered and determined. I could sympathize with her. She wanted to learn more, to be self-sufficient, but everyone--including her crush--was like, no, stay in your bubble, the world is full of sharp things and you can't be trusted, because you are a silly, delicate girl. I was filled with outrage on Penelope's behalf. I wanted her to take on the world, scary sharp things, and all.
Then something Terrible happens, which forces Penelope to go on the run.
And we meet Love Interest #2.
Everything goes downhill from here.
The love interest--Char--is Asian, which is great, because YA books need more diversity. Unfortunately, this is one of the only things that speaks in his favor because Char is pretty stock as far as YA love interests go. He follows the MC to her apartment after meeting her for the first time. Why? Because he's concerned. He thinks she's sick and wants to make sure she gets home okay. Well. When they go on a date, he assumes she has diabetes because her eyes look glazed, and when she orders a brownie he asks her if she thinks she really ought to be eating that. WELL. He says nothing about himself or his family or even his last name, but on their second date, he wants to meet her family. WARNING! WARNING! WARNING! WARNING!
But of course, Penelope sees nothing amiss.
I get that she's sheltered, but after that Terrible thing that happened, Penelope is kind of in "trust no one" mode. Which is good. Because she probably shouldn't. And yet, when this one guy who won't tell her his last name and who follows her home enters her life, Penelope falls in love with him and starts dreaming about how they're in love and all this bullshit, and la la la.
MULTIPLE CHOICE TEST.
You are a hormonal teenage girl on the run from a scary organization. Who is the most likely candidate that said organization will send out to bring you in?
A) A really scary-looking dude with scars that shout out to the world, "I fight with knives on a regular basis--and win!"
B) A really creepy looking dude your own age who makes lots of rapey remarks and alludes that you might as well give into him because Bad Things Are Going To Happen.
C) A really attractive but mysterious guy who acts really sweet and OMG DOSE ABS.
D) Nenia Campbell, who is all too ready to put you out of her misery.
If you chose C--FUCKING DUH. (I would also accept D.)
The sad thing is, I didn't even buy the romance between Penelope and Char. It was more like Penelope trying to tell us she was in love with him without really telling us why, behind the fact that he was Asian, and she seemed to think that was hot, and he had nice shoulders and a pretty mouth. Okay, but that is no reason for matrimony. Those things will not stand up to the test of time.
The book did get a little better towards the end, but the romance portion took up a good 100 pages and it was incredibly tedious. I wish this book had had more action, and more focus on the mafia families and their illicit trading of human parts. The idea behind this story was SO good, and I was very sorry to see it circle the drain in terms of how the author chose to execute her concept.
I am interested in the sequel, but I'm hoping it will be narrated by Magnolia or Garrett, because at this point, I feel like Penelope has worn out her stay in my good graces.