I have a love-hate relationship with Stephenie Meyer's work, and I think a lot of other people feel that way, too (even if they won't admit it). I'll start by saying that, yes, I do like TWILIGHT. The book, that is. Not the movie. I read it almost ten years ago, and I was at the perfect point in my life where it actually made a lot of sense to me. Because of that, I will always have fond feelings for Bella and Edward's admittedly self-absorbed world.
Now, I love THE HOST. It's morally complex and features these creepy aliens straight out of the Animorphs series. (In fact, I've always said that the Souls are an awful lot like the Yeerks.) I've read it several times, and I'll be the first to admit that while the story has its problems, the writing and world-building make up for it. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that we're still desperately waiting on those two sequels. I mean she wrote four unnecessary follow-ups to TWILIGHT, as well as a gender-swapped retelling and part of Edward's POV. Come on!
When I found out that Stephenie Meyer was writing something new, my first feeling was disappointment. Like, "Oh, so you're too busy to work on my precious HOST sequels, but not too busy to publish a 500-page tome, I see." But my second feeling was excitement. This is the first completely new thing that Meyer has put out in years. Of course I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I counted down the days to its release date feeling giddy.
The premise of THE CHEMIST is interesting, and completely different from Meyer's usual work. She abandons her trademark first-person narrative style for a removed third-person retelling, featuring a retired female assassin who tortures and kills people with various poisons and chemicals (hence her eponymous nom de guerre, The Chemist). One day, she ends up getting roped back into her old career. Her assignment? To stop a potential terrorist from spreading a man-made plague.
This plot should be the bomb-dot-com. Female assassins? Political intrigue? Deadly missions? Yes, yes, and yes. Unfortunately, it was not bomb-dot-com. More like lame-dot-org.
Despite a compelling opening, the plot of the chemist sinks hard and fast. It's boring. There's a marked lack of conflict. When the heroine encounters the love interest, she pretty much falls for him instnatly, even though she's not supposed to (surprise). Despite the fact that they meet under less than ideal circumstances, they have no misunderstandings or lack of empathy. This sounds like a good thing - in fact, I'm sure you're shaking your head at me, thinking, "You're actually complaining about a relationship that doesn't have any misunderstandings or lack of empathy?" - but it is not. The heroine tortures the hero, and he doesn't even care. Doesn't blame her, doesn't hold a grudge about it.
Second, despite having a plot revolving around assassinations and bio-terrorism, there's pretty much no drama. The heroine and the hero make out. A lot. They talk about dogs and food. A lot. At one point, the heroine gets a makeover and becomes best-fray-frays with Alice's psychotic, non-vampiric twin. Then there's these long periods where pretty much NOTHING happens. All those scenes that the reader takes for granted and shouldn't have to be written into the story? Meyer writes about them.
There are some unintentionally hilarious lines in this book, though. Like this one:
"Um, is this some kind of fetish fantasy thing? ...I don't really know the rules for that stuff..." (14%)
^Is Meyer kind of throwing shade at FSoG here? I wonder.
She snagged the warm, bloody finger off the floor and backed to the bathroom, keeping her eyes on him as he writhed in his bonds; even the best zip ties weren't foolproof. She made sure he was watching as she dropped the finger into the toilet and flushed (46%)
^I literally have no words.
"I don't need any satanic help to do what I do....And virgins aren't useful for anything" (64%)
Don't ask me how it ended. I started skimming at the 75% mark. Honestly, I would have DNF'd probably, except for the fact that so many people were asking about this book, wanting to know how it was and whether I liked it. I'm genuinely sorry to say that, no, I didn't. I was hugely disappointed by THE CHEMIST because everything about it, from the romance to the plot, was utterly devoid of substance. There would be flashes of good writing or clever dialogue, and I would sit up a little, hopeful, only to be disappointed again and again. If THE CHEMIST has any redeeming features, it's that it made me want to reread TWILIGHT and THE HOST, to see Meyer at her best.
Hopefully her next work will be better. If you're new to her work, don't start with this one, please.
Woodiwiss is often credited with creating the first bodice ripper or the first "modern historical romance novel." I would actually disagree with both of those remarks - especially since they mean very different things. I wouldn't actually classify bodice-rippers as "romance" novels; they're more like anti-romance novels. The hero in these types of books is usually very similar to the villain, distinguishable only by a very thin and wavering thread of morality that usually ties into a sense of obligation and ownership of the (virginal) heroine & his (usually forced) deflowering of her.
If we're going to talk bodice-rippers, I believe they were heavily influenced by the smutty, exploitative pulp fiction of the 50s and 60s that influenced Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained. Christopher Nicole, author of the Caribee of the Hiltons series, is one of these authors, and so is Lance Horner, author of the Falconhurst series. The most famous in this genre is probably MANDINGO, and that is the book that comes to mind first and foremost when I think of the first bodice ripper, although Margaret Mitchell's GONE WITH THE WIND would be a close second. If we're going to talk about modern historical romance novels, I think FOREVER AMBER or GONE WITH THE WIND are better examples, since both still have a very modern feel & have similar formulas to that of many romance novels that are still being published today. If that's not modern, what is? Anya Seton and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro are other authors whose romance novels transcend time and who also preceded Kathleen Woodiwiss by decades.
Regardless of its alleged feats of being the first of its kind (or not, depending on how you feel about it), I don't feel that THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER survives the times it was written very well. Our heroine, Heather, is under the care of a fat and abusive aunt (because fat and ugly people = villains in this book) and a thoroughly hen-pecked uncle whose dusty balls lie forgotten in the depths of one of Wicked Aunt's purses. The aunt has sold all her niece's clothes & belongings, and she wonders around in clothes "twelve times too large" that gape open to reveal her amazing bosom. It is worth noting that Heather's amazing breasts have more agency than she does, thrusting desperately against clothing as they seek out male attention, declaring their arousal on behalf of Heather (who, you know, just sits there passively and chastely, relying on her breasts to act as liaison with sexual partners) and constantly threatening to pour out of her clothes; Heather's breasts are the true main characters in this book, and it is sad when a heroine's body parts seem to receive more narrative description and action verbs than she does.
Her Aunt is tired of having Heather around and sends her off to be with her brother, who has plans to rape Heather and then, when he's tired of her, it is implied that he will give her to a Madam. Again, since this Uncle character is evil, he is fat and ugly. Heather manages to escape with her virginity intact (by making Uncle William "fall on a knife" dead), still clad in the revealing gown he put her in, and the servant to a rich and arrogant sailor spies her fleeing around the docks. Thinking her to be a prostitute, he kidnaps her and presents her to his master, who he assumes will be pleased. The master, who of course is the hero, since he is the only good-looking in this entire book universe we've encountered so far, is very pleased, and proceeds to rape Heather. The fact that she is a virgin surprises him, but he assumes that she just has her Whore Training Wheels™ on and he was the lucky gent who got to ride the bicycle first. When he finds out the truth, he does a lot of posturing and villainous laughing, basically telling Heather that if she didn't want to be raped, she should have tried to enjoy it more, before raping her a few more times. He then tells her that he intends to make her his mistress, and she should be pleased.
Heather ends up getting pregnant right away from Brandon's efforts, and when she returns home, her Aunt does not shirk on the opportunity to decry Heather's heritage (not only is she Irish and a Tory, but she's also a slut). Heather's well-meaning friends host an intervention where they blackmail Brandon into marrying Heather and taking responsibility for what he's done. Brandon does not take kindly to being told what to do, and drops a bunch of threats about how miserable he's going to make Heather, and oh, by the way, NO SEX, EVER. I have to admit, I laughed. How arrogant do you have to be to imagine that depriving the woman you raped of your magnificent Penis Magic™ is the worst possible punishment you can deliver, ever? If you just said "Gee, seems like the only person that would hurt is him," you would be right, and Brandon spends the next three hundred pages ruing this decision as he quickly comes down with the world's most serious case of blue balls.
After the two are married, Brandon decides to sell his ship and take Heather to his plantation. Here we meet the sexually autonomous, villainous Other Woman, a cringe-worthy Mammy stereotype, the heroine's brother (an updated version of the hero that's still in beta-testing), and all of the jealous, spurned women and their mothers who were vying for Brandon's hand and are bitterly resentful that this girl - who doesn't even go here - somehow managed to snatch him up for herself and get impregnated with his child. The next two hundred pages consist of OW, Louisa, getting into verbal catfights with Heather while trying to seduce Brandon; Heather crying and flinching and seething in a froth of vindication and traitorous lust; and Brandon, who is starting to realize how ineffective his "punishment" is and concocts a new, ingenious plan to win her back that quickly goes awry because the last thing that most women want to do in the late stages of pregnancy and then immediately afterwards is have rough, passionate sex. Brandon abandons this plan, too, and announces that the two of them henceforth are going to have sex every night, whether he has to rape her to get it or not, because damn it, he has needs. Heather goes for this, puts on a sheer blue nightie to seduce him, and after this it's a whole bunch of "I love you" "No, I love you, Pooky-Kins" nonsense, and since Heather is breast-feeding that means that her breasts are always out and everyone, from the hero to his brother to the other woman, has to stare at them in admiration/jealousy and comment on them. The last twenty-five pages attempts to cram in another plot line, introducing a partially-realized murder mystery. It's pretty obvious who the villain is, and this only serves as an excuse for yet another man to lose himself to mad passion and attempt to rape Heather (I think this is rape attempt #5 if we're counting based on unique perpetrators and not actual attempts, in which case it would be closer to rape attempt #20).
This book is ridiculous. One of my friends called this a handbook to having a relationship full of domestic violence, and I have to say that I agree with that sentiment. I don't normally mind reading about rape, but the way it was romanticized in this book made me really uncomfortable. I don't really want to read about all these pastoral scenes of domestic bliss if all the sexual interactions between them border on (or in some cases are actually blatant acts of) rape. This goes away towards the end of the book, but only after the heroine realizes that it's pointless to resist him further.
Heather is definitely a wish fulfillment fantasy and I could see why she might have persisted throughout time. Every man who sees her wants her. Every woman who sees her is jealous of her. She's beautiful no matter what she wears, whether it's rags or a beautiful gown, and her rapist husband is constantly buying her gowns and presenting her with jewelry (when he's not yelling at her, making her cringe, throwing things, or threatening to beat up men for looking at her). When she gives birth she loses her baby bump immediately and the author is quick to reassure us that there are no stretchmarks or unsightly skin folds, either. When she's not making people cream themselves in jealousy or sexual lust, they're falling over in their charmed admiration of her & doing everything they can to make her life better. Heather is the ultimate woman, and doesn't have to lift a finger to achieve it, because expending any more effort than it would take to stomp a foot far is too intimidating in a heroine.
Other things that made me wince/side-eye this book:
-In an attempt to woo the hero, Louisa slathers her nipples in rouge and wears a see-through copy of the gown Brandon raped Heather in
-Lots of uses of the word "Negress" and stereotypical portrayals of the happy slave
-One of the rape attempts occurs because a man visiting Brandon's plantation sees a dirt- and soot-covered Heather and assumes that she's black and a slave (winces)
-When going into labor, the heroine refuses to go anywhere until her husband changes her into a blue gown, because she's sure she's going to have a boy and the baby has to match her gown!
-Dresses tear like tissue paper in this book. It inspired me to make a new shelf on Goodreads for heroines with clothes that tear like wet Kleenex.
Honestly, this book is pretty formulaic, and with the exception of a few odd details (see the above) it follows the usual bodice ripper plot to a T. I've read and enjoyed another book of Woodiwiss's (COME LOVE A STRANGER), so I know she can write better, but this first, unfettered attempt was not my cup of tea at all. If you're going to read it, read it for science: observe it impassively, without any expectations, with the intention of reporting back your findings to others. Otherwise, it might just make a foot-stomper out of you, too.
Curious (and polite) people kept asking me if I was enjoying CARVE THE MARK while I was reading it. For the flippant response to that question, please refer to the opening of the song "Nobody But Me" by The Human Beinz. Or, you know, check out my star rating. (But my way is more fun, and you get a fun song out of it, too!)
I was one of the few people who did not like DIVERGENT. Part of that was the world-building that didn't make sense, and part of that was what I perceived as jarring anti-intellectualism. You might say I'm being oversensitive. Maybe. Or maybe the author's choice to make the intellectual faction into what were basically a bunch of fascists did not sit well with me. And no, I'm not just saying that because I scored as "erudite" in that stupid faction quiz. (Well, mostly. *sniff, sniff* I'm not a fascist!)
When I heard that Roth was penning a new series of books, I was skeptical. Especially when it was being blurbed as a cross between Star Wars and DIVERGENT. I liked one of those things very much, but would space opera and the compelling promise of vengeance and battles be enough to compensate for the DIVERGENT similarities? And, more importantly, how would her style evolve? Or would it be more BS about smart people wrecking society and brave people jumping out of trains?
CARVE THE MARK is a very weird book - and, to its credit, is a very different story from DIVERGENT. It's about the Thuhve, a "peace-loving" people, and the Shotet, an opportunistic and war-like people who are ruled by a "tyrant" and who carve marks denoting their kills into their forearms. Akos, the Thuhvian, is taken capture by the Shotet's ruler, Rhyzek, along with his brother, because his brother has the power of prophecy. Cyra is Rhyzek's sister, and has the ability to cause people incredible pain - or even death - upon physical contact. Rhyzek uses her to do his dirty work and to put fear into his people.
The power source in this book is something called the "current," which from what I gathered is like a cross between the "Lifestream" in Final Fantasy VII and the Force in Star Wars. It's a physical thing of immense power that people can draw upon, creating "currentblades" (e.g. lightsabers) and being born with "currentgifts" (e.g. the Force) that manifest in different ways to do different things.
Okay, cool. A little derivative, but hey, super powers aren't exactly a novel concept, and I'm always down to read about them if done well. What's 100% original these days, anyway? Exactly.
But I could not get into CARVE THE MARK at all. It felt very amateurish. It was too long, and the characters were not developed at all. At least Tris had some emotional complexity to her and the romance between Four and Tris was compelling (and arguably the best part of the story). On the other hand, the romance between Cyra and Akos has zero chemistry, and when they start talking about being in love with each other it comes totally out of left field because, again, zero evidence for it (that I perceived - by that point, I was skimming pretty heavily, and I may have missed a telltale "clue").
CARVE THE MARK read like a very bad debut for me, with shoddy world building, a cliche and cowardly villain, and two heroes who don't really have any interesting personality traits or conflicts. I'm honestly shocked by how unpleasant the experience of reading this was, and if I had read this without knowing who the author was, I might have thought that this was a cleaned-up self-published effort or a debut tentatively put forth by a first-time (and very young) author.
I'm honestly disappointed because I love space opera - it's one of my favorite genres - and I was hoping to see a mainstream author write a glowing example of it, because if space opera boomed like the dystopian genre did in the late 2000s, I'd be one happy gal.
Maybe it will, but let's not make this book the poster child for the movement.
You could say that I'm a hardcore Labyrinth fan girl. I love the movie, Labyrinth, and have seen it many times, glitter-dappled set and cheesy puppets aside; it's an interesting story that's clearly inspired by Celtic faerie lore, and (you could argue) the allegorical tale of a girl's coming-of-age through the use of symbolism. In fact, many of the reasons I love the movie are less because of what's in the story and more of what's explicitly left out.
Because of that, I was a little skeptical when I heard that there was a book coming out that was inspired by Labyrinth - skeptical and also bouncing-off-the-walls excited. Because another book came out this year that was also inspired by one of my favorite stories: RoseBlood by A.G. Howard, which turned one of my favorite antiheroes into a psychic vampire who owns a rave club.
I was not pleased with these developments.
WINTERSONG starts out okay. It takes place in historical Bavaria, and is about a selfish brat named Elisabeth who only cares about music. She spends most of the book whining, feeling sorry for herself, and being jealous of her siblings. Then one day, her sister, Kathe, is kidnapped by the Goblin King, and Elisabeth is forced to go Underground to save her because if she doesn't succeed, her sister will be gone forever. The integration of The Goblin Market and Der Erlkonig were interesting, but I've seen Labyrinth fanfiction writers run with this concept before. In fact, one of my favorite authors, Subtilior, has a Labyrinth fanfic called Erlkönig that runs with this concept beautifully. Likewise, Viciously Witty has an excellent Labyrinth fic set in Ireland that is based off and called The Goblin Market.
I get that there's only so many famous works of faerie lore, so the possibility of overlap is high, but that just makes it even more important to set your work apart from others' and go the extra mile to make the story interesting and the characters compelling. The Goblin King in WINTERSONG was not compelling. He did not feel like the King of Mischief; he felt like a nervous guy at prom who is afraid that his mean girlfriend is going to embarrass him in front of all his friends. He even blushes and stammers. He's also apparently a christian, or follows christian tenets, since he goes to chapel in his free time and talks a lot about God (especially in the last quarter of the book). This was really jarring to me as a reader, because many of the faerie lore is based on Celtic mythology that predates Christianity by centuries, so it doesn't really make sense that the "Elf King" would go to church....
I looked on the author's profile, and in one of her "Ask the Author" questions, when answering how she was inspired to write this story she says she "
decided to write 50 Shades of Labyrinth." So I don't think that it's a stretch to say that WINTERSONG reads like Labyrinth fanfiction, and not even particularly good or original Labyrinth fanfiction, since it primarily relies on ideas that have already been explored by many others in the fandom. Even the sex in this book - arguably the selling point of the premise, since I'm sure many of the hard-core fan girls of Labyrinth wish that there was an alternative telling of the tale when Jareth and Sarah really did end up together - is uninspired and whiny. Elisabeth whines about the sex, that there isn't enough of it, that he doesn't really want her. There are some truly well-written passages in here, but then you also get ridiculous passages like these: "I dip my quill into the inkwell once again, and join up my teardrops into a song" (204).
If this book is 50 Shades of anything, it's 50 Shades of a Whining Heroine Who Never Shuts the Hell Up. She is one of the most unlikable protagonists I've encountered in a while because all she does is complain and whine and cry and talk about how ugly she is. The only thing that sets the heroine apart are her musical abilities (a similarity it shares with RoseBlood), and she's even a brat about this. She sets her brother's face on fire out of jealousy because he is able to study music because he's a boy and she isn't and gets mad at the Goblin King for obtaining her a klavier because - she says - it's too beautiful for her and that makes her feel bad, basically. I'm sorry, you want me to root for this twit?
This was a huge disappointment for me. The only upside is that it made me want to go watch Labyrinth again and revisit some of my favorite fanfic to read when I was in college.
I don't like sports. I don't play sports, I don't watch sports, & I don't tend to lust after the guys who play them. Or I didn't, until I read Elle Kennedy's THE DEAL and realized that maybe athletes could be hot after all - not because they're athletes, but because of what makes them athletes. It's hard not to admire a man who is that passionate and dedicated about something.
Joe Rutherford is the right winger for a hockey team. And since I am not a hockey fan, I'm going out on a limb here and assuming that right winger is alluding to something other than his political leanings. He's passionate and dedicated, and the other men on his team look up to him. It's why their team manager has asked him to be the mentor-slash-roommate to a newly recruited player named CJ.
Cristina Caspary is a stage actress of Hungarian descent. She's kind, hard-working, and very much in love with what she does. She is involved with a charity called Grant A Wish, and has kept up with one of the kids she worked with named Lexi. Lexi might be having a relapse of Leukemia, and since she likes the Barracudas, Cristina decides to try and use the celebrity phone tree to shake out a Joe Rutherford for her favorite girl.
The chemistry the two have is immediate. Cristina admires Joe for being charitable and mature, especially when she pegged him as some big-talking hot-shot. Joe thinks Cristina is very pretty and, being a closeted fan of musical theater, really admires her talent on the stage. Their courtship is enjoyable to watch at first, as Cristina gradually picks up hockey terminology and starts to appreciate what he does more as she learns about how the game works, and Joe tries to think of how to seduce her in ways that make her mind explode and where to take her on fancy dates.
The problem actually comes because of their careers. Joe's is on the downswing. He's in his mid-thirties and his health is starting to adversely affect his hockey performance. He's getting less play time and when he gets injured on the ice, it takes him longer to recover. Cristina, on the other hand, has nowhere to go but up after receiving a job offer on a cable TV show that's comparable to Game of Thrones. Even more infuriating to Joe is the fact that she isn't using a body double, and one of the men she'll be doing love scenes with, her co-star, is actually an ex of hers who wants her back.
I thought Joe's jealousy was relatable for a while, even if I didn't like it. Too often, romances paint a picture perfect ideal of what love is like, so it was nice to see a couple actually struggle with realistic obstacles and unpleasant compromises. But then Joe says some pretty cruel stuff to Cristina. He repents immediately as soon as he realizes what he's said, and what it means, but that epilogue was pretty shady. It made me think that maybe he hadn't really learned a lesson at all, and was just resorting to even sneakier means to get Cristina to change her life for him.
UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT is a pretty good romance, though. I'd definitely recommend it to fans of THE DEAL, especially fans who liked the romance and the hockey aspects, but who would have liked to see slightly older protagonists. The sex scenes were very well done, and I liked the banter between Joe and the other hockey players. Hart, the gay one, was one of my favorites. I loved that the author didn't define him by his sexuality, or play into any stereotypes. I really hope the author writes an M/M story about him and how he met his partner, Jeremy (assuming she hasn't already).
Joe won't be making it onto my exclusive list of book boyfriends after all, but I have to say that this was a really fun read, and I couldn't put it down. Carina, you devilish fiend, you've done it again!
As I get older, I find myself being tougher and tougher on YA. I'm not sure if it's because I find it more difficult to relate to the characters, or if the characters are just becoming more bland. In either case, I'm a jaded dame who's hard to please...and who's also a glutton for punishment. It's a dangerous combination.
THE RAVEN BOYS wasn't a book I set out to read. I'd heard of Maggie Stiefvater before, but her work didn't sound like it was for me. Then THE RAVEN BOYS became popular, and I began to see that black and white cover flooding my feed, accompanied by glowing reviews praising the book as magical and original.
Then the book showed up for $1 at my local used bookstore. I couldn't say no to that, you guys. Peer pressure...for $1.
I am such a sucker.
I would like to start by acknowledging the book's obvious strengths. It is very well written. The author has a great vocabulary and she knows how to string words along, like beads on a bracelet, so they look all nice and sparkly and pretty. Sometimes, however, she uses too many beads, and you end up with something way too chunky for convenience. But at least the beads are pretty.
The obvious failing is that this book doesn't know who it wants its audience to be. It's a book about older teenagers written for preteens, and sometimes that shows in the writing, which is so tell-not-show that it's like being beaten over the head with a skateboard (spoiler). I felt like I had Stiefvater holding my hand the whole time I was reading the story, telling me, "Okay, so for this part coming up, I want you to feel scared, okay? And you can tell you're supposed to feel scared because the characters are scared and scary things are happening, so it's okay for you to feel scared, too."
It also really didn't help that I hated Gansey and Blue. Gansey was condescending as all get out, and I got tired of other characters in the book saying that it was because he was rich. There are plenty of rich people who don't go around making others feel stupid about themselves. Being rich may be something that you can't help but condescension is a life choice.
Blue I didn't like because she was such a little twit. The way she treated her mom annoyed me. She was selfish, easily offended, and completely self-absorbed. I suspect I was supposed to think that she was quirky and sarcastic and funny and independent. She's basically the Scrappy Doo of heroines. And everyone knows that Scappy Doo is a major Scrappy Don't.
I kind of guessed that I wasn't going to be a fan when I found out that the outcome of this story hinged on whether or not the sixteen-year-old heroine kissed a boy.
Huge thank yous to the author and publisher for putting this book up on Netgalley. It's probably one of the best books I've received for review from that site this year. I'm rather desperate to get my hands on A WOUNDED NAME now. Authors who excel at doom and gloom are so few and far between
But Hutchison does. Oh, boy, she does.
I would be very surprised if Hutchison never read John Fowles's THE COLLECTOR - the parallels are numerous. Both are about obsessive men who compare women to butterflies and see them as sexual fetish objects to be owned and collected. Both are about women held captive who are desperate to escape. That said, I am not implying that THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN is derivative in the slightest. It is possible to be influenced by other work(s) and still make your story your own - something Hutchison does with great skill. Honestly, it reads like Gillian Flynn decided to rewrite THE COLLECTOR as a dysfunctional harem in the style of James Patterson's Alex Cross books, and it's darned good.
Maya was taken from the Garden. FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison are interviewing her to find out about the other girls and also about the man who called himself the Gardener. As the interview unwinds, we are left with bits and pieces of the story. The Gardener kidnaps young women and tattoos butterfly wings on their backs. He keeps them locked away in a glass harem, until they turn twenty-one-years of age. All the girls are marked with death the moment they come into his "care."
Maya had a dysfunctional childhood that forced her to become street smart at a young age. She knows how to read people and how to manipulative people, and she's not above using either of these skills in order to help escape. But as she gets to know the women she's trapped with the walls come down, and she finds herself more emotionally involved than she ever wanted to be - especially when some of her friends end up dying.
The writing in THE BUTTERFLY is gorgeous. The pacing is also really good. I found myself reading large chunks of this at a time without getting bored, which is often a good indicator of how good the author is at spinning out tension. I also loved the gritty realism in this book. One of the reasons I love Gillian Flynn's work, for example, is because she isn't afraid to write flawed female heroines or anti-heroines. Hutchison is much the same - she's damaged and can be a little cruel herself, which I appreciated, because given what she's gone through, why shouldn't she be?
I also really liked how The Gardener wasn't a stereotypical villain. He had moments of kindness, and even though he murdered and did terrible things to his Butterflies...it was chilling, because you could tell that he didn't think he was doing anything wrong. He really believed what he was doing was love. His sons, Avery and Desmond, were also interesting characters - Desmond, especially.
Anyone looking for a good psychological thriller/mystery will do well to read THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN. It's clearly influenced by a lot of great writers, but does an amazing job standing on its own two feet. Would love to see a movie version of this book one day! Think of the costumes!
Reading PAPER PRINCESS is like eating a slice of gourmet cake for breakfast. You know that you probably shouldn't be doing it, but this cake is delicious - and it's not like you're eating a Ho-Ho or a Twinkie, now, is it? No, this is primo stuff, and if you're going to be bad, you're going to do it well, gosh darn it!
I was leery about picking up PAPER PRINCESS but a trusted friend recommend it to me & since she has never steered me wrong, I took a chance. Right away, I found myself getting sucked into Ella Harper's world as she's plunged into her own personal episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
Ella is an orphan and works three jobs to pay for school and rent, one of which includes stripping. Obviously. Because this is the go-to profession for any high school- or college-age-girl looking to make a few extra bucks. Working at the mall is so passe.
One day, a man comes to her school claiming that he is her new legal guardian. Ella has been around creepy men her whole life & assumes that he is a pervert and tries to flee. The man kidnaps her and while they are in the car, reveals himself to be multimillionaire, Callum Royal. Ella's absent father was his best friend, and it was his wish that he take care of her in the event of his death.
Callum has five sons, and none of them are happy about Ella's presence in their life. Especially not Reed, who has the brooding, money-can't-fix-my-problems, i-am-alpha-hear-me-bitch bad boy vibe that has everyone going crazy. Including Ella. Obviously. In her review, Khanh mentions the similarities between this book and Boys Over Flowers/Hana Yori Dango/Meteor Garden. I am totally obsessed with that franchise, so this increased my enthusiasm for reading PAPER PRINCESS tenfold. And I can definitely see the similarities (Reed is quite a bit like a less-rapey version of Doumyoji Tsukasa). PAPER PRINCESS also has elements of Lisa Kleypas's SUGAR DADDY & Meg Cabot's PRINCESS DIARIES, so if you enjoyed either of those two series, I think that PAPER PRINCESS will be a good fit for you, because it employs many of the same themes.
I enjoyed this soapy teen drama. It was smartly written, and Ella was feisty enough that I never worried too much about her getting pushed around - she could deal it, as well as take it. PAPER PRINCESS has a shoujo manga feel to it. The focus on class differences, the heroine's job at a bakery (Maid Sama, anyone?), the fact that every boy with a working wiener was attracted to her, the slut-shaming and non-stop drama...this was totally a manga that didn't know it was supposed to be a manga, and somehow ended up as a book instead. That cliffhanger, though. What do I do, now?
This is not going to be one of those reviews that thoroughly breaks down the story and supports all of its main arguments with quotes. Too many people have done this already - and they've done a much better job than I could. BEAUTIFUL DISASTER is second only to FIFTY SHADES OF GREY and perhaps TWILIGHT in terms of books that have been lambasted and deconstructed to the point where most readers can easily tell you, without even glancing at a page, what the plot of the story is.
If you don't know the plot, BEAUTIFUL DISASTER is about a girl named Abby who is a freshman in college. The book starts out in an underground fighting ring on campus. Anyway, Travis, the hero, is in the ring, he pounds some other guy's blood onto Abby's cashmere sweater, their eyes lock, it's instant attraction.
The problem is, Travis doesn't believe in exclusivity. He dates a different girl every night and he's a gentleman about it, too. Literally knocking them off his lap if they annoy him, kicking them out of bed in the middle of the night, referring to the act of sex with these women as "bagging." There really is no shortage of charm in this guy. Surprisingly, Abby is fully aware that he is bad news, and disapproves of him only slightly less than the women he's sleeping with (she refers to these ladies as sluts, hos, bimbos, and STD-infested imbeciles). Since she's unwilling to go out with him, but he's unwilling to leave the picture, the two become friends. Platonic friends.
When the heating system goes out in Abby's dorms, she ends up spending a month at Travis's apartment because her BFF (America)'s boyfriend, Shepley, lives there. Also, something about a bet. Sexual tension ensues, and pretty soon, it becomes clear that staying friends is impossible because this is teh lurve.
While reading this, I kept wondering if maybe I would have liked this more if it had come out when I was in college. That was the better half of a decade ago, and we were starved for college stories. There weren't really any books in my age bracket: there was YA and adult, and crossover was rare. I can name one book that I found that actually took place in college and was geared towards young adults, and that book was Diana Peterfreund's SECRET SOCIETY GIRL. McGuire did find a demand in the market and was perfectly willing to supply it. Since she's one of the more famous examples, it's unfortunate that she didn't do a better job, because BEAUTIFUL DISASTER did have potential until it unraveled into a psychodrama of enabling behavior and emotional manipulation.
Here are my main issues with the book, and why it didn't work for me (and, I imagine, the other people who were similarly displeased).
It doesn't really represent the college experience. One of the reasons I loved Elle Kennedy's THE DEAL is because all of the characters have friends. They go out, and not just with each other. There's banter, female and male friendships, parties, homework, studying, final exams, school spirit, you name it. It felt like college. Even Jen Fredericks's Gridiron series, which I was ambivalent about, shows students doing student-like things. With the exception of Abby chugging nineteen shots on her birthday (please don't do this), and a couple outings that involve or revolve around Travis, Abby and her friends don't really do anything. BEAUTIFUL DISASTER is a college story in the same way that bad historical romances are historical; it's a wallpaper setting that just sets the stage, and that's it.
Travis is not a good boyfriend. I was alternately disturbed and bemused by Travis's character. Here you have this guy who might as well have the words "bad news" tattooed on his arms right next to those tribal tattoos. He sleeps with women to make Abby jealous. He destroys his furniture after they sleep together when he wakes up and finds Abby gone. He punches a man because he's mad at Abby. He's constantly threatening, glaring at, or actively beating up any other guy who gets too close to Abby. He shows up where he's not wanted and won't leave when asked. Right after they start going out, he gets her name tattooed on him along with another tattoo that says something like "I belong to my beloved, my beloved is mine." He tells her he's going to be her "last first kiss." He blackmails her into coming to Thanksgiving with his family because he a) didn't tell his family that they broke up and b) told them all that she would be cooking dinner. He kicks desks over when he goes to class and Abby's not there. When Abby is dancing with other men, he literally grabs them off the floor afterwards and threatens them to make them leave because it's funny. He gets mad at a security guard for making him take off his ring at the airport when they get married, because he said he would never take it off. There's a long list of these scary and intimidating behaviors, including grabbing Abby herself and pushing her way past her comfort zone and ignoring several no's. What makes it even more disturbing is that Abby is well aware of how bad these behaviors are, and alternates between being angered and charmed by him, even when she admits that he's sending up "red flags." She even attempts to get away from him several times, although her friends always sabotage her and intervene.
Her friends are not good friends. America was basically Abby's pimp. She continually thwarted Abby's attempts to leave Travis, even guilting her about it and telling Abby that Travis was in love with her so she should cut him some slack. She laughs when Travis picks her up while she's screaming and kicking and begging to be put down as she struggles to get away. Laughs. The reason she is so heck-bent on this pairing? Because she has always wanted to have her friend date one of Shepley's friends so they can all go out together. That's...only just a little creepy. Shepley is also a big enabler, and also takes part in threatening other men if they come too close to his girlfriend. He takes Travis's side in most of their arguments, too, because bros before...well. You know the saying.
Abby is not a nice person. The back of the book calls Abby a "good girl" because "she doesn't drink or swear, and she has the appropriate number of cardigans in her wardrobe." Maybe not (although, again, nineteen shots), but she doesn't treat people well. She uses Parker, the red herring love interest whose only purpose is to stir up conflict between Travis and Abby, and ditches him without a thought whenever Travis comes along. She treats her roommate, Kara, pretty badly, too, getting the poor girl drawn up in her drama and then shooting her down when she tries to give helpful advice. And the words she uses to describe the women Travis is sleeping with are pretty unpleasant, too.
There is a lot of ridiculousness. Let's not talk about the Vegas trip, the mafia bad guys, the stupid fire, the college ring fighting, the professional ring fighting, the professional gambling, Abby's "dark" past, the fact that Abby sleeps with Travis without a condom without having him get an STD test even though she knows that he's slept with most of the women in their college, and the infamous cafeteria scene where Travis starts singing an a capella rendition "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" while the football team accompanies him. It's all so silly, so random, so unrealistic. I can't figure out if it's funny or not. This book was one amnesia subplot short of being a prime-time soap opera episode.
BEAUTIFUL DISASTER didn't work for me, but I can see why other people found it fun. It's a trashy read that's good for entertainment purposes and not much else. It certainly kept me entertained on lunch breaks and since I didn't throw it out the window, it was obviously passable. Truth is, I've read so many bad romances that the bar is set pretty low by this point, and BEAUTIFUL DISASTER is better written than most "duds." In fact, up until about page 100 or so I was actually guiltily enjoying it, and I didn't actually start to skim until the last 100 pages (which is where Vegas mobsters and stupid fires come in). The inconsistencies and bizarre subplots are this book's real downfalls, I think, as is the unhealthy relationship that is idealized by all the characters in the book as being a redemptive character arc. The purpose of a relationship should not involve one "bad" person putting the onus of their redemption on the "good" person. That's not love, that's codependency.
People have been asking me to review THE SELECTION for years. Years. But whenever a book gets this popular I tend to back off, because at that point, most of what needs to be said has been said - and by reviewers who are far more creative and hilarious than me. Case in point, I only just this year reviewed BEAUTIFUL DISASTER, and that ship sailed a looong time ago. But then my library got a copy of THE SELECTION, and I thought, "Why not? Let's give it a whirl." My friends' opinions are split pretty evenly on this book, with half shipping it and even participating in role-playing games about it, and the other half expressing a strong desire to use it for kindling in the fireplace.
So, what did I think? I have so much to say, it's hard to figure out where to start. I didn't like the book. Obviously. It didn't make me sizzle and pop with rage, although after reading it, I'm a little puzzled as to why it's so popular. Nearly every aspect of the book held some sort of flaw for me, from its stilted dialogue all the way up to its shelving as a dystopia.
Let's start with the genre itself. I'm a fan of dystopian fiction. When done properly, it can be an excellent way to highlight the flaws in a society by taking a reductio ad absurdum "what if?" scenario to show how our many excesses and our hidden or subtle cruelties can destroy us. THE SELECTION, on the other hand, is basically The Bachelor set in a very tame, very unfrightening "Hunger Games lite" universe. America, the heroine, lives in a bizarre version of the United States that has been invaded by both China and Russia, and is now called Illea after the general who saved the country and later became king...because reasons. For some reason, the United States has also become striated by a rigid caste system that starts with one (royalty) and ends in eight (homelessness). I was trying to figure out the professions that went with this system, because one of the girls who works on the farm is a four, manual laborers (like movers) are six, and America's family, a bunch of performers and musicians, are fives. This seemed weird to me for several reasons, but the one I'm going to get intonow is that performing arts are an activity of leisure generally associated with those who are middle to upper class. Why? Music lessons cost a lot of money. Instruments are expensive. Practicing costs time - time that would be spent doing other things, like having a part-time job. Who are their family's clients? What do those numbers mean? If this is a criticism of society, it would be nice if what it is criticizing had been laid out better, and if those being oppressed by the system actually seemed to feel some sort of real pressure or fear.
Poverty itself is a bit mysterious here, too. America is supposed to be fairly poor. At one point, she tells the prince that she has had to choose between food and electricity. But she doesn't seem to be hungry or desperate. In fact, she saves most of her meals for her poor six boyfriend, Aspen, and manages to do this without fainting. I might be more convinced by her plight if she got her clothing from the garbage of twos and threes, or if she often walked around feeling dizzy and sick. But no, she seems quite comfortable - enough to be flippant about her position. If she's that poor, why would she have fashionable dresses (albeit from an outmoded season) that don't have any rips or tears? Why can she afford makeup? Makeup is freaking expensive, and yet another thing that is often associated with the upper classes. This is the most gilded example of "poverty" that I have ever read about!
Gender roles in this book are another aspect of this book that felt very strange. Obviously, if you have thirty-five girls fighting over a boy there's going to be girl-on-girl hate. I didn't sign up for this book thinking I was going to get a feminist treatise on why you don't need a man in your life to be validated as a person. But at the same time, the sheer number of "boys are this way" and "girls are this way" stereotypes was a little surprising. And while the thought did occur to me that this could be part of the "critique" of this dystopian society, it really didn't feel that way to me. America, our heroine, dishes out some of these gender role stereotypes while instructing Maxon on how to treat women. One of the first things she tells him is that women don't want you to fix their problems when they cry, they just want to be consoled. And in the beginning of the book, Aspen breaks up with America because he's angry that she's been saving money for him, because - and he actually says this - men are supposed to be the providers, not women. America totally buys it! She feels bad. At one point, while contemplating her future with Aspen, she actually says: "If only I could sit and patch [up his shirt and jeans] for him. That was my great ambition."
I will give the author props for attempting to write a decent male lead. This was written when junior alphas were popular, and I think Cass really tried to write a decent beta hero with Prince Maxon. Again, props for the effort...but it wasn't a successful one. Maxon mostly just comes across as wishy-washy and bland. Originally, I gave THE PRINCE - the part where he meets America, except written in his POV - a two-star rating, but I deducted it, because apart from just being a POV-swapped rehashing of the events in this book, Maxon's head is a terribly dull place to be. When he's not dull, he's affected and smarmy. In THE PRINCE, his fear is that he'll fall in love with all the girls and won't be able to choose just one. He calls them all "my dear," and says this quote at one point: "You are all dear to me. It is simply a matter of discovering who shall be the dearest."
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the dearest of them all?
In my review of the "prequel" to this book, THE PRINCE, I expressed a desire for some trashy reality TV style entertainment in THE SELECTION. I didn't pick this up expecting Nicholas Nickleby, but I did expect to be entertained. I'm not above watching reality TV or soap operas, and I was hoping at the very least that the girl-on-girl fights would be colorful or interesting, with catty but funny insults, hair pulling, and even some well-executed social coups a la Sae from Peach Girl (my favorite two-faced witch-with-a-B, hands-down). But no, one of the rules of THE SELECTION is that girls are expressly forbidden from sabotaging or striking one another, or they will be disqualified. Somebody does actually get slapped in this book, but the slapper gets disqualified and nothing comes of it. Someone's dress gets torn, too, but only a sleeve - and nothing comes of it. The sexually confident girls are universally loathed by America and everyone else, and some catty remarks are made, but it's all very G-rated, and, again, nothing comes of it.
This is what passes for drama in this book:
"That was it. I slapped him. "You idiot!" I whisper-yelled at him. "I hate him! I loved you! I wanted you; all I ever wanted was you!"
Ironically, the YA books I read before and after this one were very similar concepts that did it better. The one before was Amy Ewing's THE JEWEL - which actually suffered many of the same problems: odd gender roles, bad world-building, girls competing for a "honorable" role that is actually mired in sexism (in one, decorative wife, in the other, surrogate to rich women). The difference is that THE JEWEL was not afraid to be dark. It was no 1984, but at least I got the sense that there was real oppression in this world and dire consequences for those who flaunted it. The book I read after this one was THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer Nielsen, which is similar in the sense that it has a bunch of commoners competing to fulfill a "royal" role. The difference is that a) it's all boys and b) failure means death, so the competitors have more than enough motivation to do well. I think that's what I expected going into THE SELECTION: I expected more hunger, more desperation, with a heroine who had to choose between love and death in a world of darkness. Instead, I got someone who thinks poverty is only getting to wear makeup when you go out and drama is having the sleeve of your dress half-heartedly ripped off when you refuse to swap outfits.
My intention was to read through the series and see if it picked up like THE JEWEL did, but it looks like my library has copies of every book in this series except book TWO. I'm not about to skip a book, because I might miss something important (wink), so it looks like I dodged a literary bullet. I'm in no particular hurry to dive back into this world and find out what happens to Maxon and Aspen and America, either. Who will she choose? What will she wear? Who will be queen? (Listed in descending order of importance, obviously.) Look, I get the fascination with royalty. Disney princesses, Kate Middleton, The Princess Diaries. It's a position of incredible power that seems feminine but isn't intimidating. Ask most little girls what they want to be when they grow up, and I'm sure a fair amount of them will say "princess." Capitalizing on that, and using it for social commentary? Brilliant. There was a great idea buried somewhere in here, that could have been used to highlight gender stereotypes, misogyny, double-standards, social inequality, and reality TV. There were dozens of possibilites! But making the U.S. a constitutional monarchy of a caste system that feels like a learn-to-count episode of Sesame Street while everyone twirls around in ball gowns probably wasn't the best way to go about it. But that's just my opinion.
Have you ever looked at the reviews for a book and wondered if you accidentally read a completely different book? Like, maybe some devious book gremlin sneaked into wherever books are sold and swapped the book jackets of a bad book and a good book? That's kind of how I feel right now: like I've been book-pranked.
ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS is a romance between a twenty-four-year-old man and a thirteen-year-old girl. Wavy is the daughter of abusive, mentally ill meth dealers. She's shunted from home from home for a while, from a grandmother who loves her but dies, to an aunt who doesn't love her and is afraid of the influence Wavy will have over her own girls, before being returned to her completely unfit parents.
Jesse Joe Kellen/Barfoot is a Choctaw man who is the child of alcoholic parents. His family is either dead or in jail. He currently works as a runner for Wavy's father, transporting drugs and sometimes beating people up if necessary. One day he has an accident, and Wavy is there to help him. She's eight-years-old and he's struck by what a beautiful child she is and how lonely she looks and how she doesn't seem afraid of him like everybody else. He feels bad about the way her family treats her, and ends up immersing himself into her life, stepping in for her parents. Sort of.
Here's the thing. Wavy is thirteen. When they meet, she's eight. But then they start having lots of physical affection between them that is inappropriate - kissing, touching, hand-holding. It turns sexual when she's thirteen. Some people have said that their relationship wasn't sexualized but I really did not get that impression. It felt very sexualized. He calls her breasts "little tits." When she gets dressed, he calls it "a strip tease in reverse". Even when Wavy is 21, she's still described as child-like. Her roommate says she looks like a "child prostitute" when she's wearing makeup.
At first, I thought I was going to like ALL THE UGLY AND BEAUTIFUL THINGS because the writing and story are good, and even though it employs the use of multiple POVs, the story kept moving at a decent pace. But Wavy and Kellen's relationship made me very uncomfortable and I cringed reading it. What Kellen did was sexual abuse, because he took advantage of a very lonely, abused, and neglected child. It doesn't matter that Wavy consented to what he did and even sought it out; she was not in any emotional or psychological state to say yes because she was thirteen.
I really did not like that Wavy's aunt was demonized for calling the cops on Kellen either. Yes, he got sent to jail for six years. Because he did sexual things with a child.
I will give the author props for writing a controversial book that will stir up dialogues about abuse, consent, and sex. I'm sure it will draw inevitable comparisons to LOLITA, too. But I actually think I liked LOLITA better than this because Humbert was so unambiguously the bad guy, and that wasn't quite as clear in this book. Maybe that makes it a more compelling read for some, but that was what turned me off of it, and it disturbs me a little how many people are shelving this as "romance."
I keep picking up these memoirs written by my favorite female comedians expecting them to be funny, and then the memoir inevitably turns out to be a "I may be a funny person for a living, but I'm so much more - let me list out the innermost details of my psyche for your pleasure so you can understand my soul" type of deal. Which is fine. I can totally understand why comedians would want to do that. I'm sure you have off days where you don't want to be funny, where the last thing you want to do is laugh, where you'd like to talk politics seriously without being expected to toss out a Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump joke. But on the other hand, that's exactly why people are suckered into these memoirs.
People like me.
Even when she's in "funny mode", Amy Schumer is one of those celebrities you will likely love or hate. She's brassy and bold, and outspoken about sex and girl power. Her comedy sketches push the line on the things that it's acceptable for women to talk about, and her movie, Trainwreck, is basically a gender-flipped take on the Judd Apatow "foul-mouthed slacker gets the girl" trope. I've heard pro-Amy and anti-Amy spiels, and I can understand both camps to a degree. She's controversial. She's assertive. She's in-your-face. But hey, it certainly gets her noticed.
Going back to this memoir, Amy decides to turn "funny mode" down a few bars. She still tries to be funny, but she also tries to tell us about the woman behind the humor. She talks about her childhood, her adolescence, her struggle to get her foot in the door. This is a pretty typical arc for celebrity memoirs, so I'm sure you expected all this. I was. What I didn't expect were some very odd digressions in this collection of essays. Essays about Amy's horror carnival collection of stuffed animals. Excerpts from Amy's childhood and teenage diaries, replete with footnotes and analyses from adult Amy. An essay about the difference between Old Money and New Money. Lists about things that annoy Amy. Lists about things that Amy loves. A two chapter long instruction guide for what Amy wants at her funeral. I'm sorry, what does any of this have to do with anything?
There are a few good essays, but for every good essay there's at least one bad one. I was expecting THE GIRL WITH THE LOWER BACK TATTOO to be controversial or provocative, but what I wasn't expecting it to be was boring. The second half is disproportionately variable in terms of the quality of content, so I found myself skimming over the last 50% of the book, especially the self-promo bits. I liked the photographs at the back, and thought it was nice that she paid homage to the women who were shot at one of the showings of Trainwreck, but I had zero interest in seeing Amy's analysis of her favorite things and what kind of eulogy she wants.
Like her or hate her, Amy does bring attention to feminism. She might not always go about it in the most PC or ideal of ways, but PC doesn't always grab the spotlight in the same way. Some of her sketches are really funny, especially the Last F*ckable Day and the Makeup one. This book, however, was not, and I can't really say that I'd recommend it to Amy Schumer fans, feminists, or celebrity memoir aficionados. Maybe if the collection had been better curated, and funnier, it could have been a decent read. But the way it is now, I could barely make it through the pages without glazing over.
Elizabeth Hoyt is a name that frequently appears alongside other famous regency "brand names" like Lisa Kleypas and Courtney Milan, which just makes it all the more criminal that I haven't read this book until now. Because DUKE OF SIN...is incredible.
DUKE OF SIN is a bodice-ripper of the modern age, with an icy, tortured, dangerous gamma hero who wouldn't be out of place in an Anne Stuart novel.Valentine Napier is a hedonist and a ruthless blackmailer. He flaunts conventions, bedding men and women alike, and the only reason he hasn't been kicked out of polite society is because he has them all scared shitless that he'll reveal their secrets.
Bridget Crumb, his housekeeper, is working for him precisely because of that. Her mother is just one of many people the Duke has blackmailed, and she's using her vocation as an opportunity to search for the letters in his possession that will ruin her mother.
I wasn't expecting to love this book as much as I did. But Valentine is the epitome of everything I love in a romantic hero (and the fact that the author herself says that she imagines him as Tom Hiddleston certainly doesn't hurt!); he's clever, and ruthless, and sexy, and dangerous, and utterly capricious and mercurial. His back story is probably one of the darkest I've ever seen in a romance novel published after 1990, and brought me to tears at several points because of how broken he was; and he doesn't really angst about it - what's even more heartbreaking is that he doesn't realize that he's missing a vital part of what makes him human. He takes it completely for granted as being part of who he is. It's Bridget who realizes what's been done to him, and she who feels all the pain.
And let's talk about Bridget. I loved her no-nonsense ways, and her kindness. She was able to win over people by being very level-headed and calm and personable, so the fact that everyone was naturally drawn to her didn't seem Mary-Sue-ish at all. She made an effort. Her interactions with Valentine made me laugh and cry, by turns. The sexual chemistry between them was amazing - and surprise, when they finally do have sex, she isn't at all passive. In fact, she even initiates and takes charge on several instances. I can't tell you how much that shocked me (among other things).
I have a confession here: a huge reason behind my love for this novel is that Valentine really reminded me of Jareth from Labyrinth, so if you love the cool commanding hero who's witty, and totally in control, but who falls hard for the heroine in a way that borders on obsession, I would definitely recommend this book to you. DUKE OF SIN is a book that was made for Labyrinth fangirls. He's so regal and utterly absorbed in himself, that you don't question for one minute that he's of noble blood. The fact that he flaunts society's rules is testament to this.
And on that subject, I want to talk about the hero's bisexuality, because apparently that's got some people real mad. Yes, the hero is bisexual. He has sex with men. It isn't explicitly shown, but it's heavily implied, and you know that it probably happens behind closed doors. Some people were mad about that - and other people seemed to be upset that his bisexuality seemed to be included in his litany of perversions to show how depraved he is. I chose not to interpret it that way, although I can see how others would: rather, I saw it as the Duke wholeheartedly embracing who he was and what he wanted, selfishly, yes, but unapologetically using his sexual desires to fill the emptiness inside.
For those of you still on the fence, picture Tom Hiddleston masquerading as Jareth, while wearing a purple silk robe with a dragon on it...and nothing else.
Normally, I'm skeptical when people say, "Spoilers will ruin the book!" 9/10 times, this is simply not true. But in the case of DARK MATTERS, it's definitely true. Spoilers will ruin the book.
I haven't read too many good science fiction thrillers recently, but DARK MATTERS is one that deserves to be put alongside successes like JURASSIC PARK and THE MARTIAN. It's what THE FOLD wanted to be, but didn't have the wherewithal to accomplish. It's Paycheck, but with a better script.
Jason Dessen is an average guy, living a bit below his means. He's under-employed, but he loves his wife and his kid. Sure, he has regrets, but he's a decent guy, and makes do with what he has.
One day, a man in a geisha mask holds him at gunpoint and after leading him to some kind of abandoned bunker, injects him with drugs and locks him in a room. When Jason wakes up, he's in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by unfamiliar people. They call him by name, but they insist that he's something he's not. And when he gets free...everything has changed.
That's all I'm going to say, because that's all I can say.
Jason is an excellent protagonist. He's loving and ordinary and wants to do the right thing. His emotions get the better of him but never in a terrible way. Much like Mark Watney, you just want the poor guy to catch a break so he can go home. There was never a moment I didn't root for him.
And that was another thing I didn't expect, going in. I wasn't expecting this book to toy with my emotions the way it did. There were moments that were terrifying. I was reading this book in the dark with the lights off, but had to turn them back on because I had this fear that I was no longer alone. There were moments when my heart was in my throat and I couldn't bear to read on. And there were moments that had me crying because the thought of what Jason was experiencing was just so awful.
I wouldn't be surprised if DARK MATTER wins a Goodreads Choice Award when voting starts. It certainly deserves one. And I think it would make an excellent movie, too, for what it's worth.
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the advance review copy!
I consider myself an unofficial expert on celebrity memoirs. I haven't read all of them (although I would like to - even the stupid ones, because I am incredibly nosy and devour celebrity gossip the way other people devour Dorritos or fake news), but I've read a fair amount, and they usually follow a typical narrative arc. In BORN A CRIME, Trevor Noah takes that arc, flattens it out, and beats you over the head with it.
I love Trevor Noah. I love what he brings to The Daily Show. I think he's incredibly funny, intellectual, erudite, and charming. I also think he's cute, but that's neither here nor there. I actually first learned about him through his (in)famous video with "she who shall not be named" (no, not Voldemort's sister - but close). I was really impressed by how he went about the interview. That could have been really ugly - but it wasn't; it was a somewhat civil discourse between two opposing views, about why the political beliefs of a certain demographic can be incredibly problematic.
When I found out that this Trevor Noah person, this cool political cucumber, had a memoir out, I immediately put myself on hold for it at the library. Unfortunately, so did about a billion other people. It took two freaking months for me to finally get my hands on BORN A CRIME. Normally, when I wait that long, I start to lose interest and by the time I get the book I sometimes forget why I even bothered to put it on hold in the first place. Not so, here.
Trevor Noah's memoir is not like other memoirs because he doesn't talk about his "famous" life at all. BORN A CRIME is about Trevor Noah's childhood growing up in South Africa while it was still under apartheid. He talks about slavery, segregation, racism, poverty, domestic violence and abuse, and all manner of other troubling topics, but he does it in a way that, while not exactly unpleasant, never becomes so graphic or unpleasant that I had to put the book down and take a deep breath. At times, he even manages to make the terrible situation he's describing funny, which is truly a testament to his amazing sense of humor.
There's a lot more I can say, but most of it would just be recaps from the memoir and more praise about Trevor himself. I really, really loved this book. It kind of reminds me of another memoir I read about a biracial man, THE COLOR OF WATER by James McBride, but I feel like BORN A CRIME is going to be a lot more accessible because a) he's a pop-cultural icon, b) Noah's book is broader in scope in terms of topics discussed, and c) he's a millennial so his language will resonate with a lot of people, especially the young bloggers, who are reading and reviewing this book.
Read this book. It was totally worth waiting for two months for.
I love how it says "Praise for You" on the back of the book. Praise for me? Aww, you shouldn't have!
When aspiring author, Guinevere Beck, strides into a secondhand bookstore she has no idea that she's setting the wheels of something utterly terrible in motion. That's because the owner of said bookstore, Joe Goldberg, is a card-carrying psychopath who will do anything - ANYTHING - to get what he wants.
And he's just decided that he wants Beck.
Did you shiver? I know I did. Joe Goldberg is scary AF.
...And yet, at times, creepily relateable.
YOU is a thriller that pokes fun at all the new adult books out there with overly familiar, stalkery love interests. While reading from this book, you really only have one side of the story - Joe's - and he is very, very manipulative. Part of the fun about YOU is reading between the lines, ignoring his narrative and focusing on his gestures and his dialogue, and trying to figure out how Joe appears to others, without his bias.
Also, I love-love-loved the use of social media in this book. Beck is a little too open with her life, she's an over-sharer, and Joe is able to mine the heck out of that, to figure out where she's going, who she's talking to, what her likes and dislikes are. This gets especially creepy towards the middle of the story, although I'm not going to tell you why. You'll just have to find out for yourself.
The literary references and social commentary are also excellent. Joe has some very cutting (and in some cases accurate) remarks about the upper middle class, as well as those who to aspire to be but aren't. He made me laugh, Joe did, and then I felt bad about laughing because this guy is cray.
Then there's Beck and her horrible friends. Beck is so selfish. She's a liar. She's narcissistic, self-indulgent. A social climber. Ignorant and superficial and vain. Maybe a bit of a psychopath herself? I honestly don't know why Joe fell for Beck the way he did, or why he became so obsessed with her. Beck sounds like the type of person you'd complain about to someone else over coffee. Maybe that's the point, though. Obsession isn't necessarily about the person themselves; it's about the pedestal you put them on and the rose-tinted glasses you see them through -
And what happens when those glasses break.
YOU was all anyone who was anyone was reading last year and guess what? It deserves the hype. It's dark and clever and suspenseful and has one of the best unreliable narrators since Humbert Humbert in Lolita. Plus, Stephen King said it was awesome. (Not sure how Joe would feel about that...)
"I am someone who wants very much to be popular. I don't just want you to like me, I want to be one of the most joy-inducing human beings that you've ever encountered. I want to explode on your night sky like fireworks at midnight on New Year's Eve in Hong Kong" (47).
This is going to be a difficult book to review. I've never reviewed a book so close to the author's passing, and it was a sad and bittersweet experience - sad, because the world is now deprived of a funny and highly relatable individual, an excellent actress, and a surprisingly witty and talented writer. Bittersweet, because she is all those things and it's always a pleasure to go over the accomplishments of someone you admire. There isn't much more to say than that without cheapening the sentiment.
I've read two of Ms. Fisher's other books, POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE, which is a grim but evilly funny (and probably semi-autobiographical) satire that does for Hollywood what Carl Hiaasen does for Florida, and WISHFUL DRINKING, which is a memoir about alcoholism and the darker sides of fame. Both are excellent. I recommend both. Because of that, I was super excited to get my hands on this one.
THE PRINCESS DIARIST, sadly, fell short for me. I love the title and the cover, but the content inside that clever packaging wasn't as engaging.
Fisher starts off with an introduction - the highlights of 1976. Then she switches to talking about who she is, a bit about her family, and then talks about her first role in Shampoo with Warren Beatty. The heading for this section sums up this content fairly well: "Life Before Leia."
After this, she dives into what it was like to work on Star Wars, and the overall emotion here seems to be bewilderment. Like she isn't quite sure how she landed such a famous role and why people kept bothering her about it. Many celebrities, when writing about their past works, are enthusiastic and excited, and heap praise upon their coworkers. Fisher doesn't do that. She seemed jaded and resigned to me, and apart from Harrison Ford, scarcely mentioned her other co-stars at all. Maybe part of her lack of enthusiasm stems from the fact that she felt like her role was appearance-driven. There's that famous quote she said to Daisy Ridley about fighting the slave outfit, after all, and she still seems annoyed about the Slave Leia bikini costume (which is so iconic that it has its own Wikipedia page). Apparently she was also sent to fat camp to lose ten pounds for the role before she actually got around to doing any acting.
The chapter about her affair with Harrison Ford is also quite strange, made stranger by the fact that it's immediately followed by the excerpts from the diary she kept as a teenager while onset at Star Wars. Adult Fisher says a lot without saying anything at all, except for confirming that they actually had an affair, and that she wanted to admit to it first before anyone else got to digging and taking liberties with the truth (understandable). Teen Fisher's voice is much more wistful, with lots of poetry and dreamy drabbles that wouldn't be out of place in THE PRINCESS SAVES HERSELF IN THIS ONE. It makes for a very interesting contrast, seeing the two juxtaposed together, very similar to seeing the picture of Fisher as an older woman posing next to her forever-young slave self at the Wax Museum.
The last portion of the book is the easiest portion to follow, which is a double-edged sword because it's the portion of the book where many claim that she mocked and ripped on her fans. She does mock them, but not in a mean way. Again, I got that sense of bewilderment that I did in the beginning, where she just seems mystified by these people - total strangers - who are coming up to her and telling her how much of an impact she had on their life, whether it was as a feminist icon or sex symbol. One cringe-worthy moment she shares, which is perhaps characteristic of awkward fan-created situations that celebrities are unable to escape from, was during a signing in which a child burst into tears when pushed towards her by their parent because she was the "old" Leia, and the child wanted to meet the young Leia they had seen in the 1976 film. What can you say to that?
I was surprised she didn't say much about The 'Burbs and Episode VII: those are my two favorite things that she was in, and the fact that they were excluded from this book made me wonder if maybe she didn't enjoy those roles or didn't think they were worth discussing. What a shame.
The PRINCESS DIARIST is an okay book, but it didn't have the wit that I loved her for in her other books. It felt...bitter, and incomplete. She says a lot without saying much at all, and by the time you get to the end of the book, you're just as mystified about what she's like as you were at the beginning, second-guessing yourself the whole time. "Was that a hint? Is what she's saying funny? Is she secretly laughing at me?" She's like a manic pixie dream girl who's only playing the role to be ironic. Or maybe she wants to keep that last piece of herself private. I guess we'll never know for sure.
I just read Amy Schumer's GIRL WITH THE LOWER BACK TATTOO, and if you follow me, you'll remember that I had some complaints. Mainly that comedians, for whatever reason, write unfunny memoirs that are either a) self-promotional, b) long, shopping lists of gratitude, or c) boring & dry. It's like they have to prove a point - that they're not just the funny man or woman, they can be serious, just you watch. But...that's not why people are going to buy your memoirs. It's not why I buy your memoirs.
Phoebe Robinson's memoir is not like that at all. It opens with the history and the politics of "natural" hair and why it's rude to ask to touch it. Robinson discusses how different hairstyles can make a statement if you're a woman of color, the hours and effort that go into maintaining natural hair, and the frustration she and other women feel when they are othered based on their appearance.
After this, as a bit of a wind down, she discusses some of the famous (black) celebrities who contributed to the pop cultural lexicon of black hairstyles. This section includes pictures and commentary, and I really enjoyed seeing the evolving looks.
The middle section is a bit about Phoebe herself, and some of the things she loves, as a sort of belated meet-cute before she gets into the heavy stuff. Try not falling for this woman, I dare you. She's so charming, and funny, and self-effacing. She drops pop culture references and slang like a pro, and her voice is so strong that you really get the feeling that you're having a dialogue with her - right now.It can be surprisingly difficult to capture a "voice" on paper, and she does it really, really well.
After the meet-cute, Phoebe gets into the Deep Stuff. Race. Stereotypes. Bigotry. Guilt. Othering. Coded language. Privilege. The stuff that will send a small population running for the hills (or their laptops), screaming about rabid SJWs. But Phoebe discusses these topics in a really great way, supporting her points with examples that help give you an idea of what she feels and why when people use insensitive words like "exotic", "urban", or "uppity", or why she got so angry when a woman burst into tears after Phoebe was forced to read aloud and then later criticized her offensive lesbian master/slave love story and claimed that she - a white college student - felt "picked on."
Phoebe gets right to the point. Even now, decades after the civil rights movement and about a century after the end of slavery, we are still pretty damn discriminatory as a society. And discrimination doesn't have to be overt. You don't have to say the N-word to discriminate. Discrimination can be as implicit as designing camera film for white skin, treating your black friend like they're the ambassador for all people of color, or only carrying lighter shades of foundation at a drug store. Buzzfeed did a few role reversal videos (1, 2) that help illustrate what things look like from the outside the privilege zone, but the fact that it feels so ridiculous just goes to show how heavily integrated such stereotypes are within the structure of society, and why we still need change.
The book ends with Phoebe writing a series of letters to her young niece about what it means to be black, biracial, and a woman, and the importance of being an authentic, compassionate individual who is open to new experiences but also not afraid to stand up for her principles. She brings up some more great points, too, but after the previous section, it feels a bit anticlimactic. I can see why Phoebe chose to end her book this way, though. You don't want to leave your readers on a note of moral outrage (for better, or for worse), and it helps bring the memoir full circle, as Phoebe starts out talking about the politics of the parts of the individual, and ends with the politics of the whole article.
This is probably one of my top 5 favorite female memoirs, ranking right up there with Felicia Day's YOU'RE NEVER WEIRD ON THE INTERNET and Tina Fey's BOSSYPANTS. It made me cry out, "I relate to that!" "I am interested in that!" "I am outraged by that!" and "I want to be your friend!" by turns. I love memoirs that are passionate, and political, and energized, and this book was all of those things. It was also thought-provoking, and honest in a way that a lot of memoirs these days aren't (I think you've probably heard me complain that too many celebrity memoirs are too "nice"; nice is nice, but it isn't controversial and it doesn't make a statement and it doesn't get you talking, either).
I loved that. And I love Phoebe. (And now I'm off to check out her comedy and stalk her on Twitter.)
I have had issues with my weight and body image for close to ten years now. In fact, just the other day, I found myself staring at a BMI chart and thinking about how so many of our beauty standards are utterly subjective. Knowing how ridiculous these measurements are does nothing to ease the bad feelings in most cases, either; our ideas about body image are so ingrained in our society that many of us will swallow them without a thought.
I DO IT WITH THE LIGHTS ON was written by Whitney Way Thore, who is apparently on a show called My Big Fat Fabulous Life. I haven't seen the show, but I was interested in the memoir because I think body positivity is important. Ever since Tess Holliday received her controversial modeling contract, body positivity and image are starting to get more focus in the media. But a lot of people don't seem to fully comprehend what it entails.
"Love yourself," the media says, "but only if you have a body worth loving!"
This memoir starts from Thore's childhood and continues to the present day. She discusses the diet her mother put her on at a doctor's urging because she was a pound heavier than the average ten-year-old should be. She talks about the eating disorder she developed to be "normal-sized" & the cycles of starvation, excessive exercise, and purging she got into in order to maintain her size. She relates stories from her dating life, and points out the differences between body positive men and men who fetishize fat. She also talks about her rise to fame after one of her Fat Girl Dancing videos went rival, and how - even after this long and arduous journey - she is still insulted on a daily basis about her weight and appearance.
I DO IT WITH THE LIGHTS ON was a difficult read for me - partially because I could relate to the weight struggles in some ways, and partially because her experiences were so painful that I really just felt awful for her. Her parents' seeming attempts to deal with their own issues by projecting them onto her was terrible. Her trip to Korea, which should have been a fun experience, resulted in tons of insults and gawking and humiliation. And the men she encountered on various dating sites, who treated her like she was worth about as much respect as a plus-sized blow-up doll, were sickening.
On that note, I think it's an important read precisely because it's so uncomfortable. Thore forces you to think about why fat is viewed as such a bad thing, and how many of the "standards" we set for weight are really just lose/lose scenarios, because it's a rigged game from the start. The opening chapter is a little rocky because it starts out with Thore publicly calling one of her trolls on the carpet, but by the end of the book, you will definitely feel like her annoyance is more than justified. Her attempts to stay healthy despite a diagnosis of PCOS are admirable, and her dancing is incredible. She really doesn't fit society's stereotype of a "fat girl" and if you ask me, that's a damn good thing.
When I was a teenager and did not know the difference between good fiction and bad fiction, I used to sit and read stories on this site called Quizilla - which, funnily enough, mostly had bad fiction. There, I read a lot of anime fanfiction and original fiction paranormal romance stories usually involving vampires or demons. One of the common themes? The heroine was nearly always a virgin and whoever won the sexual race/lottery and got to have sex with her first usually unlocked some sort of magical sex-triggered super power that would help them rule the world. So obviously, the heroines in these stories got kidnapped and/or threatened with rape a lot, because this is what immortals do: scope out Craigslist ads that say: "Me: human girl with magical hoo-ha. You: evil demonic overlord who wants to get some. Let's drag this psychodrama out for 80k words or so, or until the author grows up and gets bored."
Why do I bring this up?
STORM BORN was literally that bad fic from my childhood retold. Eugenie Markham is a Ghostbuster of the Otherworld, which is cool - but it turns out she's also the daughter of a really powerful immortal and there's a prophecy that states that if someone has sex with her and gets her pregnant, their heir will rule the world. What does this mean? For the majority of the book, nearly every single male character the heroine encounters tries to rape her. Every. Single. One.
There's also two heroes (identifiable by the fact that they do not rape the heroine - thank God). I don't like love triangles and this one is pretty bad. There's Kiyo, a half-Japanese, half-Latino kitsune, who's this boring nice guy who likes to be dominant in the bedroom (sort of) and then there's Dorian, a faerie king, who's this boring player guy who likes to be dominant in the bedroom (sort of). Also, he has a rope fetish. I didn't really like either of them. They were bland, although Dorian was the better of the two. This made me so upset because the heroes in Vampire Academy wereso broody and attractive, so I know she can write good heroes. They just weren't present here.
This is actually my second time reading STORM BORN. I read it for the first time when I was in college and really liked it - I gave it 3.5 stars rounded up to 4. Now, after reading it again, I'm kind of wondering what my 21-year-old self was thinking. STORM BORN is incredibly problematic and not just because of the rape plot. She has a roommate who pretends to be Native American to score with babes (ugh), and everyone calls him "Indian" (UGH) and it's portrayed as soooo quirky you guys, ha ha, cultural appropriation is so funny (UGH!!!). At one point, after she and Dorian have rope bondage sex, she tells him that she feels uncomfortable because bondage is basically rape. Um, no it isn't? Also, NO IT ISN'T? I thought that was an incredibly shitty thing to say, especially since she was the one who asked for the rope in the first place. He corrects her, and explains, but still ew.
Don't even get me started on the whole Jasmine plotline either. That was gross.
I tried to think about how I wanted to rate this book because some of the sex scenes were okay, and there was a lot of creativity that went into building this world. Mead doesn't just stick to the usual cannon of werewolves and vampires - she did her research and came up with some characters you normally don't see in paranormal fiction. But there was also a lot of stuff that was just really cringe-worthy or badly-done in this book and I couldn't in good conscience give it anything higher than a 2*. It was fun reading a story that could have been straight out of my teen years - but they're the teen years for a reason. You grow up, move on, and find something better.
UNFORTUNATELY, someone (i.e. me) bought all four books in this series because they were bundled together for $2.99 (it was a really good deal, okay), so I guess I'll see you on the other side.
There's a magical formula you may have noticed. It's been going on all around you and has been for years. I call it "The Twenty Years Formula." That's how long it takes for things to become popular again, through the warm, pleasantly fuzzy lenses of nostalgia. When that happens, marketers, TV producers, and writers all sit up and take notice. That's when you start geting reboots, relaunches reproductions...and, of course, READY PLAYER ONE.
I think it's pretty obvious that I'm a nerd, so I'm not going to pretentiously reel off my "nerd cred." But READY PLAYER ONE was written for people like me, who were born in the 70s and 80s and grew up in the 80s and 90s, and who like nerdy, retro things. One of my favorite movies (Ladyhawke) and one of my favorite bands (The Alan Parsons Project) are mentioned in here, as well as a whole host of other things I really like.
When I'm describing READY PLAYER ONE to people, I tell them that it's a love story to the 80s with a big heaping dash of "Willy Wonka and the Video Game Factory." The story is set in the near future, in 2044. We're in pretty dire straits, with overcrowding and limited resources. An eccentric gamer named James Halliday created a place where people could take a break from their horrible reality, a fully immersive MMORPG called OASIS, which is completely free to use after you pay a simple 25-cent sign-up fee (bar any in-game purchases, of course).
One of the best things about this book is how OASIS is structured. Cline does a really great job of showing how appealing this world is. Poor Wade doesn't have any money of his own, so he spends all his time stuck on the noob world or the world where he goes to school, but plenty of third party developers have created code within the world for planets based on books, video games, and various other themes, where players can do anything from buy valuable items in-game to playerkilling to taking virtual tours of real or fictional places in an elaborate virtual landscape. Doesn't that sound amazing? I want to link in to OASIS. It sounds pretty freaking amazing.
But the game's creator eventually dies, and he isn't content to go quietly. In a viral video will, he announces that he's leaving his vast fortune, as well as the deed to OASIS itself, to anyone who can solve a series of incredibly complex puzzles, riddles, and games all revolving around 80s pop culture. At first, everyone goes crazy. People create clans to seek out the treasure in teams, and a nefarious government enterprise called IOI creates a division dedicated to finding the answers to the riddles themselves so they can privatize and monetize OASIS, forcing players to pay to stay.Years go by without a winner, however, and gradually the public loses interest as everyone assumes that Halliday was either mad or just trying to get a final laugh in at everyone else's expense.
And then, one day, Wade figures out the answer to the first riddle - and nothing is the same.
I read READY PLAYER ONE about four years ago, after checking it out from the library. I loved it so much, I bought my own copy and immediately read it again, this time paying more attention to all of the pop cultural references and looking up various facts, songs, or details that I found interesting. This is my third time reading the book, and I got to be more introspective this time, because I'm reading it for a book club, with people who are just now reading it for the first time, and I want to think about why READY PLAYER ONE resonated so strongly with me so I can explain that magic to everyone else. The book appeals to our nostalgic memories of childhood and our desire for wish fulfillment on a chillingly efficient level, to the point where it's really hard not to root for the main character or put yourself in his shoes. He wants his passions to make him special, and he wants a way to "check out" from the terrible things happening around him. Who doesn't relate to that?
I enjoyed READY PLAYER ONE almost as much as I did the first time, although this time, I did notice a few minor things that kind of annoyed me. Somehow, I didn't notice how selfish Wade was the first time around. When they're talking about what they plan on doing with their winnings, Art3mis says she wants to give a lot to charity, to help give food to people who have none. Wade seems incredulous at this, and when pushed, says that he supposes he'd charter a spaceship and create a new planet somewhere else. This struck me as a very selfish, defeatist way of thinking. I guess it makes sense that growing up in OASIS might make him very used to instant gratification, since planets are easily coded and terraforming isn't an issue at all, but it was still interesting. I found myself wondering if he would really squander all of his money away on a spaceship if he won. Personally, I think if you have more money than you could ever conceivably spend in a lifetime - such as the billions up for stake here - you have a social and moral obligation to give back to society. Certainly, that seems to have been James Halliday's intent here. He created a game that he could have charged anything for, and instead made it free, and then gave away all his money, too. It made me think of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the original one) when Willy Wonka gives Charlie that one final test to make sure he has the moral fiber, the character, that he desires for the person who continues his legacy. The lack of parallelism here was really striking in that regard, especially considering the many other similarities to Willy Wonka that were left intact here. We're shown how evil the IOI is with their capitalistic agenda and greed, but apathy can be just as cruel, and just as devastating to a society.
The other thing that bothered me was the ending. It felt anticlimactic. If you've read the book, I'm talking about that final scene when the outcome is revealed. I was expecting a huge standoff with the IOI, or at least with Nolan Sorrento. A kind of "gotcha!" at gunpoint moment.
Those two peeves aside, though, I really enjoyed READY PLAYER ONE. It's a great story, with decent characters, and a fascinating world that I could happily explore for hours. (Really, A Song of Ice and Fire has five books out and this is a standalone? I'll take OASIS over Westeros any day). I'd even go so far as to say that it's worth reading for the pop cultural references alone. It's a love story for the 80s and an ode to geeks everywhere. I relate to both those things, so of course, I adored it.
Before Sylvia Day made it big with her contemporary erotica - which I have nicknamed Fifty Shades of Guns - she published historical erotica. I have been curious about this author's work for a while and historical erotica seemed like it would be a better match for me than contemporary. I was thrilled to find a copy of ASK FOR IT, the first in her Georgian series, for a mere 50¢.
It starts out okay. Elizabeth and Marcus are ex-lovers who were betrothed until Elizabeth caught him with another woman. Then she broke up with him for another man, Lord Hawthorn. Hawthorn and Marcus are both spies for the Crown and when Marcus finds out that Elizabeth's a widow, he goes in for the kill. And by "kill," I mean "that booty."
***WARNING SPOILERS TO FOLLOW***
The sexual tension is decent, and I enjoyed the story until about 20% in when the hero and the heroine have sex for the first time. Why? Because it's basically rape. The heroine tells him no, fights him, resists him, and his answer to this is to tie her up so she can't move, tell her it's for her own good (basically), and then resume having sex with her. There's some BS about how he's giving her "the freedom" to enjoy him without "guilt."
Um, newsflash, bondage only works like that if there is consent, which there is clearly not in this case. Unfortunately, this is a hero who is obsessive AF and doesn't know when to BTFO. The heroine is talking to another man? She must be cheating, that slut. The heroine locks him out of her room so he won't have sex with her? Clearly the answer is to obtain a key and break into her room. The heroine flees him to one of her lesser-known estates? Follow her there, and then sneak into her bed, naked, while she's asleep, while there is another man actively making attempts on her life, because no way is she going to freak out to waking up with a strange man in her bed, nuh-uh, nope. Insane!
The author also has a fondness for certain words, which she uses excessively. I began making mental tick-marks every time they had sex (and they do have sex many, many times). Each sex scene uses some variant of the words silk/silken, clasp, cunt, fuck, cock, swirl, curl, depths, and caress. But the word she uses the most is one of the few words that guarantees an instant turn-off for me.
I will give you one guess as to what that word is.
He ran a blunt fingertip through her cream... (72)
He jerked his hand along the length and creamy moisture leaked from the tip (75).
She gazed, eyes riveted to the sight of the thick, proud shaft slick with her cream... (80)
He fucked through [her rippling caresses] like a mad man, forcing his cock into grasping depths, dipping into the scalding cream that bathed her inner thighs and lured his seed (115).
Eyes wide, Elizabeth whimpered as the hot velvet of his tongue swirled around and between her fingers, lapping her cream (161).
...he spurted, his hot seed splashing in creamy bursts through her fingers... (164)
Then his hand was between her legs, his long middle finger slipping through the lips of her sex to glide through her cream (209).
He was ensnared, gripped tight by her lithe thighs and creamy depths... (211)
His erection, covered in her cream, grew cold, but didn't diminish (212).
His hand, drenched in her cream, cupped her breast, pinched her nipple (232).
If you guessed "cream," you won! Congratulations!
Unless I'm reading a romance between a dairymaid and a milkman, I don't want to see the words "cream" or "milk" in my erotica - and this author uses both. A lot.
Other minor annoyances:
-:The dialogue is not done to the period. The hero drops f-bombs left and right.
-:The heroine has purple eyes. They're described as "amethyst."
-:The espionage and murder angles are incredibly half-arsed.
P.S. Here are some stewed nectarines drenched in cream.
Think fondly of me - and this book - the next time you're having your morning coffee. ;)
Confession: when this book first came out with the original cover, I thought it was a book about ballet.
Spoiler alert: this book is not about ballet.
When a new young adult title gets released, two things inevitably happen:
1) a whole swarm of bloggers read the book, talk about how they can't even, you guys!, and rate it five stars.
2) I read the book in question, wonder if I'm in a parallel universe where good books turn into bad books, and rate the book one or two stars.
With THE WINNER'S CURSE, I suffered no reader's remorse. This is pretty much everything I expect from young adult - it deals real issues in an intelligent and sophisticated way without talking down to the audience at all. The heroine is calculating, clever, brilliant- a military strategist who is a champion at her world's equivalent of chess. The hero is dark and dangerous, but not in a contrived way. His backstory is quite sad and heart-wrenching, and he has depth to his behavior that makes him seem less scary and more like an honest-to-god love interest.
THE WINNER'S CURSE is about two societies: the Valorians and the Herrani. The Valorians are fair, militaristic, and obsessed with honor. The Herrani, on the other hand, are artisans and intellectuals, who put a premium on artistry and religion, although they also had a powerful navy. The Valorians were jealous of all that the Herrani had achieved - and so, the Valorians decided to take it, and enslave the very people that they had once held in admiration, reducing them to the status of animals as they took them all as their slaves in the very villas where they once resided.
Kestrel is the daughter of a powerful general in the Valorian army. One day, while in the marketplace with her friend, Jess, she comes to a slave auction by accident. She sees a young, attractive man whose rebellious streak will doom him to a life of beatings. Out of a misguided sense of something, she purchases him - and the decision ends up changing her life in unexpected ways. The slave, Arin, is not all that he seems...and as her relationship to him grows closer, it could mean her doom.
Who doesn't love doom in their romances?
One of the best things about THE WINNER'S CURSE was the complexity of the characters. They are both very suspicious, clever people who are good at getting into the heads of others. Watching them try to read each other and gauge one another's thoughts was like watching a chess match between two skilled chess players. This was really well done, and it was especially refreshing to see a female main character who could keep the male main character on his toes, and even best him on occasion.
Boy, this book ended on the mother of all cliffhangers, though. It seems to be going THE HUNGER GAMES route, and I think I can espy a love triangle on the horizon. Honestly, though - at this point, I'm game. Rutkoski has proved herself worthy. THE WINNER'S CURSE is that rare book in a hundred that actually lives up to the hype.
There are two camps when it comes to Colleen Hoover's books: Team CoHo and Team WTH (why the hype?). Until very recently, I was solidly Team WTH. I'd read HOPELESS, the book that made Hoover a big-name hit, and was horrified by how bad I found it. I also tried reading one of her more recent works, NOVEMBER 9, and was so disgusted by both characters that I ended up slogging miserably through all 310 pages of it.
You're probably asking yourself, "If you hate her books so much, why read them?" The answer is that I like to give authors multiple chances before giving up on them completely. Some are just lost causes for me: for whatever reason, their plots and writing styles are totally incompatible with my preferences. But Hoover had versatility going with her. Yes, I hated both books that I read, but for different reasons: they were both written very differently, about different subjects, with very different writing styles.
My hope was that, eventually, Hoover would write a book that would work for me.
Ironically, the first book of hers that I ever liked was totally free to read. Hoover published TOO LATE on Wattpad for readers to enjoy without paying a dime. Skeptically, I began reading the book, fully expecting the worst. Instead, I found myself hopping aboard a speeding train filled with drama, abuse, angst, sex, drugs, and violence. Normally, I take what her hardcore fans say with a grain of salt, but this time, they were 100% correct: this book wasn't like anything she had ever written before. It was dark, unpleasant, gritty. The Queen of Fluff had decided to don studs and a mohawk.
When her fans then began saying that IT ENDS WITH US was the same - also dark, also unpleasant, and also completely unlike anything she'd ever written - I decided to trust their opinion, and once more, they were totally correct. It's difficult to explain what IT ENDS WITH US is about without delving into spoilers territory, but abuse is a prominent theme. It was a theme in some of her other books, too, but here, I felt that Hoover really went out of her way to deal with it as realistically and sensitively as possible. If you're interested enough to read the afterward, you'll find out why.
The best comparison I can think of is to imagine that a character in one of Sarah Dessen's books grew up and then decided to narrate the dramatic experiences in her early twenties. Like all other CoHo protagonists, Lily Bloom has unconventional quirks and an irritating name, but it's seriously downplayed. Likewise, the slut-shaming is completely absent. Lily's friendship with Allysa and Lucy is decent and healthy. Her relationships are a bit more complicated for reasons that are difficult to explain, but I wasn't really happy with either love interest, not even the one I was supposed to be.
The negative reviews I looked at complained that this book relies on emotional manipulation to get the point across, and while I didn't take issue with that as much as they did, I totally get what they mean. On a scale of one to Jodi Picoult, this book scores Jodi Picoult. But I was so pleased by the strength of the writing and the satisfying ending that I was able to ignore my qualms. I did have qualms, though, and that's the reason this book is getting three stars from me, as opposed to four or five. I just wasn't invested enough in Lily to feel the feelings that made everyone feel. I did sympathize with her though, and I thought the author's note at the end was really powerful.
This is a solid addition to Colleen Hoover's repertoire. There are now two Colleen Hoover books that I did not hate. I'm slowly stepping out of Team WTH, and finding that, while the grass may not be quite as green on the other side of the camp, there are some very lovely flowers scattered throughout here and there for those who care to enjoy them.
When pictures of this book cover first began surfacing on Twitter, I thought it was some kind of hoax. But, like Peeps-flavored Oreos, TENDER WINGS OF DESIRE was just as real, just as questionable, and just as compelling.
Released just in time for Mother's Day, along with an ad that seems to be channeling Fabio (with bonus lie/lay confusion), TENDER WINGS OF DESIRE is a historical romance novel in which a plucky and spirited heroine falls in love with Colonel Harland Sanders. The cover, which looks like a vintage Harlequin, features smiling Sanders holding a woman in 1950s garb - never mind that this is set in A Historical Era Where Women Wear Gowns™. Who has time to worry about historical inaccuracies? I'm too transfixed by the magically hovering bucket of KFC and the heroine's apparent attempts to tame the Colonel's hair with a chicken drumstick. The roaring ocean waves and Trump Tower-sized castle in the background are just extra.
I began reading this with the expectation that it would be a rip-roaringly ridiculous romp through the wilder side of the romance genre, in the vein of the tongue-in-cheek dinosaur erotica that peaked in popularity a few years ago. But if you, like me, were expecting "I Fucked Colonel Sanders," you're going to be disappointed. This is not Fifty Shades of Gravy™; this is Fried and Frigidity™.
Plucky Madeline's parents are attempting to force her to marry a duke. Not buying this arrangement with a man she describes as a "vanilla biscuit", Madeline flees to a tavern, gets a job as a barmaid of sorts, and falls into insta-love with the Colonel. She sleeps with him immediately, all safely off-screen, and everything seems like pure bliss until she realizes that he's the American version of the gentry - the same class of people that she was attempting to run away from. Oh, the horror of being wealthy! The novella is under 100 pages, but it's worth noting Colonel Sanders doesn't make an appearance until the 46% mark. Before that, TENDER WINGS OF DESIRE is all about Madeline chafing at convention and expressing a yearning desire for unspecified middle-class adventure.
I think most people were going into this expecting comedy - if not "I Fucked the Colonel," then with over-the-top descriptions of thighs that looked like creamy mashed potatoes, and foreplay involving coleslaw and gravy - but it is actually a heartbreaking attempt at a sincere romance novel, made more heartbreaking still by the fact that it just isn't very good. Fried chicken isn't mentioned once, and the novel almost seems to "bait" the reader with the promise of puns to come with lines like this:
Madeline could not help but feel surprised, about what she did not exactly know, but once they reached the docks again she turned to him, her heart bursting with the desire to figure out what was burning in her stomach (69%).
The readermight be inclined to ask, with increasing desperation, whether the answer is KFC® Nashville Hot Chicken Tenders. But the novel just smiles slyly and flounces away, spinning lines of pseudo-romantic drivel so insipidly terrible that even Harlequin would deliver to them the cut direct:
Madeline's heart was pounding so heavily in her chest that she did not think she would be able to breathe; perhaps she would die like this. It would be terribly romantic, would it not? To be killed by such a longing (69%).
Oh, dear. How terribly improper.
To my knowledge, KFC is not mentioned once, nor are any of its products, and Harland's role is only alluded to, briefly, as "magnate of a restaurant industry." Since I was reading this for my romance group, I was determined to see this to the end in the hopes of some grand finale, or at least one bad pun about golden thighs, creamy potatoes, or seeing the phrase "finger-lickin' good" in a non-food-related context. I was disappointed on all counts. The story ends as you might expect of a romance novel: with the two of them sailing away to happiness. All that's missing are the white horses and the technicolor sunset, but perhaps they are saving those for the sequel.
From a marketing standpoint, I do applaud KFC's efforts. We as a society have grown mostly numb to advertising, since we're bombarded with it constantly at all hours, so it's genuinely refreshing to see a company that does something novel in a way that isn't "tone deaf." TENDER WINGS OF DESIRE attempts to parody the romance genre without actually deriding it, and considering how often the romance genre is put on blast for a cheap laugh, that's actually rather sweet.
I managed to get this while it was free, but it appears that it's now 99-cents (unless you have Kindle Unlimited), and I'm not sure it's worth it apart from the sheer lark of reading a romance novel published by a fast food company that has absolutely nothing to do with fast food. The concept is clever and original, but the contents don't match the cover at all. I think they should have either gotten a better writer, or just thrown all caution to the wind and taken the "I Fucked Colonel Sanders" route, because right now TENDER WINGS OF DESIRE reads like a joke without a punchline.
A lot of people say that certain books make them cry, but when I pick up that book, I feel nothing. It's like trying to squeeze a rock to get water; I just don't tend to cry when I read. Well, THE HATE U GIVE made me cry. It also made me laugh. It made me smile. It made me so angry that at times I was literally shaking. It made me uncomfortable, it made me reflective, and - perhaps most importantly of all - it made me think.
Starr Carter lives in what she calls "the ghetto," AKA Garden Heights. After she watched a childhood friend shot in the street, her mother enrolled her in a prestigious private school. Now, she lives her life with a foot in two very different worlds. By day, she's with her non-black friends and her white boyfriend in a school filled with kids who think nothing of their privilege. By night, she lives in a cramped house in a bad neighborhood where gunfire is common and gang activity is a viable source of income.
She resigns herself to the fact that she doesn't really fit into either "niche" and changes the way she acts and speaks depending on which group she's with at the time. Friends and family are a delicate balancing act, but she's happy, and she's loved, and she has friends both at school and at home. Then she drives home with a friend and gets pulled over by a cop & sees him killed before her eyes.
What follows is an incredibly powerful story that follows Starr as her friend's death ripples through the news and gains widespread attention. It becomes an allegory for the very real problem of prejudice that exists in our society, and raises important questions about racism. That racism can be internalized, or expressed by people we care about. That it can be accidental or premeditated. That it can be institutionalized. That it isn't limited by color or gender. That no matter the form or the medium, it is harmful, and has devastating consequences when it is allowed to fester and grow.
I loved Starr's voice. She is an incredibly likable character. She has hobbies, she works hard in school, and she struggles to find her voice as the adult she will one day become. I loved her interactions with her family, especially her parents and uncle. Her friends, Maya, Jess, and Kenya, were great. I side-eyed her relationship with Chris at first, but he redeemed himself, and by the end of the book I was so impressed by how their relationship developed. He was a different person by the end of the book. Because of Starr. This is a heroine with agency, who is independent and flawed but kind and compassionate. By the end of the book, I was so invested in her story. She felt so real.
THUG is an important book because it mirrors many actual real events that have happened, and serves as a sort of call to action for people to examine their own thoughts and attitudes and the effects that their actions can have on others. It also shows the importance of speaking up and being heard, and how that isn't always easy as others say it is, especially in the wake of a traumatic event (much like Laurie Halse Anderson's SPEAK).
I want to say so much more about this book, but I don't want to spoil anything or express myself poorly, so let me just say that this should be required reading and whether you love it or hate it, THUG is one of those books that is so different and so powerful and so raw that it will change the way you see the world.
Female antiheroes have been around for a while but Gillian Flynn made them popular - if you look at the blurb for this book, you'll see that it's compared to both WE WERE LIARS and GONE GIRL - and now this trend is extending to YA. Normally comparisons like this make me cringe because they tend to be wildly inaccurate, but in this case there is some foundation for the GONE GIRL comparison. The protagonist of BEWARE THAT GIRL is calculating, and willing to do anything to get ahead.
Kate O'Brian grew up in terrible conditions. She had to claw herself out of the gutter to get where she is now: an elite NYC school for the rich and successful. Kate knows that if she's going to succeed, she needs to get herself a meal ticket: one that comes in the form of the popular but troubled golden girl, Olivia Sumner.
A problem presents itself in the form of the new head of fundraising, Mark Redkin, a sexy, charming man who instantly wins the hearts of female students and faculty. He has a sinister side that nobody but Kate seems to register, and when he turns the full force of his attention onto Olivia, he threatens to compromise everything she's accomplished and reveal the dark secrets of her past that she's tried so hard to hide.
The plot of this book kind of reminded me of a sexed-up version of the Losing Christinaseries by Caroline B. Cooney. Losing Christina was about a sinister private school on the east coast where two members of the faculty - a principal and teacher who were also husband and wife - got off on psychologically breaking their students. It's really interesting to see how YA is changing; authors are less afraid to be edgy and controversial. The genre is growing up and getting a taste for big girl pants.
I liked BEWARE THAT GIRL. The promised twist at the end wasn't really all that shocking, but the build-up of tension and the atmosphere of dread and suspense was well done. I kept having to remind myself that this was being marketed as YA because it seemed way too dark to be a book for teenagers. Anyone who enjoys dark tales about girls gone wild will enjoy this book.
ROSEBLOOD is about three of my favorite things: The Phantom of the Opera, the Comte de Saint-Germain, and vampires. All three together? Oh, heck yes. Set in a gloomy boarding school/converted opera house in the middle of France, I was certain that this neo-Gothic, ROSEBLOOD, would be able to do one of my favorite classics justice in a new and interesting way.
I was wrong.
It kills me to say this, because the writing in ROSEBLOOD is so beautiful that it actually almost convinced me that ROSEBLOOD was a better book than it actually was. A.G. Howard can write. However, her characters and story-telling choices are odd. Like, campy 80s horror movie odd. There were so many moments in here that had me blinking, and going, "Did that really happen?" Towards the end of the story, it happened more and more.
**WARNING: THAR BE MAJOR SPOILERS**
First, let me get something out of the way that really bothered me. I hate this new YA trend of taking the "ugly" characters in classic stories and making them beautiful. Sarah J. Maas did this in A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES, taking the "beast" and making him a gorgeous fairy prince cursed to wear a mask. A.G. Howard does this in ROSEBLOOD, with the "phantom" love interest being not the tortured, disfigured genius, but the tortured, disfigured genius's adopted (but gorgeous) son, Thorn. Coincidentally enough, Thorn also wears a mask, just like Tam Lin, only for fun. When you do this, it takes all the original meaning out of the story. Part of what made Beauty and the Beast such a powerful story was that the beast was a horrible man when he was attractive and human; it took being ugly and monstrous to make him realize how lonely and awful it is to be despised when your exterior matches your interior, and it took a love that was based on more than looks (well, you can argue about that, since, you know, "Beauty" and the Beast) to redeem him. Likewise, part of what makes Phantom of the Opera such a tragic story is that Erik's genius and artistry goes unappreciated because of his lack of looks; what draws him to Christine isn't just her ethereal beauty and innate talent, but also because he sees her as his soulmate; the beautiful foil to his hideous appearance.
STOP MAKING THESE CHARACTERS GORGEOUS AND SHALLOWING EVERYTHING UP.
Anyway, to the plot of the story. Our heroine is named "Rune." She has a tragic history. She doesn't want to go to this special school because she has a special ability: she is compelled to sing at certain moments, and always does it beautifully. Naturally, she is "compelled" to do this while the resident Queen Bee is auditioning, before pretending to pass out. Her mother sticks around for a while but is about to go on honeymoon with Rune's new stepfather, so like Bella Swan's mom, or Mindy from Animaniacs, she goes, "Okay, I love you, bye-bye," and swans off, leaving Rune to her own devices. Luckily, Rune makes a whole bunch of friends, immediately, who are so fascinated by her lack of personality and her special secrets that they see absolutely zero problems about sneaking into her room and snooping into her belongings. This happens several times.
Rune meets a boy named Thorn who appears around the Opera House. He always wears a half-mask, but is super attracted to the half of the face that she can see. He tells her that they're "twin souls." No, literally, they are two halves of the same soul: incarnations of the Christine from the Phantom of the Opera myth. Only, Thorn can't sing because when he was young, he was kidnapped by sex traffickers, and his voice scared them so much that they poured lye down his throat. So instead of singing, Thorn plays the violin, and when he plays, Rune no longer feels sick after she sings.
This is because Rune, Thorn, and the Phantom (Erik), are all PSYCHIC VAMPIRES who use their magical abilities to draw out people's life force.
Erik even owns a themed club in Paris. A rave club, where he picks off victims when he's so inclined. This is one of many moments, when I was just shocked and could only mumble, "Phantom...of the Rave? Phantom...rave...huh? Rave...phantom...rave..."
PHANTOM OF THE RAVE.
I'm sorry, I can't let that go. Erik doesn't belong anywhere near a rave. I refuse to believe that his artistic integrity would allow him to tolerate dub-step.
If you're wondering where Rune fits into all this, it ties back to the Phantom. Apparently, he and Christine got together at one point and had a baby (YESSSSSS). The baby was stillborn, but Erik has been keeping it alive in a Frankenstein-style incubator for all these years, waiting for Christine's reincarnation so he could kidnap that person, cut out their vocal chords, and implant them in the baby...because this will bring the baby to life again for some reason. All his attempts to get to Rune have been to activate her power, have Thorn seduce her, and then basically cut out her throat.
I've seen and read several Phantom of the Opera adaptions, and this was one of the worst because it was so weird. It reminded me, actually, of that bad Italian remake, Il fantasma dell'opera(1998), which features Julian Sands looking less like the Phantom of the Opera and more like a reject from Interview of the Vampire since a) he's not disfigured (and is actually pretty hot), and b) the movie is less about him pursuing Christina for his sensually artistic purposes and more about sex (if I recall correctly, it actually features an orgy scene) and countless violent murder sprees. Not that ROSEBLOOD was gratuitously violent or needlessly sexual - it wasn't; it's similar because, like Il fantasma dell'opera, it was so over the top that in its attempt to differentiate itself from the work it was paying homage to, it pretty much lost sight of the original's purpose and become something totally and completely different. For better or for worse.
P.S. I'm disappointed to say that the Saint-Germaine connection basically goes nowhere, which is a shame, because he was a fascinating guy. For another story about Saint-Germaine and vampires that's actually pretty good, I suggest you check out Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Saint-Germaine series.
I'd been lusting after this book for a while, partly because of that beautiful cover, and partly because it's a romance between an Amazon and an Atlantean. Ummmm, shut up and take my money? Also, that man on the cover is not wearing anything under that robe, so there's lots of sexy naked thigh action (even though his junk appears to have been photoshopped away for the sake of propriety, rather akin to the "missing nipple" phenomenon you see on many an erotica cover).
Sadly, the book itself did not live up to that glorious cover. Which was upsetting because the premise and the intro itself were quite good. I liked Thalassa and the Amazons. Who doesn't want to see a bunch of body positive, warrior women having sex and slaying misogynists? It's basically a blood-thirstier version of those Smash the Patriarchy necklaces on Etsy. Except instead of a hammer, they use a bipennis (and no, that's not what you think it is. This is, though! You're welcome. ;D)
The problem comes in the form of the hero, King "I'm a nice guy, I swear" Dorian, of the mer-people. Dorian is a nice guy. He will tell you this constantly. His people tell his victim, Thalassa, this constantly. But Dorian is not a nice guy. He kidnaps Thalassa from her people, turns her into a mer-person without her consentby magic, threatens her with the Sea Spell which will erase all her memories of her past life and render her docile, and repeatedly threatens her with rape.
I couldn't quite get over the body modification. I'm still kind of hung up on that. I mean, he gives her gills & changes her physiology by sticking her with a needle repeatedly. That's some serious Dr. Moreau shit right there. The concept of the Sea Spell was also disturbing, because apparently this is standard process for abducted brides among the mer-people and Dorian gets into serious trouble with the elders for not using it. I know we're supposed to applaud him for not doing this, because he loves her the way she is, but that, to me, is tantamount to clapping some bro-dude on the back and saying, "Good job for not raping that unconscious woman! Great self-control, dude!" Why someone should be applauded for not taking away someone's memory and free will is highly questionable to me because no decent person should do this, period. You shouldn't be rewarded for doing what any decent hero would do. Which begs the question: is Dorian a hero? He's an alpha who dreams of being a beta, but secretly also wants to be a gamma. I almost feel like the author would have been better off writing him in the style of a classic bodice ripper "hero": that is, someone completely without scruple, who does what he pleases, when he pleases, and God help you if you get in the way of that Master Plan. That I think would have been a better characterization for a needle-happy despot who thinks you need to be cruel to be kind.
ACROSS A WINE-DARK SEA also falls into a trope trap that I really don't like...the fated to be mated trope. I go out of my way to avoid books with this trope, because I have yet to see one that does it in a way that doesn't come across as apologist & rapey.
At first, I found myself skimming the Thalassa/Dorian chapters - because Thalassa loses her awesomeness quickly, becoming a pouting, foot-stomping, "No, I won't eat my food, I'm going to starve!" type heroine - and reading the passages about the Amazons, because they were great. Until I noticed another disturbing trend...that all of the Amazon subplots inevitably resulted in men arriving to Amazonia who wanted to rape them. The book opens up with pirates trying to capture them and sell them as sex slaves, and then there's the Greeks, led by Heracles and Theseus, who come to the island to steal Hippolyte's golden girdle and end up having a happy sex orgy until one jealous gay guy (and of course, he has to be gay) decides to commit murder out of jealousy and love for Heracles, thereby inciting a riot that leads to a bunch of Amazons being kidnapped as sex slaves/collateral. The ending cinched my dislike for this book. Bryan kills off some of the characters I did like, seemingly for shock value, and, of course, Thalassa and Dorian get their HEA.
I am glad I read this book, because it was different and now I know how I feel about it instead of lusting after that gorgeous cover and fantasizing about what might be. I read the synopses for the sequels, and I think that I might be willing to give this author another chance, because they look like standalones and book two is an interracial romance between a mer-woman and a Chinese man and book three is a contemporary paranormal between a female scholar and a mer-man. Depending on how that goes down, it might be a better premise for this book - especially considering that this was a debut effort, and the author would have had some time to better hone her craft. But I did not like WINE-DARK SEA at all. I desperately wanted to - the writing was beautiful at times and she wrote some kick-ass fight scenes (apparently she's into martial arts - it shows) - but I didn't.
P.S. The whole time I was reading this, I kept humming this song.
Carthya is a kingdom on the brink of war. The royal family is dead. The youngest son, Jaron, is missing, presumed dead. A group of regents all have their eye on the vacant throne, and if one of them seizes power, it's likely that the entire kingdom will be plunged into ruin. But one nobleman named Conner has a plan. He's rounded up a group of four orphan boys - Latamer, Roden, Tobias, and Sage - that all have the look of Jaron. His plan is to groom them, train them, and in two weeks, crown the one who has best taken to the role. As for the others, well...death.
Despite being a thief and an orphan, Sage is a proud boy, and doesn't take kindly to Conner's cruel tyranny. He sustains a number of beatings, whippings, and torments at the hands of his captor. The other boys can't be trusted, either. They're all in competition for the same thing, and if one of them fails, the survivors in this cruel competition will gain from their loss.
THE FALSE PRINCE is one of those books that sounded so good, I was afraid to read it, because I couldn't stand the thought of being disappointed. This was in error. THE FALSE PRINCE is awesome. It's got all the things I love in YA - court intrigue, surprising twists, peril, death, heartbreak, friendship, competitions, deception, and action. Sage is an excellent narrator. He has all the snark of Artemis Fowl, but the humanity and determination of characters like Katniss Everdeen that make your heart ache for them as well. No matter how big a jerk he is, there's never a moment where you don't want him to succeed, because you feel in your heart that he deserves it.
The only things that I can really ding this book for are - the main twist. I saw it coming pretty early on. Also, Roden's and Tobias's characters started to feel pretty interchangeable in the last third of the book. Roden especially did some things that just felt out of character. This is just me being nit-picky, though. I finished this book in a single sitting; it was just that good.