You could bowl me over with a feather after I finished Katy Evan's first book in this series, MANWHORE, and actually thought that it was not all that bad. After all the things people had said about REAL, I was loath to pick up anything by this author, but it turned out to be the perfect example of why sometimes it's good to check a book out despite its bad press. I gave it two-stars, but it was a good two-stars, a solidly okay read, and the perfect guilty pleasure read for a lazy afternoon. Rachel was insecure and annoying, and I got awfully tired of her changing color more frequently than a broken mood ring, but Saint was a decent hero and the sex in the book was - call me shallow - hawt. Repetitive, but hawt, and far better written than I expected.
I bought three books in this series to review for my romance blog, along with various other titles (including CAPTIVE PRINCE AND BAD ROMEO) and despite having low expectations about MANWHORE, I enjoyed it well enough that I was prepared to immediately dive into the companion novella to the series, MS. MANWHORE, and after that, Tahoe's story, LADIES MAN [sic] (I'm fairly sure it should be LADIES' MAN with an apostrophe; Merriam-Webster seems to agree).
First, apparently MS. MANWHORE is #2.5 in the series and I don't have book #2, MANWHORE +1. That's all right. Easy enough to figure out what happened, right? Saint forgives Rachel for the article, dangles her around a bit before taking her back, and obviously it ends with a wedding. Apparently Ms. Evans couldn't help herself, she just had to foist the wedding preparations upon her readers. Because wedding preparations are so fun and romantic. LOL, just kidding. I almost said that with a straight face. Almost. (Sorry, I've watched Bridezillas.)
If you thought Rachel was immature and insecure in the first book (and probably the second), you're going to love the raging cluster of hormones she turns into in MS. MANWHORE. While the feminist in me appreciates the Ms., the feminist in me is also rolling her eyes at all the constant 24/7 lust, jealousy, whining, and crying that went on in this book. When Saint tells Rachel he wants four children, she says, "I'd be fat for almost for years. Of my life!" (27). When they're having their respective bachelor's and bachlorette's celebration, Rachel sits in her apartment with her friends drinking wine and stalking him on social media, presumably trying to figure out what he's doing without her and whether or not he's going to cheat on her (61). I dog-earred that page, because I thought that was the saddest thing I'd ever read - and not ha ha, that's so pathetic, but actually depressingly sad and legitimately upsetting. If you're marrying someone and you're still unsure as to whether or not they're going to cheat on you, it's time for a serious, sit-down kind of adult conversation (without sex) to talk about where you see the relationship going and what your expectations are; and if you are still not appeased after this conversation, do not marry this person. Not if it's going to make you unhappy and have you monitoring their social media to ensure that they are on their best behavior. Therein lies the path to broken dishes and broken hearts.
The mistrust and jealousy continue, with Saint telling Rachel that he wouldn't get her a vibrator as a present because "Why would I want anything inside you other than me?" (82). Then on their honeymoon night, Rachel starts freaking out about her appearance(?) and tells him, oddly, "you deserve for me to smell divine..." pleading with him that "I need...to fix myself" (112). I thought that was so odd, because it's hammered in in the first book how beautiful, skinny, and blonde Rachel is - she even gloats about it herself, which is off-putting and refreshing in equal measures, because (1) Rachel is a twit and I didn't really like her to start but (2) how often do we actually encounter a heroine who feels confident enough about her appearance to own her good looks? But here in this book, it's like Rachel undergoes a complete 180, and constantly puts herself down.
If you really loved the other two books in the Manwhore series about Rachel and Saint, you might love this book. Maybe. I think you would have to love Rachel's character, though, because she's the focus here, and not Saint. I did not like Rachel at all in the first book, and in fact even abhorred her at points in this one. If I had paid the asking price of $2.99 on Amazon, instead of the $1 I got it for at the used book bin, I would have been very unhappy. As it was, $1 was probably entirely too much.
I'm a romance blogger and sometimes my followers will ask me to review things. Twist ending: my followers did not ask me to review MANWHORE - no, I was asked to review REAL. Conflict: I have yet to find a copy of REAL in a used bookstore (yet). What I did find was one of her newer books, MANWHORE, and two of its sequels. Well, then, I thought to myself. Bring it on.
My friends really did not like REAL so I was a bit reluctant to start MANWHORE, but to be honest, it seems like the book is a vast improvement over her earlier work. Again, I haven't read REAL so I can't say this for sure, but based on quotes and excerpts I've read, it seems like the author's writing and story-telling has improved a lot. MANWHORE is well-written and actually features a surprisingly charming hero. I really liked Malcolm Saint. He was pretty sweet.
MANWHORE is a romance written in the vein of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY: an innocent ingenue-type heroine is asked to interview a Chicago playboy/billionaire for her dying magazine. The difference? No BDSM, and the guy in question is actually pretty nice for a playboy billionaire. Not knowing this, Rachel contrives to meet him to gain access to his deepest secrets for the article; he, of course, finds himself intrigued by her innocence and initial refusal of him; they obviously start hooking up after much ado, and business and pleasure become so hopelessly entangled that pretty soon the heroine, Rachel Livinston, isn't sure where one ends and the other begins.
I liked the chick-lit style of writing. MANWHORE is a speedy read and reminds me of a dirtier version of the Red Dress Ink titles I greedily devoured in my late teens/early twenties. And Malcolm Kyle Preston Logan Saint (good God, what a name), as I said before, is a great love interest with way more depth than I expected (although to be fair, I was not expecting much).
The problems stem mostly from the heroine, who is afflicted with 24/7 boner vision. The bulk of their scenes involve her waxing on about how much she loves [his] body part, or how [her] body part is reacting to him. It's a bit hypocritical of her, being as sex-obsessed as she is, because she's constantly going on about the hero's side-floozies and how she doesn't want to be one of them. Rachel also doesn't have much in the way of personality, which is always a death knell for me when it comes to romance novels. I like it when heroines have depth and character, and apart from salivating over Saint and working on her article (which I'm not sure counts as a separate hobby since the article is about Saint), she doesn't appear to be interested in much else. I think it's telling that all five of the hero's names make it to the back jacket, but the heroine's name isn't mentioned once. I get it, it's all about the raunchy sex and the attractive hero; Rachel's nothing more than a place holder for us to project ourselves into. If that's your cup of tea, then you'll love MANWHORE, as it is well written and erotic - way more so than most purely erotic books out there, to its credit. You could definitely do worse.
I was notified recently that my library just added a ton of books that I recommended, including several memoirs written by people of color and YA about LGBT+ characters. One of those books was ONE DAY WE'LL ALL BE DEAD AND NONE OF THIS WILL MATTER by Scaachi Koul, a culture writer for BuzzFeed Canada.
I'd been looking forward to this book for a while. I love BuzzFeed and I had heard that this book was going to address many topics like feminism and racism and cultural identity. Plus, it's written by someone who's roughly my own age, give or take a few years, and it's always amazing to read books written from someone in your generation - especially if their observations are written from a different perspective than your own. It's like seeing the world with new eyes...for better or for worse.
ODWABDaNoTWM is about Koul growing up in Canada in the 90s and early 2000s. The daughter of immigrant parents from India, she was in the unique position of being the only "brown person" in an area of Canada that didn't have many minorities at the time (I'm blanking on the exact location, but I believe it was a part of Calgary that was mostly white). She writes, with candidness and humor, about internal and external racsim; sexism; interracial relationships; rape culture; substance abuse; beauty standards; and dating. She's incredibly witty and makes some very cutting observations on Canadian and Indian culture, but she also talks about what she loves about these two different cultures, too, and how they have helped shape her identity and make her into the person she is now. Also, her relationship with her family, especially her parents, is both endearing and hilarious. I love how she includes some of her emails to her dad.
I really loved this book. Koul brings a fresh perspective to the millennial memoir collective, which seems to be mostly overrun by YouTube celebrities and pop stars. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I prefer books with a little more substance. This is the second book I've read that was written by current- or ex-BuzzFeed staff (the first was I HATE EVERYONE BUT YOU by Allison Raskin and Gaby Dunn) and let me tell you, I am impressed. Both ODWABDaNoTWM and I HATE EVERYONE BUT YOU are pitch-perfect and culturally relevant, discussing many relevant and controversial issues that millennials - especially female millennials - face on a day to day basis.
If you have been following me, you might be asking yourself, "What's the deal, Nenia? Why are you reading all of these books if you don't like them?" Well, here's the thing, Dear Reader. I purchased most of the author's collection at a used bookstore because I'd heard good things, and then immediately regretted this decision upon picking up the first book in the Sweet series. Stuck with 10+ books I didn't like, and a following of fellow bloggers who enjoy seeing me suffer, I decided that since I spent money for them, I was going to review them, goddammit!
The Sweet series wasn't going well for me so I took a brief hiatus halfway through the series. When I returned to Maya Banks's work, I decided to switch to the Surrender trilogy instead, thinking to mix things up a little. You can imagine my thoughts when I found out that Surrender is really a spinoff of the Sweet series. Same stories, similar characters, with regular visits to The House that is owned and operated by Damon Roche. I'll give you a hint. My exact thoughts rhymed with "clucking swell." Especially because it turns out that I've attempted reading this before. Three years, ago, in fact. Twenty-four-year-old Nenia wanted to give it the old college try, and then DNF'd 1/4 of the way through. Twenty-four-year-old Nenia was wise.
LETTING GO is about Joss(lyn) and Dash. Joss is grieving her dead husband but after two years is ready to move on. Her one wish was to be dominated in bed, which her husband could never bring himself to do because of the abuse he experienced growing up. Joss is determined to find a new man who can give her what she needs in bed. Dash is a friend to her and her late husband, but has secretly coveted Joss for all these years. When he sees her at The House, with another man, he storms in to interrupt the scene and drags her out caveman-style, declaring that he'll be the only one to do that.
Basically. I mean, I'm exaggerating a little, but not by much.
Now, to the author's credit, the writing in this book is a cut above the writing in the Sweet series. I don't know if someone took the author aside and said, "Hey, you know, I don't think women want to read about 'swollen tissues' in their erotica" but the phrase only appeared once. The extremely strange sex metaphors were also absent, which was a plus (although the humorous factor dipped).
The anti-BDSM attitude was also reduced even more here than in previous books, although Dash still can't help himself; he just has to mansplain safe words to Joss:
"Now, many people in these kinds of relationships use safe words. I'm not a fan of them myself, but I understand the necessity of them. Especially for a woman being introduced to this world for the first time. After a while you won't need a safe word because it's my job to find out your boundaries and push you to the very edge without crossing that line. Does that make sense?" (94)
"[W]hen you say [your safe word], it ends and the mood will be broken. There won't be any going back. So be very sure that you truly want me to stop and aren't just overwhelmed by the moment. I'll push your limits. You want a man to push you. You've said as much. So don't chicken out the first time things get intense" (196).
The smarm...it just oozes from the page. Also, safe words are not sexual training wheels. You don't have a commencement ceremony where people give you an award and say, "Congratulations! You don't need to use safe words anymore!" They're not a sign of weakness or inexperience. They're literally for stopping a scene when it becomes too intense, uncomfortable, or scary. That's all. I can't believe he implied that she would be a mood-wrecking chicken if she used her goddamn safe word.
Banks attempts to make Dash a sweet, considerate hero, cushioning the alphahole nature with pretenses of concern and nuturance, but it doesn't really work. Not only does he appear to not understand how personal space or BDSM work, he's creepy and possessive. Literally right after they start to explore their relationship, he drops this bomb on her:
"I want you to move in with me" (104).
Why? Because he doesn't want to have sex with her in the house she shared with her husband. When Joss asks for more time to think about this decision (understandable), Dash says this:
"The only thing me giving you more time would accomplish would be giving you more of a chance to back out. I'm not going to allow that. I've waited too long. I won't let you go now. Not when I'm so close to having everything I ever wanted" (105).
I'm sorry, I seem to have wondered into a Criminal Minds episode, by mistake. What the actual fresh hell are you still doing on his doorstep, girl? Those words should have you running faster than "on your mark, get set, go!" Dude is a total psycho who's probably going to lock you in his basement.
A few pages later, he tells her that he doesn't feel comfortable with the idea of her working:
"I like the idea of you not working. I like the idea of having all your time. I'm a selfish bastard. I don't want to share you with anyone and certainly not a job" (111).
Seriously. I have two words for you: Base. Ment.
The creepiness continues, as Dash considers impregnating her.
It would suit him perfectly for her to be barefoot and pregnant in his home. Tied to him irrevocably. Maybe that made him a chauvinistic bastard, but he didn't give a damn (153).
"Barefoot and pregnant" is actually a loaded phrase with negative, sexist connotations. Not necessarily something I really want to be reading about in an erotica that is allegedly about empowering a woman to find the courage to overcome her grief and pursue her own sexual desires.
Weird sex descriptions:
-: On p.135, Dash decides to feed her pasta and sauteed shrimp. He ensure[s] it [won't] burn her by testing it first, by which I took to mean he was taking a bite out of every morsel before giving it to her, which sounds gross to me: I'm a woman, not a baby bird! But Joss finds it erotic: The idea that the food had been to his mouth first and then to hers was as jolting as if he'd kissed her (135). Or if he vomited into her mouth, I suppose. That, too. But hey, po-tay-to, po-tah-to.
-: His d*ck was about to come out of his pants. He wouldn't be surprised if his erection tore right through his jeans (142). Has that happened before? I think he needs to buy better quality pants.
-: He sucked and licked, thrusting his tongue inside her to taste her sweet honey (151).
What shifted this book to a solid one star was what I'm going to call The Misunderstanding. This whole time, Joss has been experiencing grief. On p.286, she has a dream about her husband. It's supposed to be about moving on, and getting ready to embrace her life with Dash, but when she talks in her sleep, Dash misinterprets what's happening and thinks she still loves Carson.
Which isn't a big deal. He was her husband and he is dead.
But not to Dash, who starts yelling at her when she wakes up, accusing her of using him as a "poor substitute" for the man she lost. He adds this:
"You don't want to move on. You just want someone to fuck you and play master to your submissive. Hell, it would have been just any man, or don't you remember that night at The House?" (287)
You mean the night you barged into her scene unasked and dragged her out after threatening the other Dom? That night?
"It's obvious you weren't particular and any dick would have done" (287).
Keep in mind that this is over something she said in her sleep, which he didn't even ask her to clarify.
Joss makes a half-assed attempt to try and correct him and tells him that he's hurting her feelings.
Dash retorts with this:
"Good," he said savagely. "It's about time you hurt a tenth as much as I've hurt over the last years. I'm tired of trying to live up to a dead man's memory. When are you going to accept that he's gone?" (287).
After that, there was no going back for me. Dash was beyond redemption. I mean, who says that to a woman whose husband has died? Well, I'll tell you: the same kind of man who admits that he treated her badly when she first started going out with his best friend in the hopes that they'd break up:
"It shames me that I treated you so curtly in the beginning. I actually hoped that things wouldn't work out between you and Carson because I wanted you for myself. I had planned to swoop in and claim you the minute things ended between you and Carson....I fully admit, I looked for faults. I looked for any evidence that you weren't what was best for him. Hell, I hoped that he'd lose interest or you'd do something to put him off....I wanted you to fail just so I could have you as my own" (180).
Joss is so upset that she flees - and ends up getting into a car accident. Joss's friends confront Dash when they find out she's missing, but he has no idea where she is. They find her in the hospital. He finds out that he was - surprise, surprise, a big a-hole who ruined everything with his assumptions. There are tears. They end up deciding to get back together, because theirs is a totally healthy relationship with absolutely zero red flags or concerns, nope, no sir, not at all.
The book ends with this hopeful little nugget of happy endings to come:
"Let's go start making those babies," he said huskily. "I can't wait to see you swollen with my child. As beautiful as you are to me right now, I can only imagine you'll grow even more beautiful when you're heavy with our baby" (329).
HOMEGOING is an amazing book, but it is not a light read. If you go into this book expecting a light read, you will be very unhappy. HOMEGOING is the history of a Ghanian family spanning the centuries, beginning in the 18th century and ending in the 20th. It begins with two half-sisters, one sold into slavery and the other married to a slaver. Each of their descendants gets a chapter, and the format of the story alternates from one sister's descendant to the other, with each individual character getting their own story that is self-encapsulating but still manages to add to the overall tapestry of the family history as a whole.
I loved the unique format of this book, how it was a family history that grew and became steadily more complex, following the characters along their respective journeys. There were so many heart-in-mouth moments in this book that it gave me relief to know that no matter how bad things got in the story (bad, bad, terrible, awful, bad), the main character of each mini-story had to survive, if only because the character in every other chapter after theirs would be their descendant. That knowledge made reading this easier, once I figured that out.
Why? Because this book doesn't sugar-coat. Gyasi writes about slavery and injustice in excruciating detail and doesn't hold back when it comes to the infuriating cruelty that people inflicted on their fellow human-beings. Some of the contents broached in this book are rape, sexism, racism, shadism, substance abuse, child abuse, and violence. In many ways, it actually reminded me of another book, KINDRED by Octavia Butler, which is also about slavery. One of my book club members appreciated this book so much that she wanted to read more books on the subject, so I recommended KINDRED to her, because it shares the same themes, the same purpose: that even though we have come far, there is still injustice; but there is also hope, too, in the hands of our children.
This cover makes me laugh. I'm not sure whether it's because the title looks like something printed out on a label maker, or because of the discount Emma Stone in the arms of a dude pouting harder than a teenager taking a MySpace pic in 2005, but it's all gold. Sadly, what lies between the covers is not, though.
Abbi Glines was pretty popular about four years ago, when new adult fiction was first making waves. A lot of my friends really did not like her work, which made me curious, because I am one of those contrary, masochistic people who feel the need to read a book and find out for myself whether it's really that bad (and sometimes it isn't - case in point: TWILIGHT). When I saw one of the author's books at the used bookstore, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to belatedly check out the hype.
Marcus lives with a playboy named Cage. One day, a girl comes to their apartment looking for Cage who isn't his normal type (which means that she doesn't have fake boobs and isn't model skinny, basically - I believe Marcus calls her "natural"). The girl - Low - is crying because her sister kicked her out of the house - again - to entertain her boyfriend and the father of her niece. Marcus decides he wants her immediately (insta-love), tears and all, and is perplexed when Cage warns him away, claiming that Low is the girl he's going to marry once he's decided he's going to stop slutting around and commit himself.
Marcus slowly insinuates himself into Low's life, while both of them deal with their issues. Marcus is upset at his father for leaving his family for a younger woman. Low is upset at her sister for cavorting around with a married man. If you think that their problems seem like they're connected in some way - guess what. You're right. I mean, obviously. As soon as the word "married man" was used, it clicked for me immediately and I was like, "Well, this is not going to be a fun little ride to Happyville."
Here's the thing, the drama in the book is so stupid. I didn't like how Marcus put Low on a pedestal, praising her for being innocent and virginal, and talking about how hot she is compared to other women because she's natural. Whatever natural means. I mean, she wears makeup, and makeup isn't natural, so where is the line? Hair-dye? Cosmetic enhancements? Preservatives? There is so much girl-shaming in this book, it isn't even funny. Marcus is angrier at his father's girlfriend than he is at his father, but shouldn't his father be held accountable? He doesn't really call his father names, but he refers to the mistress as the slut or the whore, and then there's this delightful scene:
I wanted to hurt her. Slam her against a wall and scream at her. But I couldn't. So I settled for words.
"Suck him dry while you can, because you won't be young forever. He'll leave you one day too. For someone younger. A zebra doesn't change his stripes, and I can assure you there is nothing about you that's special. You're just a young piece of ass" (208).
Then there's the way Marcus treats Cage. They're supposed to be friends. He's living in Cage's apartment. Cage tells him not to hit on the girl he likes and Marcus does it anyway. He does it because he knows that Cage won't kick him out because of the fear that Low might leave, too.
There was a possibility he'd get so angry he'd kick me out. But then I was banking on Willow threatening to leave with me, and I knew beyond a shadow of doubt Cage wouldn't let that happen. He might be upset, but he wouldn't lose her. He'd put up with whatever she forced him to put up with in order to keep her close. I didn't get their relationship at all. One minute he reminded me of a pussy-whipped guy around her, and the next he acted like her damn brother. I didn't like it. He wasn't her brother. I wanted him to back off. He didn't cherish how special she was. I did (137).
This was the moment that I really started to not like Marcus. He's one of those possessive alphaholes who stalks the heroine, turning up conveniently (read: creepily) to offer rides home that weren't asked for, or to "protect" her from confrontations that he started. When he decides he likes her, he makes Low move all her things from Cage's room to his, and does sexy things to her in the common room. He's emotionally manipulative AF, and the way he treated his alleged friend really made me sick.
What is even more annoying is how Low uses Cage. She knows how he feels about her and seems to feel no guilt at all about doing stuff with his best friend under his roof. She also still expects him to stick around and do everything that he did for her before. When Marcus upsets her, who does she run to? The selfish twit has a freak-out because she's afraid he's dumping their years of friendship just because he didn't buy her her favorite soda.
Once inside I headed over to the fridge to get a Jarritos. I was thirsty. Opening the bottom drawer, I realized there weren't any more. Only beer. Cage never ran out of my drinks. But they were gone. He was letting me go (178-179).
B*tch, you can buy your own damn soda. Or have your boyfriend buy it for you. You constantly talk about how poor you two are, and you're still making him buy you soda? What the actual flip. It made me angry that this was portrayed as a panic attack because it felt more like a plot device. I hate it when mental illness is used in stupid ways to add plot points to romance novels, especially when the hero or heroine is introduced as a curative. If you're going to give a heroine anxiety, that is perfectly cool. But using it for drama and then never bringing it up again? That's where we have a problem.
At this point, I was still considering giving this book 2 stars for sheer entertainment. But then at the end of the book it makes me angry. Marcus finds out that Low's sister is the Other Woman wrecking his family and assumes that she knew the whole time and was basically having a laugh at his expense. He says terrible things to her, and starts drinking and rage-sexing other women while moping around about how hard his life is. That was when I decided that Marcus could go firetruck himself. Lack of communication to create drama is such an annoying trope, and the fact that he was so quick to throw their relationship in the garbage really doesn't speak much of him as a person (but we knew that).
The sex/romantic scenes are kind of strange too:
All I could see was all that hair spread out on my pillows. It reminded me of flames. I'd always loved to watch fires (136).
All it took was one small caress just where I needed it, and my world fell apart. It was as if someone had lit a bottle rocket between my legs (165).
Literally all he does is touch her once and it turns into a fireworks show down there. Since when did a vaginal boop lead to the Best Sex Evar?
The writing isn't bad. Stylistically, these books reminded me of Jen Frederick's Gridiron series. I think it's possible that I could get into some of the author's other works. Sadie was very likable, and I thought Cage was interesting (even though he's the stereotypical, promiscuous alpha male, I liked him a sight better than Marcus). Pretty much all of the characters in here were interesting, except for the two leads. Low's sister, Tawny, had spice, and was complex even if she wasn't likable.
I might read more of this author's books. But I can't really recommend this one.