After reading Maire Claremont's THE DARK LADY, I needed a palate cleanser to wash down the angst. I looked at my virtual to-read pile and selected THE SINS OF LORD LOCKWOOD by Meredith Duran because the title promised sexy times and the cheeky lady on the cover promised saucy adventures. Well, I was right about the sexy times, but wrong about the saucy adventures - this book turned out to be just as dark and angsty as THE DARK LADY, if not more so. I was tricked, gosh darn it! Tricked!
Dastardly tricks aside, however, I really enjoyed reading THE SINS OF LORD LOCKWOOD, in no small part because it revolves around a dark revenge plot that appears inspired by THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO. Liam and Anna were engaged to be married. On paper, it was a union of convenience - he is an impoverished earl, and she is a rich countess heiress who wants to keep her freedom and her properties. However, they had an understanding and affection for one another that transcended what they were bringing to the table. Or at least, that's what Anna thought...until he ditches her on their honeymoon.
As it turns out, Liam was held captive and tortured in unspeakably cruel ways for reasons that become clear as the plot unravels. Scarred and stricken with PTSD, he is no longer the naive and untouched rake his wife fell in love with, and he's rather cruel to her in his efforts to push her aside and keep from opening up to her in his feverish attempts to destroy the person who would have destroyed him, if he hadn't been able to fight his way out of hell and return back to England.
Once I realized what kind of story I was reading (note: not a light-hearted frothy wallpaper historical), I quickly got on board. I love me a good tortured hero, and Liam was exceptionally well done. Sometimes I roll my eyes at "tortured heroes" in romance novels, because their misery is entirely manufactured and completely idiotic, i.e. "I'm just too manly to have feelings, dammit! How do I tell her that she's not like other women?" This was not like that at all, and while Big Misunderstandings often have me wanting to jump ship, it actually worked here because Liam was suffering and slow to trust and Anna was stubborn and prideful.
If you're a romance reader, you're probably nodding along impatiently and thinking to yourself, "Yes, that's all well and good, but what about the chemistry? What about the sexy times?" As a romance reader myself, I salute you. Also, you won't be disappointed. The sexy times aren't only steamy, they're a little kinky, as well (and the heroine's WTF IS GOING ON reaction was priceless).
A lot of historical romances coming out these days feel interchangeable but Meredith Duran has a signature style that I really enjoy and is quickly becoming a fast favorite with me. The stories I've read from her pack an emotional wallop and she's not afraid to take the narrative down a few dark alleys to keep things interesting.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
Wow, I really wasn't a fan of this one at all and that bums me out, because I was fully expecting to love TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE. Since my feelings about this are so complicated and the subject matter is so delicate, I'm going to list out my thoughts in bullet points. (Bullet points are so much easier!)
1. I loved what this book was trying to do, and even if it didn't quite succeed, the publication of books like THE HATE U GIVE and TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE not only gives the Black Lives Matter movement more exposure, it puts books featuring kids of color into the hands of actual kids of color with stories that they can relate to (whether in a good or bad way). That's nothing to sneeze at, and I can appreciate the value of books like TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE even if I don't enjoy them.
2. Comparisons to THE HATE U GIVE are going to be inevitable. They are very similar stories: two high school kids of color who feel a lot of pressure to "act white" in order to be successful, who live in a low-income/racially diverse area with lots of criminal/gang activity, whose lives are torn apart by police brutality spurred on by racial discrimination that ends up starting a local movement. I don't think the similarity is a bad thing, because like I said before, Black Lives Matter is a movement representing real victims of police brutality, and those narratives are important. But it's my opinion that THE HATE U GIVE is a much better book, and handles the subject matter better.
3. The characters in here feel very undeveloped. I didn't get much of a sense of who Tyler was, whereas the main character in THUG all but leaped from the pages. I would have liked to have gotten a better sense of his character, because that might have made me like him more. He just felt very bland and passive to me, and I couldn't figure out if that was meant to be intentional or not. His choices, particularly the one at the end involving his future, didn't make sense and seemed to be fueled for the sake of keeping the story moving. All of his friends are very one-note, and his sort-of love interest, when she appears, kind of just feels like the generic manic pixie dreamgirl type.
4. All the white people in this book are assholes. This kind of ties into the third bullet point - all the bad people in this book, like the cops and the mean principal and the well-meaning, but white guilt apologist "I-have-a-diversity-checklist-in-my-back-pocket-and-that-checklist-says-I-must-be-nice-to-you-for-diversity-related-reasons" MIT representative are just hilarious stereotypes of white people being shitty in various shitty ways. That cop, man. What the actual fresh hell was he doing. What a psychopath. I couldn't help but compare the cop scenes in here with the cop scene in THUG, where the cop did what he did because his racism surfaced during a snap decision he made because he was afraid. Here, it was just like the cop decided he was going to be all, "Yaaaaay! Power abuse is fun!" Ditto the principal, with his constant attempts to sabotage poor Tyler. I was just waiting for that dude to start twirling his mustache and tying people to train tracks. Subtle this was not.
I'm glad I was approved for an advance reader copy of this book and I'm sorry I didn't like this more. I see that at least some of my friends on Goodreads really enjoyed this book, so maybe you will, too.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
Honestly, it's getting to the point where you only have to wave a trashy book in front of my nose before I tear into that sucker the way the velociraptors did to that cow in Jurassic Park. A new adult book about a girl who doesn't want to go to college and ends up stripping to pay rent and solve all of her self-created problems? Logical brain says, "No, Nenia, don't do it." Stupid brain says, "YAAAS, GURL. READ THAT BOOK - AND WHILE YOU'RE AT IT, PASS ME THAT MOSCOW MULE."
I applied for MARKET STREET CINEMA because the title is based off a real place in San Francisco. I've walked by it (hard to miss the bright colored building with the racy pictures of pretty ladies). I don't believe it's standing any longer; it went the way of many unsavory SF "historical" sites: torn down to make way for Big Business. Still, the prospect of reading about places I've actually been was irresistible and 90% of why I bought this book.
Lita is eighteen years old and starting her first year of college that her parents are paying for. However, being used to coasting in high school, she decides she isn't cut out for the rigors of the academic life and drops out - a fact her none-too-pleased parents discover when the notification from her college comes in the mail (*tries to imagine how her own parents would have reacted to such wtfery*). Her dad is especially angry and kicks her out of the house, so Lita works at a lingerie store while planning her next move. One day, a woman comes into the shop who tells Lita that she works at a dance club in SF and that the dancers there would be thrilled to see a catalogue where they could buy new costumes for their acts. One things leads to another, and pretty soon Lita is dancing and stripping at Market Street Cinema herself, because, obviously.
My expectations for this book were pretty low since I don't have a whole lot of faith in the new adult genre - I've been burned too many times. MARKET STREET CINEMA came as a pretty nice surprise. The writing quality is decent and there's no half-assed romance thrown into the mix for "drama." The entire story is just Lita trying to make it on her own in the ridiculously expensive Bay Area, trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life, and her developing friendship with Liberty. I feel like this book also took a pretty realistic view of stripping for money: the competition between the girls and the caginess of their responses when confiding how much they really made, the men who come in and pay well, the creeps who come in and bend the rules, and the fact that while some women enjoy it, others see it as a kind of trap with an expiration date all felt grittily accurate. I mean, from what I would guess. I don't know any strippers. Maybe real strippers would react to this book the way real army people reacted to The Hurt Locker.
I think my favorite aspects of this book were the observations on the city and the Bay Area at large. It's set in the 90s, so it's a little dated (GOOD LUCK buying an apartment in San Ramon on a stripper's paycheck now, my friend), but many of the observations made me laugh. Yes, it's as expensive as Christ to live here. Yes, BART commuting is an eternal frustration. Yes, NOBODY but the tourists call San Francisco "Frisco" and you will be judged if you do (FRISCO IS A CITY IN TEXAS, FOOL). I did side-eye Liberty having a really nice apartment in the Haight with what she made on her stripper paycheck, though, because that area has always been desirable and expensive, and the price for a studio apartment there now would run you over 3k/mo. By contrast, apartments in the Tenderloin (which is a lot closer to Market St., and probably where a stripper would live, since I can't imagine wanting to walk far, alone, at night, in the pre-cell phone era) are about 1.7k/mo.
My least favorite aspect of this novel was the ending. It felt like a shitty way to get Lita on the "right" path. I don't want to give spoilers in this review, but it really bummed me out. I think I understand why the author did it, and it does offer some pretty valid criticism on how sex workers are viewed and treated in our society, but man - talk about cold.
Sex work seems to be a common theme in this author's novels. I see that she has another book called MAY AT THE PEACOCK RANCH, which I suspect is based off the BunnyRanch in Carson City, Nevada (it's a legal brothel - prostitution is legal and regulated in certain parts of Nevada). I'm interested in checking that book out eventually, because I read a book about the BunnyRanch a few years ago while researching the sex industry for a novel that never actually came to fruition. It's a fascinating topic and one that's often stigmatized by society, so I'm interested in seeing her take.
If you enjoy gritty books about unsavory topics, you should check out MARKET STREET CINEMA. It paints a rather interesting portrait of the San Francisco that the tourists don't often see, and the subject matter is handled mostly inoffensively and with some degree of finesse.
When Alice was a little girl, two of her friends stabbed her and left her for dead because they believed that the character from Alice's father's famous comic books, Mr. Tender, would grant them their hearts' desires if they used Alice as a sacrifice. Now a young woman, Alice finds herself a victim to her father's comic books once more, as figures from her past start resurfacing in mysterious and sinister ways. Somebody is watching her - and they want something from her. Something dangerous.
There was a great story buried inside this merely good story. I loved the premise. Mr. Tender kind of reminds me of the creepy owner of Christmasland from Joe Hill's NOS4A2, or the proprietor of Stephen King's eponymous NEEDFUL THINGS. The murder that nearly killed Alice and scarred her for life was obviously inspired as well by the Slenderman myths, and the murders that periodically surface that were inspired by those myths. There's also a dash of MISERY in here, as well, lightly seasoned with some of Gillian Flynn's "damaged-girl-returns-home-to-confront-her-demons" existential crisis turned domestic horror vibes, as well, and even some of Marisha Pessl's NIGHT FILM in the sense that explores what happens when art and obsession go dark and twisted.
MISTER TENDER'S GIRL is definitely an ode to the horror drama and for most of the story (I'd say about 60%), it succeeds admirably. I only got 4 hours of sleep last night because I didn't want to put the book down: it sucks you into its bleak and chilling atmosphere, and doesn't let you go. It's like literary quicksand. The last 30% is where the book suffers because, in my opinion, it jumps the shark. Things just become too ridiculous, and it becomes like this crazy version of the Gong Show, where every one wants to out-psycho everyone else, and I'm just sitting here, like, "Wtf r u doin? Stahp."
I'll give it 3 stars because it was well-written and I think the author has the makings of a truly memorable story under his belt. This one just wasn't it, sadly. Still, it's fun and worth a gander.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
When I'm sick, the most comforting things for me are books and tea. So I'm parked in an armchair right now with a giant fleece blanket, a Big Gulp-sized cup of unsweetened iced tea, and a pile of books, trying not to feel so much like poop. What better way to do that than to work my way through a bunch of ARCs that aren't coming out until later this month? Ha-ha-*cough cough cough cough*-ha-*cough*-ha, suckers!
*cough* *cough* *blows nose*
I was really excited when I saw BIZARRE ROMANCE pop up on Netgalley because I really enjoyed THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE, even (especially!) if it was like Dr. Who meets TWILIGHT (and you might say to yourself, "There is no way that premise would work." WRONG!). I was excited to see what new and interesting ideas she would explore using graphic novels as her medium, with the assistance of the talented Eddie Campbell, whose surreal illustrations really complement the bizarre stories.
BIZARRE ROMANCE is an anthology-like collection, with each "chapter" being a different story. The problem with anthologies is that, unless they are carefully curated, there are always some stories that stand out way more than others and a couple that actually drag the collection down as a whole. One of the few anthology collections I have read that was close to perfect was John Scalzi's MINIATURES, and even that one ended on a sour note with a wtf-is-this finale.
Thursdays, Six to Eight p.m.: ☆☆☆☆☆
Comic format. This was easily one of my favorites in the collection. I'm a huge fan of fairytales and this one has an almost Bluebeard's Castle vibe to it, but there's a surprise twist that's actually quite funny.
The Composite Boyfriend: ☆☆
Prose format. The title illustration was amazing, which sadly only highlighted the mediocrity of the story itself. This short story gives off a pretentious, twee vibe that I really did not like.
Comic format. Wow, what a mouthful. This is a strange, surreal story that is clearly inspired by tales like Alice in Wonderland and Narnia, but the bittersweet ending makes it feel more adult.
Secret Life, with Cats: ☆½
Prose format. Ooh, I did not like this one at all. A creepy cat lady story? No, thank you! Also, this one ties into the "romance" theme only very peripherally. Definitely a detriment to the collection.
The Ruin of Grant Lowery: ☆☆☆☆
Comic format. After Thursdays, Six to Eight p.m., this was probably my second favorite in the collection. An old school fairy tale, where the fairies are manipulative and sneaky.
Girl on a Roof: ☆
Prose format. I hate giving this one a one-star, because it was the only LGBT story in the mix, but it was so boring, my eyes glazed over.
Jakob Wywialowski and the Angels: ☆☆☆
Comic format. Kind of a surreal story about angels invading somebody's attic. I liked it, in spite of its strangeness, although it sticks out because it isn't about romance.
At the Movies: ☆☆
Prose format. This one was forgettable but inoffensive.
Motion Studies: Getting Out of Bed: ☆☆☆☆½
Comic format. Cool short story about life drawing and photography. The art really makes it work.
The Wrong Fairy: ☆☆☆½
Prose format. One of the better prose stories in here. Like The Ruin of Grant Lowery, it's also about making bargains with fairies, but the fairies are nicer in this one. Nothing to do with romance, though.
Digging up the Cat: ☆½
Comic format. Literally what it sounds like. A seemingly autobiographical story of the author digging up her dead cat from the front yard of her old house to rebury it in front of her new house.
The Church of the Funnies: ☆☆
Prose format. Bizarre, also seemingly autobiographical story about art as religion. Not a fan.
Backwards in Seville: ☆☆☆
Comic format. One of the sadder stories in the mix, about a woman on a cruise with her elderly father. The topic is more about familial love and regret than romance.
As you can see, the stories done in comic format tended to be much better than the ones told in prose format, with a handful of exceptions. There were also quite a few stories that had little to nothing to do with romance, which made the anthology feel disorganized - particularly in the case of Digging Up the Cat and The Church of the Funnies, which took away from the surreal, fairytale-like theme.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
Full disclosure, I received an advanced reader's copy of this from the Goodreads Giveaways - my first win in years! - so I'm really excited about that. Hard copy ARCs are so fun.
This ended up becoming a #StealthRead because I have the flu, and my eyes were hurting so much I couldn't look at a computer screen, so I took a nap and then I read physical copies in bed instead of ebooks (which is how you know I'm feeling truly wretched, because I read mostly ebooks at home). I also wanted to read this book for International Women's Day, because I think moms are so important, and do not get the respect they deserve.
I'm not a mom, but I'm at the age when a lot of my friends are starting to become moms. I recently went to my first baby shower, and nothing says "congratulations! you're officially an adult!" like going to a baby shower (except maybe a wedding, or a 4th of July Barbecue where you're actually expected to bring something). I have so much respect for people who want to become parents, and especially women who want to become moms, because it really is a sacrifice - a physical, financial, emotional sacrifice; nothing is more selfless than raising this small person, nuturing them, and then launching them into the world.
I recently read this great book called TOO FAT, TOO SLUTTY, TOO LOUD, which was basically a series of essays about the unfair double-standards society places on women, using celebrities as examples. One that really stayed with me was the one about Kim Kardashian, and how pregnancy for her was such a miserable, awful experience, and she was totally lambasted about it in the media, who seemed to be doing their best to take unflattering photos of her and make her seem like an unfit parent. I don't know Kim, but I do think that a lot of those stereotypes about motherhood have permeated the lens through which society views mothers, and how they believe mother's should act.
One thing I liked about AMATEUR HOUR is that it's not one of those transcendent memoirs that makes motherhood seem like this Pinterest-perfect thing that happens to you, that transforms you from an ordinary person to Hestia, goddess of domesticity. Instead, it's a pretty straightforward memoir of someone who happened to become a mother and loves her kids, even if she secretly- or not-so-secretly- has second thoughts about it sometimes. There are a lot of great topics in here, like miscarriage, abortion, gender roles, unfair expectations, child-rearing, bereavement, birth, and even growing up and growing old, and the very fine line that separates the two.
The only part where she lost me was when she went on a tirade about "participation trophies." It had an unpleasant whiff of the "entitled millennials" tirade that's so popular right now. There's a fine line between rewarding kids for mediocre or even poor work and what she was upset about, which was the fact that her school had changed the play of the Lion King to add more roles so that all of the kids would have equal parts. My school did that, and let me tell you that as a shy kid, I was often shunted to the side by louder, more aggressive kids who wanted that spotlight and didn't need to be coaxed into it. Competition is important, but sometimes there are shy or anxious kids who need that extra boost. And I wasn't at all surprised when this rant segued into "entitled new hires who think they deserve to be promoted after only a year - here, have a cookie" BS. Millennials have it pretty hard right now: shitty economy, a dearth of jobs that lead to viable career paths, opinion post after opinion post about how millennials are ruining the world with avocado lattes and $50 eyeliner. And OK, I get it, I've met some entitled millennials, but I've also met some entitled Baby Boomers, too.
Apart from that, I enjoyed this book. It isn't PC and I'm sure she'll offend as many people as she entertains, but it was an honest, straightforward look about life that didn't feel like it was try to sell something or portray motherhood and adulthood as the Holy Grail. I appreciated that.
Also, FWIW, my mom is the most important person in my life and I love her a lot, and reading this book kind of helped me get a better look at what raising me was probably like from her perspective, and how frustrating I probably made her life at times (spoiler: as a kid, I could be an unapologetic little shit). Despite all the grief I must have put her through, she was always unequivocally in my corner, and did whatever she could to make me happy - or failing that, keep me safe (to a kid, happy and safe are not always mutually inclusive: for example 90% of things involving trampolines).