When I was a preteen, I was out with my mom having brunch or something, and I remember these two ladies sitting nearby trying reaaaalllly hard to speak quietly, so all I could really make out was "Pssst....did you hear about...psst-psst...Anne Rice...psst-psst...erotica...pssst-psst-psst...sleeping beauty...pssst...bondage." Then they noticed that I was there and doing whatever the middle school kid equivalent of a dog staring at you with one ear lifted is, and started talking about something way less interesting.
My adolescent trash senses were tingling, but this was before the internet was really an every day thing, so I put that convo on ice and years later, as an older teen on Goodreads casually looking up erotica books to read, I thought to myself, "Hmmm, I wonder what those two secretive ladies were talking about? I'M GONNA SEE IF I CAN FIND IT."
Moral of the story: erotica is NSFB (not safe for brunch).
Also moral of the story: probably not best to discuss such things in front of little pitchers with big ears and semi-eidetic memories (not that they could possibly know that - but hey, if you ladies happen to be following me now, please consider this review personally dedicated to you, mwah)
***WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AND INAPPROPRIATE CONTENT***
"You get a spanking! You get a spanking! You get a spanking! EVERYONE GETS A SPANKING!"
(I tried to find a funny spanking gif to put her but when I looked at Tumblr and typed in spank, everything was all porn - so no gifs for you today, sorry.)
I'm not even going to try to pretend that Amazon is going to let me get away with this posting this review to their site, so this is going to be one of those (rare) instances where I'm not going to self-censor. I'm sure somebody has managed to come up with a PG-rated review of this book, and I'm equally sure that review doesn't mention the people staked out in the gardens with sugar syrup smeared on their genitals and insects biting their flesh as "punishment," or the people being literally pushed around on the floor by their masters by giant butt-dildos on sticks. These are crucial bits of info that I feel the public should know prior to purchase.
I'm also not a sadist. The concept of sadism in and of itself frankly repulses me a little. I get that some people are into that, and if you find someone who would like to do that stuff with you and there's consent and that's your jam, then whatever, but I find it totally off-putting and do not enjoy reading about it. Especially when there is NOT consent. And not only is there sadism in this book, none of it is consenting. So that's doubly not fun for me.
The premise of this book is really strange. Only the first chapter really follows the fairytale. The prince finds Sleeping Beauty, rapes her, and then announces to her family that he's taking her as Tribute. Apparently his kingdom is notorious for this: they get attractive princes and princesses from other kingdoms to keep as slaves as "tithes." Which begs the question: why is everyone going along with this? They seem so busy investing their treasury in things like gold ben-wa balls, bejeweled fisting gloves, and silver paddles that I can't see them investing in things like a militia, so what's to stop one of those neighboring kingdoms from being all, "Hey, no, you know what? Fuck this, I see your paddle and raise you eight hundred gentlemen on horseback armed with rifles and cannons."
Beauty is subjected to multiple humiliations: paraded about naked, where she's molested by total strangers, raped again by the prince, spanked, spanked, spanked, and yes, spanked some more, paraded about in front of all the courtiers (naked) while bound and being humiliated and spanked and also yes groped and molested some more, then she's taken outdoors and given pony shoes and spanked up and down the gardens, then she's foisted off to the prince's mother to be sexually assaulted and spanked some more, and on top of this she's fed wine and food on the floor like a dog and is only allowed to dress and undress people with her mouth, and at the very end of the book she finally gets to sleep with the one guy she actually likes - a fellow slave - and the book ends with his recollections of his punishments which include, but are not limited to, being anally raped with a whip, having numerous ben-wa balls shoved up his butt which he is then instructed to poop out, being thrown in rotting garbage while being molested, groped, etc, and oh, yes, constant spankings and rape. (FYI: Breasts are spanked, butts are spanked, dicks are spanked, vaginas are spanked, et al.)
This really is the poor man's Marquis de Sade, because as much as I freaking hate de Sade, he did it first (or at least, most famously) and he shocked the hell out of everyone. Anne Rice tries to do the same, but it's mostly just gross and depressing and sad. Beauty spends most of the book in tears, and the people around her just bully her so ruthlessly, telling her that she deserves her punishments, but also that she'll be punished when she doesn't deserve it because they enjoy punishment, threatening her constantly but then praising her beauty and saying how good she is - this book shouldn't be called THE CLAIMING OF SLEEPING BEAUTY, no; it should be called THE GASLIGHTING OF SLEEPING BEAUTY. The entire book is literally all of these fucked up people telling her that they are making her better, that they are helping her, that they are giving her what she deserves.
If it were me, I'd be like, BITCH. GIVE ME THAT PADDLE. I'M GOING TO BEAT YOUR HEAD WITH IT. (But then, if I were a character in this book, I'd totally be one of those people saying, "Um, yeah, they're so busy doing all that crazy stuff right now, maybe we should bring in our military to free those people they are CLEARLY keeping as prisoners of war and not humanely, either!")
Given that I read bodice rippers, I know some people are going to be surprised at the low rating. I should note that I don't usually have issues reading about rape or dub/non-con in romance, as long as it isn't romanticized or gaslighting the audience into thinking this is normal/acceptable behavior. In this instance, it really bothered me because I felt like the rapes in this book were being roped off with the rest of "that BDSM stuff" as typical kinky nonsense, and no, real kink is all about consent.
The writing isn't so great, either. The word "little" is used every other page, it feels like, and the descriptions of sex themselves are kind of nauseating.
Beauty's breath became uneven, and she felt the moisture between her legs as though a grape had been squeezed there (146).
Leon's quick, graceful fingers had probed her navel, then smoothed into it a paste in which he set a glittering brooch, a fine jewel surrounded by pearls. Beauty had gasped. She felt as if someone were pressing her there, trying to enter her, as if her navel had become a vagina (117).
...with his left hand felt the soft hairy little pelt between Beauty's legs... (17)
...he suckled her breasts almost idly as though taking little drinks from them (17)
Now that I think about it, KUSHIEL'S DART and CAPTIVE PRINCE both had very similar premises to this book (fantasy kingdoms whose courts/culture revolve around BDSM-like goings-on), to the point where I can't help but feel that they were probably indirectly inspired by THE CLAIMING at the very least. The difference is that both those books actually made an attempt at world-building and character-building, and there was some court intrigue beyond "OH NO! TWO PEOPLE WANT TO SPANK ME TONIGHT - WHO WILL GET TO WIELD THE PADDLE?" I actually liked CAPTIVE PRINCE.
Somebody with the ebook version seriously needs to do a word count of how many times "little" was used in this book. I feel like it was probably 100+ times, it was so noticeable.
I can't believe there are 3 more books in this series.
After doing the first book, SWEET SAVAGE LOVE, as a buddy read extravaganza, with Heather and Korey, Korey joined me for a read of the sequel, DARK FIRES. And can I just say that Rosemary Rogers is swiftly becoming one of my favorite bodice ripper authors? Every subgenre has its own reigning queen, and RR is Queen of the Bodice Rippers the way V.C. Andrews was queen of smutty teen fiction.
That said, this is my least favorite book of hers so far.
SWEET SAVAGE LOVE was almost a five star read for me. I loved the nonstop action, the love-hate relationship between the hero and heroine, the lush descriptions of the American West, and of course, Steve Morgan, who could so, so easily be the cover model for one of those pulpy men's adventure magazines that were popular in the mid 20th century. With his cheating, murderous, rapey ways, he is basically the absolute opposite of what I like in romance heroes, but he just oozes raw masculinity. He may be Satan incarnate but I was picturing him as Scott Eastwood.
(Dear Hollywood: if you ever make this series into a TV show/movie, please cast Scott Eastwood.)
The sequel starts out with nauseating marital bliss, but since this is Steve and Ginny we're talking about, it goes from Good Housekeeping to Apocalypse Now pretty quickly, and it starts to feel like Rosemary Rogers is trying to out-WTF herself in the prequel with a plot that involves the following incidents: rape, duels to the death, opium addiction, blackmail, whipping, torture, carpetbagging, typhus-induced amnesia, cheating, more cheating, still more cheating, wtf still more cheating, public affairs, sadists, secret pregnancies, and scalping. Because Rosemary Rogers has a big vocabulary, but "overkill" doesn't appear to be one of them.
My favorite scene was probably the sword fight duel, because I am trash, and occasionally raw displays of masculine douchery work for me. (Especially in puffy shirts whilst aboard pirate ships.) However, I felt pretty frustrated for most of the book because the hero and heroine are separated for huge portions of it and Steve spends it with like 5+ women who aren't Ginny (and I really, really don't like infidelity in romances, especially not wanton infidelity where the hero has no "off" button). Ginny also lost a lot of her spitfire nature that made her so easy to root for in the first book. I guess maybe it was PTSD after all the horrors she endured in the last act, but still: it made me really sad.
I'm kind of curious where the book is going to go from here. These two are pretty much the last people in the world who should be parents, so obviously, that means the sequels should be interesting.
I just read this amazing book called THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR, which I've been trying to get all my friends to read. It's this amazing historical epic that takes place in Nazi Germany, which also has a love story in it - it's one of the darkest books I've ever read, but the characterization was so good, the narrative so taut, that I know it's going to be one of those books that stays with me for years. That also meant the Queen of All Book Slumps once I'd finished it. Suddenly, the other books I'd been reading lost their shiny appeal. "What would I read next?"
Then I saw some of my friends talking about MIDNIGHT HUNTER. Set roughly 20 years after the Nazis were defeated in WWII, it takes place during the Cold War, in East Germany, when the German Democratic Republic built the wall between East and West Berlins and East Germany was governed by the Stasi, or the ruthless state police.
I read this with my friend Vellini, who is amazing because she loves dark romances as much as I do, so the last couple times when I've suggested a BR, she's always been there. When she gave it five stars, I knew it was going to be good, because she so rarely disappoints me. And MIDNIGHT HUNTER is an amazing book. It's like the sequel to THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR that I didn't even know I needed, with many of the same themes of power, corruption, and love.
Evony is planning to escape from East Berlin with her father and some friends when their escape is halted by the fearsome Mitternachtsjäger (Midnight Hunter), Reinhardt Volker, a Stasi officer of high rank who is notorious for always getting his quarry. After shooting one of her friends in the street, he takes her to his apartment as his "prize," where he grooms her to be his secretary and, later, his lover.
I really enjoyed this book. The pacing was excellent and it has wonderful action sequences that really keep the pace moving. It's appropriately dark and solemn when it needs to be, but it's not one of those books that's all too common these days, that revels in the unsavory just for shock value. Volker is a terrible man, but his growing affection for the heroine softens him (but not unrealistically!) and he never takes her against her will. And the sex scenes! Oh boy! They were hot!
If you like historical romances and dark romances where the villain gets the girl, MIDNIGHT HUNTER will be a great read for you. I hope the author decides to write more historical romances - this seemed wonderfully researched, and each page was an absolute pleasure to read.
THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR is a WWII-era romance loosely inspired by an entry in the journals of the U.S. ambassador to Germany during the 1930s, William Edward Dodd, as edited by his daughter, Martha Dodd. In the journals, an SS agent who was an aquaintance of the family apparently broke down, sobbing, on their sofa. Margot Abbott asked herself what could possibly happen to a hardened soldier for that to happen and wrote a story around that.
The story is told in the best way to rip out your heart. It starts out impersonally, in the removed third-person narrative. Sally, now in her late twenties/early thirties, is an intelligence officer investigating war crimes perpetuated by the Nazi party during WWII. She has a particular knack for identifying faces in photographs, so she looks at photo after photo of all these atrocities, trying to put names to faces, names to uniforms. It's a terrible job, made even more terrible by the fact that she recognizes her ex-husband in one of the photos.
At this point, we don't know much about Sally, apart from the fact that she's obviously haunted by some terrible tragedy in her past, and probably has untreated PTSD. We also know that her feelings about her ex-husband are all tangled up in this mysterious tragedy - part of her wants revenge, and wants to see him hang for the horrors he's wrought upon the world, but part of her remembers the boy he was during their idealistic childhood, and the man he became who she fell in love with.
1/3 of the way through the book, the narrative style switches to first person as Sally recounts her story firsthand, and the reader is dragged headlong into Sally's narrative, up close and personal. We see her as a child, and see her close relationship with the Mayr family and her innocent love for Christian as a young man. She leaves Germany for a while, to return to the U.S., and arrives back just before WWII, when the fascist party is just beginning to catch on in Germany. Christian is now an SS agent, working under Reinhard Heydrich. Naively, Sally becomes a friend to Heydrich, forming an uncertain bond over fencing and music, and he is the vehicle by which the two of them reunite.
It's difficult to say what happens next without spoilers, but let's just say that THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR is not a book that shirks from wartime horrors or the terrible things that people are sometimes forced to do in order to survive. Two comparable romances in terms of emotional devastation and scope are OUTLANDER and THE BRONZE HORSEMAN. The dread and anxiety that hangs over this book like a toxic cloud is just exceptionally well done, and even though it's a very long book, the pages whizzed by once I actually had time to sit down and read through it. The first 60% might have taken a month to read because of my other commitments, but today I sat my butt down and finished the last 40% in a single sitting, stopping only to eat, drink, and use the restroom. There's a fencing scene towards the end that is just absolutely haunting - it's the type of scene that will stay with you.
And the villain of this book! My God, what a villain. I'm truly horrified.
I had heard about THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR through the usual bodice ripper circles, and despaired of getting my hands on a copy, but it was recently rereleased for Kindle and I was able to pick it up while it was on sale for $2.99. I'm so glad I bought this book. The heroine is the perfect blend of worldly, naive, and intelligent, and even though you know there is no way that this book can possibly end on a truly happy note, Abbott has you rooting for Christian and Sally, despite your better sense. The complexity of the characters in this book was just incredible. I'm blown away.
What a shame that this truly gifted author never published anything else...
This was a buddy read with my fellow Unicorn Equestrian™, Heather.
Curse you, Janet Reams Hudson! Between you and Danelle Harmon, I'm almost starting to like 90s bodice rippers, and I absolutely cannot have that. Stop appealing to my trashy, trashy heart, you ferocious writers of aggressively endearing content! Curse you! CURSE YOU!
I picked up WILD TEXAS FLAME when it was free in the Kindle store, which is how I feel a lot of these Kindle Cleanout Club stories go. You pick a book up because it was either cheap as dirt or free as air, and it chills out on your Kindle for years until you just happen to notice it one day and think to yourself, "What is this? Why do I own this? What was I thinking?"
I needed a western romance to fulfill a category on this reading challenge I'm doing, and since my friend and I both happened to have the book (snagged during the same freebie promo), we decided to do a buddy-read of WILD TEXAS FLAME. But then I got busy, and then I got sick, so she ended up finishing it way before I did. However, she enjoyed it! Which gave me hope that it was good trash!
WILD TEXAS FLAME is the story of a woman named Sunny Thornton who lives with her three younger sisters and her dad at a ranch in Texas, a few decades after the Civil War. The Mayor, Ian Baxter, is throwing his weight around, trying to call in a loan that her father took out. If her father can't pay, he's going to take their ranch. On a trip to go to the bank to straighten everything out, they have the bad luck of running into bandits who are in the process of robbing the bank. Sunny's father is killed before her eyes and she's saved from the same fate only when a man named Ash McCord tackles her to the ground, taking the bullet that would have otherwise been meant for her.
Ash McCord just got out of jail for several years after shooting Ian Baxter in the back. He claims he has his reasons, but nobody he told his story to ever believed his innocence - except for the woman who runs the boarding house, Ella. The bullet he took for Sunny hit his spine, causing paralysis, which could be permanent or temporary, nobody is sure. Sunny feels guilty, and also sees a kindness in him that is hidden by his gruff exterior, so she takes him into her home and oversees his recovery.
I'm a sucker for nursing-the-hero(ine) back to health tropes, and it's done particularly well here. I also really liked the heroine's relationship with her family, especially since family members are often shunted aside in romance stories; I feel like they feel much more realistic and healthy when the focus is on the relationships that both the h and the H have with other people, and not just one another.
The heroine also isn't totally naive about sex, which is probably pretty realistic considering that she lives on a ranch that breeds cows. Even if she wasn't having any, she'd see it done, and wouldn't be a stranger to the idea. I read a lot of 70s bodice rippers about traitorous bodies, so I have to say, it was pretty refreshing to see a heroine taking charge and the hero whining about his traitorous body for a change! Way to turn the tables on that whole equation.
This story could have been too saccharine, but a murder subplot weaves through the narrative, along with other juicy plot points, like betrayal, debt, and secret fortunes. It kept the story tight and focused, and gave WILD TEXAS FLAME a driving base that had me turning pages to see what would happen next. I was expecting an epic showdown with the villain, and I was not disappointed.
WILD TEXAS FLAME is a bit light and frothy, but beneath the froth, there is also substance. If you, like me, believe yourself to be a hater of 90s-era bodice-rippers, you should check out this book as well as some of Danelle Harmon's. I have this author's other book, APACHE MAGIC, on my Kindle as well, and while I side-eyed the title before, I think I'm much more favorably inclined to read it now. This was a good, solid read.
In case you missed it, I recently read this fantasy romance from the 80s called SUMMER OF THE UNICORN. It was from Kay Hooper's backlist (she only writes romantic suspense now), and I probably never would have discovered it if it hadn't recently been rereleased for Kindle and Netgalley hadn't subsequently approved me for the ARC. The book was so trashy and so bad, like, picture the worst science fiction book you've ever read from the 70s (probably written by Robert Heinlein, probably TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE), only with a whole cartload of wtf, unicorns, and sexy bathing scenes thrown in for lols, and that's SUMMER OF THE UNICORN. It was, objectively, not a good book, and yet despite my better sense, I enjoyed it, being the trash queen I am, because if a book is so bad it entertains me, I give that spit a good rating, even if I take the mickey out of it in my review.
I've been working my way through Sarah J. Maas's Throne of Glass series over the last few months, and my thoughts on the series kind of mirror my thoughts about SUMMER OF THE UNICORN. I don't understand the purpose of the book, because presumably it was written in a good faith attempt to be a serious fantasy novel, but on the other hand, it also has a whole cartload of wtf, unicorns, and sexy bathing scenes (except with the ToG series, replace "unicorns" with "dragons" and "sexy bathing" with "sexy biting"). This is, objectively, not a good book, and yet I had such a good time making fun of it that I find myself becoming slightly fond of the series. It's like hating a dog that drools and pees everywhere but desperately wants to be your friend. That dog is annoying. That dog's mess is all over the place. But that dog also really, really wants you to like it. It's hard to hate that dog.
***WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AND SNARK AHEAD***
I think Throne of Glass's biggest problem is that it is gloriously uneven in terms of quality. There are parts of the book that are good, and then there are parts of the book that have me skimming like nobody's business. Durian's relationship with Fanta? Don't care. Raisin beating up Celery, over and over and over, until I wonder if I should be playing Tom Lehrer's Masochism Tango in the background? Don't care. Kale feels so bad about betraying Celery's feels? Don't care. Celery whining over and over about how she contributed to Queen Bae's death? Don't care. (Also, eff you, Celery. Your "I want to read books and sit on my butt eating cake in between having sex with Kale" was what led to that whole situation in the first place. It's just yet another episode of PoCs Dying to Make White People Give a F*ck, and that spit's so old that at this point, it's all reruns. Give it a rest.)
On the other hand, this book also had some redeeming factors that were not present in the first book. I actually like Onion Ass-river. Mutton Blackberry isn't too bad either. I'm 99.9% sure that somewhere in that girl's room is a shrine to Daenerys Targaryen filled with hair and toenail clippings and she probably stands in front of it while practicing shouting "WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS?" But honestly, I really liked her relationship with Drogon - oops, I mean, Abraxos. He was cool. I kind of pictured him as looking like Toothless, from How to Train Your Dragon - a movie, incidentally, that Mutton really should watch, because this is something that she really sucks at.
I think the worst thing about this series is the heroine, Celery, AKA Addledstar Galactica. My feelings towards her have been evolving across the series steadily. In THRONE OF GLASS, I wanted to slap her. In CROWN OF MIDNIGHT, I wanted to slap her and maybe push her off a cliff. In HEIR OF FIRE, I wanted to push her off a cliff into a lake filled with a celery-eating Kraken. She is sooo annoying, and honestly, there is only so much you can read about how perfect a character is before you start to picture some RP-er being all, THIS IS MY ORIGINAL CHARACTER, YOU GUYS. SHE HAS RAINBOW HAIR AND SIX DIFFERENT KINDS OF MAGIC POWERS. If you thought that Miss Assassin was **SUPER SPESHUL** in the last two books, just wait until you get to this book, where you find out that she isn't just a queen, she also has a magical fairy form, and two different kinds of magic powers, which leave just about everyone who witnesses them in ~awe~.
Also, Maas isn't content with the Kale/Celery/Durian love triangle in the last two books, plus the maybe Finnick O'Dair knock-off. No, in this book she has two more dudes fighting after her magical ladyparts - enter Rowan, who I'm pretty sure is knockoff Rhysand from the ACOTAR series (he even has magical fairy tattoos), and Onion Ass-river, who was Celery's childhood BFF. The Raisin/Celery ship is totally forced down the readers' throats in this book, and I'm just like, OKAY, what was the point of Kale and Durian at all in the first 2 then, if you're just going to make up new love interests when you get bored of them? Is Celery going to dump Raisin in the very last book of the series for some even more depraved, hotter dude with even better magical powers? Is she going to - *gasp* - date God Himself, because only He in all his glorious gloriousness is worthy of the holy sunlight that beams from the sanctity of her nether regions? I do wonder, because this spit is ridic.
Also, also, what's with that line about not being able to hurt your soulmate? Celery reasons that this is why Kale and she are not to be - because she scratched his face up in the last book. BUT WAIT- didn't Raisin do the exact thing to you - MANY MANY TIMES? He bloodied your face and bruised your eye, and made you fight creatures so evil that you LITERALLY peed your pants in front of him. And then at the end of this book, suddenly you're soulmates? I'm SORRY, but by your logic, this relationship you have should be the opposite of soulmates, because HE HURT YOU BAD. #NotCool
Then we have Onion.
I actually liked Onion's character, but the problem I have with him is endemic in the overarching themes of the book itself. I joked at first about the sexual tension between him and Kale, but by the end of the book, I was like, no, wait, there is actual tension here. It's like how Kale felt with Celery before, you know, she beat him up and ran off to be with someone who beats her up (ugh). Onion and Kale had actual great chemistry - the same way Celery had great chemistry with Queen Bae. I'd seen others complain about the queerbaiting in this series, but HONESTLY, it feels legit. You have all these characters who seem like they'd be LGBT+ and have these potentially awesome ships with same-sex characters, ONLY to have SJM be like, "Naaahh," and push them into cis-het relationships with characters who they previously had ZERO chemistry with in the previous books.
Take Durian's relationship with Sorscha. WHERE THE HECK DID THAT COME FROM? Out of nowhere, that's where! Last I heard, he was mooning over Celery, but now he's just consorting with the servants - and then he decides, ALSO OUT OF NOWHERE, that he loves the servant to the point that he'd offer ~anything~?? Um, wait? Also, he legit says "I love you" to Kale and there's that sexual tension, which makes me feel like Kale might possibly be bi, but I BET YOU THAT THIS IS NEVER ADDRESSED, and that Kale ends up in a cis-het relationship with some rando who SJM just arbitrarily decides he's **meant** to be with in one of the later books.
You also can't convince me that Queen Bae and Celery weren't OTP OTP, because in my mind, they totally were. The way Celery feels about Nehemia in this book is less like a dead friend and more like a lover who must be avenged. Not only was her death totally pointless, but I also felt like her relationship with Celery wasn't fully explored. The bond they had totally trumped anything Celery had with Kale, Durian, or her precious, precious Raisin; it was healthy, pure, and built on love.
On non-relationship-related notes, I feel like there was way too much random wandering around, and too much time spent on Celery and how great she is. Her priorities continue to be way screwed up. One of her crowning moments in this book is that, while imprisoned, she once more agonizes over her figure and WHILE IMPRISONED, plays around with tying her sash so as to emphasize her assets and breastets. Also, ONCE AGAIN, people die to to Celery's incompetence (this time thousands instead of, you know, just the one) and she is like OMG it's all my fault! NAH, YOU THINK???
I can tell that this is going the Girl of Fire route from THG, and Celery is going to be the figurehead for some grand revolution, but I don't like Celery nearly as much as I like Katniss. She feels way too manufactured and perfect, and apart from weeing in her trousers that one time from fear, we really don't get many human-like responses to things. She grandstands a lot and tosses off a lot of quotes that people seem to really enjoy quoting on Goodreads about how she's going to "rattle the stars", but she doesn't strike me personally as being particularly realistic or relatable. She's a Barbie in armor with magical powers, and that's hardly a 'strong female protagonist.' Particularly when stuck in an abusive relationship with some jerk who likes to tattoo all his mistakes in life on his arm. #lame
All that said, I do think this is an improvement over the two previous books, even if it gives off "I desperately want to be the next Game of Thrones vibes." The writing is better, and the parts of the book that don't involve Celery were interesting. It's Celery herself who really poisons this series and makes me want to take my Snark to Warp 5. She's just such an idiot and everyone's thoughts revolve around her, and I can't help but think of that quote from 10 Things I Hate About You where she's concerned, where Patrick asks, "What is it with this chick? She have beer-flavored nipples?"
I'll read the next book because I'm invested now, and I hear book 5 is a raging fustercluck of wtf that dissolves into bodice-ripper territory (and you know HOW MUCH I LOVE THOSE). Who knows? Maybe I'll actually love it. I hear copious amounts of smut are involved, and I am the Mother of Smut (the Unrepentant, Breaker of Convention, etc. etc.). WE SHALL SEE~
As always, you can credit this review to my friends who enjoy "encouraging" me to read books they think I'll hate, and also to the people who come onto my reviews thinking it's OK to tell me to STFU, because ha ha joke's on you, that only makes me want to post MOAR reviews. For the record, if you, or one of your friends, take issue with the way I review books, feel free to reach me at 1-800-GIRL-BYE.
This is a really cute book that teaches kids a bit about depression. It's a bit over-simplified, because it's for kids (if you know anything about depression, you know that it's much more complicated than feeling "sad"). But for kids, I think "sad" works as a way of describing feelings that might be too complicated to otherwise express.
The character in this book sometimes feels sad. Being with friends can help, or it can make it worse. Being alone can help, or it can make it worse. Sometimes doing something fun and exciting can help - but sometimes, it just makes it worse. The character wants to confide in his friends and family, but he fears being judged or to "just be happy" - which never helps.
The book ends with another character - a grandparent, I think - taking him aside and validating his feelings, telling him it's okay that he sometimes feels sad. This ends up making the character feel a lot better, because it makes him feel like he isn't alone. I thought that was a really great message. I think when someone is depressed, people feel obligated to "make them feel better" or "cheer them up", but sometimes all that's needed is understanding and a sympathetic ear.
The art is pretty simplistic, but it works for the story. I thought this was really sweet, and a surprisingly deep exploration of feelings. I love that books like these are coming out. Mental health is so important.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
I just read the new Cardcaptor Sakura book and this manga could not have been a harder contrast to that if it tried. Cardcaptor is a shoujo manga intended for young girls and Blame! is a seinen manga intended for older guys. It contains not a single dash of cuteness or romance or magic; instead it is a grim post-apocalyptic, like J.G. Ballard's HIGH RISE, as populated by genetically mutated cyborgs that are something like The Matrix as done by the creators of Silent Hill, with a hero's journey straight out of Birdy the Mighty.
This is one of the longer graphic novels I've read, clocking in at just over 400 pages (which I guess is what makes it the "Master Edition") but it goes by really quickly because there isn't a lot of text. Most of the pages are just illustrations of the terrifying megalith where all of these characters live, in all of its monstrous, cyberpunk glory. The details of the architecture truly are incredible and is probably BLAME!'s biggest strength.
Kyrii is a human who is searching for something called "The Net Terminal Gene" which is what causes some humans to see retinal displays and interact with the "The Adminstration"; the dystopian overlord robots of this world. Along the way, he encounters a number of beings, spanning the whole continuum of robot and human, although the scientist mentioned in the Goodreads summary who seems like she'd be an integral part of the story doesn't make an appearance until the very end.
I thought this book was more interesting than good. The world building is confusing. All of the characters are in the dark about their origins, so you get a sort of CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ thing going on, but that, paired with the lack of dialogue, kind of gives this story a dull, claustrophobic feel. By the end of the book, I didn't really feel like I knew Kyrii any better than I did in the beginning of the story. I know the summary says that he's stoic, but there's stoic and then there's a block of wood, and Kyrii resembles the latter way more than the former.
I guess I've read too many similar stories to this one that took a concept like this and did it one better. If the sequel goes up on Netgalley, I may apply for that to see if this story is worth pursuing, but the cyberpunk constructs and blood splatter seem to be this story's two main claims to fame, and I'm not particularly into either one of those things, so it might just be a case of it's-me-not-you.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
It's not easy being Queen of Literary Trash. Between YA and bodice-rippers, I read more "bad" books than most elitist snobs will see in their entire lifetime. But then, I consider myself a connoisseur of the so-called trashy arts. There are two kinds of "bad" books. There are the books that tell good stories and while they aren't highbrow literature, they are still fun to read and if you can let go of your snobbery long enough to enjoy them, will perform quite serviceably as quality entertainment. Then there are the books that are just bad, and have no redeeming value at all.
I had friends warn me about SHATTER ME. It's apparently infamous for the "creative" metaphors that the author likes to use. It's also yet another attempt to cling to the coattails of THE HUNGER GAMES (although it's more like DIVERGENT than THE HUNGER GAMES, which if you know my thoughts on DIVERGENT, you will know is not a compliment, coming from me). The premise is pretty undeveloped. Juliette has been in captivity for just under a year when she accidentally killed a boy by touching him. Her touch, you see, is deadly. She's like Rogue, from X-men. One touch, and your life force is hers.
It's set on a dying Earth but why and how it's dying are incredibly vague. We've apparently allowed a fascist-tolerant (if not outright fascist) regime to gain power, which I would say is not really giving the world a whole lot of credit, but on the other hand I'm a liberal living in the United States right now, so on the OTHER hand, maybe future Earth is totally stupid enough to do that. It seems to happen a lot in YA dystopians, to the point where the reader begins to wonder if all it takes to start a fascist regime is a kickstarter and a special license. What matters is that resources are thin and there is not a lot of food and there are parts of the world that are radioactive(?) and for some reason, some people (especially Juliette) have mutant-like powers for Reasons and this is the world we live in.
Both love interests are, conveniently, immune to Juliette's power. Because I guess it wouldn't be much of a romance if the book took the MC Hammer "Can't Touch This" approach to courtship. There is instalove up the wazoo in here, and even when Juliette finds out that Adam was put in her cell to spy on her under the guise of being a fellow prisoner, she forgives him stunningly quickly, and is constantly telling us how much she wants to touch him. She wants to touch the villain, Warner (I'm sorry but I can't take you seriously when I'm picturing the dancing frog mascot of the WB), too, although it's a traitorous body sort of desire to touch, the I-love-to-hate-how-I-hate-to-love-you type. Warner was the biggest potential sell of this series to me because I love villainous love interests but he's too creepy, even for me. Between the constant unwanted pet names and the really disturbing "I could just take a bite out of you"-type comments, this dude was about one villain notch away from singing a Tim Curry song.
Then there's the writing itself, which can be broken down into three categories: OMG, WTF, and LOL.
Every organ in my body falls to the floor (68).
I want to rip up the carpet and sew it to my skin (163).
My jaw is dangling from my shoelace (310).
I'm wearing dead cotton on my limbs and a blush of roses on my face (6).
There are 15,000 feelings of disbelief hole-punched in my heart (40).
My throat is a reptile, covered in scales (172).
I'm blushing through my bones (326).
I wondered if your eye color meant you saw the world differently (151).
My heart is parasailing in the springtime (286).
The author also makes two other attempts at being creative, which are overuse of the strikethrough tool and overuse of numbers, written as numerals instead of being spelled out. Which, if you ask me, is 1 bad idea because not only does it look unprofessional as 0 other writers do this, but 2, comes across as overly gimmicky and makes you feel like you're reading cast-offs from a teenager's poetry journal as she tries - and fails - to channel Ellen Hopkins and/or Rupi Kaur.
If you like this book, good for you, I guess. I personally couldn't stand it. It felt incredibly derivative, and from the woe-is-me beginning to the yay-I've-got-a-hypersexualized-supersuit ending, there was just way too much I ended up side-eying in this book for me to enjoy it. I don't think I'll be reading the sequels, not even for the lols.
Sometimes people send me books as gifts. This book was a spontaneous gift from my younger sister, along with a Deadpool key chain. Even though I'm pretty choosy about what I will and will not read, I do make exceptions for book gifts because if someone cares enough to send me something they think I'm going to love, I make an extra concentrated effort to read it.
The Nightmare Before Christmas came out when I was a really young kid, and while I liked it, it was a bit too dark and spooky for my taste. It had a revival in the early noughties, because of how well the premise synced up with emo culture. I used to have a Nightmare Before Christmas t-shirt with a split neck that I wore until it faded and stained beyond repair. I think it's a movie you appreciate more as an adult (or a teenager) than as a kid.
Here's why I like The Nightmare Before Christmas. A lot of teenagers who like weird stuff are ostracized by their peers and branded as "freaks." In a way, the people of Halloween Town are kind of like the anime fans and goths; people who don't look and act like other people and prefer darker things. They're not bad people - in their own way, most of them are actually quite kind - but many find them off-putting.
Jack feels a sort of malaise about his role as Pumpkin King. After years of celebrating Halloween, he's grown weary and the spookiness of the holiday has begun to wear on his soul. One day, while playing with his dog, he ends up in the middle of a forest that serves as a gateway to all the other holidays. The Christmas door appeals to him and he opens up and finds himself in the middle of a magical wonderland. The color palette completely changes. It's like when Dorothy opens the door of her cottage and finds herself in the middle of Technicolor Oz. For the first time in a while, Jack feels alive, and thinking this to be the answer to his ennui, he decides to replicate Christmas.
I think The Nightmare Before Christmas is a perfect allegory to teenage angst. Many teenage identities are superficial, and focused on labels and basic concepts, like "jock," "prep," or "outcast," and they think that their worth can be judged in physical, concrete terms like # of followers on social media, how many people find them attractive, or the amount of spending money they have per week. Maybe not all teenagers feel this way, but a lot do (and I'll admit it, I did). Depressed teens often find one or two flaws to focus on, and blame for their emotional state. They think, "If only I could change this one thing about myself, I would be happy..."
Jack decides to change himself and do something that is completely contrary to his nature. His friends humor him, but it's clear they have no idea what they are doing, and their attempt at Christmas is a total disaster. Happiness comes to Jack only when he accepts who he is, and learns that the people who care about him care about him for who he is, weirdness and all. It's a touching story that I think a lot of people (especially teenagers) can relate to, and it speaks to so many relevant teen issues like depression, angst, and wanting to find who you are in the maelstrom of an identity crisis.
This graphic novel seemed like a bit of a cash grab because it's literally just stills from the movie with dialogue pasted over it in comic book bubble format (yes, including songs - eye roll), but I actually really liked it. The photos are high quality and really let you appreciate the detail that went into this stop-motion movie. For example, I never realized before that Jack's dog, Zero, has a glowing nose with a Jack-o'-lantern face. It's so faint, you would never see it unless you paused very carefully. There's a whole bunch of other small, seemingly inconsequential details like that that were super fun.
If you liked the movie, this book is a nice thing to have for the glossy photographs, song lyrics, and fairly thorough recap of the storyline. I never would have picked it out for myself, but reading it made me feel curiously nostalgic for my high school emo self, and as an adult I was able to appreciate the story in a new way for how it reaches out to teens who are a part of the counterculture.
THE EDEN PASSION is a literary Dementor: it will suck all of the joy out of your life, leaving you feeling empty and desolate inside. I thought, after reading the two previous books in the serious, that I was adequately prepared for the emotional despair of THE EDEN PASSION, but I was sorely mistaken. THIS OTHER EDEN is a dark, Gothic bodice ripper with a few horrific scenes peppered along to spice up the obsessive love story, and THE PRINCE OF EDEN is a tale of doomed love set amidst a backdrop of petty rivalries and greed for land in the vein of Philippa Gregory's Wideacre trilogy.
THE EDEN PASSION is a different beast entirely.
***WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD***
There are three parts to this novel, which I'm going to describe as parts I, II, and II in the breakdown to follow. Oh, and for the record, this book isn't a standalone. You need to read the first two books in the series, not just for characters and important background information, but also because each book builds off the former, and sometimes you can't appreciate the gloomy doom and horror properly if you don't have the information provided in the previous books. You will have a nebulous sense that something is wrong, and you might suspect, but you won't know why, with that same level of sinking, open-mouthed horror that you would have if you read the other books.
PART I of the book literally opens with the last chapter of book 2, THE PRINCE OF EDEN. After his father's death, John comes to Eden, broken and bedeviled. The occupants are shocked, obviously, not just because his return is unwelcome (it is), but also because he's the spitting image of his father, Edward, who caused quite a scandal with his affair with his brother's wife, and his rather casual selling of Eden-owned land to fund his schools for the poor and underprivileged in London. At first, he is treated as a servant and forced to shovel manure, pending the authenticity of his claim to Eden ancestry, but Harriet Eden, the current lady Eden, has a change-of-heart, and invites him into the castle. Her motives aren't exactly pure, though, and John's entrance to the castle sparks a dark retelling of Oedipus Rex, in nearly every way, and let me tell you, the author knew what she was doing. She even alludes to it, sneakily, by having one of the children (one of John's half-siblings), refer to Sophocles and one of his plays in the schoolroom. Yeah, I see your game.
When the inevitable tragedy happens, PART II begins. A stunned and traumatized John stumbles from Eden and ends up meeting a manic pixie dreamgirl named Lila, who I'm half-convinced is actually Luna Lovegood in disguise (she's the blonde woman on the original 80s cover). Lila is known for being weird, as she makes up stories and talks to her pet cat, Wolfe, and seems to conceive of herself as being a bit mystical and touched with supernatural powers. John and Lila hit it off, and agree to exchange letters. Meanwhile, John ends up going out to pull himself up like his bootstraps but ends up being enlisted into the Crimean War. After being wounded and recovering in a hospital where Florence Nightingale makes a cameo appearance, he goes to India just in time for the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Another tragedy strikes the Indian woman he meets there, Dhari, also in the form of gruesome mutilation, and he ends up taking both her and her son, Aslam, with him out of guilt. Jeez, at this point, I'm thinking, "Are any of the women in his acquaintance NOT going to have anything bad happen to them? Lila is imprisoned in her room by her overprotective parents and John's foster mother, Elizabeth, is brutally raped and beaten by the villain, King Asshat himself.
Part III brings everything full circle. Elizabeth and John reunite and he forgives her for returning to the Oldest Profession in the World. Dhari smilingly steps back as John marries his new, white wife. King Asshat is whipped and sent home in his carriage in disgrace. All the happy people return to a now impoverished Eden Castle, where the madwoman in the attic awaits their return. It begins as it ends, with John coming home, but both Johns are very different people - for better, or for worse.
THE EDEN PASSION was a really intense read and I actually had to set it aside for a week or two around the 200-page mark because there's a scene of self-mutilation in here that's pretty graphic. Likewise, PART II in India is also pretty hard to swallow. The N-word is bandied around a lot, and the hypocrisy of the Christian missionaries is shown with how they say their prayers even as they take advantage of the locals, and Dhari herself was almost a victim to the practice of Suttee, something the ex-missionary who takes her as he pleases tells the table with relish despite her obvious mortification and shame. The portrayal of British Colonial India is portrayed, naturally, with all of the cultural sensitivity of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. There weren't ninja Kali worshipers with scimitars and questionable buffets of leech-filled snakes and monkey brains on ice, but I feel like those could have just as easily been ideas that Marilyn Harris was keeping on the back-burner. You know, just in case all the surprise incest and character tortures weren't enough. I think the last time I read a bodice-ripper that was so dark and so cruel to the characters inside was when I read Parris Afton Bonds's DUST DEVIL. That was another book that also had me needing to set it down, but unlike THE EDEN PASSION, it petered out in the end once the cruel deed was done.
THE EDEN PASSION is not a bad book. It is definitely my least favorite of the three, though (book 2 was my favorite, but I think the first book had the most poetic writing). The quality of the writing and the complexity of the characters pales somewhat here, and I got the impression that Harris was trying to overcompensate for that with more shocking twists and horrific tortures. There's a real Game of Thrones vibe in this book, where the wars and the relationships play a foil to some truly horrific scenes that appear to be done specifically to horrify and scandalize. I couldn't help but wonder what the public at large made of this book when it came out. Was it banned from certain venues? Or, because it was packaged as a romance, did it just end up becoming a best-kept secret that sat on the check-out racks at local grocery stores like a ticking time-bomb of general wtfery?
I don't know, but if you feel like you're too happy in life and want to take yourself down a few pegs, check out the Eden series and enjoy the greatest ritualistic act of literary suffering since embarking upon the Game of Thrones series. Endeavour publishing has been rerelasing these books for Kindle and you can get a fair number of these previously out-of-print books on the cheap, and they don't appear to be censoring out or rewriting the questionable parts like other rereleases, either.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
Hilariously, I read THE BLADE ITSELF alongside SUMMER OF THE UNICORN, and while both are fantasy novels, just look at those covers and guess who the targeted audience for each is. Yeah, I thought so. Now imagine THE BLADE ITSELF with a hero (let's go with Bayaz) and a heroine (Ferro?) clad in scanty clothes, miming sexual positions around a sword plunged into the middle of a scenic wood populated by deer...and Shanka.
This NEEDS to happen!
My first encounter with this author was with his book, HALF A KING, which I thought was okay. It felt a lot like a blend of Robert Louis Stevenson and George R. R. Martin, and while I thought the story was interesting, the pacing was terrible. The ending, especially, dragged like nobody's business, and I had to force myself to read the book in time for my book club.
I actually owned books 2 and 3 in The First Law series for about five, six years now, but never started them because I was lacking a book 1. Recently, it went on sale for $1.99 and I one-clicked that switch immediately, because at last, my collection was complete (mwa-ha-ha). When my friend Mary agreed to do a buddy read with me, knowing her penchant for fantasy I thought this would be a winner. Plus, my brain gets super lazy when it sees a page count that exceeds 500. Buddy reads are a super handy tool for corralling lazy brains into reading long books - two birds, one stone! Let it be so!
Now I have finished THE BLADE ITSELF, and I find myself in the same position as I was after I finished HALF A KING. The story was good, and the characters were complex, but the pacing was awful. The beginning was so tedious that I remember thinking to myself, "I wonder how much Mary will hate me if I put this book down slowly and pick up a bodice ripper instead?" (Spoiler: Probably not at all, Mary is super cool.) But I have a modicum of honor, so I forced myself to keep reading and the book (very gradually) got better as other characters entered the fray.
I'm not sure how to summarize the book except to say that it's a lot like GAME OF THRONES, in the sense that it is about a kingdom that has been plagued by war in the past and has a new threat looming on the horizon. This kingdom is called Angland and the threat is coming from the North. The main characters are Logen (a barbarian soldier); Bayaz, a bald-headed, legendary magician; Glokta, a promising soldier who was tortured horrendously and now leads inquisitions involving torture himself; Jezal, a spoiled rich boy soldier, and the fantasy equivalent of a whiny frat boy; and Ferro, an escaped slave who is deadly and desperate to escape, even if it means her own death.
This book really, really wants to be the next GAME OF THRONES, but I don't think it succeeded very well - at least not in the ways it wanted to. Like GoT, I definitely was interested in some characters more than others, to the point where I'd skim if I'd see certain characters' names (I see you Ferro and Logen). Also, this book suffers from a problem a lot of other fantasy novels written by men have - it doesn't have that many fleshed out female characters. Yes, yes, I know about Ardee and Ferro, but Ferro really didn't feel very complicated to me, she felt like a dude's idea of a "tough girl": personality-less, merciless, and utterly anti-feminine. And then Ardee was kind of the classical manipulative b*tch with daddy issues. I didn't really appreciate that, as a woman.
The last time I brought this up about a fantasy novel, I actually had some dude come onto my review and mansplain fantasy to me. Did I not know that women are not the intended audiences of fantasy novels, he asked, mansplainingly, because that is not the "domain" of women. Or something like that. I forget the exact words. LOL, maybe the problem isn't that women aren't interested in fantasy; maybe the problem is that we don't see ourselves reflected in any of the characters, so we have to stick with books that have titles like SUMMER OF THE UNICORN (which, incidentally, is not a bad book, and is certainly a much better book than anything written by Heinlein, who is as trashy as all-get-out and yet, bizarrely, his work is regarded as literary by some - wtf?).
My favorite characters to read about were probably Bayaz and Jezal. I felt sorry for Glokta, but all his obscene gum-licking and his constant gripes about stairs (LOL, but seriously, I think every time his narrative was mentioned, he talked about the stairs at least once) made him feel a bit one-note. The scenes where he shone were the torture scenes (which are graphic and disgusting - you have been warned) and the scenes where he seems vulnerable, like when his past comes up or when he softens a bit towards Ardee and West. I found that touching. Logen was boring, but he wasn't a bad character. Ferro was irritating, for the reasons I outlined earlier. The best scenes in this book were probably the journey into the tower and the sword-fighting duels; Abercrombie is good at writing sword fights.
Did I enjoy this book? Yeah, more or less. I'd read books 2 and 3 since I already own them, but I don't think I liked this book enough that I'd rush out and buy the sequels if I didn't own them already. It wasn't bad, though, and the world-building grows on you as you read. I hear that books 2 and 3 really gain steam and become darker yet, so I guess I'll have to wait and see what Abercrombie comes up with next.
They say you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover. You can't see it too well in the pic, but this edition is actually an iridescent pink-purple that shimmers. I picked it up because I read Scarborough's work in an anthology of science-fiction, and she was the only author whose story I gave 5*. The shiny pink cover and cozy cover art made me think I was going to be getting a delightfully fluffy faerie tale retelling, maybe in the vein of Mercedes Lackey's 500 Kingdoms series.
You shouldn't judge a book by its cover.
This was a "stealth read," which means that I read it without adding it to Goodreads first, and didn't post any status updates. Had I added it to Goodreads, my status updates would have been growing increasingly unhappy and dismayed with what I was reading.
Here's the basic premise: Rose is a social worker who wants to do good in the world and save children from bad situations. She lives in Seattle, and as with most big cities, there's a lot of crime and other bad stuff. One day, in her friend's curiosity shop, she spies a crystal necklace that's supposed to be good for wishes or magic or something (I forget), and jokes to her friend that she wishes someone would "save the whole damn city." Enter Felicity Fortune, fairy godmother extraordinaire, who plans to do just that.
In THE GODMOTHER, Scarborough modernizes and synthesizes several faerie tales to fit the narrative, including a homeless teen whose luck changes when he meets a talking cat (Puss in Boots); a rebellious former drug addict with a rock star father whose jealous model stepmother is trying to murder her (Snow White); and a girl who works in a stable whose greedy relatives are doing their best to get her fired from her job, as well as disinherited from her father's will (Cinderella). There's also a Vietnamese kid who came from a refugee camp and while at first he counted his good fortune, his bitterness has corrupted him and now he steals and is part of a gang (I am not familiar with the faerie tale that this was based on, but the "goddess" he referred to was Kwan Yin which seems to be an alternate spelling of Guanyin, an enlightened figure in the Buddhist religion).
All of this would have been fine, except for the "Hansel and Gretel" retelling: a child molester who ends up getting his hands on two kids whose selfish mother keeps trying to ditch them since her new boyfriend hates kids. There are few things that I absolutely cannot stand to read about, and will actually affect my rating in a negative way, but two absolutes are children being abused and having this abuse written about in a graphic way, and animal abuse and torture. And man, this book is graphic. The child molester in this book sexually assaults and tortures these poor kids, and we're treated to an absolutely gruesome scene that tells us what he's done with some of the others.
I know stuff like this happens, and it's awful, and it's so important that people be made aware of the reality of abuse so they can stand against it. But there's a time and a place, and it just felt so unnecessary here. Especially with that deceptively innocent cover and the quirky, oh-so-adorable summary on the back cover. "She is Rose's wish come true. She shines a light of hope on this city of lost souls. And she lives in every heart that ever dared to dream..." P.S. RAPE, TORTURE, AND DISMEMBERMENT AWAITS THOSE INSIDE! HAVE FUN! I so did not sign up for that.
Scarborough is a good writer, but this is not her best. If you want faerie tale retellings, you would be far better off sticking with Mercedes Lackey's 500 Kingdoms or Elemental Masters series. I see that there are two more books in this series, and I'm not sure if I'll read them. I love the premise behind these books but if they're as dark as this one was... yeah, no thanks. :|
This book was everywhere. Comedians were talking about it. Politicians were talking about it. Magazines and newspapers were talking about it. Trump was talking about it. Even the Grammys got in on it, with Hillary Clinton making a special cameo, during which she read excerpts from the book. It was supposed to be game-changing. Scandalous. Dishy. Controversial. It was making ~waves~. Hell, I even got unfriended by several people after posting status updates for this book! It was that #edgy.
Naturally, everyone wanted a piece of that sweet, sweet edge.
I'm a bit late to the game, since I got my copy from the library (curse you, waiting list), but I did eyeball some of my friends' status updates as they read the book, and their lack of "OH MY GOD, NO WAY!" was a tip-off that this book probably wasn't going to be the ##BIGSCANDAL it was being hyped up to be. Things rarely are. I think we all remember how disappointed we were when Rachel Maddow went on TV claiming to have a copy of Trump's tax returns that she was going to reveal, live, and it was just an old, already released copy from 2005. I was expecting that.
FIRE AND FURY has two major problems: unprofessional writing and lack of cited sources. The former makes sense. The author/publisher apparently received a cease and desist notice regarding the book, and in a sweeping gesture intended to support the first amendment and the free press, they sped up publication, thus putting the book into the public's hands faster and thumbing their nose at the president (and also garnering a fair amount of publicity and demand, as well). But it means that the book is riddled with typos like this (although maybe not quite so unfortunate): Bannon was making his first official pubic [sic] appearance of the Trump presidency (130). The writing itself is a bit breathless and sensationalistic and kind of reminds me of GAME CHANGE, the book that detailed the campaign between Clinton, McCain, and Obama. Both books take an omniscient third-person narrator approach that makes the reader wonder, "How many liberties are they taking with the story?"
Which brings me to the second point. I'm a chronic Googler. I like looking things up. When reading nonfiction about a subject I find interesting or relevant, I immediately jump to the sources listed in the book, for further research. It's how I was raised: to question, to be skeptical, to gather data in the search for truth in the face of salient evidence. In the back of my edition of FIRE AND FURY, there is an index - but no page numbers, and also no bibliography or list of sources. The lack of footnotes concerned me, as many documentaries in book form have footnotes after quotes or data that are then indexed in the back by chapter with a list of the websites, articles, and interviews that the author gleaned that information from. This book did not have those things, which I found troubling.
As far as the content goes, it told me nothing I couldn't have learned from watching Seth Meyers or Samantha Bee, or picking up a newspaper (God help me). If it did anything, it only reinforced the suspicions I already had: that Trump appears to be a childish, inexperienced, paranoid, petty, narcissistic man who needs to be fed praise constantly and obsesses over any negative statements about his glorious personage the same way Ebeneezer Scrooge greedily counted his coins; that Bannon appears to be a crude and nasty man who dreams of isolationism and wants to take down the liberal party with the same sort of elaborate schemes that Bond villains used to try to take over the world; that Jared and Ivanka appear to be trying to play Good Cop to Trump's Bad Cop in a pitiful effort to out-class the sinking ship that is the S.S. Alt-Right Party, but are in it for themselves as much as anyone else. It's freaking ridiculous, and not a day goes by when I wonder, "How did we get here?"
I'm as liberal as they come, and live in one of the most liberal places in the entire United States, but I will be the first to admit that this book had problems. And while I can appreciate the publisher wanting to support free speech and the free press, the move did appear a mite publicity-driven. I'm glad people are reading this book, and I hope that it will encourage them to ask questions, too, and maybe think extra hard about the people who are affected by such gross changes in government, but at the same time, I think that the typos and sloppy writing make it way too easy for the points that this book makes to be dismissed, and that feels like it's going to be a big mistake in the long run.
This is either the best worst book I ever read, or the worst best book I ever read. First, the new cover doesn't do this book justice at all. What's with the 1920s-style hairdos and outfits? It made me think this was going to be some lame period piece a la, "Oh, darling, I'll never forget that one summer in Tuscany, the one where we were both as wild and as free as wild horses! Truly, my love, it was the summer... THE SUMMER OF THE UNICORN!"
Yeahhhh, no. I'll do anything for love, but I won't do that.
But I'm as basic as they come, and one thing us basic girls love is unicorns, and when I saw the word 'unicorn' in the title as I was gleefully scrolling for and requesting Netgalley ARCs, I one-clicked that book without even reading the summary. Because I like to live dangerously. Then I changed my mind and decided to let my ARC expire, but first I went to Goodreads to check out the summary... AND I SAW THAT GLORIOUS BEAUTY THAT YOU SEE BEFORE YOU!
Holy cover art, Batman! Was this that holy grail of romance wtfery? An 80s romance?
YOU BET YOUR BLACK LATEX SHIRT IT WAS, BATMAN.
Forget letting this precious slip through my fingers. I set aside The Chronicles of Celery, Queen of the Sues, and read this like I was doing the Richard Simmons version of reading, with a one, and a two, and a three, TURN THE PAGE, and finished it within a matter of hours. Oh, don't get me wrong. It was baaaad. But it was the kind of bad that is so utterly entertaining that it becomes the standard of bad to which all books aspire. Truly, my friends, this is The Room of romance novels.
So what's it about? Two princes, fighting over a throne, on a planet called "Rubicon." Their names are Boran (which sounds a lot like Borat, which I am going to call him for now on) and Hunter, which is a fairly common name, so I'm going to call him Basic Bro. The rules of inheritance state that the firstborn gets the throne but since Borat's mother was the only witness to his birth, that's a contested matter. Also, nobody really likes Borat that much. He's mean to his concubines (who all lust after Basic Bro's manly, yet utterly considerate touch), likes to hurt people for fun, and oh, part of him was burned in a fire so he has scars, and everyone knows that if someone in a romance novel (or a soap opera, or a telenovela) has a scar, that's basically the equivalent of a bright neon sign that says, "THIS PERSON RIGHT HERE, THEY'RE THE EVIL ONE. AVOID." And, as with warning signs in real life, idiots cheerfully disregards them until it is Too Late.
To resolve this matter, the council on Rubicon decide that the brothers must go out into the world to bring back proof that unicorns exist and the one who does will get the throne. So Borat and BB get on space-ships and go to another planet(!) in order to find unicorns. Which is ridiculous, I know. I love it. BB goes to this place that I believe was called Styx, where there is a man who has found the unicorns but at terrible cost: he is now haunted and also minus one tongue, because when he killed the unicorn to get its horn, something attacked him in kind. The Keeper of the unicorns: a powerful, magical woman who is rumored to be immortal, & guards the unicorns' lives as if they were her own.
BB goes to the unicorn planet, where he promptly falls off a cliff and almost dies (LOL). He is saved by the Unicorn Woman, who is named Siri. Yes, like the phone. I love that, so she's just going to be Siri, but please imagine everything she says being said in Robot Siri's voice like I did if you choose to read this book, because it becomes ESPECIALLY funny during the parts where she refers to herself in the third person. Siri knows that he came here for the unicorns and doesn't understand why she saved him (dude, because he's hot). Many arguments ensue, about whether or not to bang (only virgins can communicate and protect the unicorns), but also about whether it's good to reveal the existence of the unicorns because "good" people don't need to see them in order to appreciate what they represent, and "bad" people will want to kill them and harness their magic for themselves.
MEANWHILE, Borat has assembled a team of Huntsmen but he also thinks Siri is hot. So he uses his evil magic amulet to psychically roofie her, forcing her to do sexual things with him and then blanking her mind out later. All the while, he giggles evilly to himself about how he's going to force her to sleep with him under this magic spell, making her think she's doing some hot, angelic dude, and then at the moment of climax, when her virginity is no more, he's going to let her see who he really is - and then he's either going to kill her or make her his queen, he hasn't decided. All he knows is that he wants her magical virginity powers for himself (no, seriously, he says something that is basically to that effect, in almost those words), and that the unicorns must die for his benefit.
This psychodrama spans 250 pages, and it drags like nobody's business, because between all the masturbatory villain scheming (sometimes literal masturbation being involved as he plots), Sexy Naked Baths, to-bang-or-not-to-bang philosophizing, and UNICORN passages(!), not that much happens. Borat is really the driving force behind this novel, because he's so deliciously evil that this feeling of dread totally overshadows all the unicorn frolicking. Also, the mythology of this world is weird AF. Siri is the daughter of a mermaid and a mortal man, has psychic powers, lives in a valley where there is an OCEAN inside of the nearby mountain, and in addition to unicorns, sand cats, panda bears, dragons, and Arctic wolves also live in this place, and all in harmony, besides.
ALSO, in a surprise Planet of the Apes-esque twist, it turns out that the Unicorn Planet is actually Earth. The same planet Borat and BB's people fled 10,000 years ago after they destroyed it. WHAT A SHOCK! Primarily because, to my knowledge, we don't have any ocean-filled mountains. But what do I know, I'm not a geologist. Maybe this is some super secret bit of info only geologists know.
What I do know is that this book is weird AF and also pretty terrible. The twist at the end, the deus ex machina regarding BB and Siri's consummation, the unicorn dances, the naked sexy baths, the psychic roofies, the evil magic amulets, the virginity magic, and also Siri's mermaid mom who lives in the ocean-filled mountain were just huge piles of whip on this wtfery sundae. Even funnier is the fact that Kay Hooper now writes romantic suspense novels, and appears to have distanced herself from the fantasy and paranormal novels that she wrote in the 80s and 90s. From what I have observed, they appear to be rarely mentioned or read by her fans, and several are out of print.
Despite its awfulness, I enjoyed this book. Fantasy bodice rippers are somewhat rare, and their covers are often glorious (just check out this cover for ENCHANTED PARADISE, which looks like a Lisa Frank-themed porno shoot). I'm glad that more and more authors these days are releasing their backlists, because while many people these days lose their sh*t over being the first to receive and review sparkly new titles from 2018 (and if they're REALLY important, 2019), I'm an old-fashioned kind of gal who likes to snoop in authors' cobwebby closets to find the titles that they'd like us to forget they wrote (Iris Johansen, I see you and your half-forgotten HRs. Lisa Kleypas, GIRL, I KNOW you wrote a bodice ripper back in the 80s, and I see you too).
I don't know why Kay Hooper thought a GUNS OF AVALON/DRAGONS OF PERN crossover needed to be written, only in romance form and filled with erotic bathing, but I'm glad she did. Read this book. It's almost worth it just for the unicorn scenes, although everything else is pretty great too.
And by 'great,' you know I mean bad - but the good kind of bad. The kind that wears leather. ;-)
P.S. WEDDING RINGS MADE OF UNICORN DUST.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
I don't think I've read a book that was so mystifyingly over-hyped since FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. Every time one of these books comes out, my feed is immediately saturated with them for weeks. I realize that in reading these books, I am contributing to the problem, but I never said I wasn't a hypocrite. (Actually I probably did, but then again, how very hypocritical of me.) I read the first book about three years ago, and did not like it, but morbid curiosity inspired me to do a brutally honest reread of THRONES OF GLASS. The feedback was surprisingly positive (although I did lose a friend or two along the way, and even had some people block me). No hard feelings, though. You know what they say - those in glass castles shouldn't cast stones. Or something.
***WARNING: BIG SPOILERS AND SNARK AHEAD***
CROWN OF MIDNIGHT is book two in the chronicles of Celiac. I mean, Cellophane. I mean, Celery. Yes, let's stick with Celery. It's much easier to say than Celeana. In the last book, Celery partook in a Hunger Games-like competition to be the King's Champion for the hit new reality series in Adarlan, "Keeping Up with the Sardothiens." Everyone watched, agog, as a tiny, skinny girl inexplicably kicked the butts of men twice her size and strength, including me. It's almost like she hadn't been malnourished and imprisoned for years. Muscle atrophy, like smelly farts, bad hair days, and actually having to work at stuff, is something that just doesn't happen to Celery, Queen of the Mary Sues.
Unlike the rest of us pathetic mortals. *eye roll*
In this book, Celery is the King's Champion, and the obviously corrupt king is having her kill his dissenters. Only sucks for him, because Celery is totes Scarlet Pimperneling him, faking their deaths and mercifully allowing them to escape instead while bringing back the severed heads of scavenged corpses. (It's almost like she isn't good at her job as an assassin or something.) ((Also, girl, what's up with the weird severed head fetish? It's like my girl Celery thinks that they're Pokemon cards and she's gotta trade and collect 'em all.)) At the same time, she's trying to decipher the secrets of the Wyrdmarks, with the help of Nehemia, AKA Queen Bae.
Nehemia was the best thing about book one and also the best thing about book two, and she and Celery had way more chemistry than Celery did with either Kale (because he's overrated, like the vegetable kale, and often appears when not wanted) or Durian (should be obvious, but because he stinks. Like durian). So what does Maas decide to do to Nehemia? Kill her off, obviously. I'd been warned about this beforehand - because people have no self-control when it comes to spoilers in this series, it's like GAME OF THRONES (guess how I learned about the Red Wedding?) - but it still totally caught me off-guard and made me angry. To understand why this plot twist made people so angry, it's because it's totally an example of the Magical Negro trope. Fans argue that Nehemia's death was important, because it was the catalyst to Celery finding out The Truth - but that is literally the exact definition of the "Magical Negro" trope. To quote the wonderful TV Tropes wiki: "[they] have no goal in life other than helping white people achieve their fullest potential; he may even be ditched or killed outright once he's served that purpose" (emphasis mine).
And here's what Nehemia says about her fate when Celery raises her from the dead to ask her for secrets and also lamely apologize: "I knew what my fate was to be, and I embraced it. I ran toward it. Because it was the only way for things to begin changing, for events to be set in motion" (290).
YOU SEE. YOU SEE THAT.
RIP, Nehemia. Cause of death: lazy writing.
After that, Celery sulks over Nehemia's death while also seeking vengeance, blames Kale, runs back to Durian, and stalks the Finnick O'dair knockoff, Archer, because of his possible involvement with the rise of the lost Terrasen queen, Attlestar Galactica (or, you know, whatever). Turns out Kale didn't mean to kill Nehemia and she blamed him mostly falsely, but that's okay because he's a saint. Turns out Durian has magic and so does his evol father, but that's okay, because Durian's a saint. Turns out Finnick O'dair was the bad guy, but that's okay, because Celery still has two other love interest to ping-pong between, so screw him, he's no saint. Oh, but the bestest part of all is the grand reveal:
CELERY IS THE PART-FAE DESCENDANT OF AN ACTUAL GODDESS AND THE LONG-LOST QUEEN. It's like, you thought your girl Celery was a Mary Sue in the last book with her "I'm so beautiful, don't hate me because I'm amazing" "I can kick butt and you'll never see me break a nail doing it, but let me list out my murders like I'm a DnDer listing out my character's statz" - hold the phone and let's take these Mary Sue levels from 1 to "This is my Original Character from my Crossover fic about TWILIGHT AND HARRY POTTER." She even has magical eyes that are blue ringed with gold and we get this line that actually made me laugh out loud, because it totally sounds like something someone writing a crossover fic about TWILIGHT and HARRY POTTER would say: "I somehow inherited the ability to shift. Between my Fae form and my human form" (312).
I'm also super confused. Did she know who she was all along? Lose her memory? I feel like this wasn't really foreshadowed that well at all in the first book. You'd think that if a reveal like that was planned, there'd be more hints so readers wouldn't be all, "holy literal deus ex machina, Batman!"
So, apart from... THAT... how was the book? The writing was significantly better. If the first book was a one-star review that had been bumped up to a 2, this book was a three-star review that had been bumped down to a two. The action sequences were better, the writing was tighter, there were fewer moments where I wanted to hit the EJECT button that would catapult Celery from the narrative so I would never have to lay eyes on her smug little face ever again. There's still a lot that's really frustrating, though, and I think the biggest technical problem of this story is that rather than the characters driving the story, the story drives the characters. Their characterization is inconsistent, especially Celery's, and they will fluctuate between very different personalities whenever it's convenient for the plot. Add to that the fact that Celery's "abilities" are constantly getting stacked on top of each other, like a very special game of Mary Sue Jenga, and that shtick gets old, fast.
I'll be continuing this project with HEIR OF FIRE, so stay tuned for more updates!
Vox did a video about The Room recently with the co-author of this book, Tom Bissell, called Why people keep watching the worst movie ever made. He said of it in the interview: "[The Room] is like a movie made by an alien who has never seen a movie but has had movies thoroughly explained to him."
That sentence is scarily appropriate, and goes a long way towards explaining why people thought this book was important enough that it not only deserved a book, but then a second movie based on that book. The story behind the movie's inception is almost as bizarre as the movie itself, if not more so.
In his memoir, Greg Sestero writes about how he met the creator of The Room, Tommy Wiseau in an acting class, intrigued by his odd behavior and pirate-like appearance. The book chronicles Sestero's own rise from minimum wage worker and discouraged aspiring actor to a B-list actor with a couple of serious roles under his belt. Meanwhile, in the background like the proverbial elephant, lurks The Room, and interwoven with Sestero's own narrative is the narrative of what it was like to be behind the set The Room..
And, of course, Wiseau's own narrative arc, as well.
Wiseau is one of those characters who is larger-than-life (hence the movie). At times he's hilarious and endearing, at other times, creepy and terrifying. His mood shifts made him difficult to work with and sometimes delayed production, because he had a vision and God help anyone who stood in the way of that. He basically funded this entire movie out of pocket, from a bottomless money hole that led some of the cast members to believe he had illicit ties to the mob. His history remains largely a mystery, although Sestero shares some of the details that he pieced together from the rare anecdote Wiseau thought fit to regale him with, and it seems like he was from an Eastern European country and became wealthy via the American Dream, by starting as a toy-seller in Fisherman's Wharf. Apparently his name is a corruption of Oiseau, which is French for "bird" (because the toys he sold were shaped like bird), although Wiseau himself does not appear to be French.
I really enjoyed this book a lot. It's darkly funny and utterly ridiculous. According to Vox, movies like The Room fall into a category of movies called "paracinema," because they're not typical movies and they are not really viewed by a typical audience. The Room, in particular, is a trash film - which I think is probably a nice way of saying "s***." It's funny, because while I was reading this, I was thinking about this documentary I watched a few years ago called Best Worst Movie (2009), which chronicles another trash film: Troll 2 (1990). I watched Troll 2 (although I haven't yet seen the room), and it's about as terrible as you might expect... but there is an art to that awfulness. The timing somehow works out to be so wrong, that rather than being scary, it ends up like a comedy.
My Wiki-hopping ended up taking me to a page of movies that are considered to be among the worst ever made. Troll 2 and The Room are both on it, but so are a number of movies that I actually like, such as The Avengers (not the superhero one), Batman & Robin, and Glitter. The Avengers is actually my favorite movie, B&R is my favorite Batman movie, and Glitter was my favorite movie when I was a middle schooler and didn't know any better. Showgirls is on there, as well, but Showgirls is basically the NC-17 version of Glitter, so as you can imagine, I also liked that movie, too. Apparently I have s*** taste in films. (But, again, according to that Vox article, liking trash films is apparently correlated with higher intelligence because they are "subversive." Which, now that I think about it, might go a long way towards explaining my attraction to bodice rippers and pulp.)
THE DISASTER ARTIST is the perfect length, in my opinion, and does a nice job balancing both Sestero's and Wiseau's stories. The humor is great, snappy, and witty, peppered with odd-ball humor that fits the subject. Sestero details his tempestuous relationship with Wiseau, and how he slowly but inevitably got dragged in on this crazy project along with the rest of the cast. You also get cool behind-the-scenes trivia, such as why certain lines were said, or why the outfits they're wearing are so weird, or why that one table in the living room is covered with framed pictures of spoons.
If you're at all interested in this movie, I highly suggest you read THE DISASTER ARTIST. Watching the movie isn't even necessary to enjoy it (I didn't), although I'm sure it helps. But if you want to feel like you've watched the movie without going through the effort, I urge you to watch CinemaSins's video, Everything Wrong With The Room In 8 Minutes Or Less.
Edit: Lost a few friends over this book, so on it goes to the books-that-made-me-lose-friends shelf, where it can party with my feminism and anti-Trump reads. #NeverthelessSheKeptReviewing
Sarah J. Maas is basically the Taylor Swift of books: they are both among the most well known (if not THE most well known) in the genres they create work for, and have cultish fan bases that believe they can do no wrong. And both, in my opinion, are over-hyped.
I originally started THRONE OF GLASS three years ago. I hated it, and wrote a scathing one-star review of it filled with swear words and vitriol. That original review was actually deleted by me, along with about 3000+ books I rated and reviewed between 2009 and 2016, for a variety of reasons, which I discuss here (and will touch on as well at the end of this review). I originally planned to read and review the entire series, but the first book put me off so much that I never attempted the series again - until now.
I had so many people ask me to review this book series that I decided I might as well give it another shot. I try to keep an open mind when I review books, and even though I'm very critical and snarky, I try to be fair as well. I was also feeling somewhat optimistic, too, as two books that I fully believed I would hate due to what I viewed as excessive hype - THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO and THE CRUEL PRINCE - actually ended up becoming some of my favorites.
Spoiler: THRONE OF GLASS did not end up becoming my favorite.
Although honestly? I didn't hate it as much this second time around. I still didn't like it (and the hype escapes me), but I've read so much worse. THRONE OF GLASS does have some things in its favor: an interesting world where, like POISON STUDY, magic has been suppressed and outlawed, and using it is punishable by death; likable secondary characters (Nehemia <3); and fairly decent writing that, at times, can be lyrical (at other times, cheesy - but hey, I'm a lover of bodice-rippers, so sometimes that pompously-written purple prose has a time and a place: just ask Rosemary Rogers and V.C. Andrews). Also, speaking of bodice-rippers, I loved that Celaena was reading some in her room, cheesy prose and all. Based on the writing, it totally sounded like a Johanna Lindsey viking novel.
So, let's talk about where this book went wrong.
*draws in a deep breath and inflates like a balloon*
Reason #1: The heroine. Celaena is a terrible heroine. She reads like the self-insertion character in a fanfic. She has all the boys, all the powers, all the talents - and none of the characterization or skills to back it up. It got to the point where I would roll my eyes every time she admired herself in the mirror and listed off her features or humble-bragged in the narrative about how beautiful she used to be until she wasted away in the stupid salt mines. When she's not doing it, the two love interests are doing it for her, either while pining outside her window (seriously), pining over her playing the piano like Christian Grey did while watching from a shadowed corridor (SERIOUSLY), or pining over her looking up all tragically at the sky while being carted away to her "terrible" fate (OMG).
What makes this even more irritating is that she is supposed to be a strong female protagonist, and yet she is basically the total opposite. Not only is she incredibly vain and arrogant, she's also a total jerk. She insults everyone around her, especially the people she shouldn't be insulting (read: the people who are in charge of her fate and could send her straight back to those salt mines with a flick of their wrists) and other women. Celaena loves to slut-shame other women, especially in the beginning.
I mean, how can you like a heroine who says stuff like this?
"I hate women like that. They're so desperate for the attention of men that they'd willingly betray and harm members of their own sex. And we claim men cannot think with their brains! At least men are direct about it" (70).
And then there's the fact that she doesn't really live up to the "assassin" part of her attributes until the very, very, very last possible moment of the book. For the first however many pages there are in the ebook edition that comprise the first 85% of the book, Celaena will tell everyone who will listen (well, everyone who knows who she is) about how deadly she is, and in the narrative she's constantly making stupid makeshift weapons out of hairpins and soap (!), but she never gives me the impression that she's someone who's particularly qualified. People sneak up on her all the time, and she isn't a light sleeper because on several occasions she wakes up, surprised to see someone standing over her.
And then. And then. There's this line:
"Candy!" A large paper bag sat on a pillow, and she found that it was filled with all sorts of confectionary goodies. There was no note, not even a name scribbled on the bag. With a shrug and glowing eyes, Celaena pulled out a handful of sweets. Oh, how she ADORED candy! (234)
This is probably the stupidest moment in the entire book because in Celaena's competition to be the King's Champion, someone is killing off the other competitors. Also, one of the Tests they did shortly before this one involved poison. So obviously, someone wants her dead and even more obviously, there is poison lying about somewhere on the premises that someone could probably steal (if they didn't already steal some from the competition). And it never once crosses her mind that someone might have dropped off a batch of poisoned candy to her bedroom knowing her insatiable lust for sugar. Never. Once. Crosses her mind. I face-desked pretty hard at that. How do you come back from that?
Reason #2: It's boring and slow AF. This book is very back-heavy. Not much happens until the end of the book. You would think that a competition between a bunch of thieves, murderers and soldiers for a high-ranking position in an evil kingdom would be exciting, like, the Medieval Times' version of THE HUNGER GAMES. But no, these scenes are vastly overshadowed by much more important scenes. Like Celaena going to the library. Celaena debating about how much sugar to add to her oatmeal. And Celaena looking into a mirror and admiring her fiftieth sparkly, low-cut dress.
I liked the scene with the poisons. It kind of reminded me of that scene in Harry Potter, when Harry has to go through all of those trials before he faces down Voldemort (that, and the flying keys). The Tests had the potential to be so much MORE, and it was so frustrating to read about all this pointless stuff when what I wanted was action, adventure, and showmanship.
Rule #3: Book-pandering. One of my biggest pet-peeves is when authors make their characters love books in an attempt to get us to like them + to add "character" or "personality" where there is none. Liking books is not a personality trait, please, and thank you. This is something I mention in MY LADY JANE, as well - a book, incidentally, that I disliked a lot more than this one. There's nothing wrong with writing a character who reads, but when it's their only hobby and seems like it's just an excuse to give people quotes to make them go, "OMG! I TOTALLY RELATE! SQUEE" it feels cheap. That's just my personal opinion, but it bothers me a lot, so I'm mentioning it.
Chaol and Dorian were fine. Chaol had the personality of a fence post, but he had that tall, dark and brooding vibe down that I'm a sucker for, although Valek from POISON STUDY did it better. Dorian is the typical womanizing bad-boy rich-boy stereotype, and I didn't care for him much at all, especially what with his "you're not like other women" attraction to Celaena. Boy, bye.
Nehemia was honestly my favorite character in here. She's powerful, cool, mysterious, intelligent, and courtly - basically everything Celaena was not. I also think it's ironic that Nehemia and Celaena had much more chemistry than Dorian and Choal did with Celaena combined. Too bad this wasn't an F/F fantasy romance. I would have totally shipped them. They were cute together. Celaena was almost tolerable when she was with Nehemia. *coughs* Almost.
I honestly felt bad for Kaltain - probably because it felt like we were supposed to hate her. But hey, I was tired of Celaena, too, so I can't really blame her for wanting to be rid of Lady Special Specialton, Eater of Suspicious Candies and Bragger of Little Merit. She was honestly one of the more tragic characters in here, and her narrative ARC reminded me a little of Anne Boleyn's. Ambitious women are rarely treated well in YA, particularly if they're sexual and/or beautiful. THRONE OF GLASS does its damndest to distance Celaena from such "unlikability" by making her childlike and sexually inexperienced, which I found extremely irritating and boring.
I can't really remember why I hated this book so much when I first read it. Maybe because I went in expecting more, whereas this time I knew what to expect? Or maybe because I've read several particularly awful books this year that made this one seem better by comparison? I don't know. But this time I actually found some redeeming facets of the narrative that made me sigh and go, "Well, I suppose it could have been worse - and I did like this thing and that thing, so there." The funny thing is on my first review I got all these irritating comments telling me that if I read the book again more carefully, if I even really read it at all (omg, how dare u), I would love it. Condescending comments aside, I did actually "like" the book more this second time around, although I still think it's pretty bad (although I'll be trying to give the other books in the series a shot because damn that curiosity).
Lastly, since this book has so many passionate fans, I would like to issue a caveat:If you leave me rude comments, I am going to delete these comments and block you. It is not personal and it does not mean that I hate you, or harbor any ill-will towards you.I just have zero interest in interacting with people who don't distinguish between criticism of a book and ad hominem attacks of an individual. Part of the reason I deleted all my reviews back in 2016 was because I was getting a lot of nasty comments on about five reviews and I made the novice mistake of arguing back with them and giving them that satisfaction of a response. I've grown up a lot since I first started using this site and now have little interest in arguing or fighting with people. I would rather spend my time and energy on writing snarky reviews or having positive interactions with my friends and followers.
In sum, THRONE OF GLASS was not a very good book in my opinion and at times was incredibly annoying. I have heard that the second book has more action and fight scenes, and since those were the parts of this book that I enjoyed the most, I will be reading CROWN OF MIDNIGHT soon (probably this week) to see if it's enough to compensate for the glorious bore that is Celaena.
I did have a lot of fun posting snarky status updates for it, though. ;-)
Also, this meme I made w/ MS Paint for my status update of THE BLADE ITSELF seemed relevant.
An acquaintance caught me reading this today and said, "What is that?" (I had the cover face-down, because I was a little self-conscious.) So I said, "Well, okay, this is a little embarrassing but I collect romance novels from the 70s and 80s." And I flinched internally, because so many people are like, "Oh... that's interesting" in that way you know means "I'm on to you, crazy romance-cat lady." But they were actually interested and asked to see the cover and paged through it while I explained about how romance novels have changed over the last few decades, and instead of, you know, asking, "Why do you read these books?" they said it was a "cool hobby."
BODICE RIPPERS ARE A COOL HOBBY, YOU GUYS.
No, but this made me so happy, because romance novels are so scorned, and bodice rippers are scorned even more, and I get why a lot of people don't like them, because they aren't PC and contain a lot of dark and upsetting content. But at the same time, they often have very rich and intricate plots, and soapy drama, and some surprisingly good historical research with little details that actually hold up with a bit of light fact-checking via Google. I love modern historical romances, too, but there are very few books being published now that are like these, and whether they're good or bad, it's fun to dissect the tropes and the problematic elements, MST3K-style.
NEVER CALL IT LOVE is an odd duck. It kind of reminded me of a cross between Amanda York's BELOVED ENEMY and Christine Monson's STORMFIRE, but it lacks the classical wtfery that is typical of books in these genres. The story is about an Irish man named Patrick and an English woman named Elizabeth. Patrick's young ward is raped and then killed by a "Hellfire Club"-like group lead by Elizabeth's sociopathic little brother. He lies to his mother and his sister about his alibi, so Elizabeth defends him in court, and pays for him to escape England aboard a ship. In revenge, Patrick rapes Elizabeth. She gets pregnant and he marries her... because he's a man of honor, or something (and actually, now that I think about it, I reaaalllly hope that my acquaintance didn't read that part when they were paging through this book, OMG), and Patrick and Elizabeth go to Ireland, where she meets his staff and his disabled bastard half-brother, Colin.
Spoiler: Everyone falls over in a dead faint over the *awesomeness* that is Elizabeth.
Patrick is all about liberating Ireland, and he's gotten involved in smuggling, too, and since he's still miffed at Elizabeth, he often goes off to do rebellion-related things, or else sleep with his mistress, Moira Ashley, who he would have married if Elizabeth hadn't entered the picture. Meanwhile, Elizabeth's brother, Christopher, gallivants around France, wrapping those French women around his murderous little finger, and even manages to charm one of them into getting him a job - which he then embezzles from. Patrick, on the other hand, is betrayed and forced to leave Ireland to escape the English who have found out about his would-be insurrection. He heads off for the tropics, and Elizabeth and Colin decide to go, too. There, Christopher surprises his sister with an unwanted visit (he was forced to run away after he was caught stealing and now has no money). He assumes that his sister will be only too happy to share, and that her husband has forgiven and forgotten. Patrick has done neither, but out of love for Elizabeth, grudgingly agrees to allow him to work in his distillery.
Spoiler: Christopher is murdered and found dead on the shore.
So THEN Elizabeth and Colin and Patrick go to the United States, to live in a cabin in the wilderness, but Patrick finds out about YET ANOTHER REBELLION which he absolutely must be a part of. So he abandons his wife and the daughter he now has, leaving them to survive a devastating winter with little food or supplies, and the daughter gets sick and almost dies. When he returns from playing rebellion again, Elizabeth tells him that he's murdered their daughter and he goes off to cry in the woods (really). She sees him and returns to her cabin to leave him in peace, where she's told her daughter is better. She intends to tell Patrick this, but falls asleep instead, and when she wakes up he is gone. A few weeks later, Colin gives her a missive that her husband has drowned.
Spoiler: He's still alive.
At the end of the book, we find out that Colin was the one who betrayed Patrick to the authorities, and Colin was also the one who murdered Christopher (she thought Patrick did it). We've been led this whole time to believe that Colin was in love with his mistress, Catherine, but it turns out that he's been pining after Elizabeth ever since he met her, and his resentment at his brother for taking what he sees as his "rightful" place as heir, and for goading him into the horseback accident that caused his disability, mixed with sexual frustration, motivated him to do whatever it took to get his brother out of the picture. Even that missive of Patrick's death was forged - he burned the letter that Patrick had given him to deliver her, in the hopes that in the midst of her grief, she'd marry him instead.
Of course, after confessing all of this, Colin immediately kills himself.
Spoiler: Elizabeth isn't really that bothered by this.
The book ends "happily." Meaning that the two characters get together again, with their child still alive, and return to his home in Ireland. This was not a bad book by any means, but I raised my eyebrows at a lot of chunks of the story. Despite getting off to a pretty good start, with the evil gangs of rowdy boys and hate-hate relationship between the H and the h, it devolves pretty quickly into a sort of weird psychodrama that kind of reminded me of V.C. Andrew's Dollanganger series. Elizabeth's uncertainty about her brother being the spawn of Satan was so frustrating, especially since he murdered a kitten (D:<) and also had weird sadist porn in his room. He was such a manipulative liar and it was painful to see Mrs. Montlow (the mother) coddle him and Elizabeth enable him.
That said, I felt like he was axed pretty quickly - there was so much buildup of him being painted as a master manipulator, and I was expecting some kind of epic showdown. Like, he might use Elizabeth or her child against Patrick, in an attempt to kill him and her and take all their money or something. But no, instead Christopher sleeps with Moira Ashley and then embezzles more money, and is then murdered. How lame. I also felt like the Moira Ashley bit fizzled out, too. We keep getting told how women in her family tend to be "le cray" and she gets all Norman Bates-y every time someone accuses her of being "obsessed" with Patrick that I was expecting her to attempt to murder Elizabeth or partner with Christopher in some evil scheme. But instead she just disappears from the narrative.
I was also annoyed with the twist about Colin because up until the end, he was my favorite character, and finding out my favorite character was the villain all along was a very rude awakening. It would be like reading Harry Potter and finding out that Hermione was actually Voldemort the whole time. You would totally be like, "Wait! What? No! THAT IS NOT ALLOWED!" And that was how I felt about Colin being this obsessed, murderous ragebeast. ALL OF THE SIGNS pointed to Christopher and Moira being evil partners in crime; THAT is what I felt that the story was building up to.
NEVER CALL IT LOVE isn't a bad book, despite that. I will admit to being a teensy bit disappointed because Veronica Jason showed up on a list of authors similar to Rosemary Rogers, and let me tell you straight up: Veronica Jason is no Rosemary Rogers. She's not even a V.C. Andrews. She's Andrew Neiderman writing as V.C. Andrews. Which isn't to say bad - just that it's cheesy and over-the-top, and lacks some of the sophistication that I particularly appreciate and enjoy in my vintage novels. Also, the cover is lol-worthy because THE HEROINE IN THIS BOOK DOES NOT HAVE RED HAIR, so I don't know who that cover is supposed to be depicting, but definitely not Elizabeth. It's an endearing flaw, though, and as with the cheesy writing, I found myself rather fond of this book and its ridiculousness. I'm so grateful to my friend for giving this to me - I think this one's a keeper! ;-)
When I was in high school, I would sometimes walk over to my best friend's house and we would sit down and write, and then post, fanfiction. Completely off-the-wall AU fanfiction, of the variety that's often known derisively as "crackfics." It was terrible fanfiction and, yes, it's still up - or was, last time I checked. And no, I'm not going to tell you where it was posted or under what name, because it was bad, and I was fifteen when I wrote it. We had a good time writing it, though - and I think part of the reason we (foolishly) thought it was so great was because we poured a lot of our friendship and humor into the fic, to the point that the experience of writing the fic was greater than the sum of the parts.
I feel like that's kind of what happened in MY LADY JANE. These three authors, who I imagine are probably friends, decided to sit down together and compose their own fic - only it wasn't Ranma 1/2 or Inuyasha fic that they were writing about, but history itself. They sat down and they wrote fanfiction about Lady Jane Grey, and decided that Jane shouldn't die, so they turned her tragic ending and short-lived rule into a "spirited" romance, and they decided that Edward wasn't frail and sickly, but being poisoned instead. And they decided that the war between the Catholics and the Protestants would be much better written as a war between the, well, not-shape-shifters and the shape-shifters. And they also decided that shape-shifter was too banal, so they'd call them "edians" with a weird "d." CONFUSED YET? I WAS, TOO.
This is Tudor history crackfic, only it doesn't really work for a number of reasons.
Number 1) The narrative is condescending AF. The authors have all these constant asides written in parenthesis, which are obviously supposed to come across as adorable and funny and cute, but instead come across as overly precious and hand-holdy. "DID YOU GET MY JOKE? DID YOU?" It's literally the narrative equivalent of a four-year-old child thrusting their macaroni art into your face.
Number 2) The premise is stupid. When I got to the first page, I was like, "WTF." And then I got five pages deeper, and I was like, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?" And by the time I got to the end of the book I was like, "HOLY HECK, YOU WEREN'T KIDDING ME." MY LADY JANE aspires to be many things - it wants to be Monty Python (and even rips several lines from it, including "It's just a flesh wound" and "your mother was a hamster, and your father smelled of elderberries"); it wants to be Ladyhawke (or East of the Sun, West of the Moon); it wants to be The Princess Bride; and I think it wants to be Blackadder as well, with all that heavy winking about history, but it fails at all of these because it isn't funny enough to be like Monty Python, it isn't tragic or well-scripted enough to be Ladyhawke, it isn't as romantic or as clever as Princess Bride, and it especially is not as historically astute as Blackadder, which had inside jokes about history down to an art form. This book's jokes about history is to mention anachronisms like Jimi Hendrix or to cheekily suggest that Edward was the inventor of the hover hand (no, I'm not kidding) or that Jane was the inspiration for using "ferret" as a verb instead of just a noun (because, you know, she can turn into a ferret). WTF, book?
Number 3) The characters have no depth and their personalities and motivations can LITERALLY be summed up in a single word. Observe. Edward: "Sex." Gifford: "G." Jane: "Books." Gracie: "Scottish." Mary: "Evil." ALL of their interactions and jokes are based around these words. Edward wants to have sex before he dies, and then when he meets a girl, obsesses over her single-mindedly. Gifford hates his name and wants to be called "G." Jane likes books in that annoying way that's typical of heroines, in that it compensates for her utter lack of personality, and panders desperately to us, the readers, who also like books (and is tantamount to a giant neon "PLEASE LIKE HER" sign). Gracie is a Scottish shape-shifter who acts like Merida, and for some reason her being Scottish is a Big Deal. Mary, who I always kind of felt sorry for, is branded as the villain. Because apparently it's not enough that she's got a drink named "Bloody Mary" named after her; she's got to be the cardboard cut-out villain in this book populated with Patricia Wrede rejects. Why not rename her Evil Evilsson?
Number 4) The humor is so dumb and lame. For example, Gracie is a fox shifter and Edward thinks she's hot, so the authors make this terrible joke: Yes, Gracie was a fox. No, really. She was. Literally. (We know. It's too good.) (47%). Bad pun, which the authors then feel the need to explain, and then feel the need to congratulate themselves for. The entire narrative is like that, and I found it really grating. Maybe some people will find it charming, but I prefer subtlety to sledgehammers. And here's an example of Jane showing us how much she likes to book her books when she books her booky books: "Armies aren't very good about carrying libraries with them. I can't imagine why. We'd fight so much less if everyone would just sit down and read" (79%). In case you didn't get it: BOOKS.
I bought this because it was on sale for $1.99 at the time and because most of my friends said that they loved it. They loved it. I don't get it (I REALLY DON'T GET IT OKAY), but whatever, I'm glad they enjoyed it (even if I'm now second-guessing all of their recommendations to me). When I wrote that crazy fic with my friends, we had a few(!) readers who would actually egg us on to write more. They even subscribed via their emails so they could get UPDATES(!!!) when we posted. Young me was shocked that we had so few readers to appreciate our brilliance. Older, wiser me is amazed that we had any at all. I'm sure these authors were really proud of their book, and they had a lot of fun writing it, and probably all patted each other on the back for a job well done. And hey, for every naysayer like me, there's like a thousand people who ate this up like it was an ice cream sundae with the works. SO CLEARLY, something here worked for some people. But if you're going into this thinking it's going to be like Monty Python or The Princess Bride like I did, it's not. At all.
P.S. F**K YOU, G. YOUR NAME'S NOT A LETTER, YOU ELITIST BUTTMUFFIN.
After reading and reviewing the book UNDERWATER PUPPIES earlier this week (squee), it seemed only fair that I turn my attention to cats. Specifically LOLcats. I love memes. I love cats. When their powers combine, magic happens. Plus, I recently watched this Vox video called The reason every meme uses that one font, which is about the history of the Impact typeface and its use in memes.
I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER is this crowd-sourced meme dumping site where people submit pics of cats and can vote for their favorites (and yes, they mostly use Impact). I used to spend hours browsing the site - some of them are incredibly funny. (One of my favorites was the "crazy cat lady starter kit.") I guess the site was popular enough that the creators landed book deals, kind of like the LOOK AT THIS FUCKING HIPSTER guy, or the minds behind THE PEOPLE OF WALMART website and their book.
I've read several of these blog-to-book deals, and for the most part, I've found them lacking. I think it's because a lot of these blogs are crowd-sourced, so there's a lot of edgy humor (which comes from being anonymous). The people who publish the books aren't anonymous and they're trying to appeal to as many people as possible, so what often happens is that the jokes inside are very tame and inoffensive, in order to keep the books "family friendly." My brother got me a Grumpy Cat book a few years ago and it was the same issue - Grumpy's sass was dialed way down. She went from Give-No-F*cks Granny to mopey teenager, and, well, it just wasn't very funny.
In I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER? it was like the curators purposely chose the most bland and inoffensive memes they could find, and a lot of them were the kinds I'd skim over without a thought. There's a handful of genuinely funny pictures in here, but for the most part it's just things like "Invisible Treadmill" or "Insert Cheezburger Here." Comedy thrives on edginess and the unexpected, and when you take that away, you get bland, forced humor that your five-year-old might clap at if nothing better is on.
When I read the first volume of PERSEPOLIS, people told me that I had to explore this author's other work. Luckily, I bought volumes one and two of PERSEPOLIS together, so I could immediately jump from one to the other. While the first book primarily takes place in Iran during the Islamic Revolution and then, a few years later, during the Iraqi Invasion, the second book is about Marjane's coming of age in Austria: the place her parents decided to send her, where she would be safer from the war.
Marjane ends up in several places: friends' homes, a church (although she was thrown out for talking back to the nuns), hostels, even homeless on the streets. She writes about what it was like seeing a full grocery store after the scarcities in Iran, and the difficulty in living in a place where she didn't speak the language. She also writes about some of the racism she experienced, and her first feelings of shame for being Iranian because everyone saw them as "terrorists" because of the news.
I really enjoyed this book, because Marjane is so straightforward about her experiences. I think in memoirs there is a tendency to portray yourself as selfless, but Marjane portrays herself as honestly as possible, even at the cost of likability. One moment that particularly stuck out at me was when she accuses an innocent man of making lewd advances towards her in order to avoid getting in trouble with the Guardians for meeting a boy. She and her boyfriend laugh over the story but when she tells it to her grandmother, she yells at her for the first time in her life and says she's shaming her uncle's memory (the uncle who died for seditious activities that were against the Islamic Revolution). It was a relatable moment, because I think we have all done things as teens that we thought were humorous or fun that ended up bringing us shame later because of how they disappointed our families.
I didn't cry while reading PERSEPOLIS 2, although I came close at the end of the book, when she talks about seeing her grandmother for the last time. However, that doesn't mean that PERSEPOLIS 2 is any less touching. I liked how she described living as an expatriate, her encounters with her friends (and her enemies), and her experience with sex, intimacy, marriage, and divorce from both a Western and an Iranian perspective (and how the two frequently came into conflict). At one point she says something like "To the Westerners, I was an Iranian; but to the Iranians, I was a Westerner" which I thought was a great way to describe the feelings that many people with dual citizenship or people who are multiracial have of belonging to a group that is separate from those singular identities.
This is such a great series. It's easy to see why it was made into a film: the style, the narration, the content - it's all so compelling. As I said in the first book, if you're interested in learning more about Iran and enjoy memoirs written by interesting women, PERSEPOLIS is definitely a must-read.
I bought this book when I was in college and hipster/scene culture was at an all time high. I loved to sneer about hipsters, and I think that was probably because I was a hipster. I had about six flannel shirts in my closet and would make "pixel art" of 8-bit video game characters out of Post-It notes on my wall (and when I posted the pictures to Facebook, my parents yelled at me for wasting the Post-Its). I would go to record stores and buy CDs of 90s indie bands like Sixpence None the Richer and The Innocence Mission. I wore these thick-framed black glasses similar to the one that the dude on the cover of the book is wearing, and took "artistic" selfies in front of the poster of a Japanese woodblock printing I had in my dorm, or against the 8-bit video game Post-It art. I wouldn't go to a coffee store unless it was "independent."
I was, in other words, a basic AF hipster.
Reading this book is pretty hilarious because it's basically a retrospective ode to the early-to-mid 2000s. Some of the clothes in here are more emo than hipster, particularly the chunky side-swept bangs with the striped extensions. That's, like, classic emo/scene fashion. I was reading the reviews for this book and it looks like the biggest problem that people have with this book is that it not only isn't nice, it's also not PC. I would agree with that. A lot of the captions are definitely mean-spirited, and some border on ageist, racist, and homophobic. But then, a lot of humor toes the line of what's OK to say, and what it ultimately comes down to is intent. I don't think this guy who created this blog (and this book) is a bigot: I think he's a snarky dude who embraces the anonymity of the internet to make people laugh with his off-color brand of humor. Enough people liked it that he ended up getting a book deal (and in the intro to this book he seems as mystified about that as everyone else). I like it, because it captures the zeitgeist of the 2000s, including hipster, emo, and party/raunch culture. I may not agree with it personally, but it is an accurate reflection of my time in high school and college.
Also, that Beans guy at the end was kind of hilarious. He seems like such a great guy. People were posting unflattering pics of him dressed funny at concerts, and instead of getting offended, he was delighted when the creator of this book contacted him and asked him to do an exclusive photo shoot. Which he did. (I hope he got paid, or something, but maybe Beans is a pro-bono kinda dude who doesn't believe in selling out, in which case, rock on, Beans.)
In the meantime, I'm going to keep drinking my fancy cocktails with bitters, reading my hardbound copies of old classics salvaged from thrift stores, and listening to my OK Go and my Arcade Fire and my Rilo Kiley, while living it up in San Francisco, Hipster Capital of the West Coast (well, apart from Portland). You can laugh at us all you like, but we have artisinal salads, flourless vegan chocolate cake, and cute shoes with cats on them.
I was super behind on my Goodreads reading challenge and it was stressing me out, so I did what any rule-bending bookworm in my position would do - I dug out all of my favorite novelty books and photography books that I hadn't yet gotten around to reading and spent a blissful couple of hours poring over them, laughing and smiling to myself. It was basically a perfect day.
Disclaimer: I'm not actually a dog person. I know someone who's a dog person and they were like, totally mind-blown by the fact that people might not like dogs. "Who doesn't like dogs?" they asked, highly skeptically. "Well, me," I thought, but did not say. I mean, it's not that I hate dogs. I just like cats more. I grew up with cats and find them cute and personable, and dogs are kind of slobbery and high maintenance and gross. There are some breeds that I find irresistibly cute (*cough* Shiba Inus *cough* Jack Russel Terriers *cough*) but I'm also not one of those people who's like "OMG DOGGOS!" But my point is that while some people are either dog or cat people, basically everyone is a puppy and/or kitten person.
How can you look at a baby animal and not think it is the cutest thing next to chibi-drawn Pikachu? You can't. And Seth Casteel, that brilliant evil genius, he knows this and decides to capitalize it in the best possible way: a series of photographs showing adorable, wide-eyed puppies submerged in water. My God, this was so cute. Some of them are clearly chasing after their toy, so their little puppy jaws are open wide, Jaws-style, at the lens. Others are clearly bewildered (and wet), wondering, "Why is this happening to meeee?" And others are clearly, "I dunno what is going on but I like it! Puppy smile! :D :D :D" I read the whole book twice, back to back, immediately after purchasing it. The photos are very good quality and of fairly high resolution, all the better to showcase the adorable puppy faces contained therein.
I'm giving it four stars and not five because after a while, it got kind of gimmicky (and they weren't kittens. I think I probably would have had to have added an extra half-star if they were kittens, because it is a fact of truthy truthiness that kittens can do no wrong - but also maybe not because I think seeing sad, soggy kittens in water would have made me frown). There is only the deep blue water and the puppies, and cute as they are, the premise wore a bit thin after a while. Still, it left me with a big grin on my face and I got to see puppies (:D) so I think 4 stars is fair.
Americans, as a whole, don't really know anything about the Middle East. According to this article, a Roper study conducted during the Iraq War (2006) found that 75% of students could not find Iran on a map (the link they provided was a dead link). I knew a bit about the Islamic Revolution, because I read INSIDE THE KINGDOM: MY LIFE IN SAUDI ARABIA by Carmen Bin Ladin, who was half-Persian and grew up in Iran at this time, but still, the extent of my knowledge could probably fit into a thimble and still have plenty of room for a thumb. I wanted to learn more and this seemed like a great way to educate myself.
Marjane Satrapi was a preteen when the Islamic Revolution happened. Before the change, she went to a school where everyone spoke French and women were free to wear mini-skirts. The Islamic Revolution imposed new restrictions - mandatory hijabs, religion being taught in schools, and the Iranian secret police, or SAVAK, investigating people on the streets or in their homes for illegal activities, for which they might be jailed, publicly whipped, or even executed.
I think what makes this such a touching - and important - book are the flashes of normality in between the chaos of war and revolution. Marjane was a mischievous kid who liked to fool around in the classroom with her friends and prank the teachers, she chafed at her parents' authority and would rebel or sneak out, and when she became a teenager, she wanted to dress in the latest fashions and buy the things that made her feel good about herself and her burgeoning identity.
I cried while reading this book. Marjane lost her beloved uncle; he was executed for seditious activities, and the last time she saw him, he made her a swan he carved out of bread in prison. I also cried when she was out shopping with her friends and heard about an Iraqi SCUD missile hitting one of the houses on her street. Not knowing if her family was alive, she forgot to take home the jeans she purchased as she hopped into a taxi. When she arrived home, she found that her family was safe - but her neighbors, a Jewish family, had all been killed because it was a Saturday, and they were observing the Sabbath. As her mother hurried her away, she saw the friend's bracelet in the rubble, attached to "something" (which I am guessing was probably pulverized flesh and blood).
PERSEPOLIS is not an easy read, because it delves into many subjects that I think a lot of people would rather not think about. It's never fun to read about war, but that's probably why we should. Many books and movies glamorize life on the front, but real war is full of casualties and suffering, and should only be employed as a last-resort. Last summer, I went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which is filled with "found" objects from the resulting conflagration, including schoolbooks, buttons, and uniforms, along with photos of what the city looked like before and after the blast of the A-bomb. Survivors of the blast, who were either still in utero or small children when the bomb went off, took us - a group of Americans - around the city, giving a neutral but heartrending account of the war, the A-bomb, and the terrible aftereffects. I had to step respectfully aside at one point during the tour because I had begun to cry (I was so embarrassed, but I imagine the guides are probably used to that reaction). I'm really glad I went, because Hiroshima took this awful event and turned it into a powerful statement about the importance of peace. People come there from all over the world to look at the exhibits and learn. PERSEPOLIS made me feel the same way.
Like Art Spiegelman's MAUS, Marjane Satrapi uses the "memoir as graphic novel" medium to great effect. The illustrations manage to capture the whimsical childhood outlook, and the scenes of horror and war are also illustrated as a child might perceive them - fantastical, larger-than-life, and terrifying. This is yet another graphic-novel that feels literary in terms of subject and scope, and I'd encourage you, even if comic books aren't your usual cup of tea, to pick this book up - especially if you don't know much about the Middle East, and would like to learn a bit more about Iran.
Riley turns the knife so its blade catches the candlelight. "I read about this method of exorcism called bleeding," she explains. "If you harm the host body enough, it scares the demon away" (131).
It never occurred to me that Mean Girls meets American Psycho: The Book could be a thing or that it needed to be made, but apparently Danielle Vega thought so - much to my detriment. The first sign that something fishy was afoot is a "warning" in the inside cover of this book that says "For mature audiences only" which I sneered at, because the only other books I've seen with such a disclaimer are yaoi manga and Maya Banks's Sweet series.
"Go to hell, warning!" I thought to myself, blithely turning the page, where I promptly met Sofia, the sniveling new girl who, like the character in Mean Girls, ends up befriending the outcast girl. Sort of. But then, that same day, she also ends up befriending the popular girls, sort of, including Queen Bee. Regina. I mean, Riley.
The difference is that the "Plastics" in this book should be called the "Fanatics." They are all super religious and think that Brooklyn is possessed by a demon and needs to be exorcised.
"Okay," I thought to myself. "That's weird. I hope this is going somewhere."
***WARNING: SPOILERS AND DESCRIPTIONS OF GRAPHIC CONTENT***
Well, it was going somewhere. Torture. Graphic descriptions of torture. Graphic descriptions of torture that are really not appropriate for teenagers. I know, I know, there's a warning in the front cover, but I thought it was some sort of weird shtick, like the pentacle and the inverted cross on the cover. I mean, isn't Razorbill Penguin's young adult and middle grade imprint? How graphic could this book possibly be? Well, LET ME JUST TELL YOU SOME OF THE THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THIS BOOK. Someone gets a finger chopped off by a knife, somebody gets crucified, somebody gets flesh literally chewed off, somebody gets burned alive, not to mention the stabbings, attempted drownings, and various other things that happen in here. Things I totally did not sign up for.
Oh, and that ending - that ending made me so mad. Because it turns out Brooklyn was possessed by a demon after all, so the torture was totally justified. The sociopathic squad was doing the right thing. At that point I was wringing my hands and being like, "Am I being too puritanical? Is this actually a good book, despite the graphic content?" I hated AMERICAN PSYCHO after all, and couldn't get around the violence. But when I got to THE ENDING(!), I was like, "Nope, this is a terrible book and I am going to give it the bad review it deserves (but not the bad review it needs right now)."
This was a gross and awful book and actually slightly ruined what was otherwise a good day.
This is the second over-hyped book I've picked up this month that actually pleasantly surprised me (the first one was Holly Black's THE CRUEL PRINCE, if you're curious). I'd actually been avoiding THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO, because it sounded like more of that gently-padded historical fiction I can't stand, where the past ties into the present of some plucky, Pinterest-and-yoga type, who has her uncertain future resolved by some personal revelation of the past (I am looking at you, SECRET HISTORY OF THE PINK CARNATION). It was only when I saw reviews suggesting that the subject matter contained herein might be darker, and weightier, than I thought, that I decided to bite the bullet and dive in.
My goodness, but this book was not only amazing - it turned out to be just the thing I needed right now. Readable. Suspenseful. A little light, yes, but in no way padded or fluffy. Beneath that attractive cover is a core of jabby metal spikes, and you can say the same of the titular heroine, Evelyn Hugo, who's a cross between Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe (with a dash of Merle Oberon), with all the cunning of a Machiavellian prince. This is a woman who knows exactly what she wants, and will do anything to get it - and succeeds.
The narrator is a multiracial woman named Monique, who works for a Vogue-like magazine called Vivant. Monique is just a mid-level reporter, very low on the food-chain, and she's feeling depressed because her husband tried to force her to choose between him and her career - and she's having second guesses about the choice she made and the effects that it will have on her life. Nobody is more surprised than Monique when her editor grumpily tells her that she, and she alone, has been offered the rare opportunity for an exclusive interview with the now-reclusive actress. Even more shocking still - when Monique and Evelyn finally meet, Evelyn tells her that the interview was just a ruse: Evelyn doesn't want an op-ed piece, she wants a retrospective, written in the form of a book, and she wants Monique to publish it, and tell her story in the way that she, Evelyn, intends.
There are several "parts" to this novel, each divided by husbands. Evelyn's seven husbands each represent a significant milestone in her life, and it was really incredible how the author managed to make them all different, and yet all realistically flawed. Evelyn also talks about the mysterious "great love of her life" and the way that her sexuality defined her so much in her youth, and how chasing fame ended up leaving her feeling desolate and lonely at the end of her life. In some ways, TSHOEH reminded me of Jacqueline Susann's VALLEY OF THE DOLLS in how it provides a grim portrait of the way Hollywood chews up young starlets and spits them out, and the very short shelf-life of the attractiveness of women, and how this superficiality rules the people who chase it and abide by it. I was also reminded of this gorgeous Japanese film I love, Millennium Actress(2001), which is about this ordinary but beautiful girl in Japan who becomes a famous and iconic star, and as she makes film after successful film, the scenes from her movies end up serving as mirrors that reflect her pursuit of the one that she imagines that she loves. The actress in Millennium Actress also ends up as a recluse, who ends up telling her story to a low-ranked supporter in an exclusive retrospective about her life.
I think what makes TSHOEH really stand out, though, is the seriousness of the content. Sexism in the film industry, and institutionalized sexism, sure. But then there's also the topics of assisted suicide, domestic violence (and the trap of normalizing this abuse while living in this situation), racism, internalized racism, and sexuality. The Stonewall riots are mentioned, and the erasure of bisexuality actually plays a pretty huge role in the story. This is one of the few books I've read that really goes into what it's like being bi, and portrays relationships with people of both genders. I also really liked how Monique was half-black and Evelyn was Cuban-American, and how their cultures shaped them.
THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO is a really good book. The pacing is really well done, and like Monique, I found that this Interview with the Vampire-style format kept me coming back for more, because with every question answered, another immediately popped up in its place. Reading this is like reading one of those mildly trashy grand epics of the 70s and 80s that follow one character throughout their life, chronicling their loves, their hubris, and their sorrows. It was a fun, solid read with good characters, and a darned good (if bittersweet) story. You should read it!
I am trash for these vintage romance novels. Even the bad ones, there's something special about them. Modern romance novels just aren't written like these any more - the covers don't look like this any more - and I don't know, guys, but it's like discovering some ancient artifact in your backyard, except replace backyard with "bookstore."
Jennifer Wilde is the pen name of male author, T.E. Huff. He is probably most well-known for his bodice ripper, LOVE'S TENDER FURY, but not all of his romances are bodice rippers in the traditional sense. ANGEL IN SCARLET and this book, ONCE MORE, MIRANDA are much more tame, and do not have the wtfery of their crazy cousin, LOVE'S TENDER. These two latter romances are more like rags-to-riches Cinderella stories, with a healthy dab of Pygmalion thrown in there for good measure, because... because why not?
The first part of this book isn't actually narrated by the heroine, but by her mother, Honora. Honora is a beautiful governess who ends up working for the Mowreys. There are two brothers, and the elder is miserly and has creepy feelings for his handsome, younger brother. When he sees how gorgeous the new governess is, he contrives to sack her in a pique of jealousy, only she is saved by the handsome brother at the last minute who is charmed not only by her good looks, but also by how good she is with his son. They fall in love, Honora ends up preggers, and they marry secretly - but when the younger brother reveals what he's done, a fight ensues and younger brother gets pushed down the stairs on accident. Older brother is upset and furious at Honora and she's thrown out on her pretty, pregnant bum and told to never come back or make any claim to the family fortune. She has her child and gets consumption, and with the last vestiges of her waning strength, she puts pen to paper to chronicle her brief rise to happiness and her cruel fall into ruin, for her daughter to read one day.
The rest of the book is all narrated by Miranda, who lives by her wits in the slums of London. She's also pretty, and news of her good looks have traveled around to the point that this dude whose name is literally Black Jack has gotten word and wants to kidnap her for his brothel. Miranda wants no part in this (her airs have given her the ironic nickname "Duchess Randy"); she'd rather steal. One day, while pickpocketing, she picks the wrong pocket and ends up thrown in jail by this hard-as-nails Scotsman named Cam Gordon, after he catches her trying to rob his friend at a public hanging-cum-drawn-and-quartering. Cam taunts her about how they'll probably cut off one of her hands and how she's going to deserve it, but she's pretty, so his friend feels bad, and they end up bailing her out later and bribing the prison warden into allowing Cam to purchase her as an indentured servant who will be contracted to him for seven years. Cam is kind of a weird hero, because while he's not an outright alphahole, he threatens the heroine with beatings, actually hits her, and on a couple occasions, strangles her (once with the intention of actually killing her, I think). I don't think many modern readers will find him at all dreamy, but maybe 80s romance readers were into this thing. Who knows?
It turns out that Cam is a famous pulp writer who publishes his work under a nom de plume, and after Miranda unwittingly criticizes his work, he throws a temper tantrum while his friend laughs. Once he gets off his author high horse, however, he realizes that Miranda actually knows her stuff and lets her copy-edit his work. She gets him a big advance for his next book and her advice actually causes his stuff to sell even better than before. She also starts writing her own stuff, and while the publisher kindly refuses her first attempt as fantastical trash, she decides to write what she knows - life in the slums - and her books end up becoming best-sellers among the well-to-do, who can't get enough of this poverty tourism. Cam's stage actress neighbor ends up befriending her and giving her elocution lessons, and by the end of the third quarter of the book, Miranda is actually quite well-spoken and polished, with money of her own, and success that rivals that of even Cam's.
Anyway, it turns out that Cam is involved with trying to get Bonnie Prince Charlie put on the throne, and towards the end of the book, the story feels a bit like Diana Gabaldon's DRAGONFLY IN AMBER, with Cam constantly plotting and organizing rebellions and Miranda fretting on his behalf. There's even an obsessed captain who's looking into Cam, and his initials are J.R., like Jack Randall (except this guy's name is Jon Ramsey), and like Jack Randall, it's hinted that he's a coward who enjoys torturing others to make himself feel good inside. Ew. Unlike DRAGONFLY, Miranda doesn't aid him in his efforts like Claire did Jamie - instead she drugs him so he misses an important meeting that is supposed to be a game-changer, and when his friends decide to start without them a number of them die. Cam blames Miranda and leaves her, and the last act of the book begins with a sad Miranda learning the truth of her origins and going back to confront the uncle who ruined her family's lives.
It sounds like there's a lot going on in this book, but considering the length, there really isn't. This is incredibly slow-paced, and is so bloated with unnecessary descriptions and repetitious dialogue that it almost feels as though the author was paid by the word (like that rumor about Dickens). The Gothic beginning is the best parts of this book, and while there are occasional instances of wtfery that you'd expect in a bodice ripper, like imprisonment in a brothel by evil pimps and a graphic description of a public execution involving lengthy torture, like ANGEL IN SCARLET, this is actually fairly tame by the standards of the romances available at the time, and focuses primarily on Miranda's gradual rise in station, culminating in her claiming her inheritance and securing the legacy of her late parents.
I think this is a much better book than ANGEL, in terms of quality. ANGEL was even more repetitive, with a heroine who was determined to be spunky, flipping people off and calling everyone "sod!" Miranda did that to some extent, but it wasn't all the time, and she didn't spend all her time in front of mirrors describing herself like she was getting off on it (seriously, wtf). The sex scenes in ANGEL also felt much more dialed in: reading them was like falling half-asleep in tepid word soup. ONCE MORE, MIRANDA does okay in the sex scene repartment. Also, bonus: no rapist hero. I didn't really care for this book, but it was only 99-cents, and the unapologetic trashiness kept me turning the pages, as I did want closure on what happened to Miranda and to a lesser extent, Cam.
Treece read this with me, which added an extra element of fun to this Old Skool Experience™. ANGEL IN SCARLET was a buddy read as well, and there's just something extra fun about exploring these vintage romances as a group. As I said in the beginning of the review, they are completely unlike these modern twenty-first century romances, and sometimes that's a good, bad, or downright shocking thing, and I really enjoy looking at my friends' status updates for these (especially first-timers to the Old Skool Experience™) because sometimes they'll find a good quote I missed, or a revelation/insight that I never considered, and it becomes this MST3K-like snarkfest, where we all sit around and just talk about how cheesy/ridiculous/over-the-top the story is. (And that was totally a hint, by the way - these books are getting rereleased for Kindle all the time. (One of my all-time favorite bodice ripper series, Marilyn Harris's Eden books are now available for Kindle.) So, if you're at all interested in reading one of these with me, please let me know.) I wouldn't recommend Jennifer Wilde for someone first getting into bodice-rippers, since his work is a bit too trashy and unrealistic even for me (she said, while looking at her batsh*t-in-a-blender shelf on Goodreads), but for someone who really loves 80s-style melodrama and a bit of the soap, Jennifer Wilde is probably a good choice.
I'm honestly surprised by how popular this book is because not only is it over-hyped, it's just not a very good book at all, in my opinion. The poetry is so cloying and pretentious - just enough "unique" enough to be "special" but vague enough to be relatable. If I had to describe the style, I'd say it's a cross between fortune cookie messages & those weird 3AM posts that one weird friend you have on Facebook loves to post that are always a) calling someone out, b) posting about personal drama, or c) writing weird inspirational stuff inspired by their mood board on Pinterest.
(YOU KNOW WHICH FRIEND I'M TALKING ABOUT. WE ALL HAVE THAT WEIRD 3AM POST FRIEND.)
THE PRINCESS SAVES HERSELF IN THIS ONE is written in a very similar style to this, and I reluctantly gave that book 3 stars because it felt genuine, and maybe even authentic, even if it was written in a style that I didn't like and felt juvenile. MILK AND HONEY, I'm sure, comes from authentic emotions and experiences as well, and while I can appreciate someone wanting to share those experiences and use poetry to heal, I, as a reader, am in no way obligated to like said poetry just because the intent behind it was important. If "intent" was enough to get five stars, the star rating system would be pointless, because I'm pretty sure most writers publish their books with the intent of success and acclaim.
MILK AND HONEY comes across as pretentious and unpolished - a dichotomy that should not be possible, and yet, in MILK AND HONEY, it is. The book also features some incredibly gross metaphors like "the goddess between your legs / makes mouths water" and "the very thought of you / has my legs spread apart / like an easel with a canvas / begging for art." Ughhhh, noooo. I can only imagine that the popularity from this poetry comes from accessibility and the format that seems so easy to copy that any young aspiring poet probably takes one look and goes, "oh, if this dreck can be published, maybe my dreck can be published, too!" The drawings are no better, ugly even, and look like napkin scribbles rather than actual art.
I didn't like this at all. Everything in it has been said before. I could write a longer review ranting more about taste, expectations, and Shel Silverstein, but I'm trying to cut back on swearing and brusqueness in reviews, so I don't think any more negativity is necessary. This author apparently has a pretty devoted following on social media, so I guess if you're into Tumblr feminism and line-break poetry (which seems to be the new trend), you'll probably enjoy this.