Some books are bad. Some books are very bad. And some books are so bad that they take the concept of "terrible" to such deplorably base lows that it is almost avant garde. That is how bad CRIMSON SHADOWS was: bad enough that it ought to be showcased in an exhibit as a symbol of existential despair and intellectual ennui.
I've been working my way through the Crimson series since April of last year. CRIMSON KISS was good enough that I bought the entire series immediately. "Finally!" I thought. "A vampire series that isn't afraid to be dark! Complex and interesting characters and relationships, a heroine who wants to kill the hero in the name of revenge, and a 'love interest' who is genuinely dark and terrifying and seems utterly incapable of being redeemed."
Doesn't that sound awesome? I thought so too. Hence the four star rating and foolish optimism.
The second book, CRIMSON NIGHT, was where I began to wonder if I had made a terrible mistake. Simon Baldevar, the vampire antihero from the first book, was pretty solidly established as an abusive, sociopathic freak of nature whose good looks were his only redeeming characteristic. What he did to the heroine was awful (what didn't he do to the heroine? Poor Meghann). It seemed like Baker was setting the stage for a love-hate relationship of epic proportions borne of revenge and reluctant sexual attraction, because Simon was so obviously a villain. Instead, she set about ret-conning everything that had happened in the previous book, painting Meghann's abuse in a rosy light, and actively attempting to make Simon into a romantic hero, replete with candlelight and roses. Oh, and the sex? The sex was weird. Let's just say that it involves blood, and not in an "Oh! I bit you during intercourse! I'm a vampire! I find that sexy!" way.
Since the book ended with them having children, I figured that those children were probably going to come into play in CRIMSON SHADOWS. Vampires aren't supposed to have children, but Simon is good at alchemy and managed to magic Meghann into being fertile for vampy offspring. For some reason, one of the children is human (but psychic) and the other child is vampiric (and deformed). That could be interesting, I thought. Misguidedly. Naively. Innocently.
***WARNING: SPOILERS AND DESCRIPTIONS OF GRAPHIC CONTENT***
Reading this book put me into such a weird mood, because while it was utterly bad and ruined what started out as such a strong series for me, I couldn't help but applaud the author for her give-no-f*cks attitude. Trisha Baker obviously writes whatever she wants, and on one level, I have to respect that. This book was over-the-top in a way that most books stopped being over the top in the mid-80s. It was a throwback to an era where the sex was gratuitous and awful, the heroines were infuriating and foot-stampy, and the heroes were psychotic d-bags who equated murder with courtship.
On the other hand, what the actual hell did I just read? Some of you have been following my status updates for this book and have seen examples of the sex scenes included in CRIMSON SHADOWS. My 'favorite' was this scene where Simon teabags Meghann's bloody neck before having her give him a blowjob. Ew.
Speaking of EW, Mikal. Mikal is a piece of work. He is the vampiric twin of Meghann and Simon and does some of the most heinous things I've seen a character do in a romance novel. He rapes someone to death when he is still just a child (and of course, his character is gay and his father says how disgusting this is). He rapes and kills an old lady. He tricks his sister into sleeping with him, and then later rapes and beats her and his mother (even shouting "I never got to breast feed!" before attacking her in the boob with his fangs, because that just happened).
I also hated Jimmy by the end of this book, too. Jimmy is still hanging around Maggie, even though she's back with Simon. He slut-shames her and insults her and makes her feel bad about being with a serial killer vampire (which...okay, I had mixed feelings about that - because girl, please, have some pride. He hits you and threatens you and treats you like a child - why are you still with him?). After Meghann makes it pretty clear that they're never going to happen, he decides that he's going to go after her daughter, Ellie, instead. Ellie, who is human and seventeen. Ellie, who he raised as a daughter. Jimmy looks thirty and has been a vampire for a lot longer than that. This was so creepy to me. I mean, how do you go from, "I'm your daddy" to "I'm your daddy"? (Please don't answer this. It was a rhetorical question. I don't want to know.)
Throw in a bunch of special snowflake action, additional magical powers that manifest when convenient to the plot, surprise incest, vilification of gay characters, gratuitous gore, and a bunch of stupid sexist a-holes and spineless heroines, and you get the book equivalent of a middle finger. By the time I reached the end, I was ready to flip this book the bird right on back. There's just one book left in this series and, yes, I own it...but now I'm a little afraid to pick it up.
Before I get into the meat of this review (or perhaps I should say, the "yam" of this review) I want to share two funny stories about this book. First, I got this book secondhand in Japan and it's a bit of a curiosity because the book is in English but the price tag is in Chinese and I couldn't find the edition that I have on Goodreads, so I'm assuming that it's an out of print paperback edition. What a weird thing to find in a foreign country, right? (I was kind of hoping that they'd have some bodice rippers. They did not.)
Second, the sex scenes in this book are really weird. How weird, do you ask? Well, the author likes to refer to peens as "yams." Yes, that stuff that you buy by the can every Thanksgiving if you live in the U.S. of A. Crazy, right? I was telling my mother about this book and she rolled her eyes and said, "Is this one of your stupid bodice rippers, Nenia?" And I said, no, it's actually John Updike. And she looked utterly stricken: "Not Witches of Eastwick John Updike?" And I was like, "Yup. That one."
I think she's still traumatized by that revelation.
The story, as far as stories go, is pretty basic. It's the typical rich girl/poor boy story line that you've probably seen a million times. The twist is that it's a retelling of Tristan and Iseult (Tristao and Isabel) set in Brazil that attempts to make social commentary on race, class, and socioeconomics. While a worthy goal in and of itself, BRAZIL fails to do so, in my opinion, and comes off as dated, silly, trashy, porny, and even outright offensive at times.
Also, something it did that really puzzled me is that for the vast majority of the book, it's told as a straightforward tale that can sometimes be ridiculous but follows the rules of reality. However about 70% of the way in, Isabel and Tristao are captured by people who enslave Tristao and keep her on as a concubine. In revenge, Isabel meets with an indigenous dude who practices something like voodoo and actually flips their ethnicities, so Isabel goes from being white to being black, and Tristao goes from being black to being white. And this totally comes out of nowhere.
[H]e felt his cashew become a banana, and then a rippled yam, bursting with weight (17).
His penis, so little when limp, a baby in its bonnet of foreskin, frightened her when it became a yam, stiff and thick with a lavender knob and purple-black ripples of gristle and veins (54-55).
Her cunt was to him like cream poured upon two years of aching (128).
He inhaled, with those round apprehensive nostrils she had freshly admired tonight, the basic mystery of her shit... (130).
[S]he ewanted to toy with his yam, and trace its swollen veins with the tip of her tongue, and sip the little transparent drop of nectar from its single small slit (188).
The smell of extremely stale cheese arose from his genitals (232).
[N]ow that she was no longer the color of clouds and crystal but that of earth, of wet smooth wood, of glistening dung (244).
^I thought this felt particularly offensive, as this is following Isabel's transformation from white to black. She goes from being crystalline and cloud-like to shitty and earthy? LOL, what even. #nope
Here's a picture of my edition. Yes, it was published in the 90s. Can you tell from the clashing primary colors and serif-heavy font? (1994, as a matter of fact, by Fawcett Crest.)
I can't say I recommend it - to anyone - but it was pretty hilariously awful, especially when riding on the heels of that aforementioned vampire book.
I actually read this a while ago but it was right before I left for Japan and I was lazy, so the book ended up in currently-reading limbo for a while as I trekked across Honshu. Now I barely remember reading it because I just finished WHITE HOT and neither Sean nor Arland can compete with the elemental powerhouse that is Mad Rogan and if you disagree with that, I'll see your disagreement and raise you one tactile. The end.
People are shelving CLEAN SWEEP as paranormal romance, but I feel like it fits more into the futuristic-science-fiction romance branch, because it's about other planets and aliens, and focuses a lot on the relationships between the beings of those worlds and those who reside on Earth, with innkeepers being the "waystations" where those various aliens interact - for better or for worse.
I really enjoyed this book, even though I am beginning to suspect that Ilona Andrews can really only write one type of heroine - the brave, snarky, ditzy, kick-butt variety that delivers one liners as casually as an 80s action hero. Meg Cabot has the same problem. It's not really a bad thing, since I like both of their books, but after a while you start to get a serious case of deja vu with each "new" heroine you encounter.
The murder mystery was done really well, and I liked the focus on diplomacy and intrigue. I thought the world-building was incredibly unique, given that this is a book about vampires and werewolves (sort of). I didn't really find either of the heroes "hawt," but they were interesting.
Honestly, though? My favorite character was the house. It reminded me of the Luggage from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series.
This is one of those rare instances where I watched the movie before I read the book. Coraline (2009) came out while I was in college and all of my friends couldn't stop talking about this creepy story; they said it started out whimsical and turned into a total mindfuck, like Mirrormask (2005) - only better.
For those of you who aren't familiar with the story, Coraline is a little girl who moves to a new apartment in this rural area peopled with colorful characters, like a retired mouse trainer and two washed up film stars who haven't gotten over their halcyon days. Her parents are hard-working and don't really have time for her, so Coraline is often left to her own devices and feeling frustrated as a result. When she finds a mysterious locked door in the wall of her new home that leads to another, magical world, she is absolutely delighted. It's like Narnia, or Harry Potter - only not.
At a glance, the other world seems to be better than Coraline's own reality. Her other mother bakes delicious meals, her other father is always willing to take the time to delight her with games and conversation. Her film star neighbors are young and still very much entertaining, and her creepy mouse-trainer neighbor is ... well, still creepy but now he has something to show for his efforts. Everything in this whimsical world is Coraline's for the asking, if she can only ignore the darker edge beneath the glamor...and the horrible, infamous catch.
I read this book in a single sitting. It's middle-grade, so the language is fairly simple, and the book itself is quite short with drawings interspersed between the text that take up even more of the page count. I liked the story, but as with most of Neil Gaiman's written works, it was lacking some crucial element to make me really love it. I'm finding that to be the case when it comes to Gaiman's works - the movie versions are phenomenal (like Stardust), but the books themselves feel wooden and three-dimensional by comparison, despite being imaginative. I kept comparing the book to the movie while reading, too. Coraline's challenges are way easier in the book than they are in the movie, and the character of Wybie (who I loved in the movie) is omitted entirely in the book.
Overall, CORALINE was an okay book but I'm sorry to say that the movie is much better.
In case you're new to the whole Geek Actually serials, GA is a collection of (very) short stories, all under 50 pages, chronicling the romantic adventures of a bunch of geeky women with careers. Think Sex and the City...only with geeks. It's a great concept, and for books 1 & 2, I was sold - hook, line, and sinker. After the glaring disappointment that was BOSS BATTLES, though, I was a little hesitant. Because here's the thing: each serial is written by a different author. I initially expressed concerns about this in books 1 and 2 but they meshed so well that I figured it wouldn't be an issue. Well, book 3 noticeably deviated in quality - like, "is this really the advanced reader copy and not a rough outline?" deviated - so I was not quite as wholeheartedly excited about picking up book 4.
THE LONG CON, however, is written the way books 1 & 2 were, i.e. fairly well. I do think that #2 is probably my favorite so far in the series, with #1 being a close second. Since the books are so short, they focus on a handful of the characters in each episode so as not to spread the content too thin. This book mostly focuses on Michelle, Elli, and Aditi. Aditi and Elli are my least favorite characters, so I wasn't too happy about that (Michelle is OK).
In THE LONG CON, Elli, Michelle, and Aditi all end up going to the same convention - a book con, modeled after BEA. Michelle is there wearing her editor cap, trying to keep Aditi (her author) in check while also editing a rather terrible manuscript from a best-selling author. Aditi is feeling anxious about the sequel to the book that she's already having second thoughts about. And Ellie - well, Elli is Ellie...immature, self-centered, and utterly obsessed with all things fandom.
I felt like Aditi's flakiness is hammered out better here. We finally understand why she's so insecure about her book, and why she's reluctant to move forward. Haven't we all had moments of self-sabotage, where we're so literally terrified about the chance to finally fulfill our dreams that we subconsciously end up screwing ourselves because deep-down we don't feel deserving? I've definitely felt that. I've felt that hard. So even though I didn't really like Aditi for being a flake in previous books, I felt like this revelation helped me understand where she was coming from better.
Michelle, on the other hand, has the stage set for some rather kinky goings-on when she attends a BDSM panel from a Dom and his slave/wife. (And I'm sure that the fact that Celia Tan has published some BDSM erotica novels had no bearing on this twist whatsoever - ha.) I was actually impressed with how it was played out, though. Despite a lack of sexual content, Tan manages to write a pretty sexy scene. I'm curious to see how this will play out in future character arcs.
Elli's story was okay. She ends up befriending another cosplayer who draws comics and also happens to be in a wheelchair (I think her name was Ruby). Ruby was really cool and I liked how the concept of able-ism was treated in this segment and some of the ways that Ruby incorporated her chair into her cosplays (i.e. using it as the pumpkin carriage for her Cinderella costume). I didn't like how Ellie immediately started pushing her for a job as an assistant, especially when Ruby says that she doesn't have all that much money and doesn't want to depend on people. It felt opportunist and gross to me, and considering how she treated her last two employers, I'm skeptical of where this goes. Honestly, it's too bad Ruby isn't a main character - she was really cool and I'd happily read more about her.
Tan teases me with cameos from my actual favorites in the story - my favorite F/F couple Vivi and Christina experiment with some rough sex, and Taneesha goes on a "date" with this cute gamer dude. However these sections are short and left me feeling more frustrated than happy. This is why I don't tend to like books with multiple POVs; I always like one set of characters more than the others...and the ones I love the most never get as much air time as the ones I can't stand. (I see you, GoT.)
Sarah Vaughn also contributed to Alex + Ada, which is a Chobits-esque romance between a human and a robot, so when I saw that she had contributed to "DEADMAN," I applied for it without really knowing what this graphic novel was about. I liked her work! I like spooky books! The cover of this book seemed spooky! (I thought it was about vampires, actually....)
I WAS WRONG LOL
DARK MANSION OF FORBIDDEN LOVE is a title that conjures up the campy pulp novels of the 60s and 70s, but the graphic novel is actually really surprising...and I mean that in a great way. Not only does it have a Gothic mystery surrounding ghosts and revenge, it also features a bisexual heroine of color (half-Asian, half-white) and a non-binary hero of color (black). I was shocked...in the best way! How progressive of you, DC!
The story is good, too. Bernice's fiance lives in a mansion and is working on his book. When she joins him, she's put off by the fact that the house seems to be filled with ghosts and a dark presence. One of the "ghosts" is Boston Brand (Deadman), who is trying to get rid of the dark energy as well. They meet a ghost named Adelia who was murdered but can't remember why or by whom, only that her fate somehow ties into the dark energy of the house...
DARK MANSION OF FORBIDDEN LOVE has a Scooby Doo vibe to it that I found charming. I'm sure some people will be put off by the campy vibe, but I've watched dozens and dozens of Scooby Doo, so the classic ghost story element really appealed to me. I also really liked Deadman, because I'm a sucker for brooding, angsty heroes. He's like Bruce Wayne, without the asshole-ish tendencies. You really can't help but like him...he's so awkward and adorable and too precious for this world.
ALSO - whoever designed these characters, I LOVE YOU. One of my biggest beefs with graphic novels is over the top cheesecake shots. There's a tendency in graphic novels to focus on the boobs, dress the characters in revealing costumes, and give them all 50s pin-up style figures. I get that it's a throwback to the Golden Era of Comic Books when they were all drawn that way, but it's also nice to see characters that look like you. They made Bernice curvy, gave her rather thick thighs, and she's smaller on top than she is on the bottom. Her outfits are also...ordinary. She looks like someone you'd see at a coffee shop. Let me be perfectly clear: I have no problem with women who want to dress sexy or are skinny; I have a problem with that being the only representation women get in comic books. Real women are not one size fits all and it was so great to see someone with a body type and fashion sense rather similar to mine in a graphic novel.
I'm so glad DC gave this to me as an ARC. It was actually a really fun superhero comic, and I enjoyed the dark Gothic vibe, the ghost story, and the diverse rep (this is the first graphic novel I've read with a non-binary character!). The only reason I'm not giving it 4 stars is because the storyline was just a little bit too cliche, and as much as I enjoyed reading it, it's probably not a book I would purchase for myself or keep in a permanent collection. For others, though? Definitely!
This is exactly why I love being a book blogger - free copies of books by my favorite authors to review. (Okay, I lied - that's not the only reason; but it's a very definitive perk.)
I've been following the Oatmeal since 2009, and thought it was The Best Thing Ever. He's crude, but in a way that adds rather than detracts from his art, and somehow manages to find a way of looking at even the most tedious of life's moments and finding a way of making it either seem novel, hilarious, or outlandish.
Case in point: IF MY DOGS WERE A PAIR OF MIDDLE-AGED MEN.
We all think dogs are cute, right?
Well, it turns out...dogs are sort of creepy. And what better way to illustrate those kind of creepy behaviors than by portraying his pet dogs as...two middle-aged men.
Since I follow his website religiously (as I mentioned before), there is a major downside to this ARC: I've read all these comics before - and I didn't recognize any new ones. It seems like these were just the Middle-Aged Men comics from his site packaged into a collector's volume, either for die-hard fans who want this book for their IKEA coffee tables or as novelty gifts for people who haven't read his comics yet (but should). I felt like I kind of fell in the middle in terms of readership, here.
I always enjoy reading The Oatmeal's work, so I can't really give this less than three stars. But I think if I'd paid money for this, I'd be really disappointed. I'd be happy to be supporting such a talented artist, but also sad that my hard-earned money bought me a very short book with no new material.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
This is yet another one of those "let's make an internet meme into a book" sorts of deals, which I always have mixed feelings about because it takes several years to publish something so by the time the meme book gets published, the meme itself usually isn't popular anymore or is on the wane. It actually took me a moment to remember what Be Like Bill was referring to. In case you forget, too, a couple years ago, Be Like Bill reached critical mass. It was an ideal tool for calling people out in a socially acceptable way on the internet, and lord knows, we are always demanding new ways of doing that, because for as long as there is an internet, people will use it for calling out.
BE LIKE BILL is better than most meme books I've read, although like most meme books, the user generated ones are better (probably because you have a greater number of people contributing to the pool, so the ideas are more likely to be fresh). I'm not sure if the two authors generated all these memes, but most of them felt pretty safe and boring, and a couple just seemed petty (but then, we've all got our pet-peeves, so I'm not here to judge). Only one made me laugh out loud:
This is Bill.
Bill wakes up and sees it's snowing outside.
Bill doesn't feel the urge to post a status about it on Facebook because he knows his friends also have windows.
Bill is not a douche.
Be like Bill (6).
I feel like it would have been better if the authors had done a "best of" compilation, curating some of Bill's greatest hits from the Facebook pages they manage (and maybe giving the users credit at the bottom with their permission). This was just sort of bland, and while a couple were amusing and had me going, "Preach!" the vast majority of the collection barely warranted a smile. Still, it was nice to revisit an old meme that I'd half-forgotten and get a few chuckles out of it.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
Things were going so well with this series - we had something good, we got each other, we were falling in love...and then I got to BOSS BATTLES, and it was like the series got "too comfortable" and stopped making any effort in the book-reader relationship.
First, let's give credit where credit is due. Geek Actually is such a great premise. It follows a group of women, of various ethnicities, creeds, sexual orientations, and job occupations, who are friends despite their differences. Their stories are told in serialized form, which I'm a sucker for, because I grew up on Questionable Content - the webcomic that gave me the stories I craved before I even knew I was craving them. Geek Actually does the same thing with women in the emergent information-technology culture. In one of my other reviews for Geek Actually, I described this series as being like Sex and the City, but for geeks. Sounds amazing? That's because it is. Or was, rather, until things began to fall apart in this latest chapter.
I think part of the problem might be that each of these "chapters" is written by a different author. The first two were cohesive and meshed well, but this one does not. At all. Because the chapters are so short, each book focuses on a small selection of the women, with the others only popping in. This installment focused on Elli, Aditi, and Taneesha. Unfortunately, the short chapters also showcase the difference in writing style between the three authors and make any flaws even more visible.
Taneesha was one of my favorite characters in the previous two books. She's a black female coder, and her company has just been purchased by a larger parent company, causing rifts within the company hierarchy and displacement of the responsibilities that previously gave her a sense of meaning. I looked forward to her chapters, because not only is she in STEM, her chapters also stirred up a lot of important dialogues about sexism, racism, and what they mean for a woman who has a job in a traditionally male-dominant environment. It was great. She was great.
In BOSS BATTLES, she's made into a stereotype of herself, and these important dialogues are only casually referenced with obligatory name-drops of black culture while sexism is treated with haughty eye-rolls (figuratively). It felt very awkward, especially since a potential love interest is introduced in BOSS BATTLES, and the two things I mentioned before play a key role in their interaction.
Aditi's chapter had similar problems, with her Indian cultural identity played on with many references to various types of Indian food and references to an arranged marriage. Speaking of marriage, in one of the previous books, it's hinted at that Aditi might not have a traditional marriage. I was curious about the mystery behind that - well, this chapter reveals all, and that was yet another thing that made me side-eye the book a little. It's something that I'm sure happens, but again, I'm not sure it was handled as well as it could have been. I'm curious what others thought about this.
Lastly, Elli - my least favorite character, which is unfortunate because she's the character who shares so many of my hobbies. Elli, who can't keep a job and shirks responsibility. In previous books, I sort of related to her, even if I didn't like her. In this book, she becomes a complete idiot. Her newest job in this book is to work at a mattress store. Elli ignores her new boss while he gives her instructions, then turns the mattress store into a freaking B&B, inviting customers to sleep on the beds between 20 minutes and an hour, while saying the most cringe-worthy things to them. Oh. My. God.
Don't get me wrong; I love this series, but this book was a major slump in overall quality. It lacked the cohesion that made me appreciate the first two books so much. I'm hoping I'll be lucky enough to receive advanced copies of the next books in this series, because I'd love to see where my favorite (and least favorite) characters go from here. I just hope they mesh better with the narrative.
Also, there's something weird going on with the text in all three books that I received from Netgalley. I got advanced copies, so my edition is probably not going to be exactly like yours, but in my advanced copy, there was something funky going on with the line spacing and paragraph breaks. This should be looked into. It definitely impacted readability.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!