Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Uganda Be Kidding Me by Chelsea Handler

The only other book that I've read by Chelsea Handler was ARE YOU THERE VODKA? IT'S ME, CHELSEA. I enjoyed it. I did not enjoy this book, though. Not at all.

Here's the thing. Sexual harassment and sexual abuse are not funny. When you swap the genders, and when it's a woman doing it to a man, it's not cute or funny. It's fucking harassment.

The first fifty pages are nonstop Chelsea and her friends getting drunk in South Africa and going on safari rides and acting like ignoramuses and sexually harassing their hot tour guide. Chelsea even interrogates the staff of their lodge to find out who he's been sleeping with.

"Speaking of disappointment, Rex," I said, "you lied to me yesterday when I asked you if you were sleeping with anyone in camp. I know about Lilly." Rex responded by telling me it was because he didn't tell guests personal information. I responded by informing Rex that we were not regular guests and any and all personal information should be disclosed ASAP (35).

Then she refers to herself as trying to sexually assault the tour guide in a flippant way.


Men can be raped, just like women, and it isn't funny at all.

Plus, racism.

I just can't get on board with this book. Anyone who revels in their drunkenness and uses it as an excuse to treat people like shit is just not someone I want to read about.

0 out of 5 stars.

Superman: The High-Flying History of the Man of Steel by Larry Tye

Last month I received WONDER WOMAN UNBOUND: THE CURIOUS HISTORY OF THE WORLD'S MOST FAMOUS HEROINE for review from Netgalley. I really, really, really enjoyed WONDER WOMAN, the scandalous history, the feminist angle, and how Tim Hanley compared and contrasted Wonder Woman to her male counterparts of the time.

Reading WONDER WOMAN UNBOUND also reminded me that I had two other superhero history books in my closet waiting to be read. One of them was SUPERMAN: THE HIGH-FLYING HISTORY OF THE MAN OF STEEL.

I actually grew up on the original Superman cartoons from the 1940s. No, I'm not in my eighties. It's actually a funny story. When we were kids, one of our distant relatives sent us two VHS cassettes called 50 of the Greatest Cartoons. They featured highlights from the 1940s-50s, including Pop-Eye, Merrie Melodies cartoons, The Three Stooges, Caspar, vintage Bugs Bunny (voiced by Mel Blanc), and, of course, Superman. (Superman fought a lot of Nazis and Japanese people.) (Actually, a lot of these cartoons had people in blackface, too. And all island natives were cannibals. Now that I think about it, I think the relative in question who gifted us with these tapes lived in rural Kentucky. So, actually, that explains quite a bit. Because Kentucky in the 1990s was a lot like the rest of the world circa 1950.) So when SUPERMAN the book referenced SUPERMAN the cartoons, I did a little squee because oh my god, you guys, my childhood. (I also played Superman 64. In fact, I think we still own a copy. IT'S A FUCKING TERRIBLE GAME, YOU GUYS. DON'T EVER PLAY IT.)

SUPERMAN focuses on the creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two Jewish boys of Eastern European ancestry who grew up as outsiders in their smalltown settings and created comic book heroes as a means of escape. The book traces Superman from his inception to the multi-billion dollar industry that DC Comics is today. Each set of TV shows is described, and so are the comic books (of course), the movies, the radio show, and even some of the merchandise. Apparently there's a Superman musical called It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman. I'd say I'm surprised but I'm not. There's a Spiderman musical too, and it's allegedly cursed. (And yes, someone wrote a book about the Spiderman musical. And yes, someone needs to give me that book as a present.)

The book starts off a lot more slowly than WONDER WOMAN and doesn't have as much scandal. I mean, Siegel and Shuster don't have shit on William Moulton Marsten and his polyamorous homelife, and woman-centric BDSM philosophy, not to mention the smutty historical fiction about Julius Caesar! Also, feminism! There is scandal in SUPERMAN, though. It just takes a while to get to it.

For example, Siegel and Shuster were both doomed to miserable lives when they got fucked over by the people who bought the Superman franchise, leaving them to wallow in poverty as their health failed. George Reeves, one of the first Superman actors, was also in a polyamorous relationship at one point and then later committed suicide...a suicide that may or may not have been part of a conspiracy. Christopher Reeve, of the Superman movies, had an accident later on that left him paraplegic. Joe Shuster, the illustrator of the original Superman comics, illustrated a very violent and disturbing horror erotica comic called Nights of Horror, that featured women who looked suspiciously similar to Lois Lane getting tortured by men who looked suspiciously similar to Superman and his friends. Eep.

This is, scarily enough, one of the tamer images.

I was never really a fan of Superman. I prefer Marvel comic book heroes...and Batman. Something about Superman always seemed too dated. He's like Captain America before there was a Captain America. It was interesting to learn about his checkered and convoluted history, however, and I really liked being able to compare and contrast the information presented in SUPERMAN to that which I remembered from WONDER WOMAN. One thing that I did wonder (ha) about was the omission of just how cruel Superman was during the Silver Age of comics. According to WONDER WOMAN, Superman was very abusive to both Supergirl and Lois Lane during this time period. He wouldn't let his young cousin get adopted, condemning her to live in an orphanage until late in life so he would be able to have her help him without the necessity of her having to explain herself to a family. He also did very mean things to Lois Lane, insulting her, and even making her think she'd been responsible for the murders of several people after she pried too much into the Superman issue (and he never corrected her mistaken belief, either. What a dick move).

But yeah, conflicting sources aside, SUPERMAN is a riveting read, and definitely a must for any comic book aficionado, nerd, hipster, or enjoyer of Superman memorabilia. I gifted it to my little brother, who's a huge comic book whore. It will be interesting to see what he makes of it. :)

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Violet Is Blue by Tawny Stokes

VIOLET IS BLUE was a terrible book. It's the epitome of everything that is wrong with the new adult genre.

"What a freak! He totally pawed through your phone, V."
Ivy shivered and made a face. "He's so gross."
"He's not that bad," I said

Violet is eighteen-years-old, and has a stalker. He sends her flowers and creepy poems and calls her up on the phone to tell her all the nasty things that he wants to do to her.

Sounds like the pretext for a romance story, right?



Of course, it doesn't help that all the men in Violet's life are total creepazoids. Like Devon, who takes her phone and makes inappropriate comments about the pictures on it; pins her against cars and walls and tells her how much he wants to fuck her; and even breaks into her friends' backyard to crash the party & stalk her. There's also her jerk ex who keeps flirting with her in a creepy jerk way even though he cheated on her with another girl. There's also the older boy who works for her stepdad, Patrick.

I didn't want to be one of THOSE girls who people whispered about in the halls or at parties (31).

Violet slut shames everyone and anyone, which is made even more painful by her own hypocritical behavior. When Devon corners her in a library and makes creepy comments about Jack Ripper and orgasms caused by vaginal tearing during birth, Violet gets so turned on by this, and his rape threats, that she has to run to the bathroom and masturbate.

Her stalker is from the creepy mouth-breather school of perverts, and rather than freaking out or ignoring him, Violet has phone sex with him. When he tells her he's outside her bedroom window, watching her, and asks her to touch herself, she pulls up her shirt and starts playing with her breasts while her stalker jacks off in the shadows. Creepy much? I think so.

Later, the stalker sends her sexy lingerie. She puts it on and stands in the window and gyrates, only to be seen by one of her neighbors. Violet goes to bed and wakes up in the morning to find out that her stalker broke into her bedroom in the middle of the night and macked on her scantily clad sleeping body.

Even more disturbing is how everyone in the book jokes about the abuse.

" Yeah, maybe [the phone creeper] has been fantasizing about you for months. I mean he's in your house all the time, he sees you almost every day. Maybe he even spies on you, like when you're changing or in the shower." Giggling, she hugged herself. "God, I have to stop it, or else my ovaries are going to explode" (26)

When she finally tells her parents what's going on--and even then, this is only after her stalker totals her car, puts her ex in the hospital, leaves her threatening phone messages, breaks into her car to fill it with rose petals, breaks into her bedroom to watch her sleep, and eavesdrops on her masturbating in a public restroom--her stepfather tells her that she was asking for it, and that he doesn't want to send an innocent boy to jail because she was being a tease. Her mother slaps that asshole, thank God, but then later they joke about how all men are assholes. Um...

No, they aren't?

Just the ones in this book.

I really, really loathed this book because:

A) It reinforces the idea that it's OK for men to be assholes.

B) It is full of women hate and slut-shaming. Even Violet's friends are always calling her a slut.

C) The climax is sickening. I mean, really, truly sickening.

D) The climax doesn't make sense either. Plotholes up the wazoo, guys.

E) Devon, the love interest, is a psychotic asshole who is basically a Travis Maddox-in-training. When he grows up he will be either a serial killer or Christian Grey (basically the same thing).

F) It trivializes  the real victims of sexual abuse and violence by suggesting that these women are somehow bringing it upon themselves. Violet's behavior left me feeling physically nauseated. I just can't believe in good faith that a girl, or the people (especially her female friends and mother) around her, would blow off such aggressive sexual overtures. Especially breaking in to her house!!!

This was a terrible book, even for new adult. I actually felt dirty after finishing it. And not the good kind of dirty, either.

0 out of 5 stars.

The Wicked We Have Done by Sarah Harian

This is the second HUNGER GAMES knock-off I've read this week, the first being FIRE & FLOOD, my review of which you can read here. The dystopian genre gimmick has been all but milked dry, but that doesn't stop people from trying to milk the dead cow. (I know, I know, I'm mixing my metaphors.)

THE WICKED WE HAVE DONE is a bit more subtle of a rip-off and at least has some original ideas. In the future, high profile criminal (murder) cases are dealt with via the compass room , a high-tech virtual reality labyrinth capable of meting out capital punishment. Government officials measure brain activity as the "candidates" navigate through the CR and execute them on the spot if they prove to be psychopaths.

I don't know about this, guys. I studied psychology and to me that just screams out "ethics violation." Also, relegating such high-risk decisions to a machine? Why? Because it isn't like a machine ever decided to malfunction or turn on its creators? Oh, wait.

Another thing that bothered me is that, apart from the Compass Room, Evalyn's world seemed pretty similar to ours.  Other technological advancements might have set the scene better and made law enforcement officials' faith in and reliance on the 'infallible' judgment of the Compass Room more believable.

I liked the idea of the Compass Room but not the execution. A lot of the world-building was reliant upon the reader's suspension of disbelief. I was able to shelf some of that because I wanted to find out what happened, but Evalyn was a difficult character to like. We know she's in jail because she massacred her college, but there's never any real sign that she feels bad. She feels guilt over killing her best friend in the world, but not the innocent students and faculty she murdered.

Which is interesting, in a way. Throughout the Compass Room (I almost wrote 'Hunger Games'), the "candidates" are haunted by the specters of their crimes. Evalyn sees Meghan's face over and over again but not the victims of the massacre. Wouldn't that seem to indicate that she feels no guilt.

Evalyn has a decent narrative voice for a new adult protagonist (although that sets the bar pretty low), but all the supporting characters fell flat for me. I found her relationship with Casey unbelievable. Insta-love annoys me--especially since these characters are supposed to be psychopaths and wary of one another. I did like the inclusion of two LGBT characters, but there was insta-love there, too.

Also, THE WICKED WE HAVE DONE is very poorly edited and there are a lot of awkwardly written passages that kept yanking me out of the story zone.

Some of these are because the author was trying to sound poetic and failed miserably.

I study it, the blood melding states of glistening liquid and crust (48).

Tanner's so far behind, he's like a figurine trekking over the trail we made (145).

They rise from the ground and remain stagnant, as if they're floating in water (147).

His lip twitches, and the light waltzes in his eyes, across mottled green and brown, mottled like his bruises but somehow much more beautiful (157).

Or she just sounds dumb.

I'm more than likely like a shivering, wet dog (158).

Sometimes she even uses words wrong.

This is an immediate flood, a lethargic tsunami (168).

Looking at the information for this book I can see it was picked up by Penguin. Not sure if this started out as a self-published endeavor, but if I were this woman's editor, I'd have grabbed my trusty red pen and started marking things left and right. I'm honestly surprised by the low quality of the writing--definitely not something I expect to see in a traditionally published novel.

THE WICKED WE HAVE DONE had some interesting ideas but really terrible writing and severe inconsistencies within the storyline. I would be willing to read the second book and its prequel novella, but probably only if I got it for free, like this one.

(Thanks, Netgalley!)

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, April 18, 2014

What's Your Poo Telling You? by Josh Richman

It's EVERYBODY POOPS for adults!

Poop is one of those things that you're supposed to stop finding funny after age seven or so. However, if you've ever seen a single episode of Family Guy, you'll know that these expectations are a total lie. Poop is, always has been, and always will be, funny. Even Shakespeare made poop jokes.

WHAT'S YOUR POO TELLING YOU is a palm-sized guide that talks about all the different kinds of poop and what they mean. No, not in a divination sense. There is no "assology" to be found in here (badum-ting).

Instead, this book talks about what kinds of diets result in which kinds of poop, and whether they merit a doctor's visit. I was pleasantly surprised, actually, by how well comedy and health mix in this book. Being healthy can be fun!

3 out of 5 stars.


I Know I Am, But What Are You? by Samantha Bee

Samantha Bee is the best friend you never knew you wanted.

Comedienne memoirs are kind of a new thing for me. There are several kinds - memoirs written by women who think they're funnier than they actually are; memoirs written by women who can be funny, but are writing this book to prove that they are srs; women who are hilarious but also kind of terrifying and you'd never want to go anywhere alone with them after dark; and women who are not only funny but also likable and serious BFF material.

Such is the case with Samantha Bee.

I KNOW I AM isn't so much about her comedy career as it is about her life. She's lived quite a colorful one, and in this candid memoir she covers everything from her distaste for the elderly to a precociously sexual preadolescence of fleeing creepy perverts.

I'm pretty sure Samantha is that one person who always says what everyone else is thinking, even (especially) if it's offensive. In fact, the more likely it is to offend people, the likelier it is that she'll probably say it because it's sure as shoot that no one else will. I have friends like that in my life, and even though they leave you a little speechless, it's cathartic for everyone at the table to have someone say, "Good lord, should she be wearing that dress? I'm waiting for her boob to pop out like a cork!" Or, "That BDSM lesbian couple was really cute but did anyone else think that they were racist when they went off about Mongolians?"

Definitely recommend this to fans of Mindy Kaling and Tina Fey's memoirs. :)

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Take the protagonist from THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME, age him 30 years, and then put him smack-dab in the middle of When Harry Met Sally.

You'll get a pretty close approximation of THE ROSIE PROJECT.

Some of you were laughing at me because I had to read this for book club, except I'd put it off until the last minute and was flailing around on Goodreads being all, "But I need to finish, guys!" But as usual, life wasn't working out in my favor. Netflix decided to add season two of Robot Chicken (finally!), and I got to the next episode of Candy Crush Saga. Freaking lame.

But I finished the book - and several others, too. (When I'm not distracted, I can read pretty fast.) And I even took a while page full of notes after coming home from book club because if you get a table-full of fifteen women together in an ambient restaurant there's a lot of talking going on and it's kind of hard to focus on your own ideas because holy shit, verbal alphabet soup. And THE ROSIE PROJECT is actually pretty complicated for a book that could easily be classified as chicklit. It's like an onion, as Shrek might say; it has layers.

Don is a 39-year-old Australian professor with undiagnosed Asperger's syndrome. He studies genetics and all he knows about his condition is that he has major social skills issues, especially with the opposite sex. In fact, he's on his way to being the next 40-Year-Old Virgin. However, he knows his case isn't totally hopeless because the nice little old lady next door told him he'd make a kick-ass husband one day, if only he can land the right woman. Enter "The Wife Project." Don, being a scientific kind of guy, decides that the best way to go about meeting his ideal match is via a questionnaire (because nobody in the history of online dating has ever lied on a dating survey, right? *cricket chirp*).

His work in genetics brings him into the acquaintance of Rosie, who is looking for her real father. She has it narrowed down to three possible candidates, each more dysfunctional than the last. Rosie is pretty much a case study of what Don isn't looking for in a woman: she's loud and touchy-feely, she smokes and drinks, she's a vegetarian, she has bright red hair that comes out of a bottle, she's crude, and she dresses like a punked-out goth. And yet, Don finds that he enjoys being around her, which just isn't logical, dammit, because by all rights, she's someone who ought to grate his nerves.

Side characters include various dates-gone-wrong, like Olivia of the bright dress and bad manners. (At the book club, one of the members was going off on the rainbow dress and how in the narrative she was described as looking like a parrot. I happened to be wearing a rainbow dress and I was like, "Hey, what've you got against rainbow dresses?" LOL) There's also the husband and wife duo, Gene and Claudia. They have an open marriage, apparently, and Gene, a skeazebag of a human sexuality professor, has made it his life's ambition to sleep with a woman of every ethnicity for "research."

I think Gene was probably my least favorite character in the book, possibly because I'd just read BLINDFOLDED INNOCENCE by Alessandra Torre, a book (also about a womanizing "professional") where the male love interest casually reveals that he's slept with 180 women. The difference between these two books, and part of the reason ROSIE gets three stars while BLINDFOLDED gets a glaring zero, is because Gene's behavior isn't sexy in this book. It's crude and debasing, and gets treated as such - and he ends up getting his comeuppance, too.

I also found it a little weird that Rosie thought that people with Asperger's couldn't feel love. It made me do a double take, because, um, really? People with Asperger's have emotions, they just aren't very verbal and have trouble with body language and unspoken social norms. People who don't have emotions are sociopaths, and imminently more troubling. I suspect this is what pissed off so many readers and led them to claim that THE ROSIE PROJECT was being insensitive towards people with a bona fide psychological condition, and on that note I agree. The philosophical dilemma in the beginning, involving the crying baby and a gun, may have also offended a lot of people. It had me in stitches, especially when the children began climbing on the desks and chanting, "Shoot the baby!"

The subplot where Rosie and Don are trying to figure out her father is also very confusing and contrived. If you can't figure out what happened, know you're not alone. I thought her father was someone totally different than who he actually was because the writing was so vague. It totally reminded me of Mamma Mia, except with a lot of genetics research thrown in. Weird.

The cutest part, though? Easily their date in New York. Or when Don was trying to practice sex positions with one of those model skeletons in his lab. Tee hee. Awkward! Overall, I enjoyed this book. I'm not crazy about it, and sometimes it dragged or was even boring, but it really has a cute message to send about how love can come when you least expect it, and that acceptance is a key role in finding your ideal partner. Ironically, Don is the one who must learn acceptance.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars.