Sunday, February 14, 2016

Savage Nights by Mia Gabriel



I loved LORD SAVAGE. I thought it was sexy, dark, and a little bit dangerous. It was basically everything FIFTY SHADES OF GREY wanted to be - but wasn't, all set amongst the glorious backdrop of Edwardian England. With BDSM. Okay, how could I not like that?

I waited for a whole year for the sequel to come out, and then I began to wonder if maybe it wasn't going to come out, but then it did, and I was given an exclusive advanced reader's copy, and nobody was happier than I was at that moment because -

OH MY GOD LORD SAVAGE

The last book left off on a wicked cliffhanger, so I was eager to see what Lord Savage had in store for Evelyn (and vice versa).

There isn't much plot in this book, apart from the sex, so I am going to sum up what I didn't like about this book in list format.

I felt like Lord Savage was almost emotionally abusive in this book. I'm not sure if he was like that in the other one, too, and I was able to overlook it more, or if it was just more pronounced in this one, but yeah, Lord Savage was kind of an asshole. The way he treated Lord Lawton was disgusting (more so, once you find out who Lord Lawton actually is). And he uses BDSM to deal with his emotional issues with Eve, which is never a good thing. Also, at one point, he basically tells her that if she wants to stop, that means stopping their relationship, too, because that means she doesn't trust him. Uhhhhh...nope? Also, why are you using emotional blackmail to get your sub to play with you?

Some of the sex scenes in this book were just as hot as I expected, but others were...not. This book attempts to get artsy with sexual language. Eve refers repeatedly to her nipples as "rubies" or "berries". She calls her clit a "pearl" and at one point refers to her vagina as a "wanton jewel." I got tired of hearing her talk about how she was a pagan love goddess, and how awesome her red nipples and white skin are (seriously, white skin is such a fetish in here, it's mentioned only about 23431242 times). Fuck and cock are bandied about so often that it's not even sexy, and also, Lord Savage's cock pretty much becomes a character on its own, since it's referred to so often. Please.

The bulk of the conflict is Eve wanting Savage to have sex with her and only her, and telling the people warning her of her ruination to fuck off. Eve just completely loses herself to Savage. It's all about pleasing him and what he wants, even at the cost of her well being and her reputation. I have trouble getting on board with romances like this because that's not romance, it's codependency.

Also, Lord Blackledge appears a couple times to be a sinister rapist, but any conflict he brings is swiftly undermined, so he looks more like a bumbling boob than an actual villain to be feared.

I am so disappointed by this book. LORD SAVAGE deserved every single star of the five that I gave it, but this one barely deserved two. I'll probably read the sequel because I do want to find out how this book ends (even though I have my suspicions), but I am, sadly, no longer as enthused. :(

2 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Green Smoothies: Recipes for Smoothies, Juices, Nut Milks, and Tonics to Detox, Lose Weight, and Promote Whole-Body Health by Fern Green



I swear, "Fern Green" has got to be the best - or worst - name you can have if you're going to publish a book about smoothies. It's like publishing a book on artisan bread and being named John Toast; it's like you're fulfilling your own destiny!

I was debating to myself about whether or not I actually wanted to read this book because I have mixed feelings about juice cleanses, most of which can be summed up in this fantastic article by Buzzfeed, Here Is What a Juice Cleanse Does to Your Body. Juicing is just another trendy diet in a long line of trendy diets, except it makes for some seriously pretty Instagram pics.

GREEN SMOOTHIES is not a bad book, though. Some of the recipes looked delicious, although only a very small portion of the smoothies were actually green so the title is only a half-truth (FALSE ADVERTISING!). I found myself thinking about how fun it would be to buy a blender I really don't need and make some of these beauties for my consuming pleasure.

Healthy diets are about balance. That includes carbs and protein. If you want to drink your fruits and vegetables, more power to you, but do yourself a favor and take a look at the calories on the back of the bottle. Some juices, like Naked, have more calories and more sugar than some kinds of soda pop. They have some wonderful vitamins and minerals and antioxidants in them, yes, but you're also drinking a ton of vitamin S, a.k.a. sugar. Don't think you're getting away with something because you're drinking your juice, because you're not, and your body knows all of your lies.

That said, I love juice. I don't do cleanses, but sometimes I like to treat myself to these expensive juices for fun. Recently, I've discovered Starbucks's Evolution brand of smoothies and juices, and all of them are great - although let's talk about their strawberry lemonade and organic orange juice, okay? Mwah, phenomenal. And oh my God, Suja has the most amazing lemonade I've ever had; it's lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and stevia. Their "lavenade" (lavender juice, lemon juice, maqui berry, red cabbage, honey - stop, please, I'm dead) isn't bad either, and neither is the probiotic lemonade "Daybreak" with maple syrup and vegan cultures.

It's probably cheaper to make these juices and smoothies yourself, although I don't feel like you think you should have to; do it because it's fun and it makes you feel good about yourself, but incorporate it into a holistic, balanced diet, and don't feel guilty if you occasionally cheat. ;)

3 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Jade by Pat Barr



I was talking to one of my coworkers the other day about vintage romance novels. I said something to the effect of: "I love them, cheesiness and all, but almost all of them take place in medieval Europe with white people. It's like people of color just didn't exist."

JADE went on my to-buy list as soon as I discovered its existence because not only does it take place in China, it has Chinese people in it, even as love interests! I can't tell you how rare that is to see people of color in a romance novel published before the 90s. In fact, the only one I can think of off-hand is SUGAR HILL by Amanda Hart Douglass, a lurid tale of a family dynasty set on a Jamaican plantation.

JADE starts off with a bang. A bunch of white christian missionaries are being persecuted, tortured, and burned by Chinese revolutionaries who are angry at the Catholics. Young Alice and her brother Frank are delivered to the Chu family, who intend to execute them until they find out that there might be political consequences for doing so. Rather than losing face, they keep the children on as household servants. Alice and Frank learn Chinese customs and the Chinese language, and gradually insinuate themselves into the household - Frank, as a stableboy and Alice as the patriarch's courtesan.

When Alice becomes pregnant with child, she leaves the house along with one of the Miao servants. After some mishaps, including a hideous stint in a brothel, Alice ends up reuniting with the surviving members of her family. This is a great part of the novel, because we really see how her Chinese upbringing has put her at odds with the cultural ideals of her family - she isn't a christian, she's had sex in a time where Victorian prudishness was at an all time high, and she's had a first-hand look at how the Chinese view the influence of the so-called well-meaning white folk in their lands.

Also, she learns that her stepfather is a total religious creepazoid, who rather than taking the forgiveness and love approach of Jesus, he instead condemns anyone and everyone who is different - especially Alice, to whom he has a rather unfatherly interest. One day, he starts whipping her, and Alice is horrified to see that he's sporting an erection while he's beating her for being so "sinful." The hypocrisy of white people - christians, especially - is a prevailing theme in this book, and it's surprisingly controversial for the time it was written in. Not that the Chinese are portrayed as innocent either: there's a number of slurs exchanged on both sides, and nobody escapes unscathed.

As Alice grows older, she ends up starting a relationship with a Chinese man named Lin, who is involved in politics and teaches at a college. Alice's older brother, William, catches them in flagrante delicto, and that's the end of her warm welcome as far as he's concerned. She ends up being shoved into a marriage with a man named Charles, who is tolerant of her feminist views and political ideals ... until she actually tries to put them into action and go into business. His attempts to get her with child and domesticate her fail dismally, and he ends up looking elsewhere, at a friend of William's wife. Alice, thinking to atone for the misery she's caused her husband, allows him and said friend to go on a boat cruise together, only to find out that the boat capsized and the two of them drowned.

Then the first Sino-Japanese war happens, and there's a lot of displacement and a renewed hatred of white people. Frank, Alice's brother, ends up marrying a Chinese girl named Peachy, and they have a beautiful daughter named Lily - but he loses favor with the family after Peachy gives birth to a child with Down's syndrome; they take it as a sign that the marriage is cursed. Alice ends up getting typhus when she's trying to flee China. She finds Lin again, only to discover that he's married. They renew their illicit affair. More family drama happens. Alice starts a business again, and turns down numerous douche bag suitors who only see dollar signs when they look at her.

About two hundred pages from the end, things started to get kind of boring. People start dying off. Frank is miserable. Alice meets a Scottish dude named James who she starts having sex with. Her family still doesn't approve of her or the fact that she has slept with Chinese men. She learns that her half-brother, Adam, is gay. And so on, and so forth. I saw a reviewer who said that this book should have ended two hundred pages sooner, and I agree. I didn't think the ending added much to the story, and it was definitely a drag, seeing so many characters I liked so much being killed in the Boxer Rebellion.

So what did I like about this book? I liked that it was set in a non-European country, with non-white characters, and was done so in a way that actually portrayed the culture with depth and complexity. It's clear that Barr is a bit in love with China: some of the descriptions are absolutely lovely. There are tons of great historical details, too. I didn't know much about the Sino-Japanese war before, and this was my first time reading about it since taking world history in my sophomore year of high school. I also thought Alice was a really cool character. She was a feminist and liked sex, even without marriage. She also didn't have any babies, and this didn't seem to bother her much at all.

What didn't I like about this book? I thought it was a bit too long. Also, the violence in the beginning was really unpleasant - Barr doesn't skim on the gore when it pops up - and the word ch*** is bandied around a lot, and I don't ever use words like that, or even like seeing them in print, so it made me unhappy to see it used so many times, although I chalked it up to the context of the times. It's like seeing the word n***** in out-of-print novels set during the Civil War (or in antebellum South); even though that word is hideously ugly now, back then people didn't think twice about saying it because it was so culturally accepted. That's kind of the prevailing attitude in this book, too.

I would recommend JADE to people who are interested in out-of-print books and would enjoy learning more about the history of China. It's a very long book, though, and the pacing is very uneven, so these are things to consider when making the purchase. Luckily for me, I got mine for twenty-five cents at a bargain book sale. ;)

2.5 out of 5 stars.

The Girl Who Fell by S.M. Parker



The plot of an unhealthy relationship escalating into something psychotic is nothing novel. Hollywood does it all the time with movies like Swim Fan, Fear, and Boy Next Door. I have a soft spot for plots like these; I find that twisted relationships can be captivating, and if done well, add a lot of suspense and nail-biting drama to an otherwise typical romantic story arc.

THE GIRL WHO FELL is about a girl named Zephyr, co-captain of her hockey team and expecting acceptance from Boston College any day now. She has a best girl friend & a best guy friend, a loving mother, and a loyal dog. Even though her father's out of the picture, she still has a lot going for her.

Then her best guy friend, Gregg, kisses her and confesses his love for her, and Zephyr has a royal freak out - and what better way to rebound then to dive into the arms of the new hot guy, Alec?

Right away, the attraction between Alec and Zephyr is palpable. He makes her feel things she never thought possible before, and when Gregg starts going out with a popular cheerleader named Lani, Zephyr uses that jealousy to fuel the physical relationship between her and Alec. But as their relationship progresses, she can't help but note that she never exactly feels safe with Alec, not the way she did with Greg; he makes her feel exhilerated, but sometimes he makes her feel scared, too - and as his demands become increasingly invasive, she has to decide how far she is willing to go to make the relationship work, and whether she's even willing to say 'no' at all.

***WARNING: SOME SPOILERS***

I appreciate what THE GIRL WHO FELL was trying to do, but I did not like the overall execution at all. The storyline itself, as I pointed out earlier, is not exactly new, and it doesn't bring anything new to the table, unlike Swim Fan, which had a gender reversal with a female stalker, or The Boy Next Door, which had a much younger man taking emotional advantage over a much older woman. It took a painfully long time for the story to get moving; meanwhile, I was subjected to Zephyr's childish temper tantrums, extremely selfish acts, and her completely obtuse insistence on ignoring red flags so blatant that I found myself wondering if she was color blind or just truly too stupid to live.

Here's the problem with this book - like another in this genre I read, BREAKING BUTTERFLIES, it makes a complicated relationship overly simplistic, reducing abusive relationships to a series of bad judgments and stupid decisions. One of the things I liked about Swim Fan, for example, was how devious the female character was. The boy in the movie was vulnerable, but likable, because he wasn't stupid or selfish - he was trapped by a cunning character who was absolutely determined to get what she wanted. I saw every plot device in THE GIRL WHO FELL coming from a mile away, and as it spiraled into predictable Lifetime-esque drama, I found myself becoming increasingly infuriated.

Another issue I took is that the abuse in this book feels a bit mitigated. For example, the sexy scenes between Alec and Zephyr are fairly graphic and frequent - mainly because he uses sex to get what he wants from her, including withholding it until she rejects an acceptance letter from her college of choice - but the actual violence between them is fairly toned down. There was one scene I had to read over several times to figure out what was actually going on, because the author switched to metaphorical language for the beatings. He beat her unconscious, okay? That is NOT okay.

THE GIRL WHO FELL is a better book than BREAKING BUTTERFLIES, but it doesn't add anything new to the genre, and I found it very disappointing on the whole.

1.5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Video Girl Ai, Vol. 2: Mix Down by Masakazu Katsura



VIDEO GIRL AI is a manga about a boy named Yota who has an unrequited crush for Moemi, a very pretty and kind girl in his class who is dating the most popular boy in school (and Yota's friend), Takashi. One day Yota goes into a video rental store that only appears for the "pure of heart" and gets a VHS tape that looks like a dating video. The video actually uploads a girl named Ai, who is going to help Yota win Moemi. Unfortunately, what happens is that Ai falls for him, and he for her - but bad things happen to video girls who fall in love. They get erased!

This is an older manga, first published in the late 80s, and it is very dated. The technology - VHS TAPES! - is dated. The clothing - high waisted jeans, tucked-in-t-shirts with belts, huge hair, leopard print, tights and hot pants - are dated. It is gloriously 80s in its datedness, and it regrets nothing.

I feel like this is a toned down harem manga in some ways, and isn't it funny how often harem manga mirror the plots of Judd Apatow films? They always star an unattractive, socially awkward male who is a bit of a slacker but "a nice guy" at heart, and because of this nice guy quality, the ladies just can't help but hurl themselves at him, over and over and over. Apart from some gratuitous panty and butt shots (and some boob), this isn't that perverted for a shonen-style romance. Many are worse.

The overall love story is pretty meh. I didn't really like Yota. I liked Moemi, but the way she kind of jerks Yota along while dating Takashi was annoying. Takashi was an interesting character - but because he's the strong, silent type it's difficult to get a grasp on his personality. Yota alludes to some trauma in his past that made him not want to date, so I'm sure that will show up in a future plot line (probably in the guise of some slut-shamed hussy who wants to steal Takashi from Moemi - evil bitch!). This volume introduces a creepy pervert named Moeuchi who's president of the art club and draws pictures of naked ladies and gropes girls on subway trains. There's a really uncomfortable scene that smacks of sexual assault, but is casually played off by the girl who experiences it as a novel experience, because the guy is actually showing what he wants instead of using subterfuge.

Ummmmm...how about NO.

Also, this is a random aside, but one prevailing them in manga is that when a girl dates a popular guy, the other girls get super jealous and act quite cruel! In Hana Yori Dango, Tsukushi is tied to a car, which the girls then get a guy to drive and drag her across the gravel! In Peach Girl, a bunch of popular girls restrain Momo and then try to set fire to her hair. In Video Girl, the other girls tape a bunch of thumbtacks on the inside of her shoes so that they'll cut her feet when she slides them on. Do things like this actually happen in Japan, or is this like the new adult novels, where it's just a gross exaggeration of some extremes that happen sometimes with some people? I'm really curious.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Creep Con by Kim Firmston



CREEP CON is a difficult book to rate. On the one hand, this is a book about two non-white female leads (Jamaican and Filipino) who are into nerdy things (anime and comic books). On the other hand, this is a book about terrible choices that tries to combat rape myths and fails, because it depicts rape as the result of bad choices.

Mariam is the only child of her overprotective Filipino mother. They moved from Fort Mac to Calgary because one night, Mariam and her old friend, Rose, were walking home one night, and Rose was raped. Since they never caught the rapist, Mariam's mom decided the best thing to do was move. What annoyed me was that later on, Mariam hypothesizes that the rapist might not have bothered to rape Rose if she hadn't looked so feminine, which is her rationale for feeling more comfortable in male cosplay outfits.

Anyway, at her new school, Mariam falls into insta-friendship with Tya, a Jamaican otaku, after they bond over their sonic screwdriver pens. Tya isn't really into comics and Mariam isn't really into anime, but after spending time together they find some mutual interests & plan on going to Otaku Fest together. Mariam even meets a cute boy at a comic book store who wants to go, too.

However, when Tya has to go to a last-minute wedding, she has to bow out of the con, and wants Mariam to go in the costume she made for herself - a skimpy, midriff-baring outfit that Mariam knows her mom won't approve of. Her mom probably won't even let her go if she knows Tya isn't there, so Mariam lies to her mother about who she's going with & what she's going to be dressed as.

At Otafest, she meets a group of boys who are dressed up as the Ouran Host Club, which is a happy coincidence because she has a spare Haruhi costume with her. The next day, she agrees to hang out with them so their retinue is complete, and has fun role-playing with them and participating in the photoshoot. But then the leader, Rick, starts to get too invasive as he takes his role too seriously.

I can appreciate what CREEP CON was trying to do, but it didn't really work.

Why?

(1) It suggests what you wear is responsible for sexual assault. When Tya is first wearing the costume she later gives to Mariam, Mariam says that it makes her look like a prostitute. She also makes that icky speculation that it's what Rose was wearing that caused the rapist to choose her to rape.

(2) It glosses over the male-oriented sexual assault that happens in this book. A guy dressed as Grey Fullbuster gets really upset when a girl tries to yank open his pants. Event security comes, and pulls the girl off him to kick out, and takes down Grey's statement, but Creepy Rick just says that the guy should appreciate the attention, and that crying "abuse!" only is taken seriously if you're a girl.

(He is sadly right in some cases--male rape and male sexual abuse sometimes aren't taken as seriously as they should be, especially not when the perpetrator is a woman, and they're often asked "why didn't you fight back?" with the same frequency that women are asked what they were wearing--but honestly, I don't get why Mariam didn't just ditch his ass right then and there, because DICK.)

I did like the love interest--I forget his name, but he cosplayed as America from Axis Powers Hetalia, which is awesome--but even he becomes an instrument in this rape plot, diving in last minute to save Mariam from the Evil Male (thereby getting the girl himself).

(3) There's kind of a suggestion here that most of the people at these cons are creeps. I don't like that. A few bad apples can spoil the bunch, as they say. Most geeks are quite nice, and protective of one another. It was sad to see what happened to that Grey Fullbuster character, as well as Mariam.

I kind of waffled over what to rate this, because I've said many times that I want to see more geeky protagonists in books, and I appreciated how on fleek the references were. But CREEP CON--even the name smacks of inherent sexism--just had too many issues for me to set aside.

I would consider reading another book by this author, though. Especially if her next work was longer--and geeky. I think many of the problems here stemmed from the fact that the book was too short for the plot to really be fleshed out to its full potential.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Flawed by Cecilia Ahern



This is going to be a DNF review for me. I tried, but I just couldn't get into this book. It was just too...flawed.

First, THE SCARLET LETTER meets DIVERGENT?

Okay. I can sort of see the Scarlet Letter reference, because in this society it is apparently okay to brand F's into people, but Divergent? No. The only thing this has in common with DIVERGENT is that it is YA dystopian science fiction.

Celestine North is the perfect daughter, the perfect girlfriend. And then one day she tries to help a Flawed man who is coughing out a lung on a bus. The thought police immediately come up in their vans to take her away, because how dare she show consideration!

The things that make people flawed are not all that clear. Like, a celebrity who does fitness videos gets branded with the F because she had a tummy tuck. Celestine's neighbor/friend gets the F because...she talked crap about the government? And then Celestine gets taken away for an F because...she tried to help a sick old man sit down on a bus. Rationality: this book has it.

Being Flawed is not a crime, but Flawed people are actively discriminated against in the society. Plus, there are judges who deem people Flawed, and public trials, and those little thought police vans that pull up with their blaring sirens to take people to be branded on their hands, forehead, or whatever plaace symbolizes their indiscretions. So being Flawed kind of seems like it's a crime, right?

I'm sorry, but when did we decide, as a society, that it was OK to brand people for arbitrary reasons? What caused Congress to sit down and say, "Hey, you know what will help society? Burning red-hot F's into our voters! That's a sure-fire way to get us all re-elected!"

I just could not get into FLAWED or its watery promise of a forbidden luuurve. Khanh described this book as bland in her review, and as usual, she's right. A better book in this same genre is MATCHED.

DNF.

0 out of 5 stars.