Friday, July 31, 2015

Never Refuse a Sheikh by Jackie Ashenden



I read and loved another book by this author. It was called MAKE YOU MINE, from her Nine Circles series. And it was good. Shockingly, surprisingly good. Good enough that I devoured it in a day and immediately applied for the sequel on Netgalley and cried a little when I didn't get approved.

What I did get approved for was this. NEVER REFUSE A SHEIKH. The guy on the cover looks distinctly un-sheikh-like, but whatever. MAKE YOU MINE was awesome, so surely this book, my first sheik romance, would be awesome as well.

NOPE.

NEVER REFUSE A SHEIKH is a really short book--under 100 pages long--and even though I suspect that it partly responsible for some of its problems, it was also its saving grace because there was no way I'd have finished if this was a full-length work.

Princess Safira was spirited away when her royal parents were attacked. She's been waiting in hiding, under guard, all this time--until Sheikh Altair comes to collect her and make her his bride.

There isn't a whole lot to say. She's a virgin, obviously. And the two idiots fall in love way too soon, despite the fact that Altair is an asshole and Safira, in keeping with the theme, is an idiot.

Do they use protection when they have sex?

Of course not.

Also there's this REALLY IRRITATING THING that happens, that kind of ruined what remained of the story for me.

Do you want to know what it is?

...Are you sure?

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILER

Altair is the man responsible for her parents' murders. They were casualties in his anger against someone else--but hey, it got him the throne and the girl. Also, the girl doesn't even get mad. Keep in mind that until she met Altair, she was devastated over her loss and angry about being kept a prisoner, but when Altair confesses, she's just like, "THAT'S OK. SHIT HAPPENS BRO-DAWG."

What makes this even more infuriating is that this happens right after they have sex for the first time.

(Without protection.)

But you want to know what does make the heroine mad?

When they have sex and she wakes up and he isn't there.

So let's get this straight:
Killing parents? Ok.
Booty call? Not ok.


Also, I found it very Mary Sue-ish that the female MC has blue eyes. I know Middle Eastern women can have green or blue-ish eyes, but it isn't common, and everyone makes such a big deal about them in this book, and I don't know...it just felt like cultural white-washing to me.

I also took issue with the fact that bridenapping was portrayed as this romantic, desirable thing that the heroine has always secretly wanted. It's actually quite horrid.

1 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Taste of Pleasure by Antoinette



You know, I didn't go into this book expecting to hate it. I actually wanted to like it. Even though my ratings for Atria's books tend to be quite low, they keep approving me on Netgalley. And I actually really liked the last book of theirs I read: TRUST NO ONE.

But A TASTE OF PLEASURE was terrible. Remember that time I took one for the team and reviewed E.L. James's GREY and it was the worst book I've read all year? I've since revised my opinion.

A TASTE OF PLEASURE is the worst book I've read all year.

I suspected trouble was brewing when I realized that the main character's name was London and her house was named La Chateau d'Amour.

My niggling suspicions deepened when London loses her virginity with a boy who then immediately dumps her for some rich girl his parents want to marry, and London then embarks on a series of really poorly written affairs with literally every single good-looking guy she meets.


Just look at some of these sex scenes.

She opened her legs to a new touch and moaned as the surge of water touched her virgin parts followed by his talented fingers (14).

He watched her squirm in her seat and he welcomed the challenge to fill her delights and satisfy his bulging desire (17).


 He fondled her breasts, as their tongues played tag with each other (26).

Her arousal zone swelled at his touch (26).

Note: "arousal zone(s)" is used several times in this book in lieu of "erogenous zones." So is "hot spot(s)."

"I'm rubbing myself as I think of your wetness and how tight you are. I so long to be inside of you again, to feel your wetness on me, with your silky walls hugging me..." (29)

His pleasure rod grew rock hard and he grabbed at her (32).

He was rapacious and almost barbaric as he hiked her skirt up to expose her fiery sex that awaited him (79).

He penetrated her fiercely, then took it out, reaching around to touch her swollen, aching button. He massaged her and filled her with his finger at the same time. Holding her tight, he pushed deep inside her again, filling her with his hardness (84).

His hardness rubbed itself inside her wetness... (86)



She eased underneath him to indulge herself in his bulge (90).

Note: INDULGE THE BULGE!!!

He went down to her passion pit and licked it wildly... (94)

Jen strapped on a dildo and went back to London, sticking it in her mouth and then rubbing it between her legs and all over her passion pit (125).

* * *

The writing in this book is absolutely terrible. I know I sound like I'm being mean when I say that this reads like it was written by a fifteen-year-old girl, but it does. The language is very basic. The sex scenes are awkward, with the most bizarre euphemisms for cock and dick that I have ever seen (I mean, seriously: "pleasure rod," "passion pit"?). There are typos everywhere (especially with quotation marks) and at one point, the main character watches a movie called "The Lady with the Dragon Tattoo."

Sexual abuse is also used and abused in this book. We're told that the heroine was sexually abused by her uncle when she was four years old, but the way that it is brought up in this book is kind of...icky and unpleasant. We're told that her mother beat her with a spatula because she caught London masturbating when she was eight-years-old, and then her uncle told her that masturbating is only wrong if she does it for her own pleasure, but not when he does it for her. Um, ew?

I couldn't tell if this "grooming" was introduced to suggest that promiscuous women are actually damaged victims of sexual abuse, or if it was meant to indicate that the heroine was sexually precocious and maybe even brought some of these repeated incidences of abuse upon herself. Because even her lovers treat her ill. The main love interest, Deacon, jilts her twice--first after taking her virginity and then again, after she arranges a threesome for his benefit (he ditches her for her friend). It's also worth noting that Deacon is a married man London is having an affair with.

There's also a charmer named Rick (I think it was Rick) who informs London that his wife has terminal cancer and is currently in the ICU. When London reacts with disgust, he's like, "No, it's okay, baby, she's in a coma--she won't know." What the actual fuck.

Oh, and let's not forget about Steve, whose ideas about BDSM make Fifty Shades of Grey look like a sensitivity training manual. He wants London to be his sex slave, and his scenes with London left a bitter, appalled taste in the back of my throat because he reads more like a serial killer than a Dom.

And lastly, there is actual rape in this book. Deacon has anal intercourse with London even though she says, repeatedly, "NO." When is it okay to not listen to someone saying "no" if you're having sex? If you've got a prearranged safe word that you both consented on before having sex. So basically, what Deacon did was rape. The fact that London was aroused by it in the end is no matter.

It was rape.

I am honestly sickened and disgusted by the content of this book, and cannot believe it was published by a mainstream publishing house, because the content is truly heinous and unprofessional and bad. What is even more disgusting is that the fact that this was given a green light at all indicates that there is a market for this kind of bullcrap in the literary 'verse.

I wish I could give this less than one star.

0 out of 5 stars.

Trust No One by Paul Cleave



I love conspiracy plots in books and movies. I just recently watched this techno-thriller from 2003 starring Ben Affleck, called Paycheck. It's cheesy as all get-out, but has some pretty cool ideas and since I saw it in theaters as a high school freshman, I've got a bit of a soft spot for it in my heart.

TRUST NO ONE is the ultimate conspiracy: what if you're a mystery writer with Alzheimer's and the plots of your murder mysteries start to blend and meld with your actual memories? What if people start to tell you that you actually did kill someone? How the hell would you know?

Jerry Grey gained fame and infamy under his pen name, Henry Cutter, a mass-market paperback mystery author of critical acclaim. Then, at age forty-nine, he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. He can no longer write. He can't even remember what he had for breakfast most days.

And he is starting to wonder if he's killed someone.

The story is told in alternating chapters. One is Jerry on a day-to-day basis as he lives his confusing and frightening life in the mental void his disease has created. The other is told through journal entries, excerpts from what he's called "The Madness Journal." Originally, he started the madness journal to help him remember things that he knew he was going to forget, but as the book progresses, it takes on a sharp, paranoid flavor. Everyone around him is a suspect. Everyone.

Including himself.

The first half of this book is very strong, but I felt that the second half was much weaker. I'm not sure if this was intentional and meant to reflect Jerry falling apart, but I don't think so. That ending, you guys. That ending was the worst. I'd read over three hundred pages of this novel, holding my breath as I waited for the ending that would change everything, and ended up with something that made me scream, "ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?" and mentally throw the book across the room.

Seriously, that has got to be one of the most frustrating, infuriating endings I have ever read.

Ever.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What's Broken Between Us by Alexis Bass



Lays recently released a bunch of their new "Do Us A Flavor" contest winners' special edition potato chips. I bought a bag each of the Reuben and the gyro-flavored potato chips, thinking that they would last me until Friday, even though I knew, I knew, that, deep down, I would probably eat both bags the same day.

Reading these young-adult contemporary dramas is a lot like scarfing down entire bags of these special flavored chips. They claim to be something different, something new, but most of us have eaten a potato chip before, and beneath all the fancy trimmings and spices, it is, at heart, a humble potato chip.

WHAT'S BROKEN INSIDE is about a boy named Johnathan who drives drunk one night and ends up killing his friend Grace and injuring his now ex-girlfriend, Sutton. His brash, unapologetic facade leads the public to condemn him, and his D.U.I. and manslaughter charges end up sending him to jail.

His younger sister, Amanda, is left to deal with the social fallout. Which isn't much, surprisingly, but it's enough that she still wants to cry tears she is unable to shed because if she does cry, she feels, her peers will think it's her brother she's shedding tears for.

99.9% of the drama comes from Amanda's "forbidden" attraction to Sutton's younger brother, Henry. What makes this an even bigger Neddy No-No is that they're both in relationships...with other people. Henry is dating a girl named Imogen and Amanda is dating a boy named Graham who talks like Mayor Quimby, for some reason. Anyway, since this is a young adult novel, you can imagine what happens...and all I'm going to say is that if you don't like cheating, don't read this book.

Drunk driving and alcohol abuse are highly relevant topics for teens when they are approached the right way. But the right way is highly subjective. Some people think a heavy-handed approach is necessary. Others prefer a lighter touch. WHAT'S BROKEN BETWEEN US didn't seem sure what it wanted to be. There's talk about jail and consequences, but Johnathan never actually learns anything and neither does Amanda, really. Johnathan languishes in his hook-ups and his alcoholism, and everyone is awed by his in-your-face, assholeish attitude, including his own sister.

The writing itself is actually pretty decent, but the drama, combined with the fact that not much happens in this book, action-wise, made this a really frustrating read for me. As I turned the pages listlessly, I asked myself why I continue to insist that one of these YA books will surely speak to me, as so few of them do, and the losses far outweigh the gain. I guess I'm lying to myself, telling myself that this will be different, like eating a real gyro, when really, I'm just snarfing potato chips.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sugar by Deidre Riordan Hall



WARNING: SPOILERS

As someone who as struggled with both weight and emotional eating, I was fully prepared to identify with the eponymous heroine of SUGAR. The weighty topics, combined with the mostly positive reviews, indicated this would be an easy 5-star review. I mean, with so much going for it, how could SUGAR possibly go wrong?

And initially, it seemed like nothing would. SUGAR started out a lot like PUSH by Sapphire: here you have a very unhappy, self-conscious heroine who deals with an abusive home environment and unhealthy body image that results in negativity being projected both inward (towards the self) and outward (towards, well, pretty much everyone). Sugar is of Puerto Rican and Polish descent with a morbidly obese mother who is unable to leave her bed and a physically abusive brother who thinks nothing of burning her on the stove or throwing a knife or two at her.

As I read on, I began cringing every time Sugar reached for a slice of cake or a bag of chips to self-medicate. Because that's what emotional eating is, in a sense. You're eating to make yourself feel better, not to satisfy hunger, which creates an emotional dependence on food that can become as addicting as any drug. It's kind of the opposite of what happens in Laurie Halse Anderson's book, WINTERGIRLS: a book in which a girl becomes anorexic because starving herself and counting calories gives her the control that she feels she lacks over her own world.

The problem starts when Sugar begins to lose weight. Suddenly, she's eating better (and less), and walking more, and starting to do other activities instead of eating when she's upset. Why?

Because she met a boy.

On the one hand, it's natural to want to better yourself when you become infatuated with someone. You want them to see your best side--literally, and figuratively. But this is not a permanent solution, nor is it the ideal one. I've written a blog post about how I feel about infatuation being used to solve psychological problems; and despite the attempts on the author's part to send a feminist message, it still fails on so many levels because a) Sugar doesn't realize she's beautiful until she has a man to tell her, and b) she requires a man to motivate her to become healthier & make the changes to her body that she needs in order to become healthy. Her epiphany at the end is that skinny bitches aren't as sexy as "curvy" women, and that she's decided to embrace her curves, a philosophy straight out of Meghan Trainor's song, All About That Bass (which is also problematic in its own right, and author Jenny Trout does an excellent job deconstructing some of the disturbing implications of this song in this blog post). This conflict is exacerbated by the fact that over the course of the novel, Sugar has to war over Even (the boy's name is Even)'s affections with a skinny bitch, Allie.

Bullying is ugly, especially since people who are already suffering from mental health disorders tend to be targets of bullying, which can lead to all sorts of terrible emotional reactions. And I think that bullying can cause people to think of the world around them in equally hateful ways. Sugar is physically, emotionally, and even sexually abused by her classmates, who seem to get away with it (which was surprising, considering how most schools have a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying; nobody wants a suicide or a school shooting on their hands, or to be held liable for one). Sugar is rather cruel, too, though, and instead of having this portrayed as a character flaw, or a defense mechanism (projection) resulting from internalization of repeated verbal abuse, it is treated instead as a "you go, girl!" moment. We're supposed to applaud Sugar when she realizes that, even though her mother has told her she's stupid from day one, her friend is the real dunce for getting pregnant from repeated unprotected sex (and she dares not feel shame! how dare she!). We're supposed to stand up and cheer when she insults the skinny bitches who have been making her life hell, and shames their bodies, and their sexuality, and their lack of curves.

Here is the problem with slut-shaming, and the word slut, and I know I'm going to get some flack for this, and that's okay, but this is my opinion. "Slut" is a result of internalized misogyny in our culture, but not necessarily in the way you think. When pressed, people have a hard time defining what a slut actually is. My definition of a slut was always a woman who would go to any length to sabotage her female friendships and female rivals because she puts a man above all else. And when you look at books & movies, the character development of a female protagonist almost always involves getting a boyfriend or getting married, even in books that allegedly champion the female cause like DIVERGENT and THE HUNGER GAMES. Pop culture tells us that we need to whore ourselves out to men, that we have to be prepared to be extraordinarily cruel to other women and resort to petty manipulation in order to get the men (or women) that we want, but it's only okay when we do it, and it's only okay if we're virginal or inexperienced--any other woman who does it is a slut. What does this mean? That, basically, most of us are exactly what we condemn other women for being. We shame in others what we do ourselves, because they're either more successful at it, or because they're less successful at it and their failure makes us look at that shameful, self-hating part of ourselves that wonders, secretly (or not so secretly), "Why does it have to be this way?"

I enjoyed SUGAR a lot more before I realized that it was another one of those emotionally manipulative books in which all character development is spurred on by the appearance of a manic pixie dreamboy and the main character's determination to get back at those who wronged her. It also reinforces some unpleasant stereotypes about obesity--that it's something people inflict upon themselves (it isn't, always); that overweight people have inherent psychological problems (they might, but it isn't necessary); that overweight people are poor; that overweight people eat too much; and so on, and so forth. Part of me was happy that Sugar lost some of the weight at the end, but I was upset that most of the emphasis of this transformation was on Sugar's sex appeal. Losing the weight also seemed to cure her underlying psychological problems, and if she actually did suffer from depression, the weight loss wouldn't have cured it. It's a symptom, and a dangerous, life-threatening symptom that is important to treat, but it also doesn't make all the psychological stuff just go away.

I think that style of thinking is actually a factor in what causes eating disorders; if you start thinking, "If I'd just lose the weight, I'd be so much happier." But you aren't, because it doesn't work like that.

So I'd say SUGAR ended up being a major disappointment for me. Yes, it was a deep read, and mostly enjoyable for the first 50%, but by the end of the book it actually starts pushing some fairly dangerous and unpleasant ideas. I started, thinking I'd found the new SPEAK and finished with a sad shake of the head, feeling as guilty as if I'd just watched an episode of Jerry Springer.

Also, minus a star for copying that THE FAULT IN OUR STARS twist.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson: Hopcross Jilly Collection by Patricia Briggs



Seems like all the cool kids are graphic-novelizing their best-sellers, and Patricia Briggs is no exception.

Warning: contains series spoilers.

I buddy read the first couple books in the Mercy Thompson series with Louisa a while back. I liked them, but I didn't like-like them. I think the problem is that so many paranormal books seem derivative because it's really hard to deviate from the acceptable canon of vampires, werewolves, and witches; they're so popular that information about them is readily available, even to the laziest researchers possible, so it becomes a self-feeding hype train.

Mercy Thompson is better than most, and I liked the books, even though they had their flaws. The graphic-novel takes place later in the series--much later than I'd managed to read through. Mercy Thompson is now Mercy Hauptman--she and Adam finally managed to tie the knot--and Jesse, Adam's daughter, is now her beloved stepdaughter.

The plot is this. Mercy and the wolves find some dead bodies that are missing their fingers and toes. She suspects it is the work of fae, and this actually ends up tying into some interesting folklore which I'm not sure the author made up or not. (I looked it up, hoping to find some of the mythology she used, but my search garnered no results. Still, it's a cool idea--especially if she did make it up.)

When I found out Jesse was pretty much the main character in this graphic-novel, I got my side-eye ready and rearing to go, because as soon as you introduce children into a series (Jackie Chan's Adventures, Indiana Jones, I'm side-eying you), it becomes super, uber annoying.

But Jesse was actually a good (heh) character. I liked her punk look (even though making someone punk or goth is a pretty cheap and cliche way to mark them as an outcast), I liked her relationship with her father and Mercy, I liked the struggle she had with dealing with her father being an alpha werewolf and all, and the stigma that this caused with her classmates.

I suppose my one beef with this book is that the ending was a little convenient, which kind of ties into the whole "children are annoying" thing I have going on; when children are involved, the series usually becomes less dark, because nobody wants to see children die. (Warning: children die in this graphic-novel. In very unpleasant ways. Also, a cat. D:) But since the story has the feel of a Brothers Grimm fairytale, I guess it's only fair that it gets resolved like one too.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

A Decade of French Fashion, 1929-1938: From the Depression to the Brink of War by Mary Carolyn Waldrep



Last night I came home completely exhausted. My feet hurt, I'd worked a full shift, & I had been dealing with some very odd and demanding customers, including one who insisted that there was a difference between carpets and rugs (which there is, technically, although the two are generally used interchangeably) & that nothing we had in stock was suitable for anything except, apparently, for using as bathmats. Anyway, I was completely tired and didn't feel like starting anything major, so I decided to read A DECADE OF FRENCH FASHION. I was worried that it would be dry, but figured that at least it would help put me to sleep. Imagine my surprise when I realized that very little text was involved; it was a book of beautiful vintage fashion sketches.

My favorite dresses were mostly the 1920s evening gowns, the kinds that looked like flapper dresses. The suits, not so much. In fact, that seemed to be a general rule of thumb for me as I flipped through these fashions. Evening gowns were gorgeous, garden party dresses were gorgeous (oh my God, serious dress lust), but everything else was kind of boxy and unattractive.

I think the problem was that these styles promoted a more androgynous, tomboyish look and these fashions look best on women with a certain face-shape and body-type. I fully believe that everyone has the right to dress the way they want, but with my body type and rather square jaw, I can't get by wearing masculine looking suits--even if they have feminine details like bows and pleats.

I know I have a lot of friends who love history and vintage stuff, and I think that you guys will really enjoy this book. It talks about the names for the details (official, fashiony major names that I already forgot because I know almost nothing about fashion), the materials used, and whether these details were "unusual." Reading this book made me want to write a period piece, with Ayn Randian morals, with beautiful people acting like total selfish douchebags who justify their actions with philosophy.

4 out of 5 stars.