Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Duke's Captive by Adele Ashworth



I'm a sucker for revenge-based romance novels. The love-hate dynamic just appeals so strongly to me. That's why I was so psyched to get my hands on THE DUKE'S CAPTIVE initially.

Ian Wentworth was kidnapped and held hostage in a dungeon for five weeks as a young man. Two of the three women involved in his kidnapping have met their comeuppance, with one in an insane asylum and the other dead. However the third has escaped his clutches until now. When Wentworth finds out that she is recently widowed, he decides that he will be the cause of her ruin. What he doesn't expect is how beautiful she is, and how much he wants to get his bone on. But surely that can be worked into his revenge.

Viola Bennington-Jones is an artist with secrets of her own. One of these secrets is that she is a famous erotic artist who publishes her work under a male pseudonym. She is justifiably frightened when Wentworth comes back into her life, because, as an artist and a mother, she has so much to lose. And Wentworth won't stop until he makes her feel all the fear and pain that he underwent in captivity. But how much does he really remember? And is it true?

DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN. DUN.

Okay, so this is one of those books that is heavy on the miscommunication. If Ian and Viola had stopped to hash things out for a second, this story would be redundant. But instead, THE DUKE'S CAPTIVE relies on the premise of big secrets to keep things moving. Why was Ian captured? Was he raped? Will Viola be revealed as an erotic artist? Will Ian rape her? WILL SHE BE RUINED?

THE DUKE'S CAPTIVE had so much promise...and yet, I feel as if the author was unwilling to go as dark as she should have. Every time the story started to go down the dark and bitter path of revenge, she pulled a U-ie, determined that everything stay romantic and fluffy and redemptive.

I'm sorry, but when the hero kidnaps the heroine, ties her up, and threatens to rape her a couple dozen times before giving her dub-con oral and fellatio I don't think you can go the fluffy route. Half-assing it just makes you look like a weenie with questionable taste in men. You can either go fluffy or you can go dark, but attempting to combine the two almost always yields disastrous results.

I made it to the end, but I was skimming a little for the last thirty pages. So disappointing. :(

2 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Disordered Minds by Minette Walters



This was my work read although I've been neglecting it because we finally got cable in the break room and the lure of shitty reality TV is hard to resist. The first book of hers I read was THE DARK ROOM, and it was interesting, and, I think, better than this one.

The premise of DISORDERED MINDS is intriguing. It starts off with two thirteen year old girls experiencing a rape. Then there's an excerpt from Johnathan Hughes' book, about the murder of a woman named Grace at the hands of her mentally retarded grandson, and why Hughes believes the grandson, Howard, was innocent. I really liked how Walters put the book in the story, because the case and the miscarriage of justice were so reminiscent of other cases whose outcomes seem barbaric in this day and age.

Obviously, Hughes' book gets tons of mail response from people who feel the need to give their opinion and/or implicate others. However one of the letters Hughes gets, from a town councillor, doesn't sound as crazy or as needy as some of the other letters. She says she has spent her whole life studying Howard's case, and has some information and leads that may prove useful in a follow-up.

The two clash personality-wise almost immediately and one of the best things about DISORDERED MINDS is the complex characterization. Johnathan is mixed-race with an English name, and experiences a lot of racism and self-hatred because of it. I thought this was pretty well done although sometimes I felt like I was being beaten over the head with the messages Walters was trying to send. Likewise, George -- a woman with a man's name -- is unattractive and matronly, and forced to come to terms with all the problems that has...also she has cancer.

It's difficult to say more about this book because everything is so interconnected and mentioning any of the minor characters means spoilers, at least some -- particularly in the second half of the book. DISORDERED MINDS is not a small book by any means: at almost 600 pages, it's a long-winded character study of crimes that don't stay buried and the people who perpetrate them.

One thing I'm learning about British crime fiction versus American crime fiction is that British crime fiction is all about suspense and atmosphere, and the author (usually) isn't in a hurry to wind things up. Fifty pages in from the ending, there were still red herrings and I had to read all the way to the end to get any sense of closure (although I felt like in the case of this book, there wasn't much closure -- cheap trick).

DISORDERED MINDS kept me reading, and I recommend this book, and others by this author, to fans of Gillian Flynn. However, this was not one of the author's better efforts, and if you don't like heavily psychological books with lots of Sherlockian-style exposition then you may not like this one.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Alone Forever: The Singles Collection by Liz Prince



I loved TOMBOY, because it was poignant and real, and because it questioned gender roles, and what it really means to be a girl and happy. I was a bit of a tomboy growing up, and I'm still not exactly super girly, so there a lot of things in Liz Prince's graphic memoir that I could really relate to.

ALONE FOREVER made me do a jig, because I anticipated a rehashing of that reader-writer simpatico. Not only do I know what it's like to be a tomboy, I also know what it's like to be alone forever. I'll be single this Valentine's Day, and I'll be perfectly honest -- I'm shit at dating. I'm socially awkward and shy, and I'd rather hide in my bedroom than pick up men at bars or (gasp) go to parties and be forced to be social.

So yeah, I was excited about ALONE FOREVER.

Now that I've read it, however, I'm a little confused about what it was trying to say. I mean, TOMBOY had a message, and that message was that being yourself can be hard sometimes, but it's infinitely more satisfying in the long run. I'm not quite sure what ALONE FOREVER is trying to say. Have cats? (I own two.) Be attracted to men with big bushy beards? (I can't...I'm sorry, but I can't. No.) Be rude and sarcastic to strangers? (Tempting, but no.)

ALONE FOREVER is a collection of strips about being single, being attracted to men who aren't attracted to you, being too intimate with your cats, lamenting past relationships and dating experiences and wishing you weren't single. It's relatable, but not in a fun way, and some of the panels are so weird that they aren't even funny.

Also, something weird was going on with my copy. The only viewing format that worked was "fit page." If I tried to zoom, the pictures would shrink instead, and since Liz Prince's handwriting isn't very neat, I spent most of the time I was reading this squinting like a demented old cat lady.

I'm not really sure what to make of this book, although releasing it around Valentine's Day was probably good marketing. A lot of single people will be able to relate to this, although I'm not sure they'd want to...

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Vanilla by Megan Hart



Cue a Mr. Bill style, "Oh noooooooo."

Megan Hart is one of the few contemporary authors on my auto-buy list. Even when I don't like her work, something about her writing shows so much promise -- I know she'll write something great one day, and when she does, I'll be there.

Unfortunately, VANILLA was not it.

I've only read about three Hart books so far (really more like 2.5 since I didn't get through all of this one), and I'm noticing some very common themes in her books. Some of these themes are good, and some of them are...less so. As with all authors, you kind of have to take it with a pinch of salt, because this is her style.

So what makes a "Megan Hart book"?

-Red herring love interests. It's uncommon for the main character to meet a dude after a couple chapters, they start a relationship, and just when you start to root for them to get together, the dude says something douchebaggy or just disappears, and you're just sitting there like, "Dafuq?"

-Lots of pop culture references. This may make the books feel dated in a couple years, but right now they're usually on the mark, and she uses them to flesh out her characters' identities.

-Brisk, spare, lovely writing. She is a really good writer who has a way with words.

-Very artificial dialogue. There always feels like there's something missing. In fiction, there's something called "the unnatural valley" where if something falls just short of looking completely human, it's "creepy." Hart's dialogue falls into the unnatural valley; it's almost there, but not quite, and something about it rings incredibly false.

-Steamy sex scenes. No complaints here.

-All dudes are assholes who secretly -- or not so secretly -- want to fuck you over. That was one of the things that bothered me about LOVELY WILD and FLYING (the two other Hart books I read). The female MCs go through all this crap with men, and then the men they're staying with, the men they supposedly love and trust, put them through all this exploitative emotional bullshit. No thanks.

I was really excited about VANILLA because the main character, Elise, is a female Dom. In the BDSM erotica genre, women are almost exclusively portrayed as submissives, so it was exciting and refreshing to read about a woman who wasn't afraid to take charge in the bedroom. That opening scene in the book was hot, hot, hot and really got my hopes up for how the book was going to progress.

Nope.

The problems immediately became apparent, and despite trying to forge ahead, I decided that I couldn't do it. I didn't want to do it. I knew this book was going to piss me off and that just isn't something I want to have happen.

Elise got into the BDSM lifestyle because she was hurt by a dude. What appears to be happening is that she enjoys making dudes writhe in discomfort and serve her because they reinforce her feelings that she isn't worthless after being royally dumped. But she still texts her douchebag ex-boyfriend, and she still gets dumped by her submissives who run emotional circles around her. What?

I made it through about 1/3 of the book, and after reading other reviews, apparently the guy she was with when I quit reading was a second red herring love interest. You don't even meet the real love interest until about sixty percent in? When I quit, Elise was falling apart emotionally, and what I'm guessing happens is that she realizes that it's okay to be dominated, and ends up falling for a guy who takes charge in the bedroom and persuades her to be a submissive like ladies are supposed to do.

No, this is one Megan Hart book I just couldn't get into. Hopefully the next ones are better.

DNF.

1 out of 5 stars.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Hack/Slash: Son of Samhain Volume 1 by Emilio Laiso



I was reading HACK/SLASH last night (never a wise decision when it comes to horror) and ended up having some interesting dreams (read: nightmares) about monsters.

If you play video games, you probably know that hack n' slash is a video game where you basically go around killing (or hacking and slashing) people/monsters/things. So in that sense, it's a clever and appropriate title, because that's what the characters in HACK/SLASH are doing. 'Hack' also the last name of the female main character, Cassie Hack.

The premise of HACK/SLASH is pretty tired as far as graphic novels go. Monsters used to rule the world, worshiping their monster god. But then humans -- cavemen back then -- managed to outsmart them, kill the god, and lock them away in the bowels of the earth.

But now there's a revival movement going on, and there's a monster bad guy whose name I forgot who thinks he's found the secret to awakening the monster god and taking over the earth.

Cassie Hack was a monster slayer but then she quit the business because something bad happened and also because it was just too much. Now she's a bounty hunter, hunting down and hauling in different kinds of monsters. She's doing this when she meets Delroy, one of the main characters, who's also a monster hunter. He wants her to return to the trade because he knows the monsters are planning on awakening their god soon and it freaks him the fuck out.

There's also a boy prodigy named Ocky who has a similar history to Cassie and reminds her of someone she used to know a long time ago who died (obviously).

HACK/SLASH is cliche, but the action is decent, the drawings are decent, and the characters are decent. Not great, but decent. I did like the fact that Cassie is a lesbian, and that it isn't done in a stupid over-the-top way. No, it's very low-key and comes across as a natural part of who she is, rather than a contrived one, and I can appreciate that. It's nice to see diversity in fiction.

She's also a pretty kick-ass character, not gonna lie. Most of the hacking and slashing is done by Cassie, and when the men in this story get in trouble, she's the one who saves them.

I would definitely recommend HACK/SLASH to people who like pulpy, violent graphic novels with fantasy/sci-fi elements like WALKING DEAD, and don't care if the book they're reading doesn't have a lot of emotional content (because this doesn't). If you're a girl and want to see more bad-ass females representing, then you might want to give HACK/SLASH a try for that reason alone.

3 out of 5 stars.

Coffee Gives Me Superpowers: An Illustrated Book about the Most Awesome Beverage on Earth by Ryoko Iwata



Most of the infographics and comics in this book are taken from Ryoko Iwata's website, "I Love Coffee" (en.ilovecoffee.jp).

While I was reading, it took me a moment to place why these illustrations looked so familiar -- then I realized that I'd seen them on the Oatmeal's (Matthew Inman's) website. (I think he's actually Iwata's boyfriend?) Unfortunately, he only seems to be credited for the comic strip in the back, "If Coffee Was My Boyfriend."

I'm not quite sure why The Oatmeal wasn't listed as a contributor, as in this post he pretty much admits to helping along with the comic (and his contribution is obvious). From a publishing standpoint, it's confusing, because Matthew Inman is a big name and having him listed as a contributor or a co-author would boost sales.

The summary of the book on Goodreads pretty much admits that COFFEE GIVES ME SUPERPOWERS "includes the most popular pieces on the site," which is book lingo for commercially licensed rehashing, and is only "25 percent new, original material that is available only in this book." Which would be, I guess, 20 pages, since this book is only about 80 pages long.

COFFEE GIVES ME SUPERPOWERS is a cute idea, but it isn't particularly funny or noteworthy. The illustrations are charming (I love the Oatmeal a lot), and I learned some interesting facts about my favorite beverage, but I'm really not sure why it warranted an entire book.

Overall, this was pretty meh.

3 out of 5 stars.