Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sleepless Knight by James Sturm

This was pretty cute. It's about a Knight named...The Knight. She decides to go camping with her horse, but then she loses her teddy.

She can't sleep without her teddy!

This was tagged as a graphic novel on Netgalley but it's really a picture book. I didn't know that "First Second" published juvenile stuff, too!

SLEEPLESS KNIGHT was a little too young for me, but I loved the fact that The Knight was a girl without, you know, wearing pink or a skirt or anything. This book was completely free of gender-typing and I loved that.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars.

Alex + Ada, Volume 1 by Jonathan Luna

Robots are really interesting and I like seeing them in fiction, but the plot is almost always the same--robots gain AI, scientists deliberate, people get killed, people fall in love with said robots. One need only look at SILVER METAL LOVER, THE MAD SCIENTIST'S DAUGHTER, ROBOPOCALYPSE, and CINDER to see that our preocupation with artificial intelligence has not really changed all that much since the days of Isaac Asimov. In fact, this theme goes all the way back to Greek mythology with the sculptor Pygmalion and his statue-come-to-life, Galatea.

So I wasn't expecting all that much with ALEX + ADA. At first it reminded me a lot of CHOBITS (and I am sure that the author was influenced by CHOBITS. There is no way that he could not be) and their incredibly life-like persocons.

Alex is twenty-seven-years-old and has a 9-5 job. He recently broke up with a long-time girlfriend and is still getting over that. It is his birthday, and his scarily-hip-with-it grandmother has gifted him with a lifelike robot. I would like to pause here and say that his grandmother is fucking awesome. She sleeps with her boy-toy robot and jokes around about it and feels no shame, even though her kids are like:

Alex's first impulse is to return the robot, because a lot of revolutionary stuff is going on right now--a robot just got killed at a mosh because she was attending it by herself, and one robot killed several humans because it had gained sentience and was pissed as fuck about being a slave--and basically, it's just more trouble than he wants. Which is totally understandable. But the robot is so lifelike--and she was a birthday present--that he can't bring himself to send her back to the factory.

So he names her Ada.

But her total lack of autonomy upsets him. She almost passes out when he gets home one day because he told her "don't move" and she didn't even feed herself. So Alex goes trolling in forums to see if there is a way to get his android to become more human. His search takes him to a private chatroom and after an interview by a disembodied voice (sketchy, sketchy), he is allowed admission and ends up meeting with some people who claim it is possible to give Ada sentience...

But there is a cost.

The risk with graphic novels is that because of the lack of text space and the (usually) short page count, a serious topic is touched upon only superficially, much to the detriment of the plot. But ALEX + ADA was surprisingly deep considering how short the graphic novel was. I cared about Alex, and Ada, as well, and also his friends and the new contacts he made in the chat room.

I would definitely read book #2. I want to find out how Ada handles her new abilities, and the problems I am sure the two of them will face as soon as the government gets wind of what they've done (because we all know that the government wants to have its fingers in all the virtual pies).

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars!

Lord Savage by Mia Gabriel

I don't read much erotica, and that's because of what I do read, I tend to hate about 90% of it. I'm usually pretty leery about selecting erotica titles from Netgalley, but in the case of LORD SAVAGE, I couldn't resist. How could I, with a tantalizing tagline like, "He's the one man in London who can't be tamed." Oh my.

The book is narrated (in first person) by Evelyn Hart (there's a typo in the summary--they call her "Evelyn Hard"). Evelyn is a wealthy widow from New York who has come to Edwardian-era England to mingle in polite society...except it's markedly less polite than she imagines. At her first ball, she sees a man fucking a woman from behind in the gardens below. And though it sort of offends her delicate sensibilities, she stands there and watches.

That man is, of course, Lord Savage. And the best way to describe him is to steal a line from Austin Powers: "Savage by name, Savage by reputation."

He takes an immediate liking to Evelyn and Lady Carleigh, the host of the ball, invites Evelyn to one of her "special gatherings" at her home in Wrenton Manor, of which Lord Savage is a regular attendee. So Evelyn goes, expecting...not what she gets, which is a weird, decadent, orgiastic party of Masque of the Red Death proportions.

Because Lord and Lady Carleigh and Lord Savage and all their friends are into BDSM. And at the party, they play what they call "the Game" where "Masters" take on an "Innocent", who they then instruct in all matters pertaining to the bedroom. And oh man, is it hot.

Like I said before, I don't read a lot of erotica. And when I do, I tend not to like it. So I write a negative review for it and people get mad at me. As if I'm supposed to rate everything positively just because I also happen to be an author and should harbor some sort of understanding for their toils. (Which I do, but I also don't think subpar authors should receive outstanding ratings. It trivializes the high ratings I give to books that actually deserve it. Books like...LORD SAVAGE!)

LORD SAVAGE is proof that an erotica can be sexy, and a man can be alpha, without any whisper of abuse. One of the reasons I hate FIFTY SHADES OF GREY and all its spawn is because they promote awful treatment of women that borders on abuse. The sex in LORD SAVAGE is entirely consensual. On the one instance where the MC is about to slut-shame, her host is quick to correct her, saying that exploring one's sensuality does not make one a slut. (I cheered, I admit it.)

There were some lines of dialogue that definitely mirrored dialogue from FSOG but then the story would veer in a different direction, giving me the impression that maybe Mia Gabriel read FSOG and didn't much care for it either. I got the impression that she was actually seeking to subvert some of the misconceptions about a BDSM relationship, and on that I think she succeeded admirably.

Things I liked:
-The dialogue between the characters is really witty. Reminded me a bit of Lisa Kleypas. Also, Gabriel writes some very wicked dirty talk.

-The sex. Obviously, this is an erotica, and the sex is important. She writes excellent sex scenes, involving, but not limited to, voyeurism, exhibitionism, role play, sex toys, oral, bondage, etc.

-The relationships between the women, particularly between Lady Carleigh and Evelyn, were very good. I liked how Lady Carleigh did not tolerate Savage's violent outbursts, even though they were friends, and how she expressed concern over the way that Lord Savage was treating her.

-The way BDSM was approached. I really liked the message that BDSM should be between two consenting adults, and that the two adults should stick to the rules that they set. I also like how the author pointed out that sometimes BDSM can veer into pain or abuse, and that if that happens the relationship should be terminated, as that is not what sex is all about. That's a great, healthy message.

-The book does not end with a wedding. That made me very happy. Too many erotica novels end up in marriage. Women should be able to enjoy a sexual relationship without having to tie the knot at the end of it. So that was totally refreshing.

-The main character is not a virgin. That was also refreshing.

So yeah, this was a really great book. I enjoyed it a lot, way more than I ever thought I could enjoy an erotica novel. The writing was great, the story was great, the sex was great...I NEED THE NEXT ONE NOW, OKAY?

Read this book. :)

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Defiled by Aster Zhen

Kelly Masters is moving to a new town. And how is she greeted? By a crazy woman who looks terrified out of her mind. The woman reveals herself as Brenda begs Kelly to get her out of this place. Kelly does what any other compassionate human being would do: she agrees to help the obviously frightened woman.

And how does her acting like a good Samaritan get rewarded? She gets fucking raped by a tentacle demon in the bathtub.

All those Saturday morning cartoons were wrong.

DEFILED was very boring. It didn't have much in the way of plot, and some of the lines of dialogue were highly repugnant. Like, when Kelly is screaming and trying to escape, the tentacle monster says, What, rape? Don't be foolish. You want this.


Then we have the breakdown of the book. It claims to be 23 pages, but is only 14 pages of story. Page 15 is a "tune in next time" statement, imploring you to purchase the next installment to find out how Kelly will be violated by the tentacles next. Page sixteen says, "Please consider helping your fellow readers by leaving a review." Pages 17-20 are advertisements for the next book. Page 22 sees the need to belatedly point out that this is, in fact, a work of fiction (really?!?!) and that rape is, in fact, not a cool thing, and that sex should be safe, sane, and consensual, and preferably without tentacles. (OK, it didn't actually say that last bit.) Page 23 is a blank page. So only half this book was story. Yay.

I got this book for free, so it's not like I'm out any money or anything, but I still feel like it's a rip to have a story that is more advertisement than book. It's not just the free books that do this, either; books that cost $2.99 for, like, what, eleven pages, do this, too. And to me that's disingenuous. It's like charging full price for a bag of chips that's all air, with only a handful of actual chips.

0 out of 5 stars.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Stranger by Bastien Vivès

What a strange graphic novel this was!

THE STRANGER takes place in a fantasy world where people compete in tournaments for...reasons. I guess because you get free food whenever you want if you win. The tournament isn't really explained all that well, but it seems to have some sort of religious or cultural application. (For example, the tournaments are overseen by religious officials, and participants cast magic and attack in a highly ritualized way.)

Adrian Velba is a shrimpy little preteen who wants to be the champion. But when his partner in the tournament gets food poisoning, it seems as if he's going to be forced to wait another year. But then Richard Aldana comes along and volunteers to be Adrian's partner, much to the shock of everyone there.

Richard seems to come from our world, although it's not really clear how. (Again, the world-building in this book is pretty shite.) One of the running gags in this book is that people are constantly not understanding what Richard is talking about (e.g. "What's a bicycle? What nonsense is this?) He can't cast magic, opting instead for brutal Street Fighter-esque punches that end up KO-ing his opponents in one blow. FINISH HIM!!!! LOL.

Also, Adrian's mother, Marianne, is totally hot, and both Richard and Adrian's fighting coach (who I can't remember the name of...Master Jensen?) have a thing for her. Master Jensen is a bit scarily obsessed, and I just know that some major shit is going to go down in that sector. I just know it.

The art in THE STRANGER is charming, and is a lot like manga. Sometimes the drawings look very rough, but this adds to, rather than detracts from, its charm. I feel like people who enjoyed RANMA 1/2, or any of those manga and anime about fighting or sports, will probably really enjoy THE STRANGER. My only complaint is the big fat cliffhanger at the end. It is not at all graceful, and the book literally seems to stop mid-panel. Not cool, Mr. Vivès. Not cool.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Kids Gone Wild: From Rainbow Parties to Sexting, Understanding the Hype Over Teen Sex by Joel Best

Teenagers have sex.

It seems a bit silly to have to point this out, but so many people seem to prefer to stick their heads in the sand, or their fingers in their ears, and go, "La la la la no they don't, I can't hear you!"

Teen sex is one of those things that people really fear for some reason. I think Republicans fear it almost as much as the apocalypse. "NOT MY CHILDREN!" they say. So they cut funding to planned parenthood, campaign against abortions, and limit sex education to "have sex and you'll get the AIDS, and probably a bunch of other bad stuff, too, so wait 'til marriage."

Because if we pretend teen sex doesn't exist, it's going to stop.

LOL. Right.

So I was pleasantly surprised to see a book on Netgalley devoted to the topic, because I feel like teen sex is an important issue for parents--and also for teens. My expectation was that this was going to be a pop cultural history of teens and sex that touched upon both sides, the yucky extremes that make people take an absolute "no" stance (i.e. underage sexting and child pornography) and then close with a discussion about how teens can pursue a sexual relationship healthfully, with parental approval.

The title is incredibly deceptive. "From rainbow parties to sexting," it says, making you think that it's going to touch upon everything in between. Well, yes--provided that by "everything in between" you mean "sex bracelets." KIDS GONE WILD touches upon only three facets of teen sex.


Sex bracelets, rainbow parties, and sexting.

And that's all. Everything else might not even exist if you take this book into consideration. And oh man, is the author obsessed. He has all this "research" about sex bracelets, charting out the frequency of how often the coded meanings of the various colors appear, and whether they are consistent. He also includes testimony and comments from people claiming to be teens who are either like, "Yes I used sex bracelets! Black means I went all the way!" to "well no I didn't but my friend's friend did! SLUT! LOL!" And of course, all these transcribed interviews from Oprah and daytime television.

In case you didn't know, sex bracelets (or "shag bands") are jelly bracelets of different colors. I wore them back in junior high--everyone did--and apparently each color stands for a different sexual act that you're willing to perform. If someone breaks the bracelet, that means you have to perform the act.

(Do people still wear these? I thought they went out of style years ago.)

Rainbow parties, on the other hand, are sex parties where each girl puts on a different color of lipstick and then the guy at the end of the party with the most colors on his peen "wins." I'd actually heard of rainbow parties before but only because of a book of the same name RAINBOW PARTY, which is about a rainbow party, and appears to be based off this idea that was first started on Oprah. According to Wikipedia, it's an urban legend.

Sex bracelets appear to be an urban legend, too. And Best even concedes that rainbow parties and sex bracelets are probably not real issues. But he goes on and on about them, and all the terrible things that people say about them, and I feel like the point is going to be lost on a lot of parents who are a little too quick to hysteria and panic.

Sexting actually is an issue, but the author only spends about one chapter talking about it, and kind of takes the Mr. Mackey approach to sexting. Like, "Sexting is bad, mmmmkay?" He talks about how a lot of girls do it to appear sexy and fun, discusses how it can sometimes be called child pornography.

The information in this book seems like it's several years out of date. I also didn't understand why the author spent over 100 pages talking about the evils of rainbow parties and sex bracelets despite mentioning that they probably aren't even real problems outside the realm of daytime television talkshows.

Best also said something that really upset me. He basically said that often times conservatives and liberal feminists agree about teen sex and pornography...because they both find it immoral. That is so not true. Feminists (most feminists) want teens--especially teen girls--to embrace their sexuality. They don't find sex immoral. Sometimes they are disgusted by pornography but only because it tends to be male-centric, focus only on male pleasure, and often promotes unrealistic and unhealthy body images for women. Conservatives don't like pornography and teen sex because it goes against the traditional family module, which is based on christian ideals that evolved from our puritan ancestors'.

1 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Virgin by Radhika Sanghani

New adult and I do not have a good track record. I'm one of those people who reads a book everyone else seems to like and usually ends up hating the shit out of it. Not this time!

VIRGIN is a really great book that plows through a lot of tricky and unsavory topics that many young woman don't even think to ask. Questions like, "What kind of pubic hair should I have?" "Do I need a chlamydia test if I'm a virgin?" "Can you get STDs from blowjobs?" "Is it true that you can get a prolapsed colon from anal sex?" And "Am I a freak for being a twenty-year-old virgin?"

(The answers are: whatever kind you want, probably, yes, yes, and no.)

Ellie is a really likable character. She's a smart Greek girl in college who has had some really bad luck with romance. Now she's twenty-one and still has her V-card and she's desperate to get rid of it so she can be "normal." We get to see her go to the doctor's for STD testing, see her buy condoms in a store and find herself short-changed, see her strike it out and feel depressed, see her attempt to masturbate with a shampoo bottle, and, oh yes, she gets a vibrator stuck in her cooch. (Yes, that can actually happen, by the way. Vibrators =/= dildos. Don't use them as if they are.)

I feel like every generation somebody comes out with a book that really captures the zeitgeist of what it's like to be a woman. In the 60s and 70s, it was Norma Klein and Judy Blume. In the 90s, it was Helen Fielding. In the early 2000s, it was Louise Rennison. I definitely feel like Radhika Sanghani could--and should--make the list. This is part chicklit, part instruction manual, and I feel like it should be required reading for any girl who wants to be sexually active in college.

The best thing about VIRGIN is that it dismantles the Disney expectation that your first romance should be the be-all and end-all of all others, and always end in marriage. Relationships are never perfect, and sometimes they don't last "for longer than forever." Part of the appeal of Disney is that they hold up an unattainable ideal that we all aspire to, but will never obtain. Evil, evil, evil.

It also has very positive female friendships. Even though Ellie has her fights with Lara, they do end up being friends again. And Emma was wonderful. It's so refreshing to see a female character who enjoys having sex with multiple partners (I think Emma has slept with thirty-five men) and isn't called a slut. And none of her friends call her a slut, either. They respect her choices. Fancy that!

In fact, the way that sex is talked about between women is quite great. I liked the girlfriendsy tone of their dialogue, and I thought it was so amazing that Ellie and Emma actually end up starting a vlog (vagina blog) about what it's like as a "new adult" to live under all these expectations regarding sex.

I suppose my criticisms are that Ellie actually seemed to get over her virginity a little too easily. Sometimes losing your virginity can be very painful, and a lot of books do not show this in a satisfactory manor. (I'm so tired of seeing that the woman was so aroused that it didn't even hurt in books.) I think this probably leads a lot of women to think that they are doing it wrong, or that something is wrong with them. Also, Ellie is the orgasm wonder, and has no trouble getting off at all. She brags about this several times, and it's a little annoying. Like, yeah, okay. Bully for you.

Apart from that, though? VIRGIN was a great read. Best new adult fiction I've read all year. I'll definitely be reading Ms. Sanghani's next book. :)

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars.