If You Want Something Done Right…

Ok, I’m just going to be a bitch for a minute – I recently read the YA short story collection Love is Hell, which managed to fall short of my expectations in pretty much every way possible with the exception of Justine Larbelestier’s tale “Thinner than Water.” The rest of the collection was comprised of work that felt unfinished, unpolished, and at times, just downright poorly written. I have to assume this collection was a cash grab, that the editor, if there was one, fell asleep when he was supposed to be working and didn’t actually do his job. What should have been a collection of smart short stories featuring supernatural YA romantic horror are instead a sloppy mish mash of stories, sometimes supernaturally related (one of them is just sci-fi).

I am a bit angry, to be honest – the authors who theoretically wrote (I’m not going to rule out that there could be ghostwriting) the stories in this collection have careers and make a living by writing when something this mediocre is associated with their name is… baffling.

So my response?

I want a decent collection of YA romantic horror short stories, so for all of the stories in this collection that I don’t like, I’m going to re-write them.

… care to join me? Use the tag #loveishellrewrite if you also want to re-write at least one of the atrocious stories in this disappointing anthology, or leave a comment below if you have similarly done a re-write of something that had a promising premise that was, unfortunately, not fulfilled, so I can check out your rage re-write.

What it looks like when stream-of-consciousness analyzes an unfinished book

I did not know what I was getting myself into with Samantha Hunt’s The Unwritten Book: An Investigation, but I am so very glad that I was lucky enough to receive a Netgalley ARC. Hunt’s writing is thoughtful, interesting, intelligent, wandering… and in my opinion, well worth the read.

Although Hunt is probably best known for her fiction work, such as Belletriste’s pick The Dark Dark, this book is mostly nonfiction. I say “mostly” because interspersed throughout the book are excerpts of Samantha’s deceased father’s unfinished book. In addition, this book reads more like a collection of loosely related essays/musings than a more traditional narrative non-fiction book where each chapter builds on what came before. Hunt’s book could literally be read in any order, except for the excerpts of her father’s book. This book, which analyzes the writing from the partial book that Papa Hunt left behind, experiences Samantha had with both her father and her own experiences parenting her children, and general musings/information, is interesting. It feels like spending time with a friend — a very educated, empathetic, slightly lost friend. This friend is trying to navigate her way through losing a parent, being a parent, and being a person.

And really… aren’t we all? I highly, highly recommend.

Okay, Corn Fairy

One of the plethora of clickbait business e-mail newsletters that I receive is Korn Ferry, a global organizational consulting firm that sometimes has good articles… and sometimes does not. “5 People to Meet When You’re Back in the Office” is one of the latter.

This article is fucking hilarious. Supposedly intended to be a helpful guide as we return to the office post-COVID, it actually just congregates all of the people you work with into groups so that, if you take this article literally, you are just re-connecting everyone in the office. Not the worst approach, but also not the targeted help that the title pretends is being offered.

Who, specifically, does Korn Ferry say you should meet?

  1. your manager,
  2. your direct reports,
  3. colleagues and peers,
  4. key stakeholders and internal partners, and
  5. new staff members

So… like I said, pretty much everyone.

Definitely more than 5 people, unless you are creating a start-up with four of your friends and y’all are literally the only ones who currently work for the company.

… I should probably unsubscribe.

Want advice on how to behave in the office? Don’t go to the corn fairy – this bitch ain’t helpful…

Wow – This is a Really Shitty Book Review

In August, I read Alexa Donne’s book The Ivies recently, and… didn’t much care for it. It had okay writing, and I actually really loved the murderer, but I won’t go into details in case you want to read this murder-mystery, since a large part of the enjoyment of a murder-mystery is trying to figure whodunnit. So after posting a mediocre review on Goodreads, I checked out some of the other reviews, as I am wont to do, and… this one really stuck out to me:

I think my blog post title makes my opinion of this review quite clear. As someone who reviews books quite frequently myself, I thought it was worth exploring why I think the particular book review I included screenshots of above is a terrible one, and what I think does make a good book review. I would love to hear your insight, as well – maybe there is something that I should be keeping in mind as a self-appointed book reviewer that is not currently on my radar.

I’ll start off by saying that I do not disagree with everything in Alex Nguyen’s review. I think that, as a prominent AuthorTuber, it is fair to put this review in context. I also think it is completely fair to hold someone who publishes videos on the internet proclaiming to be an expert on writing to a higher standard. Alexa Donne’s internet/author brand is that she is so good at writing, she can give you tips on how to be a better writer, as well, if you’re into that sort of thing. As someone who is branding herself this way, I expect excellent writing in the genre that she writes (this particular novel is YA thriller). I also liked that Alex Nguyen provided both pros and cons – almost no book is without merit, so pointing out what was done well and what, specifically, Alex disagrees gives the review an appearance of fairness.

Appearances, however, can be deceiving. My largest problem with this particular book review is that it gets personal. Disliking the book, making fun of the writing style, the plot devices, the characters, the publishing industry are all fair game in my book. Making assumptions about the author and personally attacking the author are completely inappropriate.

The first inkling that this review is going a bit sideways is the off-hand remark that Alexa is casually racist against white people, a remark that immediately sets off my alarm bells, because nearly everyone I have ever met who makes a remark like that is, in fact, racist. Someone makes a remark like that, and as a person-of-color, I identify that person as someone to be extremely cautious around. This remark is ended with the contemptuous, supercilious remark that Alexa is “not the brightest bulb or the most self-respecting” person. This last remark is a personal attack against Alexa Donne. It is cruel, unconstructive, and identifies the reviewer as someone who is extremely biased in a way that casts doubt on that reviewer’s ability to accurately assess the book, because it indicates that this reviewer has negative feelings about the author whose book is being reviewed that may make them inclined to view the book in a negative light regardless of its’ merit.

So at this point everyone looking at the review for meaningful analysis or an idea of whether or not they will like the book should just stop reading. Nothing that comes afterward can be taken seriously, because it is clear that the person writing the review may not be able to separate the art from the artist.

But sure, let’s keep reading, right? Why not.

The list of pros is generally pithy, until the last bullet point, which comes across as judgmental and also seems to miss the mark. I think it is generally known that teenagers trying to get into an Ivy League school can have a myopic vision that makes it difficult for them to consider alternatives and put things into perspective. In fact, even teenagers not trying to get into an Ivy League school can have difficulty with things like appropriate perspective. This novel features teenagers and is intended for a teenage audience. Anyone reading this review for purposes of analysis or determining whether or not they want to read this book should definitely stop here. Alex Nguyen has made it clear that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the target audience and characters in this novel. If Alex N. liked this novel, it would be shocking. Yet we can see the one-star review, so it’s clear that Alex N. did not like the novel.

But let’s continue reading, shall we?

The cons again include trigger words like “token poor girl,” “appropriation,” etc., that make it seem that a large part of this reviewer’s problem with the book is that it did not solely feature privileged white students, which is just… odd. The reviewer complains that these characters are included, because it “feels like” the author just included some diverse characters to pretend to be woke or something, then says that the book feels like a trashy novel. First of all, it is odd to assume you understand the author’s intentions for an issue like this one. Second, trashy novels are notorious for having flat characters who are not well fleshed out and for whom not a lot of thought was put into character development. So if it is, in fact, a trashy novel (not saying I agree with that characterization), then wouldn’t including diverse characters whom the author doesn’t include a lot of detail on be par for the course? Is this reviewer saying that trashy novels should only feature cis white people with money? Because it kind of feels like that is the subtext in these two points. Keep in mind that these two bullet points that complain about a smidge of diversity occurring in the novels and the privilege of some of the other characters being acknowledged are the two most lengthy con written points.

The “final thoughts” paragraph makes assumptions of the author’s fears and insecurities, prefaced with a half-hearted “perhaps.” Knowing when to stop editing, when to share with the world, is a leap, because similar to new parents, most writers never really feel completely prepared. It feels like a weird jump to assume that Alexa Donne didn’t write and publish the book of your personal dreams because she has a fairly successful Youtube channel.

The review ends with another judgmental snippet that basically says the only people who will enjoy the novel are her Youtube followers.

In summary, what I think makes the particular book review analyzed in this post a terrible book review is the use of personal assumptions about the author and a fundamental misunderstanding of the audience and characters of the book. The reviewer’s own remarks indicating that diversity in books could only be an attempt to placate the publishing industry’s push for acknowledging that non-white people of varying means, sexual orientation and gender identification exist doesn’t help, either.

I like honesty in book reviews. I’m okay with hyperbole to make a point. The issue is in making the review personal about the author rather than focused on the author’s work.

Welp, I think I’ve talked enough for the day. What do you think?

A Cinderella Story, Ranked

I cannot resist an “A Cinderella Story” movie. Not that they’re good, of course, but they are entertaining in one way or another. Here are the ones I have watched or am aware of, ranked from my fave to my least fave.

  1. The Lucy Hale one – I fucking love this one. The cast all do an amazing job, from the impeccable Hale herself to the woman playing the assistant principal. The thing I love most about this movie, other than Hale and Pyle’s amazing performances, which alone would make the movie pretty good, are the step-siblings. Hale’s character Katie sums it up pretty well, when she says of her stepbrother (paraphrasing here): “What can you expect? Look at his family.” Both Megan Park and Matthew Lintz do a great job playing monsters, realistic given their upbringing, who just need some different, more positive influences to realize they can be their own person. Honestly, I find the hope inherent in their storyline to be uplifting and it’s done in a realistic way. Also, this movie includes a chainsaw-wielding musical act at a high school showcase, an act so irresponsible, unbelievable and over-the-top, how can your heart not melt?
  2. The Laura Marano one – The music in this movie is generally subpar, the dancing is very toddler dance recital and generally done in elf costumes. But Marano and her love interest are likeable actors with that charisma that makes a movie that’s probably kind of terrible still compelling to watch. Even my husband thought so, and did not chide me for trying it out when we could have spent the time watching an episode of Father Brown.
  3. The Hilary Duff one – The original, but not favorite. Duff is… Fine. The storyline that you are responsible because you want to go to college is overdone and, frankly, looking at the American student debt crisis, not necessarily true or helpful. Interestingly, this original Cinderella story featured a girl who was supposed to be pretty normal, unlike the ones afterward, which insisted that if you are special and have terrible family, you can work hard and make it in entertainment, because Hollywood is nothing if not constantly lying and endorsing nepotism.
  4. The Bailee Madison one – this one’s opening accurately captures the schizophrenic appearance of a chick who consistently talks to animals and elevates it by showing our protagonist playing BOTH PARTS of the iconic The Notebook scene. She also does a bunch of farm chores in a sundress, with a psychotic smile on her face, because that’s how a true Cinderella masks a grimace, I guess. She also single-handedly runs the ranch she lives on, and is the only person to make everyone food, and we’re supposed to believe that after all of that work, she has the time and energy to audition for a movie. (Um… no.) Mixing Twelfth Night with elements of a Hallmark movie, this movie is a hot mess that is slightly enjoyable, but I think Bailee Madison is just a smidge too earnest. If this movie was all camp, it would be so much more fun.
  5. The Selena Gomez one – I actually haven’t seen this one, just commercials or something. I find the idea that there is a one-way mirror in a dance classroom incredibly creepy, though.

I think there are at least 1 or 2 additional movies. Have you seen all of these, or would you rather watch a British mystery? What do you think of my ratings? If you agree, you’re a genius. If you disagree, you’re wrong (… just kidding). Either way, let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Book Review: Lost Coast Literary

Today, I will be reviewing Ellie Alexander’s Lost Coast Literary, a book that I received an e-galley for from Netgalley. I thought this book was a cozy mystery with a fantasy twist, featuring a literary-loving protagonist named Emily. In actuality, it’s a beach read that’s full of family melodrama. Reading the book synopsis again, this actuality is not even surprising — this is what I get for skimming descriptions:

Book editor Emily Bryant finds herself unexpectedly in the charming town of Cascata on California’s Lost Coast, holding the keys to her grandmother’s rambling Victorian mansion. While sorting through her grandmother’s things, Emily learns that she must edit old manuscripts to inherit the estate. It’s a strange request from a family member who was basically a stranger.

Emily quickly realizes that there’s something different about these manuscripts. Any changes she makes come true. At first, she embraces the gift. She has a chance to help characters find true love or chart a new course for their future. But then things go terribly wrong. Her edits have the opposite effect. The sweet and funky seaside community of Cascata is reeling from the chaos Emily has created. Everything she thought she believed about her family and her past is in jeopardy, and no amount of editing can fix the damage she’s done.

Then she finds one last manuscript. If Emily can get this edit right, maybe she’ll have a chance to create a new narrative for herself and everyone around her.

Suffice to say, I wasn’t a huge fan.

I mean, the writing was… fine. The plot was kind of fun and… fine.

The characters were annoying, not least of all Emily herself.

I should have known this wasn’t my book from the opening scene, in which Emily tries to figure out which phone case she wants to put on her cell – Emma or Jane Eyre. What kind of literary aficionado prefers Bronte to Austen? I mean… seriously, would you rather spend time with someone fun and witty and engaging, or someone who acts like a moody teenager as an adult that wants to be screwed by the inspiration for one of the first written vampire stories?

… Michael Thomas Ford gets it.

Emily is insufferable. For example [disclaimer: quoting from an ARC, with chance that final printing could be updated/different], here, where she’s talking about her aunt, an amazing jazz singer:

I appreciated that she wasn’t jaded or trying to pose as something other than her artistic self.

Emily Bryant, annoying protagonist

This is because her aunt admits she gets butterflies in her stomach before she goes onstage. But… like, it’s a problem if your aunt is awesome and totally owns it? She has to be humble and feel slightly sick to her stomach, or she’s not being honest? Like, it’s okay to not be a nervous mess and to be okay with being awesome. Get over yourself, Emily.

Or let’s talk about the crux of this novel, which is that Emily has no memory of the family she hasn’t seen who live in Cascata, even though she lived with them for at least 8 years. This amount of time is supported by her absolute surprise to find “a recipe for red velvet cake where Gertrude [her grandmother – don’t call her by her freakin’ name, show some damn respect Emily!] had noted: ‘Emily’s 8th birthday. A birthday in red for our little red.'” THEN, only after she has read the notes left by her grandmother, does she remember a birthday party where she’s dressed like Little Red Riding Hood. Like – you were eight, not two. I find it very odd that she has no memory of these people until she reads a note in a cookbook. Also, can we even assume that she’s a reliable narrator? If I thrust a book from the 17th century where I wrote in it that Emily Bryant likes to suck cock, is she suddenly going to remember that she had a past life or is a time traveler who had to whore herself out to make a living in the 1600s? Like, did she even have this birthday party? Maybe her grandma was just hella smart, and left weird gaslighting notes all over her cookbooks to make it seem not-weird that she left this girl who can’t even remember her an entire house instead of the relatives she saw pretty much daily.

… because some granddaughters (*cough cough* Emily *cough cough cough*) deserve it

Another problem with Emily is she only seems to assume people can be “connected” if they both like books. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big reader. But I’m okay with the fact that not everyone reads as much as me. And I don’t think your romantic and personal relationships should be solely based on people who exclusively do the same hobbies that you do. How are you going to grow as a person if you only do the same things? But here is a literal passage from this book:

‘I don’t know.’ I thought back to his first interaction with Sienna. They had much more in common, namely a deep love and appreciation for literature. Did he and Martine share the same passions? ‘They seemed so different. So mismatched,’ I said to Shay. ‘Apparently he wants to write children’s books, and she hasn’t read a book in five years. Can you even imagine?

Emily Bryant, annoying protagonist

So, basically, if someone reads, you approve of them and they deserve love and all good things. But if someone doesn’t read, or doesn’t read enough, they should just feck off and go to the Bay Area? Let’s not forget, these ridiculous opinions are coming from someone who has no memories of the first 8 years of her life and whose literary interpretations fail to appropriately elevate Jane Austen’s work above that of Currer Bell. I’m sorry, Emily, but no dice. Actually, I’m not sorry. Stop being ridiculous. It is appropriate to have friends, lovers, etc., with a variety of interests and backgrounds.

#stophobbyshaming

Keeping in mind that I am a character-reader, and I severely disliked our protagonist, this book was… fine. The cover is cute. The plotline is kind of interesting, although it features a heroine you are definitely supposed to be rooting for who I definitely was not rooting for. The California setting seemed accurate. It has some of that small-town and everyone in it likes books except for Martine because there needs to be some reason her husband is not into a woman who’s fierce and smart and beautiful and well-dressed and driven, which is, apparently, that she finds it difficult to read while she’s out there living her life, vibe.

Overall, I do not recommend. But if you are not a character reader and/or like to read books that are “fine,” then this one may be worth checking out.

5-Star Reads from 2021

While analyzing my 2021 year in reading, I was bummed to realize that I didn’t really have a great year. So on a more positive note, here are the books that I read in 2021 that I really liked in a year that was, overall, fairly mediocre. That’s right, bitches: these are, in my opinion, five-star reads. And since my opinion is the right opinion, if you haven’t read any of these, you should probably add them to your TBR, so that you can have a better reading year in 2022 than I had last year.

  1. The Memory Thief by Jodi Lynn Anderson

2. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata and translated into English by Ginny Tapley Takemori

3. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

4. Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

5. Not Your Average Hot Guy by Gwenda Bond

6. Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes

Thinking about the content structure of these books, I do not really see a lot in common. There are varying genres, intended audiences, etc. I think I just like good writing…

So – what did you read in 2021 or recently that had great writing?

What is “Normal?”

I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of Finding Normal: Sex, Love, and Taboo in Our Hyperconnected World by Alexa Tsoulis-Reay. This non-fiction book analyzes the concept of “Normal,” and how the Internet has helped people with stigmatized desires find community and get answers to their questions without the judgment that others in society often inherently have.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was a thoughtful analysis of the concept of normal and bias and what it means to have a supportive community. This analysis included positive and negative results of finding support for non-“normative” concepts. Having a concept of “normal” can sometimes result in people being closed-minded about things they simply do not understand, things that are not hurting other people, such as the first concept that Reay goes into great detail about: people who have open relationships and/or swingers. Reay looks at how people who needed such relationships prior to the internet struggled to find other people who understood them, and how the internet has helped all of them to find a community and engage in the relationship they need. I try to be an open-minded person, but of course, have my own biases, and not having had those particular desires myself, it was very interesting to read about their perspectives and felt a bit fairy-tale esque to read about how they were able to find acceptance through the internet.

However, sometimes, people engage in activity that is not considered “normal” for ethical reasons. Another taboo behavior that is discussed in the book is incest, which, if you are reading my blog, I will assume you agree from a biological and psychological perspective is just not okay. Reay writes about the concept of incestuous desires from a place of curiosity, but ultimately, the fact that there are parents who will act on these desires turns the community that such like-minded individuals have formed a bit darker. How, when you are looking at a parent-child relationship, can there not be a power dynamic at play? Children often want to please their parents, regardless of age, and this desire can be taken advantage of, even if the child sincerely believes he or she is a consenting adult.

There are also some grey areas, such as large age-gap relationships. There is the indisputable statutory rape age difference, for example, which is legally not allowed, since children cannot consent to sexual relationships with adults. But what about a 10-year age difference between a person in his/her/their sixties and his/her/their fifties? What about a 20-year age difference between a person in his/her/their sixties and his/her/their forties?

This blog post is providing just a taste of the thoughtful writing that Reay provides in this book, which includes multiple examples/interviews for each type of non-“normal” activity. If you are interested in the concept, and can read the information with an open mind, I strongly recommend picking up a copy.

My only gripe with this book is that the more taboo concepts are not as fully developed, and it feels like there is more room for analysis. Still, I am not certain that I could have written, or even read, more on those subjects. It is hard to spend time with concepts that are taboo and should remain that way. So this gripe is tiny, and purely from an analytical/editorial viewpoint in which I am trying to remain unbiased. Which basically means I was reading this book correctly, I think, since a lot of the point is to recognize that you have biases, and they may not all be fair, so once you recognize a bias, re-evaluate and figure out if you need to change your stance. I have this crazy theory that, like, if people were more intellectual and empathetic, and thought through how their behavior impacted other people, and tried to be more thoughtful and cool about what they went crazy about, the world might be a better place. As an American citizen, however, it is difficult for me ever seeing that happening, either, so… maybe just read the book and pretend?

What the f –

The premise of fboy island seems like manna dropped from the heavens by the reality-star TV gods: 3 women supposedly looking for love interact with various men, trying to discern the “nice guys” from the “f boys” while sipping wine and catching rays in summer clothing that manages to be flimsier than the show’s premise. From the show’s stupid name to the hostess who is probably being paid more than a year’s rent in the Bay Area for fame that seems to have culminated in Dancing with the Stars, this show sounds like a trashpile that could be the ultimate guilty pleasure.

And it fails to deliver on pretty much every level imaginable.

The foundation of the show is inherently flawed in that it is predicated on the male contestants self-identifying as “nice guys” or “f boys.” Make it to the grand finale, and a guy has a chance to split the $100k prize with his “lucky” lady love… or choose to keep it all for himself if he’s truly an “f boy” through-and-through. (Here is the urban dictionary link, for those, like me, who don’t use this slang term because it’s ridiculous.) As anyone who has made it past the age of 12 is aware, males who self-identify as “nice guys” rarely are, in fact, very nice. So there’s that. Since self-identification is meaningless without a decent amount of honesty and self-awareness, this beginning is an immediate flaw that stuck with me like a piece of corn between the teeth.

The contestants somehow manage to talk too much and be too boring for any non-brain dead viewer to credit anyone on the show other than the hostess with much intelligence. This idea is merely corroborated as the show continues, and self-identified “f boys” are relegated to a weird wooden jail that shows they’re either desperate to be on TV (probably true) or too dumb to read a contract they’re signing.

The women are too serious about everything, including taking weird ethical stances about not being put on a pedestal, because gosh darnit, their men don’t want to be treated like pieces of meat, and want to be in a decent relationship where they are “treated like equals.”

The producers don’t seem to be very good at their job, given that the dude who whipped a poem out of his ass at the first vote-off was, in fact, voted off.

And then, if you get to the end of the show (which I didn’t – I got too bored and traipsed off to bed and my husband, who also agrees the show was terrible but had to know how it ended told me about it), the entire thing is meaningless.

There was this one super tiny blonde girl who was absolutely infatuated with a guy who self-identified as f-boy (I don’t remember names, but, like, does it really matter? Let’s just call them Tiny Blonde and Sunburn). Like, she was just really into him. There were multiple instances where his “f boy” status was blatantly thrown in her face, from other contestants to finding out about his girlfriend, which she initially got really thrown by, but she just kept going back to him and giving him “another chance.” So finally, Tiny Blonde gets the D near the end of the series, and of course, she picks him at the end and identifies him as a “Nice guy.” And Sunburn’s all, “Nah, thanks for the memories, but like, don’t really care. Gimme my $100k.” And the show refuses and gives his money to charity or something.

So Tiny Blonde is devastated and Sunburn is devastated and the viewer, if he/she/they are paying attention better also be devastated because what was the point of everything just watched if the stakes laid out at the beginning of the show were always fictitious? The show did not deliver on its’ premise and should be ashamed of itself. It took an amazing fun idea and f’d it up while also managing to make a show that is not worth anyone’s time because it’s so boring. I actually ended up feeling sorry for Sunburn, because he put in a lot of time and effort and vilified himself on reality TV, and did not receive his promised monetary compensation. He may have gotten it in other ways, but there was no point in anything that had just been shown on the show, because there was no way anyone self-identifying as an “f-boy” was going to get the money they were supposedly allowed to “choose.”

Reality TV shouldn’t get to take morality stances or pass judgment, especially not in a show like this. The whole point of the show is that people kind of suck, but who wins in a battle of “nice guys” and “f boys?” The answer is, neither. All of those people were stuck in a purgatory of boring conversations that the show producers ultimately made meaningless by taking all stakes away at the end because they didn’t get the answer they wanted. (I get that they tried to send a plethora of hints to Tiny Blonde, who actually just didn’t care, but still… live with it.)

Oh, also, there’s going to be an fboy island season 2. Hopefully no one bothers to watch that one, since it’s only worth your time if you’re awaiting execution and trying to deaden your brain cells before departing from this earth forevermore.