Book Review: INCENDIARY GIRLS by Kodi Scheer

Incendiary Girls is a literary short story collection that stays firmly in the realm of magical realism. Kodi Scheer is excellent at incorporating the magical elements, but despite the magic, Incendiary Girls is boring. Its stories are gruesome and uncomfortable with little emotional payoff; characters are bitter and selfish without having the necessary quality of “interesting.” Some of the imagery comes off as blatantly bigoted, and it’s not clear to me if Kodi Scheer was intending to critique those images or if she’s just blandly perpetuating them.

I don’t mind difficult stories as long as I feel changed at the end, but all I felt at the end of Incendiary Girls was annoyed. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t like this collection at all, and at times I even actively loathed it.

You can read my full review below.


Incendiary Girls Cover
cover description: a white Arabian horse against a stark black background.

Incendiary Girls by Kodi Scheer

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

  • publisher: New Harvest (an imprint of Amazon Publishing)
  • publication date: April 2014
  • length: 208 pages

Incendiary Girls is a tight spiral of a short story collection, eleven stories that all circle the same handful of themes and motifs: medicine, death, sex, motherhood, and intercultural and interracial relationships. None of the stories are technically linked, but all contain small nods to the others. All take place in a universe of magical realism: there’s always least one bizarre and impossible element always in play, and it’s always treated with complete seriousness.

It’s an intriguing structure that gives Incendiary Girls a cohesive, distinctive feel. The problem is that the stories themselves don’t work.

I found ten of the eleven stories here to be irredeemably gruesome, tacky, confusing, and often tone-deaf. Body horror abounds: dissection, graphically described tumors, and melting skin are all par for the course. It’s not something I would mind if there were meaning or at least entertainment in all the suffering, but I rarely found it. Character arcs barely budge. The dark humor doesn’t land. It comes off like a stodgy slasher film. (Is there anything worse than a stodgy slasher film?)

More disturbingly, the collection is steeped in creepy racism and other bigotry (in dialogue, first-person monologue, and even third-person narration), and it was unclear to me if Kodi Scheer was deliberately writing about bigots or if she simply didn’t realize it was bigotry at all.

There are are ways to write about racists without a whole story coming off as racist. Scheer just never pulls it off cleanly.

In “Transplant,” a blonde, pale woman gets a heart transplant, and her skin and hair literally get darker and thicker in the aftermath. She suddenly decides to convert to Islam and speculates about whether or not her donor heart came from someone Muslim. Then her body rejects the heart and she goes back to being blonde and sort of atheist. The whole thing is dripping with orientalism, and again, I can’t tell if it’s a critique of orientalism or the real deal. Hmm.

Tied for the two most bafflingly offensive stories were “When a Camel Breaks Your Heart,” about a white American woman dating an Arab Muslim man who’s embarrassed to bring her home–he then literally turns into a camel, whom she sends to a zoo–and “Primal Son,” about a couple struggling to conceive who try to adopt an infant from China and but then miraculously conceive and have a monkey for a baby. They end up moving to Tanzania after. You know, in Africa. Because they’re monkeys now?

HMMMMMMMMM.

I sincerely hope that I’m misreading all of this and that Scheer is actually trying to say something nuanced and complicated. I’m being sincere when I say that is my sincere hope! I’m desperate for more complicated and messy narratives around race and desire, and I absolutely don’t think there’s only one correct way to write about those topics.

But the optics here are…bad. There’s no challenge to characters’ bigotry, no pushback on unsavory ideas. It’s plausibly deniable Schrödinger’s racism that’s even more grating to me than an openly racist narrative would be. It’s all just ambiguous enough to make me feel like I’m overreacting by calling it racist.

But I’m officially going to come down on the side of calling this book racist. If your points about racism are so subtle that a racist reader might still enjoy your story comfortably, then I think you’ve failed both morally and technically as a writer.

I will allow that Scheer has an admirable grip on when to use magical realism: i.e., when real world imagery isn’t as effective at conveying an emotion or experience as magical imagery would be. I liked the use of magic in Incendiary Girls. That’s difficult to do and I admire that. It’s just the how part of using magical realism where I feel she’s slipped.

In “Primal Son,” for example, I’m not objecting wholesale to an allegory for infertility in which a woman gives birth to a monkey. I’m objecting to the total obliviousness involved in having a white-seeming couple give birth to a monkey and then slowly turn into monkeys themselves, culminating in them moving to Africa.

In the story “Ex-Utero,” which takes place in a hospital, a man with congenital adrenal hyperplasia–a very real intersex condition–discovers that he’s pregnant and begs for an emergency abortion. This is juxtaposed with rolling power blackouts and treated as a sign of the end of the world.

I don’t inherently object to a magical realist story about a “pregnant man”; I do object to a story that dehumanizes a character with a real life condition, treating him more like a freak show cadaver than a person. He’s not even a main character with agency or an inner life–the protagonist of “Ex-Utero” is instead a competitive, striving female doctor doing her residency, who delights in watching the man be cut open for the abortion.

Compounding the moral muddiness, a lot of the writing in Incendiary Girls is simply not good. Clichés abound. Dialogue thuds. Cheap twist endings come out of nowhere. There are a few beautiful sentences and emotional revelations here, but they’re buried by the crud.

The one story in Incendiary Girls that did fully work for me was called “No Monsters Here.” It’s about a woman with OCD who’s raising her daughter alone while her husband is working as a medic in the Middle East. She slowly discovers his body parts lying around the house and desperately tries to hide them in a linen closet so she doesn’t disturb her daughter; she realizes her husband must be missing or dead, and frantically tries to come to terms with that fact.

“No Monsters Here” is an urgent, palpable, desperate-feeling story about mental illness, loss, motherhood, and legacy. The imagery of the body parts fit the subject material perfectly. It didn’t wander off on strange and offensive tangents. It was well-written and haunting and I enjoyed it.

Unfortunately, it made up only one-eleventh of this book. ★☆


I purchased my own copy of Incendiary Girls and was in no way compensated for this review.

Friday Bookbag, 5.10.19

FridayBookbag

Friday Bookbag is a weekly feature where I share a list of books I’ve borrowed, bought, or received during the week. It’s my chance to buzz about my excitement for books I might not get the chance to review.

I didn’t think I’d get a chance to write a Friday Bookbag at all this week, after spending all day Wednesday and yesterday packing, and all of this morning (and most of the afternoon) moving stuff into our new place. Luckily everything went way faster than I thought it would. I’m unbelievably sore and tired, and more than a little cranky, but we’re in! I’ve got internet, a comfy couch, snacks, and my laptop. That’s all this blogger really needs.

Let’s dive in!


A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

A Tale for the Time Being cover
cover description: The cover is made up of horizontal stripes with different images, including a forest, a book, waves, and what looks like the face of a child or a doll.

the premise: From Goodreads:

In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying, but before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.

Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future. 

why I’m excited: I first picked this up at the library a year or so ago, but never got around to reading it, so this week I snapped it up while its e-book version was on sale for $1.99 (as of this writing, it’s still on sale at Amazon). The premise of this novel reminds me a bit of Life of Pi by Yann Martel: the novelist-named-Ruth part is meta, and Nao’s life sounds like a sort of coming-of-age story smashed together with a disaster story. This sounds lovely and unusual and sad. I can’t wait.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

I Believe in a Thing Called Love Cover
cover description: A Korean American teen girl is smiling. To her right, a teen boy stands mostly out of the frame. The image is black and white with pink and yellow accents.

the premise: From Goodreads:

“Desi Lee believes anything is possible if you have a plan. That’s how she became student body president. Varsity soccer star. And it’s how she’ll get into Stanford. But—she’s never had a boyfriend. In fact, she’s a disaster in romance, a clumsy, stammering humiliation magnet whose botched attempts at flirting have become legendary with her friends. So when the hottest human specimen to have ever lived walks into her life one day, Desi decides to tackle her flirting failures with the same zest she’s applied to everything else in her life. She finds guidance in the Korean dramas her father has been obsessively watching for years—where the hapless heroine always seems to end up in the arms of her true love by episode ten. It’s a simple formula, and Desi is a quick study. Armed with her “K Drama Steps to True Love,” Desi goes after the moody, elusive artist Luca Drakos—and boat rescues, love triangles, and staged car crashes ensue. But when the fun and games turn to true feels, Desi finds out that real love is about way more than just drama.”

why I’m excited: I’ve been loving romances and romantic comedies lately, so I thought I’d give a YA one a spin. This got great reviews when it came out in 2017, and that cover is too darn cute!

Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Everything Here is Beautiful Cover
cover description: The lower half of a woman’s face is visible. She looks serious. The rest of the cover is made up of multicolored silhouettes of butterflies.

the premise: From Goodreads:

“Two Chinese-American sisters—Miranda, the older, responsible one, always her younger sister’s protector; Lucia, the headstrong, unpredictable one, whose impulses are huge and, often, life changing. When Lucia starts hearing voices, it is Miranda who must find a way to reach her sister. Lucia impetuously plows ahead, but the bitter constant is that she is, in fact, mentally ill. Lucia lives life on a grand scale, until, inevitably, she crashes to earth. 

Miranda leaves her own self-contained life in Switzerland to rescue her sister again—but only Lucia can decide whether she wants to be saved. The bonds of sisterly devotion stretch across oceans—but what does it take to break them?”

why I’m excited: I don’t normally pay a ton of attention to author blurbs–I like to read reviews instead–but a glowing recommendation from Celeste Ng did sell me on this one. (Ng wrote Little Fires Everywhere, one of my favorite books of recent years.) This looks like a sensitive, complex, and loving portrait of mental illness and the ways it can strain already-complicated family relationships. This is something Celeste Ng is also really good at, hence why I gave her blurb so much weight! I’m really looking forward to reading this.


What’s in your bookbag this week? Do you have any exciting weekend reading plans? Let me know in the comments, and feel free to link to your own book reviews and blog posts!

Book Review: THE KISS QUOTIENT by Helen Hoang

What is it about fictional faked or arranged relationships that’s so darn charming? Is it the forbidden-ness of the feelings that inevitably pop up? The unbearable sexiness of the fake-but-not-fake kisses–and more? Whatever the root of that charm is, The Kiss Quotient has it in spades. Stella is autistic and a gifted econometrist. She’s not really interested in dating and sex, but decides she might like those things more if she were better at them–so she hires tortured, smoking hot professional escort Michael to teach her. They start falling for each other during their sexy “lessons,” but Stella’s fear of not being enough and Michael’s tragic past threaten to keep them apart.

The Kiss Quotient is fun, funny, adorable, and most importantly, extremely scorchingly sexy. Like…maybe don’t read it in public levels of sexy. It’s a little rough in places–in particular, I think its happily-ever-after wraps up way too fast–but its contagious charm and the awesome chemistry between the two leads more than make up for the few flaws. This is a fantastic romance.

You can read my full review below.


The Kiss Quotient Cover.jpg

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

  • publisher: Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Random House)
  • publication date: June 5, 2018
  • length: 336 pages

Was Philip right? Did she dislike sex because she was bad at it? Would practice really make perfect? What a beguiling concept. Maybe sex was just another interpersonal thing she needed to exert extra efforts on–like casual conversation, eye contact, and etiquette.

But how exactly did you practice sex?

–from The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

If you’re blunt, anxious, shy, particular, and/or easily overwhelmed–whether or not you have an autism diagnosis–you’re going to find a lot to love in The Kiss Quotient’s protagonist, Stella Lane.

Stella is a competent, happy 30-something whose life is going swimmingly. She doesn’t need to be fixed and she definitely doesn’t need pity. She’s autistic and thriving, and very good at dealing with the challenges of living in a mostly-allistic world.

There’s just one thing missing: Stella has never really enjoyed dating, kissing, or sex, and she wonders if there’s some way to fix that. Maybe she just needs practice. Luckily, she has plenty of money to hire a male escort to teach her.

That escort is Michael, a secretive, movie-star-levels-of-hot Vietnamese-Swedish guy who practices kendo and dreams of starting his own fashion line. He hates escorting. It’s nothing but a way to turn the good looks he hates into a way to pay for his mother’s expensive medical care.

Until he meets Stella. That’s when Michael starts to actually enjoy sex. He agrees to keep seeing Stella until she’s an expert at sex and relationships. Then they’ll each move on, no strings attached…

Except that’s not how it works out! Of course that’s not how it works out. They develop feeeeeeelings! (And have amazing sex along the way.)

What I loved the most about The Kiss Quotient was its sexiness. It would have been very easy for a romance with an autistic protagonist to be overly chaste and sweet. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with chaste and sweet–it’s just that almost all pop culture about autistic people tends to treat them as childlike and childish, when that’s very much not the case for many autistic adults. I was glad it broke out of that box.

Instead, The Kiss Quotient uses Stella’s particular way of looking at the world to add sexy fuel to the fire. She’s hypersensitive to Michael’s scent, skin-on-skin sensations, and to the taste of mint chocolate chip ice cream shared through a kiss. Loud music at a club stresses her out, but she loves the piano, so she and Michael bond over a Heart and Soul duet. Stella is very particular about comfortable clothes, so Michael introduces her to yoga pants that make her butt look good, and he even sews her a soft new evening dress.

Each of those sensual and tender moments ratchets up the stakes–and the heat. Every single sex scene in The Kiss Quotient easily ranks as one of the best I’ve ever read. Easily. I won’t go into NSFW detail, but if you like steamy romance, you’ll love this.

I’m not autistic, but I do have OCD, and the way it manifests for me means I have a few of the classic characteristics of autism: hypersensitivity, social anxiety, and obsessive thinking in particular. Stella’s way of looking at the world was similar to mine in a way I hardly ever get to read about, and it made me feel seen and cherished as a romance reader.

In addition to Stella’s autism, Michael’s Vietnamese family is also a welcome addition to the romance formula. Michael feels a mixture of protectiveness and pride towards his family–he’s in a similar situation to Carlos in The Proposal to Jasmine Guillory–and like Carlos, he needs to learn to trust that they can take care of themselves, just like he needs to learn to trust his own feelings towards Stella.

The Vietnamese cultural elements of the novel don’t just feel like window-dressing. It’s not just about food, or clothes, or other details that are easy to “research” on Wikipedia. The Kiss Quotient uses Michael’s Vietnamese-ness more to talk about what it means to be part of a big immigrant family, and the benefits and pressures that can come with that. It forwards Michael’s character development in a fascinating way.

In this review so far I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the characters and not a whole lot talking about the writing, and I think that’s because Helen Hoang’s writing style in The Kiss Quotient is very basic. She captures sensory details eloquently, but the dialogue isn’t really anything special. The internal monologues are a little clunky, and the way the novel wraps up happens so quickly and matter-of-factly that I felt a tiny bit cheated. I wanted to roll around in the happily-ever-after, not move briskly on to the brief epilogue.

But those are truly minor quibbles in comparison to all the great stuff Hoang accomplishes here. I will absolutely be reading whatever she does next. (Her next novel, The Bride Testis linked to The Kiss Quotient through a supporting character, and I can’t wait to read it.)

If you’re looking for a romance that runs deep emotionally but is also fun, flirty, and sexy on the surface, it would be hard to do better than The Kiss Quotient. This book rocked. ★★☆

Books and reviews you might also enjoy:


I purchased my own copy of The Kiss Quotient and was in no way compensated for this review.

Friday Bookbag, 5.3.19

FridayBookbag

Friday Bookbag is a weekly feature where I share a list of books I’ve borrowed, bought, or received during the week. It’s my chance to buzz about my excitement for books I might not get the chance to review.

My wife and I officially closed on our new condo this week! This interminable move is about to officially come to an end. I’m currently on cloud nine. In fact, I’ve been so excited that I’ve found it a little difficult to focus on reading all the books I bring home. 😬 It doesn’t help that our new place is right next door to a massive library, so this problem is likely only going to get worse. Sigh. (Good thing it’s not really a problem, no?)

This week I’ve got a daring historical spy romance, a literary Lizzie Borden story, a Gilded Age sci-fi novel, and a whole lot more in my super-sized bookbag. Let’s dive in!


An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

An Extraordinary Union
cover description: a Black woman wearing a white Civil War era dress stands in a doorway and looks back over her shoulder with an anxious expression.

the premise: From Goodreads:

“Elle Burns is a former slave with a passion for justice and an eidetic memory. Trading in her life of freedom in Massachusetts, she returns to the indignity of slavery in the South—to spy for the Union Army.

Malcolm McCall is a detective for Pinkerton’s Secret Service. Subterfuge is his calling, but he’s facing his deadliest mission yet—risking his life to infiltrate a Rebel enclave in Virginia.

Two undercover agents who share a common cause—and an undeniable attraction—Malcolm and Elle join forces when they discover a plot that could turn the tide of the war in the Confederacy’s favor. Caught in a tightening web of wartime intrigue, and fighting a fiery and forbidden love, Malcolm and Elle must make their boldest move to preserve the Union at any cost—even if it means losing each other…”

why I’m excited: First of all, Alyssa Cole is a wildly acclaimed author (I already own, and am soon planning to read, A Princess in Theory, a contemporary romance of hers). Second of all, this premise would stand on its own: Civil War spies falling in love while deep undercover and in deadly danger? It doesn’t get more gripping than that.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

See What I Have Done Cover
cover description: A pigeon’s head seems to melt into a blue blob of dripping paint on a cream-colored background.

the premise: See What I Have Done tells the story of the infamous Lizzie Borden murders through the eyes of four unreliable narrators: Lizzie herself, her sister Emma, their housemaid Bridget, and a stranger. Emma comforts the distraught Lizzie in the aftermath of the murders of their father and stepmother, but as Lizzie slowly pieces together her fragmented, fateful memories of August 4, 1892, the bonds between the two sisters will be tested.

why I’m excited: I’m curious about this one. Reviews seem to be mixed, I think the premise is a teensy bit overwrought (the memory weirdness and unreliable narrator components in particular), and it doesn’t seem like it follows the historical record very closely. But I enjoy reading about the Lizzie Borden case enough that I decided to brave what could be a big disappointment. I’m hoping it’ll be reminiscent of Alias Grace, the Margaret Atwood novel turned excellent Netflix series about a similar 19th century double murder.

MEM by Bethany C. Morrow

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Mem Paperback Cover
cover description: Two faces that share one neck and upper body are silhouetted against a red background.

the premise: From Goodreads:

“Set in the glittering art deco world of a century ago, MEM makes one slight alteration to history: a scientist in Montreal discovers a method allowing people to have their memories extracted from their minds, whole and complete. The Mems exist as mirror-images of their source ― zombie-like creatures destined to experience that singular memory over and over, until they expire in the cavernous Vault where they are kept. 

And then there is Dolores Extract #1, the first Mem capable of creating her own memories. An ageless beauty shrouded in mystery, she is allowed to live on her own, and create her own existence, until one day she is summoned back to the Vault.”

why I’m excited: I have to admit that I’m confused by this premise as much as I’m intrigued by it. What’s…the point of having a Mem, exactly? Why is it useful to have an automaton thing relive a singular memory over and over? I’m hoping it’ll be clearer once I start reading. Anyway, Blade Runner meets The Great Gatsby is a cool enough aesthetic to make me forgive this book an awful lot of ills, if there are indeed a lot of ills here.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

The Library at Mount Char Cover
cover description: The sun sets behind a dark house with lit windows. The house is visible through a hole burnt in book pages.

the premise: I’m not really sure I know. There’s an awfully long description on Goodreads, a bit longer than I’m willing to copy over here. Let’s go with just this section of it:

“A missing God.
A library with the secrets to the universe. 
A woman too busy to notice her heart slipping away.”

And this one, too:

“Now, Father is missing—perhaps even dead—and the Library that holds his secrets stands unguarded. And with it, control over all of creation.”

Sounds awesome, no?

why I’m excited: It’s a book about a supernatural library and, it seems, a God who lives in a supernatural library. Hell yeah, I’m excited for this one. This seems a little reminiscent of American Gods, a book I really enjoyed; I’m a sucker for stories about mortals and immortals colliding, and I especially love the ones where the main character is at risk of losing their humanity. I can’t wait to read this.

How to Love a Jamaican: Stories by Alexia Arthurs

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

How to Love a Jamaican Cover
cover description: stylized, painted vines burst with orange fruit and purple flowers against a bright yellow background.

the premise: From Goodreads:

“Tenderness and cruelty, loyalty and betrayal, ambition and regret—Alexia Arthurs navigates these tensions to extraordinary effect in her debut collection about Jamaican immigrants and their families back home. Sweeping from close-knit island communities to the streets of New York City and midwestern university towns, these eleven stories form a portrait of a nation, a people, and a way of life.

In “Light Skinned Girls and Kelly Rowlands,” an NYU student befriends a fellow Jamaican whose privileged West Coast upbringing has blinded her to the hard realities of race. In “Mash Up Love,” a twin’s chance sighting of his estranged brother—the prodigal son of the family—stirs up unresolved feelings of resentment. In “Bad Behavior,” a mother and father leave their wild teenage daughter with her grandmother in Jamaica, hoping the old ways will straighten her out. In “Mermaid River,” a Jamaican teenage boy is reunited with his mother in New York after eight years apart. In “The Ghost of Jia Yi,” a recently murdered international student haunts a despairing Jamaican athlete recruited to an Iowa college. And in “Shirley from a Small Place,” a world-famous pop star retreats to her mother’s big new house in Jamaica, which still holds the power to restore something vital.”

why I’m excited: There’s a lot of great stuff happening in the short story space, and this collection looks like no exception. I’m especially loving short story collections that tackle diasporas: I recently reviewed and loved Useful Phrases for Immigrants by May-Lee Chai and White Dancing Elephants by Chaya Bhuvaneswar, both of which similarly driven by diasporic experience. A short story collection seems like the perfect format to capture experiences that are so wide-ranging and similar at the same time. I’m looking forward to this.

No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

No One Can Pronounce My Name Cover
cover description: a drab blue and white striped tie hangs like a necklace over a bright pink and gold sari background.

the premise: From Goodreads:

“In a suburb outside Cleveland, a community of Indian Americans has settled into lives that straddle the divide between Eastern and Western cultures. For some, America is a bewildering and alienating place where coworkers can’t pronounce your name but will eagerly repeat the Sanskrit phrases from their yoga class. Harit, a lonely Indian immigrant in his midforties, lives with his mother who can no longer function after the death of Harit’s sister, Swati. In a misguided attempt to keep both himself and his mother sane, Harit has taken to dressing up in a sari every night to pass himself off as his sister. Meanwhile, Ranjana, also an Indian immigrant in her midforties, has just seen her only child, Prashant, off to college. Worried that her husband has begun an affair, she seeks solace by writing paranormal romances in secret. When Harit and Ranjana’s paths cross, they begin a strange yet necessary friendship that brings to light their own passions and fears.”

why I’m excited: This just looks lovely. I love this kind of quiet-with-a-touch-of-humor, grief-stricken family drama (the premise reminds me a little bit of Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong and Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng). I’m looking forward to spending an afternoon with this one.


What’s in your bookbag this week? Do you have any exciting weekend reading plans? Let me know in the comments, and feel free to link to your own book reviews and blog posts!

10 things moving will make you realize about your books (a story in 10 gifs)

celebration close up decoration design
Image description: A red heart ornament tied to packing paper and string. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

1. You’re never going to read that one. Really. Let it go.

Queen Elsa Frozen Gif 1
image description: Elsa from Frozen singing “Let It Go.”

2. You’re never going to re-read this one. It’s dead weight. Let it goooo.

Queen Elsa Frozen Gif
image description: Elsa from Frozen, still singing the catchiest song in the world.

3. You’re never going to re-read this one either…but you loved it so much the first time that it’s unimaginably precious anyway. Into the box it goes.

Gollum Gif
image description: Gollum hissing about his precious.

4. Hardcovers are so heavy. Stop buying hardcovers.

Mr. Potato Head Gif
image description: Mr. Potato Head from Toy Story’s arms fall off as he struggles to lift Tinker Toy dumbbell.

5. But this hardcover is so pretty…

Beauty and the Beast Gif
image description: Belle from Beauty and the Beast hugs a book

6. You forgot you had this one. You remember reading it. You remember that salsa stain and each individual dog-ear. It’s like running into somebody you used to know, the person who makes you realize now just how much you’ve changed. Usually for the better, but maybe a little bit for the worse? You lie on the floor and think about life and death and stuff for awhile.

Scott Pilgrim Gif
image description: Scott Pilgrim tells Ramona Flowers that he’s going to leave her alone forever now.

7. You forgot you had this one, too. You’ve never read it. It was a gift from someone close, someone who’s gone now, someone who shared your love of reading. You love it, but you know you’re never going to read it. You gently place it in the get-rid-of box, trusting that your memory of that kind and thoughtful gift is enough.

Coco Gif.gif
image description: Miguel from Coco plays “Remember Me” on the guitar in a room full of lit candles.

8. Or you keep it, even though you’ll never read it. After all, you’ve packed up far less worthy mementos today.

Peggy Mad Men Gif
Image description: Peggy from Mad Men walks down an office hallway carrying a heavy box and looking badass.

9. The dust and wear on all of these is gnarly. Jesus. You should take better care of your books.

Cat on Bookshelf
image description: A cat climbs on the top shelf of a bookshelf, pulling a bunch of books to the floor before falling off.

But seriously–you’re never going to take better care of your books. It’s okay! They’ll probably outlive you anyway. (And you find that thought strangely comforting.)

Belle Opening Scene Gif
image description: Belle from Beauty and the Beast swings from a bookshelf ladder in the opening scene of the movie.

Book Review: THE PROPOSAL by Jasmine Guillory

Whether you’re a longtime romance superfan or a relatively recent convert, like me, The Proposal has something for you. Loosely linked to Jasmine Guillory’s debut, The Wedding Date (though you can read this one first without missing anything), this novel follows Nik, a journalist whose crummy boyfriend springs a disastrous Jumbotron proposal on her at a Dodgers game, and hot, sensitive pediatrician Carlos, who helps shepherd her out of the stadium unscathed. (You may recognize Carlos as Drew’s best friend from The Wedding Date.)

I adored this book. It’s fully a romance novel, happily-ever-after and all, but I think it’s an ideal choice for people who are hesitant about the genre, since it’s more on the realistic side than the pure escapism side. The Proposal is perfect for a bad day: bubbly and light enough to cheer you up, but with just enough bittersweetness and real-world problems to be believable when you’ve got a bad case of the blues.

You can read my full review below.


The Proposal Cover

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory

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  • publisher: Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Random House)
  • publication date: October 30, 2018
  • length: 352 pages

Okay, this was getting way out of hand. Sure, her fingers were dying to run themselves through his thick dark hair, and her hand had lingered a little too long on his bicep tonight, and every time he curved those inviting lips of his into a smile, she wanted to pull him closer. But a rebound with Carlos was a terrible idea, remember? She neither wanted, nor needed, a rebound with anyone! That was why she’d hinted it was time for Carlos to go home. Men were trouble. She’d learned that over and over again.

–from The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory

If a public proposal (especially without your private okay) is your worst nightmare, then you’ll cringe with sympathy at The Proposal‘s opening scene, when Nik’s crummy man-bunned boyfriend of five months, Fisher, springs a Jumbotron proposal on her at a Dodgers game. When she turns him down, Nik becomes a stadium pariah who needs to make a quick exit.

Enter Carlos and his sister Angela, who were sitting a few rows behind Nik and Fisher and watched the whole debacle go down. They help sneak Nik out of the stadium and into a bourbon-and-pizza dish sesh with her best friends.

Grateful to Carlos (and intrigued by his sizzling hotness, of course), Nik decides to take him out to dinner later that week as a thank you…

…and I bet you know where this one’s going.

What I loved most about The Proposal was Jasmine Guillory’s gift for weaving the real world into the romance. Romance haters always point to the way the genre, well, romanticizes life and what it’s like to fall in love, but that would be ignoring the way contemporary romances like Guillory’s tackle modern romantic problems head-on, like, say, the problems inherent in a public proposal.

Much of The Proposal is about power dynamics: what it means to have a controlling partner who views you as an accessory rather than a person, and conversely what it means to be so obsessed with “rebounds” or “keeping it casual” that you never actually tell someone how much they mean to you.

Other welcome real-world touches to the novel include the frank way Guillory writes about race (Nik is Black, as is Alexa from The Wedding Date who makes an appearance here, Carlos and his family are Latinx, and Nik’s two best friends are Black and Korean) and a subplot about Carlos’s cousin’s high-risk pregnancy.

In addition to what I loved about the content, Guillory’s writing style is also absolutely delightful. The Proposal basically starts in media res: you gradually learn about Nik’s backstory and previous abusive relationship as well as Carlos’s complex feelings about becoming the “man of the family” after losing his dad, but it’s all revealed through naturalistic conversations rather than big chunks of info dump. This makes The Proposal an extremely fast read–I blew through it in an afternoon.

Neither Nik nor Carlos are stereotypes. Nik is a striving writer, sure, and Carlos is a hot doctor–characters right out of the romance hero/heroine playbook–but there are enough unique details to both of them that they don’t feel rote.

The dialogue is extremely funny, even when it’s tackling the most emotional subjects, and Guillory has a knack for describing what makes for a great date: great food, great conversation, emotional vulnerability, and fiery chemistry.

Which leads me to maybe the best part: The Proposal is sexy as hell. One of my hesitations with romance for a long time was the fact that I’m a lesbian, and good lesbian romances are few and far between. Luckily I’ve been able to find a few hetero romances, like Guillory’s, where I’m just as invested in a straight central couple as I would be in a gay one.

The sexiness of romance, after all, is often less dependent on descriptions of the hero(es) or heroine(s) than it is on the effervescent feeling of being powerfully attracted to someone that good romance writing can capture. The attraction radiates off Nik and Carlos so powerfully that even though I wouldn’t be interested in Carlos because he’s a dude (hot, sweet, and sensitive as he may be), I still loved the flirting and sex scenes between him and Nik.

It helps that there are bi and lesbian supporting characters, too, which made me feel like a valued reader. Just like The Wedding Date, The Proposal is marvelously diverse in all kinds of ways.

The Proposal is a gem. Even if you’ve never read romance or never plan to again, it’s worth giving this one a shot. (And if you do love romance–well, get thee to a bookstore, post haste, though I suspect I’m preaching to the choir.) ★★★★★

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I purchased my own copy of The Proposal and was in no way compensated for this review.

Friday Bookbag, 4.26.19

FridayBookbag

Friday Bookbag is a weekly feature where I share a list of books I’ve borrowed, bought, or received during the week. It’s my chance to buzz about my excitement for books I might not get the chance to review.

It’s like I learned nothing from last week! I kept buying books way faster than I’m reading them. (Shout out to Book Riot’s daily book deals newsletter, which is the best worst thing that’s ever happened to me.) Luckily my reading slump seems to have broken and I’m back to reading more, if not quite enough. Expect some interesting book reviews coming soon.

Let’s dive into all my bad great decisions this week!


The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

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The Poet X Coverthe premise: From Goodreads:

“Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.”

why I’m excited: Slam poetry–its fiercely loving community and its empowering vulnerability–are ripe for a YA novel, especially one about an Afro Latina girl fighting rape culture and abuse. That premise + myriad rave reviews and awards mean that this book is guaranteed to make me Feel Things. I can’t wait.

The Emissary by Yōko Tawada (translated by Margaret Mitsutani)

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The Emissary Coverthe premise: From Goodreads:

“Japan, after suffering from a massive irreparable disaster, cuts itself off from the world. Children are so weak they can barely stand or walk: the only people with any get-go are the elderly. Mumei lives with his grandfather Yoshiro, who worries about him constantly. They carry on a day-to-day routine in what could be viewed as a post-Fukushima time, with all the children born ancient—frail and gray-haired, yet incredibly compassionate and wise. Mumei may be enfeebled and feverish, but he is a beacon of hope, full of wit and free of self-pity and pessimism. Yoshiro concentrates on nourishing Mumei, a strangely wonderful boy who offers “the beauty of the time that is yet to come.”

A delightful, irrepressibly funny book, The Emissary is filled with light. Yoko Tawada, deftly turning inside-out “the curse,” defies gravity and creates a playful joyous novel out of a dystopian one, with a legerdemain uniquely her own.”

why I’m excited: Researching nuclear disaster is a hobby of mine (sort of related to a novel I’m writing, sort of just because I find it fascinating), so the connection to Fukushima sold me on this book immediately. It also looks short, sweet, and funny, meaning it’s going to be a good in-between book if I’m getting bogged down in heavier, denser stuff. It’s either going to be weird and off-putting, or weird and great. Either way, it’ll be interesting!

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Young Jane Young Coverthe premise: From Amazon:

“Aviva Grossman, an ambitious congressional intern in Florida, makes the mistake of having an affair with her (married) boss. When the affair comes to light, the popular congressman doesn’t take the fall. But Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins: slut-shamed, she becomes a late-night talk show punch line, anathema to politics. She sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. This time, she tries to be smarter about her life and strives to raise her daughter, Ruby, to be strong and confident. But when, at the urging of others, Aviva decides to run for public office, that long-ago mistake trails her via the Internet and catches up—an inescapable scarlet A. In the digital age, the past is never, ever, truly past. And it’s only a matter of time until Ruby finds out who her mother was and is forced to reconcile that person with the one she knows.”

why I’m excited: This basically feels like Monica Lewinsky: The Novel, and I’m here for it. Ripped-from-the-headlines stories can get creepy and/or ham-handed, fast, but this novel sounds self-aware, complex (I particularly love the idea of the intergenerational stuff between Aviva and Ruby), and funny enough to sidestep those pitfalls. Fingers crossed!

Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession by Alice Bolin

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Dead Girls Coverthe premise: From Goodreads:

“A collection of poignant, perceptive essays that expertly blends the personal and political in an exploration of American culture through the lens of our obsession with dead women.

In her debut collection, Alice Bolin turns a critical eye to literature and pop culture, the way media consumption reflects American society, and her own place within it. From essays on Joan Didion and James Baldwin to Twin Peaks, Britney Spears, and Serial, Bolin illuminates our widespread obsession with women who are abused, killed, and disenfranchised, and whose bodies (dead and alive) are used as props to bolster a man’s story.”

why I’m excited: I’m obsessed with the dead girls obsession, so this looks about perfect for me. Earlier this year I read The Hot One by Carolyn Murnick, a book with a somewhat similar premise, which I didn’t love. The essay excerpt of The Hot One over at The Cut contained all the best parts of that book and trimmed the bits I didn’t like, so I’m hoping that essays might be a better format with which to tackle the topic. I’m very much looking forward to this.


What’s in your bookbag this week? Do you have any exciting weekend reading plans? Let me know in the comments, and feel free to link to your own book reviews and blog posts!