Rapid-fire review catch-up!

Procrastinating always creates more work in the long run, so here are the reviews I kept meaning to write toward the end of 2017. Ready? OK!


Out on Good Behavior by Dahlia Adler

This may have been the one book I finished of the handful I downloaded before my trip to Africa (WAKANDA FOREVER!). It's a sweet, low-stakes F/F romance with pansexual and gay heroines, one out and proud and not at all interested in settling down, the other in the closet and only willing to be with someone who is serious about her. They make a deal to give dating exclusively a test drive.

Now, I'm messy and I live for drama, so as much as I say that I want to ready a lighthearted romance, it's just not true, yinz. This was cute and sexy, and it did have some heavier elements, but I kind of hate manufactured stakes that only exist because the characters are too immature to talk like adults. And yes, the heroines are only in college in this one. But still. STILL.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

I read this one as a kid but had to revisit it before the Ava DuVernay movie comes out. I listened to the audiobook on a long drive. It was delightful. My favorite quote: "You see, though we travel together, we travel alone."

Also ... Oprah 2020? I love the woman, but I hope she runs for Senate or something first. Although we could do a lot worse. A LOT worse.

One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

Another long-drive listen. Koul is a Canadian writer of Indian descent who works for Buzzfeed, and this book of essays delves into her experiences as a young woman dealing with racism, body image issues, love and just being a human being. I may have to re-listen to this, because I remember it was amazing and that I laughed so hard it made my ability to drive safely questionable.

Also, Koul is executive producing a comedy based on her book.

Also also, she was in South Africa like the week after I was there, and I really think if we'd been there at the same time we would have met and become best friends.

Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins

This is a historical romance about a freed black slave who passes for white and becomes a wealthy and influential politician, and a black cook who is traveling West in hopes of opening a restaurant. This one had insanely high stakes, and I question how well everything got resolved. And I also just don't love historicals in general. The ones I've read (and to be fair, I haven't read many) are too tame, and I don't connect as well to the characters as I do in contemporary. But Ms. Bev is a queen and a legend, and this is still a great read for any romance fan, so I enjoyed it as much as this hardened contemporary fan can enjoy a historical.

Ms. Marvel Vol. 6: Civil War II

This volume broke me a little. I wish that this had taken an even deeper look at the idea of predictive justice in the broader context of current events and racial profiling, but it just scratched the surface of some very complex issues. It scratched thoughtfully, though, and I continue to enjoy seeing Kamala grow and become more nuanced as a hero and as a person.

But what I did not enjoy, especially when I went back and took a look at some of my older issues, was seeing Kamala become disillusioned with her hero, Captain Marvel. I love seeing people meet their heroes — when Oprah surprised Tiffany Haddish on Ellen, I lost my mind, and I haven't even seen Haddish in anything other than her Daily Show interview. So seeing someone lose her hero is really heartbreaking. This is just a very sad chapter of the Ms. Marvel story, and I hope things brighten in the next installment.

Spider-Gwen Vol. 0: Most Wanted? and Spider-Gwen Vol. 1: Greater Power

Surprising me is no fun, because I hate being surprised. I will guess and guess and badger and badger until I get pretty close to an answer or break the gift-giver's will entirely. I guessed totally wrong when I saw those graphic novel-shaped presents under the Christmas tree. But, I was thrilled because Spider-Gwen has been on my radar for a bit.

Gwen Stacy is cool, funny, tough, sensitive, and, in her corner of the multiverse, she's the one who got bitten by a radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker.

I was really excited about how this series avenged one of the most famous dead girls in popular culture. Gwen Stacy is best known as Peter's girlfriend whom he may or may not have accidentally killed while trying to save her from the Green Goblin. She exists in our collective memory as a tragic tale, another girlfriend among the Famously Fridged who exist as emotional lynchpins for a male hero. So it's really nice that the multiverse has granted her an alternate narrative, one where we get to know the smart, funny, capable girl who got taken too soon, and see everything she would have been able to offer. These books resonated with me for so many reasons, I was crying on planes while reading them.

Plus, there's a ton of multiverse fun to be had with new versions of beloved characters. Matt Murdoch as the villain? A black woman as Captain America? Uncle Ben is alive?! Yes, please.

Girl Logic by Iliza Shlesinger

Iliza is one of my favorite comedians, and I had the privilege of meeting her when she performed in my city. Girl Logic is Shlesinger's dissertation on why women think the way they do, and how the seemingly irrational behaviors society roasts us for actually stem from a logical place. Feminism is a journey, not a destination, so there are moments when I felt like Iliza was punching down, not up. There's an ongoing and important conversation about comedy and what's acceptable as we become more aware of the impact of our words. So I'm hyper aware of how jokes that make me cringe now would have been hilarious three years ago. But even if Shlesinger can be problematic at times, she's still smart and insightful, and demands that you listen to her.

Adultolescence by Gabbie Hanna

I've watched a few of Gabbie's videos on YouTube, and she's pretty entertaining. I was intrigued by the marketing of the book as a millennial answer to Shel Silverstein. And while some of the poems are poignant, most of them feel shallow and poorly executed. It feels like the sort of thing I scribbled into my notebooks in science class in high school. Which is fine. It just didn't move me. But Gabbie's workout videos on the ATighterU Instagram account do move me. Damn, girl. Gains! I've been taking  barre, aerial yoga and trampoline classes, and I can't imagine doing one of those upside down bat crunch things. Nope. Nope. Would sooner die.


Programming update

I know. I know. I KNOW.

Listen. Let me tell you something. I’ve got a lot going on, OK?


And I’m looking at my pile of finished but yet-to-be-reviewed books, and my pile of books yet to be read, and I know I’m just making more work for myself every time I put off updating.

As I gather my wits to write new content and hopefully approach this blog in a way that’s more fun for me and for you, I thought I’d give you a general update on reading goals and what’s coming up.
  • This year, I want to tie up some loose ends. I have a stack of books I never finished last year (and the year before, because let’s be honest, it was a shitshow) and I’ve already made a dent in some of that pile. This year I WILL finish Hillary Rodham Clinton’s What Happened. Whenever I’m bored with my podcasts, I listen to a few more minutes of it until I can't take any more and I’m curled up into a ball sobbing and ripping chunks out of the carpet, so it’s taking me a while because carpet is expensive.
  • On the subject of loose ends, I’m sitting on a dozen read books from way back when I went to Africa to now, so I’m going to review the ones I finished at the end of 2017 quick-hits style and pick up with 2018 for full reviews.
  • You know how I promised a spoiler review of Hate to Want You? It’s half-written but I’m wondering if I should just do a spoiler review of the entire series after Hurts to Love You comes out. But that might be too much. So we’ll see.
  • My friend Alli and I did a long-distance buddy read of Alice Clayton’s Nuts and will collaborate on a discussion post about it.
  • That Goodreads sidebar on my page is wildly out of date so I’m going to fix that.
  • My reading goals for 2018 are to read more, and to read more diversely, with particular emphasis on Latinx authors and specifically Dominican authors. I plan to explore contemporary works and the classics, and I might be up to the challenge of reading some of the classics in the original Spanish.
  • I’m in a cozy spot with my romance reading habit, and there’s so much to discover just in that genre. But I also want to branch back out. I want to read more books on a whim without reading prior reviews or hearing about them on a podcast.
So that's the plan. Watch this space.


Best friends forever: "Wrong to Need You" by Alisha Rai

Book: Wrong to Need You by Alisha Rai

Release date: November 28, 2017

Pages: 368

Publisher: Avon

Genre/category: Contemporary romance

Rating: ★★★★★

*This book was provided to me by the publisher as an advance reader copy for review purposes.*

He wasn’t supposed to fall in love with his brother’s widow…

Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Jackson Kane fled his home, his name, and his family. Ten years later, he’s come back to town: older, wiser, richer, tougher—and still helpless to turn away the one woman he could never stop loving, even after she married his brother.

Sadia Ahmed can’t deal with the feelings her mysterious former brother-in-law stirs, but she also can’t turn down his offer of help with the cafe she’s inherited. While he heats up her kitchen, she slowly discovers that the boy she adored has grown into a man she’s simply unable to resist.

An affair is unthinkable, but their desire is undeniable. As secrets and lies are stripped away, Sadia and Jackson must decide if they’re strong enough to face the past...and step into a future together.

This is a gorgeous and stirring follow-up to Hate to Want You that expands on the world of the extended Kane-Chandler clan. The complexities of grief, family life and friendship are explored in a way that’s intimate yet universal. And you will absolutely fall in love with the delightful couple at its heart.

Sadia is wonderful and real. She is surrounded by people with extraordinary and lucrative careers, including her younger sisters, and she’s just a regular single mom trying to provide for her son and run the family business while bartending on the side. She has secret pastimes she doesn't feel shame about but wants to keep to herself, and she does care on some levels what her family thinks of her and worries greatly about being a good mother. That mix of owning her choices but having nagging feelings of inadequacy made her so tangible to me. She’s also loving, fun, supportive and no-nonsense when she needs to be, especially to protect her family.

Jackson is an epic dreamboat. A man who stands up against social injustice AND who can cook you a croque madame AND who is buff and tattooed? He might sound like a fantasy, but Rai made him flawed and conflicted. His difficulty communicating was a relatable problem that puts him at odds with the more demonstrative heroine. He was a far more enjoyable character than the brief glimpses of him we saw in Hate to Want You, and I was ecstatic about that.

The conflict of a widow falling for her former brother-in-law played out in ways I didn’t expect, and it was very cool seeing my read of the situation evolve with every chapter. Rai is excellent at subverting expectations. She does incredible work evolving the friends to lovers trope here, just like she put a fresh spin on the second chance romance in the previous book.

I also love that Rai continues exploring mental health issues with her heroines, and have a feeling that theme will continue through the end of the series.

Rai weaves in an excellent supporting cast that makes me disappointed this will only be a trilogy. I want to know more about all these complicated, fascinating people.

Read this one immediately, but keep tissues handy.


Skin in the game: "Hate to Want You" by Alisha Rai spoiler-free review

Book: Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai

Release date: July 25, 2017

Pages: 371

Publisher: Avon

Genre/category: Contemporary romance

Rating: ★★★★★

One night. No one will know.

That was the deal. Every year, Livvy Kane and Nicholas Chandler would share one perfect night of illicit pleasure. The forbidden hours let them forget the tragedy that haunted their pasts-and the last names that made them enemies.

Until the night she didn’t show up.

Now Nicholas has an empire to run. He doesn’t have time for distractions and Livvy’s sudden reappearance in town is a major distraction. She’s the one woman he shouldn’t want … so why can’t he forget how right she feels in his bed?

Livvy didn’t come home for Nicholas, but fate seems determined to remind her of his presence–and their past. Although the passion between them might have once run hot and deep, not even love can overcome the scandal that divided their families.

Being together might be against all the rules … but being apart is impossible.

A book so nice, I'm reviewing it twice!

I can't stop thinking about this book, and I knew soon after reading it that I would need to do a spoiler review to get into everything it made me feel. Ever since this episode of the Smart Bitches podcast, I've been stoked about the book Rai describes as Romeo and Juliet minus the sad stuff meets "Hotline Bling" minus the sexist stuff. I'd argue she lied her ass off about it missing the sad stuff, but you've got to love an elevator pitch that marries Shakespeare and Drake.

Hate to Want You, the first in the Forbidden Hearts trilogy, features a rebellious Japanese-American heroine with a complicated family background and an uptight hero with a somewhat misguided sense of familial duty. If you just said, "Geez, Liz, that sounds a lot like Rai's A Gentleman in the Street," you're not wrong. But despite the surface similarities, Hate to Want You is a different beast from Gentleman — and a bit more tame, so if heat levels determine which romances you read, Hate to Want You is just as steamy but in less scandalous contexts than Gentleman.

This is a second-chance romance about former teenage sweethearts who never quite managed to quit each other. I'm in awe of how much story Rai packs into this read. It's a compassionate take on mental illness, a love story that's equal parts swoony and weepy, and a family saga that made me want to live in this world as long as possible. And it also made me very, very angry. But in a good way. I just really got in my feelings about this one, yinz.

I read a lot of romances that are part of series, and they all weave in past and future characters in a way that makes you curious about their stories. But no romance has integrated supporting and soon-to-be lead characters in such a compelling way as this one, for me anyway. Rai managed to introduce the heroines and heroes of the next two books in the series in a manner that made it obvious that they were important, but that also made them vital to the story of Livvy and Nick and not like last-minute additions for the purpose of tying everything loosely together. This book even made me want spinoff series about the parents and grandparents of the main characters. There are no throwaway characters in this book, and I think it speaks to Rai's mastery that she can make characters who have just a few lines of dialogue feel well-rounded. And even with the prerequisite romantic HEA, I am dying to get even the tiniest sliver of what comes next for Livvy and Nico.

I have the ARC of the next book, Wrong to Need You, on my Kindle, and I promise I'll read and review it before the actual release date like a real, professional book blogger would. But before then, stay tuned for my spoiler review of this first chapter, because I've got a whole lot to say about it.


You ask me where I've been. I've been everywhere.

Wubba lubba dub dub!

I just spent three weeks in Africa.

Me and my camera bag at Bourke's Luck Potholes in South Africa

This is not a proper blog post about my trip to Africa, because if I were to write that, it would be novel-length and have a slideshow with detailed captions. I could write about Africa like an Anthony Bourdain narration, or I could go full-on Eat Pray Love up in this bish because I was doing plenty of contemplation when I was standing 10,000 feet above Cape Town on Table Mountain or staring off into the distance while hoping to see a zebra. 

At my last non-temp full-time job *lol sob* I used to make "By the numbers" boxes to illustrate news stories, and I thought of the numbers a lot when I was traveling: 10 hours of driving to New York because of traffic. 15.5 hours on a nonstop flight to Cape Town. Four countries. Fourteen passport stamps. One accidentally accepted marriage proposal from a Zulu warrior who said he'd send my father 11 cows. Countless hours on tour buses and countless calories at buffets and 14-course small-plate dinners. Two pounds gained back from the 14 I've lost since April — not too shabby. 30 other people in my tour group who I amazingly got on smashingly with, proving that I'm somewhat charming and not a total misanthrope despite my last year of hermithood. 500 mb of daily WiFi access at most of the hotels I stayed at, which got quickly used up by sending a couple of pics to my bestie on Snapchat and scanning Twitter to make sure the U.S. was still intact*.

I stood atop mountains and cowered three feet away from angry mama elephants. I (reluctantly) sampled ostrich samosas and banged the drums to request entrance into a Zulu village. I saw freaking Van Gogh's freaking Starry Night during my one day in New York before the trip, and I started crying because I'm a human being and I internalized that one Doctor Who episode.

There's so much I want to say about my trip, which is something I never in a million years expected to be able to experience. I will say it's surreal and destabilizing to not sleep in the same bed for more than three nights, and to realize when homesickness strikes that even "home" is a temporary concept because I'm currently packing up my apartment and planning a big move.

I loved everything about being in Africa. I just wish someone would invent teleportation, because getting there and back sucks and a week and a half later, I'm honestly still jet-lagged.

Blog updates: I'm planning to do a two-part review of Alisha Rai's Hate to Want You. The only book I finished on my trip was Dahlia Adler's Out on Good Behavior, and I'm currently reading Beverly Jenkins' Forbidden before diving into my ARC of Rai's Wrong to Need You, which I am preemptively freaking out about because of how much I loved Hate to Want You. So, all that is coming eventually, because mama has to pack and question all her life choices and procrastinate by watching Fenty beauty reviews on YouTube. I like that Trophy Wife highlighter more every time I see it. 

See you when I see you.



Binge-reading romance from the library

All my library holds seem to become available at the same time, so I've been speed-reading and not pausing to review each book I finish. Of course, there are plenty of other reasons I fell behind. Recently, I've spent my time:
  • Watching the first five seasons of Smallville, which I'd never watched before, and devoting too much intellectual labor to my doomed OTP, Clark and Alicia. That storyline both leans into the worst and most stigmatizing tropes about mental illness and relationships, and at times shows surprising mercy and insight about loving someone who is coping with mental illness — so I'm forever pissed at that tragic ending and at the potential for this pairing if it had been handled by better writers.
If loving them is wrong, I DON'T WANT TO BE RIGHT.
  • Feeling like a celebrity because my listener feedback has been featured three times on my favorite feminist political podcast, Hellbent
  • Attempting to prepare for my trip to Africa and paying for my procrastination. Turns out insurance doesn't cover typhoid vaccines and that it's winter there, and I have nothing appropriate to wear. Whoops.
  • Panicking about major impending life changes and intensely ruminating.
  • Overhauling major plot points of the novel I'm working on, which feeds into the intense rumination.
But, despite all that, I have been reading a ton, specifically a ton of romance, so here are some rapid fire reviews.

Book: Twist by Kylie Scott

Release date: April 11, 2017

Pages: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Genre: Contemporary romance

Rating: ★★★★

I was getting a tattoo and while I grimaced through an arduous spot, my friend tried to distract me by asking me what I was reading. After I told her the premise of Twist, she said, "So, it's a romance about catfishing." I hadn't thought about it, but yes, and despite that problematic setup, I really enjoyed this. Joe intended to close his brother's online dating account for him. Instead, he starts chatting with one of his brother's matches, Alex — while pretending to be his brother.

Email courtships are one of my Things — seriously, couples wooing each other with tomes gets me all in my squishiest feelings. But while I thought the emails would be the bulk of the story, they're not, and the story is more about the aftermath of Joe's lie and his attempts to win back Alex's trust. Circumstances lead to her having to stick around and spend time with him, and the two try to be "friends" while exploring whether their online chemistry translates IRL.


Keep ya head up: "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas

Book: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Release date: February 28, 2017

Pages: 464

Publisher: Balzer & Bray

Genre/category: Young Adult Contemporary

Rating: ★★★★★

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil's name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

This may have been the most anticipated book since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Thirteen publishing houses fought for this book. YA movie queen Amandla Stenberg signed on to star in the movie of this book before it was even published. It has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 17 weeks, many of them at No. 1.

I bought it during release week and only recently got around to it, partly because the subject matter is heavy and I had to steel myself for it a bit, and partly because my expectations were so high, I didn't know how I'd possibly review this beloved book if I didn't absolutely love it.

But oh my gosh, this book is amazing.