Book review: Stroked by Meghan Quinn

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Sound tech Paisley is thrilled when her best friend and roommate Jonathan gets her a job in the industry. Sure, it’s just assisting on a reality show, but it’s better than nothing. The star Paisley ends up working for is the delusional, over-the-top drama queen Bellini – a girl famous for her family’s wealth and nothing more. As if the job isn’t hard enough, Bellini’s boyfriend is gorgeous Olympic swimmer Reese. Paisley is immediately attracted to Reese but knows that nothing can ever happen with her boss’s boyfriend.

Until it does.

So let me just start off by saying that I love Meghan Quinn. I’ve read a few of her other books, I follow her on Instagram, I think she’s a generally great person. I was really excited to read this book. Unfortunately, I took issue with it from the beginning.

Let’s start with Bellini. A lot of readers had a problem with her character, and I can totally understand that. It’s revealed very quickly that the relationship between Bellini and Reese is entirely fake. It’s only for publicity, and there are absolutely no romantic feelings involved. Bellini is awful. She doesn’t have a single redeeming quality. Personally, I understood why her character was there and didn’t really have a problem with it, but I did think it was a little odd that Reese had to maintain this fake relationship with her and that neither Reese nor Paisley felt bad about getting together behind her back. Their insistence that their relationship had to be a complete secret really freaked me out. That is not healthy behavior.

Then there’s the best friend/roommate, Jonathan. Starting about 10% in, Paisley begins to reassure us that there’s nothing going on between her and Jonathan. Some quotes:

Is Jonathan a ruggedly handsome man? Of course. And does he call me sweetheart and make me dinner? Naturally. And have I seen his penis almost every single day? Yes, but not by demand. But is there any kind of romantic vibe between us? None whatsoever. Not even the slightest inkling.

“What?” He holds up his hands and smirks at me. “You may be my best friend, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to see your boobs. It’s a natural wonderment. I bet if I didn’t walk around naked you would be curious too. I’ve seen your ass plenty of times, what’s a little T to go with that A?”

“But I made you coffee … with love. You should be alive and ready for the day.”
“With love? What is with love?”
“You know, stirring in your cream while naked,” Jonathan says with laughter.

Mhmm. Totally platonic. Am I seriously supposed to believe that this guy doesn’t have romantic feelings for her?

Anyway, on to the relationship between Paisley and Reese. Red flags and warning bells were going off willy nilly throughout this book. Reese is hot. I get that. But that does not excuse his behavior. In the book, he’s described as “insanely jealous” and “animalistic” when Paisley spends time with another man. He also becomes “obsessive” if she doesn’t immediately return a text. Is that supposed to be sexy? Personally, I like my freedom, and any guy who’s going to turn into an animal because I’m spending time with a friend or not dropping everything to answer his text is not a guy that I want to be with. But I guess Paisley likes it?

Our relationship might not be conventional, and we might have to hide it, but all the worry is worth it for moments like this.

(aka: this relationship is super unhealthy, but the sex is good)

The two are also very clear on the fact that they can’t get caught because then Paisley would lose her job. Reese is evidently allowed to tell his friends, but Paisley can’t even tell Jonathan. But despite their secrecy, they are

constantly

sexting. They don’t even try to hide their texts. They never clear out their history. Paisley has Reese in her phone with his first and last name followed by a swimming emoji! What happens when your phone is out on set and Bellini sees one of Reese’s sexts pop up on your screen? What then?!

I’m going to avoid getting into spoilers here, although nothing that happens is particularly shocking. The plot moves along basically exactly how I would expect it to, although the characters seem shocked at every turn. I guess I just expected more from Meghan Quinn. Not only were the characters and the entirety of the plot disappointing, but the book was filled with typos. The whole thing just felt rushed and poorly developed and was just not what I had hoped for.

I had initially given this book three stars, but that’s just not right. It didn’t quite hit one-star territory, so I guess I’ll go with two.

Final rating: ★★☆☆☆

Book review: Mates, Dates, and Inflatable Bras by Cathy Hopkins

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Sometimes a book ages well, and sometimes it doesn’t.  In the case of Mates, Dates, and Inflatable Bras, I am very disappointed to say that it was not nearly as good as I remembered.  I was obsessed with this series when I was a freshman in high school  I read all of the books.  I even had their Guide to Life, Love, and Looking Luscious.  Cathy Hopkins was my girl.  But rereading this book as a full-grown woman well into her twenties, I couldn’t help but look at it with a critical eye.

I can see what Hopkins was trying to do.  There was a whole wave of this kind of book – the lighthearted, funny, YA taking place in England.  Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging is probably the most famous of the set.  (I loved that series, but I’m terrified of what I’d think of it now.)  Katie Maxwell’s Emily series – the first book being The Year My Life Went Down the Loo – is another great example.  These books are hilarious, but they teach important life lessons.  Figuring out what you want to do with the rest of your life.  Dealing with being separated from what you know and having to make new friends.  What to do when boys start spreading rumors about you.  These books were really special to me in my formative years, and I’m glad that I had them.

But, unfortunately, Mates, Dates, and Inflatable Bras just doesn’t hold up as well as I might have expected. In it, Lucy Loverling is a fourteen-year-old girl who looks like a twelve-year-old boy. She’s all of four-foot-eight with a flat chest and a baby face.  Her most treasured friendship is threatened by a new girl in town, and her crush on a mystery boy completely overtakes her thoughts.

Lucy is, for a fourteen-year-old, surprisingly in tune with her emotions. At fourteen (and still sometimes now), I would treat an incoming emotion as something to be battled away, not something to be analyzed and remedied.  Lucy sits down, thinks about it, discusses it with her friends or her psychotherapist mother, or grabs an “Angel Card” (like a box of fortune cookie fortunes) as she comes up with a plan for how to fix it.

But for all of her emotional depth, Lucy is kind of dumb.  Take the best friend theft as an example.  Lucy and Izzie have been best friends forever.  But when new girl Nesta starts hanging out with Izzie, Lucy wants nothing to do with her.  She thinks Nesta is out to ruin her life, maliciously stealing her BFF without a second thought to Lucy.  To the reader, it’s pretty clear that Nesta means no harm. In fact, she invites Lucy to her house, often hangs out with Izzie and Lucy together, and asks Lucy if she can come over.  But Lucy spins everything out of proportion until Nesta is the worst thing that could ever happen to her.

Actually, Lucy spins just about everything out of proportion.  A bad haircut, seeing her crush with another girl, her parents being embarrassing, an essay about what she wants to do with her life – it’s all equally upsetting to Lucy.  I know that this series was written by a grown woman, but it’s almost like what a child thinks it’s like to be a teenager rather than what it actually is.

Or maybe I’m just getting old.  I don’t know.

Another thing that kind of surprised me was Lucy’s quasi-relationship.  Of course, I like to keep my reviews as spoiler-free as possible, so I’m going to try to tread lightly here.  When I first read this book, I thought Lucy’s guy was the cat’s pajamas. The bee’s knees.  Really out of this world.  Oh, if only I could find myself a boy like that, I thought.  But here’s the thing – the whole relationship is a little creepy.  I mean, the guy is three years older than her. He’s considerably more mature.  And not only that, but he’s described as a player who always wants what he can’t have, and the two of them have about five pages of interaction throughout the entire book.  As a former teenage girl, I can understand Lucy’s attraction to him.  He’s cool and cute and mysterious and, hey, I developed crushes on less than that.  But I don’t see why Hopkins put them together.  I’m sorry, but as an adult, it’s weird.  Their relationship develops out of nothing.  When I was younger, I thought it was cool. Now I’m just confused.

This is a really quick read.  It took me a grand total of about two hours to read the entire book, so I can hardly call it a waste of my time.  But I have no desire to re-read the rest of the series, and I’m very sad to find that a book I have such fond memories of hasn’t held up over the years.

For my 2016 reading challenge, I crossed off #4: a book you haven’t read since high school.

(Question: What do people in high school do for this prompt?)

Anyway, final rating: ★★☆☆☆

ARC review: Madly by Ruthie Knox

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Allie Fredericks is supposed to be in Wisconsin, planning her parents’ anniversary party, but her mom just… disappeared. Allie found her in a Manhattan bar with a man who is certainly not her husband, and now she feels obligated to bring her back home and save their family.

Winston Chamberlain didn’t expect, upon walking into the bar, to be swept up in Allie’s messy world, but he can hardly say no when he realizes how much fun she is. As the night goes on, the two have a hard time saying goodbye. They’re such opposites, but maybe they can make something real out of this chance connection.

A couple years ago, I read Ruthie Knox’s Truly, and I literally stayed up until like 4am to finish it. I remember going to work the next day completely bleary-eyed and exhausted, but not regretting a single second of it because that book was seriously good. So when I saw Knox’s Madly pop up on Netgalley, I immediately requested. I was not disappointed.

One of the things I loved about Truly was the Wisconsinite-on-the-East-Coast vibe. That’s alive and well here in Madly since this time, we’re following May’s younger sister, Allie. I loved all the shoutouts to my home state. I loved that Allie isn’t from a big city like Madison or Milwaukee, she’s from Manitowoc!

My only experience with Manitowoc was in the olden days of 2007 when I had a brand new drivers license and my mom sent me up to Wausau from Fond du Lac to visit my grandma. Highway 45 was closed for construction, and I tried to pull out my old-fashioned paper map (since GPS wasn’t as ubiquitous then as it is now), but since I have no sense of direct, I evidently turned east instead of west and ended up in Manitowoc! It was really traumatizing, but I survived. And anyway, that’s my one and only Manitowoc experience. (You’d probably have to pull up Google Maps if you’re not from the area in order to understand how ridiculous this whole scenario was.) Every time Allie mentioned her hometown, it sent me straight back to 2007.

Anyway, Allie and Winston were both really great characters. I was a little worried at first that their relationship was going to start off as a weird drunken hookup while Allie was all sad and vulnerable about her mom running away, but their relationship was actually super cute. They fit together really well, and even though everything happened over a few days, it seemed like it progressed really naturally. I was not bothered at all by the ~15 year age difference, and I loved that Winston was always a gentleman and Allie was a strong, independent, business-savvy woman.

I have to say, I might have loved May and Ben in Truly (and I really did, I have them four stars), but their relationship seemed to be lacking a little in comparison with Allie and Winston. I don’t know if Ruthie Knox’s writing has improved, or if my tastes have changed, but I just really loved Allie and Winston’s relationship. I loved their list and how even though they made the list together, they never pressured each other to cross things off, and the things that they were trying to cross off didn’t always work right away, but they never got mad or impatient with each other.

I liked Winston’s daughter, Bea, and I especially liked that he didn’t pressure her into acting a certain way to appease him. He might be a prim and proper London guy who walks around in expensive suits and silk socks and lives in a really fancy apartment, but he’s totally okay with Bea wearing ripped overalls, walking around covered in paint, with multicolored hair, living in a crappy apartment with too many friends, as long as that makes her happy. I also liked that Bea didn’t create any drama within Winston’s new relationship and actually encouraged it because she wanted her dad to be happy.

This book was honestly close enough to perfect that I cannot give it any less than five stars!

Final rating: ★★★★★

Thank you to Netgalley and Loveswept for the ARC!

Cookbook review: Koreatown by Deuki Hong & Matt Rodbard

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Well, it’s been awhile since I reviewed a cookbook!  I got this one for Christmas, and I read it cover-to-cover that same day.  It made me very hungry, and it really made me want to make an H-Mart run.  (Unfortunately, given the fact that it was Christmas, that was not an option.)

As you might have gathered from my previous reviews, I lived a pretty sheltered childhood.  I didn’t even know what Korean food was until I was about fifteen years old and had a Korean best friend.  She took me to a traditional Korean barbecue held in some girl’s garage. (The girl is actually a semi-famous businesswoman now who has given TED talks and met with President Obama, so that’s pretty cool.)  At the time, I was used to eating some type of roast with some type of potatoes, some kind of frozen vegetable, and some kind of rolls that came out of a tube.  To say these Korean flavors were a shock to my palate would be a serious understatement.

As we moved on to college, I lived with my Korean best friend (or KBF, as the book puts it).  There was this purple Korean restaurant about a mile from our dorm that we went to sometimes.  I loved the bulgogi so much that I never, ever ordered anything else.  (What a shame.)  Sadly, the purple restaurant closed midway through college, and there wasn’t any other good Korean food in town at the time.  (Now there are Korean and Korean fusion food carts all over campus.)

When I moved to New Jersey after college, I fell in love with this little Korean bistro on the outskirts of town.  It was there that I finally had bibimbap, japchae, various types of banchan, kalbi, real ramen, soft tofu stew, and absolutely fell in love with gochujang.  A new Korean friend let me know about a nearby enormous Korean grocery store, and a love affair was born.  I can only apologize to my KBF for not realizing what she had tried to show me earlier.  Korean food is amazing.

So, anyway, I put this Koreatown cookbook on my Christmas list, and hopefully now that I’ve received it, I will be able to cook my own Korean food more often.  Or, at least, be able to cook something more than tteokbokki, which is about the only thing I knew how to make prior to reading this cookbook.

Final rating: ★★★★★

Book review: Roomie Wars by Kat T. Masen

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After her roommate suddenly decides to move in with her boyfriend, leaving her with the remainder of their lease, Zoey decides that enough is enough. She’s done living with fickle women, and she’s going to change her life by looking for a male roommate.  After interviewing a seemingly unending list of men who are either too creepy or too hot to be realistic choices, Zoey finds the perfect roommate in chubby, awkward, pre-med Drew.

Fast forward a number of years, and Drew is smoking hot.  Now a full-fledged doctor, he shed his awkward personality, changed his diet, started working out, and now has a line of women banging down his door.  Zoey, on the other hand, has lost her sparkling personality and gained a lot of weight after the disastrous end to her long-term relationship.  Despite their changes, Zoey and Drew are best friends.

When Zoey needs a date to her coworker Mia’s wedding, of course she asks Drew to pretend to be her boyfriend. But as in any good friends-to-lovers romance, sometimes once you start pretending, it’s hard to stop.

I wanted to like this book.  I wanted to like it so badly, but there was just problem after problem after problem.  The story is good.  And by that, I mean that I can see what the author wanted to do here, and I wholeheartedly approve.  I adore friends-to-lovers romances, and when they start out as roommates, it’s even better.  Her execution, however, was so lacking that I struggled through this book.

If you’re looking for a little background information about me, I majored in Linguistics in college.  Now, in Linguistics, we’re taught to ignore all of the prescriptive rules of grammar that we learned in elementary school and told that if the sentence gets the point across, it’s served its purpose.  I apply this principle to spoken words, not written words.  I certainly do not apply it to a published book that an author expects people to spend money on.

This book needed an editor.  Coincidentally, I also worked as an editor in college.  Throughout this book, I was just itching for my red pen.  It seems that the author could not decide what tense she wanted to write this book in, sometimes changing within the same sentence.

He emerges ten minutes later with a plate of green crap. Settling on the couch beside me, he devours his meal, making these odd sounds. It smelled good but boy did it look like a pile of mush.

(This paragraph not only includes multiple tenses, but is also missing commas and sounds terribly awkward.)

Here’s a tip: If you want to make your book look self-published, if you want to make it feel like it should be a freebie, just forgo editing.  Say, “oh, who cares!” and just publish it without giving it even the most cursory glance.  If you want to make your book look more polished, have an editor take a look.  Can’t afford an editor?  There are numerous people on the internet (myself included) that are SO FED UP with these kinds of mistakes in published works that they would edit it for free.

Anyway, moving on.  Neither Zoey nor Drew are particularly likable characters.

Drew is a womanizer (Zoey often calls him a man whore) who runs at the first sign of commitment.  His longest relationship, if my memory serves me correctly, was four months.  He purposely works long shifts at the hospital to avoid women and can’t even ask his one night stands to leave.  He has Zoey do it.

As for Zoey, she’s so fixated on her ex-boyfriend (who is a horrible, horrible person) that she ignores the rest of her life. When she enlists Drew’s help to make Jess jealous, she stops treating Drew like a friend.  Suddenly, he’s just some hot guy that will make Jess jealous.  She has no regard for Drew’s feelings throughout the entire mess, and when Drew brings that up to her, she actually has the nerve to get offended.

And please, don’t even get me started on the last quarter or so of the book. I’m not going to spoil anything for you, but Zoey could have done literally anything except for what she did.  There are so many things that could have improved her life, and she chose to do that.  It ruined the book for me, even more so than the poor grammar and terrible characters.  It was such a ridiculous thing for her to do in the name of development.

My overall verdict is this: I can see what Masen tried to do here. Tried being the key word. I can’t one-star this (as much as I want to) because she did have good ideas.  The execution is just so, so lacking that I also can’t give it any higher than two stars.

Final rating: ★★☆☆☆