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Vacation In Review

Hey dolls! So, I finally, finally took the vacation I said I was going to take in the spring, but ended up never taking. Squee. It was much, much needed after a grueling writing schedule this summer. And the fact that I – at most – take off two days a month. So I was starting to run on empty, to be perfectly honest. It was time to fill back up.

I had compiled an ambitious vacation TBR, planned to host my best friend overnight, get my bedroom done, watch a few movies and a show based on a book I read. And just… relax, decompress, avoid anything even remotely work-related. And instead of giving you a dozen mini updates, I figured I would put it all in one big blog post.

So, as it should always be, BOOKS GO FIRST.

BOOKS.

So, I don’t have a single romance on this list. The only way I can explain this is… Have you ever loved something a lot – say… donuts or pizza – and then you went to work at a place that has donuts or pizza… and lets you eat as much as you want. To the point where you kinda just… can’t eat donuts or pizza anymore. Not forever, but for a while. That is what it is like – for me – with writing and reading romance. So I needed a bit of a break from the genre.

My TBR was:

The Silence of the Girls
Vox
Open Me
Red Clocks
The Lost Queen
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter
Hidden Bodies
And I Darken
The Shape of Water
The Romanov Empress

I did NOT finish all of these, but I got a good chunk read. Read below for reviews*

“YOU” and “HIDDEN BODIES” by Caroline Kepnes

Technically, I read “Hidden Bodies” before my vacation began, but it would be hard to review “Hidden Bodies” without reviewing the first book. *

NOW. These are very polarizing reads. You will love them or you will hate them, and there seems to be almost no one in between. I, for one, LOVED “You,” but hated “Hidden Bodies”. I buddy-read these with my bestie because we heard it/they were being made into a TV series (I will review that later in this post as well).

For those who don’t know the premise of these books – we follow Joe who is a humble bookshop employee who one day meets a woman. Beck. And, well, we learn that Joe is not just a normal bookshop employee. Oh, no. He is an obsessive stalker. And it is GOOD. Twisted, scary, but so fucking good. It was all told in Joe’s POV. And it is almost all internal monologue. But I couldn’t get enough of being in this sick man’s head. It was fantastic. As you guys know, I am a SHAMELESS book skimmer. I hate unnecessary crap in my books. So I skim when it shows up. I think it says something that I did not skim YOU at all. Now, I was okay with how “You” ended. I would have been fine if the whole story ended there. But there was one little loose end from it that made it clear that things were going to hit the fan in the second book. I was so excited to start. And the beginning was great. Then it floundered. Then it took a nosedive and turned into a complete disappointment for me. Can’t win them all, I guess!

THE SHAPE OF WATER” – Daniel Kraus

Originally, this movie was on my list for my vacation. But then I was browsing the book section at Target and realized there was a book. So, of course, I had to read it before the movie.

The premise of this book is about a mute woman who works at a government facility as a janitor. When one day, they bring in a reptilian fish man who they start doing experiments on and for whom she begins to develop feelings for.

Okay, so. I have to admit, there was a bit of disappointment in this for me. Butttttt… only because I had expected the plot to be mostly about Elisa and her reptile-man. It was not. But if you take away that expectation, this was a great book. We have six? Main characters. Or so. There were quite a few. Elisa, the mute. The reptile-man. The man who tracked down the reptile-man, his wife, the scientist who is also a Russian spy, and Elisa’s neighbor. Each character was completely fleshed out and individual – which is impressive with such a large cast in a somewhat short book. The plot moved very quickly. It has a satisfying ending. I really enjoyed it. I would put it around a 4.25-ish.

THE SILENCE OF THE GIRLS” – Pat Barker

I was so excited for this book. After reading “Circe” earlier this year, I really got a taste for mythological retellings. This story is, essentially, a retelling of the Fall of Troy myth. And, yes, we hear about Helen in passing. We know Achilles. We even know Agamemnon. BUT.. this (like Circe) isn’t a book about the men. This is a book about the women. The “silent” women in the middle of these wars of men. Most specifically, Briseis who had been the queen of Asia Minor at the time that Achilles came to her land, slaughtering her husband and brothers while she watched. And was then taken as a spoil of war back to Mycenae.

Not for the faint of heart, this book is unflinchingly honest about how women are traded as slaves between men, used as they saw fit. We are not spared from the details here.

Briseis, former queen, now slave, is given to Achilles. There is no love there. Just duty. Just a body he used when the mood struck. When she is taken by Agamemnon, Achilles takes it as a insult, and refuses to fight in the war anymore. And, unfortunately for Briseis, Agamemnon is not as “kind” as Achilles was to her. She even needed a dose or two from the goose-fat-jar. Cringe.

While ninety-nine percent of the book is about the lives of the slaves and their brutal new realities, Briseis is eventually given a sort of happily ever after. Well, as happily as women of the time were allowed to have.

I really enjoyed it. Did it QUITE live up to my expectations? No. But my expectations were sky-high. I still really enjoyed it. And recommend it for those who enjoy female-driven mythological retellings.

VOX” – Christina Dalcher

So, I subscribe to the Oprah Magazine. Not really to ever even read the articles lol, but because of the book section. Some months – even several months in a row – the choices suck. But then, oh, then, there are months that make it all worth it. The month I found “Vox” (and a few others) was proof of this. I was so excited that I had to include it in Liam and Riley’s book (“What the Heart Learns.”)

Who is this for? Anyone who likes female-driven “burn this mother fucker down” stories. Anyone who liked “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

Who ISN’T this for? Conservative or right-wing-leaning readers.

“Vox” is a sort of modern-day dystopia in which a misogynistic president is elected to The White House. He is heavily influenced by a toxic religious leader. This eventually – through a series of events – leads to women getting “bracelets” (called so by the leaders), or as the women who wear them call them “counters.” Women – and girls – only get to speak 100 words a day. If they go over, their “bracelets” will give them insanely painful shocks. Pre-marital sex is outlawed. So is being gay. Birth control. Abortions. Those who refuse to conform are publicly humiliated and sent to spend the rest of their lives in work camps. Men become sole breadwinners. Boys are raised to believe all women must be silent, baby-popping housewives. The girls are barely taught to count, and spend their school days learning to cook, clean, and take care of babies.
At the center of this, we have our heroine. Jean used to be a linguist, a scientist, a woman of WORDS. Reduced to almost none. She has three sons and a daughter.

Now, eventually, Jean is asked to help cure the president who suddenly comes down with aphasia (speaking jibberish, even though the brain is working properly). This eventually leads to a woman, well, burning this mother fucker down.

But before that, there is this woman adjusting to her new reality. Watching horrors take place around her. Wishing she’d listened to her old friend who used to tell her that women were slowly being oppressed by the government, that she needed to get active, vote, oppose it. But she didn’t. And now this is her life. And her son is being a misogynistic piece of shit lol. And that was perhaps the most interesting part to me, watching Jean have to REMIND HERSELF that she doesn’t hate her son as he condescends to her, as he tells her she is a lesser person than he and his father, as he snitches on those not following rules, leading them to being sent to the work camps. “I don’t hate my son. I don’t hate my son.” But she does a little. And, really, who can blame her in her reality? That, and watching her dislike her “good” but, well, seeming giant pussy of a husband, was perhaps the best parts of this book. Not the grand end to it all (though that was good as well).

I do have a minor complaint. The whole book up until the action of the end was nearly flawless. BUT, the author’s history in “flash fiction” is very, very clear in the end because where we WANT details, we want the suspense, the fear, the excitement, we get almost none of it. It feels a bit rushed.

That being said, another of my absolute favorite books of this year. I loved it.

THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCHEMIST’S DAUGHTER” – Theodora Goss

So, this is like all the classic horror stories from female perspectives. The heroine is the daughter of Dr. Jekyll, then there is Hyde’s daughter, then Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein. Sherlock and Watson also make an appearance. Now, I really liked this. I ALWAYS love retellings from the female perspective. And I adore historical of all kinds. Now, did that mean I was glued to the page? Actually, no. There were times when I could put this down for days and kinda forget about it. But when I picked it up again, I was pulled right in. Sometimes some books are like that for me – great, but take me a long time to read. I will likely read the next in the series eventually 🙂

OPEN ME” – Lisa Locascio

“Open Me” is another book from the Oprah magazine. I dragged my feet with this one because I honestly had no idea what to expect except for a young American woman going to Copenhagen and having what sounded like an unhappy affair with a man named Søren. And that uncertainty just made me trepidatious.

I’m glad I finally picked it up. Now, that doesn’t mean I loved it. But it does mean I found myself drawn back to it. Unlike “The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter” which I often put down and forgot about for a day or two, I read this one in two sittings because I had to know where it was going.

It is not a romance. The affair was, indeed, unhappy, as I expected. Which is fine by me. I think we tend to learn a lot about ourselves through our relationships with others – both platonic and romantic. My biggest issue with this book is that our heroine, Roxana, is no one. She loses herself in men, but never learns from it. At the end of the book – just as the same as the beginning – she is nobody. She has no actual personality. And for a “coming of age” story, that just… doesn’t compute.

It was also, honestly, gross in parts lol. I am all for owning your body and your sexuality, but there were many passages that were just… icky. Like not the sex. There were parts where Roxana doesn’t shower for days on end because she enjoys her new scent. And, no, I don’t mean b.o. YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN, DON’T MAKE ME SAY IT lol. Just… blech. Disgusting. And completely unnecessary.

That being said, I really enjoyed the style. I liked the political aspect – though I think it is misleading that the blurb and the ‘professional’ reviews call this a political novel. It’s not. It just touches on the subject of a deep prejudice some – not all, but some – Danes feel toward immigrants. I liked that the racism and xenophobia were addressed. It gave some depth to an otherwise somewhat shallow story.

I don’t know how to rate this one. Like many debut novels, it had a lot of potential that didn’t get explored. It could have used an extra 75 pages of plot (and you guys know me, I NEVER say that lol). So, while I never actually rate something less than 4 stars, preferring to leave the star part blank on review sites instead, I would say this was a solid… 3.25.

RED CLOCKS” – Leni Zumas

I heard RAVES about this one on all the booktubers I follow (Yes, booktubers. They’re my guilty pleasure lol). For many, this was the “book of the year.” And while it was really great, the style was a bit too unusual for me to genuinely call it the “book of the year.”

This book takes place just slightly in the future where abortion is illegal and so is in vitro fertilization. And it follows four women caught in the middle of this. A single woman in her 40s who desperately wants to have a baby, a teenager who finds herself accidentally pregnant, an unhappy housewife, and a “mender” who lives in the woods and does herbal medicine.

A book that LITERALLY turns into a witch hunt based on fear and ignorance, and intertwines all these women’s lives in a fiercely political book full of poignant characters, heartbreaking scenarios, and brutally descriptive ugliness.

You will not love this book. You are not MEANT to love this book. It is meant to piss you off, to make you think. It is a book about injustice, about suffering, about how women – and their bodies – have always been on trial, about how they have never truly been given the full, undeniable right to choose how to govern their own bodies.

And, yes, that is a vulva on the cover lol.

NOW – onto movies and TV.

I totally expected to spend a lot of time catching up on movies and TV shows. Turns out, nah, not really lol. I managed to watch “The Shape of Water,” “The Greatest Showman,” “Little Women,” and “You” (the Lifetime series based on the book.

THE SHAPE OF WATER – This was beautiful. I wish it was longer. I wish it included the unhappy wife who was, in my opinion, the best part of the book. All in all, though, I really enjoyed it. And, fuck man, kudos for all the on-screen female masturbation. #GetItGirl

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN – I expected to love this. First, it is a period piece – which I love. Second, it is a musical – which I SUPER love. But, holy hell did I hate this lol. After hearing all the rave reviews for it, I was sure this was going to be the greatest musical in the past like twenty years. But, quite frankly, I think freaking REPO: the Genetic Opera was better than this and that was a campy, low budget, goth-opera. First, okay, I’ll admit it. I don’t like Hugh Jackman. I know, unpopular opinion. Second, I wanted more with the “freaks,” who were the only thing I liked about this movie. For me, personally, the songs were forgettable. I didn’t add a single one to my Spotify. And I am someone who has all the Grease 2 songs on my iPod, people, so my standards aren’t that high lol. I dunno, this just didn’t hit a single one of my buttons.

LITTLE WOMEN (Masterpiece version) – So, the Hollywood little women, in my personal opinion, is one of the best retellings I’ve seen on screen. The casting was PERFECT (save for the professor. Gr). That being said, you can’t go into this one comparing the two. First, the casting wasn’t the same level of star power. Actually, I barely knew any of these people from anything else. That said, I loved the choices. I think Meg was much better in this one. I thought the professor was perfect. As was Mr. Brooke.

I also think this was a tad more true to the book. We get a deeper look into some things (since this was longer than the Hollywood version). And we don’t “ship” Laurie and Jo so much here, likely do to the actress’s ability to genuinely see that Jo just sees Laurie as a brother, which wasn’t the case int he Hollywood version. The ending with Jo and the professor and them opening an all- boys school also was much easier to swallow here. It didn’t feel as forced and awkward. Yes, of course, Jo was NEVER supposed to end up with anyone. Louisa wanted her to be single. The publishers forced the HEA on her. But still, you are much more okay with it here.

Beth is still such a sad subject. And we get MORE Beth here. Which I liked. For someone who was always around, in the Hollywood version, we didn’t get to know her as much. She was fully explored here.

So, yeah, I liked this a lot. Will I watch it AS much as the Hollywood version? Probably not. But it was really well done.

YOU – The TV show – I expected this to blow lol. It’s Lifetime. And I’ve seen enough cheesy Lifetime movies to expect next to nothing from this one. Buuuuut. I was blown away actually. The casting was great. The quality was phenomenal. And, holy hell, they got pretty explicit for Lifetime! Cursing, masturbation, sex, it had it all. Hell, it was so good I wonder if maybe Lifetime can save the shitshow of the second book and make it into something great… #OneCanHope.

———— Other stuff ————

So that was all I had for my reviews. I didn’t read NEARLY as much as I thought I would. Or watch as much. In fact, I did a lot of sitting around doing nothing, to be perfectly honest. I think, after such a crazy year, I honestly needed nothing. I needed to decompress. I was not in the best place the last few months. I was anxious and depressed and riddled with insecurity and frustration. For many reasons. I overworked myself with my nuts writing schedule this summer and fall. I wasn’t taking care of myself – feeding myself properly or getting any kind of exercise at all. I was riddled with guilt because I wasn’t spending enough time with the pups and birds. And I just had that looming “2018 was supposed to be my year” feeling as we barreled closer to the end of the year. I had been so sure of it back in the early months of 2018. I had this gut sensation that something was going to happen to change the (as I only half-jokingly put it) my “black hole of obscurity” where most readers don’t know I exist. And as I put more and more books out and it didn’t happen, I could feel the crush of that disappointment.

I needed the time away to get some clarity. And maybe a bit more sanity back lol. And that did happen. While my anxiety got progressively worse through my vacation (idle minds are not great for peeps like us), I also found a bit more of an inner calm. Because, no, I didn’t become a “big name” this year. But I got more readers. I got more sales. I made PROGRESS. And progress is what is important. Someday, I will be a name people outside of our little circle recognize. That’s not today. But that’s okay. And I genuinely DO feel okay about that. I just needed that time – that space away – to get that perspective.

I meal prepped and froze things for my writing spell. I shopped and bought things to decorate with for Christmas. I had my bestie come visit for a day/night. I GOT MY ROOM DONE! Well, mostly. I need to get a few more plants into place and get the rest of my wall art up, but it is so close I can taste it. I did not – by any means – get to work on my closet office (I have two walk-in closets. And since I don’t even have enough clothes to half fill ONE walk-in closet, the other one was going to be turned into a small office). But not getting it done was half because I decided after all not to make this into an office. I have the library. I don’t need another work area. So now I am debating my options as what to make it into. A kitchenette so when there is company and I look like a swamp creature, I don’t have to go downstairs to get coffee or a snack? An area to make into a recording space to fulfill a dream of being a booktuber myself? Something else? I don’t know! But I love the potential. And I do know one thing – it is getting painted “Georgian Pink.”

I am sharing a few pics of the bedroom. The wall with the clock is going to get some more art to make it more into a gallery wall. The curtain rods have plants hanging from the ends in macrame holders (I just didn’t get around to taking new pics yet). And I have about a dozen more plants to move in (#crazyplantlady). But you can get a general idea of what it looks like 🙂

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All in all, I am so glad I finally took this vacation. I needed it more than I even knew. It was a true example of that phrase, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” And my cup WAS empty. It was bone-dry. Getting to read, to watch things, to relax, to fill back up, was so vital to my mental health, for one, but also my work. Which I need to get back to now instead of prattling on in this endless blog entry lol.

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