{Review} Hot Mess by Emily Belden

9781525811418.inddUrbanDictionary defines the term “hot mess” as “When one’s thoughts or appearance are in a state of disarray but they maintain an undeniable attractiveness or beauty.” This is Benji Zane in a nutshell. He is an addict, a rockstar chef, and a captivating badboy, who is saved (presumably) from the throes of addiction by the sassy and kind Allie, a young millennial sucked into his world of Instagram-worthy foods and semi-famous thrill rides. To say that I didn’t like this book would be somewhat of a lie, because I stayed up all night reading it. Any book that makes me want to keep reading, despite any misgivings I might have about it, is doing something right. But I have a lot to say about this book, so bear with me on this rant. Don’t worry, I won’t divulge any spoilers.


  • Writing: While I loved Allie’s humor and candidness, I can’t help but revert to my editor brain and cringe when I see slang or abbreviations littered throughout a book. It even made me feel old sometimes (I’m Allie’s age), because there were some terms even I didn’t understand. Is this how millennials talk nowadays? “Wait, I have to ‘gram this,” or “OMG, Benji is bae.” This is just my personal opinion, but I don’t really like it when “text speak” is incorporated into a novel. It makes it feel childish to me, and despite being a millennial myself, I certainly don’t insert hashtags and abbreviations into my prose, because it just screams juvenile to me. But that’s just me. On a good note, the writing was enjoyable and made sense in its context most of the time.
  • Plot: The premise was something out of a rom-com-gone-haywire, which appealed to me, because I rarely pick up light reads like that. However, the plot took forever to kick in and I felt like I was trudging through quicksand for the first 40% of the book, waiting for the story to begin. The first half felt more like a justification of Allie and Benji’s messed up relationship rather than the setup to a story (more on that later) and I got bored for about a hundred pages or so. Now, once the “plot hammer” actually drops and we’re thrust into the actual storyline, the pace picks up and Allie tries to redeem herself, which I did like. The story transforms from a dysfunctional love story to a journey of a young woman forced to deal with the consequences of her own naivete and I loved that. Who hasn’t made mistakes in the name of love? Who hasn’t fallen for the bad boy (or bad girl) and regretted it? But Allie tries to pick up the pieces of her shattered life and build something with them, which I appreciated.
  • Characters: Okay, so I’m going to split this one up into Allie and Benji, because they were the most memorable characters (not for entirely good reasons), and mainly due to the fact that the secondary characters were somewhat unremarkable extras in the “Allie and Benji Show.” I did like Angela, though. She was a badass.
  • Allie: Allie is a kind, smart, and lovely girl. She really is. She’s drawn to Benji Zane like a moth to a flame and she knows that getting involved with this guy is a bad idea, but she does nothing to stop it. Even when he drunkenly posts a semi-naked photo of her to his thousands of followers (oh, yes, social media is the main star of this story), she just goes along with it. He’s an addict? No big deal. He’s a manipulative, selfish man-child? It’s okay, his sexy tattoos and man-bun make up for it. Allie transformed from an educated, independent woman into a doting mother figure to a broken man who doesn’t really want to be saved. She throws her money at him, her time, her life, her love, hoping it will be enough to save him from his addictions. She defends his suspicious behaviors, his mood swings, his flighty nature, and alienates both her own friends and those who are genuinely trying to warn her against him. She’s blinded by the mind-blowing sex and the allure of the rockstar chef that everyone wants to grab a selfie with, and she doesn’t accept that her precious Benji could be using her for his own gain. She’s so naive and blind that it made me hate her. Now onto the star of this shitshow, Benji Zane.
  • Benji: He’s a food prodigy and an addict, who uses his fame and charm to manipulate and use those around him. He’s a special little snowflake who not only doesn’t take “no” for an answer, he doesn’t even ask the damn question. He just decides that this is what’s going to happen and you can either come along for the ride or leave, but Allie, being the besotted fangirl that she is, doesn’t leave. Despite several red flags, warnings, and glaringly obvious signs that he’s relapsed, she is in denial and he adds fuel to that fire at every turn with sex, romantic gestures, and looking sexy. Not to say that addiction is an easy thing to deal with, but as you’re reading about their whirlwind romance, you’re filled with the hope that he will turn a new leaf and live up to the romantic promises he made to Allie. But don’t get your hopes up too much, because he’s a lying, selfish, egotistical man-boy who only uses people’s goodwill and affection to get what he wants. And when the pressure gets too much? Well, bye-bye Benji. Unsurprisingly, he leaves Allie in the weeds after forcing her to cough up 30,000 dollars of her hard-earned money, because the stress of actually doing something worthwhile with his life gets to him and he literally disappears. Benji is a walking, talking piece of crap, basically. He just happens to be charming and hot.


I’m glad that Allie gets her head out of her ass and pulls her shit together after she realizes that Benji is just a manipulative jerk who used her for as long as he could before adulthood caught up with him. But it doesn’t change the fact that I had zero respect or care for either of them while I was reading this story. It was infuriating, to say the least. Paired with the way-too-millennial writing, I would give this book 2 stars. If I ever meet a Benji in real life, I’d probably grab him by his man-bun and smash his head into a wall. The themes of independence and resilience in this story were marred by the sheer naivete and immaturity of their romance and what it did to poor Allie, but at the same time, she kind of put herself in that sinking boat and was just forced to bail herself out, bucket by bucket. This reminded me of Colleen Hoover’s books, where the romantic interest is an all-around horrible person and the girl still falls for him, despite all of his awful qualities and actions. But if you like that sort of thing, then, I guess give this book a shot. The descriptions of the foods were great and made me hungry, so there’s also that. Sorry for the rant, but this book, guys, it just pissed me off half the time. As always, happy reading 🙂


{Review} The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton

https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1516995207l/35879387.jpgOkay, before I begin this review, I should add a trigger warning: There are many references and instances of self-harm in this book, which many might find disturbing or uncomfortable. So, proceed with caution, I guess. Onward!

Spoiler-free Summary:

Nor is a withdrawn and apathetic teenage girl, the youngest in a long line of witches. She lives on the quaint and eccentric little island of Anathema, the very island that her ancestor, Rona Blackburn, cursed more than a century ago. Every Blackburn daughter since Rona herself inherits a magical skill, and Nor is content with her seemingly unremarkable lot. One day, however, her life as she knew it changes with the arrival of a strange book, and she is forced to confront a past, a present, and a future that she has striven to ignore her entire life so far.


  • Plot: I quite liked the premise and the plot of this book. It was a different take on the whole “girl finds out she’s a witch and runs off to face some big evil thing” trope that we’ve seen before. The plot retained a good pace throughout and the characters played their individual roles very well. The writing itself was interwoven with history and this made the story all the more believable and enjoyable.
  • Writing: I didn’t love the writing style. “Nor did this. Nor did that. Nor thought this. Nor walked…” You see where I’m going here. It became somewhat annoying after a while, because after the first couple of chapters, you know exactly who Nor is, how she acts, feels, thinks, so I felt as though there wasn’t really a need to keep telling us who the main character was. There were also many repetitions throughout, mainly the same descriptions of people, things, or peripheral information. For example, Nor waking up to rain falling on her window, and then a couple of chapters later, the exact same sentence is used to describe the exact same scene again. Also, the tidbits at the beginning of each chapter weren’t always relevant to the chapter itself, which, in my opinion, would have been a much more effective use of such additions.
  • Characters: I loved the character of the grandmother, Judd, most of all. She was the most consistent of the bunch. While I liked the secondary characters, the main character, Nor, was a miss for me. She was apathetic to the point where I didn’t care about her at all, and her personality was just repellent at best. I just couldn’t find any redeeming quality that made me like her, and the whole self-harm thing just drove me insane… which brings me to my next point.
  • Self-harm: Nor uses self-harm as a means of escape from her demons, but it also brings her pleasure? Granted, I understand the sensitivity towards such a topic and I also understand that different people have different feelings about something like this, but it was just mentioned so many times that it was all I could associate with Nor. Her way of speaking about it made it seem like a fun little hobby rather than the serious issue that it really is. It was made to sound like it was an okay thing to do as opposed to something that requires serious help with, or at least that was how it came across to me, because there was no real recovery or resolution to it other than Nor deciding “Okay, cool, so I don’t feel like doing that anymore.” It was a really big issue for me with this book and it made me feel uncomfortable.


Honestly, I didn’t hate the story, but I did hate the main character and the weird inclusion of self-harm as something okay. I do understand wanting to be true to the experiences of those who have dealt with self-harm, but I don’t think that glorifying it does them or anyone else any good either. So, based on that, the writing, and the main character being horrendous, I give this book 2 stars. Now, keep in mind, that just because I disliked this book doesn’t mean that you or others won’t love it, so if the premise does appeal to your whimsy, then I suggest you check it out and decide for yourself, because what is literature if not diverse. As always, happy reading! 🙂

{Review} Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie


What’s the real story behind the alleged “return from the dead” of Princess Anastasia? Was Lucrezia Borgia the original mafia princess? Did the Countess Elizabeth Bathory really bathe in young maidens’ blood to maintain her youthful appearance? Was Hatshepsut really the ruthless power-grubbing daughter of an Egyptian god or just a woman with ambitions?

Princesses Behaving Badly is a book that attempts to look past the myths, the legends, and the rumors to find the truth behind it all. With intensive research and a sense of humor, the author tells you the stories of these women without making it feel like you’re sitting in the back of your high school history class counting the ceiling tiles. Some of the stories are long, some are short, and some leave you with a sense of mystery and wonder, which I love, personally.

It’s a far (and very welcome) cry from your typical Disney princesses and damsels in distress, as many of these women were warriors, mothers, entrepreneurs, victims, and heroes. This book crushes the stereotype of the “pretty, perfect princess” by showing the reader that these women, whom history has mitigated to a passing adage, scary anecdote, or neglected footnote, were so much more than that. They were good, bad, ugly, pretty, smart, not-so-smart, and everything in between. Some even suffered from mental illness, while others were just plain mean. It was fascinating to read these stories and learn more about these women that I’d only heard of or seen depictions of on TV, and I think it’s so important to set history right. Also, side note, Hatshepsut was a badass. Just sayin’.

All of these historic women have left a mark on the world, whether it was a stain or a gold star, but has history twisted their stories? Did the recorders of history (read: old, male curmudgeons) ignore the truths behind some of these stories in order to paint some of these women as heartless villains, insatiable temptresses, and cruel lunatics? You’ve probably even seen some imposter princesses on the news in the past few years as well (for example, the royal antics of one Antoinette Millard back in the early 2000s, who wasn’t a royal at all) and wondered what the heck they were thinking. But the topic of wayward royalty is a perpetual source of curiosity in the world, because their escapades and scandals are somehow captivating to the general masses. This book challenges our collective “image” of princesses in the best possible way.

Honestly, the only negative thing I have to say about this book is that there were a couple of typos and some of the source quotes were a bit sexist… which actually makes sense, since most historians or pseudo-historians back in the day were sexist old men. So, not really the author’s fault, but a sign of objective and truthful research. I did love her jabs at these guys, though, and the humor added an entertaining element to the book as a whole. All in all, I give this book 4 stars and if you’re a fan of history, princesses, and badass women (or just want something interesting to read that’s still entertaining), I wholeheartedly recommend this book. Happy reading!

P.S. Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie comes out on March 6th, 2018!

*Thank you to NetGalley and Quirk Books for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review*


{A Literary Love Letter} The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson

We need to talk about this book and its author. I am still not over this book and this review is more like a love letter to its magnificence than anything. Seriously, it’s that good.

As a classicist at heart, discovering new favorites is a rare occurrence. Despite having plunged into the sometimes murky and cliche-infested waters of YA fiction in recent years, I am still a die-hard lover of literary fiction and authors whose works are both timeless and outstanding. Enter, Stage Right, Mr. Denis Johnson, an American author and playwright with a slew of critically acclaimed books, who sadly passed away in May of last year. I hadn’t heard of Denis Johnson before last month, mainly due to the fact that I suck at crawling out from underneath my literary rock (what is wrong with me?!). I love so many legendary American writers, Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Capote, etc., but it’s rare for me to step outside of my 20th century bubble when it comes to great literature. Denis Johnson was introduced to me through a fellow classics aficionado on Bookstagram, and after hearing about the power and beauty of this man’s words, I knew I had to read something of his.

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden is a short story collection (2018), his first since the success that was Jesus’ Son (1992), and upon opening that first page, I had no idea that I was about to fall in love. It is commonly known that I am a Joycean, i.e. an obsessive fan of James Joyce, and that obsession makes me judge literary fiction with a wry and cynical approach, often comparing other authors to my beloved James. I know, I know; it’s not fair to compare different styles and genres to a single specific one that I happen to love with the fervor of a religious zealot, but it’s more like: “Did they make me feel the same way his works did? Did they make me fall in love with their words, characters, and stories? Did they make me want to read this again and again, just to relive certain moments?”

That hasn’t happened in nearly a decade, since I discovered James Joyce 11 years ago. But it happened this month when I read this book. The Largesse of the Sea Maiden had me hooked from the first line and with every page, Johnson sunk that hook deeper and deeper into my gut. I laughed, I cried, I smiled, I was confused, surprised, elated, contented, bereft, heartbroken. I was an emotional mess throughout this book. With a style that is wholly unique, Johnson manages to hold your mind, heart, and soul hostage with his words. Whether it’s the story of an addict trying to stay sane while he’s in rehab, of a poet who is weirdly obsessed with Elvis conspiracies, or of a man questioning his life as he trudges through it day by day; it is written with such a masterful hand that you can’t help but continue reading.

His writing style itself is simple yet nuanced, raw yet beautiful, direct yet haunting. There is a slight tinge of stream-of-consciousness, which I absolutely adored (because, duh Joyce), and yet everything melded together so perfectly that it was like watching one wave curl into another and another, until you were lost in his ocean of words. The stories themselves deal with so many themes, such as death, guilt, loss, the mysteries of the universe itself manifesting themselves in a single life. It’s as if every character leaps out of the page, sits down beside you, and tells you their story. If you asked me to pick a favorite, I couldn’t. Each story reads like a short novel, full of purpose and meaning, not once dropping the ball on character development, plot execution, or immaculate writing. With moments that reminded me of Faulkner, others that reminded me of Joyce, I realized halfway through the first story that this writer was a master of storytelling. I had to force myself to put this down to do basic human things like eat and sleep. I was enthralled and still am.

Without a doubt, I’ll be buying the rest of Johnson’s bibliography, because this book was incredible. If you are a fan of literary fiction or simply a fan of great writing in general, then I would wholeheartedly recommend this book. In other words, please read this book. It is amazing. If I could give it 5 million stars, I would, but I’ll settle for 5 stars and I could continue gushing about it for the next ten years, but you get the picture. I’m so grateful to have discovered this author’s voice, albeit a little late, but he just scored a place in my top five favorite authors list. Better late than never, amirite? Also, I just ordered myself a copy of another Johnson masterpiece. As always, happy reading!


{Book Review} Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg, Laura Whitcomb, & Camille Goldin


Most, if not all, writers write because they need to write. It’s not a choice, but a calling that cannot be ignored. With that in mind, many writers toil away in their pajamas, nursing their fifteenth cup of coffee, and bleed their souls onto screen or paper with one hope: to be a published author. It’s the ultimate dream, isn’t it? I can tell you that it’s been my dream since I was six years old. But how do you get from an idea to a published novel? It’s not like you can walk up to a stranger on a bench and ask them “Hey, um, do you know how I can get a publishing deal” as if you’re asking them for directions. Well, this book breaks down the entire process for you, from start to finish. That’s not to say that it’s the greatest book on the craft and profession of writing that I’ve ever read, but it’s still pretty good.


The great thing about this book is the fact that it’s so comprehensive. It covers the entirety of the publication process, from finding your idea and turning it into a published book. I loved the advice, tips, and some of the exercises included throughout the book, as well as the writing style and approach of all the contributors. It was especially useful since I have just started planning my second novel (while trudging through the quagmire of editing my first one), and it gave me plenty of motivation and guidance on how to approach this new project.

However, since the book is written by a published author and two agents, it is heavily biased towards traditional publishing. This was my main issue. Indie and self-publishing get a couple of mentions, but are presented as being not as great or as glamorous as traditional publishing.

Well, what’s wrong with that, isn’t traditional publishing bigger and better anyway, you ask? While it’s true that traditional publishing has farther reach, better marketing and distribution, and seemingly unlimited resources, it is a highly exclusive and persnickety industry. How many books from authors outside of the US and UK do you see in a bookstore? On your bookshelf? At the library? While, of course, anyone from any country with a voice and a story to tell can land a publishing deal and get their books to eager readers all over the world, it’s harder to do that with one of the Big Five (please tell me your secrets). It can happen, but it’s a rare occurrence, to say the least.

This is starting to sound like a rant, but it’s an honest review of how this book made me feel as both a writer and a reader. Despite being extremely helpful with regards to planning and writing your first novel, this book felt a bit biased to me as an international writer. It made me feel like if you’re not American or British (or planning on moving to the US or UK any time soon), then you have no chance of getting published, which kind of defeated the purpose of it being helpful to all aspiring writers. There a couple hundred countries in the world, so why limit the successful pursuit of publication to a select few? Don’t get me wrong; I love countless authors spanning different genres and decades, but they also span the globe.

Like I said, this book was great in terms of practical advice and guidance, so it gets 3 stars for that and the countless recommended books on writing (which were awesome choices and can be purchased online if they’re not locally available to you). If anything, this book made me even more hellbent on getting published one day, whether it’s in Oklahoma or Timbuktu. Your First Novel comes out on February 16th, 2018. As always, happy reading, and to my fellow writers, happy writing!

*Thank you to NetGalley, F+W Media, and Writers Digest Books for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review*