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Another Win for the STEMinists! 🧪: TEN TRENDS TO SEDUCE YOUR BEST FRIEND | Review

“Be yourself as a fully realized, three-dimensional woman, do the things I know you enjoy and also be a scientist. It doesn’t have to be fashion and makeup, it can be video games and running, or dancing challenges and DIY projects. You can be a person and a woman and a scientist, you can show all sides. And in doing so, you can reach an audience that never would’ve considered the fact that being both—being yourself and being a scientist—is actually possible.”

Title: Ten Trends to Seduce Your Best Friend

Author: Penny Reid

Rating: ★★★★1/2☆

Summary: Winnifred Gobaldi and Byron Visser are not best friends.

Yes, they’ve known each other for years, but they’re not even friendly. Winnie considers them more like casual, distant acquaintances who find each other barely tolerable, especially when he’s being condescending (which is all the time).

The truth is, they have nothing in common. She’s a public school science teacher with stars in her eyes, and he’s a pretentious, joyless double PhD turned world-famous bestselling fiction author. She loves sharing her passion for promulgating women in STEM careers and building community via social media, and he eschews all socialization, virtual or otherwise. She’s looking for a side hustle to help pay down a mountain of student debt, and his financial portfolio is the stuff of fiduciary wet dreams. So why are they faking a #bestfriend relationship for millions of online spectators?

When a simple case of tit-for-tat trends between nonfriends leads to a wholly unexpected kind of pretend, nothing is simple. Sometimes, it takes a public audience to reveal the truth of private feelings, and rarely—very rarely—you should believe what you see online. (Goodreads)

Winnie has a shot at a new job as a community manager for a STEM based nonprofit, which means she has a chance to actually make some money. As an avid social media user, Winnie has carved out a small piece of the Internet to share her love of science, but to get the job her best friend insists she needs to add to her repertoire. And what better way to attract girls and women to science that participating in girly interests and fun trends?

Enter Byron Visser. After a disastrous attempt to film challenge videoes with a mutual friend, Byron gets frustrated and volunteers to be ab example. What no one realizes at the time is Winnie’s best friend, Amelia, accidentally live streamed their trial, and their chemistry caused it to go viral.

Now Winnie and Byron have to navigate their complicated feelings or attraction and frustration while filming challenges that make it look like they’re falling in love.

I might have majored in English, but I have a love of science, too! I especially loved chemistry, but the math and experiments couldn’t lure me from my love of books and everything about them. The fact that there are romance books out there that incorporate science and romance just make me so bubbly inside.

I wouldn’t describe this book as enemies to lovers simply because Winnie might think Byron doesn’t like her, but he does. So much. He’s just not great at reading social cues or expressing himself. It’s definitely a grumpy x sunshine book though! Winnie feels so genuine; she’s passionate and does things out of love rather than for any sort personal gain. She’s quirky, but not in an overly annoying way. Byron, however, is the complete opposite of Winnie. He’s a gifted writer with multiple degrees, two PhDs, and a bestselling book series. It’s not explicitly stated, but heavily implied that Byron has a form of autism. He doesn’t like people and fully believes people should work their wage.

They shouldn’t work, but they make the other better. Winnie makes Byron want to explore things outside of his comfort zone while Byron makes Winnie consider her needs and wants before those of the people around her all the time.

While the grumpy x sunshine trope is important, Reid is heavily dependent on the miscommunication trope. Byron can be a little too serious, a little too direct, whereas Winnie can be joking and non confrontational. It leads to a lot of moments where they aren’t on the same page and they’re really talking about two separate things, which leads to more messy conversations.

Byron and Winnie both have their own baggage which further affects how they treat each other and what they believe the other feels about them, and it’s made all the more complicated with the TikTok challenges they have to film. They have to pretend to be best friends falling in love while pretending they’re not friends in love. It’s a complicated scenario! I personally really loved the TikTok challenge aspect of the story and would have loved if there was more of a focus on them rather than as passing moments or triggers for a different plot point.

The only thing that irked me was that we don’t actually get to read about them sleeping together! They’re both virgins, and this book is by no means closed door, so I don’t know why Reid dragged out the actual sex and didn’t follow through on it. I felt strung along! There were lots of moments where it was implied the sex would be mind boggling, like dirty talk and foreplay, but nothing ever actually happens on page, and I found that to be a massive letdown, especially considering there was so much buildup for the moment. It would’ve been a great opportunity to show how far Byron and Winnie have come since thinking they hated each other, to overcoming their relationship stop ups, and confronting their feelings and efforts. A fully missed opportunity!

Either way, this book made me giggle and kick my feet. I’m already planning my next Penny Reid read! I’m sensing a new favorite a la Ali Hazelwood.

Flowers & Wine Over Everything: SECRETLY YOURS 💐🍷| Review

“It’s not every day a girl gets a second shot at kissing her lifelong crush.”

Title: Secretly Yours

Author: Tessa Bailey

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Summary: A steamy new rom-com about a starchy professor and the bubbly neighbor he clashes with at every turn…

Hallie Welch fell hard for Julian Vos at fourteen, after they almost kissed in the dark vineyards of his family’s winery. Now the prodigal hottie has returned to their small town. When Hallie is hired to revamp the gardens on the Vos estate, she wonders if she’ll finally get that smooch. But the grumpy professor isn’t the teenager she remembers and their polar opposite personalities clash spectacularly. One wine-fueled girls’ night later, Hallie can’t shake the sense that she did something reckless–and then she remembers the drunken secret admirer letter she left for Julian. Oh shit.

On sabbatical from his ivy league job, Julian plans to write a novel. But having Hallie gardening right outside his window is the ultimate distraction. She’s eccentric, chronically late, often literally covered in dirt–and so unbelievably beautiful, he can’t focus on anything else. Until he finds an anonymous letter sent by a woman from his past. Even as Julian wonders about this admirer, he’s sucked further into Hallie’s orbit. Like the flowers she plants all over town, Hallie is a burst of color in Julian’s gray-scale life. For a man who irons his socks and runs on tight schedules, her sunny chaotic energy makes zero sense. But there’s something so familiar about her… and her very presence is turning his world upside down.

I received a copy from Edelweiss & Avon Books in exchange for a honest review.

This was my first Tessa Bailey book, and to be honest it wasn’t much to write home about. It felt disjointed, like the secret admirer aspect was a subplot, rather than the focal point.

Hallie Welch has harbored a lifelong crush on Julian Vos for 15 years. It’s not so much that she’s been holding an unrequited flame but more that no one else has managed to snag her attention. However, when she finds out the prodigal wine heir is back, all those feelings rush to the forefront again and Hallie does something so quintessentially her: act reckless. While she finds some solace in the secret love letters, she’s feeling unmoored by the recent death of her grandmother and the failing of her grandmother’s favorite wine shop, and she isn’t sure that Julian can help.

Julian is taking a much needed sabbatical from his professorship to finish writing a book. His rigidly scheduled days are thrown into the chaos, however, with the appearance of Hallie. Always late and covered in dirt and clothed in distractingly short shorts, Julian gravitates to her against his own will.

The two are polar opposites, but they can’t help fuel the flames they feel between each other, even if it means being self-critical and changing for the better.

The best I can describe this book is “meh.” The dirty talk was phenomenal, and the sex was steamy, but those scenes kind of took a backseat to the rest of the story. I was all aboard for the sending the hit professor love letters thing, it Julian being a professor isn’t even that pertinent. And, shockingly, neither are the letters.

Julian and Hallie have a relationship outside of the letters because she’s working on the Vos gardens. She writes one letter in a drunken moment and before she can get it back Julian has already found it. Over the course of the entire book there are only three letters exchanged. It felt like the wine was the real plot of the book. Julian’s family’s vineyard is struggling because of a fire some years ago and Hallie is obsessed with making sure the wine shop her grandmother frequented stays open in the face of new competition. There’s a wine festival where Julian and Hallie grow closer, and there’s even a wine tasting they go to for a date.

Basically, wine is more important than the letters, so it felt misleading to have this book titled and based around letters that seem like a throw away plot point. If Bailey removed them entirely, the story would still progress in much the same way. You could argue that the letters helped to facilitate growth on both Julian and Hallie’s parts, but really the reason Hallie even wrote the letter in the first place is because she’s already aware of things she could change to better her life, and the same can be said for Julian. Just knowing each other and seeing how different they are is what facilitates their self-reflection.

I also didn’t particularly care for the characters. I thought they came across as a little flat; there isn’t anything deeper than one flaw Bailey obsessive focuses on. For Hallie it’s her flightiness, and for Julian it’s his need for everything to be planned down to the exact minute. The sole reason they aren’t together is because they think their differences are to great to overcome or work on. It’s very flat and I really just found them boring. I thought Bailey was also going out of her way to make Hallie overly quirky and it was cringey.

It wasn’t bad, but it was a disappointing first impression.

A Tried and True Formula: LOVE, THEORETICALLY | Review

“I’m a mess. A work in progress. I’m two steps forward and one step back. I hoard my cheese, and I can’t efficiently load the dishwasher, and I’m going to struggle with the truth until the day I croak. Jack knows all of this, and he loves me. Not anyway, but because.”

Title: Love, Theoretically

Author: Ali Hazelwood

Rating: ★★★★1/2☆

Summary: Rival physicists collide in a vortex of academic feuds and fake dating shenanigans in this delightfully STEMinist romcom from the New York Times bestselling author of The Love Hypothesis and Love on the Brain.

The many lives of theoretical physicist Elsie Hannaway have finally caught up with her. By day, she’s an adjunct professor, toiling away at grading labs and teaching thermodynamics in the hopes of landing tenure. By other day, Elsie makes up for her non-existent paycheck by offering her services as a fake girlfriend, tapping into her expertly honed people pleasing skills to embody whichever version of herself the client needs.

Honestly, it’s a pretty sweet gig—until her carefully constructed Elsie-verse comes crashing down. Because Jack Smith, the annoyingly attractive and broody older brother of her favorite client, turns out to be the cold-hearted experimental physicist who ruined her mentor’s career and undermined the reputation of theorists everywhere. And that same Jack who now sits on the hiring committee at MIT, right between Elsie and her dream job.

Elsie is prepared for an all-out war of scholarly sabotage but…those long, penetrating looks? Not having to be anything other than her true self when she’s with him? Will falling into an experimentalist’s orbit finally tempt her to put her most guarded theories on love into practice? (Goodreads)

I received a copy from Edelweiss & Berkeley publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Elsie Hannaway is this close to getting a job at MIT. She’s this close to leaving the world of adjunct professorship and this close to getting health insurance.

The only thing standing in her way is Jonathan Smith-Turner, an experimental physicist that has a penchant against theoretical physicists. She’s hated Jonathan Smith-Turner since she was a teenager and she is not about to let him phase her during her final three day interview.

What Elsie doesn’t know though is that Jonathan Smith-Turner is the full legal name of Jack Smith, and he knows her as his brother’s librarian girlfriend. It’s fake, but he doesn’t know that, and is immediately resentful she’s lying to his baby brother.

Despite the troubled history with Jack and Elsie, there’s an undeniable attraction that startles them both. But is loving Jonathan Jack Smith-Turner worth turning her back on everything she once believed?

Listen. I know people are complaining because Ali Hazelwood writes basically the same story over and over again but you know what? I eat it up every single time! She started as a fanfiction author, she knows what she’s good at, has mastered certain tropes, and everything she writes is still highly entertaining! Besides, the plots might be similar but the characters always feel newer; less Reylo, more unique.

I love how every Hazelwood book focuses on a different science, but something that struck me in this one was that I barely understood the physics. Some things I knew, like Schrödinger, but a lot of it went over my head. Usually, Hazelwood writes science in an approachable way so it doesn’t feel out of place or overwhelming, but that wasn’t the case here. There was no “dumbing it down” for the masses and I was disappointed.

The characters aren’t exactly carbon copies, but there are aspects to all her books that are true; Elsie is clumsy, she’s Tired™️, she’s a small petite woman who is interested in a giant tree of a man and she won’t let you forget it. But she also molds herself into The Perfect Elsie, which is a different Elsie for every single person she meets. A higher voice here, a more demure attitude there, she figures out what people expect from her and tries her damndest to project that image. She’s also diabetic, and I think this is the first time I’ve ever read a romance book where the FMC has diabetes. Jack is stoic, seems harsh because he can’t confront his emotions, and he’s a huge man. Just an absolute Unit. Can’t forget that! Hazelwood stresses it so much more in this book than she ever did with Adam or Levi even I found myself rolling my eyes. But he’s also perceptive in a way that makes Elsie act real because sge can’t figure out who Jack’s perfect Elsie is. He also gives her the room to come to her own conclusions and fight her own battles.

As for the plot, the enemies to lovers aspect felt more organic in this book than in Hypothesis or Brain, mostly because Elsie actually staunchly refuses to like Jack because if what he did in the past and hates that it’s so easy to actually like him once she gets to know him. I thought the inclusion of a literal fake dating app / subplot was a little weird. If she simply met Greg and pretended to be his girlfriend because they’re friends would be one thing, but using an app to hire random people to date? Seems like there’s a lot more there logistically that isn’t explored which just makes it seem lazy.

I did really love that Hazelwood was more explicit aboy the aromantic /asexual aspect of this book. It’s alluded to in all of her works, but this time it’s actually part of the relationship development and she uses the words. I also enjoyed the little cameos from Hypothesis– an Adam and Olive update!- as well as references to Bee from Brain. I like knowing that at any moment we could have an Ali Hazelwood Multiverse moment.

Overall, yeah this is basically The Love Hypothesis 3.0, but I don’t care! I’ll eat it up every time, so bring on Love Hypothesis 4.0, Ms. Hazelwood!

“I Will Serve [Darlingstern] ‘til the End of Days”: HELL BENT | Review

“I’m bound to you, Stern. To the woman who brought me out of hell. I will serve you ’til the end of days.”

Title: Hell Bent

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Rating: ★★★★★

Summary: Find a gateway to the underworld. Steal a soul out of hell. A simple plan, except people who make this particular journey rarely come back. But Galaxy “Alex” Stern is determined to break Darlington out of purgatory―even if it costs her a future at Lethe and at Yale.

Forbidden from attempting a rescue, Alex and Dawes can’t call on the Ninth House for help, so they assemble a team of dubious allies to save the gentleman of Lethe. Together, they will have to navigate a maze of arcane texts and bizarre artifacts to uncover the societies’ most closely guarded secrets, and break every rule doing it. But when faculty members begin to die off, Alex knows these aren’t just accidents. Something deadly is at work in New Haven, and if she is going to survive, she’ll have to reckon with the monsters of her past and a darkness built into the university’s very walls.

Thick with history and packed with Bardugo’s signature twists, Hell Bent brings to life an intricate world full of magic, violence, and all too real monsters. (Goodreads)

Hell Bent is the sequel to Ninth House, therefore this review will have spoilers for book one.

It’s been almost a year since Daniel Arlington was taken to Hell, and there’s finally a possible, if not wildly dangerous, opportunity to save him.

As Alex and Dawes search for a doorway to Hell, professors across the Yale campus are dying in strange circumstances. It’s made all the more complicated when Darlington- or, part of Darlington- shows up at Black Elm, horned, naked, and trapped. As Alex runs from problem to problem, things start to spiral out of her control. magic is real, but is the cost worth it?

I am obsessed with these books; I think they’re the best of Bardugo’s work, and that’s saying something because of how wildly successful the Grishaverse is. Bardugo is one of those authors who gets better with time, and Hell Bent is a testament to that. Because of how intricate and grounded in reality Ninth House seems, Bardugo has to work in the magic around the mundane, which is different from creating a fantasy world. I love how Bardugo makes Yale a kind if character, think of Cabeswater from the Raven Cycle or the House of Wind from ACOTAR. Yale is obviously a real place so there are parameters Bardugo has to work within, but she incorporates them so well it’s makes you say of course all these things would be right under our noses; not everyone knows what to look for after all.

I also love how different these characters seem. Bardugo doesn’t stray away from unlikable characters, and it would be so easy to hate Alex or Darlington. Alex is abrasive and rude, Darlington is condescending and pretentious. But these traits play off of each other so well, they make the characters think of themselves from someone else’s perspective. There’s an awareness in these characters about how unlikable they can come across as, but that doesn’t deter them. They feel real, complicated and complex.

I even love every single side character, and I’m so happy Dawes, Mercy, and Turner had bigger roles in this book compared to Ninth House. Dawes really grows as a character; she reminds me of Hermione in the sense that without her knowledge they would be stuck. If Alex is the brawn, Dawes is the brain. I also really love how Alex and Dawes play off of each other. They’ve become closer because of Darlington’s disappearance, and Dawes has more of a role than just saving Alex’s life. Turner becomes more complex because of his involvement; I actually appreciate that Bardugo included a religious character in this story. Turner has a lot to reconcile with what he believes and what he’s experiencing, but that doesn’t deter him from helping Alex. Their motivations are different, but they still work together well. And Inwas just so happy that Mercy got a bigger role! She bridges Alex’s “normal” life with her magical life. Plus, this shows their friendship has become so genuine, they aren’t simply random roommates anymore.

I’m also extremely fond of the fact Darlington comes back as a demon. Gentleman demon, indeed! Everyone was so consumed with getting Darlington back, no one considered how different he would be, and it was refreshing to see them all struggle to reconcile their history, their expectations, and their reality.

The writing is also supremely approachable; I’d find moments where I would start to get confused, and Bardugo would reiterate the point, the plan, or the plot around that same moment, like she was anticipating some crossed wires and the need to simplify explanations. It helps that Alex is new to this whole world and often has to have things reexplained in more layman’s terms. There are so many twists that Bardugo sets up beautifully; you don’t really notice it in the moment, but when the big reveal happens, you’re left with an open mouthed OHMYGOD moment.

I love this series with my whole entire being and the four year wait was so worth it; I just really hope it won’t be another four years before the third book!

The Antithesis to the Greatest Showman: THE MERMAID | Review

“A bird in a cage still knows it’s in a cage, even if the bars are made of gold.”

Title: The Mermaid

Author: Christina Henry

Rating: ★★★★☆

Summary: From the author of Lost Boy comes a historical fairy tale about a mermaid who leaves the sea for love and later finds herself in P.T. Barnum’s American Museum as the real Fiji mermaid. However, leaving the museum may be harder than leaving the sea ever was.

Once there was a mermaid who longed to know of more than her ocean home and her people. One day a fisherman trapped her in his net but couldn’t bear to keep her. But his eyes were lonely and caught her more surely than the net, and so she evoked a magic that allowed her to walk upon the shore. The mermaid, Amelia, became his wife, and they lived on a cliff above the ocean for ever so many years, until one day the fisherman rowed out to sea and did not return.

P. T. Barnum was looking for marvelous attractions for his American Museum, and he’d heard a rumor of a mermaid who lived on a cliff by the sea. He wanted to make his fortune, and an attraction like Amelia was just the ticket.

Amelia agreed to play the mermaid for Barnum, and she believes she can leave any time she likes. But Barnum has never given up a money-making scheme in his life, and he’s determined to hold on to his mermaid. (Goodreads)

Amelia was once trapped in a fisherman’s net, but when he let her go without hesitation, she came back to him. Thus began Amelia’s life on land.

After the death if her fisherman husband, Amelia is aimless and lonely. As rumors of a mermaid in Maine begin to spread, carnival man P.T. Barnum sends his right hand, Levi, to convince the mermaid to come join his collection of oddities. Amelia isn’t immediately interested, but the allure of the new, the unknown, lures her to New York. Determined to make money so she can travel the world, Amelia agrees to be shown off as Barnum’s “Feejee Mermaid.”

What she doesn’t expect is how people react to something mythical like a mermaid. Or how being on show is much like an animal trapped in a cage.

While Amelia reconciles this urban idea of life with what she thought were her dreams, those around her all want something different, and Amelia begins to think that what she wanted, isn’t what she needs.

I picked this book up on a whim, but I was in a fishy mood so I decided it was kismet and went ahead and started it. I haven’t read anything else by Christina Henry before, but I know she does a lot of fairytale retellings. The basis in truth with The Mermaid was the main allure for me. Everyone has heard of P.T. Barnum, but we all seem to remember the man and never those he exploited.

I thought this was going to be more similar to The Greatest Showman, but it definitely wasn’t. Greatest Showman takes a lot of liberties with history, especially with Barnum; he’s painted as a determined, if not slightly naive man with good intentions, when in reality he was a man who would do anything and use anyone to make a quick buck. I was a little put off with this characterization of Barnum at first, but it’s the truth. I like that Henry didn’t try to make him a misunderstood man with good intentions. She didn’t shy away from reality. Sure, it’s still fiction, but even in fiction there are grains of truth.

The story reads very poetic. I’m not sure if that’s just how Henry writes her historical pieces or what, but I liked it! It’s a very fantastical way to explore mythical things reduced to mundanity. It did, however, make the characters feel a little distant and formal, but that really added to how different Amelia really is. I really enjoyed the characters, not just Amelia, but Levi, Charity, and Caroline too. Henry did an excellent job of making them different, in behaviors, beliefs, and actions, but they all came together and played well off of each other.

It was an easy, fast read that I really enjoyed. Mermaids, carnivals, romance, history? I wasn’t sure how all these things would mesh together but it was very well done. Reading The Mermaid, even for the first time, felt like returning to a comfortable old favorite.

Mini Reviews: Nonfiction Binge

One of my goals for 2023 is to read twelve nonfiction books. Ideally, I’ll read more, but I want to set something realistic for myself and nonfiction, in its broadest terms, is a genre I’m still trying to navigate.

I graduated college in 2020 so I haven’t really had a reason to study or go out of my way to learn, but to be honest I was getting a little bored with not learning new things and I missed studying…just the tiniest bit. I figured books would be a good way to get me back into the swing of learning something new! And also Crash Course. Lots of Crash Course.

I’m trying a little bit of everything! I know what I’m interested in so I’m branching out based on those interests. It’s a weird, oddly constructed web but my hope is that by reading about things I’m already interested in, it will help keep me invested in the book, but also introduce me to concepts related to or adjacent to the topic I might not have considered or known about before.

I already have a nice stack accumulating of books I’ve stumbled across at work, which is honestly a real boon. If I didn’t work at a bookstore I wouldn’t be familiar with certain titles and subgenres and never would’ve found something new. Right now I’ve mostly got stuff about space, the ocean, and the science of stuff nobody wants to talk about.

Title: Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

Author: Mary Roach

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Summary: The study of sexual physiology – what happens, and why, and how to make it happen better – has been a paying career or a diverting sideline for scientists as far-ranging as Leonardo da Vinci and James Watson. The research has taken place behind the closed doors of laboratories, brothels, MRI centers, pig farms, sex-toy R&D labs, and Alfred Kinsey’s attic.

Mary Roach, “the funniest science writer in the country” (Burkhard Bilger of ‘The New Yorker’), devoted the past two years to stepping behind those doors. Can a person think herself to orgasm? Can a dead man get an erection? Is vaginal orgasm a myth? Why doesn’t Viagra help women or, for that matter, pandas? 

In ‘Bonk’, Roach shows us how and why sexual arousal and orgasm, two of the most complex, delightful, and amazing scientific phenomena on earth, can be so hard to achieve and what science is doing to slowly make the bedroom a more satisfying place. (Goodreads)

Review: When I visited the National Zoo some years ago, there was a fun donation display at the giraffe exhibit. It was a kind of poll: what did you want to see your money put towards? There were three options: conservation of their natural habitat, tracking wild giraffes and their movements, and helping them to make and carry babies to term. I think you can guess which one had the most donations- artificial insemination.

Why is it humans are so interested in sex, but it’s such a taboo and uncomfortable topic of conversation? Mary Roach explores this idea along with how sex has been approached as a scientific principle and how to apply that knowledge to make it more commonplace and less taboo. Roach takes a very fun tone towards her research, which makes much of the information way less awkward than it could be. It also benefits that Roach herself had to participate in many of the experiments she details because sex research is much more intimate and invasive.

It was truly fascinating to read how people will dance around the idea of sex in public, but in private participate in some truly fascinating experiments, from the best way to achieve orgasm to what the penis looks like when it’s inside a vagina. Roach also explores how the knowledge of animal sex correlates to human copulation. There’s a whole chapter on how female pigs are inseminated and how they possibly perceive pleasure and how it differs from humans and why.

I didn’t go out of my way to find this book, but I’m glad I did. I read a lot of spice, but it’s refreshing to read about sex in a realistic, if sterile, way.

Title: Gory Details

Author: Erika Engelhaupt

Rating: ★★★★☆

Summary: Science reporter Erika Engelhaupt investigates the gross, strange, and morbid absurdities of our bodies and our universe. From the research biologist who stung himself with every conceivable insect to the world’s most murderous mammals, this book explores oft-ignored but alluring facets of biology, anatomy, space exploration, nature, and more. Featuring interviews with leading researchers in the field and a large dose of wit, the author reveals the most intriguing real-world applications of science in all their glory. (Goodreads)

Review: I’m going to preface this by saying I’ve never heard of the Gory Details blog, I just saw the cool neon cover and gross stuff and got really excited. I love gross science! The things no one ever really wants to talk about are always the most interesting, and Erika Engelhaupt explores a lot of things. There’s some true crime, like the tiny, highly accurate crime dioramas used to train law enforcement or body farms, where medical students can study how various natural settings impact a dead body, as well as some creepy experiences like severed feet washing up in Puget Sound and the Creepy Clowns of 2016.

Taking on psychology, sociology, and biology, there’s a little something for everyone. I don’t consider myself squeamish, but the section on bugs really made my skin crawl. Did you know there are little micro parasites that live in our skin? Or that if a bug happens to fly into your body, it would be best to have it fly up your nose so the air flow in your sinuses can keep it alive until it can be extracted because if it dies somewhere else you’ll more than likely get an infection as it decomposes.

All of these things are gross at their core, but like sex, we can’t help but be fascinated. It’s why people watch pimple popping videos; it’s just so gross, we can’t look away.

Title: Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know

Authors: Ben Bowlin, Matt Frederick, and Noel Brown

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Summary: In times of chaos and uncertainty, when trust is low and economic disparity is high, when political institutions are crumbling and cultural animosities are building, conspiracy theories find fertile ground. Many are wild, most are untrue, a few are hard to ignore, but all of them share one vital trait: there’s a seed of truth at their center. That seed carries the sordid, conspiracy-riddled history of our institutions and corporations woven into its DNA.

Ben Bowlin, Matt Frederick, and Noel Brown host the popular iHeart Media podcast, Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know. They are experts at exploring, explaining, and interrogating today’s emergent conspiracies—from chem trails and biological testing to the secrets of lobbying and the indisputable evidence of UFOs.

Written in a smart, witty, and conversational style, elevated with amazing illustrations, Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know is a vital book in understanding the nature of conspiracy and using truth as a powerful weapon against ignorance, misinformation, and lies. (Goodreads)

Review: What really interested me in this book was the differentiation of conspiracy theory versus conspiracy realism, the belief that there is a basis history for certain conspiracies to form in the modern day. Like with Gory Details, I had never listened to the Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know podcast, I just stumbled on the book at the right time.

I expected conspiracy theories to be explored in depth with some history, but this reads way more like a history book. Rather than use history to debunk conspiracies, they point to how acts in the past can very much confirm a conspiracy today. For example, they discuss how the theory that chemtrails, the striped lines behind airplanes, can possibly be dangerous because the US government has used planes and their trails in the past to drop experimental substances over large swaths of land to test out how the population could handle an aerial attack. The government lied about the experiments for years, to the detriment of the populations affected after it was discovered the substances the government dropped weren’t actually harmless and caused illnesses in many people in the drop areas.

They mention a lot about how their goal is to debunk conspiracies and educate the reader on how to sus them out, but really it felt like I was reading a book that was saying “This happened before so why can’t it happen again?” They also only tackled theories concerning the US government, so many mainstream conspiracies weren’t acknowledged, like flat earth or the moon landing.

Interesting from a history standpoint- I learned a lot about US history I didn’t know before- but not a great conspiracy debunker.

For Everyone Who’s Favorite Criminal Minds Episode is “The Uncanny Valley”: THE DOLLMAKER 🩰 | Review

“She didn’t believe in miracles—she believed in science, in making things happen for herself. But she suddenly wished she believed in miracles.”

Title: The Dollmaker

Author: Morgan Shamy

Rating: ★★1/2☆☆☆

Summary: No one is safe. Not when the Dollmaker lurks in the shadows.

When Dawn Hildegard’s best friend Rose is kidnapped by “The Dollmaker,” a crazed serial killer who creates “art” from women’s bodies, she drops everything to find her—including her dream of becoming a doctor. With the help of a handsome new acquaintance and his mysterious brother, they set off to find the killer. Although they quickly become friends, Dawn cannot shake the uneasy feeling that the brothers know more about the murders than they admit.

As more and more victims are found murdered and displayed throughout town, Dawn must use her wits to find Rose before it’s too late. And before she too becomes the Dollmaker’s next victim. (Goodreads)

I received a copy from Edelweiss & CamCat Books in exchange for an honest review.

It’s 1920 and Dawn Hildegard has one goal: open her own medical clinic. As a woman, people don’t trust her to help cure their ailments even though she’s one of two doctors in town. She’s determined never to marry, because she sees how an impending marriage is stripping her best friend, Rose, of her passions.

Dawn’s goals, however, take a dramatic shift when Rose is kidnapped by the Dollmaker, a serial killer who butchers women and then Frankensteins them into new “dolls.” Gideon Hemsworth enlists Dawn’s assistance in tracking down the Dollmaker, but his brother, Sebastian, keeps interfering. Dawn isn’t sure if she can trust the Hemsworths, especially when the Dollmaker begins to target her.

I didn’t expect this to be a historical mystery, so I was already a little put off when I started it. I’m no expert in history, but it feels like it’s actually taking place in the 1800s rather than the 1920s. Maybe it’s just because I’m not well versed in historical fiction, but it seemed there was a lot of emphasis on societal standing and proper courting. Basically, it read like Bridgerton, but with murder, and Bridgerton definitely doesn’t take place in 1920.

I was also expecting more “The Lesson” than “Uncanny Valley” Criminal Minds vibes. In “The Lesson,” a man is obsessed with a pair of marionettes, and he kidnaps two people and turns them into real life versions of those puppets. Think about it; the Dollmaker is collecting ballerinas, why not expect them to be turned into marionettes?

The story was intriguing, but aside from Dawn, all the characters left something to be desired, especially Gideon and Sebastian. Gideon’s backstory was explored, so we understand his determination to unmask the Dollmaker, but Sebastian just shows up. We get little bits of information but they’re all set up in a way to make him seem suspicious. His obsession with Dawn is never explored and it left me flabbergasted. Where did he come from? How did he find out who Dawn was? Why didn’t he approach her like a normal gentleman instead of a creepy stalker? There was just so much about their relationship I needed answered and Shamy just…glosses over it.

I really wanted more about the Dollmaker and their crimes, maybe something from their point of view. It would’ve been so interesting if we got chapters narrated by Dawn and the Dollmaker so that 1) we could see more of the crimes and 2) we could understand the character better. Too much of the story is devoted to misdirection so when the reveal finally did happen, it was extremely anticlimactic and I was disappointed. There wasn’t enough set up for the real Dollmaker to make the reveal exciting.

I expected so many different things than what was actually delivered that the story fell short for me. Loved the premise, but it wasn’t executed in the best way.

ABC Challenge #25: Y

The rules of the ABC Book Challenge are simple: post books you’ve read and books on your TBR that start with each letter of the alphabet.

Kind of forgot I was doing this challenge and I’m almost done with it!!!

From My Read Shelf

You’re Invited // Amanda Jayatissa ★★★★☆

You’ve Reached Sam // Dustin Thao ★★★★☆

You Were Made for Me // Jenna Guillaume ★★★★☆

Yume // Sifton Tracey Anipare ★★☆☆☆

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From My TBR

You Can Go Your Own Way // Eric Smith

You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty // Akwaeke Emezi

You Shouldn’t Have Come Here // Jeneva Rose

You Will Never Be Forgotten: Stories // Mary South


Goodreads Clean-up #14

The Goodreads clean-up is hosted by Megan @ Mega Bunny Reads

The rules:

  • Go to your Goodreads want-to-read shelf.
  • Ask Siri to pick a number between 1 and however many books are on the list.
  • Go to that book and look at it and the 4 after it, for a total of 5.
  • Read the synopses of the books.
  • Decide: keep it or should it go?
  • Discuss.

Today’s random number: 184

Shelf organization: Date added

I recently hit 1,000 books on my TBR so figured now was probably a good time to revisit some 😅 These books were all added in late 2012 so I’m really hoping I’ll be able to remove some of them since it’s been a whole decade.

1. Shade // Jeri Smith-Ready

Summary: Best. Birthday. Ever. At least, it was supposed to be. With Logan’s band playing a crucial gig and Aura’s plans for an intimate after-party, Aura knows it will be the most memorable night of her boyfriend’s life. She never thought it would be his last.

Logan’s sudden death leaves Aura devastated. He’s gone.

Well, sort of.

Like everyone born after the Shift, Aura can see and talk to ghosts. This mysterious ability had always been annoying, and Aura had wanted nothing more than to figure out why the Shift happened so she could undo it. But not with Logan’s violet-hued spirit still hanging around. Because Dead Logan is almost as real as ever. Almost.

It doesn’t help that Aura’s new friend Zachary is so understanding – and so very alive. His support means more to Aura than she cares to admit.

As Aura’s relationship with with the dead and the living grow ever complicated, so do her feelings for Logan and Zachary. Each holds a piece of Aura’s heart . . . and clues to the secret of the Shift.

Thoughts: I think the idea is nifty. However, it’s a whole trilogy and I don’t really want to invest the time at this point. Maybe if I picked it up years ago, yes, but right now there are other series I’m interested in and others I need to finish. I’m also not really interested in another series with such an involved love triangle (especially after discovering why choose romances!).

2. Orchards // Holly Thompson

Summary: After a classmate commits suicide, Kana Goldberg—a half-Japanese, half-Jewish American—wonders who is responsible. She and her cliquey friends said some thoughtless things to the girl. Hoping that Kana will reflect on her behavior, her parents pack her off to her mother’s ancestral home in Japan for the summer. There Kana spends hours under the hot sun tending to her family’s mikan orange groves.

Kana’s mixed heritage makes it hard to fit in at first, especially under the critical eye of her traditional grandmother, who has never accepted Kana’s father. But as the summer unfolds, Kana gets to know her relatives, Japan, and village culture, and she begins to process the pain and guilt she feels about the tragedy back home. Then news about a friend sends her world spinning out of orbit all over again.

Thoughts: Immediately I thought I’d get rid of this one, but I’m interested in reading about a character who has to face the consequences of their actions. The fact the main character is mixed also speaks to me and I want to see how her identity and growth intersect. Plus, this is a novel told in verse, so it won’t take me ages to make my way through it.

3. Saving Juliet // Suzanne Selfors

Summary: Manhattan meets Verona in this time-bending twist on Shakespeare.

When Mimi is magically thrust into the middle of Shakespeare’s Verona, she must find a way to help Juliet fight for her future happiness. Will she be able to give this classic tragedy a happy ending?

Thoughts: You can tell I went through an R+J phase before actually reading the stupid play.

4. Choker // Elizabeth Woods

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Cara Lange has been a loner ever since she moved away from her best and only friend, Zoe, years ago. She eats lunch with the other girls from the track team, but they’re not really her friends. Mostly she spends her time watching Ethan Gray from a distance, wishing he would finally notice her, and avoiding the popular girls who call her “Choker” after a humiliating incident in the cafeteria.

Then one day Cara comes home to find Zoe waiting for her. Zoe’s on the run from problems at home, and Cara agrees to help her hide. With her best friend back, Cara’s life changes overnight. Zoe gives her a new look and new confidence, and next thing she knows, she’s getting invited to parties and flirting with Ethan. Best of all, she has her BFF there to confide in. 

But just as quickly as Cara’s life came together, it starts to unravel. A girl goes missing in her town, and everyone is a suspect—including Ethan. Worse still, Zoe starts behaving strangely, and Cara begins to wonder what exactly her friend does all day when she’s at school. You’re supposed to trust your best friend no matter what, but what if she turns into a total stranger?

Thoughts: Again, interesting concept. It’s a standalone, but it doesn’t feel like the different aspects of the stories mesh well; I can’t see how almost choking connects to your best friend’s run away and a random missing person. It’s like three different stories.

5. Mercy // Rebecca Lim

Summary: Mercy wakes on a school bus bound for Paradise, a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business… Or thinks they do. But Mercy has a secret life. She is an angel, doomed to return repeatedly to Earth, taking on a new human form each time she does, in an effort to resolve a cataclysmic rift between heavenly beings.

In Paradise, Mercy meets Ryan, an eighteen-year-old whose sister was kidnapped two years ago and is presumed dead. When another girl is also taken, Mercy knows she has to act quickly and use extraordinary powers to rescue her, even if it means exposing her true identity.

An electric combination of angels, mystery and romance, Mercyis the first book in a major new series.T

Thoughts: Angels were The Thing when I was in middle school and you can really tell! Angels meets Groundhog Day is one thing, but this is a series too and I can’t find it in myself to care.

Basically What I Read in Middle School, Except with Spice: COURT OF THE VAMPIRE QUEEN | Review

“I suppose it’s not a bad thing to have an abundance of love.”

Title: Court of the Vampire Queen (Bloodline Vampires)

Author: Katee Robert

Rating: ★★★★☆

Summary: Three Powerfully Alluring Vampire Men And One Queen to Rule Them All

All Mina ever wanted was to escape her father’s control. Half human, half vampire, she lived eternally torn between two worlds, never fully experiencing the pleasures of either—until her father chose her as the pawn in his latest political move, gifting her to the darkly powerful and dangerously seductive Malachi Zion.

Malachi is not a vampire to be trifled with. He rules with an iron fist and has a reputation for the darkest of sins. But the longer Mina spends with him, the more she realizes he’s not the monster she first thought—and as fear bleeds into lust, then trust, then something more, Malachi opens Mina up to a world she never knew could be hers for the taking: including the love of Malachi’s two closest friends and companions.

Now surrounded by all three men, the center of their shockingly seductive world, Mina may finally have the power to face down her father and take back the life—and crown—that by all rights should be hers.


Mina is the half-human daughter of one of the seven Bloodline Vampire rulers. Abused her whole life because of her lack of powers, her father sacrifices her to Malachi, another Bloodline vampire, in hopes of her either dying or birthing an heir for another line he can control. What he doesn’t count on, however, is the feelings Mina develops for Malachi and two other Bloodline vampires, Wolf and Rylan.

Or the secret the four of them uncover about Mina’s true heritage.

The four are determined to dethrone Mina’s father even if the odds are stacked against them.

I’ll read pretty much anything Katee Robert puts out there, and this is no exception. However, it does remind me very much of my own stories and lore I created in middle school- convoluted and with as many character tropes as possible! You’ve got vampires which are great, I love that they’re making a comeback! But wait a second! The vampires have special powers! Malachi controls fire, Wolf controls blood, and Rylan can shapeshift! And you know damn well that man is shifting into a wolf. Oh, and there’s angels and demons and mixed beings, too! It’s like a “gotta catch ‘em all” of powers and paranormal beings.

Granted, Katee does it way better than Middle School Megan ever did.

I liked the concept of having a kind of vampire hierarchy where Bloodline vampires have powers and special abilities whereas turned vampires are more basic. I did think it was a bit much to have them all kind of commingle so it was like all of them had all the powers, even Mina. Also, Mina being a super secret mysterious creature and half vampire feet so excessive; it would’ve been so much more interesting if she got no vampire features or attributes because this other half was so much more dominant.

Speaking of Mina, I was super excited when she was introduced as being disabled. I was like “Yes! A badass hero who’s disabled, love to see it!” Her knee was shattered and never healed properly, so she had a limp. I was actually so extremely disappointed that Katee had her knee get magically healed and basically never mentioned it again. Why couldn’t she have stated an attractive badass with a cane?

It honestly felt like there wasn’t enough time spent on getting to know the characters, even though the book was almost 500 pages. Mina has a mysterious mother who is plot pertinent but we learn nothing about her. I think two out of the three guys got last names, but I can’t tell you which name goes with which guy. It felt like everything was very surface, which made the insta-love off-putting. I also didn’t like how Mina’s relationship with Malachi took precedent over her relationships with Wolf and Rylan; they didn’t feel balanced and in a why choose / reverse harem you need that balance to make it work. If you can easily spot one partner that takes priority or could close the relationship for, the other partners do not have enough of a presence. Like at any minute I could see this whole thing just becoming about Mina and Malachi. I wanted more about Wolf and Rylan, especially since these men have shared decades already.

The plot is very heavily focused on Mina getting pregnant because according to vampire lore, to make a claim as a Bloodline heir, said claimant has to be pregnant so it’s guaranteed the bloodline continues. So if you don’t like pregnancy or children this book is definitely one to avoid. I like that there’s actual conversation on if they want kids or if now is the right time, but it really felt moot since the pregnancy is a plot heavy point. It’s like Mina originally being disabled- it’s there to say it’s there but it doesn’t really make an impactful change on the story.

Ultimately, yes, I did enjoy this book because it reminds me so much of what I tried to write, but with actual skill behind it. It was entertaining but not perfect. To be honest, I’m giving it 4 stars because it made my inner child happy while also entertaining the adult I’ve become. It’s not one to think too hard about.

Princess of Books 👑