Sunday, January 26, 2014

REVIEW: Wallflower by Heidi Belleau

Wallflower (Rear Entrance Video, #2) Wallflower by Heidi Belleau
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I thought this book would be a fun read. I thought WRONG. It was HORRIBLE. I thought, hey, what could go wrong with a main character who is Asian, an art student, and MMORPG addict, a cross dresser, and more importantly, Asian? Represent! Robert sounded like a cool person. Eeeeecccck. Not if he’s an emo. Oh My Gawd was he such an emo.

+ the main character

Robert Ng sucked. Reason number one, he had a Loser Complex the size of a stinking hill of manure. I would have felt bad for him were it not for the fact that the only reason his life was crappy was because he made it crappy. He had no one to blame but himself. He constantly threw one pity party after another. Rarely did his thoughts ever stray from how much he sucked. Honestly, it would have been a miracle if he spent a few seconds to think that other people might have problems too. It would probably blow his mind if he read the news and learned about all the bad things that happen in the world. Robert used up all my patience by chapter two.

Reason number two, his character development was piss poor. Art student, MMORPG addict, and Chinese descent? These traits were window dressings. The reader only ever see him taking one art class, Introduction to Art Principles. While one art class is enough to make him an art student, he was a poor excuse for an art student. He worked in the video store and moped at home more than he ever did anything as an art student. As for the MMORPG part, playing video game a couple times does not constitute a person an “addict,” especially not someone who played two times in the entire story. As for his Chinese background, the main character could have been switched with a white person and it wouldn’t have made a difference. He may have a Chinese last name and Chinese look but other than that, his character was whitewashed.

Reason number three, and this one pissed me off the most, his character was defined by his transgender status. I understood transgender is a big theme in the story, but it came at the cost of developing Robert as a real person. If Robert wasn’t transgender or decided not to be transgender anymore, he would be a nobody in the sense that the trans part of him, his Bobby identity, was the only thing that mattered and without that he’s nothing. Put it another way, it’s kind of like defining a woman by her fertility status. If she can’t pop out a baby, she’s nothing. People are the sum of their parts, and this was forgotten when Robert was developed as a character. The fact that he was an art student, a MMORPG addict, a Chinese-Canadian, a brother, and a son among other things? It was like these things could matter less because whatever.

+ the transgender theme

Ironically, considering the emphasis of the theme, I thought it could have been executed better. Sometimes it came off as the author’s narration instead of Robert’s narration, and it came off as preachy. It was preachy in the sense that the important messages had to be said point-blank because the reader couldn’t be trusted to learn them from the characters’ action. I felt this diminished the impact of the messages.

I also got the feeling that the one of the reasons Robert became Bobby, his female self, was because he was uncomfortable with his homosexuality and needed a safe way to express it. It seemed like half of the time he became Bobby, he flirted with guys or had lusty thoughts about men. After all, it is hard to be rejected or worse, gay-bashed if one is a pretty girl and not a shy weak gay male. Plus, towards the end he didn’t feel the desire to be excessively effeminate when he tried on an androgynous look and didn’t mind being a man for Dylan.

+ the plot

It wasn’t till the middle of the book that the romance finally started and the emo part was put on a break, if only for a few seconds. One thing that jarred me was the weak sense of time. Where did Robert have the time to play video games, go to college, take yoga with his sister, work in a video store, date Dylan, and most importantly, mope? The answer is he didn’t because some of his roles were window dressing. The one part the plot did get right was Robert working in the video store, Rear Entrance Video, which is the name of the series. I get the feeling that if it wasn’t the name of the series, Robert being a video store worker would have been on the wayside along with the other roles.

My least favorite part of the book was the sexual assault. It felt too much like obligatory external conflict and a very cheap way to push the main character into self-reflection and growth. Yay, another book where rape is used as a plot device. /sarcasm. Well, the bright side was that the bad guy got his comeuppance.

Finally, I didn’t care for the smut. If there was anything that could have redeemed the story for me, a smut freak, it would be the smut. While the sexy times were hot, they were on the low side of hot, even with the sexy dirty talk.

+ what I liked

The only part I liked was Dylan. He had issues but he was likeable and very enjoyable to read about. Not to mention his character development wasn’t whitewashed on an oversight. I would like to say Dylan could do better than Robert but that’s only because I don’t like Robert. I hate to admit it but Robert and Dylan do make a good match.


I rate Wallflower 1-star for I didn’t like it. The first half was unbearable to read. The second half was barely tolerable. I would have enjoyed the book if Robert wasn’t emo. Had he been like Dylan was, confident and couldn’t care less about what other people think (or pretend not to care), I would have enjoyed the book. A kickass crossdresser, now there’s a main character I can get behind with.

Goodreads | Amazon

Friday, January 24, 2014

REVIEW: Lockstep by Karl Schroeder

Lockstep Lockstep by Karl Schroeder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was one of my most anticipated books for 2014. I enjoyed the read but I was not wowed as I had hoped to be.

What I Like

+ the world building

The world building confused me, which I should have expected because the book was hard science fiction. It wasn’t till the middle of the book that I finally understood what lockstep was, and I felt giddy when I did. It took some time but it was worth it. I was amazed by how sophisticated and creative the world building was.

It was very interesting reading a world where human civilization had expanded into the endless outer space yet they didn’t have superluminal travel. I must confess; I was resistant to the idea because I really do believe one day — in the far-off future — humanity will have superluminal travel, and I didn’t like reading something that would challenge that belief. Now that I have read this book, I’m not greatly resistant to idea of a world where superluminal might never be possible. I could perfectly imagine how people can live on the same timeline despite the immense distance between worlds, the different planetary cycles, and other forces of time.

One of the things that surprised me was the underlying environmental theme. There is a saying that “money runs the world.” In this distant future, resources run the world — all of the worlds. No matter how far human civilization may have expanded into outer space, the message in the book says we will always be restricted by natural resources and we will fight amongst ourselves over them.

Another thing that surprised me was how there were robots yet humans still had to do menial labor, and some of them, specifically the very poor, even worked for the robots. The idea of lazy robots outsourcing their jobs made me chuckle. It reminded me of the robots in Futurama but without the sassy personalities.

The only thing about the world building that left me thinking was the fate of trillionaires left on Earth. What happened to them after the McGonigals took over? The book never really did say.

+ the main character

I liked Toby. For someone who woke up fourteen THOUSANDS years into the future, discovered he was the heir of an empire and a Jesus-like figure of the empire’s religion, and slapped with the fact that his once-loving family wasn’t too keen on reuniting with him to put it nicely, the guy had a level head on his shoulder. He did panic of course, but he didn’t go into a mood and give up on life. He fought as befitting of his role.

I was very grateful to follow a main character who commanded common sense and caution. I liked the fact that even though he began to have feelings for Corva, he didn’t automatically think what was best for her would be best for him and follow her like a puppy, doing whatever she wanted. In other words, he didn’t think with his dick. The fact that he was careful in whom to place his trust gave me a book erection.

What Could Have Been Better

+ the main character’s father

For someone who played a pivotal role, he was rarely talked about. I recall only three times, and two of those times were very brief. Say what? I would have thought with certainty that the reader would get to learn what happened to him after the rift with his family. All the reader learned was that he remarried and nothing after that. Whether he had other children or if his second wife was still alive, we never know. I still didn’t really understand how everyone else in his first family was still alive, yet he wasn’t, or why his family was famous with a religion built around them, yet he faded into obscurity. Carter McGonigal was a major character, but the book inappropriately treated him like a minor character. It fell into the trap where just because a character is dead a long time ago, it doesn’t mean he’s not important to the story and his influence on the other characters should be any less than a stranger.

+ the ending

It was kind of flat, emotion wise. I liked the happy ending and the reconciliation, but considering what had happened, how human civilization was at stake, and the bad feelings and trade of threats among the characters, the ending felt too neat to be real. I found it hard to believe the revolution happened without bloodshed.


I rate Lockstep 3-stars for I like it. The book description led me to believe the story would be on epic scale, but the only thing truly epic about book was the setting. When I take away the fancy setting, the book is about a broken family. A missing son; a traumatized little brother who grows up to be a tyrant; a typical middle child of a sister whose life became all about her brothers; a grieving mother and an absent workaholic father. The plot was about Toby finding his way, trying to make things right, and saving his family, even if some of them wanted him dead. It’s almost like a literary fiction.

The book was a good read, and I do recommend it but with the caveat that the reader check their high expectations.

Goodreads | Amazon

Monday, January 13, 2014

REVIEW: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Crazy Rich Asians Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

CAUTION: spoilers

With a title like that how could I not pick up the book? The last adult contemporary book about Asian characters I read was the Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, and that was less than 10 years ago. I actually saw the movie before I read the book. Even though adult contemporary is not my cup of tea, I liked Joy. I had hoped to repeat that experience, and I got it with Crazy.

Like Joy, Crazy had multiple viewpoints, multiple plot lines, and plenty of drama. Different from Joy and predictably, most of the characters in Crazy were shallow and unsympathetic. As many reviews of Crazy pointed out, and this review will also, the book constantly name dropped, brand dropped, and beat the reader over the head with how “crazy rich” and highly connected these characters were. There was a lot of info-dumping. A lot. Let’s not forget the footnotes in almost every chapter (was there even a chapter without footnotes?). I managed to finish the book in a day by skimming the parts that didn’t interest me. Without a doubt, the book was overwritten. Usually, I hate that shit, but in this book it was kind of charming. The book was a fountain of knowledge in Singaporean culture, which made the book highly re-readable. What really entertained me was the family drama because it was like watching one of those trashy reality TV shows.

I didn’t bother keeping track of the characters and their relationships to each other. Thankfully, the book regularly stated how each character were related to one another so I was rarely lost and when lost, only momentarily. All I cared about were couple Rachel and Nick, and Nick’s cousin, Astrid.

+ Rachel and Nick

I loved Rachel. She was the character I most related to. Nick, I was not a big fan of. Right from the get-go, I wanted Rachel to break up with Nick, no matter how nice the guy was, because I saw the trainwreck Nick’s family had in store for her a million miles away and was mad that Nick didn’t. I could not believe after two years of dating, him visiting her family many times, but him never once talking about his family, Nick suddenly “introduced” her to his family as one would “introduce” a deer to a pack of wolves. Yes, let’s take an Americanized Asian-American middle-class girl to visit your super traditional, demanding, old money, multi-generational, bloodline-obsessed family who is quick to look down on outsiders and rich people who aren’t “crazy rich” enough. That will go well.

What frustrated me the most and put a stick up my ass was how offensively naive Nick was in regard to his family and Rachel. When Astrid warned him about the culture shock and he didn’t heed her, I wanted take the stick out of my ass and whip him with it. There was absolutely no excuse for that kind of naivety. I couldn’t believe he actually said he thought she would fit in with his family and friends and win them over with her winning personality (she did have a winning personality but not the point). My gawd. I wanted to upgrade my whipping stick to a fold up chair.

+ Astrid and Michael

Even though Astrid and Michael had been married for five years, they continued to face the same problems as Rachel and Nick. Like Rachel, Michael was middle-class. But unlike Rachel, I didn’t pity him. Not an ounce. I had no pity for a coward who couldn’t simply communicate his problems to his loving wife who would have done anything to make things better. I wanted to kick him in the shin for how much he hurt Astrid. Rachel had bigger balls than Michael, telling her lover straight off how large and suffocating the differences of their worlds were.

Even though Eleanor, Nick’s mother, and her co-conspirators were the villains because they wanted to wreck his relationship with Rachel, it was really “nice” Nick and coward Michael that made me see red. It wasn’t their background that made these guys jerks. It was how they acted upon it that did. Nick denied the reality of his background, and Michael had an inferiority complex with his.


+ the ending

The ending was abrupt. Many things were left unresolved. Rachel dumped Nick but he made a grand gesture by quickly reconciling her with her mother. I would like to blame Nick’s family for causing the rift between two women but Rachel’s mother had a long time to tell Rachel the truth about her “dead” father. Rachel deserved the truth no matter how painful it was for her mother to share it.

Nick chose to fight for a chance with Rachel over money and his super snobby family. The way the book left things between Rachel and Nick was optimistic. I like to think Nick and Rachel got back together.

Astrid. I’m not sure. I want her to be happy, but she think happiness lies in getting Nick back. I think she should move on. Specifically, I think she should move on and back to Charlie, her first fiancĂ©. Charlie was the only one to recognize she was having personal problems and stood by her. Michael was so low of a coward he concocted a scheme to make Astrid think he was having an affair so she would dump him because he didn’t even have the decency to break up with her himself. I didn’t know there was a worse way to break up someone than over an impersonal short text message, but there you go. To add insult to injury, one of the problems he had with Astrid was how no matter how much money he could make, he would never make ever enough to cover the cost of more than one dress whenever she, as a fashionista and the It girl, goes shopping with her money. What the fuck? He couldn’t stand the thought that his wife had more money than him? If there was any chance I could sympathize with Michael, there it went. The last fuck I give.

Like Nick, the book left Astrid fighting for her love. Unlike Nick, I don’t really care if she succeeds or not because Michael isn’t worth it. Still, as someone invested in Astrid’s happiness, I like to think Michael finally sees how high his head is up in his ass and do a lot of self-flagellation.


I rate Crazy Rich Asians 3-stars for I liked it. The book was more than about Rachel and Nick, and Astrid and Michael. I only chose to focus on these characters because they were the characters who most interest me. Despite the loose ends in the ending, I enjoyed the bubble gum book. I wouldn’t mind reading a sequel.

Goodreads | Amazon

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

REVIEW: The Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher

The Six-Gun Tarot The Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I picked this book up thinking it was an urban fantasy in the Wild West, and what I read wasn’t far off from that impression. It’s a small town fantasy; not a big difference. Where I went wrong was thinking it would be exciting. It wasn’t — at all. The book was goddamn awful. It was so awful it took me 2-3 months to finish, speaking as a reader who in a motivated mood can finish 2-3 novels in a single day.

One chapter in and I already knew this book wasn’t going to be rated more than 2 stars. Two chapters in and I started to feel the urge to DNF. Three chapters, skim, I chanted to myself, skim in the way a woman giving birth chants to herself to push. To say the beginning was slow is an understatement; the beginning was DAMN FUCKING slow.

+ the plot

The ENTIRE BOOK was DAMN FUCKING slow because the flashbacks would not desist. The plot kept flashbacking all the way up to the middle of the fucking climax! The climax, I say! Every time the plot felt the whim to explain, it did so in flashbacks. Like buy 1 flashback, get 2 flashbacks free! And these were NOT short flashbacks. I get the point was to show, not tell, but this was showing beyond ridiculous. (Funny enough, I later read a book that was all tell and no show.) I swear, one-half to two-third of the book was flashbacks.

The multiple viewpoints exacerbated the problem. There were way too many of them as if it couldn’t be decided who were the main characters and who were the supporting characters; everyone needed their own fucking flashback. Let me tell you who the main characters were: runaway Jim, Deputy Mutt, housewife/assassin Maude, and Mayor Pratt. Everyone else needed to back off from the motherfucking stage, especially the angel dudes.

+ the characters

Every. single. character came with a goddamn sob story and a gold-pan full of secrets. “Look at me! Look at me! I have layers. I am complex.” The book wasn’t as pretentious as it just tried too hard. It was done in the belief that only characters with baggage are interesting and worth analyzing for literary value, e.g. Maude with feminism and domestic violence (domestic violence doesn’t discriminate against kickass immortal woman) or Pratt with religion and homosexuality (Mormon and gay, enough said). Characters couldn’t just be characters; they existed only for points to be made or things to be analyzed. Message heard loud and clear and bluntly smashed to the head for good measure.

Ironically, most of the characters were developed in a superficial manner and with self-defeated purpose. For example, Ch’eng, as a Chinese immigrant, lend the book more diversity and showed racism in a thought-provoking way that wasn’t your usual “white people back then were racists.” He was a Chinese mafia boss of the small town and he showed the reader racism on the Chinese side and how racism played a big role in survival on the American frontier, but in a respectful way that didn’t diminish the racism of the white characters and make it into a “but they did it too” whine. It was too damn bad that he got pigeonholed as the Magical Asian to dispense esoteric wisdom to ignorant white people, or in this case, to a white kid (Jim) like in The Karate Kid (the 1984 version). Bzzzzzz, subversion fail. And Ch’eng was only a supporting character. The main characters were greatly more problematic (this review goes in-depth about it).

Anyway, no surprise for me to say I did not connect with any of the characters and cared very little whether they lived or died. If anything, I wished more would die so there would be one less viewpoint I was forced to read, excuse me, skim through. The only character I had a handful of sympathy for was Jim because he was only an ordinary kid stuck in shitty situation forced upon by irresponsible adults. All right, and because Jim was the first character introduced and thus taking all the servings of my sympathy pie.

+ the world building

Not a big complaint in comparison to what has already been complained about, but it’s worth the discussion. I didn’t mind that the world building was Christian-oriented in the way TV show Supernatural or Sleepy Hollow is Christian-oriented. I was, however, disappointed that non-Christian religions were made subordinate to the Christian belief, token in their references, and that all of it comes back to the almighty G. Well, at least the book challenged the idea of blind faith.


I rate The Six-Gun Tarot 1-star for I didn’t like it. The book was ambitious, I can tell you that. It aimed for the moon; however, it missed and hit the fiery fatal sun instead. It was a total DISASTER and read like an unedited, overwritten self-published work.

The ending sucked. It was dreary and it unnecessarily left some things up in the air. It’s like there was a rule in the book that the characters could not simply be happy that they were still alive or have a fresh start. It’s like... what was the point of stopping the apocalypse? How pointless.

Please note that the book is shelved as steampunk on Goodreads, but there’s nothing that is steampunk or even steampunkish in this book.

Goodreads | Amazon