Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Kat and Melinda's Review: Kiss Me

Today Kat and Melinda review 3 stories from the Kiss Me anthology. Note: they do not review the entire anthology, but they do rate and review the stories they managed (barely...) to finish. And honestly, it's probably not a stretch to say the rest of the anthology has similar issues, too.

Kiss Me: An Asian Hero Boxed Set by Joanne Dannon + 7 others
Publisher: IndieWrites (August 12, 2018)
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Two Worlds, One Kiss, a Lifetime of Love

This set features EIGHT sweet contemporary romance novellas featuring handsome Asian heroes.

From Australia's vineyards to the bright lights of Hong Kong, these stories have something for anyone looking for a little international flair in their romance.

This set will only be available for a limited time, so don't miss out!

Joanne Dannon - An Unexpected Forever

Khardine Gray – Kisses and Blossoms

Imogene Nix – Hero of Heartbreak Hill

Aislinn Kearns - Until You

Dakota Harrison – Once Upon a K-Pop Prince

Fiona Marsden – Beautiful Stranger

Terri A. Wilson – A New Ending

Zena Oliver - Seven-Day Cruise

Where to Buy*:
Kindle (KU Title)
More Info:

An Unexpected Forever by Joanne Dannon

Tag - A world of differences, an unexpected forever.

A sweet romance between a belly dancing, black belt karate teaching, Orthodox Jewish heroine and a workaholic, career focussed, Chinese contract lawyer hero set in Hong Kong.

Although they are very different, they are drawn to each other because of honour, their commitment to their family and doing the right thing for those they love.

Once upon a K-Pop Prince by Dakota Harrison

A 40th birthday. Five days in Japan. One night of love.

Andi was finally taking the trip to Japan she was supposed to share with her late father. Okinawa seemed the perfect place to celebrate her birthday, until a hotel mix-up lands her in bed with the hottest man she's ever seen.

Fourteen years of brutal hours and heartache has Min-Kyu's life where he desperately needs it to be. If his debut movie is as successful as expected, the security of his future -- and more importantly, his mother's future -- is assured.
Falling for the friendly Australian who shares his room would bring the destruction of all he'd worked so hard to achieve, but no one thought to tell that to his heart.

Kat's Reviews:

Let me start off by saying that I really wanted to like these stories. I wanted to give them a shot. We need more Asian heroes in romance! Asian men, specifically men from East Asia (like China and Japan) and South Asia (like India and Pakistan), have been stereotyped as feminine and submissive for literal hundreds of years. We’re just now seeing them represented as heroes in mainstream romantic comedies on the screen, like Crazy Rich Asians and To All The Boys I Loved Before. Now, to be fair, I say this as a white U.S. person. I fully acknowledge that Asian cinemas have been depicting Brown men as romantic heroes since forever. (I see you Shah Rukh Khan and Sidarth Malhotra.) But as we know here in the States, Hollywood is a sea of whiteness.

All of this to say, this anthology was a good idea. I just wish two things: 1) It wasn’t written exclusively by white women, and 2) It was good. I mean, I can only speak to the two stories I read, but I was pretty disappointed. There was a surprising amount of racism and misogyny in both stories.  I don’t think that’s specific to this group of novellas - certainly Romancelandia needs to reckon with its internalized sexism and misogyny while also confronting the systematic oppression of marginalized identities. But it’s so sad and frustrating to me to consistently see women tearing other women down, demonizing every female character but the MC. Give me good representations of female friendships and solidarity please!

So, An Unexpected Forever opens in Hong Kong. Daniel is attending a dinner party at his boss’s place, which he finds super awkward because he’s Asian (imagine it’s Asian with a capital A for emphasis, not as a proper noun). He tells us right at the beginning (or at least, Dannon tells us):

With his mixed Chinese and British blood, he was tall, broad with Asian facial features. He’d learnt over time to ignore the stares and focus on being career driven.

So, setting aside the violation of “show, don’t tell” here, I’m not quite sure where his self-consciousness comes in. Is it because he’s taller than the statistical average height of Asian men, or at least Chinese men? Granted, I haven’t been to Hong Kong, but I’ve known and seen Asian men who were at least as tall as me (I’m about 5’9”), if not taller. Is great height such a negative characteristic, or is just the deviation from the norm that’s the problem? Did he just experience people staring (which is a normal human response to something that defies our expectations), or was he bullied as a child/adolescent? Have people mocked his tallness? I don’t know. But it sounds like just getting stares from randos was enough to wall him off from the rest of humanity forever in the service of Pursuing His Career.

At this dinner party, Daniel meets Marnie, an Australian who has been living in Hong Kong for two years, teaching belly dancing and karate at a community center, and is now returning to Melbourne to live with her grandparents who raised her, because she’s a good Orthodox Jewish woman. Who wants to get married and have children. Which is a totally normal thing, and you mean feminists should just shut your traps about it already.

[...] "Being there for my children, loving them and encouraging them to be the best they can be is what I want…” [...] "Just so you know, I’m supportive of women who choose not to have children and working women who effortlessly juggle family and work.” 
[Daniel’s] voice lifted. “You shouldn’t have to justify yourself.” 
[Marnie] gave him a grateful nod. “Thanks. You wouldn’t believe the sniggers I’ve endured.” He saw the muscles in her jaw tighten. “I’m respectful of other women’s choices, so why can’t they be of mine?”

Are you, though?  Marnie and Daniel share a similar past: their fathers were absent and their mothers made questionable decisions. Marnie’s mother (aka, the junkie, and yes, she refers to her own mother like that) is dead; Daniel’s mother (who had an affair with her married British boss) raised him, though she was absent a lot due to needing to work. Neither of them seem to like their mothers or empathize with them at all. Daniel views his mother as a hostile presence who cannot be appeased regardless of what he does, and who was super stupid:

English married men with children didn’t marry the Chinese secretary with whom they’d been having an affair. God, he still couldn’t believe how gullible his mother had been.

Marnie thinks her mother’s addiction was a choice:

[...] they didn’t know what it was like to have a junkie mother who preferred dirty needles to her baby daughter and had written “unknown” for father on Marnie’s birth certificate.

I’m not sure which is more egregious: heroin addiction or an unknown sexual partner/co-parent. It’s possible that Marnie and Daniel eventually make peace with their mothers, living or memory. But I only made it 20 pages into this story. And that was a struggle. I gave it about 3 tries before I just couldn’t deal with any more digs at other women or racial stereotypes. I almost filled an entire bingo card with:

-Nice Girls Don’t Do That
-Exotic Belly Dancing
-Fetishizing Asian Men
-I Thought Girls Eat Only Salads
-I Can’t Believe You Learned the Dominant Language of the Place You’ve Lived for 2 Years
-I’m Chinese So I Must Provide For My Family
-I Not-So-Secretly Hate My Mother

Additionally, there were small things that seemed off. Like, the first setting is Hong Kong, and we don’t get definitive proof that Daniel was born and raised in Hong Kong, but he considers himself Chinese. A quick google search confirmed my suspicion that folks native to Hong Kong are not Chinese; their national identity is to Hong Kong, though many are ethnically Chinese. This might be cleared up later in the story, but I didn’t find it worth it even to skim.

I moved on to Once Upon a K-Pop Prince, hoping to have a better experience, though very cautious. Unfortunately, my caution was reasonable. I found very similar sentiments in this story, though not to the extreme level of An Unexpected Forever.

In this story, Andi is in Okinawa on holiday for her 40th birthday, in part to pay tribute to a goal that she and her father had made to visit the island. Min-Kyu is in Okinawa on holiday as well, taking a much needed respite from his busy schedule as a South Korean pop star. Min-Kyu is only 28, so there’s a bit of an age gap, and he is South Korean to Andi’s Australian. They have curious things in common, though: their fathers are both dead, and have complicated relationships with their mothers (man, this sounds really familiar).

Andi’s mother is apparently a perfect physical specimen, though she’s got to be at least around 60.  Not that older women can’t be beautiful! But Andi really builds up her attractiveness:

“My dad was the only person who thought I was cute, but that doesn’t count ‘cos he’s my dad. My mum’s the beautiful one. Tall. Long legs. Ageless.” [Andi] rubbed her thumb and fingers together.] “Money. She’s loaded.  Old money.” A frown marred her forehead. “I still don’t understand how she and my dad got together.  She’s so unyielding it’s a miracle she doesn’t snap when she sits down…”

So… yikes. There’s a mix-up with room reservations and Andi and Min-Kyu end up needing to share a room because of a lack of available accommodations on the island (big festival). They don’t know much about each other, though they find the other attractive. Over the course of a few days, they fall in love, because we all know what we’re here for. They have sex (very low heat; mostly described after the fact). Then the real conflict comes: Min-Kyu’s identity has been leaked, and the paparazzi show up at the hotel.

Min-Kyu has been working under a pretty strict no-scandal-clause contract, and he’s got one more year to go. He’s driven by the need to take care of his mother. Not unlike Daniel, Min-Kyu’s father was a married man, and when the affair came to light, somehow his father’s wife sued his mother, the effect of which was they became poor, and Min-Kyu’s mother had to resort to sex work at times to put food on the table. While Min-Kyu does seem to like his mother (at least the most of any of these four characters), she’s got some petty in her. When Min-Kyu had made enough money to support a lavish lifestyle for her, his mother bought the house next door to Min-Kyu’s father’s now ex-wife.

“Right next door to the woman who took everything from us. [...] I didn’t realize until Mother was moving in. By then I was living in Seoul. She chose the house. For the first few months Mother made a point of leaving the curtains open so the dragon next door could see all the lovely things she had. A bit childish perhaps, but satisfying for her nonetheless…”

When Min-Kyu’s real identity is revealed to Andi, she leaves Okinawa, feeling upset and betrayed. I mean, I can understand feeling blindsided by the fact that yeah, you fucked a super-famous dude. But it’s not like they were in a relationship. He was protecting himself by not giving his full name and resume. My reaction to Andi’s reaction was basically “Who cares?” There’s a happy ending, of course. Whatever.

This one was less bad, but still full of super-fun generalizations by race/ethnicity and gender.

She frowned at his back and muttered about frustrating men.

I mean, who doesn’t think all men are frustrating after being annoyed by just one?  (Ok, this isn’t the best example maybe.)

Kyu paused in testing the water. “Wow. Now that’s something I never thought I’d see in this life.” 
Andi frowned and tilted her head in his direction. 
“A woman being ready in ten minutes. The ones I know wouldn’t be available until sometime after brunch.”

That’s nice. A little bit of #NotLikeOtherGirls, a little femininity-shaming.

There is also a bit of dialogue that comes across as super creepy. Min-Kyu has a confrontation with the head of the (film? I think?) company about breaking his contract as part of his own plot resolution. Prior to that, they have a conversation on the phone, during which this exchange takes place:

“I didn’t choose anyone. It was a mix-up at the hotel. There weren't any other options. We had to share a room.” 
“You had a woman in your room that is the epitome of what you find attractive, and you’re trying to tell me you didn’t sleep with her?”

Ok, so there are several things happening here. First, the company head’s description of Andi is very similar to what Min-Kyu’s was earlier in the story, so that’s too similar a voice for two characters. Second, gross. Why would he know Min-Kyu’s sexual preferences so well? And third, uh, does Andi get a say in whether or not Min-Kyu sleeps with her? There are two people involved here.

So, yeah, based on my experiences with just two of these stories, I am in no way interested in checking out any of the others. As I said earlier, this is really disappointing, because we need stories that feature Asian men as the MCs. We need to challenge cultural stereotypes about how Asian men aren’t masculine enough (however that’s defined), or aren’t good enough to be romantic leads. But maybe let’s let Asian women take the lead on this. I can’t help but think that at least some of these issues would be non-issues if the authors weren’t white women.

In the meantime, dear Romancelandia, please: Do Better! We’ve all got baggage to handle and shit to shovel from growing up in this culture that’s toxic to anyone who’s not white, cishet, thin and able-bodied, neurotypical, and Christian. I want stories about people who fall outside these categories, but I want good stories! I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

An Unexpected Forever: DNF, 1 star

Once Upon a K-Pop Prince: 2 stars

DNF/1 and 2 STARS!

Melinda's Review:

I read the short story in this Seven-Day Cruise by Zena Oliver because the synopsis made me curious. Cancer storylines can make or break books for me. And in this story it didn’t exactly break the book…but it definitely did NOT help anything.

My problems with the story started almost immediately with the hero talking about going on a cruise. He’s talking to his friend here.

“Well, while you’re here playing house with Stephanie, I’ll be sailing around the islands having the time of my life.” 
It seemed completely ridiculous to him that his ship-mate allowed his girlfriend of just four months to have so much authority over what he did and didn’t do.
“And have you seen how well some older women take care of themselves these days?”

Um. I am not here for this. Any of it really. I got no sense of why Aidan thought this was ridiculous except that he is just completely against relationships. Because reasons? Which made me feel like we were supposed to just automatically understand that he is MANLY so why would he want to tie himself down in a relationship with one woman when he could be sleeping around? There’s no exposition or explanation to go on for these crappy statements so I was left to make my own conclusions. Also – some older women take care of themselves? I could do without the sexist, ageist bullshit thruway line.

Then there’s this example of the depiction and characteristics of the main characters.

“She was dressed in a navy blue tank top, cut-off jean shorts that barely covered her behind, and blue ankle socks with her blue canvas sneakers.”

It just felt incredibly lazy – what woman wears blue, on top of blue, with blue socks, and blue shoes? I mean – if you do that’s totally fine! But…I truly do not notice what characters wear in books. I read that, re-read it, and came back to it again because it stuck out to me so much.

Then there is the treatment of foreign language within the text. Below is how it was done, which was incredibly shoddy and something I’ve never seen done before. It did not work for me and only took a little Googling to see how it should have been done.

“Aloha. I’m closing, Keiki (son). Is there something I can quickly help you with?” 
“Sorry, I’m a makule (old man). My eyes are bad.” 
“Nau wale no, Keiki (Only you, son),” the old man said. “Maholo nui loa (Thanks a lot).”

I also had issues with the heroine, she had cancer previously – this was in the synopsis so I expected it to be a part of the storyline and her character development. Literally though, this line is the only acknowledgment of the cancer.

Riley was silent. She tried so hard to not relive that health scare, but the scar was a constant reminder that she’d endured a battle with cancer. And she’d won. At least so far, anyway.

I cannot stand when cancer is used as a plot point and then thrown away – usually my issue is more that it’s not done correctly. But here it’s barely even addressed and honestly I’m not sure why it’s even part of the story! Another aspect that I am unsure what the point of is that Taite is biracial but it’s mentioned in passing partially for maybe half a second. In my mind if you can remove someone’s race from a text completely and it does not inform any of their actions or character then it means the biracial aspect was included just to score points. Especially when it was written by a white author and included in an anthology written by white authors about Asian heroes. In the year of problematic shit 2018 this is so not the time for that.

I felt like this whole story was a bunch of throwaway ideas put together to make one throwaway story that did not work. At all.

1 1/2 - 2 STARS! 

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Source: eARC from author

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Thanks for the reviews, Kat Melinda! 


Until Next Time,

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