Review of When I’m Bad, I’m Better, by K.F. Johnson

I won a signed copy of K. F. Johnson‘s When I’m Bad, I’m Better through Goodreads.

Description:
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and in this present-day drama, neither was the facade these four cousins expended a lifespan constructing. They say good girls finish last…but when they’re bad, they’re better!

Valerie’s just recovered from a career ending accident when her fiancé adds insult to injury by cheating on her with her closest relative. Devastated, angry, and now financially strapped, she’s ready to break all the rules…or is she?

Yasmin’s a successful attorney whose failing marriage has left a void that only a side romance has been able to fill. When a crime unexpectedly turns her life upside down, decisions will have to be made…or they’ll be made for her.

Vanessa’s an aspiring singer who’s tired of living in the shadow of her identical twin’s success. She’s not getting any younger, success doesn’t come cheap and fame costs!

Amina’s a beautiful bombshell who uses what she’s got to get what she wants; but she’s harboring seedy secrets that are anything but pretty. As skeletons begin to resurface, she needs them dead and buried…before she is.

Review:
With friends and family like these, who needs enemies? Geez. There’s a lot of drama packed in the pages of this book. I enjoyed the characters, though I don’t think I’d go so far as to say I liked them. It is interesting however to see into the mind of some of those unlikable characters and understand their position, even if it only truly makes sense in their own warped point of view. It’s a reminder that nothing and no one grows in a vacuum.

I really appreciated that this is a book by and about people who too rarely get their time on the page. All the main characters are people of color, in fact I don’t think there’s a white face in the book, but there are also queer and trans cameos too. Plus, this is a book about women. Men are in it. They’re often the motivation for the women’s actions, but this is a book about women— strong, self-reliant black women. I like the way that tips the standard tropes on their head. So often in books it’s women who are only present as reasons for men to do things, to go on quests or get angry or defend their honor or virtue, etc. Here, while the motivations are very different, it’s the men who play the more passive role, spurring women to actions, good and bad.

The narrative style is gritty and regional. A lot of the dialogue would send a grammar nazi into convulsions, but who really speaks with proper grammar everyday of their lives? Again, this is a realism you don’t often see allowed in literature. On the other side, the fact that the narration isn’t in standard English doesn’t absolve the author of the responsibility of editing. There are several occurrences that are clearly mistakes, mostly around punctuation and homophones. But’s it’s largely pretty clean.

I have a few personal pet peeve kind of complaints. As a general rule, and I’ve said this before, I truly dislike when authors compare their characters to celebrities as a means of telling the reader what they look like. I haven’t watched television in almost 5 years and have only seen a handful of movies. I have no clue who the new generation of stars are or what they look like. It is wholly ineffective for relaying information to me and only leads to feeling alienated as a reader. (And yes, I sadly do realize how old that makes me sound.) This is the primary means of character description in this book, everyone having a celebrity lookalike. We’re kind of given a reason for this, but it didn’t help me at all.

Next, while I understand that not everyone views sex, monogamy, parenting, relationship in the same way and I wouldn’t want them to, and I understood that for a variety of reasons (the least of which was romance) this was important to the characters, a lot of the book is dedicated to who is sleeping with whom and who is or isn’t injured because of it. I appreciated the subtle ways the author created a perception of castes among people, degrees of legality and hierarchies of betrayal, legitimizing some things and people and not others, but I did get a tad tired of the constant who is f_cking who and if I’m honest, I didn’t much care for the author’s style of describing sex. Again, personal preference, but there you have it.

Lastly, the book ends on a cliffhanger and I just hate that. All in all, it’s worth picking up though

I just love autographed books!

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