Love the Fur You’re In: Monster Wit & Wisdom from Sesame Street

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Thank you to Random House Kids for providing me a copy of this book!


This post is a little bit out of the norm for this blog, but I still wanted to write a little quick blurb because THE FEELS.

Oh, my heart. This illustrated book is so perfect as a gift for graduates or if you just need a dose of daily inspiration. I wasn’t expecting it to be so geared toward adults. It gave me such a major throwback to when I was just a little Thai kid, reading Sesame Street books to brush up on my English reading skills. Since this book is celebrating Sesame Street’s 50th anniversary, there were TONS of illustrations from decades ago. It gave me so much nostalgia, and I found myself giggling so many times. This book is filled with so much good and reminds us to not just be kind to others, but also to ourselves.

fivestars


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Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey

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ARC provided by Berkley Romance in exchange for an honest review.


I really, really wanted to give this book a higher rating. It started as a 5-star read for me, then went down to four… but now I’m sitting at three. I was truly loving it up until the main character did some things that made me so uncomfortable and annoyed.

This book takes place in Columbus, Ohio. More specifically, it takes place in a little part of the city called German Village. I’m a local, so seeing my city represented meant so much to me. Winfrey makes a ton of references to real, local businesses such as The Book Loft (my most favorite indie book store PERIOD), Pistacia Vera, Schiller Park, and so much more. I was LIVING for these and I was so ready to make an aesthetic. Like, give me all the cozy German Village settings PLEASE.

We follow Annie, a grown-ass adult who has really high expectations about how she wants to meet a man. She grew up watching 90’s rom com movies with her mother (who has passed away) so they hold a special place in her heart. But she also has some pretty unrealistic expectations from people she dates, and she wants nothing more than to meet a man in a meet-cute fashion. And I know that all sounds a bit weird, but because this is a rom com about rom coms, I was loving it.

Annie wants to be a screen writer, and she spends her days in German Village at a coffee shop called Nick’s (which I think it based off of Stauf’s, maybe?) But you’re not going to have many film making opportunities in Ohio. However, she currently lives in her old Victorian home with her uncle, Don, and she doesn’t want to leave the house or Don behind.

One day a movie production company moves into German Village and soon Annie lands herself a position as the assistant to the director of the film. The film is a rom com and it stars a famous, hot actor named Drew. Of course, this book being a quintessential rom com, Annie bumps into Drew while on set and spills coffee on him.

Boom. Instant meet cute.

The rest of the book is a lot of back and forth banter between Annie and Drew. Their encounters are funny and cute, and I was constantly rooting for them. I also adored Annie’s friend, Chloe, who was your typical honest/silly/always-there-for-you-BFF.

The thing is: I really did love all the rom com references. While I know that would be annoying to some readers, I knew all the cheesy rom com moments were necessary. And I knew where the story was going. But, because I knew where the story was going, I kept feeling a sense of dread that Annie was going to do a very stupid thing.

Y’all. She does something so stupid, so cringey, so goddamn awful I just want to hide under a rock due to all the secondhand embarrassment. And when that stupid thing is done, and a certain other character feels hurt, she has the audacity to play the victim.

Another thing that I was discussing with my buddy read group was how the author felt the need to bring up, several times, how rom coms lack diversity. And yet… she didn’t include any diversity at all. I really don’t understand the point of her bringing up that topic at all? Why even mention it if you aren’t going to do something about it? Why not have a marginalized main character*? She included one minor character who was POC but their soul purpose was to teach Annie a lesson so that was kinda weird. (*I should note the reason I’m even bringing up why there should’ve been a main POC character was because the film in the book is about an interracial couple and Chloe even mentions how whitewashed rom coms are.)

So while I did love the other cute, cheesy rom com moments and I absolutely adored the setting, I was just disappointed with how the last 1/4 played out. I mean, I enjoyed the very, very end, and I am looking forward to reading Chloe’s story next. But I hope the next installment won’t try so hard to make such bold statements about diversity and then not do anything about it on the page.

But I do still recommend this book if you’re a rom com lover, and I do think you’ll be rooting for Annie and Drew!

threestarsBuddy read with Melanie, Alexa, & Madalyn!

 


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Finale (Caraval, #3) by Stephanie Garber

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ARC provided by Flatiron Books in exchange for an honest review.

Caraval Review | Legendary Review


This review pains me to write because I was truly expecting a 5 star read.

I have always thought highly of this series. I loved how Caraval focused on a game and the actors within the game. I loved how Legendary expanded that world and introduced us to the Fates. I truly believe this series could’ve just been a duology; extend Legendary to be a slightly longer book, tie up some loose ends, and call it a wrap. I really don’t understand the point of Finale at all.

Finale introduces us to a new villain which… seems like an odd time to bring in a new villain. We already met Jacks in Legendary, and in my opinion, he was the perfect “bad guy.” But we get introduced to the ACTUAL villain who is a Fate. And this Fate wants to destroy basically everyone and take Legend’s place. I just really didn’t understand the point of him at all and he was so “mustache twirly” that I had to roll my eyes at all his scenes.

So let’s talk about Tella and Scarlett. In this book the POV’s alternate between the two sisters, which I actually did like because we got to follow their own little journeys within the story. However, Scarlett was so childish in this book I JUST CANNOT. From the very beginning of the book she decides she wants to string Julian along, and then have Julian and Nicolas compete for her? What kind of childish game is this? I truly do not understand her motivations behind this AT ALL.

Tella is my favorite of the two sisters but she also did some things that were questionable. She kept seeking solace from Jacks, who is, you know… a villain… and would then be surprised that he *gasp* did a villainous thing. Girl, why? Also, Jacks literally tries to give her a heart attack in order to get what he wants from Legend, but then later tells Tella he “didn’t mean to” and would never hurt her? Excuse me? But you literally just gave her a heart attack, dude. I was always Team Jacks but that scene was so unnecessary to me.

And speaking of Jacks (who was my favorite character from Legendary.) His character really got reduced down to be a minor side character who only showed up at convenient times to sweep Tella off her feet. I truly didn’t understand his purpose and felt zero closure with him.

I was also really excited to be introduced to the other Fates, but they all also felt like very minor side characters who didn’t seem to play a pivotal role in the entire story.

Here’s the thing: I’ve always loved the world of Caraval, but in Finale I felt like most of the time we were being TOLD. It’s full of characters speaking in long paragraphs telling us about the history of something or about another character. It really dragged and made me lose focus. I don’t want to be told everything; I want to see it. Also I refuse to even acknowledge the time-travel loophole because that’s my least favorite trope used to tie up a loose end.

This was my most anticipated release of 2019 and I am just kind of feeling neutral about how it all ended? I didn’t hate it, but I just didn’t love it either. I know my review sounds super ranty, but I loved being back in the world and with these characters again. I will also forever love Dante because he’s such a sweet guy. Also I think Stephanie Garber is the loveliest human and I will still read everything she writes. I guess I can hope there will be a spin-off for this series?

threestars


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The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

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Book provided by Gallery Books in exchange for an honest review.


Confession: This was my first ever Christina Lauren book, and I can promise it won’t be my last. This was truly the perfect beachy/poolside read and I will recommend it to everyone.

The Unhoneymooners is a contemporary adult romantic comedy that starts out with a wedding. Ami and Olive are twins, but all her life Olive has felt like the “unlucky twin.” Ami is getting married, and Olive is helping her sister with all the final arrangements. But during the reception everyone comes down with food poisoning from eating from the seafood buffet. Everyone… except Olive and the best man, Ethan. Ethan is also the groom’s brother, but he and Olive hate each other.

Not wanting the non-refundable honeymoon in Maui to go to waste, Ami encourages Olive and Ethan to pose as the married couple and take their honeymoon. Olive reluctantly agrees, thinking she can go to relax and avoid Ethan completely.

Of course, this being a romantic comedy… they can’t avoid each other because they’re stuck in the same suite. Things get hilarious from there as they start to bump into people they know from Minnesota, and Olive and Ethan have to put on a show to make everyone believe they are actually married.

If you know me then I love enemies-to-lovers romances. Top it off with a fake dating/fake marriage trope and you’ve got my attention. I was audibly laughing out loud during the majority of this book. I loved the love/hate relationship between Olive and Ethan and it was so much fun to watch their tension grow into a more romantic way.

And let’s not forget the Hawaiian setting, which is making me miss the beach something fierce.

I was also loving Olive’s family, and how much they all support each other and are always there for each other. I’m not going to get into spoilers, but Olive has trouble with employment, and her family was there to help her. Even if her family isn’t in the book a lot, I really loved their dynamics.

However, what made me not rate this an entire 5 stars is how a certain issue was handled between Olive and two male characters. I was really aggravated how Olive was treated in such a flippant way. This is 2019 and when a woman says she’s uncomfortable from a man’s sexual advances, you damn well better listen to her and take her seriously.

Overall this is such a swoon worthy book and I could not stop myself from laughing during the witty, sarcastic exchanges between Olive and Ethan. They are an OTP in my heart and I hope we can see them again in future books!

fourstars

Buddy read with Heather & Jen!


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Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

41150487ARC provided by St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Synopsis:

A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends…

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?


If there’s one book that’s going to stick with me for years to come, it is Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. I had no idea how much this book was going to make me smile, swoon, and cheer for every single character I came across. I’m not even exaggerating when I say these characters feel like actual, real people, and if you’re like me who is just… really unhappy with the way US politics has been going… then you’re probably going to want these characters to be real, too.

Firstly, I want to mention that this book is new adult (not YA!) So, yes, there are some steamy scenes! Most fade to black, but, nonetheless, still steamy!

So this book stars Alex Claremont-Diaz, a bisexual, 21-year-old, Mexican-American who is the First Son of the United States. His mother, Ellen Claremont, is the first woman president, and she’s coming up for reelection in 2020. You see, in this alternate reality, a woman president took office after President Obama. And, y’all, this book cannot come at a better time when all I want is to keep that hope alive that things here will eventually… get better?

And then there’s Henry, the Prince of Wales. Henry is gay but has not come out due to the pressure and expectations from the crown. Henry has two siblings: an older brother and younger sister. He’s such a soft guy, and he feels so much weight upon him to fulfill his royal obligations. But Henry’s also suffering from anxiety and depression after his father passed away, and his mother has been absent since his father’s death.

This story has my favorite trope of all time: enemies-to-lovers! Alex, the POTUS, and their entourage fly to England for a royal wedding (Henry’s brother’s.) Alex has met Henry before, and always felt like Henry came off as a jerk. So after a bit of arguing, Alex and Henry accidentally destroy the royal wedding cake, and the two families go into full recovery-mode in order to get the negative press off their backs.

Which then leads into… the fake-friendship trope! Now Alex and Henry have to pretend to be BFFs in front of the press so they can clear the air especially since President Claremont is running for reelection and she cannot have this international-wedding-catastrophe in the spotlight.

I’m sure you can guess what happens from here… but once they become fake friends, a real friendship blooms as the FSOTUS and Prince get to know each other. A romance then ensues, and soon they’re trying their best to keep everything a secret.

I really had the best time reading this book. Alex is so sarcastic, witty, and has the best one-liners I’ve ever read. He’s also full of so much heart and he cares so much about his family and his background. His grandparents are Mexican immigrants, and I cannot help but relate so hard to how Alex struggles with his identity of being half Mexican and white (I’m half Thai/white); how sometimes we aren’t sure which box we fit into. I also felt such a deep emotional attachment to Henry as he wanted nothing more than to fulfill his royal obligations, but at the same time struggles with the thought of putting himself and his happiness first.

The romance in this book is top notch, and I would give my soul for a sequel. I not only fell in love with Alex and Henry, but the other diverse cast made this story so amazing. I love June, Nora, Bea, Pez, Tarah, and the POTUS (Ellen) so, so much. Like I said, I truly wish these characters were real people!

Okay, I’m done gushing about this adorable, swoon-worthy book. I sincerely hope you’ll pick this up; not only for the romance, but for the witty banter, hilarious characters, found families, close friendships, and glimmers of hope.

However, there is a lot of talk about US (and royal) politics in this book, so if that’s not your jam, then you may not love it. But even so, all the talks of politics throughout the book does have a purpose and makes sense as the story progresses (I know I’m being vague, but you’ll see what I mean if you read it!)

Trigger/content warnings: Homophobia, talks of cancer, death of a parent, outing, anxiety, depression, talks of drug use, talks of past sexual assault.

fivestars

Buddy read with Heather & Kristin!


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Aurora Rising (The Aurora Cycle, #1) by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

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ARC provided by Knopf Books in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Synopsis:

From the internationally bestselling authors of THE ILLUMINAE FILES comes an epic new science fiction adventure.

The year is 2380, and the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy are being assigned their first missions. Star pupil Tyler Jones is ready to recruit the squad of his dreams, but his own boneheaded heroism sees him stuck with the dregs nobody else in the Academy would touch…

A cocky diplomat with a black belt in sarcasm
A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates
A smart-ass techwiz with the galaxy’s biggest chip on his shoulder
An alien warrior with anger management issues
A tomboy pilot who’s totally not into him, in case you were wondering

And Ty’s squad isn’t even his biggest problem—that’d be Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, the girl he’s just rescued from interdimensional space. Trapped in cryo-sleep for two centuries, Auri is a girl out of time and out of her depth. But she could be the catalyst that starts a war millions of years in the making, and Tyler’s squad of losers, discipline-cases and misfits might just be the last hope for the entire galaxy.

They’re not the heroes we deserve. They’re just the ones we could find. Nobody panic.


This review is going to hurt me, and I feel awful I even feel this way. I want to preface this by saying I really enjoy these authors’ previous works, and I think Amie and Jay are awesome humans who write amazing stories.

But… I was so disappointed by this book. I am trying very hard not to compare this to the Illuminae Files, but it’s hard not to when this is yet another story set in space featuring a group of young cadets.

This book follows six cadets who come together when their squad leader, Tyler, rescues a girl who was cryogenically frozen. Aurora doesn’t understand why she woke up 200 years later than anticipated, because she was supposed to land on a planet called Octavia III. But then we quickly find out Aurora has inherited some strange and deadly powers, so Squad 312 must escape in order to save her and themselves.

Here is Squad 312 at a glance:

Tyler – The Alpha and squad leader. His level of attractiveness and dimples are mentioned so many times it’s going to make you roll your eyes into the back of your skull.

Scarlett – The Face (aka the diplomat) and Tyler’s twin sister. She is described as having firey red hair and just as stunning as her brother.

Cat – The Ace, pilot. She’s tough as nails and loyal to Tyler and Scarlett.

Kal – The Tank, Syldrathi, a Legolas-lookalike according to Aurora, but with darker skin and silver braids. The Syldrathi have a war history with the Terran people.

Finian – The Gearhead, Tech Division. He is Betraskan, so he appears “alien-like”; skin is white and he has to wear contacts which makes his eyes appear all black. He’s bisexual and presents with a disability for muscle weakness, nerve damage, impaired mobility.

Zila – The Brains, Science Division. She is described as having dark brown skin and curly black hair. She’s also very serious and matter-of-fact. I believe she may be on the autism spectrum but this is not my lane so I would love to see others chime in in regards to this.

Aurora – A Cryogenically girl frozen for the last 200 years and was supposed to wake up on Octavia III. She is Asian, described as having short black hair with a white streak, and freckles across her nose. She can do some serious damage but cannot control these new, strange powers.

I think what threw me off from the very beginning was that this was marketed as, “They’re not the heroes we deserve. They’re just the ones we could find.” Maybe it’s just me, but that quote made me assume we were going to be presented with a ragtag team of misfits who are subpar at their jobs but must come together to fight the good fight. When in reality we already have the best-of-the-best Legionnaire, his sister, his best friend, and three other legionnaires who are good at what they do.

So I’m already rolling my eyes at how misleading that was. However, I just could not get past how boring everything was. Part 1 showed us how the squad escaped with Aurora, Part 2 took us to the World Ship where a very long, unnecessarily drawn-out heist took place, and then Part 3 turned into a very bad sci fi movie rip-off.

And usually I can get over a mediocre plot, but when the “action” was putting me to sleep? I just had such a hard time picking this book back up. Also I couldn’t care less about any of the characters. Aside from Kal, everyone was extremely one-dimensional. There’s a cringey “mating bond” that appears between two of the characters, which honestly made me want to DNF right then and there.

Here’s the thing: Even though Illuminae isn’t my favorite series of all time, the friendships in those books were palpable. You felt connected to them. But in Aurora Rising? There were SO MANY POV’S that I couldn’t even keep track of who to care about. Every single squad member had their own POV (that’s SEVEN!) and they were all told in first person. Sorry, not a fan of trying to figure out whose POV I left off on if I had to put the book down in the middle of a chapter.

I know this book has already received a lot of early praise, so take my opinions with a grain of salt. I just can’t get over how messy everything was, how bland the characters were, and how much I just wanted everything to be over.

twostarsBuddy read with Stephanie!


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The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.

Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.

Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations—a search for the truth that threatens to consume him….


I’m quite surprised by how much I loved this? Honestly, I went in pretty much blind. I avoided all the reviews. I didn’t overthink it. I didn’t try to over analyze everything. I just sat back and enjoyed the ride. I really felt like this book has the perfect blend of darkness, mystery, and twists.

I can see why some people may have not liked this book, and if you read a ton of thrillers, then you may think this book was just okay. I took a break from thrillers but I made it my goal to read more thrillers this year. The Silent Patient was a great start for me, and I really do recommend this book if you’re wanting something dark and fast paced. Also, I think it really helps that the chapters were so short, because it truly made the reading fly by!

So here are the basics: Alicia is arrested for shooting her husband in the face several times. She doesn’t provide an explanation, and she remains silent throughout the entire investigation process and trial. So she’s sentenced to a psychiatric hospital called the Grove, where she continues to remain silent for the next six years — until psychotherapist Theo joins the staff, and he wants to help Alicia speak once again.

What I wasn’t expecting was this book to be (almost) entirely from Theo’s perspective. And while there are bits of Alicia’s journal entries sprinkled throughout the book, we get a lot of investigative work as Theo tries to dig up Alicia’s past and follow any breadcrumbs that could expose Alicia’s motives.

And even if you were able to predict the twists and outcome, I still felt like it was a rabbit hole that was well formulated, and the path we took to the conclusion was superbly done. I also loved how Greek mythology and art was a strong theme throughout this book.

Some things that I did find bothersome was the use of ableist terms such as “crazy” when referring to patients in the Grove. I know that’s expected in a psychological thriller that takes place in a psychiatric hospital, but please use caution if mental illness topics is a trigger for you. Also Theo likes to mention how he wants to “fix” Alicia, which is just language I find gross.

I also want to note that I listened to this book on audio and read along the book at the same time. I loved the cast in the audiobook and I truly felt like that overall enhanced my reading experience. Plus, Louise Brealey is the voice of Alicia, and I loved her so much from Sherlock (BBC)!

Possible spoilers (but not really) in trigger warnings below.

 

Trigger warnings: ableist terms such as “crazy”, talks of suicide, mental illness, depression, stalking, cheating, loss of a parent, abuse from a parent.

fourstars

Buddy read with Stephanie and Amber!


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No Exit by Taylor Adams

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Goodreads Synopsis:

A brilliant, edgy thriller about four strangers, a blizzard, a kidnapped child, and a determined young woman desperate to unmask and outwit a vicious psychopath.

A kidnapped little girl locked in a stranger’s van. No help for miles. What would you do?

On her way to Utah to see her dying mother, college student Darby Thorne gets caught in a fierce blizzard in the mountains of Colorado. With the roads impassable, she’s forced to wait out the storm at a remote highway rest stop. Inside, are some vending machines, a coffee maker, and four complete strangers.

Desperate to find a signal to call home, Darby goes back out into the storm . . . and makes a horrifying discovery. In the back of the van parked next to her car, a little girl is locked in an animal crate.

Who is the child? Why has she been taken? And how can Darby save her?

There is no cell phone reception, no telephone, and no way out. One of her fellow travelers is a kidnapper. But which one?

Trapped in an increasingly dangerous situation, with a child’s life and her own on the line, Darby must find a way to break the girl out of the van and escape.

But who can she trust?

With exquisitely controlled pacing, Taylor Adams diabolically ratchets up the tension with every page. Full of terrifying twists and hairpin turns, No Exit will have you on the edge of your seat and leave you breathless.

Okay, I had a really hard time deciding what to rate this book. I was sitting at 4-stars for a while but then things got a bit too outlandish for my liking.

I will say, this book is incredibly fast paced and doesn’t hold back any punches. And the trigger warnings. Lots and lots of trigger warnings. I feel like that’s pretty much a guarantee when it comes to a thriller, but just use caution if things like child abuse/sexual abuse are big triggers for you.

We follow Darby, a college student driving to Utah to visit her sick mother in the hospital. While she’s driving through Colorado she gets stuck in a blizzard and has no choice but to pull into a rest stop to wait it out. There are a few other people stuck there as well. They mostly keep to themselves, but soon they realize the weather isn’t going to let up, and without a cell signal, they have to prepare to stay the night. Small talk ensues, card games are played, but Darby doesn’t let her guard down.

Then while she’s outside in the parking lot she discovers a horrific scene: inside the trunk of a van is a cage, and inside the cage is a little girl. So, who inside the rest area is responsible for this nightmare?

This really is such a page turner, and if you’re a fan of a small cast stuck in one place (a la Agatha Christie) then this is the book for you. I really love whodunnits where everyone is trapped in a room and we must figure out the mystery. It’s like a game of Clue. But in reality this book was more like a gory, murder-infused-rage game of Clue. Sounds kind of fun, right?

Well, let’s just say the “bad guy” was really over the top, moving straight into campy mode. I don’t really mind gore or disturbing crime topics, but I expect them to actually be written well and to… have a point. The “bad guy” here was so careless, cheesy, and had zero plan of action. It was such a mess.

I think this book would’ve been better adapted into a movie. On the page, it just didn’t wow me like I expected it to. But I do recommend this book if you’re looking for a fast paced thriller that will leave you wanting to keep reading once you finish a chapter. It really will hook you in!

threestars


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Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger

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Read during March for the Dragons & Tea Book Club!


Goodreads Synopsis:

A sharp and funny urban fantasy for “new adults” about a secret society of bartenders who fight monsters with alcohol fueled magic.

College grad Bailey Chen has a few demons: no job, no parental support, and a rocky relationship with Zane, the only friend who’s around when she moves back home. But when Zane introduces Bailey to his cadre of monster-fighting bartenders, her demons get a lot more literal. Like, soul-sucking hell-beast literal. Soon, it’s up to Bailey and the ragtag band of magical mixologists to take on whatever—or whoever—is behind the mysterious rash of gruesome deaths in Chicago, and complete the lost recipes of an ancient tome of cocktail lore.

I LOVED the idea of demon-fighting bartenders, and I actually still enjoyed the premise very much! This book follows Bailey, a Chinese-American college graduate who just moved back home to live with her parents. She’s still searching for a job; her parents keep nudging her toward a career path, but Bailey ends up reconnecting with an old friend (and crush), Zane, who presents her an opportunity to work in his bar.

But Bailey soon learns tending a bar is more than just mixing the perfect cocktail. In fact, when you do mix the perfect cocktail, it turns into a magical drink that gives the consumer special powers. These powers depend on the drink, and there are fun recipes with the history of the ingredients all throughout the book. Some of the special powers include super-human strength, invisibility, and telekinesis.

We find out Zane is part of an underground network of monster-fighting bartenders. There is an entire hierarchy and court system; rules to play by. It’s all very political, and Bailey gets thrown into their world when she inadvertently makes a cocktail that gives her powers to fight off a monster. You see, monsters called tremens lurk in the night among Chicago’s streets. They usually hunt alone, in the shadows. But something is provoking them to start hunting in packs.

So, the thing is… a lot of points in this book missed the mark for me, but I still really appreciate all the things Paul Krueger included, so I’m going to list all the things I liked and disliked.

What I liked:

  • The fact that this book is ownvoices, written by a Filipino-American author.
  • It’s new adult, which is a genre I rarely see boosted. As a 30-something-year-old, I like to see books that feature characters who are in their mid-late 20’s (or older) because I instantly connect with them so much better.
  • The Asian rep. Bailey is Chinese-American and her parents are Chinese. I was able to relate to the “Asian family expectations” story line so much.
  • Diversity rep for a trans character, gay relationship, black side character, and rep for blind/visually impairment.
  • The pub settings were always my favorite parts!
  • The idea that it’s ok to not know what you want to do after you graduate from college. That it’s ok you’re still trying to figure things out.
  • The history behind the magical cocktails and ingredients. Those parts were so humorous and I’d love to read an entire book on just the drinks alone!
  • I am a sucker for any book that takes place in Chicago.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • I didn’t feel connected to the world building, and wasn’t a fan of how the monsters were utilized in the story.
  • Zane. Ugh. Zane! He was the worst and I don’t like how Bailey was totally fine with forgiving him.
  • The death of a certain animal. Like… I can’t.
  • As the story progressed I felt like it derailed from being monster-fighting-centric. I wasn’t sure why Jess was even introduced, and I found that story line really irrelevant.
  • I just became really bored by the 50% mark and just… wanted it to be over.

I’m so sorry I didn’t end up enjoying this book as much as I had hoped, but I am so glad I picked it up! I would’ve never read this if it wasn’t for the book club Melanie and I started, and I’m so thankful we got to read it with so many people!

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A Girl Like Her by Talia Hibbert

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Read in February for the Dragons & Tea Book Club!


Goodreads Synopsis:

She’s the town pariah. He doesn’t give a damn.

In Ruth Kabbah’s world, comic books are king, silence is golden, and human contact is a pesky distraction. She doesn’t like people, which works out just fine, because the people in this small town don’t like her. The exception to that rule? Evan Miller, her way-too-charming next-door neighbour…

Ex-military man Evan is all tattooed muscle on the outside—and a big, cuddly teddy bear beneath. He’s used to coaxing prickly people from their shells, but he’s never met a woman quite like Ruth. Blunt, sarcastic, and secretly sad, she’s his exact opposite. She’s also his deepest desire.

Soon, Evan’s steady patience and smouldering smiles are melting Ruth’s reserve. But when small-town gossip from her past begins to poison her future, she’s forced to make a choice. Should she trust Evan completely? Or is her heart safest alone?

Please be aware: this book contains mentions of intimate partner violence that could trigger certain audiences.

I had never heard of Talia Hibbert before, but the second I found out she’s a romance writer who is always boosting body positivity and consent, I WAS THERE FOR IT. Now I want to own every single book by her. Please, if you want to support an independent, ownvoices author, pick up her books! I truly think you’ll be in for a real treat.

This book follows Ruth, a black, plus sized woman who creates web comics and prefers to stay home and keeps to herself. She lives in a small town called Ravenswood, where she’s been labeled a “pariah” and rumors about her are constantly flying. But she’s just trying to move on from her past where she was involved in an abusive relationship. Ruth is also autistic and she tends to not trust new people. She is only close to her sister and mother, but that all starts to change when Evan moves in next door.

Evan is white, ex-military, and he’s very soft spoken and incredibly loyal. He also has a past where he was hurt, and he’s just trying to move on. He’s kind and constantly giving to others. He notices Ruth and slowly befriends her. After he sees Ruth’s horrible diet and learning her cooking skills are… nonexistent… he starts cooking her food every day and brings it over. AND OMG MY HEART.

There’s nothing I love more than two people connecting over food, and I just loved how understanding and patient Evan was with Ruth. He never pressured her to confront him about her past, and once their relationship evolved, there was always so much consent and body positivity.

What I really loved about Ruth was that she was so fiercely loyal to her family, and she knew how to stand up for herself. But she also completely shuts down when any mention of her ex was brought up, because she was always so focused on guilt and blaming herself for the abuse. This topic is brought up a lot, but Talia Hibbert really does such a tasteful job at addressing it. Ruth’s anxiety is also so relatable, and I just know so many people are going to understand and just GET her character. Also? Her favorite attire is pajamas and that is such a mood.

Please use caution going into this book if you are a survivor of abuse. And there are triggers for anxiety, slut shaming, and ableism language toward autism. But I seriously can’t recommend this book enough if you are looking for a good book in the romance genre. Trust me, I don’t read a ton of romance (where there is a whole lotta steam!) but this one was so incredibly well written and you will fly right through it!

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