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Monday, June 21, 2021

#ATBR2021 Review: The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

The Maidens
by Alex Michaelides

Thanks to and Macmillan Audio for this listen!

Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Publish Date: June 15, 2021
9 hrs 18 min
Genres: Thriller, Mystery

Edward Fosca is a murderer. Of this Mariana is certain. But Fosca is untouchable. A handsome and charismatic Greek Tragedy professor at Cambridge University, Fosca is adored by staff and students alike—particularly by the members of a secret society of female students known as The Maidens.

Mariana Andros is a brilliant but troubled group therapist who becomes fixated on The Maidens when one member, a friend of Mariana’s niece Zoe, is found murdered in Cambridge.

Mariana, who was once herself a student at the university, quickly suspects that behind the idyllic beauty of the spires and turrets, and beneath the ancient traditions, lies something sinister. And she becomes convinced that, despite his alibi, Edward Fosca is guilty of the murder. But why would the professor target one of his students? And why does he keep returning to the rites of Persephone, the maiden, and her journey to the underworld?

When another body is found, Mariana’s obsession with proving Fosca’s guilt spirals out of control, threatening to destroy her credibility as well as her closest relationships. But Mariana is determined to stop this killer, even if it costs her everything—including her own life. 

My Review:

I used to devour mythology books when I was a kid but it's been literal decades since I've read any so it was nice to see so much Greek mythology throughout this book.  Michaelides gives us a very atmospheric thriller on campus at Cambridge.  Who else loves campus thrillers?! 🙋  

This is a bit of a slow burn that doesn't feel like a slow burn.  Know what I mean? I thoroughly enjoyed the dark and foreboding campus setting.  In this setting is a very popular professor named Edward Fosca.  He even has a following of female students called The Maidens.  When girls start dying, all signs seem to point to him and Mariana is determined to catch him - especially since Zoe, who Mariana considers a daughter, is there and upset. And so the story begins....

The Goods:  short chapters, easy reading style, atmosphere and mythology.

The Mehs: plot holes, Mariana (woman, you are a therapist with no detective skills.. step back!), a zillion red herrings and a frustrating ending.

My two besties had read The Silent Patient and are shocked that I have NOT ... yet!  But it is definitely on my TBR and after reading THE MAIDENS, I can see why his writing is so addictive to readers.  While I had slight issues with this story, it is a very quick and fairly entertaining read - gimme mythology and I already know I'm going to like it.


Jessica's Review:

What I've noticed about the books by Alex Michaelides is that you like one better than the other. I'm in the camp where I liked THE MAIDENS a little bit better. There's no denying how great the author is at setting the scene and creating the atmosphere - I also enjoyed that in THE SILENT PATIENT. There was a nice little nod to his other book in this one and I appreciated that.

I've always loved Greek Mythology and this book has me wanting to read more books on the subject again! The pacing was good but definitely a slower building start but I never felt like I was losing interest. It's hard to really go into a lot of detail at risk of spoiling anything but the only real drawback I had was that I'm not sure how I feel about the ending. It was alright, not the direction I was hoping it would go, but could have been worse. 

I'm curious to see what readers think that read THE SILENT PATIENT because it's seems most people like one or the other. I can't wait for his next book so I can get my tiebreaker. If you want something with a good amount of suspense, secret societies, Mythology, and a great atmosphere then you should have this on your TBR. 

4 stars

Review: Trouble Girls by Julia Lynn Rubin

Trouble Girls
by Julia Lynn Rubin

Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publish Date: June 1, 2021
272 Pages
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Queer, Retellings

A queer YA #MeToo reimagining of Thelma & Louise with the aesthetic of Riverdale, for fans of Mindy McGinnis, Courtney Summers, and Rory Power.

When Trixie picks up her best friend Lux for their weekend getaway, she’s looking to escape for a little while, to forget the despair of being trapped in their dead-end Rust Belt town and the daunting responsibility of caring for her ailing mother. The girls are packing light: a supply of Diet Coke for Lux and her ‘89 Canon to help her frame the world in a sunnier light; half a pack of cigarettes for Trixie that she doesn’t really smoke, and a knife—one she’s just hanging on to for a friend—that she’s never used before.

But a single night of violence derails their trip and will forever change the course of the girls’ lives, as they go from ordinary high schoolers to wanted fugitives. Trying to stay ahead of the cops and a hellscape of media attention, the girls grapple with an unforgiving landscape, rapidly diminishing supplies, and disastrous decisions at every turn. As they are transformed by the media into the face of a #MeToo movement they didn’t ask to lead and the road before them begins to run out, Trixie and Lux realize that they can only rely on each other, and that the love they find together is the one thing that truly makes them free.

In rushing, powerful prose Julia Lynn Rubin takes readers on “a blistering, unapologetic thrill ride” (Emma Berquis) that will leave them haunted and reeling. Trouble Girls is “a powerful, beautifully-written gut punch” (Sophie Gonzales).

My Review:

As a huge Thelma & Louise fan, I was so excited to buddy read this “queer YA #MeToo reimagining” with @heatherflynnstagram. It stars off pretty strong where Trixie and Liz have a crazy night before having to take off on the run.. and the author brings us readers on their doomed journey.

Unfortunately it all kind of feel apart for me as the book continued. I get that they are just girls who don’t have the best home lives amd have suffered I their own ways… but we never really get a good sense of what is happening within and between them. Trixie’s crush on Lux, Lux’s mood changes, loyalty but mistrust… then it would flip and it just seemed a bit choppy in certain areas. I think bringing in a little bit of levity into this very somber read would’ve helped abut and for goodness sakes, I am now tied to reading the word ‘hog’.

Also, I think there was a little moss with the #MeToo angle of the story. It definitely touches upon the subject matter but misses the mark in execution. Many parts get like they were just left to dangle and I wouldn’t liked seeing these parts expanded upon. I don’t know y’all. There are so many moments where my heart went out to these girls and I wanted to scoop them up and take care of them but this puzzle has a lot of pieces to it and I’m not sure they all for as well as they could. 🤷🏻‍♀️😔


Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Review: Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Malibu Rising
by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Narrated by Julia Whelan

Publisher: Random House Audio
Publish Date: June 1, 2021
11 hrs 5 min
Genres: Contemporary, Historical Fiction

Malibu: August 1983. It's the day of Nina Riva's annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over--especially as the offspring of the legendary singer Mick Riva.

The only person not looking forward to the party of the year is Nina herself, who never wanted to be the center of attention, and who has also just been very publicly abandoned by her pro tennis player husband. Oh, and maybe Hud--because it is long past time for him to confess something to the brother from whom he's been inseparable since birth.

Jay, on the other hand, is counting the minutes until nightfall, when the girl he can't stop thinking about promised she'll be there.

And Kit has a couple secrets of her own--including a guest she invited without consulting anyone.

By midnight the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family's generations will all come bubbling to the surface.

Malibu Rising is a story about one unforgettable night in the life of a family: the night they each have to choose what they will keep from the people who made them . . . and what they will leave behind.

My Review:

My third Taylor Jenkins Reid book. My favorite is still The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo followed closely by Daisy Jones and the Six.  Malibu Rising just reconfirms how talented this author is as she takes us from the 1960s to the 1980s centering around a family that appear to be falling apart.  While there's no mistaking that TJR tells a story with so much feeling that even her unlikable characters somehow become likable, this one fell just a little flat for me.  

I enjoyed learning of these siblings, their mother, the crazy relationships - TJR tackles family problems well and there's certainly a lot of quotes from it that I could pull.  For me, it just felt like I was listening to a story about them (btw the narrator is AMAZING on audio) and then the story just ended.  Which is fine in itself but I never got fully drawn in.

Note to self: never date a legendary singer. ✔🤣


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Review: Shutter by Melissa Larsen

by Melissa Larsen

Thanks to Berkley for this copy and stop on the blog tour.

Publisher: Berkley
Publish Date: June 15, 2021
368 Pages
Genres: Thriller, Suspense

A young woman agrees to star in a filmmaker’s latest project, but soon realizes the movie is not what she expected in this chilling debut novel.

In the wake of her father’s death, Betty Roux doesn’t allow herself to mourn. Instead, she pushes away her mother, breaks up with her boyfriend, and leaves everything behind to move to New York City. She doesn’t know what she wants, except to run.

When she’s offered the chance to play the leading role in mysterious indie filmmaker Anthony Marino’s new project, she jumps at the opportunity. For a month Betty will live in a cabin on a private island off the coast of Maine, with a five-person cast and crew. Her mother warns against it, but Betty is too drawn to the charismatic Anthony to say no.

Anthony gives her a new identity–Lola–and Betty tells herself that this is exactly what she’s been looking for. The chance to reinvent herself. That is, until they begin filming and she meets Sammy, the island’s caretaker, and Betty realizes just how little she knows about the movie and its director.

Melissa Larsen has an M.F.A. from Columbia University and a B.A. from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. She has interned and worked extensively in publishing. She lives in San Francisco, and Shutter is her first novel.

My Review:

Well well well... what have we here.... SHUTTER's premise is quite intriguing and once you get into the first few chapters, you know something eerie is going to happen but poor little Betty and her starry eyes are too enamored with Anthony and her acting debut to care.  Bring on the oopsie and the doopsie!  

I really wanted to like this more but it was sooooo slow for my particular pace.  I do love the fact that this film project is basically, "act natural and we'll edit as we need it".... alrighty then. Check one, two, three on already things that would make me go hmmm.... but still color me intrigued!  I will say that the last few chapters really came with a punch, albeit a bit shark jumpy... but I didn't mind too much - I just kinda wish it was like this throughout the book.  I considered putting this down a few times but I was just curious enough to see where it was going to go.

As a debut, I do believe Larsen shines - there's some bumps in the journey but it is clear she is talented and I look forward to whatever she has coming for us readers next. Lesson learned: don't go somewhere isolated for a month with a group of people you don't know that well. 😏


Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Review: Animal by Lisa Taddeo

by Lisa Taddeo

Thanks so much to for this audiobook.

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publish Date: June 8, 2021
13 hrs
Genre: Contemporary

I am depraved. I hope you like me.

Joan has spent a lifetime enduring the cruelties of men. But when one of them commits a shocking act of violence in front of her, she flees New York City in search of Alice, the only person alive who can help her make sense of her past. In the sweltering hills above Los Angeles, Joan unravels the horrific event she witnessed as a child - that has haunted her every waking moment - while forging the power to finally strike back.

Animal is a depiction of female rage at its rawest, and a visceral exploration of the fallout from a male-dominated society.

My Review:

The first sentence of the synopsis drew me right on in.  Depravity? IN! You hope I like you? I'm pretty sure I will!... and yet, here I am proven wrong. Don't get me wrong, I don't DISlike her... I think this is going to be a book that you either love or you don't.  Unfortunately it's not one that I loved and yet I couldn't stop listening either.  I love Emma Roberts and was delighted that she is the narrator... and I know this read is a somber one but the one tone sound, which I think is just the way the book is, had me fairly bored through the majority.  I know, I know - bored but couldn't stop listening?  YEP.

If you have been following me for any length of time, you know that I love unlikeable characters.. and Jane is a tough one.  I wanted to simultaneously hug and shake her.  She's has been put through the ringer and there are definitely some tough scenes to read through.  We get a full look into Jane as a character but I feel like there was just something missing here and I can't quite put my finger on it.  Maybe it's due to the jumpy chapters or the continued bad decisions by someone who can't seem to get herself out of this vicious, toxic cycle.... or that maybe when she kinda does it's... lacking?

I appreciate what the author was doing here.  For me, this journey from prey to predator had really good bones to it, but I needed more meat. 


Saturday, June 5, 2021

Review: One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

One Last Stop
by Casey McQuiston
Narrated by Natalie Naudus

Thank you for this amazing audiobook.

Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Publish Date: June 1, 2021
12 hrs. 10 min
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, LGBTQIA+, Science Fiction

Cynical twenty-three-year old August doesn’t believe in much. She doesn’t believe in psychics, or easily forged friendships, or finding the kind of love they make movies about. And she certainly doesn’t believe her ragtag band of new roommates, her night shifts at a 24-hour pancake diner, or her daily subway commute full of electrical outages are going to change that.

But then, there’s Jane. Beautiful, impossible Jane.

All hard edges with a soft smile and swoopy hair and saving August’s day when she needed it most. The person August looks forward to seeing on the train every day. The one who makes her forget about the cities she lived in that never seemed to fit, and her fear of what happens when she finally graduates, and even her cold-case obsessed mother who won’t quite let her go. And when August realizes her subway crush is impossible in more ways than one—namely, displaced in time from the 1970s—she thinks maybe it’s time to start believing.

My Review:

Well this was a read I never knew I needed!  I'll also never look at the Q train the same again. Can someone please deliver me a stack of pancakes please.  Extra syrup. K, thx, bye.

This was a super fun audiobook to listen to so thank you for bringing this into my ears and straight to my heart.  August and Jane... how do you not fall in love with them? I'm beginning to wonder if I should start reading synopsis again right before I start a book but then realize - what fun is that?  While I was surprised about the sci-fi portion of this, it wasn't hateful!  My mind, however, kept thinking of this and imagining Jane as the train dude from the movie Ghost.  🤷 Look, I can't control my mind any more than you can..... 😉

With a diversely lovable cast of characters and a storyline where we get to follow August in her quest of finding herself while also finding Jane... it's super cute.  I don't even know what else to say about it as I was left smiling even if it was just a little bit *too* cutesy for me.  


Friday, June 4, 2021

Review: Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Clap When You Land
by Elizabeth Acevedo

Publisher: Quill Tree Books
Publish Date: May 5, 2020
432 Pages
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Poetry, LGBT

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…

In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.

Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered.

And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other. 

My Review:

This is my second or third novel told in verse and while I'm still unsure if this format is really for me, there's no taking away from how much the ones I've read have made me feel.  It took me a bit to get into this one.  I'm not sure if I was confused on the POVs at times, or if my *shiny thing* of a mind kept wandering off.  But when it finally clicked, it CLICKED.  And then I read the Author's Note and I can't reiterate enough how important it is to read these if you don't.

Two girls, both with the same father and living worlds apart, find each other after his death in a plane crash.  Not only dealing with grief and betrayal, they now have to find a way to forgiveness and family.  Acevedo does a brilliant job in portraying the very different experiences both Camino and Yahaira go through.  And goodness though, Acevedo is spot on when she states that "Most families are messy; most parents will fail to live up to the hero worship of their children."  

I didn't realize this was based around the true story of Flight AA587 that crashed in 2001 from NYC to DR where 90% of the passengers were Dominican.  For something that is considered the second deadliest crash in US history, you'd think it's something I would remember hearing about but no, news coverage quickly dissipated and Acevedo gives us a very emotional inside look at a family trying to deal with the many consequences.  While I will always remember these sisters, I'm giving full props to Dre for being the most amazing and understanding girlfriend EVER.

Grab some tissues and prepare your heart.  A somber and compelling read. Highly recommend.


Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Review: Melancholia by Matt Wildasin

by Matt Wildasin

Thanks to Death's Head Press for this free copy.

Publisher: Death's Head Press
Publish Date: May 17, 2021
Kindle Edition
148 Pages
Genre: Horror

From within the confines of the family shed, Sarah makes a decision that cannot be undone. Afterward, she awakens in a perilous world overrun with horrific monstrosities and grueling tribulations. Sarah must discover the reason why she was brought here and find a way home before she succumbs to her inner demons.

My Review:

I'm going to keep this short as it feels like anything I say might be a spoiler.  I'm not a huge fan of time loop type reads but every once in a while one will work for me and to be honest, at the beginning of this one, I wasn't sure.  This one doesn't quite fit into the normal groundhog day's type reads and for under 150 pages, tells its story very well.  

Sarah's story is a reflection of her life, wrought with monsters, and finding her way back to face the very serious decision she made prior to being caught in this infinite loop of inner demons.  There's a very good lesson to learn within these pages.  This almost acid trip like journey via Sarah's mind is somber and fascinating and gave me a satisfying ending.


Monday, May 31, 2021

Review: Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh

Finding Junie Kim
by Ellen Oh

Thanks so much to HarperKids for this gorgeous gifted book.

Publisher: HarperCollins
Publish Date: May 4, 2021
368 Pages
Genres: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

A story of family, hope, and survival, inspired by the author's mother’s real-life experiences during the Korean War. Faced with middle school racism, Junie Kim learns of her grandparents’ extraordinary strength and finds her voice.

Junie Kim just wants to fit in. So she keeps her head down and tries not to draw attention to herself. But when racist graffiti appears at her middle school, Junie must decide between staying silent or speaking out.

Then Junie’s history teacher assigns a project and Junie decides to interview her grandparents, learning about their unbelievable experiences as kids during the Korean War. Junie comes to admire her grandma’s fierce determination to overcome impossible odds, and her grandpa’s unwavering compassion during wartime. And as racism becomes more pervasive at school, Junie taps into the strength of her ancestors and finds the courage to do what is right. 

My Review:

Excuse me as I pick my feelings up off of the floor where my emotions drained. I'm not crying.  I'M NOT! This book GOT TO ME.  This story gives us current climate racism, mental health, Korean War history, friendship, grief, pride, resilience with a dash of after school special.  I couldn't love this book any more.

I felt so SEEN through Junie's character and what it feels like to be one of very few POC in a school.  "Truth is, even though I was born and raised here, I'll never be truly American to her." GAH.  While Junie and her diverse group of friends deal with their feelings of the racism and bullying happening in their school, they are all layered characters and we get deep past this top layer into all the action and reactions that accompany.  The stars of this book are the grandparents and it's through Junie's relationship with her grandfather and his story telling that we see her growth.  We get immediately transported in their story telling of their love story but also their own very different experiences with the Korean War.  I LEARNED SO MUCH ABOUT MY CULTURE.  I'm not usually big on a history lesson but I imagined what it would've been like as if my own Korean grandfather (whom I never knew) was talking to me. 

There's so much to unpack from this story.  Please read this.  Especially if you're Korean.  And when you do, be sure to read the Author's note. 

"At the time, half full was still quite a lot.  I don't remember when I started noticing that it was actually half empty."

"Instead of seeing us as these horrible words, see us as people."  Our name is not commie or chink or dog eater or North Korean spy.  Her name is Junie.  My name is Chandra.  And Junie, your grandpa would've absolutely loved you getting his story out there.


Review: New Waves by Kevin Nguyen

New Waves
by Kevin Nguyen 

The May choice for #WhereWeReadAsianLit!!

Publisher: One World
Publish Date: March 10, 2020
288 Pages
Genre: Contemporary

Set in the New York City tech world, a wry and edgy debut novel about a heist gone wrong, a secret online life exposed, and a young man's search for true connection....

Lucas and Margo are fed up. Margo is a brilliant programmer tired of being talked over as the company's sole black employee, and while Lucas is one of many Asians at the firm, he's nearly invisible as a low-paid customer service rep. Together, they decide to steal their tech start-up's user database in an attempt at revenge. The heist takes a sudden turn when Margo dies in a car accident, and Lucas is left reeling, wondering what to do with their secret--and wondering whether her death really was an accident. When Lucas hacks into Margo's computer looking for answers, he is drawn into her secret online life and realizes just how little he knew about his best friend.

With a fresh voice, biting humor, and piercing observations about human nature, Kevin Nguyen brings an insider's knowledge of the tech industry to this imaginative novel. A pitch-perfect exploration of race and start-up culture, secrecy and surveillance, social media and friendship, New Waves asks: How well do we really know each other? And how do we form true intimacy and connection in a tech-obsessed world?

My Review:

New Waves was unexpected for me.  I'm not sure why so many people thought this was going to be a thriller but it most definitely is not so please don't go into this with that misconception.  What we get is a novel about tech start ups, racism, grief, the intimacy of social media/internet forum relationships and just wanting to fit in and make a connection.

Normally this type of book that is more character study where you follow along day to day with certain insights but isn't necessarily plot driven can be an absolute miss for me.  However, with NEW WAVES, it just works for me.   I could relate to Lucas on so many levels.  I especially liked his relationship with Margo - while they can commiserate about their own bouts of racism within and outside the work place, they also realize they still experience it completely different from each other as well.  I think the author did extremely well in showing this dynamic.

I also appreciate an Asian book that deals with more of the contemporary POC experience over the stories we are used to reading (i.e. immigration/assimilation stories).  And I smiled at Lucas's journey from Astoria to Manhattan on the subway because that's exactly what I do. Really though readers, this is a story about friendship and grief and finding your space in life.  "Grief isn't just the act of coping with a loss.  It's reckoning with the realization that you'll never discover something new about a person ever again."  We don't get answers to problems here, we get a very human experience.


Jessica's Review:

This is the May #WhereWeReadAsianLit choice and yet another book that wasn’t previously on my radar. Going into it I had seen some people say it was more mystery or thriller and I’ll tell you now, it definitely isn’t that. NEW WAVES is more of a character driven novel and we get to examine relationships, navigating life at a tech start-up, dealing with grief, and the reality of online relationships and how they can take on a life of their own.

Lucas is just a normal guy with a job at a new tech start-up. He and his friend/colleague, Margo, can commiserate together about the obstacles they both deal with in terms of racism within the workplace. In our discussion, we talked about meeting people in online forums and memorial Facebook pages. I think some really meaningful relationships have been formed because of common interests online. I’ve met plenty of close friends this way and due to social media. I think the idea of memorial Facebook pages is with good intentions but I personally would never want one.

Overall, I liked this one a lot more than I thought I would. I saw a few reviews where they said if you didn’t like the first 30ish pages then you wouldn’t like the rest and I can get behind that sentiment. Don’t go into this expecting a thriller because you’ll more than likely be disappointed. Another great selection and I cant wait for next month!

4 stars