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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 

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Review: Shadow of the Vulture by Regina L. Garza Mitchell

Shadow of the Vulture
by Regina L. Garza Mitchell

Thanks so much to Death's Head Press and Night Worms for the continued Splatter Western love!

Publisher: Death's Head Press
Publish Date: March 20, 2021
Kindle Edition
110 Pages
Series: Splatter Western #9
Genres: Horror, Western

As Americans move west towards their manifest destiny, they disrupt lives, steal, and murder. What happens when that brutality clashes with witchcraft and the supernatural in the small town of Soledad?

A powerful witch goes to the extreme to protect the land. A young woman weaves protective spells into clothing, but what she wants to do more than anything, is soar with the vultures. An ex-soldier accompanied by her dead friend looks for another battle to fight and will do anything to make the American invaders pay in the bloodiest ways possible. When they come together, Texas will never be the same. Power clashes between witches, warriors, brutes and innocents, and over it all hovers the shadow of the vulture.

My Review:

"I am clothed in the body of my enemies."

My absolute new favorite in this series. Did I want more? Absolutely!  Did I get a lot in just under 100 pages? Damn skippy I did.  As much as the books in this series have been a lot of fun and full of blood and gore, what we get with SHADOW OF THE VULTURE is some of that but with a lot less.... fun.  For me, it completely worked.  I read this over breakfast this morning (you too can read splatter horror while eating, I promise! 😏) and completely fell in love with Juana, Analisa, the old woman, the many characters that weren't assholes, some that were and of course, the fucking vultures. 

"Could you blame a demon for being born any more than you could blame a vulture for eating the dead?"

The violence in this book is hard to read because it's not just fun splatter, it is more emotional and with depth and I'm not gonna lie - I certainly found myself smiling more than a few times while Juana was doing her thing.  And my heart went out to the women who had been raped and raising their children who remind them of one of their most horrific times.  How do you reconcile the innocence of the kids who didn't ask to be born to the women who can't find love in their heart for them due to the circumstance in which they were brought to the world?  My heart.

I love the strong women and the different perspective we get as we see through their eyes.  I feel this is a necessary component to have in this series and am THRILLED to see it.  I would love to see the story continued but that's just a nod to the the great story telling.  While I have a love/hate relationship with short stories/novellas, this is all LOVE LOVE LOVE... with a side of satiating bloody goodness.


Saturday, May 29, 2021

Review: House of Crows by Lisa Unger

House of Crows
by Lisa Unger

Huge thanks to Amazson Publishing for this free series of one of my all time favorite authors.

Publisher: Amazon Original Stories
Publish Date: May 17, 2021
Kindle Edition
Series: House of Crows #1-4
Genre: Thriller


What really happened to the girl who walked into the woods and vanished forever? It's a never-forgotten mystery that clings like a shadow in a short story about dark memories and inescapable fears.

For disgraced professor Matthew Merle, the inheritance of his grandfather's crumbling mansion is both a burden and an offer of safe haven. His childhood friend Claire, a psychiatrist, desperately needs a haven of her own after one of her patients unleashes his dark side. At turning points in their lives, it's inevitable that they should return to the past. And to Merle House. It's been waiting for them.


A grief-stricken spiritualist thought his faith in life after death was broken. Until the ghosts of his past come calling in this short story of believing in what can’t be seen.

Driven by an uncanny mystery from his youth, Ian Randall became a “spiritual cleanser,” ridding disturbances from homes. But his belief in the beyond was challenged by his wife’s death. Merle House, the root of Ian’s obsession, could change that. The woods are restless again. Maybe here, Ian will find what he needs—if he’s willing to make a deal with the dark.


Is it a hoax, or is it something unspeakably real? In this short story about evil games and spiraling secrets, whatever bargain you strike, there's a price to be paid.

Mason Brandt dropped out of seminary and found a job at a spiritual center offering guidance to troubled teens. Mason was on himself years ago - a suspect in a young girl's disappearance. When a female student is found murdered. Mason is dogged by suspicion and flees. He hopes Merle House will offer him sanctuary once again.


What's drawn four damaged people back to haunted land? The answer could destroy them all in a gripping short story about trapped memories and the lies we tell ourselves.

Matthew, Claire, and Mason haven't been back to Merle House since the summer they were sixteen. They tried for years to put their history behind them, to forget the mystery of the girl who vanished so long ago. But a powerful force from their past is still at play. This time, there's no hiding from it.

All 4 stories are a part of House of Crows, a four-part serial about friends with a shared history of darkness. They've spent their lives running, but they can no longer hide from the past. Each story can be read or listened to in a single haunted sitting.

My Review:

All I have done since I woke up this morning is read this series.  Sigh, I just love Lisa Unger. We get this very atmospheric and creepy vibe in part #1, followed by a bit of levity layered with suspense and Slender Man vibes but with the Dark Man in part #2, ouija boards and chilly games in part #3, ending with revelations wonder in part #4.  You want it, you've got it!

I love how quick each read was and how I felt like I was going backwards and forwards at the same time... which I know sounds weird but it's delicious fun.  I just could NOT STOP.  I really can't way much without spoiling things but this is quite the ride.  Not only was there this.... nope, can't say that....  hmm.  I really loved that... Nope, can't say that either. Y'all! This is hard.

Ok, Unger, as you know (and if you don't - go remedy that immediately), is AMAZING at setting the very creepy and suspenseful atmosphere that lends to the perfect read for this rainy, gloomy day.  Talk about mood setting (thanks Nature!).  Drawing readers in immediately and keeping them wondering - you'll have a lot of fun with this one.  Just remember, you can't hide from the past forever and sometime evil just needs an excuse to show face... so be careful out there, readers.  Caw caw.


Review: A Pho Love Story by Loan Le

A Pho Love Story
by Loan Le
Narrated by: Ryan Do & VyVy Nguyen

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publish Date: February 9, 2021
9 hrs 53 mins
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

When Dimple Met Rishi meets Ugly Delicious in this funny, smart romantic comedy, in which two Vietnamese-American teens fall in love and must navigate their newfound relationship amid their families’ age-old feud about their competing, neighboring restaurants.

If Bao Nguyen had to describe himself, he’d say he was a rock. Steady and strong, but not particularly interesting. His grades are average, his social status unremarkable. He works at his parents’ pho restaurant, and even there, he is his parents’ fifth favorite employee. Not ideal.

If Linh Mai had to describe herself, she’d say she was a firecracker. Stable when unlit, but full of potential for joy and fire. She loves art and dreams pursuing a career in it. The only problem? Her parents rely on her in ways they’re not willing to admit, including working practically full-time at her family’s pho restaurant.

For years, the Mais and the Nguyens have been at odds, having owned competing, neighboring pho restaurants. Bao and Linh, who’ve avoided each other for most of their lives, both suspect that the feud stems from feelings much deeper than friendly competition.

But then a chance encounter brings Linh and Bao in the same vicinity despite their best efforts and sparks fly, leading them both to wonder what took so long for them to connect. But then, of course, they immediately remember.

Can Linh and Bao find love in the midst of feuding families and complicated histories? 

My Review:

If you're having trouble finding your appetite, then pick this book up because it will have you craving all the PHO-nomenal foods.  Goodness.  Excuse me while I wipe the drool from my face.  Y'all this was a super cute read.  Two families who are in competition with each other and don't like each other and guess what?  Their kids kinda like each other so now what are they going to do?  Yes, yes, readers - we've seen this trope a zillion times in YA romance but now we get to see it with Vietnamese representation and I AM HERE FOR IT.

I love seeing *foreign* language represented in a book - even if I can't read it or understand it.  And quite frankly, I put ** because it's only foreign to those who don't know it and I'm sure that my Vietnamese friends and readers love seeing it.  Plus, you can get the gist of what they're saying by paying attention to the rest of the book.  I also listened to this on audio and loved hearing it bounce back and forth - it's like listening to my own Korean side of the family that intersperse Korean with English as they speak.  #IYKYK  There's a scene where a parent gets nervous ordering due to his accent... and I felt that.  My mom has been in the U.S. for over 40 years and still has a thick accent and most of the time when we're out at a restaurant, my father or I will order for her.  So yes, there's a multitude of things that I completely related with during this read.

Linh and Bo are such cute characters and I like that there's no instalove but a solid build up into their relationship - even if it was almost a little *too* slow at times... (I just can't be pleased, can I? 🤣)  While their parents are fighting, they seem to find common ground almost immediately so we lose the tension of them bumping heads at first.  But I digress - at the end of the day we all know where this story is going.  I did find it start strong and then kind of fizzle towards the end and all I can do now is go satiate my Pho craving. #brb


Thursday, May 27, 2021

#ATBR2021 Review: Kill All Your Darlings by David Bell

Kill All Your Darlings
by David Bell

Huge thanks to GetRedPR for this copy and IG Live with the author.

Publisher: Berkley
Publish Date: July 6, 2021
416 Pages
Genre: Thriller

When a student disappears and is presumed dead, her professor passes off her manuscript as his own--only to find out it implicates him in an unsolved murder in this new thriller from the USA Today bestselling author of The Request.

After years of struggling to write following the deaths of his wife and son, English professor Connor Nye publishes his first novel, a thriller about the murder of a young woman.

There's just one problem: Connor didn't write the book. His missing student did. And then she appears on his doorstep, alive and well, threatening to expose him.

Connor's problems escalate when the police insist details in the novel implicate him in an unsolved murder from two years ago. Soon Connor discovers the crime is part of a disturbing scandal on campus and faces an impossible dilemma--admit he didn't write the book and lose his job or keep up the lie and risk everything. When another murder occurs, Connor must clear his name by unraveling the horrifying secrets buried in his student's manuscript.

This is a suspenseful, provocative novel about the sexual harassment that still runs rampant in academia--and the lengths those in power will go to cover it up.

My Review:

Imaging mourning the loss of your wife and child and having the added pressure of having to publish in order to reach tenure at your Uni. Imagine a star pupil of yours drops a hand written novel in your lap as her thesis but then happens to go missing and is presumed dead. Um, problem... meet solution. But solution becomes problem again when missing/presumed dead girl shows up at his house. INSTANT HOOK!

Y’all - the synopsis of this books tells a lot about the story, but not *quite* everything and the trio we as readers take us fun, fun, fun! Oh, did I mention that the book also describes a murder that happened IRL in detail and now he’s a suspect? EEP! We get Madeleine’s (not so missing girl) past & present POVs and Connor (widower and plagiarizer) & Rebecca’s (writing student) present POV. But can we talk about the true star, Grendel? I mean, pets are always the star, am I right? 😏. Whatever, he’s adorable and I love his name!

Look, Bell brings us yet another binge worthy thriller that touches on grief, writer’s block, plagiarism and the all too real issue of harassment of all kinds inside the academic world. With the different POVs, there’s overlapping stories which can feel repetitive but lends to the story itself. I do think it could’ve been trimmed down a bit but reads so fast that this is just being nit picky. I wasn’t expecting that final twist and I wish we got a *bit* more to make it more plausible but honestly, in thrillers, if the characters didn’t surprise us... well, what fun is that? 😏


Jessica's Review:

Another thriller from David Bell that did not disappoint! If you’re wanting something you can binge with plenty of good twists and suspense, then you can never go wrong with picking a book by David Bell. KILL ALL YOUR DARLINGS is no different and we’re brought into the academic world where plagiarism and a disappearance are the focus. What would you do if the perfect story fell into your lap?

English Professor Connor Nye is struggling. Not only is he grieving the death of his wife and son but the pressure is mounting for him to be published to secure his tenure at the university. Dealing with writer’s block, the perfect manuscript crosses his desk in the form of a student’s senior thesis. Madeline goes missing and Connor saw his opportunity and took it – “My Best Friend’s Murder” is now his best-selling novel and everything is looking up. Years later, the presumed dead, Madeline shows up on his doorstep demanding the credit and fame that was rightfully hers.

As if this isn’t enough, his best-seller has caught the attention of a detective because there are some details in the book that are eerily similar to am old cold case. Details that only the killer would know as they were left out of any reports to the public, so naturally he’s become a person of interest. Is Madeline involved? How can he implicate her without admitting to his plagiarism?

I loved this and the suspense. Definitely one you’ll want to clear some time out for. I feel like there could have been shorter in some places but otherwise the POVs we got were great and really kept the pace up. And now the wait begins for the next David Bell release!

4 stars 

Monday, May 24, 2021

BLOG TOUR & Review: The Stepsisters by Susan Mallery

The Stepsisters
by Susan Mallery

Thank you Mira Books for this gifted copy.

Publisher: Mira Books
Publish Date: May 25, 2021
400 Pages
Genres: Contemporary, Romance


Once upon a time, when her dad married Sage's mom, Daisy was thrilled to get a bright and shiny new sister. But Sage was beautiful and popular, everything Daisy was not, and she made sure Daisy knew it.

Sage didn't have Daisy's smarts--she had to go back a grade to enroll in the fancy rich-kid school. So she used her popularity as a weapon, putting Daisy down to elevate herself. After the divorce, the stepsisters' rivalry continued until the final, improbable straw: Daisy married Sage's first love, and Sage fled California.

Eighteen years, two kids and one troubled marriage later, Daisy never expects--or wants--to see Sage again. But when the little sister they have in common needs them both, they put aside their differences to care for Cassidy. As long-buried truths are revealed, no one is more surprised than they when friendship blossoms.

Their fragile truce is threatened by one careless act that could have devastating consequences. They could turn their backs on each other again...or they could learn to forgive once and for all and finally become true sisters of the heart.

My Review:

These days, contemporary romance has been really hitting the spot.  This is my first by Mallery but it certainly won't be my last.  Bring on the messy family dynamics, drama and even a little romance....

I don't have any siblings but I do have a cousin I grew up in the same house with for years who I do consider more a sister.  And we certainly had our fights with our completely opposite personalities.  There were a number of years where we were separated and didn't keep in touch so I know very well what it feels like to reunite this way.  It's awkward and luckily in my case, we found that as adults we understood each other and got along a LOT better than when we were kids.  

Mallery brings us Daisy whose husband just ups and leaves her through a text message, her ex stepsister, Sage who is full of some very interesting issues (has anyone thought to set her on fire and do some smudging? ... *insert groan* sorry, couldn't help myself), and Cassidy... their half sister who needs their help after an accident that sends her into Daisy's house for recovery.  Oh, and helloooo there... **waves to Adam**.. Wish he'd make me a dang tequila drink... but I digress.

I simply adore Mallery's writing.  I was intrigued from the get go and really enjoyed watcfhing these ladies work through their issues.  And I love it when there's levity involved to help ease the seriousness of a storyline.  Quite frankly, the story felt very real and human and I always enjoy that.  Certainly peppered with fun to read dramatics and a whole lot of heart.


#1 NYT bestselling author Susan Mallery writes heartwarming, humorous novels about the relationships that define our lives―family, friendship, romance. She's known for putting nuanced characters in emotional situations that surprise readers to laughter. Beloved by millions, her books have been translated into 28 languages. Susan lives in Washington with her husband, two cats, and a small poodle with delusions of grandeur. Visit her at


Saturday, May 22, 2021

Review: You Will Remember Me by Hannah Mary McKinnon

You Will Remember Me
by Hannah Mary McKinnon

Thanks so much to MIRA books and the author for this advanced copy.  I couldn't wait and one-sat read this in lieu of my IG Live with the author on 5/24 at 7pm EST. This is the #BuddyReadsToDieFor book club's June pick and we couldn't be more excited to get everyone reading.  We will also be holding a Zoom Q&A with the author on 6/26 at 7pm EST so let me know if you're in!

Publisher: MIRA
Publish Date: May 25, 2021
Kindle Edition
294 Pages
Genres: Thriller, Psychological Suspense

An unputdownable amnesia thriller that begs the question: how can you trust anyone when you can't even trust yourself?

Forget the truth.
Remember the lies.

He wakes up on a deserted beach in Maryland with a gash on his head and wearing only swim trunks. He can’t remember who he is. Everything—his identity, his life, his loved ones—has been replaced by a dizzying fog of uncertainty. But returning to his Maine hometown in search of the truth uncovers more questions than answers.

Lily Reid thinks she knows her boyfriend, Jack. Until he goes missing one night, and her frantic search reveals that he’s been lying to her since they met, desperate to escape a dark past he’d purposely left behind.

Maya Scott has been trying to find her estranged stepbrother, Asher, since he disappeared without a trace. Having him back, missing memory and all, feels like a miracle. But with a mutual history full of devastating secrets, how far will Maya go to ensure she alone takes them to the grave?

Shared fates intertwine in a twisty, explosive novel of suspense, where unearthing the past might just mean being buried beneath it.

My Review:

OMG, I'm sittring here literally right after finishing this book and that last damn 5% GOT ME. *insert weird happy dance with a creepy smile*   Ok y'all.  If you're a thriller lover and haven't read McKinnon yet, what the hell are you waiting for?  Now, I had a couple of her books for AGES before I finally picked one up and legitimately kicked myself in the ass after I read Neighbors for waiting so damn long.  This is my 4th book by this author and I love, LOVE, her wicked mind.

Your boyfriend disappears one night after going for a swim.  In your frantic search for him, you find that he isn't quite the person you thought he was but you need answers so after Nancy Drewing yourself around his place, you stumble on a way to find him and lo and behold ... there he is but he doesn't remember a damn thing. F*CK!  But he's not the only one with secrets, is he?

Look y'all - again, McKinnon hooks me from the get go and honestly, I was enjoying the ride but was thinking I've read similar before.  Let's see how we get to the point where surely a, b and c are going to happen... what I wasn't expecting was that last part, with an excellent epilogue that made my dark heart very, VERY happy. For pure entertainment and a damn good time, I give it all the stars. 

Oh, and McKinnon, I read the Q&A at the end of the Reader's Guide and I was cackling creepily as well during that one part. 😉 


Jessica's Review:

This is my fourth book by McKinnon and there’s no way in hell it will be my last! After reading THE NEIGHBORS last year I couldn’t wait for her newest book to release. YOU WILL REMEMBER ME is another binge worthy thriller with all the hallmarks you come to expect from Hannah Mary McKinnon. All the crazy characters, red herrings, twists, and just constantly making you second guess what will happen next.

I don’t want to accidentally spoil anything so I’ll keep the details to a minimum. When picking this up and knowing it had to do with a man waking up on a beach with no memory. There are a lot of thrillers out there dealing with amnesia and they all feel the same and can be predictable, but McKinnon found a way to throw a wrench in that with the epilogue! Oh my god. Do yourself a favor and make sure you read it because I was not expecting it to take that turn and I’m so happy it did!

Hannah Mary McKinnon remains an auto-buy author for me and I don’t see that ever changing. I recommend picking up any of her incredible books and I’m anxiously waiting for the next twisted thing she comes up with next! So happy this was our June #BuddyReadsToDieFor selection.

5 stars

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Review: Dark Across the Bay by Ania Ahlborn

Dark Across the Bay
by Ania Ahlborn

Thanks so much to Earthling Publications for this copy of one of my favorite author's new release!

Publisher: Earthling Publications
Publish Date: July 2021
248 Pages
Genre: Thriller

In the vein of John MacDonald’s Cape Fear, Ahlborn takes the classic stalker tale and updates it for the modern era.

The house sits stoic and slightly askew off the coast of Raven’s Head. Its off-kilter windows are both charming and disorienting, its walls of overstuffed bookshelves both comforting and claustrophobic. When Leo and Lark Parrish arrive at their vacation home with their parents, their mother’s idea of a quintessential Maine getaway seems like both a blessing and a curse. Lark—a novice novelist—can’t wait to find inspiration at the end of a fog-entombed pier. She’ll forgive her mother for forcing her into this non-negotiable holiday, but only if she can find her muse among a lapping, rocky shore. And while being trapped in a house with no means of escape is the last thing Leo would consider a good time—especially with parents on the precipice of divorce—he can’t help but wonder if maybe the change of scenery will help him shake off the chains of sadness brought on by the death of his closest friend.

But what starts off as a relatively benign family trip quickly turns menacing. Leo finds himself face-to-face with what feels like his best friend reaching out from beyond the grave, and only hours after they arrive, Lark begins to receive sinister texts. And then they both see it: someone lurking in the shadows of their rental home. Someone who has been expecting them despite the Parrishes being a thousand miles from home.

My Review:

Well hello there my dark thriller/horror loving friends - and to those who are curious. 😈  Come on in, the blood is still warm and gooey and the atmosphere thick with anticipation.  The Parrish family is waiting for you and they have quite the story to share.  Poppy and Ezra lead this family but are on the brink of divorce.  Their two teenage kids, Lark and Leo, are dealing with their own personal traumas so a getaway to a secluded house on a small island is an attempt at family unity.  Surely their time alone as a family will lead to bonding and gluing them back together.... right?

Soon an escalation of weird happenings gets them all on edge.  Oh how the secrets that they all hold start coming to light.  What is up with this weird licorice smell and ghostly figures?  While they all start to internally blame themselves, their tormentors silently continue their terror.  Getting the POVs of each characters helps keep the reader just as off balance as the characters.  What's fantastic is that we feel the slow build at the beginning and your heart starts racing faster as the suspense ramps up.  Just when I think I have a handle on it, Ahlborn slaps me in the face with one last tidbit and I ain't mad about it!

The introduction by Josh Malerman is fantastic and he is 100000% correct is saying "every family is a horror story".  If you don't agree, you will after reading this novel.  Also make sure to read Ahlbotn's acknowledgements where she mentions our very own bookstagrammers Ashley Sawyers, Johann Trotter, Sadie Hartmann and Kallie Weisgarber.

Ania Ahlborn is one of my all time favorite horror authors and continues to hold the top spot for female horror writers.  If you've read any of her works I'm sure you understand why.  Her ability to weave a story together, keep you invested from cover to cover and the always ominous and creepy atmosphere is quite impressive and I have read every single book she has put out.  DARK ACROSS THE BAY is a slow burn psychological dark horror thriller suspenseful family drama of a read and like with all her other books, I would highly recommend.


Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Review: Only the Pretty Ones by Rebekah Crane

Only the Pretty Ones
by Rebekah Crane

Thank you TLC Book Tours and Skyscape for this gifted book.

Publisher: Skyscsape
Publish Date: May 1, 2021
272 Pages
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary

Convention doesn’t carry much weight in Alder Creek. It doesn’t in Amoris Westmore’s family either. Daughter of a massage therapist and a pothead artist, inheritor of her grandmother’s vinyl collection, and blissfully entering her senior year in high school, Amoris never wants to leave her progressive hometown. Why should she?

Everything changes when Jamison Rush moves in next door. Jamison was Amoris’s first crush, and their last goodbye still stings. But Jamison stirs more than bittersweet memories. One of the few Black students in Alder Creek, Jamison sees Amoris’s idyllic town through different eyes. He encourages Amoris to look a little closer, too. When Jamison discovers a racist mural at Alder Creek High, Amoris’s worldview is turned upside down.

Now Amoris must decide where she stands and whom she stands by, threatening her love for the boy who stole her heart years ago. Maybe Alder Creek isn’t the town Amoris thinks it is. She’s certainly no longer the girl she used to be.

My Review:

Hmmmm... this isa hard one for me.  I truly appreciate what the author was trying to do.  This story touches on microaggressions, racism, addiction, privilege, love, family, etc.  So much to unpack in just 272 pages.  However, it felt a bit clunky in execution.

This is a good lesson in being aware of your own actions or inactions in a small town where microaggressions are running rampant.  Of course, in this small town, there is very little in way of diversity so these characters are used to just going about their business.  I do appreciate the lessons placed within these page.  At times it didn't feel very natural and had some "after school special" moments that felt a bit preachy.  

I'm weirdly having a hard time placing my feelings into words with this one.  I think the lessons here are important for sure and it sees like the author went outside her comfort zone to create this journey for others.  I really enjoyed reading her Author's Note at the end and implore you to do so if/when you read this.  I also needed a bit more with that ending...  So I'm splitting this down the middle as I felt what the author was trying to convey and respect her for it.


Sunday, May 16, 2021

Blog Tour & Review: Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean

Tokyo Ever After
by Emiko Jean

Thanks so much to Flatiron Books for this gifted copy.  Continue after the review for a Q&A with the author.

Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publish Date: May 18, 2021
336 Pages
Series: Tokyo Ever After #1
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Izumi Tanaka has never really felt like she fit in—it isn’t easy being Japanese American in her small, mostly white, northern California town. Raised by a single mother, it’s always been Izumi—or Izzy, because “It’s easier this way”—and her mom against the world. But then Izzy discovers a clue to her previously unknown father’s identity… and he’s none other than the Crown Prince of Japan. Which means outspoken, irreverent Izzy is literally a princess.

In a whirlwind, Izzy travels to Japan to meet the father she never knew and discover the country she always dreamed of. But being a princess isn’t all ball gowns and tiaras. There are conniving cousins, a hungry press, a scowling but handsome bodyguard who just might be her soulmate, and thousands of years of tradition and customs to learn practically overnight.

Izzy soon finds herself caught between worlds, and between versions of herself—back home, she was never “American” enough, and in Japan, she must prove she’s “Japanese” enough. Will Izumi crumble under the weight of the crown, or will she live out her fairytale, happily ever after?

My Review:

What a simply delightful read!  In just the first few chapters, I found myself writing down quotes such as  "if white people can learn Klingon, they can learn to pronounce your name" (omg, SO MUCH THIS).  And "my bestie from another teste" which made me giggle because I'm a child 🤣... but is just an inkling of the fun humor that encompasses this entire read.  To something a bit more serious and how I felt when I was a kid - "I wished both my parents were white.  White was beautiful.  White was the color of my dolls and the models and families I saw on TV.  Like shortening my name, a paler skin color and a rounder eye shape would have made my life so much easier, the world so much more accessible."   The not being white enough in America and not being Japanese enough in Japan.  YES IZUMI, I HEAR YOU!

But wouldn't you know it, turns out the sperm donor she thought her mother didn't from who is Japanese royalty and she's a dang princess!! 🤯 Take all of this and throw in an "offensively hot" body guard who broods and well.... you know where this is headed. 😉  The fun is traveling along with Izumi as she navigates this new, very intrusive life.  Will she find balance? Will she fully embrace this side of her she almost wanted to erase before?  You'll have to read to find out.  

I did find Izumi to be a little annoying at times but to be fair, she's a teenager and I tend to find all teenagers a bit annoying. 😏  Then again, I could never imagine being that age and having to really tap into a side of my heritage that I barely knew a thing about.  I'm beyond thrilled with reading a book where things really resonated with me as a half-Korean and dual identity.  I never knew until not that long ago that I really needed this.  Looking foward to the next in the series.


A Conversation with Emiko Jean


Author of Tokyo Ever After

Q: In Tokyo Ever After, Izumi discovers that the father she’s never known is the Crown Prince of Japan and that she herself is an Imperial Princess. Can you tell us a little bit about the Japanese Imperial Family and what kind of research you had to do while writing Tokyo Ever After? Did you learn anything interesting or surprising about Japan or the Imperial Family that you didn’t know before?


A: I did a ton of research for this book. I devoured biographies, history texts, banned books, periodicals, web searches, and attended lectures. All of this came together like puzzle pieces to make a whole picture of the imperial family of Japan—their politics, their personal lives, their public lives. I am also fortunate to have friends in Japan who consulted on the book, helping bring Tokyo and Kyoto to life. 

Q: Tokyo Ever After is such a transporting, escapist read that will make people want to hop on a plane to Japan as soon as quarantine is over. Which places in Japan—from the glitzy palaces in Tokyo to the temples and bamboo groves in Kyoto—were the most fun to write about, and what are you most excited for readers to experience while following Izumi’s escapades?


A: While I enjoyed writing about Japan in general, I adored writing about Kyoto. It is such a special city and many ways, the heart of Japan. And I think, or at least hope, that shows through the text.

Q: In addition to taking us on a transporting journey through Japan and some of its famous cities and landmarks, Tokyo Ever After also offers readers something of a food tour through Tokyo. Do you have any favorite Japanese foods or snacks that you especially wanted to incorporate into the book?


A: I love dorayaki, which I think shows in the book. Unfortunately, my love for it does not translate into being able to make it.

Q: Tokyo Ever After features a seriously brooding Imperial bodyguard named Akio, who you have referred to as “offensively hot.” What can you tease about his character and his relationship with Izumi?


A: It is very much an enemies-to-friends-to-maybe more situation—there are a lot of sparks between the two!

Q: What books are currently on your nightstand?


A: I am making my way through some great YA and women’s fiction novels right now—Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley, The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab, and Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Q: Lastly, we have to ask – what are you working on next? (We heard that a sequel to Tokyo Ever After might already be in the works!) Without giving too much away, can you give readers any hints as to what they can expect from your next book?


A: I don’t think I can say too much other than there will be a second Tokyo Ever After book. I promise more romance, more kissing, and more royal romps!

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Review: Angel & Hannah by Ishle Yi Park

Angel & Hannah
by Ishle Yi Park

Thanks so much to One World for this beautiful copy.

Publisher: One World
Publish Date: May 11, 2021
192 Pages
Genres: Asian Literature, Poetry

This sweeping, unforgettable reimagining of Romeo and Juliet tells the story of an interracial couple in 1990s New York City who are determined to protect their love against all odds

Hannah, a Korean American girl from Queens, New York, and Angel, a Puerto Rican boy from Brooklyn, fall in love in the spring of 1993. Hannah, who comes from a strict Korean home, meets Angel, a free and beautiful boy, at a quinceaera:

Beyond flushed, sweating bodies pushed,
pushing like cattle below black & buzzing speakers, under a torn pink streamer
loose as a tendril of hair--lush--
his eyes. Darkluminous. Warm. A blush floods her.
Hannah sucks in her breath, but can't pull back.
Music fades. A hush
he's a young buck in the underbrush,
still in a disco ball dance of shadow & light
Their forbidden love instantly and wildly blooms along the Jackie Robinson Expressway.

Told in seasons Angel & Hannah holds all of the tension and cadence of blank verse while adding dynamic and expressive language, creating new kinds of engrossing and magnetic forms. The hip-hop sonnets and poems are dynamic, arresting, observant, and magical, conveying the intimacies and sacrifices of love and addiction and the devastating realities of struggle and loss.

Committed to cultural details and the vernacular of Queens and Brooklyn, this is a hip-hop love story, not of the Capulets and the Montagues, but two New York City kids trying to survive and grow within their families and communities, driven by an all-consuming love. 

My Review:

Poetry has never really been my thing.  I have read some poetry that I have enjoyed but never felt I could review or read poetry collections.  However, this past year, I've been introduced to some stories in verse and I think this is my best way to go with poetry and I'm loving it.

Angel & Hannah is equally hopeful and joyous as it is sad, hard and challenging.  Hannah, a Korean American girl from Queens (oh, that's me too, YAY) and Angel is a Puerto Rican boy from Brooklyn.  This is their version of Romeo & Juliet as this interracial couple grows together while facing hardships.  Park certainly doesn't deviate from subjects such as racism, poverty, culture and classism.  She also doesn't deviate from showing the absolute beauty of both of these cultures.  I don't think I can even come up with the right words for how gorgeous this story is.  

Some parts were heartbreaking.  And this story is told in a very raw voice.  I think the intensity is met with lyrically gorgeous storytelling that gives us a balance of gritty beauty.  Certainly a thinking piece and one that would do well for a book club discussion.  I can't recommend this enough.


Monday, May 10, 2021

Review: The Perfect Daughter by D.J. Palmer

The Perfect Daughter
by D.J. Palmer

Thanks so much to St. Martin's Press for this gifted copy.

Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publish Date: April 20, 2021
384 Pages
Genre: Psychological Thriller

Grace never dreamt she’d visit her teenaged daughter Penny in the locked ward of a decaying state psychiatric hospital, charged with the murder of a stranger. There was not much question of her daughter’s guilt. Police had her fingerprints on the murder weapon and the victim’s blood on her body and clothes. But they didn’t have a motive.

Grace blames herself, because that’s what mothers do—they look at their choices and wonder, what if? But hindsight offers little more than the chance for regret.

None of this was conceivable the day Penny came into her life. Then, it seemed like a miracle. Penny was found abandoned, with a mysterious past, and it felt like fate brought Penny to her, and her husband Arthur. But as she grew, Penny's actions grew more disturbing, and different "personalities" emerged.

Arthur and Grace took Penny to different psychiatrists, many of whom believed she was putting on a show to help manage her trauma. But Grace didn’t buy it. The personas were too real, too consistent. It had to be a severe multiple personality disorder. One determined psychiatrist, Dr. Mitch McHugh, helped discover someone new inside Penny—a young girl named Abigail. Is this the nameless girl who was abandoned in the park years ago? Mitch thinks Abigail is the key to Penny’s past and to the murder. But as Grace and Mitch dig deeper, they uncover dark and shocking secrets that put all their lives in grave danger. 

My Review:

I can't remember what it was when I was a kid that got me fascinated with DID/MPD (Dissociative Identity Disorder/Multiple Personality Disorder).  I deep dived into this (as much as I could because the internet wasn't what it is now back then - yes I'm aging myself....) and there was so much controversy on this subject - still is I *think*.  So when I started reading this and saw the main topic was about a girl with possible DID... I was instantly hooked.  

This starts off very strong - we meet Penny, who may or may not have killed someone.. and if she actually did, was it really her... or one of her alters (Chloe, Ruby, Eve)?  I think the author did an amazing job with the back and forth in characters/personalities.  My heart went out to her... and to her family who had adopted her years ago.  As the chapters went on, I did unfortunately feel my attention start to wane a bit.  While I did feel it was a bit repetitive at times, it kind of needed to be considering the personalities within Penny and how they reacted individually to certain moments... but it did also stretch the story at times.  I certainly didn't see the ending coming so the reveal was definitely a surprise.  And to be honest, I'm not really sure how I feel about it.  I like that it kinda came out of left field.. but I also groaned a little bit because whyyyyyyyy.  I also felt the epilogue was unnecessary - I mean, I'm glad we got to see that part tied up a little bit but it felt off from the rest of it since it relates more to a side story.  Just my preference.

Personally, I did have a lot of fun with this read.  It's a subject matter that I'm interested in and a mix of psychological/domestic thrillery goodness that I enjoy.  My second book by this author and I have a third on my shelf that I'm looking forward to.  Definitely an author I will continue to read.  While the first two books have been middle of the road for me, there's just something compelling about this author that I can't stay away from.