Publishing Date/Publisher: January 5, 2021 by Pamela Dorman Books
Review: This was a unique sort of thriller, and I almost don’t want to label it as such. There is some amount of suspense, but it is of the creeping “glance over your shoulder” variety. What makes this novel stand out in my mind is the narration style. Blythe, who is a writer by trade, is telling her story to her ex-husband, who has lived the same path of events, but has experienced them entirely differently. Blythe is a character I felt myself feeling deep sympathy for as she struggles to settle into motherhood. She does not connect with her first child in the way she hoped for and when she starts observing disturbing behavior, she is immediately dismissed by her husband. This is a woman who has virtually no support network. No friends or family she can turn to. No one to validate her feelings and help her process her trauma. As readers we watch the slow dissolution of her marriage and the unraveling of her sanity. She questions her own words and actions, and develops a deep sense of paranoia that permeates the story. But are her fears valid? Is her daughter really a little sociopath? Or is she imagining things? What makes this story so enthralling is that it is difficult to say. It is clear that Blythe is an unreliable narrator and as an outsider, it’s painful to see the fallout of generational trauma, untreated post-partum depression, and crippling grief. If I were to rate this book on the writing alone, I would give it 4+ stars. I rate it lower because the truth is I really did not enjoy it. Blythe is living a mother’s worst nightmare, and quite frankly, it left me feeling anxious and deeply unsettled.
Once again, Bellefleur has gifted us a magnificent comfort read. A follow-up/companion novel to her Written in The Stars, Hang The Moon follows Darcy’s brother and her best friend and their…dynamic. She’s packed the novel full of tropes, as is her MO (oh my god, there’s only one bed?) and the human golden retriever that is Brendon is impossible not to love.
While the relationship is between a man and a woman, it is in no way ‘straight’. As with Written in the Stars, there is a bisexual main character and while that isn’t in the forefront of every conversation or scene, it is mentioned or implied a few times. It is also great bi representation simply because not every bisexual will end up with the same sex, and vice versa. It’s important to show that, and she has in both her books.
This series is an absolute delight that I return to time and time again when I need a break from the real world or just because I feel like it. The fact that I have to wait until February for Count Your Lucky Stars to come out to finish the trilogy is causing me distress.
Publishing Date/Publisher: August 31, 2021 by Berkley
Review: Hoang captured my heart with The Kiss Quotient, and though I didn’t enjoy The Bride Test nearly as much, I was still eager to read The Heart Principle when I saw it offered on NetGalley. The Heart Principle is written in a different style than it’s predecessors, and the result is a deeply felt and raw portrayal of love, loss, and learning self-acceptance. The main character, Anna, struggles with hiding her social difficulties and exerts great effort to mold herself into the person her family and boyfriend expects. At the end of each interaction she is left mentally and emotionally drained, hardly able to take care of herself. She is completely blindsided when her boyfriend proposes an “open” relationship, and as she grapples with this new reality, she meets Quan, the “bad boy” with a heart of gold. Both Anna and Quan are wearing masks to hide their inner struggles, but once together, they find a safe space to be authentic within their burgeoning relationship.
This really was a beautiful story, though much sadder in tone than the other two books in the series. The author’s note at the end is worth reading and explains why she chose to make this book different.
Publishing Date/Publisher: September 29, 2020 by Penguin Audio
Review: This book had good pacing and although predictable, had a great message. Life is full of choices, and it is easy to get bogged down with regrets. Perhaps we could have had a “better” life if we made different choices, but ultimately this may have resulted in unexpected outcomes. Outcomes that would not necessarily be good. Keeping this in mind, I think this book gives the reader a healthy dose of perspective. We all occasionally have “what if” thoughts, and sometimes we need to reframe our way of thinking to see things in a more positive light. In some respects, this almost felt like a self-help book and it serves as a gentle reminder that we can all be kinder to ourselves.
Publishing Date/Publisher: September 1, 2020 by Workman Publishing
Review: This book very comfortably fits the vibe of a chick lit drama. I wouldn’t say there is a lot of depth to the story, but I did really enjoy the character arc of the main protagonist, Afi. I wouldn’t really categorize it as a “coming-of-age” story, however, Afi grows and changes a lot as a person as she gains exposure to more modern ideas of womanhood. I’m categorizing this as a contemporary romance for reference purposes, but this label doesn’t quite fit either. Yes, indeed there is a romance, but it is sandwiched between two distinct time periods of uncertainty. It’s less about the romance and more about how the mysteriousness of this man, Eli, drives the plot of the story. When Afi marries him, he is not even present at the wedding, and he doesn’t enter the scene until much later in the story. Yet even with his marked absence, Afi is expected by her family and in-laws to play the role of dutiful wife. She eventually finds her voice (the time alone gives her LOTS of time for introspection), and the end result is rather satisfying. I felt a strong sense of liberation on her behalf when all was said and done. Overall, a very interesting glimpse into the traditions and culture shaping modern-day Ghana.
Performers: Lauren Fortgang and Michael David Axtell
Length: 16 hr, 29 min
Series: Alex Stern, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: October 8, 2019 by Macmillan Audio
Review: Grishaverse fans beware…this is a complete departure from Bardugo’s previous work. Luckily for me, I am also a fan of the paranormal/urban fantasy genre, so there is some crossover appeal for me. This book was a little too gritty for my personal tastes, but the character development really impressed me. Alex’s character in particular is incredibly complex and multi-layered. People who enjoy stories about secret societies are especially in for a treat because Bardugo really has a knack for the intricacies of incorporating the paranormal into realistic settings. She makes it completely believable that this type of world could exist within the shadow of our own.
The dynamic between Alex and Darlington was a bit confusing to me, so I am really hoping for more page time with them in future books. I liked the readers chosen for both of their characters, so I will probably try to continue forward with the series in audiobook format.
Publishing Date/Publisher: February 2, 2021 by Wednesday Books
Review: Looking for a cliché and utterly predictable book about cults? Look no further, because this is your next read. Don’t get me wrong, the author is not a bad writer, but if you have seen any movies/tv series/documentaries or read any books with cults as a theme, then you know exactly how this story is going to play out. I wish I could say there was even one plot twist that caught me off guard, but I can’t. I have heard really good things about the author’s book Sadie, so this was a bit of a disappointment for me.
Performers: Frances Cha, Sue Jean Kim, Ruthie Ann Miles, & Jeena Yi
Length: 8 hr, 10 min
Publishing Date/Publisher: April 21, 2020 by Random House Audio
Review: This fascinating glimpse into Korean beauty culture immediately had me searching the internet for more information. It seems unbelievable that it would be commonplace for women, and men, to go to such drastic lengths to achieve beauty, but sadly it seems that it is true. I know very little about K-pop aside from it’s growing popularity among American youth, and it is frightening to see the dark side of this industry and how it influences the rest of Korean society.
Looking back on the length of this audiobook, it is stunning that the author was able to offer glimpses of so many different issues in such a short space of time. She tackles prostitution, high suicide rates, unemployment, and poverty – just to name a few. It is amazing that somehow all these topics seemed to circle back to beauty and the commodification of it. The characters seem to have this idea throughout the book that beautiful people get ahead in life, when in reality, beautiful people are just as susceptible, if not more so, to abuse.
In general, I thought the author did a really good job fleshing out the main characters with backstory, however, in retrospect, highlighting the lives of four characters was a bit ambitious. All the characters lives intersect in some way, but the character of Wonna seems largely disconnected from the rest. I can only assume she was included to show how the cultural expectations placed on women affect the average working class wife. All of the other characters are younger, unmarried, and childless. They have little to no interaction with Wonna at all until the very end. I did enjoy her story, but her vignettes didn’t seem to really fit smoothly with the rest of the character narratives. Even so, I liked how the author used these windows into the the past to illuminate current issues.
Publishing Date/Publisher: March 2, 2021 by Make Me a World
Review: I could have never predicted the direction of this story based on the cover or the synopsis. There were many aspects of the story that were beautiful – the title, the emphasis on friendship, and the mother/daughter relationship – but where it started to get a little sloggy for me was when the elements of magical realism were incorporated. There was a turning point about halfway through where the author lost me and never really roped me back. I kept being reminded of A Christmas Carol after this point, and the conclusion was about what I would expect knowing how that story ended.
The style of poetry that this author uses has recently been trendy in the YA sphere. I understand that the spacing, use of symbols, and lowercase letters are all creative choices. I assume they have a purpose, but I don’t know enough about poetry to figure out what that purpose is. Sometimes I found it distracting because I would spend a lot of time trying to glean why these choices were made. Hopefully I will find somebody who can explain it to me, because Google cannot.
Publishing Date/Publisher: September 7th, 2021, Saga Press
Review: M.J. Kuhn is definitely an author to watch. With this hell of a debut novel, Kuhn sets the stage for what I hope will be a series full of anti-heroes, powers, and crime. The characters are the “hate to love them” type, but you really do root for them despite the fact that they are smugglers, thieves, and cons. They also have good reasons for doing what they are doing, which really helps.
There were a few things here and there that I wished lasted longer in some places and shorter in others, but overall it was incredibly enjoyable. They pulled me in by saying it was like Six of Crows, but I also wish they didn’t, as I had to stop myself from comparing the two all the time, which is unfair: they are two different books that just happen to both be based on heists. But I also see why they would market it that way, so fair play.