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.
Review: This was a very fun, coming-of-age novel. I really enjoyed the author’s writing style. She finds humor in the mundane, and she paints a vivid picture of family and culture. I liked most aspects of the book, but the way the central romance unfolded annoyed me tremendously. It was a very believable premise leading up to the declaration of feelings, but the fall out that would of resulted feels a bit underplayed. Perhaps I have strong feelings about this because I personally don’t care for romance arcs where the relationship with the close friend is thrown to the wayside in favor of a romantic one.
Although it predates the Netflix series Never Have I Ever by a few years, I think that people who enjoyed that show would enjoy this book tremendously. It explores a lot of similar themes such as building a cross-cultural Indian/American identity, marriage, love, sexuality, family, and friendship.
I did not like the casting for this audiobook. The performer had a melodic voice, but she sounded way too old to be believably portraying a teen girl. Also, I am always a little leery of the accuracy of accents when a person is not from that culture.
Publishing Date/Publisher: October 13, 2020 by Random House Graphic
Review: It is rare for me to read a graphic novel, and even more rare for me to review one. In this case, however, I felt a review was entirely necessary because I was so impressed by the creator’s work. Nguyen managed to convey both time and place entirely through the use of color and wardrobe – a feat that allowed him to seamlessly weave together the present, the past, and the fantastical into one cohesive story. Just…wow.
Another thing I rarely do is save quotes from books, but I couldn’t help but screenshot the line, “They’re only stories. They’ll change when they need to.” I don’t know why, but this little epiphany completely blew my mind and changed the way I now look at retellings and adaptions of classic stories. I also think it sums up this graphic novel fairly well. At it’s core, it’s about a family who communicates through stories when they cannot find the words to express something important to one another. I have always believed in the power of stories, and the execution of this message is just played out so beautifully in this format.
Title: Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything
Author: Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
Page Count: 432
Publishing Date/Publisher: August 20, 2020 by Simon Pulse
Review: I went into this book without reading the synopsis, so to say that I was blindsided by the science fiction angle would be an understatement. This book has very strong undertones of magical realism for the first half of the book and them BAM!…it hits you with aliens. Admittedly, the concept was clever…aliens abducting illegal aliens. It takes a strong stance on immigration issues, and is a clear reprimand for how immigrants are treated by the United States government.
Although I found this to be an enjoyable read, I feel that the author tackled too many issues with her story line. I can appreciate a good genre crossover – combining magical realism and science fiction was creative – however, the plot became very convoluted for the last half of the book. I think I would have enjoyed the story more if the author had tightened up the plot a bit. In addition to the magical realism elements, extraterrestrials, and social commentary, there is also a romance that plays out between the main character, Sia, and the hot new guy at her school. Through the lens of this relationship the author explores trauma, first love, racism, family dynamics, and abuse. Combined with all the other elements of this story, it’s just a lot. Perhaps if these additional elements had been more subtle, it would have worked, but I felt that taking on so much detracted from the flow of the story.
It is very unclear to me whether this book is meant to be part of a series or a standalone. The author leaves the readers with a cliffhanger, but I cannot find any references to a sequel.
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2019 by Random House Audio
Review: This is a very different romance than the one I last reviewed, but I enjoyed it just as much in different ways. There are so many layers to this story and the relationship it portrays. The magnetism between the two characters in palpable, and it is fascinating how they orbit in and out of each other’s lives. Connell and Marianne are soulmates, but both are so damaged and have so much self-loathing that neither of them can really see it, even as they act on it. To say their relationship is complicated is a vast understatement because there is so much nuance to their every interaction. They show each other parts of themselves that they show no one else, while at the same time shutting each other out from the aspects of themselves that they freely give other people. At the end, I was left with the sense that despite their tumultuous history, they will always find their way back to each other. I found this satisfying in a way, even as it left me feeling slightly bereft.
Publishing Date/Publisher: April 6, 2021 by Berkley Books
Review: All. The. Feeeeelz. This is the romance I didn’t know I needed after reading The Roommate (which I also thoroughly enjoyed). And darn it, Rosie, if you didn’t make me fall in love with these characters. This romance has a refreshingly wholesome quality given the fact it is about a red hot relationship between a former porn star and a rabbi. This isn’t to say it doesn’t have it’s fair share of smut, but it is really more about all the ways intimacy is more than just sex. This book also tackles a lot of the social issues touched upon in The Roommate, and shows them from another angle.
Well done, Rosie. A truly exhilarating romance all around. I hope to read more from you.
Publishing Date/Publisher: September 1, 2020 by Swoon Reads
Review: This was a unique coming-of-age novel with a very diverse cast of characters. My favorite elements of the book were the rich descriptions of Dia de Muertos traditions and the relationship between Julian and Yadriel. The romance that developed between Julian and Yadriel felt very organic, and served as a great mechanism for character development. I also loved the paranormal spin to the story, with Julian being a ghost, and thought that overall it was very creative.
My biggest qualm about the book was the very cliché villain reveal at the end. I had hoped my predictions were wrong and that the author would surprise me, but unfortunately this was not the case. The ending also wrapped up a little too nicely in my opinion, especially given how dark a lot of the content was following the climax of the story.
Publishing Date/Publisher: February 4, 2020 by Penguin Audio
Review: Some books come to you at the right time, and this was one such book for me. I really needed something fun and uplifting, and this truly was a “feel good” read. The writer’s style is very similar to one of my favorite authors, Liane Moriarty, though the content is lighter. We really get to delve into the feelings of the characters and join them through their introspection and personal growth. I liked the way the book was divided into many POV chapters, and found that it made the story very fast-paced and engaging. I enjoyed the uniqueness of each character voice, and though I found some of the premise to be rather far-fetched, I still found it relatable and I wanted to believe in the characters. This book really brings into focus the importance of authenticity to build meaningful relationships, and had an interesting focus on how we as individuals create our own narratives and truths. It was very fascinating and gave me much to ponder.
Really enjoyed this book in audiobook format. It was smooth and well narrated. I felt the performer really added depth to the characters.