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ARC Review: Her Good Side by Rebekah Weatherspoon (5/30/23)

Her Good Side by Rebekah Weatherspoon

Recommended: sure
for an extremely cute fake-dating story, for characters I loved, for a heartwarming story with a little silliness thrown in


Sixteen-year-old Bethany Greene, though confident and self-assured, is what they call a late-bloomer. She’s never had a boyfriend, date, or first kiss. She’s determined to change that but after her crush turns her down cold for Homecoming–declaring her too inexperienced–and all her back-up ideas fall through, she cautiously agrees to go with her best friend’s boyfriend Jacob. A platonic date is better than no date, right? Until Saylor breaks up with said boyfriend.

Dumped twice in just two months, Jacob Yeun wonders if he’s the problem. After years hiding behind his camera and a shocking summer glow up, he wasn’t quite ready for all the attention or to be someone’s boyfriend. There are no guides for his particular circumstances, or for taking your ex’s best friend to the dance.

Why not make the best of an awkward situation? Bethany and Jacob decide to fake date for practice, building their confidence in matters of the heart.

And it works–guys are finally noticing Bethany. But things get complicated as their kissing sessions–for research of course!–start to feel real. This arrangement was supposed to help them in dating other people, but what if their perfect match is right in front of them?


I was so excited for this book, and I’m glad I wasn’t disappointed. I felt like everything I had hoped it would be, it lived up to, plus then some that I didn’t expect to get!

The way the “dating my friend’s ex” element is handled was done well enough to make me buy into it without it being weird or seeming too contrived. I thought it could be extremely weird and unbelievable for someone to be like “hey borrow my boyfriend for a date” but in this case they actually got me to buy into it.

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Review: A Door in the Dark by Scott Reintgen

A Door in the Dark by Scott Reintgen

Recommended: sure
For a first step into an interesting world, for an unlikable main character but an intriguing story, for a trying-to-survive-against-all-odds journey, for a dark tale that pulls no punches


Look how gorgeous this cover is!!!

Ren Monroe has spent four years proving she’s one of the best wizards in her generation. But top marks at Balmerick University will mean nothing if she fails to get recruited into one of the major houses. Enter Theo Brood. If being rich were a sin, he’d already be halfway to hell. After a failed and disastrous party trick, fate has the two of them crossing paths at the public waxway portal the day before holidays—Theo’s punishment is to travel home with the scholarship kids. Which doesn’t sit well with any of them.

A fight breaks out. In the chaos, the portal spell malfunctions. All six students are snatched from the safety of the school’s campus and set down in the middle of nowhere. And one of them is dead on arrival.

If anyone can get them through the punishing wilderness with limited magical reserves it’s Ren. She’s been in survival mode her entire life. But no magic could prepare her for the tangled secrets the rest of the group is harboring, or for what’s following them through the dark woods…


I’m most excited about this book as a gateway to the books that will follow. I didn’t realize it was a series started going into it so I was a bit surprised how much seemed open as I neared the end, but I think I’ll enjoy the next piece of the book even more. It seems like it will follow a similar arc to the Red Rising series, where the first book is actiony and life-or-death in the wilderness and the second book is the threat humans pose, scheming and machinations, and so on. While that actually didn’t work for me with Red Rising, I think it will here.

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Review: Now You See Us by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Now You See Us by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Recommended: eh
For a look at the lives of domestic workers in Sinagpore, for slow character studies and secrets


A veteran domestic worker, Corazon had retired back to the Philippines for good, but she has returned to Singapore under mysterious circumstances. Now she’s keeping a secret from her wealthy employer, who is planning an extravagant wedding for her socialite daughter.

Barely out of her teens, this is Donita’s first time in Singapore, and she’s had the bad luck to be hired by the notoriously fussy Mrs. Fann. Brazen and exuberant, Donita’s thrown herself into a love affair with an Indian construction worker and started a lively social media account that says more than it should.

Working as an in-home caregiver for an elderly employer, Angel is feeling blue after a recent breakup with the woman she loves. She’s alarmed when her employer’s son suddenly brings in a new Filipina nurse who may be a valuable ally, or who may be meant to replace her.

Then an explosive news story shatters Singapore’s famous tranquility—and sends a chill down the spine of every domestic worker: Flordeliza Martinez, a Filipina maid, has been arrested for murdering her female employer. The three women don’t know the accused well, but she could be any of them; every worker knows stories of women who were scapegoated or even executed for crimes they didn’t commit.

Shocked into action, Donita, Corazon, and Angel will use their considerable moxie and insight to piece together the mystery of what really happened on the day Flordeliza’s employer was murdered. After all, no one knows the secrets of Singapore’s elite like the women who work in their homes.


I probably would’ve stopped reading this if I hadn’t already been most of the way through. By about 75% I was determining that there genuinely just wasn’t much happening in this book. It’s more about learning a bit about each person than about things happening. Yes, there’s a subplot of a murder mystery, but it felt very unimportant to me for the majority of the book. So if you come into this, come into it expecting an almost diary-like portrayal of three women’s lives.

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Review: The Wrong End of the Table by Ayser Salman

The Wrong End of the Table: A Mostly Comic Memoir of a Muslim Arab American Woman Just Trying to Fit in by Ayser Salman

Recommended: yep!
for a perspective of a woman across her years, for a perspective of a Muslim woman who lives in Saudi Arabia and the United States during her life, for an approachable and welcoming look at her life and how being an immigrant affected but did not define her life


You know that feeling of being at the wrong end of the table? Like you’re at a party but all the good stuff is happening out of earshot (#FOMO)? That’s life—especially for an immigrant.

What happens when a shy, awkward Arab girl with a weird name and an unfortunate propensity toward facial hair is uprooted from her comfortable (albeit fascist-regimed) homeland of Iraq and thrust into the cold, alien town of Columbus, Ohio—with its Egg McMuffins, Barbie dolls, and kids playing doctor everywhere you turned?

This is Ayser Salman’s story. First comes Emigration, then Naturalization, and finally Assimilation—trying to fit in among her blonde-haired, blue-eyed counterparts, and always feeling left out. On her journey to Americanhood, Ayser sees more naked butts at pre-kindergarten daycare that she would like, breaks one of her parents’ rules (“Thou shalt not participate as an actor in the school musical where a male cast member rests his head in thy lap”), and other things good Muslim Arab girls are not supposed to do. And, after the 9/11 attacks, she experiences the isolation of being a Muslim in her own country. It takes hours of therapy, fifty-five rounds of electrolysis, and some ill-advised romantic dalliances for Ayser to grow into a modern Arab American woman who embraces her cultural differences.

Part memoir and part how-not-to guide, The Wrong End of the Table is everything you wanted to know about Arabs but were afraid to ask, with chapters such as “Tattoos and Other National Security Risks,” “You Can’t Blame Everything on Your Period; Sometimes You’re Going to Be a Crazy Bitch: and Other Advice from Mom,” and even an open letter to Trump. This is the story of every American outsider on a path to find themselves in a country of beautiful diversity.


One of the points Salman makes a few times in this book is that her religion or heritage or gender or relationship status do not define her. They’re a part of what make her her but they aren’t the be-all end-all.

That would be her neuroses.

I kid! I’m pretty sure she would enjoy that joke, because she makes a lot similar to it throughout her stories, and those added a lot to this as well. I always love to laugh of course, and it seems that being able to laugh at yourself and your life is a critical skill at times. Especially the times when laughing seems impossible. Salman leans into that a lot, and the result is a roughly chronological tale of her life from a teeny child to a whole-ass adult that makes you really care about her and her journey. Or at least, I did. I was just curious to know more about her, and this totally scratched that itch.

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Review: The Radical Practice of Loving Everyone: A Four-Legged Approach to Enlightenment by Michael J. Chase

The Radical Practice of Loving Everyone: A Four-Legged Approach to Enlightenment by Michael J. Chase

Recommended: yes!
For heartwarming and reflective stories about coping with life via how a dog lives, for an easy introduction to some key elements of Buddhism, for people who like dogs


Is “loving everyone” really possible, as the title of Michael J. Chase’s new book suggests? The answer may surprise you, as he chronicles his journey toward enlightenment, gaining insight from a very unlikely source—a four-legged guru named Mollie, who happens to be the most lovable yet mischievous dog in the world. In his attempt to understand her ability to unconditionally love all, Chase begins to see the world through his best friend’s eyes, especially during their morning walks. Mollie’s hilarious antics and maddening behavior ultimately lead to profound insights learned at the other end of the leash. Written with heart and sidesplitting humor, this one-of-a-kind true story of friendship and a divine albeit outrageous dog delivers on its promise to reveal a pathway toward enlightenment . . . and brings each of us one step closer to loving everyone.


I loved this one! I’ve been reading a lot of animal-based-Buddhism stuff (The Dalai Lama’s Cat for example) but this one is nonfiction which made it feel more believable and immediately relevant in some ways. This is an actual guy in these actual sitatuons and finding his own ways to deal with it.

A dog entered my life for the first time about a year ago, so some of the stories of general dog-ishness that he shares feel a lot more recognizable than they would have been for me before that. I think most people would be able to follow this though, assuming they have some passing familiarity with dogs and what they’re like in general. But if you’ve spent a lot of time with them, you’ll see a lot more familiarity here.

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Review: One Cup at a Time: A Cat’s Café Collection by Matt Tarpley

One Cup at a Time: A Cat’s Café Collection by Matt Tarpley

Recommended: sure
for more cute comics, for building on established world and characters, for self-affirmation kind of comics as well as some that are just silly


A follow-up collection based on the popular webcomic Cat’s Cafe, One Cup at a Time immerses readers in the gentle, supportive world of cafe owner Cat and his adorable friends. With familiar faces like Penguin and Kiwi and new friends like Fox and Spider, this collection handles real issues like relationships, self-esteem, and mental health through a tender, positive lens. One Cup at a Time isn’t about forgetting your problems; it’s about supporting one another through those problems and loving each other and ourselves through it all.


The one issue I had with this collection was a few repeats from the end of the second collection. I was a little confused when I first started it about why they seemed familiar. Ultimately it’s not a big deal as many collections repeat from comics they’ve published in other places (ex social media or online profiles) but it seemed kind of odd to include them in both published versions.

Anyway, now that we know the characters from the first collection, this one was free to establish more of their backstory and current story. The vibe is very much the same, with a big focus on mental health and self-love. A few new characters are introduced, but the core ones remain (Cat, Rabbit, Penguin, etc). The new ones don’t tend to become “main” characters, but they are sometimes recurring or seen in the background.

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Review: The Karma Map by Nisha Sharma

The Karma Map by Nisha Sharma

Recommended: sure
For characters with a lot of self-discovery and growth, for strong social and political debates within it, for characters who deeply embrace their faith (in ways, at times), for a tagalong to what a holy pilgrimage through India might look and feel like


Born and raised in the US, Tara Bajaj hides her family secrets. With beautiful clothes, a popular social media presence, and a spot on the Rutgers High Bollywood dance team, she does it well—until her carefully cultivated image shatters. Shut out by friends and with her future in flux, Tara accepts a guide position for a youth group’s temple tour through North India. Rediscovering the heart of her ancestry is as good a place as any to start over.

Silas D’Souza-Gupta is an aspiring photojournalist retracing the journey his two mothers took when they fell in love. The last thing he expects on this road trip through his roots is a girl with a history of her own. As Tara and Silas embark on remote pilgrimage sites from Punjab through the Himalayas, they discover what it means to be a child in the Indian diaspora, the significance of karma, and the healing power of love.


As is my usual, what initially drew me to this book was the journey through India. I’ve noticed I’m reading a lot of books set in India lately, so I guess I just need to add it to my travel list, but for now this book showed me a lot of places and sides of it I’ve never seen before (via books). From the more mundane, like McDonalds menus that differ from those in the United States, to the more limited and unique, like sacred caves that require hours long queuing up a mountain, this book truly was a physical journey for the characters that I tagged along for.

Perhaps because travel was a focus for them, the small details and daily moments in their surroundings got a lot of attention and highlighting than some other books that are more fiction format with daily lives of characters who live in India. The descriptions were wonderful, and conveyed by the characters so authentically that I felt like I was a part of it. And of course, there’s such a huge range of environments in India that it was sweltering hot and surprisingly chilly and packed with people and joyfully lonesome and god I could keep going but this sentence and list is too long already.

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Review: Two Nights in Lisbon by Chris Pavone

Two Nights in Lisbon by Chris Pavone

Recommended: sure
for a mystery and a second mystery, for motives in several different places, for foreign drama and domestic intrigue


Ariel Pryce wakes up in Lisbon, alone. Her husband is gone―no warning, no note, not answering his phone. Something is wrong.

She starts with hotel security, then the police, then the American embassy, at each confronting questions she can’t fully answer: What exactly is John doing in Lisbon? Why would he drag her along on his business trip? Who would want to harm him? And why does Ariel know so little about her new―much younger―husband?

The clock is ticking. Ariel is increasingly frustrated and desperate, running out of time, and the one person in the world who can help is the one person she least wants to ask.

With sparkling prose and razor-sharp insights, bestselling author Chris Pavone delivers a stunning and sophisticated international thriller that will linger long after the surprising final page.


I preordered this book, and then read a blurb quote on the front that said something like “I challenge you to read the first twenty pages and stop. It can’t be done.” Then I ended up reading about the first 11 pages and stopping, because it just wasn’t catching me despite my excitement. Now it’s been almost a year since it came out and I’ve finally made it to page twenty and beyond. 😅 It did still take some time to catch me, but once it did it flowed pretty easily.

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Review: Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob

Recommended: yep
for hard conversations in an easier to follow format, for that insight children can sometimes give to complex issues


Mira Jacob’s touching, often humorous, and utterly unique graphic memoir takes readers on her journey as a first-generation American. At an increasingly fraught time for immigrants and their families, Good Talk delves into the difficult conversations about race, sex, love, and family that seem to be unavoidable these days.

Inspired by her popular BuzzFeed piece “37 Difficult Questions from My Mixed-Raced Son,” here are Jacob’s responses to her six-year-old, Zakir, who asks if the new president hates brown boys like him; uncomfortable relationship advice from her parents, who came to the United States from India one month into their arranged marriage; and the imaginary therapy sessions she has with celebrities from Bill Murray to Madonna. Jacob also investigates her own past, from her memories of being the only non-white fifth grader to win a Daughters of the American Revolution essay contest to how it felt to be a brown-skinned New Yorker on 9/11. As earnest and moving as they are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, these are the stories that have formed one American life.


I originally read this in 2020, and it was a lot harder at that point to get through it because a lot of the pain of racism and horridness in the United States was closer at hand and pressing all the time. I think things are still kind of politically and socially horrid, but in different ways now. So this still wasn’t super easy to read. Granted, it probably never will be.

The art is a sort of collage style that totally fills each page. It’s occasionally a bit more abstract, with skylines or symbolic aspects overlaid with the conversation bubbles of text. I found it really effective in conveying location and tone, and it often felt like it had a surprising amount of movement to it.

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ARC Review: Twelve Hours in Manhattan by Maan Gabriel (4/18/23)

Twelve Hours in Manhattan by Maan Gabriel

Recommended: if you know what you’re getting into
For a complex and expansive story that covers years of pain and grief and hope and fear. NOT for a lighthearted story or any kind of rom-com tale


Bianca Maria Curtis is at the brink of losing it all when she meets Eric at a bar in Manhattan. Eric, as it turns out, is the famous Korean drama celebrity Park Hyun Min, and he’s in town for one night to escape the pressures of fame. From walking along Fifth Avenue to eating ice cream at Serendipity to sharing tender moments on top of the Empire State building, sparks fly as Bianca and Eric spend twelve magical hours far away from their respective lives. In that time, they talk about the big stuff: love, life, and happiness, and the freedom they both seek to fully exist and not merely survive.

But real life is more than just a few exhilarating stolen moments in time.

As the clock strikes the twelfth hour, Bianca returns back to the life she detests to face a tragedy that will test her strength and resolve—and the only thing she has to keep going is the memory of a man she loves in secret from a world away.


Overall this was a decent story, but my experience reading it was tainted in two key ways (more below). For quick reference, this is what I think is important to know before reading this book:

Things to know:
– this actually takes place over the course of three YEARS and the titular twelve hours are only the first quarter or so of the book
– this is NOT a romcom or lighthearted read
– this book has a lot of pain and grief that characters have to sort through
– this book is a good read, but best if you know what you’re going into

I had two main issues with this book: expectations and confusion. This book gave the impression with the title, cover art, and summary, that it is more of a rom-com lighthearted story when it absolutely is not. Being something deeper and darker isn’t a bad thing, but it was extremely jarring to adjust to that on the fly when it was way more grim and pained than I had believed it would be from the media introducing it. In particular, it was compared to Susan Lee’s Seoulmates which is so incredibly incorrect a comparison that the only thing they have in common is a Korean character and some elements of romance.

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