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ARC Review: The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan (1/04)

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
Release Date: January 4, 2022

Recommended: sure
For a slow character study, for a creepily realistic look at how things can suddenly yet subtly cross the line, for a book that’s like the opposite of The Farm

Summary

Frida Liu is struggling. She doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices. She can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her. Harriet may be all she has, but she is just enough.

Until Frida has a very bad day.

The state has its eyes on mothers like Frida. The ones who check their phones, letting their children get injured on the playground; who let their children walk home alone. Because of one moment of poor judgment, a host of government officials will now determine if Frida is a candidate for a Big Brother-like institution that measures the success or failure of a mother’s devotion.

Faced with the possibility of losing Harriet, Frida must prove that a bad mother can be redeemed. That she can learn to be good.

Thoughts:

This book is somewhat outside my usual preference of magic and action and saving-the-world kinds of issues. Frida is just looking to save her own little world, and maybe that of her daughter’s, Harriet. And yet, despite this being a more literary style, which I usually struggle with, this kept me 100% engaged. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it. And I finished it in two days.

The pull of this one is almost voyeuristic, because I watched Frida slowly and undeniably lose herself through her time in the school. Her thoughts are mine to know, and I end up having more insight than even the all-seeing monitors who judge her emotions via endless camera footage. Hearing their diagnoses of some mothers in the program as not having enough love in their hugs, based on the biometric feedback, or that they should be able to physically heal illness with just their motherly love, was so genuinely unsettling to read that I kind of shudder again just thinking about it.

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Review: Ignited (Fire Within #2) by Ella M. Lee

Ignited by Ella M. Lee
(See the first book here: Fire Within)

Recommended: yes, keep the series going!

Summary

Four weeks have passed since Fiona Ember was captured by Nicolas Demarais, the powerful and deadly Water Clan magician she foolishly attempted to assassinate. Relieved that she has impressed Nicolas and reclaimed her life, she’s stunned to find that Nicolas has ambitious plans to change the world of magic forever—and they involve Fiona’s newfound magical abilities.

But achieving those goals certainly won’t be easy. Fiona will need to navigate the slippery magic of Water Clan, survive her new group’s difficult operations, and face more than a few challenges with her new lieutenant. On top of that, she’ll need to confront her growing attraction to Nicolas, as she realizes she’s falling for the sweeter and softer side of him.

And little does she know, Nicolas’s grand plans for the future are drawing the attention of his enemies, and the new life that Fiona has found may not be so safe after all…

Thoughts

If book one is all about the setup and changed for Fiona, book two is all about her new relationships. That definitely means a lot of Fiona and Nicolas figuring out whatever they are and want to be, but also her relationships with the other members of the clan.

This one was good, but not my favorite. Simply put, this one doesn’t have a lot of action or momentum on its own. It’s an important piece of the larger story in the series, but this one is definitely a lot of talking! There are some pretty pivotal and intense moments of action as well, but the bulk is a calmer pace of interaction and discovery.

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Review: Fire Within by Ella M Lee

Fire Within by Ella M. Lee
Verdict: OH MY GOD WHAT A FIND!!!! 😍

Recommended: yes!
For people with time because you won’t want to stop reading, for a fascinating and creative world of magic, for a blend of modern with magic, for a new-life kind of story, for action and emotional conflict

Summary

Fiona Ember’s life has been shattered to pieces. After an assassination attempt gone awry, her friends are dead, she’s lost her magic, and she’s now imprisoned by the magician she just tried to kill. To make matters worse, she learns he’s the infamous Auspex, who possesses the gifts of precognition and mind-reading, and who’s known for his deadly and unyielding reputation.

Resigned to torture and execution, Fiona is surprised when the Auspex offers her a chance to live—but first, she will need to demonstrate the value he’s seen in her future. Fiona must discover what he wants from her quickly, before his patience runs out.

Thousands of miles from home and alone in enemy territory, what are Fiona’s hopes of impressing the Auspex and reclaiming her life and magic? And what happens when she starts being drawn unwittingly into his dangerous and mysterious plans?

Thoughts

This book STARTS after an assassination attempt, which is what most stories would dramatically culminate with. So be assured that what follows is indeed even more epic than that, and continues through the series.

I was so hopeful that I would enjoy this, and I did even more than I expected. It was the kind of book where I squeezed in a few more pages as I was brushing my teeth, or falling asleep in bed, or right before I had to start work for the day. Any free moment, I was reading it, and any non-free moment, I was thinking about it. Read this in a day or two (would’ve been one session if it were the weekend!).

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ARC Review: Fools In Love: Fresh Twists on Romantic Tales by Rebecca Podos & Collected Authors

Fools In Love: Fresh Twists on Romantic Tales by Rebecca Podos
Expected Release Date: December 7, 2021
Verdict: I never like short stories, and the love felt rushed, but a lot of folks will adore this collection

Recommended: for some people
If you like short stories, if you can buy into love stories quickly, if you’re a sucker for those “first confession / first kiss” kind of scenes

Summary

Join fifteen bestselling, award-winning, and up-and-coming authors as they re-imagine some of the most popular tropes in the romance genre.

Fake relationships. Enemies to lovers. Love triangles and best friends, mistaken identities and missed connections. This collection of genre-bending and original stories celebrates how love always finds a way, featuring powerful flora, a superhero and his nemesis, a fantastical sled race through snow-capped mountains, a golf tournament, the wrong ride-share, and even the end of the world. With stories written by Rebecca Barrow, Ashley Herring Blake, Gloria Chao, Mason Deaver, Sara Farizan, Claire Kann, Malinda Lo, Hannah Moskowitz, Natasha Ngan, Rebecca Podos, Lilliam Rivera, Laura Silverman, Amy Spalding, Rebecca Kim Wells, and Julian Winters this collection is sure to sweep you off your feet.

Thoughts

UGH. I’m so sad I’m starting this off with a groan, but… dang. I always struggle with short stories, but I had hoped this would be different. I live for those moments in books where the characters finally come together and admit how they feel, but this collection just didn’t do it for me. If any of my difficulties below resonate with you, then you might want to dodge this one, but I think a lot of folks will treasure this collection.

Issue #1: since they’re all short stories, they all read as insta-love to me because it happened in the course of 10-15 pages. Even in the tropes that necessitate a history (ex. friends to lovers, second chance) it all felt so rushed! I didn’t really know or care about the characters in most of these because I barely knew them. My pleasure at seeing two people find love was muted by the fact that they still felt like strangers.

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ARC Review: Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim (12/7/21)

Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim
Expected Release Date: December 7, 2021

Recommended: yesssss
For a literary story that’s still easy to read, for characters who draw you in whether you like them or not, for a dramatic and complex history of a tiny country that has seen unbelievable change very quickly

Summary

In 1917, deep in the snowy mountains of occupied Korea, an impoverished local hunter on the brink of starvation saves a young Japanese officer from an attacking tiger. In an instant, their fates are connected—and from this encounter unfolds a saga that spans half a century.

In the aftermath, a young girl named Jade is sold by her family to Miss Silver’s courtesan school, an act of desperation that will cement her place in the lowest social status. When she befriends an orphan boy named JungHo, who scrapes together a living begging on the streets of Seoul, they form a deep friendship. As they come of age, JungHo is swept up in the revolutionary fight for independence, and Jade becomes a sought-after performer with a new romantic prospect of noble birth. Soon Jade must decide whether she will risk everything for the one who would do the same for her.

From the perfumed chambers of a courtesan school in Pyongyang to the glamorous cafes of a modernizing Seoul and the boreal forests of Manchuria, where battles rage, Juhea Kim’s unforgettable characters forge their own destinies as they wager their nation’s. Immersive and elegant, Beasts of a Little Land unveils a world where friends become enemies, enemies become saviors, heroes are persecuted, and beasts take many shapes.

Thoughts

The triumph in this book is the characters, and it’s a masterful example of the joy one can have in seeing people grow and change in a story. There are several characters introduced, and yet it’s never hard to remember who did what or where they left off. They fall widely within the gray areas of good and evil, and yet every one is a fascinating read with whom you can typically empathize if even in the most unexpected ways.

They bring the history of Korea to life. If you’re not familiar with it already, this will provide coherent insights into the whole saga; if you’re already familiar, you will see the visions of lives inside while it all unfolded. For many many years, Korea was ruled by others, and the victory and independence they found was conversely combined with a division that persists to this day between North and South.

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Review: A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight

A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight

Recommended: sure
For a multi-narrative story, for an enticing puzzle to try to figure out, for a domestic thriller with some legal court action

Summary

Lizzie Kitsakis is working late when she gets the call. Grueling hours are standard at elite law firms like Young & Crane, but they’d be easier to swallow if Lizzie was there voluntarily. Until recently, she’d been a happily underpaid federal prosecutor. That job and her brilliant, devoted husband Sam—she had everything she’d ever wanted. And then, suddenly, it all fell apart. 

No. That’s a lie. It wasn’t sudden, was it? Long ago the cracks in Lizzie’s marriage had started to show. She was just good at averting her eyes. 

The last thing Lizzie needs right now is a call from an inmate at Rikers asking for help—even if Zach Grayson is an old friend. But Zach is desperate: his wife, Amanda, has been found dead at the bottom of the stairs in their Brooklyn brownstone. And Zach’s the primary suspect. 

As Lizzie is drawn into the dark heart of idyllic Park Slope, she learns that Zach and Amanda weren’t what they seemed—and that their friends, a close-knit group of fellow parents at the exclusive Brooklyn Country Day school, might be protecting troubling secrets of their own. In the end, she’s left wondering not only whether her own marriage can be saved, but what it means to have a good marriage in the first place.

Thoughts:

The most striking feature of this book, besides the manner of Amanda’s death, is the multiple timelines and narrators this is told through. We alternate from pre-death Amanda navigating her new life, to current-day Lizzie trying to defend Zach from murder charges against his (dead) wife. There are also some court transcripts sprinkled in, and brief memo updates from a company doing investigation. I loved these latter two elements as multi-genre additions, but the alternating narrators weren’t my favorite.

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Review: How To Fail at Flirting by Denise Williams

How To Fail at Flirting by Denise Williams
Verdict: worth it!

Recommended: sure!
For a sexy ride through a romance, for that fun cliche of changing your life via list to break out of your shell, but be aware there’s some freaky moments in here with MCs past abuser

Summary

When her flailing department lands on the university’s chopping block, Professor Naya Turner’s friends convince her to shed her frumpy cardigan for an evening on the town. For one night her focus will stray from her demanding job and she’ll tackle a new kind of to-do list. When she meets a charming stranger in town on business, he presents the perfect opportunity to check off the items on her list. Let the guy buy her a drink. Check. Try something new. Check. A no-strings-attached hookup. Check…almost.

Jake makes her laugh and challenges Naya to rebuild her confidence, which was left toppled by her abusive ex-boyfriend. Soon she’s flirting with the chance at a more serious romantic relationship—except nothing can be that easy. The complicated strings around her dating Jake might destroy her career.

Naya has two options. She can protect her professional reputation and return to her old life or she can flirt with the unknown and stay with the person who makes her feel like she’s finally living again.

Thoughts:

This book started off a lot darker than I expected, as right away we’re plunged into her fear at hearing that her abuser has returned to her workplace, where they originally met. I’m grateful I don’t have any personal experience with that situation, but reading the scenes where they interacted or even where she just thought about her past with him really affected me. They were tense and haunting and one scene was so stressful I had a few tears during / after because I was really wound up by it. So an FYI that if you’re sensitive to those situations or have your own experience, those parts will not be easy to read.

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ARC Review: Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente (11/9)

Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente
Expected release date: November 9, 2021

Recommended: yes, to Ava
For a quick read that ends way creepier than it begins, for a short puzzle that’s brilliant once you know what to look for, for a story I’d describe as “eerie”

Summary

Sophia was made for him. Her perfect husband. She can feel it in her bones. He is perfect. Their home together in Arcadia Gardens is perfect. Everything is perfect.

It’s just that he’s away so much. So often. He works so hard. She misses him. And he misses her. He says he does, so it must be true. He is the perfect husband and everything is perfect.

But sometimes Sophia wonders about things. Strange things. Dark things. The look on her husband’s face when he comes back from a long business trip. The questions he will not answer. The locked basement she is never allowed to enter. And whenever she asks the neighbors, they can’t quite meet her gaze…

But everything is perfect. Isn’t it?

Thoughts

Hey Ava!

I think you’ll like this one (and it comes out tomorrow!). It’s one of those stories that starts out normal, then gets kind of strange, then subtly creepy, and then smashes headlong into WTF territory when you’re too far in to stop. Since it’s so short, the effect is doubled! And of course the mystery-ish aspect of trying to get a better sense of what exactly is going on in Acadia Gardens will definitely keep you going.

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Review: Not Here to Be Liked by Michelle Quach

Not Here to Be Liked by Michelle Quach
An Amy Book

Recommended: yes!
For a YA look at important topics like gender equality and activism, for a tiny bit of delicious drama, for word ners

Summary

Eliza Quan is the perfect candidate for editor in chief of her school paper. That is, until ex-jock Len DiMartile decides on a whim to run against her. Suddenly her vast qualifications mean squat because inexperienced Len—who is tall, handsome, and male—just seems more like a leader.

When Eliza’s frustration spills out in a viral essay, she finds herself inspiring a feminist movement she never meant to start, caught between those who believe she’s a gender equality champion and others who think she’s simply crying misogyny.

Amid this growing tension, the school asks Eliza and Len to work side by side to demonstrate civility. But as they get to know one another, Eliza feels increasingly trapped by a horrifying realization—she just might be falling for the face of the patriarchy himself.

Thoughts

A-A-Amy!

I was pretty pumped about this book because I’m a sucker for Korean characters, culture, location, etc. And while that was a factor in the character’s life, it certainly wasn’t the basis of the story. I loved the way things kind of got away from her in this book, and I think you’d like it too! Or at the very least, it’s probably a good one for your classroom.

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Review: No Words by Meg Cabot

No Words by Meg Cabot
(An Erin Book)
Verdict: simple and cute and I’ll be coming back to the other books in the series 🙂

Recommended: yes, to Erin
For a quick and easy read, for a very gentle enemies-to-lovers trope, for a rich guy on a tropical island, for a book about authors

Summary

Welcome to Little Bridge, one of the smallest, most beautiful islands in the Florida Keys.

Jo Wright always swore she’d never step foot on Little Bridge Island—not as long as her nemesis, bestselling author Will Price, is living there.

Then Jo’s given an offer she can’t refuse: an all-expense-paid trip to speak and sign at the island’s first-ever book festival.

Even though arrogant Will is the last person Jo wants to see, she could really use the festival’s more-than-generous speaking fee. She’s suffering from a crippling case of writer’s block on the next instalment of her bestselling children’s series, and her father needs financial help as well.

Then Jo hears that Will is off-island on the set of the film of his next book. Hallelujah!

But when she arrives on Little Bridge, Jo is in for a shock: Will is not only at the book festival, but seems genuinely sorry for his past actions—and more than willing not only to make amends but prove to Jo that he’s a changed man.

Things seem to be looking up—until disaster strikes, causing Jo to wonder: Do any of us ever really know anyone?

Thoughts

Hey Erin,

I’m not sure if I should recommend this one to you or not, because it was good not great. If you’re heading to the beach anytime soon, this is a good one to bring along, but you probably don’t need to try working it into your TBR any time soon. We both know you don’t have room for any non-stellar titles right now. 😂

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