Posted in Reviews

ARC Review: 6 Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did) by Tess Sharpe (1/24/23)

6 Times We Almost Kissed by Tess Sharpe
Expected Release: January 24, 2023

Recommended: sure
For a low-key sad love story, for teen caretaker stories, for grief and trauma and pain

Summary

Penny and Tate have always clashed. Unfortunately, their mothers are lifelong best friends, so the girls’ bickering has carried them through playdates, tragedy, and more than one rom-com marathon with the Moms. When Penny’s mother decides to become a living donor to Tate’s mom, ending her wait for a liver transplant, things from clashing to cataclysmic. Because in order to help their families recover physically, emotionally, and financially, the Moms combine their households the summer before senior year.
 
So Penny and Tate make a pact: They’ll play nice. Be the drama-free daughters their mothers need through this scary and hopeful time. There’s only one little hitch in their plan: Penny and Tate keep almost kissing.
 
It’s just this confusing thing that keeps happening. You know, from time to time. For basically their entire teenaged existence.
 
They’ve never talked about it. They’ve always ignored it in the aftermath. But now they’re living across the hall from each other. And some things—like their kisses—can’t be almosts forever.

Thoughts

This is one of those books where even though characters are in and around love of all kinds, it sort of breaks your heart the whole way through. It’s not often a buoyant, easy love of light. It’s a quieter, maybe more desperate love tinged with their shared histories and pain. A perfect quote to sum up the vibe:

Scratches give it character. Nothing in life comes out unscathed.

As you can probably guess from the title, there’s a good amount of tension in their interactions given the six times they almost kiss. It’s told in two timelines, with the current-day taking up some of it, and the reflections on past near-kisses and other dominating events alternating in. This worked for me in this story because it broke up some of the fear and worry of the current-day narrative with their moms getting surgery.

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Posted in Reviews

Review in Quotes: All That’s Left Unsaid by Tracey Lien

Just let him go. These are the words Ky Tran will forever regret. The words she spoke when her parents called to ask if they should let her younger brother Denny out to celebrate his high school graduation with friends. That night, Denny—optimistic, guileless, brilliant Denny—is brutally murdered inside a busy restaurant in the Sydney suburb of Cabramatta, a refugee enclave facing violent crime, an indifferent police force, and the worst heroin epidemic in Australian history.

Returning home to Cabramatta for the funeral, Ky learns that the police are stumped by Denny’s case: a dozen people were at Lucky 8 restaurant when Denny died, but each of the bystanders claim to have seen nothing.

Desperately hoping that understanding what happened might ease her suffocating guilt, Ky sets aside her grief and determines to track down the witnesses herself. With each encounter, she peels back another layer of the place that shaped her and Denny, exposing trauma and seeds of violence that were planted well before that fateful celebration dinner: by colonialism, by the war in Vietnam, and by the choices they’ve all made to survive.

“Would an explanation of why something was not done in the past make you feel better?” he said, defaulting to a line he often used on Ky’s mother whenever she re-litigated his past decisions…

This quote reflected in words a feeling I’ve had myself many times. I often tell myself this any time I find I’m dwelling on the past that can’t be changed, and it helps to let things go and move on. The message to let go and move on is strong in this whole book. Ky’s mother reflects this in a way, whose mindset is that her son is dead and knowing details about why and how isn’t going to make him not dead, so the details ultimately do not matter.

…whatever sense of satisfaction she derived from getting him to admit his faults would be swallowed by the guilt of making another person feel rotten.

Another sentiment I related to quite a lot from Ky was this one. Vindictiveness is not in my nature, and it’s for almost this exact reason. The key difference is that I’m not upset by guilt, I’m upset by cruelty. Ky’s motivation to not be cruel is based only on her guilt that results from breaking a common social contract to avoid conflict and confrontation. Does that imply that she doesn’t truly care about making the person feel rotten? It’s one of many reflections Ky has about herself and her personal identity crisis over the course of the novel.

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Posted in Reviews

Review: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
Recommended: YESSS!!!
for what happens to your body when you die, for the secrets of the mortuary business, for options about what to do after you die

Summary

Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty—a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre—took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. With an original voice that combines fearless curiosity and mordant wit, Caitlin tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters, gallows humor, and vivid characters (both living and very dead). Describing how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes), and cared for bodies of all shapes and sizes, Caitlin becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the deceased. Her eye-opening memoir shows how our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead). In the spirit of her popular Web series, “Ask a Mortician,” Caitlin’s engaging narrative style makes this otherwise scary topic both approachable and profound.

Thoughts

I fucking loved this book. It answered a lot of the questions I never knew where to find answers to.

Example #1: is cremation a more natural or environmentally friendly option over casket burial? Answer: no not really.

I don’t know, there were a lot more, but I loved learning more about what’s done to a body after death, at least in California, USA. There’s a little warning at the start of the book about how it deal with dead bodies (duh) and has some stuff that’s not for squeamish folks. I don’t think of myself as squeamish, but I also don’t like gore and violence. This book was fine for me though, and at no point did it feel like too much.

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Posted in Reviews

Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng


Recommended: meh
For character studies, for mild mystery, for psychological impacts of grief

Summary

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.

A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

Thoughts

If you had asked me if I recommended this book right after I finished reading it, I probably still would have been unenthusiastic, but I would have said yes. Now it’s been about a month since I finished it and I had to sit and think to remember anything of what it was about. If it can’t even last a month before I’m struggling to think of main plot points, that’s not a great sign.

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Posted in Reviews

Review: Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Recommended: for certain people
For folks who love food or have strong memory associations with it, for a heartwrenching amount of grief, for (seemingly, I guess who knows what she kept to herself) total honesty and dull blunt assessments of some of the most painful moments in her life, for little splashes of joy, for baffling contrasts of explosive anger and tender love

Summary

In this exquisite story of family, food, grief, and endurance, Michelle Zauner proves herself far more than a dazzling singer, songwriter, and guitarist. With humor and heart, she tells of growing up one of the few Asian American kids at her school in Eugene, Oregon; of struggling with her mother’s particular, high expectations of her; of a painful adolescence; of treasured months spent in her grandmother’s tiny apartment in Seoul, where she and her mother would bond, late at night, over heaping plates of food.

As she grew up, moving to the East Coast for college, finding work in the restaurant industry, and performing gigs with her fledgling band–and meeting the man who would become her husband–her Koreanness began to feel ever more distant, even as she found the life she wanted to live. It was her mother’s diagnosis of terminal cancer, when Michelle was twenty-five, that forced a reckoning with her identity and brought her to reclaim the gifts of taste, language, and history her mother had given her.

Thoughts

I guess I didn’t expect or realize that this would be a memoir entirely via food. I’m not terribly interested in descriptions of food or eating or cooking or really much of anything about food, so this was honestly a struggle for me. Pretty much my own fault, but I still would have given this a go had I realized, I just would have been more prepared for it. There are a lot of sections that are entirely about different ingredients, or the process of cooking a meal, or the experience of eating it. If food holds memories for you (or you just like food I guess) then it probably won’t be any issue. This is a huge part of why I didn’t connect to or enjoy this one much, as much as you can “enjoy” such a sad focus in a memoir.

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Posted in Reviews

Review: Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf

Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf

Recommended: sure
For a read about grief through the plot points of a murder mystery, for colorful characters who are lots of shades of morally gray, for a lot of words you never knew (but will after reading this!)

Summary

CATALYST
13 points
noun: a person or thing that precipitates an event or change

When Najwa Bakri walks into her first Scrabble competition since her best friend’s death, it’s with the intention to heal and move on with her life. Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to choose the very same competition where said best friend, Trina Low, died. It might be even though Najwa’s trying to change, she’s not ready to give up Trina just yet.

But the same can’t be said for all the other competitors. With Trina, the Scrabble Queen herself, gone, the throne is empty, and her friends are eager to be the next reigning champion. All’s fair in love and Scrabble, but all bets are off when Trina’s formerly inactive Instagram starts posting again, with cryptic messages suggesting that maybe Trina’s death wasn’t as straightforward as everyone thought. And maybe someone at the competition had something to do with it.

As secrets are revealed and the true colors of her friends are shown, it’s up to Najwa to find out who’s behind these mysterious posts—not just to save Trina’s memory, but to save herself.

Thoughts

If you’re a person who hears that this is a YA murder mystery based at a Scrabble tournament and thinks “OOOOOH I might like that!!” then yes, you probably will. So if you’re already interested, you can probably stop here and just go read the book itself. 🙂

There’s kind of a twist to this at the end, if I can call it that? I think those that are in it for the murder mystery element should be aware that while it is the main moving plot point of the novel as they investigate each suspect, it’s kind of a light touch. The grittiness and darkness comes from the grief the characters deal with, rather than some kind of creepy malicious danger (though there is some of that, too). Also be aware that this is a young adult novel with young adult characters. So they do make stupid decisions. There’s a conversation early on that’s essentially “Should we tell the police?” “No way, they wouldn’t take us seriously / wouldn’t do anything! WE have to solve this one!” which, as always, made me roll my eyes. Not that it’s necessarily inaccurate of how the characters would think, but sigh. Can we just trust adults sometimes maybe?

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Posted in Reviews

Review: I Am Margaret Moore by Hannah Capin

I Am Margaret Moore by Hannah Capin
Verdict: as disappointed as it seems most other people were. It’s no Foul is Fair, that’s for sure 😦

Recommended: not really
If you’re easily surprised this might be more fun, for people who love military/naval stuff and/or summer camp stories, for a somewhat stream-of-conscious style

Summary

Each summer the girls of Deck Five come back to Marshall Naval School. They sail on jewel-blue waters; they march on green drill-fields; they earn sunburns and honors. They push until they break apart and heal again, stronger.

Each summer Margaret and Rose and Flor and Nisreen come back to the place where they are girls, safe away from the world: sisters bound by something more than blood.

But this summer everything has changed. Girls are missing and a boy is dead. It’s because of Margaret Moore, the boys say. It’s because of what happened that night in the storm.

Margaret’s friends vanish one by one, swallowed up into the lies she has told about what happened between her and a boy with the world at his feet. Can she unravel the secrets of this summer and last, or will she be pulled under by the place she once called home?

Thoughts

Not the best. Maybe if I hadn’t known the “twist” from page one it would’ve had more punch? It seemed so obvious that I’m not sure it was actually meant to be a twist, but just in case it is, I’ll stay quiet.

The last quarter gets very disjointed and reads like a stream of consciousness across time jumps. It’s not too hard to follow, but it wasn’t very interesting to me either. Capin has a strong style of writing, and while I generally love it, this ended up getting repetitive. Sure, that was partially the point, but it made me want to hurry up the ending so I’d be done with it.

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Posted in Fast-Forward Friday

Fast Forward Friday: I Am Margaret Moore, 3/15/22!

Hey y’all! In contrast to Throwback Thursday, I like to use Fridays to look forward to an upcoming release that I’m excited about! Today’s is I Am Margaret Moore by Hannah Capin!
Expected Release: March 15, 2022

Why wait on this one?

  • Honestly, all I need at this point if the name Hannah Capin on the cover and I’m going to read it. Foul is Fair / Golden Boys Beware is my — wow am I really saying this? — favorite book. The #1. The constant re-read that gives me shivers and goosebumps with every reading.
  • I get vibes like “We Were Liars” by e. Lockhart with this, but probably a lot darker. Murder and mystery and not being sure who to trust, set in a dark and punishing (yet kind of fancy and luxurious?) place.
  • The duality of the main character intrigues me. Proclaiming to be a monster entices me to figure out how that’s meant. Is she REALLY to blame? Does she just have a burden of unearned guilt? Is she actually a siren of the depths? I want to know.

Summary

Each summer the girls of Deck Five come back to Marshall Naval School. They sail on jewel-blue waters; they march on green drill-fields; they earn sunburns and honors. They push until they break apart and heal again, stronger.

Each summer Margaret and Rose and Flor and Nisreen come back to the place where they are girls, safe away from the world: sisters bound by something more than blood.

But this summer everything has changed. Girls are missing and a boy is dead. It’s because of Margaret Moore, the boys say. It’s because of what happened that night in the storm.

Margaret’s friends vanish one by one, swallowed up into the lies she has told about what happened between her and a boy with the world at his feet. Can she unravel the secrets of this summer and last, or will she be pulled under by the place she once called home?

Posted in Release Day!

Just Published: Red Thread of Fate by Lyn Liao Butler!

Hey y’all! Just a reminder that Red Thread of Fate by Lyn Liao Butler released today! Check out the full review here or grab a copy of your own!

Recommended: sure
For a drama that has a bit of everything, and yet doesn’t feel like it’s crammed too full of things; for a strong focus on family and forgiveness (of others, yourself, the world…)

Summary

Two days before Tam and Tony Kwan receive their letter of acceptance for the son they are adopting from China, Tony and his estranged cousin Mia are killed unexpectedly in an accident. A shell-shocked Tam learns she is named the guardian to Mia’s five-year-old daughter, Angela. With no other family around, Tam has no choice but to agree to take in the girl she hasn’t seen since the child was an infant.

Overwhelmed by her life suddenly being upended, Tam must also decide if she will complete the adoption on her own and bring home the son waiting for her in a Chinese orphanage. But when a long-concealed secret comes to light just as she and Angela start to bond, their fragile family is threatened. As Tam begins to unravel the events of Tony and Mia’s past in China, she discovers the true meaning of love and the threads that bind her to the family she is fated to have.

Posted in Fast-Forward Friday

Fast Forward Friday: The Replacement Wife, 12/28/21

Hey y’all! In contrast to Throwback Thursday, I like to use Fridays to look forward to an upcoming release that I’m excited about! Today’s is The Replacement Wife by Darby Kane!
Expected Release: December 28, 2021

Why wait on this one?

  • 1 I guess I’ve become interested in domestic thrillers a little bit, considering that I’ve actually read a few of them in the past year. They do seem to be kind of shades of the same (usually some secret about the wife… or wives….) but I’m reading them nonetheless.
  • The idea that this one is about a woman trying to figure out if her brother in law has been murdering his multiple girlfriends / wives makes me think of those episodes of Forensic Files where this happens. By which I mean, the plot sounds real which is freaky and compelling.
  • AND YET: the blurb also hints at the idea that maybe there’s something wrong with Elisa herself! She has panic attacks and anxiety, and it seems to suggest that there might be something other than that affecting her. Then again, that could be a red herring of emotional manipulation. Either way, I want to know!

Summary

Elisa Wright is a mom and wife, living a nice, quiet life in a nice, quiet town. She’s also convinced her brother-in-law is a murderer. Josh has one dead wife and one missing fiancée, and though he grieved for them he starts dating someone new. Elisa fears for that woman’s safety, and she desperately wants to know what happened to her friend, Josh’s missing fiancée.

Searching for clues means investigating her own family. And she doesn’t like what she finds. A laptop filled with incriminating information. Other women.

But when Elisa becomes friends with Josh’s new girlfriend and starts to question things she thinks are true, Elisa wonders if the memories of a horrible incident a year ago have finally pushed her over the edge and Josh is really innocent. With so much at stake, Elisa fights off panic attacks and a strange illness. Is it a breakdown or something more? The race is on to get to the truth before another disappearance because there’s a killer in the family…or is there?