Review: The Second First Chance

The Second First Chance by Mona Shroff
Publisher: Harlequin
Pub Date: 8/2/2022

Thank you to Harlequin for the free advanced copy on NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: The Second First Chance is a big, wonderful, messy love story about family, heartbreak, strength and courage. It shows us that sometimes what we want is what we least expect, and that everything we need is often right in front of us.

Strength comes in many different forms.  

Riya Desai and Dhillon Vora grew up together. Sharing secrets, hiding in their tree house, they were playmates, best friends and later—as teenagers—almost something more. Until the devastating house fire that ripped them apart, claiming the life of Dhillon’s father and Riya’s big brother, Samir. Riya and Dhillon have barely spoken since that terrible night, but they both made big decisions based on that fire.

Riya has chosen to fight fire with everything she’s got, but it’s not easy. As the only female firefighter and one of the only people of color at her fire hall, she has to prove herself over and over. Plus, she’s hidden her career from her family.

Dhillon wanted to heal things, so he became a veterinarian. When a chance encounter with a rescue dog throws Riya and Dhillon together again, he’s furious at her career choice. After what happened to them, how can she run into fires on purpose? For Riya, Dhillon’s anger is unacceptable: How can he not see that she’s protecting others from the very losses they both experienced?

Review: The Second First Chance is the first book I’ve read from Mona Shroff. This romance explores family dynamics, resilience, moving on, and being true to yourself. The largest theme of this book has to deal with grief and moving on from a traumatic event. Riya and Dhillon’s families, being next door neighbors, experience loss the day their respective townhomes catch on fire. Riya loses her older brother, Samir, while Dhillon loses his father. This was one really heavy, emotional, and heartfelt read that deserves all the stars. Other heavy subjects the author addresses in this story are pet death, fire injury, car accident, sexual harassment, and medical content. The author does an incredible job showcasing how deeply complex each of the main characters are and how their pasts and feelings are slowly revealed. I also really loved the way the author showed sibling bonds among the families and how important that is along with tying into the Hindu tradition of Rasksha Bandhan celebrating the special sibling bonds between brother and sister. I highly recommend The Second First Chance to anyone who loved Things You Save In A Fire and The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo. If you do read this, please read with care.

Review: Some of It Was Real

Some of It Was Real by Nan Fischer
Publisher: Berkley
Pub Date: 7/26/2022

Thank you to Berkley for the free finished copy in exchange for my honest review. 

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: A psychic on the verge of stardom who isn’t sure she believes in herself and a cynical journalist with one last chance at redemption are brought together by secrets from the past that also threaten to tear them apart.

Psychic-medium Sylvie Young starts every show with her origin story, telling the audience how she discovered her abilities. But she leaves out a lot—the plane crash that killed her parents, an estranged adoptive family who tend orchards in rainy Oregon, panic attacks, and the fact that her agent insists she research some clients to ensure success.

After a catastrophic reporting error, Thomas Holmes’s next story at the L.A. Times may be his last, but he’s got a great personal pitch. “Grief vampires” like Sylvie who prey upon the loved ones of the deceased have bankrupted his mother. He’s dead set on using his last-chance article to expose Sylvie as a conniving fraud and resurrect his career.

When Sylvie and Thomas collide, a game of cat and mouse ensues, but the secrets they’re keeping from each other are nothing compared to the mysteries and lies they unearth about Sylvie’s past. Searching for the truth might destroy them both—but it’s the only way to find out what’s real.

Review: Some of It Was Real is a contemporary novel combines an element of mystery with a touch of romance. This book explores psychics, secrets, troubled pasts, and strained relationships. The author addresses heavy topics such as animal and family illness, death, grief, and panic attacks/disorders. I went in with knowing very little about the book except that it sounded interesting from the little blurb I read.This was five star read! I loved the alternating chapters and cat-and-mouse game between Sylvie and Thomas. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to unravel the mysterious pasts of famous psychic, Sylvie, and Thomas, a LA Times journalist, trying to expose her as a fraud. I liked how the story progressed their personalities developed and the way each of them came to their decisions at the end. I also liked how the big twist was revealed and that the author took a different approach with the ending which totally threw me off course in a good way. Highly recommend listening to the audiobook! I loved that narrators brought the main characters to life and got me more engaged with the story. FYI this story may not be for those who want a cute HEA (happily every after), but still highly recommend picking up!

Review: The Bodyguard

The Bodyguard by Katherine Center
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pub Date: 7/19/2022

Thank you to St.Martin’s Press and MacMillan Audio for the free advanced copies on NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: She’s got his back.
Hannah Brooks looks more like a kindgerten teacher than somebody who could kill you with a wine bottle opener. Or a ballpoint pen. Or a dinner napkin. But the truth is, she’s an Executive Protection Agent (aka “bodyguard”), and she just got hired to protect superstar actor Jack Stapleton from his middle-aged, corgi-breeding stalker.

He’s got her heart. 
Jack Stapleton’s a household name—captured by paparazzi on beaches the world over, famous for, among other things, rising out of the waves in all manner of clingy board shorts and glistening like a Roman deity. But a few years back, in the wake of a family tragedy, he dropped from the public eye and went off the grid.

They’ve got a secret. 
When Jack’s mom gets sick, he comes home to the family’s Texas ranch to help out. Only one catch: He doesn’t want his family to know about his stalker. Or the bodyguard thing. And so Hannah—against her will and her better judgment—finds herself pretending to be Jack’s girlfriend as a cover. Even though her ex, like a jerk, says no one will believe it.

What could possibly go wrong???
Hannah hardly believes it, herself. But the more time she spends with Jack, the more real it all starts to seem. And there lies the heartbreak. Because it’s easy for Hannah to protect Jack. But protecting her own, long-neglected heart? That’s the hardest thing she’s ever done.

Review: The Bodyguard contains a faking dating trope along with themes of family, stalking, authenticity, healing. I absolutely loved this book and it deserves all the stars! I loved that everything was through Hannah’s perspective and we got to see her personality and emotions be revealed throughout the story. Jack was the perfect love interest for her and loved learning more about him and his family as well. I really loved the growing relationship between Hannah and Jack and especially their emotional intimacy. The author does touch upon some heavy subjects which I think needs to be stated in the beginning of the book: death of a parent, death of a siblings, cancer, gun violence, and suicidal attempt. I admire that Katherine was able to not only discuss heavy subjects but include moments of lightheartedness as well. High recommend picking this one up if you’re a fan of Katherine Center and/or looking for a sweet romance!

Review: The Lioness

The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian
Publisher: Double Day Books
Pub Date: 5/10/2022

Thank you to PRH Audio for the free audiobook copy in exchange for my honest review.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Tanzania, 1964. When Katie Barstow, A-list actress, and her new husband, David Hill, decide to bring their Hollywood friends to the Serengeti for their honeymoon, they envision giraffes gently eating leaves from the tall acacia trees, great swarms of wildebeests crossing the Mara River, and herds of zebra storming the sandy plains. Their glamorous guests—including Katie’s best friend, Carmen Tedesco, and Terrance Dutton, the celebrated Black actor who stars alongside Katie in the highly controversial film “Tender Madness”—will spend their days taking photos, and their evenings drinking chilled gin and tonics back at camp, as the local Tanzanian guides warm water for their baths. The wealthy Americans expect civilized adventure: Fresh ice from the kerosene-powered ice maker, dinners of cooked gazelle meat, and plenty of stories to tell over lunch back on Rodeo Drive.

What Katie and her glittering entourage do not expect is this: A kidnapping gone wrong, their guides bleeding out in the dirt, and a team of Russian mercenaries herding them into Land Rovers, guns to their heads. As the powerful sun gives way to night, the gunmen shove them into abandoned huts and Katie Barstow, Hollywood royalty, prays for a simple thing: To see the sun rise one more time. A blistering story of fame, race, love, and death set in a world on the cusp of great change, The Safari is a vibrant masterpiece from one of our finest storytellers.

Review: The Lioness is the first book I’ve read from Chris Bohjalian. This historical thriller takes place in 1964 where a luxurious African safari turns deadly for a famous Hollywood star and her entourage. Overall, I enjoyed this one and it was a five star read! The writing sucked me in from the beginning and I didn’t know where the story was headed. I liked the various perspectives and that each perspective had present day and flashbacks before the trip to get a better understand of the relationships among all the characters. After a chapter or two, I ended up switching from the audiobook to the physical book which I’m glad I did. I’d recommend reading the physical book to get a better reading experience as there are multiple characters to keep track of and love that there’s a character list in the beginning which helps the reader. I really loved that the author’s writing style kept me engaged in the story the whole time. I was surprised to learn from the author that Benjamin’s perspective was the hardest to write. The Lioness will become a series and Chris is an executive producer which I am super excited about! Highly recommend if you love action-packed thrillers!

Q2 2022 Wrap Up

I can’t believe we’re already half way through 2022! That means it’s check-in time to see how I’m doing with my goals.

GoodReads Challenge: Put at 1 for fourth year in a row to continue to enjoy what I read.

I’ve currently read 94 books so far. My best month has been June so far with the amount I was able to read and enjoy!

Read more books from South Asian authors.

I’ve been averaging out reading one book from a South Asian author each month which as been great.

Finish the rest of Jane Austen novels this year.

I still have Love & Friendship to finish. I won’t lie…I’m dreading to read this one because I heard it’s the least popular one. But once I do, I will be done with this goal and I will NEVER do another classics goals again.

Review: In Sensorium: Notes for My People

In Sensorium: Notes for My People by Tanaïs
Publisher: Harper
Pub Date: 2/22/2022

Thank you to Harper for the free finished copy in exchange for my honest review. 

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Fragrance has long been used to mark who is civilized and who is barbaric, who is pure and who is polluted, who is free and who is damned—

Focusing their gaze on our most primordial sense, writer and perfumer Tanaïs weaves a brilliant and expansive memoir, a reckoning that offers a critical, alternate history of South Asia from an American Bangladeshi Muslim femme perspective. From stories of their childhood in the South, Midwest, and New York; to transcendent experiences with lovers, psychedelics, and fragrances; to trips home to their motherland, Tanaïs builds a universe of memories and scent: a sensorium. Alongside their personal history, and at the very heart of this work, is an interrogation of the ancient violence of caste, rape culture, patriarchy, war, and the inherited ancestral trauma of being from a lush land constantly denuded, a land still threatened and disappearing because of colonization, capitalism, and climate change. 

Structured like a perfume—moving from base to heart to head notes—IN SENSORIUM interlaces eons of South Asian perfume history, erotic and religious texts, survivor testimonies, and material culture with memoir. In Sensorium is archive and art, illuminating the great crises of our time with the language of Liberation.

Review: In Sensorium is a memoir that weaves in themes of South Asian perfume history, the history of Bangladesh, and personal reflections. This memoir is told through a Bangladeshi Muslim femme perspective. Tanaïs has such beautiful and lyrical writing that discusses extremely heavy subjects ranging from survivor’s trauma, rape culture, psychedelics to ancient history of violence to name a few. A couple of the aspects that I really loved about this book was learning more about history of perfume along with learning more about history of Bangladesh. I wasn’t really drawn to the personal reflections in the novel from the author, but I understood why they put that in there and the connection/relation to scent and history which made sense. I had a difficult time reading and rating the book as there were some very polarizing views that I didn’t necessarily agree with, but as difficult as it was, I had an open mind learning more about. This isn’t a book I would recommend to everyone as there are some very heavy subjects addressed, but it’s definitely a book that needs to be amplified and we need more books like these out in the world so we can better understand perspectives outside ours.

Review: The House Across the Lake

The House Across the Lake by Riley Sager
Publisher: Dutton
Pub Date: 6/21/2022

Thank you to PRH Audio for the free audiobook and Dutton for the free advanced copy on NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Casey Fletcher, a recently widowed actress trying to escape a streak of bad press, has retreated to the peace and quiet of her family’s lake house in Vermont. Armed with a pair of binoculars and several bottles of liquor, she passes the time watching Tom and Katherine Royce, the glamorous couple who live in the house across the lake. They make for good viewing—a tech innovator, Tom is rich; and a former model, Katherine is gorgeous.

One day on the lake, Casey saves Katherine from drowning, and the two strike up a budding friendship. But the more they get to know each other—and the longer Casey watches—it becomes clear that Katherine and Tom’s marriage is not as perfect and placid as it appears. When Katherine suddenly vanishes, Casey becomes consumed with finding out what happened to her. In the process, she uncovers eerie, darker truths that turn a tale of voyeurism and suspicion into a story of guilt, obsession and how looks can be very deceiving.

With his trademark blend of sharp characters, psychological suspense, and gasp-worthy surprises, Riley Sager’s The House Across the Lake unveils more than one twist that will shock readers until the very last page.

Review: I’m huge Riley Sager fan so so was excited to hear his latest novel, The House Across the Lake, is releasing this summer! The House Across the Lake is a psychological thriller that explores stalking, former actor life, toxic relationships, and secrets. I had mixed feelings about this book. When I was first reading, I was a bit concerned about not liking the book because it had the overhyped trope of an unreliable female narrator. I like that Riley Sager’s writing style always keeps me engaged even if I feel unsure about the story. This is a definitely a slow build and character-driven story. I found the last third of the story to be the most interesting even though I’m not a fan of paranormal thrillers. I loved the twists and turns he provided and they were ones I wouldn’t have guessed. I ended up rating this 3.5 stars and rounded up to 4 stars. One thing to note is that I would definitely recommend reading the physical or the ebook. I wasn’t a fan of the audiobook narrator that was chosen as I felt the voice felt older than the narrator in the book. If you loved Riley Sager’s previous books or are a fan of psychological thrillers, you may want to check this one out.

Review: Be a Triangle

Be a Triangle by Lilly Singh
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Pub Date: 4/5/2022

Thank you to Random House for the free finished copy and PRH Audio for the free audiobook in exchange for my honest review. 

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Everyone–even world-famous actress, author, and creator Lilly Singh–knows that sometimes life just sucks. In this book, Singh provides a safe space where readers can learn how to create a sense of peace within themselves. Without sugarcoating what it’s like to face adversity–including acknowledging her own intensely personal struggles with identity, success, and self-doubt–Singh teaches readers to “unsubscribe” from cookie-cutter ideals.

With her signature blend of vulnerability, insight, and humor, Singh instructs readers to “be a triangle,” creating a solid foundation for your life, one that can be built upon, but never fundamentally changed or destroyed. As she puts it, we must always find a way to come home to ourselves: “we must create a place, a system of beliefs, a simple set of priorities to come back to should life lead us astray, which it definitely will.”

Like a wise, empathetic friend who always keeps you honest, Singh pushes you to adjust your mindset and change your internal dialogue. The result is a deeply humane, entertaining, and uplifting guide to befriending yourself and becoming a true “miracle for the world.”

Review: Be a Triangle is Lilly’s second book, but the first book I’ve read from her. Be a Triangle is a self-help/memoir book that dives into self-love, mental health, social and cultural exceptions, and happiness. If you decide to listen to the audiobook, Lilly narrates it herself. The physical book contains these cute illustrations from Simmi Patel which breaks up the text. This was a super quick read, but it wasn’t really for me. I didn’t really learn anything from the book as the topics she discussed are topics you can find in other self-help books in greater detail. If you’re a fan of Lilly Singh, you may enjoy this.

Review: I Kissed Shara Wheeler

I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pub Date: 5/3/2022

Thank you to Libro.fm for the free advanced listening copy in exchange for my honest review.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Chloe Green is so close to winning. After her moms moved her from SoCal to Alabama for high school, she’s spent the past four years dodging gossipy classmates and a puritanical administration at Willowgrove Christian Academy. The thing that’s kept her going: winning valedictorian. Her only rival: prom queen Shara Wheeler, the principal’s perfect progeny.

But a month before graduation, Shara kisses Chloe and vanishes.

On a furious hunt for answers, Chloe discovers she’s not the only one Shara kissed. There’s also Smith, Shara’s longtime quarterback sweetheart, and Rory, Shara’s bad boy neighbor with a crush. The three have nothing in common except Shara and the annoyingly cryptic notes she left behind, but together they must untangle Shara’s trail of clues and find her. It’ll be worth it, if Chloe can drag Shara back before graduation to beat her fair-and-square.

Thrown into an unlikely alliance, chasing a ghost through parties, break-ins, puzzles, and secrets revealed on monogrammed stationery, Chloe starts to suspect there might be more to this small town than she thought. And maybe—probably not, but maybe—more to Shara, too.

Fierce, funny, and frank, Casey McQuiston’s I Kissed Shara Wheeler is about breaking the rules, getting messy, and finding love in unexpected places.

Review: I Kissed Shara Wheeler is third book I’ve read from Casey McQuistion. This queer young adult romance novel explores small town life, unexpected friendships, and high school life. Overall, this was a decent read, but it wasn’t for me. If this wasn’t our book club pick, I probably would have skipped this. I found that Casey McQuiston’s writing style isn’t for me and I’m not much of a young adult reader so please take my review with a grain of salt. The storyline was cute and it gave me 90s romcom vibes, but it’s present day and a queer story which was refreshing. I felt that the story had so much potential, but the main parts that didn’t work for me were the reveal and the ending. After the reveal, I couldn’t really get myself to be engaged with the rest of the story. If you liked Casey McQuistion’s other books, you may enjoy this one.

Review: Kaikeyi

Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel
Publisher: Redhook
Pub Date: 04/26/2022

Thank you to Hachette audio for the free audiobook copy on LibroFM in exchange for my honest review.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: “I was born on the full moon under an auspicious constellation, the holiest of positions — much good it did me.”

So begins Kaikeyi’s story. The only daughter of the kingdom of Kekaya, she is raised on tales about the might and benevolence of the gods: how they churned the vast ocean to obtain the nectar of immortality, how they vanquish evil and ensure the land of Bharat prospers, and how they offer powerful boons to the devout and the wise. Yet she watches as her father unceremoniously banishes her mother, listens as her own worth is reduced to how great a marriage alliance she can secure. And when she calls upon the gods for help, they never seem to hear.

Desperate for some measure of independence, she turns to the texts she once read with her mother and discovers a magic that is hers alone. With this power, Kaikeyi transforms herself from an overlooked princess into a warrior, diplomat, and most favored queen, determined to carve a better world for herself and the women around her.

But as the evil from her childhood stories threatens the cosmic order, the path she has forged clashes with the destiny the gods have chosen for her family. And Kaikeyi must decide if resistance is worth the destruction it will wreak — and what legacy she intends to leave behind.

A stunning debut from a powerful new voice, Kaikeyi is a tale of fate, family, courage, and heartbreak—of an extraordinary woman determined to leave her mark in a world where gods and men dictate the shape of things to come.

Review: Kaikeyi is told from the perspective of the villainous queen/second consort of King Dasharatha in the Hindu epic story, Ramayana. Kaikeyi explores themes of family, destiny, patriarchy, and courage. I really wanted to love this book, but ended up sorely disappointed. I appreciated the author’s note in the beginning where she explains that this story is more of a ‘what-if’ style alternative than the original story of Ramayana. When I began the book, I went in with an open mind and I was invested in the storyline. I liked the way the author gave us a glimpse of Kaikeyi’s childhood. About half way through was when I started to see issues and disengaged. I tried to keep in mind that this is not going to be close the original story, but I was annoyed with the way that Ram and Sita were portrayed. Both of these characters are well-liked and heroic in the original story, but in this one, the author made these characters the complete opposite. The author said countless times that Ram was arrogant, but it’s not really shown. As for Sita, she made her seem weak, but in the original story, Sita is resilient. In terms of the theme about equality and strong women, I’m all for that, but the way it was presented in the novel didn’t really fit that only Kaikeyi could have those qualities and no other woman could. I ended up rating this two stars and wouldn’t recommend it. I could see how people who are not familiar with the original story of Ramayana would love this story, but those who are familiar with the original story like me won’t enjoy it as much.