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.

Review: The Winners

The Winners by Fredrik Backman
Publisher: Atria books
Pub Date: 9/27/2022

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

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Two years have passed since the events that no one wants to think about. Everyone has tried to move on, but there’s something about this place that prevents it. The residents continue to grapple with life’s big questions: What is a family? What is a community? And what, if anything, are we willing to sacrifice in order to protect them?

As the locals of Beartown struggle to overcome the past, great change is on the horizon. Someone is coming home after a long time away. Someone will be laid to rest. Someone will fall in love, someone will try to fix their marriage, and someone will do anything to save their children. Someone will submit to hate, someone will fight, and someone will grab a gun and walk towards the ice rink.

So what are the residents of Beartown willing to sacrifice for their home?

Everything.

Review: The Winners is the third book in the Beartown series. I’d recommend reading the other two books and then read this one as there are several points that refer back to the other two books. The Winners explores social class, community, politics, and family. The book is a little under 700 pages and it took me almost a month to finish. I loved this book and it was a five star read. However, read this book with care. The author discusses a lot of heavy subjects: rape, alcoholism, abuse, suicide, gun violence, death, and so many other subjects. There were quite a few times I had to stop reading because it spurred all sorts of emotions. In terms of the writing style, this is a very character driven book. Sometimes it will feel like a slow build or it will feel repetitive in writing, but this all serves a purpose in the story flow. I really liked the multiple subplots going in within the community and the introduction to new characters interacting with beloved characters from the previous books. For those who love the Beartown series will really enjoy The Winners.

Review: Mother Ocean Father Nation

Mother Ocean Father Nation by Nishant Batsha
Publisher: Ecco Books
Pub Date: 6/7/2022

Thank you to Ecco Books for the free advanced reader copy in exchange for my honest review.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: A riveting, tender debut novel, following a brother and sister whose paths diverge–one forced to leave, one left behind–in the wake of a nationalist coup in the South Pacific

On a small Pacific island, a brother and sister tune in to a breaking news radio bulletin. It is 1985, and an Indian grocer has just been attacked by nativists aligned with the recent military coup. Now, fear and shock are rippling through the island’s deeply-rooted Indian community as racial tensions rise to the brink.

Bhumi hears this news from her locked-down dorm room in the capital city. She is the ambitious, intellectual standout of the family–the one destined for success. But when her friendship with the daughter of a prominent government official becomes a liability, she must flee her unstable home for California.

Jaipal feels like the unnoticed, unremarkable sibling, always left to fend for himself. He is stuck working in the family store, avoiding their father’s wrath, with nothing but his hidden desires to distract him. Desperate for money and connection, he seizes a sudden opportunity to take his life into his own hands for the first time. But his decision may leave him vulnerable to the island’s escalating volatility.

Spanning from the lush terrain of the South Pacific to the golden hills of San Francisco, Mother Ocean Father Nation is an entrancing debut about how one family, at the mercy of a nation broken by legacies of power and oppression, forges a path to find a home once again.

Review: Mother Ocean Father Nation is a literary, historical fiction, LBTQ+ debut novel from Nishant Batsha. Mother Ocean Father Nation explores themes of strained relationships, power, oppression, self discovery, and the meaning of home. The author alternates perspectives from sister and brother, Bhumi and Jaipal. I loved that their perspectives were different and their stories were separate yet interwoven. I also liked how the author touched suppression, immigration, and the feeling of belonging. The plot is intriguing, but the pacing of the story felt either way too show or everything happens at once. The author touches upon some heavy themes in here, but I felt there was too much to dive into and some things were unexplained. It was a good start to a debut that was heartbreaking yet filled with hope. I’d recommend reading this one if you love character/driven stories.

South Asian Book Recommendations

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month takes place in the month of May in the United States. AAPI heritage month celebrate the contribution and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans to history, culture, and achievements.

One of my reading goals this year has been to read and amplify more books from South Asian authors. I’m so glad to see that our voices are shown through various genres and are being pushed to the forefront, however, we still have a ways to go.

Here are some South Asian books I’d read recently and recommend along with a few that are on my TBR:

✨What We Carry • memoir

✨The Last Queen• historical fiction • on my TBR

✨Kamila Knows Best • romance

✨All My Rage• young adult contemporary

✨In Sensorium • queer memoir

✨ My Sweet Girl • thriller/suspense

✨Dava Shastri’s Last Day • contemporary

✨ The First, The Few, The Only • business

✨The Bangalore Detectives Club • cozy mystery • on my TBR

✨ Kaikeyi • fantasy • on my TBR

What’s the latest book from an AAPI author you read?