Review: When the Stars Go Dark

When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain
Publisher: Ballantine Books | Penguin Random House
Pub Date: 4/13/2021

Disclaimer: I received a free finished physical copy and audiobook copy of this book from Penguin Random House in exchange for my honest opinion. This has no effect on my opinion, review, or rating.

GoodReads Synopsis: From the New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Wife comes a novel of intertwined destinies and heart-wrenching suspense: A detective hiding away from the world. A series of disappearances that reach into her past. Can solving them help her heal?

Anna Hart is a missing persons detective in San Francisco. When tragedy strikes her personal life, Anna, desperate and numb, flees to the Northern California village of Mendocino to grieve. She lived there as a child with her beloved foster parents, and now she believes it might be the only place left for her. Yet the day she arrives, she learns a local teenage girl has gone missing. The crime feels frighteningly reminiscent of the most crucial time in Anna’s childhood, when the unsolved murder of a young girl touched Mendocino and changed the community forever. As past and present collide, Anna realizes that she has been led to this moment. The most difficult lessons of her life have given her insight into how victims come into contact with violent predators. As Anna becomes obsessed with the missing girl, she must accept that true courage means getting out of her own way and learning to let others in.

Weaving together actual cases of missing persons, trauma theory, and a hint of the metaphysical, this propulsive and deeply affecting novel tells a story of fate, necessary redemption, and what it takes, when the worst happens, to reclaim our lives–and our faith in one another.

Review: When the Stars Are Dark is the first book I’ve read from Paul McLain. This mystery novel takes place in Northern California and explores missing children cases, community, trauma, and courage. Overall, this was a really interesting read. This books is definitely a slow burn. The writing style kept my attention from the first page. I didn’t see some of the twists coming. However, I will note that there are some trigger warnings to watch out for since it is a heavy read: death of a child, drug use, and sexual assault. I’d recommend reading this one if you are interested in true crime and missing person cases.

Review: Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake

Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall
Publisher: Read Forever Pub
Pub Date: 5/18/2021

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced digital copy of this book from Read Forever Pub and a finished audiobook copy from Hachette Audio in exchange for my honest opinion. This has no effect on my opinion, review, or rating.

GoodReads Synopsis: Following the recipe is the key to a successful bake. Rosaline Palmer has always lived by those rules—well, except for when she dropped out of college to raise her daughter, Amelie. Now, with a paycheck as useful as greaseproof paper and a house crumbling faster than biscuits in tea, she’s teetering on the edge of financial disaster. But where there’s a whisk there’s a way . . . and Rosaline has just landed a spot on the nation’s most beloved baking show.

Winning the prize money would give her daughter the life she deserves—and Rosaline is determined to stick to the instructions. However, more than collapsing trifles stand between Rosaline and sweet, sweet victory.  Suave, well-educated, and parent-approved Alain Pope knows all the right moves to sweep her off her feet, but it’s shy electrician Harry Dobson who makes Rosaline question her long-held beliefs—about herself, her family, and her desires.

Rosaline fears falling for Harry is a guaranteed recipe for disaster. Yet as the competition—and the ovens—heat up, Rosaline starts to realize the most delicious bakes come from the heart.

Review: Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake is the first book I’ve read from Alexis Hall. This contemporary romance novel explores expectations vs. desires, confidence, strained familial relationships, and cut-throat baking competition. I was initially drawn to this book because Estelle from Read Forever Pub has the best contemporary romance book recommendations and I adore food competition settings in romcoms. All the characters were well-developed and it was great to see how some of them changed for the better (or for the worse) throughout the story. As for the writing style, I really enjoyed the hilarious moments and also the way that the author was able to discuss sensitive subjects as well. I also loved that the author not only had romance in here, but he also weaved in personal growth. Overall, I’d highly recommend picking this one up if you’re a romance reader! I can’t wait for the book book in the series. 

Review: The Soulmate Equation

The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren
Publisher: Gallery Books
Pub Date: 5/18/2021

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced digital copy of this book from Gallery Books in exchange for my honest opinion. This has no effect on my opinion, review, or rating.

GoodReads Synopsis: Single mom Jess Davis is a data and statistics wizard, but no amount of number crunching can convince her to step back into the dating world. Raised by her grandparents–who now help raise her seven-year-old daughter, Juno–Jess has been left behind too often to feel comfortable letting anyone in. After all, her father’s never been around, her hard-partying mother disappeared when she was six, and her ex decided he wasn’t “father material” before Juno was even born. Jess holds her loved ones close, but working constantly to stay afloat is hard…and lonely.

But then Jess hears about GeneticAlly, a buzzy new DNA-based matchmaking company that’s predicted to change dating forever. Finding a soulmate through DNA? The reliability of numbers: This Jess understands. At least she thought she did, until her test shows an unheard-of 98% compatibility with another subject in the database: GeneticAlly’s founder, Dr. River Pena. This is one number she can’t wrap her head around, because she already knows Dr. Pena. The stuck-up, stubborn man is without a doubt not her soulmate. But GeneticAlly has a proposition: Get to know him and we’ll pay you. Jess–who is barely making ends meet–is in no position to turn it down, despite her skepticism about the project and her dislike for River. As the pair are dragged from one event to the next as the “Diamond” pairing that could make GeneticAlly a mint in stock prices, Jess begins to realize that there might be more to the scientist–and the science behind a soulmate–than she thought.

Funny, warm, and full of heart, The Soulmate Equation proves that the delicate balance between fate and choice can never be calculated.

Review: Christina Lauren is one of my favorite duo romance authors! The Soulmate Equation is a fake dating troupe that takes place in lovely San Diego. This contemporary romance novel explores using DNA testing to find your true love. Overall, I enjoyed this one! I really loved the supporting character’s: Fizzy (Jess’s best friend) and Juno (Jess’s 7 year old daughter). This is definitely a slow burn romance. I liked the descriptions of the setting in San Diego as well. The only part that didn’t work for me was River’s character. There were times where I felt like we didn’t know much about him or something felt out of character. Besides that, this was a 3.5 star read for me which I rounded up to 4 stars on GoodReads. I really hope there’s a sequel so we can get Fizzy’s love story!

Review: Dial A for Aunties

Dial A For Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto
Publisher: Berkley | Penguin Random House
Pub Date: 4/27/2021

Disclaimer: I received a free finished copy of this book from Berkley | Penguin Random House in exchange for my honest opinion. This has no effect on my opinion, review, or rating.

GoodReads Synopsis: A hilariously quirky novel that is equal parts murder mystery, rom-com, and a celebration of mothers and daughters as well as a deep dive into Chinese-Indonesian culture, by debut author Jesse Q. Sutanto.

1 (accidental) murder
2 thousand wedding guests
3 (maybe) cursed generations
4 meddling Asian aunties to the rescue!

When Meddelin Chan ends up accidentally killing her blind date, her meddlesome mother calls for her even more meddlesome aunties to help get rid of the body. Unfortunately, a dead body proves to be a lot more challenging to dispose of than one might anticipate, especially when it is accidentally shipped in a cake cooler to the over-the-top billionaire wedding Meddy, her Ma, and aunties are working, at an island resort on the California coastline. It’s the biggest job yet for their family wedding business—“Don’t leave your big day to chance, leave it to the Chans!”—and nothing, not even an unsavory corpse, will get in the way of her auntie’s perfect buttercream cake flowers.

But things go from inconvenient to downright torturous when Meddy’s great college love—and biggest heartbreak—makes a surprise appearance amid the wedding chaos. Is it possible to escape murder charges, charm her ex back into her life, and pull off a stunning wedding all in one weekend?

Review: Dial A For Aunties is the first book I’ve read from Jesse Q. Sutanto. This hilarious contemporary romance takes place in Southern California and explores second chance love, family, self discovery, and filthy rich weddings. Overall, I enjoyed this novel. From the first page, it’s over-the-top and cheesy filled with hilarious characters. I loved the main character Meddy and felt for her in terms of putting her family’s needs over her own desires. This book is a great one to pick up if you need something lighthearted and want a laugh. Definitely recommend!

Review: Gold Diggers

Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Pub Date: 4/6/2021

Disclaimer: I received a finished listening copy from Penguin Random House in exchange for my honest opinion. This has no effect on my opinion, review, or rating.

GoodReads Synopsis: A floundering second-generation teenager growing up in the Bush-era Atlanta suburbs, Neil Narayan is authentic, funny, and smart. He just doesn’t share the same drive as everyone around him. His perfect older sister is headed to Duke. His parents’ expectations for him are just as high. He tries to want this version of success, but mostly, Neil just wants his neighbor across the cul-de-sac, Anita Dayal.

But Anita has a secret: she and her mother Anjali have been brewing an ancient alchemical potion from stolen gold that harnesses the ambition of the jewelry’s original owner. Anjali’s own mother in Bombay didn’t waste the precious potion on her daughter, favoring her sons instead. Anita, on the other hand, just needs a little boost to get into Harvard. But when Neil–who needs a whole lot more–joins in the plot, events spiral into a tragedy that rips their community apart.

Ten years later, Neil is an oft-stoned Berkeley history grad student studying the California gold rush. His high school cohort has migrated to Silicon Valley, where he reunites with Anita and resurrects their old habit of gold theft–only now, the stakes are higher. Anita’s mother is in trouble, and only gold can save her. Anita and Neil must pull off one last heist.

Gold Diggers is a fine-grained, profoundly intelligent, and bitingly funny investigation in to questions of identity and coming of age–that tears down American shibboleths.

Review: I was initially intrigued by Gold Diggers by the vibrant cover and that Mindy Kaling is adapting this novel into a TV series which I’m sure will be amazing! This magical realism novel explores family pressure, mental health, finding your identity, and Indian culture. The writing style in this novel will capture you from page one especially with the complex flawed character and the intriguing backstory of the older generations. The audiobook narrator did an incredible job narrating this novel. The way he did the different characters voices made the story come alive. I loved the audiobook so much that I went out to buy a physical copy from Barnes & Noble to add to my bookshelf last night. Highly recommend picking this one up!

Review: Second First Impressions

Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne
Publisher: William Morrow
Pub Date: 4/13/2021

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced digital copy of this book from William Morrow in exchange for my honest opinion. This has no effect on my opinion, review, or rating.

GoodReads Synopsis: From the USA Today bestselling author of The Hating Game and 99 Percent Mine comes the clever, funny, and unforgettable story of a muscular, tattooed man hired as an assistant to two old women—under the watchful eye of a beautiful retirement home manager.

Distraction (n): an extreme agitation of the mind or emotions.

Ruthie Midona has worked the front desk at the Providence Luxury Retirement Villa for six years, dedicating her entire adult life to caring for the Villa’s residents, maintaining the property (with an assist from DIY YouTube tutorials), and guarding the endangered tortoises that live in the Villa’s gardens. Somewhere along the way, she’s forgotten that she’s young and beautiful, and that there’s a world outside of work—until she meets the son of the property developer who just acquired the retirement center.

Teddy Prescott has spent the last few years partying, sleeping in late, tattooing himself when bored, and generally not taking life too seriously—something his father, who dreams of grooming Teddy into his successor, can’t understand. When Teddy needs a place to crash, his father seizes the chance to get him to grow up. He’ll let Teddy stay in one of the on-site cottages at the retirement home, but only if he works to earn his keep. Teddy agrees—he can change a few lightbulbs and clip some hedges, no sweat. But Ruthie has plans for Teddy too.

Her two wealthiest and most eccentric residents have just placed an ad (yet another!) seeking a new personal assistant to torment. The women are ninety-year-old, four-foot-tall menaces, and not one of their assistants has lasted a full week. Offering up Teddy seems like a surefire way to get rid of the tall, handsome, unnerving man who won’t stop getting under her skin.

Ruthie doesn’t count on the fact that in Teddy Prescott, the Biddies may have finally met their match. He’ll pick up Chanel gowns from the dry cleaner and cut Big Macs into bite-sized bits. He’ll do repairs around the property, make the residents laugh, and charm the entire villa. He might even remind Ruthie what it’s like to be young and fun again. But when she finds out Teddy’s father’s only fixing up the retirement home to sell it, putting everything she cares about in jeopardy, she’s left wondering if Teddy’s magic was all just a façade.

Hilarious, warm, and romantic, Sally Thorne’s novel delivers an irrepressibly joyous celebration of love and community for fans of 99% Mine and The Hating Game.

Review: Sally Thorne’s third book, Second First Impressions, has been on my radar! I was a bit hesitant to read this because I adored The Hating Game, but wasn’t a fan of 99 Percent Mine. Second First Impressions is a sweet romance that explores taking chances, self discovery, community love, and finding happiness. I enjoyed the cast of characters in this storyline and seeing the character growth in the main characters. Though I enjoyed the storyline and hilarious side characters, I wasn’t a big fan of the main characters. I really love the banter and friendship all the characters had with one another, but I kind of felt that the relationship was forced between the two main characters. Towards the last quarter of the book, things seemed to wrap up too quickly. Other than that, I would recommend this novel if you loved The Hating Game!

Review: Anna K Away

Anna K Away by Jenny Lee
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Pub Date: 4/27/2021

Disclaimer: I received an advanced listening copy from LibroFM and MacMillan Audio in exchange for my honest opinion. This has no effect on my opinion, review, or rating.

GoodReads Synopsis: The sequel to Anna K, set over the course of the next summer, as the characters come to terms with Vronsky’s tragic death

How the mighty have fallen. Anna K, once the golden girl of Greenwich, CT, and New York City, has been brought low by a scandalous sex tape and the tragic death of her first love, Alexia Vronsky. At the beginning of the summer, her father takes her to the other side of the world, to connect with his family in South Korea and hide her away. Is Anna in exile? Or could this be her chance to figure out who she really is?

Back in the U.S., Lolly has forgiven Steven for cheating on her, and their relationship feels stronger than ever. But when Lolly meets a boy at her beloved theater camp, she has to ask herself how well Steven will ever really know her. Meanwhile, in Manhattan, everything between Kimmie and her new boyfriend, Dustin, is easy—except when it comes to finally having sex. And Bea escapes to LA, running away from her grief at her beloved cousin’s death, until a beautiful stranger steals her heart. Is Bea ready to finally forgive Anna, and let herself truly fall in love for the very first time?

Set over the course of one unforgettable summer, Jenny Lee’s Anna K Away is full of the risk, joy, heartbreak, and adventure that mark the three months between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next.

Review: Anna K Away is the sequel of Anna K. I’d definitely recommend reading Anna K before you read this one as the second book is a continuation on what happened in the first book. I loved that the Gossip Girl vibes continued in this young adult novel. The beginning started off a bit slow and there were a few parts that felt repetitive. The book picks up towards the second half of the story. Overall, I preferred the first book over this one, but I’d recommend reading it if you’ve already read the first book to see what happens.

Review: Perfect on Paper

Perfect on Paper by Sophie Gonzales 
Publisher: Wednesday Books 
Pub Date: 3/9/2021

Disclaimer: I received a finished listening copy from Macmillan Audio in exchange for my honest opinion. This has no effect on my opinion, review, or rating.

GoodReads Synopsis: Her advice, spot on. Her love life, way off.
Darcy Phillips:

• Can give you the solution to any of your relationship woesfor a fee.

• Uses her power for good. Most of the time.

• Really cannot stand Alexander Brougham.

• Has maybe not the best judgement when it comes to her best friend, Brooke…who is in love with someone else.

• Does not appreciate being blackmailed.

However, when Brougham catches her in the act of collecting letters from locker 89out of which she’s been running her questionably legal, anonymous relationship advice servicethat’s exactly what happens. In exchange for keeping her secret, Darcy begrudgingly agrees to become his personal dating coachat a generous hourly rate, at least. The goal? To help him win his ex-girlfriend back.

Darcy has a good reason to keep her identity secret. If word gets out that she’s behind the locker, some things she’s not proud of will come to light, and there’s a good chance Brooke will never speak to her again.

Okay, so all she has to do is help an entitled, bratty, (annoyingly hot) guy win over a girl who’s already fallen for him once? What could go wrong?

Review: This is the first book I’ve read from the Sophie Gonzales and definitely won’t be my last! I agree with the synopsis that this is definitely a great mash up of To All The Boys I Loved Before and Leah on the Offbeat (part of the Simonverse series). This young adult LGTBTQ+ novel explores self love, high school dating world, friendship, being true to yourself. I liked that the author includes multiple gender identities throughout the book and explained each of them. Another big aspect I really liked about the book was the understanding about being bi and reevaluating what we think it means versus what it actually means. This was pretty important not only in the story, but as a readers, I learned quite a bit since I wasn’t familiar with it. Overall, I really enjoyed this thoughtful and entertaining read. Highly recommend picking this one up!

Review: You Love Me

You Love Me by Caroline Kepnes
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Pub Date: 4/6/2021

Disclaimer: I received a free finished physical copy and audiobook copy of this book from Penguin Random House in exchange for my honest opinion. This has no effect on my opinion, review, or rating.

GoodReads Synopsis: Joe is done with the cities. He’s done with the muck and the posers, done with Love. Now, he’s saying hello to nature, to simple pleasures on a cozy island in the Pacific Northwest. For the first time in a long time, he can just breathe.

He gets a job at the local library—he does know a thing or two about books—and that’s where he meets her: Mary Kay DiMarco. Librarian. Joe won’t meddle, he will not obsess. He’ll win her the old-fashioned way… by providing a shoulder to cry on, a helping hand. Over time, they’ll both heal their wounds and begin their happily ever after in this sleepy town.

The trouble is… Mary Kay already has a life. She’s a mother. She’s a friend. She’s… busy.

True love can only triumph if both people are willing to make room for the real thing. Joe cleared his decks. He’s ready. And hopefully, with his encouragement and undying support, Mary Kay will do the right thing and make room for him.

Review: You Love Me is the third book in You series. This has been one of my most anticipated reads this year! Overall, I really enjoyed this and it gave me similar vibes to the first book. All the characters are deeply complex and perfectly flawed. The storyline kept me on my toes the whole time and I didn’t expect the twists and turns. I kept switching from reading the book and listening to the audiobook since Santino Fontana is one of my favorite audiobook narrators. Santino is an incredible audiobook narrator. I love that he brings the story alive and he does distinct voices for each of the characters. If you are a fan of the book series or the TV series, I highly recommend picking this up! Now I can’t wait to watch the third season of You!

Review: The Bad Muslim Discount

The Bad Muslim Discount by Syed M. Masood
Publisher: Double Day Books 
Pub Date: 2/2/2021

Disclaimer: I received a finished listening copy from Penguin Random House Audio in exchange for my honest opinion. This has no effect on my opinion, review, or rating.

GoodReads Synopsis: Following two families from Pakistan and Iraq in the 1990s to San Francisco in 2016, Bad Muslim Discount is a hilarious, timely, and provocative comic novel about being Muslim immigrants in modern America. For fans of Hanif Kureshi, Mira Jacob, and Mohammed Hanif.

It is 1995, and Anvar Faris is a restless, rebellious, and sharp-tongued boy doing his best to grow up in Karachi, Pakistan. As fundamentalists in the government become increasingly strident and the zealots next door start roaming the streets in gangs to help make Islam great again, his family decides, not quite unanimously, to start life over in California. The irony is not lost on Anvar that in America, his deeply devout mother and his model-Muslim brother are the ones who fit right in with the tightly knit and gossipy Desi community. Anvar wants more.

At the same time, thousands of miles away, Safwa, a young girl suffocating in war-torn Baghdad with her grief-stricken, conservative father will find a very different and far more dangerous path to America. These two narratives are intrinsically linked, and when their worlds come together, the fates of two remarkably different people intertwine and set off a series of events that rock their whole community to its core.

The Bad Muslim Discount is an irreverent, dramatic, and often hysterically funny debut novel by an amazing new voice. With deep insight, warmth, and an irreverent sense of humor, Syed Masood examines quirky and intense familial relationships, arranged marriage, Islamic identity, and how to live together in modern America.

Review: The Bad Muslim Discount is a contemporary novel that explores traditional vs. modern beliefs, immigration, family, and self- identity. I am not an own voices reviewer so please take my review with a grain of salt. I loved the dual perspective and the audiobook narrators did a phenomenal job bring these out! The storyline is entertaining, but I found it to be a bit all over the place. I wasn’t a fan of the romance in here. It just didn’t fit well with the rest of the story. The main characters, Safwa and Anvar, are complicated individuals. Safwa has a heartbreaking story, but her actions are so out of character which makes it a bit confusing. I liked Anvar’s relationship with his grandmother and his dry humor, but I couldn’t feel any empathy towards him. The author did an excellent job making their voices as distinct as possible which I appreciated. Overall, I had mixed feelings about this book.