Review: The Bandit Queens

The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff
Publisher: Random House
Pub Date: 1/3/203

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

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Geeta’s no-good husband disappeared five years ago. She didn’t kill him, but everyone thinks she did–no matter how much she protests.
But she soon discovers that being known as a “self-made” widow has some surprising perks. No one messes with her, no one threatens her, and no one tries to control (ahem, marry) her. It’s even been good for her business; no one wants to risk getting on her bad side by not buying her jewelry.

Freedom must look good on Geeta, because other women in the village have started asking for her help to get rid of their own no-good husbands…but not all of them are asking nicely.

Now that Geeta’s fearsome reputation has become a double-edged sword, she must decide how far to go to protect it, along with the life she’s built. Because even the best-laid plans of would-be widows tend to go awry.

Review: The Bandit Queens is Parini Shroff’s debut. This contemporary/mystery novel explores themes of women’s rights, revenge, toxic relationships, and social class. Unfortunately, this book didn’t work for me. The plot of this book sounded very intriguing but the execution was poorly done. I guess this book could be described as dark humor with extremely heavy subjects done in very poor taste. The author address heavy topics throughout the story: abuse (physical & emotional), alcoholism, rape, gaslighting, animal cruelty to name a few. The beginning of the book is super slow and barely anything happens. At first I was thinking of DNF’ing it but decided to power through it to see if it got better and it didn’t. The dialogue felt odd and didn’t really flow well with the story. I understand that India has its good and bad parts, but I think she should have showed a more balanced view of the country, didn’t bash on a particular religion, and didn’t heavily rely on the stereotypes then this could have been a powerful novel. Definitely pass on this novel as there are other great books out there from Indian authors.

Review: How to Sell a Haunted House

How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix
Publisher: Berkley
Pub Date: 1/17/2023

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

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Every childhood home is haunted, and each of us are possessed by our parents.

When their parents die at the tail end of the coronavirus pandemic, Louise and Mark Joyner are devastated but nothing can prepare them for how bad things are about to get. The two siblings are almost totally estranged, and couldn’t be more different. Now, however, they don’t have a choice but to get along. The virus has passed, and both of them are facing bank accounts ravaged by the economic meltdown. Their one asset? Their childhood home. They need to get it on the market as soon as possible because they need the money. Yet before her parents died they taped newspaper over the mirrors and nailed shut the attic door.

Sometimes we feel like puppets, controlled by our upbringing and our genes. Sometimes we feel like our parents treat us like toys, or playthings, or even dolls. The past can ground us, teach us, and keep us safe. It can also trap us, and bind us, and suffocate the life out of us. As disturbing events stack up in the house, Louise and Mark have to learn that sometimes the only way to break away from the past, sometimes the only way to sell a haunted house, is to burn it all down.

Review: How to Sell a Haunted House has been one of my most anticipated 2023 reads! This horror book explores themes of family secrets, strained relationships, puppetry, and troubled pasts. Overall, I enjoyed this one! All the characters are deeply flawed and it was interesting to learn more about each one. I’ve always thought that puppets were creepy, but Grady Hendrix definitely took the puppet creep factor to another level which blew my mind. I loved how complex the story was and how the subplots came together. I also couldn’t guess any of the twists in this one which made reading this fly by. Highly recommend picking this one up if you’re a Grady Hendrix fan or love horror books!

Review: Exes & O’s

Exes & O’s by Amy Lea
Publisher: Berkley
Pub Date: 1/10/2023

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

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Romance-novel connoisseur Tara Chen has had her heart broken ten times by ten different men–all of whom dumped her because of her “stage-five clinger” tendencies. Nevertheless, Tara is determined to find The One. The only problem? Classic meet-cutes are dead thanks to modern dating apps. So Tara decides to revisit her exes in hopes of securing her very own trope-worthy second-chance romance.

Boston firefighter Trevor Metcalfe will be the first to rush into a burning building but the last to rush into a relationship. Love just isn’t his thing. When his new roommate Tara enlists him to help her reconnect with her exes, he reluctantly agrees. But Tara’s journey is leading him to discover his own new chapter.

The more time they spend together, the more Tara realizes Trevor seems to be the only one who appreciates her authentic, dramatic self. To claim their happily-ever-after, can Tara and Trevor read between the lines of their growing connection?

Review: Exes and O’s is the second book in The Influencers series and can be read as a standalone which features Tara (Crystal’s older sister) and Trevor (Scott’s best friend/former roommate). This contemporary romance novel contains forced proximity room-ance. I enjoyed this one! I loved the storyline and loved how funny, tender hearted, and swoon worthy this was. It was wonderful to see Tara’s growth throughout the book. I also loved the depth of Trevor and why he acts the way he does. Tara and Trevor’s chemistry is a sweet slow burn and love how the author builds up their chemistry. Highly recommend picking this one up! Now I can’t wait for Mel’s story!

Review: Kiss Her Once For Me

Kiss Her Once For Me by Alison Cochrun
Publisher: Atria Books
Pub Date: 11/1/2022

Thank you to Atria Books for the free book in exchange for my honest review. 

Rating: ⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: 

One year ago, recent Portland transplant Ellie Oliver had her dream job in animation and a Christmas Eve meet-cute with a woman at a bookstore that led her to fall in love over the course of a single night. But after a betrayal the next morning and the loss of her job soon after, she finds herself adrift, alone, and desperate for money.

Finding work at a local coffee shop, she’s just getting through the days—until Andrew, the shop’s landlord, proposes a shocking, drunken plan: a marriage of convenience that will give him his recent inheritance and alleviate Ellie’s financial woes and isolation. They make a plan to spend the holidays together at his family cabin to keep up the ruse. But when Andrew introduces his new fiancée to his sister, Ellie is shocked to discover it’s Jack—the mysterious woman she fell for over the course of one magical Christmas Eve the year before. Now, Ellie must choose between the safety of a fake relationship and the risk of something real.

Perfect for fans of Written in the Stars and One Day in DecemberKiss Her Once for Me is the queer holiday rom-com that you’ll want to cozy up with next to the fire.

Review: Kiss Her Once For Me is a queer Christmas romance that takes place in Portland, OR. This romance novel contains fake dating, forced proximity, and forbidden romance. I really loved The Charm Offensive so I had high exceptions for this one! I loved the music and pop references in the book. I think there should have been a playlist at the end of the book or something! The biggest part that didn’t work for me was the storyline The plot seemed interesting, but the storyline was an utter mess. There were too many subplots going on and the flashback section was so drawn out. I couldn’t get onboard with Ellie and Jack’s insta-love connection and the miscommunication of it all. There were so many times where one of the characters could have come clean and they didn’t. This wasn’t for me. I’d recommend skipping this one.

Review: Two Wrongs Make a Right

Two Wrongs Make a Right by Chloe Liese
Publisher: Berkley Romance
Pub Date: 11/22/2022

Thank you Berkley Romance for the free finished copy and PRH Audio for the free audiobook in exchange for my honest review.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Opposites become allies to fool their matchmaking friends in this swoony reimagining of Shakespeare’s beloved comedy, Much Ado About Nothing.

Jamie Westenberg and Bea Wilmot have nothing in common except a meet-disaster and the mutual understanding that they couldn’t be more wrong for each other. But when the people closest to them play Cupid and trick them into going on a date, Jamie and Bea realize they have something else in common after all—an undeniable need for revenge.

Soon their plan is in place: Fake date obnoxiously and convince the meddlers they’re madly in love. Then, break up spectacularly and dash their hopes, putting an end to the matchmaking madness once and for all.

To convince everyone that they’ve fallen for each other, Jamie and Bea will have to nail the performance of their lives. But as their final act nears and playing lovers becomes easier than not, they begin to wonder, what if Cupid’s arrow wasn’t so off the mark? And what if two wrongs do make a right?

Review: Two Wrongs Make a Right is the first book I’ve read from Chloe Liese. This romcom contains a fake dating trope and dives into family, friendship, healing, and taking chances. Overall, I enjoyed this one! I really loved the relationship between James and Beatrice. I really liked the way that the author built the relationship between the two main characters. Two Wrongs Make a Right is the first book I’ve read from Chloe Liese. This romcom contains a fake dating trope and dives into family, friendship, healing, and taking chances. Overall, I enjoyed this one! I aapreciated the touching note from the author giving the reader a heads up about content warnings and to read with care. I really loved the relationship between James and Beatrice. I really liked the way that the author built the relationship between the two main characters. I also really loved the dual POVS. The audiobook narrators also did a fantastic job! Now I can’t wait for Kate’s story!

Review: The Family Game

The Family Game by Catherine Steadman
Publisher: Random House
Pub Date: 10/18/2022

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

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Harry is a novelist on the brink of stardom; Edward, her husband-to-be, is seemingly perfect. In love and freshly engaged, their bliss is interrupted by the reemergence of the Holbecks, Edward’s eminent family and the embodiment of American old money. For years, they’ve dominated headlines and pulled society’s strings, and Edward left them all behind to forge his own path. But there are eyes and ears everywhere. It was only a matter of time before they were pulled back in . . .

After all, even though he’s long severed ties with his family, Edward is set to inherit it all. Harriet is drawn to the glamour and sophistication of the Holbecks, who seem to welcome her with open arms, but everything changes when she meets Robert, the inescapably magnetic head of the family. At their first meeting, Robert slips Harry a cassette tape, revealing a shocking confession which sets the inevitable game in motion.

What is it about Harry that made him give her that tape? A thing that has the power to destroy everything? As she ramps up her quest for the truth, she must endure the Holbecks’ savage Christmas traditions all the while knowing that losing this game could be deadly.

Review: The Family Game is the first book I read from Catherine Steadman. This domestic thriller is a slow burn and Dolores strained family relationships, unraveling secrets, instinct, and truth. The first half of the book is pretty slow and I guessed the twist early. I felt that the action didn’t start till the second half of the book. I found Harriet to be extremely annoying at first and didn’t understand why she didn’t listen to the tape in one sitting. The premise sounded interesting, but I felt it wasn’t executed well. As for the audio, I think it would have been better if there was a male narrator for the tape recording. The author reads it herself which is fine, but it didn’t have that much of an impact. This isn’t a book I would recommend, but if it is on your TBR, you might like it.

Review: Our Missing Hearts

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng
Publisher: Random House
Pub Date: 10/4/2022

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

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Bird Gardner lives a quiet existence with his loving but broken father, a former linguist who now shelves books in a university library. Bird knows to not ask too many questions, stand out too much, or stray too far. For a decade, their lives have been governed by laws written to preserve “American culture” in the wake of years of economic instability and violence. To keep the peace and restore prosperity, the authorities are now allowed to relocate children of dissidents, especially those of Asian origin, and libraries have been forced to remove books seen as unpatriotic—including the work of Bird’s mother, Margaret, a Chinese American poet who left the family when he was nine years old.

Bird has grown up disavowing his mother and her poems; he doesn’t know her work or what happened to her, and he knows he shouldn’t wonder. But when he receives a mysterious letter containing only a cryptic drawing, he is pulled into a quest to find her. His journey will take him back to the many folktales she poured into his head as a child, through the ranks of an underground network of librarians, into the lives of the children who have been taken, and finally to New York City, where a new act of defiance may be the beginning of much-needed change.

Our Missing Hearts is an old story made new, of the ways supposedly civilized communities can ignore the most searing injustice. It’s a story about the power—and limitations—of art to create change, the lessons and legacies we pass on to our children, and how any of us can survive a broken world with our hearts intact.

Review: Our Missing Hearts is the third book I’ve read from Celeste Ng and one of my most anticipated reads. This contemporary/dystopian novel explores themes of injustice, community, legacy, and parent-child relationships. This book is pretty heavy and so heartbreaking. The author touches upon subjects of missing children, discrimination, abandonment, and hate crimes to name a few. The story is about a boy named bird is sets off on a quest to find out the truth about his mother and why she left. The writing style captured me from the first page and as I was reading, I had no idea where the story would take me. All the characters are flawed and yet my heart ached for what they had to go through. Highly recommend picking this one up if you loved Celeste’s previous books!

Review: Drunk on Love

Drunk on Love by Jasmine Guillory
Publisher: Berkley Romance
Pub Date: 09/20/2022

Thank you to Berkley Romance & PRH Audio for the free copy in exchange for my honest review.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Margot Noble needs some relief from the stress of running the family winery with her brother. Enter Luke: sexy, charming, and best of all in the too-small world of Napa, a stranger. The chemistry between them is undeniable, and Margot is delighted that she lucked into the perfect one-night stand she’ll never have to see again. That is, until the winery’s newest hire, Luke, walks in the next morning. Margot is determined to keep things purely professional, but when their every interaction reminds her of the attraction still bubbling between them, it proves to be much more challenging than she expects.

Luke Williams had it all, but when he quits his high-salary tech job in Silicon Valley in a blaze of burnout and moves back to Napa to help a friend, he realizes he doesn’t want to tell the world–or his mom–why he’s now working at a winery. His mom loves bragging about her successful son–how can he admit that the job she’s so proud of broke him? Luke has no idea what is next for him, but one thing is certain: he wants more from the incredibly smart and sexy woman he hooked up with–even after he learns she’s his new boss. But even if they can find a way to be together that wouldn’t be an ethical nightmare, would such a successful woman really want a tech-world dropout?

Set against a lush backdrop of Napa Valley wine country, nothing goes to your head as fast as a taste of love–even if it means changing all your plans.

Review: Drunk on Love is a contemporary romance novel that places in Napa Valley. This book explores the winery business, finding your identity, burn out, and joy. I love that each of her books focus on a certain place in California and was excited that this one takes place in Napa. Overall, I found this to be a decent read. I loved that it was a lighthearted, quick, and easy read. This was one of those instances where I loved the backdrop more than the characters. The characters were fine individually, but I was craving more depth and chemistry between the main characters. In terms of the narration, the day narration was done well and kept me engaged with the story. If you’re a fan of Jasmine Guillory’s previous books, you may enjoy this one.

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!