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!

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: Insomnia

Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough
Publisher: William Morrow Books
Pub Date: 4/12/2022

Thank you to William Morrow Books for the free finished copy in exchange for my honest review.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: In this twisty, mind-bending thriller from the bestselling author of Behind Her Eyes, Emma Averell worries that her crippling insomnia is a sign that she’s slowly going insane—like the mother she’s worked so hard to leave in her past.

Emma Averell loves her life—her high-powered legal career, her two beautiful children, and her wonderful stay-at-home husband—but it wasn’t always so perfect. When she was just five years old, Emma and her older sister went into foster care because of a horrific incident with their mother. Her sister can remember a time when their mother was loving and “normal,” but Emma can only remember her as one thing—a monster. And that monster emerged right around their mother’s fortieth birthday, the same age Emma is approaching now.

Emma desperately wants to keep her successful life separate from her past, so she has always hidden her childhood trauma. But then she’s unable to sleep, and now losing time during the day, also one of the first symptoms her mother showed. Is the madness in her blood, just as her mother predicted? Could she end up hurting her family in her foggy, frenetic state? Or is she truly beginning to lose her mind?

Review: Insomnia is the third book I’ve read from Sarah Pinborough. This psychological thriller explores strained familial relationships, memories, secrets, and paranoia. Overall, I liked reading this one. This is one of those books where it’s better going in not knowing what it’s really about. There’s only one narrator who is unreliable. I liked the slow build and unfolding throughout the book. Though some of the explanations seemed unrealistic, it was a fun read. If you love psychological thrillers, this may be up your alley!

Review: The Book of Cold Cases

The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James
Publisher: Berkley Pub
Pub Date: 3/15/2022

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

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: In 1977, Claire Lake, Oregon, was shaken by the Lady Killer Murders: Two men, seemingly randomly, were murdered with the same gun, with strange notes left behind. Beth Greer was the perfect suspect–a rich, eccentric twenty-three-year-old woman, seen fleeing one of the crimes. But she was acquitted, and she retreated to the isolation of her mansion.

Oregon, 2017. Shea Collins is a receptionist, but by night, she runs a true crime website, the Book of Cold Cases–a passion fueled by the attempted abduction she escaped as a child. When she meets Beth by chance, Shea asks her for an interview. To Shea’s surprise, Beth says yes.

They meet regularly at Beth’s mansion, though Shea is never comfortable there. Items move when she’s not looking, and she could swear she’s seen a girl outside the window. The allure of learning the truth about the case from the smart, charming Beth is too much to resist, but even as they grow closer, Shea senses something isn’t right. Is she making friends with a manipulative murderer, or are there other dangers lurking in the darkness of the Greer house?

Review: The Book of Cold Cases has been one of my most anticipated thrillers this year. I’m not really a fan of paranormal thrillers, but I absolutely loved Simone’s previous two books so I was curious about this one. The Book of Cold Cases involves crime blogging, unsolved serial killer mystery, small town living, and paranormal vibes. Overall, this was a decent read. The building up to the mystery was a bit too slow burn for me. I really enjoyed Beth’s POV more than Shea, but I understood why Shea’s POV was there. It took me a while to get invested in the story as I felt that there was a lack of twists and it’s easy to figure out who was culprit from the beginning. Even though I figured it out early, I enjoyed the journey of getting to that point through the author’s writing style. This was a solid 3 stars for me. If you enjoyed the author’s previous work or love paranormal thrillers, you may enjoy this one.

Review: Vladimir

Vladimir by Julia May Jonas
Publisher: Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster
Pub Date: 2/1/2022

Thank you to Avid Reader Press for the free advanced copy on NetGalley and Simon Audio for the advanced listening copy on LibroFM in exchange for my honest review.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: “When I was a child, I loved old men, and I could tell that they also loved me.”

And so we are introduced to our deliciously incisive narrator: a popular English professor whose charismatic husband at the same small liberal arts college is under investigation for his inappropriate relationships with his former students. The couple have long had a mutual understanding when it comes to their extra-marital pursuits, but with these new allegations, life has become far less comfortable for them both. And when our narrator becomes increasingly infatuated with Vladimir, a celebrated, married young novelist who’s just arrived on campus, their tinder box world comes dangerously close to exploding.

With this bold, edgy, and uncommonly assured debut, author Julia May Jonas takes us into charged territory, where the boundaries of morality bump up against the impulses of the human heart. Propulsive, darkly funny, and wildly entertaining, Vladimir perfectly captures the personal and political minefield of our current moment, exposing the nuances and the grey area between power and desire.

Review: Vladimir is Julia May Jonas’s debut. This dark academia literary fiction explores desire, obsession, feminism, and society expectations. I initially heard of this book through Book of the Month and was intrigued by the premise and the interesting cover.

Before I go into my review, I say the cover is interesting and not “unfortunate” as others have mentioned because it’s not what we typically see on covers. It kind of reminds me of those historical fiction or smut romances back in the ‘90s when they had people on covers. Do I agree with the cover choice? Maybe not, but because of the conversation around it, it did make me more interested in the book which I have to say was a clever and powerful move from the publisher from a marketing perspective. If you want to learn why the U.S. cover was picked, go check out the video “our CEO explains how a book cover is made” on @simonandschuster. I found this video to be extremely fascinating and loved learning more on what their vision for the book was.

Now onto the review, I actually really liked this book! When I was reading the first chapter in the ebook, I was intrigued by the story, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about it. I started listening to the audio and absolutely loved the audiobook narrator, Rebecca Lowman. She really brought out the narrator’s perspective for me. In terms of the storyline, this is a very character driven story and liked the pace of it. I also really enjoyed the writing style as well. The perspective is from a late 50s college English professor where her professor husband is under investigation for inappropriate relations with his students. In the midst of that, she starts becoming infatuated over a new celebrated married novelist in his 30s, Vladimir. The narrator explains her open relationship with her husband, her desires, and her innermost thoughts and reflections. Though the unnamed narrator is unlikable, her perspective is fresh, bold, pushes boundaries, and explores the gray area between desire and power. I definitely recommend this to readers who love dark academia! I would recommend reading a sample of the first few pages to see if it’s right for you.

Review: The Accomplice

The Accomplice by Lisa Lutz
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Pub Date: 1/25/2022

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

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: Owen Mann is charming, privileged, and chronically dissatisfied. Luna Grey is secretive, cautious, and pragmatic. Despite their differences, they begin forming a bond the moment they meet in college. Their names soon become indivisible–Owen and Luna, Luna and Owen–and stay that way even after an unexplained death rocks their social circle.

Years later, they’re still best friends when Luna finds Owen’s wife brutally murdered. The police investigation sheds some light on long-hidden secrets, but it can’t penetrate the wall of mystery that surrounds Owen. To get to the heart of what happened and why, Luna has to dig up the one secret she’s spent her whole life burying.

The Accomplice examines the bonds of shared history, what it costs to break them, and what happens when you start wondering if you ever truly knew the only person who truly knows you.

Review: The Accomplice is a thriller that dives into best friends, secrets, shared history, and trust. This is the first book I’ve read from Lisa Lutz and enjoyed this! I really liked how character driven this story was. I surprised by a few of the twists. However, I did feel that there were a bit too many subplots which made it difficult to keep track. I loved the alternative past versus present chapters. But I did feel that the middle of the book was a bit slow for my liking. Overall, I’d recommend picking this up if you’re a thriller lover.

Review: You Can’t Be Serious

You Can’t Be Serious by Kal Penn
Publisher: Gallery Books
Pub Date: 11/2/2021

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

GoodReads Synopsis: In this refreshingly candid memoir, Kal Penn recounts why he rejected the advice of his aunties and guidance counselors and, instead of becoming a doctor or “something practical,” embarked on a surprising journey that has included acting, writing, working as a farmhand, teaching Ivy League University courses, and smoking fake weed with a fake President of the United States, before serving the country and advising a real one.

You Can’t Be Serious is a series of funny, consequential, awkward, and ridiculous stories from Kal’s idiosyncratic life. It’s about being the grandson of Gandhian freedom fighters, and the son of immigrant parents: people who came to this country with very little and went very far—and whose vision of the American dream probably never included their son sliding off an oiled-up naked woman in a raunchy Ryan Reynolds movie…or getting a phone call from Air Force One as Kal flew with the country’s first Black president.

With intelligence, humor, and charm on every page, Kal reflects on the most exasperating and rewarding moments from his journey so far. He pulls back the curtain on the nuances of opportunity and racism in the entertainment industry and recounts how he built allies, found encouragement, and dealt with early reminders that he might never fit in. And of course, he reveals how, after a decade and a half of fighting for and enjoying successes in Hollywood, he made the terrifying but rewarding decision to take a sabbatical from a fulfilling acting career for an opportunity to serve his country as a White House aide.

Above all, You Can’t Be Serious shows that everyone can have more than one life story. Kal demonstrates by example that no matter who you are and where you come from, you have many more choices than those presented to you. It’s a story about struggle, triumph, and learning how to keep your head up. And okay, yes, it’s also about how he accidentally (and very stupidly) accepted an invitation to take the entire White House Office of Public Engagement to a strip club—because, let’s be honest, that’s the kind of stuff you really want to hear about.

Review: Kal Penn’s memoir, You Can’t Be Serious, was one of my most anticipated books for Nonfiction November. In his memoir, Kal gives us insight into his childhood, his experience in Hollywood as a South Asian man, his political experience working as a White House administrator during the Obama administration, and how he found his partner. Overall, I enjoyed this book! Highly recommend listening to the audiobook for this one!