Book Reviews

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“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

– James Baldwin
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  • Book Review — Four Aunties and a Wedding by Jesse Q. Sutanto

    I received an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of this book from Netgalley and Berkley Books. This has not impacted my rating and this review is voluntary.

    • Genre: Fiction, Comedy
    • Published by: Berkley Books
    • Publish date: March 29th, 2022
    • Number of pages: 304 pages
    • Author’s website: https://www.jesseqsutanto.com/
    • Support local! Buy the book on BookShop!

    Sequel to Dial A for Aunties!

    Meddy Chan has been to countless weddings, but she never imagined how her own would turn out. Now the day has arrived, and she can’t wait to marry her college sweetheart, Nathan. Instead of having Ma and the aunts cater to her wedding, Meddy wants them to enjoy the day as guests. As a compromise, they find the perfect wedding vendors: a Chinese-Indonesian family-run company just like theirs. Meddy is hesitant at first, but she hits it off right away with the wedding photographer, Staphanie, who reminds Meddy of herself, down to the unfortunately misspelled name.

    Meddy realizes that is where their similarities end, however, when she overhears Staphanie talking about taking out a target. Horrified, Meddy can’t believe Staphanie and her family aren’t just like her own, they are The Family–actual mafia, and they’re using Meddy’s wedding as a chance to conduct shady business. Her aunties and mother won’t let Meddy’s wedding ceremony become a murder scene–over their dead bodies–and will do whatever it takes to save her special day, even if it means taking on the mafia

    Rating: 3.5/5

    The hilarious aunties are back in this follow-up to Dial A for Aunties. If you haven’t read the first book in the series, I recommend you skip this review. I will avoid spoilers for this book but it will include some allusions to the first book.

    We are reunited with Meddy as she prepares for her wedding to Nathan in England and of course, Meddy’s mom and her mom’s sisters are in tow. The things the five of them get into are pure chaos and certainly something that reads more like a script for comedy than a novel.

    The book is pretty stressful for me from the main conflict with the mafia and the decisions Meddy and her aunts make. Fortunately, the shenanigans the Aunts pull lighten the mood, but if you are like me, you’ll be yelling at your book in frustration. Meddy is the same as she is in the last book as she tries to balance her culture and how she was raised with protecting someone from being murdered at her wedding, which includes a lot of sneaking around and lying.

    Overall, this is a quick, plot-driven read with comedic phrases spread throughout.

    Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to know!

  • Book Review — By the Book: A Meant to Be Novel by Jasmine Guillory

    I received an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of this book from Netgalley and Hyperion Avenue. This has not impacted my rating and this review is voluntary.

    A tale as old as time—for a new generation…

    Isabelle is completely lost. When she first began her career in publishing right out of college, she did not expect to be twenty-five, living at home, still an editorial assistant, and the only Black employee at her publishing house. Overworked and underpaid, constantly torn between speaking up or stifling herself, Izzy thinks there must be more to this publishing life. So when she overhears her boss complaining about a beastly high-profile author who has failed to deliver his long-awaited manuscript, Isabelle sees an opportunity to finally get the promotion she deserves.

    All she has to do is go to the author’s Santa Barbara mansion and give him a quick pep talk or three. How hard could it be?

    But Izzy quickly finds out she is in over her head. Beau Towers is not some celebrity lightweight writing a tell-all memoir. He is jaded and withdrawn and—it turns out—just as lost as Izzy. But despite his standoffishness, Izzy needs Beau to deliver, and with her encouragement, his story begins to spill onto the page. They soon discover they have more in common than either of them expected, and as their deadline nears, Izzy and Beau begin to realize there may be something there that wasn’t there before.

    Best-selling author Jasmine Guillory’s reimagining of a beloved fairy tale is a romantic triumph of love and acceptance and learning that sometimes to truly know a person you have to read between the lines.

    via Goodreads

    Rating: 4/5

    The second (but standalone) book in the Meant to Be series did not disappoint… but of course, that’s to be expected from the incredible romance novelist that is Jasmine Guillory!

    There’s nothing groundbreaking in this modern re-telling of Beauty and the Beast, but it’s filled with so many cute moments and is an easy, enjoyable romance. Plus, the setting is a gorgeous mansion with a library (eek!) in California.

    It’s fun to find the easter eggs of how the original story has creatively been added to this story. For example, the cook and friend of Beau’s nickname is Kettle.

    Another fun part of this story is that the main characters are involved in the publishing world and we get to see the work of an agent and editor.

    This novel is great for anyone looking for a pleasing and cheesy romance with a little of the enemies-to-lovers trope! Can’t wait for the next one in the series!

    Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to know!

  • Book Review — If the Shoe Fits (Meant to Be #1) by Julie Murphy
    • Genre: Fiction, Romance, Romantic Comedy, Fairy Tale
    • Published by: Hyperion Avenue
    • Publish date: August 03, 2021
    • Number of pages: 304 pages
    • Author’s website: http://www.imjuliemurphy.com/
    • Support local! Buy the book on BookShop!

    After having just graduated with a degree in shoe design, and trying to get her feet on the ground, Cindy is working for her stepmother, who happens to be the executive producer of America’s favorite reality show, Before Midnight. When a spot on the show needs filling ASAP, Cindy volunteers, hoping it might help jump-start her fashion career, or at least give her something to do while her peers land jobs in the world of high fashion.

    Turns out being the only plus-size woman on a reality dating competition makes a splash, and soon Cindy becomes a body positivity icon for women everywhere. What she doesn’t expect? That she may just find inspiration and love in the process. Ultimately, Cindy learns that if the shoe doesn’t fit, maybe it’s time to design your own.

    via Goodreads

    Rating: 4/5

    This was such a delightful re-telling of Cinderella in the modern world.

    The novel takes place in New York and LA in the 2020s. Cindy has moved back to LA from the Big Apple to be with her family after struggling in design school. A similar set-up to the classic Cinderella story is established, Cindy has a step-mom and step-sisters and a father and mother who have previously passed away. Her step-mother is a producer on one of the hottest television shows in the nation, a Bachelor style show, and her step-sisters are going to be contestants. At the last minute, Cindy joins the show as a contestant and is surprised to see that the man she was on a flight with when she came back to LA is the bachelor. Cindy doesn’t feel like she will win nor does she have the desire to instead she feels this is an opportunity to get her shoe designs some media attention and maybe spark some inspiration.

    Although the general plot progression is similar to the original Cinderella, Julie Murphy really makes this story her own and very in line with modern times. The step-family is not “evil” but instead very supportive and wants the best for Cindy. Cindy is a woman not necessarily looking for love but looking to find herself and pursue her passion for fashion shoe design.

    In the bachelor show, there are of course conflicts between the contestants as they vie for the attention of the bachelor, but there’s also a vibe of women supporting women and friendship between the contestants that I really enjoyed seeing. Every time I thought there was going to be a super evil person to hate, Murphy defied my expectations. All characters have some flaw but it doesn’t define them (although one of the contestants gets really close).

    When it comes to the romance, I absolutely loved that the OG story is dropped. Rather than Cinderella meeting Prince Charming and falling in love despite never saying a word to each other. Cindy goes on dates during the show and we actually get to see them form a connection. It makes the ending conflict and resolution all the more believable, an ending that seems realistic not just a “fairy tale”.

  • Book Review — Passing by Nella Larsen
    • Genre: Fiction, Classics
    • Publish date: April 1929
    • Number of pages: 160 pages
    • Support local! Buy the book on BookShop!

    Irene Redfield is a Black woman living an affluent, comfortable life with her husband and children in the thriving neighborhood of Harlem in the 1920s. When she reconnects with her childhood friend Clare Kendry, who is similarly light-skinned, Irene discovers that Clare has been passing for a white woman after severing ties to her past–even hiding the truth from her racist husband.

    Clare finds herself drawn to Irene’s sense of ease and security with her Black identity and longs for the community (and, increasingly, the woman) she lost. Irene is both riveted and repulsed by Clare and her dangerous secret, as Clare begins to insert herself–and her deception–into every part of Irene’s stable existence. First published in 1929, Larsen’s brilliant examination of the various ways in which we all seek to “pass,” is as timely as ever.

    Via Goodreads

    Rating: 4/5

    A classic novel from the Harlem Rennaissance that explores the issues of colorism in America and remains relevant today– albeit colorism does manifest in different ways today.

    Nella Larsen analyzes the decision that a Black person may make to pass or not through two light-skinned characters: Irene, who does not pass and lives with her family in Harlem, and Clare, who has decided to pass as a white woman married to a white man. For both women, we see the internal struggles of their decisions. For Clare, we see her yearning for her life before passing and regretting the decision she made. For Irene, she does occasionally pass when out in the town, but for the most part, she and her family do not pass and experience racism. Her husband expresses that he would like them to live outside the US.

    However, the real conflict starts to arise as Clare begins inserting herself into Irene’s life and gets closer to Irene’s husband. There is danger in Clare’s actions because to the outside world, she is a white woman hanging around a Black family. Irene feels fear for the repercussions of what could happen if Clare’s secret is revealed especially since Clare’s husband is racist.

    As the reader, we are able to form our own opinions about both women. For me personally, the idea of passing, of not staying true to yourself, and having to lie and hide part of yourself seems like a heavy burden to carry throughout life. The ending is ambiguous and makes you question the extents people will go to maintain their way of life.

    Recommendations for further readings:

    • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
    • Sweeter the Juice: A Family Memoir in Black and White by Shirlee Taylor Haizlip
    • The Blacker the Berry by Wallace Thurman

    Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to know!

  • Book Review — Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

    Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan, and a list. After almost—but not quite—dying, she’s come up with six directives to help her “Get a Life”, and she’s already completed the first: finally moving out of her glamourous family’s mansion. The next items?

    • Enjoy a drunken night out.
    • Ride a motorcycle.
    • Go camping.
    • Have meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex.
    • Travel the world with nothing but hand luggage.
    • And… do something bad.

    But it’s not easy being bad, even when you’ve written step-by-step guidelines on how to do it correctly. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job.

    Redford ‘Red’ Morgan is a handyman with tattoos, a motorcycle, and more sex appeal than ten-thousand Hollywood heartthrobs. He’s also an artist who paints at night and hides his work in the light of day, which Chloe knows because she spies on him occasionally. Just the teeniest, tiniest bit.

    But when she enlists Red in her mission to rebel, she learns things about him that no spy session could teach her. Like why he clearly resents Chloe’s wealthy background. And why he never shows his art to anyone. And what really lies beneath his rough exterior…

    Rating: 4/5

    A steamy romance with main characters that we don’t typically see depicted. We have Chloe Brown, the oldest of the Brown sisters. She’s quirky, speaks her mind, and has a cute sense of fashion. She’s so easy to love and root for as she tries to complete her bucket list of items to “live more”. Redford is a brooding red-headed hunk. They live in the same complex, Red is the super. During some chance encounters, Red soon proves himself to be the perfect person to help Chloe cross of items on her list.

    The romance builds slowly and then there are fireworks. There’s a realistic conflict with reservations about starting a new relationship and starting a relationship when you are struggling mentally that don’t see always depicted in romance. Although it may be frustrating to read, it felt very realistic to me as someone whose own mental illnesses have impacted my relationships (I know that’s not always why we read though). Then the resolution makes you feel warm and bubbly so it makes getting to the ending worth it!

    “Whether something bad is coming from your body or your brain, it makes no difference. Still feels like shit, right? Still hurts. Still needs fixing. They shouldn’t have dismissed you, even if it was in your head. When it comes down to it, everything we feel is in our heads.”

    -Red

    I love the discussion the two have on illnesses both physical and mental. The couple certainly has things to work through, but I thought that once they got through the open and honest part, they begin to mirror the habits of a healthy romantic relationship, but the hidden gem in this novel is the familial relationship between the Brown sisters. Once you read this one, you’ll immediately want to read the next two in the series.

    Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to know!

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