The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee Review

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Genre: Historical Fiction (Multicultural, Asian/Asian-American)

Trigger Warning: Racial slurs

Age: Young Adult (YA)

Rating: 5 stars

This teen historical fiction novel enlightened me of the plight of Chinese immigrants who lived in the South U.S. post-Civil War. Jo is spunky and witty, yearning to make a difference in her community but longing to know who her parents are. Lee tries to keep this as historically accurate as possible with perfect pacing and excellent writing. I think the surprises should’ve been revealed a little more interspersed instead of all at once, plus the romance between Jo and her crush is cliche, but other than that it’s an excellent story!

Synopsis from Amazon:
By day, seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan works as a lady’s maid for the cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. But by night, Jo moonlights as the pseudonymous author of a newspaper advice column for the genteel Southern lady, “Dear Miss Sweetie.” When her column becomes wildly popular, she uses the power of the pen to address some of society’s ills, but she’s not prepared for the backlash that follows when her column challenges fixed ideas about race and gender. While her opponents clamor to uncover the secret identity of Miss Sweetie, a mysterious letter sets Jo off on a search for her own past and the parents who abandoned her as a baby. But when her efforts put her in the crosshairs of Atlanta’s most notorious criminal, Jo must decide whether she, a girl used to living in the shadows, is ready to step into the light. With prose that is witty, insightful, and at times heartbreaking, Stacey Lee masterfully crafts an extraordinary social drama set in the New South.

Obedience by Will Lavender Review

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Genre: Mysteries/Thrillers (Dark Academia)

Age: Adult

My rating: 2/5 stars

This starts out promising but the ending is TOO unrealistic! I’m assuming the author wanted to throw in a plot twist ending that’ll surprise, shock, but please the reader without sounding stupid; the ending did NOT to that! I’m into dark academia and went into this with good feelings but that ending took it ALL away! The plot is good, including the writing, but it became too confusing to the point where the partial revelations were hard for me to keep up with, plus it didn’t make sense at the end with the big revelation that tied everything together.
In conclusion, I feel like I wasted my time.

Synopsis from Goodreads: When the students in Winchester University’s Logic and Reasoning 204 arrive for their first day of class, they are greeted not with a syllabus or texts, but with a startling assignment from Professor Williams: Find a hypothetical missing girl named Polly. If after being given a series of clues and details the class has not found her before the end of the term in six weeks, she will be murdered.
At first the students are as intrigued by the premise of their puzzle as they are wary of the strange and slightly creepy Professor Williams. But as they delve deeper into the mystery, they begin to wonder: Is the Polly story simply a logic exercise, designed to teach them rational thinking skills, or could it be something more sinister and dangerous?
The mystery soon takes over the lives of three students as they find disturbing connections between Polly and themselves. Characters that were supposedly fictitious begin to emerge in reality. Soon, the boundary between the classroom assignment and the real world becomes blurred–and the students wonder if it is their own lives they are being asked to save.

House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A.Craig Review

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Genres: Fantasy and Horror

Age: Young Adult (YA)
My rating: 4/5 stars

Trigger Warnings: Rape, sexual assault, assault, mild gore, mild violence

I’m usually not a fan of horror but this is mild enough for me to read. The violence and gore are pretty much minimal and not specifically graphic (except for one scene). This is a retelling of Grimm’s 12 Dancing Princesses, but darker. The pace flowed properly – not too fast or too slow – and the ending took on a thriller-esque feel as Craig used the unreliable narrator trope, forcing us to question whether everything really happened or not, but there are discrepancies that leave a small hole within her plot that’s too big to ignore, especially one towards the end. I can’t post it because it’s a spoiler but I don’t understand if the curse happened before the deal was struck (when Annaleigh’s older sisters’ died) or after? It throws off the whole mystery. In conclusion, the writing is excellent (even though the epilogue is kind of corny) and kept me engaged. I didn’t expect Craig to use the unreliable narrator trope but it made this retelling even better!

Synopsis from Goodreads: Four of Annaleigh Thaumas’s eleven sisters have returned to the Salt, the brackish water that surrounds their lonely island home, their lives cut short, each more tragically than the last. Whispers throughout the Highmoor estate say the girls have been cursed by the gods.

When Annaleigh finds out that her sisters have been sneaking out to attend glittering midnight balls and dance until dawn, she’s not sure whether to stop them–or join them. And when she begins to see a series of horrific, ghostly visions and more sisters die, she realizes she must solve the mystery–with the help of Cassius, a sea captain who knows much more about her than he should–and unravel the Thaumas curse before she descends into madness or . . . it claims her next. 

Tell Me Everything by Cambria Brockman Review

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Genre: Mysteries/Thrillers (Dark Academia)

Age: Adult

My rating: 4/5 stars

Penguin Random House had a book recommendation session recently on Twitter, so I tweeted I want to read a dark academia novel set at college. They tweeted back this book as their rec, so I went ahead and borrowed it from my library.

This could’ve been a 5 star read if the characters weren’t vapid and stupid. Yeah, the majority of 18 -21 year olds do stupid stuff like get drunk, do drugs, and hookup (according to Western media) but I find that trope overused and kind of insulting. I’m not trying to say I’m special but does EVERY “edgy” or rebellious person HAVE to participate in harmful acts in order to learn about themselves, especially if they went through something bad or traumatic? Malin HAS to participate in these acts because her stupid friends pressure her into it (and it doesn’t help that the student culture at their college encourages it) when she could’ve told them to shut up and leave, but no! She’s under duress! insert sarcastic voice Peer pressure is real but I would’ve loved to read at least ONE scene where she stands up for herself! Her “friends” are annoying; I wished she forgot about them and searched for one(‘s) who aren’t self-destructive instead of staying with them. My other issue is that Malin’s described as seductive – but she’s really not. She doesn’t have a secret she needs to keep in order to prevent herself and friends from unraveling, as the synopsis states. This is basically a story where we follow her and her friends through their past troubles and how they use that to keep themselves “sane” through their lies and gaslighting.

I’ll say the twist at the end is unexpected, which is good writing-wise. The writing overall is excellent – no boring parts or overly descriptive language. The power dynamic twist in the student-teacher relationship is another way Brockman kept this story fresh and engaging (although the student didn’t explain why she did what she did to her professor, which kinda ruined that part). Her description of Hawthorne College’s campus drew me into the New England collegiate atmosphere, reminding me of my college days (but I didn’t attend a college like Hawthorne’s nor is it located in New England).

Synopsis from Goodreads:

In her first weeks at Hawthorne College, Malin is swept up into a tight-knit circle that will stick together through all four years. There’s Gemma, an insecure theater major from London; John, a tall, handsome, and wealthy New Englander; Max, John’s cousin and a shy pre-med major; Khaled, a wise-cracking prince from Abu Dhabi; and Ruby, a beautiful art history major. But Malin isn’t quite like the rest of her friends. She’s an expert at hiding her troubling past. She acts as if she is concerned with the preoccupations of those around her – boys, partying – all while using her extraordinary insight to detect their deepest vulnerabilities and weaknesses.

By Senior Day, on the cusp of graduation, Malin’s secrets – and those of her friends – are revealed. While she scrambles to maintain her artfully curated image, her missteps set in motion a devastating chain of events that ends in a murder. And as their fragile relationships hang in the balance and close alliances start shifting, Malin will test the limits of what she’s capable of to stop the truth from coming out.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia Review

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Genre: Horror (Gothic)

Sub-genre: Mysteries/Thrillers, Fantasy, and Science Fiction
My rating: 2/5 stars

Trigger and Content Warnings: Incest, attempted rape, sexual harassment, erotica, and assault

I’m new to horror, not a fan but I did enjoy House of Salt and Sorrows and Crimson Peak, so I decided to give this book a shot.
Seriously, I would’ve DNF’d for the amount of incest 🤢 this is the second horror novel I’ve read that has this theme! Is that the norm for this genre? The incest isn’t even necessary once you get to the sci-fi parts! By the way, this book’s plot is similar to Crimson Peak, which is why I pushed ahead instead of DNF’ing.

Rich White man heading towards poverty looking to reopen his mine? ✔
Marries a woman outside of his nationality? ✔
Woman begins to see ghosts because she’s poisoned? ✔
Lives in a run-down mansion that’s physically dark? ✔
White man commits incest, including his family members? ✔

disappointing, but the backstory is more fleshed out than CP’s, so I’ll give Silvia Moreno-Garcia points for that.

The sci-fi and touch of fantasy surprised me, since it’s not mentioned in the synopsis, definitely making this story stand out in a unique way! Sci-fi horror? Never heard of it! Kudos to Moreno-Garcia if she came up with that combo, but even if she didn’t it’s a new mix that will definitely be considered due to MG’s popularity! The pacing could’ve a little faster with a little less backstory but its not that bad – to me. Noemi – the protagonist – often came across air head-ish through the beginning, not giving us a clear reason why she attends college, her career goals (if she even had any), or if she plans to work after she marries, but her wits and knowledge in chemistry and anthropology made her banter with Virgil, one of the villains, the highlight of this story! Seriously, Virgil and Noemi’s interactions are the best parts of this novel (minus the ending 😉)! They have the same strengths and weaknesses, which made it easier for me to become engrossed with them more than any other character (except Howard) and when Virgil can’t beat Noemi through wits he seduces her, which turns into Noemi trying to resist him. So yes, this means mild erotica (nothing graphic but moderately sensual) is thrown into this genre mix, but don’t become blindsided by Virgil’s sexiness. He commits atrocious acts to get his way which may trigger some readers. On the other hand, I don’t understand how such a flirtatious woman like Noemi has never experienced seduction? For flirts that goes hand-in-hand.

Noemi flirting with her cousin – not Catalina! – is also 🤢. That, by the way, is the romance in this novel 😡 not only is that nasty but her cousin is literally so bland! Yeah he’s a gardener who’s an excellent artist but there’s nothing else about him that drew me into his character. And yes, even if he was intriguing I will not condone his relationship with Noemi! That didn’t need to happen! We don’t get much interaction between Catalina and Noemi or Catalina and Virgil, her husband, which is disappointing since Noemi comes BECAUSE Catalina claims Virgil is up to no good!

Overall this is a mild horror (which is fine with me!) that includes sci-fi, fantasy, and erotica – the latter three that should be included in the marketing and publicity. The incest isn’t necessary at all, if it wasn’t there I would’ve given this novel a higher rating.

The Takedown by Corrie Wang Review

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Genre: Mysteries/Thrillers (Dark Academia)

Age: Young Adult (YA)

My rating: 3/5 stars

THIS is how I imagined You by Caroline Kepnes’ to go! Of course it’s an Adult Thriller so I wouldn’t expect the immature HS drama, but the way Wong captures her protagonist’s stalker’s use of technology (which involves a lot of hacking) without Beck’s stupidity made this story worth reading. We’re increasingly reliant on technology which makes it easier for hackers to exploit and damage users for their entertainment, so I’m glad Wong used this story to highlight that issue.

However, I have a HUGE issue with the ending. This will be considered spoilers but it’s worth mentioning: A group of girls participate in child pornography, which is illegal and worth jail time. The girl behind this not only organized the photo shoots and distribution but reposts Kyla (the protagonist’s) fake sex tape for profit in the name of “sexually liberating women.” That’s a whole lotta crime and jail time for that stupid rich girl, but Wong does NOT touch on this AT ALL. Why is she encouraging girls to participate in that? Nobody involved faced legal repercussions, which makes it even worse.

Also, what’s up with authors and producers claiming “fun” includes sexual escapades? Especially in YA and teen movies/TV shows? You got something embarassing to tell us? You DON’T have to drink, get drunk and/or high, and have sex in order to enjoy life. NOBODY should do that during their teen years too, neither should society pressure teens to do so. Oh, and having sex with multiple people just because your hot, cute, or attractive is NOT ok – that goes for men, boys, women, AND girls.

And Wong, if you’re going to set this in a futuristic Brooklyn, New York, at least have the decency to double check whether the buildings, landmarks, and places you use are fake. Parkside Preparatory is a public middle school, not a private high school for rich kids. While we’re talking about schools, is there a reason why Parkside wasn’t slapped with a lawsuit or shut down for being completely USELESS during Kyla’s investigation? I don’t mind school administrators as villains in dark academia (since they do like to cover up crimes and scandals as revealed through the news) but don’t make them cartoonishly stupid!

For her nonsense I would’ve rated this 2 stars, but she at least earned 3 for properly handling the main plot.

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys Review

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Genre: Historical Fiction

Age: Young Adult (teens 13-20)

My Ratting: 4 & 1/2 stars, since the ending makes it sound like incest is ok.

You can feel the sadness and heartache of the Spanish characters as they try to navigate living in a fascist country that abuses and twists Christianity – specifically Catholicism. I’m not Catholic but I can tell certain parts that all Christians regardless of denomination must follow are twisted by General Franco and the religious leaders. Septys captured this time period with grace and grit, such as seamlessly transitioning from the opulent hotel where Daniel Matheson is residing to the gritty streets of Ana’s neighborhood. The ending is neither happy or sad but reflects how hopeful and stressed Spaniards were during Spain’s transition after Franco died.

If you want to read a historical fiction novel based on Spain’s fascist this time period this is the book for you!

Ring of Spies by Alex Gerlis Review

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Genre: Mysteries/Thrillers (Political)

Age: Adult

My rating: 5 stars

Originally published on Goodreads October 16, 2020

I would like to thank Damppebbles, Alex Gerlis, and Canelo Digital Publishing Limited for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

This is the third book in The Richard Prince Thriller series, an exceptionally mind-twisting Espionage-Political-Thriller, but you can read this as a standalone. Gerlis’ writing here definitely reminded me of John le Carré’s The Night Manager but without the annoying ill-placed flashbacks. Thankfully he included a character list – unlike le Carré – so readers don’t have to try and memorize all of these characters but I had to take notes regarding each characters’ role due to the overwhelming number of double-spies, which also meant I couldn’t finish this in as little as three days. Most characters are trying to hide their allyship through subterfuge, so along with major historical details to remember I had to take my time finishing this, so keep that in mind if you’re looking for a quick read.

Gerlis wove together an impressive list of true historical military strategy with his major fictional plot: Richard Prince’s fight to take down a British spy ring. The British government is involved but they don’t know for sure who the spies are so they recruit Richard to help them infiltrate them (the spies) using his wit and their resources. Every character is memorable, and I learned some new facts amongst the true parts. (did you know Britain had a real fascist party?) If you enjoy political thrillers that include espionage or WWII historical fiction you’ll love this book!

Privilege by Bharat Krishnan Review (WP Trilogy #1)

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Genre: Mysteries/Thrillers (Political)

Age: Adult

My rating: 4/5 stars

Originally posted on Goodreads November 17, 2020

Content and Trigger Warnings: LGBT+ characters, Police Brutality and Profiling, Drug Use

Thank you Bharat Krishnan, Shealea, and Caffeine Book Tours for giving me an eARC in exchange for my honest review!

This Desi Own Voices work touches on relevant topics that affect all racial minorities today, such as economic inequity, illegal drug use to gatekeep minorities, and the delicate balance Asians – especially South Asians – face as a member of the U.S. Census Bureau’s minority category but simultaneously known as the most privileged. We follow Rakshan as he tries to achieve the American Dream through his corrupt boss Aditya Shetty and the obstacles rich Whites use to gatekeep minorites through WP – a fictional drug similar to Crack. This drug is only available to rich Whites but minorities can own some by connecting (often illegally) with said Whites, thus giving them a shot at climbing up the economic ladder. Certain politicians try to persuade the government to legalize it but there’s opposition from lobbyists, other politicians, and – you guessed it – Whites. After Rakshan is unjustly fired by Aditya, he and his friends decide to tackle the discrimination they face by planning an elaborate heist to take down Aditya while obtaining enough WP to boost their status. What ensues are hilarious obstacles and a serious delve into the ethical and moral reasons to legalize WP.

Krishnan does an excellent job incorporating fictional elements that are similar to real life events: fictional WP, its side effects, and the fight to legalize it = U.S. government’s real life scenario regarding legalizing Weed; Connections to move up in one’s career or avoiding jail = the rich using connections to do the same in real life. Police brutality between cops and Blacks are also covered, as well as the yearning by Americans to have someone who will seriously represent them through the public’s yearning for Indigenous Senator Joseph Begaye to run for president. The writing keeps you engrossed with the right mix of politics and sci fi, and I could empathize with Rakshan, Sadiya (Rakshan’ girlfriend), Rakshan’s friends, and Aditya – whose more of an anti hero than villain.

The only con I’ll say is Sadiya’s refusal to marry Rakshan is underdeveloped. I don’t get why she didn’t break up with him a long time ago if she knew she nor her parents didn’t love him.

Overall this is a great start to the WP Trilogy; I look forward to the second one!

Top Ten Clues You’re Clueless by Liz Czukas Review

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My rating: 4/5 stars

Trigger Warning: sexual harrasment

Such a cute rom-com about friendship! This is also a great story about judgmental people – remember, “never judge a book by its cover.” Great short story that got me out of my reading slump! I enjoyed the potpourri of racially diverse characters that expands Czukas general audience: White teens. The humor is well-timed but not too heavy; overall not too heavy but still enforces Czukas’ moral of her story.

However I do wish she explained the thief’s reason for stealing and why he stole that much. Wouldn’t it also be illegal for an employer to hold minors for that long, including the cops taking FOREVER to arrive? I also wanted to know why minors are working during their school year. Most high schoolers only work over the summer. Yes, one character needs to but I didn’t catch why the others needed to.

Besides that it’s an enjoyable Christmas rom-com!