Book review: How to Fake it in Hollywood by Ava Wilder

Title: How to Fake it in Hollywood

Authors: Ava Wilder

Publishing date:    June 14th 2022

Publisher:  Dell

Genre: Romance

Pages: 368

Link: Goodreads

Grey Brooks is on a mission to keep her career afloat now that the end of her long-running teen soap has her (unsuccessfully) pounding the pavement again. With a life-changing role on the line, she’s finally desperate enough to agree to her publicist’s scheme… faking a love affair with a disgraced Hollywood heartthrob who needs the publicity, but for very different reasons.

Ethan Atkins just wants to be left alone. Between his high-profile divorce, his struggles with drinking, and his grief over the death of his longtime creative partner and best friend, he’s slowly let himself fade into the background. But if he ever wants to produce the last movie he and his partner wrote together, Ethan needs to clean up his reputation and step back into the spotlight. A gossip-inducing affair with a gorgeous actress might be just the ticket, even if it’s the last thing he wants to do.

Though their juicy public relationship is less than perfect behind the scenes, it doesn’t take long before Grey and Ethan’s sizzling chemistry starts to feel like more than just an act. But after decades in a ruthless industry that requires bulletproof emotional armor to survive, are they too used to faking it to open themselves up to the real thing?

How to Fake it in Hollywood is a book that hooked me right from the first line, mainly because the book’s writing and tone were very engaging and the characters were complex and captivating. This book was full of great tropes including fake dating and forced proximity. There was a push and pull in the first part of the book and a tension that was building between the characters that were so fun to read about. The main couple had great chemistry, there were some really steamy scenes and, beyond the sexual aspect, the author showed the main characters forming a deep emotional connection.

Also, the depiction of being an actress in Hollywood felt very realistic, seeing the main character struggle to find work after doing a tv show that was relatively popular for a long time, seeing how people in the industry expected her to lose weight, the discussion about how limited meaningful roles for women are, ageism in Hollywood, and so much more. All of that was really interesting to read about. Honestly, for the first 60%, I was enjoying this book a lot and thought it was really entertaining.

Nonetheless, this ended up being a lot darker and sadder than I thought it was going to be based on: 1) the cover, 2) the first half of the book, which was messy and sad but not to the level it got in the second half, and 3) the synopsis because, while the synopsis mentions struggles with alcohol and grief briefly, they end up being a very, very big part of the second half of the book, and especially alcoholism is a big part of the conflict in the story. While that isn’t bad, it’s not what I was expecting, and also, the fact that the hero in the book was an alcoholic did make me weary of rooting for the couple.

One thing I appreciated about this book is that the author didn’t shy away from showing alcoholism in a very realistic way. While Ethan was a functioning alcoholic for most of the book, he was a mess, he had extreme mood swings, and he made so many mistakes throughout this book. And while I appreciated that, at the same time, I can’t deny that while I was reading I kept thinking that if Grey was one of my friends I would hope she gets out of that relationship. So, while I loved many things about the romantic relationship in this book, I had my moments where I wasn’t completely sold on it, especially towards the end.

Lastly, I didn’t love the ending, because there was this slow conflict building throughout the entire book, and then at the end, everything was resolved so quickly and easily, or at least it seemed that way because a big part of the resolution of that conflict took place off page. So the way the book ended was very jarring and felt rushed.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Have you read or are you planning to read this book? If you have read it, were you expecting it to be as dark and sad as it was or did it catch you by surprise? 

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Book Review: The Roughest Draft by Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka

Title: The Roughest Draft

Authors: Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka

Publishing date:   January 25th 2022

Publisher:  Berkley

Genre: Romance

Pages: 336

Link: Goodreads

Three years ago, Katrina Freeling and Nathan Van Huysen were the brightest literary stars on the horizon, their cowritten books topping bestseller lists. But on the heels of their greatest success, they ended their partnership on bad terms, for reasons neither would divulge to the public. They haven’t spoken since, and never planned to, except they have one final book due on contract.

Facing crossroads in their personal and professional lives, they’re forced to reunite. The last thing they ever thought they’d do again is hole up in the tiny Florida town where they wrote their previous book, trying to finish a new manuscript quickly and painlessly. Working through the reasons they’ve hated each other for the past three years isn’t easy, especially not while writing a romantic novel.

While passion and prose push them closer together in the Florida heat, Katrina and Nathan will learn that relationships, like writing, sometimes take a few rough drafts before they get it right.

I have conflicting feelings about this book. On one hand, I read it quickly and was really interested and engaged while reading it. I found the premise of this intriguing, two authors who used to co-write books together, suddenly stopped and their relationship imploded after something unknown happened between them, but after 4 years they are reunited to write a new book. I liked the way this portraited the tension and animosity between the main characters, the way it showed that at the same time they missed each other and their relationship, and I also liked seeing their relationship become friendlier and then antagonistic and back again because it felt realistic after such a long time being mad at each other. Moreover, it was interesting to get insight into the process of co-writing a book, I really appreciated the way their creative process was shown.

On the other hand, I don’t think this had the most memorable characters, I wish there was a bit more romance, and also, while I didn’t completely dislike the reason behind their big fight because I feel that it explained why they needed time apart and why their friendship ended, I don’t think it entirely explained the anger they felt towards each other.

Also, the storyline in this book is messy, and, for the most part, I didn’t dislike the way this handled the messiness. This book deals with falling in love with a person while you are in a relationship with someone else, which is never an easy subject to address but it’s something that happens all the time. There was no physical cheating (at least from my perspective), but what bugged me is the insistence of both main characters that in the past timeline, before their fight, there wasn’t any cheating. They kept saying and believing “we didn’t cheat”, “there was no cheating”, but for a book that talked about infidelity, there was a lack of nuance in that way it addressed it, it was as if the only type of cheating is the physical kind, and that’s not true, in the past timeline there was definitely emotional cheating. And I actually didn’t dislike that there was emotional cheating or how it was portrayed but I was frustrated about the fact that it wasn’t recognized and discussed as such. The denial of it was what I had a problem with.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this, I had fun reading experience and I don’t think this is a bad book. I’m actually looking forward to more adult romances written by this writing duo. My issues with this are not that significant, except for the last one about emotional cheating, which was really frustrating to me and it kept taking me out of the story.

RATING: 3,5 STARS

Have you read or are you planning to read this book? If you have read it, what did you think about the emotional cheating element in this book and the way it was handled?

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Reviewing Sapphic Romances: Count Your Lucky Stars + Payback’s a Witch + Honey Girl

I noticed recently that I had been posting just mini “reviews” in my wrap-ups and not really fully reviewing books, so I have been trying to review more books on the blog lately. Today I’m posting reviews of books that include sapphic romances. I hope you find them useful!

Count Your Lucky Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur

Margot Cooper doesn’t do relationships. She tried and it blew up in her face, so she’ll stick with casual hookups, thank you very much. But now her entire crew has found “the one” and she’s beginning to feel like a fifth wheel. And then fate (the heartless bitch) intervenes. While touring a wedding venue with her engaged friends, Margot comes face-to-face with Olivia Grant—her childhood friend, her first love, her first… well, everything. It’s been ten years, but the moment they lock eyes, Margot’s cold, dead heart thumps in her chest.

Olivia must be hallucinating. In the decade since she last saw Margot, her life hasn’t gone exactly as planned. At almost thirty, she’s been married… and divorced. However, a wedding planner job in Seattle means a fresh start and a chance to follow her dreams. Never in a million years did she expect her important new client’s Best Woman would be the one that got away.

When a series of unfortunate events leaves Olivia without a place to stay, Margot offers up her spare room because she’s a Very Good Person. Obviously. It has nothing to do with the fact that Olivia is as beautiful as ever and the sparks between them still make Margot tingle. As they spend time in close quarters, Margot starts to question her no-strings stance. Olivia is everything she’s ever wanted, but Margot let her in once and it ended in disaster. Will history repeat itself or should she count her lucky stars that she gets a second chance with her first love?

I’ve discovered that second chance romances are hit or miss for me, but they are mostly misses. While I had other issues with Count Your Lucky Stars, I can say that the second chance romance element of the story is actually well done, it strikes that hard balance of telling/ showing just the right amount of the past relationship between the main characters, while not relying entirely on their past connection as the reason why they get back together.

Actually, I really enjoyed the first part of Count Your Lucky Stars, the characters are likable and relatable, and seeing them reconnect and slowly rebuild their relationship while also navigating the amount of chemistry and sexual tension between them was very entertaining. And, things get steamy pretty quick and the book is very steamy throughout.

But after a while, the lack of communication annoyed me so much, and it’s funny because the author was aware that the lack of communication was frustrating and she even mentioned it in the book, but it still affected my enjoyment of the story. Also, I found the conflict at the end to be a bit boring, the author was trying to explore the fears and flaws of the two main characters, but the way it was executed was lackluster and I lost interest in that final part of the book. Still, the ending was cute and I was rooting for the couple the entire time.

RATING: 3.5 STARS

Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper

Emmy Harlow is a witch but not a very powerful one—in part because she hasn’t been home to the magical town of Thistle Grove in years. Her self-imposed exile has a lot to do with a complicated family history and a desire to forge her own way in the world, and only the very tiniest bit to do with Gareth Blackmoore, heir to the most powerful magical family in town and casual breaker of hearts and destroyer of dreams.

But when a spellcasting tournament that her family serves as arbiters for approaches, it turns out the pull of tradition (or the truly impressive parental guilt trip that comes with it) is strong enough to bring Emmy back. She’s determined to do her familial duty; spend some quality time with her best friend, Linden Thorn; and get back to her real life in Chicago.

On her first night home, Emmy runs into Talia Avramov—an all-around badass adept in the darker magical arts—who is fresh off a bad breakup . . . with Gareth Blackmoore. Talia had let herself be charmed, only to discover that Gareth was also seeing Linden—unbeknownst to either of them. And now she and Linden want revenge. Only one question stands: Is Emmy in? But most concerning of all: Why can’t she stop thinking about the terrifyingly competent, devastatingly gorgeous, wickedly charming Talia Avramov?

I went into Payback’s a Witch knowing almost nothing about it and I ended up LOVING it. I was completely engrossed while reading it and I finished it in one sitting, it was a quick and really fun read. This book is a 5 stars read for me based, in big part, on how enjoyable my reading experience was and on reading it at the perfect time when I was looking exactly for a low angst, cheeky and captivating story.

There’s so much to love about this book, it mixed the contemporary and fantastical elements perfectly, it managed to have interesting worldbuilding around this magical witchy small town in the middle of the modern world and a fun plot around revenge, old family rivalries, and a magic tournament, while also focusing on the romance, friendships, and character development. This book is funny, it has captivating and complex characters, a really sweet sapphic romance full of banter and chemistry, a lovely friendship between women, and it tells a story of personal growth and the journey the main character goes through to realize that maybe she had been making her decisions based on the wrong things and punishing herself for something that wasn’t her fault.

Objectively, I know this is not a perfect book, the conflict felt really forced and unnecessary, and the ending was a bit juvenile. But, subjectively, this is still a 5 stars read for me.

RATING: 5 STARS

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

With her newly completed PhD in astronomy in hand, twenty-eight-year-old Grace Porter goes on a girls’ trip to Vegas to celebrate. She is not the kind of person who goes to Vegas and gets drunkenly married to a woman whose name she doesn’t know…until she does exactly that.

This one moment of departure from her stern ex-military father’s plans for her life has Grace wondering why she doesn’t feel more fulfilled from completing her degree. Staggering under the weight of her father’s expectations, a struggling job market and feelings of burnout, Grace flees her home in Portland for a summer in New York with the wife she barely knows.

When reality comes crashing in, Grace must face what she’s been running from all along—the fears that make us human, the family scars that need to heal and the longing for connection, especially when navigating the messiness of adulthood.

While I overall didn’t have a great reading experience with this book, Honey Girl has a lot of elements I enjoyed. The main character and her feelings of being lost and not knowing what path to follow were relatable; her friendships were wonderful and complicated and I enjoyed reading about so many characters that felt like real people; I love complex family dynamics so I really appreciated that aspect of the book and the way it was handled, and I think the way it addressed mental health was really good. The final 40% of this story which shows Grace actually making decisions for herself, getting treatment, being honest with the people around her and finding ways to heal and grow was my favorite part of the book.

Nonetheless, I had some big issues with this, especially with the writing, which wasn’t necessarily bad but it definitely wasn’t for me. To me, it felt like the author was trying SO HARD to be deep and poetic and it felt forced and most of the time it was really maudlin. This is the reason I can’t give this book more than 3 stars, I really disliked the writing and that ruined my reading experience. My other issue is Yuki, the love interest, everything she said was supposed to be so profound and most of the time it really wasn’t. I didn’t feel the connection between Grace and Yuki, and their relationship felt forced and awkward at times. So I wasn’t really a fan of the romance, which is why I ended up enjoying the last 40% so much more than the rest of the book, since it was focused on other aspects of the story

RATING: 3 STARS

Have you read any of these books? What are your favorite sapphic romances?

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Reviewing 5 Star Reads: Catherine House + Comfort Me With Apples

As I have mentioned before, I’m trying to catch up with the 2021 releases that I didn’t get to read last year and reviewing some of them. Today, I’m reviewing two “kind of” horror books that I LOVED.

Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas

Catherine House is a school of higher learning like no other. Hidden deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania, this crucible of reformist liberal arts study with its experimental curriculum, wildly selective admissions policy, and formidable endowment, has produced some of the world’s best minds: prize-winning authors, artists, inventors, Supreme Court justices, presidents. For those lucky few selected, tuition, room, and board are free. But acceptance comes with a price. Students are required to give the House three years—summers included—completely removed from the outside world. Family, friends, television, music, even their clothing must be left behind. In return, the school promises its graduates a future of sublime power and prestige, and that they can become anything or anyone they desire.

Among this year’s incoming class is Ines, who expects to trade blurry nights of parties, pills, cruel friends, and dangerous men for rigorous intellectual discipline—only to discover an environment of sanctioned revelry. The school’s enigmatic director, Viktória, encourages the students to explore, to expand their minds, to find themselves and their place within the formidable black iron gates of Catherine.

For Ines, Catherine is the closest thing to a home she’s ever had, and her serious, timid roommate, Baby, soon becomes an unlikely friend. Yet the House’s strange protocols make this refuge, with its worn velvet and weathered leather, feel increasingly like a gilded prison. And when Baby’s obsessive desire for acceptance ends in tragedy, Ines begins to suspect that the school—in all its shabby splendor, hallowed history, advanced theories, and controlled decadence—might be hiding a dangerous agenda that is connected to a secretive, tightly knit group of students selected to study its most promising and mysterious curriculum.

Recently, I have realized that I love gothic stories, especially gothic horror, because they tend to be slow, atmospheric reads that are suspenseful and tense rather than scary, and that it’s the perfect way of describing this book. Thomas does a fantastic job of writing a very atmospheric story and building this dreamlike sensation that makes the story strange and captivating. I was intrigued the entire time while reading and I couldn’t put this book down.

This is definitely not the kind of book you understand and while some things are revealed about the mysterious activities taking place in Catherine House, that’s not really the point of the book. You don’t get to the end and suddenly get all the answers or find out the truth. This is just the story of the three years that Ines and her friends spent at Catherine House; it’s a story of academic pressure, weird experiments, open secrets, making friends and feeling connected to a place that may not be good for you.

While the characters are not particularly likable, they were complex, chaotic and intriguing. Everyone had a secret past and a reason to be at Catherine House, and while most of these secrets are not revealed, they created this mysterious veil around the characters that kept me engrossed. One of my favorite parts of this book is the friendships/found family that Ines is part of, all these characters that were looking for a connection and found it among each other.

The last part of the book had me at the edge of my seat because I was so invested and I just wanted to know how it was going to end. While the ending did feel really abrupt and I was left reeling for a while after I finished this book, but I’ve come to realize that it fits the story.

RATING: 5 STARS

Comfort Me with Apples by Catherynne M. Valente

Sophia was made for him. Her perfect husband. She can feel it in her bones. He is perfect. Their home together in Arcadia Gardens is perfect. Everything is perfect.

It’s just that he’s away so much. So often. He works so hard. She misses him. And he misses her. He says he does, so it must be true. He is the perfect husband and everything is perfect.

But sometimes Sophia wonders about things. Strange things. Dark things. The look on her husband’s face when he comes back from a long business trip. The questions he will not answer. The locked basement she is never allowed to enter. And whenever she asks the neighbors, they can’t quite meet her gaze…But everything is perfect. Isn’t it?

This is a very hard book to review because it’s the kind of story you should go into knowing as little as possible. The synopsis while accurate only represents one part of the story and it doesn’t even hint at the themes and powerful commentary this story ended up touching on. It’s commentary that can end up being very polarizing, so I can understand why some people may not like this.

This book was bizarre and eerie, there was an awkward tension that was conveyed very well, and a sense of being watched and manipulated that was very distressing. Everyone and everything in this book was suspicious and secretive, no one and nothing could be trusted, which made this the kind of book where you can come up with a hundred different theories for what’s going on. I didn’t see the twist coming, it was so unexpected but so good. It was smart and quietly disturbing and I loved it. The last part of this book was mindblowing and once the book ends you realize how thought-provoking what the author was trying to say is.

RATING: 5 STARS

Have you read these books? What are your favorite horror books?

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Reviewing Sci-Fi Books: Project Hail Mary + A Psalm for the Wild-Built

Hi everyone! I’ve been trying to catch up on some 2021 releases that I didn’t read last year and these two sci-fi books were at the top of my list. I’m happy to say that overall I enjoyed both of them even if I had some issues that prevented me from completely loving them. Here are my thoughts:

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the Earth itself will perish. Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company. His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species. And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

The humorous tone of the book captured my attention as soon as I started reading, and it worked really well to offset the tense and hopeless situation the book revolves around. The first part of this book was so strong because it was easy to feel the tension and how desperate the situation was for the entire population of earth. Andy Weir used the two timeliness perfectly to create intrigue and keep the reader engaged; having this middle school teacher wake up in a spaceship with no memory of how he got there and then seeing the past and slowly understanding the dire situation kept the book interesting. And then the story takes an unexpected turn that added a very compelling element to the story and the way the book explored the consequences of that change in direction was very engrossing at first.

Nonetheless, after a while, the plot basically stopped progressing and the new elements stopped being as interesting. The book started to drag because there are certain interactions and developments that were interesting at first but that became repetitive and monotonous, and that may have been the author’s intent since that’s a realistic portrait of those experiences but it did make the reading experience a little less fun. Also, sometimes it felt like the author got caught up in showing all the cool science and forgot about the story.

Still, the book picked up again once things started to progress and I was at the edge of my seat for most of the last 25% when everything kept going wrong and the characters had to come up with riskier plans to try to save the world. Nonetheless, while everything going wrong can add tension and excitement, there’s a fine line before it stops doing that and instead, it makes the reader go “when is this going to end?”, and this book was very close to crossing that line for me. But I feel like ultimately it didn’t cross it and I actually enjoyed the ending. It was bittersweet, unexpected and it fit the story well.

RATING: 4 STARS

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the Earth itself will perish. Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company. His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species. And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

My expectations for this book were really high because I loved the two Becky Chambers books I’ve read, and while this wasn’t everything I hoped for, it was still a good read. The concept of the book was really interesting, a world where robots suddenly became self-aware and decided to live apart from humans without contact with them, and humans are trying to fix the mistake of the past by looking after nature and respecting the decision of robots. Overall, the book had a very hopeful tone that started with this concept, the idea that humans can change and decide to work together, commit to saving the environment, and learn to respect other beings.

My main problem was that I found Sibling Dex to be a boring main character, and since almost half of the book is focused only on him, his job as a tea monk and his journey, I wasn’t that invested. Nonetheless, I really appreciated the casual queerness (Sibling Dex is nonbinary) and getting to see different parts of the world because of his job as a tea monk implied a lot of traveling. Furthermore, once Mosscap, a robot and the second main character, is introduced things become better (plot and character-wise). Mosscap is a really wholesome character and it adds so much warmth to the story. Also, it was interesting seeing Dex and Mosscap learning about each other’s cultures and ways of life. This book does a very good job of addressing difference and otherness, the way two cultures can see and understand the same thing in very different ways.

Lastly, this book is thought-provoking in more than one way, but what stuck with me the most is the powerful commentary on separating our value from what we do, what we contribute and our productivity, which is reflected in my favorite quote from the book: “You keep asking why your work is not enough, and I don’t know how to answer that, because it is enough to exist in the world and marvel at it. You don’t need to justify that, or earn it. You are allowed to just live.”

RATING: 4 STARS

Have you read these books? What Sci-Fi books have you read and loved recently?

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Mini Reviews: Finlay Donovan is Killing It + Arsenic and Adobo

Hi everyone! I realized recently that my favorite books that I have read so far in 2022 are both cozy mysteries, so I wanted to talk a little about them. I love cozy mysteries but I didn’t read that many in 2021 and I think I was missing it so I definitely want to make it a goal in 2022, especially since I almost always end up enjoying them.

Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

Finlay Donovan is killing it…except, she’s really not. A stressed-out single mom of two and struggling novelist, Finlay’s life is in chaos: The new book she promised her literary agent isn’t written; her ex-husband fired the nanny without telling her; and this morning she had to send her four-year-old to school with hair duct-taped to her head after an incident with scissors.

When Finlay is overheard discussing the plot of her new suspense novel with her agent over lunch, she’s mistaken for a contract killer and inadvertently accepts an offer to dispose of a problem husband in order to make ends meet. She soon discovers that crime in real life is a lot more difficult than its fictional counterpart, as she becomes tangled in a real-life murder investigation.

Finlay Donovan is Killing it is fun, fast-paced, full of twists and turns, and absolutely absurd. It has a main character who is easy to root for, a woman who is an author and a mom whose life is a mess after a divorce, and that ends up in the middle of a very ridiculous and terrifying situation when she is hired to kill a man after a misunderstanding. The story is funny and entertaining if you suspend your disbelief. This also has interesting side characters and I’m so glad this is going to be a series and we will see all of them again because we only get glimpses of some of the characters and I want to know more about them and also there were some interesting possibilities in the romance department that I can’t wait to see explore more in depth.

As I mentioned before, this book is full of absurd situations and a lot of convenient and unrealistic things happened, but that didn’t really affect my enjoyment of the books, it still had me on the edge of my seat since the author did such a good job with the pacing and all the twists and turns. The one thing I did have a problem with is that for someone who writes novels about crime, Finlay does so many things that anyone would know are a bad idea and may get her caught.But overall, this has an over the top, engaging plot that keeps you reading.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala

When Lila Macapagal moves back home to recover from a horrible breakup, her life seems to be following all the typical rom-com tropes. She’s tasked with saving her Tita Rosie’s failing restaurant, and she has to deal with a group of matchmaking aunties who shower her with love and judgment. But when a notoriously nasty food critic (who happens to be her ex-boyfriend) drops dead moments after a confrontation with Lila, her life quickly swerves from a Nora Ephron romp to an Agatha Christie case.

With the cops treating her like she’s the one and only suspect, and the shady landlord looking to finally kick the Macapagal family out and resell the storefront, Lila’s left with no choice but to conduct her own investigation. Armed with the nosy auntie network, her barista best bud, and her trusted Dachshund, Longanisa, Lila takes on this tasty, twisted case and soon finds her own neck on the chopping block…

I went into Arsenic and Adobo with low expectations because I heard so many mixed things about it, and I was pleasantly surprised when I ended up loving it. I read it in one day and it was a fast and entertaining read. This book has a captivating main character even if she is a little self-absorbed sometimes and the side characters are funny and engaging. The family dynamics and the friendships are a very important part of this book and, in my opinion, they are what makes it so good; they feel like real relationships because they are so complex, there’s tension, love, loyalty, support, misunderstandings and everything in between. Also, the small-town drama and gossip in this are intriguing, and the Filipino culture and food were an interesting part of the story and added a lot to my enjoyment of this book.

The mystery portion of the book is entertaining because bad things keep happening and the main character is always in the wrong place at the wrong time. Moreover, there are quite a few twists and turns, and they keep the story interesting. My one issue with this bookis that, despite the fact that bad things keep happening, there is never any real sense of urgency or danger which made it feel just a little lackluster. Nonetheless, it was such a fun reading experience that I can’t wait to read the next installment in the series.

Rating: 4 stars

Do you like cozy mysteries? What’s your favorite cozy mystery?

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Book Review: Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-García

Title: Velvet Was the Night

Author: Silvia Moreno-García

Publishing date:    August 17th 2021

Publisher:  Del Rey

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Pages: 289

1970s, Mexico City. Maite is a secretary who lives for one thing: the latest issue of Secret Romance. While student protests and political unrest consume the city, Maite escapes into stories of passion and danger.

Her next-door neighbor, Leonora, a beautiful art student, seems to live a life of intrigue and romance that Maite envies. When Leonora disappears under suspicious circumstances, Maite finds herself searching for the missing woman—and journeying deeper into Leonora’s secret life of student radicals and dissidents.

Meanwhile, someone else is also looking for Leonora at the behest of his boss, a shadowy figure who commands goon squads dedicated to squashing political activists. Elvis is an eccentric criminal who longs to escape his own life: He loathes violence and loves old movies and rock ’n’ roll. But as Elvis searches for the missing woman, he comes to observe Maite from a distance—and grows more and more obsessed with this woman who shares his love of music and the unspoken loneliness of his heart.

Now as Maite and Elvis come closer to discovering the truth behind Leonora’s disappearance, they can no longer escape the danger that threatens to consume their lives, with hitmen, government agents, and Russian spies all aiming to protect Leonora’s secrets—at gunpoint.

Goodreads | Amazon

Velvet Was the Night is a historical noir Mystery set in 1970’s Mexico Ciry and it tells the story of a woman and man separetely looking for the same missing woman, neither of them looking for her because they care about her well-being instead they are doing it because they have personal interest linked to finding her.

I was a bit disappointed that it took me so long to get into this book, I actually started to enjoy it at about the 40% mark. Mainly because I didn’t found Maite, one of the protagonists, a very compelling character and, especially at the beginning, most chapters were from her point of view, which meant that I spent big chunks of the first part of the book wishing I got to read from the other protagonist’s pov. I did end up enjoying her character arc by the end but it took me a while.

It’s not only that Maite was not a very compelling character, it’s also that the book had a slow start since at the beginning not a lot was happening, which is a bad combination. I think this was done intentionally to establish the monotony, boredom, and loneliness of Maite’s life, and while that it’s done successfully, it doesn’t make it a very engaging reading experience at first. The one thing that saved the first part of the book for me is that I found the other protagonist, Elvis, interesting and I appreciated that the context and what was happening in Mexico at the time started to be revealed through his point of view, because Maite was very much oblivious to everything that was happening in the world around her.

Despite my issues with the beginning of the book, once Maite started to actively look for the missing girl and got involved in a lot more than she bargained for – including gangs, the Mexican secret police, Russian spies, and persecuted activists- the story became a lot more interesting and engrossing. Not to say that this book was at any point truly action-packed, even if there were a couple of confrontations and torture scenes. It was more about encounters between characters that helped unravel the mystery at the heart of the book, which is something that I really enjoyed.

Something else that I appreacited is that this book is completely grounded in the setting, it was such an immersive experience that it felt like I was in 1970’s Mexico City. The way Moreno-García managed to make clear both what the daily lives of normal people looked like and also the broader cultural and social movements and the political climate of the time, was incredible. I didn’t know much about the history of the dirty war in Mexico, but this book definitely left me intrigued and I will look more into it and try to learn about it.

Overall, I finished reading with a positive impression of the book. I ended up enjoying the way things unraveled and I appreciated the setting and context of the story, in my opinion, they served as a great backbone.

4 STARS

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Reviewing 2021 Releases: Twice Shy, The Intimacy Experiment and Meet Me in Paradise

Hi everyone! Today’s post is very exciting, because I’m having a lucky streak in April with all the amazing new releases that I have been reading, and I want to share some of my thoughts about these books:

Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle

Maybell Parish has always been a dreamer and a hopeless romantic. But living in her own world has long been preferable to dealing with the disappointments of real life. So when Maybell inherits a charming house in the Smokies from her Great-Aunt Violet, she seizes the opportunity to make a fresh start.Yet when she arrives, it seems her troubles have only just begun. Not only is the house falling apart around her, but she isn’t the only inheritor: she has to share everything with Wesley Koehler, the groundskeeper who’s as grouchy as he is gorgeous—and it turns out he has very different vision for the property’s future.

Convincing the taciturn Wesley to stop avoiding her and compromise is a task more formidable than the other dying wishes Great-Aunt Violet left behind. But when Maybell uncovers something unexpectedly sweet beneath Wesley’s scowls, and as the two slowly begin to let their guard down, they might learn that sometimes the smallest steps outside one’s comfort zone can lead to the greatest rewards.

4.5 stars

This is such a sweet, wonderful slow burn, sunshine/grumpy romance with a good dose of forced proximity.

When each of the main characters was introduced I had a brief moment of thinking I wasn’t going to like them, but it was a false alarm, I ended up loving both of them. And the same happens to them, they have a bad impression of each other at first, but then slowly that changes and it was beautiful to see. Wesley was so precious, once he got over his extreme shyness and grumpiness, he was still shy and grumpy but he was also kind, sweet and charming. And Maybell was such a genuinely nice, caring character, she was easy to root for.

I do think the shift from antagonism to liking each other was a bit abrupt, but I got over it because Wesley and Maybell were wonderful together and once they were together, they approached every situation and misunderstanding with so much compassion and care, which was very refreshing, because there wasn’t some dramatic conflict, they faced obstacles together and got through them. This is not an angsty romance at all, it’s just a sweet, lovely romance and I loved it for it.

The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan

Naomi Grant has built her life around going against the grain. After the sex-positive start-up she cofounded becomes an international sensation, she wants to extend her educational platform to live lecturing. Unfortunately, despite her long list of qualifications, higher ed won’t hire her.

Ethan Cohen has recently received two honors: LA Mag named him one of the city’s hottest bachelors and he became rabbi of his own synagogue. Taking a gamble in an effort to attract more millennials to the faith, the executive board hired Ethan because of his nontraditional background. Unfortunately, his shul is low on both funds and congregants. The board gives him three months to turn things around or else they’ll close the doors of his synagogue for good.

Naomi and Ethan join forces to host a buzzy seminar series on Modern Intimacy, the perfect solution to their problems–until they discover a new one–their growing attraction to each other. They’ve built the syllabus for love’s latest experiment, but neither of them expected they’d be the ones putting it to the test.

4 stars

My favorite part of this book are the main characters, both of them are very compelling, likable and easy to root for. The heroine is badass and prickly and the hero is a complete cinnamon roll and they are so cute together. They slowly become close and it was entertaining to witness their encounters, Ethan got really flustered when Naomi was around , and Naomi was so surprised by how much she liked him, which was kind of funny.

This is a very sex positive book, from the modern intimacy classes to the steamy scenes between the main characters, which was great and especially the classes added an interesting element to the story. And while I’m not someone who enjoys books that deal with religion, the way this book talks about religion and faith and the interception with romanctic relationships in modern times was very smart and thought-provoking.

My main issues with this book are that it was a bit longer than it needed to be, so there were some parts that were a bit too slow. Also, Naomi let go of her defense mechanisms when it came to relationships really easily, which seemed a bit out of character. And finally, the last part didn’t work so well, Naomi was completely unprofessional which was so out of character, and both of the main characters get to give speeches about their feeling at the end, which felt a bit forced.

Meet Me in Paradise by Libby Hubscher

Ever since her journalist mother died on assignment, Marin has played it safe, refusing to set foot outside the state of Tennessee. Her wild-child younger sister, Sadie, has trotted the globe as a photographer, living off of art and adrenaline.

When Sadie returns from a tough assignment abroad and looks a little worse for wear, Marin reluctantly agrees to a sisters’ spa weekend on the tropical island of Saba. But her lifelong fear of travel is affirmed when Sadie misses the flight, Marin’s luggage gets mixed up with another passenger’s, and an episode of turbulence sends her hurtling into the lap of Lucas Tsai, the handsome stranger who stole her sister’s seat.

For the first time in a long time, Marin has to step outside of her comfort zone as she explores the island with Lucas and learns what she’s been missing out on. With each breathtaking new experience, Marin gets closer to her real self, the man she’s falling for, and the heart-wrenching truth about why she’s there in the first place.

4 stars

This book destroyed me, I cried so much reading it, which doesn’t happen often. I thought this was a romance book, and while there is a romance in the book, this is definitely women’s fiction. The focus is on the main character’s personal growth and her relationship with her sister, and it was such a gripping story.

Most of this book is spent seeing the main character basically coming back to life: learning to face her fears, reigniting her passions, and connecting with others. The journey she goes through is captivating. The romance is also a significant part of the book and while I liked both main characters and liked them together, I wish they had a bit more chemistry. Still, it was fun seeing this two very different people go in adventures together, get to know each other and fall in love.

The final part of this book is so heartbreaking, the reader knows early on that something devastating is going to happen, but the main character doesn’t know and seeing her come to the realization and deal with the consequences is really sad.

Have you read these books? Did you like them? What 2021 releases have you loved?
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ARC Review: Anchored Hearts by Priscilla Oliveras

Title: Anchored Hearts

Author: Priscilla Oliveras

Publishing date:   April 27th 2021

Publisher:  Zebra Books

Genre: Romance

Pages: 352

Award-winning photographer Alejandro Miranda hasn’t been home to Key West in years–not since he left to explore broader horizons with his papi’s warning echoing in his ears. He wouldn’t be heading there now if it wasn’t for an injury requiring months of recuperation. The drama of a prodigal son returning to his familia is bad enough, but coming home to the island paradise also means coming face to face with the girl he left behind–the one who was supposed to be by his side all along…

Anamaría Navarro was shattered when Alejandro took off without her. Traveling the world was their plan, not just his. But after her father’s heart attack, there was no way she could leave–not even for the man she loved. Now ensconced in the family trade as a firefighter and paramedic, with a side hustle as a personal trainer, Anamaría is dismayed that just the sight of Alejandro is enough to rekindle the flame she’s worked years to put out. And as motherly meddling pushes them together, the heat of their attraction only climbs higher. Can they learn to trust again, before the Key West sun sets on their chance at happiness?

Goodreads | Amazon | IndieBound

*I received an arc of this book in exchange for an honest review*

This is a slow burn, second chance romance between two high school sweethearts who ended their relationship really angry with each other, but meet again after twelve years and their Cuban-American families keep trying to meddle and get them back together. My favorite aspect of this book is that it does a good job of showing the tension between the main characters because both of them are really angry and resentful, but they are still attracted to and have feelings for each other. There are a few scenes where the sexual tension and chemistry between the characters are palpable, even if this book is not that steamy.

Anamaria is an amazing heroine, she is strong, driven and compassionate. While I had my issues with Alejandro, he was talented, passionate, hardworking and he really loved Anamaria. The setup of this book allows Oliveras to include a lot of the main character’s families and their culture, which adds a lot to the story. There are family conflicts and drama but also love, support, and community. Their families are very entertaining. Also, the setting is gorgeous, Key West really shines in this book.

I had two main issues with this book: the first one is that I couldn’t believe that after twelve years, the hero hadn’t realized that the heroine had valid reasons to not go with him when he left Key West, that he was mad without a good reason and that he was the one that really messed up. The second issue is that the writing isn’t the best, it can feel a little stilted at times, and also, the word familia was used all the time and SO MANY TIMES, like multiple times on the same page, and it kept pulling me out of the story.

Rating: 3,5 stars

Are you planning on reading this book? What romance books have you enjoyed lately?

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Reviewing 2021 Romance Books by Asian Authors: First Comes Like by Alisha Rai & Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron

Hi everyone! Today, I’m so excited to be reviewing two romance books by Asian authors that I read back to back a few days ago and that I enjoyed.

*Click the book title to go to the goodreads page*

Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron

Reena Manji doesn’t love her career, her single status, and most of all, her family inserting themselves into every detail of her life. But when caring for her precious sourdough starters, Reena can drown it all out. At least until her father moves his newest employee across the hall–with hopes that Reena will marry him.

But Nadim’s not like the other Muslim bachelors-du-jour that her parents have dug up. If the Captain America body and the British accent weren’t enough, the man appears to love eating her bread creations as much as she loves making them. She sure as hell would never marry a man who works for her father, but friendship with a neighbor is okay, right? And when Reena’s career takes a nosedive, Nadim happily agrees to fake an engagement so they can enter a couples video cooking contest to win the artisan bread course of her dreams.

As cooking at home together brings them closer, things turn physical, but Reena isn’t worried. She knows Nadim is keeping secrets, but it’s fine— secrets are always on the menu where her family is concerned. And her heart is protected… she’s not marrying the man. But even secrets kept for self preservation have a way of getting out, especially when meddling parents and gossiping families are involved.

4 stars

This book was really good! The main character, Reena, feels like a real person and it’s very entertaning and relatable seeing her work to improve different aspects of her life throughout this book. It was really interesting to see this type of story of a woman finding herself and figuring things out told from the perspective of an Indian – East African Canadian Muslim woman. While these aspects were not the main focus of the book, it did a good job of including into the story different elements of being first generation Canadian and growing up with elements of three different cultures.

Beyond the personal journey of the main character, her cultural and religious background plays a huge role in her relationship with her family. The family dynamics in this book were complicated but also really entertaitning, and seeing Reena try to deal with and improve her relationship with different members of her family added an interesting layer to the book.

Lastly, the romance in this book is lovely, it was really sweet to see Reena and Nadim become friends and then seeing that friendship evolve into something more and then see them find comfort with each other. Nadim was really sweet and considerate and he was always there for Reena, which was pretty great. The one thing that maybe didn’t work so well was the ending, because the relationship moves a bit too fast, even if I understand that cultural aspects played a part in that.

First Come Like by Alisha Rai

Beauty expert and influencer Jia Ahmed has her eye on the prize: conquering the internet today, the entire makeup industry tomorrow, and finally, finally proving herself to her big opinionated family. She has little time for love, and even less time for the men in her private messages—until the day a certain international superstar slides into her DMs, and she falls hard and fast. There’s just one wrinkle: he has no idea who she is.

The son of a powerful Bollywood family, soap opera star Dev Dixit is used to drama, but a strange woman who accuses him of wooing her online, well, that’s a new one. As much as he’d like to focus on his Hollywood fresh start, he can’t get Jia out of his head. Especially once he starts to suspect who might have used his famous name to catfish her…

When paparazzi blast their private business into the public eye, Dev is happy to engage in some friendly fake dating to calm the gossips and to dazzle her family. But as the whole world swoons over their relationship, Jia can’t help but wonder: Can an online romance-turned-offline-fauxmance ever become love in real life?

3,7 stars

The two main characters of this book were great, Jia  is a Pakistani Muslim hijabi beauty influencer and Dev is a Bollywood movie star, and they both were three-dimensional characters with strong voices and personalities. Also, they both had complicated relationships with their families and complex pasts, which added interesting elements to the story. One of the things that made this book different and interesting is that both main characters are more traditional, and , in particular, having a Muslim heroine who follows the ideas and traditions of her religion was really cool.

The main issue with this book is that the chemistry and tension between the characters weren’t there, their attraction to each other was only shown by having the characters think about how attractive the other was but nothing beyond that. Also, even just in a romantic sense, this needed to be more emotional so it was believable that they loved each other. Their relationship was sweet but that was it. Also, I was expecting more from the ending.

Overall, this was an entertaining and easy to read story that had great characters but that had a romance that was a bit lackluster.

Have you read these books? Did you like them? What romance books by Asian authors do you recommend?
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