[Book Review] Under the Whispering Door

Book Cover for Under the Whispering Door

Title: Under the Whispering Door
Author: TJ Klune
Genre: fantasy; paranormal (ghosts); romance; LGBT
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead.

Instead of leading him directly to the afterlife, the reaper takes him to a small village. On the outskirts, off the path through the woods, tucked between mountains, is a particular tea shop, run by a man named Hugo. Hugo is the tea shop’s owner to locals and the ferryman to souls who need to cross over.

But Wallace isn’t ready to abandon the life he barely lived. With Hugo’s help he finally starts to learn about all the things he missed in life.

When the Manager, a curious and powerful being, arrives at the tea shop and gives Wallace one week to cross over, Wallace sets about living a lifetime in seven days.

By turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, this absorbing tale of grief and hope is told with TJ Klune’s signature warmth, humor, and extraordinary empathy.

Review: 5/5 stars

This is an interesting book to help cope with loss. It wasn’t what I expected to walk away with after reading it, but even now, a few weeks later, I keep thinking about this book.

This book is a sweet and slow read. I took my time, and I’m glad I did. I savored the character developments, the themes, and my own emotional process.

I don’t really have more to say about this – Klune is great at creating full and rich characters, and the storytelling is super strong. What I really walked away with were my own feelings about grief, processing, and moving on. Super powerful.

[Book Review] The Meaning of Myth

Book Cover for The Meaning of Myth

Title: The Meaning of Myth: With 12 Greek Myths Retold and Interpreted by a Psychiatrist
Author: Neel Burton
Genre: mythology; psychology; nonfiction;
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Not just the stories, but what they mean.

What is myth, and why does it have such a hold on the human mind? How does myth relate to near forms such as legend and fairy tale, and to other modes of understanding such as religion and science? What is a hero, what is a monster, and what function does magic serve? How has our relationship with myth and mythology changed over the centuries? And are there any modern myths?

These are a few of the fascinating questions that psychiatrist and philosopher Neel Burton explores in the first part of this book. In the second part, he puts theory into practice to unravel 12 of the most captivating Greek myths, including Echo and Narcissus, Eros and Psyche, and Prometheus and Pandora (see the full contents list below).

These myths have been haunting us for millennia, but are they really, as has been claimed, the repositories of deep wisdom and mystical secrets?

Review: 4/5

This was a really fun and engaging read from start to finish. For those interested in mythology and in psychology, this book is broken down into two sections:

  1. The meaning of myth
  2. Myths decoded.

In part 1, Burton spends a good chunk of time breaking down the idea and concept of mythology and it’s importance in the classical world. This is hugely important for people who (no shade) rely on Percy Jackson to understand mythology. This will provide a good primer-level background for life, definitions, and key roles for myth in the golden age of Greece. A reader will need all of this to beat understand part two.

In part 1, I particularly loved his chapter 8 on Magic and the tropes in our lore. He writes, “Magic is fading or has been banished from the land, which is in deathly decline—caught, perhaps, in a perpetual winter—and the hero is called upon to rescue and restore the life-giving forces of old. There is, of course, a glaring parallel with our own world, in which magic has been slowly driven out, first by religion, which over the centuries became increasingly repressive of magic, and more latterly by science, which, for all its advantages, struggles to meet our emotional needs.” In each chapter, he explains elements or themes of importance, and explains how they are still relevant thousands of years later. He also provides images to solidify his claims, which I enjoyed greatly.

In part 2, he takes some of the most famous myths (Medusa, Theseus, Odysseus, Pygmalion) and first retells them from the original sources and then begins to analyze them. For some, this may seem redundant as these myths are quite popular but for me (a life long reader of myth), I quite enjoyed the retelling. I don’t think a book like this could get away without the retelling aspect.

Each chapter is set up with a detailed retellings from as far back a source as possible, Plato’s Republic, Ovid even. And then, Burton provides an image inspired my the myth (sculpture, painting, etc), and then his analysis begins. Much of it is grounded in historical context from Greco-Roman society, and then he branches into a more modern take— why we still read them today and how they’re still archetypes for people, relationships, case studies, etc.

Not once did I feel like this nonfiction text was over my head, using jargon I didn’t understand or couldn’t comprehend. I enjoyed this reading from start to finish.

I received this copy from NetGalley for an honest review.

[Book Review] Meant to Be: If the Shoe Fits

Book Cover for IF THE SHOE FITS

Title: Meant to Be: If the Shoe Fits
Author: Julie Murphy
Genre: romance; humor; new adult; contemporary
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) 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.

Review: 5/5 stars

It’s not often that the plus size girl gets a whole ass romance plot (and isn’t just a side character) but this one is good! Cinderella meets the Bachelor meets Devil Wears Prada.

The step family in this Cinderella tale isn’t terrible, the Bachelor isn’t terrible, and neither are all the women in the show. The fashion industry isn’t full of superficial 2D characters that hate on sight. There’s a lot of meaningful depth and love in the relationships and characters in this book. I enjoyed watching each of the characters – the main and the sides – get unraveled. They were all so different in personality and expression.

Lots of really strong storytelling and good messaging in this book with an amazing love story woven in there too. In this book, the plus size girl gets a HEA.

[Book Review] The Holiday Swap

Book Cover for THE HOLIDAY SWAP

Title: The Holiday Swap
Author: Maggie Knox
Genre: contemporary romance; christmas; fiction
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) A feel-good, holiday-themed romantic comedy about identical twins who switch lives in the days leading up to Christmas–perfect for fans of Christina Lauren’s In a Holidaze and Josie Silver’s One Day in December.

All they want for Christmas is a different life.

When chef Charlie Goodwin gets hit on the head on the L.A. set of her reality baking show, she loses a lot more than consciousness; she also loses her ability to taste and smell–both critical to her success as show judge. Meanwhile, Charlie’s identical twin, Cass, is frantically trying to hold her own life together back in their quaint mountain hometown while running the family’s bustling bakery and dealing with her ex, who won’t get the memo that they’re over.

With only days until Christmas, a desperate Charlie asks Cass to do something they haven’t done since they were kids: switch places. Looking for her own escape from reality, Cass agrees. But temporarily trading lives proves more complicated than they imagined, especially when rugged firefighter Jake Greenman and gorgeous physician’s assistant Miguel Rodriguez are thrown into the mix. Will the twins’ identity swap be a recipe for disaster, or does it have all the right ingredients for getting their lives back on track? 

Review: 1/5 stars

DNF

Got about 35% of the way through, couldn’t handle the twins that felt like strangers dynamic. Too Hallmark for me.

There were so many instances where the twins could have done X but did nothing instead. That made me mad in just the first 30% of the book. Like, they didn’t even tell each other everything the other needed to know in order to successfully complete the swap.

Loved the concept but not the follow through.

[Book Review] A Spell of Rowans

Book Cover for A SPELL OF ROWANS

Title: A Spell of Rowans
Author: Byrd Nash
Genre: fiction; fantasy; paranormal mystery; contemporary romance;
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Raised by a narcissistic mother, the Rowan children’s magical talents were twisted to fit her needs. When Rachel dies, her children must confront the past to have a future.

Rachel Rowan could sniff out secrets and her antique shop, Rosemary Thyme, was a front to torment the residents of Grimsby. When she dies, her children are faced with the deadly fallout of blackmail, murder, and magic.

Victoria, whose empathic talent knows everyone’s hidden feelings; Philippa, whose glamour can bewitch; and Liam, the brother who touches objects to reveal their secrets, all find themselves in danger.

When her autistic brother is arrested, Vic needs to discover the truth to set him free.

A successful art restorer in the big city, Vic’s made a career of ignoring her past and hiding her strange powers. But with Rachel’s death, she must gamble away her secrets to face down forces determined to destroy her and her siblings.

And that hometown boy she dumped way back? He’s in Grimsby, and knows the truth about her.

Review: 5/5 stars

Content warnings: childhood abuse, neglect, violence, and trauma; rehashed childhood trauma as an adult; assault; attempted rape.

Nash has created one of my favorite books of 2021. This book is an exciting magical mystery that could easily be turned into the next Netflix series. I enjoyed the characters, the sibling dynamic, and the plot development from page 1 all the way until the end. Even the short epilogue was great!

The Rowan family story is told through a first person perspective, so we get Vic, the middle daughter’s account of the goings on after her mother’s death— but there’s so much more to it than an old woman dying.

Death is only the beginning of this entire plot line. It just gets better as mysteries are unraveled and new characters are introduced. Vic as two siblings, Pip and Liam, who are also trying to survive after their mother’s legacy. Enter Hunter, a big city lawyer, and Reed, an FBI agent / Vic’s high school boyfriend and then things get interesting.

There always seems to be a few characters that can’t get past an old grudge, like a decade’s old grudge right? Well, that’s Reed’s dad— the town’s old chief of police.

Everyone knows everyone, but no one knows anyone’s truth, and that’s what makes this book so, so good. There’s mystery, murder, betrayal, love, and intrigue until the very end.

I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

[Book Review] The Best We Could Do

Book Cover for THE BEST WE COULD DO

Title: The Best We Could Do
Author: Thi Bui
Genre: graphic novel; autobiography; memoir; history; oral history
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) The Best We Could Do, the debut graphic novel memoir by Thi Bui, is an intimate look at one family’s journey from their war-torn home in Vietnam to their new lives in America. Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves. At the heart of Bui’s story is a universal struggle: While adjusting to life as a first-time mother, she ultimately discovers what it means to be a parent — the endless sacrifices, the unnoticed gestures, and the depths of unspoken love. Despite how impossible it seems to take on the simultaneous roles of both parent and child, Bui pushes through.

With haunting, poetic writing and breathtaking art, she examines the strength of family, the importance of identity, and the meaning of home. The Best We Could Do brings to life her journey of understanding and provides inspiration to all who search for a better future while longing for a simpler past.

Review: 4/5 stars

Bui’s graphic novel is “one that will break your heart and heal it.” I went into this book not quite sure what to expect, but I was blown away by the art, the style, and the story. Bui does not pull any punches. Her first chapter is called “Labor” and she details out the process and immediately creates these strong familial bonds in her writing and art. Each panel expresses so much, and because she uses just one color to accent – it fills each page with intensity and clarity.

This book reads more like a love letter to the self and to family than it does anything else, in my opinion. She, upon having her first child, realizes that she has created something monumental. This act then allows her to process, or go through the process, of memory work. By looking back on her own memories, and asking her parents about those, it’s almost as if she’s trying to figure out a way to forgive so that she can be whole for her son.

I loved enjoying this book for many reasons, but one of the major ones was that she sought to listen for understanding when recording her parents’ stories. Her experience growing up was vastly different than theirs, but she, in listening, learned why her parents made the choices they made, and acted as they did. It’s not written in a way that excuses anything, it just is. And that’s beautiful.

[Book Review] Cemetery Boys

Book Cover for Cemetery Boys

Title: Cemetery Boys
Author: Aiden Thomas
Genre: ya fantasy; paranormal romance; brujos; ghosts; LGBT
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.

When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.

However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie up some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave. 

Review: 5/5 stars

I loved this book! Thomas creates some really sweet characters in Yadriel and Julian. I loved the dynamic they had together so much. I love Yadriel and his quest to prove himself to his family. I love that Lady Death recognizes Yadriel and shows his family what’s what.

The character development for the three main characters (Yadriel, Maritza, and Julian) is really well done. I think Maritza’s personality is so clutch in a story like this. She doesn’t take anyone’s crap, loves her friends fiercely, and wants to do everything she can to be supportive. The BFF dynamic is on point in this story.

This adventure-mystery is so fast-paced and exciting. The murder, the intrigue, and the love story all develop so quickly, but in a way that seems so right. You’ll probably cry if you’re anything like me, but it will make you smile so hard too.

[Book Review] Nimona

Book Cover of NIMONA by Noelle Stevenson

Title: Nimona
Author: Noelle Stevenson
Genre: graphic novel; fantasy; LGBT; found family; humor; adventure
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) The graphic novel debut from rising star Noelle Stevenson, based on her beloved and critically acclaimed web comic, which Slate awarded its Cartoonist Studio Prize, calling it “a deadpan epic.”

Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic from Noelle Stevenson. Featuring an exclusive epilogue not seen in the web comic, along with bonus conceptual sketches and revised pages throughout, this gorgeous full-color graphic novel is perfect for the legions of fans of the web comic and is sure to win Noelle many new ones.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.

Review: 4 stars

I loved the humor and the humanity in this graphic novel. Mimosa and Blackheart are the ultimate dynamic duo that everyone needs to read about. In the end, this is just a great story. End stop.

I loved the characterizations, the pacing, the flashbacks. I wanted a little bit more of the Nimona backstory, and a little more depth from the Institution— but honestly— would 100% recommend this story so much.

[Book Review] Drama Queen

Book Cover of “Drama Queen” by Jill Westwood

Title: Drama Queen (Nasty Woman #3) read as a standalone
Author: Jill Westwoord
Genre: Contemporary romance; Humor;
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Catriona McBryde laughs too loudly, has never met a stranger, and enjoys making men blush.

With her unrestrained behavior—which includes rolling in the hay with many of the single men in her town—Cat might not seem like the ideal tour guide for British actress Dame Violet Ramsey, but no one knows Foster’s Creek better than she does.

When Violet’s sexy bodyguard Kiran Madan doubts Cat’s ability to be discrete and trustworthy, she sets to charming the pants off of him, but he proves to be the type of guy she hasn’t encountered recently.

It’s not only her body he desires. Kiran wants Cat’s heart.

* plus-sized heroine
* small town romance
* sisterhood / female friendships
* brooding bodyguard
* Halloween hijinks

Review: 3/5 stars

I enjoyed this book a lot! If you’re looking for a speaks her mind, gets what she wants, plus sized romantic heroine— Catriona is for you. And honestly, who wouldn’t want to live her story here? Her favorite actress comes to her small town and asks her to be her tour guide.

Yes please.

And she comes with a hot body guard?

X 2 yes please.

Kiran Madan is a good opposite lead to Catriona. Where Catriona says everything she’s thinking, Kiran is reserved. A real stuffed shirt at first. Cat is more of a Lorelei Gilmore in Star’s Hollow, witty, funny, and able to keep up with whatever the occasion calls for. Kiran is completely out of his element and worried about everything.

The lead actress character, Violet, is fun. She’s proper British, but also has an unexpected wild streak. Kiran has his hands full and Cat helps keep him company while hilarious antics ensue.

One thing I didn’t really get was the lack of secondary character development. Some relationships just disappeared. Or didn’t get any resolution. Cat has this major animosity for her best friend’s husband that she brings up constantly, but there is no big blow out, no coming together, no nothing. They just don’t solve anything. Both of Cat’s sisters make love connections, but you never hear about either after the plot point passes. So too with her cousin. Once his purpose has passed, we never hear anything more. I’d like more development in this.

The side characters build the main character’s personality for me and make the world more real, and when there’s not any real reasonable resolution or mention for so many characters, it’s a big thing I think about.

Overall, I liked it, and I like seeing plus size girls getting HEAs!

I received an advanced review copy of this book for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

[Book Review] I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day

I Can Make You this Promise Cover Image

Title: I Can Make this Promise
Author: Christine Day
Genre: MG; realistic fiction; contemporary fiction; family adoption
Synopsis: [from Goodreads] All her life, Edie has known that her mom was adopted by a white couple. So, no matter how curious she might be about her Native American heritage, Edie is sure her family doesn’t have any answers.

Until the day when she and her friends discover a box hidden in the attic—a box full of letters signed “Love, Edith,” and photos of a woman who looks just like her.

Suddenly, Edie has a flurry of new questions about this woman who shares her name. Could she belong to the Native family that Edie never knew about? But if her mom and dad have kept this secret from her all her life, how can she trust them to tell her the truth now? 

Review: 4 Stars

This was a really sweet book about family and friendship and determining who you are and what shapes you. Edie is a great middle grade lead and has a really wonderful narrative presence.

The relationships she has with Amelia and Serenity are authentic and honest. They reflect just how it feels to be a preteen / teenager growing up and learning what it means to be a true friend to someone else.

Her family dynamic is lovely. The whole story revolves around her family’s past and her heritage and why it’s a secret for her and as she uncovers the truth, how she and her family come to grips with it is truly wonderful.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick, but great read.