Hot Desk (2021)

by Zara Stonely
ASIN/ISBN: 9780008436278
Publication: August 31, 2021

**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Although working from home might be nice for some people, it’s not exactly conducive to Alice’s productivity. She shares her house with other people. She shares her clothes with her sisters. Only her cubicle and her desk at work can be called her own, so she is more than ready to be back at work. Her excitement is short-lived when she learns she now has to share her desk with Jamie, someone she has a crush on but also irritates her incessantly with his teasing. Her feelings for him are…complicated.

I didn’t think I would be able to read a post-COVID book so soon. It helped that there are only mentions of the pandemic and nothing that was particularly triggering for me. Hot Desk was difficult for me because the romance takes a long time to get started and it’s slow. The book mostly focuses on Alice learning to stand her ground and saying no. She wants a space of her own that she has control over, without roommates interrupting, a sister always taking her clothes, or an ex-boyfriend insists on tidying it against her wishes. She wants to create boundaries to discourage people from walking all over her. For the most part, this is captured fairly well, especially Alice’s worries about being perceived as mean. She keeps second-guessing herself because people aren’t used to her being assertive nor are they used to her saying no. I completely understood where she was coming from because I can be a total pushover as well, and I hate conflict. Those conflicting feelings of wanting to stand your ground but feeling bad and being seen as mean are all too real.

Miscommunication plays a pivotal role in the potential romance, and it hurt my brain a lot because Alice rambles on and on about it in the first part. Part of the pain came from the rambles being all internal, which I normally enjoy. There was no other person to help break up the conversations she had with herself to give her brain a rest so I could also give my brain a rest. The other part of it was that it was mostly rambling. She was worried about everything and particularly confused and in a twist over Jamie. Her anxiety gave me anxiety. Once this finally passed, I was able to enjoy the book. However, I’m not sure how I feel about the events of the second half. Life is messy, and the second half gets it down well. I did, however, like how Alice slowed down her internal conversations and worries, which decreased my anxiety.

The book’s content does bring to mind Mhairi McFarlane and McFarlane’s books. Hot Shot doesn’t have the same emotional impact nor provide insight on life as effortlessly, but the book is not devoid of them. It just doesn’t evoke them to the same magnitude. Fans of McFarlane may enjoy the book but will need to overcome the internal ramblings of the first half to do so.

Pahua and the Soul Stealer (2021)

by Lori M. Lee
ASIN/ISBN: 9781368068246
Publication: September 7, 2021

**I received a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

I’ve been waiting for the book since I first read the announcement. Although I was unsure about what to expect, I enjoyed what I found. Miv the spirit cat is very much a show stealer with his wit and sarcasm. Pahua is the girl who could be more than she seems if she only believed in herself. Zhong, the shaman warrior, is always ready for a fight and desperately wants to prove herself. They embark on an adventure to the spirit world to rescue Pahua’s brother Matt. It’s one that is exciting, made fun especially with Miv’s sarcasm, and filled with some very close calls.

The book is rich in imagination. It’s an entertaining infusion of Hmong mythology and folk tales with Lee’s skillful world-building; she not only incorporates the mythology but she expands the world to make it her own. There are shamans, shaman warriors, spirits, and gods. The spirit realm is especially complex with its many entities–tree spirits, wind spirits, gate guardians, and more–to the various modes of transportation. One of my favorites is when the spirit horse appears. When Zhong seeks out her horse spirit, she has to go to a rental to call for it…heh. There’s a lot to learn about this world, and at times, it can be a bit overwhelming, especially with new pieces of information popping up every few pages. 

The emphasis on who or what a hero looks like was an especially compelling part of the book. A hero doesn’t always look or sound like what a hero is imagined to be. Pahua, as the central protagonist, lacks confidence and know-how but is willing to do what is necessary to return her brother’s soul to his body–her love for her family exceeds her fears. Pahua demonstrates that anyone can be a hero. You just need to look within yourself. Additionally, winning doesn’t always mean swords and fists. Sometimes there are better ways to get what you want.

I loved the inclusion of Hmong words and names. Many were spelled in Hmong while others were Anglicized, possibly to make it easier to read or pronounce. For instance, Nhia Ngao Zhua Pa is used as opposed to the Hmong spelling Niam Nkauj Zuag Paj. Phonetically, the former is easier to pronounce. Then there is the former God of Thunder’s name where xob is the correct spelling of thunder as opposed to xov meaning thread–different tones as denoted by the last letter will change the meanings. I was tripped up a bit by the usage xob and xov because some characters had names that identified who or what they were while others did not.  

Aside from the Hmong words, there are references to sayings here and there that made me smile. In particular, there’s a reference to eating only eggs and ramen. When you’re a kid and you cook eggs and ramen (referring to the instant kind here), it’s commendable. When you’re an adult and someone says all you eat or can cook are eggs and ramen, it’s an insult meaning you’re lazy. Hehehe. 

I needed this book as a kid when I was searching for demons to fight and dragons to ride. Like Pahua, I grew up not knowing much, and, to be honest, I still don’t know very much. It creates the possibility of building and enhancing cultural connections for Hmong children who might find themselves wondering about their heritage and their identity. Representation would have gone a long way for me, including not being ashamed about what I brought to lunch or having white and red strings around my wrists–all things Lee mention in the book. The book eill also introduce non-Hmong individuals to new and exciting adventures that incorporate folktales and myths they may not have previously been exposed to. It’s a fun middle-grade read that is very much plot-driven. Those looking for action and adventure will certainly enjoy Pahua and the Soul Stealer.

Just a note: As a middle grade read, this is definitely 4 stars with its emphasis on action and adventure. For me, this is only 3.5 stars mostly because I like a more time to ruminate in specific moments and the book doesn’t do this much as Pahua, Miv, and Zhong are constantly moving on to the next thing to do or place to go.

Iron Widow (2021)

by Xiran Jay Zhao
ASIN/ISBN: 9780735269934
Publication: September 21, 2021
Series: Iron Widow #1

**I received a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own**

Zetian is a force to be reckoned with when she has her mind set on conquering an empire. She is determined to avenge her big sister by destroying the pilot who killed her, and she is willing to sacrifice herself along with her family to do it. Zetian’s desire for justice is not only fueled by love for her older sister but also anger that women are considered disposable. Enraged with her inability to dictate the choices in her life and the senseless sacrifices of women as concubine-pilots, she aims to bring down the patriarchy in any way possible. I was immediately drawn to Zetian and her struggle for agency. 

As much as I liked Zetian, it was difficult to fully support her in her one-track endeavor, and this is where the character growth comes in, however incremental it is. With few exceptions, she doesn’t believe men deviate from wanting to maintain control over women. While she aims to grab power and free women, she begins to realize that changing the status quo is difficult to do alone and that everything is not necessarily black and white. While initially resistant to most things that challenge her views, she is not immune to change, willing to broaden her views when she can see with her own eyes or someone pushes her to see the bigger picture. She wants a better world for women, and I was all for it. I understood her anger and cheered her fight against the patriarchy.

As much as I supported Zetian’s agenda, I found the story lacking in some areas. Zetian’s struggle takes place within the larger context of a war between humans and aliens called Hundans. Humans utilize mechas, or Chrysalis as they’re called here, that are powered by two individuals–a pilot (usually male) and a concubine-pilot (usually female). The mechas can take on multiple forms, which is often dependent on the connection and strength of the pilots. Despite the amount of information and description of the mechas and how they operated with chi, I wanted to know more beyond the insulated world of mechas and pilots. The context and the environment appeared hazy to me as I tried to figure out how this war began and where the Hundans came from. I was curious about the external environment. I was unsure about the government system in place, something I try to understand especially when someone is trying to topple systems and regimes. These were some points of confusion for me, and I would have liked it fleshed out better. I was also not generally fond of the writing style. Although I appreciated some of the more descriptive passages, it was difficult for me to settle into the writing but it became less of a hindrance once I became engrossed in Zetian’s story.

As fun as the mechas are, Zetian shines here with her ruthlessness and hunger for power. I loved the themes that arose as Zetian tried to dictate her life while fighting against the subjugation of women. It was enough to overcome what I found lacking in the story, things I hope will receive greater focus in the next book. I’ll be continuing with the series because, for the most part, I like Zetian and want to see her succeed. Fans of strong female protagonists and those who enjoyed Pacific Rim, which I loved, will enjoy the novel. 

Music Monday 1.14: Was it you…

This meme was created by Drew @ The Tattooed Book Geek. You pick a song you really like and share it on, you guessed it, Monday.

I think this meme has established that while I listen to lot of different genres, should I have my own station it would be filled with mostly slow to mid-tempo ballads. Here’s another one.

I was not a Jason Mraz fan when he released his debut studio album, but then… I heard this song. Although he is most popular for “I’m Yours,” which felt like it was on repeat on every radio station at the time it was released, this remains my favorite song. It’s a melancholic one and I love the bridge.

And it’s okay if you have to go away
Oh just remember the telephone works both ways
But if I never ever hear them ring
If nothing else I’ll think the bells inside
Have finally found you someone else and that’s okay
Cause I’ll remember everything you sang

Let’s Talk Bookish: What do you do when a book triggers you?

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. Discussions pertain to topics related to reading or books. Share your opinions, and spread the love by visiting other “Let’s Talk Bookish” posts.

Prompts: Everyone has different reactions to triggers; what is yours? Do you have measures in place to help you avoid books that could potentially trigger you? If you get triggered without previously knowing there would be a trigger, do you still care to finish the book? Does it affect your eventual rating/review? Have you ever read a book knowing that something within it would trigger you?

The bookish community’s openness about their triggers have helped me be comfortable with sharing my own. I don’t have to feel bad about choosing to not read a book because it contains content that may be triggering. I tend to stay away from books that contain cheating and abuse as much as I can, but I have read books that contain those triggers as well.

I don’t have any specific measures in place, nor do I actively seek out trigger warnings. If the book or the reviews include warnings, I do pay attention to them. Additionally, I appreciate the rise of content warnings from bloggers, and the Book Trigger Warnings wiki has been helpful.

If I know ahead of time, I will likely stay away from the book. On the other hand, if there were no warnings ahead of time and I’ve already started the book, there is a higher probability that I may choose to finish reading it. Finishing the book depends on how prevalent the trigger is. For instance, I’ve read a book by a favorite author without knowing ahead there was cheating. Because the author is one I like and the book had been good so far, I went ahead and finished it. The book ended up being great even if I had some discomfort due to the trigger. Additionally, I thought it was addressed well. Of course, this has not always been the case and I’ve either skimmed the book to find out the ending or DNF’ed and pretended it doesn’t exist.

If the book has triggers, I try to ensure it is disclosed in my review, because I am sure it has contributed to my rating, whether explicitly or implicitly, in some way.

Thoughts? Do you have measures in place when a book has triggers?

First Lines Fridays 1.13: When I was…

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

When I was a kid, my mom constantly invented games. The Quiet Game. The Who Can Make Their Cookie Last Longer? Game. A perennial favorite, The Marshmallow Game involved eating marshmallows while wearing puffy Goodwill jackets indoors, to avoid turning on the heat. The Flashlight Game was what we played when the electricity went out. We never walked anywhere–we raced. The floor was always lava. The primary purpose of pillows was building forts.

Our longest-lasting game was called I Have A Secret, because my mom said everyone should always have at least one.

inheritancegames_cover


by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
ASIN/ISBN: 9781368052405
Publication: September 1, 2020

A Cinderella story with deadly stakes and thrilling twists.

Avery Grambs has a plan for a better future: survive high school, win a scholarship, and get out. But her fortunes change in an instant when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and leaves Avery virtually his entire fortune. The catch? Avery has no idea why–or even who Tobias Hawthorne is. To receive her inheritance, Avery must move into sprawling, secret passage-filled Hawthorne House, where every room bears the old man’s touch–and his love of puzzles, riddles, and codes.

Unfortunately for Avery, Hawthorne House is also occupied by the family that Tobias Hawthorne just dispossessed. This includes the four Hawthorne grandsons: dangerous, magnetic, brilliant boys who grew up with every expectation that one day, they would inherit billions. Heir apparent Grayson Hawthorne is convinced that Avery must be a con-woman, and he’s determined to take her down. His brother, Jameson, views her as their grandfather’s last hurrah: a twisted riddle, a puzzle to be solved. Caught in a world of wealth and privilege, with danger around every turn, Avery will have to play the game herself just to survive. (from Goodreads)

The book was so good. I can understand why it received so many positive reviews now because I enjoyed it immensely. I couldn’t stop reading it. Have you read it already? What did you think?

When Sparks Fly (2021)

by Helena Hunting
ASIN/ISBN: 9781250624703
Publication: September 21, 2021

**I received a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

With a title like When Sparks Fly, I expected sparks and passion between main characters Avery and Declan, but there were fewer than I hoped. It’s a good book, and there’s nothing inherently bad about it, we (the book and I) just didn’t have the kind of sparks I expected.

Best friends Declan and Avery navigate their changing relationship after an accident leaves Avery dependent on Declan and brings the two closer in proximity than usual. I adored their relationship right away because they were completely attuned to each other, as best friends usually are, from sharing a love of sports to knowing one another’s favorite foods. Although both have firmly friend-zoned each other, stolen glances suggest the lines aren’t as rigid as they appear to be. Had it not been for the hints of long-buried attraction, I would have been perfectly fine with their relationship remaining platonic. Avery is very much “one of the guys” and doesn’t stereotypically abhor anything feminine. Being “one of the guys” and getting one’s nails done are not mutually exclusive, so it was very much appreciated to see the stereotype rebutted here. Declan is a playboy and has never had any meaningful female relationships, his relationship with Avery being an exception. Aside from his playboy ways, he’s caring and loyal to the people in his life, except when he isn’t, and Avery gets into a car accident. Because of his immense guilt and, of course, affection for his best friend, he steps in as her caretaker. It’s the perfect setup for friends to become lovers.

The romance was a little disappointing. The sexual tension begins building after Declan becomes Avery’s caretaker, but the sparks don’t turn into fireworks. I was hoping for something fierier than what I got, which is not what I am used to with Hunting. Romances in her previous books I liked always had some amount of longing that helped to bolster the impending romance. When the couple finally got to together, there was a sigh of satisfaction. The romance here is more slow than slow burn. When they finally got together, there lacked emotional fanfare, and I produced a sigh of relief–“took long enough” as opposed to a contented “finally.” The slow nature of their relationship might be a product of their friendship and their experiences with relationships, but I don’t know if I can believe that transitioning from friends to lovers would feel as uneventful.

From a technical standpoint, all the events of the book fall in line with each other. It’s planned well with nearly flawless execution. Similar to Hunting’s other books, it all leads to a logical conclusion, even if there are surprises along the way. I’ve come to appreciate this about Hunting’s writing, and it’s one of the reasons I enjoy her books so much. From an affective standpoint, this particular book lacked the romantic tension and the emotional entanglements I often look forward to. Sometimes it was difficult to get through because the pacing varied. It took me a long time to make it halfway and once I did, I wasn’t sure if I would make it to the end. The ending itself is sweet, but it also continued far longer than I expected.

**Sidenote: I’ve never heard of hobbyhorse but I had an inkling from the description of what it might be. I watched some videos on YouTube and the individuals are agile and jump so friggin’ high! I surely would not be able to do what they do. They prance and jump these things that are nearly as tall as they are. I don’t know how these people do it.

His Road Home (2014)

by Anna Richland
ASIN/ISBN: B00KV5ZGPI
Publication: October 13, 2014

Last year, I found His Road Home (2014) while searching for romance novels. I was never a fan of novellas until I discovered Bettie Sharpe. With her flowery writing, Sharpe showed me novellas can be as developed and well-written as full-length novels, and, sometimes, they can even be better. This is the case with Richland’s His Road Home. I continue to be thankful that I picked it up and have since read it multiple times. At slightly over a hundred pages, His Road Home contains what some full-length novels do not: a developed plot and rounded characters with chemistry.

It’s an uplifting story of a fake engagement that turns into a wholly unexpected romance for two individuals who, despite being from the same town, may otherwise not have given each other a second glance. Because Grace is different from the girls Rey usually dates, it makes her the ideal fiancé. It seems perfectly harmless because no one outside of the situation will know about it. Living and working in Seattle, Grace is unaware of her relationship status until her sister phones. It’s an interesting predicament when the whole country knows about your relationship before you do! It was pretty amusing as Grace tries to figure out how to break the news to people that she has no idea who Rey is.

When they meet, Rey is surprised to see his fiancé has traveled across the country to see him, while Grace is looking for answers as to why she is suddenly engaged to someone she doesn’t know. Although they meet in an unconventional way (apparently one-sided fake engagements aren’t as common as romance novels tell me they are…heh), there is a spark of attraction from both sides. Grace is unprepared and should be angrier at the situation he’s put her in, but she tries to be understanding. And Rey? Well, he has no reason to get mad at Grace, who takes his lie in strides. How can you not find the woman you threw into this situation attractive when she shows up to be by your side and stays to play the part? Grace is a sweet and patient person, and I adored her. She sees Rey through this mentally and physically taxing time ahead. Rey is resilient and has a sense of humor I liked–the cheesy kind. He realizes the best thing in his life may have happened due to one of the worst moments in his life.

The circumstances under which they initially meet might sound unrealistic (it’s a romance, please let me be), but the relatively uncomplicated way their relationship develops is one I enjoyed. Where I might read full-length novels that a lack of chemistry between leads, Grace and Rey had me invested within moments of their meeting. They go from strangers to lovers over several months through text messages and a road trip back to Washington. Richland packs so much into this novel that it feels longer than it is. It’s a very good thing here because I wanted more. There are no frills and fillers, and I loved nearly every moment of it. That’s one of the beauties of novellas, they’re short and don’t have time for nonsense.

It’s a near 5-star read for me. During each read, I’m tempted to give it that extra star, but when I get to the ending, I’m reminded why I’ve been stingy with that final star. The ending was just so-so, but it has started to grow on me. If you’re a fan of romance novels, this is a soothing and uplifting one that has the potential to become a cherished favorite; it’s certainly now one of mine.