Wrap: August 2020

I participated in my first readathon, Trope-ical Readathon. The organizers JenJenReviews and Rob did such an awesome job. The bar has been set high and I look forward to more readathons in the future. It was fun to feel part of a community and reading together especially because my IRL communities do not read very much.

In total, I read a whopping 38 books…and a half. I didn’t think I would make the 16 for the readathon and then I created a reading log…Needless to say, I was surprised. Don’t even get me started on the half because my friends decided it would be fun to reconnect just as I was trying to finish the other half (I love them…but why….) and then the clock struck 12.

I CONFIRMED I WAS A MOOD READER.
I knew I was a mood reader but this confirmed it. I always joke that I am afraid of commitment. To an extent, I guess that’s true. I was set on reading all the books on my list but I couldn’t do it because it depended on how I felt at that particular moment. Of the original 16 books I planned to read, I switched out 9. Down to My Soul (trope: part of series) was moved to fulfill a different challenge (trope: strange names). What does this mean? I have a commitment rating of 43.8%, but if Down to My Soul is not counted, my rating would be 50%. Not bad for reading but relationships…well, I’d even be scared of me. (HAHAHA)

I won’t go into detail for each book except for a few.
My ratings are below.

500+ Pages
Part of Series
New Kid in Town
Forbidden Love
Dead Parent(s)
Mixed Media
Recommended
Fake Dating
Strange Name
Ebook
Enemies to Lovers
Anonymous Text
Blast from Past
Retelling
Forgot on TBR
Team Read

Today Tonight Tomorrow
I knew it was going to be good but it was even better than I expected. I’m still trying to finish my review on this one because I loved it so much.

My Soul to Keep
Kennedy Ryan is heading into favorite authors territory. After I finished reading, I kept rereading parts of it because I was still trying to come to terms with the feelings it stirred up. It was by no means perfect but it was close. And, to feel a love like that…sigh.

The Sun is Also a Star
I’m a serial rereader but I think this is a book where the first time will always be the best. I’m not even sure if I will be able to reread this. I’m trying to put my review for this one together too. I have to admit that I spent a few minutes bawling after I finished it.

Waiting for Tom Hanks
I enjoyed it but it was not as good as I hoped it would be. I connected with the main character and her love for the holy trinity (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and You’ve Got Mail). Mine is more of a dynamic duo because I leave out When Harry Met Sally but I was annoyed by her as well. I wonder if it was because I saw myself in her…that would mean I’m annoying…hahaha

SEPTEMBER EXPECTATIONS
I’m probably slowing down a bit in September since school has started and grading will take up more time. With school fully online, it also seems like meetings are lined up nearly every few days so, again, less time to read for fun. With what time I do have, I might concentrate on bringing my Netgalley ratio up since I was approved for a few more books. I am also committing myself to reading The Poppy War (September) and The Dragon Republic (October) to get ready for The Burning God (November). I joined a Discord group so I hope that will motivate me to read it.

minis: Exit Through the Jungle & Something to Talk About



Alicia Crofton
ASIN: B08B3DCFHK
335 Pages

**I received a copy of the book through Netgalley for an honest review**

I enjoyed the book but it wasn’t exactly an edge-of-my-seat page turner.  If anything, it was an entertaining summer read that had a little bit of romance, adventure, and maybe a little suspense.  The book starts off right away with jewelry heiress Jolie Bourgan on the beach taking photos for her social media account.  She’s been successful as an influencer but has to turn to her father when sponsors start pulling out, and he isn’t exactly happy about her life choices.  After the death of their father, the Greene brothers are trying to keep the family business afloat.  Kai, the responsible one, has to step in when his older brother behaves recklessly and puts the family business in jeopardy.  Kai’s and Jolie’s lives intersect when he unwillingly kidnaps her and now has to try to protect her. The majority of the book takes place in Costa Rica.

It sounds more harrowing and exciting than it actually is.  While I read this, I kept thinking it would work better as movie where we would be able to feel their chemistry and experience adventure than to read it.  It is somewhat predictable as well with some twists at the end.  The book ends with somewhat satisfactory ending but still leaves many unanswered questions.  A sequel is set to be released next year or so.  I may or may not pick it up just because I wasn’t exactly invested in Kai and Jolie’s relationship to begin with.  It’s really just lust and attraction between the two of them and then love is used so hastily that I had to suspend my own beliefs to accept that they could be in love so quickly. Sure, it’s possible in life and in books as well but I just really wasn’t on board with it in this case. Their chemistry with each other was just so-so.  Their adventure takes place in the span of just a few days so I couldn’t help but question their feelings.  Jolie questions it herself, wondering if it is a case of Stockholm’s syndrome but quickly dismisses the idea.  My overall assessment is that it is a 3 star because I was entertained at points but it teeters on being 2.5. 



Meryl Wilsner
9780593102527
336 Pages

I read the summary and was immediately intrigued–so were many library patrons because I had to wait over 2 months to read this. I liked the diverse representation with Jewish American (Emma) and Chinese American (Jo) leads as well as the f/f relationship.

Love isn’t used so carelessly and there is a build up to the “will they or won’t they” that I initially liked. Their relationship isn’t one that was created overnight or in the span of a few days–I mean if you discount the rumors, that is. Jo and Emma have worked together for a long while and maintain a professional relationship. It’s likely that a romantic relationship is something neither have thought about but with the rumors created by the media after attending an awards ceremony together, their relationship might finally be steered in a better direction. There is chemistry between them and this is cultivated in the book fairly well. There were a few moments that increased my heart rate but this was overshadowed by miscommunication–which goes on for a long time–and the constant inner turmoil. Emma thinks a lot and there are pages and pages of her thinking through things. Jo does a lot of thinking too but not nearly as much as Emma does, but still lots of thinking and not much communication between the two frustrated me. As I mentioned, initially the build-up was good but what it became was inaction and frustration rather than the feel-good angst that comes with a slow burn. This made the book feel overly long.

Despite the book feeling long-winded, the ending definitely lifted my rating of the book. It is one of the better endings I’ve had the pleasure of reading this summer.

Loathe at First Sight (2020)

by Suzanne Park
ISBN: 9780062990693

**I received an ARC through Netgalley for an honest review.**

Melody Joo is a newly hired video game producer and finds herself in a toxic work environment, one that is both misogynistic and racist. This is in stark contrast to her prior workplace where her words alone garnered respect. To make matters worse, her new boss is also prone to tantrums when he doesn’t get his way.

Under pressure from the company’s board, her boss ends up pitching a new game meant to cater to female gamers, and it gets easily approved. The problem is the game is an idea Melody only meant as a joke–male strippers saving the world with female warriors guiding them. This catapults Melody into an unexpected position, much to the chagrin of her colleagues who do not believe she’s earned the position. As lead, she is in charge of the game’s development, and she also has to prove to those inside and outside of the company that she is capable of completing the task before her. Of course, she has to juggle this with her growing attraction to a member of her team–the new intern who is also the boss’ nephew–and trying to maintain a social life.

Loathe at First Sight is set in an industry I have not typically seen in romance/women’s fiction novels. It gives us a glimpse of the gaming industry from the perspective of a female lead character who goes against classic stereotypes. Melody is an assertive Asian woman who is more soft than bone, likes food more than dieting, and is truly comfortable in her skin. She’s funny. She’s straight forward. She sticks up for herself when necessary. Being assertive can also have its downsides. Having to stick up for herself and having to push back when her abilities are called into question also means she doesn’t typically ask for help nearly as much as she could or should. (Is there room for character growth? Yes, there is.) Melody is a likable main character and easily kept me entertained.

While the book is entertaining, where it might trip up readers is in the romance department. The title suggests this is an enemies-to-lovers romantic comedy but the romance actually takes a back seat. This might explain why I felt the initial attraction to be a bit abrupt. She hated him one minute–their first interaction was not very good–and then from across the room she suddenly felt jealous. I didn’t expect that to occur but I guess that’s how feelings can be sometimes, and it might make sense for the enemies-to-lovers trope. I did eventually ease into the attraction, but it also never became a full-blown romance. Those expecting romance might be turned off by this aspect of the book.

One aspect of the attraction that I did appreciate was Melody being conscious of the positions they inhabited in the workplace. With Noah being an intern and part of her team, he is a subordinate and any kind of romantic relationship could be misconstrued as an abuse of power. While the book doesn’t dig deep into this, Melody often ponders this when she’s thinking about Noah. It wasn’t written off as unimportant, and caution isn’t necessarily thrown to the wind because Melody believes love conquers all. (I know…I am being a bit dramatic.) Just because she keeps thinking about the power differential doesn’t mean that the message is that you cannot have both a career and love. It’s that the decisions you make have repercussions so you have to be mindful of what you’re doing, especially as it relates to a potential workplace romance where power dynamics can play a role.

Even though the romance is not central to the story, the book and Melody are compelling enough to read it to the end. To be honest, I forgot about the romance until I was more than half-way through the book. I was immersed in Melody’s story, the story of a woman trying to navigate her way in an industry that doesn’t expect her to succeed. There might be a push for diversity and inclusion but the existing culture–at least at the company she works in–doesn’t take it seriously, refusing to embrace the need for change. (See? Still completely interesting even without the romance in play.) It could even be viewed as an underdog story about how Melody is going to do such a great job that she changes the minds of those she works with that women kick ass, even in the gaming industry. She might be able to do that. It certainly is possible. You’ll have to read to find out.

Initially, I didn’t think the title was fitting because the romance was not central to the story, but I think it’s possible to reframe the title differently. Sure, it was likely meant as a play on the romance but with the romance relegated to the background, the title presents itself as a reflection of what Melody is experiencing in the workplace. She is a new hire and the initial disrespect she receives is not because of a lack of experience or talent, but her colleagues appear to loathe her on first sight for simply being female. But, first impressions aren’t always what they’re cracked out to be so things can get better in the six months she has to develop the game. Loathing at first sight might grow into respect in the workplace.

FURTHER REFLECTIONS

Melody’s parents and her interactions with them are the highlights of the novel. Her parents are utilized as comedic relief, and they hit the mark every time. It’s certainly possible to see her parents as unpleasant and rude, but I was able to enjoy this largely because I saw Melody’s mom as nearly a reflection of my mom. I love my mom to death but some of the things she says make me want to slam my head against the wall. WHY???? Comments about double chins, the insistence on eating but not too much, and then Melody’s mom constantly hanging up the phone because she is done talking while Melody is left in the middle of a sentence are all things that have made multiple appearances in my conversations with my mom. Like Melody, it’s the understanding that moms/parents generally mean well so you try not to let it get to you–key word is TRY. I have to admit that it is a bit pleasing to see others share my frustration. Misery does love company…even if it’s the company of a fictional character.

There are memes floating around out there that say Asian parents do not typically say, “I love you.” Instead, they ask, “Did you eat today?” It’s a generalization that might not accurately depict all Asian parents, but for me, this rings true. And, sometimes it can get confusing too! My mom would ask if I’d eaten but also remind me to not eat too much. Does this mean she loves me?? Or, does it mean she doesn’t love me?? Which is it??? Harharhar. Melody’s relationship with her parents very much reflects this. I loved it.

Overall, Loathe at First Sight is an enjoyable read. I was so busy enjoying myself I didn’t do much highlighting and reviewing like I usually do. There was something every few pages that would just set me off, and I would laugh despite myself. Although it is categorized as a romantic comedy, the romance is not central to the story. If readers are looking for a way to satisfy their enemies-to-lovers bias, they will be disappointed that Melody’s interactions with enemy Noah are scattered in bits throughout the book as opposed to being the main attraction. And, it never really develops into a romance. While that may be the initial draw, Melody’s story should be more than enough to push readers to finish the book. She’s assertive; she’s hard-working; she’s funny; she has the most entertaining parents. I enjoyed it so much, I purchased a physical copy.

ISO: Happily Ever After

At the end of July, I found that I had read over 60 novels since shelter-in-place was first instituted around March and continued reading even after things became more relaxed.  Interestingly, nearly half (26) have been in the past month alone.  There are two crazy things about this.  First, I haven’t read nearly this many books within a few months in probably never.  Second, the majority have been romance novels.  There’s nothing crazy about romance novels except that I have never consumed them in this quantity.  For the most part, they have always been scattered between fantasy novels, not one after the other or twice in a day.

This led me to wonder why I was reading romance novels in large doses.  I discovered that romance novels offered  me an escape from all the uncertainty in the world.  I was in search of a guaranteed happily ever after.  Who knew? Certainly not me! Most romance novels guarantee HEA/HFN (happily ever after/happy for now) endings—the keyword is most so please double-check reviews to make sure it does.  Any anxiety from the pandemic, and life in general, was muted because the endings were predictable.  I might not know what would happen tomorrow or even a few hours from now, but I did know there would be a rainbow at the end of what I was reading.

I also rediscovered how bad of a reputation romance novels have.  I hate the stigma surrounding romance novels and I’m ashamed to admit that I have—more than once—turned a cover over or shut down my reading app to avoid unsolicited assessments of my reading choices.  They don’t deserve this bad reputation.  Romance novels have proven to be therapeutic for me, reducing anxiety and providing introspection. The novels that have lingered long after the last page are those that allowed me to contemplate my life, my goals, my relationships, and a plethora of other things.  Here are three recommendations and just a glimpse of one of the many lasting impressions I pulled from each.

RECOMMENDATIONS

In Melt for You (2018; ISBN: 9781503902138), Joellen Bixby has been in love with her married boss for a long while. Things start looking up when she finds out he is in the middle of a divorce, and he suddenly starts showering her with attention. Because she is socially awkward and lacks dating experience, her new neighbor Cameron McGregor offers to help.  The beginning of the book is a bit slow but picks up quickly once the arrangement is made.  It sounds cookie-cutter but the appeal of this book comes from Cameron’s character.  Despite his ego, he is the most supportive and body-positive male lead I’ve met thus far.  I enjoyed the evolution of his relationship with Joellen and his influence on her because she goes from being insecure about her body to standing up for herself.

Hate to Want You (2017; ISBN: 978006256677) is full of longing, the kind that hurts in a sadistically good way. It’s a slow burn. The two main characters Livvy and Nicholas still love each other, but the bad blood that led to their break up has not relented even after a decade has passed. Since their break up, they’ve met up every year for her birthday–she sends coordinates and he goes, no matter where it is. The sex is passionate, it’s sensual, but, most of all, it is heartbreaking and the aftermath is worse because each time it’s supposed to be the last time, there just seems to always be that one time more…until there isn’t. Rai has become one of my go-to authors. I have come to appreciate the way she writes. In this particular novel, she doesn’t move onto the next scene until she’s wrenched all the emotion from the current one. If Rai is at the helm, I can also expect there will be diverse representation.

A Thousand Letters (2017; ISBN: 9781542772426) is part of Hart’s series inspired by Jane Austen novels.  A retelling of Persuasion, Elliot—like Anne Elliot–has regrets for not choosing to marry Wade—Captain Wentworth’s counterpart.  Neither have spoken for several years, but are forced to reunite when Wade’s father is suddenly diagnosed with brain cancer.  Because Elliot is very much part of the family, she’s best friends with Wade’s sister and Wade’s father was her mentor, they are unable to avoid one another. It is clear that neither has moved on from the other and neither is also willing to speak to one another about it.  Hart beautifully captures the longing between our leads and the impending loss of a parent.  The book brought me to tears on multiple occasions.  If you’re a fan of Persuasion, you will easily be able to identify plots from the original novel as well as what is all Hart. What I love about this retelling is that Elliot is portrayed as a lot stronger in character as compared to Anne Elliot in Austen’s original novel.  Hart does a good job of bringing Persuasion to the present day and making it her own. There is sex in the book but not nearly as explicit like in Hate to Want You and Melt for You.

Like any other genre, not every book is going to be great.  Romance novels will vary in plot as much as it will also maintain tropes.  Interestingly, I also discovered a trove of novels about athletes, billionaires, and all-around bad boys. This was newer to me on the book front but not so much when it came to Korean dramas (harharhar).  Romance novels vary in how explicit sex is as well.  It might be nothing at all—holding hands or a kiss—to erotica.  Take your pick! The beauty of this is that you get to choose what you’re comfortable with.  If you’ve never read a romance novel before, I’m urging you to give them a chance. My life is all the better because of them. And, if you have recommendations, please send them my way, whether romance novels or books that left deep impressions.