So We Meet Again (2021)

by Suzanne Park
ASIN/ISBN: 9780062990716
Publication: August 3, 2021

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

Repeatedly passed over for promotions despite her hard work and now finally terminated due to downsizing, Jessie/Jess Kim returns home to figure out her next steps. It doesn’t help that she bumps into boy wonder Daniel Choi, who she was always compared to while growing up. The only difference now is that he’s no longer the bowl cut wearing PK or pastor’s kid, but successful and very good-looking. Although long-time rivals in life and Daniel remains rather snobby, he ends up being a helpful presence as Jess and umma’s cooking show starts taking off.

The blurb of a book can often affect our expectations. In this case, I was expecting something a bit different from what I read. I was focused on the cooking show Jess eventually develops with her mom and also on her high school rival and frenemy Daniel because the description primed me to focus on these two aspects. When I didn’t get a lot of the cooking show as highlighted, I was disappointed. It takes about a quarter of the book for the cooking show to appear. When it does, there aren’t as many streams with umma and appa as I wish there had been, which would have helped support the fact that Jess’s success starts rolling in pretty quickly. She goes from live streaming to career-defining deals in what feels like a matter of pages.

I was also disappointed by the blurb’s spoilery information about Daniel, which I won’t mention because it’s a spoiler and also because I believe the description has since changed in some outlets but not in others. The setup sounded like it would be a pivotal part of the book, and it sort of is in some aspects, but it makes up only a small portion of the book. The emphasis should have been on Jess trying to find her place after losing a job that finally solidified her as being a success. Her outlook on her career became framed by the perspective of a company that didn’t know how to value someone like her–apparently, being hardworking and committed to the job is frowned upon. She spends much of the time figuring out how to start over. This would have better prepared me for the book. For those who have yet to read the book, the current description on retail sites leaves out this information, so I think you’ll have a slightly better experience than I did.

Although I had a different set of expectations for the book, there’s still a lot to like in So We Meet Again. Park’s signature humor is present. I loved the family dynamics, the emphasis on career aspirations, and the experiences highlighted because I can identify with many of them. A 50-lb or 100-lb bag of rice on sale is a big thing! I rush over when I know it’s on sale. Additionally, it’s a story that is easily relatable if you’ve ever been compared to other kids growing up. Unfortunately, similar to Sunny Song Will Never Be FamousSo We Meet Again is a good story that ends just as it’s only about to get better.

The View Was Exhausting (2021)

by Mikaella Clement and Onjuli Datta
ASIN/ISBN: 97815301010
Publication: July 6, 2021

**A positive review of the book from a fellow blogger prompted me to read an excerpt of it through NetGalley, which then lead me to purchase a copy because I needed to find out what happened.**

The View Was Exhausting is a book about a relationship of convenience used to quell negative media attention. Win’s and Leo’s on and off again “relationship” is complicated by, what appear to be, very real feelings. Win is reluctant to follow those feelings and pursue what she and Leo could be. While Leo has a seemingly laid-back attitude, Win is overly conscious of media scrutiny, which is why they are constantly reconnecting. Although her life appears glitzy and glamourous, melancholic overtones are scattered throughout as their past and present relationship unfold on the pages. At times, the interweaving of the past and present leads to some confusion about what is happening at the moment, making some things a little hazy. Their friendship and even their potential for more are at risk when something in Leo’s past comes to light.

The first few chapters lulled me into believing I would not get hurt by this book. Wasn’t it obvious these two individuals who couldn’t be themselves around many people were often only genuine toward one another? Wasn’t it obvious they had such sizzling chemistry? However, the book did a number on me. I wanted to slam it (but carefully and gently because it’s still a precious book) on the table because it left me vulnerable to a trigger I didn’t recognize I had until some books ago. At one point, I wanted to stop reading but the need to know what would happen next was ultimately greater–a testament to how much I liked the writing and even the storyline itself despite the pain I incurred. Would the dilemma get resolved? Are they in love with each other? What will Win choose?

Win and Leo won me over with their fabricated romance. Like the public they are trying to convince, I had beautiful illusions of two people on the road to figuring out that love, above all, is a worthy risk. Win and Leo are more vulnerable than they seem. Win has learned to reinforce herself with armor–she’s isn’t always likeable–but Leo often seems lost, without drive or purpose. Together, they’ve created a kind of haven. They’re friends who put their lives on hold for each other, who show each other their true selves even if they have to put on a show for the rest of the world. Underlining their trust in each other and how readily they rely on one another is their scorching chemistry, even if they both (mostly Win) try to hide from it. 

The social commentary also kept me glued to the novel. The undue pressure on members of marginalized groups when they succeed is captured well in the novel. There is an expectation that the successful individual is now representative of an entire group of people, and there requires a delicate balancing act the individual must endure. Every action is scrutinized and there are those just waiting for the person to fall. People want to place you neatly into a box, and if you break out of the box, they wait for any mistake, big or small, to put you “where you belong.” Win’s success places her in such a position. She loves acting and she’s great at it, but it all gets overlooked as soon as rumors begin to circulate about anything. She can be described as cold and calculating, but she’s learned to be this way to survive in an industry that is ready to strike her, to replace her on any whim. She succumbs to the pressure, and even when she wants to speak up, she self-censors because there is a price for her every action. 

Ultimately, this isn’t a feel-good type of novel. That was one of the more difficult parts of reading the book. I tend to read less angsty novels, those that are more toned down and focus on the good as opposed to the bad, but the writing coupled with leads I couldn’t help but want together propelled me to keep moving forward. 

Cinderella Is Dead (2020)

by Kaylynn Bayron
ASIN/ISBN: 9781547603879
Publication: July 7, 2020

I’ve been meaning to read Cinderella Is Dead since it was first published nearly a year ago, but being a mood reader means wanting and doing are two different things. I finally finished it yesterday. The premise behind the book is rather interesting, providing readers with a retelling of the fairy tale and what happens after Cinderella and her prince supposedly lived happily ever after.  While I did enjoy the book, it didn’t quite live up to the expectations I built around it. 

Sophia is in love with her best friend Erin, and while Erin seems to return those feelings, she is unwilling to rebel. The laws are explicit that young women are to attend balls where suitors will choose them as brides. And just like the fairy tale, they are meant to then live happily ever after with some caveats. The happily is optional, women only have three tries at finding a suitor, and men can terminate the ever after if they choose to. The ball maintains the illusion of what Cinderella had to go through to find her prince including arriving in one’s best dress and finding a life partner at the end of it. For over 200 years, this has been the way of things, and women have been without rights. Forced to attend her first ball, Sophia makes a run for it, choosing an alternate path she carves for herself.

While Sophia is tenacious and daring, willing to risk her life not only for love but freedom for herself as well as those of other young women in her position, I found her character naively idealistic at times. I wanted to yell at her and tell her to consider the consequences including thinking through her actions more carefully before doing anything risky. Maybe it’s meant to be part of her character but I wanted more complexity from Sophia. With the plot moving so quickly, jumping from one thing to the next, Sophia hardly ever gets to think many things through. I was also bothered by how quickly Sophia moves on despite being adamant about her love for Erin and her willingness to risk everything to be with Erin. She jumps from one love interest to the next in a matter of what seems like days. This feeds into the too fast pace of the novel, which I was not particularly fond of. I didn’t get the depth I was expecting in a story with a premise that fascinated me. The lack of depth also extends to Constance, Erin, and a few other characters.

While it lacked depth, I did like the dominant themes in the novel. The recurring theme of empowerment was particularly done well. There are several lines from Sophia that highlighted this that I loved. One of my favorites is Sophia saying, “I don’t want to be saved by some knight in shining armor. I’d like to be the one in the armor, and I’d like to be the one doing the saving.” I also thought one of the most poignant lines in the book asks who the tale of Cinderella is really for. It highlights how problematic fairy tales can become and the book confronts this through the retelling.

Cinderella Is Dead offers a retelling of the classic fairy tale that turns it on its head. Rather than waiting for a prince or princess, the book emphasizes seizing the opportunity to be your own hero. While not all my expectations were met, those who look forward to alternatives to the stories they’ve heard or watched growing up may enjoy the book.


The Unbroken (2021)

by C.L. Clark
ASIN/ISBN: 9780316542753
Publication: March 23, 2021
Series: Magic of the Lost #1

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

I started reading The Unbroken in early March but struggled to finish it. The book is long-winded, and I had to take multiple breaks in-between to read it. After nearly four months, I finally finished it a few days ago. It is character-driven with an overall plot that is interesting and provides a critical perspective of colonialism. The biggest drawback of the book is the painstakingly slow pace, which makes the already nearly 500 pages–over 500 pages depending on which edition is read–feel a lot longer than it is.

Stolen as a child and raised to be a soldier by the Balladairan empire, Touraine returns to Qazāl more a stranger than someone coming home. As a lieutenant in command of the Sands, soldiers stolen as children just like her, Touraine’s loyalty is to those in her unit first, but she also has a longing to be accepted by Balladaire. Her behavior throughout the book is reflective of this desire. From experience, she knows the Sands will always be the first to be called to the front lines and will also likely be the first punished in any situation they take part in. Touraine’s story is the most compelling as she straddles the middle, looking for where she belongs. As a Balladairan soldier, she’s called a traitor by Qazāl, but she will never be fully accepted by Balladaire either. She is forced to tread a path where she will always be a scapegoat because she is a victim of imperialism. It’s difficult to watch her struggle and try to make the best choices when there isn’t a right choice to make if she remains in the middle. The longer she remains there, the longer she falters.

The story alternates between Touraine and Luca, the Balladairan princess without her throne. Luca arrives in Qazāl with hopes of quelling a rebellion so she may ascend her throne, taking it from her uncle who has cleverly placed himself there in her stead after her parents’ death. Luca is similar to Touraine in that she also hopes to find a balance somewhere in the middle. Of course, her somewhere in the middle also includes her being in power.  On the idealistic side, Luca wants peace between Qazāl and Balladaire, but it’s difficult to figure out who she can trust when there are those on both sides who would like to tip the status quo in their favor. Touraine and Luca are forced to work together when Luca comes up with a plan to try to establish peace with the rebels that may require treasonous actions. Luca is someone I wanted to root for because she appeared genuine in her desire for peace and had the qualities of what a good leader could be, with the understanding that good is relative. Is it possible to be a good leader if her desire for peace also requires she sits on the throne? Is it possible to be a good leader if those forced into becoming part of her empire desire to be free from her authority? When is enough going to be enough for Luca if sitting on her throne requires her to continue taking?

The book is well-written. The plot and Touraine’s journey to self-discovery were elements that I especially liked. Touraine’s story tugged at me and gave the book sad undertones that constantly had me questioning what it is like to lose one’s heritage. Although I recognize the necessity of many of the events that take place because they contribute to Touraine’s character development, the pace was a struggle for me. Another element I wanted more of was the magic Luca constantly talked about it. If you can overcome the pacing like I eventually was able to, this is a book filled with layers worth reading.

The Devil Comes Courting (2021)

by Courtney Milan
ASIN/ISBN: 9798741161982
Publication: April 20, 2021
Series: The Worth Saga #3

Amelia Smith is intentionally sought out by Captain Grayson Hunter to help with telegraphic transmissions, except he doesn’t realize the genius he’s looking for is a woman. When he does, it’s not enough to deter him from trying to employ her. The problem is whether he can convince her of her value, that there is more to her future than just marriage and children.

I like how historical romances are embracing racial/ethnic diversity. Milan is one author doing this, and I have enjoyed some of her novels thus far. The Devil Comes Courting is a slow-burn romance with POC representation, and one of the highlights of the novel is the two leads. (There’s plenty more I could talk about but I’d prefer not to spoil anything.) Amelia is Chinese and the adopted daughter of an English missionary. Although she is sure her adoptive mother loves her, Amelia can’t help but also want a place to belong where she is accepted for who she is. In his willingness to employ her and to point out her current situation, Grayson offers her some semblance of what she is looking for. He is providing her the opportunity to give her life purpose beyond the one her adoptive mother wants her to choose, marriage and children. Amelia is a refreshing lead for the way her mind works. Amelia is inquisitive and curious, her mindset on tinkering and problem solving until she’s worn out whatever is on her mind. I liked Amelia and related all too well with her inability to remember names. I’m nearly as awful as she is at it. The way she relates things made me realize I’m pretty sure that’s how my brain works when I bring up seemingly unrelated things–“they were both in my head at the same time.”

Grayson is biracial of African American and white heritage. He is arrogant, immediately wanting to seduce Amelia as soon as they meet as well as proclaiming he knows how attractive he is when Amelia blurts out what is on her mind. I strained my eyes from epic eye-rolling. There is a fair amount of arrogance needed, I guess, for someone who is determined to complete such an endeavor. Grayson was easily forgiven for his belief in Amelia. Initially, it seems his belief is just to ensure he gets what he wants–her working for him–but he also recognizes the situation she is in and cares about her feelings. One of my favorite scenes is the somewhat odd questions she asks before deciding whether she wants to work for him or not. Throughout the entire book, his faith in her abilities never falters, and I couldn’t help but have heart eyes. For me, he turned swoon-worthy rather quickly. Underneath his tough exterior though is a man who carries his grief with him and believes he is unworthy of happiness. This plays a role in Amelia and Grayson’s slow-burn romance. His fickleness was irritating at times but understandable due to his situation.

There’s more than meets the eye in When the Devil Comes Courting, especially as the layers are pulled back and subplots are revealed. Readers find out the devil has appeared many times over. Some patience is warranted because it is a slow burn as the leads try to figure out and in some cases try to verbalize what it is they want. While it can get a bit frustrating with how much time they spend apart as opposed to together, their belief and support of one another is one of the highlights of the novel. I finished the novel on a high note because of their regard for one another.

Under A Painted Sky (2015)

by Stacey Lee
ASIN/ISBN: 9780606383912
Publication: March 17,2015

Under A Painted Sky is Lee’s debut novel. I’m a few years behind, but it could have been worse. I might have missed it altogether. It’s a stunning debut that immediately hooked me from the first line: “They say death aims only once and never misses, but I doubt Ty Yorkshire thought it would strike a scrubbing brush. This harrowing tale of the long and dangerous trek west on the Oregon Trail is told through Samantha, a young Chinese girl who accidentally kills a man in self-defense. Although only trying to protect herself, she knows she will be charged with murder simply because the law will not take the side of a Chinese girl. Samantha is rescued by Annamae, a slave who seizes the opportunity to pursue her freedom, and together they flee west disguised as young men, Sam and Andy. En route to their destinations, they’re joined by cowboys Cay, West, and Peety, individuals also fleeing from circumstances of their own.

Lee is able to convey the harsh realities of the Oregon Trail from stampedes to the threat of bandits on the loose, but she provides a more nuanced tale by having the main character be Chinese American, someone born in the U.S. yet still viewed as perpetually foreign. Utilizing a person of color as the main character provides a different perspective of the world during this period. Anti-Asian sentiment is featured prominently in the story beginning with the predicament Sam finds herself in and the all-around vitriol environment from the use of racial slurs to how she is generally treated. One of the more pivotal moments strikes when Sam appears on a wanted poster except the picture isn’t her at all, feeding into the stereotype that all Asians look alike. Lee also captures the U.S.’s racist history through Andy’s stories about her siblings, which are heartbreaking as she relates them to Sam. 

Sam and Andy’s relationship is the highlight of this story. They start as strangers thrown together by extenuating circumstances and are forced to trust one another. This shared experience forces them to bond with each other but eventually, it grows into something stronger. They look out for one another and inspire courage in each other. They begin to regard each other as more than friends; they begin to feel like sisters.

Found family is a heartwarming trope I love, and I especially enjoyed it here as Sam, Andy, and the trio of cowboys slowly worm their way into each other’s hearts. The conversations they have are often hilarious, and Cay’s antics provide much-welcomed comic relief. As their fondness for one another grows, Sam also develops a crush on one of the cowboys. Unexpectedly, I was gutted by the romance in this novel and was left upset for a few days. It wasn’t even a full-blown romance but more of an unrequited crush. I would reread some of the scenes over and try to make better sense of why it affected me so much but would come away slightly more devastated each time, repeatedly breaking my own heart. (I don’t understand why Lee did this to me!! Why???) I’m attributing it to having connected with Sam and the pain that comes with having a crush.

Overall, this was such a wonderful read centered around loss and friendship. I couldn’t put it down, and even after I finished reading it, I still didn’t want to. I just kept right on thinking about it. Stacey Lee is a phenomenal writer and reminded me why I used to adore historical fiction. If she is at the helm, I’ll be reading more books from this genre.

Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous (2021)

by Suzanne Park
ASIN/ISBN: 9781728209424
Publication: June 1, 2021

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

Sunny Song spends an inordinate amount of time on social media and her phone. With nearly 100K followers, content creation is high on her list of things to do this summer. However, her plans go astray when a cooking video goes viral. Sunny must either attend a digital detox camp or face expulsion from school so she’s shipped off to a farm camp in Iowa. 

Suzanne Park proves once again why I immediately add her books onto my TBR as soon as they’re announced. She’s able to create relatable characters and provide insight into current problems related to the digital age all while making me laugh along the way.

Sunny Song is the average tech-savvy teenager and generally doesn’t seem to cause her parents much grief except she’s always on her phone, often leading her to tune out those around her. I think many of us can relate to paying too much attention to our phones that we unintentionally shut out those around us. She’s also a social media influencer with a relatively large following. Smart and driven, she’s determined to increase her online influence even though she’s prohibited from having electronics at camp. This leads me to one of my favorite relationships in the book, Sunny and Maya. Although we don’t get to see much of Sunny’s best friend Maya, I absolutely loved their relationship. Maya is such an amazing friend and helps manage Sunny’s accounts and content while she’s away at camp. Only a true friend would be willing to do that and go the extra mile to mail you care packages with your crush’s picture. The other relationship I enjoyed was with Sunny and Theo. It was cute how sweet on each other they were. It wasn’t instant love but a month-long attraction and I liked it. It played out somewhat realistically. She definitely received extra special attention from Theo.

As much as I liked Sunny, I was more invested in the problem addressed in the book. The focus on social media and reliance on digital devices is especially poignant as social media is now an integral part of our lives. Many kids grow up wanting to become the next social media star as opposed to more traditional occupations. Of course, this growing dependency on electronics and social media isn’t just particular to kids and teens. Adults also face similar struggles. Park never comes off preachy even though she uses the characters to question the extent to which our lives revolve around electronics and social media. It even made me question how often I’m on social media and this blog! Gah! While Sunny is initially resistant when she arrives at the detox camp, she eventually begins to recognize how social media has influenced her behavior, both positively and negatively. Rather than completely writing off social media, Sunny’s experience at the camp suggests that a balance must be sought with a focus on understanding or remembering who we are outside of our social media persona. The focus on our identity beyond the one we present on social media was especially thought-provoking.

While the book touches on a complex subject, the novel remains relatively light as Sunny struggles with trying to get online and mainly focuses on the romance. I adored the book. I enjoy Park’s storytelling and her humor is always welcomed. I can always expect to laugh when I have one of her books is in my hands. As much as I liked the book, the ending felt rushed. Things were just getting good and then it has already going to be over. I was looking at the 75% mark wondering if there would be enough time for the story to wrap up. Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous is a solid read, and I greatly enjoyed it; however, I could have used another 50 pages to flesh out the events that happen at the end.

Luck of the Titanic (2021)

by Stacey Lee
ASIN/ISBN: 9781524740986
Publication: May 4, 2021

Valora Luck has dreamt of reuniting with her twin Jamie since he ventured off on his own, leaving her to take care of their father. After finding out Jamie will be on board the Titanic, she stowaways on it, intent on convincing him that it’s time they pursue their lifelong dreams of becoming acrobats.

The fate of the Titanic is well known but not all survivors’ stories are. Lee centers the story around the relatively unknown fact there were Chinese passengers also on board the Titanic. She sets the tone of the novel with a simple line: “Of the eight Chinese passengers aboard the Titanic, six survived.” I went into the book with a wall built around my heart but cracks still formed to topple it down. Lee carves out a piece of history and makes it her own with a bittersweet tale.

With Lee at the helm, I should have known it was a lost cause to protect myself from the fates of the characters. Who was going to live? Who was going to die? I tried to stay as disconnected as I could, but still found myself drawn into Valora’s story as she tried to convince her brother to pursue their dreams while trying to escape notice of the crew as well as other passengers. I was still able to laugh and I cheer all the while knowing tragedy was only pages away. Then, I cried.

Valora is a dreamer like her father, chasing down her dream of becoming an acrobat. Smart and determined, she’s always prepared to make her own luck, refusing to allow fate to stand in her way. While I liked Valora and appreciated her daring nature, I was slightly irritated with her constantly pushing her brother to see things her way, insistent he drop everything for their childhood dreams too. Her unwillingness to see beyond her own desires and to to try to understand who Jamie is now prevented me from fully supporting her efforts. It’s always difficult when the person you remember is both the same and different from who they have become, and throughout the novel Valora struggles with this.

Like Lee’s other novels, there is a bit of romance sprinkled in but it doesn’t overpower the central story. It left a lasting impression that hit me harder than many romance novels I’ve read. I don’t know how Lee does it because I felt this way about most of the romances that appeared in her other books too. In this particular novel, it’s likely I felt this way because it only just scratches the surface of the potential relationship so the promise of what’s to come left me wanting more. There are additional subplots included that make the story interesting, each weaving well into the other and supporting the overall story rather than feeling disjointed.

As the Titanic’s demise neared, it was difficult to keep my anxiety at bay. I wasn’t sure what would happen to the characters. It was never a matter of whether Lee would stick close to history and allow only six Chinese passengers to survive even as I tried to convince myself she would find some way around it. I knew it was always going to be who would be part of the six. Luck of the Titanic demonstrates once again Lee’s ability to give faces and names to the past, connecting me with people and stories across time. She took me down a journey that only lasted a few hours but left me heartsick for days.

Heart & Seoul (2021)

by Jen Frederick
ASN/ISBN: 9780593100141
Publication: May 25, 2021
Series: Seoul Series #1

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

Growing up and wishing she looked like those around her, Korean adoptee Hara Wilson is very much removed from her Korean culture despite her mother Ellen often trying to engage her with it when she was younger. After the death of her adoptive father, she surprises even herself when she decides she wants to visit Korea. On the search for her biological parents, Hara also finds an unexpected romance along with messier than expected familial ties.

I like Frederick’s novels for tugging at my emotions and for the most part, the book does this. The beginning especially struck a chord with me as Hara related her relationship with her adoptive father and lacking a sense of belonging in a place she says likely “doubled the Asian population when her mom adopted her.” I cannot identify with Hara’s experience as an adoptee, I can only try to understand her story and this ended up often being through the lenses of being perceived as “other” while growing up Asian in a predominantly white community. In some ways, I could empathize with wishing to look more like those around her and pushing aside her culture. This aspect of the book was particularly well done, making the impetus for Hara’s trip to Korea a believable one when her search for identity is a greater pull than she realizes.

Like in her other novels, Frederick gives us a smart and strong protagonist in Hara Wilson. Her introspection throughout the novel displays growth, from being someone who particularly keeps to herself to becoming more vocal about who she is and what she wants. The question of her “Koreanness” was particularly thought provoking, although it left me unsettled at the amount of times her identity was questioned. It was interesting to see the answer evolve and the answer Hara chooses to accept as her own.

The heart and soul (heh…) of the book is Hara’s search for her identity. I wish the book had kept to this theme. Surprisingly, I could have done without the romance subplot–this is coming from someone who loves romance in just about everything. I could have also done without the additional drama that overpowers Hara’s overall journey toward the end of the novel. When the book took a turn for the dramatic and started to feel more like a Korean drama, my interest in it wavered and I enjoyed it less–this is also coming from someone who adores her Korean dramas.

The author’s acknowledgment was especially poignant to me, explaining that this story is just one narrative and not necessarily representative of every adoptee’s story. I hope that when reading this, and other books as well, readers take this into consideration. While there may be overlapping themes, remember that we each also have our own narratives.

Heart & Seoul is a good book, but those expecting a full blown romance might be disappointed as well as those who are expecting more soul searching. On the other hand, readers who like Korean dramas in their books may enjoy Heart & Seoul.

**I was excited to see the mention of Korean drama Signal (2016). It’s one of my favorite Korean dramas. It’s a mash of the movie Frequency and the television series Cold Case. It’s on Netflix but you can also find recaps at Dramabeans. It’s such a good drama and I needed to mention it.**

Happy Endings (2021)

by Thien-Kim Lam
ASN/ISBN: 9780063040847
Publication: May 18, 2021

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

Trixie is an independent sales rep for an adult toy company but has hopes to open her own boutique. While hosting a bridal party in a friend’s restaurant, she runs into her ex Andre. Not only is he bartending the event, but he also happens to be co-owner of the restaurant. Although still on bad terms, Trixie and Andre both decide it is in their best interest to team up to continue holding joint pop-up events. She needs to be the top seller to win a $10,000 prize to open up her boutique, and he needs to make more money to help the restaurant get out of the red.

Despite my conflicting feelings about second chance romances, I couldn’t stop myself from reading Happy Endings.  The storyline sounded interesting, and there was a diverse set of characters. Trixie is Vietnamese American and originally from New Orleans, but she is now living in DC. Her best friends–the Boss Babes–are strong, independent women from diverse backgrounds. Andre is Black, and those he includes in his family circle are the aunties and uncles he grew up around. They’re a diverse bunch as well. And the food…I loved the mention of food from pho to collard greens to kimchi. Additionally, the book is sex-positive. Trixie not only loves what she does, but she also teaches sex education classes.

While I gravitated toward the book for the biracial romance and the promise of diversity, I was extremely frustrated with the central conflict that led to Trixie and Andre’s past break up. It’s one of my most despised tropes. When the multiple reasons for their breakup come to light, it still didn’t help temper my feelings because communication is key. It was severely missing from their relationship in multiple ways. Groveling would have helped a lot to bring me around to liking Andre but, alas, there was hardly any of it. Additionally, there were several things he did that led me to believe the two of them getting back together was not the best outcome.

I wished the writing had been more descriptive to evoke the images of such a beloved neighborhood or the aroma and taste of the delicious food Andre concocted. This also extends to the feelings Andre and Trixie had for one another. I never felt the emotions as much as was told about them.  I might have been more open to the second chance had the writing evoked a sense of longing between the characters to support them getting back together, which would have helped push my niggling doubts aside. Additionally, the book is a fair length but felt long-winded at times. There was a lot to like about the book, but the delivery fell flat.