3.5 star, adult, buddy review

Buddy Review: Someone We Know by Shari Lapena

Maybe you don’t know your neighbors as well as you thought you did . . .

“This is a very difficult letter to write. I hope you will not hate us too much. . . My son broke into your home recently while you were out.”

In a quiet, leafy suburb in upstate New York, a teenager has been sneaking into houses–and into the owners’ computers as well–learning their secrets, and maybe sharing some of them, too.

Who is he, and what might he have uncovered? After two anonymous letters are received, whispers start to circulate, and suspicion mounts. And when a woman down the street is found murdered, the tension reaches the breaking point. Who killed her? Who knows more than they’re telling? And how far will all these very nice people go to protect their own secrets?

In this neighborhood, it’s not just the husbands and wives who play games. Here, everyone in the family has something to hide . . .



Welcome to our latest buddy review! Once again Andge and I have banded together to review another book, and will be providing our dual comments here! This book by Shari Lapena was a bit more of a different genre than we expected. While we have set up the review in our usual thriller format, we both found out that it wasn’t exactly the traditional type of thriller, and found it to be a hybrid between a mystery and a thriller. We will discuss more details below:

Pacing and Suspense Build-Up

Fives: I think Andge and I both agree on this, and it’s that the little synopsis given for this book is rather misleading. I was definitely under the impression that it was going to revolve around the boy and his breaking into homes. This was 100% not the case. The murder was really the whole contentious point in this story, and the source of all the drama and tension. Sweeping that aside, the pacing was very up and down. The problems and tensions that were introduced were often resolved fairly quickly thereafter. The tension wasn’t really a slow build until the end, though of course there were elements of that as well. I would say overall the book read mostly like a mystery novel, with elements of a thriller.

Andge: Yes, I’d have to agree. The pacing just didn’t work for me when we switch from one person’s perspective to another, sometimes featuring only a few paragraphs for one POV. This omniscient third person POV also made everything less mysterious in some ways since we know certain secrets before other key characters do. However, we do get to see how the revelation of such secrets unfold and that sometimes was quite juicy.

Plot Elements

Fives: This was actually probably my favourite part of the book. Though I did initially find it a bit strange how this book is a hybrid between a mystery and thriller, I did overall enjoy how it was executed. It doesn’t quite live up to the expectations of either genre (which is what I was originally expecting), but I think in its own right, it does well. There were many moving pieces in this whole story, and I felt that they were managed well. The plot was fairly intricate and though I may not have agreed with everything that happened, I think I felt like it was effectively executed.

Andge: I might be a bit pickier but this definitely was more of a mystery to me. It did read fast as it’s not a super long book, and the back and forth between POVs allows a perspective that seems to be always going somewhere. I like that we get introduced to many people within the neighborhood that knew the victim, which also gives us more viable suspects to potentially weed through. I can see the craftsmanship in the story elements, but sometimes it just didn’t fit together as well as I had expected from a bestseller like Shari.

Characters

Fives: Most of the characters were relatable and appropriately suspicious. Andge and I definitely had a hard time predicting what would happen in this book. We threw many possibilities out there but let’s just say we were not too convinced by anything we suggested. But the characters were all individually well-crafted to be unique and a meaningful part of the novel, with very few throwaways and at least some meaning in (almost) every character, I felt that the overall design was good.

Andge: What Fives said. Best not to give too many secrets away, hmm? But guessing in mysteries based on the people introduced, whether in large or small, is always my favorite part.

Ending

Fives: I wasn’t terribly convinced by this ending. I thought it was appropriate and did make enough sense at the end, but I wasn’t super impressed. If any of you remember our review on Don’t Look for Me, I found it to be a very similar situation where yes the ending was quite the surprise, but was it meaningful and impactful? Perhaps not. I wouldn’t say it was a bad ending, but I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as I was hoping I would.

Andge: I’ll say I didn’t see the ending coming until near the end, and there were definitely parts that felt a little random like I couldn’t grasp this was happening. It’s not my favourite ending, that’s for sure. We also have a little tidbit thrown out at the absolute end that leaves me wondering why that was the chosen way to close out the book. But maybe that’s what some people enjoy, so who’s to say?


And that’s a wrap everyone! If there’s any other books that you’d want to recommend for the both of us to review together, please continue to let us know in the comments below. Otherwise, stay tuned for the next buddy read. Another Kate Quinn may be on the horizon…stay tuned!

3.5 star, YA

Review: A Taste for Love by Jennifer Yen

For fans of Jenny Han, Jane Austen, and The Great British Baking ShowA Taste for Love, is a delicious rom com about first love, familial expectations, and making the perfect bao.

To her friends, high school senior Liza Yang is nearly perfect. Smart, kind, and pretty, she dreams big and never shies away from a challenge. But to her mom, Liza is anything but. Compared to her older sister Jeannie, Liza is stubborn, rebellious, and worst of all, determined to push back against all of Mrs. Yang’s traditional values, especially when it comes to dating.

The one thing mother and daughter do agree on is their love of baking. Mrs. Yang is the owner of Houston’s popular Yin & Yang Bakery. With college just around the corner, Liza agrees to help out at the bakery’s annual junior competition to prove to her mom that she’s more than her rebellious tendencies once and for all. But when Liza arrives on the first day of the bake-off, she realizes there’s a catch: all of the contestants are young Asian American men her mother has handpicked for Liza to date.

The bachelorette situation Liza has found herself in is made even worse when she happens to be grudgingly attracted to one of the contestants; the stoic, impenetrable, annoyingly hot James Wong. As she battles against her feelings for James, and for her mother’s approval, Liza begins to realize there’s no tried and true recipe for love.



I’ve been diving deep into all the different Asian own-voices YA books this month and A Taste for Love had a lot of promise. Young baker Liza just wanted to do something she liked without all the pressures that come from her tiger mom. Thankfully, her parents own a bakery-restaurant which is hugely successful in their city where Liza can explore her own new recipes, until a new bakery franchise chain opens up nearby.

But besides the food elements (which are a lovely highlight to this novel), there’s the romance department in the form of a rude boy who, of course, is hot but seems to have no manners at all! And he keeps popping up everywhere Liza likes to frequent with her friends. This has been characterized as a Pride & Prejudice inspired romance, but friends, I’m just not feeling it. Sure, James (aka rude boy) has some work to do in his communication department, but the “tension” isn’t wholly unique to the fabulous Jane Austen novel and the romance just didn’t hit me very hard.

I will just stop you right here if you’re all coming here for the romance. It might be enough for some people, but after reading so many fabulous romances in YA fantasy or contemporary, I just have a higher standard for love – or even its smaller cousin, attraction – and I’m not sure this had what I was looking for. It could just be a me thing, so don’t let that deter you completely, but I’ll be honest it didn’t do it for me.

Where I did really enjoy the plot was the baking element. Oh, and the whole Bachelorette thing going on with the baking competition hosted by Liza’s mom. What Liza thought was a regular year for their annual competition turned out to be a nightmare in the making when she finds only male contestants all vying for the private baking sessions with her as one of the prizes. Of course, what makes it more nightmarish is the fact that many of these males were spurred on by their own tiger moms hoping to make a good match.

I will pause here for a sec as well. First, THANK GOD my Asian mother is nothing like this. While I empathize with kids who do have mothers that lean heavily towards this traditional side of “you must date other Asian kids only” and “I want to control so many aspects of your life” mentality, does it kind of hurt sometimes in another way that all these own-voices stories have these kinds of moms? Yes, a little bit. While it is VERY true for a number of first generation immigrant families to North America, I wish it wasn’t the only depiction I’ve been seeing in these YA books because it repeatedly puts out there this image of us. Maybe these were the authors’ experiences and I would never invalidate them, but just to put it out there, it’s not the cases for all of us thankfully and I wouldn’t want this to be the only stereotype received from Asian families.

Back to the baking! I love the competition aspect and the challenges set forth in each stage. I just wish it was more of a focus. This literally took place almost halfway through the novel and I was getting ANTSY wondering when it would start. It delivered in fun, romantic entanglements (so many of these boys were definitely not here for the baking, obviously), and a bit of suspense as we find someone’s been trying to sabotage the competition.

Asian cuisine took centre stage in the competition but also elsewhere in the book. From delicious dishes Liza’s dad made in their restaurant to the numerous times Liza and her friends just hung out at their favourite boba place, I love the seamless integration of common Asian foods that I too enjoy. While the Yang family is Taiwanese, I think there’s a lot of commonality in the family dynamics and some of the food that crosses all Asian cultures, and I loved seeing parts of me and how I see the world in here.

While I didn’t feel the romance between Liza and James as much as I would have liked, this book honoured the food side of the story that I think others can really enjoy, whether this is new to you or feeling like you’re right at home. I’m glad there are more books coming out like a A Taste for Love, and if you take some of the caveats I listed above in mind, it could be a great contemporary to add to your TBR today.

Overall Recommendation:

A Taste for Love delivers a story of Asian food and a side of romance. Having been arranged sneakily by her mother, Liza’s family’s annual baking competition has turned itself into a sort of dating competition for Liza, including a certain rude boy that Liza cannot stop thinking about (or bumping into in the city, apparently). The competition was definitely the highlight, but unfortunately starts about halfway through the book. Meanwhile, the romance develops earlier on but I just did not feel its intensity to be invested in their relationship. Add in the stress of having a tiger mom who would go to such cunning lengths to set up her daughter and I find myself half amused and half annoyed that we have yet again another Asian mom who has such a cultural disconnect with her daughter. But that’s just me being salty. Overall, it’s an enjoyable book, if a little slow at times, but ultimately maybe a little too cookie-cutter to stand out among other contemporaries in YA.

3.5 star, YA

Review: Soul of the Sword by Julie Kagawa

Shadow of the Fox #2

One thousand years ago, a wish was made to the Harbinger of Change and a sword of rage and lightning was forged. Kamigoroshi. The Godslayer. It had one task: to seal away the powerful demon Hakaimono.

Now he has broken free.

Kitsune shapeshifter Yumeko has one task: to take her piece of the ancient and powerful scroll to the Steel Feather temple in order to prevent the summoning of the Harbinger of Change, the great Kami Dragon who will grant one wish to whomever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. But she has a new enemy now. The demon Hakaimono, who for centuries was trapped in a cursed sword, has escaped and possessed the boy she thought would protect her, Kage Tatsumi of the Shadow Clan.

Hakaimono has done the unthinkable and joined forces with the Master of Demons in order to break the curse of the sword and set himself free. To overthrow the empire and cover the land in darkness, they need one thing: the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. As the paths of Yumeko and the possessed Tatsumi cross once again, the entire empire will be thrown into chaos.




Part two of the trilogy of Yumeko’s adventure with the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers is yet another exciting journey to the undoubtedly epic showdown that will happen in the last book. Although perhaps that makes it fall a bit victim to middle book syndrome, which I’ll discuss below. Andge and I both agree that it is probably only about a 3.5 Drink Me Potions level; this book wouldn’t be very exciting at all as a standalone, in my opinion.

Soul of the Sword, follows young half-kitsune, Yumeko, as she and her motley crew try to make their way to Steel Feather temple to protect the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers from the evil clutches of anyone hoping to use their one wish to change the fate of the land. As the title might suggest, the story also revolves heavily around the struggle between Tatsumi the Kage shinobi and Hakaimono the demon general who’s soul is bound to Tatsumi’s sword. Now that Hakaimono is released from his sword prison (though still bound), what cunning plans does he have to maintain his former glory?

Although the story is slightly predictable in terms of where it was going to end and what was going to approximately transpire, I still found myself quite excited as I went along the journey from all the different POVs. There is still good suspense – the destination might be clear, but the journey still held a lot of surprises. The characters are wonderfully lovable and it is easy to get invested quickly. I feel like I raced through the chapters quite quickly and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Continue reading “Review: Soul of the Sword by Julie Kagawa”