Book Review: The Donut Trap

I just loved this. All of it. Romance, complicated family relationships, food, donut jokes, and the intimate representation of a 1st generation Asian American family. Overbearing aunties, pushy besties, social media, and innovative pastry trends. The Donut Trap has it all!

Jasmine Tran works more than full time at her parents’ donut shop, even as she feels the pressure to get a job and a husband. Her ever-supportive best friend Linh has found the perfect guy, and he just so happens to be Jasmine’s college crush, Window Guy. Simultaneously over- and under-employed while she tries to find herself, Jasmine juggles dating, donuts, and family dynamics in this showstopping debut.

Tieu expertly explores diasporic family dynamics in a high-pressure setting. Jasmine’s parents struggle with balancing her integral position at the donut shop and giving her space to move forward with her life. The representation of Jasmine, who never seemed to fit in anywhere, is insightful. She and Window Guy (real name Alex Lai) have much in common this way, but very different life experiences. The relationship between Jasmine and her work-hard parents is complex while she strives to prove herself, find herself, all while dragging the donut shop into the 21st century with Instagram-worthy offerings.

I am VERY picky about my romance, but this I loved. I caught myself grinning throughout. Sweet, not saccharine. Jas is adorkable without being annoying. Alex is smoking hot without being hollow. Their romance is funny, bumpy, and nuanced, making their budding love story one well worth reading.

A full cast of strong characters carry this charming story to the next level making The Donut Trap my favorite book of the year so far! 🍩🍩🍩🍩🍩

The Donut Trap by Julie Tieu is expected to be published November 2nd, 2021.

Thanks to Netgalley, the author, and the publisher for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Home Before Dark

Maggie Holt doesn’t remember living in a haunted house. When she inherits Baneberry Hall, a creaky old house haunted by her father’s tell-all novel, she battles her memories, her beliefs, and a town full of people who hate her family’s guts. She searches for the truth but finds much, much more.

The word that best describes Home Before Dark is “creepy.” The house is big and creepy, the memories are creepy, her father’s novel is creepy, the house’s history is creepy, and Maggie’s blind spots are creepy as hell. Is it terrifying? No. Does it make you think and work to puzzle it all together? Yep. I couldn’t help but think of The Haunting of Hill House, but I hesitate to make a comparison.

The book-within-a-book aspect of this story was really well done and broke in the right places with the right scenes. One is present tense and one is past, so there’s no way to get confused about what happens when. I was afraid one story would ruin the other and in the end, that’s kind of what happened. I don’t mind a good twist, but I don’t like to feel cheated. This one is right on the fence. Either way, it was a lot of fun to read and knowing the end, I’d love to read it again.

I listened to the audiobook version of Home Before Dark and enjoyed both narrators. They were well-matched and fit their characters well. Their pacing is good and their voice acting is spot on, so no complaints there. I do not understand the title of this book, but the cover art is great.

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager is a delicious haunted house story that twists, turns, then twists again. Suspense writers, take note: this is how you pace.

Book Review: My Heart Is a Chainsaw

My Heart is a Chainsaw is a love letter. It’s intense and intimate. Familiar and shocking at the same time. You can practically see the grainy, underexposed horror lighting throughout.

This book is not a casual read. The author’s style is challenging and at first I wasn’t sure I liked that so much happens between the lines. This level of lyrical, skeletal prose is rare in horror, but outrageously successful here.

What makes this piece beautiful is the distance. Yes, it’s about slashers and everything you already know about them, but that’s all through the safety of the tv screen. You, the reader, get to know Jade, but the angsty teen stubbornly remains at arm’s length. The glacial pacing makes this a study in anticipation. After the shocking prologue, the plot pumps the brakes, comes to a rolling stop, then guns it. Like Jade, you think you’re more than prepared, but when it finally comes, omg no no no you’re not ready.

This is a compulsive, memorable read that I would recommend to select readers, but not everybody. If you’re passionate about horror movies – excuse me, SLASHER movies – you’ll thoroughly enjoy this. Some parts were too specialized, too in-crowd for me, and if I were even a fraction as passionate as the main character, this book would turn my world upside down. Still, this is one story that will stick with me for many reasons.

It’s not often I turn the last page and think, “Damn, now that is a story,” My Heart Is a Chainsaw is art unlike anything I have ever read before.

My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones is expected to be published August 31, 2021.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for a copy of this ebook in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: The City That Barks and Roars

Okay picture this. Zootopia, right? But instead of a bunny and a fox, it’s a penguin and a monkey. And it’s the 1950s, so they’re, like, wearing fedoras and stuff. So the penguin and the monkey, they go around looking for this panda detective that’s gone missing, but also some beavers who have kind of a sketchy past, and there’s a pastor goat… a badass panther in a slinky dress… ooh, maybe an underground cat-napping ring that’s led by the dog mafia!

Honestly though, it’s pretty good. It’s funny, fast-paced, and has a solid mystery. There’s a huge cast of colorful characters/animals that really give a good feel of what Noah’s Kingdom is like. I don’t quite understand some of the animal mechanics (How does a penguin drink coffee? How does a rhinoceros drive? Where do rats get tiny cop uniforms?) but it’s really not important. If you’re going to get hung up on logic, you wouldn’t enjoy this.

Admittedly, it got off to a bumpy start and could use an eagle-eyed editor. There are a distracting number of spelling and punctuation errors. Some readers may not enjoy being addressed by the author, but I thought it was really funny that the author sneaks in asides with real animal facts.

The City That Barks and Roars by J. T. Bird is perfect for that surprisingly large intersection of people who love both silly talking animals and hardboiled detective novels.

Thanks to BookSirens, the publisher, and the author for providing a copy of this ebook. I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Book Review – Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters

Satoshi is back in Japan after living in the US and he feels like a total outcast. He’s been gone a long time, he’s way too good in his English class, and he worries that his disabled sister and confused grandfather will attract unwanted attention. On top of it all, there’s only one spot left on the baseball team! Can he juggle his school, sports, and home life while still fitting in with his friends?

Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters paints a wonderful portrait of school-age awkwardness and the desire to fit in. This story takes place entirely in Japan, where the cultural differences between Japanese and American school systems are highlighted, especially with student-teacher relations. The culture shock goes both ways for Satoshi and his friends, making this a poignant read for children who feel like they just don’t fit in anywhere.

I listened to this with my 9 year old who absolutely loved it! He did struggle to keep the names straight, but the story is fast-paced, exciting, and kid-friendly without being babyish. The story trusts that the middle-grade readers will be able to handle heavy subjects like dementia right along with things like the desire to get good grades. It struck a great balance, and we both looked forward to each listening session.

We did find that the sound effects were intrusive at times. It was a great addition, especially at the baseball games, but some sounds went on way too long and became distracting (like when Satoshi gets a haircut). We had mixed feelings about the ending, too, but overall, we loved it!

Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters is a refreshing middle-grade story about fitting in, friendship — and of course baseball! It’s a gem of a story that’s perfect for any sports-loving kid.

CW: Parents, there is some mild language and 2 plot-pertinent uses of the R-word.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for providing a copy of this audiobook in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Rumple Buttercup

I just love this book. The illustrations are adorable, funny, and the message is sweet without being overbearing. It’s a perfect lesson for anyone of any age: you’re weird, I’m weird, and that’s awesome so let’s have a parade.

And there’s a secondary, equally valuable lesson about giving people space to feel comfortable. The townspeople knew all about a Rumple Buttercup without making a big deal about his shyness or invading his personal space, so when he’s finally ready to come out of the storm drain, it’s on his terms. It’s positive without being saccharine.

Let’s not forget that Matthew Gray Gubler illustrated and hand-wrote every word of this piece — even the Library of Congress stuff! It’s just that extra touch that makes Rumple Buttercup such a treasure.

Rumple Buttercup: A Story of Bananas, Belonging, and Being Yourself by Matthew Gray Gubler was published April 2, 2019.

Book Review: Other People’s Children

Gail is desperate to become a mother. After years of trying to adopt, she and her husband Jon finally meet Carli, a rudderless 18 year old with a baby bump and an abusive mother. Ready to be parents at long last, Carli gives birth and Gail and Jon take home their new baby Maya. But Carli’s mother pressures her to reclaim the newborn before the adoption finalizes. Then, chaos. Maya becomes the eye of a hurricane of jealousy, pain, and desperate love.

Other People’s Children wastes no time getting to the real story. The reader does not have to wait long for the baby to arrive and then when she does, the story kicks into high gear. What could have become a drawn-out tale of courtroom tragedy becomes a breakneck thriller as the three mothers demand the family they believe is rightfully theirs: Maya. 

Every mother, from Gail to Carli all the way to Gail’s critical mother and Jon’s Aunt Carol, embodies maternal love — they just have different ways of showing it. I loved that Gail was all show and no substance while Carli was the picture of emotional maturity in the face of adversity. I do wish we could have met Marla before she and Jon had their waiting-room confrontation; I’m sure she could have been as dimensional as the other mother. Even Paige, the social worker, offers a nuanced perspective of what it means to be a parent.

There is plenty of foreshadowing for the story ahead, which makes it fun to watch the story play out in its entirety later on. Frankly, I did not expect this book about the meaning of motherhood to be such a page-turner. Other People’s Children started as a family drama, then turned on a dime into a heart-racing thriller. This debut novel is a whirlwind, to say the least.

CW: abuse

Other People’s Children by R. J. Hoffmann is expected to be published April 6, 2021.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Gudetama: Mindfulness for the Lazy

I’ve been reading a lot of heavy books lately and needed a break. When I spied Gudetama: Mindfulness For the Lazy on NetGalley, I snapped it up. It didn’t change my life, but it did make a nice palate cleanser.

Gudetama is adorable. This thicc little egg yolk (?) wants to do nothing more than nap, but his over-enthusiastic friend (?) insists that today is the day to learn about mindfulness. The odd couple floats around town learning and teaching others about self-love, self-respect, and staying in the moment.

Mindfulness For the Lazy discusses cutting out negative influences, staying organized, and empathy. I appreciated that not all of the characters were able to accomplish this! It’s hard sometimes, and it’s important to recognize that. 

This little graphic novel is 0% esoteric. It’s just a speedy PSA about not being a butt. 

Honestly, I thought this graphic novel would be more about mindfulness. There’s a lot about self-care and self-regulating, not so much about how to actually be in the moment. And I can’t quite pin down who the target audience would be. It’s presented in a way that would be easily digestible and even eye-opening for children, but features office drones under mountains of paperwork and adults forgetting to pick up each other from the airport. I don’t think this book was for me, but it was fun.

There are some rays of sunshine in here. From casual non-binary pronoun usage to a character who dunked on someone while using the wrong “your,” it’s the asides that make this story shine. I especially enjoyed the flowchart of how to deal with unpleasant people on social media.

If I were already a fan of Gudetama (and I can imagine it’s very easy to become one!) I’d probably enjoy this little guide more. Gudetama: Mindfulness for the Lazy is perfect for people in a hurry and those who like humor with their self-help.

Gudetama: Mindfulness for the Lazy by Wook-Jin Clark is expected to be published April 6,2021.

Thanks to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. 

Book Review: Killer Triggers

Well my, my, my.

As a fan of Joe Kenda’s television show on Investigation Discovery, I leapt at the chance to listen to him read his memoirs. I was not disappointed.

In Killer Triggers, retired Lieutenant Joe Kenda recalls several of his most memorable cases while working as a homicide detective in Colorado Springs. He starts each story with the “trigger” for the murder and retells the entire experience of solving the crime — from the time he gets the call until after the killer is locked safely behind bars.

But not every story is like an episode of Homicide Hunter. In this format, Kenda is able to go into much more detail about the investigation, techniques used, his feelings about the case, and even a few amusing asides. There’s a long passage extolling the skills of police dogs and an amusing side story about the time one of them got loose. He later goes in depth about the emotional toll being a homicide detective took on his health and family life, making this a well-balanced true crime memoir.

These stories are true crime, but there is time to talk about the effect of the murders on the surviving family members. This author has no trouble reminding the reader that these are real people who have endured real horrors and he treads the line between sensationalism and compassion.

However, I did find that since Kenda explores his opinions and feelings during each case, his generational bias is showing. He flirts with outdated morals and societal norms which rub this 21st-century reader the wrong way.

I listened to the audiobook version of this book and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m sure it’s a great title on paper, but as a fan of Homicide Hunter, the narration made it that much better. I don’t normally mention profanity in my reviews, but other fans may be startled to hear their favorite detective drop an f-bomb.

I highly recommend the audiobook version of Killer Triggers to any fan of the true crime genre, especially those who recognize the author from his television show. Joe Kenda’s style is direct, deadpan, opinionated, and dripping with gravitas.

Killer Triggers: Murder Comes Down to Sex, Drugs, or Money by Joe Kenda is expected to be published March 9, 2021.

Thanks to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: An Eye for an Eye

DI Kate Young is back on the force, working hard to solve the vicious murder of a prominent businessman, but PTSD is her constant companion. Flashbacks to a horrific mass shooting on a train car plague her every move. Her colleagues notice that she’s become confused, stressed, and is self-medicating. Does DI Kate Young have what it takes to stop a serial killer while battling her own demons?

The main mystery of An Eye for an Eye is intense, twisting, and has a satisfying payoff. The killer is creative and even though the MO remains the same, it’s a heart-pounding story every time they strike. I never could’ve guessed whodunit, but after all the evidence was laid out, it all made perfect sense. There are still so many mysteries, red herrings, and untold stories here that I am very glad that this book is clearly set up to be a series. 

The representation of life with mental illness is a thing of beauty. Too often, characters with mental illnesses are caricatured, diminished, or treated as other. DI Kate Young is still the best detective on the force, but she has unresolved trauma making it hard for her to get through the day. She may want to return to work, but her PTSD insists she take more time. The constant interruptions of her flashbacks (triggered by things as innocuous as ketchup on a french fry) and her inner struggle with addiction to the pills that keep her memories at bay is wonderfully emotional. 

The writing style is immersive and sweeping. Cinematic cut-scenes and flashbacks broke up the main storyline. Some were from Kate’s experience before the book began, some were scenes that were retold by suspects, witnesses, etc. 

This was the first book I’ve read by Carol Wyer, but this absolutely will not be the last. 

Thanks to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.