Mysteries and Thrillers
1. Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf
A cold case murder at an annual Scrabble championship. Clues sent as word puzzles. And a setting of Malaysia, with Malay words casually integrated into the dialogue. As a word nerd who loves mysteries and who grew up in Southeast Asia, this is a book I wish so badly I could have read as a teen, and I am so thrilled today’s teens get to experience this for themselves. Someone please turn this into a mini-series!
Read my full review here.
2. Take It Back by Kia Abdullah
A white girl with facial deformities accuses four handsome Muslim boys from immigrant families of rape. Jodi has a good explanation for the inconsistencies: she doubts anyone would believe her original story, that Amir, the most handsome of the boys, actually wanted someone who looked like her. Who’s telling the truth? And as events unfold in court, what does justice look like?
By keeping the truth about the incident unclear, Abdullah invites her readers to “take our place on the jury.” I was torn about whom to believe, and my ambivalence made me reflect on my own biases as a woman and as a BIPOC immigrant.
Take It Back has won Abdullah a fan in me. I’ve read a few more of her books this year, and while this remains my favourite, I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
Read my full review here.
3. Marple: Twelve New Mysteries by multiple authors
As a huge Agatha Christie and Miss Marple fan, I found this book to be absolutely delightful. The author list includes such luminaries as Alyssa Cole, Val McDermid, Ruth Ware, Karen M. McManus, and Jean Kwok, so perhaps that should come as no surprise. I love how they stayed true to Christie’s style while still making their respective stories their own. Is it too soon to hope for a Volume 2?
1. Feels Like Home by Angel C. Aquino
What an emotional roller coaster of feels this book is! A sweet, young adult romance with a very Filipino vibe, lots of Pampanga love, and lots and lots of yummy food, this book very much does feel like returning home. The romance between Mickey and Clara is really sweet; they support each other’s dreams and help each other grow as people, and as cheesy as this may sound, I truly felt like they found a sense of home and family with each other.
Read my full review here.
2. Hard Sell (Jade Harbour Capital # 1) by Hudson Lin
Business drama, family drama, friendship drama… The chemistry between Tobin and Danny is fantastic, but I think the highlight of this book for me is all the wonderfully messy angst that keeps getting in the way of their happily ever after.
This book has its weaknesses. Some elements of the business conflict felt underdeveloped, and despite the chemistry between the MCs, I found the sex scenes pretty meh. This story also shows why brother’s best friend isn’t one of my favourite romance tropes: I just keep thinking that Tobin’s brother needs to chill. Still, this book was just pure fun to read, and with that cover, it’s definitely staying on my shelf!
3. Puppy Christmas (Forever Home # 2) by Lucy Gilmore
I don’t usually get gooey over single dad heroes or romances with kids in general, but Ford as a single dad just melted my heart. I love his flirty banter and his insecurities, and I love how much courage it takes for him to be serious about things that matter. I also absolutely love Lila, and how perfect they are together. I super relate to Lila’s “take care of everything” attitude as the oldest sibling, and I love how Ford and his daughter Emily helped her embrace her silly side. I especially love how much courage it takes for Lila to decide to risk trusting that Ford was for real. And of course, Jeeves the service puppy was just the absolute best.
The first book in this trilogy, Puppy Love, made it to my Best of 2020 list. The final book Puppy Kisses didn’t quite hit the mark as much for me, but overall, I love the Vasquez sisters, and reading about their puppy-fuelled romances is an absolute treat.
1. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen
The stuff this book says makes so much sense! My copy is all highlighted up, I’ve used the techniques so many times throughout the past year, and I can imagine this will be a useful resource to dip back into time and again. I like how the authors laid out the info, and how they clarified their techniques with examples. I also really liked the 10 FAQs they added to the end. A few of those addressed questions I had while reading, and I’m glad they added those bits of clarification.
Another classic read on the same topic is Crucial Conversations. I found the information in that one also useful, but personally found the writing style of Difficult Conversations easier to digest. That being said, different folks respond to different things, so if Difficult Conversations doesn’t quite make sense to you, you may want to give Crucial Conversations a try.
Also for conversations that involve negotiations, my go-to is Getting Past No, which I included in my Top 10 list last year.
1. The Son of Good Fortune by Lysley Tenorio (narrated by Reuben Uy)
This novel is funny, warm, and sharp. It has a lot of heart, and it’s a surprisingly emotional read. I didn’t expect to feel teary, but the ending got me.
Excel and his mother Maxima are TNTs, a Tagalog term, “tago-ng-tago”, which refers to Filipinos who live in the US illegally. (“Tago-ng-tago” means always hiding, which reflects the reality of their precarious living situation.) Maxima is an arnis master and former action film star who now earns money by scamming American men who are looking for “good Filipinas” (read: lovers who are submissive and affectionate, and who can do domestic tasks well). Excel longs for independence, but when circumstances lead to him and his girlfriend struggling to make ends meet, Excel turns to Maxima for help, and joins in her business.
I love the realism of Excel and Maxima’s circumstances and their actions; they do questionable things, but their actions are also very much how they survive. Maxima’s scams are wonderfully subversive; as a Filipina who’s encountered men like those she targets, I admit feeling rather satisfied at her successes. Still, I love how the novel adds layers of ambiguity with Jerry, the man Maxima and Excel target. He starts off being typically sleazy, and the narrator’s performance enhances that portrayal. But then as Excel gets to know him better, it’s hard not to feel sympathy: Jerry’s a genuinely optimistic guy, and while Excel rightly notes that Jerry’s optimism is naivete due to systemic privilege, it’s also sad to see how Jerry is about to learn a very harsh lesson on how cutthroat people can be.
I listened to the audiobook of this, and highly recommend that format. The narrator’s performance really highlights the comedy, and he did a great job in bringing the characters to life. I particularly love his performance of Maxima, and I would love to see Maxima brought to life on screen.
Thanks to Simon and Schuster Canada for an e-galley of Queen of the Tiles in exchange for an honest review. All the other books featured on this list are either purchased or from the library.