About Jaclyn

I'm a total bookaholic! Fave genres include romance, mysteries, thrillers, and fantasy. I'm especially interested in books by and about: BIPOC folks, Filipino / Filipino diaspora, plus-size / fat folks. Romances with animal-loving heroes and heroines are a major plus. I am NOT interested in books that include, in any shape or form, animal abuse / neglect / death.

Review | Last Girl Ghosted, by Lisa Unger

LastGirlGhostedCoverI had high hopes for this book. The premise hooked me at once: Wren meets Adam through a dating app, and things are going really well, but then he totally ghosts her. She thinks perhaps it’s because she’s shared too much of her past with him, but then a private investigator, Bailey, shows up, and Wren learns that Adam has ghosted other women before, and that these women went missing shortly after.

And for the first half, I was into it. Unger sets the story in early 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic is starting to reach international consciousness. Considering how dramatically the world of dating changed during the pandemic, having it loom over the future of Wren and Adam’s relationship added an exciting bit of tension to the story. I also liked the little hints dropped about Wren’s traumatic past, and how much she’d done to reinvent herself and leave her old self completely behind.

I was a little less into how Wren seems to associate online dating with being lonely and desperate; so many people are dating online now that, especially in early 2020, it seems a rather retrograde stigma, but fine — it wasn’t enough of an annoyance to turn me off. And I did like how it fit thematically with Wren’s character — she works as an advice columnist for folks with rather serious problems, and she says that it’s her own vulnerability and trauma that makes her good at her job, so that ties in really well with the loneliness and desperation that she says got her into online dating.

It was in the second half that the book really began to drag for me. Wren’s search for Adam was interspersed with flashbacks of her childhood — basically, her father was a doomsday conspiracist who forced their family to live in the woods, and his paranoia sometimes turned violent. So, it’s a compelling story, and the guilt Wren carries with her as a result of a traumatic incident is a compelling bit of character building. But there were a LOT of flashbacks, which just bored me after a while. There was a thread about a friend Wren makes in the woods, that I presume was intended to highlight her psychological state, but while it was a significant part of Wren’s character, I thought it was handled confusingly, and ultimately got lost in all the clutter about their lives in the woods.

Wren’s motivations also felt unclear to me. At first, I could see she wanted to find Adam because she wanted to know why he ghosted her, but then her feelings seem to change partway through, as do her reasons for wanting to find Adam. The reasons behind the shift were muddy enough, but mostly, I wasn’t sure what she wanted to achieve anymore. Similarly, she goes from wanting Bailey to leave her alone, to wanting to help with his investigation, and at some point, she decides to go rogue and find Adam on her own. Her motivations have a lot more to do with her desire to find Adam than her desire to help Bailey, so the flip-flopping makes a kind of sense, but I just had to pause reading every so often and ask “Why?”

The book spent so much time building up Wren’s childhood and the events that led to her present, yet, to me, didn’t spend nearly enough effort in developing the present-day narrative. I don’t necessarily mind books with unreliable narrators, but often, those narrators have clearly defined logic for their actions; it’s only the reveal that reframes our understanding of this logic. In this case, Wren seems less an unreliable narrator than a muddled one, as if the author tried to cram so much in, but didn’t quite make all of it fit.

I did finish the book, mostly because I was genuinely curious about what Adam had to do with the missing women, and was hoping that the answer to that question would make everything click together. For that reason, I found the climactic reveal the most frustrating of all. Similar to the flashbacks of Wren’s childhood, the villain’s backstory fits in thematically with the rest of the book, but doesn’t quite provide the “Aha!” moment of clarity I’d hoped for. The villain’s connection to Wren is doled out sparingly over several pages, in a way that felt more frustrating than suspenseful. And then there was a dramatic finish to a confrontation that just honestly took me right out of the book completely. I’m all for suspending disbelief while reading thrillers, but that resolution was just, to me, taking several steps too far in the name of drama.

Overall, this book had a solid start, but a frustrating, disappointing end.

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Thank you to Park Row for an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.

Review | My Darling Husband, by Kimberly Belle

DarlingHusbandCoverMy Darling Husband is a taut, fast-paced domestic thriller. Start reading it on a weekend, because once you start, it’s hard to put down. The story begins with one of anyone’s worst nightmares: Jade Lasky comes home with her two young kids to find a masked man with a gun. Her husband Cam has only hours to pull together the oddly specific sum of $734,296, or Jade and the kids are dead.

The problem is that Cam has nowhere near that amount of money. A successful chef and owner of high-end steak restaurants, Cam is heavily in debt to his investors, and the day of the hostage-taking, his most successful restaurant has just gone up in flames. The novel alternates between Jade and Cam’s perspectives, and occasionally the masked man’s, whose name is Sebastian. And the result is a tightly woven plot, as Jade and her kids fight to survive, and Cam pulls on all available strings to raise the cash. 

Surprisingly, the star of the show turns out to be nine-year-old Beatrix, who is an even bigger thorn in Sebastian’s side than Jade is. I’m not often a fan of overly precocious kids, but even I had to admire Beatrix’s cleverness. Watching her and Jade work together to try to outwit Sebastian and protect the younger, more naive, Baxter, was a pure delight.

Interspersed throughout the novel are snippets of an interview Cam gives after the incident, which helps fill in some of the blanks, for the reader if not for Jade. We learn that he’s had some shady business dealings, and been involved with illegal activities, all in pursuit of his ambition. We also learn his own family history, and how his father’s choices have shaped the person he is today. The book blurb makes a big deal of this aspect of the plot, promising family secrets and public scandals, and to me, the book itself never quite lived up to that promise.

The truth behind Cam’s actions and the links to the motives behind Sebastian’s actions, turns out to be much more prosaic that the blurb suggests, and I actually think the book is better for it. Rather than a dramatic, big gasp reveal, we get a rather ordinary story, and two complex and flawed men. Their decisions may be questionable, and at times, downright wrong, but their motives are somewhat understandable, and ultimately human. This isn’t to say that they’re wholly sympathetic — Sebastian’s hostage taking is undeniably wrong, and some of the things Cam does is downright callous. But the author has created some interesting character studies that unfold as she keeps us on the edge of our seat watching all the thriller aspects play out. 

Overall, this is an exciting, fast-paced read, and a lot of fun for a weekend.

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Thank you to Park Row Books for an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review | ParaNorthern: And the Chaos Bunny A-hop-calypse, by Stephanie Cooke and Mari Costa

ParaNorthernCoverThis graphic novel is just adorable! Abby’s a young witch who, when saving her younger sister from bullies, accidentally opens a portal to the realm of chaos bunnies. Now she and her friends — a wolf girl, a pumpkinhead, and a ghost — must find a way to close the portal before the bunnies wreak any more havoc on their town.

The story is simply a delight from start to finish. I love how strong and supportive the friendships amongst the main characters are — Abby and her friends are all ride-or-die for each other, even when they don’t necessarily know how to handle something as, well, chaotic as a chaos bunny invasion, and seeing them work together to figure stuff out is really heartwarming. I also love the strong relationships Abby has with her mom and sister — even as she decides to keep her mom in the dark about the chaos bunnies, you can tell how close they are as a family, and how much they care for each other’s welfare. There’s a lighthearted jokiness in the dialogue amongst many of the characters that just makes you want to be a part of their world, and be amongst their circle of loved ones.

I also like how the story focuses on the friendships and on Abby grappling with her insecurities rather than revert to a Chosen One narrative. Abby does turn out to be a more powerful witch than she realized, and much of the story is about her struggling to understand her powers without being overwhelmed by them. As she tells her friends, closing a chaos bunny portal is advanced magic far beyond the lessons she’s currently taking in her spell-casting classes. While most readers will likely never face the situation of opening a portal to a chaos bunny dimension, I think many will relate to Abby’s feelings of being overwhelmed by a situation she unwittingly caused.

There’s a fun scene involving a seance where Abby tries to connect with a long-dead ancestor for answers, but the scene that strikes a chord for me is one where her wolf-girl friend, whose parents are psychotherapists, invites Abby to try out a psychotherapy session of her own. The friend helps Abby work through her feelings of insecurity, and in doing so, helps Abby gain the clarity she needs to face the chaos bunny situation head-on. It’s a wonderfully relatable, real-world solution to a magical problem, and the climactic scene, where all of Abby’s friends, along with Abby’s sister, help the young witch send the chaos bunnies back to their dimension, sends a similarly wonderful message: not just that you don’t have to face overwhelming situations alone, but that you shouldn’t. As powerful a witch as Abby is, she needed her friends to fix the chaos bunny situation, and as trite as it may sound, it’s a good lesson to remember, no matter how old you are.

The characters are drawn with such complexity and texture, and all of Abby’s friends are given some pretty rich backstories of their own, that I’m fairly certain this is only the first instalment of more stories with this group of friends. And I, for one, am excited to read more about these characters, and spend more time in their world.

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Thank you to the publisher for an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.