About Jaclyn

I'm a total bookaholic! Fiction, non-fiction, mysteries, YA, science fiction, I read practically anything and everything. I also love talking about books, and chatting about books with people who love them as much as I do!

Review | Cat’s Got Your Heart, by Jem Zero

CatsGotYourHeartWith a title like Cat’s Got Your Heart, I admit that I expected a romance that was pure fluff and joy. The novel does deliver on the fluff — Harinder and Jericho’s romance is really sweet, and made me go “awww” at several places. But it’s the kind of fluff that’s covered with spikes, and requires quite a bit of hard work and emotional maturing on the characters’ parts to achieve.

The enemies to lovers trope is often touch and go for me, and Harinder begins as the type of jerk hero I usually can’t stand. He’s abrasive, grouchy, and outright unpleasant to all the pet store customers for no discernible reason. This kind of hero usually takes me a while to warm up to, and usually only when they reveal their secret soft side.

Instead, Harinder wins me over almost immediately. His abrasiveness stems from a deep, at times obsessive, concern for animals, and his utmost revulsion to the possibility of adopting out one of his animals to a home that won’t give it proper care. His insta-hate with Jericho isn’t the usual aimless snark that usually turns me off this trope, but rather a hilarious, at times absurd, power struggle over the fate of a cat named Dumpling.

The story in a nutshell: Jericho wants to adopt Dumpling; Harinder doubts Jericho’s ability to care for her, and so devises a series of requirements to discourage the other man. It turns out Jericho is lonely, and actually enjoys Harinder’s company, so he keeps coming back to the pet store. And when Harinder is kicked out of his apartment, Jericho offers him a place to stay, and they start to move past each other’s barriers. The thing is, Jericho still hasn’t told Harinder that his desire for Dumpling isn’t to have a pet of his own, but rather to gift the cat to his sister (he lost his sister’s cat, so Dumpling is an apology / replacement). And like any animal lover with experience in adoptions, Harinder is leery of people who give animals as gifts. (Providing an animal with a forever home is too much of a long-term commitment to treat lightly. Many animals who are given as gifts, without first discussing it with the recipient, end up being returned, which sucks for the animal.) So while Dumpling herself isn’t as prominent in the story as I’d hoped, her presence drives much of the action, which I loved.

I love how the author subverts the usual grouchy/sunshine trope. Harinder’s a grouch, but for the most sunshiney of reasons. And Jericho is really sweet and cheerful, but he’s actually really guarded, and struggles to deal with intense feelings. The author manages to reveal fluff and joy in the prickliest of encounters, and I love seeing the characters slowly come to terms with their feelings.

I also love that Jericho is an albino Black gay man, and that Harinder’s an Indian trans man. I’ve never seen those kinds of heroes in romance before, so I hope that any romance readers who may find themselves represented in these characters find this book, and see these characters as romantic leads. I can’t speak for the representation in this book, except for one scene where Harinder is bullied by racists who speak fake Spanish (they mistakenly assume Harinder is Mexican) — that was well-done, and felt true-to-life.

Some things in the novel did fall flat for me, though I admit these are mostly personal views that may not bother other readers. First, Harinder and Jericho are really messy (Jericho gets ferret pee on his Ninja Turtles hoodie and leaves it in the laundry basket for three weeks and counting; Harinder keeps animal cages clean but otherwise leaves the store grimy). The author includes a lot of details that make the characters and their environments feel real, and I can imagine men in their early 20s being that messy, but it left too much of a gritty feel for me to enjoy the sexytimes. The characters also “wail” and “keen” during sex, and while I’m all for noisy sex, those particular sounds did take me out of the mood, especially when we also hear Dumpling “wail” in a later scene. Jericho’s reunion with his sister at the end felt stilted — she just sounds really formal, which made me feel the distance between them more than the closeness. And finally, the location of Harinder’s final piercing is meant to be sexy, but just sounds really painful to me.

Overall, Cat’s Got Your Heart is a sweet and sour kind of book, fluff wrapped up in spikes. Harinder and Jericho’s happy endings are hard-won, and well worth the ride. Above all, their romance begins with a battle of wills over a fluffy kitty named Dumpling — how adorable is that?

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Thanks to the author for an egalley in exchange for an honest review.

My 10 Favourite Books of 2020

2020 has been quite the year! Among the many things I miss during this pandemic are: library book sales (I’d get dozens of new books for less than $20!), in-person book festivals (especially Word on the Street, with the Harlequin Books booth!), and in-person book blogger events.

I’m ever-grateful to e-books and e-audiobooks for keeping me reading throughout lockdowns, and I’m especially incredibly grateful to the Toronto Public Library for keeping my e-reader filled in a year when budget is especially tight.

 

Feel-good, Happily-Ever-After Romances

1. Puppy Love (Forever Home # 1)by Lucy Gilmore

Hunky fireman whose gruff exterior hides a heart of marshmallow + kind-hearted service dog trainer who’s always been the fragile one in the family until this fireman brings out her inner kickass warrior + an adorable Pomeranian named Bubbles with “wet raisin eyes” and an unfortunate fear of fire. I mean, this book just makes me melt, and is the sweetest, most adorable romance ever.

I love how Sophie knows just the right buttons to push to make Harrison putty in her hands. I love how grouchy and beast-like Harrison is until Sophie teases him with baby talk or Bubbles stares at him with what he calls her “wet raisin eyes” (seriously, who wouldn’t swoon at that?!). And I love the Vasquez sisters — cool and efficient Lila, and warm and friendly Dawn — and I’m looking forward to reading their stories.

2. The Boyfriend Project, by Farrah Heron

The Boyfriend Project mixes so much of what I love in romance: fantastic chemistry, nerdy protagonists, kickass female friendships, and a conflict that is inevitable despite being neither character’s fault. I love the way Samiah and Daniel’s relationship developed, how both characters did their best to fight their feelings for each other (Samiah because she’d vowed to take a break from dating, Daniel because he knew he was lying to Samiah about who he was), and how they ended up ultimately being unable to resist each other. Rochon writes chemistry wonderfully, and I was right there with both Samiah and Daniel through their whole roller coaster of emotions. Read my full review here.

3. Spoiler Alert, by Olivia Dade

A geologist who writes fan fics meets the hot actor who’s the subject of her fics, not realizing that this actor is also secretly a fan fic writer and her online BFF. I love how the author writes about her fat heroine (April says outright that she’s not chubby or plump, but fat). April is confident in her body, but she’s faced bullying from loved ones and online trolls alike, so her confidence is hard-earned, and not always steady. Marcus obviously finds her gorgeous and sexy, and their sex scenes show how April’s fatness is part of her sex appeal.

I also love how nuanced Marcus is as a character. He’s a hot Greek god type, with the public persona of a himbo, but from his first appearance, we know how nerdy and intelligent he actually is. As we get to know him, we also learn about his vulnerabilities. He and April’s stories parallel each other’s in many ways, and I love how they both grow as people alongside their growth together as a couple. Read my full review here.

ILoveYouSoMochiCover

Young Adult Contemporary Fiction, Romance

I Love You So Mochi, by Sarah Kuhn

This is the feel-good comfort read we can all use this year. Kimi Nakamura is an aspiring fashion designer whose mother disapproves of her career choices. Upon an invitation from Kimi’s estranged grandparents, she travels to Kyoto for spring break, and meets Akira, a cute aspiring med student who moonlights as a costumed mochi mascot. Kimi also learns about her mother’s past, and how she and her mother may not be as different as Kimi had always felt.

A Claudia Kishi-esque heroine, mouth-watering food descriptions, and wonderfully vivid descriptions of Kimi’s designs and Kyoto hotspots… I’m absolutely in love with this book. I want it to be a movie just so I can see Kimi’s designs in real life. And I don’t even like mochi, but the author’s description of the matcha-flavoured mochi topped with strawberry makes me want to taste this “perfect bite.” Even better: the author’s mom gave her a red kimono with an orange obi, which is exactly the colour combination that so inspires Kimi and her designs. How awesome is that?!

White Ivy Cover

Adult Contemporary Fiction, Thriller

White Ivy, by Susie Yang

A contemporary, Chinese American spin on Talented Mr RipleyWhite Ivy explores themes of racism (overt and internalized), family, immigration, and the struggle women (particularly women of colour) face when making it in a man’s world. Main character Ivy Lin is a fantastic anti-heroine — complex, cunning, and charismatic — with a deep-rooted vulnerability that makes you root for her. I was completely captivated by Ivy’s story, full of scheming and plotting, all of which is centred around her very human need for love, belonging, and purpose. I absolutely loved this book, and highly recommend it for anyone. Read my full review here.

Fantasy

1. Rage of Dragons (The Burning # 1), by Evan Winter

Rage of Dragons presents an incredibly rich world where dragons can turn the tide in a seemingly endless war, and some humans are gifted with the ability to harness and control their powers. Tau starts off as a fairly low-key guy who just wants to marry his childhood sweetheart Zuri. But when violence forces him into joining the army, Tau becomes fixated on revenge, and not even Zuri may be able to bring him back.

I couldn’t put this book down. I love Zuri, and like her, I was both fascinated and horrified by the dark path Tau takes. Tau and his teammates were also a delight to read about, and I love how the author subverts our expectations about the dragons and their role in the war.

2. A Song of Wraiths and Ruin, by Roseanne A. Brown

Karina, a crown princess grieving the assassination of her mother and fighting off treason from her court, needs the beating heart of a king to win back her kingdom. She decides to offer her hand in marriage to whomever wins the Solstasia competition. Malik, a refugee desperate to rescue his younger sister from a vengeful spirit, strikes a deal to kill Karina in exchange for his sister’s freedom. Except he and Karina end up forming a friendship, and falling in love.

Compelling story, complex characters, incredible chemistry (romantic, familial, friendly, and political). I’m completely hooked by the world and so excited to see where the story goes!

3. Spin the Dawn (The Blood of the Stars # 1), by Elizabeth Lim

Project Runway meets Mulan in this YA fantasy. Maia Tamarin poses as a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor, and is tasked with an impossible final challenge to sew three magical dresses for the emperor’s bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of the stars. Her journey brings her powers (magical, demonic, and divine) beyond her imagination, and also requires of her a much deeper and more painful sacrifice than she’s ever expected to make. The story is incredibly rich and beautiful, and Maia’s romance with Edan, the court enchanter, is the sweetest.

I ended this book excited for the second half of the duology, and hoping against all odds for Maia and Edan to find their happily ever after. The sequel, Unravel the Duskhad much more mythology, politics, and battles, and much less fashion design and tailoring, which is likely why I personally didn’t enjoy it as much. (The descriptions of the dresses in the first book are incredible!) Still, the sequel succeeds in ramping up the stakes, and diving deeper into the darker aspects of Maia’s life and world. It’s a fitting end, and the duology as a whole is a wonderful set. 

Sentimental Faves

1. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (The Hunger Games # 0)by Suzanne Collins

Ballad tells the story of a young Coriolanus Snow, before his rise to power. I loved The Hunger Games, and I found this prequel to be equally brilliant and just as chilling, in a different way from the original trilogy. Seeing the events unfold through Snow’s POV feels… gross, almost. He’s ambitious and calculating, which aren’t necessarily bad traits in themselves, but he’s also cold and self-serving, and his decisions throughout reveal how much he really is out only for himself.

Collins has written another gripping tale, one that will make us examine our own culpability in the very actions we may outwardly reject in the story. Coriolanus’ beliefs and actions are reprehensible, yet is he also, at the core, a survivor. Can we really say we’d do differently in his shoes? By placing us in Snow’s POV, Collins dives even deeper into the questions of bystanders’ culpability towards injustice, and makes us wonder if it’s ok to be this drawn into Snow’s world.

2. Midnight Sun, by Stephenie Meyer

Reading this made me *happy sigh*.

Edward’s perspective on the first Twilight book rounded out the story wonderfully, and showed us all the parts we missed while I’m Bella’s head. It turns out there was a lot we missed while in Bella’s head, and thanks to Edward’s mind-reading abilities, we also got a deeper dive into some of the other characters. The Twilight movie would’ve been so different if this book had been published much earlier.

I also loved seeing the glimpses of Jacob’s transition into werewolf (mostly looking older + smelling the vampire on Bella, even if he doesn’t know what it is yet). I kinda, sorta, really want New Moon from Jacob’s POV now.

Review | Spoiler Alert, by Olivia Dade

Spoiler Alert is adorable and fun — one of my favourite books this year!

I love the way the author writes about her fat heroine (April outright says that she’s not chubby or plump, but fat). April is confident in her body, but she’s faced bullying from loved ones and online trolls alike, so her confidence is hard-earned, and not always steady. Marcus obviously finds her gorgeous and sexy, and their sex scenes show how April’s fatness is part of her sex appeal, with Marcus getting turned on by her big thighs and overall softness. I forgot the exact phrases the author used, but the novel gives us a very clear picture of a fat woman — with dimpled thighs, belly rolls, round face, and overall physical heft — as desirable, and I love the author so much for this.

I also love how April is a rich and nuanced character beyond the amazing fat rep. She’s a geologist (yay nerdy heroine / woman in STEM!) who likens getting to know Marcus to digging into types of soil (yay nerdy science references!). She’s also a popular fan fiction writer with a talent for fluffy fan fics and steamy sex scenes, who has had to hide this part of her from her former co-workers (government job), and so has to learn to be more open at her new job. One of her and Marcus’ dates is at a museum with a reenactment of an earthquake, which I also thought was awesome.

I also love how nuanced Marcus is as a character. He’s a Nikolaj Coster-Waldau-type actor (he plays a Jaime Lannister-type character in a Game of Thrones-like TV show) with a himbo public persona. But from his very first appearance, we know the himbo persona is far from the truth. The author introduces us to Marcus as he’s filming a fight scene with choreography he and his co-star have practiced so much the movements have become automatic. Within the physicality of the scene is the thought and rigour with which Marcus approaches his work, such that every movement is infused with a whole world of motivations informed by his character’s history. We also see in this scene how Marcus’s work as an actor is informed not just by the script or the show, but also by the novels on which the show was based, and the Greek mythology that inspired those novels. Marcus is as much as nerd as April is, and I absolutely love that about him.

I also love how vulnerable he is. As the story progresses, we learn that he adopted a himbo persona due to insecurity over a disability, and over his strained relationship with his parents. He’s scared of letting others see who he really is, and finds solace in the anonymity of fan fiction, where he can divert his frustrations over his character’s arc into writing the stories he wants his character to have (basically Jaime / Brienne ships).

Both April and Marcus have a lot to sort out within their own lives, in terms of their confidence in themselves, and their relationships with their families. I love how they each have their own major story arc beyond the romance, and how their relationship with each other helps them along their individual arcs. I love how their communication with each other becomes more open as their relationship progresses — it’s not easy to write the subtleties of such a gradual progression, but the author has managed to make it feel real.

The romance all comes to a head at a Comic Con-type event where Marcus and his co-stars are promoting their final season, and April is doing an on-stage interview with one of Marcus’ co-stars. It’s a wonderfully geeky setting for a grand gesture, and very much fitting for this novel.

This is one of my favourite books this year, and I highly recommend it.