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 | Left You Dead, by Peter James

LeftYouDeadEden Paternoster goes into Tesco to buy cat litter while her husband Niall looks for parking, but she never comes out, and none of the staff remember her at all. DS Roy Grace, DI Glenn Branson, and their team are assigned the disappearance, and their investigation reveals that nothing is as it originally seems.

Left You Dead is a twisty mystery with a quiet feel. The truth behind Eden’s disappearance seems straightforward at first, but as any long-time mystery buff knows, that usually means there are a lot more secrets to uncover. I love the way Grace, Branson, and their team work to uncover clues. They work really well together, and even the minor side characters are given enough of a personality to make a mark, such as DS Norman Potting who mostly provides comic relief but is battling health issues, and Sharon Orman, whose lip-reading skills provide vital clues. There’s also a subplot about an incompetent and corrupt boss who seems to have it in for Grace, that seems like it’ll have effects on Grace’s career down the road.

The heart of this story, however, lies not in the mystery, but in a subplot concerning Roy Grace’s personal life, and a very difficult decision he needs to make. The subplot turns this into an emotional read, but James treats it with a very restrained touch. The author also makes sure to interweave this through scenes about the investigation, which are much less fraught. Long-time series fans and casual readers alike will feel for Grace, and will wonder about the questions regarding this that James strongly hints at, but deliberately leaves unresolved.

Overall, the subplot makes it tough to call this book a fun read or even an entertaining one. But it is a good one, both a pivotal instalment in the Roy Grace series and a fascinating mystery to unravel. I have an especially soft spot for Reggie, Eden and Niall’s cat, who reveals a hilarious and vivid personality in the few scenes he’s in, and I’m glad to see how the story turns out for him.

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CW: death of a child

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Thank you to Publishers Group Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Dial A For Aunties, by Jesse Q. Sutanto

DialAForAuntiesCoverWe all know Asian aunties are awesome, and in Dial A For Aunties, Jesse Q. Sutanto asks the all-important question: Would your aunties cover up a(n accidental) murder for you?

This book was an absolute delight, from page one all the way to the very end. It’s absolutely, ridiculously absurd, so leave your disbelief at the door, and turn yourself over completely to enjoying the ride. Beyond the humour, Dial A For Aunties is also very much full of heart. Meddy Chan and her aunties are all ride-or-die for each other, and as odd as it may be to think about a book with a murderous cover-up, this is a really sweet and heartwarming family novel.

It all begins with Meddy’s mom sets her up on a blind date, who turns out to be a handsy a-hole. Meddy accidentally kills him in self-defence, and her mom and aunties leap to help her dispose of the body. Except that it’s bad luck to hold a funeral before the wedding, and the blind date happens on the eve of a major wedding that the family will be attending. The five women run a wedding business — “Don’t leave your big day to chance, leave it to the Chans!” Big Aunt bakes the wedding cake, Second Aunt does the hair and makeup, Meddy’s mom does the flowers, Fourth Aunt provides the entertainment, and Meddy is the photographer.

To avoid bad luck for the bride and groom, Meddy and her aunts decide to hide the body in one of Big Aunt’s coolers, and wait till the wedding is over before burying it. Except that Big Aunt oversleeps, and the cooler with the body is sent to the wedding’s island venue along with the other coolers that hold the actual cake. Their attempts to get the body back before their crime is discovered are hilarious! It’s one madcap caper after another, with sibling rivalry going head to head with common sense (guess which wins?), and the aunties’ various schemes getting ever more absurd as the wedding day unfolds. The novel begins with the burning question — will Meddy and her aunties get away with murder? But the more you see them in action, the more confident you become in their ability to outsmart, well, everyone else. These aunties deserve all our applause, and best of all, Meddy also eventually comes into her own and discovers her inner Asian auntie, which just about rounds all five women into a kickass, formidable team.

I also love the romance. Meddy has grown up knowing all about the family curse, where the men in their family either leaving or dying in unlucky circumstances. She’s too savvy to believe it, exactly, but then lives out her version of the curse when she breaks up with her college boyfriend Nathan before graduation. The wedding reunites Meddy with Nathan, and the feelings between them have clearly not diminished with time. The development of their relationship in this novel, interspersed as it is with the murder cover-up and wedding day drama, is really sweet, and by the end, we see not just how good Nathan and Meddy are together, but also how wonderfully Nathan will fit in with Meddy’s family. There’s also a wonderful conversation between Meddy and her mom about the family curse, which was just heart-meltingly sweet.

Beyond all this, I love how absolutely steeped in Asian and Asian-diaspora culture this is. There are the little comedic touches, like the groom being named Tom Cruise Sutanto, which I love because it’s so very Asian. But also, there are a lot of books that tackle the sense of displacement Asian immigrants feel when living in America, so I very much appreciate how the author also explores the cross-cultural identities in Asian families immigrating within Asia, and the further complexities of identities when these families then move to America. The Chans are Chinese immigrants in Indonesia, who then immigrate to Los Angeles. At the most basic, yet also very telling, of levels, this means that Meddy is most comfortable with English and her attempts at Mandarin and Bahasa Indonesian hurt her aunties’ ears, while her mom and aunties are most comfortable with varying mixtures of Mandarin and Indonesian, and have varying degrees of fluency with English. It’s a simple detail, but one that plays out in beautifully complex ways that reveal so much about each woman’s identities and relationships to various aspects of their heritage.

This is a wonderful, delightful book, and I’m so thrilled to have met Meddy and her aunties. Even better? From the author’s note, the book is being adapted for a Netflix movie, and from the excerpt at the end, there will be an equally hilarious and heartwarming sequel.

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This book comes to me courtesy of Another Story Bookshop and a gift card from Penguin Random House Canada, which I won at an online contest to celebrate independent bookstores and the important work they do. In gratitude for this opportunity to read such a wonderful story as Dial A For Aunties, I invite you to check out this map that Penguin Random House Canada has compiled of independent bookstores across Canada. Find your local indie and show it some love!

Review | Satisfaction Guaranteed, by Karelia Stetz-Waters

SatisfactionGuaranteed

Oh. My. God, this book. How much do I love Satisfaction Guaranteed?! I was hooked right from the first few pages, where stiff, serious Cade sits out-of-place and uncomfortable at her free-spirited aunt’s funeral, and her aunt’s friend Selena opens her eulogy by talking about the deceased’s clit. Then I got to know Cade and Selena, and the more I read of them, the more I loved them, and longed for them to achieve their happily-ever-after. Satisfaction Guaranteed is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I absolutely, very highly, recommend reading it for yourself.

This book works on so many levels. Many opposites attract romances feature fun bickering and sexy personality clashes; the set-up of this novel shows from the get-go how much Cade and Selena’s relative strengths complement each other and combine them into a formidable team. Cade’s Aunt Ruth leaves her home and sex toy shop to both women. The shop is unfortunately very much in the red, and Cade and Selena have only a month to turn a profit before the properties need to be sold to pay off the debts. Cade has the financial literacy and business acumen; Selena has the product expertise and passion for the shop. Their differences causes them to butt heads early when Cade decides to streamline their inventory, and Selena argues that her decision lacks long-term vision, but even that argument shows how important both women’s perspectives are to making this business work.

A major theme in this novel is the importance of consent, and I absolutely love how Stetz-Waters shows how absolutely romantic and sexy this concept is. For example, Cade is insecure about her perceived lack of sexual prowess — she’s never had an orgasm, and her last sexual partner kicked her out because she sucked, and not in a good way. I’ve read many romance novels, where one character admits they’ve never had an orgasm, and the other promises they can give them one right then and there. I’ve never really thought too hard about that trope, until this book. When Cade admits she’s never had an orgasm, Selena simply says “You don’t have to,” and continues to pleasure her. I swear, that’s about the sexiest, most heartwarming moment I’ve read in a while, and seriously: more of this in novels, please!

I also love how consent is shown outside the bedroom. Selena is a super talented artist, but a traumatic relationship has made her give up her art. Cade, who runs her family’s art gallery, recognizes Selena’s talent at once, and can’t understand why she’d give it up. But there’s a moment where Cade basically says Selena doesn’t have to explain if she doesn’t want to, and it’s totally her choice whether or not she returns to painting. Throughout the novel, we see Cade engage in a friendly rivalry with a co-worker to find the next artist superstar, and Cade knows how valuable Selena’s paintings can be. But she never once pressures Selena to return to painting if she doesn’t want to. And again, I’ve often read romance novels where one of the main characters does push the other to use their talent, and I’ve always read that as simply a way for them to show their support. But Cade’s support for Selena’s decision to stop painting is so much sweeter, and makes Selena’s character arc in the latter half of the novel so much more powerful.

My absolute favourite scene involves Selena giving Cade a ride on her motorcycle. Cade’s never ridden a motorcycle before, and at first, she’s afraid Selena would zip around at top speed. Again, this is a trope I’ve read before, where the more cautious main character doesn’t realize how much they enjoy a wild activity until they try it. And again, Stetz-Waters turns this trope on its head, and makes the motorcycle ride sexy and sweet precisely because Selena takes it slow the whole time. She takes the time to teach Cade some non-verbal signals to ask her to slow down or stop, depending on Cade’s comfort level. Then she starts at a putter, and throughout the ride, continues to check in on Cade’s comfort, using hand signals to ask if the speed is okay, or if Cade wants her to speed up or slow down. It’s just an absolutely beautiful, heartwarming scene, and the moment when I went from liking them to all-out being in love with them. Selena and Cade are both wonderful people in their own right, and this scene beautifully encapsulates how together, they’re downright magical.

Do yourself a favour, and read this. The book has a good ending that, yes, made me all kilig to the bones, but I admit feeling a bit sad when the book ended. I want to read more of Cade and Selena, and I’m very much looking forward to checking out the author’s backlist!

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