About Jaclyn

I'm a total bookaholic! Info for authors, publishers, and publicists: My fave genres include romance, mysteries, thrillers, and fantasy. I'm especially interested in books by and about: BIPOC folks, Filipino stories and Filipino diaspora stories, plus-size / fat folks. Romances with animal-loving heroes and heroines are a major plus. My to-read pile is pretty hefty, so if your book includes any of these, please let me know! In terms of triggers/content warnings: - No animals dying, or getting hurt or killed. Even (and to an extent, especially) if it's a throwaway scene in a mystery/thriller. Hard limit. If this happens in your book, please don't send it my way. - If your book includes cancer, death of a mom or sister, mental health conditions, fatphobia, and/or abuse (particularly gaslighting and emotional abuse), please include a trigger warning in your pitch. Thanks! :-)

Review | Tarot of Dragons, by Shawn MacKenzie (illus. by Firat Solhan)

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Oh my gosh, this deck! I think dragons are awesome, and I thought the images of the deck online look good. But even I wasn’t prepared at how absolutely blown away I was when I opened it.

First of all, look at how gorgeous that box is! I don’t usually pay attention to boxes — a lot of my recent tarot purchases are by indie creators, and I usually buy the most affordable version of the deck (the only way I can continue to do this!). That often means getting a standard tuck box with a basic key word guide. I was fortunate enough to be sent this deck for review, and oh my gosh, even if I did purchase it myself, the extra cost is definitely worth it. The box is itself a work of art; illustrations from the cards wrap around it. It’s also sturdy, with a magnetic closure.

And the guidebook is absolutely magical. It’s full colour, with gorgeously enlarged illustrations from the cards that extend across the spread.

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I love the way Shawn MacKenzie writes. I tend to flip through new decks and jump right into a test reading to see how the cards feel, and to get a sense of the energy they give off. But with this guidebook, I felt compelled to go through each card one by one, and actually read through each card’s meanings within this deck. (I ended up tapping out after the major arcana, but honestly, there were moments I thought I’d end up reading this book from cover to cover.) The descriptions invite you to savour the cards, and reflect on how these meanings can apply to you.

The guidebook makes this a good deck for learning tarot, as each card write-up describes the symbology in the images. Some of the write-ups do tend to focus on the description, leaving the reader to interpret the meaning in their own readings; some beginners may prefer to start with a more direct explanation of each card’s message. For me at least, having been reading tarot cards for about half a year so far, I found that the explanations of the illustrations helped deepen my understanding of some of the cards.

The book doesn’t include reversals, which is usually a snag for me since I use reversals in my own readings, but I think the descriptive approach to the card write-ups helps provide a depth of nuance to figure out multiple meanings of each card. The author also recommends Mary K Greer’s The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals for anyone who wishes to do a deeper dive into that aspect of tarot readings.

MacKenzie’s love and respect for dragons comes through strong in the chapters about the deck more broadly. Her writing invites us to connect beyond this deck and towards the broader mythologies surrounding dragons.

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And the artwork. How gorgeous is Firat Solhan’s artwork here? I love how the cards feature not just dragons, but also the worlds they inhabit, with other creatures that have their own layers of symbolism and meaning. Here are some of my favourites:

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I love the joyful exuberance of The Sun, the symbolism of the domestic cat and the tiger in The Moon, the fluidity of the 3 of Cups, the playfulness of the little jaguar in The Hanged Dragon, the curiosity of The Fool, and just the sheer emotion in the Queen of Swords.

I also absolutely love the contrast between, and the majesty of, the feminine and masculine energies of The Empress and The Emperor:

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And the ‘tougher’ cards, like The Devil, The Tower, and the 10 of Swords, are downright impressive and larger than life:

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All absolutely gorgeous and majestic, and I can’t wait to really dive deep into these cards!

CARD PULL FOR THE DAY

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To give you an idea of the writing style, here’s an excerpt from the page:

VII – The Chariot

Huang-di, the Yellow Lord, travels across his kingdom, a pair of dragons, black and white–yin and yang–pulling his chariot.

The Yellow Lord is a conqueror of the physical, rather than the spiritual. His triumphs are more feats of brain than brawn, more skill than brute force. Dragons respect that. Out of this respect, they consent–for now–to the Lord’s rein, to guide him with balance and strength on his journey. In the company of dragons, Huang-di is humbled. He knows they serve at their pleasure, and will go their separate ways should his will weaken, his purpose waver. Should he fail to measure up to their standards…

Look to control your surroundings with will and reason. Let mastery of self guide you through the world. Move steadily forward; face your problems, use your head.

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Thank you to Thomas Allen Ltd for a copy of this tarot deck in exchange for an honest review.

Review | State of Terror, by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny

StateOfTerrorCoverState of Terror is such a taut, gripping thriller, and heartfelt ode to friendship and love. The heart that makes Louise Penny’s Gamache mysteries so good is here in Ellen’s relationships with her children and her BFF Betsy, and in the General’s random references to John Donne poems.

And I love the behind the scenes peek at the life of a secretary of state! I had no idea the US secretary of state could have a counselor who wasn’t really a politician but was her BFF whose counsel she legit trusted. I love seeing how Ellen’s mind worked, and how she parsed through all the dealings and double dealings to get at the information she needed. I love her friendship and also her working relationship with Betsy, and how Betsy legit helped her with work stuff. I thought their word-nerdy code was really cute. Both authors say in the afterword that Betsy is based on a real person — Hillary’s own BFF — and that explains so much about the overflowing affection for the Betsy character on the page. It’s a lovely tribute. And while Hillary writes in the afterword that Ellen and her daughter Katherine are also based on a real life politician/friend and her daughter, it’s hard not to see the love and utmost respect between the characters reflecting that between Hillary and her IRL daughter Chelsea.

I also really love how President Williams and Ellen’s respect for each other develops over time. They start out as nemesis. (I forgot the order of events but basically, Ellen was a vocal critic of him from her media empire; and Williams refused to use political clout to help Ellen with a family emergency.) But while Williams sometimes makes the wrong choices, he’s ultimately depicted as an intelligent man, and a good president.

Overall, this was a major page turner and so much fun to read. And Gamache fans will delight at a couple of shoutouts to Three Pines. (A lovely, subtle one is a dog named Pine after the town.)

Also, the budding romance between Gil and Anahita was a bit too insubstantial to really hook me, and the flashback descriptions of their sex life were much more awkward/cringe-worthy than hot. But one thing I really love about this subplot was a moment when Anahita remembers something her mom told her: it’s not about the first question, but the second, or even the third. (Basically, find yourself a guy who cares enough to dig deeper, and find out how you feel about stuff.) I thought that was good advice, and I love the way it was worded.

Review | Take It Back, by Kia Abdullah

TakeItBackA white girl with facial deformities accuses four handsome Muslim boys from immigrant families of rape. The boys’ versions of events match; the girl’s fluctuates slightly. But 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?

Take It Back is absolutely brilliant. Beyond being a taut and compelling legal thriller/courtroom drama, the story also dives deep into the various complexities that the case unearths. At its heart is Zara Kaleel, a former barrister turned advisor at a sexual assault clinic. She believes Jodi; it’s her job to help rape victims get justice. Yet as a Muslim woman, she also faces pressure from her community for her role in amplifying the racism towards Muslims in Britain.

Abdullah does a fantastic job at showing these traces of racism even in the initial press coverage of the case, where the journalist notes the increase in Muslim residents in the area, as if that had anything to do with this particular accusation. Other articles mention misogyny in the boys’ families’ countries of origin, and the danger they pose to ‘native’ British girls like Jodi. There’s a whole social media movement called Justice 4 Jodi that, for all that justice for rape victims is good, turns truly ugly in the comments about the boys.

Abdullah also does a great job in showing the escalation of these tensions, and the true extent of the danger faced by Zara and the boys being accused. Whether or not they actually did it, their families are all impacted by the accusation. And there’s a fantastic conversation between two of the boys, Mo and Farid, where Mo says he can’t wait for the case to be over, and Farid points out his friend’s naivete. Farid says it’ll never actually be over for boys like them; the accusation has already taken away their college enrolments, and will likely follow them into their future careers. It’s particularly true for Mo and Farid, because they are from working class families and don’t have the financial resources Amir and Hassan do. Abdullah confronts some of these realities head-on within the story, and the way some of the plot threads turn out is truly devastating.

And on the other side, of course, are the realities around sexism, and the misogyny that girls like Jodi, who aren’t conventionally attractive, face. Accusing someone of rape is a terribly traumatic act, and not entered into lightly. In Jodi’s case, she already knows her story will be met with skepticism; both her mom and her best friend doubt such handsome boys would rape someone like her. There’s a great moment in the courtroom where the barrister (prosecutor) gives his opening statement and refers to Jodi as ‘ugly’, and Zara is grateful that Jodi isn’t in the room at the time. The barrister said it to build up the case for Jodi, but Zara knows ‘ugly’ is a trigger word for Jodi, and hearing it would shake her confidence even before she gives her testimony. The scene of the defence lawyers cross-examining Jodi is heart-wrenching, and all too realistic.

Then there’s a great scene with a psychologist who’s an expert witness for the prosecution. She says rape is about power rather than desire, but sexual desire also isn’t off the table because of Jodi’s looks. She explains that some men are attracted to the ‘other’, and when Amir’s lawyer pushes her for stats, she retorts (brilliantly, in my view) that he needs to set more specific parameters for his question. Because in today’s society, even men who like larger women may be considered as desiring an ‘other’, but ‘chubby chasers’, as the psychologist termed them, are hardly outside the realm of common behaviour.

So there’s a lot in this case as well about how women are viewed in society, and how our worth is often measured by our physical appearance and society’s measures of desirability. There are some incredible quotes from Zara on this that just made me pause my reading to applaud, they were so good. Like how women aren’t born warriors; we learn to fight because we have to.

And all of this works so well because Abdullah deliberately keeps the truth about the incident unclear. The back blurb invites us readers to “take our place on the jury,” and indeed, this is the perspective we’re given on the incident in question. We see the pieces of evidence and the testimonies as they unfold in court, and we make our own deliberations based on them. We do see Zara’s responses to the evidence, but I at least responded differently at certain points; like when one of the boys uses the c-word on the stand and Zara thinks this’ll turn the jury against him, whereas as much as I disliked the boy, I didn’t necessarily think he was guilty just because of that.

In fact, I was torn for most of the book about who to believe. My interpretations of the evidence, and, yes, my own personal biases both as a woman and as a BIPOC immigrant, all played a role in how I responded to the way the story unfolded. There were moments I felt genuine anger towards one or the other of the participants in the case, and then had to ask myself why I felt so strongly about that piece of the story; what biases are in play and am I being fair to the other side? When the verdict came down, I had a brief moment of glee at justice being done, only to have more compassionate views from other characters make me question my response.

One of the characters calls the verdict ‘a Pyrrhic victory,’ in that no one actually wins in the end, and I think this totally sums up the realities of the case. It has brought up so much hatred within the community the characters live in — hatred against Muslim men and immigrants, hatred against unattractive women — that, as Abdullah makes abundantly clear throughout, this case has never been just about an allegation of rape.

All to say, this is an absolutely brilliant book, one of the best I’ve read this year. I’m definitely planning to read more in this series. I can’t wait to read about Zara again, and the wonderful cast of supporting characters: Zara’s friend Safran who is just super friendship goals; the investigator Erin, who is super beautiful and with some secret pain in her past; and the police detective Mia, who is compassionate and fair, and who helps Zara recognize that it isn’t weak to ask for help.