livelyghost's reviews
45 reviews

Blackmail and Bibingka, by Mia P. Manansala

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lighthearted mysterious relaxing slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated

3.0

The Tita Rosie’s Kitchen series is my go-to cozy read, and I was excited to get a Christmassy installment in time for the holidays! Especially considering that the often-gossiped about Ronnie is back in town and I was ready for the whole backstory. It always feels nice to slip back into Shady Palms, although if you haven’t read the first two books in this series I think enough background information is presented that you wouldn’t feel lost. 

Food, friends, and family are the heart of this mystery as always. With every read I’m introduced to more and more foods that I can’t wait to seek out in real life! Learning about more holiday-specific treats was fun. I also enjoyed the starring role the Ninangs receive; they alway provide excellent comic relief and often feel like the detectives putting in overtime. I never had a big family but I imagine that this cast of characters really encapsulates the joy, frustration, and love that it brings. I enjoyed the fact that nearly everyone in the book is welcoming in everything from dietary restrictions to sexuality to culture. It makes me feel like a better world is possible. 

The weakest part of the book unfortunately felt like the pacing. It was hard for me to figure out what to focus on between Lila’s new relationship with Jae, her burgeoning small business, her family drama, and the actual mystery. At times it felt like there was a lot of indecisive filler dialogue and I ended up calling the two big twists about halfway through the book. I would have enjoyed having a little more mystery and thought the first two books were more well-balanced. 

The news in the acknowledgements that 3 more books are coming was intriguing, but this felt disjointed enough that I’m not sure if I’ll pick them up immediately when they come out. They’ll certainly be on my list though so I can imagine a more tolerant universe. 

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The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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reflective slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

3.0

I feel like I need to start this review with my state of mind coming into reading this book. I was so excited to hop on the Hugo train. It seemed to have it all: old Hollywood, glam with an air of mystery, and a young woman coming into her own career. It sounded truly up my ally and all of the reviews were remarkable! Maybe I’m just not really part the intended audience or, what feels more likely, maybe this was a book to read with other people and not alone. It’s been difficult for me to decide if my dislike of the book comes from dislike of the characters or of the structure overall. 

I really didn’t enjoy the long, uninterrupted chapters of Evelyn relaying  her story. One of the benefits of having Monique working as as a journalist would have been to use her ask some clarifying questions on behalf of the audience. Reid rarely uses the opportunity. Instead Evelyn, whom we come to know as a morally gray unreliable narrator that knows that what she ultimately wants is control, tells swathes of her story without break. Monique basically doesn’t do her job within the story or within the structure of the novel, missing nearly every opportunity to provide the reader with a chance to come up for air and weigh Evelyn’s actions through their own sense of morality. After reading this alone and then describing it to other people I realized the key thing I felt like I was missing was the option to discuss what other choices Evelyn could have made and how I felt about them. If you’re not reading with other people and Monique’s character isn’t being used as a tool to open up those questions I feel like you miss out on a huge part of the experience of the book. 

My favorite parts of the book explored Evelyn and Harry’s relationship, especially in the last third. Utilizing the real historical context of Stonewall as a pivotal point was especially moving and felt like the only time I got to know the softer side of Evelyn or was able to feel any empathy towards her. I didn’t see the twist at the end coming and it served to highlight the ongoing conversations we’re having about sexuality at all ages. I don’t believe, though, that it was integral to the plot to keep some those broader cultural conversations tamped down at the start of the book. While it felt accurate to the time to not discuss sexuality at all I think I would have felt more empathy and leaned into the grey of Evelyn’s character more if we had heard more about the conversations she was/wasn’t having with herself at the time. 

So much of this book felt like a missed opportunity to go deeper to me. Evelyn’s character is nuanced and interesting but you have to work hard to feel that way. Monique is under-utilized as a character and seems to be around exclusively as a device for the last few chapters of the book. I could have had so much more of a connection to this book if the audience was just invited in more by the structure. 

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It Ends with Us, by Colleen Hoover

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emotional fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

1.5

In full disclosure, I went into reading this knowing it was popular on Booktok/Bookstagram and with some spoilers already in play due to that. I was hoping that it would be this big for a reason, but I cannot for the life of me figure out why unless there's a lot more people discovering for themselves that they're in an abusive relationship than I would have anticipated.

Everything about this book is just off. Lily never mentioning a desire to work in floral or create her own business (especially after a conversation about how much she hates her very floral name) and then just randomly opening a frankly horrible sounding flower shop 6 months later, Alyssa dropping in as a perfect rich-girl friend literally off of the street, a teenager who loves Ellen DeGeneres so much she writes diary entries to her, (spoilers to follow etc)
Spoiler a decision to elope 6 months after dating that somehow nobody objected to?? Ryle buying a condo without discussing it with Lily and she's magically like "no it's perfect"?? A fucking PREGNANCY that you didn't notice for 3 MONTHS??
. The more I think about this book the more I lower my star rating.

I understand that this was a deeply personal story to the author. Reading the author's note to get a better understanding of where she was coming from was helpful, but frankly I would have rather heard someone's lived experience than a fictional account. It was difficult for me to believe that anyone was so deeply enmeshed that leaving would be a big decision because nobody seemed to have any chemistry. Even Lily attests to the fact that she rarely sees Ryle because of their work schedules. Lily and Ryle's relationship often felt like an elementary-schooler describing what long-term relationships feel like. Every few chapters it just felt like we hit the Next Relationship Milestone despite the characters not having made any effort to reach it. No compromises, no discussions, just things happening because that's just what's supposed to happen right? The discussions Lily had with herself towards the end of the book about what she wanted her relationship to look like moving forward felt like the only things that rang true in this entire book. 

It was interesting learning about her past relationship with Atlas and essentially how she made it through her teenage years but to be frank, if you took the entirety it out of the book it would read exactly the same. 

1.5 stars for it’s popularity encouraging people to read, no higher because big Twilight energy tbh.

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The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

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challenging dark mysterious tense slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.0

I'm a fan of Gone Girl, and hearing all of the comparisons between it and The Girl on the Train made me want to check it out. I'm glad I did.

Other readers have pointed out that this book is hard to get into because of the characters. While none of them are people I would describe as lovable, I did enjoy the slow unraveling of all of them. As I learned more about each of the characters I liked them less but conversely felt more intrigued and invested in the mystery. Rachel's unreliability as a narrator made it feel like any twist could be possible.

Every time I thought I knew the base of a character new information would come along that would completely change my perception of them. This is a novel that lives in the grey area. Female characters don't seem to get to live in that hazy space in novels and the sheer number and power of the three of them makes for a read that feels subversive. Rachel seems to go along for the ride with the reader. She starts the novel by imagining an idealized life between Jason and Jess that disintegrates with each press release we get. She controls what she can in the routine of her train ride, but as that single routine becomes disrupted she simultaneously falls apart and finds purpose. Rachel herself is frankly a mess - scraping her way through infertility, divorce, and alcoholism. Her unreliable memory acts as as our foundation, which seems to fracture every few chapters and upend the world we're all in. In contrast to this is Anna, which initially comes across as a 50's version of an impeccable, shiny, subservient woman who simply longs for a family and a magazine-cover life and slowly turns into someone with a calculated plan. Rachel and Anna both live in extremes but at opposite ends of the spectrum. Using them as foils of each other and allowing both of their characters to have time to control the scene only heightens the tension. Finally, Megan comes in as possibly the most tumultuous of all. Trying to better herself but suffering through an abusive relationship and multiple impulsive, terrible decisions you feel sympathetic and angry all at the same time. This book is a wash of emotions and nuance. Reading it feels like being caught in a riptide. You think you're swimming to shore but you're going further to sea, waiting for help to arrive.

Gone Girl was a woman in total control of herself. The Girl on the Train is not. Both ride on the principle that we contain multitudes. Both require you to imagine women as more than what they are presented as. The more I think about this book the more thrilled I am. It's full of suffering and wonder and grit and gore. I would highly recommend it.

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People We Meet on Vacation, by Emily Henry

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hopeful lighthearted relaxing medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated

4.0

I’m really trying to practice writing more eloquent reviews, but the thing I keep coming back to with this book is that it’s just so cozy. It feels like putting on a sweater, driving over to your best friend’s house on a rainy day, and watching movies. It’s simple, quiet pleasures. It’s taking your armor off at the end of the day and crawling into bed with the person who knows you best. It made me content. Book Lovers kept me in a constant will they/won’t they guessing game and People We Meet On Vacation had an undercurrent of constant reassurance that everything was going to be ok not matter what happened. Soothing, comforting, a reminder that love can always be present if we just allow it to blossom. 
The Dead Romantics, by Ashley Poston

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emotional funny sad medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated

3.5

The summary of this book hit on so many favorites for me: ghost romance! A family that runs a funeral home! Big city girl returns to small hometown to experience ~living~! Unfortunately too much of a good thing was maybe a little too on the nose for me. The parts of the book that I loved didn’t have anything to do with romance. Florence’s family felt so cozy, and I really enjoyed her exploring her grief along with her sister. Her relationship with her dad was so wonderful, and I loved the example of a long-term romance between her parents. Who couldn’t want a love like that? 

Standing there in the middle of the dandelion field, looking up into Ben’s soft ocher eyes, I began to realize that love wasn’t dead, but it wasn’t there forever either. It was something in between, a moment in time where two people existed at the exact same moment in the exact same place in the universe. I still believed in that - I saw it in my parents, in my siblings, in Rose’s unabashed one-night stands looking for some peace. It was why I kept searching for it, heartbreak after heartbreak. It wasn’t because I needed to find out that love existed - of course it did - but it was the hope that I’d find it. That I was an exception to a rule of made up in my head. 

Florence’s walk through grief felt very relatable and definitely made me cry, something I wouldn’t have ever guessed from a romance. In fact, maybe I would call this book fiction instead of romance because of how significantly it treads away from common tropes. I still wanted more from the planning of her dad’s funeral, but by and large the romance aspect of this feels more like falling back in love with the world than with a person and has almost no spice. I feel like the romantic relationship was arguably the weakest point of the book. Ben is sweet but I can’t imagine (possible spoiler but happens in the first few chapters of the book)
Spoiler making out with someone you directly report to almost immediately after meeting them.
There’s so much semi-ironic stuff happening around their relationship - she’s a ghost writer who can see ghosts and he’s, wow, also a ghost - that it just felt over the top. The book acknowledges that the corniness inherit to romances novels is what makes them feel so wondrous, but the emotional whiplash from making terrible puns to your ghost crush to morning your dead dad didn’t make it feel balanced. 

I enjoyed the thoughts in this book surrounding life and death, but wouldn’t necessarily recommend it if you’re looking for a romance. 

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The Final Girl Support Group, by Grady Hendrix

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challenging dark emotional tense fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated

3.5

I would like to preface this by saying that I don’t normally read/watch horrors so I don’t have a lot of experience with the genre. Aka if you’re looking for a review from a professional, this ain’t it. 

The Final Girl Support Group starts at the meeting of a therapy group made up of the women who were the sole survivors of brutal killings. One says that she’s quitting, throwing our main character Lynette into a tailspin in her meticulously planned life. She starts as what feels like an unreliable narrator - she’s paranoid, thinks someone is coming to kill her at any time, and reacts in extremes - but you slowly start to feel your reality shift into hers.

This book gets dark quickly, but honestly the most fraught scenes for me were with the cops. Hearing Lynette’s history with them and the way that they engage with her through the story is chilling no matter how you feel about police.

I’m not sure if the Final Girls were all characters from actual movies made or just inspired by them - the book does a great job of blurring the lines between fiction and reality - but seeing their vastly different coping mechanisms was wonderful. I could have spent an entire book with Chrissy and her dark philosophy. I really enjoyed the horror nods in the chapter titles and fake newspaper clippings sprinkled between.

The Final Girl Support Group was a harder read for me. Unfamiliarity with the genre combined with a deep dark plot made it difficult to jump back in, but the last third of the book picks up speed and just doesn’t stop. I’d catch myself skipping to the end of the page and have to force myself to go back and read every word. It gets a little too twisty occasionally but left me satisfied overall. 

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The American Roommate Experiment, by Elena Armas

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lighthearted relaxing medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No

4.0

I came into this with the lowest of low expectations. In fact, after reading The Spanish Love Deception I almost returned this book to the library unread because I was so disappointed with the first book in the series. I’m glad I didn’t. 

This book is the opposite of everything I hated in TSLD. The characters are both sweet and genuinely like each other as people from the start. They respect each other. Other people have posted that this felt like one long miscommunication trope but I disagree, I feel like it was much more of a “fake dating and then  talking about your feelings realistically” situation. Through the whole book Rosie and Lucas genuinely consider how the other is feeling, which seems rare in a lot of the romances I’m reading. 

One of the only complaints I have is that I wish Rosie’s character was just a little more fleshed out. We know Lucas cooks, surfs, loves his dog, travels the world, is kind of a ladies man etc. Rosie, in comparison, feels a little two-dimensional. I would have loved to hear  more about she decided to make a huge career change and what it felt like to sell her first book/rise to popularity as an author because that’s a major part of her character’s recent history. Instead we mostly focus on historic but somehow underdeveloped relationships with her brother and dad and her love of a vampire tv show. I loved that she wasn’t just a brunette klutz whose only defining feature was being clumsy/not taking care of herself/fainting, but I wanted more. It felt like a lot of her character was implied while Lucas was more explained. Maybe it was so people could see themselves more in Rosie (tbh works for me) but I think it was a missed opportunity to connect with her character more. 

Finally, Lucas is fucking hot, and a huge part of the reason this gets four stars. A man who’s strong and athletic but has emotional range? Who loves to take care of people and centers their needs? Who acts respectfully but not in that gross “m’lady” kind of way? Who takes the time to plan meaningful dates? “This is what you do to me, Rosie”????? I’m in love, A+, looking forward to the next few weeks of this afterglow. 

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The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig

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emotional hopeful inspiring reflective fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated

4.0

“I don’t want to open it again.”
“Don’t worry, it will be safer this time. Just stick to the last page.”
Once she had flicked to the last page, she saw one of her very last regrets - ‘I was bad at looking after Voltaire’ - slowly disappear from the page. The letters fading like retreating strangers in a fog. 
Nora closed the book before she could feel anything bad happen. 
“So, you see? Sometimes regrets aren’t based on fact at all. Sometimes regrets are just…” she searched for the appropriate term and found it. “A load of bullshit.

Look, sometimes I want a book that’s full of meandering scenes that quietly sit with me and treat me gently. Sometimes though I need a book though that just says “hey you ding dong, this main character is really fucking similar to you. Everything you’ve learned in therapy this year that you thought was a fucking revelation? It was already in here” to reinforce the point. This was the latter. 

Can it be a little saccharine and on the nose? For sure. Did I need to be reminded of every single bit of it while I read it - watching my own little cat, who was so full of only love for everyone, get sicker and sicker and die? Abso-fucking-lutely. This wasn’t subtle or long, it’s quick and to the point. It was exactly what I needed when I needed it. Thank you. 

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Thank You for Listening, by Julia Whelan

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emotional hopeful lighthearted fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

2.5

With so many threads to this story I was really hoping that one or two would really grab me but unfortunately nothing really did. I think I really wanted to know more about BlahBlah’s life and her neighbors at Seasons more than I did Sewanee or Nick! I felt like I learned a little about a lot of things like the marketing dilemma of women’s fiction vs romance, the making of an audiobook, experiences of Hollywood and the publishing industry but never got really fleshed out worlds for the many parts of Sewanee’s life. 

Sewanee is a fun lead - complicated but not a mess, hopeful but not all sunshine all the time, and a lovely friend and family member. Her family and friends are written with enough story to make you interested but not distracted. Every pull quote from June was gold. Nick is someone I could tell you maybe two things about and I literally just finished the book. 

Overall I have mixed feelings. This was a quick read and I enjoyed some of the characters, but the writing just felt like I was getting a lot of appetizers and not a main course sprinkled with some uneven pacing. 

Ultimately, I don’t think it matters what I say, does it? Will you ever truly believe, deep down, that anything other than pity brought me over to you? Nothing I can say will ever make that disappear for you. I can tell you I don’t see it and you will always see it. I can tell you that you’re everything that keeps me up at night and everything I daydream about and how that makes you feel might last a day or a week or an hour. Feelings are temporary. They stick around as long as you believe in them and then they’re gone, waiting to be believed in again. If they were permanent, then we’d only have to say I love you once and then be done with it for the rest of our lives.

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