tessa_talks_books's reviews
1083 reviews

The Good, the Bad, and the Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto

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The Good, The Bad, and the Aunties had me in stitches throughout my reading journey. The dynamic between the sisters (the aunties) is a riot, their interactions brimming with humor. The cultural nuances, particularly when juxtaposed with Western perspectives, add a layer of comedy that is universally enjoyable.

I was captivated by the depiction of Indonesia. Sutanto's vivid and detailed writing allowed me to explore a new country from the comfort of my reading nook. It's a modern, affluent landscape, which contrasts with my previous perception of it as a resort-like destination. Also, the Chinese New Year celebration was a cultural feast, enriching my understanding of this significant event.

Meddy is a compelling character. Raised in the US by her mom and the Aunties, she deeply understands her family's beliefs and traditions. Meddy and her new husband, Nathan, serve as cultural bridges, helping Western readers navigate the contrast between their lifestyle and the traditional life of Chinese and Indonesian peoples.

I was very sad to see that this is the last book in the series. Meddy is starting a new chapter in her life, and I would have loved to see how it plays out for all. They are just such a fun family, and everyone needs a little fun in their lives.
The Encanto's Daughter by Melissa de la Cruz

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The Encanto's Daughter is so vibrant and imaginative. I was instantly drawn into the story.  

I was captivated by the Filipino lore of Encantos, dark witches, and other magical beings and the intriguing similarities and differences to the stories I'm familiar with. The shared threads of stories across cultures always pique my interest, sparking thoughts about the universal foundations of these tales. For instance, this story features a distinct, fae-like realm within our world that you can access through a portal. Despite the characters being called by different names than I am used to, many can be easily related to those found in European lore, fostering a sense of cross-cultural connection.

However, the strikingly unique details offer a new and wondrous world to explore. The world-building is engaging and meticulously crafted. It drew me into its mysteries and the thrills that come with the political intrigue and old promises made.

 While the narrative leaned toward the younger side of YA, despite the characters' near-adult age, I yearned for a more intense experience. Yet, the story's compelling nature left me eager to uncover what happens next, eagerly anticipating the release of book two in this series.
Happy Place by Emily Henry

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This was not my favorite Emily Henry book, but it was a lovely read.
Bye, Baby by Carola Lovering

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Bye, Baby isn’t a psychological thriller, as I was expecting. I would consider it psychological suspense, though, and it is an intriguing psychological study of the two main characters, Billie and Cassie, separately and together.

There aren’t any likable characters - they are all flawed and need counseling for big and small reasons. Billie and Cassie tell this dual timeline story in somewhat unreliable ways alternatingly. The past timeline seems unimportant, but clues are hidden to Billie and Cassie’s psychological state in each flashback, making it essential to understanding the current timeline and choices.

I enjoyed the few surprising twists and the fast-pace. I also found the evolution of a friendship tragically intriguing - as both characters progress in their life in vastly different ways. The ending is delightfully thought-provoking, and I bought into it as a possibility, considering everything.  

I also enjoyed the social media aspect. It wasn’t a vast aspect, but it is very now and fits Cassie’s psychological framework - it filled her need to present the perfect picture to the world. If you like psychological studies - you will love reading this story and dissecting the main characters!
A Haunting in the Arctic by C.J. Cooke

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A Haunting in the Arctic is a beautifully tragic story that held me in its grip from beginning to end. The story is told mainly in a dual timeline - a 1901 story featuring Nicky, who finds herself on a whaling vessel after being attacked in the street, and a current-day timeline featuring Dominique, who is filming the same boat (as in the 1901 timeline) that has since run aground and is slated to be pulled out to sea and allowed to sink.

I loved the Selkie Wife folklore that is threaded throughout the story. It’s just the perfect fit for this story, which is shockingly challenging and disturbing but ultimately heart-wrenching. I was fascinated by learning about the folklore and watching it play out in this story.

Both timelines’ stories are as harsh as the environment, which is vividly detailed and almost gothic in its oppressive atmospheric feel. I had to speed-read through quite a few more brutal scenes. Still, I’m so glad I stuck with it because the ending, which brought it all together - the two timelines and the various side stories - touched my heart profoundly.

A Haunting in the Arctic is beautifully written, heart-wrenchingly authentic, and delightfully crafted in the most challenging and perfect ways.
One Last Breath by Ginny Myers Sain

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dark mysterious tense medium-paced


One More Breath by Ginny Sain is incredibly atmospheric from beginning to end, giving me that underwater feeling like when they're free diving in the story. This also kept the intensity strong and the pages flipping. You can imagine that I did not want to put this one down.

All the teens felt much older than their chronological years, especially Tru and Rio, who teamed up to solve an unsolved murder from 20 years prior. I loved all the small details, the red herrings and misdirections, and the shocking twists and turns. It worked seamlessly to keep me on the edge of my seat, not knowing what to expect.

The setting is just perfect, too, with all its natural dangers as well as the unnatural ones. Just the thought of alligators in the water gives me cold chills, and their presence just notched up what was already at a fever pitch - not to mention the oppressive heat and humidity of a Florida summer.

I don't want to say anymore because this story is one of those that the less you know, the better your reading experience. So, I'll end it by saying everything about this story is artfully chosen to create a murder mystery that had me reading long into the night and left me shocked and dumbfounded at the conclusion.
Take Two, Birdie Maxwell by Allison Winn Scotch

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funny lighthearted reflective fast-paced


Take Two, Birdie Maxwell is a beautiful story that is much more than a rom-com. It’s an insightful story of Birdie Maxwell’s journey to connect with her authentic self rather than the actress who tries to be what other people want her to be. I loved witnessing her transformation as it felt authentically traveled and completely relatable.

I loved the witty banter. It’s intelligent and funny and helped create a fast pace. I also loved the pairing of Birdie and her best friend’s brother, Elliot. It provided a forbidden-type love (at least in their minds) that came with a lot of delightfully natural tension and felt more realistic than the typical barrier that suddenly pops up near the end, which often happens in this genre. They are a fun pair that I thoroughly enjoyed.

I also got loads of laughs from the real journey that went along with the symbolic one. Just imagining the RV had me laughing out loud. Even though deeper storylines are the most prominent, the romcom-ness of it thoroughly entertained me. The situation created an enemies-to-lovers and forced proximity story, two tropes I enjoy that made the story wholly irresistible and addictive.
The Atlas Maneuver by Steve Berry

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I love a story that can entertain and teach me something simultaneously, which I experienced with The Atlas Maneuver by Steve Berry - the 18th book in the Cotton Malone series. It’s the first book I’ve read in this series. I had no trouble immersing myself without the knowledge from the previous 17 stories, so you can read it as a stand-alone book.

The story is fast-paced, with short chapters and lots of action, which I loved. The plot is fascinating, as it taught me about Bitcoin and the vaults of gold in banks in Switzerland - kept there by entities and individuals who don’t want anyone to know they have it. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.

The only issue I had while reading was that so many names begin with the letter K or the letter C with the k sound. It grew confusing as the story switched around POVs, and I couldn’t remember which character was which.

The personal plotlines that weave their way in and out of the main story are equally as compelling. And I loved how it ended with a personal story cliffhanger that had me speculating what was to come for the main character, Cotton Malone.
Never Too Late by Danielle Steel

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 I picked up this Danielle Steel book because I haven't read a book by her since my early twenties (maybe even my teens - she was a favorite of my mother, so they were always around the house for reading). Unfortunately, I'm not ready yet to read about explosions in NYC - even if they are fictional. I may never be. It just feels too real. Besides that, I enjoyed the beautiful people in beautiful places with lots of money, which I remember from Steel's books all those years ago.

I loved the journey Kezia traversed in this story. She had to figure out who she was now that she was a widow, her daughters were out of the nest, and she decided to move from San Francisco to New York City. Her old life is gone, and how she bravely forges a new life is inspiring.  

I also loved the family themes and the various relationships within the families. Kate's struggles were particularly touching. She needed to resolve why her biological father had never been in her life in her own mind. The many unanswered questions weighed her down and made her unable to open up to new experiences and relationships. I loved watching her face that relationship head-on.

Never Too Late is a beautiful look at family members in transition and the bravery it takes to achieve self-actualization.

Three Kinds of Lucky by Kim Harrison

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Three Kinds of Lucky by Kim Harrison introduced me to a creative new fantasy world, though my reading experience was mixed. For the first time ever, I found myself tired of reading a particular word. It was said many times on every page, and I'm not sure what it was about this word - because it was essential to the story - but seeing it so many times irritated me. I am still trying to figure out what to make of that, so I won't say any more.

The magic system, however, and the world both intrigued me. The world is developed very well. I understood the different sides and their ideals. The magic system was more of an enigma. The by-product is something called dross, a word in our own language that means rubbish, and that's basically what it is - magical rubbish. But there is much more to be learned about this system.

The story is about Petra Grady, a Sweeper of dross whose life is turned upside down when the current magic system of mages and sweepers is blown to pieces. She has to reidentify herself as what she truly is. The pacing is fast, and the thrills are non-stop. I sped-read my way through the story with all of its twists and turns. And I loved where it ended with a lovely soft conclusion rather than a cliffhanger.