Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Hello y’all! I’m back again with yet another spooky read. Unfortunately, all the books I read around Halloween time won’t hit your feeds until later in the season. At the time I’m writing this, Nothing But Blackened Teeth is being really hyped up in my bookish circles. I was told haunted house. Reuniting friends. Creepy. Expected something larger (this book is a mere 128 pages). That’s not what I got. Let’s jump into it!

Nothing But Blackened Teeth follows five friends (or acquaintances, really) reuniting for a wedding between two of them. Talia has always dreamed of getting married in a haunted house, so old flame Phillip uses his inheritance to make it happen for her and her fiance, Faiz. Troublemaker Lin joins the party late, but he knows from the start what a bad idea this is. And from the second our narrator Cat enters the house, she’s hearing voices and seeing things.

I just have so many feelings about this tiny little novel. Let’s start from the top.

This book starts out hella slow. Which is a problem, when there’s only 128 pages to capture my attention. The events of this book take place solely inside the house, and the backstory and relationships unravel as we move through the haunting. So when we jump right in and pretend the reader knows everything about everyone in the book, it’s not only annoying, but makes me have to go back several times over to reread. Very, very slow start. And I felt like the language was really trying too hard, especially at the beginning.

Next, the relationships in this book are so fake and unreal it hurts. No one has this level of drama. I felt like every person had beef in some capacity with everyone else there. Or maybe that was just Cat? Maybe Cat was causing beef? I’m honestly not sure, but I can tell you you couldn’t pay me enough to go spend a night in a *very* haunted house with frenemies. This cast of characters all learned that lesson, too. Regardless, I just felt that even if you’re relationship with someone is strained, if they’re truly your “friend”, you aren’t narrating this story like Cat does.

Onto the Japanese words! Now, I don’t want this to sound uncultured, idiotic, or even rude. But, I’m going to say it anyways, as my job is to critique, and I hope you hear me out to the end. This book is literally filled with unnecessary words in Japanese. Yes, I understand it’s based on Japanese folklore! 100%! Some of these words, terms, or figures are extremely necessary to tell the story, and I understand that. But the issue I take with them here is not only their extremely repetitive use, but their lack of explanation (I think the only one I knew straightaway was the tanuki!). I know nothing about Japanese culture or folk tales. This was all new to me, and you’d think with the amount of times Khaw said yokai she might tell me at least once that is. Instead, I read most of this book armed with Google Translate. I have no problem with incorporating other languages and cultures into novels and bestsellers like this one, and no problem parking Google next to my hardcovers. My issue here was that they were so overused and under-explained that it felt like the author was trying to prove a level of knowledge to us, instead of focusing on their importance to the story. Because they really didn’t have any true importance to the story. Like I said at the beginning, this book is getting really hyped in my area. But I don’t think the wider horror audience is the ideal audience for this book, given these problems with it.

Which brings me to my last point: this book is far from horror. Far from truly scary. At no point was I afraid, only mildly confused and kind of annoyed. I would call this book more of a drama with a backdrop of Japanese folklore. The scariest thing about this book is the cover (seriously, that artist is impressive… shoutout to Samuel Araya). Everything that happens within its pages would’ve happened whether they were at this haunted Japanese mansion or at an Airbnb in Alaska. And I just didn’t dig that, especially given what my expectations were going in (see above!).

I’m still giving this two stars. I have no idea why. I guess some part of me must’ve enjoyed it just a little or I wouldn’t have allowed it that extra one, but I can’t put my finger on why I didn’t just give a singular star.

Skip this one, people! I hope I could save you from the hype before you picked this sucker up.

Hope you all have an incredible Thanksgiving with your family and friends. ❤

Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Howdy friends! This week I read Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia! As you know, I recently devoured Mexican Gothic and couldn’t wait to pick up her newest novel. Moreno-Garcia stands out to me as a unique writing voice that I absolutely fall into, but I didn’t love this novel *as much*. I’m hoping writing my review helps me collect my thoughts on why exactly that is!

This book begins to unfold following the Corpus Christi Massacre in Mexico City, 1971. A group of students protesting the authoritarian, anti-communist government are attacked by multiple government sanctioned groups designed to squash rebellion, and all evidence of the attackers is destroyed – except one roll of film.

Maite doesn’t pay much attention to the news. While she thinks it a little odd when her pretty young neighbor asks her to watch her cat for a few days, alarm bells don’t start going off until the girl disappears without a word days later.

Elvis is a member of the Hawks, a group of commie-killers sent on special operation to ruin the spirits of the liberal young students. Now the leader of his small group, he’s sent on a mission to recover lost film from the Corpus Christi Massacre, and locate the missing Leonora – Maite’s neighbor.

In contrast to the gothic horror genre of Mexican Gothic, Velvet Was the Night is a political drama. Each and every character has a role to play as the events unfold, and everything is connected. I actually thought the story to be wildly interesting. Similar to Mexican Gothic, you’re left constantly guessing, constantly in the dark, but you start to see your own theories unwind on the page. The story building and incredible prose of Moreno-Garcia is what will keep me coming back to her books again and again.

I think my biggest problem with this book is Maite! The perspectives alternate between Maite and Elvis, and I quite like Elvis. I like his perspective as an agent doing a job he doesn’t understand the consequences of, and his character growth as he moves through this mission. Maite, however, never, ever grows. Which is a darn shame, because she starts off really annoying, too. I really wanted to like her character, but she has a lot of self pity: she thinks she’s ugly, she thinks she’s old. She hates her job, she hates her family. She’s a liar, and a thief out of boredom. And honestly, valid. Like a lot of what she’s going through validates her feelings, but my issue with this is that she never grows from what she goes through in this book. And she goes through quite a bit! Her small role as a pet sitter kicks off a crazy series of events that she gets to be part of, almost entirely because she didn’t want to take care of her neighbor’s cat. But at the end, she’s the same Maite, she just had a new experience. I hope the open ending gives her a chance to be more than she was in the pages of this book. I want that for a fictional being, tbh.

There’s also a lot in this book that feels like it’s going to nowhere. Especially when we’re talking about Maite’s character, but some about Elvis or the politics as well. It felt like it should pan out to something, and it didn’t, and ended up wasting time. I don’t know what to do with that. Some of it added to the vibe, but most of it felt droning. If you read it, I think you’ll understand where I’m coming from to that end.

All this said, I still can’t help but love this book. For real. If I’m heavily critiquing it, sure, there’s a lot to say. But if I think about the feeling it left me with? How much I enjoyed seeing the cast of characters interacting? I just loved it. And along the way I learned some things about Mexico! I highly encourage you to read the afterword; while this book is noir, it’s rooted in some real history I hadn’t even known about. The urge to know what happens next in this book is going to propel you right through it, and I encourage you to remember at the end that there’s truth buried beneath this work of fiction.

All in all, I’m recommending Velvet Was the Night. If you enjoyed Mexican Gothic, know that you’re getting into something completely different, but don’t skip over it! Go give it a read and then come back, so we can complain about Maite together. Have an awesome week, we’re so close to the holiday I can taste it!

The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez

The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Oh my lord, did I love this one! Guys, I was up until 4:30 last night reading this gem. I could not. Put. It. Down! I had absolutely loved Jimenez’s The Friend Zone and couldn’t wait to get my hands on this one – and it did not disappoint. Incidentally, I also went to bed around 4:30 when I read The Friend Zone…I highly recommend that book as well!

The Happy Ever After Playlist takes us to two years after Brandon’s death – our heroine Sloan’s fiance, who died in a motorcycle accident. She’s lived her life after his passing like a shrine to him, never moving forward. Until a dog jumps in front of her car and through her sunroof.

Jason is an up-and-coming musician, and he’s just gotten about a thousand calls about his dog living with some stranger while he was doing a concert in Australia. Some beautiful, kind stranger. When he returns to pick up Tucker (this dog, despite all the WONDERFUL characters in this book, is probably still my favorite), sparks fly and the two hit it off. Sloan finally has a chance to move beyond the stillness she’s been living in. But unfortunately, this relationship has an expiration date – Jason’s fourteen-month tour around the world.

What I endlessly love about Jimenez’s books, other than the fantastic characters full of depth, is the familiarity between them. Jimenez has a talent for capturing human relationships and connections that you can just feel, whether it’s Sloan and her best friend Kristen (trust me, these two got more tears out of me while I read this than Jason and Sloan did!) or the lovebirds themselves. By all rights, this story should’ve felt like “instalove” – that nasty trope where you don’t quite understand what changed and why the characters are suddenly in love and we’re supposed to follow that?? In the course of just one week they’re getting married?? etc. BUT THIS BOOK had none of that! And I entirely attribute it to Jimenez’s writing ability and vision for human relationships. Despite the fast pace of this romance, she never lost me. You just fall with them. Incredible.

While I have never, ever, luckily experienced anything like the pain Sloan has, I found her character and the way she interacts with the world to be really relatable and genuine. From the moment a dog jumped through her sunroof, I know I would’ve been best friends with this girl. It’s so much easier to root for the characters when you feel you genuinely understand them.

My only real complaint with this book (and as you can see, it’s a small one, because this still got five stars from me!) is that the plot becomes a bit back-and-forth, rough drama through the middle. What I did appreciate, though, and the reason this doesn’t affect my rating whatsoever, is that Jimenez doesn’t really follow the traditional romance plot path. Buckle up, because there are far more conflicts in this book than your typical romance. I mean, usually, I can see I’ve got about 20% left or so in a book, and I know the bombshell is coming. The other shoe is about to drop. It’s about to hit the fan. But things hit the fan so many times in this book! So many times! And while it took my emotions on a rollercoaster ride, the love that Sloan and Jason build is so much stronger and feels so much more authentic to the reader when you know all it took to get there. It feels more comparable to real life relationships than the un-popped bubble of other novels does.

Jimenez has me HOOKED. I will read anything she publishes. I feel like I’m saying that about a lot of authors lately, but I mean it. The romance world is getting real juicy. I can’t wait for her next novel. ❤

The Happy Ever After Playlist comes out today, April 14, 2020! I highly encourage you to grab a copy, and as tired as I am today, I’m happy to report it was worth missing sleep over. 🙂 A copy was provided to me by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Wrong Mr. Darcy by Evelyn Lozada & Holly Lorincz

The Wrong Mr. Darcy by Evelyn Lozada & Holly Lorincz

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

At the library where I work, I was once investigating our reviews on Google, just to see. We had a four star rating, and I didn’t know why that would be. It’s a small town, and we’re pretty well liked by the public. Just seemed weird.

Lo and behold, some random stranger on the internet, clearly using a fake name, had given us one star and written just two words:

“Actually bad.”

And given our reputation, and feeling assured this was just some troll, my coworkers and I laughed and laughed about this choice of words. But now, friends, I’ve found a book worthy of this simple, yet effective review!

The Wrong Mr. Darcy: actually bad.

Nothing about this book makes much sense at all?? The romance is terrible and blahhhhh, and the story itself is just bizarre and wild. I’m all for suspended disbelief but y’all were asking a lot of me here.

Hara is a sports reporter, trying to catch her big break and make a name for herself. Her father is in prison for running huge bets on the sports world for years and years (and, unrelated: her mother is annoying as heck?). Hara is invited to Boston to do an interview with their star player, Charles Butler, who never talks to anyone. Things get shady. The owner is a bad guy. Darcy is a basketball player, and he’s mean at first, but then he’s okay? But seriously lacking the complexity of his namesake. Things just keep getting more and more dramatic while everyone keeps secrets, etc. etc. No real resemblance to Pride & Prejudice whatsoever, like pretty sure the authors never read it.

I’m trying not to make the plot sound so darn boring or confusing but it is exceedingly difficult. It was just not good dude. It took me days and days to read this even though it should’ve taken me one evening. I just couldn’t trudge through it. The lack of character complexity and likability, the absurdness of the entire plot, and just how boringly this team writes absolutely ruined it. This is actually similar to the way I feel about Christina Lauren (The Unhoneymooners aside – for some reason that’s a goody); the writing lacks a certain pizazz, like they didn’t really care enough about the story to put some heart into it.

Either way, this is two big thumbs down from me. Just skip this. However, if you still feel the need, it’s scheduled to be published August 25, 2020. A copy of The Wrong Mr. Darcy was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.