When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James

When Beauty Tamed the Beast (Fairy Tales #2)
By Eloisa James
★★★★★ 5 stars

Miss Linnet Berry Thrynne is a ruined woman, and all because she wore a dress that apparently made her look pregnant. She’s not, but that doesn’t matter to the ton. Her last option is to marry Piers Yelverton, the Earl of Marchant and a doctor. Linnet is determined to make the earl fall for her, even though the earl is so grumpy he’s known as the beast…

I really, really enjoyed this book. It’s funny, has an interesting plot and has two dynamic protagonists.

I found myself smiling and actually laughing at a lot of the dialogue. The banter between Linnet and Piers is excellent. I also loved the setting of the hospital a lot more than I thought I would. I can’t say how historically accurate it was, but I did like seeing how different diseases were treated during the time period and seeing how the hospital setting was incorporated into the plot itself.

Many other reviewers say that Piers is based on Dr. House from the American TV show “House”. I’ve never watched that show so I can’t say how faithful the portrayal is. What I can say is, the references to House and Beauty and the Beast aren’t so intense that it makes reading the book confusing for someone who doesn’t know either story. It’s a fairytale retelling but the retelling doesn’t feel forced.

My biggest gripe with the book is that Piers comes across as very irritable at times. I mean, he is the equivalent of the Beast and all, so grumpiness is to be expected. But I didn’t see how Linnet could be attracted to him, or how the relationship would work romantically, until much later in the book than I expected. For a good portion of the book, I wondered if Piers was the other man and another character would swoop in and become Linnet’s love interest…

In any case, I still enjoyed reading the book! It was rewarding to see Piers and Linnet evolve as characters, but it definitely wasn’t a smooth romance all the way through. ★★★★★ 5 stars!

This is a steamy, open-door read that works as a standalone. There are discussions of addiction as Piers’ father was addicted to opium and has been sober for several years. There is also a fake pregnancy, but it’s clearly labelled as such from the beginning.

Why I’m Uncomfortable with #OwnVoices

Is labelling books as #OwnVoices an effective way to promote diversity, inclusion, and representation in literature?

The #OwnVoices movement says yes. #OwnVoices is described by the Orange County Library system as a term that “refers to books about characters from underrepresented/marginalized groups in which the author shares the same identity”.

It emerged as a hashtag by author Corrine Duvyis in September 2015, meant to be used on Twitter to recommend books. However, it’s increasingly been used by publishers as a label to describe books and to promote the work of authors from underrepresented and marginalized groups.

Personally, while I think there is a lot of value in promoting diversity, inclusion, and representation in literature, I don’t know if the #Ownvoices label is the best way to do this.

Our identities are complex

In particular, I think of the concept of intersectionality, which was coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to acknowledge how everyone faces discrimination and privilege differently based on how factors like gender, sexuality, ethnicity, class, religion, and more intersect. For example, as a Chinese woman living in Canada, my experiences with sexism may be different than a woman living in another country and may be different than what non-Chinese women face.

I might be considered an #OwnVoices author if I wrote a book with Chinese protagonists in it because I’m Chinese. But would my book still ‘count’ as #OwnVoices if I wrote a book set in mainland China considering I’ve never lived there? Would my book still ‘count’ as #OwnVoices if I wrote a religious protagonist when I’m not?

Who gets to decide who is part of #OwnVoices and who isn’t?

I think the #OwnVoices designation can be somewhat reductive because the label typically centres around one or a few parts of someone’s identity (eg. their ethnicity or sexuality) without considering how complex people are. Our voice is made up of multiple components but that isn’t well-reflected in the #OwnVoices label as it’s used at the moment.

The issue of deciding whether an author is ‘enough’ to fit under the #OwnVoices category leads me to my next point:

The #OwnVoices label may pressure authors to disclose information about themselves

To be part of #OwnVoices, an author must disclose personal information about themselves. They must disclose that they belong to an underrepresented or marginalized group.

s.e. smith talks a lot about this issue in this article for Bitch Media. Part of smith’s argument is that authors are feeling increasingly pressured to disclose personal information, even if they don’t want to and even if this disclosure could be dangerous for them. And authors who do publish under the #OwnVoices label may be scrutinized and policed by readers to determine if they ‘count’ under that label.

Bringing forth the example of disabled authors, smith points out that authors may face further discrimination if they share their disability. It’s illegal in many places, but it’s still possible that a future employer could pass on hiring an author because they disclosed they had a disability by publicly releasing their works under #OwnVoices. It’s unfortunately possible that the author could face harassment or even physical violence because of their disclosure.

All this is to say, an author disclosing part of their personal background can be dangerous… but it’s also expected for #OwnVoices authors. Which can put the authors the label claims to help in a difficult position.

What does it mean to highlight #OwnVoices as its own category?

I think it may contribute to the assumption that #OwnVoices authors ought to write in a certain way because they’re labelled as #OwnVoices.

For example, if I’m labelled #OwnVoices because I’m Chinese, there may be an extra expectation of me to somehow be ‘knowledgeable’ about all issues Chinese people face, or to write in a way that represents the billion plus Chinese people in the world, or to continue writing about Chinese protagonists in the future. The #OwnVoices author is expected to be well, a voice for one or more communities, and this is a burden that authors outside of the label won’t necessarily face. And not all authors want to shoulder this kind of burden.

Sarah Raughley touches in this more on her article for Quill and Quire if you’re interested in reading more. I think her thoughts on how publishers expect #OwnVoices authors to write are very insightful.

While I think it’s great to highlight the works of underrepresented and marginalized authors, I don’t know if separating their works into a separate label is really the way to go. It might imply that #OwnVoices and the diversity, inclusion, and representation it advocates for is somehow separate from ‘regular’ literature, and that the burden falls on #OwnVoices authors and not on the bookish community as a whole.

What do you think about #OwnVoices? Is it a useful label? Do you think it can be an effective way of promoting diversity, inclusion, and representation in literature or the bookish community at large?

Personally, if I was an author and I could choose whether I wanted my works to be under the #OwnVoices label, I wouldn’t use it. I really appreciate that parts of the bookish community are looking to diversify the stories told in books and the people they’re being told by and I think that #OwnVoices started with good intentions to do that, but I also think it comes with a number of harms.

Plum Crazy Tea by Laura Childs

Plum Crazy Tea (A Tea Shop Mystery #19)
By Laura Childs
March 2018
★★★★ 4 stars

Theodosia Browning owns and operates a tea shop in Charleston, South Carolina. One day, she’s watching a parade from the platform of a mansion when she sees a local banker fall to his death. It becomes clear that his death was no accident when it’s discovered that he was shot with a crossbow. The mansion’s owner asks Theodosia to investigate the case and help find the murderer.

This is a whirlwind of a mystery featuring an interesting crime-solving duo in Theodosia and Drayton.

I sleuthed out the mystery relatively early on in the book, but I still wanted to know how it unfolded and whether or not my suspicion was correct (which it ultimately was). There are many suspects to consider, most with relatively good motives.

I felt that the mystery ended a bit abruptly, as I was interested in knowing more about how it was resolved and why it happened the way it happened. Though, this is also a good sign – wanting to know more about the mystery means that I cared about it, which isn’t true of all cozy mysteries for me.

I especially liked reading about Drayton and would definitely be interested in reading more books from this series in which he features prominently. The tea shop setting is really cute too; I liked learning a bit more about different tea varieties and ways that tea can be paired with food.

That being said, I haven’t read any of the other books in the series, so I can’t speak to how this book compares to others. It does work as a standalone though, as most cozy mysteries do. You don’t need to have read past instalments to understand this one.

Please note that this book depicts guns and other weapons – both as antiques and as methods to harm others – in slightly more depth and detail than the typical cozy mystery. At points, it’s slightly more graphic than most cozy mysteries are, though not as graphic as most thrillers.

★★★★ 4 stars!

Life’s a Beach by Portia MacIntosh

Life’s A Beach
By Portia MacIntosh
May 2021
★★★ 3 stars

Peach’s sister Di is getting married in a destination Italian wedding! There’s just two problems: his name is Charles and the happy couple only met very recently.

Things get worse when Peach runs into Matt, Charles’ best man… and the man she slept with while waiting for her flight to Italy, the man who ghosted her the morning after. Whatever happens, this will be a wedding to remember!

To me, the ideal rom-com should have a strong romance and should be funny. The comedy part of Life’s A Beach was excellent but unfortunately, I found the romance a bit lacking.

In general, this was a fun and a light book to read, great for reading on a beach or if you’re looking for a book to escape into. I found some of the events a little too unbelievable, especially as the book progressed, but hey – I guess that’s par for the course with a rom-com.

Peach is a sweet character (fitting of her name) and I wanted to see her find her happiness but I wasn’t convinced that the person who she could find romantic happiness with was Matt.

Because much of the book centres around the wedding, the reader doesn’t get to spend as much time with Peach and Matt and to see their relationship develop. We see the comedy of errors and the multiple miscommunications they have but the reader doesn’t really see them moving to address those miscommunications. Peach is dealing with her sister, she’s dealing with the wedding, she’s dealing with the other people that are with them in Italy. With all this going on, she doesn’t have as much time to really deal with her relationship with Matt.

Honestly, I’d have still enjoyed reading the book if it wasn’t advertised as a romance and if Peach and Matt left the wedding separately which is not a good thing for a romance, but this book was so funny that it made up for my disappointment about the romance.

This book is a closed-door romance. There are references to steam but no actual on-page steam.

★★★ 3 stars. I found the romance just OK, though it was an entertaining read.

My First Impressions of Readerly: Can It Challenge Goodreads?

Looking for a non-Amazon alternative to Goodreads? Recently, another challenger reading website/app has popped up: Readerly. They officially launched on May 9, 2022 after being in beta.

Being “not Amazon” seems to be Readerly’s main line of marketing right now. For example, their Twitter bio reads “We’re on a mission to make book discovery Amazon free.”

I understand the many complaints people have with Amazon and using Amazon-owned products. However, I personally believe that any product alternative should be able to stand on its own. Readerly isn’t Amazon-owned but does it have any merits beyond that? Here are my thoughts on this new site/app combination.

Readerly works best on mobile

There is a desktop website at readerly.com. However, the mobile app (for Android and iOS) seems slicker, as if Readerly was optimized for that purpose. The picture above is of the mobile app, and I think it looks a lot better than the website does.

As I’m writing this post, their website says that not all features have been added to the app. For example, you can’t add your reading progress on desktop, nor can you check out reading statistics like the “around the world” feature. I hope that Readerly continues working on their desktop site for those of us who prefer desktop.

Gists: short, but are they useful?

Instead of longer book reviews, Readerly users submit gists. These are quick comments under 200 words. The picture above shows what the mobile submission page for gists looks like. Outside of the 200 word limitation for gists, you can also add (short) comments about what you didn’t relate to, content warnings, what you liked, favourite quotes, and more.

The way gists are laid out in the Readerly feed remind me a lot of Instagram pictures, except for book reviews. It’s especially good for mobile use and when you want to read some quick thoughts on a book.

I usually prefer reading and writing longer reviews (which is probably why I started blogging), but that isn’t possible on Readerly. If you’re like me, this app might not be for you.

Also, since the app is extremely new, there aren’t many gists written, which isn’t super useful when you want to learn more about a book. Gists don’t include additional information such as the publisher or the book’s page count.

No star ratings!

Readerly doesn’t allow users to leave a star rating. Their argument is basically that star ratings are too subjective and it’s more useful to see how your tastes overlap with other reviewers that have similar tastes as you. Instead, they have five things you can mark a book as: didn’t finish, not for me, neutral, recommended, and favourite.

If you have many books added onto a reading platform and many other users read the same books as you, I can see how recommendations might be more useful than star ratings. But I think the five ratings Readerly does have are still pretty subjective. For example, people might disagree on what 3 stars mean, but I’m sure they’ll also disagree on what it means to be “neutral” on a book. And recommendations might not be particularly useful if you say, don’t read a lot, or you don’t read many books from the same genres as other Readerly users.

Other features

Readerly has privacy features! They let you make the books you save, rate, hide, or mark as read private. Yup, you can hide books you don’t want to see anymore. I can see these features being super useful for people, and it’s something that Goodreads doesn’t offer.

However, the ability to post gists in private groups is locked behind Readerly+, the paid subscription feature. In Canada, the subscription cost is $3.99 per month or $38.99 per year. This is currently cheaper than The StoryGraph Plus, which is $4.99 (USD) per month or $49.99 (USD) per year. Readerly+ offers several features beyond just private groups for gists.

Like other reading sites, you can look at the most recommended books on the site, track your reads, and look at your reading stats.

Readerly is still very new, as they’ve just taken their app out of beta. I’m sure they’ll be updating their app and website in the days and weeks to come.

Without a strong desktop site I can’t see myself using Readerly often. But I like what they’re offering so far. Even if I don’t use it to read gists, I could definitely see myself uploading gists and testing out their recommendations more (on the website).

Do I think it will overtake Goodreads, no. Love or hate Amazon, the fact is that Goodreads has been around for many years and has a large user base of contributors. However, I do think that Readerly can challenge Goodreads if they continue improving their app and website. I like their features and UI more than The StoryGraph, another Goodreads non-Amazon challenger.

Have you tried Readerly? If so, what do you think about it? If not, do you see yourself using it over the sites you already use?

The Storm is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything by Mike Rothschild

The Storm is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything
By Mike Rothschild
October 2021
★★★★ 4 stars

Mike Rothschild is a journalist who specializes in covering conspiracy theories, internet culture, and politics. In this book, he provides readers with a rundown on the QAnon movement/cult/conspiracy theory – however you want to define it. He discusses what QAnon is, who the people involved in it are, and its significance to American politics from the Trump administration onwards.

Rothschild doesn’t just treat QAnon as a distant object of analysis like other authors (especially academics) might, nor is it treated as an object of ridicule. This, I think contributes, to the book’s strengths. As clearly as he can, he breaks down what QAnon is and how it came about. He also draws out the human aspects of QAnon, both in the people involved and the people whom it impacts.

It’s quite a readable book, though I think you need at least some prior broad knowledge about what QAnon is to get a good handle on the book – or at least, the political environment in the United States immediately prior to, during, and immediately after the Trump administration.

At times, the structure does feel quite disjointed (eg. here’s a crime that a QAnon follower committed, and then here’s another, and another) which breaks up the flow of the reading, but it wasn’t a big deal for me.

What was more concerning to me was the quality of some of the arguments Rothschild touches, like an implication that the French Yellow Vest Movement (gilets jaunes) is associated with QAnon and a comparison between QAnon, al-Qaeda, and radicalization.

To be fair, these claims are brief and maybe tangential to the content of the book itself. And, maybe I’m just not as well-versed on either topic as I’d like to believe. Still, since they were included, I wish Rothschild elaborated on some of these claims more to back them up because both were a bit tough to believe.

With the gilets jaunes for example, while some individuals may be inspired by Q, to say that the entire movement directly took inspiration from Q is a stretch. Anecdotally, I lived in France at the beginning of the gilets jaunes protests and passed by protesters on a weekly basis; not once did I see someone with anything that could be connected to Q or even Trump. And I’m still not sure how QAnon and al-Qaeda can be directly compared to one another given their numerous basic differences.

I study politics and current affairs a lot in my university courses so this book was right up my alley. I know not all readers are interested in reading political material, and this book is political given its discussion of the Trump administration and the January 6th insurrection of the US Capitol, but it’s also historical in nature as it discusses QAnon’s growth and its similarity to other historical conspiracy theories.

If either topic interests you and you’re open to reading popular non-fiction, this is a solid choice. ★★★★ 4 stars!

Serving Up Suspects by Emmie Lyn

Serving Up Suspects (Little Dog Diner #2)
By Emmie Lyn
August 2019
★★★★ 4 stars

Dani is the owner of The Little Dog Diner and sometimes, an amateur sleuth. This is one of those times. Dani is catering the annual quilt auction benefitting her town’s local library when local resident Judith Manning is found dead. Judith didn’t seem to have any enemies in the town, so who killed her?

The title of this book matches the story well: the book serves up a lot of suspects, most with good motives!

I like the characters. I think they’re a colourful and entertaining bunch and I like how they work together to solve the case. They all have different strengths that they can contribute to the case and they all have their good points and their flaws. It made the story seem more ‘real’, like a group of people I might actually meet in real life.

Someone in a Goodreads review mentioned that there was a soap opera moment in the book that they disliked, and I agree. That was one part of the book that I found quite implausible and difficult to suspend my disbelief for. It wasn’t a big deal, but it did take me out of the immersion for a bit.

As for the mystery itself, I didn’t see the final solve coming. Maybe it’s just me, but I think the solve could have been a bit better explained or more clues could have been laid out because it seemed a bit out of the blue. When the individual(s) involved were revealed, I was taken aback because I wasn’t expecting it at all – in a confused way, not in a ‘mind blown at the reveal’ kind of way.

This book works as a standalone. You don’t need to have read other books in the series to understand and enjoy this one.

★★★★ 4 stars, this was very enjoyable!

Internet Safety Tips for Book Bloggers

Since I started blogging in August, I’ve met so many wonderful people in the book community. Unfortunately, not everyone on the Internet is as wonderful.

Today, I’ll be sharing some of the tips I’ve learnt for staying safe on the Internet as a book blogger.

Only share as much as you’re comfortable with

Personally, I try to keep identifying personal information to a minimum because I’m not interested in sharing my blog with people in real life (at least, for now).

For example, I use a pen name on this blog – Mint. I can always change my pen name to my real name in the future, but I wouldn’t be able to take back my real name once it’s out there. As the saying goes, the Internet remembers everything.

If you do choose to share personal information, I’d recommend that you carefully consider what you share and how/whether it could be traced back to you if you’re interested in keeping your blog fairly private.

This is especially true if you share anything that’s especially identifiable – for example, if you’re the only person that shows up on Google when you type in your first and last name.

Set up a separate email account for your blog

I’d recommend doing this anyways, even if you do choose to share more personal information about yourself on your blog.

It’s nice to have a separate account just for bookish content like NetGalley notifications or emails to your blog so that these emails don’t clog up your regular inbox.

It also creates distance between yourself and anyone that might want to contact you through your blog such as authors and publishers, since they won’t be able to directly contact you through your personal email.

I take it one step further by not sharing my blog email on this blog! I’ve set it up on my so that people can only use a contact form. If I choose to respond, they’ll see my email.

Some email providers give users the opportunity to route incoming mail from one inbox into another or to stay logged into multiple accounts at once, making it even easier to run separate accounts.

Watch out for scams and spam

If someone offers you something that seems too good to be true, it probably is. If someone is offering you an opportunity that requires you to pay or to give up extremely personal information (eg. credit card information, photo ID), be very skeptical. And in general, do your research into the opportunity before giving someone anything.

As for spam, WordPress has built-in filters that try to remove spam and scam from the comment section of our blogs. Sometimes, messages that aren’t scammy can slip into the filter, but I find it does a pretty good job of getting rid of scammy content.

I also have it set up so that I have to approve every comment that people leave on my blog. If you have the time to manage this, it’s another great way to keep your blog safe for yourself and your readers while still allowing conversation to flow.

What other tips do you think book bloggers should know about Internet safety? I’d love to hear them!

Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies by Misha Popp

Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies (Pies Before Guys Mystery #1)
By Misha Popp
May 10, 2022

★★★ 3 stars

Daisy Ellery is the owner of Pies Before Guys mobile bakery. But Daisy’s no ordinary baker: she can imbue her pies with magic, including magic that can kill the person that eats the pie.

When Daisy finds a letter threatening to reveal her criminal ways, she knows she’s in trouble. Sounds like a case of blackmail – but who’s responsible? That’s something Daisy will have to find out.

Thank you to NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books for providing me with an ARC. All opinions expressed are my own.

This was a tough book for me to review. Some elements of the book were very well done, but others left me wanting.

I’ll start with what I thought was novel: Daisy being a (vigilante) serial killer. This is a protagonist who’s arguably of questionable morals, because even though she claims she has rules she aims to follow about the men she targets, she still kills those men.

This made it somewhat difficult for me to cheer for her, because I wasn’t sure I agreed with her brand of vigilante justice. But Popp does a good job of trying to make us understand, if not sympathize with why she does what she does. I like that she’s a criminal anti-hero, it made for a unique read!

What I thought was a bit off was the characterization of the genre. The summary of the book (when I read it back in October) referred to it as a cozy series, similar to authors like Ellery Adams and Mary Maxwell.

It’s not that I dislike thriller/suspense reads, rather, that I wasn’t expecting a book of this style when I first started reading it. I personally think the genre should be adjusted a bit so that people can be more clear about what they’re getting into. I’d say it’s more so a cozy-adjacent suspense novel.

One of the reasons why I don’t think it’s a cozy mystery is because of the heavy references to social issues made throughout the book. I personally don’t mind it as I think that it helps contribute to Daisy’s backstory, but I know many readers of cozies prefer to not see such themes in their reads.

I’d say the discussion of social issues is even a bit heavy for what is typical for cozy mysteries in general. Is this bad? Not necessarily, but I do think you should be aware of it before going in.

Also, there is a good bit of foul language, the MC is certainly not a moral character, there’s a bit more violence than the typical cozy (as we see Daisy killing her marks).

I think if I had been better informed about the genre before going in, I would have approached the read with different expectations and a different mindset.

If you’re looking for a cozy-ish suspense novel, I’d recommend this one, but don’t expect a classic cozy mystery.

Since I was so mixed on this book, I gave it ★★★ 3 stars. But, I can see others rating it much higher or much lower than I did, depending on they prefer.

Please note that there are some scenes with heavy violence (at least, in comparison to the typical cozy mystery) and discussions of domestic abuse.

All That’s Hallow by Sara Bourgeois

All That’s Hallow (Crafty Witch Mysteries #2)
By Sara Bourgeois
July 2021
★★★ 3 stars

The town of Fullmourn loves Halloween so much they have it twice a year! Most of the townspeople think of New Halloween as a day to have fun at the festival, but not Hazel, a witch Hazel knows that the point of New Halloween is to keep away the evil fae.

When someone dies at the festival, their ghost seeks out Hazel. They claim that they were killed by a fae monster. Is the ghost telling the truth or was a human responsible?

This was a solid and entertaining read.

I liked that the MC Hazel was fairly fleshed out. Even though I didn’t read the first book, I still felt like I got to know her over the course of the book.

As for the paranormal element, I thought it was pretty well done. Hazel is able to talk to ghosts who have something to resolve in this world before crossing over. However, the ghosts aren’t convenient characters that give her all the clues to solve the mystery.

It’s similar with her mouse companion Loftus. He helps her but doesn’t give her the clues to solving everything. He also wasn’t an annoying animal companion either. Sometimes, I find it a bit hard to read the voices of talking animal companions in cozies but I didn’t feel this way about Loftus at all.

However, I felt that the mystery ended pretty abruptly. To me, it wasn’t a satisfying ending, but I don’t think it was helped by how much focus was placed on plot points other than the mystery. There’s a lot of focus on Hazel, a potential love triangle, her work as a funeral director, and the sudden appearance of an old high school friend and less on the mystery itself.

The mystery felt a bit secondary to the other parts of the story… but this is a cozy mystery. To me, the mystery should be one of the main, if not the main plot in a cozy mystery and I didn’t think that was the case with this book.

This book works as a standalone. You can read it if even if you haven’t read the other books in the series. ★★★ 3 stars