Friday, February 2, 2018

In a Nutshell Reviews

In a Nutshell Reviews are my version of mini-reviews, because sometimes, you just want the highlights.

American Panda
Gloria Chao
Series: n/a
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads
An incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her squeamishness with germs and crush on a Japanese classmate.

At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents' master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.

With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can't bring herself to tell them the truth--that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?
I am a fan of coming-of-age stories, and I especially love when they come with a cultural point of view. I can say that American Panda more than fit the bill, and Chao delivered a tale that was often funny, sometimes heartbreaking, but in the end, hopeful.
  • Pro: I found it very easy to like Mei. She was quite delightful and witty, and I appreciated her sense of humor. Her musings sometimes had me laughing out loud, and other times, had me getting a little misty. She felt authentic, and although I am not Chinese, I could relate to some of her woes. 
  • Pro: The conflict comes in the form of Mei being unable to live up to her parents expectations. She needed to dream her own dreams and do those things that she was passionate about. You think this would make her salty about her parents, but it is made clear that she loved them and she knew they love her. I really appreciated that Chao approached the story this way. 
  • Pro: Mei grew so much during this story, as expected, but she wasn't the only one. Chao did such a nice job giving us a three dimensional picture of Mei's mother. It was really nice to see Mei discover a different side of her mother, and I grew to like her mother very much over the course of the book. 
  • Pro: It was fun "touring" MIT and learning some of the ins and outs of that school. 
  • Pro: I was totally smitten with Mei's love interest. Darren was all sorts of sweet and charming. I was overjoyed these two found each other. 
  • Pro: I felt like Mei's struggle was conveyed well. Her confusion, guilt, and all the stress it caused her emanated from the page. I was so glad she was able to dance it out or talk to her brother, Darren, or Nic. 
  • Pro: I really enjoyed learning about the culture, as my daughter is half Chinese (her relatives being from Taiwan). There were things I knew and things that were new to me. 

Overall: An charming story about trying to balance tradition without losing one's own identity.

Shoot the Moon
Kate Watson
Series: Seeking Mansfield, #2
Genre: New Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Flux
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads
Despite what his brother—and sponsor—thinks, nineteen year-old Tate Bertram isn’t an addict. He has the 30-day chip to prove it. But when his father learns Tate’s been running an illegal card room out of a friend’s dorm to pay off old gambling debts, Tate is cut off. With his family no longer talking to him, his aunt Nora offers him a chance to intern for her political campaign. Juggling school with the intense internship, Tate finds himself buying scratch-off lottery tickets to take the edge off.

Tate is surprised to find the beautiful and calculating Alex Wolf—his first crush and the girl who taught him how to gamble—volunteering with Nora’s campaign, too. Soon, Tate is more drawn to Alex than ever. Her mind games stick in his head, but her vulnerable, softer side gets into his heart. But as tensions rise along the campaign trail, Tate is forced to question whether he’s really addiction-free, after all.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS meets ROUNDERS in this high stakes tale of the cost of winning and the price of redemption.
I was a fan of Watson's debut, Seeking Mansfield, and was excited when I heard we were getting another story from this world. This companion was quite different from its predecessor. As each Bertram child was unique, so are their stories. This one, like Tate, was grittier and a little darker than Oliver's story, but still kept me just as entertained.
  • Pro: Tate was so beautifully complicated. On the surface, he appeared to have it all - good looking, great grades, wealthy family, but inside, he was battling multiple demons. Watson did a fantastic job in presenting a character with a lot of depth and tons of layers. 
  • Pro: Tate was a gambling addict, and his addiction, denial, and daily battles with himself were illustrated quite well. There were many times in the book, where I felt like I was physically part of his struggle. Watson also explored how his addiction affected those who loved him, and how Tate had to deal with the harm he inflicted on his loved ones. 
  • Pro: This was about redemption. Tate fell from grace in the first book and he fell even further in this one. However, he realized he wanted something different, and he worked hard to achieve that goal. I am a sucker for that sort of thing. 
  • Pro: There is a little bit of something for everyone in this book. There's a little family drama, politics, crime, and romance. 
  • Con: A little bit of romance is nice, but I would have liked a little more. What can I say! I am a hopeless romantic.  
  • Pro: So many different family issues were spotlighted. Between that, the political double-crossing, and the mafia, there was tons of delicious drama to enjoy. 
  • Pro: I found being immersed in the world of poker rather fascinating. I found myself quite enthralled with the lingo, probabilities, and the psychological aspects. The mind of a poker player was a very interesting place to be. 
  • Pro: It was fun catching up with Finley and Oliver. I loved those two so much, and seeing old friends is one of my favorite things about companion novels. 
  • Pro: I thought the ending was fabulous. I was quite pleased with the way Watson tied up some of those loose ends. 

Overall: Another strong offering from Watson, featuring great characters, snappy dialogue, and whole lot of delicious drama. I am hoping we get a third book, featuring the last Bertram sibling, because Watson had her up to some interesting things in this book, and I want to know more of what she had been doing.

When My Heart Joins the Thousand
A.J. Steiger
Series: n/a
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: HarperTeen
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads
A YA romance featuring a neuroatypical girl with a tragic history and the chronically ill boy trying to break the vault encasing her heart

Obviously I’m not what most people would describe as happy. But that has nothing to do with anything. Happiness is not a priority. Survival is.

Alvie Fitz doesn’t fit in, and she doesn’t care. She’s spent years swallowing meds and bad advice from doctors and social workers. Adjust, adapt. Pretend to be normal. It sounds so easy.

If she can make it to her eighteenth birthday without any major mishaps, she’ll be legally emancipated. Free. But if she fails, she’ll become a ward of the state and be sent back to the group home.

All she wants is to be left alone to spend time with her friend, Chance, the one-winged hawk at the zoo where she works. She can bide her time with him until her emancipation. Humans are overrated anyway. Then she meets Stanley, a boy who might be even stranger than she is—a boy who walks with a cane, who turns up every day with a new injury, whose body seems as fragile as glass. Without even meaning to, she finds herself getting close to him. But Alvie remembers what happened to the last person she truly cared about.

Her past stalks her with every step, and it has sharp teeth. But if she can find the strength to face the enemy inside her, maybe she’ll have a chance at happiness after all.
This book provided such an interesting look at independence and finding one's self. This was quite an emotional journey, during which I shed many tears. But I can assure you, I was shedding happy tears by the end of this book.
  • Pro: I was such an Alvie fan. She was honest, to the point, and quite funny. She was a fantastic narrator, and I loved listening to her observations and musings. I also cared for her so much, she deserved so much more than the hand she was dealt, and I just wanted to see her achieve everything her heart desired. 
  • Pro: I loved Stanley. He was sweet and caring, but most of all, he didn't want to change Alvie. He made an effort to learn about ASD, because he wanted to know how to make her more comfortable, not to "cure" her. 
  • Pro: Alvie was a big reader, who mostly loved animals and science. There were so many cool discussion about the two. The science stuff I am well acquainted with, but I learned a ton about animals from her. 
  • Pro: I have read a few books featuring neurodivergent characters, and this one ranks up with the great ones. It made me think so much about what is "normal" or "typical", and also wove things into the story to educate me about people on the spectrum and help clear up some of those misconceptions that run rampant. 
  • Pro: My emotions! My emotions! For a good part of the book, there were these heartbreaking flashbacks that kept making me shed tears. I felt physical pain for Alvie and everything she had suffered in her past. I also shed some tears of joy, when things went her way. 
  • Pro: Both Alvie and Stanley are dealing with rough pasts. I was overwhelmed with happiness when they found each other. 
  • Pro: A+ for that ending! I swear, it had me wanting to dance on the mountain top. Bravo! 
Seriously, me after that ending

Overall: This story was, at times, intense and heartbreaking, but ultimately, hopeful. I absolutely enjoyed taking this journey with Alvie as she fought for to be independent, to survive, and to be loved. 


** ARCs received in exchange for honest reviews.









Have you read any of these books?
Let us know in the comments!

36 comments:

  1. Happy t see you liked American Panda. I think it looks cute. I had never heard of When My Heart Joins the Thousand but totally adding it now. Great reviews!

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    1. American Panda has a lot of cute and adorable parts, but the overarching story is actually kind of tough and painful at times. When My Heart Joins the Thousand was just wonderful. It was weird YA book, because although the characters fall into YA age range, they are both living independently and facing very adult problems, but I really enjoyed this survival story.

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  2. I have seen a lot of great reviews for When My Heart Joins the Thousand I can't wait to read this one. I am glad the characters really came alive and that the author picked a topic that isn't presented in YA that often. Great review!

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    1. WMHJtT was a fabulous read for me. It was such an interesting look at the emancipation process and I was so taken by Alvie's determination to survive on her own.

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  3. GAH, I CAN'T WAIT TO READ BOTH AMERICAN PANDA AND WHEN MY HEART JOINS THE THOUSAND! <3 One that's quick, light, and cute, and another that sounds emotional and heart-wrenching. Both are YA contemporary storylines that I ADORE. <3

    - Aimee @ Aimee, Always

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    1. Both were wonderful! American Panda isn't all light. The situation with her parents was sort of sad, but there is definitely a balance of emotions, because there area lot of fun and light parts.

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  4. American Panda sounds delightful. I cannot wait to pick it up myself. Happy February, Sam!

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    1. I hope you enjoy Mei's story, because it was pretty special.

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  5. Well it sounds like the last one is the one that completely stole your heart!

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    1. That book broke me down, but built me back up. It kept me holding onto hope and what a beautiful ending!!

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  6. I think you’ve sold me on When My Heart Joins the Thousand. I just checked and my library already has it on order so I now have it on reserve. It sounds like it could have some darker themes, and also be a bit of a heartbreaker, but I’m intrigued by Alvie and her situation and by Stanley. I want to meet these people.

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    1. Yeah! I can't wait for you to read it. It's has a lot of heavy parts, but Alvie and Stanley won a piece of my heart, and their romance was quite precious, once it got going. I loved them. I hope you love them too!

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  7. Oooh I am curious about When My Heart Joins the Thousand, that was one that has been on my TBR but I wasn't sure if I wanted to take the plunge- this is good info to have. I have heard some mixed things about American Panda, so I am glad you liked it! And glad you liked Shoot the Moon, too. Great reviews!!

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    1. I really liked that book. I was kind of shocked by the opening, but then we go back and forward again. There's romance, but it was such a survival story to me. I think American Panda was more serious than people expected. There are lots of fun hijinks, but the stuff with her parents is quite sad. I thought it was balanced emotionally, and I enjoyed it. Shoot the Moon was so different from its predecessor, but appropriately so, as Tate was very different from Oliver.

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  8. I can't wait to read American Panda! So many of my friends have it enjoyed it so far, and I have a strong feeling I will too. I'm a sucker for books set in college (hence my love for NA) so I'm just counting down the days till I can pick this up!

    This is my first time hearing about the other two titles, but damn they sound really good! I love stories told in the male perspective, I think it's because I'm a female and seeing the world (although fictional,) through the male gaze has always been interesting to me. WMHJTT sounds amazing, I was getting tear jerker vibes even from the synopsis, your review has confirmed that it indeed is. Let me get my tissues ready lol

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    1. I thought Panda was a solid debut. Be prepared for some heartbreaking family drama in-between the funny. I definitely shed some tears reading WMYJTT. There is no way to avoid it, but I rooted for these two and the tears at the end were all happy.

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  9. I like a good coming- of-age story, and American Panda sounds great! I saw a positive review last week too, so this is the second one I've seen. I should add this to my TBR, I love the sound of it.

    When My Heart sounds nice too, and I love that feeling at a the end of a book when you just feel so happy or want to pump your arms because it's so touching, or ends just right. :)

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    1. Panda reviews are everywhere this week. It seems rather well received by bloggers I follow. WMYJTH was a little different, but all sorts of wonderful. Seeing what Alvie was trying to accomplish and then seeing her succeed just left me super happy.

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  10. I hadn't heard of WMYJTH, but you convinced me that I need it and I went and downloaded it from Edelweiss. Thanks for that! I really enjoyed American Panda too!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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    1. I hope you like it as much as I did!!!

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  11. When My Heart Joins the Thousand is on my TBR! I love the cover and the synopsis. I'm so happy to see you enjoyed it! It makes me want to read it even more, lol. There were no cons! Whoop! :)

    Do You Dog-ear?

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    1. It was my favorite of the bunch. I really have nothing bad to say about it. It's got a lot of really heartbreaking stuff, but Steiger left me in a joyous state with that ending.

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  12. I can't wait for American Panda. I hadn't heard of When My Heart and I added it to my tbr. Great reviews!!

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    1. American Panda was happy and sad, and really good. Some really deep family drama discussed in-between all the funny stuff. WMHJTT was so good. Such an incredible survival story.

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  13. SO happy to hear you enjoyed American Panda, I can't wait to read that one. I love coming of age stories and ones where family are present and have such an impact on the main character are my favorite ones. SO excited to read this :)
    Lovely reviews! :)

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    1. I am a fan of coming-of-age stories. They rank up there with romances and grief books for me. It was a fun, but sometimes difficult story. Chao made some wonderful choices in the story that hit me in the feels, so I was happy with the book.

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  14. These all sound great! I have seen American Panda around quite a bit but the other two are new to me. When My Heart Joins the Thousand sounds like a book that I would really enjoy. Glad you enjoyed all of these!

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    1. It looks like there are multiple tours going for Panda. It seems to be everywhere I look. WMHJTT was my fave of the bunch. Different in a good way and a roller coaster ride, but what an A+ ending.

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  15. I can't wait to get to American Panda. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, I keep hearing amazing things. Sorry I haven't visited I been sick for a couple of weeks. Hope you have a wonderful week ahead, Sam.
    -Helena 💋 xoxo

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    1. Panda made me happy. Well, happy and sad, but overall, happy. Lots of fun parts to enjoy. Sorry to hear you were unwell. I hope you are back to 100% soon.

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  16. Super super glad that you enjoyed American Panada. It sounds so adorable and fluffy and you totally made me excited to read it - even more than I was before. I still need to read the first book of Kate Watson's but the seocnd one looks great, too. Wonderful reviews!

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    1. I did enjoy American Panda, it had more heft than I expected, but Chao did a great job balancing it all out. Part of me wishes I had read Mansfield Park, so I had a better understanding of the inspiration, but I enjoyed both of Watson's book regardless.

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  17. What a good crop of reads! American Panda isn't one I'd normally pick up, but it sounds so dang charming, and I love witty heroines like Mei. The fact that my guy went to MIT is a bonus, because I do love the campus!

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    1. Panda had a lot more depth than I was expecting, but I liked the way Chao handled the family drama. It was messy and real, and I could live with the resolution. I really enjoyed the MIT bits. It was fun to "visit" another college for a while.

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  18. American Panda is on my TBR and I've heard some interesting things about it. From your review I think I'll definitely enjoy it. The other two books are new to me, though. I don't know how you manage to find all of these books! Shoot The Moon does sound interesting.

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    1. It was a good bunch of books, but WMHFTT was my favorite. It was such a great survivor story and it had that feel good thing going for it. I liked Panda. It was a honest look at family pressure through a cultural lens. It was all warm and fuzzy, but it had a lot of funny parts and sweet parts, which balanced out the sad parts.

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