Seoulmates: A Review

Seoulmates by Susan LeeHannah Cho’s dreams of perfect summer before senior year go up in smoke when her boyfriend dumps her. Nate, like most of their friend group, is obsessed with K-pop and K-dramas. While Hannah is Korean American, she has no use for Korean pop culture. After years of leaning into the American parts of her identity to better fit in, Hannah doesn’t know how to handle this shift. Especially when it leaves her suddenly single.

As a rising K-drama star, Jacob Kim struggles with questions of whether he’s committed enough–and Korean enough–to succeed. After years of training, he isn’t sure how much longer he can deal with the pressure to make himself constantly available to his publicity team, his costars, and the press. When a press junket leads to Jacob needing some down time, he’s excited. Until he finds out his mom plans to have them stay with the Chos.

Jacob and Hannah used to be inseparable as kids. But that was before everything soured between them. The two strike an uneasy bargain–and an even more tenuous truce–when Hannah enlists Jacob’s help to win back her boyfriend and Jacob, in turn, asks Hannah to help him complete his summer bucket list of all the things he’s missed in San Diego over the years.

As Hannah and Jacob get to know each other again they’ll have to decide if new memories are enough to make up for old hurts and whether they’re headed for a happy ending or some K-drama level tears in Seoulmates (2022) by Susan Lee.

Find it on Bookshop.

Seoulmates is Lee’s debut novel. The novel alternates close third person perspective between Hannah and Jacob with some fun vignettes from their mothers’ points of view along the way. All principle characters are Korean or Korean American.

Hannah’s relationship with K-dramas and K-pop is partially inspired by the author’s own journey to embrace her heritage and cultural identity. As such, Seoulmates is lovingly filled with as many zany adventures and heart-string tugs as K-drama fans would expect. While Hannah starts the novel bitter and angry at Jacob, her hurt is clearly defined on the page never leaving readers in doubt of the long history between these characters and the difficult conversations they have in order to get back to each other.

Their hate to love relationship plays out against the backdrop of a summer filled with big questions. Hannah has to figure out what it means to be Korean American when, at last, being Korean finally seems to make her cool enough without trying to change herself. Jacob, meanwhile, has to figure out if continuing as an actor is worth the lack of privacy and the pressure–a stressful question to consider when he’s also been supporting his family since his father’s death years ago.

Lee balances these different plot threads well leaving room for the characters to realistically learn and grow as they reconnect while also delivering gasp-worthy twists in the rocky road of Hannah and Jacob’s relationship.

Seoulmates is a fun and breezy summer romance where finding love is tempered well with finding yourself.

Possible Pairings: The Charmed List by Julia Abe, 29 Dates by Melissa de la Cruz, Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things by Maya Prasad, It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz Rishi

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Susan Lee here on the blog.

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

The Perfect Escape: A Review

The Perfect Escape by Suzanne ParkNate Jae-Woo Kim is a young entrepreneur with his eye on the prize. By which he means money. With college ahead, a much younger sister, and parents already stretched thin Nate’s main goal is to make lots of money so his family can stop struggling.

Which is why it’s so tempting when one of his entitled classmares offers Nate an obscene amount of money to help him cheat and manipulate the grading curve. The money on offer would be life changing. But so would the legal ramifications if Nate participates in this level of fraud.

Sometimes Kate Anderson feels like all she has is money. After her mother’s death Kate certainly doesn’t have her father’s attention. Or his support.

Which is why Kate’s new job at a zombie-themed escape room has to remain secret. Playing a zombie is exactly what Kate needs to stretch her makeup skills and keep a hand in when it comes to acting until she earns enough money to move out and try her luck in New York’s theater scene.

Surprisingly, a zombie-themed survivalist competition could help both Nate and Kate get exactly what they need. Together. Teaming up to win the zombie run would mean a big cash prize–even if it’s split. What neither of them counted on is the fact that secrets–and growing feelings–could be just as dangerous as zombies in The Perfect Escape (2020) by Suzanne Park.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Perfect Escape alternates first person narration between Nate–who is Korean American–and Kate–who is white. The audiobook narrators–Raymond J. Lee and Kate Rudd–do an excellent job of bringing these characters to life.

Park’s background as a stand-up comedian is on full display in this laugh-out-loud funny story where all’s fair between love and zombies. Although Nate and Kate start with a lot of secrets between them their obvious chemistry comes across in banter filled dialog and their adventure filled trek through the zombie run.

Nate is a no-nonsense character very focused on his future (by which he still means money) and I knew he was my favorite as soon as he detailed his deep admiration of Scrooge McDuck (described by Nate: “Scrooge McDuck was rich, focused, and no-nonsense.”). Kate’s troubled home life and her own aspirations further flesh out this dynamic duo. Fast-paced action and a race that will test both wits and loyalty serve as the perfect backdrop for Nate and Kate’s blossoming relationship as both characters wonder if sticking together might be more important than sticking to their plans.

The Perfect Escape is a quirky, often hilarious story where getting what you want might mean incapacitating a few zombies along the way.

Possible Pairings: This Will Be Funny Someday by Katie Henry, There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon, The Knockout by Sajni Patel, Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things by Maya Prasad, Geek Girl by Holly Smale, Love Decoded by Jennifer Yen, Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon

Finding Audrey: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Finding Audrey by Sophie KinsellaAudrey hasn’t left the house in mouths. How can she when she can’t even take off her dark glasses in the house? After everything that happened during her last brief moments in an actual high school, it’s all too much. Audrey doesn’t want to think about what the other girls did or the breakdown that came after. It’s hard enough to think about the anxiety she’s stuck with as a result.

Audrey knows it hasn’t been a picnic for her parents or her siblings either. She’s just not sure how to get from where she is–in her house, mostly alone, in dark glasses–to actually going out again.

Enter Linus, her brother’s friend and Audrey’s unlikely support as she tries to venture out into the world, or at least to Starbucks in Finding Audrey (2015) by Sophie Kinsella.

Find it on Bookshop.

Finding Audrey is Kinsella’s first YA novel. The audiobook is primarily narrated by Gemma Whelan but features full cast moments when Audrey is filming scenes of a documentary about her family as part of her therapy (which appear as film transcripts in print copies). All characters are assumed white.

This is a small story about big issues as Audrey tries to deal with the aftermath of intense bullying that led to a mental breakdown and ensuing mental health problems that primarily manifest as extreme anxiety. Nothing about this is sugarcoated and Audrey’s recovery (and pitfalls when she tries to stop her medication) feels earned through processing her trauma and work with her therapist.

Laugh out loud moments with her absurd parents and long suffering siblings add levity to what could have become an overly heavy and maudlin plot. The slice-of-lice nature of this story offers a brief glimpse into Audrey’s life as she learns how to cope with her anxiety and other challenging things like flirting with cute Linus.

Finding Audrey is an authentic story of recovery with genuinely funny moments throughout.

Possible Pairings: Off the Record by Camryn Garrett, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

A Disaster in Three Acts: A Review

A Disaster in Three Acts by Kelsey RodkeyEighteen-year-old Saine Sinclair prides herself on her ability to shape a narrative on film. Her eye for storytelling is why she knows her friendship with Holden Michaels has been over for some time now. As if him publicly rejecting her during a middle school game of spin-the-bottle wasn’t enough, Holden has also dated and broken up with Saine’s current best friend Corinne. In other words, both loyalty and pride dictate that Saine never speak to Holden again.

Which is what makes it so awkward when Saine needs Holden’s help to complete her documentary for a prestigious filmmaking program at Temple University after her original subject drops out. Her preliminary application has already been submitted and approved which means that Saine has to stick to her original topic–following a contestant through a series of live action gaming competitions to win a prototype virtual reality headset–which is where Holden comes in.

Following her ex-best-friend around to film everything he does while thinking she’s telling a familiar tale about a white boy getting what he wants is hard. Doing that while worrying if her current best friend is jealous is even harder.

Saine’s fixation on the success of her film makes it easy to put her growing feelings for Holden and crumbling relationships on hold while she tries to figure out how to shape real life to make sure her documentary wins a spot at Temple by inventing financial problems as motivation and even resorting to sabotage. As her lies and manipulations grow, Saine faces a reality check when she realizes that sometimes narrative growth hurts–especially when it comes to facing the consequences her actions in A Disaster in Three Acts (2022) by Kelsey Rodkey.

Find it on Bookshop.

Saine and Holden, like most main characters, are white with some secondary characters cued as BIPOC based on names/skin tones including Saine’s other best friend Kelsey and Holden’s best friend Taj. The cast also includes characters across the LGBTQ+ spectrum and a cute side plot romance between two girls in Saine’s friend group. Saine is self-described as fat and she and her mother are lower income both of which play into the plot.

While A Disaster in Three Acts has a well-rounded and nuanced cast of supporting characters, Saine remains deeply flawed throughout the story. Her fixation on the documentary seems to be excused by her grief over her grandmother’s sudden death and the confusing process of moving on alongside her divorced mother as they process the loss and try to move on. Unfortunately that’s a poor excuse for Saine’s choices to make up numerous plots for her documentary (notably manipulating footage and interviews to imply that Holden’s family is struggling financially and that he wants to win the competition to sell the prize), interview subjects without their consent while pretending her camera is turned off, and even outright sabotage when Holden needs her help during a competition.

As the story progresses Saine does have to contend with the consequences of her manipulative, self-centered behavior and her multiple lies to all of her friends. Unfortunately her contrition–even at the end of the book–seems to stem more from being caught behaving badly than from her actual bad behavior.

Saine spends a lot of the documentary lamenting that if Holden wins the competition his success in her documentary will not feel “earned” because he’s just another white boy succeeding. The irony of this is that, by the end of the novel, Saine’s own redemption arc feels similarly unearned and–compared to her egregious behavior–unjustified.

A Disaster in Three Acts is a fast paced story that is often humorous albeit with a main character whose singular focus often works against her character development.

Possible Pairings: A Show For Two by Tashie Bhuiyan, Jasmine Zumideh Needs a Win by Susan Azim Boyer, Lucky Caller by Emma Mills, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen, My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma, Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith, It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a review in an issue of School Library Journal*

The Charmed List: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Charmed List by Julie AbeEllie Kobata has been looking forward to her road trip with best friend Lia Park for months. Driving from Palo Alto to the California Magical Retailers’ Convention where magical merchants like Ellie’s parents can showcase their wares will be the perfect summer adventure even if traveling with non-magic-aware Lia poses some challenges. Luckily, Ellie is used to keeping magical secrets. Plus she will have Lia’s help knocking items off her Anti-Wallflower List which Ellie hopes will be able to change her quiet girl persona at school into someone more interesting to her classmates and herself.

Ellie’s high hopes for the trip are dashed when item four–getting revenge on her ex-best-friend Jack Yasuda–goes horribly wrong leaving Ellie grounded for the foreseeable future, in a fight with Lia, and worst of all driving to the convention with Jack.

With so many disasters, Ellie’s list is starting to feel like it might be cursed but as Ellie and Jack are forced to spend time together they might also have the chance to rehab their friendship and maybe even check off some other items from Ellie’s list like dancing under the stars and falling in love in The Charmed List (2022) by Julie Abe.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Charmed List is Abe’s YA debut but you might recognize her name from her middle grade series Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch.

Ellie is Japanese American, Jack is half-Italian American, half-Japanese American.

The Charmed List is a delightful standalone filled with romance and magic. Artist Ellie’s initially prickly narration will win readers over as she explains details of her magic-aware world including charms for things like joy or ambition and reveals more of her fraught history with Jack.

With road trip stops including quirky shops, welcoming inns, and magical cottages The Charmed List is as cozy as it is engrossing. Fans of the romance genre will recognize tropes including hate to love, there’s only one bed, and more in this story about second chances and new beginnings.

Possible Pairings: The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, Seoulmates by Susan Lee, Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, Jade Fire Gold by June CL Tan

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a review in an issue of School Library Journal*

Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village: A Review

Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village by Maureen Johnson and Jay CooperCongratulations! You’ve finally made it to England. Your vacation has already brought you to such iconic sites as Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and Hyde Park. You have posed with the Beefeaters at the Tower of London. You have eaten more than your share of fish and chips. But still your trip is missing something.

Having conquered the big city, perhaps now you want to venture into the bucolic English countryside.

That is a mistake.

While England is filled with many quaint and perfectly safe villages, the chances are high that you will find yourself in an English Murder Village. It will look like any other village. In fact, it might look better than some villages as you admire the manor house with the local vicar and attend the annual village fete. That’s the problem. You’re already in the trap.

If it’s too late for you to eschew the countryside for the safety of London, remember that forewarned is forearmed. Now is the time to acquaint yourself with what to expect from the village, the manor, and their respective residents. Research might keep you alive, if anything can in Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village (2021) by Maureen Johnson, illustrated by Jay Cooper.

Find in on Bookshop.

After writing The Name of the Star–an Edgar Award nominated supernatural thriller–and the bestselling Truly Devious series that begins with a boarding school mystery, Johnson here turns her hand to another classic mystery genre: the village mystery.

Readers familiar with mysteries classic mysteries like Miss Marple or Midsomer Murders will appreciate Johnson’s deep dive into all of the hazards inherent to English Murder Village life.

Illustrations from Cooper accompany most entries underscoring the dangers (and macabre humor) to be found in many aspect of village life including such gems as meeting the local amateur astrologer who likes “to wander alone to remote locations at night with a big looking-tube to look. Draw a circle around every word in that sentence that means ‘no.'” The related illustration shows a telescope teetering on the edge of a cliff allowing readers to draw their own morbid conclusions.

Johnson’s pithy text and Cooper’s Gorey-esque illustrations perfectly blend humor with grisly murder in this pseudo-guidebook. Hypothetical scenarios and interactive quizzes add another layer to this breezy and immensely enjoyable book. Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village is must-read for mystery fans and amateur detectives alike.

What I Like About You: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

What I Like About You by Marisa KanterHalle Levitt has been online friends with Nash for years. She was there at the beginning of his now-viral webcomic. He was one of the the first fans of One True Pastry–a YA book blog where Halle is known for her reviews and custom cupcakes baked and decorated to match her favorite book covers.

Even though they’ve never met in real life, they talk about almost everything. There’s one thing Nash doesn’t know: Halle’s real name.

Online Halle goes by Kels–a name to match her cool influencer persona where she’s funny, collected, and she never says or does the wrong thing. At first Halle used Kels to distinguish her own publishing in-roads as an aspiring publicist from her connection to her publishing royalty grandmother. Now it feels safer to be Kels because Kels always has it together while Halle knows she decidedly does not.

Being two people is confusing enough but when Halle and her brother move in with their grandfather the lines between Halle’s real life and her online life begin to blur once she realizes Nash is one of her new classmates.

Nash is even better in real life. But it’s still so much easier to keep her online identity a secret. The only problem is that as Halle and Nash grow closer she realizes that Nash’s affections are divided because even if he’s getting closer to Halle he’s still nursing a major crush … on Kels in What I Like About You (2020) by Marisa Kanter.

Find it on Bookshop.

What I Like About You is Kanter’s debut novel. Halle and her family are Jewish. Nash is Jewish and half Korean.

Halle’s narration is interspersed with ephemera between chapters including excerpts from social media posts, text threads between Halle and Nash or Halle and other friends, and emails. The tension between Halle’s double life is lent more urgency by the looming deadline of BookCon where Halle might appear as a panelist thus revealing her real identity not only to all of her fans and followers but also to Nash and the other online friends she has unaware of her double life.

Kanter’s prose is filled with snappy dialog and thoughtful explorations of family dynamics as Halle and her brother adjust to living with their grandfather and all three of them grieve the death of Halle’s grandmother the year before. The story is focused not just on the teen characters but the world of teen content creators–an influential niche in social media but one that isn’t always reflected authentically (or at all) in pop culture.

Although certain elements of the book might date the story–particularly the finale set at the no-longer-extant BookCon and social media that’s always changing–What I Like About You is a universal story; come for the mistaken identity love triangle, stay for the bookish shenanigans and feel-good humor.

Possible Pairings: Perfectly Parvin by Olivia Abtahi, Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Alex Approximately by Jenn Bennett, The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert, Happy Messy Scary Love by Leah Konen, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things by Maya Prasad, Last Chance Books by Kelsey Rodkey, By the Book by Amanda Sellet, Recommended For You by Laura Silverman, The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West, Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon

Amari and the Night Brothers: A Review

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. AlstonAmari Peters knows she can never measure up to her older brother Quinton. But with Quinton missing and the police no longer even pretending to look for him, Amari is all their single mother has left. So Amari tries her best even if Quinton left big shoes to fill with an outstanding academic career and a mysterious job that left no way to trace him after the disappearance.

When the latest round of bullying by the rich, white girls at her fancy private school ends with Amari’s suspension, Amari knows she’s in big trouble. She also knows being home alone is a great opportunity to continue her search for Quinton. Instead of finding a clue to where Quinton is, Amari finds an invitation that’s been waiting for her.

Turns out Quinton’s job was a bigger deal than anyone realized and, now that she’s thirteen, Amari has a chance to follow in her brother’s footsteps by joining the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. Amari is certain that learning the truth about Quinton’s life will help her find him, but being in the Bureau also feels right. Even when Amari’s ceremony to receive her trainee shield goes very wrong. Turns out Amari is a promising trainee–even more promising than her brother, for once. Unfortunately, Amari’s supernatural level talent is also illegal because she’s a magician.

Amari has one chance to make it as a trainee and one chance to try and find her brother–she’ll have to make the most of both as she survives her rigorous trainee schedule, more mean girls, and tries to make new friends all while trying to understand her magic–and find out what really happened to her brother in Amari and the Night Brothers (2021) by B.B. Alston.

Find it on Bookshop.

Amari and the Night Brothers is Alston’s debut novel and the start of a series. Amari and her family are Black. Secondary characters are varied including Amari’s new roommate Elsie who is a dragon (and my favorite). The audiobook is a fun and fast listen as narrated by Imani Parks but you will catch more of Alston’s punny name choices in print.

Amari is a fantastic protagonist. She is street smart and savvy after growing up poor and living in the projects but she is also still open to wonder as she explores more of the supernatural world. Most importantly, she is still hopeful and has unflagging faith that she will find Quinton again and reunite her family. Alston’s writing is top notch as he weaves the supernatural world into a modern urban setting with a similar sensibility to the Men in Black films.

Strong world building, authentic characters, and a really fun magic system make Amari and the Night Brothers a great adventure for readers of all ages; a more enjoyable and more inclusive alternative to Harry Potter.

Possible Pairings: The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani, The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connolly, Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor, Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Accidentally Engaged: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Accidentally Engaged by Farah HeronReena Manji’s finance career bores her, her parents are constantly setting her up with eligible Muslim bachelors, her relationship with her sister still hasn’t recovered after her sister blew up Reena’s food blog (in a very bad way). But there is one thing Reena has always had under control: baking bread.

With a complement of sourdough starters, recipes galore, and a fair bit of know-how in the kitchen from her food blogger days, Reena is a whiz at baking bread which, luckily, is the one thing that still lets Reena escape the rest of her problems.

Reena is fully prepared to add new neighbor Nadim Remtulla to that list of problems when she finds out that he’s in Toronto as part of a business deal between their fathers. Except . . . he’s a lot more fun–and hot–than Reena expects a cog in her father’s real estate business to be. Best of all, Nadim seems to love eating her bread as much as Reena loves baking it. Reena has no intention of marrying anyone her parents pick for her, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be friends with bread benefits, right?

When Reena’s career hits yet another roadblock, it seems like the perfect time to enter a TV cooking competition where Reena can prove her chops and win a free ride to the artisan bread course of her dreams. There’s only one catch: the show is for couples who cook together. When a drunken quest for homemade snacks leads to a surprisingly cute audition tape, faking an engagement with Nadim seems harmless. It’s not like her parents or her sister will ever watch the show.

But faking feelings for Nadim in front of the camera, leads to a lot of feelings behind the scenes. As they grow closer, Reena knows her fake fiancé is keeping secrets of his own. She isn’t worried because a fake engagement can’t lead to anything real. Except secrets getting out is almost as inevitable as sourdough starter growing, and feelings–even half-baked ones–make for a recipe that’s hard to ignore in Accidentally Engaged (2021) by Farah Heron.

Find it on Bookshop.

This standalone romance is set in Toronto, Canada. Reena and Nadim are both Muslim. Reena and her family are Indian. Nadim grew up in Dar es Salaam and attended an English boarding school before landing in Toronto which adds layers to his character and his feelings as a twice immigrant. Readers who enjoy Reena’s support system of friends should also check out her previous novel The Chai Factor, which focuses on Reena’s best friend Amira. Accidentally Engaged is a lot of fun on audio as narrated by Soneela Nankani who nails Nadim’s British accent and immediately draws listeners into Reena’s world.

After years trying to maintain distance between herself and her family, Reena is forced to confront how many of her life choices were inspired by wanting to go against her parents and how many might have let her get off track. With Nadim’s unflagging support throughout the competition Reena is able to fully embrace her passion (and talent!) as a chef while finding her way back to her favorite activity. Their new friendship and (spoiler) romantic relationship also help Reena re-evaluate other areas in her life as she reconnects with her family and her heritage. Along the way, Reena also finding healthier coping mechanisms for life’s inevitable curveballs which would previously have her running to the nearest bar.

Heron perfectly balances weightier topics like Nadim’s fraught relationship with his father and the complicated history Reena has with her sister with humor. Accidentally Engaged is upbeat and fast-paced. When I read it last year this book was exactly what I needed to get through a very hard time as I followed Reena dealing with her own challenges (and competitions). Snappy dialog and obvious chemistry between Reena and Nadim make Accidentally Engaged delectable. Be sure to read Accidentally Engaged with a snack (or two) nearby because Heron’s descriptions of Reena’s culinary creations are guaranteed to make your mouth water.

Possible Pairings: Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur, Delilah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring Blake, The Dating Plan by Sara Desai, People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry, Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho, Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin, Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim, The Trouble With Hating You by Sajni Patel, The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa

You Sexy Thing: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

You Sexy Thing by Cat RamboCaptain Nicolette “Niko” Larson knows better than most that leaving the service of the Holy Hive Mind is no small thing. It’s easy enough to join the ranks with promises of vast earnings to come. But once you’re in, it’s funny how the debt keeps mounting and  those payments never come.

For a moment, Niko thought she could work within the system but now, known throughout the system as the “Ten Hour Admiral,” Niko knows better.

Luckily for Niko and her crew, the only thing the Hive Mind values more than conquest is art. Including culinary art.

After proving their artistic prowess with food, Niko and her crew have settled at TwiceFar station where they try to make a go of their restaurant, The Last Chance. With a reservation book for a prestigious food critic empowered to award a coveted Nikkelin Orb to worthy restaurants, it seems like things might finally be looking up.

Until the station blows up, of course.

With their past reduced to a smoldering pile of space rubble, Niko and her crew escape onto a sentient ship called You Sexy Thing. Unfortunately, the bioship thinks it’s stolen and steers them towards a prison planet. And that isn’t even the worst of Niko’s problems as the crew tries to fend off sadistic space pirates, deliver an intergalactic heir safely to the seat of the empire, and keep Niko’s other plans alive all while still chasing that elusive Nikkelin Orb in You Sexy Thing (2021) by Cat Rambo.

Find it on Bookshop.

You Sexy Thing is a standalone space opera that hints at more to come. The story is told in omniscient third person following Niko and her motley crew. The cast of characters includes humans, humanoid aliens, and other alien characters with a range of skin tones, presentations, and gender identities. Vivienne Leheny narrates the audiobook and ably navigates the large cast during shifting perspectives and dialog.

Pragmatic strategist Neko is complimented well by the ensemble cast here including my personal favorite characters Dabrey, Niko’s four-armed former-sergeant responsible for the restaurant’s culinary achievements, and Lassite–a lizard-like priest who joined the crew to follow Niko on her journey along the spiral of destiny. Although the plot focuses squarely on Niko and her own plans, no character is given short shrift as the entire crew has moments to shine. The madcap journey of the first half of the story shifts to something darker and grittier (including moments of mental and physical torture that while not explicitly described are unpalatable–particularly in audio) before the novel’s denouement.

You Sexy Thing skillfully combines moments of sci-fi absurdity with action and high emotion as Niko and her crew face numerous obstacles after escaping TwiceFar station. Rambo delivers a story filled with adventure, found family, and ultimately with hope for the future to come.

Possible Pairings: Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, Space Battle Lunchtime by Natalie Riess, The Sol Majestic by Ferrett Steinmetz, Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*