Review Roundup | The Wishing Game, Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers, and Live and Let Chai

Posted July 17, 2023 / Book Reviews, Review Roundup / 0 Comments

Review Roundup | The Wishing Game, Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers, and Live and Let ChaiThe Wishing Game by Meg Shaffer
Genres: Adult, Contemporary
Published by Penguin Random House on May 30, 2023
Format: Hardcover (304 pages) • Source: Book of the Month
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Years ago, a reclusive mega-bestselling children’s author quit writing under mysterious circumstances. Suddenly he resurfaces with a brand-new book and a one-of-a-kind competition, offering a prize that will change the winner’s life in this absorbing and whimsical novel.

Make a wish. . . .

Lucy Hart knows better than anyone what it’s like to grow up without parents who loved her. In a childhood marked by neglect and loneliness, Lucy found her solace in books, namely the Clock Island series by Jack Masterson. Now a twenty-six-year-old teacher’s aide, she is able to share her love of reading with bright, young students, especially seven-year-old Christopher Lamb, who was left orphaned after the tragic death of his parents. Lucy would give anything to adopt Christopher, but even the idea of becoming a family seems like an impossible dream without proper funds and stability.

But be careful what you wish for. . . .

Just when Lucy is about to give up, Jack Masterson announces he’s finally written a new book. Even better, he’s holding a contest at his home on the real Clock Island, and Lucy is one of the four lucky contestants chosen to compete to win the one and only copy.

For Lucy, the chance of winning the most sought-after book in the world means everything to her and Christopher. But first she must contend with ruthless book collectors, wily opponents, and the distractingly handsome (and grumpy) Hugo Reese, the illustrator of the Clock Island books. Meanwhile, Jack “the Mastermind” Masterson is plotting the ultimate twist ending that could change all their lives forever.

. . . You might just get it.

I was soooo looking forward to THE WISHING GAME. The book sounded so magical (while being realistic and not actually featuring any magic or fantastical elements) and the cover? Absolutely one of my favorites I’ve ever seen… which is why it’s such a bummer that I feel so incredibly mixed on this book. I had to really think about a rating for it.

At its core, this book is a whimsical ode to children’s books and the lifelong impact they have on us. I loved that aspect! It was so cute in a lot of ways. If I sit here and think about the story as a whole and ignore a lot of the details that really bugged me, this could have easily been very highly rated.

I appreciate the granting of wishes and foster care/adoption plotline in a general sense but I was really uncomfortable with how Lucy went about it all with Christopher. It’s one thing to want to adopt a child that needs it but I personally found it to be inappropriate that she was kissing his forehead and having him sit on her lap (and discussing her desire to adopt him before she was permitted to – I have to think, if it didn’t happen or come true, wouldn’t the kid be in a worse mental space? She even tried to argue that sleeping on the floor of her bedroom in a house she shared with drunk college students would be a better situation for him than the otherwise okay foster placement he was currently in? How does that show she has the best interest of the child in mind??). I feel like so much of that plot area should have been toned down and the book would have been much better for me. I think about the movie Matilda(can’t speak on the book version) and how her teacher cared for her and helped her before eventually adopting her – I just wish this book felt more appropriate like that.

As a result of that (and other things), I didn’t like Lucy and her behavior for 80% of the book! She didn’t forgive her sister or speak to her for so many years based on childhood drama without ever asking her what really was happening. This book honestly reads like a middle grade story because she’s so immature and the game/ children’s book series at its center is so young-leaning. I didn’t mind it for ME but I would find it hard to recommend to readers who really only like adult stories and don’t read YA/MG… even though this IS an adult book! It was just hard to believe that Lucy was 26 years old.

Major complaints and problematic elements aside, the whole story arc, the game, the island, and the relationships were very sweet. I loved Jack, Hugo, and the other folks he invited onto the island. It was a really heartwarming story by the end. I wish the game was a little longer or more fleshed out (it was kind of breezed over in the middle) but the concept and lessons were lovely. I struggle to rate this any higher because of all my problems with it, but I found myself smiling a lot in the final chapters.

I received this book for free (hey, thanks!) in exchange for an honest review. I promise that this does NOT affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. For real.

Review Roundup | The Wishing Game, Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers, and Live and Let ChaiVera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto
Genres: Adult, Mystery/Thriller
Published by Berkley on March 14, 2023
Format: eARC, Hardcover (339 pages) • Source: Library, Publisher
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Put the kettle on, there’s a mystery brewing…
Tea-shop owner. Matchmaker. Detective?

Sixty-year-old self-proclaimed tea expert Vera Wong enjoys nothing more than sipping a good cup of Wulong and doing some healthy ‘detective’ work on the internet (AKA checking up on her son to see if he’s dating anybody yet).

But when Vera wakes up one morning to find a dead man in the middle of her tea shop, it’s going to take more than a strong Longjing to fix things. Knowing she’ll do a better job than the police possibly could – because nobody sniffs out a wrongdoing quite like a suspicious Chinese mother with time on her hands – Vera decides it’s down to her to catch the killer.

Nobody spills the tea like this amateur sleuth.

This was my first cozy, silly mystery from Jesse Q. Sutanto and it won’t be my last! I’m not usually drawn to books with older main characters but this one was on my priority list for some reason. I knew I wanted to read DIAL A FOR AUNTIES but there were some mixed reviews – it seems like the style and absurdity of the story may not be for everyone. I’m glad I started with VERA WONG to ease in because I think Sutanto’s books are definitely for me!

This book centers around Vera Wong, an older Chinese woman who owns a tea shop in San Francisco. One day a dead body appears in her shop and she decides the cops aren’t doing anything right, so she launches her own investigation. Within the first 24 hours, she has four suspects (the people who showed up in her shop soon after the body was found): his wife Julia, his twin brother Oliver, an artist named Sana, and a programmer named Riki. All of these characters were charming in their own ways and they each had a POV in the book (plus Vera). I liked reading from each of their perspectives because they all had varying levels of guilt relating to Marshall’s death. The story is set up to make you wonder if one of them is the murderer and why. It was a little jarring at first having five perspectives but I warmed up to it.

Vera was also someone I needed to warm up to. She was definitely annoying and overbearing for the first half of the book but she grew on me. I loved the found family element between these five characters and Julia’s daughter Emma. The relationship between Vera and Emma was so sweet – I loved watching everyone grow and lean on each other. Another thing I loved? Vera’s cooking! I was so hungry reading this and it made me so happy that she finally had people back in her life that she could cook for and enjoy meals with. Everything sounded delicious.

I kept pausing this book and putting it down in favor of other books during my vacations and readathons, but I finished the final half of the story in a couple of sittings. I wasn’t in love with it right off the bat because, as I mentioned, the characters and story took some getting used to.

Overall, this is a heartwarming cozy mystery with unique characters and an interesting ending (I predicted part of the mystery but missed a few of the connections to fully solve it). I would definitely recommend it!

Review Roundup | The Wishing Game, Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers, and Live and Let ChaiLive and Let Chai by Bree Baker
Series: Seaside Café Mystery #1
Genres: Adult, Mystery/Thriller
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on July 10, 2018
Also by this author: No Good Tea Goes Unpunished, Tide and Punishment
Format: Audio/Physical (346 pages) • Source: Hoopla, Purchased
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The first book in a delightful new beachside cozy mystery series!

Trouble is brewing in Everly's new café. Can she bag the culprit?

Life hasn't been so sweet for Everly Swan over the past couple of years, but now that she is back in her seaside hometown and the proud owner of a little iced tea shop and café right on the beach, things are finally starting to look up--until a curmudgeonly customer turns up dead on the boardwalk. With one of her hallmark glass tea jars lying right next to him and an autopsy that reports poison in his system, it doesn't look good for Everly or her brand new business.

As the townspeople of Charm, formerly so welcoming and homey, turn their back on Everly, she fights to dig up clues about who could have had it in for the former town councilman. With a maddeningly handsome detective discouraging her from uncovering leads and a series of anonymous attacks on Everly and her business, it will take everything she's got to keep this mystery from boiling over.

This is a post full of cozy books – two cozy mysteries and one cozy literary fiction (?) lol. The second cozy mystery I have for you is the actual true definition of a cozy mystery: tiny paperback, super long series, clever/punny book titles… LIVE AND LET CHAI has it all. I enjoyed my experience reading it 30% through and immediately bought the entire rest of the series. Whoops.

L&LC focuses on Everly, who moves back to her cute beachside hometown of Charm, NC to open her tea shop. Her family has secret recipes passed down through generations and she’s decided to share them with her local community. She finds a great house and cafe combo right near the water and works on fixing them both up in the three months before the book takes place. Unfortunately, she gets into an argument with the town council man who didn’t want a business in this “residential” area, and he dies later that day… leading most people in the town to believe she poisoned him with her tea. Needless to say, the business is NOT thriving at this point. Everly has to get back in everyone’s good graces while also trying to identify the murderer so she’s off the hook. Obviously there’s also a cute detective involved.

I enjoyed this story quite a bit – I found the town of Charm to be charming (ha) and quaint. I’m excited to get to know more characters as the books continue! Everly and her family have interesting history with the town that I’m assuming will be played up in future books, so I look forward to seeing more there.

I didn’t love Everly’s discussion on how much weight she’d gained and how she needed to be more physically active to lose weight, etc. – that kind of commentary is just the opposite of what I like to read in books. Luckily it was mentioned a few times and didn’t get played up too often.

The mystery itself was pretty easy to predict and see past the red herrings but it was still mysterious enough. I feel like any time a cozy mystery isn’t too cheesy, doesn’t make me cringe, has cute characters and a good setting, and is not the most predictable book ever… it’ll be a win for me. That’s why L&LC worked for me so well. If my TBR wasn’t so jam packed for the next few weeks, I’d be continuing ASAP.

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