I have two wildly different books to talk about in my latest arc roundup! Keep reading to see what I thought of Alyssa Cole’s departure from the romance genre with her new thriller, When No One Is Watching, as well as the latest Tang dynasty historical romance from Jeannie Lin, The Hidden Moon!
When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole (September 1)
When No One Is Watching is Alyssa Cole’s biggest push into a new genre outside of romance. I’ve seen it pitched as Rear Window meets Get Out, but since I’m not familiar with Get Out, that means next to nothing to me. Instead, I was more intrigued by the pitch of a gentrification thriller set in Brooklyn, and that is exactly what this is.
Sydney is back in her old neighborhood after leaving a bad marriage, but things aren’t the same. Her mom is sick and not living at home anymore, creditors are after her, and her neighbors are disappearing one by one, only to be replaced by white people eager to “clean up” the neighborhood. Theo is white, and moved into the neighborhood with his rich girlfriend only for her to lose interest him and break up, despite the fact that he’d invested money in their house, too. While Sydney and Theo first start spending time together working on a history tour of the neighborhood, it becomes more and more obvious that something sinister is happening in their neighborhood.
Wow. I’m not entirely sure what I think of this. So two things to know about me going into this review: one, I am a huge fan of Alyssa Cole’s romances, and two, I’m not a thriller reader. So I think this review will be most helpful for other romance readers who don’t really read thrillers.
I’m not much of one for scary books or movies, and I would say this about pushed my limit. I was definitely freaked out for parts of it and had to put it down. I was hoping to reassure my fellow scaredy cats that this book would be ok, but honestly, it really depends on you and what you consider scary and what your tolerance level is. There was a lot of mind fuckery in this book that got to be a lot and that I found difficult to read, and then the ending kind of went off the rails. So, yeah. I’m happy to talk specifics if anyone has questions about whether this book will work for them! But you might just have to try it for yourself and see what you think.
Overall, I’m not entirely sure whether I can say I liked it or not! I really loved the history in this book, and I’m excited to learn more. This book also got me thinking a lot more about gentrification and what role I play in it and how widespread it is. I was also totally baffled as to what was going on and definitely did not connect all of the clues myself. I think it handled Sydney’s mental state really well and got me questioning so many things as a reader.
At the same time, Sydney had to deal with an incredible amount of race-based bullshit, and it was occasionally overwhelming how pervasive, cruel, and exhausting it was. I imagine it’s pretty authentic, but if you’re looking for an escape from the real world, this book wasn’t that for me. I’m also not sure the ending worked for me? It felt like a huge change from the rest of the book, and then the resolution kind of came out of nowhere. But like, I have absolutely no ideas on what would have worked better for me! It was a tough plot to find any sort of hopeful resolution out of.
At the end of the day, I’m glad I read this because I love Alyssa Cole’s writing and this book got me thinking about a lot of different things, but I’m not sure if I would read another thriller from her. It definitely pushed my scaredy cat limits to the edge, and I’m not sure I can do it again! But then again, I can’t imagine Alyssa Cole writing something and me not reading it, so I guess we’ll see!
Rep: Black female and white male MCs, Black author.
I received an arc of When No One Is Watching from the publisher via Edelweiss.
The Hidden Moon by Jeannie Lin (September 1)
The Hidden Moon is Wei-wei’s book! Her older brother is the hero of the first book, The Lotus Palace, and Wei-wei is his younger sister who is much more studious than he is and not only helps him pass his exams, but orchestrates his happily ever after with Yue-ying, a maidservant in one of the pleasure palaces. I’ve loved Wei-wei from the beginning, so I was very excited to get her book, especially since her hero is Gao, who works with the gambling houses and has a bit of a shady past. I don’t think you have to read the first two books or Wei-wei and Gao’s novella to pick up The Hidden Moon, but the whole series is so good that you may as well!
When an unidentified body shows up in the Pingkang Li district and Wei-wei’s older brother shows an interest in identifying him, Gao decides to start investigating the murder himself because he knows it will bring him in contact with Wei-wei. Wei-wei also finds herself unable to stay away from Gao, and is determined to prove herself helpful to her brother by helping solve the murder. But the more the two of them investigate, the more apparent it becomes that the stakes of this murder are much higher than they could ever have imagined, and the more impossible it seems that they two of them can find their happily ever after.
I loved this book so much! I think it might be my favorite of the entire trilogy. I really enjoyed the forbidden romance aspect of Wei-wei and Gao’s relationship, but how they kept being drawn to each other. I loved how Wei-wei saw that Gao could be a good person and didn’t judge him for his circumstances, and I especially loved seeing her try to carve a space and identity in the world that wasn’t tied to marriage. They’re both such beautifully written characters, and I loved their story. And like the other books in this series, the mystery was really intriguing and added a great layer to the story. Also, it was so fun to see my favorites from the previous two books!
I feel weird having such a long review for When No One Is Watching, and then such a short one for The Hidden Moon when this one is much more my speed, but know that I absolutely adored this book, and I’m thinking of picking up a physical copy for my shelves! It was the perfect romance to capture my attention and sweep me up in the story while I’ve been struggling to read, and I highly recommend both The Hidden Moon and the entire Pingkang Li trilogy.
Rep: Chinese hero and heroine, Chinese American author.
I received an arc of The Hidden Moon from the author in exchange for an honest review.
I wasn’t kidding when I said these are two wildly different books! While I’m disappointed I didn’t love When No One Is Watching as much as I’ve loved Alyssa Cole’s other books, I’m still really glad I read it. And I absolutely adored The Hidden Moon and am so glad we got Wei-wei and Gao’s story!
Have you read either of these books yet? Let me know in the comments! And if you’re following along with #FallIntoRomBingo, When No One Is Watching is a great choice for the Romance Author Writing in a Different Genre square (it’s what I’m using!), while The Hidden Moon would be perfect for Non-Regency Historical.