Spring Debuts, Pt. 2: Bitter Medicine, The Build Up, and Sizzle Reel

A mixed bag when trying authors you’ve never read from before is probably to be expected, yeah? And that’s certainly the situation here. I had two DNFs, but I still wanted to take the time to talk about all three of these books because they are debuts and I don’t think either of my DNFs are bad, they’re just not the right fit for me. Thanks so much to Netgalley for the e-ARCs of these three books! I did listen to the third of The Build Up that I read via Scrib’d, but whatever. So let’s dive in shall we? All three books are already available for you to pick up so that’s also exciting!

Spring Debuts: Covers of Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai, The Build Up by Tati Richardson, and Sizzle Reel by Carlyn Greenwald

Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai

Sometimes it takes me a minute to really sink into a fantasy romance, but Bitter Medicine pulled me in pretty quickly. I was immediately invested in Elle, well before I actually understood what was going on. This book is deeply intrenched in Chinese (xianxia?) mythology/folklore, which was really neat and also brand new for me. This is an Urban fantasy setting with magic based in part on embedding magic in calligraphy and it has a suspense plot because Elle’s hiding from someone and Luc, her love interest, is a spy type person. Or a fixer. I mean, whatever you want to call him. The world-building unfolds pretty naturally so I don’t want to say much more. 

This book is an adult fantasy romance, though I’ll be honest that I sort of felt like I was reading a YA fantasy that just happened to have explicit sex scenes sometimes. Of course, it reading like a YA fantasy is probably why I enjoyed it as much as I did because I struggle with adult fantasy because my brain is just really not built for that these days. I enjoyed the world Tsai created quite a bit though and would definitely not mind continuing in this world by following different characters in follow up novels. While the world-building was engaging and relatively easy to fall into, what I really appreciated was the character development and the intricacies of how the character development fit in with the overall plot. For example, with Elle’s development, there was a lot of exploring her familial dynamic and decision making that maybe deviates from the standard or acceptable. Then with Luc, there was a lot about balancing work and life and… Well, I don’t want to say more really because of spoiler possibilities, but just know I really loved how everything came together. 

The only thing that keeps me from giving it five stars is that for once, I think this book needed to be a little bit longer. The pacing was so quick, which was great for my attention, but it also meant that there were scenes that felt like we were really just jumping from one thing to another without time to process. I think if you read this book slowly, the pacing might wind up feeling perfect for you, but I binged it and so I really felt the lack of lingering over parts that felt like we should sit in them for a bit. But I’m definitely looking forward to reading more from Tsai in the future!

The Build Up by Tati Richardson

Ari has just left her old job at a different architecture firm and it’s clear that something went down there, but we’re not really let into the specifics in the first third of the book (which is where I DNF’d). She’s having a disastrous first day, but Porter, her new co-worker, is pretty great and they hit it off. The two of them are both attracted to one another, but tell each other that for a variety of reasons, they can’t date one another. There’s a lot of sexual tension there though.

I really cannot explain what it is about this book that didn’t work for me, but ultimately, I was just disconnected and bored. There’s something about the way the plot/pacing at the beginning that had me feeling disconnected almost like I couldn’t figure out how much time was passing. It felt like there was a lot of talk about work. And there is so much talk about Ari’s body. She’s a plus-sized/fat main character and she has a “roster” of men to rotate through and it’s certainly something that’s body positive, but then there were men being skeevy and also fat shamey and I think I’m also not in a place to read about that regardless of the technically positive messaging going on. Anyway, I really think that you will appreciate this book if you like reading about characters who are in their 40s (if my math is right) and you appreciate some workplace talk/scenes.

Sizzle Reel by Carlyn Greenwald

You know, I never really understood the whole Gen Z/Millennial split until I started reading this book and I was just hit with this wave of, “Wow, this book was not written for me.” Which is fine, but it does mean that I DNF’d this book pretty early. There was already a lot of talk about virginity and when I went to look at the reviews, I confirmed this book was not for me. It’s a love triangle, but I already know who our main character should choose and I don’t really care to read about her thinking she’s in love with someone else. However, if you came out later in your life, like, say 24 as bisexual and have somehow NEVER realized that biphobia is a thing (genuinely, what?) then maybe this book is for you!! Also virginity is a social construct and you do not have to have penetrative sex to not be a virgin.

Okay, I know that above paragraph sounds harsh, but truly, I know that this book does have an audience. It’s just… That audience is not me. I’m old and cranky, but not old enough to appreciate The Build Up so, c’est la vie, I suppose.

Closing Thoughts

What makes you decide to DNF a book? Are you good at knowing when to call it? I am generally not, so I’m actually rather proud of myself for committing to two DNFs even though these books are in the same post and part of me hates that a lot.

Also, have you read any of these books? If so, what were your thoughts? I’d love to hear them!


2 responses to “Spring Debuts, Pt. 2: Bitter Medicine, The Build Up, and Sizzle Reel”

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