Category Archives: Review

[Blog Tour] Review for Just Your Local Bisexual Disaster by Andrea Mosqueda

Happy Pride Month! I regret that I am a bit late to the party for this book tour, but it almost feels appropriate that I’m late to post about a book featuring a bisexual disaster as a blogger who is a disaster bi, lol. Anyway, I’m happy to present my review for the newly released Just Your Local Bisexual Disaster! Thanks to Paola for hosting this tour. You can find the tour launch post on Paola’s blog.

Book Information

  • Title: Just Your Local Bisexual Disaster
  • Author: Andrea Mosqueda
  • Cover Artist: Zeke Peña
  • Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
  • Release date: May 24th, 2022
  • Genre: Young Adult Contemporary

Synopsis

In this voice-driven young adult debut by Andrea Mosqueda, Maggie Gonzalez needs a date to her sister’s quinceañera – and fast. 

Growing up in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, Maggie Gonzalez has always been a little messy, but she’s okay with that. After all, she has a great family, a goofy group of friends, a rocky romantic history, and dreams of being a music photographer. Tasked with picking an escort for her little sister’s quinceañera, Maggie has to face the truth: that her feelings about her friends—and her future—aren’t as simple as she’d once believed.

As Maggie’s search for the perfect escort continues, she’s forced to confront new (and old) feelings for three of her friends: Amanda, her best friend and first-ever crush; Matthew, her ex-boyfriend twice-over who refuses to stop flirting with her, and Dani, the new girl who has romantic baggage of her own. On top of this romantic disaster, she can’t stop thinking about the uncertainty of her own plans for the future and what that means for the people she loves.

As the weeks wind down and the boundaries between friendship and love become hazy, Maggie finds herself more and more confused with each photo. When her tried-and-true medium causes more chaos than calm, Maggie needs to figure out how to avoid certain disaster—or be brave enough to dive right into it, in Just Your Local Bisexual Disaster.

Review

In many ways, Just Your Local Bisexual Disaster feels like it was written for me. It’s set in Texas, features a middle child with 2 sisters and a single surviving parent, and, of course, the main character Maggie is a bisexual disaster. There were lots of little moments and details that made me feel seen in various ways, whether it was shopping at HEB and the feeling of walking into a store from the Texas heat and humidity, or being extremely sentimental and documenting one’s feelings in a creative project to process them. Though I’m not a photographer, as a writer and someone who draws, I appreciated the way Maggie’s eye for detail and beauty suffused her narration.

Veronica, Maggie’s older sister, reminded me of my own older sister as the Eldest Daughter of an Immigrant Family who Made Sacrifices and Became a Second ParentTM. Similarly, Alyssa, Maggie’s younger sister, felt similar to my own younger sister in being the social butterfly sibling with a sassy streak who gets the most freedom as the youngest child. The Gonzalez family dynamic as a whole felt familiar, with the teasing and roasting alongside the care and support. Maggie’s grief from having a parent gone too soon and the awkwardness of having to explain their absence resonated with my experience of losing my mother as well.

Parallels to my own life aside, Maggie’s voice really drew me into her story. Her struggles with indecision, confusing feelings, and the desperate desire to avoid disappointing her family were all portrayed with nuance and realism. True to the title of the book, Maggie is messy because good intentions don’t always pan out, and as humans, we can get so caught up in our own problems that we fail to notice the struggles and feelings of those around us.

This book felt like a big hug because of how central family and friendship are to the story. Although romance is an important part of the book because of the three different love interests, Maggie’s devotion to her family and her determination to do right by her friends when she ends up hurting them are just as important. The story is a love letter to every queer teen who needs reassurance that it’s okay to not know what you’re doing and to make mistakes and that you deserve people who love you and support you through your messiness.

Purchase a copy of Just Your Local Bisexual Disaster:

About the Author

Andrea Mosqueda is a Chicana writer. She was born and raised in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley. She currently lives in Brooklyn with her partner and works in the publishing industry as an assistant editor. When she’s not writing or editing, she can be found doing her makeup, drinking too much coffee, and angsting over children’s media. Just Your Local Bisexual Disaster is her first book.

Find Andrea Mosqueda on social media:

[Blog Tour] Review for A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin

Hello again. I am currently struggling through the last stretch of finals week, but I’m excited to kick off this year’s Taiwanese American Heritage Week, where I celebrate authors of Taiwanese heritage on my blog, with my review for A Magic Steeped in Poison, written by a Taiwanese Canadian author. Thanks to Colored Pages for hosting the blog tour. You can find the rest of the tour stops on their tour launch page.

Book Information

Title: A Magic Steeped in Poison
Author: Judy I. Lin
Series: The Book of Tea
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Publication Date: March 29th, 2022
Genres: Young Adult, fantasy

Synopsis

I used to look at my hands with pride. Now all I can think is, “These are the hands that buried my mother.”

For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it’s her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her—the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu.

When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom’s greatest shénnóng-shī—masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making—she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favor from the princess, which may be Ning’s only chance to save her sister’s life.

But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger.

Review

A Magic Steeped in Poison was one of my most anticipated releases of 2022, and it definitely delivered everything I wanted and more.

This book was really a treat for me as someone who grew up with Chinese dramas. It was atmospheric and trope-y in all the best ways while also delivering a fresh story with an innovative magic system, written in lush prose that stimulates all the senses.

Ning, the protagonist of A Magic Steeped in Poison, is the kind of person you can’t help but root for. Her family is the center of her world, she’s competent but humble and kind, and she’s always just Trying Her Best. Even as the story is an epic fantasy with a broad political landscape, it’s also a deeply personal coming-of-age story for Ning. Having grown up in a far-flung rural village in the empire of Dàxī, leaving her family behind and traveling to the capital city for the shénnóng-shī competition dumps her into a world much bigger than what she’s used to. There’s the culture shock of moving to a big city but also the stark class disparities between herself and most of her fellow competitors. Her interpersonal interactions in the capital are intertwined with higher political stakes, and she has to decide who to trust, what she values, and where her loyalties lie.

Chief among the people who test her ability to judge others’ character is Kang, a mysterious, handsome, and brooding boy full of secrets. They meet seemingly by chance and then establish a magical bond through a shared brew of tea that brings them into a surprisingly intimate closeness while also giving them reason to question whether the other person is everything they seem to be. There is sweetness and angst, disclosure and mistrust, and the tension between them extends throughout the story.

Another key player in the story who is full of mystery is the regent, Princess Zhen, who is the host of the shénnóng-shī competition. Ning doesn’t know what to make of her but is pulled into her orbit when she gets entangled in the royal court’s lethal power plays. I may have a soft spot for Zhen because of her romance with her bodyguard, Ruyi, but having a sapphic romance among the major supporting characters was a nice surprise. I can’t say too much about the princess without spoiling the story, but I definitely grew more attached to her as the story progressed.

A Magic Steeped in Poison is the first in a duology, and the setup for the second book is definitely there. When I finished the last page I was beside myself clamoring for the sequel and even though the wait is much shorter than usual because book 2 comes out in August of this year, I am cursing the publishing gods for not dropping it into my lap now.

In the second half of my tour stop, I have a book playlist, so stay tuned for that. 🙂

Book Links  

About the Author

Judy Lin was born in Taiwan and moved to Canada when she was eight years old. She grew up with her nose in a book and loved to escape to imaginary worlds. She now divides her time between working as an occupational therapist and creating imaginary worlds of her own. She lives on the Canadian prairies with her husband and daughter. 

Author Links: 

[Blog Tour] Review for Lakelore by Anna-Marie McLemore

Hello again! Spring is in the air here, and while school is kicking my butt (as always), I am currently on spring break, so I managed to fit in some pleasure reading for this blog tour! I’m excited to present my tour stop for Anna-Marie McLemore’s newest book, Lakelore! Thanks to Colored Pages for hosting the blog tour. You can find the full tour schedule on their website.

Book Information 

Title: Lakelore
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore 
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: March 8th, 2022 
Pages: 304
Genres: Young Adult Fantasy

Book cover for Anna-Marie McLemore's novel, Lakelore. The illustration features two dark-haired brown-skinned youths standing back-to-back, half-immersed in vivid, multi-colored water with a flight of blue-green butterflies perched on their heads. A large yellow sun, partially eclipsed by clouds, looms behind them. In the water, the word LAKELORE is printed in bold white font with a distortion that resembles light reflecting off dapples in water.
Book cover for Anna-Marie McLemore’s novel, Lakelore. The illustration features two dark-haired brown-skinned youths standing back-to-back, half-immersed in vivid, multi-colored water with a flight of blue-green butterflies perched on their heads. A large yellow sun, partially eclipsed by clouds, looms behind them. In the water, the word LAKELORE is printed in bold white font with a distortion that resembles light reflecting off dapples in water.

Synopsis

In this young adult novel by award-winning author Anna-Marie McLemore, two non-binary teens are pulled into a magical world under a lake – but can they keep their worlds above water intact?

Everyone who lives near the lake knows the stories about the world underneath it, an ethereal landscape rumored to be half-air, half-water. But Bastián Silvano and Lore Garcia are the only ones who’ve been there. Bastián grew up both above the lake and in the otherworldly space beneath it. Lore’s only seen the world under the lake once, but that one encounter changed their life and their fate.

Then the lines between air and water begin to blur. The world under the lake drifts above the surface. If Bastián and Lore don’t want it bringing their secrets to the surface with it, they have to stop it and to do that, they have to work together. There’s just one problem: Bastián and Lore haven’t spoken in seven years, and working together means trusting each other with the very things they’re trying to hide.

Review

You know how some books hurt to read because they hit close to home, but then they heal you and tell you it’s okay to exist as you are? Lakelore is one of those books for me. I mean, I love all of Anna-Marie McLemore’s books, but this one really spoke to me on a deeper level than any of their previous books (which again, are all marvelous still in their own right). The intersections of being trans, neurodivergent, and a person of color are explored in this story from dual points of view, and both Bastián and Lore’s experiences really resonated with me in various ways.

At its core, Lakelore is a story about the Terrifying Ordeal of Being KnownTM. Vulnerability is difficult enough to begin with, but being neurodivergent, trans/nonbinary, and brown in an ableist, transmisic, and racist world, both Bastian and Lore have been made to feel like there is no space in the world for them to exist, like the only way to live is to shrink themselves into digestible packages and to make sure nobody ever sees the unacceptable sides of themselves. In each other, they find kindred spirits. They can info-dump on each other about their favorite niche interests, they can joke with each other about gender, they don’t have to explain life as a brown person in a white world. However, the tension between their desperate hunger for intimacy and their all-consuming fear of rejection keeps every interaction between them balanced on a knife’s edge, where one wrong move or word feels like it could ruin everything. The acts of self-sabotage as a defense mechanism to preempt the possibility of being hurt by the other person? Maybe a little too relatable.

Of course, as usual, Anna-Marie McLemore brings their characters and setting to life with gorgeous prose that invites you to linger and bask in every turn of phrase, to let yourself get swept away by each emotionally charged ebb and flow of words. I kept highlighting passages for the favorite quotes portion of this book tour (coming up in my next post) and quickly found myself stressed by the need to narrow the list down.

Conclusion: Just read the book! It is an Experience.

Content/trigger warnings: misgendering, general trans-antagonism, ableist bullying, gendered harassment

Book Links

About the Author

Anna-Marie McLemore (they/them) writes magical realism and fairy tales that are as queer, Latine, and nonbinary as they are. Their books include THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, a 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist; 2017 Stonewall Honor Book WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature and was the winner of the James Tiptree Jr. Award; WILD BEAUTY, a Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Booklist best book of 2017; BLANCA & ROJA, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice; MISS METEOR (co-authored with Tehlor Kay Mejia); DARK AND DEEPEST RED, a Winter 2020 Indie Next List selection; and THE MIRROR SEASON, which has recently received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Booklist and School Library Journal, and the forthcoming LAKELORE (March 8, 2022) and SELF-MADE BOYS: A GREAT GATSBY REMIX (Fall 2022).

Author Links: 

[Blog Tour] Review for The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh

I’m about 1/3 of the way through the spring semester and am mentally hanging by a thread to the point that I mixed up the date for this blog tour post, but! I got a nice reprieve from school while reading The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea, which was one of my most anticipated reads of early 2022 since I’m a long-time Axie Oh fan and also the cover for this book (by artist Kuri Huang) is gorgeous! Thank you to Colored Pages for hosting this tour. You can find the schedule with all the other tour stops on the tour launch page.

Book Information

Title: The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea
Author: Axie Oh 
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: February 22nd, 2022 
Genres: Young Adult, fantasy

Synopsis

Deadly storms have ravaged Mina’s homeland for generations. Floods sweep away entire villages, while bloody wars are waged over the few remaining resources. Her people believe the Sea God, once their protector, now curses them with death and despair. In an attempt to appease him, each year a beautiful maiden is thrown into the sea to serve as the Sea God’s bride, in the hopes that one day the “true bride” will be chosen and end the suffering.

Many believe that Shim Cheong, the most beautiful girl in the village—and the beloved of Mina’s older brother Joon—may be the legendary true bride. But on the night Cheong is to be sacrificed, Joon follows Cheong out to sea, even knowing that to interfere is a death sentence. To save her brother, Mina throws herself into the water in Cheong’s stead.

Swept away to the Spirit Realm, a magical city of lesser gods and mythical beasts, Mina seeks out the Sea God, only to find him caught in an enchanted sleep. With the help of a mysterious young man named Shin—as well as a motley crew of demons, gods, and spirits—Mina sets out to wake the Sea God and bring an end to the killer storms once and for all.

But she doesn’t have much time: A human cannot live long in the land of the spirits. And there are those who would do anything to keep the Sea God from waking…

Review

Not to be punny, but The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is such an immersive read. Nearly all of the story takes place in the undersea kingdom of the Sea God, which is populated by spirits and immortals of all kinds. Although it feels like a cliche to say so, I got Spirited Away vibes from the story, but not just because it’s Asian. The alienation and wonder of being in a completely different world with its own rules, the race against time to save what one holds most dear, the ever present beauty and danger of the spirit world, and the deceptive appearances of many of the characters—all of these elements lent the story the same enchanting qualities as Spirited Away.

Our protagonist, Mina, is nothing special on the surface, not the most beautiful or talented girl in her village, not even the original bride chosen to be sacrificed to the Sea God.  Yet her love, for her family, for her people, and for the gods themselves makes her shine as the protagonist and spurs her to acts of bravery. Her physical strength may be unremarkable, but her mental fortitude is admirable. She finds strength from the bonds she forges with others and holds them close to her heart.

The supporting cast of characters includes a wide array of beings, from friendly spirits in the form of children to spiteful gods with their own whims and agendas, as well as several of the other girls who were previously sacrificed to the Sea God. Although this story is a standalone, I found myself wishing I could return to the world of the Sea God to hang out with the many friends and allies Mina makes along the way.

At its core, The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is a story exploring the meaning of fate and the power of love to overcome all. Even as she is pressed on all sides by forces that try to bend her to their will, Mina persists in following her heart and holding on to hope. Her story is a guiding light in the storm and a perfect read for times of trouble. Overall, this book is a lovely start to Axie Oh’s venture into the fantasy genre and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

Don’t forget to check out my book recommendations for the blog tour in my next post!

About the Author

Axie Oh is a first-generation Korean American, born in New York City and raised in New Jersey. She studied Korean history and creative writing as an undergrad at the University of California San Diego and holds an MFA in Writing for Young People from Lesley University. Her passions include K-pop, anime, stationery supplies, and milk tea, and she currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada, with her dog, Toro (named after Totoro). She is the author of multiple books for teens, including The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea.

Author Links: 

[Blog Tour] Review for The Red Palace by June Hur

It’s a new year already, which sounds fake since it feels like just yesterday we were starting off 2021. I haven’t kept up with my blog as much as I hoped over the past year, but I’m still hanging in there and getting all my blog tour posts in. Today’s review is for one of my most anticipated 2022 releases, The Red Palace by June Hur, as part of the blog tour hosted by Colored Pages. You can find out more about the tour and view the tour schedule on the Colored Pages site.

Book Information

Title: The Red Palace
Author: June Hur  
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: January 25th, 2022 
Genres: Young Adult, historical fiction, mystery

Synopsis

Joseon (Korea), 1758. There are few options available to illegitimate daughters in the capital city, but through hard work and study, eighteen-year-old Hyeon has earned a position as a palace nurse. All she wants is to keep her head down, do a good job, and perhaps finally win her estranged father’s approval.

But Hyeon is suddenly thrust into the dark and dangerous world of court politics when someone murders four women in a single night, and the prime suspect is Hyeon’s closest friend and mentor. Determined to prove her beloved teacher’s innocence, Hyeon launches her own secret investigation.

In her hunt for the truth, she encounters Eojin, a young police inspector also searching for the killer. When evidence begins to point to the Crown Prince himself as the murderer, Hyeon and Eojin must work together to search the darkest corners of the palace to uncover the deadly secrets behind the bloodshed.

June Hur, critically acclaimed author of The Silence of Bones and The Forest of Stolen Girls, returns with The Red Palace—a third evocative, atmospheric historical mystery perfect for fans of Courtney Summers and Kerri Maniscalco.

Review

(Note: I received an advance reader copy of the book from the publisher as part of my participation in this tour in exchange for an honest review.)

Honestly I feel like I might be repeating myself somewhat from my review of The Forest of Stolen Girls, but June Hur has delivered yet another masterful bone-chilling page-turner. Something about the way she writes infuses each page with the atmospheric essence necessary to immerse you in the world of her stories. There’s not a word wasted, each sentence a silken thread in a grand tapestry that you cannot fully grasp until it has finished being woven before your eyes. It’s like magic.

At the heart of this tragic serial murder mystery is nuanced commentary on gender and class inequality in 18th century Joseon Korea, the ghosts that haunt Hyeon at each step of her investigation and her life as a whole. As a young woman and an illegitimate child of a noble and a former courtesan, she has few prospects in a world of strict gender segregation and class stratification. Her attempts to pursue truth and justice on behalf of the murder victims and the innocent scapegoat for their deaths put her at odds with the prevailing social order, which would prefer that she keep her head down and mouth shut—if she doesn’t want to end up dead as well.

The story makes it clear who is treated as disposable and who can largely harm with impunity, and the challenge of solving the mystery is very much tied up in social power differentials and access to knowledge and resources. Yet the lurking threats to Hyeon and to those who refuse to let the truth remain untold ironically betray the fragility of the powerful and the faults in the system that allow those with less privilege to gain leverage and turn the tables. Thus the story does not fall into a fatalistic view of society but instead instills hope that toxic systems can be upended and justice can prevail.

As with her previous novels, this newest book of June’s centers on family and the complex feelings of daughters toward patriarchal figures. Hyeon’s desperate desire for validation from her emotionally distant and unforgiving father informs her choices and creates internal conflict throughout the story. Her investigation could jeopardize the achievements she has worked hard to attain as a palace nurse, so she must choose between doing what’s right and doing what is expected of her.

One notable way that The Red Palace diverges from its predecessors is the inclusion of a romantic subplot. Folded into the story’s broader theme of gender and class inequality is an aching tale of forbidden love. Eojin and Hyeon share analytical minds and an eye for detail, a strong sense of justice, and a stubborn streak that puts them in danger of retribution by those who feel threatened by their investigation. Yet the strict rules of gender and class dictated by their time and place cut a wide gulf between them, barring them from forging a socially sanctioned friendship and bond of intimacy. The result is a slow-burn romance replete with soulful yearning, stolen glances, and unspoken affection. It is devastating and beautiful, and you’ll have to read the book to find out not only who killed the palace women and why but what the future holds for Eojin and Hyeon. Trust me, it’s worth it.

In my next post, I’ll share some favorite quotes from the book to give a taste of what you’re in for.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Blackwells | Book Depository | Bookshop.org | Goodreads | IndieBound | Indigo | Kinokuniya USA

About the Author

a black and white photo of a pale-skinned young East Asian woman with long black hair who is smiling widely with teeth showing and eyes crinkled; a veil of maple leaves are faintly visible in the unfocused background

June Hur was born in South Korea and raised in Canada, except for the time when she moved back to Korea and attended high school there. She studied History and Literature at the University of Toronto. She began writing her debut novel after obsessing over books about Joseon Korea. When she’s not writing, she can be found wandering through nature or journaling at a coffee shop. She is the author of The Silence of BonesThe Forest of Stolen GirlsThe Red Palace, and A Crane Among Wolves, published by Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, and she currently lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter.

[Blog Tour] Review for Bounce Back by Misako Rocks!

So…it’s winter already, and there are only 6 more weeks left of 2021…Sounds fake but isn’t. I’ve been drowning in schoolwork since it’s the last one-third of the semester, but I managed to carve out some time for the blog tour hosted by Colored Pages for a new middle grade graphic novel release, Bounce Back by Misako Rocks!. You can find the tour information on the Colored Pages site.

Book Information

Title: Bounce Back
Author: Misako Rocks!
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan
Publication Date: November 16th, 2021
Age Range/Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

Synopsis

Friendship, a new school, and a bit of magic converge in this full-color graphic novel.

Lilico’s life in Japan is going well. She has great friends and is the captain of the school’s basketball team. She’s happy!

Then comes her parents’ news: they’re moving to America! Before she knows it, Lilico finds herself in Brooklyn, New York, forced to start all over. And that won’t be easy with her closest friends thousands of miles away or a school bully who immediately dislikes her.

Luckily, anime-loving Nala and Henry eventually befriend Lilico and with help from them—along with her guardian spirit who looks a lot like her cat, Nico—Lilico just might figure out where she fits in.

Review

Before I move on to the substantial aspect, I just want to note that the first thing that struck me when I looked at the cover for Bounce Back was a wave of nostalgia. The art style is highly reminiscent of some popular shoujo manga from the late 90s and early 2000s that I grew up with. In particular, I was reminded of the artwork of Natsumi Matsumoto (St. Dragon Girl, Yumeiro Patissiere) and Arina Tanemura (Full Moon wo Sagashite, The Legend of Princess Sakura, Idol Dreams), but there are others from the same era whose works that I’m not familiar with feature that cutesy, huge-eyed look (Mihona Fujii, Natsumi Ando).

The talking cat on the cover calls back to Luna and Artemis from Sailor Moon, and the story even mentions that resemblance on-page.

It’s always interesting to see how trends emerge and then go out, and when I saw Bounce Back, I felt like I was having a retro moment (not in a bad way though). I definitely feel like this book pays homage to those older shoujo manga.

Blending a shoujo manga-like style with a full-color left-to-right Western graphic novel format, Bounce Back delivers a charming and heartfelt middle grade story about a Japanese girl adapting to her new life in New York City.

Since this is a novel rather than a serialized comic spanning multiple volumes, it definitely feels denser than the typical shoujo manga. There are multiple interwoven plotlines introduced and resolved within the 250-odd pages: Lilico’s adjustment to a new culture; her friendship with the two resident otaku of her school, Henry and Nala; her ascendance to basketball stardom; a blossoming romance with Noah, a popular boy who’s the star of the boys’ basketball team; and the ever-present tension with a basketball teammate Emma who is Nala’s ex-BFF and also the catty Mean Girl of their school.

Throughout all of these events, Lilico’s guardian spirit, borrowing the body of her cat Nicco, acts as her mentor, confidante, and conscience. Though Nicco doesn’t give her a transformation pen to become a superpowered warrior, he does help Lilico tackle the difficulties of social relationships, acting as messenger and liaison in critical moments. He is the embodiment of unconditional love and friendship and a source of comfort that Lilico can depend on. Honestly, I wish I had my own Nicco to snuggle.

At first I was a bit apprehensive about Nala and Henry since interest in Japanese culture can easily slide into fetishizing Japanese people as a whole. Thankfully, their weebiness tones down a bit after the beginning and they establish bonds where they can talk to Lilico about things like fashion and interpersonal relationships rather than Japanese things. The two of them act as valuable guides to Lilico at school.

Though Noah plays a role in helping Lilico come into herself as the star of the girls basketball team and makes a sweet love interest, the primary focus of the story is friendship dynamics and the growing pains that come with them. The bigger question seems to be: How far will Lilico go to gain acceptance in her new school, and can she still be friends with Nala while trying to placate Emma and the rest of the girls on the basketball team?

One of the nice things about the art is that the full-color format allows for darker-skinned characters to shine. Shoujo manga from Japan has a colorism problem where everyone is pale by default despite the range of skin tones in the real life Japanese population, and darker-skinned characters are typically either absent or subject to negative stereotypes. In Bounce Back, brown-skinned Nala is an avid cosplayer and clothing designer who gets to be artsy and versatile while rocking colorful Harajuku-inspired fashion.

In a more general view, the ink wash texture and color patches that don’t quite touch and completely fill the outlines in the backgrounds create a softness that is easy on the eyes and brings out the earnest feelings of the tween characters. The creator’s use of exaggeratedly large eyes along with closeups of the face also helps convey a range of emotions ranging from comedic to sober while underscoring the youthfulness of the characters.

Overall, Bounce Back is a story that brings comfort in the face of big life changes, delivered in a cute and colorful package.

In my next post I’ll be sharing my little playlist I put together for this book.

AmazonBarnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Bookshop.org | GoodreadsIndieBound | Indigo | Kinokuniya USA

About the Author

MISAKO ROCKS! is the creator of Biker Girl and Rock and Roll Love. A self-taught artist from a family of law-enforcement officials, Misako moved to the United States from Japan as a teenager. She now lives in Brooklyn, New York.

[Blog Tour] Review for Jade Fire Gold by June CL Tan

2021 is already more than 3/4 over, which sounds like fake news even though it isn’t. I’m trying my best to juggle my various responsibilities, and even though I was wary of overloading myself, I simply had to sign up for the blog tour for Jade Fire Gold. This tour is hosted by Caffeine Book Tours, and you can find more details about it on the CBT website.

Book Information

Title: Jade Fire Gold
Author: June CL Tan
US Cover
: GUWEIZ
UK Cover
:  Aaron Munday
Publisher
: HarperTeen
Publication date
: 12 October 2021
Age group:
Young Adult
Genres
: Fantasy

Synopsis

Girls of Paper and Fire meets The Tiger at Midnight in June CL Tan’s stunning debut, inspired by Chinese mythology, with rich magic and an epic slow-burn romance.

In an empire on the brink of war . . .

Ahn is no one, with no past and no family.

Altan is a lost heir, his future stolen away as a child.

When they meet, Altan sees in Ahn a path to reclaiming the throne. Ahn sees a way to finally unlock her past and understand her arcane magical abilities.

But they may have to pay a far deadlier price than either could have imagined.

Ferocious action, shadowy intrigue, and a captivating romance collide in June CL Tan’s debut, a stunning homage to the Xianxia novel with a tender, beating heart, perfect for fans of The Bone Witch and We Hunt the Flame.

On-page Representation

  • POC (Chinese-coded characters)
  • LGBTQ+ (Sapphic, gay)

Trigger and Content Warnings

  • self-harm (gouging, eye horror; non-graphic)
  • child abuse (physical, verbal, emotional manipulation/gaslighting)
  • parent death (implied, off-page)
  • character deaths
  • mentions and descriptions of fantasy/magical violence (blood, war, political violence)
  • mentions and descriptions of physical symptoms that might be triggering to those with emetophobia
  • alcohol consumption

Review

Note: I received a review copy of Jade Fire Gold as part of my participation in this tour in exchange for an honest review.

Jade Fire Gold was one of my most anticipated releases of 2021 and I’m happy to say that I had a great time with this xianxia inspired fantasy. I haven’t read a fantasy novel that’s this many pages in a long time, but I never got bored. There were many things to love about it.

First, I love that this story plays with familiar tropes from Western fantasy and Chinese xianxia. The Chinese-inspired setting was easy for me to immerse myself in as someone who grew up on a steady diet of period cdramas. It was fun to see how June tweaked and repurposed cultural elements that resonated with my experiences. For those who aren’t acquainted with them, she provides ample scaffolding to bring this world to life with poetically drawn descriptions.

Epic fantasy vibes aside, what really kept me invested in the story was the characters. The two main leads, Ahn and Altan, each have their own traumas and desires, and a cruel twist of fate brings them together for a life-or-death mission. I found myself questioning what choices and sacrifices they would make to reach their goals, and whether they’d succumb to their inner darkness.

At first, the romance between Ahn and Altan felt a little too insta-attraction-y for my tastes, but it gradually developed enough that I started genuinely rooting for them and dreading the star-crossed lovers trajectory of their relationship. Slow-burn enemies-to-lovers fans: this one’s for you.

I also really loved many of the supporting characters, particularly the four of who are explicitly queer (including a f/f pairing). The story really built up their personalities and backgrounds as their lives converged with Ahn’s and Altan’s, with some interesting twists thrown in. I was distraught any time it seemed like one of them was going to get hurt, or actually did get hurt. I would totally be down to read companion stories about any of them.

Although the conflict in this book gets resolved enough that it could stand alone, the epilogue of the story creates a clear jumping off point for a sequel. I’m guessing the publisher hasn’t committed to one yet until Jade Fire Gold succeeds, but I hope it happens since I am 👀👀👀 at the revelation in the epilogue. Fingers crossed and please check this book out to help make that book 2 a reality.

Also, as usual, stay tuned for my blog tour bonus content in a separate post. 🙂


Book links (note: you are free to use your own affiliate links or to other booksellers):

About the Author

June CL Tan grew up in Singapore where she was raised on a diet of classic books and wuxia movies, caffeine and congee. She holds various degrees in communication studies, education, and film. After teaching for a few years, she took a detour into the finance industry. To no one’s surprise, she soon realized her mistake and made her escape. Now, she resides in New York City, talking to imaginary people and creating fantastical worlds under the watchful eye of her crafty cat. She enjoys telling stories that draw on both the traditional and modern to create something fresh to the eye, but familiar to the heart. Jade Fire Gold is her debut novel. 

Author links:

[Blog Tour] Review for Things We Couldn’t Say by Jay Coles

Hope everyone is having a nice fall (or spring depending on which hemisphere you’re in). The Mid-Autumn Festival and Chuseok are this week on Tuesday! Also coming on Tuesday is a wonderful queer Black YA novel, Things We Couldn’t Say by Jay Coles. I’m happy to be featuring this book as part of the blog tour hosted by Colored Pages.

Book Information 

Title: Things We Couldn’t Say 
Author: Jay Coles 
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: September 21st, 2021
Genres: Young Adult Contemporary

Synopsis:

From one of the brightest and most acclaimed new lights in YA fiction, a fantastic new novel about a bi Black boy finding first love . . . and facing the return of the mother who abandoned his preacher family when he was nine.

There’s always been a hole in Gio’s life. Not because he’s into both guys and girls. Not because his father has some drinking issues. Not because his friends are always bringing him their drama. No, the hole in Gio’s life takes the shape of his birth mom, who left Gio, his brother, and his father when Gio was nine years old. For eight years, he never heard a word from her . . . and now, just as he’s started to get his life together, she’s back.

It’s hard for Gio to know what to do. Can he forgive her like she wants to be forgiven? Or should he tell her she lost her chance to be in his life? Complicating things further, Gio’s started to hang out with David, a new guy on the basketball team. Are they friends? More than friends? At first, Gio’s not sure . . . especially because he’s not sure what he wants from anyone right now.

There are no easy answers to love — whether it’s family love or friend love or romantic love. In Things We Couldn’t Say, Jay Coles, acclaimed author of Tyler Johnson Was Here, shows us a guy trying to navigate love in all its ambiguity — hoping at the other end he’ll be able to figure out who is and who he should be.

Review:

This is a book that really made me go “oof.” Our protagonist, Gio, has to process a lot of complicated and heavy emotions through the story. His anxiety, depression, and PTSD are incredibly raw and so viscerally presented that I found myself hurting alongside him. I can’t speak to the experience of being abandoned by a parent, but I did see myself in many aspects of his struggles with mental illness and trauma. In particular, I empathized with his feelings of guilt and worthlessness, the sense that he did not deserve care and love because he was too broken to do anything but hurt others as a result of his trauma.

Running parallel to the storyline about Gio’s mother and providing some uplifting relief is his budding relationship with the new neighbor who’s also on his basketball team, David. David awakens something in him that he’s never felt before. Although Gio figured out that he’s bi before the events of the story, David is the first boy that he’s truly fallen for, the first person in general who seems to really get his experiences because David has lost someone dear to him, too. The tenderness, earnestness, and vulnerability between the two boys will make your heart ache.

Filling out the cast of characters in the book are Gio’s family and friends: his distant preacher father, his nurturing stepmom Karina, his precocious younger brother Theo, his two BFFs Ayesha and Olly, as well as a host of people in his predominantly Black neighborhood and community that are part of the landscape of his daily life. Each character is given their own depth and humanity, adding texture and nuance to Gio’s story.

There are also a few racist white characters, from Gio’s ignorant Nice White Lady English teacher to an explicitly, aggressively antiblack store manager. These characters will likely be familiar to any readers of color, especially Black readers, who have encountered similar figures in their own lives at various points. Although racism isn’t the central conflict of the story, it still informs Gio’s character and the setting and sustains the realism.

Aside from the plotlines about his mother and David, there’s also one about Gio’s future as it relates to what his father expects. His father is pretty insistent on having him take over the church, but Gio dreams of playing basketball and therefore constantly clashes with his father over what is “really important.” Watching Gio stand up for himself and articulate his desires felt so gratifying. This conflict plays out in so many YA stories, but it never feels old because life is so often a struggle between external pressures and internal desires.

I’m not really one who cries over books super often, but Things We Couldn’t Say made me tear up multiple times. Something about Jay Coles’ writing really just digs under your skin and burrows into your heart. If you’re in the mood for an angsty, cathartic read, this is one to pick up.

And stay tuned for a collection of some favorite quotes from Things We Couldn’t Say. 🙂

Content/Trigger Warnings: alcoholic parent, queermisia, parental abandonment, anxiety (including panic attacks), depression, PTSD, racism/antiblackness

Book Links:  

About the Author

JAY COLES is the author of critically acclaimed TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE, a composer with ASCAP, and a professional musician residing in Muncie, Indiana. He is a graduate of Vincennes University and Ball State University and holds degrees in English and Liberal Arts. When he’s not writing diverse books, he’s advocating for them, serving with The Revolution church, and composing music for various music publishers. Jay’s forthcoming novel THINGS WE COULDN’T SAY is set to be released 9.21.21 with Scholastic! His novels can be purchased at Barnes and Noble or at Amazon.

Author Links:

[Blog Tour] Review for A Clash of Steel by C.B. Lee

Hello, I can’t believe it’s fall already. I spent this summer taking a course on children’s literature, preparing to move residences and then settling in after my move in August, and even giving my first professional presentation on sensitivity reading. I’ve been in a reading slump, but signing up for the blog tour for A Clash of Steel, hosted by Colored Pages Book Tours, helped me get back into reading again. I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of this book for a while, and I’m excited to share my thoughts.

Book Information

Title: A Clash of Steel
Author: C.B. Lee
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: September 7th, 2021
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction

Synopsis:

Two intrepid girls hunt for a legendary treasure on the deadly high seas in this YA remix of the classic adventure novel Treasure Island.The sun is setting on the golden age of piracy, and the legendary

1826. The sun is setting on the golden age of piracy, and the legendary Dragon Fleet, the scourge of the South China Sea, is no more. Its ruthless leader, a woman known only as the Head of the Dragon, is now only a story, like the ones Xiang has grown up with all her life. She desperately wants to prove her worth, especially to her mother, a shrewd businesswoman who never seems to have enough time for Xiang. Her father is also only a story, dead at sea before Xiang was born. Her single memento of him is a pendant she always wears, a simple but plain piece of gold jewelry.

But the pendant’s true nature is revealed when a mysterious girl named Anh steals it, only to return it to Xiang in exchange for her help in decoding the tiny map scroll hidden inside. The revelation that Xiang’s father sailed with the Dragon Fleet and tucked away this secret changes everything. Rumor has it that the legendary Head of the Dragon had one last treasure—the plunder of a thousand ports—that for decades has only been a myth, a fool’s journey.

Xiang is convinced this map could lead to the fabled treasure. Captivated with the thrill of adventure, she joins Anh and her motley crew off in pursuit of the island. But the girls soon find that the sea—and especially those who sail it—are far more dangerous than the legends led them to believe.

Review:

Because my attention span is almost nonexistent a lot of the time these days, getting into a book can take a while. With A Clash of Steel, I didn’t struggle nearly as much as usual, however. Even without a deadline setting a fire under me, I was still sucked into the story from early on.

At the core, A Clash of Steel is a story about yearning, in various senses of the word. Xiang yearns for many things: her mother’s approval, a more exciting life and future outside of the bounds her mother has set for, and control over her own destiny. When she meets Anh, the yearning for a special someone to be by her side forever blooms as well.

A Clash of Steel is very much a classic quest narrative, with a treasure trove waiting at the end and many obstacles, including a cryptic poem, standing in the way. Thematically, the story’s external conflicts reflect Xiang’s internal conflicts as she is forced to make decisions about what she values most. Moving from a sheltered life inland to braving the boundless ocean, worlds of possibility open up before her. Watching Xiang take her first steps into becoming herself free of her mother was satisfying, and thanks to the gorgeous and detailed prose, I found myself also immersed in the rhythms of life in a busy port city and on a ship weathering wind and rain.

Central to Xiang’s growth is Anh, who takes a chance on her, teaches her new things, and provides a different perspective as someone who has lived the unstable life of a seafaring laborer. The sapphic romance between Xiang and Anh made my heart ache. For a while, Xiang tries her best to suppress her feelings for Anh, believing that there is no place in the world for two women to love and find happiness together. There’s so much tension built up over the book that when Xiang finally acts on her feelings, it feels like a deluge.

One of the refreshing aspects of A Clash of Steel is the unapologetic diversity. The South China Sea was historically (and still is) a host to people from all different places. When Xiang joins the crew of the boat captained by Anh’s mother, Huyền Vũ, she becomes a part of a found family from various backgrounds—Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, and Nepali. Furthermore, since the seafaring folk don’t adhere strictly to the laws of the landbound political institutions, there is greater freedom for queer people to be themselves. Two of the men on board the boat, Châu and Arthrit, are married and everyone is fine with it. It shouldn’t be a surprise, given that same-gender relationships are a part the real history of maritime life, but unfortunately this history is often erased in fiction, along with the racial and ethnic diversity of pirates and sailors.

A Clash of Steel was a very special read to me because it has shown me I can write a historical fiction story with Asian pirates and there will be an audience for it. My family is from Taiwan, which has been a critical player in maritime trade for centuries, and I have plans to write a story connected to that history.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a high-stakes adventure, aching romance, and heartfelt coming-of-age story, read A Clash of Steel! And don’t forget to check out my follow-up post with some of my favorite quotes from the book.

Book Links:

About the Author:

CB Lee is a Lambda Literary Award nominated writer of young adult science fiction and fantasy. Her works include the Sidekick Squad series (Duet Books), Ben 10 (Boom!), and All Out Now (HarperTeen). CB loves to write about queer teens, magic, superheroes, and the power of friendship.
Lee’s work has been featured in Teen Vogue, Wired Magazine, and Hypable. Lee’s first novel in the Sidekick Squad series, Not Your Sidekick was a 2017 Lambda Literary Awards Finalist in YA/Children’s Fiction and a 2017 Bisexual Book Awards Finalist in Speculative Fiction. Seven Tears at High Tide was the recipient of a Rainbow Award for Best Bisexual Fantasy Romance and also a finalist for the 2016 Bisexual Book Awards in the YA and Speculative Fiction categories.

Author Links:

Review for Made in Korea by Sarah Suk

Summer is here for me, and the heat and humidity combo is the Worst, but thankfully I’m mostly indoors reading books. Today’s review is for a recent release, Made in Korea, that exceeded my expectations.

Synopsis:

Frankly in Love meets Shark Tank in this feel-good romantic comedy about two entrepreneurial Korean American teens who butt heads—and maybe fall in love—while running competing Korean beauty businesses at their high school.

There’s nothing Valerie Kwon loves more than making a good sale. Together with her cousin Charlie, they run V&C K-BEAUTY, their school’s most successful student-run enterprise. With each sale, Valerie gets closer to taking her beloved and adventurous halmeoni to her dream city, Paris.

Enter the new kid in class, Wes Jung, who is determined to pursue music after graduation despite his parents’ major disapproval. When his classmates clamor to buy the K-pop branded beauty products his mom gave him to “make new friends,” he sees an opportunity—one that may be the key to help him pay for the music school tuition he knows his parents won’t cover…

What he doesn’t realize, though, is that he is now V&C K-BEAUTY’s biggest competitor.

Stakes are high as Valerie and Wes try to outsell each other, make the most money, and take the throne for the best business in school—all while trying to resist the undeniable spark that’s crackling between them. From hiring spies to all-or-nothing bets, the competition is much more than either of them bargained for.

But one thing is clear: only one Korean business can come out on top.

Review:

Note: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Made in Korea is billed as a romcom, and it delivers with its funny and dynamic he-said/she-said dual narrative centering two Korean American teens. Valerie is an ambitious and resourceful girl with an acute business sense while Wes is much less assertive and socially awkward, but still astute in his own way, and sensitive in a way that makes you want to protect him.

The plot of Made in Korea is over-the-top in a K-drama worthy fashion, with twists and turns and increasingly high stakes driving the suspense as the story unfolds. The rivals/enemies-to-lovers trope is wielded with grace and humor as Valerie and Wes navigate that weird gray area where you’re supposed to want the other person to fail but can’t help but respect and even like them.

What really made the book for me is that the lighter romcom elements are grounded by a more serious and earnest theme of wanting to be Seen. While on the surface they may seem radically different, Valerie and Wes both desperately crave the approval and support of their parents. Valerie’s mom constantly compares her to her perfect-on-paper older sister and finds her wanting, dismissing her K-beauty business as child’s play. Wes’s dad requires him to seek out a stable and lucrative field above all else, including his dreams of becoming a musician. These conflicts provide depth to the protagonists’ motivations in their competing businesses and create common ground between them for their blossoming friendship and eventual romantic entanglement.

While their parents may not give them the support they need, Valerie and Wes each has their own support system: Valerie has her Halmeoni, who loves her unconditionally and serves as her rock, and Wes reaches out to his paternal uncle, who understands his experiences as someone who is himself a musician by trade and similarly subjected to the disdain and disappointment of Wes’s father. These relationships add a layer of nuance to their family dynamics and offer hope and solace to the two main characters.

Three other major supporting characters also won my heart: Charlie, who is Valerie’s cousin and business partner; Pauline, a biracial Korean American who ends up partnering with Wes for his business as a way to connect with her heritage; and Taemin, an irreverent Korean American teen who’s trying his best to turn over a new leaf. Pauline is geeky in a way that I understand all too well while Charlie is the charming and loyal sidekick who deserves better because Valerie is too caught up in her own issues to notice that she’s mistreating him. Charlie and Pauline once had a biology partner meet-cute, but a certain incident set them adrift and estranged from each other, so they spend the book trying to find their way back to each other. Taemin is adorable in his bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold way who becomes a surprising hero/villain of sorts when he is dragged into Valerie and Wes’s shenanigans. I would 100% be down to read sequels or companion books about how these characters develop beyond/after the events of Made in Korea.

Conclusion: While reading Made in Korea, I laughed out loud multiple times, and toward the end, I found myself crying as well because it’s so heartfelt. It was a wonderful rollercoaster ride of emotions, and I hope it can bring other readers the same experience.


Book Links:

Goodreads | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop | Books-A-Million | IndieBound

About the Author:

Sarah Suk (pronounced like soup with a K) lives in Vancouver, Canada where she writes stories and admires mountains. When she’s not writing, you can find her hanging out by the water, taking film photos, or eating a bowl of bingsu.

Author Links: