Category Archives: Review

[Blog Tour] Review for Love and Other Moods by Crystal Z. Lee

The year is already 1/4 over, which sounds fake, but here we are. My most recent read and the book being featured on my blog today is Love and Other Moods. When I saw that Love and Other Moods was New Adult and by a Taiwanese American author I hit the sign up so fast. There aren’t a ton of books by Taiwanese Americans in general, let alone NA, so I was pretty excited. YA is great, but I’m 28 now and having characters my age is nice. I’m reviewing this book as a part of the Bookstagram tour hosted by Colored Pages. You can check out the #LoveAndOtherMoodsTour tag on IG to see the other stops on the tour as well as enter the tour giveaway. You can see my Bookstagram post with my pictures of the book there as well.


Book Information:

Title: Love and Other Moods
Author: Crystal Z. Lee
Publisher: Balestier Press
Publication Date: December 10, 2020 
Genres: New Adult 


Synopsis:

Naomi Kita-Fan uproots her life from New York to China when her fiancé’s company transfers him to Shanghai. After a disastrous turn of events, Naomi finds herself with no job, no boyfriend, and nowhere to live in a foreign country.

Amidst the backdrop of Shanghai welcoming millions of workers and visitors to the 2010 World Expo, we meet a tapestry of characters through Naomi: Joss Kong, a Shanghai socialite who leads an enviable life, but must harbor the secrets of her husband, Tay Kai Tang. Logan Hayden, a womanizing restaurateur looking for love in all the wrong places. Pan Jinsung and Ouyang Zhangjie, a silver-aged couple struggling with adapting to the ever-changing faces of their city. Dante Ouyang, who had just returned to China after spending years overseas, must choose between being filial and being in love. All their dreams and aspirations interweave within the sprawling web of Shanghai.


Review:

Right off the bat the prologue establishes the context for the story with a first person plural narration, a choir of voices speaking their truths: these are diaspora kids who grew up across the globe settling down in Shanghai, a city of contradictions and possibilities. The histories that shaped these characters and this city, which is a character in its own right, are laid out.

The story begins with a wedding and a breakup that precipitate the remainder of the story. Naomi, who is mixed Japanese and Taiwanese American, breaks things off with her fiance Seth and must figure out how to survive in Shanghai alone. Naomi’s friend Joss marries Tay, not realizing that their married life will take a departure from the usual script for their culture.

The primary focal character is Naomi, who undergoes the most change and development throughout the story. However, the other characters do get chapters from their point of view, giving the reader a glimpse of their subjective worlds. These characters are flawed and real, each carrying their own burdens and weaknesses that bring tension to and drive the story. Although some aspects of the plot feels plucked from Asian dramas, the conflicts are genuine and realistic; the detail and texture of the story lend it substance and nuance.

Setting in the story during the 2010 World Expo underlines the major themes of the book: the rise of China on the world stage, the increasingly interconnectedness of human activity across the globe, and the tensions of ethnic/nationalistic chauvinism and how heavy histories in world history inform the lives of everyone on an interpersonal level. The story would be quite different if it were set in a different time and place.

One of the fun parts of reading this book was that a lot of the pop culture references were familiar to me. The mandopop singers that were name-dropped made me feel Seen as a diaspora kid who often consumed more media from the homeland than from the U.S. Ironically, Naomi doesn’t know who most of these people are at the beginning of the story because she grew up pretty disconnected from that part of her heritage. She slowly picks up the culture as she spends more time immersed in the Shanghainese, Chinese environment.

Another extremely recognizable part of the story was the fragility of the Chinese government’s ego when it comes to “sensitive” and “controversial” topics such as Taiwanese and Tibetan independence, border disputes with India, etc. Naomi goes through several incidents at work where sponsorships or products are dropped due to the celebrity representative or corporation involved expressing or potentially appearing to dispute the Chinese government’s claims over certain places. This is completely true to real life and a familiar part of my own experiences of growing up in a Taiwanese household where cross-strait politics were a central topic.

Overall, I enjoyed the story and found it compelling. That said, there were definitely some aspects that detracted from my enjoyment. The first was the cis/allo/heteronormativity. None of the major characters are queer, and there was only a token mention of queerness with a minor lesbian character who showed up only once (if I recall correctly). The framing of the relationships and experiences of attraction were all otherwise very cis/straight/allo. That made the story somewhat difficult to relate to as a queer and trans and aroace-spec reader because the characters were following the usual nonqueer people script of getting married and having children and settling down in their late 20s.

The second thing that bothered me was the ableism. There was some casual ableist language in the writing in places, and then there was a particular plotline (can’t disclose details because of spoilers) where ableism was really pronounced and I was super uncomfortable.

The last thing was the way language was handled. I’m not sure how much of it was the author’s stylistic choice, or pressure from the editor/publisher/industry to cater to a monolingual English-speaking audience, or what, but the way Mandarin was integrated into the story felt really heavy-handed and at points very redundant to me. There was some over-explaining of Mandarin terms. I was somewhat forgiving of that.

What really stood out to me was a scene where a bunch of foods in a list: “mustard greens jie cai sauteed with tofu skin, golden chun juan spring rolls, duck blood ya xie soup with vermicelli, white cut chicken, sticky nian gao rice cakes…” and so on. If you translate the romanized Mandarin, it reads as “mustard greens mustard greens sauteed with tofu skin, golden spring rolls spring rolls, duck blood duck blood with vermicelli, white cut chicken, sticky rice cakes rice cakes.” As a multilingual reader who speaks Mandarin, this just came off as really grating and unnecessary, and I wished the author could have just stuck to using one language throughout the whole list or having a mix of the two languages but picking one language to name each item to avoid the redundancy. Of course, this is just my opinion, other bi-/multilingual readers may not mind, and those who don’t know Mandarin/Chinese may not even notice or care. The author is herself bilingual so I don’t intend to invalidate her experiences, but that’s just how I personally reacted to it.

Content/Trigger Warnings: sexual harassment/assault, cheating, racism, misogyny, ableism, death of parents


Book Links:

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Alibris

About the Author:

Crystal Z. Lee is a Taiwanese American bilingual writer and a member of the Asian Authors Alliance. She has called many places home, including Taipei, New York, Shanghai, and the San Francisco Bay Area. She was formerly a public relations executive who had worked with brands in the fashion, beauty, technology, and automotive industries. Love and Other Moods is her first New Adult novel. Her debut children’s book is forthcoming in 2021.

Author Links: 

[Blog Tour] Review and Fanart for Peter Lee’s Notes from the Field by Angela Ahn and Julie Kwon

Hi, everyone, and happy Year of the Ox! I’m pretty busy with school, but I’m still trying to do book reviews and blog tours. Today’s review is for Peter Lee’s Notes from the Field, written by Angela Ahn and illustrated by Julie Kwon. I read Angela Ahn’s debut novel, Krista Kim-Bap, back in 2018, so it was nice to get a chance to review this second novel of hers. This blog tour is hosted by Hear Our Voices Book Tours and you can find out more about the other tour stops on their tour launch page.

Book Info: 

Publisher: Penguin Random House
Release Date: March 2, 2021
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction

Synopsis:

Eleven-year-old Peter Lee has one goal in life: to become a paleontologist. But in one summer, that all falls apart. Told in short, accessible journal entries and combining the humor of Timmy Failure with the poignant family dynamics of Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Peter Lee will win readers’ hearts.

Eleven year-old Peter Lee has one goal in life: to become a paleontologist. Okay, maybe two: to get his genius kid-sister, L. B., to leave him alone. But his summer falls apart when his real-life dinosaur expedition turns out to be a bust, and he watches his dreams go up in a cloud of asthma-inducing dust.

Even worse, his grandmother, Hammy, is sick, and no one will talk to Peter or L. B. about it. Perhaps his days as a scientist aren’t quite behind him yet. Armed with notebooks and pens, Peter puts his observation and experimental skills to the test to see what he can do for Hammy. If only he can get his sister to be quiet for once—he needs time to sketch out a plan.

Book Links:

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop.org | Book Depository


Review:

If you look up the word “wholesome,” this book should be there as an example. There’s so much to love in this book, which addresses several important issues for kids while being fun and uplifting.

The most obvious thing that attracted me to the book is that it features a dino-lover! I mean, a lot of people like dinosaurs, but when I was younger, I was obsessed. Like Peter, I owned tons of dinosaur books, and while I didn’t have much of a dino figure collection, I had plenty of dino plushies to go around. Science museums were my catnip, and like Peter, I did even think about becoming a paleontologist. Peter’s obsession is arguably more intense and directed since he is actually practicing the work of paleontologist by keeping a detailed field journal, digging in a simulated excavation pit, and so on. But either way, the dinosaur love really made me feel seen.

While they didn’t resonate with my own experiences, I still loved the family dynamics of the Lees. Peter lives with his dad, mom, and younger sister, and his maternal grandparents are still a regular presence in his life. His younger sister L.B. (short for “Little Beast”) is something of a prodigy, which means Peter can have intellectual conversations with her despite their 3-year age gap (he’s in 5th grade, she’s in 2nd), but she’s also just a kid, a ball of irrepressible energy, and an annoying brat at times. Even so, Peter still loves her and feels responsible for her as an older sibling. Their back-and-forth banter was one of the highlights of the book.

Peter’s parents come off as a little strict and uptight at first glance because they’re constantly trying to get their kids to do academic enrichment activities, but they are clearly acting from a place of care, and they do encourage Peter’s passions. His grandparents, by contrast, are much more laid back and doting. Peter calls them Hammy and Haji (derived from “halmeoni” and “harabeoji,” the Korean terms for grandmother and grandfather, respectively), and he can count on them to be a voice of moderation when his parents are being overly pushy. He cherishes them greatly.

This book is something of a love letter to diaspora kids. Peter is a third generation Korean Canadian (his grandparents immigrated to Canada), so he doesn’t have quite the same experience as someone who’s second gen like me, but his family still keeps ties to their roots. He’s one of three Korean kids at his school (him, his sister, and an upperclassman named Samuel), where he feels drawn to Sam and creates a Korean solidarity bond with him. While being one of few Korean kids at his school is lonely, and Peter does experience some insecurity over not knowing Korean, racism and identity struggles aren’t the focus of the book. His Korean heritage is simply the canvas on which the events of the story unfold, informing his interactions with the people and the world around him.

The true focus of the story is two-fold: dealing with the disappointment of finding out that the reality of your dream job isn’t what you expected, and coping with powerlessness when a loved one is sick and your family is hiding it from you. Both of these themes are explored and woven together in a really lovely way, and both felt intensely relatable for me as someone who has experienced both.

Peter goes on an excavation trip and realizes that digging for hours under the sun in clouds of dust doesn’t work for him and his asthma. The coolness of paleontology becomes eclipsed by the grueling, tedious work it requires. This reminded me of my own experience with aerospace engineering, one of my two undergrad degrees. I applied for the major as a space-loving nerd, thinking it was a great match for me, but when I started taking the classes for the major, I realized I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would. The feelings of failure and disillusionment that come with this realization are quite painful, and this book takes Peter and the reader through those stages of extreme emotions with compassion.

At the same time, Peter realizes his Hammy’s health is declining, and the adults are keeping secrets from him about something. He eventually discovers that Hammy is developing dementia and will likely need to move into a nursing home too far away for them to visit regularly. Unable to bear the thought of growing apart from his grandmother, Peter sets to work on a special project for Hammy that leads to an epiphany about his relationship with paleontology and the skills he cultivated through that passion.

One of the things I really loved about this book is that it didn’t treat science and art as mutually exclusive or in competition with each other. Peter draws as part of his field journal entries, and even after he decides to “break up” with paleontology, he still uses his artistic skills and even explores a creative path with them. As someone who has always loved both science and art, I thought this was a nice theme to have.

Lastly, the narrative format of this book is a huge part of what makes this book such an immersive experience. The chapters are Peter’s field journal entries with the date and the current “conditions,” which range from the literal weather to more abstract representations of Peter’s emotional state. The cute illustrations by Julie Kwon help us visualize Peter’s perspective and add personality to the pages. I can’t wait to get a physical copy of the book.

Content/Trigger Warnings: bullying, ableism, hospitalization of a family member

Fanart:

I’ve been experimenting with digital drawing, and it’s still pretty new to me, so excuse the roughness of the drawing. Here’s Peter with two dino friends (not drawn to scale).


About the Author:

Angela Ahn was born in Seoul, but her family immigrated to Canada before she could walk. Armed with a BA, BEd, and MLIS, she worked for several years as a teacher and a librarian, but lately has been working from home, taking care of her two children. When she can, she writes novels for kids. She’s lived most of her life in Vancouver, B.C., with brief stints working in Hong Kong and Toronto. Although she likes to blame her parents for her atrocious Korean language skills, she will admit that she was a reluctant learner. Angela’s proud to say that her children are bookworms, and that every member of her family has a stack of novels by their bed. She’s grateful to be able to write books where her children can see faces, just like theirs, on the front covers. Angela’s first book, Krista Kim-Bap, was published in 2018 and her second book, Peter Lee’s Notes from the Field, will be released March 2021.

Author Links:

Twitter | Instagram | Website | Goodreads

[Blog Tour] Review for These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong+Giveaway

I am slightly late because school is kicking my butt, but I’m excited to present my review for the These Violent Delights blog tour hosted by Shealea at Caffeine Book Tours. The countdown to this release was a long one, but the wait is over! Stay tuned after my review for a TVD-inspired playlist and some fanart (specifically, DIY jewelry I made!) in a separate post.

Title: These Violent Delights
Author: Chloe Gong
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 17 November 2020
Age Group/Genres: Young Adult, Historical

Synopsis:

Synopsis:

The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.

Review:

(Disclaimer: I received an ARC from the publisher as a part of my participation in the promotional blog tour in exchange for an honest review and that did not affect my evaluation of the book.)

There has been a lot of hype for These Violent Delights this year, and I’m happy to say that the book lived up to and perhaps even surpassed the hype for me.

Some people like to hate on prologues in books, but the prologue of this book hooked me from the first line. It sets the tone of the story quite well and establishes the sense of place with immersive details. You get the impression that the city will be its own character (and it is).

The story never lets you forget that the characters are in China in the early 20th century. Beyond mere aesthetic anchors, the narrative is contingent upon the geopolitics of its time and place: a Chinese city that is grappling with the encroachment of foreign European powers and a steep class divide. The push and pull between the natives and the foreigners, the Nationalists (Kuomintang) and the Communists, the Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers, the factory owners and the factory workers suffuse the story with tension.

Situated within this landscape are the two main characters, Juliette Cai and Roma Montagov, who are constantly negotiating their sense of belonging and loyalty to their families and to their own hearts. Both characters are morally gray and complex, making them compelling leads. They contrast a lot in their relationship with violence: Juliette often shoots first and asks questions later whereas Roma harms when he must but hates it most of the time. For those who found Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet somewhat vapid and lacking in chemistry, this story fills in the blanks and builds something substantial between the two star-crossed lovers. The events of the story take place four years after they first met, and there is a pronounced difference between their relationship as younger teens and their present one as 18-year-olds. Not only have they not seen each other in years, much of their innocence has been burned away by the violence they’ve experienced and inflicted since they met. The weight of these histories fuels the conflicting feelings they have toward each other. They oscillate between love and hate, yearning and guilt, and it’s simply *chef’s kiss*.

While Juliette and Roma dominate the story, the supporting cast is also well-developed. All have their struggles and motivations, and their relationships with one another and with Roma and Juliette enrich the story. My two favorites are Kathleen, who’s Juliette’s cousin and a trans girl, and Marshall, a queer Korean boy in the White Flowers who has an unspoken but obvious Thing going on with Roma’s cousin Benedikt. I might be biased because they’re queer, but they have my entire heart.

These Violent Delights gets very real about several issues, such as colonization, class conflict, and diaspora/immigrant experiences. Identity and power differentials play a central role in the story and shape the characters and their choices. The monster and the contagion give corporeal form to existing anxieties and bring them to the surface. While they facilitate violence, they also enables unprecedented alliances. They are not merely an external boogeyman to defeat, they are what expose the humanity of all the characters.

Reading These Violent Delights is over 400 pages, but it doesn’t drag at all. The suspense kept me turning pages, and the build-up was executed well, culminating in an incredible climax. The story provoked a lot of visceral reactions from me because it doesn’t pull any punches. It’s an immersive sensual and emotional experience. I can’t say much about it, but the ending is guaranteed to have you screaming. R.I.P. to all of us who must wait for the sequel.


Book Links:

Amazon — https://amzn.to/2RuiOIO
B&N — https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/these-violent-delights-chloe-gong/1136314561?ean=9781534457690 
Book Depository — https://www.bookdepository.com/These-Violent-Delights/9781534457690 
IndieBound — https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781534457690
Goodreads — https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/50892212-these-violent-delights

About the Author:

Chloe Gong is a student at the University of Pennsylvania, studying English and international relations. During her breaks, she’s either at home in New Zealand or visiting her many relatives in Shanghai. Chloe has been known to mysteriously appear when “Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s best plays and doesn’t deserve its slander in pop culture” is chanted into a mirror three times.

Author links:
Author website — https://thechloegong.com/ 
Goodreads — https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18899059.Chloe_Gong 
Instagram — http://www.instagram.com/thechloegong Twitter — http://www.twitter.com/thechloegong

Enter the giveaway!

GIVEAWAY INFORMATION

Prize: Five (5) hardcover edition of These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

  • Open to international (INTL)
  • Ends on 25 November 2020 (Philippine time)

Rafflecopter link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/950d261642/

[Blog Tour] Review for Rent a Boyfriend by Gloria Chao

It’s finally release week for Rent a Boyfriend!!! I’m so excited to be a part of the blog tour hosted by Hear Our Voices. Rent a Boyfriend was one of my most anticipated releases of this year. I already interviewed Gloria about the book and her second book Our Wayward Fate on my blog earlier this year for Taiwanese American Heritage Week, so if you haven’t read that, go check it out (I also interviewed her about her debut, American Panda, in 2017 if you want to go back even further). Also, stay tuned for my favorite quotes/a bonus mini playlist (did not sign up to do one but I couldn’t help putting one together as I read) for Rent a Boyfriend in a separate post.

Rent a Boyfriend by Gloria Chao
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: November 10, 2020
Genre: YA Contemporary
Pages: 320 pages

Synopsis:

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before meets The Farewell in this incisive romantic comedy about a college student who hires a fake boyfriend to appease her traditional Taiwanese parents, to disastrous results, from the acclaimed author of American Panda.

Chloe Wang is nervous to introduce her parents to her boyfriend, because the truth is, she hasn’t met him yet either. She hired him from Rent for Your ’Rents, a company specializing in providing fake boyfriends trained to impress even the most traditional Asian parents.

Drew Chan’s passion is art, but after his parents cut him off for dropping out of college to pursue his dreams, he became a Rent for Your ’Rents employee to keep a roof over his head. Luckily, learning protocols like “Type C parents prefer quiet, kind, zero-PDA gestures” comes naturally to him.

When Chloe rents Drew, the mission is simple: convince her parents fake Drew is worthy of their approval so they’ll stop pressuring her to accept a proposal from Hongbo, the wealthiest (and slimiest) young bachelor in their tight-knit Asian American community.

But when Chloe starts to fall for the real Drew—who, unlike his fake persona, is definitely not ’rent-worthy—her carefully curated life begins to unravel. Can she figure out what she wants before she loses everything?

Review:

It just occurred to me that I never reviewed either American Panda or Our Wayward Fate on my blog (sad life), so this is my first time really gushing about Gloria’s books/writing here. American Panda captured my heart with its mix of humor and heart back in 2017 when I was lucky enough to read the ARC ahead of its early 2018 release. Gloria has a signature style that has appeared in each of her books, including Rent a Boyfriend. It’s an unapologetic celebration of and tribute to the language and culture of Taiwanese and Chinese Americans, full of tongue-in-cheek puns and allusions.

While Rent a Boyfriend has mostly been hyped as a romcom with the fake dating trope, and it definitely did make me laugh out loud multiple times, it’s also very much a sentimental coming-of-age story that explores the complicated relationship between diaspora kids and their parents and culture. Both Chloe and Drew struggle to reconcile what they want for themselves with what their parents want for them. Drew puts up a front around everyone but his family and paid the price when he decided to drop out of college and pursue art. Meanwhile, Chloe has been playing the role of the perfect daughter in front of her parents and is realizing just how suffocating and unsustainable it is. When their paths cross, they begin to push each other onto a path toward being confident in their true selves.

The romance between Chloe and Drew is a mix of playful inside jokes and deeply vulnerable heart-to-hearts. Both Chloe and Drew have deep-seated insecurities that have held them back, and their budding romance brings all of those issues to the fore in messy ways. The thrill and joy of finding someone who gets them is shadowed by the lies they’ve constructed and the secrets they’ve kept close to their hearts to protect themselves after being hurt by those they love most. These tensions and conflicts are explored throughout the book, establishing its emotional core and fueling Chloe and Drew’s character arcs.

Although the romance is central to free story, I’d argue that the biggest conflict within the story is between Chloe and her mother. Chloe desperately wants her mother to be happy but resents shrinks under the constant criticisms she receives from her. Money, appearances, and purity are everything to Chloe’s mother. Their mother-daughter relationship is poisoned by internalized misogyny. Chloe tries her best to push back against these oppressive ideals, with limited success. She later learns that there is a reason behind it all, and the story balances understanding where her mother is coming from with breaking the cycle of toxicity.

As the comp to The Farewell hints, there’s a hidden cancer diagnosis in the story. Chloe finds out her parents have been hiding her father’s cancer from her and it is a source of sadness and fear for her. She struggles to understand why they would keep something so important from her, among other things. This aspect of the story hit very close to home for me since I also experienced something similar, albeit on a milder level, when my family hid my mom’s cancer diagnosis from me for a week to keep it from affecting my mental state while preparing for a college interview. Even knowing why they did it, it still hurt.

Overall, Rent a Boyfriend was such an emotional experience. I was so invested in Chloe and Drew’s stories. I laughed and sighed and teared up at various points in the story. I think it’s my new favorite from Gloria.

Content/Trigger Warnings: misogyny, slut-shaming, fat-shaming, classism homomisia, cancer


Book Links:

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop.org | Book Depository

About the Author:

Gloria Chao is the critically acclaimed author of American Panda, Our Wayward Fate, and Rent a Boyfriend. When she’s not writing, you can find her with her husband on the curling ice or hiking the Indiana Dunes. After a brief detour as a dentist, she is now grateful to spend her days in fictional characters’ heads instead of real people’s mouths.
Visit her tea-and-book-filled world at GloriaChao.wordpress.com and find her on Twitter and Instagram @GloriacChao.

Author Links:

Twitter: @GloriacChao
Instagram: @GloriacChao
Goodreads: Gloria Chao
Facebook: GloriaChaoAuthor
Website
Newsletter

[Blog Tour] Review for Spell Starter by Elsie Chapman

Hello again! I can’t believe it’s already fall. 2020 has been a rollercoaster ride. Today I’m reviewing one of my most anticipated fall 2020 releases, Spell Starter (the sequel to Caster, which I reviewed last year and is getting a film adaptation!), as part of the blog tour hosted by Shealea @ Caffeine Book Tours. I’m also sharing a playlist for the book in a separate post, so check that out as well!

Title: Spell Starter
Author: Elsie Chapman
Publisher: Scholastic
Publication date: 06 October 2020
Age group: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy

Synopsis:

The Sting meets Fight Club in this magical, action-packed sequel to Caster by Elsie Chapman.

Yes, Aza Wu now has magic back. But like all things in her life, it has come at a great cost. After the tournament, Aza is able to pay off her parents’ debt to Saint Willow. Unfortunately, the cost of the gathering spell she used to strip Finch of his magic has put her permanently in the employ of the gang leader. Aza has been doing little errands using real magic — collecting debts, putting the squeeze on new businesses in the district. But that had never been the plan. Saint Willow is nothing if not ambitious and having Aza as a fighter is much more lucrative than as a fixer. Especially if she can control the outcome. Aza is going to have to put it all on the line again to get out of this situation!

Review:

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from the publisher as part of the tour in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my evaluation of the book.

Listen. I need everyone to support the heck out of the Caster movie when it comes out because I need Spell Starter to be adapted as well. Like Caster, Spell Starter is dark and atmospheric and a feast for the senses and would make a visually stunning experience on the big screen.

It was interesting to see how the author built upon the world, events, and stakes of the previous book. While the primary antagonist is the same, their relationship has changed since Aza is being forced to work for Saint Willow directly, under the threat of ruining her parents’ business. Aza is once again competing in a tournament, but it’s a different situation because the tournament is run by newcomers who have a different agenda and fewer scruples than the Guild. Furthermore, Aza is using magic that isn’t hers that she struggles to control, and her goal is no longer to win but rather to earn Saint Willow money from bets on the outcome.

Aza is no longer the same person she was at the beginning of the first book. Any naivete she possessed is gone; her psyche is haunted by bitterness, guilt, and anger. As her stolen magic drives her to new lows of excruciating pain, the anger grows and the temptation of power and destruction lurks in the shadows. Watching Aza grapple with this temptation and the costs of succumbing was a visceral and immersive experience because of the evocative imagery used to describe it.

The lows caused by the magic extend beyond Aza’s mind and body, affecting the entirety of Lotusland. The magic from the casting tournament wreaks greater destruction on the city than imagined and there is an ominous sense of impending apocalypse throughout the story. The magic is unstable and unsustainable, and the power and ego of a few threaten the whole population.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the book was the new bits of worldbuilding explored through the tournament. The tournament stages are more than aesthetic plot accessories, they’re very deliberately constructed to evoke a bygone era of abundance, a nostalgic tribute to a world that they cannot return to. Clear blue skies and verdant growth exist only in illusions. The final tournament stage in particular is a resurrected image of Lotusland’s Chinatown, and the announcer explains its origins and demise. It seems to serve as a warning to the casters about the consequences of greed and hubris.

The ending is a bit open-ended, but it feels right for the story that the author’s trying to tell. Both in the story and in real life, the destruction of the world (i.e. climate change) is an ongoing process that you can either enable, whether actively or passively, or fight against, and the ending seems to ask, “what will you choose?”

Content/Trigger Warnings: blood, death, murder


Book Links:

Amazon — https://amzn.to/31ioSK6
B&N — https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/spell-starter-elsie-chapman/1135037083?ean=9781338589511
Book Depository — https://www.bookdepository.com/Spell-Starter-Caster-Novel-Elsie-Chapman/9781338589511
IndieBound — https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781338589511
Goodreads — https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/49090458-spell-starter

About the Author:

Elsie Chapman grew up in Prince George, Canada, and has a degree in English literature from the University of British Columbia. She is the author of the YA novels Dualed, Divided, Along the Indigo, and Caster as well as the middle-grade novel All the Ways Home, and the coeditor of A Thousand Beginnings and Endings and Hungry Hearts. She currently lives in Tokyo, Japan, with her family.

Author links:

Author website — https://elsiechapman.com/ 

Goodreads — https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5441417.Elsie_Chapman 

Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/elsiechapman/ 

[Blog Tour] Review+Giveaway for Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore

Happy Latinx Heritage Month! I’m super excited to present my review for Miss Meteor as a part of the blog tour hosted by Karina @ Afire Pages. In a separate post I’ll be doing a playlist and book recommendations inspired by the book, so stay tuned after the review.

Title: Miss Meteor
Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia & Anna-Marie McLemore
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publishing Date: Sept. 22nd 2020
Pages: 320
Age Category & Genre: Young Adult Magical Realism

Synopsis:

There hasn’t been a winner of the Miss Meteor beauty pageant who looks like Lita Perez or Chicky Quintanilla in all its history. But that’s not the only reason Lita wants to enter the contest, or why her ex-best friend Chicky wants to help her. The road to becoming Miss Meteor isn’t about being perfect; it’s about sharing who you are with the world—and loving the parts of yourself no one else understands. So to pull off the unlikeliest underdog story in pageant history, Lita and Chicky are going to have to forget the past and imagine a future where girls like them are more than enough—they are everything.

Witty and heartfelt with characters that leap off the page, Miss Meteor is acclaimed authors Anna-Marie McLemore and Tehlor Kay Mejia’s first book together.

Review:

I’ve read and loved every book by Anna-Marie McLemore and Tehlor Kay Mejia (minus Paola Santiago which is on my TBR), so I was prepared to love this book, which is their first collaboration together, and I did.

I’m not from a small town, but the narrow-mindedness of Meteor reminded me of my own childhood spent in majority white cities at a majority white schools. Lita and Chicky’s status as misfits definitely resonated with my experiences from when I was a teen. While I was not subjected to the slurs that they were, I was made to feel lesser, like an alien for my race and my gender nonconformity. People can be cruel.

One of the things I love the most about this book is the themes woven into it. Both Lita and Chicky struggle to defend themselves and feel confident in their skin at the beginning, and as the story progresses, they grow so much. In particular, I thought it was cool that they were each able to reclaim something that had formerly been weaponized against them, taking ownership of the pain and transforming it into something affirming. The ending felt so triumphant, and I’m so proud of these two girls.

The other supporting characters, especially Junior and Cole (who is a trans boy) were also well developed and had their own journeys that were intertwined with those of Lita and Chicky. The four of them had an interesting dynamic, and I loved how friendship was at the center of the book, not only between Lita and Chicky but also between Lita and Cole and between Chicky and Junior. The intimacy between them was poignant and served as a solid basis for their respective romantic arcs, which were less about falling in love than realizing and/or articulating that they were in love.

Chicky’s sisters were so much fun and provided a lot of comedic relief in the story with their bickering and wit. As former participants and runners-up in the pageant, they served as Lita’s Fab Five (or rather Fab Three?), providing equal parts fashion consultation and moral support. You couldn’t find a better crew.

I also liked the way the setting was developed, with the tourist attractions and space theme. It gave the town a unique character while also providing context for the magical realism elements of the story. The way Lita’s starry origins and impending return to the sky/cosmos reinforced the themes about belonging and identity was poetic, to say the least. In other words, Anna-Marie McLemore’s signature style shines through in Lita’s narrative.

Last but not least, I really liked Cole’s character. He’s out and has been out for a while prior to the start of the book, so his arc isn’t about coming out or seeking validation for his gender. While he does face some trans-antagonism, his story is more about the relationship he has with his sister who is toxic and verbally abusive toward people like Lita and Chicky. He is a person with problems not unlike the problems of cis people. He’s athletic and articulate and astute. I’m sure everyone will love him.

In short, Miss Meteor is a heartfelt, triumphant coming of age story dedicated to all the people who felt like they don’t/didn’t belong.

Purchase Links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Book Depository

About the Authors:

Tehlor Kay Mejia is a YA author and poet at home in the wild woods and alpine meadows of Southern Oregon. When she’s not writing, you can find her plucking at her guitar, stealing rosemary sprigs from overgrown gardens, or trying to make the perfect vegan tamale. She is active in the Latinx lit community, and passionate about representation for marginalized teens in media. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @tehlorkay.

Her short fiction appears in the ALL OUT and TOIL & TROUBLE anthologies from Harlequin Teen. Her debut YA fantasy, WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE, is out 2/26/2019 from Katherine Tegen/Harper Collins, with a sequel to follow. Her debut middle grade, PAOLA SANTIAGO AND THE DROWNED PALACE, releases from Disney-Hyperion/Rick Riordan Presents in 2020, with a sequel to follow in 2021. METEOR, co-written with Anna-Marie McLemore, is out fall 2020 from HarperTeen.

Anna-Marie McLemore was born in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and taught by their family to hear la llorona in the Santa Ana winds. They are the author of THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, a finalist for the 2016 William C. Morris Debut Award; 2017 Stonewall Honor Book WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature; WILD BEAUTY, a Kirkus Best Book of 2017; BLANCA & ROJA, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice; and DARK AND DEEPEST RED, a reimagining of The Red Shoes based on true medieval events. THE MIRROR SEASON, a story about two teen sexual assault survivors, is forthcoming in spring 2021.

Giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Check out the other tour stops:

Tour Schedule

Sept. 20

Afire Pages | Favorite Quotes

Sept. 21

Bookworms Anonymous
Wilder Girl Reads
Books Beyond Binaries
Sage Shelves

Sept. 22

Kirsty’s Book Reviews
Kathrynbooksville
READING (AS)(I)AN (AM)ERICA | Playlist & Book Recommendations

Sept. 23

Enthralled Bookworm | Playlist
Sleepydoe Reads
Ambivert Words | Books, Comics & Podcast by Latinx Creators Recommendations

Sept. 24

Honorary Trickster | Instagram Photo
A Bronx Latina Reads
Oro Plata Myta

Sept. 25

Dragon on a Book
TBR and Beyond
Pages in Waves
Bookish Wanderess | Playlist

[Blog Tour] Review for Lupe Wong Won’t Dance by Donna Barba Higuera

Hello again! I hope everyone is faring okay. I just started school last week and am trying my best to juggle school and blogging. This week I’m pleased to be a part of the blog tour hosted by Colored Pages for a middle grade debut novel featuring a biracial Mexican/Chinese American protagonist.

Title: Lupe Wong Won’t Dance
Author: Donna Barba Higuera
Publisher: Levine Querido
Publication Date: September 8th, 2020
Genres: Middle Grade, Contemporary

Synopsis:

Lupe Wong is going to be the first female pitcher in the Major Leagues. She’s also championed causes her whole young life. Some worthy…like expanding the options for race on school tests beyond just a few bubbles. And some not so much…like complaining to the BBC about the length between Doctor Who seasons.

Lupe needs an A in all her classes in order to meet her favorite pitcher, Fu Li Hernandez, who’s Chinacan/Mexinese just like her. So when the horror that is square dancing rears its head in gym? Obviously she’s not gonna let that slide.

Not since Millicent Min, Girl Genius has a debut novel introduced a character so memorably, with such humor and emotional insight. Even square dancing fans will agree…

Review:

There’s nothing like middle grade fiction to remind me of my bygone days as an awkward tween/teen. In some ways, reading Lupe Wong Won’t Dance felt like peering into my own middle school memories. This book really evokes the way school is basically your entire life, your peers and teachers have the power to make your existence a living hell, and having friends you can lean on means everything.

The story is told in first-person narration from Lupe’s point of view and is imbued with the humor and emotional honesty expected from a kid who’s trying to assert her will in a world where she only has so much control over her life. I honestly related so much to Lupe’s stubborn opposition to the concept of square dancing. If I had been forced to dance as part of my P.E. class I would have hated it with every fiber of my being as well. Unlike me, however, Lupe actually acts on her will and begins a campaign to cancel the whole affair, with mixed, surprising, and even hilarious results.

Lupe Wong Won’t Dance is a wonderful representation of different friendship dynamics and the ups and downs of those friendships. The struggles of causing and mending a big falling out with your best friend, watching your close friends make other friends who either hate you or don’t vibe with you the same way–all of these experiences are explored in the story, along with the exhilaration of having friends who will stand up for you and make you feel less alone.

I enjoyed the family dynamics portrayed in the book. Lupe’s brother is annoying yet somewhat endearing, and her mom is the epitome of “I love you but please stop embarrassing me.” Her grandparents on both sides are doting, and her grandmothers have a funny competitive streak against each other. The book touches on grief a bit as Lupe’s father passed away prior to the start of the story. Her obsession with meeting the baseball player Fu Li Hernandez is motivated in part by the resemblance he bears to her dad in her mind.

Aside from grief, the story also addresses issues like bullying and racism. Lupe’s mixed race background isn’t the primary source of conflict or the main focus of the story, but some of the microaggressions surrounding that are present. More salient to the plot is the hidden history of square dancing and quintessentially “American” traditions that are steeped in racism and how schools can work to make educational environments safe and inclusive for students of color.

One last thing I liked about this book was the representation of one of Lupe’s best friends, Niles, who’s autistic. I was pleasantly surprised by the way Niles’ sensory issues and boundaries around touch and other neurodivergent traits were brought up in the story organically and without too much fuss. He receives accommodations for certain things, such as navigating crowded hallways, something that I think is important to depict and normalize in children’s literature. Disabled people exist and we deserve equal access to education just like everyone else.

If you’re looking for a diverse middle grade story that will make you laugh and maybe even cover your face in secondhand embarrassment, read Lupe Wong Won’t Dance!


Book Links:

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Indigo | BAM!

About the Author:

Donna grew up in central California surrounded by agricultural and oil fields. As a child, rather than dealing with the regular dust devils, she preferred spending recess squirreled away in the janitor’s closet with a good book. Her favorite hobbies were calling dial-a-story over and over again, and sneaking into a restricted cemetery to weave her own spooky tales using the crumbling headstones as inspiration. ​

Donna’s Middle Grade and Picture Books are about kids who find themselves in odd or scary situations.​ From language to cultural differences in being biracial life can become…complicated. So like Donna,  characters tackle more than just the bizarre things that happen to them in their lives. 

Donna likes to write about all things funny, but also sad, and creepy, and magical. If you like those things, she hopes you will read her books! ​

Donna lives in Washington State with her family, three dogs and two frogs. 

Author Links: 

Website – https://www.dbhiguera.com/
Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18946765.Donna_Barba_Higuera
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/donnabarbahiguera/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/dbhiguera
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/donnabarbahiguera

Check out the other stops on the tour!

Schedule

September 8th

Polly Darling’s Books and Tales – Interview and excerpt 
Salty Badger Books – 15 thoughts while reading
El Blog de Aldara –  Playlist 

September 9th 

Melancholic Blithe – Review
Book Lover’s Book Reviews – Review 
Binge Queen – Review 

September 10th

Ecstatic yet Chaotic – Review
Tasting Pages– Review 
Scorpio Reader –   Review

September 11th

Her Book Thoughts – Favorite Quotes
Marshmallow Pudding – Review
Dinah’s Reading Blog – Journal Spread 

September 12th

Yanitza Writes – Review
Loveless Degrees – Review 

September 13th 

By My Shelf – Playlist
READING (AS)(I)AN (AM)ERICA – Book recommendations based on book
Nox Reads – Reading vlog video

September 14th 

Too Much Miya – Review
Sometimes Leelynn Reads – Review as GIFs
distinguished detective phantom – Mood board / Aesthetics

[Blog Tour] Review for We Are Not Free by Traci Chee

I’m honored to present my review for another amazing book release from this week, We Are Not Free, as a part of the blog tour hosted by Colored Pages. I’ve been a huge fan of Traci Chee’s work since her debut with The Reader, which I reviewed back in 2016, so I was excited to see what she would do with this new genre.

Title: We Are Not Free
Author: Traci Chee
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: September 1, 2020
Genres: Historical YA Fiction

Synopsis:

All around me, my friends are talking, joking, laughing. Outside is the camp, the barbed wire, the guard towers, the city, the country that hates us. 

We are not free. 

But we are not alone.”  

From New York Times best-selling and acclaimed author Traci Chee comes We Are Not Free, the collective account of a tight-knit group of young Nisei,  second-generation Japanese American citizens, whose lives are irrevocably changed by the mass U.S. incarcerations of World War II. 

Fourteen teens who have grown up together in Japantown, San Francisco. 

Fourteen teens who form a community and a family, as interconnected as they are conflicted. 

Fourteen teens whose lives are turned upside down when over 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry are removed from their homes and forced into desolate incarceration camps. ​

In a world that seems determined to hate them, these young Nisei must rally together as racism and injustice threaten to pull them apart.

Review:

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I went into this book since this is Traci Chee’s first work of historical fiction and her previous work was epic fantasy. Mostly I was just expecting it to be stellar, and indeed it was.

One of the things I praised The Reader for was innovative storytelling techniques, and that strength of Chee’s carries over into We Are Not Free. Juggling fourteen different points of view is no small task, and Chee executes this with grace and creativity. The story spans about three years total and chronologically follows a different character for each chapter/section of the book as various events and developments occur, from the initial order to leave San Francisco to the homecoming. While most chapters utilize first person narration, there is one chapter that deviates and uses second person, as well as another chapter that is not from one perspective but rather the combined perspectives of all of the characters.

Although all but one of the points of view are written in first person, they don’t blend together or get repetitive. Each viewpoint is constructed in a way that highlights the distinctive qualities of every character. Each chapter builds on the previous ones and adds a layer to the painting, deepening the portrayals of all of the characters, not just the one who’s speaking. Every character has a different reaction to the experience of incarceration and their thoughts and feelings and the personalities that inform them are built into the narration. Some are written like journal entries, others styled as letters to another character, and one even takes the form of poetry/verse. These stylistic shifts serve to disorient and reorient the readers like a turning kaleidoscope.

What makes this story so great is the expansive and diverse emotional landscapes painted in these fourteen points of view, individually and taken together. They are complex and dynamic, ranging from optimism, to resolve, to resentment, to fury, to numbness, and beyond. The writing deftly conveys the rawness of the injustice and trauma these young people are facing.

Dark as the circumstances may be, this story does not succumb to nihilism. The characters work to establish a new normal and support network in the face of immense upheaval. Their deep love for one another and their families comprises the core of this book. As Yum-Yum says, “We are not free. But we are not alone.” Against the odds, they carve out a space for resistance, hope, and even joy–together, as a community.

Interspersed throughout the chapters are photos, illustrations, correspondences, news articles, and so on–some drawing from real archival sources, others fabricated for the purpose of the book–documenting Japanese American incarceration through a visual medium that helps further immerse readers in the time period. I personally love when books are crafted to enrich the reader experience beyond the prose; the added texture brings another dimension to the story.

If I had to pick favorites among the viewpoint characters, it would be Frankie and Minnow. Frankie spends most of his chapter blazing in incandescent rage at his situation, with no outlet for catharsis. This resonated with my memories of my own teen years. Of course, I was not subjected to the violence of incarceration, but I did feel the weight of racism and mistreatment from society, and I definitely lashed out in anger because I didn’t know how to process my emotions constructively. These similarities between us made Frankie’s character all the more real and compelling for me.

Then there’s Minnow, who has the special status of narrating two chapters, the first and the last, whose perspective bookends the story. He is one of the youngest of the group, forced to grow up too much, too soon, and his sensitivity and artist’s eye imbue the story with a delicate, aching sentimentality that lingers even after you’ve turned the last page.

The TL;DR version: We Are Not Free is a gorgeously written masterpiece of fiction that makes a painful but still relevant history accessible to young people.

The end of the book includes some recommendations for further reading, and for the second half of my tour stop, I’d like to add a few books of my own to the list. Check out my post on what to read after We Are Not Free.

Content/trigger warnings: racism (including anti-Japanese slurs), physical assault, torture, war, death, grief


Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Kobo | Indigo

About the Author:

Traci Chee is the New York Times best-selling author of The Reader trilogy. She studied literature and creative writing at UC Santa Cruz and earned a master of arts degree from San Francisco State University. She is Japanese American and was inspired to write We Are Not Free by her family’s experience during World War II. Some of the events she includes in the book are loosely inspired by their stories. She loves books, poetry and paper crafts, as well as bonsai gardening and games. She lives in California.

Author Links: 


Check out the other tour stops!

August 30th

Book Rambler – Welcome post & interview

Mellas Musings – Favorite quotes

Debjani’s Thoughts – Review Only

Sophie Schmidt – Review in Gifts

August 31st

The Reading Fairy – Review Only

Her Book Thoughts – Favorite Quotes

What Irin Reads – Review Only

September 1st

Sometimes Leelynn Reads – Author Interview

The Confessions Of A Music And Book Addict – Review Only

Emelie’s Books – Mood Board

Too Much Miya – Fanart /Art related to the story

September 2nd

Yna the Mood Reader – Favorite Quotes

The Writer’s Alley – Review Only

Marshmallow Pudding – Favorite Quotes

September 3rd

Div Reads – Reading vlog

Clairefy – Review Only

Know Your Books – Favorite Quotes

September 4th

READING (AS)(I)AN (AM)ERICA – Book Recommendations Based on Book

Per_fictionist – Favorite Quotes

Mamata – Review Only

September 5th

Wilder Girl Reads – Review Only

Lives In Books – Book Recommendations Based on Books

A Fangirl’s Haven – Review Only

[Blog Tour] Review for Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Hello again, September 1st is a day of so many incredible book releases, not least of which is Cemetery Boys, and I’m thrilled to be reviewing this book for the blog tour hosted by Hear Our Voices.

Title: Cemetery Boys
Author: Aiden Thomas
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Release Date: September 1, 2020
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Synopsis:

Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.

When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.

However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie up some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.

Review:

The moment I finished Cemetery Boys, I was ready to join the Yadriel Defense Squad. Yadriel is such a lovable character, and I was sucked into his story from the beginning. From his stubbornness to his insecurities, to his yearning for validation and desperation to prove himself, I saw a piece of myself in Yadriel’s character.

I also really loved the supporting cast. Yadriel’s cousin Maritza is a badass and a rebel who doesn’t take shit from anyone. She keeps it real with Yadriel and is his staunchest ally, and I couldn’t imagine a better friend to have by my side. Julian, the ghostly love interest, is also endearing in his own way. He reminds me of a puppy, eager and energetic and a little bit clumsy, loyal and without pretense. In particular, his penchant for getting idioms wrong had me laughing and shaking my head. His dynamic with Yadriel is engaging because of their drastically different personalities.

Yadriel’s big Latinx family, dead and alive, is a constant presence in and core aspect of his story. They span a range of personalities and add texture and nuance to the Latinx representation in the book. Their teasing and doting, their celebratory gatherings and more somber heart-to-hearts, all of these facets enrich the narrative. Notably, some are more accepting of Yadriel’s transness than others, and Yadriel has to navigate the complex tensions of familial love, which is idealized as unconditional but less straightforward in reality.

One of the things I appreciated about Cemetery Boys is the way Yadriel’s gender is inextricably tied to his culture. Going beyond the personal, his gender is linked with the role he plays as brujo. He is part of something greater than himself, a line of traditions that connect him to his ancestors and the gods, especially the Lady of Death, their patron goddess, who endows the brujx with their supernatural gifts.

Cemetery Boys is so many things at once: a cute romance, a heartening coming-of-age story, and a magical murder mystery. It balances the serious with the humorous, the dark with the hopeful. Every character has depth and their own personal journeys and conflicts, internal or external, some linked to salient contemporary issues affecting communities of color. Notably, there is a secondary character, Flaca, who is a trans Latina whose determination to be out and proud at school helps Yadriel in his own transition.

In short, I cannot recommend Cemetery Boys enough, and I hope you fall in love with Yadriel as much as I did. For more about this book and the author, check out my interview with Aiden Thomas.


Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | The Book Depository | IndieBound | Google

About the Author:

Aiden Thomas is a YA author with an MFA in Creative Writing. Originally from Oakland, California, they now make their home in Portland, OR. As a queer, trans, latinx, Aiden advocates strongly for diverse representation in all media. Aiden’s special talents include: quoting The Office, Harry Potter trivia, Jenga, finishing sentences with “is my FAVORITE”, and killing spiders. Aiden is notorious for not being able to guess the endings of books and movies, and organizes their bookshelves by color.

[Blog Tour] Review for Dating Makes Perfect by Pintip Dunn

I didn’t review them on my blog, but I really enjoyed Pintip Dunn’s Girl on the Verge and Malice (both thrillers featuring Thai American characters), so I’m excited to be a part of the blog tour for Dating Makes Perfect, her latest book, hosted by Hear Our Voices Book Tours.

Dating Makes Perfect

Title: Dating Makes Perfect
Author: Pintip Dunn
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Release Date: August 18, 2020
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary

Synopsis:

The Tech sisters don’t date in high school. Not because they’re not asked. Not because they’re not interested. Not even because no one can pronounce their long, Thai last name—hence the shortened, awkward moniker. But simply because they’re not allowed.

Until now.

In a move that other Asian American girls know all too well, six months after the older Tech twins got to college, their parents asked, “Why aren’t you engaged yet?” The sisters retaliated by vowing that they won’t marry for ten (maybe even twenty!) years, not until they’ve had lots of dating practice.

In a shocking war on the status quo, her parents now insist that their youngest daughter, Orrawin (aka “Winnie”), must date in high school. Under their watchful eyes, of course — and on dates they organize based on their favorite rom-coms. The first candidate? The son of their longtime friends, Mat Songsomboon—arrogant, dreamy, and infuriating.

Winnie’s known him since they were toddlers throwing sticky rice balls at each other. Her parents love him, so naturally he’s the perfect person for her to pretend date.

If only he weren’t her sworn enemy.

Review:

I really love the cover for this book, and I’m happy to say that the story lived up to the expectations set by the cover.

Winnie was a lot of fun to follow because her character voice really animated the story. The reader is fully immersed in her head, experiencing the joys and pains of first love, the highs and lows of adolescence, the hopes and fears that drive Winnie’s decisions. She struggles to assert herself, inhibited by insecurities, and that aspect of her personality and character arc really resonated with me because I had a similar struggle when I was her age.

If you love childhood friends to enemies to lovers as a trope, then you’ll probably enjoy the romance in this book. It’s full of electric-charged romantic tension and barely suppressed yearning. Beyond simply physical attraction, Winnie and Mat have a long shared history together that complicates their feelings for each other. This is as much a story about rekindling friendship as it is a romance. Moreover, Mat plays an important role in pushing Winnie to be honest and communicative about her desires.

Central to the conflict and character development is Winnie’s family, her relationships with her parents and with her sisters. The love they share is evident in their interactions, which are a mix of good-humored teasing and more serious discussions. Even as Winnie defies some of her parents rules, she does try to understand where they are coming from and fears losing their love. While she adores her sisters, she also feels trapped in their shadow and unable to shine on her own. These complex feelings enrich the narrative.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is its celebration of Winnie’s heritage. It’s a love letter to the food, the language, and the traditions of Thai culture. Winnie’s narration is loaded with cultural references that lend it a unique texture, which is the kind of thing that I love about own voices books. Thai culture is an inextricable part of Winnie’s identity and facilitates her bonding with Mat as well as Taran, the rival love interest who is also Thai American. Her culture isn’t an obstacle to overcome or a burden to relinquish.

Last but not least, I really enjoyed how the author sprinkled in references to contemporary Asian American media, including To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Never Have I Ever, and Always Be My Maybe. Each reference felt like a special Easter egg for me as someone who’s watched all of the films/shows mentioned and knew exactly what it was alluding to. It’s always fun when pieces of media are in conversation with each other, even peripherally.


Book Links:

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Google | iBooks | Book DepositoryBooks a Million

About the Author:

Pintip Dunn author photoI’m a New York Times bestselling author of young adult fiction. I graduated from Harvard University, magna cum laude, with an A.B., and received my J.D. at Yale Law School. 

My novel FORGET TOMORROW won the 2016 RWA RITA® for Best First Book, and SEIZE TODAY won the 2018 RITA for Best Young Adult Romance. In addition, my books have been translated into four languages, and they have been nominated for the following awards: the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire; the Japanese Sakura Medal; the MASL Truman Award; the Tome Society It list; the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award; and a Kirkus Reviews Best Indie Book of the Year. My other novels include REMEMBER YESTERDAY, THE DARKEST LIE, GIRL ON THE VERGE, STAR-CROSSED, and MALICE.

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/pintip_dunn/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/pintipdunn
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/AuthorPintipDunn
Website – http://www.pintipdunn.com/