Tag Archives: Chinese

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

I put together a playlist of some mandopop songs from the 2000-2010 era that I thought went well with Love and Other Moods. You can listen to the whole thing on YouTube or click on the hyperlinks corresponding to each song below. I’ve provided some commentary on why I chose the songs in question along with translations of some of the lyrics (done by me).

中國話 (Chinese) – S.H.E

I felt a little conflicted about including this song because I find it to be super problematic. It’s a song that’s about the increased global trendiness of “the Chinese language,” which is the title of the song. It’s problematic because it pushes Standard Mandarin as the representative language of a very linguistically diverse country. It’s also problematic because the singers, the girl group S.H.E, are actually Taiwanese but are singing about being “中國人,” which is often translated as simply “Chinese” but specifically means “Chinese” in terms of nationality, that is, a citizen of the PRC. This kind of posturing to sell an image of Chinese nationalism is by no means unique to S.H.E as a group; multiple Taiwanese celebrities will do this or at least downplay their Taiwaneseness in order to stay in the good graces of the Chinese market. In fact, it’s partially because of this very problematic theme that I felt this song was representative of Love and Other Moods, which as I mentioned in my review, deals with the nationalistic pride of Chinese people in an age of China’s increasing economic power.

Here’s a snippet of the translated lyrics:

Verse 1

Marilyn in London bought a qipao to gift to her mother
A -vsky1 in Moscow fell in love with beef dough dumplings2
[People of] Varying skin colors, varying hair colors,
In their mouths, what they recite and what they speak:
The Chinese language has started becoming trendy

For so many years we laboriously practiced English pronunciation and grammar
In recent years it’s switched to them curling their tongues3
Learning the changes of level, rising, departing, entering4
Level-level-oblique-oblique-level-level-oblique5
So intelligent the Chinese people
So elegant the Chinese language

Chorus

The whole world is learning the Chinese language
The language of Confucius6 is becoming more and more international
The whole world is speaking the Chinese language
The language we speak makes the whole world attentive and obedient

Verse 2

(First two lines since the rest is the same as lines 3-10 of Verse 1)

Susanna of New York opened a Zen style lounge bar
Wolfgang from Berlin pairs the huqin7 with the electric guitar

Translation Notes:

  1. This is an ethnic stereotype generalizing Russian people as having a last name that ends in -vsky, such as Tchaikovsky or Dostoevsky.
  2. The original is 麵疙瘩 which doesn’t seem to have a common translation in English but is a type of noodle/pasta that’s sometimes compared to gnocchi.
  3. This refers to the retroflex consonants in Chinese that are romanized using “h” in pinyin—”zh,” “ch,” “sh”—plus “r.”
  4. This terminology is used in the formal classification of the tones in Chinese linguistics.
  5. This refers to a tonal pattern in classical Chinese poetry.
  6. The version of Chinese that Confucius spoke sounds nothing like any modern Chinese language. This is like saying King Arthur’s language (Old English) is internationally dominant today lmao.
  7. Huqin is a type of traditional Chinese stringed instrument that is bowed, the most well-known of which is the erhu.

獨立 (Independence) – 蜜雪薇琪 (Michelle and Vickie)

This song is meant to represent Naomi’s experiences of establishing herself and becoming independent after her breakup with Seth unmoors her.

Here’s a translation of some of the lyrics:

Verse 1

Who will know first how many possibilities there will be?
Subtracting out half of myself and then colliding with each other
I didn’t expect that it would turn out even better—I have two of me
Appreciating you, complimenting me, challenging you, resolving me
In the faceoff, I see my true self

Chorus

Love allowed me to wise up and become independent, using myself to love people
Getting the things I want, one half [of me] is already established
Preparing to become independent at any time, not greedy and not aggrieved
Bravely breaking through every experience, it’s all about myself

威風時刻 (Majestic Moment) – 孫耀威 (Eric Sun)

If you look closely you’ll notice that the title of the song shares a word in common with the artist’s name. I think that’s probably deliberate. This is a celebratory song about the highs of an unprecedented love that I feel expresses Dante’s feelings toward Naomi.

Translated lyrics (by me):

Verse 1

Come with me
And bring your resolve
Your love is the whole world
So sing then
Advancing toward an unknown craze
With you I’m not afraid of anything

Pre-Chorus

You shook off those romantic words delivered with fresh flowers
You’d rather endure the wind and rain to run to the ends of the earth with me
In this moment, who is richer and freer than I am?
It’s like I’ve stepped onto the world’s red carpet to speak

Chorus

I’ve never felt so happy before
True love is so hard to come by
Happiness is thus bestowed upon me
In this majestic moment
I’ve never felt so happy before
The world extends so far and wide
I’m loving so freely
In this majestic moment

我和幸福有約定 (I Have a Date with Blessedness) – S.H.E

This is another song by girl group S.H.E. I picked this one because it alludes to a long-distance relationship and also mentions Taipei and Tokyo, the two cities that Naomi identifies with because her family hails from those two places. The English title I provided is the official title on the music video and listed on Wikipedia, but I personally don’t find it to be completely right, so in the translated lyrics I changed it. The phrase 幸福 means happiness but refers specifically to a long-term happiness of being content with life rather than a fleeting happiness of the moment.

Translated lyrics:

Verse 1

Good night, Tokyo
Is it still raining?
Taipei has nice weather
I miss you a lot

The starlight dazzles
It’s so great that I could meet you in this life
Oh, I believe
Even without saying anything
You still know

Pre-Chorus

Because the dreary world has you in it
Everything changes
So that even a night-old cup of cheap coffee
Becomes fragrant and sweet

Chorus

Unafraid, unworried
I have a deal with happiness
Even if I’m lonely I’ll ignore it
Because longing reduces love’s distance to zero

For your sake, I’m willing
To put more effort into taking care of myself
I also ask that you never forget
We once had a deal with happiness

給我你的愛 (Give Me Your Love) – TANK

This is a sweet and straightforward love song about wanting to spend the future together with someone that expresses love through hyperbole. It’s a more mellow representation of Dante’s love for Naomi.

Translated lyrics:

Verse 1

Waiting little by little
You feel at ease with me
It feels like our friendship
Has a new rapport
It can’t be bought in the convenience store
The thing we want the most
Is only found in the hands of the person we like

Chorus 1

Give me your love
Let me accompany you to the future
Give me your love
Hand in hand, not letting go
Even if the cosmos explodes
And the seawater all evaporates
I only wish that your memories
Include my embrace

Verse 2

My greatest happiness
Was discovering that I love you
My spirit has gained meaning
I cherish it with every single day
It can’t be bought in the convenience store
The thing we want the most
Is only found in the hands of the person we like

Final Chorus

Give me your love
Let me accompany you to the future
Give me your love
Hand in hand, not letting go
Even if the Earth is destroyed
And it’s too late to shed tears
I only wish that your memories
Include my embrace

[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] Playlist and Fanart for These Violent Delights

Hello and welcome to part 2 of my stop for the These Violent Delights blog tour hosted by Shealea at Caffeine Book Tours. In case you missed it, my review can be found here.

The Playlist

1. Trouble Maker – Trouble Maker (Hyunseung and Hyuna)

I feel like this song fits the vibe of Juliette and Roma’s tension-laden chemistry and uneasy alliance, where everything feels like it could go up in flames at the smallest spark. The music video also happens to have a heist-ish plot that fits the story of TVD. I’ve included some of the translated lyrics here (translation credit: infinity13):

When I look in your eyes, I’m a Trouble Maker
When I stand next to you, I’m a Trouble Maker
A bit more, more, more
As I go more, more, more
Now I can’t do anything for my heart

So that you can’t forget me, I stand next to you again
I make your heart waver, you can’t escape
I steal your lips again and go far away
I’m a Trou-ou-ou-ouble Trouble Trou-Trouble Maker

2. Last Romeo – Infinite

As the title suggests, this song alludes to the story of Romeo and Juliet and the lyrics are written from Romeo’s point-of-view. I thought it was perfect for expressing Roma’s Roma-ntic (don’t shoot me pls) longing for Juliette and single-minded determination to fight for their forbidden love. Here are the translated lyrics for the song (translation credit: popgasa):

I don’t care if it’s poison, I will gladly take it
No other temptation can be sweeter or stronger than you
The dazzling you swallows all the darkness of the world
And that light blinds me
Any kind of darkness loses its strength in front of you
I only need you

Shine on my path,
whether I want it or not,
the decision has been made
I will put everything at risk
I will protect you no matter what hardships come
I can’t see anything else but you

(Rap) I push myself into broken music,
in the bleakness of a tragedy
A creaking prelude of love,
I’m gonna lose myself
That was sweet start
I don’t know how to stop,
my different emotions rise
An illusion that I’m sure of, you and I, got the top of the emotion

Flowers wither and scatter,
the moon tilts and disappears
But my heart won’t ever change,
I love you, I love you

Your lips embrace my sinful lips,
making me drunk with your scent
No other reward is stronger than this
I only need you

Shine on my path,
whether I want it or not,
the decision has been made
I will put everything at risk
I will protect you no matter what hardships come
I can’t see anything else but you

Look world, let me win
Sun, rise and give me strength
Listen destiny, don’t block me
I will protect her

I’ll be the last man to fight against the world over one love
I can face any kind of threat for you,
I only need you

Shine on my path,
whether I want it or not,
the decision has been made
I will put everything at risk
I will protect you no matter what hardships come

I can’t see anything else but you
I can’t see anything else but you
I can’t see anything else but you

(Rap) You’re complicated like a maze
Why do you keep pushing me away
Trust me, your Romeo

I have no one but you

3. I Hate – Infinite

This song is Juliette’s side of the story. The simmering hatred, the painful longing, it’s all there. Here are some of the translated lyrics (translation credit: popgasa):

I breathe but I’m not really breathing
My heart isn’t really my heart
Though you won’t understand
Baby I don’t wanna love you but I love you

I try to stop myself, try to comfort myself
But no matter how much I comfort myself, this pain won’t heal
You’ll probably never know
These days that are like hell

Only one thing I need, it’s you
But I can’t reach you, I can’t let you go
So what do you want me to do?

Let me break down, I can’t even turn around
It’s useless, hate you yeah
I hate you but I love you
I can’t take it, it hurts, it hurts so much, I miss you
My heart breaks so I can’t do anything
I Hate I Hate

I hate you but I don’t hate you
I said I forgot you but I haven’t forgotten
My heart doesn’t feel like my heart
Baby I don’t wanna love you but I love you

This place is a desert with only doubts and no answers
I’m sure you’re comfortable leaving me behind here, go
I’ll probably never know
Why you left me

Only one thing I need, a short answer
But I can’t figure out, I can’t even ask
Why did you leave me here?

Trying to put my broken heart back together
But I’m getting cut from the pieces
Only thing left to do is endure for a long time
Please teach me how to withstand

Isn’t there a way?
So I can breathe comfortably again?

4. 反撃の刃 (Hangeki no Yaiba) – 和楽器バンド (Wagakki Band)

The aesthetic of this music video feels perfect for TVD. Decadence and a feast ruined by calamity? Yes.The title translates as “The Blade of Counterattack,” and indeed, it’s a song about vengeance for what was stolen. It represents Juliette’s hatred for the shadowy enemies that have wreaked destruction upon her city and people. Here are some of the translated lyrics (translation credit: Aka @ Robot and Lyrics):

In the fiercely burning hatred
Climbing over the corpses…

I’ll give my body over to the burning, boiling feeling
Hating the squirming crowd, my eyes open
As we search for an answer to guide us
we join hands now and run away

The flowing tears are countless
The vows I reflect upon and a sword

The time for retaliation has come
Now, voices, crying loud
Attack the towering enemies
with obstinate will and these hands
I’ll twirl in the air and now strike
Until I die
What was stolen,
beyond the line of the high wall

The memories of the wails that pierced me
wander as they continue to search for a place
Like the husk of thirsting affection
the days that pass are a mirage

In the fiercely burning hatred
I accept the cruel reality
The flowing tears are countless
The vows I reflect upon and a sword

5. 你是情人還是敵人 (Are You a Lover or an Enemy) – 孫耀威/依拜·維吉 (Eric Suen and Ipay Buyici)

Angst, angst, angst. The title seems pretty self-explanatory in how it relates to TVD. Here are the translated lyrics (translation by me, do not use or repost without my permission and credit):

Are you a lover or an enemy?
Lovable or loathsome, it’s hard to separate
Are you a lover or an enemy?
Should I embrace you or resent you?

Forget it
At every moment when our vows were overturned
With no choice but to struggle
How could I have time to dispute truth and fiction?

Are you a lover or an enemy?
The more earnest I am, the more my body is covered in scars
Are you a lover or an enemy?
Why is it that happiness seems like a stranger?

Do you love me?
Could it be that heaven and hell have no time difference?
Might as well go crazy
So you won’t have to feign ignorance for me anymore

Are you a lover or an enemy?
Until what point will we keep loving and hating?
Are you a lover or an enemy?
Our hearts must shatter before it’s considered excessive

Let it go
Just admit that you and I can’t give anything
In the end, we are deficient
Of ways to not grieve over tears

Are you a lover or an enemy?
Are you heartless or my destiny?
Are you an instant or eternity?
Are you naive or cruel?

The Fanart

The Background: My original plan was to draw Juliette and/or Roma. However, when I was shopping got groceries at Walmart one day, I saw some packets of beads with color schemes that I thought were perfect for These Violent Delights, and it inspired me to make some earrings based on the characters instead.

The Process: This was my very first time ever making jewelry, so I had to buy some basic jewelry making supplies, including pliers, wire cutters, pins and earring hooks, etc. in addition to the 2 sets of assorted beads. After consulting a few tutorials on YouTube, I got to work stringing beads on the pins and opening and closing loops to attach stuff to the pins and attach the pins to the earring hooks. The results are pictured below. You can’t tell from the photos, but the loops at the bottom, from which the tassels are hanging, are extremely badly formed/ugly, but it’s my first time, so I won’t give myself too much grief over it. Considering how cheap the supplies were, they don’t look too shabby, in my opinion.

The Result:

The pair on the left is for the Juliette and the Scarlet Gang while the pair on the right is for Roma and the White Flowers.

[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] Book Playlist for Spell Starter by Elsie Chapman

Hello, welcome to the second half of my tour stop for the Spell Starter blog tour hosted by Shealea @ Caffeine Book Tours. If you missed my review, you can find it here.

For this playlist, I picked a bunch of songs with a darker tone, and they’re also heavy on the electric guitar. The links direct to YouTube.

Break the Wall – Dreamcatcher

This song expresses a struggle against extreme obstacles and I thought it was a good fit for the central conflict of the story. Here’s a translation the chorus (credit: 7DREAMERS Kim Hojoon):

Come on break the wall
That you protected till now
Fight it with all your strength
Defeat those hardships

Come on save your world
Above your world
Leave deep tracks
Shout towards a higher place

Don’t Don – Super Junior

Aside from presenting a gritty and edgy aesthetic in the music video, this song also talks about greed and corruption in society. I think it captures the spirit of Aza’s struggle with hunger for power and control. Here are the translated lyrics from the first chorus (credit: eeconomistt on LyricsTranslate)

Don’t Don
Everything in this world is about money
You that’s stuck in the middle
What is your mind?
You outta control (what is your mind)
I beg you to look around yourself
You can see the desire in one’s eyes
Stop bangin’ my head (my eyes gone red)

Strong Fate – Wagakki Band

This is a haunting song that sings of decay and a calamitous fate. Here are the translated lyrics for the first verse (credit: Kimhren/Aka at Robots and Lyrics):

One, two
Pasts fold over
A line between two points,
That is the voice that calls death

In this endless place,
Awaiting the cycle of rebirth

Not knowing that you’re confined;
If you examine it, (you’ll know) it’s a trap
Words of power that creep up
Fill your ears

Black eyes peer in,
Questioning the chain

Cries at the number of betrayals become yells
Gasping, shadows reflect in your vision

Roll the Dice – Takanori Nishikawa (T.M. Revolution)

This song is about risk and chance and being chained by darkness. It expresses Aza’s harrowing encounters in the tournament and also her broader sense of disillusionment and powerlessness. Here’s a translation of some of the lyrics from the second chorus (credit: newsonglyrics):

The wind that stroked my cheeks,
Is it the mercy of God or is it the whistle of a devil?
Seeing through the confusion,
Like fearing for the darkness unable to awake from it.

What the Hell – B.A.P

This song expresses revenge and righteous anger and captures the feelings Aza has toward her tournament rival Finch, who killed her sister. Here are the lyrics from the chorus (credit: Kaeryn & namtroll @ TSUndercover via itsbap.tumblr.com)

No way, no way, you strangle me
Even if I scream, no one helps me
Mayday, mayday, I am suffocating
Even if I shove you, even if I stand against this
Oh why are you you you you

What the hell you do, I will repay back
I will find you and wait until the end of the world
What the hell you do, even if I die, I will repay you back
Wait and see, in some time you you you you
You’re gonna break down

[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/ 

Author Interview: Grace Lin

Hi, everyone! If you weren’t aware, it’s Taiwanese American Heritage Week, so in honor of the occasion, I’ll be posting a series of five author interviews and two book reviews focusing on Taiwanese authors and their books. This is the first, featuring middle grade and picture book superstar Grace Lin! Her two most recent releases are A Big Bed for Little Snow and Mulan: Before the Sword.

A Big Bed for Little Snow

Synopsis:

Little Snow loves the new big, soft bed Mommy made him for the long, cold winter nights. But Mommy says this bed is for sleeping, not jumping! What happens when he can’t resist jump, jump, jumping on his new fluffy, bouncy bed?

Mulan Before the Sword

Synopsis:

Family is important to Hua Mulan—even if her parents don’t understand why she would rather ride her horse, Black Wind, than weave, or how her notorious clumsiness can be so different from the graceful demeanor of her younger sister, Xiu. But despite their differences, Mulan has a deep love for her family, especially Xiu. So when her sister is bitten by a poisonous spider, Mulan does everything she can to help, including seeking out a renowned healer. However, it quickly becomes apparent that there is more to both the mysterious spider bite and the healer than meets the eye. On a quest with the Jade Rabbit of legend, Mulan visits extraordinary places, meets Immortals, and faces incredible obstacles while searching for an antidote for her sister. And the danger only rises when Mulan learns of a prophecy foretelling that a member of the Hua family will one day save the Emperor . . . and of the powerful enemies who will stop at nothing to prevent it from coming to pass.

Interview:

Q: Where did you get the idea for A Big Bed for Little Snow?

“A Big Bed for Little Snow” is a companion book to my book “A Big Mooncake for Little Star.” Both books are kind of my homages to classic picture books that I loved as a child, yet yearned to see someone that look like me—someone Asian—in. “A Big Mooncake for Little Star” is inspired by “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McCloskey and “A Big Bed for Little Snow” is inspired by “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats. They are my attempts at making American classic picture books featuring Asian faces, hopefully helping to show that we are also a part of the Americana.

Q: What art tools did you use for A Big Bed for Little Snow?

I’m still very old-fashioned in my art—I don’t use a computer.  I used pencil and paper to draw the sketches; paint and paintbrush to do the paintings. I use a kind of paint called gouache which is an opaque watercolor. For “A Big Bed for Little Snow” as well as “A Big Mooncake for Little Star” I did take photos of models in costumes. Because I was using the patterns on the clothes to articulate the character’s bodies, it was really important to get the folds correct.

Q: As an adult, how do you get yourself into the head of a young child to write a book from their point of view?

Well, I think I kind of have the mind of a child to begin with! Though, I have to admit having my own child has made it easier as well. When I see all the thing that fascinate her, hear all the questions she asks—it is fodder for books!

Q: Your most recent release, Mulan: Before the Sword, was an official collaboration with Disney. How much creative freedom did you get in writing the story? Were you the one who came up with the story’s premise?

I actually was given quite a bit of creative freedom, which was wonderful. They gave me the script and pretty much said I could write whatever I wanted as long as I didn’t contradict anything that happened in the movie. So, yes, I did come up with the book’s premise. It was such a delight to think up the backstory of some of the characters!

Q: I love the full cover spread for Mulan: Before the Sword. How long did it take for you to complete it?

A painting like that takes me about a week and a half, maybe two. It usually takes me about a week to do one spread in a book.

Q: So far all of your books have been for middle grade or younger audiences. Do you think you’ll ever write books for teens?

Well, you never say never, but I don’t see it in the near future. Maybe when my daughter hits the teenage years!

Q: Can you give us any hints for what’s coming next from you?

I’m working on another picture book! Right now it’s called “Once Upon a Book” and co-written with Kate Messner. It’s inspired by the Children’s Book Week poster I did for the CBC—I loved the image so much I wanted to do a book about it. At the time, I was so deep into writing Mulan that I couldn’t think of anything and asked my friends if they had any ideas. Kate did and, now, if I can get the illustrations done, it will be a book!


Grace Lin author photoBefore Grace Lin was an award-winning and NY Times bestselling author/illustrator of picturebooks, early readers and middle grade novels, she was the only Asian girl (except for her sisters) going to her elementary school in Upstate NY. That experience, good and bad, has influenced her books—including her Newbery Honor WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON, her Geisel Honor LING & TING, her National Book Finalist WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER and her Caldecott Honor A BIG MOONCAKE FOR LITTLE STAR. But, it also causes Grace to persevere for diversity as an occasional New England Public Radio commentator and when she gave her TEDx talk “The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child’s Bookshelf,” as well as her PBSNewHour video essay “What to do when you realize classic books from your childhood are racist?.” She continued this mission with a hundred episodes of the podcast kidlitwomen* and now currently hosts two other podcasts: Book Friends Forever and Kids Ask Authors. In 2016, Grace’s art was displayed at the White House and Grace, herself, was recognized by President Obama’s office as a Champion of Change for Asian American and Pacific Islander Art and Storytelling.

Review for Caster by Elsie Chapman

Caster

Disclaimer: I received an advance reader copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My review is based on an uncorrected proof, which may be different from the finalized version that releases on September 3rd, 2019.

Synopsis:

If the magic doesn’t kill her, the truth just might.

Aza Wu knows that real magic is dangerous and illegal. After all, casting killed her sister, Shire. As with all magic, everything comes at a price. For Aza, it feels like everything in her life has some kind of cost attached to it. Her sister had been casting for money to pay off Saint Willow, the gang leader that oversees her sector of Lotusland. If you want to operate a business there, you have to pay your tribute. And now with Shire dead, Aza must step in to save the legacy of Wu Teas, the teahouse that has been in her family for centuries.

When Aza comes across a secret invitation, she decides she doesn’t have much else to lose. She quickly realizes that she’s entered herself into an underground casting tournament, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Real magic, real consequences. As she competes, Aza fights for her life against some very strong and devious competitors.

When the facts about Shire’s death don’t add up, the police start to investigate. When the tributes to Saint Willow aren’t paid, the gang comes to collect. When Aza is caught sneaking around with fresh casting wounds, her parents are alarmed. As Aza’s dangerous web of lies continues to grow, she is caught between trying to find a way out and trapping herself permanently.

My Review:

I’m writing this review barely an hour after finishing, and my first thoughts after finishing were, “I need to go lie down.” I mean that in the best sense, by the way.

Honestly, whoever said urban fantasy is dead needs to take a seat and maybe read one by an author of color, which, in this case, means Caster. I read the entire book in a single sitting because the story grabbed me from the beginning and didn’t let go. It was incredibly fast paced and suspenseful, and I couldn’t put it down. There were many twists and developments that surprised me, and that ending really had me speechless as well as clamoring for more.

Although I was worried at the very beginning because I was dumped straight into an unfamiliar world with a lot of information hitting me, I quickly found my bearings and didn’t feel weighed down by the worldbuilding. According to the author, the story is set in a city based on Vancouver, and I was able to pick up on some of the clues to that in the way geographical elements were named as well as the presence of a substantial ethnically Chinese population. The way the author characterized the city was atmospheric and haunting, like the looming shadow of a very possible future brought about by climate change.

The magic system in this book was very distinctive and easy to follow. As the synopsis states, there’s a price to magic, both on an individual level as well as an environmental level. Using and overusing magic can take an incredible permanent–and even fatal–physical toll on the user as well as the earth itself, giving the magic-using characters’ actions a tangible sense of weight and consequence. The way magic and its aftereffects were described engaged of the senses, so I didn’t have any trouble imagining it in my head.

If I had to pitch this book using comp titles, I’d call it Warcross meets The Hunger Games. The heroine, Aza Wu, enters a high-stakes competition out of desperation to help her family and ends up in over her head. I was on the edge of my seat dreading the obstacles that would be thrown at her next and wondering how the hell she was going to survive them. Like both of the comp titles, Caster features special arenas for the competitions, but generated by magic rather than being real (Hunger Games style) or virtual reality (Warcross). It would be super cool if this book were made into a movie (*stares at entertainment companies*).

Aza, the protagonist, made for a fascinating character because of her willingness to take immense risks. I sometimes think maybe I’m a bit too impulsive for my own good, but watching Aza try to bluff and lie and gamble every step of the way, I wanted to scream because all of my danger alerts were going off. However, she isn’t just bold, she’s also smart and resourceful and mentally tough, so I never once considered giving up on her as a character.

Although the book isn’t primarily about Aza’s Chineseness, her cultural background still played a part in her story and her characterization in various ways. Her family owns a once-prestigious traditional tea shop that’s been passed down through generations and across continents, and her pride in this legacy is a contributing factor to the stakes of the book because she wants to keep alive the languishing business. In addition, while Aza isn’t perfectly obedient to her parents, she’s still very loyal to and considerate of them and how her actions might affect them and does everything she can to protect them, even if it’s to her own detriment. And among the main antagonists in the story is a Chinese gang with a deeply intertwined, albeit parasitic, relationship with the Chinese community of the city. Although the setting is fictional, it definitely draws on real histories and present realities where coethnics in diaspora both help and prey on one another.

Among the main themes of the book are revenge and power and whether they’re worth the cost. The experiences and decisions of different characters and the lasting effects engage with this question from different angles and made me think about what I’d do if I were in their position. So aside from being entertaining, this book is also a thought-provoking read regarding ethics on an individual and societal level.

In conclusion, if you’re looking for a dark, thrilling read with a strong heroine and vivid setting, Caster is a book to check out.

Content/trigger warnings: blood, violence, death/murder

[Blog Tour] Review for Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim + Giveaway

Hi, everyone! I’m super thrilled to be one of the first stops on the blog tour for Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim, hosted by Shealea at Caffeine Book Tours. This book was one of my most anticipated releases of 2019 and I’m glad I got a chance to read an advance copy.

Spin the Dawn
Title: Spin the Dawn
Author: Elizabeth Lim
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 09 July 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Synopsis:

Project Runway meets Mulan in this sweeping YA fantasy about a young girl who poses as a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor and embarks on an impossible journey to sew three magic dresses, from the sun, the moon, and the stars.
Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.
Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.
And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.
Steeped in Chinese culture, sizzling with forbidden romance, and shimmering with magic, this young adult fantasy is pitch-perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas or Renée Ahdieh.

Review:

I’m happy to report that Spin the Dawn lived up to my expectations. It was a gorgeous read from start to finish, filled with with evocative language that painted pictures in the imagination. My favorites were probably the descriptions of the clothes Maia created and the food she ate. Even though food wasn’t the main focus of the story, it still made an impression and contributed to the worldbuilding.

Overall, the worldbuilding was immersive and familiar due to its Chinese inspirations. The symbolism, the clothing, and yes, the food were all recognizable to me, and it was extremely satisfying to see those things normalized because they’re so often othered and treated as exotic decorations in fantasy.

The protagonist, Maia, was someone I couldn’t help but root for. She holds her family close to her heart and wants more than anything for them to be happy. (I’m a sucker for stories that center family ties.) At the same time, she has her own ambitions and dreams as a tailor, and as a fellow creator, I could relate to those sentiments.

If you love the classic quest fantasy, then you’ll probably enjoy this book, as Maia undertakes a journey to collect three magical items, each entailing a trial of some sort. Her physical journey is also an emotional and mental one, contributing not only to her greater goal but also to her growth as a character.

The romance in this book took some time to develop, which wasn’t a bad thing at all, in my opinion. I enjoyed the banter between Maia and Edan and their awkward but sweet steps toward greater intimacy. Something about their dynamic kind of reminded me of Sophie and Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle, but that could be because of something about Edan that’s a spoiler that I can’t talk about in detail. (Ha.)

The ending of this book was a surprise/twist for me and quite an interesting development that left me hungering for more, and now I can’t (but will have to) wait for the sequel, Unravel the Dusk.

About the Author:
Elizabeth Lim author photo

Elizabeth Lim grew up on a hearty staple of fairy tales, myths, and songs. Her passion for storytelling began around age 10, when she started writing fanfics for Sailor Moon, Sweet Valley, and Star Wars, and posted them online to discover, “Wow, people actually read my stuff. And that’s kinda cool!” But after one of her teachers told her she had “too much voice” in her essays, Elizabeth took a break from creative writing to focus on not flunking English.
Over the years, Elizabeth became a film and video game composer, and even went so far as to get a doctorate in music composition. But she always missed writing, and turned to penning stories when she needed a breather from grad school. One day, she decided to write and finish a novel — for kicks, at first, then things became serious — and she hasn’t looked back since.
Elizabeth loves classic film scores, books with a good romance, food (she currently has a soft spot for arepas and Ethiopian food), the color turquoise, overcast skies, English muffins, cycling, and baking. She lives in New York City with her husband.
Author Links:
Author website (and newsletter): https://www.elizabethlim.com/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6926374.Elizabeth_Lim
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/elimpix/
Facebook: http://facebook.com/elizabethlimbooks
Twitter: https://twitter.com/LizLim

Book Links:
Amazon: https://amzn.to/2VDCPwp
Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Spin-the-Dawn/9780525646990
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36683928-spin-the-dawn

Don’t miss the remaining stops on the blog tour:

Tour Schedule (Spin the Dawn)

At the end of the tour, there will be a Twitter chat about Spin the Dawn. Feel free to join in on the discussion.

Twitter Chat Invite (Spin the Dawn)

Last, but not least, you can enter the giveaway for one of three (3) finished copies of Spin the Dawn using the link below:

Scope: Open to international.

Link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/950d261633/

Author Interview: Mina Li

This is the fifth in my author interview series for Taiwanese American Heritage Week. Today’s special guest is Mina Li. In this interview we will be talking about two of her published short fiction pieces and her writing experiences.

As usual, my comments and questions are in bold and labeled with “SW.”

SW: Asking this of everyone: What’s your favorite Taiwanese food? (Feel free to list as many as you like if you can’t pick one.)

Mina: This is going to be a really disorganized list, so in no particular order: scallion pancakes, bubble tea (50 Lan has this oolong bubble tea that is just the right amount of smoky, creamy, and sweet), aiyu jelly, sheng jian bao, pineapple cakes with actual pineapple bits in the filling, custard apples, wax apples, and beef noodles.

Oh, and one thing I was introduced to in the US from my mom: green mango pickles. I have some in my fridge right now.

SW: Scallion pancakes, bubble tea, pineapple cakes, and beef noodles are also among my favorites. I’m sad that there are no Taiwanese bubble tea chains anywhere near me. 😦

So I just finished reading “Of Peach Trees and Coral-Red Roses” and loved it. It strikes me as a very Asian American story, with a heroine who has been displaced from her homeland and is fighting to preserve her connection to it. What inspired this story?

Mina: There was a fairy tale meme going around with a writing group of mine, where we could request retellings starring our OCs. A good friend of mine requested Tam Lin with the heroine of another story I had, and a side character that she had Unresolved Romantic Tension with. As in, the only story that had them remotely as a pairing was a drunk kiss during a wedding reception.

And then it turned out some of the readers were into that pairing, so I took it and ran. That was back in 2012 or so. The story written wasn’t “Peach Trees” since it was mainly for readers familiar with my OCs, and also, it was from “Tam’s” point of view.

Around 2013-2014 I was really considering submitting my work, and I thought of rewriting that story from “Janet” (now Kairu’s) PoV. It really does strike me that you liked the diaspora aspect of it, considering an editor I’d spoken to at the time said they wouldn’t have taken the story. I still remember their words: “Why can’t it take place in her own country?”

It does bother me that there are those out there that don’t recognize that Asian diaspora characters aren’t white people with Asian faces, that we’ll have different experiences that aren’t quite the same as our white or Asian-in-Asia counterparts. So when I was writing “Peach Trees,” I took special care in how Kairu perceived The Borders v. the kingdom of Yue. That took more work than I was anticipating, since there were a lot of internalized things I had to confront, like beauty standards and perception of environment. I suppose one of the points I was trying to make was that an Asian character in a Western environment isn’t necessarily going to be the same as a white character in a Western environment. There seems to be a notion that when people immigrate to the West, they abandon their culture and adapt right away, and when it comes to my immigrant family, immediate and extended, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Warning: SPOILERS for “Of Peach Trees and Coral-Red Roses.” Highlight to read:

Jumping off of that point, that’s actually where the peach tree came in. Fairies are weak to iron, but in Chinese folklore, if you want to keep away demons, peach branches and peach wood are used in exorcising demons. The original weapon I was going to have for Kairu would have been some MacGyvering of iron and a peach branch. A beta reader, R.P., suggested a different idea where the peach tree was magic, and the rest is history. (I really, really owe her for suggesting that–it was such a good idea that I managed to rewrite the draft in two weeks!) I like how it has Kairu triumphing over the faerie queen using a weapon from her own folklore, and what that implies for diaspora–that despite their new surroundings, their culture is still viable and valid. (End spoilers.)

SW: To be honest, I’ve been wanting to write secondary world diaspora stories because diaspora seems to be missing from a lot of high fantasy. In most fantasy stories, racial/ethnic groups tend to be very self-segregated, which feels unrealistic given that the migration of people has happened since as long as there have been people.

I also read “Dreaming Keys” because I bought the An Alphabet of Embers anthology a while back. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the main character/narrator was Taiwanese American and that the story used actual Chinese characters (hanzi) in dialogue, as opposed to pinyin and/or translations. What motivated this decision, and how would you say your multilingual background plays into your writing?

Mina: A good friend of mine showed me John Chu’s “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere,” and that was really the first story I’d seen that had hanzi instead of pinyin or translations. It was revelatory, in a sense, because before that, I would have thought “no, I can’t do that, it’s simply not done, how are readers going to understand what the characters are saying?” Chu showed that it could be done, and extremely well, too–that story won a Hugo! So I’d have to say that that story had a major influence in writing hanzi dialogue in “Dreaming Keys.”

Prior to that, a lot of my multilingual background was trying to directly translate proverbs or hanfu items into terms that non-Chinese/Taiwanese readers could understand. I remember adding notes at the end of stories that explained the proverbs or any terms/items that readers might not be able to get.

When it comes to Bethany being Taiwanese-American, I guess the motivation in its simplest terms is that I don’t see a lot of Taiwanese protagonists in books or stories outside of Taiwan. Fresh Off the Boat was a big deal for me when it aired (despite the first season finale where they apparently thought the mainland and Taiwan were interchangeable) because it was the first TV show that immediately felt familiar and like home.

SW: Yeah, I can practically count on two hands the number of Taiwanese protagonists I’ve come across (book list coming soon) in my years reading Anglophone lit. Which is why I always jump for joy when I see another.

One of the things I’ve experienced during my years writing as a Person of Color and Asian American is a shift from writing European-esque settings (for fantasy) and white characters (mostly for contemporary) to writing fantasy inspired by my own Taiwanese heritage and characters who look like me and share parts of my identity. Did you ever go through such a phase or transformation? How would you say your approach to writing has changed over time?

Mina: I think I always leaned toward Asian characters, when it came to fanfiction or RPs. The few times I’ve written sympathetic protags that aren’t explicitly Asian, it feels…off to me, for lack of a better word. I have to work a bit harder at getting inside their heads from time to time. With Asian characters, it’s easier, for lack of a better word.

When it came to fantasy (the genre I write the most), I don’t know if I ever thought of writing Western-style high fantasy? I’ve done urban fantasy with Western settings and Asian protagonists, and I have an wuxia fantasy story that takes place in both fantasy versions of Asia and Europe. The main character is Chinese, and it’s basically four years of her growing up in those circumstances. It’s currently on ice now, but if/when I do go back to it, I’d probably redo a few backstories and try to be more inclusive on marginalizations. I’m still rather fond of it.

SW: When I was younger I wrote high fantasy with European-esque settings, but a lot of my stories had dark haired characters who were coded as Asian. As I got older I converted over to writing explicitly Asian characters and #ownvoices narratives.

For marginalized writers, writing #ownvoices stories is often a means of speaking back to a society that others us and erases us. How do you approach writing #ownvoices narratives, and what are your goals, if you have any, when writing them?

Mina: I don’t know if I have any goals at the moment. When it comes to writing #ownvoices narratives, I tend to pull from my own experiences, which tend to come from the majority in some cases (Taiwanese Mandarin is the only dialect I speak, and my parents immigrated to the US for grad school, for example). It does bother me from time to time when outsiders are all, “this is just another narrative of X” sometimes. I did see a book review critiquing the fact that the main character was another high achiever kept from her artist dreams, and the author commenting quite politely that while she could understand that, that those were her actual experiences she was writing about.

I think we have to be careful not to internalize the myriad demands of what diverse audiences wants–that it’s totally okay if you yourself cannot provide them. I think what we could do instead is that if there is someone writing #ownvoices from PoVs you can’t provide, to support them by boosting their work and purchasing it. But even if your voice falls within the majority or the mainstream, it’s still important and deserves to be heard.

SW: I think as Asian Americans we get our writing policed as either “too Asian” or “not Asian enough,” and in my case I always wonder if people are going to question the authenticity of what I write because I’m not writing oppressive Asian immigrant parents.

Although Asian American literature is often pigeonholed as being about “the immigrant struggle,” there’s so much more to it than that. What aspects of Asian America and Asian American identities and experiences do you find yourself drawn to? What kinds of Asian American stories do you want to write about?

Mina: So the “immigrant struggle” doesn’t do a lot for me personally; my folks had no tragic backstories, and their memories of growing up in Taiwan aren’t particularly hardship-filled or tearjerking. They go back every now and then and seem to have a grand old time, so.

I’m a bit more focused on Asian American stories that don’t take place on the coasts, where there isn’t a Chinatown–we certainly have a strong Taiwanese community here, but there’s no area in my neck of the woods that would be considered a Chinatown, you know? And of course not all Asian-Americans are raised in California or New York.

I have a novel planned that’s got a Taiwanese-American protagonist. She wasn’t the perfect daughter in high school because she didn’t get straight As, never really smiled, and basically had interests that were outside the mainstream. At that age, she discovered certain powers that she had, but due to bullying, used them to hurt instead of help. The novel begins when she’s in her thirties, where she’s tried to bury that really hard, but also still isn’t the perfect daughter (unmarried, occupation is respectable but doesn’t pay a lot, body issues, etc). Another character in the novel is her rival, someone she was unfavorably compared to growing up, and how his boyfriend comes to her for help.

When I was a kid, one of the things I hated most was being compared to other kids. It really made me feel inadequate, like I would never be good enough. So and so spoke better Mandarin; so and so smiled; so and so was better looking; so and so excelled in sports/math/whatever. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that they’ve had their own issues growing up, or actually were really cool people. And it surprised me a lot later to hear from one of those kids that his mom had been comparing him unfavorably to me!

SW: I’m totally with you on wanting to write (and read) Asian American stories that aren’t on the coasts, having spent the majority of my life in the South in Texas (14 out of 24 years, welp), where it is a very different environment than, say, the Bay Area.

I’m also on board to read this Taiwanese American novel if/when it happens. In many ways I was very much a model Asian student in high school. Now that I’m out of college, I’ve fallen into a not-so-perfect Asian life, off the beaten path of conventional success that I once envisioned for myself. Because of this, books that explore Asian Americans’ quarter-life crises in their 20s and 30s appeal to me.

But enough about me. Next question…Are there any writers who have influenced you, and if so, who are they?

Mina: John Chu has been an influence with the hanzi, at least, although I’m still trying to find my way with that. (It’s been noted when I write in hanzi that the dialogue sounds very waishengren, so make of that what you will!)

David Mitchell has been one as well. I remember getting Ghostwritten at fifteen and just reading it over and over until the spine cracked. My copy of Cloud Atlas has the cover coming apart from the binding. I just love how he writes his prose, and I’d love to write like that one day.

SW: I think I need to read more John Chu since you’ve mentioned him twice now. I’ve only read one of his short stories to date.

Last but not least, because I’m a youngster looking for guidance, I have to ask: if you could give your younger self writing and publishing advice, what would you say?

Mina: You don’t need an MFA or to take a ton of creative writing classes to get published. Even if you have a day job, you can still write, and you’ll be grateful for the stability. And if you keep at it, you’ll find your folks will come around.

Also, no matter how off the wall an idea sounds, just…just write it. People are more receptive than you think, really. More often than not they’ll think the idea is cool.

Also also: don’t self-reject. Send in the story anyway–the worst they can say is no.

SW: I’m definitely going to keep these words in mind as I continue on in my writing career and graduate to submitting things. Thanks a ton for answering these questions so thoughtfully! I look forward to reading whatever you publish next.


Mina Li’s Self-Intro/Bio: I’m a Taiwanese-American writer, Michigan born and raised. When I’m not writing I like to knit my own sweaters and socks, try out new recipes, and go for long walks. I’ve also got a thing for mermaids, considering The Little Mermaid came out when I was six. Also, a guilty pleasure of mine is watching online reviews of bad movies.

You can find her online at https://minasli.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter @CodenameMinaLi.