Tag Archives: Contemporary

Author Interview: Christina Matula

Welcome to the sixth interview in the 2023 run of my Taiwanese American Heritage Week series dedicated to featuring Taiwanese authors and their work. Taiwanese American Heritage Week occurs every year during the week that begins with Mother’s Day in May, which is also Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. You can find the past interviews and posts in this series via the Taiwanese American Heritage Week tag or through my Post Index.

About the Books

  • Title: The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei
  • Author: Christina Matula
  • Cover Artist: Yao Xiao
  • Publisher: Inkyard Press
  • Release Date: April 5th, 2022
  • Genre/Format: Middle Grade Contemporary


Packed with humor and heart, this debut middle grade series follows a girl finding her place in a brand-new world of private school and frenemies when her family moves to Hong Kong.

Holly-Mei Jones couldn’t be more excited about moving to Hong Kong for her mother’s job. Her new school is right on the beach and her family’s apartment is beyond beautiful. Everything is going to be perfect . . . right?

Maybe not. It feels like everywhere she turns, there are new rules to follow and expectations to meet. On top of that, the most popular girl in her grade is quickly becoming a frenemy. And without the guidance of her loving Ah-ma, who stayed behind in Toronto, Holly-Mei just can’t seem to get it right.

It will take all of Holly-Mei’s determination and sparkle (and maybe even a tiny bit of stubbornness) to get through seventh grade and turn her life in Hong Kong into the ultimate adventure!

  • Title: The Not-So-Perfect Plan
  • Author: Christina Matula
  • Cover Artist: Yao Xiao
  • Publisher: Inkyard Press
  • Release Date: April 4th, 2023
  • Genre/Format: Middle Grade Contemporary


Return to Hong Kong in the second book of this charming middle grade series starring Holly-Mei, a girl navigating her new city, new school, and new friendships.

It’s the start of a new year, and Holly-Mei Jones is determined to make the most of it. She has amazing friends, a great field hockey team, and Hong Kong at her doorstep. This semester is going to be perfect . . . right?

Maybe not. Despite their closeness last year, Holly-Mei’s friend group seems to be splintering. Desperate to bring everyone together, she ropes her friends into competing as a team in an inter-school tournament across the city.

But as Holly-Mei becomes obsessed with winning, her friends seem less interested in the tournament—and in her new attitude. Will she be able to pull off her perfect plan?

Interview with Christina Matula

Q: What is your favorite Taiwanese food? (Feel free to pick more than one.)

There are so many! I have a bit of a sweet tooth so I love bubble tea and shaved ice. But my very favourite things are mantou, youtiao, and sweet soy milk. They remind me of visits to my Ah-ma where we would go to the vendor down her street early in the morning to pick up breakfast.

Q: What drew you to writing children’s books? What was your journey to publication like?

After moving to Hong Kong, I took the opportunity to learn Mandarin, which was always a personal goal of mine. I learned more about the origins of festivals and associated folktales, including that of Chang’e and Hou Yi at the Mid-Autumn Festival. I tried to find an English-language picture book about this legend to read to my kids, but I couldn’t find one. So, I decided to write my own! I initially self-published The Shadow in the Moon after teaming up with artist Pearl Law in Hong Kong. I soon found an agent (the fabulous Carrie Pestritto) and the book was bought and traditionally published by Charlesbridge in 2018.

Q: Now that you have three books out (one picturebook and two novels), what would you say you have learned about the writing and publishing process for yourself?

The words flow only when I’m writing about something that I’ve experienced myself or touches my life in some way. I did try and write something with a lot of desk research, but I couldn’t make it come alive and sound authentic. I’m in awe of writers who have the imagination and ability to create other worlds. In terms of the publishing process, I’ve learned that even when I think I’ve handed in a perfect draft, my editor will come back with pages of comments, all which make my story stronger.

Q: Did you plan for The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei to be the first in the series from the beginning, or did it turn into one later after you had started drafting? How did you go about developing it into a multi-book work?

I originally wrote the first Holly-Mei as a stand-alone book. It was during the negotiation with the publisher that they offered to acquire it as a three-book series. I was thrilled! But also a bit nervous as now I had to think up two more books. I thought about how Holly-Mei’s arc would develop over the year, as all three books take place during Grade 7 in her first year after moving to Hong Kong. The first book, The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei, is about moving and settling into a new world away from what she knows. The second book, The Not-So-Perfect Plan, is about how she, now settled, deals with bumps in her new friendships and her own need to succeed. The third book will look even more inward and delve into her Taiwanese heritage and what it means to her to be mixed-race.

Q: A lot of novelists talk about “second book syndrome,” where they struggle with their second ever novel or the second book in a series because it has to live up to the previous one. Did you have second book syndrome when writing The Not-So-Perfect Plan? What was the most challenging aspect of writing it?

Actually, I found the second book the easiest to write. I had already built the Tai Tam Prep world so I could immerse myself in it right away. Holly-Mei’s flaws have parallels to mine and it was straightforward to imagine a plot where her competitive nature caused conflict in her new friendship group. It was the third book that I found most difficult. I really wanted to delve into her mixed-race heritage as well as the pressure that kids this age face about their own identity amongst their peers. They are both complex topics and it took a while to find the right balance with the voice of the story while remaining authentic and natural.

Q: You call your Holly-Mei series a “love letter” to Hong Kong, which was your home for 14 years. What are some things and places in Hong Kong that feel like home to you? Did you slip any of these into the books?

I slipped them all in! Before writing the books, I made a list of all the places that I loved to go, foods I loved to eat, and things I loved to do in Hong Kong, and I tried to include all of them over the three books. Holly-Mei lives in Repulse Bay which is not far from where I lived and it was at that beach that I learned to open water swim, and where Holly-Mei does too. She visits the Peak and eats at Din Tai Fung and City Hall for dim sum – two of my favourite restaurants, and hikes for the first time along the Dragon’s Back trail, the most beautiful trail in Hong Kong. And the field hockey pitch in Happy Valley was where I spent many happy weekends, so I had to include that too.

Q: The cast of characters in the Holly-Mei series include various people with really interesting names with a lot of flair, such as Snowy and Rainbow. Where did you get the inspiration and ideas for the different characters’ names?

Most of the names in the book are inspired by people that I know or have met in Hong Kong, including Snowy and Rainbow – these two names in particular were striking and memorable for me so I was excited to include them. Some of the characters were named after people who helped me with my initial research into the book, like Dev, Gemma, Millie, and Mollie (which I turned into Holly-Mei).

Q: Can you share a little about what’s next for Holly-Mei, or for your writing career?

I’m just finishing up the edits for Holly-Mei book 3, which will be called The Not-So-Simple Question and will come out in April 2024. In it, Holly-Mei travels to Taiwan for a school trip! I was so fortunate to be able to visit Taipei and Tainan a couple of months ago and I can’t wait for readers to explore Taiwan with Holly-Mei!

Book Links

Purchase The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei:

Purchase The Not-So-Perfect Plan:

About the Author

Christina Matula is from Ottawa, Canada and is of Taiwanese-Hungarian heritage. Being a child of immigrant parents, she has always been curious about other cultures and far-off places.

Moving to Hong Kong gave Christina the chance to explore her Chinese cultural roots (amazing food, fascinating festivals) and learn some Mandarin (constant uphill climb).  She loves eating dumplings, playing field hockey, and hiking.

She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Hong Kong. She is also a former Board Member of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong, which advocates reading aloud with children and provides quality books to local underserved communities.

She now lives in Helsinki, Finland with her husband, two children, and puppy.

Photo Credit: Melanie Adamson

Author Links:

Thanks for reading this interview! If you’re enjoying my Taiwanese American Heritage Week posts and would like to show your appreciation by tossing a coin to your blogger, please consider donating that coin to Ren Kanoelani, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Taiwanese, and Japanese friend who needs help with rent payments during this Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Thanks!

Author Interview: Victoria Ying

Welcome to the fifth interview in the 2023 run of my Taiwanese American Heritage Week series dedicated to featuring Taiwanese authors and their work. Taiwanese American Heritage Week occurs every year during the week that begins with Mother’s Day in May, which is also Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. You can find the past interviews and posts in this series via the Taiwanese American Heritage Week tag or through my Post Index.

About the Book

  • Title: Hungry Ghost
  • Author: Victoria Ying
  • Colorist: Lynette Wong
  • Publisher: First Second
  • Release Date: April 25th, 2023
  • Genre/Format: Young Adult Contemporary, Graphic Novel


Valerie Chu is quiet, studious, and above all, thin. No one, not even her best friend, Jordan, knows that she has been bingeing and purging for years. But when tragedy strikes, Val finds herself reassessing her priorities, her choices, and her body. The path to happiness may lead her away from her hometown and her mother’s toxic projections—but first she will have to find the strength to seek help.

This beautiful and heart-wrenching young adult graphic novel takes a look at eating disorders, family dynamics, and ultimately, a journey to self-love.

Interview with Victoria Ying

Q: Last time I interviewed you, you had just published City of Secrets. Now that you have two more original graphic novels under your belt (City of Illusions and Hungry Ghost), would you say your approach to the creative process has changed? What lessons have you learned that inform your current process?

My first book was a huge learning experience for me. With the next two books, I felt like I had much more solid footing in terms of my artistic process. I knew better how long each step of the process takes and I knew what to expect from working with my editors. With Hungry Ghost, I also found a way to integrate more 3-D models into my process which saved me a ton of time!

For the writing process, I originally wrote City of Secrets as a prose novel and then adapted it into a graphic novel, so I changed the process by going straight to a script instead of prose to script. I think that this really helped me to solidify my storytelling because I could work faster and make changes more easily than I could when writing a prose draft.

Q: Some artists like to use strikingly different styles depending on the project while others maintain a more consistent style across their work. Where in this spectrum do you see yourself fitting into and why?

I try to adapt the art style for each piece to fit the audience. My two books City of Secrets and City of Illusion were both done in a scribbly ink style because I wanted it to feel hand-made, but also edgy. Hungry Ghost on the other hand, uses a tight line that gives a more sophisticated feel. I love experimenting with new styles so I hope that every book of mine feels different automatically because of the art.

Q: Sequential art has its own visual grammar and storytelling techniques that are often taken for granted as being “obvious” or “easy” to read even though they’re not things we’re innately able to decipher. What visual storytelling techniques do you find yourself drawn to as a reader of graphic works, to what extent do those overlap with the ones you like to use as a creator?

I’ve been reading comics since middle school so I feel like the visual language of comics is in the marrow of my bones now. A lot of my decisions in terms of paneling are instinctual, and that usually means that other people can also follow the work pretty easily. However I am very drawn to experimental paneling. I love shojo manga that has more of an indescribable feeling than that of more traditional panel to panel comics. I want to incorporate more of that kind of visual storytelling into my future work.

Q: If you could study under any artist, dead or alive, for an intensive training camp, who would you pick and why?

I would want to work with Rumiko Takhashi. She was my first inspiration for getting into comics and I admire the way that she can work in many different genres. She’s someone who draws in a simple way, but is actually a very clever panelist and manages to do some very sophisticated work with clear drawing and good fundamentals.

Q: Hungry Ghost makes use of a limited color palette. What motivated this decision, and how much of the creative control over the coloring process was yours versus the colorist, Lynette Wong’s?

I did the original sample pages with this color scheme. Lynette is an incredible colorist and was able to take very little direction for me and implement this color scheme throughout the book and even adapt it when the story called for it. I wanted a simple and limited color palette because I always feel like these books read more easily to me than full color. I love manga and what they can do with black and white has always been impressive and something I aim for in my own work.

Q: I really love the cover of Hungry Ghost and the story it evokes and encapsulates in one image. What was the process for creating the cover? Did you have any false starts or discarded drafts before you arrived at this, or did you have the vision for the cover as is from the beginning?

I have SO many boring sketches for the cover! I had no ideas and most of it was just Val staring out of a window looking vaguely sad. I was afraid to get too close to the subject matter fearing that it would scare people away from the book. I was eventually inspired when I googled “Hungry Ghost” and saw Ukiyo-e images of a giant skeleton eating people. The imagery struck me and I had the idea of a ribcage with flowers. The spilling effect and trying to hold it all in felt very right once I started sketching. The book is so much about what it feels like to have an invisible mental health condition and trying to hold it all together.

Q: What was the editing process like for Hungry Ghost? How much did it change from script to final form?

I did a few edits with my agent before we went on submission and then after we had chosen our publisher, I went through a major edit with the editorial team.  I gave them a draft of a script and we worked together on full script approval before I went to any art. This is my own particular process that I like because when I’m working on the art, I turn off my “writing” brain. I need to have the writing in a solid place before I can make the art because I can’t write and draw at the same time. Overall, the story is very similar to the one that was on submission, but the biggest changes were ones that helped solidify and clarify the relationships and conversations between characters.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of creating Hungry Ghost, and what has been the most rewarding aspect?

I never dreamed that I would write a book that was so personal. It’s not a memoir, but it does borrow heavily from things that happened to me in real life. It was challenging to find the right fictional framework to use for a story like this, but in the end, I found that process to be very rewarding. I was in a hard place when I started writing the book but with a fictional ending and resolution, I could find a way to understand what I was going through.

Book Links

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About the Author

Victoria Ying is an author and artist living in Los Angeles. She started her career in the arts by falling in love with comic books, which eventually turned into a career working in animation and graphic novels. She loves Japanese curry, putting things in her shopping cart online and taking them out again, and hanging out with her dopey dog. Her film credits include Frozen, Moana, Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, and Paperman. She is the illustrator of the DC Comics graphic novel Diana: Princess of the Amazons and the author and illustrator of her original graphic novels City of Secrets and Hungry Ghost.

Photo Credit: Patrick Laffoon

Author Links:

Thanks for reading this interview! If you’re enjoying my Taiwanese American Heritage Week posts and would like to show your appreciation by tossing a coin to your blogger, please consider donating that coin to Ren Kanoelani, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Taiwanese, and Japanese friend who needs help with rent payments during this Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Thanks!

Author Interview: Eugenia Yoh and Vivienne Chang

Welcome to the fourth interview in the 2023 run of my Taiwanese American Heritage Week series dedicated to featuring Taiwanese authors and their work. Taiwanese American Heritage Week occurs every year during the week that begins with Mother’s Day in May, which is also Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. You can find the past interviews and posts in this series via the Taiwanese American Heritage Week tag or through my Post Index.

About the Book

  • Title: This Is Not My Home
  • Authors: Eugenia Yoh and Vivienne Chang
  • Publisher: Little, Brown
  • Release Date: January 24th, 2023
  • Genre/Format: Contemporary Picturebook


When Lily’s mom announces their family must move back to Taiwan to take care of their elderly Ah Ma, Lily is devastated to leave behind her favorite foods, friends, and life for a place that is most definitely not her home. But Lily soon realizes through the help of her family and friends, what home means to them. 

And perhaps someday, maybe not today, but someday, it might become her home too.

Interview with Eugenia Yoh and Vivienne Chang

Q: What’s your favorite Taiwanese food? (Feel free to pick more than one.)

Vivienne: My favorite Taiwanese food(S) include 豆花, 青蛙下蛋, and 滷味.

Eugenia: Oh my goodness, I am such a fan of 牛肉麵, 麻辣火鍋, and 雪花冰. My family and I would visit Taiwan during the summers when it was really hot, but even that couldn’t stop us from eating as much 麻辣火鍋 as possible in an air-conditioned restaurant. The spicier the better.

Q: What drew you to the picturebook medium? How did you play to its strengths and work within its limitations?

Vivienne: Believe it or not, I hadn’t read a picture book for over 10 years before I wrote the book. However, inadvertently I realized I followed an abnormally large number of picture book illustrators on Instagram alongside my many other following niche interests such as whale sharks, foodies from Taiwan, and infographics. I just love the colorfulness, whimsical nature, and vibrancy of art from picture books. At the same time, I met Eugenia’s whose dream was to become a picture book author and illustrator so we definitely were able to play on her strengths there, aka the best artist I know.

Eugenia: I loved picture books from the very beginning, and knew it was the one thing I really wanted to do. Everything else I learned along the way, whether it was a year-long graphic design internship or animation residency, were small detours from the greater goal of writing and illustrating picture books. In my head, a picture book is the perfect marriage between pictures and words. There are so many things you can do with pictures that you can’t do with words, and so many things you can do with words that you can’t do with pictures. When they come together harmoniously, it is so magical.

Of course, one can argue that animation can accomplish the same thing as well. But there is something so intimate about picture books: the way the book is held by the reader and the way the audience gets to pick the pace at which they are interacting with the piece. Everyone reads a picture book differently, so it is interesting to hear how other people interpret the story. I think once the medium is released in the world, the narrative becomes somebody else’s experience, and the original creators have to give up control on how the reader sees the story.

I can’t put into words the beauty of reading a well-written and heartfelt picture book. As we get older, adult novels start to reflect the grit of reality, and we become jaded to the troubles of the world. Picture books are a reflection of a time when we believed in hope.

Q: Are there any picturebooks or picturebook artists that strongly influenced the creation of This Is Not My Home or inspired you? If so, what aspects of their craft do you love?

Vivienne: For me, really any Asian American book was inspiring in the creation of This Is Not My Home. It’s not necessarily the content or art style of the books that influenced our work but rather the idea that Asian/Asian American voices are being presented in literature and that we can continue this movement as well. I remember reading books like The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin and Name Jar by Yangsook Choi and thinking “wow, that’s me”. These books really were the catalyst for not only my love of storytelling but my love for reading.

Eugenia: To tell you the truth, I hated reading as a kid. I was a slow reader, and my parents, with their broken English, relied heavily on recorded tapes to do our bedtime stories for us. My brother and I would sit on a long white couch, preparing our fingers to turn the page when we heard a tiny little ding from the CD player audio recording. I think that is why I was always a picture book kid. Even for someone who struggled with reading, as long as I could follow the pictures, I could understand the story.

I am most drawn to books with beautiful pictures. I admire different books for their different strengths: I’ve always been a fan of books by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen (I Want My Hat Back, Sam and Dave Dig a Hole). Their books are a masterclass in pacing– their ability to capture dramatic reactions with perfectly calculated page turns is so impressive. In addition, I’ve been a longtime fan of Isabelle Arsenault’s work– the first book I have from her is Jane, the Fox, and Me, which tells a story in a panel structure like no other. And growing up, my favorite books were Kevin Henkes’ mouse stories (Wemberly Worried, Chrysanthemum), as they always manage to capture the perspective of a child in the most genuine, perfect way possible.

Q: Typically in publishing, unless the author is also the illustrator, the words of a picture book come first and are then illustrated after acquisition by a publisher, with no direct communication between the author and the illustrator. Since the two of you worked on it simultaneously prior to submitting for querying, I’m curious about your collaboration and the division of labor. Who contributed what, and how did you resolve any differences of opinion?

Vivienne: We really are an author-illustrator duo, and the lines are quite blurred. I like to joke that I can’t draw or write so I’m not sure why I’m here but I would like to say that I’m more of the business person in our friendship —developing and honing in the messaging of our book, providing art direction advice, and really any business-y tasks that need to be done. Eugenia, on the other hand, is definitely the artist of the two as she illustrated and colored the entire book as well as shaping the words and messaging. It really was a collaborative process, we developed the words at the same time as the images. It’s hard for us to see a separation between the two as both the images and the words help tell the story.

Eugenia: I think Vivienne nailed this answer perfectly. It is hard to tell who did what, in terms of writing the story. While I was the one who put brush to paper, Vivienne is a visual thinker with a strong picture book intuition. Sometimes she would look at a sketch I did, and admit that something doesn’t look quite right. It’s incredibly helpful to have someone who understands the story just as well, (if not better) to give feedback on how it should be told. Our strengths compliment each other very well: I have the illustration experience and expertise, while Vivienne is incredible at sending emails, scheduling events, and keeping our correspondences organized. I personally dislike networking and sending follow-up emails, and Vivienne’s drawings look like stick figures with hair. We both know what we are separately good at, and there is so much to learn from on the other side.

We’ve definitely stumbled upon a lot of problems that I never thought we would encounter during the course of our friendship. Our friendship is a lot different from when it first started. More often than not, we have disagreeing opinions, sometimes on the story, sometimes on the way we do things, like how we talk during an event, and our goal for publishing books. Sometimes we would be sobbing on the phone, a little frustrated with each other. But through these tears, we learn something fundamental about ourselves, our friendship, and what we are willing to sacrifice for the other person.

What I appreciate about Vivienne most is that we have the same goal, but we tend to look at the issue in two different perspectives. Vivienne puts things in a realistic perspective, bringing up sales, timelines, and the logistics of the business. My more naive view focuses on the heart, the quality of the story, and the personal impact on individuals reading the book. Even though our measures for success look different, at the end of the day, we both want to tell good stories, connect the community, and do really cool things together.

Q: There are a lot of neat details and design elements in This Is Not My Home found under the jacket, on the endpapers, and on the copyright page and title page. Were these aspects that you had planned from the beginning, or did you come up with them after the book was acquired?

Vivienne: Aww thank you! We’re so glad you noticed them. I know that Eugenia is super proud of these little details in our book, but for me I had no idea that the reveal (the image under the book jacket) and other book elements were even a thing! I guess as a casual reader you’re just like “oh a book!” but you don’t really pay much attention to the small details. So yeah, these details were definitely thought of later although we really wanted to be intentional and sprinkle some of our book’s messaging in these images. For example, our first endpaper is an image of daytime in America, but our last endpaper is an image of night time in Taiwan. This is to represent Lily’s home changing from one (America) to the other (Taiwan).

Eugenia: That is a fantastic question! I am a bit of a book geek, so when it comes to little special features, I take them very seriously. I would say these ideas came to us after the story was fleshed out. We only started considering these features at a developed stage, the editor would prompt us to consider the endpapers and covers. Along with the endpapers, I am very proud of the way the covers interact with one another. In the front, we have Lily’s face, her wide frown showing the title “This Is Not My Home.” At the back of the book, we have Lily’s head from a backside view, with all these thoughts trailing behind her “These are not my fireflies, this is not my backyard barbeque, this is not Jill.” This is because the only words coming out of Lily’s mouth throughout the book is “This is Not My Home.” The other words are all just thoughts on the back of her head.

Q: What kinds of changes did you make during the editing process?

Vivienne: The most memorable change during our editing process is the wordless runs of pages at the back of the book showing our main character Lily slowly but surely beginning to adopt Taiwan as her home. It was interesting because originally Eugenia and I were going to make Lily grow up and become an old woman—she has kids and her kids have kids—before she adopts Taiwan as her home. We thought however that would be a bit too dramatic, and maybe seeing our 6-year-old main character become a 60-year-old in 3 pages may be a bit too shocking, haha!

Eugenia: Another edit we made was deleting a golden retriever-looking named Taxi the dog. We wanted to have a dog initially because it would be a cute little seek-and-find for kids—something for the reader to look for in each of the pages. Lily jumped over the dog as she chased her mom in their American home, the dog sat with her in the fragile box, and slept under the table while the family was having dinner. But then the editor brought up the complication of dogs traveling internationally. In Taiwan, if you want to transport a pet across the border, the pet has to go through their personal quarantine for two weeks in case they bring a disease abroad. This quarantine law made it really difficult to follow the timeline of events. We were bummed about this, especially Eugenia, who had to go back and erase the dog from the final illustrations.

Q: What was the biggest challenge of the publishing process (from inception of the idea for the book to publication), and how did you overcome that challenge?

Vivienne: If you ask Eugenia this question, we will have different answers, but for me, the hardest part of publishing was actually not writing the book but getting the word out about our book. We’re lucky enough to have media like this one who are championing our story and help spreading the news, but in an environment where people’s attention spans are only 7 seconds long, how do we engage people and get them excited about our book? I have a high school friend who often says she doesn’t read. I would say “fair enough” because I would assume that book to be 200+ pages. Well today, I’m not even sure she wants to read 200 words, which is around the length of our book! I guess it’s just the way the world works these days.

Eugenia: I think Vivienne has a really good point– trying to get the word out is really difficult! Especially since there are so many incredible books being published every year (I’m not sure what the exact number is, but I think it’s 3,000 books a month globally?). How do we stand out from everyone else? Just when we thought we were done (Wrote the story! Got an agent! Sold the book to a publishing house), little did we know that we were just getting started.

I think marketing the book feels like the hardest thing because it is the step we are on right now. When we were writing the book, it was agonizing sometimes, trying to solve how to tell the story. Some things just didn’t click naturally, and some pages had to be redrawn so many times before it felt just right. And if you want to go even before that, getting an agent was difficult too! Vivienne made an entire excel sheet of people to contact, what they were looking for, and how to best way to word our query letters. For a long while, we didn’t hear back from anyone. We were both impatient children, running around our little rooms thinking WHY WON’T ANYONE CHECK THEIR EMAILS? DOES NOBODY LOVE US?

But because we are trying to market the book right now, it seems like the most difficult part at the moment.

Q: What kinds of stories are you hoping to work on next?

Vivienne: Honestly I want to tell a dumb dumb story. Something like Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi where it’s hilarious but has a lot of truth to it. Or maybe something like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett where it just stretches out the reader’s imagination. But we’re actually working on another book right now that is coming out in Summer 2025 that will be another universal concept story that hopefully will touch hearts everywhere. Our mission as an author-illustrator duo is to write books and do projects that will help develop the next generation of emotionally intelligent and good humans, and hopefully we will continue to do just that!

Eugenia: I like Vivienne’s point of making a dumb story. I have a very similar vision, but along with dumb stories, I aim to make grown people cry. I think that was the goal of so many of my projects since the beginning: how can I make people cry? I feel like it is so powerful to be able to make a perfect stranger swell up with emotions from something that you made. Also I guess I am just a big bully.

Book Links

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About the Authors

Vivienne Chang and Eugenia Yoh are two unlikely friends who met at Washington University in St. Louis. Bonded by their love for children’s books and boredom during the early Covid days, they embarked on a collaborative picture book writing journey. Their debut, This is Not My Home, (Little Brown, Hachette January 24, 2023), follows a young girl named Lily moving from America to Taiwan. The story uses emotion and humor to explore how an unfamiliar place becomes a home. In the past, Vivienne has written for taiwaneseamerican.org and helped spearhead the 100 passionate people project, interviewing personal stories from the Taiwanese American community. In school, Eugenia was the art director for a variety of college extracurriculars, including but not limited to Taiwanese Students Organization, China Care Club, and Lunar New Year Festival. In 2021, they were runner-up in the Clairvoyant Children’s international picture book writing competition hosted by Die Siostry, a Polish publishing company.

Vivienne is a student at Washington University studying Economics and Dance. Eugenia has since graduated from the Communication Design program and is currently a junior designer at Chronicle Books in Northern California.

Author Links:

Thanks for reading this interview! If you’re enjoying my Taiwanese American Heritage Week posts and would like to show your appreciation by tossing a coin to your blogger, please consider donating that coin to Ren Kanoelani, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Taiwanese, and Japanese friend who needs help with rent payments during this Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Thanks!

Author Interview: Lisa Lin

Welcome to the third interview in the 2023 run of my Taiwanese American Heritage Week series dedicated to featuring Taiwanese authors and their work. Taiwanese American Heritage Week occurs every year during the week that begins with Mother’s Day in May, which is also Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. You can find the past interviews and posts in this series via the Taiwanese American Heritage Week tag or through my Post Index.

About the Book

  • Title: The Rachel Experiment (From Sunset Park, With Love #2)
  • Author: Lisa Lin
  • Cover Artist: Ashley Santoro
  • Publisher: Tule Publishing
  • Release Date: May 16th, 2023
  • Genre/Format: Adult Romance


Who knew that one night out would change everything?

As a financial analyst, Rachel Bai is more comfortable with numbers than people. When her boss promotes her to head a team in San Francisco, his message is clear—she has one year to build a successful team and become an effective leader. Rachel sets out to discover how to be more comfortable interacting with people, but a drunken night meant for research results in a mechanical bull ride and a one-night stand with a sexy stranger—definitely not part of her plan.

Attorney Luke Trudeau is intrigued by the mysterious woman who’s determined to put their night together firmly in her rearview mirror. So when Luke sees Rachel again, he proposes a deal: he’ll smooth out her rough social edges and teach her to charm clients if she’ll help him devise a financial plan to open his own practice.

It seems like a win-win, but Luke breaks the rules by falling in love. Can he convince Rachel that what they have is real and, when it comes to love, there are no set rules?

Interview with Lisa Lin

Q: What is your favorite Taiwanese food? (You may pick more than one.)

A: I miss the fresh tropical fruits! I love eating my weight in lychees and mangoes in the summer. But honestly it’s impossible for me to pick my favorite Taiwanese food. If I had to pick a top five it would be shu mai, tem pu ra (note from Shenwei: a.k.a. tian bu la, or Taiwanese fried fishcakes; not to be confused with Japanese tempura), Taiwanese sausages, savory rice balls (fan tuan), and fresh bamboo shoots.

Q: Based on your bio, it looks like you had a robust career in the legal field prior to becoming an author. At what point did you get the “aha” moment that you wanted to write romance for publication, and how did it happen?

A: I’ve loved reading and books since I could remember. And been a rabid romance reader ever since I was thirteen. But if there was an “Aha” moment it would be when I met Tessa Dare at the RWA Literacy Signing in 2011 in NYC. I made a beeline to her table and managed to not make a total idiot of myself. I ran into Tessa again as the signing was winding down and she was incredibly kind and supportive. She asked if I was attending the conference and if I was around the rest of the week. I told her no but that I’d always wanted to try writing and have story ideas in my head, and Tessa encouraged me to go for it. I went home and started drafting my first romance! So I have Tessa Dare to thank for all of this.

Q: A lot of authors talk about second book syndrome, where they struggle with having their second book (overall or in a series) live up to the first. Did you experience this at all while writing The Rachel Experiment? What were some challenges you faced with creating this novel, if any?

A: Authors fear and dread the Sophomore Slump for good reason. Their debut book is one they have spent months years drafting, editing, querying and polishing to perfection.  The second book is the first one they’re writing under contract and serious deadline, and it can be a challenging transition. In my case, I was lucky enough to avoid that to some extent. I started writing Rachel’s book while Cecily was out on submission so in a way, I didn’t have the pressure of a compressed deadline breathing down my neck. In addition, my publisher gave me a pretty decent lead time so I felt like I could take my time and hand in a good book, one that I could be proud of. Whether it’s better, worse, or as good as Cecily? That’s for readers to decide!

The biggest challenge I had writing The Rachel Experiment was that I had to chuck my first draft, the one I handed in to my editor, and basically start from scratch. Essentially, she told me I had gotten off track and we needed to pause, reflect, and correct course. Cue me spending a frantic two months drafting a new version while cannibalizing as much as I could from the original draft. It wasn’t fun, but my editor was right. The new version was a better, stronger book and I liked it a whole lot more.

Another challenge I faced was as a relatively newbie author—I was and am still on a learning curve. While I was drafting Rachel’s book, I was juggling copyedits and proofreads for The Year of Cecily, and copyedits and proofreads for Rachel while drafting book 3 and promo for Cecily’s release. Handling multiple books in various stages of the production process has been an education, to say the least.

Q: The Rachel Experiment alternates between Rachel’s and Luke’s respective points of view. How did you balance the two in terms of deciding whose POV to use in which scene across the book, and did you have to rewrite any parts from the other person’s POV?

A: To the best of my memory, I didn’t have to rework any scenes to switch POVs. My books tend to be heroine focused so there was probably more in Rachel’s POV than Luke’s. As for how to balance, sometimes it came down to what the scene was about, what I wanted it to accomplish and that helped dictate which POV to use and sometimes it was as simple as “We’ve been in Rachel’s POV for a while, probably time to switch it up.” For example, the scene where Rachel got the flu, it started with her POV because I wanted her reaction to having him come over to take care of her, and then I switched to Luke’s POV so the reader can see what he was thinking as that was happening.

Q: I know some authors keep entire documents dedicated to notes about their characters, and some make playlists for their characters, and so on. How do you approach the character brainstorming and development process? Are there any “fun facts” about your characters that you came up with that didn’t actually show up in the book? If so, please share.

A: I am very much a “Pantser” and figure out my characters as I go. That is how I learned that Rachel was a killer poker player and a true crime/murder podcast fan. Both Rachel and Luke appeared in The Year of Cecily, so I already had a sense of who they were and I just went with it in The Rachel Experiment. Rachel was honest, blunt, direct, and a bit awkward with people while Luke is a charming people person with a Texas drawl. It’s an opposites attract book so that also helped me with character development. The differences between Luke and Rachel are where the sparks began to fly and the chemistry, and I had so much fun playing with that dynamic.

Fun facts about Luke and Rachel that didn’t make it into the book?

Luke is a big fan of Sinatra, Dean Martin, the Rat Pack.

Rachel celebrates the Ghost Festival!

Q: There’s a bit of writing advice that goes “write what you know,” which feels a bit silly to me because there’s no way to write without drawing on your own knowledge and experiences, and also sometimes the story you want to tell takes you outside of what you know, so it’s more like “write what you know and research what you don’t.” Was there anything you had to research for this book? (Research in this case doesn’t have to be reading a book in a library or searching the Internet, it can also be asking family or visiting a coffee shop to use the décor as reference, etc.)

A: Write what you know is certainly true in my case. Why do you think I have lawyers as protagonists in my first two books? For The Rachel Experiment, I had to reach out to friends and do some research to get a handle on Rachel’s job and learn what exactly a financial analyst does. I also had a lawyer friend read Rachel to make sure the legal stuff was reasonably accurate and aspects of big law/firm culture. I am not a poker player, but I learned from watching a show that was on Bravo ages ago, Celebrity Poker Showdown and borrowed from it heavily. That’s the only reason why I know a flush beats a straight and why the characters played Texas Hold ‘Em—that was the form of poker the show used.

Q: For me as a writer, I found that the earliest protagonists I wrote were much more similar to me in terms of interests and personality, and then as I kept going I started branching out since I can’t write protagonists that are super similar to me forever since that would get a little repetitive. Do you feel like each book you write is taking you further out of your comfort zone? What do you see as growth for yourself as a writer, and what career goals do you have?

A: Every author’s goal is definitely to grow and improve with each book. With The Rachel Experiment, my editor had me dive deeper into the characters and who they were. I was afraid to lean in, but thanks to her, I took the plunge and I thank her for it because I definitely think my writing improved in this book. Or at least I hope it did! One thing that is obvious when you read my book is that I am a dialogue heavy writer. Writing growth for me is to focus on aspects of craft that don’t come as easily to me—grounding the characters more in the reader’s mind with descriptions: for example, making sure I describe the surroundings, etc. as much as I focus on the dialogue and banter. If I had my way, my characters would do nothing but talk, but that’s not the way things work. One thing my editor always reminds me is to make my characters’ goals and motivations clear so their actions match and make sense to the reader. I know what they are, so it makes sense to me, but it may not to the reader.

In terms of career goals, it’s important to keep in mind that publishing is a marathon, not a sprint so you always have to take the long view. One of the keys to longevity is building a backlist and those things take time. My goal is to build that backlist and grow my readership with each book. All of that takes time—like I said, marathon, not sprint! Eventually I would love to be able to write full time as a sustainable career.

Q: The third book in the From Sunset Park, With Love series, Bethany Meets Her Match, is coming out in October this year. Can you tease us a little about the story beyond what’s in the official synopsis? How is it connected to either of the previous two books?

A: The Bethany in Bethany Meets Her Match is the one and only Bethany Lee, the sister of Jeffrey Lee, the hero of The Year of Cecily. I loved Bethany the minute she appeared on the stage and knew at some point I’d have to write a book for her. It’s connected to Cecily in that she appeared in Cecily and Cecily and Jeffrey make cameos in Bethany. As for a teaser—there are dumpling contests, Bethany’s best friend is her next-door neighbor who has an adorable little guy who falls in love with Ethan, and a birthday party for Bethany’s Amah’s 75th birthday.

Book Links

Purchase The Rachel Experiment:

About the Author

Lisa has been an avid romance reader and fan since she read her first Nora Roberts novel at the age of 13 after wandering the aisles of her local bookstore. Lisa loves that romance has the power to inspire, and believes that HEAs are for everyone. 

Lisa writes light contemporary romantic comedies with a liberal dash of snark and banter. She enjoys delving into the complexity of Asian and immigrant family experiences, and celebrates female friendships in her trademark dry, witty style. As an Asian-American author writing own voices Asian American stories, Lisa hopes that her books will show the diversity of the Asian-American experience, and the importance of every reader being able to see themselves represented on the page. 

Having grown up in Pennsylvania and helping out at her parents’ restaurant, Lisa has never bothered to learn to cook. She has two liberal arts undergraduate degrees and a J.D, and in her former life she was an intern, then Legislative Assistant for a PA State Representative. She also worked as a paralegal at a boutique law firm. Lisa is a politics junkie (don’t get her started on the wonder that is The West Wing!), indulges in naps whenever possible, and believes Netflixing in her pajamas and ordering take out qualifies as the perfect weekend. As a self-described Twitter addict, you can tweet her @laforesta1!

Author Links:

Thanks for reading this interview! If you’re enjoying my Taiwanese American Heritage Week posts and would like to show your appreciation by tossing a coin to your blogger, please consider donating that coin to Ren Kanoelani, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Taiwanese, and Japanese friend who needs help with rent payments during this Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Thanks!

Author Interview: Nicole Chen

Welcome to the second interview in the 2023 run of my Taiwanese American Heritage Week series dedicated to featuring Taiwanese authors and their work. Taiwanese American Heritage Week occurs every year during the week that begins with Mother’s Day in May, which is also Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. You can find the past interviews and posts in this series via the Taiwanese American Heritage Week tag or through my Post Index.

About the Books

  • Title: How We Say I Love You
  • Author: Nicole Chen
  • Illustrator: Lenny Wen
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (an Imprint of Random House Children’s Books)
  • Release Date: December 2022
  • Genre/Format: Picturebook


In this heartwarming picture book, a Taiwanese American girl shares how her family expresses their love for one another through actions rather than words.

How do you tell your family that you love them? For Hana, love is all around her: Mom stirs love into a steaming pot of xifan. Dad cheers with love at her soccer game. Hana says good night with love by rubbing her grandma’s feet and pouring her grandpa his sleepy tea. And as the light fades, Hana’s parents tuck her into bed and give her a good night kiss. 

So many families express their love in all they do for one another, every day. Here is a book that wraps you in a hug and invites your family to share their own special ways of showing love.

  • Title: It’s Boba Time for Pearl Li!
  • Author: Nicole Chen
  • Cover Artist: Kat Tsai
  • Publisher: Quill Tree Books (an Imprint of HarperCollins)
  • Release Date: February 28th, 2023
  • Genre/Format: Middle Grade Contemporary


This middle grade contemporary follows a big-hearted Taiwanese American girl as she aims to gain her family’s acceptance and save her favorite boba tea shop by selling her handcrafted amigurumi dolls.

Pearl Li is ready to spend the summer before seventh grade hanging out with her two best friends, crocheting the cutest amigurumi dolls, and visiting her favorite tea shop, Boba Time. Its quirky owner, Auntie Cha, is the only adult Pearl can confide in about her art—if only her tech-obsessed family would understand her love of crafts!

After Pearl learns of Boba Time’s financial troubles, she decides to sell her amigurumi to raise money for the shop. But as she navigates the ups and downs of running a business, Pearl realizes that monetizing her passion is more complicated than she could’ve ever imagined. Can Pearl save Boba Time before it’s too late?

Interview with Nicole Chen

Q: What is your favorite Taiwanese food? (You can choose more than one.)

A: Boba, of course! It’s so easily accessible, fun to eat, an indulgence I can partake in without too much guilt, and holds so many memories for me, as someone who got to see it come to the US many years ago and then flourish as it does now.

My second favorite, however, is fan tuan, the delicious Taiwanese sticky rice rolls filled with crispy youtiao, sour mustard greens, and salty rousung, or pork floss. They are such a comforting mix of chew, crunch, and warmness…just thinking about them makes my mouth water!

Q: Because the audience for picturebooks is young children, there is a tendency for people outside the world of children’s literature to underestimate it as a medium and the craft of creating it. What kinds of activities did you do to study the craft of creating a picturebook, and what resources do you recommend for writers who are interested in picturebooks?

A: To dive into the world of picture books, I did two things that really helped me – I took a lot of classes (in particular with the Storyteller Academy) and I read A LOT of picture books and studied each one meticulously. With the books that I loved, I typed up each one into a Google doc so I could see the text independently from the illustrations. That helped me feel what my goal as an author was, which was words on a page that would invite visual images, but also communicate what the pictures wouldn’t. I have hundreds of write-ups now, and I continue doing this as I write more.

Q: What was your favorite part of writing How We Say I Love You? What was the most challenging part?

A: Coming up with the various scenes of the day was a lot of fun, as each one is so filled with love and tenderness. The hardest part was the last spread of the book, where I wanted to succinctly capture the overall message of the book while also leaving the reader with a satisfying, ahh feeling. Those lines took me many iterations with my agent and my editor.

Q: It’s Boba Time for Pearl Li! Is your second book but your first novel to be published. You mention in your acknowledgements that when you first started writing for children, you were focused on picture books and never imagined that you would write novels. What challenges did you face when tackling the prose novel medium?

A: I actually found writing a novel quite freeing, as now you have 50,000 words you can use to express a lot of ideas, which is a lot compared  to a picture book, where you really have to hone in and focus on one clear idea that can only take 500 words.

So for me, it was fun to now have all this new playing ground! But then, what was challenging was the hard work of sitting down and having to write for hours at a time for days at a time. It was physically exhausting, as I’m in front of a computer for my day job, and then would put in another 2-3 hours in the evening for the book. But once I got through the first draft, the rest was much easier to manage.

Q: It’s Boba Time for Pearl Li! addresses some of the problems and pitfalls that happen when creatives try to monetize their work. This is relevant for you as a writer who writes for publication. How do you balance your personal artistic vision and goals with the demands of publishing as a business and industry?

A: I’m fortunate that I have a fulfilling day job that “pays the bills,” so I have the privilege to truly write the books I want to write, without the urgency or pressure to monetize them. But while I do have that luxury, I also really want my stories to reach a broad audience, because I want young readers, regardless of their cultural background, to be able to relate to my Taiwanese American characters and to experience the wonderful parts of Taiwanese culture. So I pay attention to the topics and themes that are being discussed in mainstream culture and in the publishing industry to inform my stories and make sure they are relevant and relatable to kids, parents, educators, and book sellers.

Q: It’s Boba Time for Pearl Li! has several different subplots and conflicts interwoven into the story as Pearl explores or rethinks her relationships with her art, her family (especially her mom), her best friends Priya and Cindy, Auntie Cha & Boba Time, and her classmate Kendall. How did you make sure they all received the attention they needed while maintaining the overall developmental arc of the story?

A: Before I put pen to paper and start drafting, I spend quite a bit of time fleshing out each character, writing down who they are, their personalities, their physical quirks, their challenges, and their role in helping the main character grow and transform. I think this due diligence helps imprint them into my brain so that when I start to write, it’s like they’re sitting on my shoulder, peeking at the words and reminding me to give them attention on the page. It’s almost like they feel so real that I owe it to them to truly shine in the story.

Q: What kinds of things inspire your creativity, and how do you refill the creative well when you feel stuck?

A: I read a lot, especially in the genres I want to write in! I also reflect a lot on my own life and events that have happened to me as a child and still sit with me today. For me, my stories almost serve as a wistful “do-over,” where I imagine myself as the main character but with the foresight and experience of an adult. What do I wish I could have done or said or experienced if I could go back to my twelve-year-old self and make myself a better person, or make the world a better place? Then I put those ideas into the characters and stories I create.

Q: A debut novel is a big deal, but it’s just the first step in a career. Now that you have this experience under your belt, where do you see yourself and your writing career going moving forward? What kinds of new creative challenges do you want to tackle?

A: I’ve truly fallen in love with writing for middle grade, so I hope to write and publish more in this format. I love how in MG, you can explore themes in a complex, nuanced manner, yet the tone (and ending) is ultimately optimistic and heartwarming because of the genre. But as I grow in confidence as a writer, I can feel myself wanting to tackle bigger, bolder themes, like social activism and micro/macro-aggressions against Asians, even the complexity of Taiwanese history and where we stand in global politics. So I think my future creative challenge will revolve around how to tackle those themes, while maintaining the optimism and joy I hope my stories spark in readers.

Book Links

Purchase How We Say I Love You:

Purchase It’s Boba Time for Pearl Li!:

About the Author

Nicole has been sketching, designing, and writing stories all her life. In her day job as a product researcher, she collects consumer stories, then shares them with the companies she works for so they can design and develop delightful and useful experiences.

Nicole lives in sunny California with her Andorran husband and young daughter. Her experience growing up Taiwanese American in the Bay Area, plus the blend of Catalan, Spanish, Taiwanese and American influences in her home, energize her to tell stories that reflect a diverse and multicultural American identity. 

Nicole’s debut picture book, HOW WE SAY I LOVE YOU, illustrated by Lenny Wen and published by Knopf BFYR, released December 13, 2022, and her debut middle grade novel, IT’S BOBA TIME FOR PEARL LI!, from Quill Tree/Harper Collins, released February 28, 2023. She was chosen as a 2022 mentee for Diverse Voices’ DVdebut program, and was honored with SCBWI’s Out from the Margins Award in October 2022.

Photo Credit: Sarah Deragon

Author Links:

Thanks for reading this interview! If you’re enjoying my Taiwanese American Heritage Week posts and would like to show your appreciation by tossing a coin to your blogger, please consider donating that coin to Ren Kanoelani, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Taiwanese, and Japanese friend who needs help with rent payments during this Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Thanks!

[Blog Tour] Love from Mecca to Medina by S.K. Ali

Hello again. Despite the odds being against me, I managed to squeeze in another book review! Thanks to Colored Pages for hosting this blog tour.

Book Information

Title: Love From Mecca to Medina
Author: S.K. Ali
Publisher: Salaam Reads
Publication Date: October 18th, 2022 
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance


Adam and Zayneb. Perfectly matched. Painfully apart. Adam is in Doha, Qatar, making a map of the Hijrah, a historic migration from Mecca to Medina and worried about where his next paycheck will come from. Zayneb is in Chicago, where school and extracurricular stresses are piling on top of a terrible frenemy situation and making her miserable.

Then a marvel occurs: Adam and Zayneb get the chance to spend Thanksgiving week on the Umrah, a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, tracing the hijrah in real life, together. Adam’s thrilled, and Zayneb hopes for a spiritual reset—and they can’t wait to see each other.

But the trip is nothing like what they expect, from the appearance of Adam’s ex in their traveling group to the anxiety gripping Zayneb everywhere they go. And as one wedge after another drives them apart as they make their way from one holy city to another, Adam and Zayneb start to wonder: was their meeting just an oddity after all? Or can their love transcend everything else like the greatest marvels of the world?


I really loved Love from A to Z when it was released in 2019, so it was a treat to be able to catch up with Adam and Zayneb again, three years later in 2022 (I can’t believe it’s already been three years since Love from A to Z came out). It was interesting to reunite with them at a different period in their lives, where they are now young adults (in the common sense of the word, rather than what publishing uses to market teen literature). Accordingly, their responsibilities and priorities and stressors have shifted. Whereas Love from A to Z was their meet-cute story, Love from Mecca and Medina is the story that really tests their love and commitment to each other (having performed nikah, a ceremony declaring two people legally married under Islamic law).

Honestly, this book made me want to scream for a good portion of the story, not because it was badly written, but because of how terribly frustrating it was to watch Zayneb and Adam’s relationship fracture. It hurt because the conflict was so believable, resulting from their very human flaws. In an ideal world, everyone would communicate with their loved ones as much as possible and resolve their issues quickly before things snowball out of control. The reality is that being completely open can be difficult when we are grappling with our insecurities, worried about burdening loved ones with our problems or afraid of appearing weak and unattractive to the person we want to show our best side to. Or we might assume others are more self-assured than they really are and fail to notice when they are wavering or hurting. And instead of turning outward, we turn inward, falling into the trap of confirming our worst fears by projecting them onto everything we observe. Zayneb and Adam are plagued by these issues during their trip, and they are exacerbated by the fact that they want to take full advantage of the Umrah to have the perfect spiritual experience that will give them the clarity they seek, but those relationship issues keep interfering. Both have to work through their respective issues, push aside the distractions, and reorient their Muslim faith before they can face each other honestly.

Aside from the emotional realism of our main characters, there were also various elements of the story that appealed to me. One was the chapter headers, each featuring an “artifact” from Adam and Zayneb’s trip (such as souvenirs, clothing, travel items, etc.), accompanied by an “interpretive label” that kind of felt like receiving a message in a bottle. Each artifact and interpretive label serves as a thematic or affective anchor for the chapter in question, a guidepost for Adam and Zayneb’s story as well as a brief note-to-the-reader to ground oneself in the face of the emotional turmoil playing out on the page (and perhaps also in the reader’s life). Another aspect I enjoyed was the use of Adam and Zayneb’s cat, Bertha Fatima Chen-Malik, as a narrative device in the beginning, interludes, and end. It was both cute and created a feeling as if you were peeking into Adam and Zayneb’s lives with their cat’s permission.

Overall, I think Love from Mecca to Medina is a beautiful story about falling apart and then finding your way back to what matters, a story that anyone, Muslim or not, can see a glimpse of themselves in.

Book links:

About the Author

S. K. Ali is the author of Saints and Misfits, a finalist for the American Library Association’s 2018 William C. Morris Award and the winner of the APALA Honor Award and Middle East Book Honor Award; and Love from A to Z, a Today show Read with Jenna Book Club selection. Both novels were named best YA books of the year by various media including Entertainment Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. She is also the author of Misfit in Love and Love from Mecca to Medina. You can find Sajidah online at SKAliBooks.com and follow her on Instagram @SKAliBooks, TikTok @SKAliBooks, and on Twitter at @SajidahWrites.

Author Links: 

Blog Tour Schedule

October 9th 

Amani’s Honest Reviews – Playlist

October 10th

Melancholic Blithe – Review Only

The._bookarazzi – Review Only 

October 11th

sanjariti reads – Review Only

October 12th

Letters to the Void – Mood board + recommendation

October 13th

Zainab Chats – Review Only 

October 14th

My World of Wonders – Review Only

 The Keysmash Blog – Review Only

October 15th


October 16th

Readingwithprachi – Playlist

October 17th

Delilah Here’s To You – Playlist

October 18th

the moonchild pages – Journal Spread

October 19th

Cassiesbookshelves – Book recommendations based on the book

October 20th

The Book Witch Of Hogwarts – Review Only 

October 21st

Desolateblogs – Review + artwork

October 22nd

Ramblings – Playlist

The Girl In Blue Reads – Review Only

[Blog Tour] Review for Death by Society by Sierra Elmore

Somehow, it’s September again, which means the fall semester, which means I’m drowning in schoolwork. But in the midst of my busy schedule, I made time, as I always do, for a blog tour post (as soulless as it may seem from an outsider perspective, signing up for these blog tours is the most effective way of ensuring that I’m still regularly reading and reviewing books that aren’t required reading for school throughout the year). Thanks to Paola at Noveltindie for hosting and inviting me to the tour, and congratulations to Sierra for self-publishing her debut! You can find more information about the tour at the launch post.

Book Information

  • Title: Death by Society
  • Author: Sierra Elmore
  • Release Date: September 13th, 2022
  • Genre: Young Adult Contemporary


MEAN GIRLS meets IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY when two teenage girls’ worlds collide when one attempts suicide to avoid toxic popularity.

Carter Harper may have created an award-winning app and have a 3.93 GPA, but her successes are overshadowed by brutal bullying, depression, and loneliness. Tired of being treated as the popular girls’ plaything, Carter thinks her only choice is to die by suicide.

Abby Wallace is one of the most popular girls in school, subordinate only to Kelsey, her best friend with benefits. The ambitious poet destroys reputations without care to prove how cool, cruel, and strong she is, all while pushing down her past trauma and secret guilt.

Carter and Abby’s tumultuous relationship comes to a boiling point when Abby stops Carter from attempting suicide. But what happens when they have to protect one another from Kelsey’s harmful antics? If Carter and Abby can stand each other for more than three minutes, they can stop Kelsey from hurting more girls—and maybe become friends in the process.

In the tradition of Courtney Summers and Laurie Halse Anderson, DEATH BY SOCIETY questions how far we’ll go to gain power over our lives—and what happens when we use our voices for both good and to harm others.


Trigger/content warnings: Death by Society and my review of the book discuss and mention bullying, anxiety, depression, suicide, and sexual assault.

Death by Society is one of those books that hits super close to home for me because it addresses bullying and suicide, which are both things that I have personal experience with. Although Carter’s specific experience of bullying is pretty different in nature from my own, the depiction of her social anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression really resonated with me. In particular, the guilt over how her severe depressive episodes affected her mother and the tendency to hide what she was going through were a little too real.

Additionally, there’s a part of the book where Carter freaks out over the fact that she’s recovering because the change, despite being a positive one, leads her to question her entire existence, having attached so much of her sense of self to the depression. Death by Society is one of the few fictional books on mental health and depression I’ve read that has depicted that angst and fear of getting better and captured it so well. Because as much as it sounds bizarre to anyone who hasn’t been there before, wanting to live after wanting to die is fucking scary! You’re not running away from your problems anymore, and you have to confront them and deal with them in a constructive way. You have to change your shitty coping mechanisms, and it’s hard to do that when you’ve been this way so long that you don’t know how to be otherwise. I learned in therapy that even positive change is stressful, and Carter’s life post-suicide attempt reflects that in many ways.

One of the things that felt refreshingly honest about Death by Society is how it makes room for the complex and messy aspects of humanity by giving a voice and narrative POV to Abby, who is both a victim of sexual violence and a bully to Carter for much of the story. As tempting as it can be to view violence and harm as things done exclusively by people who are fundamentally horrible in every conceivable way, by people who are simply unfeeling monsters beyond redemption, the reality is that so much harm is enacted by everyday people playing into toxic social systems (whether they realize it/intend to, or not), and even victims of violence (past or present) can also perpetuate violence toward others when they have the power to do so. Abby’s character exemplifies that truth, and it was interesting to watch her come to terms with the harm she inflicted and choose a different path.

Another way this book felt Super Real was the overall incompetence of most of the adults in Carter’s life at doing a damn thing about the bullying: the lip service paid to cultivating a welcoming environment at school, the reactionary and performative measures from administrators meant to convince themselves that they’ve done something when they don’t meaningfully addressing the root issues… It’s been a little over 10 years since I’ve graduated high school (holy shit I’m old), but it still feels like society is stuck in the same bullshit when it comes to [failing to address] bullying. Rather than making her feel better, Carter’s interactions with the school administrators mostly just re-traumatizes her because they aren’t actually putting her needs first, they’re protecting themselves and coddling the parents of the other girls. Reading this book really made me contemplate the question of what actually helps? What is proven to be effective in preventing bullying and addressing the harm after the bullying has occurred? Because suspension and a lukewarm assembly with PowerPoint slides certainly are not.

While my commentary on this book so far may make Death by Society seem like a supremely SeriousTM book (which it is, in a lot of great ways!), it’s also actually ridiculously funny as well. I lost count of the number of times I laughed out loud while reading my ARC. There’s some morbid humor (because it is about heavy topics) but also some irreverent jokes. Not only do individual characters get dragged, our broader social institutions and norms get roasted and indicted as well. Death by Society is one of those gems that skillfully blends humor and social commentary and can make readers laugh without making light of the important issues involved, which is why I found it so cathartic of an experience to read.

Book Links

Add Death by Society on Goodreads!

Purchase a copy of Death by Society.

About the Author

Sierra Elmore writes YA contemporary and thriller novels about girls wreaking havoc while fighting trauma. Her work has won the YoungArts merit award and was selected for the Author Mentor Match program.

Elmore earned a BA in Sociology from Arcadia University. She’s conducted research on the representation of mentally ill women in media, as well as relational aggression amongst adolescent girls.

Elmore lives in New York City, where she explores independent bookstores, volunteers for the Crisis Text Line, and goes to as many concerts as possible.

Visit Sierra’s website at https://sierraelmore.com.

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

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

Book Information

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Purchase a copy of Just Your Local Bisexual Disaster:

About the Author

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

Find Andrea Mosqueda on social media:

Author Interview: Anna Gracia

Welcome to my third interview for my [belated] Taiwanese American Heritage Week series!

About the Book

  • Title: Boys I Know
  • Author: Anna Gracia
  • Cover Artist: Fevik
  • Publisher: Peachtree Teen
  • Release Date: July 5th, 2022
  • Genre: Young Adult Contemporary


A high school senior navigates messy boys and messier relationships in this bitingly funny and much-needed look into the overlap of Asian American identity and teen sexuality.  

June Chu is the “just good enough” girl. Good enough to line the shelves with a slew of third-place trophies and steal secret kisses from her AP Bio partner, Rhys. But not good enough to meet literally any of her Taiwanese mother’s unrelenting expectations or to get Rhys to commit to anything beyond a well-timed joke. 

While June’s mother insists she follow in her (perfect) sister’s footsteps and get a (full-ride) violin scholarship to Northwestern (to study pre-med), June doesn’t see the point in trying too hard if she’s destined to fall short anyway. Instead, she focuses her efforts on making her relationship with Rhys “official.” But after her methodically-planned, tipsily-executed scheme explodes on the level of a nuclear disaster, she flings herself into a new relationship with a guy who’s not allergic to the word “girlfriend.” 

But as the line blurs between sex and love, and the pressure to map out her entire future threatens to burst, June will have to decide on whose terms she’s going to live her life—even if it means fraying her relationship with her mother beyond repair. 

Interview with Anna Gracia

Q: Throughout the course of Boys I Know, June Chu makes a lot of mistakes and questionable-to-poor choices before getting someplace better. In my experience, the process of writing a book is pretty similar. What kinds of false starts did you make while writing Boys I Know, and how did you move past them?

A: Boys I Know was the first novel I’d ever written, so naturally I had no idea what I was doing. I wrote it in chunks, over the course of a year, not totally knowing what was going to happen to June or how it would come together as a coherent story. I flailed around for a while, tweaking and making (what I thought were) major changes until I was fortunate enough to sign with an agent who had a much more sweeping idea of how edits should go. In short, I deleted the entire book and started over with a blank page shortly after signing, giving me permission to let go of what wasn’t working and start fresh. In that way, I think it parallels June’s options to either continue on her same path with minor alterations or to simply start over, despite that choice seeming much more daunting.

I feel like there’s so much about publishing that’s like “you don’t know until you know” and being lucky enough to take Boys from hot mess first draft to publication has really helped clarify what I need to do going forward and has made me less afraid of, well, everything, because I know I’m capable of doing it.

Q: I really love the use of chengyu/Chinese idioms in this book because of how well they illustrate the relationship dynamic between June and her mother, encapsulating both the pressures these words often put on her but also the influences she picks up from her mother as a result. How did you go about incorporating these into the text in a way that felt authentic to the story you were trying to tell?

A: I’m so glad you asked this! (Mostly because I spent so much time making sure the Chinese was correct and finding the right phrase to go with each situation.) For me, I grew up hearing these left and right, spouted in Chinese with the English translation immediately after, just like June’s mom does, so it felt natural to have her incorporate them into her speech regularly, especially when she’s trying to make a point to her daughter. I wanted Mrs. Chu to encapsulate that passive-aggressive style of parenting where she is somehow both overbearing but also weirdly hands off about things, expecting that simply dictating wisdom is enough to set her kids on the right path. So when June references a particular proverb or phrase in other contexts, I wanted it to be a subtle reminder of how even her own thoughts had been affected by her mom, her upbringing, and her culture.

I think it’s pretty common for multi-lingual people to think in more than one language and I wanted to show how even someone as “Americanized” as June still has the Taiwanese side of her baked into her identity, inseparable from the very way she exists.

Q: When developing their characters, some authors create elaborate profiles and aesthetic collages and playlists while others stick to what is necessary for the story and don’t spend too much time on the rest. Where would you say you fall in the range between these two approaches? And if you have any fun details about June that didn’t make it into the final story, please share a few!

A: Originally, June was a piano player. But that created logistical concerns I didn’t want to have to deal with (like having privacy while she practiced, for one), so I switched her over to the other Asian parent-approved instrument of choice, the violin.

Other than that, June has remained more or less consistent throughout all the versions and edits of this story, which is surprising considering I don’t create any kind of character profile or aesthetic or anything upfront. My lack of structure and overall vision upfront I’m sure makes the process much longer and more frustrating than it probably needs to be, but I’m pretty adamant that writing the story itself is what lets me better explore my characters and keeps them from remaining too tidy.

Q: Do you have a narrative point of view or tense that you default to when you write, or does it vary depending on the story?

A: I personally default to writing in first person past tense because it makes me feel like I’m telling a story, but I did see someone say they DNFed the book because of it so maybe I need to explore writing in present tense because that seems to be more popular in YA!

Q: A lot of writers I know approach a first draft with the mentality that you’re just getting words down no matter how terrible, and editing is on the backburner. However, I’m the type who makes some edits even as I draft. How do you approach the editing/revision process, and how do you deal with situations where you feel like you are ramming your head against a brick wall trying to figure out how to continue improving on the draft you have?

A: Honestly I probably do not have good advice for this because my process is completely chaotic and inefficient. I draft out of order and refuse to outline or use beat sheets, and instead of tackling edits in several passes I try to do everything all at once.

The only thing I can say is that when it all becomes too overwhelming (and trust me, I do a fair bit of head ramming against brick walls as well), I just focus on one paragraph at a time, like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, reminding myself that if I keep hacking away at it, I’ll eventually finish.

It’s not poignant or strategic in any way–I mostly finish projects because of an innate desire to “win” against the part of myself that wants to give up.

Q: Debut year is both an exciting and stressful experience even without the added stress created by the pandemic. What tools and strategies have you been using to manage your mental health?

A: I just keep repeating to myself that most everything outside of the book content itself is out of my control and spend my time on doing things I do enjoy for it, like making unhinged posts about it on social media. I also spend a lot of time burying myself in other people’s books, which helps me remember that there are a lot of stories out there and that mine is just one of many. It’s easy to get swept into thinking that your book is all that matters but it’s also a very good way to burn out and I would very much like to keep publishing. Also, cake. I strongly recommend cake as a solution to everything.

Add Boys I Know on Goodreads.

Pre-order Boys I Know:

About the Author

Anna grew up biracial in the Midwest, spending her formative years repeatedly answering the question “What are you?” Before finding her way as a young adult author, she was a CPA, a public school teacher, a tennis coach, and for one glorious summer, a waitress at a pie shop. She now lives on the West Coast, raising three kids and writing stories about girls navigating a world full of double standards.

Author Links:

Thanks for reading this interview! If you’re enjoying my Taiwanese American Heritage Week posts, please consider donating to the victims fund for the Taiwanese American church community in Orange County that was attacked this weekend on May 15th by a gunman, or donating to Ren, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Taiwanese, and Japanese person who needs help with student loan debt and medical bills. Thanks!

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

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

Book Information

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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