Tag Archives: Contemporary

[Blog Tour] Favorite Quotes from Things We Couldn’t Say by Jay Coles

Hello again! This is the follow-up to my review for Things We Couldn’t Say and the second installment of my stop for the blog tour hosted by Colored Pages. Please see my review for the full details about the book.

Notes: Quotes are taken from the digital review copy I received, so I don’t have page numbers. The quotes may differ from the final published version. All quotes are from Gio’s narration unless otherwise stated/attributed.

Quote #1

“MatchUp is for hookups, Ayesha.” I sound like an overprotective brother. I would know because I went through this phase last year where I met up with some random girls every now and then for a quick hookup and even some guys, too, as an experiment to see if I was really into guys the way I started to think I was. Somehow making out with a random guy helped me figure things out, like icing on the cake.

Quote #2

Sometimes I wonder if things would be different if she were still here with us. I wonder if pops would drink like he does. I wonder if Theo would still need me to walk him to school every morning. I wonder a lot of things and I might not ever know the answers. And I tell myself that it’s…okay.

Quote #3

Dr. McCullough, she said counting or naming the states in alphabetical order and even reverse alphabetical order helps you clear your head, helps push through anxiety and panic attacks.

I count.

And count.

And count.

In my thoughts.

But I can’t shake this grief.

Quote #4

Suddenly I wonder if the darkness that I feel in my chest is there because I’m holding on to it rather than emptying it out. Something inside me is stirring and stirring and it feels wrong. I can’t focus on anything.

Quote #5

I’m so hurt and beat up about the fact that this whole time I could’ve had some sort of relationship with her, some sort of contact. Maybe I wouldn’t have needed to go through counseling with Dr. McCullough back when I was a freshman and sophomore. At least, not as often as I did. Or maybe at least her absence wouldn’t have felt as heavy. Maybe I would have the answers to all the questions written on my heart that I don’t even know to ask. Maybe the grief I experience in waves and seasons wouldn’t be as heavy as a tsunami tiding over me, completely consuming every inch of my body until I, too, am something to be grieved.

Quote #6

“Loss fucks you up, but it doesn’t change who you are. I have to believe that. It forces you to be brave and strong so you can hold your life together, and the lives of the people you love together—the ones who are still here.”

-David

Quote #7

This boy is such a mystery, but I can’t help but feel like I’m on top of the world when I’m near him. I can’t help but feel every butterfly in a fifty-mile radius flutter in my stomach. I don’t take my eyes off him—I can’t.

Quote #8

“The biggest lie the world tells you is that you have to have everything figured out. You don’t. That’s part of the journey of life—figuring out the different layers of you. And when you’re ready to share those layers, you deserve to be able to do that. But you don’t have to do it till that time comes.”

-Jackie, Gio’s mother

Quote #9

On top of everything else, I’m terrified David will see right through the different layers of me. He won’t see this soft, nice, somewhat shy boy, but instead and ugly fucking disaster.

Quote #10

That’s the thing about grief: it’s a sneaky little devil that creeps up on you and catches you off guard. It pops up when you’re not prepared and takes shapes that you least expect.

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

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

Book Information 

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

Synopsis:

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

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Links:  

About the Author

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

Author Links:

Review for Made in Korea by Sarah Suk

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

Synopsis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Book Links:

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

About the Author:

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

Author Links:

[Blog Tour] Favorite Quotes from Sister of the Bollywood Bride by Nandini Bajpai

If you haven’t seen my review of the book, please go read that for more information about the book.

Note: These quotes are spoiler-free.

Quote #1

What would mom think of a simple civil ceremony with twenty guests? The answer to that was staring me in the face. She wouldn’t have saved and scraped for such fancy jewelry if she hadn’t wanted a proper Punjabi wedding. That’s what she would have liked. Lots of family, food, flowers, music. Vinnie in a gorgeous lehenga. Her groom in a red turban on a white horse, like in one of those Bollywood movies.

Quote #2

“Your mom is not taking care of it?” she asked.

Was there a way to avoid telling her? I wondered, dreading the usual awkwardness that followed when I mentioned what had happened to Mom. If it’d been anyone but Preet, I’d have found a way to avoid answering directly.

“She…” I squared my shoulders. “She passed away. Years ago.”

Suddenly all the chatter around me hushed. Crap. What a dumb idea this was. Great way to identify myself as the clueless, motherless freak show. I wanted their help, not their pity.

Quote #3

“Didn’t want to break up the cozy chat you were having,” Shayla said. “God knows you don’t talk to many guys.”

“I talk to Peter, and David, and Isaac….”

“AP study group is not talking!”

“He found my keys,” I said. “That’s all. He wasn’t, like, chatting me up, or anything.”

“Sure he wasn’t,” Shayla said.

Quote #4

Vir left the console and came over to where I was standing.

He held out a hand. “Would you like to dance?”

“Sure,” I said. I was glad the lights were low because I’m pretty sure I looked horribly self-conscious—is it actually possible to have a whole-body blush? Then both his hands were around my waits, and both mine were on his shoulders. Breathe, Mini, I told myself.

Quote #5

In a bid to shake off the blues (no pun intended), I packed my watercolors, bottle of water, and brushes into my French easel and headed to Fellsway with the dog. Painting en plein air always helped me slay whatever was bothering me. Besides, I had to add to the portfolio that I’d been neglecting for weeks. Now that I wasn’t retaking the SAT and Vinnie’s wedding planning was off to a good start, it was time to focus on college app stuff. My portfolio was exactly where it had been when junior year wound down and I finished submitting everything for AP Studio Art. It would be good to paint something that wasn’t going to be graded and evaluated!

Quote #6

“It’s cooler here,” I said, and held up my hands to frame the scene I was trying to capture. “And the perfect vantage point.”

“Yes, it is,” he said, and pulled off his shirt to reveal an impressively firm and muscled torso—and caused my heart rate to go from highly escalated to practically flatline.

What was he doing?

Quote #7

Mum always said when you can’t buy something because it is very, very expensive, go treat yourself to something happy, and fun, and beautiful that is very, very cheap—a pretty pair of earrings, a bright scarf, or a small cup of Haagen-Dazs ice cream.

Quote #8

“How does it look?” she asked.

“Brilliant!” I said. It was very vintage—like something Madhuri Dixit would have worn—but Vinnie’s fresh young face updated it immediately. There was a lump in my throat. It wasn’t that she looked like Mom exactly, but there were flashes of Mom in the way she moved and smiled and sounded, even. And with that lehenga on, there was no mistaking it.

Quote #9

If I were the praying type, I would have been praying, but what was the use? Miracles had stopped working for the likes of us a long time ago.

All we could do was wait. We’d know by Friday, definitely. Until then, there was nothing to be done except wring our hands, write place cards, and go on as if nothing the size of Texas was barreling down on us at 120 miles an hour.

Quote #10

It was going to be legendary—or a disaster. Either way, no one would ever forget it. Game. On.

[Blog Tour] Review for Sister of the Bollywood Bride by Nandini Bajpai

Pleased to announce that I’m done with school for the spring!!! And I’m happy to be a part of the blog tour for Sister of the Bollywood Bride hosted by Lonely Pages Tours. This is the second book by Nandini Bajpai I’ve read, the first being Starcursed, a historical YA story that I reviewed back in 2017. (It was published in India years ago, so it might be hard to get, but I highly recommend it!)

Book Information

Title: Sister of the Bollywood Bride
Author: Nandini Bajpai
Pub date: May 25th, 2021
Publisher: Poppy (Hachette)
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult, Romance

Synopsis

For fans of Morgan Matson’s Save the Date comes a charming novel about one teen’s summer tackling disasters including, but not limited to, family, romance, and weather — as she plans her sister’s Bollywood-style Indian wedding.

Mini’s big sister, Vinnie, is getting married. Their mom passed away seven years ago and between Dad’s new start-up and Vinnie’s medical residency, there’s no one but Mini to plan the wedding. Dad raised her to know more about computers, calculus, and cars than desi weddings but from the moment Mini held the jewelry Mom left them, she wanted her sister to have the wedding Mom would’ve planned.

Now Mini has only two months to get it done and she’s not going to let anything distract her, not even the persistent, mysterious, and smoking-hot Vir Mirchandani. Flower garlands, decorations, music, even a white wedding horse — everything is in place.

That is, until a monster hurricane heads for Boston that could ruin everything. Will Mini come through as sister of the bride and save the day?

Review

(Note: I received an advance copy of the book as part of my participation in the tour. This did not affect my evaluation of the story.)

I feel like this was the perfect book to read after a very stressful school semester. It’s a mostly light-hearted contemporary where the stakes aren’t super earth-shattering/life-or-death but still important to the main character. I cannot imagine planning a wedding in real life, but following along Mini for the ride as she tries to coordinate a wedding on a somewhat low budget was highly entertaining.

Indian weddings are notorious for being for over-the-top, and the book delivers on that front with vivid descriptions of everything, especially the clothes. Mini has a talent for clothing design and creates amazing pieces. I feel like I would have appreciated it more if I had a background in fashion and textiles, but it was a feast for the mind’s eye regardless.

As the synopsis promised, there is a romance plotline to the story, but it’s not the main focus, so if you’re looking for a romance-centric book, this is probably not the book for that. Mini has a very classic meet-cute of the awkward variety with Vir, who is mysterious, charming, and almost ridiculously multitalented. There is a twist or two to their relationship, but nothing so dramatic as to completely derail the fun atmosphere of the book.

One of the more serious topics that this book does touch on is grief and losing one’s mother to cancer at a young age. Although I lost my own mother at an older age than Mini (who lost hers at age 10), I still related a lot to her experience, especially with the awkwardness of disclosing to people that your mother has passed away when they assume she’s still alive. Mini tries to downplay her complex regarding her mother’s death, but it’s clearly a thing that still affects her and how she relates to the various people in her family, especially her sister and her maternal aunt, who she felt abandoned by in the aftermath of her mother’s passing.

My primary critique of the story was that there were aspects to Mini’s relationships that felt underdeveloped. I saw hints here and there of deeper things to be explored between her and her sister, who is 8 years older and was just on the cusp of adulthood when their mother passed, but they were not given the space that I hoped for. There was also the thread of Mini excelling at art while being pushed toward STEM by her father that kind of just got glossed over and left hanging, even though various other people were affirming her artistic talent throughout the book and pushing her to consider majoring in art/design. Maybe the author felt like that shouldn’t be the focus since the book is about the wedding planning shenanigans, but personally I felt it would have been better if it had been touched on more.

Conclusion: If you want a fun-filled summer read, read Sister of the Bollywood Bride!

Book Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop | IndieBound

Nandini Bajpai is also running a preorder campaign for the book: http://www.nandinibajpai.com/preorder-campaign.html

About the Author

Nandini Bajpai grew up in New Delhi, India, one of four sisters and many cousins, in a family that liked to read.

She lived and worked in India, Australia, and the US, before settling in the Boston area with her husband, kids, and a fluctuating number and variety of pets. Although she dabbled in corporate finance, business analysis, and fostering shelter animals, her first love is writing.

Author Links:

Website – http://www.nandinibajpai.com
Twitter – https://twitter.com/nandinibajpai
Book Site – https://www.thenovl.com/sisterofthebollywoodbride

Tour Schedule

Check out the other stops on the tour!

[Blog Tour] Favorite Quotes from Counting Down with You by Tashie Bhuiyan

Part 2 of my tour stop for the the blog tour organized by Shealea @ Caffeine Book Tours! Refer to Part 1, my review, for all the book information. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book. These are spoiler-free, so don’t worry.

Note: These quotes are from the final published version of the book.

Quote #1

Abiding by all these rules day in and day out is exhausting, but my parents have sacrificed too much for me to throw it all away by being selfish. They left behind their lives in Bangladesh and moved here in the hopes of giving me a better life. They want me to grow up and be successful, to be financially stable, to be focused and diligent and hardworking.

I know they’re thinking about my future, but I don’t know how to be the daughter they can gloat about at our community parties, the daughter whose achievements they can praise to their coworkers, the daughter who never steps a toe out of line and does everything exactly as they wish. Still, a part of me wants that—to be enough for them, to have them be proud of me. The rest of me wishes I could crawl into a hole.

Page 40

Quote #2

I have no idea what’s happening, but I do know I want to sink into the ground.

Page 83

Quote #3

“Writing is what helped me gain confidence in myself. There’s something really special about being able to express yourself with words. I love stories and I love poems and I love learning more and more with each word. I think it’s amazing.”

Page 91

Quote #4

Ace’s smile widens into a blinding grin. I’m going to kill him. “I took her on a date to a local bakery. She ordered the cheesecake and said it wasn’t nearly as sweet as me.”

His foot is close enough that I step on it in retribution. He winces but quickly covers it up. It still brings me some satisfaction.

Page 125

Quote #5

“If you don’t explain what the hell is happening right now, I’m going to pour my orange juice down your shirt,” Cora threatens pleasantly.

Page 137

Quote #6

“Stop flirting,” Cora says, her eyes bright with amusement.

I gape at them. “I just told him to die.”

Nandini looks exasperated. “We’re Gen Z, Karina. That’s how we flirt.”

Page 152

Quote #7

As promised, Ace is waiting when I step out of AP Physics. “You’re like an annoying stray cat that won’t stop following me,” I say before wiggling my fingers at him. “Want a scratch on the head?”

Page 168

Quote #8

Why am I selfish if I want to do what I love? It’s my life and my future. Not my parents’. Mine. They gave me the tools to be here, but that shouldn’t mean that they get to make every choice for me.

I’m not a bad person for wanting a life different than what’s expected of me. I’m not a bad person for wanting to pursue something I love.

I’m not a bad person for wanting. But I feel like I am.

Page 200

Quote #9

But then, strangely enough, Ace holds out a hand to me. “Do you trust me?”

I stare at the hand, a mix of exhilarated and nervous. “This isn’t Aladdin.”

“It’s not,” he says. “But do you trust me?”

Page 232

Quote #10

“The older I am, the more I realize it’s not worth it to prioritize things that make you miserable,” Dadu says. “I don’t want that for you.”

Page 285

And that’s the end of the quotes. I hope this gives you a taste of what the story and characters are like and their appeal. 🙂

[Blog Tour] Review for Counting Down with You by Tashie Bhuiyan

I put a countdown clock to this review on my Instagram story because I thought it was apt, and now the wait is over. I’m excited to be a part of the blog tour for Tashie Bhuiyan’s Counting Down with You, hosted by Shealea @ Caffeine Book Tours.

Book Information

Title: Counting Down With You
Author: Tashie Bhuiyan
Cover: Samya Arif (artist), Gigi Lau (art direction)
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Publication date: 04 May 2021
Age group: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary

Synopsis:

A reserved Bangladeshi teenager has twenty-eight days to make the biggest decision of her life after agreeing to fake date her school’s resident bad boy.

How do you make one month last a lifetime?

Karina Ahmed has a plan. Keep her head down, get through high school without a fuss, and follow her parents’ rules—even if it means sacrificing her dreams. When her parents go abroad to Bangladesh for four weeks, Karina expects some peace and quiet. Instead, one simple lie unravels everything.

Karina is my girlfriend.

Tutoring the school’s resident bad boy was already crossing a line. Pretending to date him? Out of the question. But Ace Clyde does everything right—he brings her coffee in the mornings, impresses her friends without trying, and even promises to buy her a dozen books (a week) if she goes along with his fake-dating facade. Though Karina agrees, she can’t help but start counting down the days until her parents come back.

T-minus twenty-eight days until everything returns to normal—but what if Karina no longer wants it to?

Review:

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book as a part of this tour, but it did not affect my opinion of the book. I ended up reading the finished copy that I bought rather than the ARC, so this review is based on the final version of the book.

Counting Down with You is a book that made me go “oof.” While the story is billed as a fake dating romance (which it is, to its credit), to me, it’s fundamentally a story of a teen girl finding the courage to be fully herself and to witness what is possible when she isn’t being suffocated by her parents’ expectations.

The first thing that really spoke to me in this book was the representation of anxiety. The constant feeling of being on edge, of fearing the worst, of wondering if you’ll ever be enough for anyone, hit really close to home. Karina’s panic attacks and breakdowns were very visceral in a way that resonated with my own experience, to the point where I also found myself struggling to breathe a bit when I was following her emotional journey.

Unlike Karina, I did not have abusive parents, but I still felt the weight of so many expectations that held me back from making choices because I wanted something rather than because I was afraid of any negative consequences that might follow. I also had a STEM to liberal arts pipeline experience. In college, I had a quarter-life crisis where I realized I did not want to do engineering as a career, even though I’d chosen it as a major myself when applying. Even though I was miserable, I kept putting off and dismissing the idea of changing majors until I was already 84% of the way done with my degree requirements. By then I felt like it was too late to change my major, so instead I considered adding a second one, Asian American studies. At the time, I was already a legal adult, so people might expect that you can just do whatever you want because what’s stopping you? But it’s different when you’re the child of Asian immigrants. I was worried what my parents would think about the decision to switch from engineering with its prestige and financial stability to an obscure liberal arts major that almost nobody knows about with career prospects that are super questionable. Plus, I needed to take an extra year to finish the second major/degree, which meant spending more of their hard-earned money because I was still financially dependent on them. So in that sense, Karina’s experience spoke deeply to mine, as a second generation Asian American trying to step off the path that I’d once assumed was the only one for me, terrified of disappointing the people I loved most by choosing happiness.

But enough about me. Back to the characters.

Not gonna lie, I did not particularly like Ace’s character at the beginning (and I didn’t really find the “bad boy” label that fitting because he was just a rich white boy acting out a little but not actually doing that much “bad” stuff), but he grew on me over time. While teen me definitely would have written him off based on appearances, adult me acknowledges he was perfect for Karina in helping her personal growth and bringing out her inner spark. I appreciate that the two talked about boundaries and that Ace respected Karina’s boundaries even when he disagreed with how she reacted regarding her parents’ treatment of her.

I loved pretty much all of the supporting characters and Karina’s relationship with them. Her besties, Cora and Nandini, were the best friendship squad a person could ask for, providing a mixture of good-humored teasing/roasting and unconditional love and support. Karina’s brother, Samir, surprised me in good ways with his maturation over the course of the story, and I guess I’m a sucker for sibling bonds in fiction. Her Dadu (paternal grandmother) was one of my all-time favorite characters because she was brimming with love and wisdom and acted as one of Karina’s staunchest allies against her parents’ harmful treatment. Dadu is my personal hero.

To sum up the book in one sentence: Counting Down with You will break your heart and then heal it.

Trigger/Content Warnings: Abuse (emotional/psychological), anxiety and panic attacks

Books Links:

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop | IndieBound | Indigo

About the Author:

Tashie Bhuiyan is a Bangladeshi American writer based in New York City. She recently graduated from St. John’s University with a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations, and hopes to change the world, one book at a time. She loves writing stories about girls with wild hearts, boys who wear rings, and gaining agency through growth. When she’s not doing that, she can be found in a Chipotle or bookstore, insisting 2010 is the best year in cinematic history. (Read: Tangled and Inception.)

Author links:

Author website — https://www.tashiebhuiyan.com/
Goodreads — https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19589512.Tashie_Bhuiyan
Instagram — http://instagram.com/tashiebhuiyan
Twitter — http://twitter.com/tashiebhuiyan 

Author Interview: Jennifer Yen

Welcome to my Taiwanese American Heritage Week feature series! Taiwanese American Heritage Week is celebrated every year in May starting on Mother’s Day and ending the following Sunday. Each year during TAHW I spotlight Taiwanese authors and books in some form or fashion on my blog. You can find all of the past features in my Post Index.

The fifth author interview in my 2021 TAHW series is with Jennifer Yen on her debut YA novel A Taste for Love.

Synopsis:

To her friends, high school senior Liza Yang is nearly perfect. Smart, kind, and pretty, she dreams big and never shies away from a challenge. But to her mom, Liza is anything but. Compared to her older sister Jeannie, Liza is stubborn, rebellious, and worst of all, determined to push back against all of Mrs. Yang’s traditional values, especially when it comes to dating.

The one thing mother and daughter do agree on is their love of baking. Mrs. Yang is the owner of Houston’s popular Yin & Yang Bakery. With college just around the corner, Liza agrees to help out at the bakery’s annual junior competition to prove to her mom that she’s more than her rebellious tendencies once and for all. But when Liza arrives on the first day of the bake-off, she realizes there’s a catch: all of the contestants are young Asian American men her mother has handpicked for Liza to date.

The bachelorette situation Liza has found herself in is made even worse when she happens to be grudgingly attracted to one of the contestants; the stoic, impenetrable, annoyingly hot James Wong. As she battles against her feelings for James, and for her mother’s approval, Liza begins to realize there’s no tried and true recipe for love.

Interview:

Q: Food is such an essential part of Taiwanese culture. What is your favorite Taiwanese food (or one of your favorites since I know how hard it is to choose), and what memories or feelings do you associate with it, if any?

A: A lot of my favorite Taiwanese foods are street snacks (or derived from them). Some of my most vivid childhood memories come from eating and sharing them with my family. Stinky tofu is still one of my go-to guilty pleasures, but it’s definitely an acquired taste—or rather, smell—for most non-Taiwanese.

There was also this fried chicken stall in the day market my mom would take us to for groceries. It was run by an elderly man, and it was his family business. There was something about his batter and spices that made his chicken out of this world. Sadly, his children opted not to carry the recipe on after he retired.

My favorite sweet street snack were these soft animal-shaped waffles. They were made from a batter very similar to Hong Kong egg waffles, and the vendors would cart around their iron molds and make them on the spot for you. What I wouldn’t give to have them again!

Q: It seems to be a common thing for second generation Taiwanese writers to first try med school or some other STEM field before becoming writers (this was a thing for Gloria Chao, Livia Blackburne, and also me). What advice do you have for Taiwanese and other Asian youth who are thinking about venturing off the beaten (and often expected) path of the doctor/lawyer/engineer trifecta to write or do other creative work?

A: This is such a tough question, because I went down the same path you did (and am still in STEM to this day)! To me, the key is compromise. Many immigrant parents drive their children towards STEM because of the perceived financial stability in those fields. Mine were definitely that way, and it stung to have them dismiss anything they didn’t consider worth my time. Now as an adult, I understand their point of view, but there’s also a middle ground. Pursue your passions, but do your research and know how to deal with the financial ups and downs of creative work. That could be a “fallback” career, or a job that at least helps you to pay the bills. It’s also important to remember that it’s never too late to be creative. There is no age limit to your imagination!

Q: If you were to pick a combination of a baked good and a bubble tea mix (base+flavor+topping) to represent Liza, Grace, James, and Ben, respectively, what would you choose for each of them, and why?

A: Hmmmm this is another great but challenging question! I would say the following:

Liza is probably charsiu bao and jasmine green milk tea with boba, because she’s sweet and salty (haha) and your go-to person for any occasion!

Grace would be egg tart and cheese foam peach oolong tea! She’s well-loved, looks impeccable, and always on trend.

James is definitely boluo bao and Japanese matcha. He’s crusty on the outside, but soft and sweet on the inside. While he isn’t for everyone and takes getting used to, there’s lots of perks if you give him a chance.

Ben would be milk custard bun and brown sugar black tea with boba, because he’s sweet outside and in, but has layers you might miss if you only fall for his looks.

Q: Your story mentions Taiwanese and Korean dramas. Did you draw inspiration from any of these while you were writing? What other sources served as inspiration for the story (aside from Pride & Prejudice and GBBO)?

A: I would say that I draw inspiration from the themes and tropes we see in all dramas. However, there’s obviously cultural complexities that I weave into A Taste for Love that fall more in line with what you see in the Asian ones. One of my favorite things is the multi-layered twists Taiwanese and Korean dramas throw at their audience, and I tried incorporating a small version of that into the story (if you’ve read it, you know what I’m talking about). 

Q: A lot of Asian immigrant parents don’t necessarily show love through “I love you”s or physical affection. If you were to analyze Liza and her mom using the 5 Love Languages model (https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/the-5-love-languages-explained), how would you rank the two characters for each “language” on a scale from 1 to 5, 1 being the least important, 5 being the most important?

A: Funny you mention that, because I feel a lot of immigrant families struggle with communication because the generations have different love languages.

For Mrs. Yang, she’s definitely acts of service (5), quality time (4), gifts (3), words of affirmation (2), and physical touch (1), though the last three are fairly equal (and minimal).

For Liza, I would say her primary love languages are words of affirmation (5) and gifts (4), followed by quality time (3), acts of service (2), and physical touch (1), though again, the last three are fairly equal.

One thing to keep in mind is that you’ll see Mrs. Yang and Liza switch between their love languages depending on who they are with. It’s not uncommon to see that, because all relationships involve common ground and compromise!

Q: I love how this book pays tribute to Houston and its Chinatown. Did you base any of the locations in the story on real places?

A: The majority of the places in ATFL are based on real places. Mama Lee’s is loosely based on 85C Bakery, while Mrs. Yang’s bakery is an amalgamation of the smaller, local bakeries in Houston’s Chinatown. Yin and Yang came from a joint restaurant-and-bakery my family used to frequent up in Plano (I am not sure if it still exists), and all the boba and shaved ice shops are also a combination of the many wonderful places you can find here!

Q: Since the pandemic started, a lot of East and Southeast Asian restaurants across the US have seen decreases in traffic due to racism and xenophobia. What E/SE Asian restaurants and bubble tea shops are your favorites to visit in the Houston area? (Note: Hyperlinks redirect to Google Maps!)

A: Oh my goodness! Honestly, there’s so many I could write a whole essay on them. I tend to go to restaurants for specific dishes or specialties, so it really depends on my mood! Some of the ones I’ve been eating at lately are:

  • San Dong Noodle House – Taiwanese cuisine, also the inspiration for Dumpling Dynasty…and yes, their leek dumplings are to die for (note from Shenwei: I also love this place, they have amazing dumplings!)
  • Mein – I’m obsessed with their wonton noodle soup, Sansai egg tofu, and shaking chicken/beef (along with so many other things)
  • Tofu Village (yup, it’s Tofu City in the book) – Korean BBQ
  • Pepper Lunch – Japanese DIY teppanyaki steak and seafood
  • Banana Leaf – amazing Thai food (note from Shenwei: it’s a Malaysian restaurant with different Asian regional dishes from East, Southeast, and South Asia)

As for boba shops or dessert shops, the ones I go to the most are The Teahouse Tapioca & Tea (they singlehandedly fueled ATFL while I was drafting), Sharetea, Tiger Sugar, Modern Tea, and Gong Cha. I also love the red bean soups at Meet Fresh, as well as the shaved ice there (try their brown sugar boba one—it’s heaven) and at Bing Su and Snowy Village!

Book Links:

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop | IndieBound | Indigo

About the Author:

Jennifer Yen began her writing career in the fourth grade, when her teacher took the detective story she wrote and turned it into a printed book as a gift to her. The encouragement of her teacher, as well as her love for reading and telling stories, kept her writing about the worlds that exist in her imagination.

While Jennifer’s penned everything from poetry to fanfiction, her passion lies in young adult and adult fiction. Drawing from her own experiences growing up as an Asian American, she especially loves writing about family, food, and of course…love!

Jennifer now lives in Texas with her adorable rescue dog. She spends her days healing the hearts of others, and her nights writing about love, family, and the power of acceptance. She believes in the magic of one’s imagination, and hopes her stories will bring joy and inspiration to readers.

If you find Jennifer wandering around aimlessly, please return her to the nearest milk tea shop.

Author Links:

Website – www.jenyenwrites.com
Twitter – @jenyenwrites
Instagram – @jenyenwrites
Pinterest – jenyenwrites

Author Interview: Livia Blackburne

Welcome to my Taiwanese American Heritage Week feature series! Taiwanese American Heritage Week is celebrated every year in May starting on Mother’s Day and ending the following Sunday. Each year during TAHW I spotlight Taiwanese authors and books in some form or fashion on my blog. You can find all of the past features in my Post Index.

The fourth author interview in my 2021 TAHW series is with NYT Bestselling author Livia Blackburne on her first picture book, I Dream of Popo, illustrated by Julia Kuo.

Synopsis:

From New York Times bestselling author Livia Blackburne and illustrator Julia Kuo, here is I Dream of Popo. This delicate, emotionally rich picture book celebrates a special connection that crosses time zones and oceans as Popo and her granddaughter hold each other in their hearts forever.

I dream with Popo as she rocks me in her arms.
I wave at Popo before I board my flight.
I talk to Popo from across the sea.
I tell Popo about my adventures.

When a young girl and her family emigrate from Taiwan to America, she leaves behind her beloved popo, her grandmother. She misses her popo every day, but even if their visits are fleeting, their love is ever true and strong.

Interview:

Q: Writing a picture book feels like a pretty big departure from your previous work, which were all YA fantasy. While it’s often assumed that writing picture books is “easier,” it’s not. It’s simply a different medium for storytelling. How is your process different for writing picture books versus for writing YA prose novels?

A: In comparing novels and picture books, I like to make the analogy of building a full-size ship versus a ship in a bottle. With novels, you’re working on a large scale. You’re taking giant pieces of prose and plot and moving them around. It takes a lot of hours, and you end up with something pretty massive. And while you do end up putting a little detailing here and there, but it’s impossible to give the same amount of loving detail to every single word.

With picture books however, you’re in there with your magnifying glass and your tweezers, putting everything in its exact place. And instead of worrying about getting enough material for the entire ship, now your problem is that you have too much. You have to figure out what to put in and what to leave out. It’s more delicate work. I wouldn’t say it’s easier, but it takes less time and you have chance of running out of steam on it.

Q: I know for I Dream of Popo, you got to work with both a Taiwanese American illustrator (Julia Kuo) and a Taiwanese American editor (Connie Hsu). What was that experience like?

A: It was a dream come true! It was just such a wonderful feeling, to be in a team where everybody saw themselves uniquely in the story. Everybody knew the need for the story, and everybody was completely invested in telling it and as authentic away as possible. Since we had this common cultural background, there was a lot less explaining to do. We all knew what New Year’s celebrations were supposed to be like. We all spoke mandarin , and also bonded at how bad our written Chinese was. In terms of artistic collaborations, this one was very special.

Q: For picture books where the author isn’t also the illustrator, there’s a level of trust and surrender of creative control required to craft the story into its best and final form. Did you find that aspect difficult? How much did you communicate with Julia about the illustrations? How much of what appears in the book was your idea versus hers?

A: This is my favorite aspect of writing a picture book, the chance to write the story, and then pass it for someone else to create something more out of it. Julia and I hardly communicated at all throughout the process. I think the first time I saw the pictures, they were already in an almost finished state. So in traditional publishing, a writer’s role really is just as a writer. The art director and editor take care of the book creation process. While it might be difficult for some writers to let go, I am so bad at art that I am pretty much impressed by anything, and it was fun just to sit back and see what they could come up with. As far as my contribution versus Julia’s, basically the words you see on the page are mine. All the interpretation of the words into pictures are hers. In picture book manuscript, you do have illustrator notes, which are kind of like stage directions for the artist, but I don’t think I included that many, if any.         

Q: I know during the time when you were writing the book, you had your own young daughter to take care of. Did her presence in your life affect your approach to writing the book, and if so, how?

A: Well, she’s the one I have to blame for getting me into picture books in the first place! When you’re going to the library every week and reading hundreds of picture books a year, it’s hard not to fall in love with them. I do think having my daughter also had me thinking more about family legacy, and passing on my Chinese heritage to her.

Q: Just for fun, do you have any favorite foods or places to visit in Taiwan to share?

A: I love street vendor food! Stinky tofu, especially the steamed kind that is super stinky but oh so flavorful. Rice balls and vermicelli soup are other favorites. I’m also a huge fan of Taiwanese breakfast places. My breakfast of choice is a bowl of hot sweet soy milk and a shaobing with egg and pork sung. Soooo good.

Book Links:

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop | IndieBound | Indigo

About the Author:

New York Times bestselling author Livia Blackburne is a Chinese/Taiwanese American author who wrote her first novel while researching the neuroscience of reading at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Since then, she’s switched to full time writing, which also involves getting into people’s heads but without the help of a three tesla MRI scanner.

She is the author of the MIDNIGHT THIEF (An Indies Introduce New Voices selection) and ROSEMARKED (A YALSA Teens Top Ten nominee), as well as the picture book I DREAM OF POPO , which received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus.

Author Links:

Website – liviablackburne.com
Twitter – @lkblackburne
Instagram – @lkblackburne
Facebook – Livia Blackburne’s Author Page
Pinterest – lkblackburne

Author Interview: Lily LaMotte

Welcome to my Taiwanese American Heritage Week feature series! Taiwanese American Heritage Week is celebrated every year in May starting on Mother’s Day and ending the following Sunday. Each year during TAHW I spotlight Taiwanese authors and books in some form or fashion on my blog. You can find all of the past features in my Post Index.

The third author interview in my 2021 TAHW series is with Lily LaMotte on her debut middle grade graphic novel Measuring Up, illustrated by Ignatz-nominated cartoonist and illustrator Ann Xu.

Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Cici has just moved from Taiwan to Seattle, and the only thing she wants more than to fit in at her new school is to celebrate her grandmother, A-má’s, seventieth birthday together.

Since she can’t go to A-má, Cici cooks up a plan to bring A-má to her by winning the grand prize in a kids’ cooking contest to pay for A-má’s plane ticket! There’s just one problem: Cici only knows how to cook Taiwanese food.

And after her pickled cucumber debacle at lunch, she’s determined to channel her inner Julia Child. Can Cici find a winning recipe to reunite with A-má, a way to fit in with her new friends, and somehow find herself too?

Interview:

Q: This is a question I ask most of the Taiwanese authors who I feature, and it’s also relevant to the theme of Measuring Up: What’s your favorite Taiwanese food?

A: That’s a good question! I have to say my mom’s dumpling soup. When we visit my parents, my mom, my kids, and I sit around the kitchen table to wrap the dumplings. It’s one of those things that not only is delicious but creates memories. At home, although I don’t make dumpling soup, my husband, son, and I will do movie night where we make and eat potstickers while watching that night’s movie pick.

Q: At times the publishing industry fetishizes youthfulness in authors, putting spotlights on the so-called prodigies who get published at a young age. However, everyone’s path to publishing is different, and there is value in learning from people who transitioned into the industry at an older age. What has that process been like for you, and how has your life experience before becoming an author informed your writing?

A: I think that as we age and gain life experiences, we bring some of that into our writing. I started my writing journey twelve (!) years ago. I am pretty sure that I didn’t have anything worthwhile to say at that time. Hamline University’s low-residency MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults changed how I thought about my writing. Prior to Hamline, I had taken writing classes, webinars, gone to SCBWI conferences to further my craft but it wasn’t until I went to Hamline where we were involved in intense discussions about diversity that I thought it would be possible to write a diverse character and story.

Q: I saw from your other interviews that you were drawn to writing for children because of your experiences reading with your kids when they were younger. Children’s literature contains a wide array of subcategories segmented by age. What drew you to writing middle grade in particular?

A: I write middle grade because those stories of families and friendships speak to me. Despite my advance age, I think about family and friendship relationships because they are universal no matter one’s age. I also write picture books and have my debut picture book CHLOE’S LUNAR NEW YEAR from HarperCollins coming out Winter 2023. I had such fun reading board books and picture books to my kids when they were that age. I want to capture some of that fun in my writing for both the picture book and the middle grade groups. There is also less cynicism and more happy endings. I really like happy endings!

Q: I think it’s super cool that you had Gene Luen Yang as a writing mentor since he was one of the first Taiwanese American children’s authors I ever read when I was younger (around 14-15). When I first met him at the book festival hosted at my high school, I asked him to draw me a llama, and I still have the drawing saved. What was your favorite part of working with him?

A: I love that you still have the llama he drew for you!! Gene is not only a wonderful mentor but just a wonderful person all-around. He is so smart and was able to steer me through my story. And he did it in a way that was so supportive.

Q: I read in another interview that you had to do extremely detailed panel descriptions for Measuring Up. As someone who’s interested in writing a graphic novel script someday, I’m curious about the process of working with an illustrator. I know that you and Ann Xu collaborated through your editor. What was that triangulation like? Did Ann surprise you in a good way with any of her interpretations? And what is your favorite page or panel from Measuring Up, illustration-wise?

A: Ann is an amazing illustrator and I am so happy she not only illustrated MEASURING UP but is now working on UNHAPPY CAMPER coming next summer. As part of working with Gene, he required extensive illustration notes. It was the first time I thought about story details in that depth and I think that it helped me tremendously in figuring out who my characters were so that I could write their story. When my script went to Ann, I pulled out some of the descriptions so that she could bring her own brilliance to the book. I love the full-page panel when Cici is at the restaurant and sees herself for the first time as belonging to a place like that. I described the page as having Cici surrounded by puzzle pieces of the restaurant and equipment. I specified certain things that I knew would be restaurant versus home equipment to be helpful to the illustration process. Ann blew me away with that fantastic page. I love it so much that I created fabric with that image to make tea towels for giveaways.

Q: I love the variety of dishes that show up in the cooking competition. Did you have any systematic/meaningful way of deciding what each challenge would be and which dishes each character would make, or was it more random?

A: I thought about what kind of person each character in the competition would be so that I could decide what dish the character would make. As far as the challenge in each round, I wanted to make some of them kid-friendly but also have meaningful challenges like the sweet potato which has such a strong link to Taiwan.

Q: I’m super excited for your second graphic novel, Unhappy Camper, and can’t wait for it to hit the shelves. The premise of going to a Taiwanese American summer camp is super appealing to me because it reminds me of my own experiences attending TAA summer conferences as a kid, except those were geared toward adults with a few children’s activities on the side rather than being for children/youth. Can you tell us a little more about Unhappy Camper?

A: I’m not sure what I can say yet except that it is a sister story where my protagonist’s sister loves everything Taiwan. But for my protagonist, not so much. It isn’t until my protagonist goes to a Taiwanese American summer camp that she reclaims her cultural heritage. There’s crafting, singing, language lessons (much to her disappointment) with a tiny bit of what makes the Pacific Northwest so special.

Thank you for thinking of me for Taiwanese American Heritage Week!

Book Links:

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop | IndieBound | Indigo

About the Author:

Lily LaMotte is the debut author of the middle grade graphic novel MEASURING UP from HarperCollins/HarperAlley. When she isn’t writing picture books and middle grade graphic novels, she’s cooking up new recipes. Sometimes, when she sees the gray clouds outside her window in the Pacific Northwest, she loads up the campervan for a writing retreat camping trip with her husband and two dogs.

She is a graduate of Hamline’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Author Links:

Website – http://www.lilylamotte.com
Twitter – @lilylamotte
Instagram – @lilylamottewrites