Tag Archives: Historical Fiction

[Blog Tour] Favorite Quotes from A Clash of Steel by C.B. Lee

Part 2 of my stop for the blog tour featuring A Clash of Steel, hosted by Colored Pages. For the full info about the book, refer back to the previous post.

I’ve selected some quotes that represent the story or stood out to me in some way. All quotes without quotation marks are narration from Xiang’s perspective. Dialogue is attributed to a character where applicable.

Note: These are spoiler-free, so don’t worry. Also, the quotes are taken from the final published version.

Quote #1

I close my book, whispering the words of the poem I’ve committed to memory, each verse filled with a longing I’ve never truly understood: “Once you’ve experienced ocean, nothing else is considered water.”

page 12

Quote #2

I gasp as the horizon comes into view, and beyond the mouth of the river, the glittering ocean approaches. Hundreds of flickering lights gleam from streets unseen, softly glowing against stone, and distantly I can make out the cheerful red of lanterns and banners streaming from buildings. There’s the border of a massive stone wall, ambling as it tracks through the forest, and clusters of buildings rising up on the hills leading to the ocean. I can see the shadows of ships’ masts and the outline of docks, just barely.

Canton.

page 56

Quote #3

I love it.

I love the motley crowd, the unruliness of the patrons, how there are just…so many people who have seen so many things. I want to see what they’ve seen, hear their stories. I want to know where those sailors in the far corner have been, what enemies that would with the sword has slain, what lost romances the singer on the dais is yearning for as she pours it all into her song.

page 82

Quote #4

“Emperors and kings and officials…they all want the same thing from their people: constant tribute, money or grain or people for their endless wars. On the water, we aren’t a part of any empire. Our home is the sea, our port wherever we choose to travel.”

Anh, page 101

Quote #5

My cheeks burn, and I tell myself it is the wine, but that feeling again raises its head, making itself known, that deep unbidden yearning in my heart I have never voiced. The simple touch seems at once too much, the warmth of her, and I both want to move away from the intensity of it and to also linger here in this moment forever.

page 105

Quote #6

I reach out my hand, and I feel I can almost touch the sun as the ship speeds toward the new day—the swift wind, the great expanse of water ahead, and the great unknown rushing up to meet us.

page 177

Quote #7

I know now what I knew then but was too afraid to admit: I had wanted her, the way the poets would write about. I wanted her steady companionship, her bright laughter as we raced through the fields together. I wanted her like a lover, to hold her face and sweep her hair out of her eyes and draw her in for a soft kiss.

page 236

Quote #8

“Who is more the thief: the government that preys on its own people, or those who must become thieves in order to survive?”

Xiang, page 241

Quote #9

“You all are here for a reason—whether it be your blood cast you out, your emperor did not do as he promised, or your king found you lacking—well, I did not! The sea cares not of your status, of whom you love! On this ship we work hard, and no emperor, no king, no navy lapdog could tell us what to do!”

Captain Hoa, page 268

Quote #10

I have felt untethered all my life, drifting endlessly, and here, finally, is a safe place to land, a quiet harbor to protect me from the turbulence of the sea.

page 304

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

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

Book Information

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

Synopsis:

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

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Links:

About the Author:

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

Author Links:

[Blog Tour] Book Playlist for The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur

If you missed my review for the book you can read that first. This post is dedicated to the playlist I made for the book.

You can listen to the playlist on YouTube or click the individual hyperlinks for each song below.

1. Scream – Dreamcatcher

Scream is an atmospheric and creepy song that fits the vibe of the book. A lot of the lyrics match up with aspects of the book. Here are some selected lines (translation from Genius): 

My covered eyes are stained with blood
Tell me why, I don’t lie

A cold wind blows, I feel their eyes on me
All pain flowing through my veins

My tied up hands are getting numb
Everyone is throwing rocks at me
But I can’t escape

Please, I don’t want to scream
(Devil eyes come, open my eyes, open my eyes)
Please, I don’t want to scream
(Scream, scream, scream, scream)
Spreading in the darkness, scream

Tricks behind the mask, a ridiculous freak
A hatred that only grows is born and aimed at random targets
I swallow up the burning thirst, but hypocrisy claims that it’s all my fault
At the end of the cliff lays the end
Such choice will have only regrets remaining

Words that cut like a sharp sword
They dig deep into the scars
But the breath doesn’t end

After everyone leaves, I open my eyes again
All traces are gone, they can’t believe me
Forget everything you saw
Pretend that nothing actually happened
Like that, one by one, everyone goes crazy

2. Going Crazy – Song Jieun ft. Bang Yongguk

The lyrics are technically about romantic love, but I felt like in terms of tone, it fit the story well. It’s a song about a dark and twisted longing that turns controlling and suffocating. Here’s some of the translated lyrics (translated by me):

It’s not love
This isn’t love
It’s just your obsession
Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing
It’s frightening, the you that watches me

3. Unbreakable – B.A.P

As the title suggests, Unbreakable is a song about not giving up or caving under pressure. I thought it was a great song for Hwani and her dogged determination to solve the mystery. Here’s the translated chorus (translation by Jane Doe on LyricsTranslation):

I won’t ever break
I won’t ever fall down
Even if the storm tries to swallow me
I’m unbreakable
Even if I die, I won’t break
Even if I die, I won’t give up
Even if my wings are trampled in the darkness
You know? I’m unbreakable

4. Sorry (Dear.Daddy) – f(x)

This song is a melancholy song about the distance between father and daughter and the attempt to mend the rift between them that I thought was fitting for Hwani and Maewol and their father. Here are some of the translated lyrics (translation from Kimchi Color Coded lyrics, credited to kpopviral):

You can still hate me for your sorrowful feelings
There’s no need for any expressions, to me you’ll be here forever

Even if you don’t say everyone knows, both your eyes are immersed with tears
Sorry, so sorry, this is my heart
You know the day I’ve opened up my heart I’ll do better
Sorry (sorry) I’m sorry (sorry) I can’t say anything other than this, yeah

I can’t do anything (other than this) I can’t imagine (a world without you)
Although I’m lacking and deficient, I love you

5. – 徐嘉良 (倩女幽魂)

Oh, look, a song without lyrics. This is a cello piece from the soundtrack for the 2003 cdrama Eternity: A Chinese Ghost Story. The title means “Tragedy” or “Mourning” and the song feels like an appropriate tribute to the victims of violence within the story.

[Blog Tour] Review for The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur

Hello, again. I somehow managed to juggle my schoolwork, freelance commissions, and blogging better than I thought. Today’s blog content is for the blog tour hosted by Hear Our Voices for The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur. If you haven’t read June’s debut novel, The Silence of Bones, I highly recommend checking that out as well since I adored it.


Book Information:

Publisher: Feiwel and Friends (Macmillan Publishing Group)
Release Date: April 20th, 2021
Genre: YA Historical Mystery

Synopsis:

After her father vanishes while investigating the disappearance of 13 young women, a teen returns to her secretive hometown to pick up the trail in this second YA historical mystery from the author of The Silence of Bones.

Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest, near a gruesome crime scene. The only thing they remember: Their captor wore a painted-white mask.

To escape the haunting memories of this incident, the family flees their hometown. Years later, Detective Min—Hwani’s father—learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared under similar circumstances, and so he returns to their hometown to investigate… only to vanish as well.

Determined to find her father and solve the case that tore their family apart, Hwani returns home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village—and reconnects with her now estranged sister—Hwani comes to realize that the answer lies within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago.

Review:

After reading The Silence of Bones, I was ready to be blown away by this sophomore novel. But I wasn’t ready for just how great it would be.

Even though this book was almost 400 pages, it certainly didn’t feel like it. The nail-biting level of suspense kept me on the edge of my seat (figuratively, since I read it in bed). There were many twists and turns and red herrings that kept me guessing until the end.

Aside from being suspenseful, the story was intensely creepy. A sense of danger pervades the narrative, lurking behind you, unseen yet palpable. The atmospheric writing had me deep in the dark forest with Hwani and Maewol, terrified that the masked man with a sword would come after me next. Perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to read the book at night. 😱

Beyond its appeal as a mystery novel, the book touches on profound themes regarding family, especially sisterly bonds and the love and hate between fathers and daughters. The relationship between Hwani and Maewol is thorny and complex, overshadowed by trauma, jealously, and years of separation, yet it is undeniably bone-deep. They both hurt and help each other in turn as they join forces to investigate the mystery behind their father’s disappearance.

The themes surrounding fathers and daughters is also explored with nuance. The story stretches that bond to its extremes, probing and testing it through multiple father-daughter pairs: the Min sisters and their loving but flawed father, a disfigured village girl named Gahee and her abusive father Convict Baek, and Village Elder Moon and his daughter Chaewon. The line between loving intentions and harmful consequences makes itself known through these relationships.

As the author notes in the back of the book, the story is based on real events. The book would not be what it is without the context of misogyny. Indeed, the narrative emerges from the shackles and violence imposed on women by Korean patriarchy, exacerbated by the power dynamics between the Ming empire and the Joseon tributary state. Class differences also come to the fore in framing gender and power. But the story isn’t a complete tragedy, nor is victimhood an absolute. The agency of girls and women takes center stage in Hwani and Maewol’s journey, giving hope for resistance and change.

In conclusion, The Forest of Stolen Girls is a gorgeous, gut-wrenching read that will stay with me for a long time. I look forward to reading everything that June Hur delivers in the future.

Stay tuned for a book playlist for this book later.

Trigger/Content Warnings: misogyny, assault, kidnapping, murder, abuse, child abuse, suicide, rape (implied)

Book Links:

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Bookshop.org

About the Author:

June Hur was born in South Korea and raised in Canada, except for the time when she moved back to Korea and attended high school there. Most of her work is inspired by her journey through life as an individual, a dreamer, and a Christian, with all its confusions, doubts, absurdities and magnificence. She studied History and Literature at the University of Toronto. When she’s not writing, she can be found journaling at a coffee shop. She lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter.

Her debut novel THE SILENCE OF BONES (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, April 2020) is a murder mystery set in Joseon Dynasty Korea (early 1800s), and also a coming-of-age tale about a girl searching for home. It was recently selected by the American Booksellers Association as one of the top debuts of Winter/Spring 2020 (Indies Introduce).

Author Links:

Twitter | Instagram | Website | Goodreads

Mini Reviews: 5 Southeast Asian Reads

So, I was looking through my drafts trying to delete things I didn’t need anymore when I came upon this ancient post. It was complete except for a missing cover image, and I’m not sure why I never posted it. It’s from 2017, I think? But anyway, here you go.

The Land of Forgotten Girls

The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly – MG, Contemporary, Filipino American MC, Own Voices

The Land of Forgotten Girls is a poignant book that shows the power of words and stories. Sol (Soledad) and Ming (Dominga) are poor and trapped in Louisiana with their abusive stepmother Vea. In order to cope with this suffocating environment, Sol tells stories to Ming, stories passed down from their late mother as well as stories of her own making about their magical “aunt” who travels the world. These stories offer an escape for Sol but also blur the line between fantasy and reality for Ming, who is younger and impressionable. As a result, Sol is forced to grapple with whether her stories harm more than they help, whether fiction is the same as a lie.

In the absence of any loving parents, Sol finds comfort and companionship in her best friend Manny, who’s Mexican; a quiet neighbor in her apartment building, Mrs. Yeung, who’s Chinese; as well as an albino girl named Caroline who she once tormented but apologized to. With Manny and Caroline, Sol braves the neighborhood junkyard, the domain of a terrifying man she calls Blackbeard, and finds treasure and hope in the most unlikely of places. If you like stories about sisterhood, friendship, and adventure, this may be the book for you.

For a review from a Filipino reviewer, I recommend reading Glaiza’s review.

Content/Trigger warnings: bullying, abuse, racism, colorism

Something in Between

Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz – YA, Contemporary, Filipino American MC, Own Voices

Something in Between doesn’t pull its punches and takes you on a rollercoaster ride of feelings. Jasmine de los Santos has it all: she’s set to be valedictorian, she’s captain of the cheer team, and she’s going to attend a top college. However, all of that unravels when she finds out her family’s visas expired years ago and they’re in the U.S. illegally. This news shocks Jasmine but doesn’t get her down completely. America is the home she identifies with, and she’s not getting deported without a fight.

Life goes on, and with the threat of deportation looming, Jasmine tries to take advantage of the time she has left before her family is forced to leave the country. During this time, she dates the handsome and rich Royce Blakely, son of a Congressman, who may be the key to obtaining legal status for her family. Their relationship is passionate but also turbulent because Royce’s dad’s stance on immigration politics place him on the opposite side of the battle Jasmine is waging on behalf of her undocumented family. The juxtaposition of their backgrounds brings into stark relief the intersections of race and class.

While I wasn’t the biggest fan of the romance subplot, I loved the de los Santos family dynamic and the complicated friendship Jasmine had with Kayla. Overall, this book provides a humanizing narrative of immigration, citizenship, and belonging in the U.S.

For a perspective from a Filipino reader, I recommend reading Sue’s review.

girl-on-the-verge

Girl on the Verge by Pintip Dunn – YA, Contemporary, Thriller, Thai American MC, Own Voices

Girl on the Verge is one of the most intense and mind-blowing contemporary YA novels I read in 2017. This was my Goodreads review immediately after finishing:

I didn’t intend for my review to be a haiku but the universe had the syllable count planted in my subconscious somehow so here you go:
holy fucking shit
what the hell did I just read
I need to lie down

Now to elaborate. The main character, Kanchana a.k.a Kan, is Thai American and lives in a predominantly white town in Kansas. At school, she stands out because she’s Asian, and at home, her grandmother laments that she’s too Westernized, and her way of finding a middle ground between the two cultures she’s immersed in is to design clothes.

Kan’s struggle to fit in takes on a new dynamic when her mother takes in a white girl named Shelly to live in their home. At first, things seem to work out since Shelly is eager to please and integrate into Kan’s family. However, Shelly’s presence becomes uncomfortable and even threatening when it becomes apparent that she’s morphing herself into Kan 2.0 and even trying to steal Kan’s boyfriend, Ethan. As Kan investigates Shelly’s past, she discovers shocking secrets about her own family.

Although Girl on the Verge starts out on a similar note to other contemporary stories exploring second generation Asian American identity, the thriller plotline highlights the theme of identity and belonging in a unique and gut-wrenching way. The parallels between Kan’s experiences as the girl who stands out too much and Shelly’s as the girl who nobody notices and the contrast in how they respond to feeling alienated, is fascinating and terrifying.

Trigger warnings: physical assault, sexual harassment, kidnapping, murder

Roots and Wings

Roots and Wings by Many Ly – YA, Historical Fiction*, Cambodian American MC, Own Voices

*It’s not historical as in older than 2000, but it’s not quite contemporary anymore since it was published in 2008 and probably takes place in the early 2000s based on technology cues.

The writing style for this book wasn’t out-of-this-world amazing, but the characters and themes made the story engaging and sentimental. For me, this is a book that really captures gracefully the complexity of family and community and intergenerational loss and love.

The narrative alternates between the present, which explores the aftermath of Grace’s grandmother passing away, and Grace’s past when her grandmother was still alive. At first, the focus is mostly on Grace’s difficulties with not knowing her own father and Cambodian heritage. Then, as she immerses herself in the Cambodian community in St. Petersburg, Florida, she learns more about her mother and grandmother and the reasons behind her alienation from her roots.

As we eventually see, the three generations of women in Grace’s family all struggle to balance self, family, and community as 1st, 1.5 and 2nd generation Cambodian American women, respectively. I empathized with Grace’s experience, and through her journey into her family’s history, also empathized with her mother and grandmother’s perspectives and decisions. This is definitely not your typical realistic fiction YA because of its strong focus on family and community over school/romantic/friendship drama (which were pretty much absent from the story), but it’s a powerful and important story regardless.

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai – MG, Contemporary, Vietnamese American MC, Own Voices

Listen, Slowly features a 12-year-old second generation Vietnamese American girl visiting Vietnam with her family and connecting with her heritage while her grandmother searches for her long-lost grandfather who disappeared during the Vietnam War.

The title feels like an apt description of the dynamic between Mai and her heritage. Although she can’t speak Vietnamese very well, she can understand it better than she lets on to her extended family, thus much of her time is spent listening to them.

The listening she does is also figurative. Her initial reactions to spending multiple weeks in Vietnam is dismay that she will be separated from her best friend and her secret crush (referred to as “HIM” throughout the story) and the summer outings of her friends and classmates. She initially sees Vietnam as her parents’ heritage more so than her own.  Bridging the psychological distance between herself and Vietnam takes time. Through a friendship with a boy who’s learning English with the hope of going to the U.S., she begins to appreciate the language and culture of her heritage.

[Blog Tour] Playlist and Fanart for These Violent Delights

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

The Playlist

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

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

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

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

2. Last Romeo – Infinite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have no one but you

3. I Hate – Infinite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the fiercely burning hatred
Climbing over the corpses…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fanart

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

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

The Result:

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

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

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

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

Synopsis:

Synopsis:

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Book Links:

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

About the Author:

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

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

Enter the giveaway!

GIVEAWAY INFORMATION

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

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

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

[Blog Tour] 5 Books to Read After Lupe Wong Won’t Dance

Hello and welcome to the second half of my stop on the blog tour for Lupe Wong Won’t Dance hosted by Colored Pages. You can read my review of the book here if you haven’t already.
Since I love middle grade books and want to spread the love, I thought I would feature and recommend some middle grade novels by Asian and Latinx authors with similar themes or vibes as Lupe Wong Won’t Dance.

Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly

I reviewed this book several years ago and knew that I would read everything by Erin Entrada Kelly after I finished it. Blackbird Fly features a Filipino American girl who wants to be a famous rock star but is struggling to fit in at her predominantly white school, where she ends up on a horrible list called the Dog Log ranking the girls considered the ugliest in their grade. This book gets very real about racism and bullying but emphasizes the beauty of true friendship.

Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Merci Suarez Changes Gears features a Cuban American protagonist and captures the essence of middle school perfectly: the troubles of fitting in among peers, the frustration of butting heads with your parents, puberty and the confusing aspects of people around you developing crushes and acting weird. It also tackles classism and the experience of being poor in an environment where everyone else is rich and the alienation that comes with it.

My Year in the Middle by Lila Quintero Weaver

My Year in the Middle is set in 1970 in Alabama and features an Argentinian American girl who loves to run track and is figuring out her place in a school where classrooms seating is segregated into Black and white. Lu is a passionate, sensitive protagonist whose personality jumps off the page. This story provides a nuanced view of racism in history and sets a great example in showing young readers how to stand up for what is right in spite of doubts and peer pressure.

Pippa Park Raises Her Game by Erin Yun

Pippa Park Raises Her Game is a modern reimagining of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Pippa is a Korean American girl from a lower class background who attends a private school on a basketball scholarship and has major impostor syndrome from having to hide her family’s laundromat from her classmates. Unfortunately, an anonymous troll on social media threatens to expose her secret.

Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom by Booki Vivat

Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom is the first in a hilarious middle grade series featuring Abbie Wu, who is an anxious Asian American tween trying to keep her head above the water as she enters the dreaded institution known as middle school. The story is told in a combination of simple but expressive doodles and prose that’s super dynamic and fun to read. If you’re prone to catastrophizing and overthinking, you’ll probably find this book super relatable.

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

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

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

Synopsis:

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

We are not free. 

But we are not alone.”  

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

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

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

About the Author:

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

Author Links: 


Check out the other tour stops!

August 30th

Book Rambler – Welcome post & interview

Mellas Musings – Favorite quotes

Debjani’s Thoughts – Review Only

Sophie Schmidt – Review in Gifts

August 31st

The Reading Fairy – Review Only

Her Book Thoughts – Favorite Quotes

What Irin Reads – Review Only

September 1st

Sometimes Leelynn Reads – Author Interview

The Confessions Of A Music And Book Addict – Review Only

Emelie’s Books – Mood Board

Too Much Miya – Fanart /Art related to the story

September 2nd

Yna the Mood Reader – Favorite Quotes

The Writer’s Alley – Review Only

Marshmallow Pudding – Favorite Quotes

September 3rd

Div Reads – Reading vlog

Clairefy – Review Only

Know Your Books – Favorite Quotes

September 4th

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

Per_fictionist – Favorite Quotes

Mamata – Review Only

September 5th

Wilder Girl Reads – Review Only

Lives In Books – Book Recommendations Based on Books

A Fangirl’s Haven – Review Only

[Blog Tour] Books to Read After We Are Not Free

This is the second part of my tour stop for the We Are Not Free tour hosted by Colored Pages.
As I noted in my review, at the end of We Are Not Free, the author provides a bibliography of further readings, and I’d like to add a few recommendations of my own for novels by Japanese American authors that address Japanese/Japanese American experiences during World War II.

The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw

The Last Cherry Blossom is a middle grade historical fiction book that chronicles the tale of a young girl who experiences and survives the bombing of Hiroshima. This book takes you through a lot of emotions as you witness the tragedy through the eyes of Yuriko, who lives in the shadow of a terrible war whose purpose she does not understand but whose effects she feels deeply nonetheless. It’s a moving story of family secrets, love and loss, survival and hope. It is based on the author’s mother’s real life story. For more on the background of this book, you can read my interview with Kathleen Burkinshaw from 2017.

This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura

This Time Will Be Different is a contemporary young adult novel that centers on CJ, a Japanese American teen who is still trying to figure out her life and spends her time helping her aunt Hannah at the flower shop her family has run for multiple generations. When her family is pressured to sell the shop to the very people that swindled them back during the era of Japanese American incarceration, CJ finds a sense of purpose and ignites a campaign for reparations that polarizes her family and her community. This is an engaging story that depicts a teen dipping her toes into social justice activism and being realistically messy that also has a complex portrayal of mother-daughter relationships.

This Light Between Us by Andrew Fukuda

This Light Between Us is young adult historical fiction novel with an emotionally gripping and harrowing portrayal of World War II and Japanese American incarceration. It depicts the war through the eyes of a Japanese American boy named Alex and his pen pal, a Jewish girl named Charlie living in France. This book totally blew me away when I read it earlier this year. I felt completely immersed in Alex’s world, as if I were experiencing the events alongside him as he moved from home to internment camp to the battle front in Europe. The letters and bond between him and Charlie were sweet and a ray of light in the looming darkness, a testament to deep friendship. The parallels between Alex and Charlie’s lives as minorities facing persecution were striking and skillfully emphasized. The complexity of Japanese Americans’ feelings about their citizenship/identity and serving in the military were also explored in a nuanced and thought-provoking way.

Displacement by Kiku Hughes

Displacement by Kiku Hughes is a young adult graphic novel that weaves fact and fiction, jumping between present and past. In this book, a fictionalized version of the author/artist Kiku is suddenly transported to the time of World War II and experiences incarceration alongside her late grandmother, who was a teenager at the time. Displacement is a timely, poignant, and introspective examination of history, family, and intergenerational trauma, as well as the need to make sure history does not repeat itself in the present. The dominant color palettes of brown and orange and blue-green-gray convey the muted atmosphere of the camps very well. I also really loved the use of lines, shadows, and silhouettes to convey movement and contrast. Displacement makes a perfect complement to We Are Not Free because it includes some of the same locations: San Francisco, Tanforan Assembly Center (San Bruno, California), and Topaz City, Utah. You can see the details and events brought to life in a different medium.

When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka

When the Emperor was Divine is an adult historical fiction novel. It was my introduction to Japanese American incarceration in fiction. I read it in one of my Asian American studies courses, Gender and Sexuality in Asian American Literature. Like We Are Not Free, When the Emperor was Divine narrates the events through multiple points of view, following the four members of a single family forced into the camps. While the viewpoint characters in We Are Not Free are all teens or young adults, the ones in When the Emperor was Divine are either adults or younger children (ages 11 and 8). The characters are also nameless. This authorial choice creates a sense of narrative distance that contrasts with We Are Not Free, but it is still evocative in its own way, like watching a black and white film.


Don’t miss out on the other stops in the blog tour!

August 30th

Book Rambler – Welcome post & interview

Mellas Musings – Favorite quotes

Debjani’s Thoughts – Review Only

Sophie Schmidt – Review in Gifts

August 31st

The Reading Fairy – Review Only

Her Book Thoughts – Favorite Quotes

What Irin Reads – Review Only

September 1st

Sometimes Leelynn Reads – Author Interview

The Confessions Of A Music And Book Addict – Review Only

Emelie’s Books – Mood Board

Too Much Miya – Fanart /Art related to the story

September 2nd

Yna the Mood Reader – Favorite Quotes

The Writer’s Alley – Review Only

Marshmallow Pudding – Favorite Quotes

September 3rd

Div Reads – Reading vlog

Clairefy – Review Only

Know Your Books – Favorite Quotes

September 4th

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

Per_fictionist – Favorite Quotes

Mamata – Review Only

September 5th

Wilder Girl Reads – Review Only

Lives In Books – Book Recommendations Based on Books

A Fangirl’s Haven – Review Only