Book Review | A Phở Love Story Book by Loan Le

Authour:
Loan Le
Format:
ARC
Publication date:
February 9th 2021
Publisher:
Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Source:
Received from publisher

Review:

As a Vietnamese person, reading A Pho Love Story felt like I was visiting characters who could be my family or friends of my family. This was the first time that I could see myself culturally in the characters of a novel as my mother was also from Nha Trang and the rest my family is primarily from Central Vietnam a major region which is often forgotten since most people see Vietnam as being divided into just South and North Vietnam. I relished in the fact that I could pick up on the Vietnamese that was spoken by the characters, though it may confuse for readers who aren’t familiar with the Vietnamese language as sometimes the context clues aren’t enough. I also loved seeing the characters eat home cooked Vietnamese dishes that aren’t as well known to people who aren’t Vietnamese. Everyone may have heard of phở and banh xèo, but in my family those were more for “special occasion”. We tend to regularly eat things like canh sườn bí (pumpkin/melon soup with pork), canh chua (sweet and sour soup), bánh bèo (water fern cakes), and bánh ướt (Vietnamese pancake wrappers made from rice noodles) all of which are things that Linh and Bao eat in the book. 

Family is often at the heart of Vietnamese culture, so it should be no surprise that at its core, Loan Le’s A Pho Love Story is as much a story about family as it is about first love and finding yourself. I found it interesting reading about teens who had to help with their family business, while also being regular high schoolers. It was cool getting a behind the scenes look at what goes into running a Vietnamese restaurant. I liked how the challenges were not glossed over, whether it be competing restaurants, the power of word of mouth or even difficult and racist customers. Speaking of which, it was heartwarming seeing Bao stand up for his parents and the Vietnamese community that he is part of. Children of immigrant from non-English-speaking countries can relate to how Bao’s parents were reluctant to fight back against the racist attacks for fear of making things worse. I’m probably not alone in my experience growing up and hiding things to protect my parents while also feeling helpless, unable to defend them. So it made me tear up a bit out of pride that Bao could find his voice at this age.

But what truly stood out to me was just how Vietnamese this book was. It should go without saying, but Asian Americans aren’t a cultural monolith. Sure there may be common elements in many Asian immigrant families like the double standards when it come to boy and girls, and the “encouragement” of picking a stable career like medicine, engineering or something in business/finance over something less “certain” like the arts but there are also many experiences that are unique to those who come from a Vietnamese background. Vietnam has had a history of being constantly ravaged by wars, and this has left a mark on its people. Even after all the years, it lingers on as intergenerational family trauma. A Pho Love Story touches on this through the gradual revelation of the Mais and Nguyễns’ shared past and the reason behind the “bad blood” between the two families. This book was refreshingly honest in how it doesn’t shy away from showing how detrimental family secrets can be, especially to the younger generation. The only way families can overcome intergenerational family trauma is by coming together and being open with one another. 

Despite “love story” being in the actual title, the romance in this book wasn’t my favourite thing. It was odd how Linh and Bao can go years with barely any interaction, yet suddenly develop feelings after a few short encounters, though maybe that’s how things are when you’re a teenager? That being said, I appreciated how they didn’t officially date until much later in the book, and that was after working together on an assignment for their school newspaper that had them trying out date spots together to recommend to high schoolers. That their family hated each other was not romanticized as evident by Linh’s eventual anxiety spirals and the emotional toils on both of them because of being forced to keep their relationship a secret from both their families. I did like however enjoy both Bao and Linh’s individual journeys in the book, I loved seeing Bao discover his passion and Linh come into her own as an artist. And I love Linh’s friendship with Allie and Bao’s friendship with Việt.

Initially, it took some time for A Pho Love Story to hook me in but I’m glad I stuck with it as I ended up enjoying it in the end. In the past year and going into this year, I’m seeing more and more books by Vietnamese writers coming out and it makes me proud to be Vietnamese seeing all the Own Voices stories. Especially in YA fiction, as it’s important for Vietnamese teens to read books where they can see themselves in the characters so that they know their stories matter just as much as anyone else’s stories.

Comparable Titles: Our Wayward Fate by Gloria Chao (review); Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen (review)

 

 

 

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Book Review | The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

Authour:
Trung Lê Nguyễn
Format:
eGalley
Publication date:
October 13th 2020
Publisher:
Random House Graphic
Source:
Received from publisher

Review:
If you’re a child of immigrants, and English isn’t your parents’ first language, you may find it difficult to communicate with them. This is especially true for Tiến who is struggling to tell his mother his biggest secret. Besides the language barriers, there are also the cultural barriers and well as the other adults in his life who don’t make it easy for young Tiến. Because Trung Le Nguyen draws on his own experiences growing up as a young queer boy in the 90s in the American Midwest, it gives The story in The Magic Fish an incredibly personal and intimate feel.

However, this is more than just the story of Tiến’s struggling to come out to his Vietnamese mother. Trung Le Nguyen aka Trungles’ The Magic Fish has multiple other stories. There is also the story of Tiến’s mother and how she came to America and her struggle with homesickness, And of course there are the various fairy tales that Tiến reads with his mother that Trungles connects to both of their personal journeys. As someone who grew up reading fairy tales, I love how Trungles adapted popular fairy tales and added his own twist to them. The stories truly come to life as the plot and emotion of these fairy tales show their connections to the events in Tiến’s life and his mother’s life. My favourite example of this would be The Story of Tấm and Cám which is sort of a Cinderella story, I love how the story parallels Tiến’s experience of going to a school dance and dancing with his best friend/crush. I also loved how Alera the heroine of the Tattercoats story shares several similarities to Tiến mother’s as both were separated from their mothers and both were forced leave their homes behind. 

As this is a graphic novel, I was amazed at how the elements of Vietnamese culture including the fashion were incorporated into the stories’ breathtakingly, gorgeous illustrations. Also, I loved how much thought and detail was given to the illustrations, the best example being how Trungles separates the different narratives. He uses different colour inks to differentiate the past from the present and to show when something is taking place within a story in the book. Pink is used to represent the present while gold shows the past and the fairy tales are shown in blue. Of course, as the stories often overlap, the colours in the illustrations follow suit.

Being of Vietnamese background, it would be remiss of me if I did not share that part of The Magic Fish that I resonated with. While I couldn’t relate to everything in this book, there were a few things that stood out to me. I liked how elements of Vietnamese culture were normalize such as the family altar and funeral rites as well packing medicine to bring back to your family when you go back to Vietnam. The other thing that I could definitely relate to were the phone conversations in Vietnamese, as my parents would do this with their siblings in Vietnam when they thought we were fast asleep. Finally, I could absolutely relate to how Tiến and his mother speak to each other in a language that combines both English and Vietnamese words as this is something that my family has always done with each other.

As The Magic Fish is just one book, it obviously can’t be everything for everyone. However, I do believe it’s an important addition to the LGBTQ literary canon, especially for those who are in middle grade and who are children of immigrants who may not be familiar with this topic. As illustrated in the scene where Tiến’s mother changes the ending to one story they’re reading, everyone is worthy of love no matter what, and it is important for queer youth to see characters like themselves get a happy ending.

Comparable Title: Almost American Girl by Robin Ha (Review)

 

 

 

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

What I Read in January

Below is a list of everything I read in January and my thoughts on each of the books. I got off to a bit of a slow start, be hopefully things will start picking up soon as I’ve got some awesome review books to look forward to in the coming months. Both A Pho Love Story by Loan Le and Trung Le Nguyen’s The Magic Fish will have their own detailed blog review post later this month, so be sure to be on the lookout for them both!


A TASTE FOR LOVE BY JENNIFER YEN

Pride and Prejudice but set it in modern Houston, Texas with Taiwanese American families. Throw in a baking competition, and that’s how I would describe Jennifer Yen’s A Taste for Love. This was an addictive read that I just flew through.

I love the sisters’ relationship and the female friendship in the book, almost as much as I enjoyed the progression of the relationship between Liza and James. I also appreciated how even though A Taste for Love was a sort of retelling of Pride and Prejudice, it didn’t adopt all the subplots from Pride and Prejudice. Instead, Yen took what made sense for the setting and characters and put her own spin for her book.

As someone who was born and raised in North America but whose parents came from an Asian country, I definitely could relate to many of the things talked about. For instance, Liza’s aversion to dating Asians guys is definitely something my siblings have in common with her, although unlike her they remain steadfast in their determination. The passive aggressive mind games between Liza’s mom and Mrs. Lee was also hilarious, though I’m relived that Mrs. Lee ended up being a reasonable person in the end. Finally, I also loved all the baked goods in this book, and it’s always interesting to have characters who have to help at their family’s small shops on top of being a typical teenager.

Despite not intending to make it my first read of the new year, A Taste for Love was the perfect book to kick start my 2021 reading!


Yona of the Dawn Volume 27 by Mizuho Kusanagi

I’ve always been a fan of manga since high school, but these days I’m more selective about what I read as there are so many options. In fact, if I were to list all the series I read online, it would take way too long. Mizuho Kusanagi’s series, Yona of the Dawn has a special place in my heart though as it was the series that reignited my love for shōjo manga after university. It is the only series that I currently collect physical copies of. I ended up getting volumes 25-27 for Christmas and could only get to volume 27 in 2021. Highly recommend this series if you like epic historical fantasy series that is more dark and less on the fluffy romance side and am looking forward to continuing with this series, although I hate cliffhangers so I’ll probably wait until there are a couple of new volumes released so I can binge a bunch of them again.


A Pho Love Story by Loan Le 

Loan Le’s debut, A Pho Love Story is a heartwarming read with a lot of soul. As a child of Vietnamese immigrants, I related to so much to the characters and cultural nuances in the book. If I were being honest, what I loved about A Pho Love Story wasn’t the love story but the cultural nuances because both the main characters are Vietnamese. Stay tuned for a more in-depth review of A Pho Love Story that I will have up on the blog later this month

 

 


FOrtune by Ian Hamilton

I’ve read Ian Hamilton’s Uncle Chow Tung series since the first book, Fate, and while it’s been a decent series, I’ve always preferred the Ava Lee series. That being said, Fortune impressed me as a compelling read. I definitely enjoyed Fortune more than I thought I would, and it was actually nice to return to the world of young Uncle and his colleagues. Also, I appreciated how we finally get to see the connections that Fortune has with its sequel series, Ava Lee. Both the introduction of Sonny and the mention of Xu and his son were an exciting development, as these are characters who would have key roles in the Ava Lee world. 

The overarching plot in Fortune was also an interesting one as we see Uncle realizing that the local gangs need to be more organized and thus unified. Seeing young Uncle’s thought process and how he works and how similar it is to the way Ava goes is an excellent foreshadowing to their fated partnership and why it’s not surprising they would get along and work well together. In the authour’s note at the end of the book, Ian Hamilton talks about how Fate was intended to be the last book in the Uncle Chow Tung series, but how he now hopes to write a couple more books. I too would be interested in seeing things from Uncle’s perspective once he encounters Ava, and of course what he’s like in the later part of his life after he leaves the triads.


Disney Manga: Kilala Princess – Rescue the Village with Mulan!

I read the original Kilala Princess manga series back in high school, so I was curious as to what would happen to Kilala and her friends in this sequel. In case you’re not familiar with this series, think of it as an all ages “Kingdom of Hearts with Disney Princesses” that is incredibly fluffy but also cheerful in tone. That Mulan is the featured Disney “Princess” in this book only clinched the fact that I was going to check it out. Surprisingly, instead of the black and white volumes that are typical for manga, Disney Manga: Kilala Princess – Rescue the Village with Mulan has been printed like a trade comic book and the pages even in full colours. If you‘re a fan of magical girl anime and/or Disney Princesses, then you may be into this. It’s definitely a book that was made to appeal to those who like them both. Also, while not entirely necessary, I would highly recommend reading the first Kilala Princess manga series that’s also published by Tokyopop. Reading it will help you better appreciate the story and how far the characters have come.

 

 

 

 

Regardless of how these books came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

5 YA Novels to Look Forward to in 2021

Last year I attended a couple of online previews and get an early sneak peek at several YA titles coming out in 2021. It was definitely an interesting experience attending these events online, and while I miss the in person events, I’m glad the publishers could move them online so we can still hear about all the amazing titles coming out in the new year. So without further delay, here are my top picks of YA books coming out in the first half of this year! 

 

You Have a Match by Emma Lord
Release Date: January 12, 2021

I haven’t read Tweet Cute yet, but I’ve seen many bloggers rave about it. You Have a Match is Emma Lord’s second YA novel, and it’s described as “The Parent Trap meets 23andMe”.  Protagonist Abby discovers she has a sister through an online website, and it turns out her sister is Instagram star Savannah Tully and the complete opposite of her! The two girls decide to meet up at a summer camp to figure out why Savannah was given up for adoption a year before Abby was born.On top of the family drama and secrets, Abby also has to confront the awkwardness between her and her best friend and crush Leo, who also is the co-chef at the camp where both girls are staying. This was one of the three review copies in the digital swag bags provided to us, so I’m hoping to get around to reading it sometime this year.


Hot British Boyfriend by Kristy Boyce
Release Date: February 9, 2021

This book was Marisol’s pick from the Frenzy Presents event in December since she also studied in England and ended up marrying her “Hot British Boyfriend”. Pitched as “The Holiday meets Legally Blonde”, Hot British Boyfriend is about Ellie Nichols’ quest to land a hot British boyfriend during her high school’s study abroad trip to England. After all, the best way to get over the humiliation of a public rejection is to move on with someone better! Readers who love teen romances that take place overseas like the Stephanie Perkins’ books will probably enjoy this one as well!


Pride and Premeditation by Tirzah Price
Release Date: 
April 6, 2021

If you’re a fan of Jane Austen and mysteries, then this book may be perfect for you! The first in a new series of Jane Austen murder mystery retellings. In Pride and Premeditation, Lizzie Bennet is now an aspiring lawyer, while Fitzwilliam Darcy is the stern young heir to the prestigious firm Pemberley Associates. The two find themselves force to spend more time together as Lizzie is determined to prove herself by solving a murder case where she believes that the authorities have got the wrong person. As a fan of murder mysteries, I’m intrigued to see how the Lizzie and Darcy dynamic will be in a legal environment, so this one is for sure on my radar. It should also be on your radar if you’re a fan of the Lady Janies series.


Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean
Release Date:
 May 25, 2021

Not going to lie, Tokyo Ever After is the title that I am the most excited for out of all the books I heard about from the previews last year! I’m hoping to get a review copy of this one so I can read it as soon as possible and share with you guys my thoughts on it. Izumi Tanaka is a Japanese American girl who has been raised by her mother with no idea of who her father is. So she’s in for a big shock when she discovers she is none other than the Crown Prince of Japan! Described as “The Princess Diaries meets Crazy Rich Asians”, I’m looking forward to all the Japanese culture and family drama and the promise of a potential bodyguard crush romance. As an Asian American who also grew up in a predominately white town, I can definitely relate to feeling like I don’t belong both in the country I was born in and my parents’ country. Tokyo Ever After has already been optioned for a TV series and a sequel is already set to come out in 2022!!


Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous by Suzanne Park
Release Date: 
June 1, 2021

Sunny Song’s summer goals include making Rafael Kim her boyfriend, getting to 100 K followers and of course having the best summer ever! Unfortunately, her plans are ruined when she accidentally makes an inappropriate video that goes viral, causing her principal to make her parents send her to a digital detox camp. Now she’s stuck in a farm in Iowa, which is basically the middle of nowhere to her, with no Internet access! Touching on topics like online addiction and casual racism, Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous promises to be both funny and heartwarming that fans of Jenny Han’s books may also enjoy as well.

Book Review | Ming’s Christmas Wishes by Susan L. Gong, Masahiro Tateishi (Illustrations)

Authour:
Susan L. Gong, Masahiro Tateishi (Illustrations
Publication date:
September 29th 2020
Publisher:
Shadow Mountain
Source:
Received from publisher

Review:
I rarely review picture books on my blog, but thought I’d make an exception for Ming’s Christmas Wishes, as it’s about a young Chinese girl who feels like she’s not enough. At school she’s too “Chinese” while at home she’s too “American”. Any child of first-generation immigrants can definitely relate to this feeling at some point in their life.

As this is a picture book, the illustrations are of utmost importance. I was extremely impressed with Masahiro Tateishi’s illustrations. The illustrations are a combo of digital and traditional paintings. Elements of calligraphy and traditional Chinese designs can also be found throughout the book. I loved how the flashbacks were done in a more traditional style and that they were shown as less vivid on the pages to differentiate the recollections from the current scenes. The illustrations complemented the text perfectly, as what you read in the text is basically what you see in the corresponding illustrations, and this is perfect for Susan’s straightforward storytelling. 

That being said, I found the story left much to be desired. For instance, while it was good to see the early history of the Chinese Americans alluded to, that’s all that happened. There were brief mentions of early hardships, the San Francisco’s “Great Quake” as well the Chinese “picture brides” but nothing was really explained. It felt like the author tried to touch on as many historical points as possible and as a result none of them were discussed in a meaningful way. Instead it may be confusing to just about anyone reading the book who is unaware of the historical context of the story. Even I had many unanswered questions after finishing the book. This also isn’t helped because the story ends rather abruptly, and while the message of blending traditions is nice, there was no proper lead up to the conclusion. Many of the conflicts were also left unresolved, and the reader is supposed to go along with the fact that things are going to be okay.

I’m all for more diversity in picture books, especially Christmas ones. And I think kids will relate to Ming’s curiosity and questioning nature, her desire to fit in and her frustration with adults telling her no with no explanation. I related to her close relationship with her father, who was more understanding than her strict mother. Ming’s Christmas Wishes has the potential to be a good jumping point for conversations about the Chinese immigrant experience and about racism and discrimination.

 

 

 

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2020

2020 was a weird year and not going to lie my reading was definitely affected. I got a good chunk of reading done when I was sick earlier this year, but then I went quite a while before I picked up anything new. So this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but most of the books on this list were ones I read in the first half of this year rather than the second year. Without further delay here are my favourite reads of 2020, and as always they are in no particular order.


The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

At first this book was a bit slow for me. However, it won me over with its charm and strong, albeit imperfect female characters. In the end, I fell in love with the members of “The Jane Austen Society” and were rooting for them to find their own happiness. If you like warm historical novels set in cozy villages, and/or are a fan of Jane Austen’s books, then this one may be the satisfying read is for you!

The Good Shufu by Tracy Slater

This book has been on my TBR list since my early blogging days. I finally was gifted a copy of it last year and picked it up this year in anticipation of my Japan trip. Little did I know, that no travelling would be happening. Anyways, I love reading about the relationship between Tracy and the Japanese salaryman who becomes her husband. It was interesting to see how two individuals from different backgrounds come together to build a marriage. As someone who is interested in Japanese culture and still trying to learn the language, I especially enjoyed reading about how Tracy adapts to the culture and her new life in Japan. A heartwarming read about finding love and starting a family in an unexpected time and place.

Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop by Roselle Lim (Read the review)


I think I enjoyed Roselle Lim‘s Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop more than her debut. While Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune had more soul as it was a story about family both blood and found, Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop is definitely a lighter fare with its matchmaking and love plot. Of course food also has a role in the book however it’s to a much lesser degree than the mouthwatering descriptions of food and cooking that were found in Natalie Tan. That being said, Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop made me want to go out and buy some pastries, so make sure you have some on hand while reading this one!

All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny (Read the review)

I always look forward to having a new Louise Penny novel every year. All The Devils Are Here is without a doubt one of my favourites of her more recent Inspector Gamache novels. I love how the setting has changed in this book to Paris, France, as it allows readers to see Gamache and Beauvoir to go out of their usual comfort zones as they try to figure out the mystery and unveil another massive conspiracy.

The Marriage Game by Sara Desai (Read the review)

I wanted to pick this romance because it’s by a Canadian author and I thought it was interesting that both of the main leads work in HR like jobs. The side characters in this book are also awesome, from the hilarious aunties to Layla’s badass cousin, Daisy. I love how family was such a major part of Layla’s story. Also, if you’re a foodie, then you’ll probably enjoy reading about all the Indian foods as Layla’s family owns an Indian restaurant. The Marriage Game has a pretty fun concept with the bet that Layla and Sam have going on, and I look forward to the other books in this series. As Daisy’s book will come out in 2021 and it involves the fake engagement trope, I’ve already requested it on Netgalley so fingers crossed I get to read it soon!

The Diamond Queen of Singapore by Ian Hamilton (Read the review)

I will not lie it was a bit painful reading a book about someone who jet sets as much as Ava Lee during a pandemic when all travel is cancelled. Anyway, the latest instalment in the Ava Lee series has many of the elements that make this series one of my favourites. There’re tons of globe trotting, high stakes negotiations, and of course some awesome action scenes! Looking forward to seeing the direction that Ian Hamilton takes next with the Ava Lee series.

10 Things I Hate About Pinky by Sandhya Menon (Read the review)

I’ve been looking forward to Pinky and Samir’s we saw them constantly butt heads in There’s Something about Sweetie. In 10 Things I Hate About Pinky, we get to learn more about Pinky including her insecurities especially when it came to being compared to her cousin which is definitely something I could relate to. We also get to see more of Samir finally dealing with his issues which were hinted at in There’s Something about Sweetie. But most of all it was quite satisfying to see Pinky and Samir come together after being teased for so long.

The Library of Legends by Janie Chang (Read the review)


The Library of Legends is my first Janie Chang book, and what made me pick it up was the promise blend of mythology with real life. I love how Chang weaves elements of Chinese legends with the students’ journey. I was unaware of the brutal war between Japan and China, so it was interesting to learn more about the lesser talked about events that took place in the shadow of Pearl Harbour. There is also a love story that later comes to fruit in this book that is a sweet addition to a story that took place during a time with so much destruction that even the celestials were left broken.

Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen (Read the review)

This was the first book I actually started in 2020. I was fortunate enough to get an ARC of this title, and it definitely lived up to my expectations of it. There’s so much juicy drama and I love the cultural rediscovery and exchange aspect of this story as I never even heard of “Loveboats” before I learnt about Loveboat, Taipei. Ever’s story of exploration and coming into her own as both were relatable in its own way, and I was more than satisfied with her ending. I’m looking forward to the next book in this series and I may be in the minority with this, but I hope it features a certain pair of secondary characters from the first book.

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha (Read the review)

Compared with other books I don’t think the book got as much as attention as it deserved, so I’m going to take this time to once again recommend this book. Frances Cha’s If I Had Your Face is an incredible debut that looks at issues that Korean women face today. From the pressure to get married, the lack of opportunities for young people without family connections to the impossible beauty standards that are exacerbated by the prevalence of plastic surgery I loved how it didn’t shy away from the problems in the lives of these young women. Forgot top ten, this one was definitely in my top three reads of 2020.

 

 

 

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above reviews consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Recently in Romance #6

 Recently in Romance is a new to this blog review feature where I’ll be sharing my thoughts on some romance novels I’ve read. This review feature was originally created by Mostly Ya Lit.

In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren

In a Holidaze is the book for you if you’re looking for a book to get you into the Christmas spirit. However, if you want a steamy romance, then maybe pick up one of the earlier Christina Lauren books instead. I really want to love this book, but it took way to win me over and even then I wasn’t completely sold on the romance. Fortunately, this book is incredibly light on the romance that it reads more like Womens Fiction. My favourite moments in this book were all the interactions with the various families at the cabin. I love all the crazy traditions they had and loved how competitive everyone got with each other. To be honest, I thought the whole Groundhog Day subplot would be a bigger deal in this book, so I was surprised that there weren’t that many time loops shown. I can appreciate the fact that this allows more space for the main story to develop. Honestly, In a Holidaze wasn’t my favourite Christina Lauren book, though I enjoyed it more than Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating and The Unhoneymooners. A quick and heartwarming read, this book was a nice distraction that gave me the warm fuzzies. I can definitely see this one appealing to a more younger audience as compared to the previous Christina Lauren books, it is extremely tame in terms of love scenes.

Make Up Break Up by Lily Menon

I’ve enjoyed most of Sandhya Menon’s YA novels, so I was looking forward to reading her adult début as “Lily Menon”! Unfortunately, Make up Break up lacks the charms of her Dimpleverse novels. Perhaps this may because of the third-person narrator that shows readers only Annika’s perspective, but it took an incredibly long time to like the male lead. The physical attraction was there from the start, and it was obvious that Hudson was in love with Annika, but I didn’t see the appeal of him. In fact, it wasn’t until more than halfway into the novel that Hudson showed a more “human” and compassionate side to him that was lacking from all his other previous interactions with Annika. What I enjoyed in Make up Break up was Annika’s close relationship with her father. It was refreshingly imperfect, but I’m glad that they could come to an understanding. Also, I loved her friendship with June, though it made me wish she would depend on those closest to her more when she was so clearly struggling. While the romance was a letdown for me since Annika and Hudson barely had any meaningful interactions until nearly the end, Make up Break up had a few redeeming qualities that made it an okay read.

 

 

 

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above reviews consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Midweek Mini Reviews #33

If it wasn’t for the pandemic, right now I would be in Japan with my friend celebrating our birthdays this year. That’s why the theme of this edition of Midweek Mini Reviews features two books that allow you to travel to and experience the magic of Japan without having to leave your house. If you want even more Japanese book suggestions, feel free to comment on this post!

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
Convenience stores are such an integral part of Japanese life, especially in big cities like Tokyo. However, if you haven’t had the chance to experience the magic of an actual Japanese convenience store, then picking up Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman may help with that. The simple descriptions of all the sights, sounds and even smells of the store made me feel like I was back in Japan. The book follows Keiko Furukura, a Japanese convenience store worker in her late 30s whose’s lifestyle goes against the societal norms. While Keiko is without a doubt an oddball who lacks any empathy or feelings, it hard not to feel bad for her. She doesn’t want to cause trouble for anyone, and would prefer to be left alone to do what she believes is she is meant to do. Unfortunately, she lives in a country with a collectivist culture, where she is expected to get a proper job and eventually get married and have kids. This is unfortunately still the sad reality of many Asian cultures where there are often social consequences if you don’t “play your part”. A quick read, Convenience Store Woman is definitely not a light-hearted read. Every character is imperfect, and there is no attempt to hide how horrible people can be. A character like Shiraha who in another novel may have been the “love interest,” is far from it here as right from his introduction there is nothing but disgust and contempt for his entitled ass. If you’re looking for a book where the protagonist changes for the better or evolves, then Convenience Store Woman isn’t for you. However, if you’ve ever felt that you were not “normal,” then you may appreciate this book for its quiet critique of societal norms besides the fact that Keiko is a strong-willed character who succeeds in not bending to societal pressures

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
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If you knew of a way to travel back in time, would do you take advantage of it? What if besides not changing anything, there were several rigid rules that you must follow? For instance, there is only one seat in the café that allows you to time travel, and you cannot leave it? Would you still want to go back? Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s Before the Coffee Gets Cold tells the story of four different characters who ultimately decide to go back despite the restrictions. Of the four, I think my two favourites would have to be Husband and Wife and Mother and Child. The former for its heart wrenching portrayal of marriage where the husband has Alzheimer’s. The misunderstandings on both sides and the result from one of them going back made this one a tear-jerker. While the latter was the last story in this book and it served as a satisfying story to bring things to a full circle, especially with the revelation of who the titular “Mother and Child” were. This book feels very Japanese, especially when you look at the characters and their thoughts and beliefs. To Western readers, it may be difficult to understand why some characters, especially the women choose and act as they do. However, I found that despite that Before the Coffee Gets Cold was a cozy and heartwarming read that would be perfect for the fall or as a prelude to the winter holiday season. It is also the first book in a series, and I wouldn’t mind picking up the others when out, though I think I’ll probably do audiobooks for the next book (s).

 

 

 

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above reviews consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Mystery Monday | The Diamond Queen of Singapore (Ava Lee #13) by Ian Hamilton

Mystery Mondays is an occasional review feature here on Words of Mystery that showcases books in the mystery (and on occasion thriller) genre that we are currently reading and our thoughts on them. Feel free to comment and leave suggestions as to what we should read and review next.

Who is it by? Ian Hamilton, a Canadian authour of the now 13 novels in the Ava Lee series. His Ava Lee series has recently been green lit to be adapted into a TV series by the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation).

What is it about? When Ava’s best friend Mimi is late to their meet up, Ava knows something must have happened. It turns out, Mimi’s father has just died in what appears to be suicide. After his death, the family is shocked to discover that the only thing he left behind was massive amounts of debt. Willing to do whatever it takes to help bring peace to her friends and their family, Ava unofficially make it her job to recover the money that was stolen from Mimi’s father. However, what she thinks may be a straight forward recovery turns out not to be the case as following the Ponzi scheme takes her outside of Canada and even North America to Europe and Asia and with far reaching consequences. 


Where does it take place? Starting in Toronto, Canada Ava is able to make connections to the Ponzi scheme that takes her to Amsterdam, Antwerp, Singapore and even Chengdu China!

Why did I like it? After more than a couple of novels about Ava and her Three Sisters business partnership as well as her relationship with actress, Pang Fai The Diamond Queen of Singapore takes us back to Ava Lee, the forensic accountant and debt collector. Therefore, the book felt so nostalgic for me. Despite being out of the collections game for some time now, Ava proves why she’s the best at what she does both with getting money back and her brilliant negotiation skills. Ian Hamilton takes great care to make sure that the Ava Lee universe and the characters feel authentic, and it especially shows in this book. I loved following along with Ava’s process through her notes, and later through the detailed descriptions of the maps and diagrams she draws for others to see. We get introduced to a couple of new characters in this book and it should me interesting to see them reappear in future books. I just hope that nothing happens to Ava’s relationship with Pang Fai as I like the two of them together. Finally reading one of the Ava Lee books always feels like reading a travelogue of sorts, which unfortunately during a pandemic made me truly sad that I’m living in a city that is in lockdown. Not only did the descriptions of plane travel and hotels made me miss the mundane aspects of travel, but as someone who usually works in downtown Toronto, it made me miss the days when I could freely explore my city. The Diamond Queen of Singapore ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, so I’m looking forward to the next book and to seeing Ava take on an even bigger opponent. 

 When did it come out? May 26, 2020 (e-book) and August 4, 2020 (paperback)

 

 

 

 

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

 

Mystery Monday | All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny

Mystery Mondays is an occasional review feature here on Words of Mystery that showcases books in the mystery (and on occasion thriller) genre that we are currently reading and our thoughts on them. Feel free to comment and leave suggestions as to what we should read and review next.

Who is it by? Louise Penny is a former journalist and radio host with the CBC. The authour of the best selling Chief Inspector Gamache series, All the Devils Are Here is her 16th book in the Inspector Gamache series. She currently lives in a small village south of Montreal.

What is it about? While in Paris, after having had a lovely family dinner Stephen Horowitz is struck down by a delivery van while trying to cross a street. And despite what the police may have think, Stephen’s godson, Gamache is certain that this was no accident. Not willing to drop it, Gamache conducts his own investigation as to why his godfather was targeted. This reunites him with his former second in command and son in law, Jean Guy Beauvoir. Using all their skills and resources available to the Gamache family, what the two uncover is a conspiracy and cover up that once again proves to be much bigger than either either could have anticipated with many major, powerful players involved.



Where does it take place? This time the Gamaches are in Paris, France visiting their son-in-law Jean Guy and their daughter, Annie who is about to give birth again. Paris is also where their son Daniel and his family have been living for some time.

Why did I like it? After the events of A Better Man, I wasn’t sure where Louise Penny would go next with her Inspector Gamache series. Thankfully, this time around she did not disappoint. In All the Devils Are Here we get to learn more about Armand Gamache’s family, the focus this time is on the father-son relationships. The first one being that of Gamache and his godfather, the powerful financier and enigmatic Stephen Horowitz, and the second one is the relationship between Gamache and his son, Daniel. As the partnership between Gamache and his second-in-command and son-in-law, Jean Guy, so central to the Inspector Gamache series it’s easy to forget that Gamache has a son of his own besides his daughter, Annie. This book finally sheds some light on the relationship between Daniel and his father, showing that the reason he was barely mentioned or showed up in the earlier books was because the relationship between father and son has been sprained for some time. What I like about Louise Penny’s books is that she writes in a way that lets the readers see into the innermost thoughts of the various characters in the book, both the minor ones and the major ones. It is through this that the reader can understand why Daniel is anger with his father. It is interesting seeing the Gamaches through the eyes of other characters who are “outsiders” to their circle of friends and family. Compared with A Better Man, the writing has also gotten better in All the Devils Are Here, although the case here is a bit confusing to follow at first because of all the technical details. Nonetheless, All the Devils Are Here was a compelling addition to one of my favourite mystery series.

 When did it come out? September 1, 2020

 

 

 

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Mystery Monday | Just Make Believe by Maggie Robinson

Mystery Mondays is an occasional review feature here on Words of Mystery that showcases books in the mystery (and on occasion thriller) genre that we are currently reading and our thoughts on them. Feel free to comment and leave suggestions as to what we should read and review next.

Who is it by? Based in Maine, Maggie Robinson is a former teacher and library clerk. Her books have been translated into French, German, Portuguese, Turkish, Russian, Japanese, Thai, Dutch and Italian. In addition to mystery novels, she has also written a couple of historical romances. Just Make Believe is the the third instalment of her Lady Adelaide Mysteries series.

What is it about? Lady Adelaide is haunted by the ghost of her rascal late husband, Rupert who is unable to move on until he has done enough good deeds. Unfortunately, his appearance usually means someone is about to die and that Adelaide will be embroiled in another murder mystery. However, another murder case means that Adelaide has an excuse to call Detective Inspector Devenand Hunter of Scotland Yard, the man who she wants to be more than friends with. As more turn up dead, the three must work together to figure out who is behind the deaths.


Where does it take place? Gloucestershire, England during the mid-1920s

Why did I like it? I love mysteries set in the 1920s, and this one promised an intriguing mystery and an interesting dynamic. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy Just Make Believe as much as I thought I would. The dynamic between Adelaide and Rupert’s ghost was fun as he provided some much needed comic relief. However, Adelaide or “Addie” was annoying as a protagonist and I just couldn’t see her appeal. Detective Dev Hunter was a more compelling character given that he is of South Asian descent and appears to be the only character that is not White. He also has an interesting background, and it was interesting to see him try to avoid being corrupted by those around him, unlike most of his Scotland Yard colleagues. The murder mystery plot was also interesting, although the conclusion somehow was both fascinating yet disappointing. The build up to the reveal was exciting and the reveal of how the deaths were connected. However, the conclusion of the case was disappointing as it shows how the wealthy and influential could easily get away with murder if it ever came to that. Despite it all, I have a feeling I will be still be eagerly awaiting the fourth book in this series if only for the various sequel hooks in Just Make Believe and to see how everything plays out.

 When did it come out? July 14, 2020

 

 

 

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Midweek Mini Reviews #32

This month’s mini reviews features two new contemporary YA fall titles!

Rent a Boyfriend by Gloria Chao
To be honest, if I ever found myself in a similar situation to Chloe (Jing-Jing) Wang, I would absolutely take advantage of the Rent for Your ’Rents services and hire a fake boyfriend. While I’ve never had my parents, try to marry me off to an awful playboy and bully just because his family is crazy rich, there were definitely several elements about Chloe’s story that resonated with me. For instance, I am well acquainted with the type of parental emotional manipulation and guilt trips that her mother makes use of. Also Chloe’s struggles with trying to balance her true self with what’s expected of her is something I’m sure countless children of Asian immigrants could relate to at some point, especially when they were or are university/college students. Rent a Boyfriend is Gloria Chao’s third YA novel, and it shows. Compared to her previous books, it is much more focused in terms of story and characters choosing to focus mainly on Chloe and her parents while showing us bits of Drew’s life. It would have been nice to get to know Drew more outside of him and Chloe, but this book was more of Chloe’s story. I did however love that this book had an epilogue as we get to see how Chloe moves forward with embracing both her “Chinese” and “American” sides and using her experiences to help others like her. I also appreciated how the dysfunction in both hers and Drew’s families hasn’t magically vanished, instead Chloe has gotten better at setting boundaries with her parents while Drew has made small steps with his family. Overall, while the romance definitely veered towards cheesy and over the top I enjoyed how this book showed us some complexities of parent-child relationships and how the community you grew up in affects your beliefs and who you become.

Not Your #Lovestory by Sonia Hartl
I’ve never understood why people think they can just document other people’s interactions without their permission just because they have a phone, a social media account and they think it’s an adorable story. That’s why I’m wary whenever I come across an online viral story as I’ve seen instances of innocent people’s lives being completely ruined as a result of a situation getting blown out of proportion. Not Your #Lovestory wasn’t the first book I’ve read about the downsides to going viral, however it is my first YA novel about this phenomenon. Seeing an ordinary teenager get doxxed and trolled by strangers who thought they had a say in her life was even more heartbreaking, especially since Macy was someone vulnerable to being exploited as she so desperately wanted to escape her small town. I hated what Eric and Jessica did to her, which is why it was so satisfying when Macy took back her life from the Internet and these strangers who wanted to use her for their own fame and gain. I also loved that this book was sex positive like Sonia Hartl’s last book, and I absolutely adore Macy’s family of strong and tough women who didn’t bend for anyone except for each other. The only thing that fell flat for me was the romance, because unlike the romance in Have a Little Faith in Me Paxton and Macy’s love story felt like it was lacking the build up needed to buy into their romance. This is unfortunate as I love the friends to lovers trope and wanted to love Macy and Paxton as a couple. In this end, this was just a lukewarm read for me. I liked how the book examines not only how far people will go to make it but also makes you question if you have a public platform just how much of yourself you’re willing to give for public consumption and if it’s truly worth it.

 

 

 

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above reviews consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

5 Fiction Books Coming Your Way in Fall 2020

With the pandemic and lockdown happening where I lived, all book events were moved from in person to online. So instead of attending the Penguin Teen Social and Frenzy Presents events in person like I usually do in the previous, I ended up watching them online. Anyways keeping with the tradition, I thought I’d share some of my top picks of for this fall from both events. Please feel free to comment on the post with what books you’re looking forward to reading this fall/winter.

Charming as a Verb by Ben PHILIPe (RELEASE DATE: September 8, 2020)

Last year I was fortunate enough to attend a party for Ben Phillipe’s debut novel, The Field Guide to the North American Teenage which was a surprisingly charming and witty read. Ben’s second book is also perfect if you’ve read and enjoyed his first novel or if you’re a fan of Nicola Yoon’s books. Charming as a Verb follows Henri “Halti” and Corinne’s unlikely and somewhat “forced” friendship as it potentially develops into something more all while they’re both dealing with the usual stress of being a senior in high school with dreams of going to one of the prestigious colleges. On top of the pressure they feel, they also find themselves confronting real issues that children of immigrants face regularly like code switching and gentrification.

Jo An Adaptation of Little Women (Sort Of) By Kathleen Gros (Release date: September 22, 2020)

Jo is probably my favourite of the March sisters, even if I would’ve prefer she stay unmarried in the end. Anyways, the latest adaption of Little Womenis a middle-grade graphic novel that appears to also take the characters into more modern times. Here, Jo is a 13 years old who has her own blog and also works for her school newspaper. There’s definitely a few new twists in this tale, as Jo realizes not only is she unable to return the feelings of her best friend Laurie but she may not be into guys at all? This one looks like it will not only be a cute story but also a diverse and inclusive one as well, oh and bonus points for it being by a fellow Canadian!

All About Us by Tom Ellen (Release date: October 13, 2020)

One of the few adult titles that were showcased during the Frenzy Presents presentation. This one is for all you fans of Christmas novels with a dash of romance and time travel in the mix! Another take on the classic A Christmas Carol, All About Us is about a man who’s failing marriage makes him wonder if he had the right choice years ago and if he would make the same choice again if given the chance to go back to that fateful day in 2005. Adorable, funny, and possibly heartbreaking this one is for those who love David Nicholls’s One Day or the movie 13 Going on 30 with Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo.

The Magic Fish by Trung Lê Nguyễn (RELEASE DATE: October 13, 2020)

This Own Voices graphic novel reads like a memoir. I love seeing more books by Vietnamese storytellers. as someone of Vietnamese descent and a lover of comics, I’m really looking forward to this one, both for the story and the beautiful illustrations. Apparently there are three interwoven plots in Trung Lê Nguyễn’s The Magic Fish. The first is a fairytale that is read to Tiến by his grandparents, the second is the story of the grandparents living in Vietnam during colonial time and finally we have the story of Tiến trying to find the words both in Vietnamese and English to tell his parents that he is gay. all three have distinctive art styles, so readers will be able to differentiate between the stories.

Super Fake Love Song by David yoon (RELEASE DATE: November 17, 2020)


David Yoon’s Frankly in Love was one of my favourite books last year. I loved his writing and portrayal one of teen boy’s experience growing up as a son in a Korean immigrant household so I’m excited for his sophomore novel! The synopsis of this one sounds interesting with its themes of rock music and a small lie getting out of control. Plus I’m hoping for more of his fictional but realistic take on teen relationships in high school.