Book Review | Song of the Crimson Flower by Julie C. Dao

Authour:
Julie C. Dao
Format:
ARC
Publication date:
November 5th 2019
Publisher:
Philomel
Source:
Received from publisher

Review:
Here’s the thing, fantasy has never been a genre that I gravitated towards. That being said, I never knew how much I wanted a Vietnamese YA fantasy world novel with characters who have actual Vietnamese names until I read Julie C. Dao’s Song of the Crimson Flower.

Having read Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix, I was excited to return to the same gorgeous world again and see how Jade and Koichi are faring. I also loved how Commander Wei’s role was hilariously foreshadowed when the father of the heroine, Lan tells her she can visit the Gray City if she somehow convinces the Commander of the Great Forest to escort her there. Of course it was also interesting to see the mythology and world expanded from the previous books in addition to how things have changed a couple of years after the events the Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix.

However, the central plot of Song of the Crimson Flower is Lan and Bao’s story. I was looking forward to their love story and while I wish the romance was better developed, particularly on Lan’s part I did find their relationship to be sweet. When it came to other parts of the story I was a bit disappointed. The antagonist, Madame Vy wasn’t fully realized as a serious threat or even as a character. She had the potential to be a major villain, but instead was relegated to the background for the majority of the book. Actually, I was also slightly disappointed that even though the stakes could have been high, they truly weren’t in the end as all major conflicts and battles were swiftly dealt with off-screen. So as much as I enjoyed Bao and Lan’s story, I would have preferred that we had at least a glimpse of the main battle that took place as there was so much hype surrounding the battle/war.

As a companion book to both Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix and Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, Song of the Crimson Flower is more of a love story set in a fantasy world and not a full on fantasy novel. Therefore, it is not necessary to have read the other books to enjoy this standalone novel. Still, without a doubt I would say that my enjoyment for Song of the Crimson Flower exceeded that of Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix. Having recently returned from a trip to Huế which was one the capital of the Nguyen Dynasty as well as the Đàng Trong Kingdom, I was able to better appreciate the rich setting and characters in this book. Beautifully written though not incredibly action packed, Song of the Crimson Flower may be more suited to those who are looking to dip their toes into the fantasy genre rather than for fans of true high or epic fantasy.

 

 

 

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 | Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Authour:
David Yoon
Format:
ARC
Publication date:
September 10th 2019
Publisher:
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Source:
Received from publisher.

Review:
Boy loves girl, another girl loves  another boy but the people they love would never be someone their parents would consider “appropriate”. So what do they do? They pretend to date each other as a way to sneak out with their less appropriate aka Non-Korean significant others. This is an unfortunate but not unheard of dilemma for kids of immigrants and if this were any other YA novel, you’d probably guess what happens next. However, Frankly in Love has its own unique twist on what could go wrong for these teens. 

As a child of Asian immigrants, I relished in the realness of the issues and conflict related to both race and class that Frank and his parents deal with both within their family as well as with the other families in their “community”. It was also refreshing to directly show how the generational gaps between all the parents and their kids in the book can lead to major conflicts between both groups and this book does not shy away from the fact the immigrant parents can be just as problematic, racist and buy into harmful cultural stereotypes as much as any other American. Nor does it shy away from the challenges of dating outside of your race. Furthermore, I love that I could relate to so many of Frank’s experiences, growing up as a teenager stuck between two cultures. This includes having “friends” that I only hung out with when we saw each other at one of our parents’ houses as well as being annoyed when I’m asked to order “ethnic” foods at an Asian restaurant for acquaintances and coworkers who are not Asian and are usually White.

In addition to the complicated family dynamics, I liked the friendships in the book. The bromance between Frank and Q was incredibly heartwarming and Joy and Frank start off as being causal friends before their circumstances bring them closer. I also applaud how realistic this book was when it came to the challenges of being a senior in high school and how not all relationships can handle what comes after high school. So while normally, I’m not a fan of more realistic YA much less YA narrated by a guy I did find Frankly in Love to be an enjoyable, well-written, and thoughtful albeit slightly bittersweet coming of age story.

 

 

 

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 Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

Authour:
Stacey Lee
Format:
ARC
Publication date:
August 13th 2019
Publisher:
Putnam
Source:
Received from publisher.

Review:
Stacey Lee is a fairly well-known name when it comes to young adult fiction. Not only is she a writer of historical young adult fiction, she is also one of the founders of the We Need Diverse Books movement and non-profit organization. 

With The Downstairs Girl, Lee takes us to Atlanta, Georgia in the late 1800s. I’m sure I’m not the only reader to be surprised to learn that Chinese workers were shipped to the South to replace the field Black slaves after slavery was abolished. It was interesting read about the experience of the Chinese in America in the late 1800s as more often than not, their contributions and experience are left out of the mainstream history textbooks.

The Downstairs Girl works as it is obvious a ton of research was done to ensure that the story was historically accurate. This was obvious with portrayal of the major issues during this time including racism and the suffrage movement. It doesn’t shy away from the fact that the white women leading the suffragist were only interested in rights for (white) women, and they did not feel the need to consider intersectionality in their fight for women’s rights even though Black women like Noemi in the book were instrumental in the suffrage movement. Still I liked the female characters and their interactions and relationships in the book, and I appreciated how plucky both Jo and Noemi were. Furthermore, without spoiling too much, I loved the relationship Jo has with Old Gin who raised her and taught her everything she loves about horses. 

The Downstairs Girl has all the makings of a decent historical fiction read. That being said, even with its distinctive characters and unique premise and setting I wasn’t completely sold on it. For one, I could have done without the romance in the book, and I also felt that parts of the story dragged. Still the book feels truly authentic and gives readers new insight into the suffragists and the South on top of the Chinese experience in the South in 1860s America.

 

 

 

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 | A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares by Krystal Sutherland

Authour:
Krystal Sutherland
Format:
ARC
Publication date:
September 5th 2017
Publisher:
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Source:
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review:
The pitch is what lead me to pick up Krystal Sutherland’s sophomore novel, A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares. I’m always up for sharp and witty banter and fun characters.

However, upon starting it, I came to realize that A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares is not your usual type of contemporary YA. Instead, it incorporates supernatural like elements, giving the story more of a magic realism/horror vibe similar to The Addams Family. That being said, I definitely appreciated the weird and quirky cast of characters and the various phobias of the Solar family and how they dealt with them in dysfunctional ways. Furthermore, I liked how “Death” was portrayed as an actual, physical character in this book and how even “Death” has to die at some point showing that nothing is forever.

Despite A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares, being a refreshingly odd YA novel I found it difficult to connect to the characters. As a result, I wasn’t really a fan of the romance even though I loved the protagonist’s interactions with her brother and best friend. Still, I did appreciate how Jonah assisted Esther in her mission to tackle her fears and break the family “curse”.

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares is without a doubt an incredibly unique and mysterious novel. There are often times where the reader is left to question what is truly happening vs what is in one character’s imagination. And while I did not truly connect with the story, I do believe it leaves its reader with a good message about facing your fears head on.

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