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.

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.

Book Review | Save the Date by Morgan Matson

Authour:
Morgan Matson
Format:
ARC
Publication date:
June 5th, 2018
Publisher:
Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Source:
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review:
Growing up one of my favourite newspaper comic strips was Lynn Johnston’s For Better or Worse. Similar to Grant Central Station it was also a comic strip where the characters who were based on the creator’s real-life family aged in real life. Even today the majority of comics still use “Comic-Book Time” instead of having time actually pass in real time. It’s unfortunate that Grant Central Station isn’t an actual comic strip seeing that based on the few comics included in the book, I would have loved to have seen more.

I mention this since one of the central elements of the plot in Morgan Matson’s Save the Date is the fact that Charlotte aka “Charlie” and the rest of the Grant family are characters in the mother’s comic strip. This is significant as one of the main conflicts within the Grant family concerns the mother drawing a real-life incident into her comic strip despite her promising not to. This leads to real-life consequences and one of the siblings being estranged from the Grant family. I’m glad this was not glossed over as I’ve always wondered how the people who have fictional characters based off of them truly feel about it. The conflict was handled in a way that felt authentic which I appreciated since this is a real issue creators need to consider when using “real life” in their work.

Other than the comic strip aspect of the book, I did enjoy the main storyline, which centers on Charlie coming to terms with the reality of her family and her life-changing. The fact that this occurs over the weekend of her older sister’s wedding adds a great deal of chaos and hijinks to the mix. Those who have been involved in planning a wedding know just how insane the process can become and how it brings out both the best and worst in all those involved. I could definitely relate to Charlie’s attempts to try to fix everything for her family in addition to her struggles to make a final decision when it came to college. That being said, my family is nowhere as large as Charlie’s even though they could probably match hers in terms of wackiness, hijinks, and drama.

Save the Date is probably my favourite Morgan Matson book thus far. I found it refreshing to have a YA contemporary novel where romance was only hinted at. Instead, the focus of Save the Date was on the Grant family dynamics and Charlie coming to terms with a major change. And while it was a hefty looking book, the pacing was splendidly done so that I flew through the pages quickly. An enjoyable read with a lively cast of characters, it feels at times like Save the Date was meant to be a movie or at least a TV show as you can vividly picture the story in your head. Pick this one up if enjoy a light, contemporary and entertaining YA read for the summer!

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 | Madly (Potion #1) by Amy Alward


madlyAuthour:

Amy Alward
Format:
Advance Reader Copy, 374 pages
Publication date:
September 29th 2015
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Source:
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review:
Madly was a title that Jen H from Lost in a Great Book and Cristine from Padsfoot’s Library picked out for me, when I asked Twitter to vote on which book I should read and review. (The other book if you guys are curious was A Step Towards Falling by Cammie McGovern). Anyways what made me curious when it came to Madly was the fact that Amy Alward is also the author of The Oathbreaker’s Shadow (Amy McCulloch was her maiden name), a book which I thoroughly enjoyed. Additionally the premise sounded like it would be a delightful read.

Madly follows Samantha Kemi who comes from a long-line of alchemists although her family has lost their prestige when it comes to potion making, it’s clear that Samantha definitely has her family gift. What I found odd was that even though she’s extremely gifted at creating potions, she is still considered an “ordinary” as she can’t perform actual magic. Though if you ask me, her potion making abilities should definitely put her in the “talented “category. This is particularly true near the conclusion of the novel when Sam rushes to attempt to save the Princess.

Princess Evelyn is the other narrator in Madly and while her chapters aren’t as plentiful as Sam’s it was fascinating to read them as it demonstrates her descent into madness as a result of being poisoned by a love potion. Speaking of love, I’ll admit that my least favourite element of the book remained the romance. To be honest I preferred the family dynamics and friendships in addition to the adventure aspect of Madly over the romance which to me felt out of place and not that believable.

In the conclusion I stayed pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Madly truly remained a quick read and made for an excellent palate cleanser from the books that I ordinarily read. In Madly Amy Alward has created a world where magic and science collide leading to a few intriguing results. For instance social media is in full blown usage, however people also teleport to get to places. Additionally the largest producer of potions is a corporation known for synthetic ingredients in their potions which are created using science of course. It is evident that a great deal of thought was put into the magic details on top of creating a world where modern science and technology is used in tandem with magic. As Madly is the first book in a new series, I remain curious as to where authour will go next in the world that she has created. Perhaps we will witness the princess develop and learn more about her powers? As long as there’s adventure I’ll probably check it out.

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 | Three Day Summer by Sarvenaz Tash

3 dayAuthour:
Sarvenaz Tash
Format:
Advance Reader Copy, 234 pages
Publication date:
May 19th 2015
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Source:
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review:
Girl meets boy, it’s your typical setup for a summer romance. However, what if they met in 1969 during the legendary Woodstock music festival? The result is the foundation for Sarvenaz Tash’s latest YA novel, Three Day Summer.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the setting of this book was probably my favourite aspect of Three Day Summer. I loved how the issue of gender inequality was addressed through the character of Cora. I loved how she had aspirations to become a doctor, this was uncommon for women during her time, and it made me sad to watch her be discouraged from being ambitious similar to countless girls during her time. For this reason, I loved Anna, who was an excellent supporting character as she always looked out for Cora and encouraged her. Additionally, I adored the delightful cameos from extremely recognizable musicians.

Three Day Summer is a novel that is told from a dual perspective by Michael a teenage boy from Massachusetts who has come to the music festival with his friends and his girlfriend, Amanda. To be honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Michael as I felt that he was slightly wishy-washy and indecisive which annoyed me a bit. However, in the conclusion, I did appreciate observing how he and Cora helped each other out and changed each other for the better.

Therefore, while Three Day Summer is not a book that I would count among my all-time favourite it is a book that has a summer-y feel to it which makes it an excellent summer read for those who love music and don’t mind books that contain insta-love and a bit of cheating in them.

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

Early Book Review | To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Authour:boysloved
Jenny Han
Format:
Advance Reader Copy, 352 pages
Publication date:
Comes out April 15th 2014!!
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Source:
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis:

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all

Review:

I first heard about this book when I was at a Jenny Han signing and she talked about this book. The whole concept of writing letters to your crushes and discovering one day that all of your letters have been mailed out to the people you’ve addressed them to seemed like the kind of story that I would want to see being played out. Mostly because even though I love the idea of writing letters by hand I would never ever write letters to my former crushes as I’m more of a take my secrets to my grave kind of girl.

I love Han’s writing having previously read her Summer series, her prose though simple is as always elegant and very beautiful in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. There are so many things that I loved about this book. First and foremost I love how the protagonist is Asian as seen on the cover; Lara Jean is half Asian and half White. I’m always a fan of more diversity in young adult contemporary fiction and it was nice to have a protagonist that I could somewhat relate to in terms of cultural background. Another thing I loved what the portrayal of family in this book. Lara Jean is the middle child having two other sisters and the three are very close though their relationship isn’t always perfect. Like any other siblings they fight, and get annoyed at each other and even do and say things to each other that they later regret. Still it’s obvious that they all love each other very much. I also like the positive portrayal of a single parent family in this book; though their father is sometimes clueless he is a good parent who always means well and is very supportive of all his girls. The book also does a good job of illustrating how hard it is on families when one of the kids is living far from home for school, I could sort of relate as I have siblings who are away at universities that are out of town. The difficulties that Margot (Lara Jean’s older sister) encounters being so far from home and the people she loves is definitely something that my siblings have felt.

Besides the familial relationships in this book there are so many other relationships that are quite well written. For instance despite being very different people, I liked how Lara Jean and Chris were there for each other when one needed the other even though they don’t always hang out on regular basis. As well I am in love with relationship between a certain guy and Lara Jean. While he was initially kind of a jerk, I adored watching him and Lara Jean slowly fall for each other for real. The ending of this advance copy left things between them unresolved but I’m still hoping they’d be able to resolve their misunderstandings in the extended ending of the final version of this book or even in the sequel. Hopefully that’s not just wishful thinking as I liked the fact that Han had taken the less obvious route with the romance in this book. From the way the book initially started off I thought it was headed in one direction but instead it went a whole other, unexpected and in my opinion much better and less stereotypical direction.

And while the identity of who sent out Lara Jean’s letter was pretty much who you’d expect it to be, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is definitely shaping up to be one of my favourite YA reads released in 2014 in addition to Cress by Marissa Meyer. I highly recommend this book if you are a fan of any of Jenny Han’s other books or even if you love a good YA contemporary novel, this is a must read book!

If you like this book, you’ll love: The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

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