The Astonishing Color of After by Emily XR Pan


This is an incredible story about how a young teenager sets out to find the truth behind her mother’s passing. What she finds is something way more than she imagined.

Here’s more about the story

35604686Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

I absolutely loved this book. It reminded me a lot of Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward in terms of its use of magical realism and how connected the main characters are to the past. There are so many themes in this book that I honestly don’t know where to begin. I guess the best way to do it is just to write.

Before I was born, my mother lost her brother to a cocaine overdose. It devastated her and her entire family. While drug overdoses are sometimes accidental, my family always believed my uncle’s death was due to suicide. He just used drugs to do it.

This story reminded me of the grief my mom used to go through when I was younger. I would see her stare listlessly into the distance while listening to certain songs on the radio. She would ask me to step out of the car and head into the house while she listened to music that reminded her of her brother.

But it wasn’t specifically her grief that perplexed me, but my understanding of life and death and how sometimes the decisions we make for ourselves affect those around us.

When it comes to death, regardless of how it’s done, grief and loss come with so many questions. Was it your fault? What could you have done to make things better? Why did they have to leave us like this?

In The Astonishing Color of After you get an idea of what it might be like to get answers. Using magical realism, Emily XR Pan demonstrates how Leigh is able to see her mother’s past, her grandmother’s past, and her own past.

The book is broken up into three different stories. Each chapter starts off by telling you what part of the book you’re reading. First, there is the present day story of Leigh trying to find clues to her mother’s life in Taiwan. Second, there’s the glimpses of her own past and how her life has been changing. Third, there’s the mysterious packet of incense Leigh uses to delve further into her mother’s and grandmother’s past.

I’m a strong believer in spirits and I resonated deeply with this. Her mother is a bird and a friend she makes in Taiwan isn’t exactly alive. You see her travel to a small town where a man claims to have married her mother’s sister’s ghost. Like Leigh, I believe that those we lose do stick around after they’ve died. They may be spirits or ghosts or whatever you want to call them, but the one thing everyone knows about ghosts is that they’re stuck in this world until they’ve finished their business. I believe that Leigh was using her time in Taiwan to help her own mother finish her unfinished business.

As you read the story, you learn more and more about everything leading up to Leigh’s mother’s death. You can also feel the guilt that Leigh feels for being so caught up in her own life and her own issues (for example, she was busy kissing her best friend on the day her mother killed herself).


I love how this story is not only a story about loss and grief, but also about growing up and finding yourself. Self-identity is always important especially as a teenager and when you’re half Asian and half Caucasian, you wonder what side you are more related to. Perhaps you know one side more than another, but Leigh stumbles across exploring herself and her ancestry through her grandparents in Taiwan. She finds out about her mother’s life before her, how she sacrificed a lot for Leigh to be in the world, and you also understand the kind of remorse and guilt her mother feels for leaving her family behind.

The last theme I want to touch on is the use of color. Leigh is a really gifted artist who only uses charcoals to draw her work. However, she uses colors to describe emotions. It’s also not a simple red or blue, but cadmium red and titanium white and aquamarine. These are very specific colors to describe very specific emotions and I found it unique to see someone use those colors to describe how she feels. This goes double for an artist who doesn’t use color in her work.

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Little Brown Young Reader (March 20, 2018(
  • Rating: 5/5 Stars!

Reading & Eating: The Wedding Date and Blueberry Pancakes


“Good Lord, why have you never taken me to that place before?” Alexa asked him. “I’ve never had pancakes that good.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m a huge fan of reading and eating. Whether it’s a small snack or a full on meal, I can always be found with a book in hand and a fork in the other.

So I wanted to share some of the culinary foods I love to make for my reads. Have you ever wanted to eat what your character was eating? Does the thought of something scrumptious in your book stir your cravings? Well, this is exactly what I want to do in this series.

My husband and I bought a huge packet of blueberries from the grocery store. Once we went home to try them, they were sadly sour. We knew we wanted to eat them before they went bad, so we decided to have a full on blueberry fest. Funnily enough, The Wedding Date just so happened to be the book I was reading at the time and luckily Alexa had a sweet tooth.

I’m sharing The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory and a plate of blueberry pancakes. While the foods of choice throughout the novel were cheese and crackers, pizza, and a lot of frosted donuts with sprinkles. Since I can’t make cheese and crackers from scratch (yet), I decided on something a little bit easier.

Alexa, the main character, is a huge fan of any sort of sweet treats. While she’s a true advocate for the sweet dough, I decided I’ll make some blueberry pancakes for her.

This recipe is from King Arthur Flour I found here. It’s super simple and I had all the ingredients available in my pantry. I love when I don’t have to go to the store to pick up something I don’t already have. It’s also easier when you’re making something on a whim than planning for it.


When it comes to pancakes, there’s a few rules:

You don’t want to stir all the lumps out

For some reason, pancakes are more fluffy than dense if you don’t whip the stuffing out of it. Just fold the ingredients together with a wooden spoon until it’s all been incorporated.

Add blueberries to the pancakes on the pan, not into the batter

Once you scoop your pancake mix onto your hot pan, then add your blueberries. This will keep the berries from sinking to the bottom of your batter bowl and you can control the amount of berries in each pancake.

Patience is a virtue

The one thing you always want to keep in mind is that pancakes take time. You want to wait until the bubbles on the top of your pancake have made holes and then you flip. Flip too soon and you won’t get that delicious golden brown.

The first pancake will always be a test pancake

Everyone always says this and for me it’s always been true. The first pancake you make will always be a test pancake. This is more to see how long you should be waiting to flip pancakes and making sure that the batter is fully cooked. No one wants a runny pancake.

Little Reads – March 16, 2018

Little Reads is a weekly blog post dedicated to short stories or essays I find interesting online. They may be older posts or they may have published recently, but you will always find a link to those posts and my opinions here.

First off, while this isn’t a short story or an essay, I did want to share this amazing obituary written about the late Stephen Hawking. I’m not a physicist or have an interest in learning physics, but I admire this man. Despite the lengths his body endured through his sickness he continued to study and create many new theories. His contributions to science and physics help to bring more answers to what the meaning of the universe is. I even learned a little bit about the Hawking radiation, which is aptly named after him.

Now that he’s even more a part of the fabric of the universe, I read this amazing obituary from the New York Times about what he was able to accomplish in his life with Lou Gehrig’s disease. It’s a pretty lengthy article highlighting many accomplishments of his life and some of it was a bit difficult to grasp because of the science, but still I would strongly recommend skimming.

The main thing they talk about here is his work with black holes. According to this and his theory, he believed that black holes not only sucked in a lot of materials, but it also radiated some materials back. I’ve read a lot of Science Fiction to know that a black hole is nothing but destruction. If I’m correct in this (and I’m probably not because I’m not a physicist), Stephen Hawking’s theory means that what we believed to be this swirling death hole not only destroys but creates. I mean, if you’re a scientist, that’s something big right?

Image from Lit Hub website:

The second article I found was this beautiful one written by Esme Weijun Wang and her struggle with her chronic illness. She talks about her fight with Lyme disease and how that’s essentially made her gluten-sensitive. She then goes into discussing the joys of enjoying a bowl of noodles from Taiwan and how that made her feel terrible and the adaptations we all have to make when trying to survive.

I resonate so much with this article. Ever since finding out that I have chronic Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism, I try my best to stay gluten and dairy free. I mean, I do have my weak moments where I get a cheeseburger or whip up a batch of my homemade mac and cheese, but I can never eat gluten and dairy regularly to keep my thyroid and body as healthy as I can.

But there’s so many things I miss from my childhood and a lot of that includes food from Asian countries. While my symptoms when eating these foods aren’t as bad (I get a slight headache), I still feel the sacrifices you have to make in order to stay alive. I have to sacrifice a little bit of my own heritage so that I can continue to maintain my body without ups and downs of thyroid issues.

And it kills me sometimes. I would do anything for a giant bowl of noodles but I also know that I’m better off with some meat, veg, and a bowl of rice.

We all have to make sacrifices and you can meet those sacrifices with a positive attitude and you can have that bowl of noodles. It can taste exactly like home despite the minor changes you had to make.

If you have any little reads to suggest, contact me and let me know! I would love to read your little reads.

The New Crimes of Grindelwald Teaser Trailer

Well, if you follow me on Instagram then you know that I’m obsessed with the new trailer for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Check out the new trailer above.

I’ve already watched this a few times through and there were a couple of things that got me the most excited by this:

The new Wizarding World logo

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If you’re not aware, The Wizarding World logo represents all things Harry Potter. Because JK Rowling expects to expand the universe, it felt fitting to have all of the films and books under one house name. Not everything is about Harry Potter and I’m assuming that after Newt Scamander’s story, we’re going to expect more from the other folks who live in this universe.

The logo (which looks like an open book) represent the nine wands of witches and wizards who have made an impact on this universe. Each wand belongs to those magical folks and you can find out more about why they’re represented here.

The screenplay is written by JK Rowling

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I know that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is also written by JK Rowling, but I do want to mention that this entire series of films will be written by her. While JK Rowling provided the Harry Potter books as a source for the films, this is the first time we’re actually seeing her words put directly onto the screen.

I mean, we always talk about how film adaptation of books are always missing pieces and aren’t fully developed as the book would be, so seeing that JK Rowling will continue to write these screenplays is like reading canon directly from the source. Drinking the water from the well, if you will.

I know this is a super small detail, but seeing her name on camera that doesn’t say “Inspired by the books by JK Rowling” just got me so pumped for this film.

We get to hang out with Jacob Kowalski again!

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I think my favorite part of the first movie was the muggle, Jacob Kowalski. Everyone was such a huge fan of this character in the first film that I felt like he would be making an appearance in the second one. A human with no magical powers who is playing the guy we all want to be. Even if magic exists and I turned out to be a muggle, knowing and experiencing some small amount of this magical world would be enough to satisfy me for the rest of my life. Seeing it through Jacob’s eyes is like living out that dream vicariously.


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This man needs no introductions. I think the most exciting feature of this film is a glimpse into Dumbledore as a young professor. While there was some controversy over Dumbledore not playing as an openly gay character, I’m still super excited about seeing Jude Law stand up to Michael Gambon and Richard Harris’s Dumbledore. Will he be quirky? Will he talk in riddles? Will we all love him for being the most outstanding wizard that he is? Will he be secretly plotting something behind everyone’s back? Let’s hope so.

The Deathly Hallows return

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HUGE SPOILER: If you didn’t see the wisp of smoke that turns into the Deathly Hallows symbol, then you can definitely check the film’s moniker and see the three pieces of the Deathly Hallows represented there. I won’t go into the details of the Deathly Hallows, but I would definitely read about them here.

If you aren’t aware, Grindelwald steals the elder wand (the most powerful wand in the wizarding world) from the wandmaker, Gregorovitch, and then Dumbledore gets the wand from Grindelwald during an epic duel. The story of how the wand gets into Dumbledore’s hands takes place in the 1940s after the second World War, but Newt Scamander’s story takes place during the 1920s. I have a feeling that these films will be touching on Grindelwald retrieving the wand and perhaps even how Dumbledore eventually gets it? It might be wishing for too much with that last part, but a girl can only hope.

The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs


At first, I was a little skeptical about this book. A story that has the word “equation” in the title reminds me of Mark Watney in The Martian and how much math I had to do. Happily, there isn’t much math in this book but a wonderful journey of a family coming to terms with their late father’s last wish.

Here’s more about the book

35297219Just days after mathematician and family patriarch Isaac Severy dies of an apparent suicide, his adopted granddaughter Hazel, owner of a struggling Seattle bookstore, receives a letter from him by mail. In it, Isaac alludes to a secretive organization that is after his final bombshell equation, and he charges Hazel with safely delivering it to a trusted colleague. But first, she must find where the equation is hidden.

While in Los Angeles for Isaac’s funeral, Hazel realizes she’s not the only one searching for his life’s work, and that the equation’s implications have potentially disastrous consequences for the extended Severy family, a group of dysfunctional geniuses unmoored by the sudden death of their patriarch.

As agents of an enigmatic company shadow Isaac’s favorite son—a theoretical physicist—and a long-lost cousin mysteriously reappears in Los Angeles, the equation slips further from Hazel’s grasp. She must unravel a series of maddening clues hidden by Isaac inside one of her favorite novels, drawing her ever closer to his mathematical treasure. But when her efforts fall short, she is forced to enlist the help of those with questionable motives.


I really loved this story as a great alternative to all the heavy and scary thrillers coming out. If you’re a mystery fan and want to feel a little bit like Nancy Drew, then you might love this book.

It’s the story about a young woman named Hazel who was tasked to find and deliver her grandfather’s last mathematical equation. Hazel, a bookstore owner, doesn’t know much about math or science but she loved her grandfather so she decides to do it. While trying to unfold the mystery of her grandfather’s death and finally recover the equation, Hazel along with her other family members try to come to terms with the loss of their great patriarch.

I’m going to give you a little spoiler here. I don’t know if it’ll ruin the book for you or not, but I don’t think I can go on with my review of the book without mentioning it. I’ll share the spoiler after the jump.

Continue reading “The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs”

Hot Mess by Emily Belden Blog Tour

Imagine if your recovering boyfriend relapses on you a week after you put $30,000 down to help make his chef dreams come true. What would you do?

This story explores passions, career goals, being thrust in a difficult situation, and a whole lot of food.

Here’s a little bit more about the book

9781525811418.inddTwenty-something Allie Simon never imagined she’d fall for a recovering drug addict—but that was before she met Benji Zane, Chicago’s hottest up-and-coming chef, who’s known as much for his hard partying ways as for his unparalleled culinary skills. Six months into their relationship, the food and chemistry are out of this world, but the reality of living with a cooking wunderkind hasn’t exactly been all hearts and flowers. 

Still, Allie’s convinced that her love is the key to fixing this talented man’s broken soul—so when Benji is offered his dream job as chef de cuisine for a new restaurant opening on Randolph Street, Chicago’s foodie hot spot, Allie agrees to invest her life savings in his future. But less than a month after she goes all in, Allie learns a heartbreaking lesson: addicts lie. Benji cracks under the pressure, relapses and disappears, bagging out not only on the restaurant, but on her, too.

Left with nothing but a massive withdrawal slip and a restaurant that absolutely must open in a matter of weeks, Allie finds herself thrust into a world of luxury and greed, cutthroat business and sensory delight. Lost in the mess of it all, she can either crumble completely or fight like hell for the life she wants and the love she deserves.

This was an incredibly fun book to read. Even though there are some darker themes to the book like having your boyfriend relapse on you and leave you with 10% ownership of his restaurant, it was still cute. The writing is pretty easy and since it’s in the first person, you’re reading it from Allie’s point of view. While Allie doesn’t seem like the most literary person in the world, the writing keeps the story breezy and allows you to continue reading to find out what happens next. It doesn’t get too caught up in the whole drug life of Benji (and honestly, you hold your breath waiting for him to appear again), but in Allie’s actions after Benji leaves.

You follow Allie as she takes this difficult situation of helping open her now ex-boyfriend’s restaurant without him there. What do you do with a situation like that?

I would have probably broken down and ran away from the restaurant as fast as my feet could take me, but Allie luckily has business partners who weren’t willing to give up. They push her to quit her full-time job and start thinking of this abandoned restaurant as her new passion and new career.

I think the most appealing part of this story is how Allie is able to continue to push herself forward even though she’s heartbroken and broke. She could have easily cried about her boyfriend relapsing and disappearing all of a sudden. She could have cried about losing all that money. Instead she picks herself up, puts herself into creating a great restaurant and all while nursing the wounds her boyfriend left. It feels to me like this is what the story is real about.

I think the only disappointing thing about this book is the way chefs are portrayed. While some chefs are recovering from one thing or another, a majority of chefs worked hard to where they got without the help of mind-altering substances. I think this whole bad boy chef trope is a little cliched.

However without the chef, this book wouldn’t have a conflict presented to Allie.

The story is about a woman who is thrust down a path she had never thought to take herself, with absolutely no experience, and she came out on top. Of course there’s a lot of pain and anger when it comes to Benji, but Allie kept just pushing herself through it. That’s a strength that not many of us can muster and Allie did. It’s not about her boyfriend and it’s not about drugs and what it does to people, but it’s about the ability to see the “hot mess” in front of you and just make it your own. It’s about kicking your own butt and worry about the details later.

It also helps that there’s a lot of food.

  • Paperback: 444 pages
  • Publisher: Graydon Publishing House (March 20, 2018)
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

I received a copy of this book from TLC Book Tours for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

Little Reads – March 9, 2018

Happy Friday everyone!

I’ve decided that I’m going to take my favorite links from the Internet series and turn it into a spotlight on short stories and essays I find. I’ll be featuring one or two articles at the end of the week in a new series I like to call Little Reads. 

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Image from Catapult article by Shing Yin Kor

Today’s article is a little comic I found on Catapult’s page. It’s a beautiful story about a young woman who expresses her love and appreciation for people in the only way she knows how; through cooking food.

This story resonated so much with me both as a food person and because my family was never openly hugging or kissing each other. We were reserved people that really only know how to love by feeding each other. If it’s through a beautifully home-cooked meal or at a restaurant, we are always making sure that the ones we love are fed.

It reminds me of this “thing” that we do. When you love someone, you put a little food on their plate. It could be a piece of chicken or even just a pickle, but the simple act of putting some food on a plate is like saying you love them without the words. You want to see them eat and make sure that they are healthy and fed.


Hope you enjoy this literary snack! Have a great weekend!

If you have any short stories or essays you’d like to see featured, reach out to me at simonelikesbooks [at] gmail dot com.