9 Recent Fantasy Favorites to Read During AAPI Heritage Month

Happy Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. This month, there’s plenty to celebrate and many folks to celebrate with. But I wanted to celebrate by sharing a few reads I’ve loved recently written by Asian American authors.

If you’ve been following me for a while, then you may know that I have an affinity for Asian authors. I especially love authors who write fantasy or sci-fi fiction because those are the genres I enjoy the most. So any time I see a new SFF story by an Asian author, then I’m taking some special measures to read them.

I loved each and every one of these books for the different worlds they created, the stories they shared, and the characters that always remind me that I’m not alone. It makes me so excited that they’re all fascinating stories and I know there will be more that I’ll read in the future.

Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel

“I was born on the full moon under an auspicious constellation, the holiest of positions—much good it did me.”

So begins Kaikeyi’s story. The only daughter of the kingdom of Kekaya, she is raised on tales about the might and benevolence of the gods: how they churned the vast ocean to obtain the nectar of immortality, how they vanquish evil and ensure the land of Bharat prospers, and how they offer powerful boons to the devout and the wise. Yet she watches as her father unceremoniously banishes her mother, listens as her own worth is reduced to how great a marriage alliance she can secure. And when she calls upon the gods for help, they never seem to hear.

Desperate for some measure of independence, she turns to the texts she once read with her mother and discovers a magic that is hers alone. With this power, Kaikeyi transforms herself from an overlooked princess into a warrior, diplomat, and most favored queen, determined to carve a better world for herself and the women around her.

But as the evil from her childhood stories threatens the cosmic order, the path she has forged clashes with the destiny the gods have chosen for her family. And Kaikeyi must decide if resistance is worth the destruction it will wreak—and what legacy she intends to leave behind.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org

An Arrow to the Moon by Emily XR Pan

Hunter Yee has perfect aim with a bow and arrow, but all else in his life veers wrong. He’s sick of being haunted by his family’s past mistakes. The only things keeping him from running away are his little brother, a supernatural wind, and the bewitching girl at his new high school.

Luna Chang dreads the future. Graduation looms ahead, and her parents’ expectations are stifling. When she begins to break the rules, she finds her life upended by the strange new boy in her class, the arrival of unearthly fireflies, and an ominous crack spreading across the town of Fairbridge.

As Hunter and Luna navigate their families’ enmity and secrets, everything around them begins to fall apart. All they can depend on is their love… but time is running out, and fate will have its way.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org

A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I Lin

For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it’s her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her—the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu.

When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom’s greatest shennong-shi—masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making—she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favor from the princess, which may be Ning’s only chance to save her sister’s life.

But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger.

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The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

The Alexandrian Society is a secret society of magical academicians, the best in the world. Their members are caretakers of lost knowledge from the greatest civilizations of antiquity. And those who earn a place among their number will secure a life of wealth, power, and prestige beyond their wildest dreams. Each decade, the world’s six most uniquely talented magicians are selected for initiation – and here are the chosen few…

– Libby Rhodes and Nicolás Ferrer de Varona: inseparable enemies, cosmologists who can control matter with their minds.
– Reina Mori: a naturalist who can speak the language of life itself.
– Parisa Kamali: a mind reader whose powers of seduction are unmatched.
– Tristan Caine: the son of a crime kingpin who can see the secrets of the universe.
– Callum Nova: an insanely rich pretty boy who could bring about the end of the world. He need only ask.

When the candidates are recruited by the mysterious Atlas Blakely, they are told they must spend one year together to qualify for initiation. During this time, they will be permitted access to the Society’s archives and judged on their contributions to arcane areas of knowledge. Five, they are told, will be initiated. One will be eliminated. If they can prove themselves to be the best, they will survive. Most of them.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh

Deadly storms have ravaged Mina’s homeland for generations. Floods sweep away entire villages, while bloody wars are waged over the few remaining resources. Her people believe the Sea God, once their protector, now curses them with death and despair. In an attempt to appease him, each year a beautiful maiden is thrown into the sea to serve as the Sea God’s bride, in the hopes that one day the “true bride” will be chosen and end the suffering.

Many believe that Shim Cheong, the most beautiful girl in the village—and the beloved of Mina’s older brother Joon—may be the legendary true bride. But on the night Cheong is to be sacrificed, Joon follows Cheong out to sea, even knowing that to interfere is a death sentence. To save her brother, Mina throws herself into the water in Cheong’s stead.

Swept away to the Spirit Realm, a magical city of lesser gods and mythical beasts, Mina seeks out the Sea God, only to find him caught in an enchanted sleep. With the help of a mysterious young man named Shin—as well as a motley crew of demons, gods and spirits—Mina sets out to wake the Sea God and bring an end to the killer storms once and for all.

But she doesn’t have much time: A human cannot live long in the land of the spirits. And there are those who would do anything to keep the Sea God from waking…

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org

The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker

Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami, Ren Scarborough has been collecting souls in the London streets for centuries. Expected to obey the harsh hierarchy of the Reapers who despise her, Ren conceals her emotions and avoids her tormentors as best she can.

When her failure to control her Shinigami abilities drives Ren out of London, she flees to Japan to seek the acceptance she’s never gotten from her fellow Reapers. Accompanied by her younger brother, the only being on earth to care for her, Ren enters the Japanese underworld to serve the Goddess of Death… only to learn that here, too, she must prove herself worthy. Determined to earn respect, Ren accepts an impossible task—find and eliminate three dangerous Yokai demons—and learns how far she’ll go to claim her place at Death’s side.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org

Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan

Growing up on the moon, Xingyin is accustomed to solitude, unaware that she is being hidden from the feared Celestial Emperor who exiled her mother for stealing his elixir of immortality. But when Xingyin’s magic flares and her existence is discovered, she is forced to flee her home, leaving her mother behind.

Alone, powerless, and afraid, she makes her way to the Celestial Kingdom, a land of wonder and secrets. Disguising her identity, she seizes an opportunity to learn alongside the emperor’s son, mastering archery and magic, even as passion flames between her and the prince.

To save her mother, Xingyin embarks on a perilous quest, confronting legendary creatures and vicious enemies across the earth and skies. But when treachery looms and forbidden magic threatens the kingdom, she must challenge the ruthless Celestial Emperor for her dream—striking a dangerous bargain in which she is torn between losing all she loves or plunging the realm into chaos.

Daughter of the Moon Goddess begins an enchanting, romantic duology which weaves ancient Chinese mythology into a sweeping adventure of immortals and magic—where love vies with honor, dreams are fraught with betrayal, and hope emerges triumphant.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​

To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.

When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate.

But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan’s kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul’s worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.

As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org

What are some recent favorites of yours by AAPI authors?

Reverie by Ryan La Sala // Book Review

Reverie by Ryan La Sala // Book Review

When I first heard about Ryan La Sala’s book, I was so excited. I love dreams and reality and I love books that play with the interconnection of both. So when I finally had the opportunity to read it, I absolutely didn’t hesitate. However, the proof is sort of in the pudding and this one lacked a little flavor.

Reverie follows Kane, a young guy who recently woke up from a coma when he accidentally crashed his dad’s car into an old mill. However, Kane doesn’t remember anything about the accident, who caused it, and what happened to Maxine, a woman who was at the mill at the same time of the accident.

As Kane tries to gain control on his memory, four friends appear to help piece the puzzles of his memory back together. Reveries are dreams come to life; a subconscious desire from a single entity abruptly resets reality making those within the reverie characters acting out parts. However, Kane and his friends stay lucid through the reveries fighting and suppressing the reveries and returning reality to its normal state. But when a mysterious drag queen named Poesy appears, the reveries become more than

I teetered between 3.5 and 4 stars on this one because I really liked the story, but it wasn’t perfect. For the most part, this story was great. I loved the usage of subconscious thought and desire to color the reveries. I love how Kane and his friends are lucid throughout using their powers to fight against the reverie and return the world to its normal self. While I wasn’t a huge fan of Inception, I think it’s accurate to use that metaphor to explain how Kane and his friends are able to stay “lucid” through the dreams.

But the best part is the fact Kane and his friends have superpowers. There’s this Sailor Moon-esque feeling to the story, which I’m referencing because Ryan La Sala does twice (once in the book and another in his bio). Average people who come from different walks of life who have magical powers and fights against the monsters in the reveries? Yeah, that sounds deeply close to Sailor Moon. And guess who’s Usagi? Well, it’s no other than Kane himself as he finds out more about his destiny in this mess. Each character has their own specialty and they don’t hesitate to use them inside the reveries as well as outside the reveries. I won’t say any more since it’ll probably give it away.

The action sequences were really fun to read and really moved the story forward. I will say that I freaked out when there was a giant spider/bug attacking everyone. My least favorite thing is bugs and giant bugs are definitely in that category. Yeesh! However, the story wasn’t perfect and I really wish it was. The only big issue I had is the world building. I found myself quite confused about why things were happening. There wasn’t an explanation why these reveries were happening or why Kane was chosen or why Poesy chose to use this world to create her reveries.

Because of the missing pieces explaining the world, the rest of it felt a little disjointed. Decisions were made that confused me and even new characters showed up that confused me with their existence. While you can still get through the story and just accept that things are happening, it would have made this book gold if the world was a little bit more realized and fleshed out.

Overall, this is a pretty solid debut from Ryan La Sala. I loved the little world Ryan La Sala built and I also loved the big love for the LGBTQIA+ community. It felt like falling down to Wonderland and I absolutely love that. Definitely take a minute to read his Acknowledgements at the end! I loved his writing here and I’ll be excited to read whatever he publishes in the future.

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

Pride and Prejudice and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev // Book Review

Pride and Prejudice and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev // Book Review

If you follow me on bookstagram, then you already know that I pre-judged this book as a meh story. I was so set to give it three stars and voice my strong opinions on the writing tearing Sonali Dev a new one in my review. How PREJUDICE of me because this book turned out to be one of my favorite stories and a nice way to get out of the 3-star book slump I’ve been feeling lately.

Before I launch into this review, I do want to mention I read a few reviews where the readers dissect the medical stuff that takes place here. Not being a healthcare worker, I wasn’t aware of those issues, but I thought I would share a couple of reviews that highlight them and share how problematic they are:

Also do want to mention that there are discussions of sexual assault, rape, and terminal illness.

Pride and Prejudice and Other Flavors follows Trisha, a young neurosurgeon dedicating her life to helping blind people see again. She comes from a pretty prominent family of lawyers, doctors, and a brother who’s running for Governor for the state of California. However, her past keeps her from living her present to its fullest potential. DJ is a chef born to cook, but comes from humble beginnings. His sister, Emma, is diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in her head wrapped around her optic nerves. Trisha will do everything in her power to save Emma’s life and hopefully, her eyesight.

When Trisha finally meets DJ for the first time, at an event thrown by her parents, she’s already pegged him as just the hired help. DJ’s already pegged Trisha as a snotty rich girl who never had to work a day in her life. However, their prejudice against each other is the start of a relationship neither of them see coming until the very end.

Let’s talk about some of the big ticket items that I loved about this book. First off, food descriptions. NOMS! I will always love a good food description and the usage of Indian food will keep you salivating while you read. Next, I loved the characters. I didn’t think I would fall in love with the characters as much as I did, but they became so complex that even the secondary characters were really well written and made you want to know more about them.

As I mentioned before, the biggest flaw for me was the writing style. I’m not a fan of overwritten sentences and repetitive info. I understood quite clearly that DJ came from nothing despite the hundred times I was told that he came from nothing (OH BTW, HE CAME FROM NOTHING).

I think having the omniscient voice in this book made reading it a little bit tougher because it almost felt like the narrator knew even more than it was telling. Like it knew the name of a police officer before he’s introduced and then you have to match up the fact that the person they’re referring to was the police officer. It almost felt like Sonali Dev was holding herself back, trying not to write a romance novel so it’s not until the end that Sonali Dev’s writing felt comfortable and maybe it’s because the ending felt like the ending of a romance novel.

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But aside from its flaws, I told myself I wouldn’t DNF. I wanted to read this book for my book club discussion and so I told myself to keep reading. Just one more chapter and if this chapter sucked, then I’ll put it down. But as I kept reading, the book kept getting better and better. Suddenly, I couldn’t put down the book. I needed to know what happened to DJ and Trisha and their families. I think it was at the moment when Julia Wickham is finally introduced that made me stick around to see what happened to these characters.

And I loved the characters so much. I even loved Julia Wickham! The reason why I loved them is because they were so complex. Sonali Dev can write a really great character even ones that you’ll hate for the rest of your life and what I loved about her characters is that they’re real.

I feel like there’s a big cop out for authors to have these complex characters who’s problems all go away by the final page, but I loved that everyone here stayed true to who they were even after the book was done. Real people need a lot of time to change and Sonali Dev provides them that time.

The last thing I want to talk about is the Pride and Prejudice retelling portion. When I was just starting this book, I guffawed at the fact this book didn’t read at all like Pride and Prejudice. There’s gender reversals (Trisha is Darcy and DJ is Elizabeth) and there was usage of the names, but I didn’t see how it was a retelling.

However, when you think about the characters and how they judged each other prematurely, how they were so stubborn about changing their minds about each other, and how they slowly learned that the other person is actually a good person all brought me back to Elizabeth and Darcy and their dynamic. It’s not an exact retelling, but the pieces of Pride and Prejudice are so expertly interwoven that you would love this book if you’ve never read Pride and Prejudice before.

Frankly in Love by David Yoon // Book Review

Frankly in Love by David Yoon // Book Review

I recently received a copy of Frankly in Love to help promote the book before its release. So of course, I read it because what responsible blogger doesn’t read the book they’re promoting. Turns out, it was better than I thought it was going to be.

39847584Frank Li is looking for a girlfriend. It’s the last year of high school and Frank’s working on applying to colleges, taking the SATs, and finishing up his AP classes. He’s ready for love and who else would be a better fit than Brit Means, a girl in his Calculus class with wit and as much smarts as everyone else.

But Frank has one dark secret, his parents want him to date a Korean girl. Every month, his family gathers with other Korean families that went to school together back in Korea. Amongst them is Joy Song, a girl in Frank’s class who just so happened to be dating a Chinese guy unbeknownst to her family.

When Frank decides to date Brit, he contacts Joy and sets up a system where he and Joy can date their respective partners without their parents finding out. For all intents and purposes, it looks like Frank is dating Joy, but no parents go on the dates so they don’t know.

However, things take a turn when Joy and Frank start to have feelings for each other. Now Frank has to figure out if he really loves Brit or if he’s falling for Joy and how to manage all of this without telling his parents.

This book is hilarious. I found myself laughing out loud a few times. David Yoon also has similar wit to say, the Green brothers (Hank and John). The witty one-liners and philosophies on love and life, and puns really made this book much better than just another story of a kid trying to date another kid.

It’s also filled with heart. I love how Frank is nerdy and talks about gaming and structures his sentences in weird ways. I love how he and his best friend Q play Dungeons and Dragons and that’s a fulfilling weekend. I love how intelligent Joy and Brit are and how their intelligence makes them more attractive to Frank. I think there are a lot of parts of this book that many folks will find funny and insightful. All of this and ton of representation? Count me in.

Let’s talk about themes

Ok, first off, the gatherings. This part freaked me out a little because my family would go to gatherings like this when I was a kid. My father’s high school friends who moved to the States would throw big barbecues in the summer and we would all get together, play games, eat some really amazing food, and just hang out. I remember us wearing matching t-shirts and meeting people our age and hanging out in a massive park somewhere. I thought my family was the only ones who did this, but I guess many Korean families try to keep the bonds of their friendships together even in America. I was shocked to hear this family do the same thing.

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The second part I found surprising is that Frank’s parents were okay with him dating. When I was growing up, my main focus was always school. No dating for Simone because she’s gotta make sure to get into the best college at the time. But when it came down to dating in the future, the only prospects my family saw were Korean ones. Sadly, I already came to the conclusion that I was way too Americanized to be a Korean dude’s wife, so that ship sailed and my parents got over it. They probably also got over it because they realized they can’t control anything that happens in my life.

Third theme: racism. I wouldn’t say that this book is inherently racist, but there is a lot of racism used to explain the ethnocentric behavior of Frank’s family and friends. If you’re not aware, Asian people can be pretty racist and not only against other races, but also within the Asian community. I loved that David Yoon brought this up because I’ve grown up with this as well. Granted, nothing stuck and I love all races and people from Asian countries, but I don’t think it’s well known that Asian people can be really racist against themselves. I think it’s because we come from a country that’s been governed by different Asian countries in the past and that kind of merciless history can really make you think differently about them.

Fourth theme: fitting in. Frank describes the folks that live between two cultures as “Limbos” and I resonate so hard with this. It reminds me of all the times I grew up thinking “am I American or am I Korean?” There was a moment in my childhood where I went to two different churches. One was the American church and the other was the Korean church. My mom asked me and my sister to decide which church to attend because we couldn’t go to both every Sunday. I thought the American church because at least I can understand what the sermons were saying, but then I also thought the Korean church because I’ll meet more peers who live the same life as me. It’s a constant push and pull. I feel worthless as a Korean if I don’t know the new thing coming out of there or when people ask me about this Korean thing or that Korean thing. And many people in the US make an effort to emphasize the fact that I am Korean. Sadly, I wish I can figure this out, but I think it’ll be something that plagues me my entire life.

Finally, the way David Yoon wrapped up the story was interesting. I loved that in a state of family crisis, his parents were able to see that life is too short to be biased against people. They finally accept that race doesn’t count for anything and that egos need to be smoldered to grow. I don’t want to say more than this because I don’t want to spoil it.

I will say the only thing I wasn’t a fan of was the pacing. While witty and still hilarious, I did find that the ending dragged out a bit longer than I expected. I don’t think it really hurts the story, but it’s just something to keep in mind if you’re going into the book and noticed the same thing.

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

Dominicana by Angie Cruz // Book Review

Dominicana by Angie Cruz // Book Review

A friend of mine recommend this book to me months ago. She read it for work and told me that it was definitely going to be something I would really enjoy. So, when I got the opportunity to pick up an ARC of the book, I grabbed it. After working with the publisher to give away two copies of the book, I decided it’s a great opportunity to read and whoa. The results blew me away.


Dominicana is the story of a young girl named Ana, who’s about to embark to New York from the Dominican Republic to marry Juan, a man twice her age. The reason? For the opportunity to make money in the country that promises a lot of big dreams. However, the reality of the “American Dream” comes fraught with a husband who doesn’t hesitate to hit her, who doesn’t let her leave the house, who doesn’t let her talk to anyone, who doesn’t give her anything but sadness and a baby. And all along the way, her family asks for money to send home and help them out.

So Ana begins to hustle selling suits, her home cooking, and doing small jobs from her little apartment while her baby continues to grow in her belly and Juan continues to mistreat her including sleeping with another woman.

But when Juan hears about the turmoil in the Dominican Republic, he rushes off to defend his country leaving Ana alone with his younger brother, Cesar. What Cesar provides to Ana is everything she wanted with Juan; nights at the movies, working together, going to Coney Island, eating a hot dog, and the security of someone who can navigate the twisted American streets. What Cesar provides is exactly what Ana wants including a loving companion and when Juan finally returns from his trip, she has to decide if she wants to run away with Cesar or stay at home with her husband.

When I was reading this at first, I thought this had a lot of the same feelings I had for A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum. But as you continue on, you find that this book is much more complex than just a woman struggling to find her voice in her family.

The story takes place over the span of a year during the 1960s right at the height of the Vietnam War, Malcolm X’s death, and around the time 42,000 US Marines are sent to the Dominican Republic to avoid another Cuba happening. Angie Cruz does a great job incorporating a little of this into her book, but with a lot of subtly. It was interesting to include this especially when Juan decides to go down to the Dominican to help. It would have been nice to have this incorporated more into the book, but I can also see how that would deter the reader from the main story. Also, I don’t fault fiction authors for leaving information out. That’s just up to the reader to look up later.

The biggest theme in this whole book is the American Dream. I found it so great that no matter what gets thrown at Ana, she just dusts herself off and creates a new dream for herself. Right before she left the Dominican, she and her family plans on how she’ll go to school in America, then send for some people to continue making money, and eventually getting her whole family to America. Each time her plans fail, she makes up a new plan on how she’ll prosper in this world. When I think about it, this is what we do all the time. We make big plans, try to bring them to fruition, and while we get knocked down by our circumstances or some third-party fails us, we continue to dream about the next thing that’ll get our families into America and hope for the best.

I really love the scenes where Ana’s age is obvious. For the entire book, she’s 15 years old. In some situations, she’s beholden to the “wife” role her mother put on her. She cleans the entire house. She cooks all the meals. She listens to her husband. But then there are moments where her age is apparent. She’ll be wearing Juan’s suits dancing around the house and mimicking him. She’ll listen to music on the radio so loud that the neighbor downstairs knocks on the floor for silence. She even feeds Juan a pigeon she catches on her windowsill just to see if he’ll get food poisoning. I love that Angie Cruz incorporates this into the story. I feel like a lot of times in these stories, the teenager ages way beyond their years because their situation forces them to. While this is happening for Ana, I love that she’s able to keep a little part to herself. It also reinforces the fact that all these terrible things are happening to a kid. Ana is someone you want to look out for because no one is really looking out for her.

Angie Cruz’s writing style also needs to be mentioned. While peppered with fragmented sentence structures and no quotations over the dialogue, I felt like it really embodied Ana and her youth. She’s young and the writing reads that way, but it also has a sense of maturity you don’t see in YA. The phrasing and word choices really make you think you’re reading from Ana’s mind and that immersion ties together her youth, her vulnerability, and her strength extremely well.

The last thing I want to mention is how desperate Ana is to find someone who will stay with her. Being alone in a country where she barely speaks the preferred language and with a husband that treats her poorly, she clings to the people she encounters. From Juan’s clients to her ESL teacher, she’s always looking for a kind hand to spend her days with. It’s obvious that she does feel something for Cesar especially since he’s such a kind person, but when she finally has her baby, she sees who’s the most important person that she knows she can rely on.

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


We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal // Book Review

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal // Book Review

With this book, I wanted to take my time. I’d heard online that Hafsah Faizal is a super lyrical writer and so I knew I would need time with this book. I also been feeling super burnt out by work books and wanted to read something that didn’t require a book review due quickly after. It was the best reading vacation anyone could ask for because this book was phenomenal. Let’s get into it:

Let’s start off with a big sweeping overview of the world. It’s set in an Arabic land where magic used to exist, but since the Six Sisters of Old left the magic has left the land in an endless winter and a terrible forest eating away at the land. Zafira is a young huntress who goes into this terrible forest to find food for her village. She goes alone because most folks who travel into the forest come out mentally insane and for some reason, she’s the only one who can get in and out of the forest without a scratch on her. Nasir is the king’s son, but also known as the Prince of Death. He gets this title because he’s the king’s assassin. He does what he’s told and despite the small glimmers of help he provides his friends, the king only cares that he gets the job done.

When a witch visits Zafira, she’s asked to travel to Sharr, an island in the middle of their world where the last remnants of magic is stored. The journey is treacherous including a trip through this crazy forest, but the outcome means the end of the forest, no more snow, and magic being available in the world again. However, the king has other plans as he sends Nasir to go after the huntress and steal the magic she’s about to claim back. With a ragtag group following them as they make their journey and tragedy around every corner, the journey to Sharr is riddled with trouble and a ton of secrets unfold.

I legit wrote in my notes “if you’re a fan of revealing truths, this is the book for you.” Seriously, Hafsah Faizal’s written a soap opera within the pages of a YA Fantasy and there’s nothing wrong with that. The book reveals more and more secrets as you go along and they just get juicier and juicier the closer you get to the end. And it gets better all the way at the end. I won’t go into the details here because spoilers, but just be prepared for all the surprises.

Like I wrote earlier, take your time with this one. It’s a slow burner and while you won’t be bored, it will take time to slowly get to the good stuff. There were a few scenes I thought were a little redundant like the scenes spent just roaming the desert. I also thought it was weird that Zafira just felt where the magic was and went right to it. It felt disjointed rather than smoothly seeing her journey towards the magic. The camping out scenes were a little slow, but again they weren’t taking away from the novel. If anything, they were adding to it.

I most definitely ship Zafira and Nasir. Holy crow! While I know these two are highly mismatched and tbh shouldn’t be together, I think Zafira’s strength and Nasir’s vulnerability work together here and create a beautiful relationship based on mutual respect than a friends-to-lovers or alpha male storyline.

I think my favorite part of the book is the inclusion of Arabic words and legend. Hafsah Faizal seamlessly includes these bits of her culture into the story and it really gives it a beautiful backdrop. I know a lot of people were confused by some of the language and words, but shukran to Hafsah for being brave and including it. I honestly loved it and really made it more authentic.

Despite all the secrets being revealed, it was also a great debut novel by a debut author and the first in a duology by Hafsah Faizal. I think a duology is perfect for this kind of story especially since the premise feels limited.

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

Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay // Blog Tour

Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay // Blog Tour

I was so excited to read a book with Filipino representation! It feels like I’m always on the hunt for books from marginalized voices and Filipino was one I haven’t heard in a while (or at all). And for the first book with Filipino rep, it definitely delivers a fantastic story that’s unafraid to be real and reveals some truths about what’s happening in The Philippines.

CoverPatron Saints of Nothing starts off with Jay. He’s your average American teenager living in the Midwest, playing video games with his buddies online, and having no clue what he wants to do with his future. When his parents tell him his cousin, Jun, in The Philippines died, Jay wants to find out more. Being pen pals and friends from when Jay visited The Philippines as a kid, he was saddened by the news and determined to find out what happened. But his father isn’t the kind of person who likes to talk and doesn’t want to go over the details of how his cousin died. In fact, no one in his family was willing to talk about what happened.

With the strength of his love for his cousin and his curiosity to how this could happen to someone at such a young age, Jay convinces his parents to send him to The Philippines on spring break. They agree and he goes off to spend a week with his family there and learning about what happened to Jun.

As Jay slowly learns the truth about Jun through pieces of info he gathers with the help of a friend he makes, he also learns he doesn’t know much about The Philippines and what’s going on there. It’s not until he’s really in the thick of his search that he sees that President Duterte’s policies on drugs are targeting addicts and sellers without trial or a chance. It’s a multi-themed story that will make you google everything and make you reconsider the “truths” you’re told as a kid.

I’m going to be real with you, I cried. It was one specific moment right at the end when I did but if a book brings me to tears, then it’s a good book. I don’t cry often. I was most definitely pearl-clutching for sure and having my heart break over and over again.

For the most part, this book reads like a mystery or a thriller without the suspenseful parts. There’s no creepy murderer. The story is very much steeped in real life and the horrors of reality. There’s only the suspense of finding out the truth in a place that wants to forget just as quickly.

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Randy Ribay doesn’t pussy foot around the reality. He doesn’t dumb it down with magical realism or make you go on this journey his cousin left behind for him. He literally walks into the slums of The Philippines where homes are made of corrugated cardboard, pallets, and metal sheeting. He hears about women being raped just because they walked down the street and a president who hides behind his belief he’s saving his country. This is not the beautiful tourist photos people see. This is the reality of a place that I believed to be a beautiful country and a place many of my IRL friends are from.

Themes are all over this book, so I decided to break them down and what I felt about them.

Being American and Being Filipino

I think this is something a lot of us Asian Americans feel. We’re American because we immigrated here when we were super young or we were born here, but we also are Asian. It’s tough when you’re not accepted in certain areas and then you go to the country everyone tells you to go back to and you don’t fit in there either. The displacement is real for any kid who’s grown up with immigrant parents and I love that we read this book from Jay’s point of view and see what it’s like from that particular lens. The insecurities of not keeping up with your culture, knowing what’s going on in the news, and not even being able to speak the language is a feeling I know much too well. Nicely done.

Coming to terms with the fact that adults aren’t always right

I thought this was a little more subtle, but there’s some subtext around growing your own opinion and beliefs that aren’t quite the same as your family’s. I really liked the juxtaposition of Jay against his Tito Maning. Tito Maning plays as the voice of many Filipino people who voted Duterte into office. He believes that despite the number of losses his drug policies have caused, Duterte’s done “good” for the community and country at large. Randy Ribay brings up often how many people are complacent with the losses because a few dead drug addicts means safer streets. It’s a really good topic to bring up and I loved that Randy Ribay wasn’t afraid to share this point of view as well.

Tito Maning is legit everyone in my family that’s told me I needed to be a doctor, married with two babies all by the time I was 30. These are the people who made it difficult for me to be myself because I had to follow these ridiculous rules of behavior. I understand respecting your elders and all that, but come on. Something’s gotta give sometimes.

But I think this is a valuable lesson for folks who are just getting to the adult ages. Please keep in mind that your parents don’t know everything and that adults can be wrong too. You don’t have to be disrespectful about it, but understanding their view and then comparing it to your own allows you to see the full breadth of opinions and make a much better opinion on your own.

The War on Drugs in The Philippines is very real

If you’re going to read this book, I strongly STRONGLY advise you to google “Rodrigo Duterte” and what’s happening in the Philippines right now. While the story Randy Ribay wrote here is fictional, the events taking place are real. I can’t do the topic justice and I strongly urge you to read his Wikipedia article at least to know what he’s doing. Basically, what’s written in the book is true. Duterte’s has encouraged police and vigilante groups to kill any drug dealers and drug addicts they see. This is in an effort to “clean up” the streets of The Philippines and make it safer.

However, we have to keep in mind the fact that not every drug addict is a criminal. Everyone has their story and reasons for getting to the place they are. I highly doubt they’re all doing illegal things and while I don’t condone drug use, I also don’t believe someone should be judged based just on the fact that they use drugs. Where’s the human aspect to this? It’s nowhere because the death tolls are in the thousands and they can’t even pin down an accurate number.

The fact that Randy Ribay incorporated this into his story is legit what makes this book one of my favorites. He’s unapologetic and he does a good job sharing both sides of this massive debate, so it’s not just one sided. The theme carries throughout the novel and really you can’t finish this novel without googling the events that take place. It may make people a little uncomfortable, but that’s what makes this book special. You have to give it credit for that. You can go on about how he didn’t dive into more, but also keep in mind the fact this is a fictional story and not the oral history of The Philippines. It encourages you to research and google and I strongly advise you do.

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The final thing I want to mention, which is touched lightly but made a huge impact while I was reading is the number of rapes happening there. There was one scene in the book (and this doesn’t spoil the overall story) where a woman wasn’t okay with having a male adult in her home because she doesn’t know his intentions and worried he’ll rape her. I tried to do some research on this and found this article where the same President Duterte speaks about the rape cases. He says “as long as there are beautiful women, there will be rape cases.” Jesus, take the wheel.

All of these themes take place while Jay continues to be a teenager who likes girls and just wants to play video games with his bros. Randy Ribay is such a prolific and efficient writer that it really boggled my mind how he fit so much into about 300 pages.

I will say the only thing I had issues with is the believability of Jay’s story. For all intents and purposes, the events taking place in the story lead Jay closer and closer to the truth, but at some points it felt too easy. Information too conveniently falls into Jay’s lap. While I don’t know how hard or easy it is to find someone who runs away from home, I felt like Jay didn’t come across enough road blocks. It doesn’t take away from the book at all because the themes in the story carry you throughout and honestly, this didn’t bother me and doesn’t take away from my 5-star review. I just wanted to bring it up.

Ok, I’m done reviewing and ranting. This book was amazing and doesn’t read like your typical YA novel. Even though there was the average “oh I’m just a teenager who doesn’t know what I want from life,” it opens your eyes.

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

May is Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May is Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Welcome to Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month! OMG, this is the month where I celebrate my heritage with some amazing books written by Asian American and Pacific Islander authors.

This year, I wanted to do something a little different with my reading. I wanted to still read API authors, but I also didn’t want to buy any new books. So I decided to scour through my massive TBR and locate all the books I’ve collected written by Asian or Pacific Islander authors. The number came out to 14, which I think is good because I don’t think I’ll have enough time to read them all.

The list is formidable with tons of new releases across several genres and most of them are representative than another immigrant story. I’ve read a lot of immigrant stories over the past year, so I’m looking for the next level of diverse stories. I won’t be able to commit to reading them all, but I do want to share with you my list of books and highlight the ones I’m most excited to read. Here’s what’s on my list:

Like I mentioned, I won’t read everything on this list, but I will try. You can say this is my designated TBR for May (even though I’ve sworn those off). But I love my mix of genres here. There’s a little fantasy, a little romance, some horror, but a lot of literary fiction. I don’t mind though. I think the mix will help with keeping me interested in reading all of these books. It’s always good to have a mix.

What I’m most excited about reading are Miracle Creek, The Poppy War, and Wildcard. These are highly anticipated reads for me for a really long time and I’m finally making the time to read them.

I’m also super excited about my re-read of The Joy Luck Club. I read this book back when I was 16 and really struggling with who I was in this vast country. Being born here doesn’t stop you from feeling isolated or alone in the only country you know.

What will you be reading this month for Asian/Pacific Islander Heritage month?

My Thoughts: On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

My Thoughts: On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Let me tell you how I’m not happy about breaking my TBR to fit this book in, but I will say that I’m happy I read it. I loved Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, and I knew I would love On the Come Up.

If you’re looking to find The Hate U Give Part 2, you’re looking in the wrong place. Different family, but same world. Bri is a young teenager looking to make a name for herself as a rapper. Her father was a rapper because he was murdered by a rival gang. Her mother was devastated by his death and turned to drugs for a little while. Her family isn’t doing well to keep the lights on. As you can tell, there’s a lot of stuff happening in Bri’s life and she feels the need to help in some way. So she tries to make her rapping dreams come true.

First off, let me talk about Angie Thomas’s writing style. This book reads like a teenager wrote it. Not to say that it’s full of slang that you can’t tell what’s going on, but it’s enough to make it relatable to many young people today. On top of that, it really brings the story together. The neighborhood Bri is from, the people in her life, these tiny mannerisms like they way they talk or carry themselves really brings these characters to life. I can picture what was going on very well and I could feel how Bri felt in all of her circumstances.

Which made it easy for me to see the slight “micro aggressions” Bri deals with everyday. Bri lives in a world where she’s constantly underestimated. The first big incident in this book is watching Bri get thrown to the ground with a knee in her back. The security team at her school stops her “randomly” and she refused.

I loved her mom. Jay sacrificed a lot so that Bri and her brother, Trey, had a good education and didn’t have to worry about money. She was also eight years sober from drug addiction, which says a lot about her mindset and how she wants to be there for her kids. She really was an amazing person and I wish she knew it. You can sense Bri gets a little tired by her mom, but she never says it and she never loses her patience. I think that also says a lot about her given that she flies off the handle quickly and gets angry.

When Bri records her first rap song, I was so happy for her. I don’t know much about rap music, but I can imagine it being a great song with lyrics that really speak to the world Bri lives. The song alone is a huge metaphor for the rest of the book. I kept thinking to myself about how the world expects Bri to be this hardened criminal when she wasn’t and putting herself in danger to perpetuate that persona to the world. It’s so sad.

I felt like the big theme of this novel was prejudice. There’s prejudice towards rap music. There’s prejudice towards African Americans living in a certain area. There’s prejudice about gangs and gang affiliation. I feel like Angie Thomas covered a lot of ground in this book and she did it in a way that really made sense.

I can relate a lot to the prejudice Bri faces. While I don’t consider my life and hers a reflection of each other, I face prejudice a lot. People asking me how I learned how to speak English so well. People asking me when I moved to America. No one wants to believe that I grew up here, that I learned English the same way they learned English. They want to believe that I’m an immigrant and learned English by watching American TV.

The funny part about the prejudices in this book is that they were coming from everyone. Not only did certain white characters think Bri was a “hoodlum” or “ratchet,” but certain Black characters wanted her to feed into that rumor for the sake of making money.

Playing with gangs and affiliating yourself with them are no joke, but it feels like it’s the persona people want to see from Bri. Because she’s a rapper from a father who quasi-associated with some neighborhood gangs, the only logical solution for her is to do the same? From what we’ve learned about Bri, it doesn’t make sense. She’s a good kid trying to make her dream come true and faced with the gangster rapper persona. It’s disheartening and Bri saw right through that.

And throughout the novel, you get the sense that Bri is just your average teenager. She has a crush on a guy. She’s studying for the ACT. She loves Star WarsBlack Panther, and eating junk food with her friends. She doesn’t have a stable home life and she wants to help change that, but her mom wants her to have a good education and graduate from high school.

The ending was definitely a happy one for everyone and I’m glad of it. It all comes together pretty seamlessly and makes sense with the story. I would have hated if somehow Bri sold herself out for some money or got hurt or in trouble. I would have hated if she got everything she wanted within a short period of time. I loved that it ended the way it did. You can’t stop her on the come up, nope nope!

Find On the Come Up on Amazon.

Find my review on Goodreads.

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

When the world seems like it’s falling apart everywhere we turn, it’s always good to know that younger generations of people are gaining the same knowledge and understanding of the world. We may not be able to protect our young people from the prejudice and stereotypes and hate that surrounds them, but if we open up the floor for them to speak their truth we might find that what they say actually matters.

Continue reading “Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson”