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!

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory


I loved this book. It’s just quirky and fun with a hint of seriousness in it. If you’re looking to get away from some heavy diverse reading, then this diverse contemporary romance will whisk you to better and more fun-loving days.

Here’s some more about the book

33815781Agreeing to go to a wedding with a guy she gets stuck with in an elevator is something Alexa Monroe wouldn’t normally do. But there’s something about Drew Nichols that’s too hard to resist.

On the eve of his ex’s wedding festivities, Drew is minus a plus one. Until a power outage strands him with the perfect candidate for a fake girlfriend…

After Alexa and Drew have more fun than they ever thought possible, Drew has to fly back to Los Angeles and his job as a pediatric surgeon, and Alexa heads home to Berkeley, where she’s the mayor’s chief of staff. Too bad they can’t stop thinking about the other… 

They’re just two high-powered professionals on a collision course toward the long distance dating disaster of the century–or closing the gap between what they think they need and what they truly want…

I was really hungry for a cute romantic comedy recently after reading so many heavy and high fantasies for reviews. While doing some crowd sourcing on my next read, many bookstagrammers suggested I read The Wedding Date. I was quick to jump into that advice because if a bookstagrammer suggests a book, it has to be good.

So I picked up a copy of the book at Target and promised to read it at the beginning of March. The timing was perfect because I was able to finish my last book for February, take a few days to decompress, and then read something fun.

And boy, I got a seriously fun book. This review is going to be in an entirely different voice than I’m used to because this book was so cute. When a book is cute, I squee with joy when I share my thoughts. I apologize in advance.

The two main characters in this relationship are Alexa and Drew. Alexa is the Chief of Staff for the Mayor in Berkeley, CA. From what it sounds like, it’s a high-stress job with tons of responsibility and pretty much no room for any kind of romantic life.

Drew seems like the hottie playboy who just happens to be a pediatrician. When I read that Drew was a pediatrician, I seriously shouted “AND HE SAVES KIDS’ LIVES?!” like it was some cherry on the top.

The “meet-cute” is when they’re stuck in an elevator together. Drew wants to avoid embarrassment as his ex-girlfriend’s wedding so he asks Alexa to be his fake date. What was supposed to be a couple of nights of harmless fun turned out to be much more.

I absolutely loved this dynamic. You always see the “Dr. Dreamy” or “Dr. Steamy” but you never think that as a person of color you would ever be good enough for them. I know that I’m probably over-exaggerating, but when you see the hot and sexy doctor that saves kids’ lives you wish to God that maybe he would be into me and not into the blonde girl who looks 100x better than what I look like on a good day. It’s my own head being prejudice I suppose.

But when I read that Alexa was African American and basically that was the end of that convo, it felt so natural and so normalized that a white man can be absolutely crazy in love with a black woman.

There were a couple of race concerns mostly from Alexa, but Drew never mentioned anything about her race. He loved her because she was a beautiful woman, a smart, driven human being who is trying to bring some good to the world through politics. I mean, you can’t find a more authentic and accepting love story than that.

Of course they have their own issues, but they’re centered around the distance. Drew lives in LA while Alexa lives in SF and their jobs make it very difficult for one to leave the other for too long. But the time they spend together on the weekends seems to be filled with more love than any relationship I’ve read.

Also, I can’t leave out that the sex scenes were so steamy that I could feel my cheeks warm.

I think the only flaw was the fact that neither Alexa or Drew were willing to talk about their feelings. Alexa was always waiting for the other shoe to drop and Drew was trying to plan out when he’ll drop the shoe. It seemed kind of immature when it comes to relationships especially if they feel such strong feelings for each other. But I will say that you’re not disappointed in the end.

This isn’t your smart book about inter-racial relationships, but coming from one I totally understand where Alexa and Drew are coming from. My husband sees me for who I am and not where I’m from. It makes me so happy to see that in relationships and in books.

Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik


“A novelist is a person who lives in other people’s skins.” – E. L. Doctorow

I didn’t know much about Forough Farrokhzad. I’ve actually never heard the name before, but when I received this book from Netgalley, I was interested in reading the life of a poet and how that life can be fictionalized to tell the tale. I didn’t know that fiction was really the only way you can tell her story.

Here’s more about the book

All through her childhood in Tehran, Forugh is told that Iranian daughters should be quiet and modest. She is taught only to obey, but she always finds ways to rebel—gossiping with her sister among the fragrant roses of her mother’s walled garden, venturing to the forbidden rooftop to roughhouse with her three brothers, writing poems to impress her strict, disapproving father, and sneaking out to flirt with a teenage paramour over café glacé. It’s during the summer of 1950 that Forugh’s passion for poetry really takes flight—and that tradition seeks to clip her wings.

Forced into a suffocating marriage, Forugh runs away and falls into an affair that fuels her desire to write and to achieve freedom and independence. Forugh’s poems are considered both scandalous and brilliant; she is heralded by some as a national treasure, vilified by others as a demon influenced by the West. She perseveres, finding love with a notorious filmmaker and living by her own rules—at enormous cost. But the power of her writing grows only stronger amid the upheaval of the Iranian revolution.

Inspired by Forugh Farrokhzad’s verse, letters, films, and interviews—and including original translations of her poems—Jasmin Darznik has written a haunting novel, using the lens of fiction to capture the tenacity, spirit, and conflicting desires of a brave woman who represents the birth of feminism in Iran—and who continues to inspire generations of women around the world.

I absolutely adored this book and even though it’s 416 pages, I finished it in a day and a half. The story follows loosely the real life of an Iranian poet named Forough Farrokhzad. She was a rebel in a world where women weren’t allowed to be rebellious. She was the embodiment of liberal thought living amongst people who would prefer women to raise families and be obedient. She had a voice in a place where women were told to remain silent.

I didn’t know much about her and if you try to Google Forough Farrokhzad, there really isn’t much about her there either. Jasmin Darznik believed the only way to tell the story of this famous female poet was through fiction. By adapting her voice and her thoughts, Darznik was able to bring to life a person who’s very own tragically ended too soon.

In the author’s notes (which I strongly encourage you to read), Darznik explains her process and how fiction felt like the only way to tell this story. I couldn’t agree with her more and even though there are some events that are completely fictionalized, you can’t tell where the line crosses. You don’t care if the line crosses because even if it isn’t real, it felt real. Even if what Forough went through didn’t happen, you can see it happening for thousands of women living in Iran during this time period.

I had to repeatedly remind myself that this is fiction. This is loosely based on her life and the history of Iran during the 1950s and 1960s. This had some factual evidence, but for the most part, it wasn’t real. But it read so real. Using the first person POV, I feel like Darznik was able to embody Forough for little bit and I was able to hear her story told to me first hand. Even though I was reading words, I felt like I was listening to a story. I sat with my hands grasped at my mouth happy and sad and angry and relieved and eventually heartbroken by the story being told.

This book does carry a lot of triggers. There’s a lot of pain and suffering. Even though Forough was considered one of Iranian’s best poets, she had her fair share of tough times. But her strength felt like a solider who kept on fighting. Her poetry was her weapon and the words were her cunning blows. There were parts that made me want to cry while I read about Forough’s lust for freedom. I shook my fists when she was brutally beaten by her own father and when she was forced into an insane asylum. I raged at how women were treated in Iran through the vicarious point of view of our main character.

I can probably go on about how lovely the writing is here. Darznik is truly a gifted writer who is able to embody her characters. There were quotes for days in this book. If I could, I would highlight passages that resonated so much to me. The book also includes poems from Forough relating back to the passage you read. Reading her poetry alongside her story was so well thought out and structured. It was like you just witnessed genius happen in front of you. That might be an over-exaggerated statement, but I loved this book.

I’ve always been a believer that you can learn things from fiction. You can get caught up in facts and figures and analyze any text, but when you use fiction as your arsenal you can tap into the raw emotions and grab the reader in a different way. You get the perspective of a person or people from a source you can’t get from non-fiction or from the Internet. Forough’s life in this book is an example of that.

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (February 13, 2018)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars
  • Buy Song of a Captive Bird on Amazon

Simone and Her Books is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to This in no way affects my opinion of the above book.

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

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty


An epic fantasy with daring sword fights, magic spells, but no prince in disguise. This is a book you’ll want to read, fall in love with, and hopefully see it turn into a movie.

Here’s what it’s about

32718027Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles. 

But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass?a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound. 

In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences. 

It’s kind of tough for me to put into words how much I liked this book. While it did have its flaws and it wasn’t the most perfect read, I still enjoyed it. I wanted to read this book in particular because it takes place in the Middle East and that’s one of the areas I wanted to focus reading this year.

From the synopsis of this book, you would think that this is a simple tale about a young woman who finds herself in a magical universe right in the middle of Cairo. However, this book is way more than what this story tells you. The book is deeply steeped in Middle Eastern culture, folklore, history, and there is also some hints at Islam as well.

In its essence, this is a book about the power struggle between two tribes of the Daeva. One group called the daeva believe in the power of fire while the other group, the djinn, don’t. This division between the two groups of people causes for some massive political and social issues amongst the people. Let’s not even get into the half-human born folks that live in Daevabad as well.

What I personally loved was Nahri. She’s a daeva born into the human world and lived on the streets her entire life. She’s a thief and a liar and she knows nothing about the powers she possesses aside from the occasional wound healing very quickly. When she summons Dara, her Afshin, he whisks her away to the world she belongs.

As you can see, there’s obviously some issues with someone who grew up in the human world coming to a world made up of magical beings. This goes double for someone who can heal and bring something to the world that’s been missing for a few years.

I loved reading this part of the book because you get to learn about these worlds alongside Nahri. You get to see her thoughts and how she reacts and her reactions were completely natural.

The epic battles throughout the story were also well created and thought out. I can see the fights in my head between the people and the emotions were definitely prevalent in the reads. These were some of the parts that really drew me into the story, made me care about these characters, and eventually made me want to read more.

It took me a while to get right into the book mostly because the world building was a little off. SA Chakraborty would explain a concept of the daevas or the djinn to you, which was a little confusing. However, then you see Nahri ask the same questions you asked yourself and suddenly everything makes sense.

Nahri and Dara don’t arrive in Daevabad until halfway through the book. In my opinion, I feel like it should have been sooner so that we can learn alongside Nahri all the little details about the world. I had to do a lot of googling to understand the certain weapons they used, the origins of the djinn and daevas (there’s an origin and you can look it up!), and even some of the Arabic phrases she threw in there every once in a while.

There is also an issue with the wording of things. Whenever Chakraborty introduced a new point in the plot, it was really confusing and I needed to read it a few times over to understand it. It may have been the way I was reading, but it definitely threw me off and pulled my final star. Even though the world building was a little confusing for me, it was immediately nullified by the elaborate writing, the action and adventure of it all, and reading about a world that I don’t regularly read.

The end of the book got me hooked and I will admit, I shed a few tears. I know this is the first book from a debut author with another book in this series coming soon. The first books are always the toughest, but if they grab you enough, then you’ll definitely want to read the second. I will definitely be looking out for the second book in the future.

  • Hardcover: 520 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Voyager
  • Rating: 4/5 stars
  • Buy The City of Brass on Amazon

Simone and Her Books is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to This in no way affects my opinion of the above book.



Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao


When you read this story, you’re going to be taken aback. You’re going to assume this is the story about young women who are kidnapped and rapped and treated like dirt and you’ll feel this overwhelming need to protect and speak out for these women. What you won’t understand is that this life is a reflection of hardship. For some people, hardship is finding a job in a career that they dream to get. But for Savitha and Poornima, hardship is survival, of strength, of the power of the female friendship.

Here’s a little bit more about the book

34275212Poornima and Savitha have three strikes against them: they are poor, they are ambitious, and they are girls. After her mother’s death, Poornima has very little kindness in her life. She is left to care for her siblings until her father can find her a suitable match. So when Savitha enters their household, Poornima is intrigued by the joyful, independent-minded girl. Suddenly their Indian village doesn’t feel quite so claustrophobic, and Poornima begins to imagine a life beyond arranged marriage. But when a devastating act of cruelty drives Savitha away, Poornima leaves behind everything she has ever known to find her friend.

Her journey takes her into the darkest corners of India’s underworld, on a harrowing cross-continental journey, and eventually to an apartment complex in Seattle. Alternating between the girls’ perspectives as they face ruthless obstacles, Girls Burn Brighter introduces two heroines who never lose the hope that burns within.

I absolutely loved this book. From the beginning of this story, I couldn’t put down the book. It captured me the moment I started reading it and continued to enrapture me and then abandoned me right at the end! I could feel my hands ball up into fists while I read some of the scarier parts and I also felt the need to cry when everything seemed hopeless towards the end.

The story takes place in two different perspectives. First, it starts together with the main characters and their lives in Indravalli in Southern India. Poornima is a burden to her father for being born a woman and therefore he’s looking for someone to marry her off to. Savitha is poorer than Poornima so she spends most of her time making money for her family. From the beginning you can feel the prejudice for these families because of their class and their gender. Being women meant having to pay out dowries when they got married. Being women meant obeying your husband and not thinking for yourself. I found myself wondering if this was real life, if what was going on was a frequent occurrence in the lives of many Indian women.

But like I said in the beginning of this review, don’t interpret what you see as weakness.

When Poornima and Savitha meet for the first time, Savitha was working for her father as a weaver while Poornima kept her focus on being the most agreeable bride you’ve ever seen. Both of these girls come together to share a few meals and a lifelong friendship is born. Suddenly, something happens (I won’t say what) that causes these two girls to separate.

And it was the small amount of time spent with each other that fueled their passion to escape their fates. They were always recalling moments together and remembering their friendship fondly. It was those moments and recalling those memories that helped Poornima find her way towards Savitha.

From this point on, the story gets more and more frustrating as you see Poornima being sold off to her new husband and Savitha runs away. The story diverges at this point separating them from themselves as well as that childhood innocence. The book is even strategically written in parts, one dedicated to Savitha’s journey and the other to Poornima.

I interpreted all the slings and arrows Savitha and Poornima faced as hurdles in their life. They could have easily knelt down and accepted whatever life they were given, but instead they ran away. They were cunning. They did their best to learn skills and people and escape their fates. Every chapter and every event felt like watching an episode of Maguyver where they took a bobby pin and some dried toothpaste and made a bomb to escape. It was like watching Bear Grills eat bugs and drink his own pee, except for some reason people can’t leave women alone.

While Savitha is bought and sold off by various people, Poornima’s story seems to be more focused on finding Savitha. I thought it was strange that it was one friend finding the other and the other seemed to just reminisce in hopes of using her memories as comfort. I really wish there was a bigger effort from Savitha to find Poornima and perhaps there wouldn’t be this ache in my heart right at the end.


I wasn’t a fan of the ending, I’ll admit. I can feel myself feeling the same kind of anticipation that Poornima was feeling being so close to Savitha, but the ending came too quickly for me. It almost felt rushed and the final part (belonging to Poornima) didn’t reflect the same way the rest of the book did.

It was nebulous and maybe the intention here was to give you hope the same way these girls carried hope for themselves. All throughout the novel you’re so hopeful for these girls. You pray that they’ll be able to escape the lives that they found themselves living. You think that they’ll finally escape and finally be together again, but you never know. I think that stands as a pretty good metaphor for life. You don’t know if you’ll ever see that friend again, but you know you carry that flame and you’ll try to never let it go out.

  • Hardcover, 320 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books (March 6, 2018)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars
  • Buy Girls Burn Brighter on Amazon

Simone and Her Books is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to This in no way affects my opinion of the above book.

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

Why I read diverse books


I was going to hold off on posting this for a few days, but I’ve been feeling down lately and decided to post this today.

This is a question I’ve been trying to post about for a little while now. I think for a lot of people “diverse reads” means something different to them. It could be reading women. It could be reading about people of color or authors of color. Since there are so many different ways to say “diverse,” I figured I’ll share what I believe.

My diverse reading journey started with myself. Being Asian American, I’ve lived a very different life than the people who grew up around me. I’ve been met with racist remarks and stereotypes everywhere I’ve gone. It’s an isolating experience and even when I had friends and family members going through the same thing, it still felt extremely isolating.

So I looked to books. When I was a kid, the only book that really resonated with me was The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. Even though we come from different Asian nations, I could still feel the resonance in her voice; that want to please your parents and be yourself at the same time. The century-old Asian traditions intermingling with the new experiences as an American. You want the burger, but you settle for kimchi. It was a world I struggled with and still struggle with knowing better. I don’t ever know if I belong in a group with all white people or if I belong in a group with all Asian people. I’ve tried both and my bones felt like they were all stuck out of place.

Thankfully, as I grew older, authors also expanded on the subject and I was not only able to find stories relating to what I went through. I also found stories of people who come to terms with their Asian American heritage and make the best of their situations regardless of the color of their skin. I think this was probably the most profound thing I’ve ever experienced; normalcy.

I am a firm believer in culture and society. Throw yourself into any country in the world and there is a certain way of life you may have never thought to see before. I also firmly believe that I live in a huge bubble. Being born and raised in New York City, you are stuck in the center of the most culturally diverse city in the world. However, you also end up thinking a lot like the people you live around and being a population-dense city, you live around a lot of people.

So I wanted to take a step back. I wanted to read the stories of people who live in other places and the struggles they see on a daily basis. I wanted to read what it was like to not be me, be in New York City, and be someone else. As the old adage says, readers live a thousand lives in the books they read. I’ve just wanted my lives to be a little bit more diverse.

What I found were beautiful prose and deeply rich stories of people in the private moments of their lives. The thoughts they have, even in fiction, are so overwhelming true and real. They all speak to me in some way or another be it a story of a young girl trying to find her place to the story of a young man shot down because of the color of his skin. It feels dangerous to write these stories because it’s a truth that’s personal and sacred to the person writing it.

Publicly sharing your feelings is never easy. There’s constant judgment and people who won’t find you appealing. But these stories remind me that it’s okay. You can be whoever you want to be as long as it’s your truth. As Oprah elegantly spoke this weekend, “what I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.”

I’ve read so many wonderful stories of promise and hope in my diverse reading. I’ve read so many stories that I’ve been able to connect deeply with the people in the book. I’ve been able to educate myself on the experiences of other people because of diverse reads and no longer do I imagine a white person in the other stories I read. It’s such a ray of light to read diverse books and share these books with you.

I’ll be posting a whole new section in my blog about diverse reads. Will you join me in reading more diversely?