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.


This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura // Book Review

This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura // Book Review

I was really hoping to enjoy this one, but it hit a few of my personal pet peeves and didn’t work completely for me. However, that isn’t to say this book isn’t good. It’s still a great novel, but definitely relatable more to younger folks who are active in their school community or looking for that one thing to stand up for.

36220348This Time Will Be Different follows CJ Katsuyama,  your average teenage girl who doesn’t know what she wants to do with the rest of her life. She lives with her mother and her aunt; her mom is this #bossbitch who’s motivation for life is something she wants to pass onto her daughter. Her aunt runs a small flower shop that’s been in their family for many years. However, the shop is failing and there isn’t enough money for CJ’s family to continue taking care of it. Their only buyer is the same family who purchased the flower shop from the Katsuyamas back during WWII. That was before CJ’s family entered the internment camps for the duration of the war. Suddenly, CJ understands exactly what she wants and she’s ready to fight for it. 

I was really hoping this would be an amazing novel, but honestly it fell flat for me. The writing was great and I don’t have any doubts Misa Sugiura is a great writer. However, this book felt all over the place.

It starts off with the family’s flower shop needing to be sold off exactly as the premise says, but then the story goes into how the high school CJ attends is also named after that same family. They mention how the grandfather used to deal in slavery back in the day and how no one wants a building named after a racist person. I liked that this was the setup, but then the whole debacle with the flower shop is resolved way too quickly and the focus of the book becomes this group of kids trying to change the name of their high school.

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But then the story continues to go into ally-ism. I think this was probably the most interesting part of the whole book. Being an ally is a tricky step between being helpful and being self-serving. I thought the examples of this were great, but also just confused about where this was going.

Then it flips and becomes a typical YA story about a young girl who doesn’t know what to do and confused about boys. I just got a little annoyed by this point on how messy this book seemed to be.

I’m sad to say I was annoyed with CJ. Perhaps this is me being too old and the book being too close to a contemporary YA story that I felt CJ to be angry for all the wrong reasons. It’s almost like a lack of maturity, which in hindsight makes sense.

I honestly was hoping that there would be more references to the Japanese internment camps and how that affected CJ. I’m not saying that it isn’t “Japanese enough,” whatever that means, but the premise of the book promises more than what the book is about. Sugiura sets up a short timeline of events when it comes to the internment of CJ’s family without any additional info about it. I’m blaming the marketing teams for promising a story that wasn’t obviously there.

If you’re more of a fan of contemporary YA stories, then this will be the one for you. It covers a lot including social justice issues and how you can make changes to the way the world around you. It may not impact the entire world, but if you can bring a sense of justice to your town then it’s better than nothing. I liked the story well enough, but I feel like there was a lack of focus and instead of narrowing in on one theme, the author decided to cover all the themes.

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

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan // Review

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan // Review

I went into reading Girls of Paper and Fire with little knowledge of the book. You have to admit, marketing teams don’t do the greatest job explaining books in their blurbs and that completely makes sense. However, this book gave me some serious Raise the Red Lanterns meets The Hunger Games vibes. The stories aren’t verbatim, but I loved the addition of concubines in a fantasy series.

First, let’s talk about the setting of this book. It takes place in a fantasy where humans, beasts, and in between live within their own class system. The beasts are considered “demon” caste based off of real animals but with sentient minds. Think Tony the Tiger. Humans are considered “paper” and are just plain old humans. Then there’s the “steel” caste which are amalgamations of both humans and demons. These are folks who look human, but have animal traits like a tail or ears. For all intents and purposes, the demon caste is at the top of the class hierarchy, then comes steel, and then comes paper.

In this world, eight human girls are picked from eight of the provinces in Ikhara. For one year, they’re to serve as concubine to the demon king (similar to that of The Hunger Games: to show dominance over the paper caste). As all the girls for that year have been chosen, Lei never assumed she’d be picked too until the general of the king’s army came and took her from her small village home in the same manner her mother was taken a few years back.

The only reason why Lei’s taken is her eyes; she just happens to have golden eyes that no one else in the world has seen. The general believed it’d be a wonderful addition to the other paper girls and for the king. The rest of the story follows Lei as she becomes a paper girl forced to pleasure the demon king in anyway he wants. None of the girls want to be there, but some understand their duty to the king and do what they must to please him. Please be warned, there is some sexual assault depicted.

As the story continues, rebellion begins to take place as the king’s kingdom uprises and one of the paper girls turns out to have a bigger secret than Lei assumed.

This is most definitely a different kind of fantasy novel and I noticed a few reviews where the readers didn’t quite understand the method Natasha Ngan took when writing this story. I wanted to take a minute and talk about the points:

First off, Lei isn’t your typical “girl on fire.” She’s not strong and she’s not ready to fight for a cause she doesn’t understand. She’s a little aloof and clumsy and very afraid of her duties as a paper girl (I would be too). She’s also more determined to find out what happened to her mother than raise a rebellion against the king. I thought this trait made Lei a very real person and it lended well to the overall direction Natasha Ngan is going with the novel.

I didn’t see a lot of action in this first book, but that’s okay because it’s world building and such. It’s a tad boring in the beginning, but it does pick up towards the middle part.

I absolutely loved the use of concubines as a theme in this story. I don’t agree with the methods obviously, but it really draws back to a huge part of Chinese history. It wasn’t until mid-century that China made concubinage illegal which means that wealthy men were keeping concubine up until the communist revolution. It was frowned upon for a man to have more than one wife, but keeping concubine for bearing children was okay (eye roll). This is why I had so many Raise the Red Lanterns vibes while reading this book. I’ve also seen depictions of concubines in modern Chinese fantasy dramas as well. Here’s my source for more info.

There’s also a lot of representation especially LGBTQ representation. I don’t want to give anything away and spoil it, but I thought it was very real and beautiful.

However, I will say this book isn’t completely amazing. First off, there was Lei’s eyes. The entire story they boasted about how her eyes were so unique for someone born from humans. I thought this might indicate some magic or something, but it really fell away.

Also, despite the amount of world building done here, there isn’t a lot of history. Much of what is built throughout the story is the current issues. However, there isn’t much explanation on the steel caste (those who are both demon and human). There isn’t mention of why certain traditions existed or even a map of Ikhara (only a map of the palace). I would have loved to know more about the traditions and why they are the way they are.

I was also confused by what happened to all the other Paper Girls and women in the court towards the end. I feel like the focus was on one particular point and then everything else kind of dropped off.

The other thing was the queen. In the story, the paper girls are asked to take a special contraception to avoid pregnancy and a queen is mentioned randomly throughout. However, there wasn’t any queen showing up to events or balls and I honestly asked myself where she was in the midst of all the action.

But aside from that, a pretty strong start to a new fantasy series. I’ll most definitely be keeping up with Natasha Ngan’s work and probably read the second book once it publishes.

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”

My Thoughts and an Excerpt from Tahereh Mafi’s New Novel, A Very Large Expanse of Sea

My Thoughts and an Excerpt from Tahereh Mafi’s New Novel, A Very Large Expanse of Sea

This is a little bit different from what I normally do, but I was perusing Twitter when I saw this:

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In my head, I was hyperventilating. I had heard Tahereh Mafi was going to move away from her high fantasy books to write something that felt much more autobiographical.

I knew that it would be about being Muslim American and the months and years after 9/11.

However, I didn’t think I would get to read an excerpt from the book. I didn’t think I would read it today, a few days after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the travel ban from Muslim-oriented countries.

Here’s what the book is about

It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.

Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.

But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her—they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds—and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.

You can pre-order this book now!

So I read the excerpt while slurping spicy noodles for lunch and right off the bat, I knew that this will be another amazing story about Muslim Americans that needs to be boosted on all social media platforms. Since this exclusive excerpt was shared on Entertainment Weekly, I’ll share the link to that article below:

Read an excerpt from Taharei Mafi’s newest book, A VERY LARGE EXPANSE OF SEA

Now, even though I’ve only read this excerpt and highly anticipating reading the rest of this novel, I do want to share some quotes and reflections that resonated with me. You can find these after the jump!

Continue reading “My Thoughts and an Excerpt from Tahereh Mafi’s New Novel, A Very Large Expanse of Sea”

My Favorite Genres of All Time

My Favorite Genres of All Time

I think I might have written a post like this in the past, but I’ve been thinking a lot about books and genres. It’s probably because I’m in the process of moving across the country and that means whittling my book piles down to the ones that I truly want to read.

I rummaged through all my books, made lists, and figured out that the top billings for genres that I love to read. Here’s what I got:


General Fiction

My general fiction contains everything from literary greats to the beach read. I love fiction in general, but there’s a time and place for all of it. I like to keep a mix of books available so that I can pick and choose depending on my mood. Most times, I’ll read a fun summer read because I’m always in the mood for those. I didn’t think that my general fiction pile would be so big, but I guess that’s because it’s got some literary fiction, womens’ fiction, some romance novels, and my diverse books.

Most literary fiction I read is from an author of color. I just love the stories that they tell and they always make me think a little harder and understand a little deeper.

The sad thing about this list is that there’s not a lot of literary fiction here. Most of these books are fun reads or “womens’ fiction.” I think the reason for that is because I’ve read so many stories about the young woman moving to New York in pursuit of something. Or that couple that’s on the verge of breaking up and they’re doing what they can to stay together. As I get older, I’m noticing that my tastes are changing and I’m moving away from books by the Jonathans (Safran Foer, Franzen, etc) and more into books that let me escape a little from my life.


Science Fiction/Fantasy

Sci-fi and Fantasy is my next biggest genre. If anything, sci-fi/fantasy is my favorite genre. The list here is small, but I also have all my bigger fantasy reads on my Kindle.

When I was growing up, I was in love with science fiction and fantasy. I even ran the sci-fi/fantasy literary magazine at my high school! However, I didn’t read a lot when I was a kid and therefore don’t have a lot of the classic sci-fi/fantasy novels under my belt. While I don’t have many of those classics in my TBR pile, I do have aspirations to read them all. Hello, I haven’t even read Hitchhiker’s Guide yet…



My non-fiction pile is strangely tall. I also included my poetry books in here as well. I think the reason for that is because I haven’t read them. I love reading non-fiction essays and memoirs, but fiction just always happens to take over when I’m reading books. I think I’ll change it this summer and at least read one non-fiction book per month. This way, I’ll get some non-fiction in my life!

Sometimes I like to throw in some thriller, some romance and some YA to mix things up. I always thought I was a YA reader, but I guess most of the YA I’m reading is also Science Fiction and Fantasy. When I think back to my reading life, I think of the Twilight series and Harry Potter and The Hunger Games being big in my life. Isn’t it funny how sometimes your favorite genres are just sitting right in front of your face?

Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala

Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala

I haven’t read a book that made me mad in a really long time. I’m glad that this book was the break from that. When I get mad at a book that’s really good, it’s because of how it all played out and what the outcome of everyone’s actions led to. It’s been a really long time since I felt this way and honestly, I appreciate the anger.

Continue reading “Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala”

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea

The American Dream. Many people talk about it, but no one really knows what it means. Some people work their entire lives to try and achieve it and some people succeed. Sadly, sometimes it takes death to figure out that not only you achieved the American Dream, but excelled beyond it.

Continue reading “The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea”