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.

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim // Book Review

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim // Book Review

When I first picked up this book, I thought I was picking up a romance. I think being published by Berkley always has that reflex of assuming the novel is a romance. While it’s not entirely a romance with two protagonists that fall in love, it is a book about love. It’s about the love you have for your family, for your neighborhood, for your roots, and for food.

Here’s more about the book

Natalie Tan just found out her mother died, but as an intense agoraphobic, she hasn’t left her house in years. It’s funny how the woman who’s never left her house suddenly dies on the first day out. Natalie’s been away for seven years and in that time sharpening her culinary skills in kitchens around the world.

Now she’s back in her little apartment home above the Chinese restaurant her family used to own in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown. But things aren’t the way they used to be as her neighbor’s businesses slowly shutter. With the growing tech scene in San Francisco, smaller neighborhoods begin to experience gentrification. It’s great for the city, but bad for the hardworking folks who’ve lived in the area for generations.

Natalie decides in order to revive the neighborhood she’ll reopen her grandmother’s restaurant and hopefully bring more life back to her little street. Before opening, she’s met with the local tea shop owner (and mystic) who prophecies that Natalie will need to help three of her neighbors before she can open her restaurant. She’s handed a book of her grandmother’s recipes guaranteed to help anyone with any life issues they may be facing.

So Natalie goes to work to help three of her neighbors using recipes from her grandmother’s cookbook. As things seem to be going well, it turns out the recipes aren’t and the magic in her grandmother’s cookbook isn’t as powerful as she thought. Natalie now must figure out what’s going on with the cookbook, continue to go through the process of opening her restaurant, and discovers some secrets her family’s kept from her for all these years.

Ok, I’m going to gush about this book. I gave it five stars I liked this book so much. The themes in this novel are most definitely the draws.

First off, food. Food is the big theme of this novel and also comes along with a few recipes from Natalie’s grandmother’s cookbook. Honestly, the food part reminded me so much of Chocolat. With food and magic intertwined, you see how what Natalie makes is not only delicious, but powerful. If you’re a food person, you’re most definitely going to enjoy this book.

The second theme, family. I think family is probably the most important theme next to the food. While Natalie and her mother didn’t have much beyond the two of them, it’s obvious throughout the novel that the neighbors on her street care and can be considered family. I think this is the reason why  it was so important for Natalie to reopen the restaurant. She wanted something that people can come to and enjoy and facilitate its customers to go out and explore the rest of the street.

The family theme plays such a different role when it comes to the discovery of Natalie’s father. It’s a question you have stuck in your head the entire time you’re reading and Roselle does an excellent job covering all her bases.

The third theme, gentrification. Over the last seven years I lived in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. If you weren’t aware, Greenpoint used to be known as “Little Poland” where the highest percentage of Polish immigrants were living in and around the area. When I first moved to Greenpoint, it was so obvious the Polish community ran things. All the restaurants and shopping had Polish-speaking employees. The food was always top notch. And kids would drive down the street blasting Polish electronic music every time their national soccer team played in the World Cup. It was a different world in the middle of a huge city.

However, over time, gentrification took over making room for skyscraper housing projects and buying out the Polish owners one by one. I saw this beautiful little neighborhood turn from “Little Poland” to one of the most coveted neighborhoods to live in. It’s great for the community, but bad for the folks who have lived here for generations.

This is what I thought of as I read this book and thought about the gentrification efforts in her neighborhood. It’s a difficult place to be because on one hand you want to welcome more businesses and folks to a neighborhood who may need a little financial help. At the same time, it’s displacing so many people who have called the neighborhood home. I can imagine the kind of fight Natalie was in for as she tried to revitalize her neighborhood with the help of her neighbors.

The last thing I want to mention is that this book does talk about grief and loss, but it’s not as devastating as I’ve read it in other books. For Natalie, the death of her mother is sad but also hopeful. At first, she saw herself free from her mother’s opinions especially when it comes to opening a restaurant. But as the book progresses, you see that she learns a lot about her mother and what she left behind in order to raise her. It makes the story way more hopeful than just a story of grief. Natalie openly celebrates her mother and her grandmother through the joyful process of cooking.

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

Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston // Review

Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston // Review

I’m so happy to start off Pride month with a Pride book and truly blessed I got to read Casey McQuiston’s Red, White, and Royal Blue!

The story starts with young Alex heading off to England with his sister to attend a royal wedding. He finds out that Prince Henry of Wales will be there, but that doesn’t make him excited. In fact, it makes him aggravated as he found Henry to be a little full of himself and totally sold on the royal life. But when Henry and Alex are forced to be best friends due to the shenanigans taking place, Alex starts to warm up to Henry ultimately starting a cross-continental relationship so risky even Alex’s mother, current president of the US, faces scrutiny as the big presidential elections approach.

This isn’t your average romance. Yes, there’s a whole romantic theme that follows the rules of the Romance Writers of America, but it also discusses LGBTQIA issues, geo-political issues, and the politics of running for president. I felt really bad for Henry and Alex because they weren’t two boys in love and they were in the same high school. It wasn’t that they were in college. It was two boys who were very public figures and one even being royalty. I loved how McQuiston brought their relationship to fruition.

Of course there was the sneaking around and praying to God that they won’t get caught, but the fallout was way harsher than I thought it would be.  I actually that felt super realistic as the world tries to dissect a young couple’s relationship. It’s already hard enough to be in a relationship in a private life, but when your life is in the public eye it becomes the center of judgment and scrutiny. I loved Henry and Alex so much that I wanted them to have a fighting chance.

I also really loved the scandal surrounding their relationship. In real life, I don’t want anyone to feel that way, but to see how it’s used and manipulated for the gains of someone else was interesting. I loved that Casey McQuiston included that despite how dark and real it feels.

The writing itself is also very sophisticated especially for a romance novel. I thought I would finish this one in a day, but it took me four days of reading to finish it. I would strongly recommend taking your time with this book because it is pretty long and pretty detailed. I loved this about the book, but I can also see a lot of folks losing their patience waiting for the author to get to the point.

Which leads me to the thing I didn’t like. I think the one big issue I had with this book is the ending. While I won’t give away what happens at the end, the ending basically covers the night of the election. THE WHOLE NIGHT. Page after page it was just waiting for the results of the election coming in from every state. I thought it was a little overwrought and too much for a romantic novel. It would make sense if the election was a bigger theme than the relationship between Henry and Alex.

As great as that was, it didn’t really lend anything extra to the story and really just made it longer. I can understand the author wanting to make the election results suspenseful, but it felt too extra. I honestly think the last 30 pages could have been written as a paragraph summing up the election results and then sharing something more about Alex and Henry’s relationship after the election.

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

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo // Review

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo // Review

Alright, I’m going to do my best reviewing this book because thing 1) I’m not Afro-Puerto Rican so I don’t know that life and thing 2) I don’t have any children.

Not to say you need either to read this book. I’m just saying this perspective won’t be as nuanced as someone who may #ownvoices this book. But as the general public who loves to read authors of color, I’m glad this book exists.

Let’s get started:

This is the story of young Emoni, a 17-year-old teen who’s about to enter her final year of high school and embarking on the next part of her journey. However, she’s also a single mom living with her grandmother and desperately trying to make ends meet. She’s constantly berated by the other students at school for her status as a teen mom and her life decisions need to include her baby. When her school offers a culinary course for the first time, Emoni is super excited. She loves food and cooking and has a knack for flavors and spices. However, the class also offers a week in Spain and Emoni hasn’t left her kid’s side since she had her. She can see herself pursuing a career in culinary arts, but also needs to consider her daughter and their struggle to stay afloat.

Wow, I mean, this story discusses some big themes. I think one of the biggest themes is being a young mother. I don’t think I’ve read any YA stories with teen mothers, but it really was interesting to read. Many decisions Emoni needed to make also required the addition of her daughter. She wanted to go to college, but she needs to find a school close to her. She’s about to go on a trip to Spain and she needs to figure out how to manage that. She’s interested in someone romantically, but she needs to be mindful of her daughter’s feelings before introducing him to her. So many of her decisions were based on very adult and mature thinking. Emoni doesn’t do anything impulsively…until she gets into the kitchen. I also really loved that Elizabeth showed life as a young mother. Emoni has to juggle school, work, and taking care of her baby. I know many moms from my old job and it was difficult to juggle work and taking care of their baby, so I couldn’t imagine what it’s like for someone who’s still trying to graduate high school.

Another big theme is the prejudice, discrimination, and racism Emoni faces everyday. She’s ridiculed because she can’t speak Spanish well. She doesn’t look “black” enough. She’s taunted because she had a daughter at such a young age. People think she’s “easy” because she had sex early. I loved that Elizabeth Acevedo brought up these points because it really brings the story to reality. And the best part is that it’s mostly micro-aggressions. You don’t ever hear someone straight up calling her the N word or telling her to go back to her country, but it’s there. You see it in the way people ask their questions or even the pursed lips of an older woman on the bus. These micro-aggressions are what many people of color face (myself included). It’s the wrong question or a comment you don’t know what to respond with. You may not think it’s racism because it doesn’t blind you in the face with words, but that silent judgment is enough to make a good day into a bad one.

I think what I loved the most is how much Emoni loves her daughter. She tries to juggle school and homework and an after-school job and her friendships while getting home in time to spend time with her kid. While Emoni has the attitude of a teenager sometimes, many of her decisions are considered thoroughly (through the pros and cons) and mature. And all the while she’s still learning and observing and becoming more enriched. It was most definitely a coming-of-age story, but one many adults can get behind because it reminded me a lot of post-graduate me. This girl’s got it all figured out before she finishes high school and I’m still struggling.

Finally, the food! OMG when I heard that this book will also be about food and cooking, I was already intrigued. The story includes a couple of recipes for you to try and it also convey’s Emoni’s personal culinary expertise which I thought was so great. I kind of wish there was more descriptions of food. For example, what does the risotto taste like to Emoni? How did she feel trying tapas in Spain? I would have loved those descriptions to be richer.

What I absolutely love about Elizabeth Acevedo’s writing is that it isn’t complicated. She embodies Emoni’s voice and personality and doesn’t break for a minute. I absolutely love writing like this because it feels real. It feels like you’re reading from the actual perspective of the character with their specialized language. I loved the nicknames she had for her friends and family. I loved that she called her daughter Babygirl, but unafraid to bring out her legal name when she’s in trouble. The writing is most definitely a draw and keep you fully immersed in the story.

I think the only issue I had with this book is that everything seemed to resolve itself at the end. I don’t want to say it was easy and there were some things that will probably take time to heal (like forgiving her father or working together with her baby daddy), but many issues just kind of happily ended.

Aside from that, it’s a great story about a young person’s decisions for the next part of life. I think this book works for anyone between the ages of 17-35 because I’m 34 and I’m still struggling to figure everything out.

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.

The Backlist Book Club // Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

The Backlist Book Club // Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Side note: I’m really loving this book club. I mean, it’s my own book club, but I love that it’s opening me up to so many amazing books. This month’s is no different.

Also, read this on audio. The narrator does an amazing job with bringing this book to life. He does accents and voices. It’s like watching a movie and it’ll make you continue reading with abandon.

Behold the Dreamers is the story of a young Cameroonian family coming to America in hopes of living that big “American Dream”. It follows the Jonga family; Jende is the father who recently landed a job as a chauffeur for a very rich NY family and Neni, his wife, is a stay-at-home mother who also splits her time going to school. She wants to become a pharmacist; a job she couldn’t imagine having back in Cameroon. Both of them are here to pursue a new life with tons of opportunities for their children. They strongly believe that they’ll overcome their poverty and retire in ten years to a little home outside of New York City.

However, things take a turn for the worse when two major events happen in the Jonga’s life. First is the notice that Jende’s overstayed his visa welcome and he needs to return to Cameroon. Second is the Edwards family and how their world affects the Jonga’s world.

This book is more than just an immigrant story. It’s a part of the book and you see the process for someone like the Jongas. You actually see both sides of the story; the legal and the illegal. It reminded me of the arduous citizenship process my grandmother went through when I was in school. She had been sponsored by my father for a green card when I was in 1st grade and didn’t get her full citizenship until I graduated high school. I would drive her to the immigration office almost every week when the day finally neared.

But there’s also this 180º view of the Edwards family through the eyes of the Jongas. I really loved the juxtaposition of both of these families. On one side, you see what kinds of issues the super rich experience. Issues like losing your job, feeling like you’re on the wrong path for your life, and suspicions of adultery.

On the other side, you see The Jongas living in a one-bedroom apartment in Harlem. You see them try to make ends meet with odd jobs here and there. All of this while your American status is being questioned. Not to be a jerk, but it feels like the Jongas are going through more serious stuff than the Edwards. Both are validly difficult, but it seems tough when your hard work to stay in America is thwarted because you’re legally not allowed here.

At some point, there’s a catalyst between the Edwards and the Jonga families. The Edwards family starts falling apart when their eldest son, Vince, decides to move to India. The other major part is how Clark loses his job with the Lehmann Brothers during the 2008 financial crisis. There’s also Cindy’s suspicions about her husband and how her obsession with the truth turned into more bad news for Jende.

As Jende’s court hearing for immigration looms nearer, Neni starts to get desperate to stay. Both of their paths towards American citizenship changes. Jende gets really tired of the immigration system. He’s tired of waiting for court dates and hearing judges deny his family asylum. He doesn’t want to see his family live in poverty, but that’s all he can imagine for them in America. He’s slowly deciding to return to Limbe while Neni is desperately clinging to the hope they’ll be in America.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I do want to say that it feels real. It feels like the decision many new Americans make because their financial situation doesn’t change or they’re also tired of fighting the immigration system. Jende and Neni are better off than when they initially came to America, but to continue to stay in America means always scraping by, always waiting for court dates, fighting a broken system, and not providing as much to Liomi, their son.

I’ll admit, I was a little sadden by the ending and how everything worked out. I was happy that they were doing what felt best and coming out on top a little. I can only imagine this is the same kind of life many immigrants live, but at the same time happy to win out over a system that’s desperate for change.

I absolutely loved this novel from beginning to end. I thought it was funny and light-hearted at moments and serious and frustrating in others. It makes you consider immigration in America. It makes you wonder if life in America is all that people assume. It shows that the American Dream comes with a stiff price and that’s for both immigrants and its citizens.

A Few Books to Get You Started Reading Diversely

A Few Books to Get You Started Reading Diversely

Reading diverse novels is such a rewarding way to get to know other people’s culture without opening a textbook. However, it can be a pretty daunting genre if you don’t know how to get into it.

Luckily, there’s a ton of Young Adult novels centered around diverse issues. In my opinion, I think these help with easing into the genre without being overwhelmed with heavier stories. If you’re thinking about diving into reading diversely, check out these wonderful YA novels. They’ll be easy to digest and spring you forward into more adult authors like Colson Whitehead or Yaa Gyasi.

Continue reading “A Few Books to Get You Started Reading Diversely”

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

I had the crazy opportunity to watch Love, Simon a few weeks ago on a plane trip across the country. The movie didn’t disappoint, but I hadn’t read the book. I felt like I should read the book as well and that’s exactly what I did. LOL.

Continue reading “Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli”

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”

The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon

The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon

According to the Internet, an “incendiary” is either someone who starts fires (in a military context) or someone who stirs up conflict. Probably both of these definitions makes sense for this novel.

Before I get into anything, I’m about to tell you now that this post will have spoilers. I just can’t talk about this novel without actually spoiling it, so look away if you haven’t read the book yet!

Continue reading “The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon”

Everyone Knows You Go Home by Natalia Sylvester

Everyone Knows You Go Home by Natalia Sylvester

I love fantasy stories. I love when there’s someone risking everything they have and love for the better of a group or nation of people. I love people who fight against adversity and maybe they don’t always win, but they don’t quit. And while stories like this one aren’t fantasy, it’s the heroism and strength of its characters that make you wonder if fantasy is based on real life.

Continue reading “Everyone Knows You Go Home by Natalia Sylvester”