Review: Counterfeit

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Rating: ★★★★★

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher (William Morrow) for promotional purposes. 

This was such a fun and clever story! 

First off, I have always loved luxury goods, especially handbags so the premise of this book was right up my alley. 

Plot-wise, the twist halfway through was so smart and I did not see it coming. As soon as I got to the twist, I thought to myself, “This book is brilliant.” I won’t say much about the twist but I will say that it kept the book interesting. 

I enjoyed the author’s writing style. It’s very effortless and flows well. It made the book an easy and smooth read. 

The book also had some relatable quotes about being Asian American. For example at one point Ava reflects, “Asian families are different from white families. We don’t talk the way you all do. I mean, we talk, of course we talk, but not about our fears, our pain, our deepest, darkest secrets” (pg. 211). As an Asian American I find this quote to be so true. My (Asian) family talks, but it’s definitely not anything deep or soul searching. There is a lot of repression happening. 

I found that this book would make a great movie. I hope it gets adapted one day because the luxury handbag aspect would make for a very stylish film. 

Overall, I recommend this book to readers who love designer bags. Also, it gave me some Crazy Rich Asians vibes, so if you like that book, you’ll probably like this one. 


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Review: Tidesong

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Rating: ★★★★

I received a copy of this book for free as part of an Instagram book tour (Storygram Tours) I did to promote the book.

This was such a cute graphic novel! 

I’ve read Mooncakes, which is another graphic novel the author co-wrote, and loved it so I knew I needed to read this one. 

The artwork was of course amazing. The art was very adorable and was appropriate for the middle grade audience of this book. Additionally, the font was super readable. It was one of the clearest and most legible fonts I’ve come across in a comic book or graphic novel. Fun fact: the font is actually the author’s handwriting that was turned into a font. 

Sophie was a relatable character. I can see many kids relating to her struggles to learn magic and her feelings of failure.

I found the storyline to be very basic. I know this is middle grade, but the plot could have been more fleshed out. For example, the magic system between the witches and dragons could have been explored more. Also, the beginning of the book happened so fast. Sophie was on the train to her relatives super quickly with very little background information. 

Overall, I recommend this book to readers of all ages who love magic, witches, or dragons. This book also makes a great gift because it is a gorgeous hardcover! 


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Review: City of Dragons The Awakening Storm (City of Dragons #1)

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Rating: ★★★★

I received a copy of this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. 

This was a fun and wild ride! 

You can’t review a graphic novel without first talking about the artwork. The art in this book is colorful, vibrant, and full of life. It complemented the story beautifully. Additionally, the dragon illustrations were superb. They were depicted as fierce and majestic. 

The story was so entertaining. I’m a sucker for fantasy adventure quests. Plus, who doesn’t love a tale about dragons? At the same time, there was also a lot of heart and emotion throughout which gave the story some balance. 

However, the ending felt a little convoluted. There was a lot going on. Luckily, this is the first book in the series, so more will be revealed in the coming book. The end does set up the next book nicely. I am very intrigued to see it how unfolds. 

I also loved the characters. Grace and all her friends were fleshed out, dynamic characters. I was glad that their backgrounds were touched upon. It made them feel more real and relatable. 

Overall, this was a highly amusing graphic novel. It’s aimed at middle grade readers, but can be enjoyed by people of all ages. If you’re a fan of dragons or Chinese mythology, be sure to check this one out!


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Review: Tokyo Ever After

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Rating: ★★★★½

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher (Flatiroin exchange for an honest review.

This was such a cute read! 

The premise is everything. A Japanese American girl discovering she is a princess? Yes please! As a whole, I thought the premise was well executed. There was a good balance between the humorous adjusting to royal parts and the more serious discovering who she is parts.   

I really liked that the book included a family tree with a brief description of everyone in the family. It made the book so easy to follow. 

Character-wise, I loved Izumi’s all Asian friend group (nicknamed Asian Girl Gang, or AGG for short). It was so nice seeing a female lead with a large friend group to support her. Also, one of her friends was half-Filipino just like me. I always love seeing Filipino representation in books, even if it’s just a small side character. 

I also enjoyed the writing style. It was engaging and flowed well. 

The Own Voices aspect was also really strong, especially in regards to feeling like a foreigner. The book highlighted how visiting Japan while being Japanese American feels strange since she’s not “Japanese” enough. That is so true. Being American is an added layer of identity and affects how others perceive you. I’m Filipino American and there is a difference in how people in the Philippines view you if you’re American born versus Philippines born. 

However, the book is on the predictable side. If you’re familiar with the lost royalty trope or have seen The Princess Diaries movies, then a lot of the plot points are nothing new. 

Additionally, the romance in this book is a little insta-lovey. I felt like the book didn’t even need a romance sub-plot; it was already strong on its own. 

Overall, I throughly enjoyed this Own Voices take on lost royalty! I recommend it if you love stories about royal families. 


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Review: Not THAT Rich

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Rating: ★★★★

I received a copy of this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. 

This book is described as being Crazy Rich Asians meets Gossip Girl and that comparison has a lot of merit. It has the rich ridiculousness of Crazy Rich Asians and all the teen drama of Gossip Girl. 

I really liked how this book was both entertaining and insightful. The story was addicting to read but it also managed to say a lot about the Asian American experience and the college admission process. The book heavily explores the familial pressures to succeed that many students face. It masterfully showcases the effects it can have on them. 

As for the Asian American representation, this book did an amazing job showing how being Asian adds to the pressure. As an Asian American myself (I am Filipino American), I could relate a lot to their experiences. 

There is quite the cast of characters in this book (there’s a character list at the end that I found so helpful) and each one was so compelling in their own way. My favorites were Trisha and Pamela. I liked how they were so different from each other but yet such great friends. 

Also, this is kind of random to note but I loved that this book showed a school with a block schedule (3 classes a day as opposed to 6). I had a block schedule in middle and high school (and loved it) but never seen one in a fictional context before. 

Lastly, the ending of the book felt realistic in the sense that not everything was wrapped up nicely (teasing the possibility of a sequel maybe?). 

Overall, I really enjoyed this young adult debut! 


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Guest Post: Why it’s important to have a diverse bookshelf

Photo from Lei’s Facebook Page

Hi beauties! Today I am so excited so share a guest post from author, Belinda Lei. Lei just published her first book, Not THAT Rich, earlier this month. Described as Gossip Girl meets Crazy Rich Asians, this dramatic debut novel is about a group of private high schoolers in an affluent Southern Californian suburb. This book is at the top of my TBR for the new year. As an Asian American, I love reading books about the Asian American experience because representation matters!

Lei’s guest post highlights the need and importance of reading diverse books. As we enter a new year, I hope this post encourages to take stock of your current bookshelf and evaluate how you can do better!

So without further ado, here is Belinda Lei’s post:

“Do the books on your shelf reflect the world you claim you want?” – Kwame Alexander

In early June 2020, I had the pleasure of hearing Kwame Alexander, a prolific NYT Bestselling writer, speak and deliver a magnificent poem during Act To Change’s first Solidarity Convo. As a Managing Director at Act To Change, a nonprofit focused on ending bullying amongst youth and especially in the AAPI community, the importance of increasing diversity, representation, and solidarity amongst communities is often at the forefront of my mind. After all, it’s something that Act To Change works towards every day – addressing bullying in underserved and diverse communities. 

However, while the activist in me watched the conversation with a smile, my writer and reader’s voice was screaming at me internally, holding me to account with thoughts of “You’re not doing good enough.” Internal Tiger Mom jokes aside, I’ve always prided myself in being an avid reader of anything and everything under the sun, and I’ve always craved to have characters that reflected my 2nd generation immigrant Chinese American background and identity in the books that I read. Needless to say, I never got that when I was growing up. In my head, sure, it wasn’t ideal that the Baudelaire orphans, Hermoine, Bella, or Katniess weren’t Black, Indeginous, or a person of color (also known as BIPOC), but it was fine.

Just fine. 

And that’s where the problem lies.  In 2019, approximately 9% of main characters in U.S. books were of Asian descent, 12% were Black, and only 3% of total books included a LGBTQIAP+ character. Less than half of protagonists were white and about a third were protagonists with animals/other as the main character. When there are more white characters and talking animals as protagonists than BIPOC folks, “just fine” just isn’t good enough. Books allowed me, especially in my teenage years, to dive deep into the glory and struggles of the 1920s, capture the bougie dramatics of New York’s Upper West Side, and immerse myself in the struggles of a magical school for witchcraft and wizardry. It exposed me to a culture that was different than my own – one that was predominantly White. So why can’t I do it the other way around? 

By writing Not THAT Rich, I wanted to present a set of fun (and dramatic!) experiences that also exposed young adult readers to a cast of characters that reflected my world growing up – one that reflected the ethnic suburban enclaves that were part of my world. My hope for the book is that it emphasizes the diversity of Asian American culture, but also offers up the common challenges that teenagers all experience today – educational and familial pressures, identity struggles, and peer pressure. 

I fully acknowledge that as a new author, I still have a lot to learn about the publishing world, and that will take time. However, as a lifelong reader, I can also do better now, today. In my wild pursuit of seeking out books with characters that remind me of me, I’ve neglected to paint the other side of the world that I would like to see more of – books by other BIPOC authors that are not Asian American. I’ve neglected reading more BIPOC voices by so desperately pursuing my own. I’ve made steps towards creating the bookshelf to reflect not just the world that I want, but the world that already exists (highly recommend Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates by the way!) and I hope by reading this post, you’ll consider joining me in looking towards your bookshelf as well. 


Belinda Lei is the author of the #1 New Release in YA Asian American Fiction, Not THAT Rich.  She’s a Southern California native and an avid reader of all genres from thriller to fantasy — but especially young adult novels. She is a Yale MBA candidate, proud Georgetown Hoya, Managing Director of an anti-bullying non-profit, software engineer, and a former strategy consultant. In her spare time, she can be found cooking, spoiling her chubby cat and grumpy dog, and binge watching dramas.

Review: Almond

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Rating: ★★★★★

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher (HarperVia).

This book is why I love international books. They’re always so different from what is traditionally published here in America and I find that so refreshing. 

In the prologue it states that, “I won’t tell you whether it has a happy ending or a tragic ending…neither you nor I nor anyone can ever really know whether a story is happy or tragic.” I think that perfectly sums up the book. It is sad at times, but there is still hope and happiness. The book toes the the line between both very well and highlights the complexities of life. 

This is a very fast book to read since the chapters are so short. I personally loved the short chapters because it kept the book moving at a good pace. 

I loved the juxtaposition between the two main characters. Their dynamic was so fascinating. A boy that feels nothing meets a boy who feels too much. 

Lastly, there are some lovely descriptions about books in this novel. At one point the main character states, “I felt connected to the smell of old books. The first time I smelled them, it was as if I’d encountered something I already knew” (pg 43). At another point he states, “But books are quiet. They remain dead silent until somebody flips open a page. Only then do they spill out their stories, calmly and thoroughly, just enough at a time for me to handle” (pg 127). 

Overall, I found this novel to be beautiful and thought provoking! If you’re looking to try something new and a bit different, pick up this book! 


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Review: 29 Dates

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Rating: ★★★★½

I received this book for free from the publisher (Inkyard Press) in exchange for an honest review. 

This book doesn’t get the greatest reviews but I tend to rate books based on what they are. This was a YA romantic comedy and I thought it was a super cute one!

In the beginning it slightly reminded me of Melissa de la Cruz’s middle grade series, The Ashleys (which I read way back in middle school), because it had a slightly materialistic vibe and was set in San Francisco.

The romance itself was basic but still cute. I loved the little snippets from her 29 dates that were at the beginning of the chapters. 

I really liked that the book touched upon the casual racism that Asians in America face daily such as people thinking Asians all look the same, people being surprised at how well an Asian person speaks English, and the notion that Asians are quiet. 

Since I am Filipino, I also loved the inclusion of some Filipino representation. One of the love interests was Filipino and I loved seeing that. I enjoyed the chapter that explored his life because we got to see a little bit of Filipino culture such as Filipino food and karaoke. 

I noticed at least one use of the word “hella” (pg. 353) which I was super happy to see because that is one of the most popular Bay Area slang words.  

Lastly, I have to address the controversy that surrounds this book. Many people have issues with this book because a non-Korean (Melissa de la Cruz is Filipino) is writing about Korean culture. I think that is a fair and valid critique and I can’t really say much about the Korean aspects since I am not Korean. The one thing I will say however, and this may be controversial, but I do think some of the criticisms I’ve read are overly harsh. Going into this book, I knew this wasn’t going to be a deep book because Melissa de la Cruz’s books are never deep. Even the one book she wrote about a Filipino American immigrant experience still had that classic Melissa de la Cruz fluff. In my personal opinion (which you do not have to agree with), I think Melissa de la Cruz just wanted to write a fun cute story and she tried the best she could with the Korean aspects (which she addresses in her author’s note at the end). She wasn’t trying to make some grand statement about the Korean experience. 

Overall, I really liked this book. Is it mind blowing? No. Is it fun? Yes. So if you’re looking for something fun and not super serious, then consider reading this book.

What Lara Jean means to me

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It’s been a few months since To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before hit Netflix and I’m still in love with it. I’ve probably seen it at least 10 times (I watch it about once a week). I’m currently listening to the soundtrack while writing this blog post.

I’ve never felt this way about a character before. I remember when I first read the book back in January of 2016. It was the first time I read a book and was like So this is what representation feels like. Lara Jean is half Korean and half white. I am half Filipino and half white. To see and read about a character that was also half and half, was life changing. I related to so many little aspects of Lara Jean’s life. Like the fact that we both hate driving (fun fact: I still do).

I remember people had criticisms about Lara Jean and said that she was “childish.” I never thought that because she was totally me in high school. Being more “innocent” is not a bad thing. I personally think it’s kind of an Asian girl thing. I think a lot (but obviously not all) Asian girls are a bit more innocent than other girls and that is totally okay. I love that Lara Jean normalizes this innocence.

I read the sequel immediately afterwards and fell in love with Lara Jean even more. The third book came out when I was a Senior in college and I didn’t want the book to end because I didn’t want to leave Lara Jean and her story. I was too attached.

Then I got into law school and the weekend before school started, the movie came out on Netflix and took Lara Jean to a whole new level. I loved Lara Jean in the books, but movie Lara Jean was exactly what I needed.

It was crazy to see an Asian American female lead character in a movie. And not just any movie, a movie that everyone was obsessed with. My heart swelled with Asian pride. Who would have thought that Lara Jean would have this kind of impact?

As much as I related to book Lara Jean, movie Lara Jean is literally me right now. And that is what makes her so special to me.

Lara Jean gives me hope. Hope that the shy Asian girl can get the hot guy. That Asian girls are not invisible. That we can get our own Peter Kavinsky. That we don’t need to be like every other white female lead in a rom-com. We are enough just the way we are. And that is the most powerful thing of all.

Just think about it. When have you ever seen a female lead like her?

Lara Jean inspired me this semester and is literally the reason why I’m getting through law school okay. I will often ask myself, What would Lara Jean do?, whenever I find myself in an awkward situation. I even had a crush on a gorgeous boy this semester and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but I wrote him a letter (that I never ended up giving to him and never will because he dropped out of school).

Flashback to just last week on Halloween. Nobody in my section dressed up at school except for me and this one other Asian girl. And guess who we were? Lara Jean. I was wearing her airport outfit and she was wearing LJ’s party outfit. Another Asian girl (who first saw my outfit on my Instagram) commented on how much she loved my dressing up as LJ. Crazy what the power of representation can do. Lara Jean was just the second Asian character I have been for Halloween (the first being Mulan). I haven’t dressed up for Halloween in years (the last time was in 5th grade when I was a pirate) but I just had to because I finally had someone worth being.

Basically, Lara Jean is so important to me because she represents so much. She empowers and inspires us Asian girls. Thank you Jenny Han for creating her and sharing her with the world.

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Ponytail. Check. Sunglasses on top of head. Check. Necklace. Check. Striped sweater. Check. Skirt with buttons. Check. Too many feelings. Double check. Let’s do this.