My Friday five — five books by Asian American writers that I love

A stack of books by writers of Asian descent. Five are featured prominently, including Trick Mirror, Anna K, Three Souls, Interior Chinatown, and The Night Tiger.

As a book blogger and reviewer, I have always felt that we as readers have a responsibility to make sure the texts we’re reading are reflective of the greater community around — and that includes reading books by diverse writers whose lived experiences are different than your own. And as a Chinese American adoptee, I’ve worked really hard to read books by not only Chinese American writers, but various writers of Asian descent. It’s been important in figuring out my own racial identity. It’s also been key in helping me break down the internalized racism I’ve been carrying around my whole life, especially that all Asians are the same. While no amount of book stacks are going to stop racism, I do think books provide an awesome opportunity to learn more about yourself and others while gaining a greater sense of empathy for everyone.

So to honor my Asian American heritage and in light of the recent attacks in Atlanta, Georgia, that left the whole Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) and Asian diaspora community really in shock and awe at the horror of racism, I wanted to feature the five books by Asian American writers that are especially close to my heart.

While this list is far from comprehensive and certainly isn’t going to the solve the issue of stopping Asian hate, I wanted the chance to feature books that mean a lot to me and would make great additions to anyone looking to learn about the wide range of Asian experiences — we aren’t a monolith!!

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino. This collection of essays was not only well written, but full of sharp observations and criticisms of life in the United States. Her essays about womanhood — especially as an Asian American woman and woman of color — really hit home with me.

The Night Tiger by Yangzse Choo. This is probably the first book I read by an Asian American writer after school — meaning, one of the first books by a writer of Asian descent that I chose on my own to read. And it was life changing! I loved seeing a character who looked like me but wasn’t delegated to some stupid stereotype, and I found the characters and plotline to be complex, magical, and lyrical.

Anna K by Jenny Lee. This book was flat out fun — and it’s one I wish I had had as a young adult! Anna K, the main character, is bold, smart, compassionate, and caring, and her romance with Count Vronsky is so steamy. Until that point, I hadn’t read a romance with not one but several Asian leads who were, again, not stereotyped or just side characters!

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu. I devoured this satire in one day because it hit so real. Using Hollywood as the backdrop to explore the inherent racism and stereotyping of Asians in media (and real life), this book’s lesson was so powerful and still has stuck with me almost a year later — to be more, and not let any stereotype hold you back.

Three Souls by Janie Chang. Chang is one of my favorite writers of historical fantasy — I’ve read two of her three novels, and each one has been so captivating, and also taught me about a period of China’s history that was unfamiliar to me. Her debut novel was also so thought provoking, making me as a reader think about regrets and what I’d do differently if given the choice.

What are you favorite books by writers of Asian descent or in the AAPI or Asian diaspora community? Let me know in the comments below or on Instagram!

Small-town struggles: A review of The Northern Reach by W. S. Winslow

Another day, another debut! There’s nothing I love more than checking out a debut novel — I find it a huge honor to be able to read or review one because I can only imagine what they’re thinking and I like the idea of supporting those who may not be as well-known in the literature game. So I was super excited to have the chance to read this atmospheric novel set in a coastal small town in Maine by debut novelist W. S. Winslow. Thank you to Flatiron Books for the gifted ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Quick synopsis: Over the course of the 20th century, the families of coastal Wellbridge, Maine, “intersect, interact, and intermarry, grappling with secrets and prejudices that span generations, opening new wounds and reckoning with old ghosts.”

While the stories weren’t all in sequential order or directly related to one another, they were certainly interconnected and revolved around the people that live in the town — their struggles, joys, passions, mistakes, and more. First and foremost, I loved the writing — it was beautiful and full of details, which really helped create a setting that felt real and tangible.

Additionally, it was interesting to read into the day to day struggles of these people. Some of the characters were pretty unlikeable, but Winslow wrote them in a way that still made me yearn to learn more about them. Thankfully, my favorite story (about Lilliane) was also one of the focal stories — again, she wasn’t perfect or always likeable, but her back story was intriguing and I could empathize with her strongly.

I also loved the magical realism elements. Personally, I think magical realism is one of the hardest things for a writer to do well, and not all stories that have themes of it do it well. Winslow’s writing lent itself well to magical realism due to how atmospheric and eerie it was, which seemed to fit this town so well. I worried it would feel too out of place, but Winslow managed it with just the right dose.

That said, I did struggle sometimes when it came to connecting with the characters, whose faults often overpowered their better qualities. However, in retrospect, I think it the characters fit in perfectly with the moody setting and represented just how important a place’s people are, especially in a small town such as Wellbridge. This is a part of the country I’m personally unfamiliar with and I did not grow up in a small town, so it was great to read a story that felt authentic to the experience of small-town coastal Mainers (keep in mind, the author is from Maine). There were several characters, like Lilliane, whose stories I really connected with and became invested in.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or multigenerational stories. This book is available now from Flatiron Books!

A fun, smart whodunnit: A review of Watch Her by Edwin Hill

This was such a fun mystery! First off, I loved Hester Thursby — she is super smart and resourceful, which make her an awesome sleuth, but she’s also a librarian at Harvard who is masterful when it comes to tracking people down. How cool is that?!

Quick synopsis: After Hester and Detective Angela White are called to the home of an elite Boston family who fun a for-profit university, they become entangled in the family’s secrets as they search for the truth amidst lies, financial indiscretions, and missing students. And when one of those missing students winds up dead, the case takes on a new urgency for everyone involved.

While I haven’t read the first two installments in this series, I certainly plan on doing so. Hill crafted a mystery that definitely had me on my toes, but with a central cast of likeable characters. While I love thrillers, I do get weary of reading books where the central character(s) is unlikeable or unreliable. It was so refreshing to have a cast to really root for as they got to the bottom of the case.

Additionally, I loved the friendship between Hester and Detective Angela White. They have a great friendship, which was not only fun to read about but also provided an awesome way to watch them solve a case: through Angela’s official channel of being on the force, and Hester’s unofficial sleuthing through her skills as a librarian. I definitely recommend this to any mystery lovers who want a loveable heroine with a good brain and heart. I am very much looking forward to checking out the first two books in this series! Hopefully there’s more to come, as well, from Edwin Hill in this series.

Thank you to Books Forward and Kensington Books for the gifted ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My Friday Five — book club picks for any group

Happy Friday, friends! I wanted to think of a weekly list that would be fun and easy to pull together, while also being a great starting point for conversations and potentially add some great new recs to my readers’ TBRs! So this is the first installment of my “Friday Five” — this week will focus on books I’d choose for a book club. My friend, Maggie, recently started this challenge on her bookstagram, and I thought it was such a fun idea. The biggest struggle was narrowing it down to only five! But here are my top choices that I think would satisfy any group and why.

Photo by Ellie Turns the Page.

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin. I would choose this book for the thriller-obsessed group that not only wants an awesome whodunnit with a fearless lead, but also a deep dive into the portrayal of sexual assault victims in this Me Too era. Full review is here.

Here For It; Or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas. This nonfiction essay collection would be my choice for the book club that wants to drink wine and laugh out loud while also talking about politics, social ideals, love, race, and hope in modern America.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. This short, critically acclaimed novel would be a great pick for a group looking for a historical fiction that centers on race, class, gender issues, and more in a cross continental setting. Full review here.

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson. This debut sci-fi would be the perfect fit for any sci-fi or fantasy book club. It’s a fresh take on the popular multiverse concept, features a diverse cast, and explores topics including race, women’s rights, religion, and social/economic status in an unforgiving landscape.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano. This choice would be for a group who is ready to feel ALL the feels by exploring loss, life, and hope through the eyes of a child who experiences an unbelievable tragedy and must figure out how to not only survive but truly live.

What book would you choose for your book club? Would any of my picks catch your attention? Let me know in the comments below or reach out on Instagram!

The kids are not alright: A review of The Push by Ashley Audrain

First off, I have to preface that while this book was unsettling throughout, the end was absolutely explosive. I was left with this total WTF moment — and trust me, it takes a LOT to do that nowadays — but in the best way. It’s hard to believe that this is Audrain’s debut novel because she writes with such force and emotion that I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable while reading, which I think was exactly the point.

Quick synopsis: New mother Blythe wants to be the mother she never had — but when her first child Violet is born, Blythe is convinced that something isn’t right about her and fails to connect with her as most mothers do. No one, including her husband, seems to believe her worries about Violet. Several years later when her second child Sam is born, Blythe has that special connection she always dreamed about. But when unspeakable tragedy occurs, she is forced to face her worst fears about motherhood, Violet, and herself.

This psychological family drama/domestic suspense forced me to question every preconceived notion about motherhood. Blythe, the narrator, is far from reliable, which was further reinforced by the book’s second-person narrative, as we clearly are only shown her point of view. I was constantly questioning what was real and what was fake, especially around the book’s focal tragedy. For the rest of the book, I was wrestling with how much blame can Blythe’s husband, their daughter, or her family history have on the ensuing tragedies that the book is centered on? Or is it Blythe herself who is to blame?

This book did an amazing job showing that motherhood is far from perfect and battling the societal idea that motherhood is the highest ideal of womanhood. It also addressed the unbelievability of women — what will it take for Blythe, a woman and mother, to have her wildest fears and motherly instincts taken seriously? And the less others believe her, the more she even questions herself, a gaslighting tactic that I’d argue many women have experienced at some time or another. Additionally, it made me question the idea of what makes someone a good mother. And is being a “good mother” learned or inherited?

This book is far from cheery and certainly shows the ugliest sides of motherhood, from conception to birth to raising them into personhood. It was deeply unsettling but in a way that made me admire Audrain’s abilities as a writer — I still can’t believe this is her debut novel.

This book, however, does need to come with basically every trigger warning possible. It’s likely a difficult read for anyone with a heart, but it does hit on many issues that could be traumatic to readers. But for anyone looking for a deeply unsettling, though-provoking, and well-written read that will really challenge your typical view on motherhood, I recommend this fast-paced psychological thriller.

CW: childbirth, parent-child abuse, violence, death of a child, severe and postpartum depression… and I’m sure there’s still some I’m missing 

The Push is published by Pamela Dorman Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

A how-to guide for tough talks: A review of Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man sits in front of a vase of purple and pink flowers and a green plant.

Let me first start off by saying this: Every. One. Needs. To. Read. This. Book. ASAP! While I have been trying to read more diverse writers from all backgrounds more in the past year of reading, I really didn’t start reading nonfiction again for fun until last summer. Last summer’s acts of police brutality and the strength of the Black Lives Matter movement that followed really showed me how much I personally had to learn, so I worked much harder to read Black voices, both in fiction and nonfiction. Out of the many books I’ve been fortunate to pick up in the past year by Black writers, this one has got to be one of the best.

Quick synopsis: “Emmanuel Acho believes the only way to cure our nation’s oldest disease–racism–starts with a profound, revolutionary idea: actually talking to one another. No, seriously. Until it gets uncomfortable…and then some.”

What I loved most about this book was Acho’s deeply conversational tone, full of heart, compassion, and empathy. Truly, no topic was off the table, ranging as far and as wide as allyship, interracial families, the n-word, implicit bias, and much, much more. As a reader, it brought a deep sense of comfort in feeling as if I was simply sitting with this guy, talking about race over a cup of coffee or something of the sort. While it was full of historical and cultural research along with Acho’s personal experiences, it never felt dry or academic, but truly felt like a conversation with a friend.

That feeling of comfort and friendship perfectly balanced out the other side of the book — namely, feeling “uncomfortable.” And yeah, there were loads of moments where I was incredibly, wildly uncomfortable. I mean, talking about the n-word, for example, isn’t easy! I’ve grown up knowing it’s a word I shouldn’t say, but I never really understood why Black people could call each other that. Acho answers that question and so many more in a way that educated and enlightened me, but didn’t make me feel bad or upset or hurt as a non-Black person. Rather, I felt like I better understood the experiences of my fellow human beings and how conversations like this could help me become a better ally, friend, and antiracist willing to fight the good fight.

Race isn’t a dirty word and it isn’t something that should be shied away from. Racism, however, stems deeply in the systems that make up our society, and I loved Acho’s perspective that on an individual basis, having these tough conversations — really getting comfortable with being uncomfortable — is a step in the right direction toward true allyship and fighting against racism.

I still have loads to learn and much room to grow when it comes to my own personal journey in becoming a better ally, but this book gave me some much-needed, actionable tools in my arsenal to help get me there. I would without a doubt recommend this book to anyone looking to start or continue their journey to learn more about race and what to do to help end systemic racism in our communities. This would make a great individual read or be perfect for a book club to discuss with friends, family members, or others in your community also seeking to learn, grow, and ultimately get comfortable being uncomfortable.

My monthly reading wrap-up — February 2021

On the left is a white, fluffy goldendoodle and on the right is my husky mix puppy. In between is a stack of books for my

Just like in January, I am so excited for the eight books I got to read this month. I tried to include books by Black writers to honor Black History Month, along with one eARC and even a Western — a totally new genre to me! I also picked up a childhood classic, which was an awesome reminder that children’s books can be as thought-provoking, if not more so, than many adult books.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. What a great way to start off February, and as a buddy read with one of my favorite bookstagrammer friends. This story was incredibly told and so unique in its format, as it told the diverging stories of two half sisters unknown to each other on the Ghanaian Gold Coast. This short read still read like an epic and was full of incredible character development. You can check out my full review here.

Outlawed by Anna North. This one was probably the most fun read of February and so different than anything I had ever read. I’m not too familiar with the Western genre, but I typically think ultra-masculine and white, so it was awesome to see that totally flipped on its head in terms of female, racial, and LGBTQ+ representation. It wasn’t my favorite read of the month (a solid three stars), but it was still a fun traipse into the Wild West. You can read my full review here.

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey. This is my first sci-fi of 2021, I believe, and I’m so glad I got a chance to check this one out early by receiving an eARC from NetGalley and TOR. The Echo Wife was my quickest read of the month — I read it in only two sittings! I loved the domestic thriller vibes, and it really forced me to think about the ethical dilemma regarding the technology of cloning. My full review can be viewed here.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett. After reading The Vanishing Half (Bennett’s second novel) last year, I knew that I’d need to add her debut to my TBR. This book is so different than The Vanishing Half, but told with the same level of tenderness. The three main characters — Aubrey, Nadia, and Luke — really hold this story together. While each is imperfect and certainly makes mistakes, this story was full of compassion. I’ll be posting my full review on my blog soon.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. How did I go my entire childhood and adult life without reading this wonderful gem of a story?! Well, luckily my mother-in-law gifted me a beautiful pop-up version for my birthday. This is proof that children’s stories can be just as, if not more, full of meaning as any adult book out there. I highly recommend if you haven’t read it already!

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel. Similarly to Homegoing, this amazing, lyrical, evocative story reads like a true, full-length epic, but manages to pack all that meaning and character development into less than 200 pages. This Own Voices story tells the tale of a family separated by their mixed-immigration status and the lengths they go to reunite. My full review can be read here.

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho. If I could recommend a single book to someone looking to learn more about race in America, this would be it. Acho’s book reads as if you’re sitting down with him having a cup of coffee, while addressing all of the many questions regarding race and the Black experience you’ve probably had. It felt so intimate and compassionate, which is so valuable when it comes to these tough conversations. Check out my review here.

The Removed by Brandon Hobson. In my goal to expand my reading experiences to include marginalized and underrepresented voices, I decided to pick up The Removed, a genre-bending novel about a Cherokee family reeling in the aftermath of Ray-Ray’s death by the hands of police. This was a touching and emotional story. While it wasn’t my favorite book of the month, I certainly enjoyed this new perspective and a different take on police brutality. I’ll be posting a review for this one soon.

What did you read this month, and which book was your favorite? Let me know in the comments below or reach out to me on Instagram!